6. Mountain to fjord trip

After being on sick leave for nearly eight weeks it was amazing to get out again and take part in the trips. Especially, this trip was something that I was looking forward to. The trip would be a four day trip emphasizing on three different activities and “veieleding” (guiding) of those activities. The main activities and environments would be: canoeing and moving on water, climbing and setting up climbing and abseiling on a rock, and cycling as a group for a longer distance.

Canoeing and paddling

We started the trip by travelling to the starting spot in Bygland, which is around 90 km North from Kristiansand. The plan was to paddle down the fjord to Evje in two days. The canoes from our University were transported to the starting spot. After unloading of the canoes and picking our gear, our teacher gave lead to two experienced paddlers from our group to teach some basics before setting off.

 Some of the basics we learned was that the front man is called “bow” and the “engine” of the boat, and the “stern” would be the back man who is mainly responsible for steering.  

The Paddling techniques we learned where:

  • Forward stroke: sweep close to canoe to go on straight line

  • Sweep stroke: wider stroke for turning the boat, or steering

  • J-stroke: especially important to the steering man. This is used for steering right and left but in an attempt to keep the canoe go straight. The point is that at the end of a forward stroke flip the paddle vertically in water and use it as a “rudder”.

  • Back stroke: basically how to reverse the canoe. The point in this one is that the roles change, and the bow is more in charge of the steering. Tip is to pick a spot from far to avoid zigzagging

  • Bow rudder (quick turn with canoe, usually done by the bow man): a good tip to teach was to to pay attention to the position of your thumb: when the higher hand is placed close to your forehead and paddle pushed into water, the thumb of the higher hand is directed either “up or down”, depending which direction is wanted. The side you push the paddle in the water, is the side where the canoe is going to turn.

Navigation and veieleding on water

Another aspect of canoeing was the navigation, veiledning and paddling as a group. As a veileder, the conditions to look at, especially in beforehand, would be the weather conditions. In this case especially in terms of wind strength and direction. This might have a major impact on route choice on water.

 Another thing that the weather would have an impact on would be the speed, and the distance travelled, and of course navigation while paddling. For example, in our case the weather was quite perfect: sun, hardly any wind and clear vision of the area. Therefore, we managed to travel with a general speed of around 5km/hour. Whilst, due to the worse weather conditions a week before, the other group of our students couldn’t complete the tour as planned, and travelled far slower. Another things to consider would be the stops, around every hour, escape routes (sheltered bays, coves, islands etc.) and keeping within a reasonable distance both with the shore, and co-paddlers.  As the water was pretty freezing, staying relatively close to the shore in case of capsizing was advisable. It would take less time for the swimmers to go to shore, as with water this cold the hypothermia would strike very quickly.

We paddled around 11 km during the first day and the second day around 12 km. We had both days plenty of time to paddle and take breaks. Therefore, now I know that with this type of group composition where people have athletic backgrounds, and even having a few weaker paddlers, this would be a good example for organizing two-day-trip length and time wise.Route of the first paddling day (the small dots stand for break spot), and the “Storøyi” which was our overnight spot
The route for day 2 from Storøyi to the byglandsfjord dam which was our finishing spot

Along the way we always had a canoe party to navigate and lead the group, and practise veiledning. The navigation turned out to be more difficult than expected. Adjusting the environment to what’s stated on the map was surprisingly difficult, and caused some problems for the leading pairs including myself. I guess, the difficulty was caused by the fjord being so wide and that we were unable to “stand higher”, and actually see the shape of the land. Especially, spotting the islands was difficult. Even more difficulty added the fact that the water was especially low at this time of a year, as the snow wasn’t yet melted down from the mountains. This made some rock and land appearing on top of the surface which then didn’t show on the map.

