Archive for June, 2009

Day 176. Raudberghamn to Kloven on Senja

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Distance 33km | Time 7.5hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 176.1 The lush shores with larger trees and boat sheds along the side of GisundI slept well despite heavy rain during the night. I did not finish writing until 0100 so slept right through until 0900. When I got up at 1000 after breakfast the rain had stopped but the day was overcast, grey and misty with the threat of rain imminent. I slowly packed all and loaded the kayak.

I now travel with 4 litres of water so the evening campsite need not have a stream. There was a house here with a car outside do I went to ask. He was an older man well into his seventies. We chatted a bit. He was the only inhabitant of the village and his wife was now in hospital with both legs amputated. The ashtray was full. I felt sorry for him but he kept insisting it was OK to stay here alone in his tidy house and fastidious garden. With the water packed I set off at 1200.

The first part of the day took me down Gisund. The mist was still there and it was drizzling occasionally. It was the type of drizzle a kayaker hardly notices. There was also a bit of a headwind and my speed was slow. I pretty much followed the coastline as it was much more interesting than cutting over bays and skipping the detail like ducklings and characterful old boat sheds. Besides it was also a shipping lane in the middle of the sound with the occasional large boat.

It was quite a pleasant paddle down despite the wind and drizzle. I am always a bit stiff for the first few km, but after an hour I am up to speed again with the arms working well. The tide should have been against me but I hardly noticed it. I did notice the head wind however.

After a couple of hours I approached some narrows and an island. On the west side of the sound was a village called Gibostad. I crossed over to it and landed for lunch. There were some large old fish wharfs but they were disused and some were in disrepair. I saw a shop nearby so bought a few treats and some Vaseline to keep the rudder wires greased.

I noticed just how quickly things are growing now. The grass and flowers were a good 30 cm high and the angelica was nearly a metre. The birch trees here were no longer the twisted gnarled mountain variety but tall elegant trees with drooping branches dripping in bright green leaves.

After lunch the rain was back on but in my dry suit I really did not notice it. The only disadvantage was that the scenery was obscured by the mist. The wind had also died down and the negligible current should have been turning in my favour.

I crossed the sound again at the narrows here to the east side and the village of Lensvik with its large and white Lutheran church, a landmark of a building. I continued to follow the coast to a tranquil grassy point with a beach on both sides. As I paddled round the point I could look down and see the sand some 4-5 metres down in the crystal clear water.

After this point, called Leiknes, the town of Finnsnes came into view some 7-8 km south down Gisund. There was a large bridge here connecting the island on Senja to the mainland. It was the only bridge to Senja but there were a few ferries. The wind had now swung behind me and I made good time to Finnsnes. Despite the fact the sound was narrow here and the tide starting ebbing a good two hours previously I was disappointed that there was no current to help me along.

I did not want to stop here as it was a town and set my sights on a small peninsula to the south to spend the night. I crossed a large basin of water to the south of the high bridge where some yachts from Finnsnes seem to be having a small regatta. I passed the yachts and then reached the forested shores of the peninsula. There were a few rocky beaches here but it seems there was a nice bay just round the corner on the south side. The forest here was mixed with large birch but also aspen and spruce.

The bay on the other side was called Kloven. There was a derelict house in the bay which would fall down soon and a few remains of even older buildings. Someone had planted a large area in spruce. The tide was at least half out and it was easy to land on the weed covered rocks. I could drag the kayak a good way up these without damaging it.

Day 176.2 A camp in the grassy forest at Kloven bay on Senja islandI found a nice place to camp on a terrace beside the shore and under some aspen trees. It was so wind still that not even the aspen leaves were fluttering. Now and again the sun came out as I put up the tent. I expected to be overrun by mosquitoes but none appeared on this damp evening from the long grass. By 2000 I was in the tent writing the blog. It seemed I would get an early night after all.

It had been a relatively easy day, however the scenery was obscured. It was not perhaps that impressive anyway. Despite the late start I had also managed an almost acceptable distance.

