Skiftende bris*

*) Changing wind

 

Hiking without plan is different from roaming around without goal. Without plan we leave for Norway, a journey in two chapters as we go to Børgefjell NP and Lomsdal-Visten NP. This time no ease of footpaths, coloured dots of paint or luxurious cabins of DNT. Swedish Sarek is also called the last European wilderness, but these two Norwegian national parks are almost as wild as Sarek.

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Børgefjell

When the train pulls over, we immediately search for the train guard. “Two tickets for Majavatn please.” The timetable says about Majavatn: Stopper ved behov, only stop when asked for. Half an hour later we disembark, indeed, we’re the only ones.

We head for Jengelvatnet, fishing paradise in Norway. Enroute we meet the biggest group of people we will encounter for the next three weeks: five fishermen just return from the lake. During the remaining of our tour we sporadically meet some people. Most of them two persons, Norwegians and staying in the park to fish. We try to catch some fish as well, but reserve too little time for it. In between pitching our tarp and having a soup we fish for half an hour. The rumbling in our stomachs remind us of the freezedried meals we haul each day in our backpacks.

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Not only the fish play hide and seek. We see raindeer dung all over the national park, but no raindeer to be seen. We find the first herds when we head for the Bȧtskardet col. We sleep on the col, while being visited a few time by the herd. They’re startled by our tarp, bark to tell this threat to the others. Then they run away.

We leave Børgefjell via the Simskardet valley. A dirtroad links the parkinglots to the main road. We walk over the dirtroad when we notice a drowsy fox. A fox! We didn’t expect to see this shy and sly animal here. Seems like he prefers walking the dirtroad over bushwhacking just as we do!

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Changing national parks coincides with the change in weather.

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Lomsdal-Visten

Changing national parks coincides with the change in weather. We crossed Børgefjell in beautiful weather. Lots of sun, sometimes a bit of rain. We’re welcomed in Lomsdal-Visten with four consecutive days of rain. Sometimes we find a cabin we can use, sometimes we’re stuck in bad weather. Our first idea is to cross the park until we reach the sea. We spent a long walking day reaching Litlskardvatnet lake. After all the rain the karst land with only a few centimeters of soil is so saturated the border between swamp and creeks fades. No-where we can pitch our tarp. As soon as you lie down, you’ll push down the earth so far you’ll create your own pool. Searching a long time for a place or discussing it is also no option. The wind blows ferociously, freezing us in our wet clothes. There’s no other option then return on our own steps. One and a half hour it took us to climb, we’re back down in an hour. We cook in our tarp and immediately fall asleep.

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The next day we try again. One and a half hour of climbing, the river still high and fast flowing. The clouds lower over the lake. We doubt but know too little of the remainder of the route and the weather to continu. We decide to return and try via another valley.

In Lomsdal the raindeer gather at specific places as well. We meet a merry herd of around seventy animals between Grønfjellet and Storklumpen. Only the last day we see a moose, again in a downpoor. The camera stuck deep in our backpacks in defence of the water, we’re just in time unpacking the camera to get one picture of the large animal with its wide antlers.

A few minutes later we find ourselves before an abyss. Fifty meters of sheer drop. Looks like we’re stuck on a large rock band. We go to the place where we last spotted the moose and find his tracks. Tracks that guide us down over a steep path. It reminds us that this is his place and we’re only visiting.

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They burst out laughing: “Ah, that’s why you’ve returned today, you don’t trust the craftmanship of the Norwegian hunters!”

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At the end of our adventure we arrive at the super market in Trofors where we’re addressed in Norwegian by two persons, an old, grey guy and his friend with only one arm. Jeg snakker ikke Norsk, I don’t speak Norwegian. Instantly they change to English and ask us if we have been in Lomsdal. Yes, we’ve been hiking in Børgefjell and Lomsdal for three weeks. “Three weeks? Only hiking?” Indeed. The old man looks at our backpacks. “Light weight?” Yes. Very not-Norwegian: small backpack, light, no resting day to hunt or fish. He says he’s going to Lomsdal as well the next week. We remember that it’s the tenth of September today, the opening of the hunting season. They burst out laughing: “Ah, that’s why you’ve returned today, you don’t trust the craftmanship of the Norwegian hunters!” After discussing the beautiful wildlife here for some more moments we say our goodbyes. Goodbye to this spontaneous talk and goodbye to the precious and wild nature here. It feels like the journey returning home has already started.