Climbing and abseiling

The third day of the trip we spent mainly at a climbing spot near Evje. The aim was for us to learn how to set up a climbing spot for, for example, a group of children. The rope would be set on bare rock with bolts and therefore the rope would be attached from a top rope. Setting a top rope was quite simple, but remembering all the working stages and knots would take a few practise times to be able to set it up yourself.

What I learned, and remember was:

  • you need at least two anchor points where the rope is attached, and these need to be solid rocks, trees or in our case there were bolts on top where carabinas could be attached to

  • Remember to attach the rope as low as possible

  • As you are setting up the anchors and working close to the edge, remember to secure yourself with a rope

  • The rope between the anchor points is the one that the climbing rope will be attached to with carabinas, and the carabinas have to be placed opposite towards each other to avoid slipping of the rope

After setting up the top rope we started climbing. Important things to check both for the climber and belayer was to have a checkup before each climb. Check that the both harnesses are tightened, the double figure eight knot of the climber is done correctly, the belay device is attached correctly, and that both are wearing helmets naturally.

We practised some climbing up as well as climbing down that is supposed to enhance the climbing skills instead of coming down the normal way. When belaying important was to have a good solid stance and keep rather close the rock to avoid falling into rock in case the climber would have a fall. Other important things I learned were that the climber and a belayer as a working pair should be focused on each other and that they communicate clearly and proactively with each other throughout the climb.

Abseiling was another way to experience the rock. In our case of abseiling, the belayer will actually stand on top of the rock and lower the climber down the rock. Basically, the belayer was attached to the top rope and the climber, and the climber attached to the belayer. Both of them utilizing the belaying device in the picture 1, and this way making it easier to feed the rope and have added strength for the belayer, as well as for climber to have a control of the rope (see picture 2). For the climber, the tips were to have a wider stance, and lean back enough to avoid slipping due to upward position.


The fourth day was reserved for cycling our way back to Kristiansand from the climbing spot, which was around 60 km. The route would be from North to South, and this meant that the route was actually slightly descending the whole way, and made this bike ride exceptionally flowing in my opinion. Before heading off, we selected and checked the bikes carefully, and went through the gear, that was a little bit more complex as these were mountain bikes.

We cycled one of the marked, longer national biking routes, which made the navigation rather effortless, and guaranteed that we would cycle rather suitable and safe route. Another plus side was the amazing landscape and terrain that the bike route followed, and made this truly an experience naturewise as well. Along the way we also stopped at some remarkable check or viewpoints which added value to the experience.  

As we were cycling, and what I had noticed in our many previous trips, were the challenges in adjusting the speed and staying as a group. I think within our group the complexity is to be both part of the group as individual, and gain experience for oneself, but also to remember the veiledning aspect to everything we do. Again in this trip, we had some stronger and some weaker students when conducting activity. At many points some of the stronger cyclers didn’t seem to have a patience to slow down, even when the people in the back started to fall behind. This created a few incidents to have a look at from the veiledning point of view, and the importance of tolerating other group member’s abilities. Another event occurred when taking breaks. We learned that it was important to honestly say if you felt for example, tired or hungry, because in the long run ignoring this information may lead to fatigue or injuries, and will for sure have an affect to the group.

Some conclusions

After the trip we had some good discussion with some of the group members about the trip. Especially, the canoeing part caused some discussions about how it was organized. First of all, we agreed that the beginning of the trip could have been organized differently. Perhaps the students who taught the basics of paddling techniques could have been given some time to prepare of how and what to teach to us. When exposed to a situation where one has to teach something without being a total expert, naturally it is likable to forget to mention some important parts. Or on the other hand while they were concentrating on what to teach, they weren’t able to  observe how the skills in the group were.

Another discussion was about the guiding/ navigating while leading the group. It seemed that some canoe pairs struggled with steering the canoe, and felt a bit pressured when given task to lead the group and navigation top of that. As a veileder for the future, I would spend a little more time to observe the different people’s skills in the group before setting off to the trip, and match the paddling partners according to that. Further, for example, in terms of strength, form more mixed female and male partners.