Day 175. Tromso to Raudberghamn

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Distance 45km | Time 10hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 175.1 Dramatic scenery above a idyllic homestead on the south side of StraumfjordI got up at 0600 to start packing and then went to have the buffet breakfast in the campsite cafe. I chatted with the nice staff there until Bjorn arrived with the kayak at 0830. We loaded the bags into his car and he drove and I cycled to the marina where the river I waded up met the sea.

Bjorn had kindly looked at the rudder and a few other problems I had. He had modified the rudder as we discussed earlier by building up the rudder control pedals with foam and securing them with tie wraps. This allowed for the tension in the system to pull the rudder pedals forward to be released. This in turn meant the wires could move more freely without jamming. Some 20mm of foam were put on the rudder pedals to bring them forward. With the tension gone the rudder operated much better 

After chatting with Bjorn for a good while I finally cast of at 1000 and headed south under the high bridge. I was wrong about the change in the weather and it was a stunning day again. The tide was starting to come back in and there was a considerable current under the bridge against me, perhaps 6 km per hour.

I paddled through the current and down the wharfs and jetties on the east side until I was out of town. My dilemma now was whether to cross straight over to the island of Ryøya in the Straumsfjord or whether to follow the longer coast and then cut over Balsfjord to the island of Ryøya. At that point three cruise ships appeared from behind the island of Ryøya and my choice to follow the coast was made.

After some 5 km I decided to cross Balsfjord to the hamlet of Balsnes where the two fjords met. The paddle over was only some 6-7 km but it took ages. There was a strong current coming out of Straumfjord into Balsfjord directly against me. At times I was only doing 3 km an hour. It took nearly 2 hours to cross to the other side.

I stopped here for a bite and then entered Straumfjord. At its east end is the aforementioned island of Ryøya. It is right in the middle of the sound and creates two channels on each side. There are strong currents here up to 10 km per hour at times. I was arriving just as the tide against me was running at the middle third of the tide, or maximum flow.

I edged into the sound paddling hard round the odd headland. Out in the middle however there was little current so I aimed for the island. There must have been an eddy because I was doing nearly 7 km an hour right up to the white beach at the east end of the island. On each side on me in the channels I could see water swirling and boiling. My plan was to follow the south side of the island before entering Straumsfjord. I would then paddle across the diminishing current to the south shore.

The reason I wanted to follow the island was because it was a Musk ox reserve. The Tromso University Biology Department had put some 20 beasts on the island which measured 2 km long and 1 km wide. It was a beautiful island with birch, spruce and also pine trees on it and much of the east and south was fringed with a white beach. In the background was the fjord and the high snow covered mountains each side of it.

I did not see any musk ox but there were plenty of warning signs. Musk ox are volatile creatures and despite their considerable weight are fast and nimble creatures with short tempers. Old males which are expelled from the group by the new alpha male are particularly grumpy and may charge.

There were many eider ducklings here. They became very stressed if I got too close and started running across the water in all directions. Surprisingly some dived to elude me but came up after just 10 seconds. I kept my distance to avoid stressing them but they were nervous. The mothers were more relaxed.

I paddled down the entire 15 km of Straumfjord before resting. I had the current and wind against me but neither were that strong. However they kept me pinned at about 4 km per hour. There was some great mountain scenery but not on the same scale as the Lyngen Alps. I saw some white beaked dolphins or springer in the fjord here. They were large and vigorous and exhaled in a plume when they surfaced.  

Day 175.3 There were some families fishing for cod in small boats in Melangen fjordI had another small break in the sun before crossing the fjord of Malangen. By now the wind had disappeared and the tide if anything was with me and ebbing westwards. There were a few families fishing for cod in small boats near the shore and the odd ferry, cruise ship and freight ship further out in the fjord.