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Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route

Part 1: Majavatn – Breidskardfjellet – Søre Bisseggvatnet – Nordre Bisseggvatnet – Simskardet – Bȧtskardet – Breidskardelva – Strendene

Part 2: Strendene – Stavassgȧrden – Litls Kardvatnet – Stavassætra – Oorlogsmonument – Storklumpen – Feitskardet – Stavvatnet – Tinden – Øvergȧrdsvatnet – Trofors

Climbed mountains: Col of Kvigtinden, Litl Kjukkelen, Breidskardfjellet, Storklumpen, Tinden

Bibliography
DNT, Uglant IT
Børgefjell Nord
Turkart 1 : 50 000

DNT, Uglant IT
Børgefjell Sør
Turkart 1 : 50 000

Nordeca
10114 Vistfjellan
1 : 50 000
ISBN 978-82-8278-114-5

Taming the green Llama

‘Bitter water’, I think, when I swallow a mouth full of water from the Markkleeberger See. Why is the reptile part of my brain so fast and so powerful? Why does it take a while for the more intelligent parts of my brain to kick in and take over? We’re at the Kanupark Markkleeberg where they pump 10000 litres of water per second through a concrete gully. No man can drink that fast.

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Just a few more white crests before the current spits me out in the small and quiet lake. This morning we started our packraft course by practising different paddlestrokes. After the basic paddlestrokes our instructor, Jurgen, took us to the grassfield to practise with throwbags and to explain how to rescue someone. Of course we not only practise on dry land. The sun starts to shine forcefully on our drysuits, we’re allowed cool down in the water. In the afternoon we use the boats again to put into practise what we’ve just learnt. Not only the paddling part, also the swimming part we’ve just learnt.

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Kanupark Markkleeberg is situated near Leipzig. It used to be an open coal mine like more that can be found in this part of Germany. The coal mine has been flooded with ground water and converted into a recreational area. The Kanupark was meant for the Olympic summer games of 2012, but those were eventually held in London. Now the parc is a training location. It consists of 130 metres of training course and 270 metres of competition course. The training course is mainly in use to learn how to kayak, the competition course is used for commercial rafting and by playboats.

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The training course is well suited to learn how to packraft. It is well equipped with eddies, stoppers, drops, etc. The competition course is mainly about surviving. There’s one point where one can rest in this 270 metres of constant boiling and pushing water. Good for a well-filled day of water fun.

Film

*) Licking the lens is a well-known trick to have fewer drops of water stick to the lens.

Thigh straps for packrafts

In order to get better control of our packrafts we mounted thigh straps. 01 Good (but a bit old) manuals how to make and mount thigh straps can be found at: The Roaming Dials – Thigh straps how to and Things to luc at – Pimp my packraft. 02 Contrary to what’s written on those websites, we did use Alpacka’s grab-loops. We’ve talked to EU’s only retailer who ensured us that the grab-loops (when properly glued) can hold 175 kg. They mounted multiple thigh-straps and never had a problem with them. Make sure you use the correct glue and you glue it the proper way! 03 In 2012 we’ve mounted grab-loops as well, see article: Adding tie-downs to a packraft. For the current grab-loops we used the same procedure, except for one minor thing: Just before applying the grab-loop to the boat, we heated the grab-loop a few seconds. The glue becomes a bit sticky again and will immediately adhere to the boat. This will make life easier while working in the front of the boat.

GR571, Vallées des Légendes

Whit Sunday. The weather is forecasted to be 29C and sunny with a chance of showers. This time we don’t take a tent with us, but a tarp. That should suffice for these temperatures and some rain.

We ascent to Les Tartines and look at the confluence of the Ourthe and the Amblève. At a junction a farmer is taking a nap in the grass. We say hello and ask for confirmation of the way to Oneux in our best French. He points in the direction we were heading and says: “Un bon kilomètre, … et demi peut-être”. We thank him, he sits in the grass again and continues to doze.

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A view at Comblain-au-Pont (Rivage).

The GR remains at altitude today with beautiful views over the Ourthe and Amblève valleys. The weather is muggy and we’re sweating when we arrive at Martinrive around three o’clock. Too early to call it a day. “Fortunately” the camp site has been closed six years ago and the grass is leg high. We continue to walk to Aywaille, where we enter in the mids of a bicycle festival. The camp site is fully occupied but there’s always a spot to put a small tent.

