River paddling and canoe camping

Since I first bought an old used canoe last fall I instantly got hooked on canoe camping. I wanted to get a better, lighter canoe, more suitable for solo use as well as for tandem use. So I’ve been saving up for a new canoe, and had several different ones in mind. Eventually I ended up with a Mad River Explorer 14TT. It’s not the lightest, but it had a good mix of weight, price, durability and low maintenance.

I received it a couple of weeks ago, and instantly wanted to try it out. Despite being winter in Sweden, the temps had been pending around freezing, and I was hoping to be able to do some lake paddling. But when I finally got out on the weekend the lakes where frozen over. I thought about canceling the trip, and go on a short hiking trip instead. But I saw that the flowing waters where still open, and decided to drive to Korrö, south of Växjö, and see if I could do some river paddling in Ronnebyån.

When I got to Korrö I unloaded the canoe from the car, and packed it with my backpack and a sack of firewood. There were quite a lot of people dressed for a party at Korrö. They might have looked at me a little strange. It’s not that common for people to go canoe camping in the middle of winter.

The water levels had risen a lot, and the river had flooded much of the surrounding areas. I put in the canoe in a flooded field, that looked like a small lake. A thin layer of ice covered the water closest to the beach.

I paddled the canoe reverse, sitting in the front seat. The pitch black water was still in the flooded field, but started to flow as soon as I reached where the river was originally. The river went under a road and then continued with fields and forests around it.

It was hard to see where the river was at times. Much of the area was flooded, and I accidentally paddled both through fields, meadows and forests. I had to turn around several times, where I had missed that the river had turned, and just kept paddling straight.

At times, brushes and fallen trees made the passage so narrow that I had to duck or drag the branches to go forward. At the end it felt like I had half the forest in my canoe, in form of broken branches.

I passed over a few fallen logs, and I was a bit worried that my canoe might tip over. But as I passed them, the logs sank down instead. Once in a while my presence scared off birds swimming in the river.

My goal for the day was a camp site about three km south of Korrö. I had been there before, when I hiked Utvandrarleden 2014. It wasn’t a long paddle, but since this was my first river paddling, and I’m still new to solo paddling, I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to paddle the river back upstream.

When I got to the campsite it had been flooded too. 2-3 dm of water covered almost the entire area. There’s a large roofed area covered with tables and benches, that was above water level, but there wasn’t enough room to set up a tent. The grounds around that area was also covered in a layer of ice, with air underneath, from when the water levels where even higher.

My heart sank a bit. I hadn’t found any other suitable camp ground earlier, and I didn’t want to paddle too far down stream before I knew that I was capable of paddling back home again, against the current. I took a break at the camp ground, made lunch and reviewed my options. Eventually I decided to turn back towards the car. I was mentally prepared to call it quits and go back home, but I would still look for somewhere where I might set up my tent during my way back.

Getting away from the camp ground took some effort. The river was pretty fast flowing here, and I had to paddle like crazy to get far enough upstream for it to calm down. After a while I found a good flow in my paddling, and was able to paddle upstream at a steady, albeit slow, pace.

I paddled through the forest and looked for places to camp several times. Every time the grounds where uneven and covered in a layer of ice from previous floods.

Eventually, when I was about 1km from Korrö, I found a narrow stretch of flat, somewhat dry ground. With the flooded fields around it, the place had become an island.

The grounds where still pretty soaked, but it was the best place I could find. I set up my tent and fixed my sleeping gear. I had brought the cheap AliEpress floor, and I’m glad I did. With the grounds being so wet, the floor could stop at least some of the condensation.

When my home away from home was all set up, I started to prepare the fire. I had brought firewood with me, and chopped a couple of pieces to use as a floor to place the rest of the firewood on. Lighting the fire was easy, as I cheated and used a Vaseline drenched piece of cotton. No bushcraft style elite fire starting here.

For this trip I had prepared a piece of meat, potatoes, carrots, red onions and butter that I copped in medium size pieces, wrapped in tin foil and put in the fire, once I had some glowing coals. I turned the package regularly and let it head for about half an hour. It tasted great, and I had a cold beer with it.

I like the ultralight principles of hiking, even though I’m far from a hardcore ultra lighter, and my base weight keeps pending. I like to keep my weight and bulk down and not bring unnecessary stuff even when canoe camping, but I do like he ability to bring more luxurious food and drinks without having to suffer from the weight penalty of having to carry it.

I laid by the fire for quite a long time before I went to bed. The sleeping bag was cozy, and I laid there, watching Netflix offline. I had downloaded a few different movies and series, but I lost interest in all of them after a few minutes. Eventually I watched “Under the arctic sun”, to feed my need for adventure.

I slept pretty good the entire night. But I do toss and turn a lot. Now that I’ve been able to get the three season quilt to work without drafts I’ve been thinking about switching out my winter sleeping bag for a similar quilt instead. But people seem to recommend mummy bags during winter, even in the UL community, so I might stay with the bag.

The next morning it took all my mental strength to be able to open up my sleeping bag and get out into the could wet world outside. With that much air humidity and wet ground, the inside of the tent was covered with condensation, despite that the top vents and the door had been partially open all night. I hadn’t expected anything else it those conditions though.