Day 175.2 Forest clad mountains line the side of Melangen fjordOn the west side of Malangen was a peninsula covered in thick forest. There was a hamlet by the shore here called Aglapsvik, and a large beautiful white beach in front of it. I thought about camping here by wanted to round one last point before entering the more sheltered Gisundet so I would not be stranded if the wind veered to the north and increased.

This last point was gnarly and composed of what looked like reddish granite. I had to take my glasses of to confirm it was so red and it was also glowing in the evening sun. The vegetation here was sparse and the terrain looked quite arid. 

Day 175.4. Crossing Melangen fjord and looking west to the jagged skyline of the dramatic and large island of SenjaAcross the water of Gisundet was the island of Senja. It will be my western companion for a few days I think. It is Norway’s biggest island. Kare was doing some geological fieldwork here and he told me the west side is very dramatic with very steep high mountains. The trouble is it is exposed to the ocean and could be challenging to paddle.

Day 175.5 The hamlet of Raudberghamn with its wonderful beach where I camped the nightI rounded the point of reddish granite and then reached the wonderful Raudberghamn, which is a small hamlet of old houses with a large beach in front of it. The houses are now mostly summer houses for the children and grandchildren of the original homesteader. I paddled onto the beach at 2000

I set the tent up straight away as there were a few mosquitoes about. Soon the air was thick with them. I retreated into the tent to eat, write the blog and mostly escape the mosquitoes. I did not get to bed until 0100 due to the writing. 

It had been a fantastic day, with some exciting water and idyllic scenery. The weather was also perfect and it was nice to finish the day with a nice beach in the evening sun.

Day 174. Tromso weather and rest day

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Distance 0km | Time 0hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 174.1 Looking from Tromso on the Island to Tromsdalen on the mainland where the campsite isDue to the very late night I slept until 1000, when Bjorn of Bjornskajakk phoned. He had spent all yesterday evening modifying the rudder pedals and checking the kayak out. He was phoning to say everything was ready. I am continually impressed by Bjorn’s competence and helpfulness and highly indebted to it.

I skipped breakfast, as it was nearly lunch, and prepared and sent a mailshot to some 600 people who have now subscribed to the monthly updates. This took a few hours as I had to get the grammar right and insert photos.

Day 174.2 The old wooden cathedral in TromsoIn the afternoon I went to the post office to send a bag full of items I am not really using but still have to carry up and down the shore twice a day. They were posted to Oyvind in Asker who has now almost set aside a room for all the skis, rucksacks and other equipment returning from the north.

Then it was over the bridge again into the quaint centre of Tromso. I needed to eat and have a haircut. I got them out of the way first and then explored more around the wharfs and the heart of the old town, before going to the polar museum.

The polar museum had extensive displays from the early days of the pioneers to the age of the great Norwegian explorers. It was quite well laid out but there was a lot of reading with very little in English.

The early pioneers started when the Dutchman Barents “discovered” Spitsbergen in 1596. After that there were some of Dutch and English whale and walrus hunters followed by Russian fur trappers. There were exhibits on this and then the subsequent seal hunters and polar bear hunters who arrived and started to overwinter on the islands in rustic cabins in the 19th century.

The other exhibits concentrated on the golden age of Norwegian polar exploration with the two main heroes being Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, but also the often overlooked Hjalmar Johansen, who was Nansen’s compatriot but later considered a threat to Amundsen’s authoritarianism. There were also interesting displays on the ships, particularly Fram which they both used. The original ship is in Oslo.

After the museum I had another meal as the good weather broke and the skies which had been clouding over all day finally opened into a downpour. It was the type of change which I could see would last a few days with a misty drizzle. The sunny weather had been good while it lasted and left a good impression of Tromso on me.

Day 174.3 The new cathedral on the mainland in TromsdalenI cycled back over the bridge to the campsite and my cabin. There was a British caravan there. I went over and knocked and within a minute the kettle was on. I chatted with the pair for a good two hours before returning to the cabin to write more and prepare to depart tomorrow morning when Bjorn arrives with the kayak.

