EXPEDITION - SJOA
the SJOA RIVER expedition
5 July - 16 July 2010
The glacier fed primary source at 1600m.a.s.l. runs steep and cold for 16km into Lake Gjende ( 984m.a.s.l. ) in the foothills of Jotunheimen (home of the giants) National Park. 3 lakes including the 18km long Lake Gjende at the headwaters help warm up the water before it tumbles through a range of difficulty with portaging very likely at some of the waterfalls en-route to the Åsengjuvet canyon.
In the 1200´s at Ridderspranget ( The Knights Leap ) a young knight evaded capture by jumping over the Sjoa with his `stolen´ maiden and then pushed his servant into the river to warn his pursuers of the consequences. The home of Heidal Ysteri ( brown cheese manufacturer ) and the highest concentration of protected homesteads in Norway are in the village of Heidal along with Bjølstad farm which has been in the same family since the 13th century !
A well known river in Norway, for its commercial rafting and kayaking options, with four commercial rafting operators, a kayak instruction and rescue centre and the slalom course at Riksanlegget. The last section of the Sjoa before it confluences with the Lågen River is the Class IV Åmodt-Fallen where in mid-summer extreme kayak racing through the falls attracts kayakers from all over Europe.
Welcome to the mountains
An on-time departure from our house with our friend, Jan. We cruised the 3 hour drive to Leirvassbu, with a last blast of tunes on his big black truck stereo at our arrival. The aptly named tune `welcome to the mountains´ by Norwegian rock band, Big Bang - drove the reality home. We are, was, were here (can´t remember which order). A snack, final pack, into river gear and we headed out into the wild mountains.
We started right at the first sign of meltwater of Høgvaglbreen glacier and then bum-skiing the snow-field down to Høgvagltjønnin Lake. For 2 days we followed the Storåe creek and valley from Høgvaglbreen to Gjendebu. This is likely to be a first descent by kayakers. Three lakes, a waterfall and 16 km of river were descended slowly and deliberately. The terrain was harsh - cold, windy, treeless, marshy and highly exposed. The river itself was shallow with extremely sharp loose rock, ice-cold water and relatively easy to navigate with several portages around a waterfall and sketchy class 5 rapids. Lunch on day 2 was prompted by our first major trial. Scott had cracked the hull of his kayak. Not really reparable. Luckily we were only 2 clicks from `civilization´. Rob went on a 24 hour side-expedition, caught the ferry and returned home to Heidal via a series of phone calls and lifts from Brett and visits to Strie Strommer kayak shop to source a new boat.
Lake Gjende crossing
All 3 happy at regrouping at Gjendebu we traded the white-water kayaks for 2 sea-kayaks and an open canoe. Tailwinds favoured our 2 day crossing of Lake Gjende with an evening of unsuccessful fishing at Memerubu with the cows waking us in the early hours. We surfed the wind-swept lake for 18 kilometres, with steep glacier carved mountain walls, scree slopes, sandy beaches and the deep emerald green, glacial floured waters our natural companions.
Gjendesheim is a tourist hub for ferry crossings, departure point for the famous Bessegen hike and the headwater of the Sjoa River. A laugh and chat with Tank & Anna who resupplied us and we were back into our white-water kayaks and directly into the whitewater with a great rapid at Maurvangen. Camp 4 at Øvre Sjodalsvatn Lake gave us a spectacular view to the setting sun dipping the horizon of the Jotunheimen Mountains in the West where we had recently descended from. Crossing the 2 lakes of Øvre and Nedre Sjodalsvatn we were again fortunate to have tailwinds, however white-water kayaks are not the greatest craft for keeping in a straight line over the white-capped lakes. At Furu, a solid class 4 drop between the 2 lakes, our expedition was halted briefly. The river had claimed Scotts paddle as a memento.
The gradient picked up considerably with portages at Griningsdal, Stuttgong Fossen, Ridderspranget and Upper Tråsåfossen. Interspersing these big drops were calm pools with marshy islands, pine and birch lined class 3 boogie water, summer cabins on the sun-facing hills, moss and lichen covered giant rocky outcrops. Occasional glimpses of vehicles on the 257. Fly fisherman plyed their sport quietly in the swift moving shallows. A sweet run at the classic Lower Tråsåfossen brought us into the Åsengjuvet canyon.
We met up with Tom and Ella who had brought us cookies, smiles, supplies and our raft. Woke up to our first inclement weather of the expedition at camp 8, with the confluence of the Rinda creek. Moving slowly through the canyon we worked hard to capture images through foggy lenses under umbrellas. An underlying feeling of “ nearly there” tugged in all of our subconsciousness. Little did we know that it would take us 3 more days for the remaining 14 km.
Conveniently we live on the Sjoa River at Faukstad. We decided to sleep up at the house as the camp spot down at the river flooded with the rising river. A decision to get off the river, coincided with the annual Sjoa River Festival. As if we were not busy enough, Ine managed to rally 9 raft teams, 5 volunteers and an afternoon of sporting spectator delight. Rob and Scott filming and photographing, chased the teams down a high water downriver race through the commercial play run from Harlaug to Faukstad. The Aussies won again.
Åmodt Fallene to Lågen
Rob and Scott joined the River Festival festivities and entered the Sweet Rumble Boater X on day 12, coming 45th and 46th respectively. The river was now flowing at a healthy 352.29 at the entrance to Åamodt Fallene. A runnable/paddlable level with unhealthy consequences should you be out of your kayak. We decided on the portage option, tough but wise. We blasted the last kilometre and half to the confluence with the Lågen River. One journeys end, but half of our job done. Driva River next.
* Kersti Skjørten - Insurance
* Nerviken Eiendom - Maps
* Eilif Skjørten - Trademark
* Torgeir Strander - Accountancy
* Maja Lokken - Biodegradable soap