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Camp site Domaine Château de Dieupart.

The next day starts with some showers. We just packed our bags and wait. The rain makes the temperature drop and refreshed we start to ascent again. Slowly the day turns muggy again, just like yesterday.
In the forest a trailrun is taking place. The trailrunners started at the same time we started our ascent. Thirty-three kilometers of running. We’ll see them again a few times this day.
As a bonus we make a small detour through the Ninglinspo valley. We follow a forest to the start of the valley. A forrest full of horseflies and other not-so-nice insects. From the beginning of the small valley the route descends again: 350 meters in three kilometers, just next to the creek or sometimes through the creek. The closer to the village we come, the busier it gets. The peak of tourists is of-course at the end of the valley in the village of Nonceveux.

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There is a camp site in Nonceveux, but it’s the second time we think it is too early to stop. Along the Amblève we continue our trail to Fonds de Quarreux. There’s a small and quiet camp site named au Moulin du Diable. The name refers to a local legend: The Fonds de Quarreux are the large boulders located in the Amblève here. The miller, Hubert Chefneux, was promised to own a beautiful mill if he would give his soul to the devil. The wife of the miller worried about her husband’s soul and hid herself in the mill with Notre-Dame de Dieupart’s medal in her hands. That made the mill blades halt. The devil went outrageous and casted down the mill: The large boulders fell down to the Amblève one by one.

We think the devil is still present around there: at three o’clock in the night he awakes us with thunderstorms and hail the size of large marbles. Our tarp passes this twenty-minute test without problems. In the morning we see the devil in the forest on the other side of the camp site. He looks at us with a bit of a grimace:

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Diable du forêt.

The GR571 leaves the Amblève now and ascends next to the Chefna creek. We like this little valley just a bit more than the Ninglinspo. Less tourists, the trails are just a bit smaller and windier and we’re there at the right moment: in the morning after some nightly rain. The sun is still low on the horizon and the forest steams mysterically. It’s a beautiful morning.

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Valley of the Chefna.

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Valley of the Chefna.

We walk to Coo. Though both guidebooks don’t mention a camp site in Coo, there is one present. We pitch our tarp and start to cook when suddenly the sky turns black. We grab our saucepan from the fire and sit under the tarp. For twenty minutes the wind tries to grab our tarp on all sides possible. The thunders roar and lightning crashes above us. We hear trees squeak in the wind. When it is over, the camp site has no electricity anymore. A tree fell into the electricity cables, which broke. The Amblève has risen ten centimeters in these twenty minutes and is brown-coloured now. After our meal we help the camp site guard drinking Bellevaux Blanche. It would be a pity if the beer would warm because the fridge is out of electricity.

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Cascade de Coo.

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Panorama of Coo and the resevoirs.

This is the first part of three of the GR571. The last day we walk at altitude from Coo to Trois-Ponts with nice views on the route we’ve walked. In the forest we see what the storm has done: innumerable amount of blown away branches and more fallen trees than we’d expected.

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Point de vue de Ster.

In Trois-Ponts we take the train back to the starting point. We’re hungry for more GR571. Nice, quiet, beautiful sceneries and close to home!

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The train of Trois-Ponts.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography
Op pad met rugzak en tent
Sjef van de Poel
Uitgeverij Elmar
ISBN 90-389-1339-7

GR571, Vallées des Légendes Amblève, Salm, Lienne
Topo-Guide du Sentier de Grande Randonnée
ISBN 2-9600450-6-8

Bogs, moorland and a dinghy on the Dee

“We had an early departure and are being helped by a nice tailwind. Our navigation computer indicates that we will arrive at Aberdeen about fifteen minutes before schedule”, says our KLM captain. In reality we arrive five hours later on Aberdeen airport: the Scottish weather covered the airport in a thick blanket of fog, divirting our flight to Glasgow. From there it takes another three hours to get to Aberdeen by bus.

The weather is actually quiet nice here. Aberdeen is covered in fog, but the rest of Scotland is sunny. A day later than planned we get off the train in Aviemore. It’s starting to get sunny while we walk to the start of the Lairig Ghru.