It had been a nice relaxing day but I was not looking forward to start paddling again. Tomorrow I make my way towards the large island of Senja. I have to pass Rystraumen which is one of the strongest currents in Norway which should make thing exciting for a few km. Unfortunately I think I will be paddling against the flow – if I can.

Day 173. Tromso weather and rest day

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Distance 0km | Time 0hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 173.1 Arriving in Tromso yesterday after 850 km of the exposed Finnmark coastI slept well and long in the cabin which was dark in the morning for a change. As a result I did not get up until 0930. I had breakfast in the café at the campsite.

I had given myself a holiday of two free days in Tromso to catch up, give my body a bit of comfort and have a bit of culture. First and foremost I had to get the blog out of the way otherwise it would hang like a black cloud over my conscience. I did not start it until 1100 and I finally finished it and all the necessary emails by 1500.

In the meantime I had also washed all my cloths and had a shower. I had also packed up a few items which I had not used and was unlikely to use to post back to Oslo. With all this done I could get on the bike Bjorn lent me and head off into Tromso for a couple of hours.

Day 173.2 Looking north from the bridge between the Tromso on the left and the mainland on the right and a cruise ship far up the sound heading northTromso was initially built on the island in the middle of the sound. It was a seafaring town and there was no reason for it to be built on the mainland as the island port was sheltered. With the arrival of roads, bridges were built from the island to each side of the sound it lay in connecting the mainland to Tromso and Tromso to Kvaloya. This allowed Tromso to expand onto the mainland at Tromsdalen and Tomasjord.  The campground is on the mainland near the west side of the bridge.

Tromso is a very old town dating back many centuries. It was south of the area which the German burnt during the war so there are many old houses, wharfs, churches and streets which retain some old nostalgic charm. However like a few Norwegian towns composed of old wooden houses, like Alesund, it was susceptible to fire and a large section of the town was destroyed by fire in the last century.

I mostly cycled about the quiet streets for a couple of hours on a reconnaissance tour for tomorrow. The sun was blazing down and everybody was in light cloths and shorts. It was quite a contrast to a fortnight ago in Gamvik and Mehamn.

At around 1830 I cycled out to Kare’s who had invited me out to a BBQ. It took a fair time to find his house well north of the campsite on the mainland. We sat on his balcony with his family until late in the evening in the windless evening under the hot sun.

As the sun passes over the horizon it loses much of its warmth and we had to go in before midnight. I was amused to see a painting by Oyvind on the wall. Oyvind, together with Hartmut, live in Asker near Oslo and are the self styled “support team” paying bills, posting items and sorting out a diminishing number of problems.

Kare and I chatted until about 0300 in the morning. It is difficult to fell tired with the sun still shining and the shadows relatively short. Kare said it was quite normal for people to survive on little sleep in the summer but they made up for it in the winter.

Having crossed Greenland some 25 years ago Kare was a keen enthusiast of polar exploration and the outdoors in general. He had collected an impressive bookshelf of books I could have spent many weeks going through.

I finally left at 0300 and cycled home back to the cabin in the campsite.

It had been a dull morning with the writing, but a very enjoyable afternoon exploring and then a very nice social evening.

Day 172. Vagnes to Tromso

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Distance 22km | Time 4.5hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 172.1 The beacon at Vagnes on a grassy plain on the south side of GrotsundI woke at 0700 after a superb sleep on the soft mossy ground and after a quick breakfast I was in the kayak and paddling by 0830. The weather was really where yesterday left it; overcast with frequent showers and little wind.

I had decided to stay at Tromso Camping. It was up a river estuary and small section of river. I was informed it was OK to paddle right up the estuary at high tide and then drag the kayak up the river for a few hundred metres. High tide was around 1300 at it was going to wait for no-one. If I missed it I had visions of wading through silt.

