Tysselva - A Snapshot of Norwegian Kayaking
Voss. 15/06/17. This was my last day in Norway, so we agreed we wanted to do something good. We also knew however that I needed to be at Bergen airport by 5 for my flight home. Bergen is 1.5 hrs away from Voss. Enough time for an epic adventure?
Over New Year, Dave Burne and I had spoken about this short window of freedom in June between Dave’s night shifts. After a little debate on destination and recruiting David Doyle, a good friend and ‘deadly’ kayaker from Ireland, we decided to go to Norway for a 6 day smash-and-grab! The weather was overcast and drizzly, water levels were high, and the stage had been set for an epic week.
Meet at the midtown petrol station at 9, and go from there. We met with Tim and Dave, a couple of Brits who had arrived in Voss in the night, and then with our mate Rowan and his mate Halvor. We has talked the previous night about heading out to do the Rafting Run of the Raundalselvi (at 80 cumecs it's a full on run and would no doubt have been an awesome final river!), but when Rowan and halvor turned up and said, 'How about Tysselva?' All eyes lit up. The slide is legendary, and the run itself promised an adventure! We jetted off...
When we turned off the main road towards Tysselva, and the climb began. Up, up and up we went away from the fjord that the river plunges down into. As Dave and I crested the hill in our Rent-A-Wreck Hyundai (we’d picked it up in Bergen for the week in disappointingly pristine condition), we both breathed a sigh of relief to see that the put-in would not be quite this far uphill from the take out. A winding road brought us down to a gently flowing river in an alpine meadow. It seemed strange to launch our kayaks in this beautiful idyllic setting, expecting giant slides and mega waterfalls. We also by then had a time constraint of 3 hours to paddle the 6 km section before getting back to the car and setting off to the airport. Game on! We pushed our kayaks into the flow and paddled hard downstream, knowing speed on the flats would give us much needed time on the steep sections.
The long term Paddle Bums Halvor and Rowan set a cracking pace as we charged across lakes and then down sections of low volume granite slides. Nothing more than grade 3, but the taste buds were wetted. As we pulled up at a big horizon, we knew the real fun was about to begin. Dave got out of his boat to scout for the group. After a little thought, he gave the signal to that we should drive our boats right as we went over the horizon. One by one we set off. As I pushed my boat across the flow at the lip, I began to see the ledge on the right that I was aiming for. I rode up the wall as high as I could before
dropping down onto the boiling water below; well clear of the rocks on the river left. Nice! We continued with good quality paddling on increasingly interesting slides until we arrived at our first walk. The guidebook had described a waterfall of two rocky ledges that had been paddled by boofing onto the middle ledge on the far left, landing flat into only 20cm of water. It didn't appeal, so we shouldered up and trudged around it. A beautiful 2 metre seal launch below the manky drop made up for our trouble.
Another lake, another unrunnable rapid, another fun but slightly tame and bumpy slide... and so the cycle repeated... we began to get tired, but the tempo of the river kept us entertained all the way to the point where it fell off the face of the earth. Sweating and with aching shoulders, we arrived at the road after walking 10 minutes out through dense woodland. We stripped off to cool down. What an epic! Half of me wanted to fall into the car and get ready to leave. But we knew the greatest jewel of the day was potentially ours for the taking. Just below us, visible from the road and immediately following the death
cascades we had walked out from, was the Tysselva Slide. I've seen it in tons of videos and still images with great kayakers driving their boats towards giant haystack waves, rocketing down the 25 metre slide at huge speeds towards a final stopper that was powerful and unforgiving. I hadn't imagined thought I'd be here, seriously considering the line.But there it was... from the top, if you could push left past the boil line and maintain your momentum through the top wave, you'd be perfectly set up to ride out the slide, as it smashed down the slope at 45 degrees, pausing only to kick 2 big flumes of water into the air. At those speeds, even the bottom stopper looked like it would be okay.
Rowan was the first of us to give the go sign. We set up an anchor line to help us keep footing down the slippery bedrock slope to our put in; a small crag with just room enough for a boat to launch from right above the first rapid of the slide. Aided by the steadying of hand of Halvor, Rowan got in on the dubious, slanted launch ramp. With a strong push forward, Rowan launched himself into the eddy above. We scurried around setting safety and ensuring the cameras we're definitely on, then gave the thumbs up. Go! On target, Rowan punched across the boil line and charged to the left side of the top wave. With tremendous speed, he was over the top and racing down the clear left hand side of the slides. As he approached the bottom he readied a paddle stroke, and flew over the final stopper. It barely looked like it touched him! We all whooped with excitement, and then began to move our boats towards the put in slope. After helping Halvor get into his boat, making sure he landed nicely into the eddy with a bit of a push, it was my turn. Halvor too had styled it, rocketing down the left side of the slides and through the bottom hole with no problems. With butterflies in my stomach, I lowered my boat down the slope to our launch point, steadying myself with the support rope. Dave was there to help me get into position and to make sure after launching that I went into the eddy rather than being caught by the current and drifting backwards down the slide. The put in was the scariest part!
Once in the eddy, under the shadow of a torrential unrunnable waterfall, I shut everything out and focussed on the line, visualising the move from across the top past the boil and onto the first wave. I raised a thumb, waited for the requisite returned signal that meant all cameras and safety crew were at the ready, and then set off.
With visions of my line running through my head, I pushed out of the eddy and paddled to the entry ramp. A strong right hand stroke propelled me into the current and over the boils on the left. I was there. I didn't have long to take it in, but at that point the view from the top of the Tysselva Slide was spectacular. I punched forward through the first wave, got forward and waited for the mist to clear. I'd made it through the giant waves, and now the ramp and stopper were mine for the taking! At this point, when you know you're in the right place, all that's left is to enjoy the speed. As I plowed through the stopper at the bottom, barely slowing, joyous expletives exploded from my mouth. ’YEEAAAAA $%^£$%@@@ THAT WAS AMAZING! ‘
I suddenly became very aware of the time! I'd planned on finishing the river at 3 to get to the airport. I checked my watch. 2:50. I let Dave celebrate his successful run for a minute before interjecting: ’Really nice job mate! We have to go!' Understanding dawned on his face, and we quickly carried our boats up to the car. Gear in boat. Everything else in bag. Drive! We made it to the airport with an hour to spare. What a way to end a totally amazing week in Norway.
Blog by Jamie Greenhalgh
Photos by Jamie, Dave Burne and David Doyle.