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Lairig Ghru.

The Lairig Ghru is one of the paths crossing the Cairngorms from north to south. The next few days we will be walking through the Cairngorms to the source of the river Dee. Then we will inflate our packrafts and paddle back to sea, about one hunderd kilometers.

“You are going to do what? Walk from here to the Dee and then paddle back to sea? Haha, I feel better already!”

We end our day just after the Pools of Dee in a drizzle. When dusk arrives around nine o’clock, we see two women and a dog approach. They left Aviemore this morning to walk to Devil’s End and back. Perhaps a bit too far for one day, they tell us with a smile. “No, we’re not going to camp, tomorrow we’ll have to be at work.” They have enough energy bars and a good torch with them. As long as they will have left the Pools of Dee behind them before the dark. From the Pools is a good path back to Aviemore. The only thing lacking are dog cookies. Dog Skye hasn’t been eating all day. They ask for our plans and burst out laughing: “You are going to do what? Walk from here to the Dee and then paddle back to sea? Haha, I feel better already!” When we get into our sleeping bags, they’re walking back to Aviemore.

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Scottish grouse.

The famous day two, when the muscles speak up, is being accompanied by the famous grouse. We see the Scottish grouse everywhere, but in real life they’re a bit less elegant than shown in the whisky commercial from 2008. Today there’s not a cloud in the sky and this night we look a bit more red than usual. No, we didn’t take suncream with us.

A number of times we meet people of the National Trust for Scotland. When, after leaving the Cairngorms, we arrive at Mar Lodge we meet someone from the National Trust who is doing the maintenance of the estate. He takes the time to have a chat with us. He asks for our plans and tells about last winter. The enthusiastic way of talking displays a pride for Scotland and a pride of his work here. He wishes us good luck and success and goes his way on his quad.

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Mar Lodge.

At Victoria Bridge we inflate our packrafts. For one second we were doubting our schedule. We lost half a day by the divirsion of our airliner, but the beautiful weather guided us through the Cairngorms faster than expected. It should still be possible to reach the sea. The Dee at this point is wider than we expected, the water level is high enough and even where the river is wide there is a nice current. When paddling you don’t notice the current that much, but it is secretly helping a lot. In no-time we’ve passed Braemar, where we have to land. Just after Braemar a wild fence has been put over the Dee. In our guidebook it was written that a kayak-sized hole would be present in the fence. It has been repaired, no hole anymore. We land our packraft, lift our gear over the fence and drop in the Dee again.

Unexpectedly fast we arrive at Invercauld Bridge, class 3 according to our guidebook. As we’ve been taught, we get out of the river to scout the rapid. We discuss which line to sail and try to imprint the marks in our heads: “Just right of the big rock in the beginning, that’s the gate. Then follow the large V of black water and stay right of the white water.” Later this week we can do some more rapids. We enjoy each of them, they’re not too difficult.

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Packrafting river Dee.

“Hi there, how are you? Was it you, camping on the riverbank a few hunderd meters back? Beautiful spot, good choice!”

At the start of the Dee, the river is tranquil and wide. After Ballater the river becomes narrower and more rapids emerge. That’s where the fishermen are, in almost every bend there are one or two fishing. The banks of the Dee is decorated with a lot of small fishing cabins. Some shiny new, others almost taken back by nature and all have a woodstove. Because of the large amount of fishermen, we find it difficult to find a spot for our tent. When we finally pitch our tent after a cold, rainy day, we’re really glad to sit in a dry environment and have dinner. It’s the disadvantage of bad weather, we take almost no break and don’t eat many energy bars. Having the shelter of a tent and dinner simmering on our stove is real happiness then. Though the wind is blowing hard and we’re sleeping on bumpy patch of ground, we both sleep like a log.

We thought we wouldn’t be noticed in a green tent, pitched behind some bushes. The next morning we start to paddle and within a few minutes we meet the first fisherman of the day. “Hi there, how are you? Was it you, camping on the riverbank a few hunderd meters back? Beautiful spot, good choice!” The next fisherman tells us exactly the same a few minutes later!