The small hamlets continued along the south side of Grotsund. First Vagnes after a couple of km, then Tonsvik and Elvevoll before I rounded a point and the city of Tromso on its island appeared some 10 km down the sound. This was the end of the rural idyll. I could see huge bridges across the sound, planes took off regularly; massive tanks for storing oil and diesel lined the bank and huge warehouses for shipping and oil companies stretched out along the shore.

There were many individual houses but also the occasional 5 to 8 story block of flats stretched along the hillside. Tromso had the feel of a large town or small city and its 50,000 odd inhabitants were quite spread out. It was a new city and although not attractive, it was not particularly unattractive.

It is the main city of Northern Norway. It has a lot of good things going for it. It is becoming the northern hub for the workings of the oil and gas industry and this ensures a good income. However it also has a large tourist industry especially with regard to the cruise ship market with many cruise passengers starting and finishing trips here.

Tromso also has a large and vibrant university. This university has grown considerably since it was established just a few decades ago. This is partly because many students choose Tromso over the handful of other universities in Norway because of the outdoor opportunities. Off piste skiing, climbing and kayaking on the islands around here, especially Senja has become very popular.

Day 172.2 Approaching Tromso with the main town on the island on the left and the white Ishavetskatedral above the bowFor me however it was still a shock to see such a huge urban sprawl. I paddled along the side of the sound until I met Kare Kullerud who teaches geology at the university and I had been in touch with. I paddled over to the shore while he took a few photos. We chatted and then I continued past blocks of flats to a marina where the Tromsdalen river enters the sound. Just to the south of the marina was one of Tromso most famous landmarks the Ishavskatedralen. A huge cathedral in a modern style completed in just 1965. The cathedral, although modern, is a beautiful building and the architecture works well.

I paddled into the estuary and under two small bridges. The tide was just turning and I made it easily to the start of the river where I could drag the boat. The river however had second ideas about me sauntering up it. The recent rains had made for a good flow and I had to wade some 400 metres up a torrent sometimes above my knees. I nearly lost my footing once. Just before the campsite was some more determined rapids and there was no way I could get up those.

I hauled the full kayak to the bank and then up through the thick birch forest to the road. Luckily it was mostly slippery vegetation. However it was steep in places and the kayak and contents were perhaps 100 kg. Kare appeared again and got some photos of the out of the ordinary procedure. Once on the road it was just a few hundred metres to the cabin and Kare helped me.

With everything in the cabin I chatted with Kare over a coffee. He skied over Greenland some 25 years ago and wants to do the same ski trip of Norge Paa Langs which I just did. I was encouraging him. He also sounded very enthusiastic about helping me with a synopsis of the geology of Scandinavia which has bogged down the publication of my second book on Jotunheimen.

Kare left after an hour and I sorted out some gear before Bjorn of Bjornskajakk arrived. Bjorn had helped me out a month earlier by sending me a new rudder when the original one broke. The way he tackled that problem was to strip the rudder of a boat he had in store and post the whole thing to me by express post with the necessary tools, all at no cost. It was an extraordinary display of business service in today’s otherwise unhelpful climate.

I could not get the rudder right and it needed some modifications. Bjorn came to pick the kayak up and take it away to fix it. At the same time he would look at another couple of problems. He also dropped of a bike for me to use around Tromso as I cannot use public transport or cars.

Bjorn intended only a quick visit but we got chatting and after a few hours at 2200 he eventually got away. He is a kayak instructor in the Norwegian system and holds the highest grades and is a well know kayaker and instructor in Norway. His manner, knowledge and business were extremely competent and professional.

After Bjorn left I did a little writing but was not up for it. I will have a few days in Tromso and aim to leave on Wednesday morning so will postpone it until tomorrow.

It had been a good day. The scenery was obscured by clouds and drizzle but I could see it was spectacular beyond that. It was OK to reach Tromso but it is way too urban to what I have been used to so far this year. I may never return here so feel duty bound to go and explore the place and confront the culture shock. I will soon be in the quiet, peaceful sounds and fjords again where the ducklings are hatching.