Updated: Jan 1, 2018
A canoe adventure in Sweden. In Summer 2017 my self and three friends Brian, Charlie and Josh headed into northern Sweden to the Dalalven National park. The purpose of the journey was to canoe through the Swedish wilderness and test our expedition skills.
Our journey began as almost all trips abroad began, with a trip to the air port. Our bags were packed with everything we needed to survive for a week, our homes our cooking equipment our clothes. (and of course a bottle of whiskey each!) Wrapped in cling film to protect them from the delicate handling of the the folks at the Airport the packs were bundled into the car and off we went. A 2 hour queue for check in, a few minor issues at security and an over priced burrito each and we were on the plane flying north. The excitement this part of each trip is electric, I love it it really builds up, you find yourself being excited about being excited - its quite hard to explain to some one who hasn't experienced it themselves.
My bag Packed and ready to go - pre-cling film
Our flight was a late one so we spent the night sleeping on a bench inside the airport. not the best nights sleep any of us has ever had, but still it was all part of the adventure. Before we knew it we were on a spacious high speed train hurtling through the Swedish country side for our destination of Avesta, a small town in central Sweden. Sven - our canoe hire guy was not there. We couldn't get hold of him, temporarily we were stranded and ended up loosing half a day of paddling. Long story short the day before had been Sven's birthday and he'd been thrown a surprise party, got hideously drunk passed out, slept through his alarm and forgotten to pick us up. He was a little confused and shocked to find us outside his house!
Finally we made it onto the water after what had already felt like an adventure. Is shared a canoe with Brian, whilst charlie and josh shared one of their own. Finally our expedition was under way.
Charlie taking in the scenery and enjoying the sunshine during a brief reprieve from the wind
The purpose of this expedition was to really test our expedition skills, to improve our efficiency at setting and breaking camp, test ourselves at long distance paddling and to set goals to improve our bushcraft skills. We had set ourselves challenges, a key one being to always light our fire with things we could find where we camped. This was a great one for Charlie you can see him practicing in one of the youtube videos of this trip. On of our other goals was a little more elusive, we wanted to see wild beavers. The beaver, we had been told were situated in the northern part of Dalalven national park. the national park is one of the most important Biospheres in Sweden, it is a river landscape flowing through flat ground, which brings the landscape and the waterscape together in a unique kind of beauty. Contained within the national park are over 200 islands, over 100 species of bird and many species of large mammals including moose, lynx, marten and of course - the beaver.
Our goal was to paddle into the national park then traverse its entire length to get to our goal. it wasn't going to be easy.
Having lost the best part of the day, our first day of paddling was short, we paddled into the wind and had to avoid power boats - and more importantly the waves that trail behind them which threatened to capsize us on more than a few occasions.
Dinner cooking at our first camp
Our first campsite was easy to find but the tree coverage in the area was minimal due to nearby farmland which left us quite exposed and windswept, but it was fine we were exhausted we could've slept anywhere. The only problem was that Josh had a little trouble setting up his tarp it was frustrating for him so I helped him out a little, it was fine after all these were the skills we were here to test and hone. our evening meal was fresh beef steaks cooked on the fire. after such a long day they were incredible. But, we were not in the national park yet so an early night was in order. We all slept well. Morning came we ate porridge an drank coffee, no time to mess around and relax we had beavers to find! in under an hour we were fed, camp was dismantled the boats were loaded and off we went.
Day two and the weather was incredible, clear blue skys, hot sunshine and wind. Lots of wind. Paddling into a headwind all day is not easy, the going was slow and it was physically draining but we persevered. We even found the time to relax in a bay out of wind and do a spot of fishing!
Camp was a little harder to find that night, we explored a couple of islands but none were suitable eventually however we did find a place to camp, much later in the evening than planned. This was a valuable yet painful lesson to learn we had left it too late to find a camp, which meant that we were hungry and tired before we even had the fire lit too cook on, resulting in a late night for all of us. not a mistake we'd be making again.
Our trusty canoes moored up by one of the islands we explored
One good thing that came out of our painful lesson however was that whislt exploring the islands to camp on we found our first sign of beavers, old weathered tree stumps showing the tell tale signs of being chewed and felled by beaver.