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From Peterculter the Dee becomes wider again and more tranquil. Just before arriving in Aberdeen we see two otters playing in the water. It was a week filled with beautiful, rough landscapes, we’ve seen deer, many swallows and oyster catchers and lots of small birds. Although there are small villages next to Dee, civilization can’t be seen easily until you’re almost in Aberdeen.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route
Aviemore
Old logging road
Lairig Ghru
Mar Lodge
River Dee tot Aberdeen

Water level Dee: 0.7 m – 0.8 m

Bibliography
36, Grantown & Aviemore
Landranger Map
1:50 000

37, Strathdon & Alford
Landranger Map
1:50 000

38, Aberdeen
Landranger Map
1:50 000

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Above Braemar to Potarch

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Potarch to Banchory

UK Rivers Guidebook
River Dee – Banchory to Aberdeen

In between Thai food and white skies

It’s Friday, eleven o’clock in the evening. Our airplane lands in the snow on Olso airport. Ten centimetres of fresh snow has been falling the last hours. Next day we check in at Strand Fjellstue, a nice mountain lodge with Stefan and Surina as its enthusiastic owners. They serve the best Thai food that we’ve ever tasted. Strand Fjellstue is our starting- and endpoint of this tour. We’ll be sleeping in DNT self-service cabins, a more luxurious stay than the tarp we normally use.

It’s still snowing when we want to leave the next morning. The low hanging clouds make for poor visibility, which doesn’t make the navigation easier in this sloping landscape. Stefan tells us that the easiest route to Storkvelvbua goes around Ongsjøfjellet (fjellet = mountain). A long route but easier to find in this weather. We put our skis on, cross the frozen lake and start our ascent.

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At the end of the ascent we can choose to climb further to mountain pass Leppskardet or we can choose the longer route that Stefan told us. We choose the last one. The visibility is still low and we trust our own navigation capabilities and the scarce signs we find (this day we find about three signs in total). Willow branches put up in the snow show the route. It is going to be a long day, half past five we arrive at the cabin which is packed in ice. “I think I see a light indoors”, Fred says, but immediately corrects himself. “No, it’s very dark indoors.” and the cabin seems to be vacant. Till we arrive at the door and find nine pairs of skis standing in the snow.

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In the cabin we find nine Norwegians, the stove is burning, water has been made and they offer us some hot water for making tea. Instead of clearing two beds for us, they show the small room for us to use. We prepare our food and over dinner we talk about the routes and about Norway. They are doing a three day tour. The day before yesterday they arrived, today they made a day trip and tomorrow they’ll return to the valley. During the day trip they did not use the willow branches for navigation and needed to rely on their GPS. We already decided to use the marked trails in this bad weather and get that as an advice as well: “Stick to the sticks.”

Stick to the sticks.

After dinner everyone is doing his or her own thing. We take a look on the map, some people play cards and others read a book. We prepare a hot chocolate and they offer us a brownie. The home-made brownie melts on our tongues. Such a luxury, such a luxury.

“There are two ways to fall: the faceplant and the bumplant.” Fred has the chance to practice both.

Just before we want to leave in the morning one of the Norwegians hurries to the cabin. “There’s a herd of raindeer in the valley. More than one hunderd animals!” The same herd we saw yesterday just outside the cabin. This herd has returned from the north early this year. It’s time for us to submerge ourselves in the monochromous world of snow and willow branches.
We cannot judge depth because of the clouds. Drift of snow cannot be seen either. As Ernst Arbouw describes in his article (page 46) in the Dutch magazine Hoogtelijn: “There are two ways to fall: the faceplant and the bumplant.” Fred has the chance to practice both.

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Candlelight dinner.

We’re brushing our teeth in Oskampen when Charissa says: “Grab the camera, I see a fox!” Special for us Dutch, but as we learn later, foxes can be seen regularly here. At Strand Fjellstue they know a fox that walks the same route near the mountain lodge each day.

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The last night we spend in Nordbua. Not a DNT cabin, but a cabin from the local tourist association: Gausdal Fjellstyre. There are less facilities than in a DNT cabin, but mattresses and a stove are present. What else do you need? We’ll be enjoying the last freeze dried meal with candlelight for this week here.

We want to move on fast, but to where? We hang against the wind to keep standing and feel the gusts of wind pulling forcefully on our backpacks.

