Sognefjord – Norway

Peter Bisset

Twenty seven hours after embarking at Newcastle the ferry drew into Bergen. The sea had been flat calm and the sunny day amongst the fjords and islands gave a cruise like atmosphere. We drove part of the way to Vik on the Sogne Fjord and camped for the night, resuming the drive in the morning. Our route took us past whitewater rivers that had Steve jumping up and down in his seat and an ice lake, more of this later.

We launched at Vik and started up the fjord, the scale of the scenary became apparent when what looked like 30 minutes paddle took a whole 2 hours. There is little tide to worry about, maybe 1m at Springs, the technically minded can study how the wave of tide running down the North Sea is cancelled out by the returning wave, suffice to say there is no tide at Stavanger and it increases gradually north and south of there.

Having said that we met some strange eddies coming back on the north side of the fjord as the tide pushed cold water up out of the depths past headlands. A tail wind sprang up in the afternoon bowling us along. The steep and rocky shores had no sign of a campsite but a small patch of birch in the fir and pine 4nm away on the opposite shore looked promising. Half way there, Thor started playing with his hammer, lightening split the sky and a sheet of rain could be seen baring down on us, so it was best paddle forward to reach the shore. It proved to be a good campsite and the storm spectacular amongst the snow fields and mountain peaks. Rain set in for the next 14 hours, as my log records: ‘woke at 0500 rain on the tent, woke at 0600 rain on the tent, woke at 0700 rain on the tent, woke at 0800 rain on the tent, 0810 rain stopped and I got up, getting straight into paddling gear because the grass was so wet’. Njöror (god of seafarers) had beaten Thor and thereafter the weather was good.

We set off in strong wind F6 from NE so straight down the fjord once we were round the corner. Choppy and there seemd to be some tide against us near the point and for a while it looked as if this with the wind might sweep us into Fresvik Bay but we made the Point. Inside the Aurlandsfjord we cut across to the E shore to get some shelter. Lunch spot was a low lying rocky point with wild gooseberries. Hills running with water after the rain so waterfalls everywhere. Where the fjord divides we took the right hand fork, Naeroyfjord, the world heritage fjord, this is very narrow with mountain walls on either side, you have to have seen it to appreciate it. A gusty wind F4-6 mostly from behind made it choppy in places. The cloud cleared becoming nice and sunny. The water in the main fjord had been fairly warm but this fjord was really cold from melt water maybe 4c and not very salty, at least near the surface. Near where streams ran in it was near freezing as the melting snow was not far away. The fjord sides were steep but we found a grassy place near an unoccupied hut to camp. Pitched our tents then set off to the fjord head. Quite a lot of shipping to watch out for and only a narrow deep water channel. I was woken up by a pine marten which came out of the wooden outhouse near my tent causing the nesting oystercatchers to go into paroxisms of noise from midnight onwards (it never got dark the whole trip).

Up at 5am with the sun and a fine misty morning, calm sunny weather as we set off back down the fjord and around the point into the left hand fork the inner Aurlansfjord. Near the point some goats were feeding on the cliffs and came down to see us, sending rocks clattering into the water and looking as if they might jump onto the deck. Lovely paddling with some tidal assistance saw an otter on the beach and some seals. Stopped for lunch at the point opposite Skjerdal. Here the tide was eddying back and forth maybe 0.5knot in each direction changing every 5 minutes or so, is this just eddies set up by shipping?. The round to Flam finding a good campsite just short of the town. This had fresh water and even an earth closet hidden in the trees. A cable aerial runway went up into an inaccessible hanging valley and a notice we found later seemed to say that the country inland was a winter military training area. Set up the tents and paddled into Flam, the others took the famous rail trip and came back ful of the experience.

I paddled back and explored the coast near the camp, although steep it was possible to find a way amongst the crags up through woods and grassy areas with wild flowers and raspberries and strawberries, nesting bramblings and fieldfares.

Magical calm sunny weather, porpoises in the fjord and a couple - apparently mother with suckling young - came right along the shore nearby. In Scotland it would have been midge city but here we hardly saw a biting insect all week. When we were ready to set off the porpoises were feeding out in the middle so I paddled out and had them all around me. Two or 3 shallow dives breathing then a long deep dive so I suppose they were feeding in the warmer sea water far below. We set off back down the fjord making our way across to the E shore under huge vertical cliffs beyond Skjerdal, Eerie. A large cruise ship passed us in the narrows at the entrance of the fjord, leaving wave patterns running up and down and forward and back. Less pleasant was the exhaust smoke, a thin layer, luckily well above us, which lingered for hours, so still was the air. There followed a lovely length of coast with waterfalls and many seals. Roasting hot. Crossing the main Sogne fjord returning to our first campsite we met a ship on a reciprocal course. We made a 50m 450 change to starboard and then resumed our course and the ship did the same giving us a friendly toot as he passed.

Next moring it was yet another sunny day with porpoises in the bay at 0600 and we paddled amongst them again. Steve was not very well a combination of a cold and too much sun. Andrew decided to paddle with him on the shortest course back on the S shore, whilst Richard and myself took the N shore of the fjord finding strange and sometimes strong currents off Hermansverk with sudden changes in water temperature. Stopping for lunch in what had become a strong F4-5 very cold headwind despite the hot sunshine, we scanned the water for the others 2 and saw them on a course set to meet ours at Vagnes. The Sogne fjord here is about 4nm wide. Back at Vik a stream led up to the campsite and it was high tide so we could paddle up under the road bridge and pull out the boats on the grass just by where we would camp.

Ice lake

We started off home via the ‘ice lake’. A week of hot sunshine had melted the lake a bit so it had open leads and we decided to go for a paddle. Air temperature 9C water 0C so all the warm clothes and Reed balaclava etc on just in case of an upset though I was determined to roll and not come out in that water. Flat calm. The ice was sometimes cat-ice, sometimes small chunks which made a nice crunching-groaning sound as you paddled through and mainly ‘ice bergs’ maybe 50cm above water and 4-5m below and 5-30 m across. It was hard to find a way from lead to lead once amongst the ice, but we found you could get the bergs to move mm by mm by repeatedly paddling against them slowly or paddling the bow up onto them and letting it slide off, thus opening up cracks to ease yourself through. We went down to the end of the lake about 1.5Nm and then started back. The whole icepack had rearranged itself even though it was calm, maybe just due to the knock-on effects of our efforts. Anyway we had to find a new way back and realised that if the wind got up we could be in deep trouble caught in the ice with no way out and the boats being crushed. By now the grey sky it was looking very threatening but it stayed calm despite coming on to sleet before we were back at the car.

Thanks to Andrew for organising and leading the trip.