Sunday, August 21, 2016

Kayaking in the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord (Norway)

The main draw for us coming to Norway was the chance to go kayaking in the fjords. Now we've been on a few kayaking trips - the most memorable included a capsize we still refer to as a "marriage-building experience" - but enough time passes that memories fade, and we think, yes, maybe we should try a kayaking trip again. When we arrived in Norway, the weather report had changed considerably enough for the worse that we seriously debated cancelling this portion of our trip and losing a significant deposit. Despite the ominous forecast, and our poor track record with kayaking trips, we committed to going ahead.

In Gudvangen (about 45 min northeast of Voss), we packed clothes in dry bags; donned wetsuits (again), spray skirts, and jackets; and secured food and gear in holds and in bungees strapped atop the kayaks. Everything we'd need for the 3 day adventure with tour operator Nordic Ventures. It was chilly and raining intermittently when we launched out into the Nærøyfjord, but the sea was relatively calm, and a light tailwind made the paddling surprisingly relaxed. It also helps that the Nærøyfjord is a UNESCO world heritage site. Traffic is restricted to only a handful of small boats and ferries, and the only aircraft we saw were likely rescue helicopters. We stopped for a picnic lunch on a beach just around the corner from where a huge pile of stones marked the burial of Viking of some importance, judging by the size of the mound.

Being on the water ended up being the best case scenario. The rain doesn't matter so much if you're in wetsuits already, and our guide Hamish pointed out about a half dozen smaller waterfalls that only appeared on the cliffs in such abundance. The old faithfuls were truly impressive dropping off such steep cliffs, and it was so much fun to fill our bottles straight from the cascades! One of the falls was so strong you could paddle hard into the rapids developing at the foot before the strength of them pushed you quickly out to sea again.

The middle of our trip was broken up with a day on land. We made camp on a beach one evening near the hamlet of Dyrdal, and the next morning we hiked from sea level all the way to the top of the fjord. Luckily, the weather cleared up for most of it, and the long hours of daylight we're on our side. We climbed 1100 meters (~3600 feet) and back down again in about 10.5 hours! As our guide warned us, Norwegians don't really go in for catwalks or zigzagging. The trail pretty much went straight up. It was also highly technical. The wet created boggy areas of mud, moss, and curiously springy lichen. The higher elevations were strewn with boulders and smaller, uneven rocks of the perfect size and shape for trapping feet or rolling ankles on. Fortunately, the views more than made up for it: thundering waterfalls with bluish rapids, towering mountains with the odd sheep, hay fields swaying with breeze, and tiny wooden cabins in the meadows. Stopping for a breather, tasting the raspberries and blueberries that grow wild along the trail made for a delightful respite. The sun was shining at the summit, and looking down, the boats on the Nærøyfjord far below us were practically microscopic. It was strange that our party had started the hike in shorts and t-shirts, but the changes in elevation had us layered up in fleeces, jackets, and knitted beanies at the top. After a brief nistepakke (Norwegian for "packed lunch," i.e. for me, as much smoked salmon and avocado as I could pile on a sandwich), and snapping photos off the edge until the acrophobia makes you queasy, we bundled up and headed down again... just as the snowflakes started to fall and a rainbow formed over the highlands. Glorious!

Click on the picture to see the whole album.

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