From the start of the last day the snow sticks to our skis. In the morning it is +2C already and wet snow falls from the sky. We decide to go for the short route, via mountain pass Leppskardet. In the meantime the wind is picking up fast. The higher we climb, the worse the weather gets. Just under the mountain pass we’re in a white-out again: We see white everywhere, the horizon cannot be found. Claustrophobia in the wide open plain. The wind is blowing at at least eight Beaufort. The willow branches are 25 meters apart, but sometimes Charissa needs to go ahead to find the next stick. Finally we are saved by the sign at the mountain pass, completely covered in ice.

We want to move on fast, but to where? We hang against the wind to keep standing and feel the gusts of wind pulling forcefully on our backpacks. No willow branches to be found anymore. We try to find them, but fail regardless of our attempts. The map told us that the next 60 meters will consist of a steep descent and the terrain will flatten out afterwards.

We need to yell to hear what we’re saying to each other. Eventually we decide to keep our bearing to north-north-east and carefully descent inside this white cloud. Step by step we descent, watching the compass. We see some grey spots, but cannot identify what it is we’re seeing. Trees, rocks? We make a few cautious steps when suddenly the cloud dissolves a bit. We see trees and we see where we need to go to. Quickly we descent to the trees. There we find the next willow branches. Finally time for a break, the first energy bar and cup of tea of this day.

It starts to rain when we continue to follow the willow branches. In the afternoon we arrive at Strand Fjellstue soaking wet. We can dry our gear in the drying room and are offered a delicious cup of Thai soup. Despite all Norwegians we speak say it’s “a horrible winter”, we have enjoyed the last week! We’ve seen a fox, raindeer and grouses, all days we’ve dined in candle light in comfortable warm wooden cabins. Holidays!

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Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route
Strand Fjellstue (Espedalen)*
Ongsjøsætran
Leppbua
Storkvelvbua*
Svarttjønnholet
Storhøliseter*
Jotunheimstien
Oskampen*
Øyvassbua
Skriurusten*
Storkvelvbua
Nordbua*
Leppskardet
Strand Fjellstue*
*: overnight stay

Bibliography
2492, Huldreheimen, Spȧtind
DNT Turkart
1:50 000

Example tour by DNT

Lesse

It’s Saturday morning when the alarm rings. The backpacks are ready, we walk to our car and in the rain we drive southwards. After a few hours we park our car at the railway station in Anseremme. It’s still raining, so we put our drysuits on. Drysuits, rain clothes, what’s in a name?

According to the timetable our train will stop at track one. The local clochard is sitting on the platform, drinking his third beer. He explains us clearly that they are working on this side of the railway station and the train will stop on the other side. A bit later, Ivo, Joke and Peter arrive. Together we ride to Houyet.

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Joery and Veerle already arrived in Houyet. We inflate the packrafts and leave. Our rubber duck floats happily with us today, he doesn’t care about the rain. Actually, he likes it so much that he frees himself of the tiny rope and nearly stays with the other ducks.

02

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We take a break on a small gravel beach. In the meanwhile the rain has stopped. The best part has been left for after the break: There are two weirs, one at the castle of Furfooz and the other one near the camp-site. At these water levels they are both easy to raft.

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Just before the end near Anseremme we meet three kayakers. A few hunderd meters later it’s time to have a drink and then say our goodbyes. See ya next time?

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Harz

The last tour of this year. We’ll be doing some cross country skiing through the Harz for a few days. A small problem: the closer we get to the departure date, the less chance there is for a snow covered Harz. Is this the area well known for the large amount of rain and low temperatures? At Christmas the last specks of snow disappear, so we leave for Germany without skis.

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The Harz is a highland in Northern Germany with its highest point the Brocken. It is well known: Each year 1.3 million people visit the Brocken. The Harz is a large forest that mainly consists of pine trees and a few birches. There are a few small swamps and the “summits” of the hills have some large boulders on them. A few years ago a lynx has been released here, which is also the symbol for the area.

The Harz has been used for intensive mining since the Middle Ages. The last mine has been closed recently: in 2007. Mining left some traces as there are still large amounts of heavy metals in the ground. During the Cold War the border between East- and West-Germany was right through the Harz. Between 1945 and 1990 this was a forbidden, military area. After the Wende everything that reminded of the split between the countries has been erased. The only memory you’ll encounter a few times in the area are the Kolonnen Wegen, long blocks of concrete used by the soldiers for transport.

