Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Dalsland: Köpmannebro to Gustavsfors

Repaired roof
After having already skipped part of the Vänern I at least wanted to paddle the whole Dalsland canal. Therefore I paddled all the way to Köpmannebro, the first lock in the Dalsland canal system. The loop I had done before (Svärdlangen, Västra Silen, Edslan, Annimen) is part of the DANO paddling area but is only accessible by paddlers, not by motor boats due to the portages. As usual everything took longer than expected and I realized I would not make it through the next lock that evening. As rain was predicted I wanted to stay in a shelter - but this was more difficult than expected. I had used various sources to find out the shelter locations but as I started to learn now only one source was reliable. An old German guidebook published in 2007 was totally misleading. Almost half of the campsites mentioned there did not exist any more - mostly closed for renaturation.

Dalsland lock
While checking out these former sites it got later and later. With rain threatening (and having become a wuss who avoids sleeping in a tent....) I finally backtracked to a shelter I had seen earlier this day. But when I arrived I had to discover that the shelter roof was in horrible shape!  Apparently the roof had been leaking and therefore been "repaired" with a tarp. The wooden planks underneath were already rotting. To make things worse the shelter was so low that I could not set up my tent inside.  I just hoped that the "repair" had been sufficient - and it turned out over night that it had been indeed. It didn't rain much but not a single leak occurred.

I still headed off into a drizzle next morning to tackle my first lock. What I saw there was going to repeat itself at almost every lock: no portage route was provided - on the contrary: the only sensible route was marked with "No portage" signs and even blocked by a hedge. Although I can understand these measures in the busy summer time they infuriated me now in off season. Paddlers in the Dalsland canal are required to go through the locks like motor boats - and pay for it: about 3 € per lock chamber. Blocking the possible portages forced paddlers to obey this rule - but what about now when the locks did not work?

The next lock, Haverud was one of the worst. It is a major tourist attraction: the canal is in an aqueduct topped by a railway and a road bridge. But how could I get around the several locks? I spent almost an hour to scoop out the options until a local confirmed what I had dreaded: first I had to beach illegally at a fenced off private hotel property, drag my boat across their lawn and cross the water on the high road bridge before descending steeply on a hiking trail and putting in again at a picnic area. Length of portage: around 2 km. At least the next lock, Buterud could by bypassed by paddlers.

Rock carvings
Still, the day ended nicely at Högsbyn nature reserve where you can admire stone age rock carvings and visit burial mounds. I liked the little place so much that it even reconciled me with the fact that the nearby campsite was really camping only - no shelter. This is another Dalsland problem: every map just shows a shelter sign - no matter if it is only a campsite or really a shelter. It didn't matter this evening though - the weather was really nice.

After all this lock disaster I wanted to be really clever the next day. The locks in Mustadfors and Dals Langed are only 1 km apart and I decided to portage around both on a forest road. Little did I know that the forest road was in bad shape and first incredibly steep uphill - and then impossibly steep downhill. When I finally arrived back at the canal sweating and swearing I stood on private property - and the house owners were just having coffee on the terrace. Luckily Swedish people are very friendly and when I asked politely for permission I was allowed to put in at their boat landing. I must have looked really exhausted because they explicitly told me that I could have a little rest there as well....

Portaging on a bike path
Unfortunately it was only two hours to the next set of locks in Billingsfors and again I wanted to do two sets with one portage. This time I was much luckier. Take out was the usual nightmare and u ended up portaging through a cemetery after dragging my kayak up several steep steps. But then things improved. The portage was then next to an abandoned railway line: dead flat and even on a bike path. It ended in a nature reserve next to an the locks that are here bypassing some impressive rapids. All my hopes came true here. Not only did I find a good hiding spot for my kayak but there was also a shelter overlooking the rapids and electrical outlets at the lock switchboard. This was my chance to recharge my cell phone batteries completely without staying in an expensive campground or hostel. I felt like in a Hilton here!

View over the rapids
Next day, next set of locks and shopping day in Bengtsfors. Shitty take out place again and the only feasible put in place was a low boat landing which was so low steep down that I had to ask for help carrying my boat down to it. Then I went shopping. It was a Saturday and when I came back a local race event took place. I waited till nobody looked at me before I tried to climb into my boat. And then disaster struck: I capsized! It was so bad that even the boat went upside down and got full of water. How could this have happened? I had climbed into my boat hundreds of times from boat landings with no problem whatsoever. But when I assessed the problem I noticed the decisive difference. Normally the boat landing is higher than my boat.  Basically I then just have to lower my butt from the landing into my kayak.  Here the landing was lower than my boat and I had not managed to lift my butt up and over the cockpit edge. Instead I had gotten stuck on the cockpit edge - and capsized.

The accident spot
In hindsight it could have been much worse. This is a learning trip and this has been an important lesson. Plus the circumstances were good. It was still fairly warm and I was not freezing.  I had capsized near the landing and could quickly get out without immersing myself completely. I could use the landing to turn the boat around and spread out all my stuff for drying. Unfortunately my dry bags had been to full to close completely and a bit if water had gotten in. And I now knew why I carry a pump! Still it took me over two hours before I could leave - and this time I climbed in in a better and higher spot.... After two hours of paddling I landed at a beautiful campsite with shelter and spent the rest of the evening drying the rest of my stuff.

Next morning I had a rare encounter - I met other paddlers. I guess they were the typical Dalsland paddlers and the reason why I advise everyone not to come here in summer...  They were a group of eight coming out of a campsite just minutes before me. Of course they did not wait to chat. Instead they were going ever which way on the choppy lake. To my great surprise they stopped after only 30 minutes on a set of little islands where half of them whipped out their dicks right in front of me to pee (I guess they hadn't expected me to paddle by so close) and they other half whipping out their cameras to take silly pictures of each other - most of these including beer cans and singing loudly in German. I pretended to be Swedish and paddled on - turning off the main canal again at Gustavsfors.

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