I made a small fire for making breakfast, made coffee, fried a couple of eggs and grilled a pita bread.

After breakfast I packed up camp. The sleeping bag was quite wet since it had touched the inside of the tent.

I packed up the canoe again and started to paddle the last stretch back to the car. I took a shortcut and paddled across a flooded field. I felt like a swamp man as I stood up in the canoe and used the paddle as a stake to pull myself forward in the shallow waters.

I got back to the car, packed up and left for home at around noon. It turned out to be a nice trip after all, and I like my new canoe. It’s large enough for me to be able to do canoe camping trips with friends or family members but still light and small enough to be able to handle it alone. It’s also relatively cheap. I’d like to have a beautiful cedar strip canoe from Esker Wood, or a lightweight kevlar canoe from Swift Canoe. But for now this is the prefect middle ground that suits my need.

I’ll keep doing canoe trips like these, and when the weather gets warmer I’ll bring my youngest daughter with me too.

See you on the trail, or in the waters!

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Canoe camping in October

There’s been a month since my last camping trip. My last trip was my first canoe camping trip ever, and I instantly got hooked.

As so often before, when it’s been a while since I’ve been out, the need to get out again grew stronger every day. It was great to get back out.

I took the Friday off from work, and left home at around 11.00. I had packed my Exped Lightning full of gear and food. As I’ve written before, a nice thing about canoe camping is the ability to bring lots of heavy food, since you don’t have to carry it on your back.

Just as the previous trip, getting the canoe on and off the roof of my car by myself was an adventure on its own. The canoe is an old 4,5m fiberglass canoe that weighs a ton. Now that I know I’ll continue with canoe camping I’ll save up to buy a lighter canoe, that’s better for solo use, and won’t make me break my back every time.

I drove to Helgö, loaded the canoe full of gear and started to paddle. My goal for this trip was Ramsö, a larger island a bit east of Ferön where I camped last month.

It was a bit windy, and I had head-wind the entire time. But I think I’m starting to get the hang of the J-stroke, and paddled with a descent pace.

It was hard to take a straight photo when the waves kept rocking the canoe

The wind made the canoe turn as soon as I stopped paddling. It made navigation with the compass a bit harder since the canoe kept turning.

Eventually I came closer to Ramsö, and I found a small beach with a fire ring on the southern end of the island.

At first I had planned to paddle around the island to see if there where other good places to set up camp, but since the beach was so perfect I stopped there.

The southern end of Ramsö had a perfect spot to camp

I took a short walk around the beach, to search for the best place to set up my camp, but the best place to set up camp was just next to the beach.

I put up my Tentipi Olivin, and my sleeping gear before I started the fire. I had brought fire wood, but I also collected some more fire wood from the island since there where a lot of fallen trees.

Starting the fire was pretty easy since I used my own dry birch wood.

I wasn’t sure I did the right thing when I bought the Tentipi Olivin, but after these two trips I really like it. I just hope Tentipi will start selling a floor to it too.

I fried a couple of sausages for lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon chilling by the fire.

It was nice, but windy. I tried to set up a tarp to shield me from the wind, but somehow I got it wrong and made a smoke trap with it, that also turned the smoke around and made the entire area close to the fire covered with smoke, so I put it down again.

My smoke trap

The skies where covered in clouds most of the day, but just before sunset the clouds scattered and I had a little bit of sun. I decided to make dinner and put some extra firewood on the fire to get the heat up. I made bifteki with Somun bread this time too. It was delicious, and I had brought a couple of beers to drink with it.

My home for the night

I sat by the fire for a couple of hours before I went to bed. I watched an hour of Gangs of New York on Netflix before I went to sleep.

The wind picked up during the night and really shocked the tent. I considered pegging the guy lines too, but I thought that 12 ground pegs should be enough, and stayed in bed.

When I woke up the next morning the wind still blew hard, and it rained on and off. I stayed in my sleeping bag until 9.30 before I finally got up.

I got the fire going after several tries. The wind blew so hard that I had trouble keeping the fire going. When I finally got it going I made my morning coffee, fried some bacon and a couple of eggs that I ate with the left-over bread.

Making breakfast

I started to pack up after breakfast, but just before Inwas going to take down the tent it started to rain heavily. I layed in the tent for 10 minuets before it stopped. I took the tent down, packed up the canoe and left for Helgö.

Unfortunately I had head-wind today too, but with stronger winds and larger waves than yesterday. The weather report said 9 m/s, which isn’t that much, but enough to be a challenge for a rookie paddler like myself. The waves where large enough to flush over the bow, and they  kept trying to turn the canoe around. I had to paddle like crazy just to keep the canoe straight in the water, and my arms where sore when I reached calmer waters.

I finally came close to Helgö and the waves calmed down. I paddled the last stretch back to the car without effort.

Back at the parking lot I once again had to get the canoe back up on the roof of my car. And again it felt like I would either break the canoe, my car or my back.

I’m back home now, but I can’t wait to get back out on another canoe trip. I’ll get back to Ramsö again, but I also want to explore Åsnen, Smålands largest lake, and Halen in Blekinge.