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The first night we crawl into our tarp after which it immediately starts to drizzle. During the night the ticking of the raindrops changes to a soft patting: snow. The next morning we wake up in a white world, the ground is covered by a few centimeters of snow.

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Though the wind is getting stronger, it takes a day or two for the thick fog hanging in the forest to disappear. These days there is no view: We walk through a thick forest and at the summits (Klippe) nothing can be seen because of the fog. When the fog finally is away, there are still thick, grey clouds hiding the Brocken. According to the statistics the Brocken is covered by fog for 300 days a year. We believe it’s true.

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Achtermannshöhe

As most people have holidays now and the Harz is a beloved area for tourists, there are lots of people on the footpaths to the Brocken. If you leave these paths, you won’t meet a soul anymore!

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This area is well fitted for cross country skiing. It is sloping and the forest paths are good. For hiking we like the meandering mountain paths more, which are not so easy to find here.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography

450, Karte 1, Harz
Wandern, Rad, Kompass
1:50 000

Packrafting Isar, from source to Bad Tölz

After our white water course we would like to make a multi-day tour by ourselves. We think we’ve learned a lot and would like to test that in practice. We search through our DKV Kanuführer, the book White Water North Alps and at kajaktour.de and find two rivers to choose from: the Isar and the Salza. We consider all options and stare at the water flows a lot and finally decide to go for the Isar.

We find an example tour on the internet. The part Scharnitz to Wolfsrathausen has been done in packrafts in June 2009 and took them three days. Helmets and wetsuits could be rented at outdoor company Nature Lounge. Unfortunately no water flows are mentioned in the example. We drive to Scharnitz and search for the company Nature Lounge. Without protection against the cold water we’re not going to enter any river in the Alps. Tomorrow it will rain, but a window of four days good weather will arrive after tomorrow. If we can rent the wetsuits tomorrow, we can raft for four days in good weather. Perfect fit.

Nature Lounge does exist, however, only as a lama rental company. This is confirmed by the local tourist information office. The lady at the tourist information tells us that there are no kayak companies in the area. The first shop that sells anything that has something to do with water sports is located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A little disappointed we return to the camp-site. We’re reluctant to drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to find out we can’t rent wetsuits there. On the internet we look for alternatives: Kayak school Source2Sea near Innsbruck is advertising with wetsuits rental. We don’t find any opening hours, so we pay them a visit at random.

At the door we find a sign with opening hours. Ofcourse we arrived just after morning closure, but fortunately someone is still there. We receive a phone number to call when we want to return the goods. He also tells us that the opening hours at the door are more or less indicative. We’re happy to start floating tomorrow.

Our plan is to raft down the Obere Isar from the camp-site. After a night at the camp-site we take our backpacks and continue for three more days on the Untere Isar. We’re unable to judge how far we can float in three days because there are no water flows mentioned. We know that the water level is just under the minimum and we keep in mind that it can take longer and we might need to have to walk some stretches. At many places along the river it is possible to leave the water and return to the camp-site by public transport.

Obere Isar

Pete Bandtock: “Every time we do this run, we are simply buzzing to repeat it immediately.”

From the village a jeep track ascends to the put-in. It is forbidden to drive for all traffic. One exception: For kayaks one can call a cab that drives you to the put-in. We go by foot in that direction. The water level is low: According to the measurement station it is 112.7 cm where 115 cm is the minimum for boating. If the water level is too low at the put-in we just move a bit more downstream.

From the put-in to the first narrow valley is really low water. We have to slalom the whole time to avoid hitting rocks and fallen trees and we scratch the ground multiple times. We survive the Isar Cataract intact, but not in the most elegant way.

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Obere Isar.

After the Cataract we enter the first narrow valley and finally the water level is high enough. From now on we paddle with big, big smile. It’s hard work, but very much fun. This continues until we enter Scharnitz.

The first valley consists of a continuous descent over small plateaus. There are no eddies to wait for each other or for a small rest. Then the valley opens and the water becomes more tranquil. Here you can enjoy the view at the Karwendel massif.

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Obere Isar.

The second valley is easier, with more rocks and more eddies. Take a good look where the Gleierschbach flows into the Isar: if you look to your left, you’ll see the beautiful and very small Gleierschbachtal. Near Scharnitz you should pay attention for dredging work where they drag a cable through the river. Pay careful attention on working days! A weir with iron rods was described in our guidebook, which we didn’t find, even at these low water levels.