Tell tale Signs of beaver activity
We were starting to get excited. five minutes into paddling on the second day we saw our first, unmistakable clear sign that beaver were in the area. A Lodge, and actual beaver lodge. The game was on we might actually see them!
Josh taking in our first Sighting of a beaver lodge
The days progressed very much the same as the two before, paddling into the wind, feeling exhausted but in high spirits regardless. The distance covered was painfully slow but we soldiered on camping on islands, falling into the routines of the journey relaxed and comfortable, along the way we saw hardly another person, just the odd power boat in the distance, or a cabin with smoke gently rising from a chimney. It was bliss.
Finally on the morning of the fourth day we reached our destination. a designated camping location on an island about 1 kilometer from the location we'd been told had lots of beaver activity. we stopped early that day to rest up and eat up our excess food, we fished, ate, swam in the river talked and sang songs in the sun. it was idyllic we improved the sailing rig we'd made for the canoes using a tarp and a couple of felled trees. as evening drew near we ate a meal and prepared to set off in our canoes.
Beaver are crepuscular animals meaning that they are most active around dawn and dusk, So just before the sun began to drift below the horizon we set off. Our canoes now empty as our gear was left at camp the excitement in our little rig was tangible, this was it 4 days of grueling paddling being battered by the wind and scorched by the sun all for this moment. It was as if the wold had conspired to make it perfect for us, the wind had died down to less than a whisper and the water turned to glass.
I tried in vain not to get my hopes up, we may not see anything.
A 'beaver slide' a tale tale sign that beaver are using this area to access the water
We reached the small cluster of islands, the whole world was still and silent. We paddled as softly as we could since every small splash of water sounded like a crashing wave in the stillness. It was tense I loved it. Suddenly off to our left we heard a crashing sound there was something in the reeds! Crash! Crash! Crash! It was a moose! I'd never seen on up close before - they're enormous! not only was it a full grown moose but it had a young calf with it as well, we'd already seen Ospreys the day before so this was just fantastic given that we'd been told we probably wouldn't see any at this time of year. This encounter was brief sadly the moose noticed us and they disappeared back into the forest.
Onwards we paddled, as silently as possible, no sound but the occasional gentle slosh of a paddle and the odd near silent whisper of instructions to one and other. when suddenly we heard another sound, not the crashing sound of the moose, this was different.
"Chuch Chuch Chuch" coming from the reeds at the base of a fallen birch tree. we couldnt see what was making the sound so we edged closer in the canoe.
" Chuch Chuch Chuch" Closer. "Chuch Chuch Chuch"
Suddenly there was a small break in the reeds where they had been flattened by a large, aquatic mammal with a flat tail. It was a beaver! out came the cameras this was INCREDIBLE! We'd done it! but our experience wasn't over yet, the beaver had noticed us and it slipped into the water, and swam by us very closely before diving under and slapping its tail on the surface, a loud, distinctive warming sound to other beaver in the area. It sounds like slapping your bear hand on the water in a swimming pool. Moments later there was the sound again! but this time from behind us, there were two beavers!
Out came the cameras whilst me an Brian furiously tried to get a shot, Charlie and Josh did a sterling job of controlling the boats whilst we faffed with lenses and camera settings, cursing the gentle rock of the boats which becomes highly exaggerated on a long lens and full zoom!
One of the beavers keeping its distance and a weary eye on us
we spent a good hour in the company of the Beaver, they kept their distance from us and ours from them. Most of the time wasn't spent looking through the lens but just enjoying the moment, it would've been wrong to spoil it so the cameras were packed away and we watched them and they watched us. It was truly magical, eventually the sun began to drop lower and lower bathing everything in a soft orange glow. It was time to head back to camp, we paddled away as silently as we'd arrived so as not to disturb the beaver. Once we were a safe distance away we relaxed and the emotions kicked in. Mentally and physically tired it was difficult not to be overwhelmed by the whole experience - honestly I thought Brian was going to cry (I cannot honestly say I didn't feel like i was going to my self)
The sun setting as we left the beaver's islands
All of our hard work and physical Hardship over the past few days had payed off, we'd done what we set out to do, we'd honed our skills, we hadn't given up no matter how hard it had been paddling into the wind we had gotten to our destination and we had spent time among the beaver with not another human being around for miles and miles. Just us and them