At First Ascent we’ve followed the whitewater adventures of Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesberry around the globe from Bhutan and Nepal to Africa and Brazil. But when we heard the pair was teaming up with Brazilian Waterfall Extremist Pedro Oliva for the fourth season of KAIAK and heading north to brave the chilling 37-degree Arctic flows of Norway and Greenland, we wondered what possessed these high-mileage, flip-flop travelers to descend un-run rivers that run from glacier to sea in locations such as the Svalbard Archipelago and Southern Greenland. Then we sent them some down. But the inspiration behind their quest lies in the myth and the mystery of lands that lie at the edge of the grid and the edge of our awareness. This is Korbulic’s first report from the land of the vikings. -EB Editor
Words by Chris Korbulic, Images by Korbulic and Ale Socci
There are some places with mysterious associations and almost mythical character; Norway is one of those places to me. Endless sunlight, cliff-lined fjords, lightning blue rivers flowing from glaciers into the sea, it’s easy to see why. Since I started kayaking I have seen and heard about this Scandinavian kayaking oasis and its unbelievable rivers, but I never thought I would get to paddle here. It is one of the most expensive places to travel, and for a kayaker used to sleeping in the back of a mid-90’s hatchback, this fact was daunting. This is where our friend and favorite Brazilian TV personality, Pedro Oliva, comes in. For the last two years we have been lucky to work with him on a series of shows called KAIAK, and this is already looking like the best season yet!
Dropping from the California summer into the Norwegian summer was something we were prepared for, but I was still surprised to walk out of the airport into a grey, drizzling sky and temps about 20 degrees cooler. Driving from the airport into Oslo, a few things stood out, one of which is that Norway seems wildly prosperous. Perhaps my perspective is skewed by recent time in Central Africa, but it’s clear Norwegians take very good care of their country. Feel like camping out in Oslo city limits? No problem – much of it is protected outdoor space in natural preserves so you can go for a backpacking trip right from your front door. Or hatchback, if you prefer. Not to mention everybody speaks English, and many probably better than me, as if getting directions could be any easier.
But that’s the city, and what we’re interested in is far from the perfectly maintained parkways and glimmering skyscrapers. It’s out in the mountains, in the fjords, rivers, and canyons of western Norway. Here we may find what we have always been looking for: endless miles of class V tucked in beautiful valleys and gorges carved by millennia of glacier and water flow. The first river we paddled, the Laogan, dropped from a wide glacial valley into, according to Ben, a “warm-up” first descent on the way to Voss – the adventure capital of Europe.
Surrounded by mountains and rivers, Voss has become a hotbed of class V kayaking from which many epic paddling stories have come. It’s not our typical kind of destination, where (almost) every river has been paddled or at least scouted, and Ben almost loathes the thought of staying for long, but it has proven to be the perfect first stop after a quick paddle on a classic section just 30 minutes from town. The Myrdalselva is a class V gem that we were lucky to be guided down by local Brazilian Marcio Franco, and after getting off the river at 1030pm with plenty of light, Norway became cemented as one of my favorite places to paddle.
Usually a little embarrassed when asked what my favorite places are because there are too many; they are too varied and each is intriguing and compelling. All of them, in some way are my favorite. Where I’d return? Also something I never know how to answer, but Norway is growing roots at the top of that list. One thing for certain is that I want to keep moving and be on the road, on new rivers, and to be going somewhere. That is the dream, and this is the place to fulfill it.
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