Untere Isar

From Scharnitz we go downstream. At the border we have to get out of the water and carry our packrafts: A weir has been put up there with big boulders and multiple large, rusty iron rods. Probably not a problem with a kayak, but with our inflatable packrafts we tend to avoid sharp objects. At these low water levels the rods are just centimeters above the water level. If the water level is a bit higher, they cannot be seen.

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Near the border in Mittenwald.

In Mittenwald there are two other parts with too many rocks. After passing them we can quietly paddle through the village.

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Mittenwald.

The next obstacle is in Krün. A little reservoir has been made to generate electricity. At the start of the reservoir a sign has been put up that you should take out at the left side because it is forbidden to paddle on the reservoir. You can walk over the bridge and put in after the weir.

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Reservoir near Krün.

kajaktour.de: Man könnte fast meinen, dass man nicht mitten in Europa sondern irgendwo in Kanada ist.

After Wallgau the river changes character. Until now it was a reasonably fast flowing river filled with rocks and boulders. Now the Isar is splitting multiple times and these creeks flow through gravel banks with fallen trees and driftwood. We follow the biggest creek and have to get out of our boats multiple times because the water level is too low to raft. Later we see the water level at Rißbachdücker is only 16 cm. 23 cm is the minimum for boating and the advice for a nice float is a minimum of 30 cm.

In the Isartal from Krün tot Vorderriß we find a lot of people bivouacing. We meet some people with canoes that pitched their tents near the shore.

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When we wake up the next day the world is covered in a blanket of thick fog. We can hardly see the other side of the Isar. We have our breakfast, pack our bags and leave. Soon we have to get out of our boats near the weir and measurement station in Vorderriß. Meanwhile, the fog has almost disappeared.

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Today we’re not making much progress. We have to get out of our boats a lot because the water level is too low and we have to pass a lot of weirs. The scenery is beautiful, but getting out and putting in takes a lot of time. A little before the Sylvenstein-Stausee gravel is being mined. Big trucks come and go, filled with gravel. They drive full throttle and we have to take shelter behind our packrafts regularly. Immediately after the bridge we put in, to find out we have to get out again two minutes later. There we find the real weir. Unfortunately.

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Sylvenstein Stausee.

We’re happy finally to be paddling on the reservoir. Sadly the wind is blowing from the front with four Beaufort, despite paddling hard it takes us a long time to get to the other side. They are working at the weir, so we have to walk and put in a few hunderd meters after the weir.

Our packrafts seem to attrack children. When we want to put in after the weir a family with four kids is about to leave. One of the children is nearly sitting in Fred’s packraft when he is attaching his backpack. They keep watching us until we disappear at the horizon.

After the put in there are three enjoyful drops. Each drop is higher than the previous one, but easier to raft. At this side of the weir the water level is high enough for fast paddling. We were afraid that the water level would be low on this side as well.

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Drop after the Sylvenstein Stausee.

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Drop after the Sylvenstein Stausee.

At Winkl there is one more weir where we have to get out. The second part of this day we go astonishingly fast. The river picks up speed and we can raft without having to get out. We pass the weir in Lengries and pitch our tarp at a small island in the Isar just outside of Lengries. The island is full of biting, red ants, but we find one spot without ants, just large enough for our tarp and two packrafts.

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Bivouac on an island downstream of Lengries.

Only a small piece of our tour remains until the final take out near Bad Tölz. We play a bit going in and out of eddies but reach Bad Tölz sooner than expected. We have to search for the station which takes longer than expected, but in the afternoon we board the bus to the camp-site. A few hours and two bus changes later we’re back in Scharnitz. Another quick end to a beautiful tour.

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Take out near Bad Tölz.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Bibliography

Pete Bandtock – White Water North Alps
Rivers Publishing U.K.ISBN 0-9519413-9-9

DKV-Auslandsführer Band 1 – Österreich/Schweiz
Deutscher-Kanu-Verband-Verlag
ISBN 978-3-937743-19-6

WK322: Wetterstein – Karwendel – Seefeld – Leutasch – Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Wander-, Rad- und Freizeitkarte, Freytag & Berndt
1:50 000

182: Isarwinkel, Bad Tölz, Lenggries
Wandern – Rad – Skitouren, Kompass
1:50 000