Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Lake Vättern

Motala lighthouse
I woke up to a grey and windy day - which only added to my nervousness about Lake Vättern. I portaged the kayak up a stair of six steep locks and put in again and I am proud to say that I have become quite efficient (but not graceful) with it. I was even less graceful when I fell flat on my already injured knee trying to tie my boat at a landing in order to go shopping....

My mood then dropped to a definite low point when I arrived at the last lock before Lake Vättern and it was almost impossible to put out - and no decent put in at all in sight. I left all my gear at the lock and ventured into the tourist information with tons of questions about the Vättern. The girl working there was eager to help me but basically had no clue - and what was worse also no decent map of the Vättern. She sent me to the local bookstore where the sales guy turned out to be a boater himself. I left with a decent map and lots of information. But I was still undecided about the most important question: should a paddle around the whole lake or take a short cut via a big military island in the middle of the lake which involved a 5 km traverse. I had to play it by ear.

Paddling under Motala highway bridge
But first I had to get my kayak into the water again. The best of all bad alternatives was to use the boat landings for yachts in the harbour. They were still very high but at least much lower than the whole quay. But I wouldn't be able to get my kayak onto the boat landing alone. There was a huge gap over which I couldn't get with my boat cart. I had to ask for help. Luckily there were plenty of people around. There was an old timer moped meeting taking place and the engine noises were driving me crazy. I asked a man for help and of course he volunteered. He not only helped me carry my kayak onto the landing but also lowered it into the water. Swedish people are great... Soon I was ready to go and paddled nervously into the Vättern, Sweden's third biggest lake.

Luckily the wind was blowing off shore so I didn't have to fight high waves. I was just surprised to paddle into a group of 20 surfers, apparently a surf class. I gave them I wide berth and was delighted when the sun came out eventually. The next positive surprise was the beaches: lots of bays had fantastic sandy beaches, ideal for my delicate folding kayak. I camped at such a lovely spot: a long sandy beach all to myself with pine forest for soft camping and a great view onto the lake. Life was good again and I decided not to take the short cut. This was too beautiful and I wanted to paddle around the whole northern part of the lake.

Dinner view
Next morning I awoke to another beautiful late summer day. I cannot believe my luck with the weather on this trip. I paddled along the Northeastern shore of the Vättern and had several happiness flashes. This was just so beautiful! And although it was Sunday there were hardly any motor boaters. I made a very good distance and beached at another beautiful sandy beach for camping. But I wasn't the only one admiring this beautiful sight - two people were picknicking at the tip of a spit of land. I decided to go over and talk to them: I wanted to check out who they were and give them a chance to see who I was. They turned out to be a middle aged couple just out for the evening. We chatted a bit and I could ask them about shops along my route because I was a bit short on food. There were no shops but the two immediately took pity on me and gave me the remnants of their picknick which provided me with a nice dessert for dinner. They left soon (not without coming back to me and giving me two bottles of mineral water on top of their cookies) and I had dinner at a a fabulous spot overlooking the lake. There even was a bench and a table for cooking. I liked Lake Vättern more and more.

The forecast for next day was rather windy. That didn't really bother me in the beginning as I was exploring the archipelago in the Northern tip of the lake which also is a nature reserve. Very nice indeed with even plenty of campsites and toilets provided. But as I progressed further down the Northwestern shore of the Vättern the wind coming from the East became more and more of a problem. First I could dodge behind islands but out in the open it became problematic. Even a subtle wind can create big waves over the wide lake surface and when I came out of another small archipelago I was nearly swept away. The lake had become incredibly choppy and to make things worse the waves came sideways which means that they could swamp my boat. I paddled several hundred metres and it felt like I was fighting to survive. There were hardly any more islands to hide behind and I got so scared that I turned back into the archipelago. It was only 4 pm but I decided to camp and try again next morning. At least the forecast was a bit better for the next day.

As the archipelago was another nature reserve I stumbled across a picture perfect camp site with wind shelter, campfire site and toilet. Still I was so worried about the wind that I could hardly enjoy all this. I was very low on food and could not really sit out this wind for a very long time. I could definitely have survived on eating the many mushrooms on this island - if I had know which ones are edible..... Basically I had to get to Karlsborg the next day. I studied the map back and forth and luckily there was a major road nearby. If bad came to worst I would have to pack up my boat and take a bus or hitch to Karlsborg - an option on which I was not too keen, but at least the situation was not desperate. The forecast predicted lower winds in the morning and I wanted to start paddling at sunrise.

The wind situation was so worrying me that I hardly slept that night. At 4 am I stopped tossing and turning and switched on my cell phone to check the weather forecast again: it had worsened. Wind from the East the whole day. I was so nervous I nearly puked over breakfast but I still wanted to give it a try. Sunrise was at 6.30 am and I was ready to paddle at 6 am. I waterproofed everything, put the sea sock into my kayak and even inflated it a bit more. Then I ventured out - into the fog.

I soon started to worry whether I was doing the right thing. The lake was not as choppy as yesterday but visibility was less than 200 metres. There were lots of shallows and I worried about running ashore or getting overrun by a motor boat. In this fog even my neon orange hi-vi cap wouldn't be much help. Slowly I progressed with the help of my GPS and after 2 hours I reached another sheltered archipelago which had been  my goal for yesterday. I could take out here and portage the boat 10+ km - or try to paddle on. I paddled on. The lake became choppier and choppier but I got more and more used to it. Unfortunately right before Karlsborg there was a huge military area. If I ventured past its beginning I had to go all the way. You were not allowed to go ashore here - if it had been possible because the shoreline as so rocky that my kayak would get smashed in the waves.

I fought on and on and became very determined to reach Karlsborg that day. The last stretch was the worst. A 1,5 km long spit of land, totally exposed to the waves. Normally I would have just beached  and portaged the kayak 100 m to the other side where the water was totally calm. But this was a military installation as hundreds of signs warned me. After what seemed forever I came to the end of the spit of land and could hide behind it. According to my map that was illegal, too because even the waters here were a military restricted zone but I hadn't seen anyone for hours - and honestly, I was so exhausted I just needed a break. I had just begun to start paddling again as a motor boat approached me. Oh dear, this must be the military.... They stopped alongside but were very friendly. They told me that I was in a restricted area (which I knew but didn't admit) and when I apologized and promised to leave they just left without causing any problems. Even Swedish military is friendly....

It still took me another hour to finally pull into Karlsborg. Once I had paddled underneath the bridge into the sund I was in another world. No more waves and everything was peaceful and quiet. I had overstrained myself and could hardly hold my paddle any more. I had paddled more than 20 km in choppy weather in less than 5 hours - and I felt it. Luckily the campground was just around the corner. I beached and nearly fell out of my boat because I was so stiff. The campground wasn't the nicest one (too close to a busy road) but I could not be bothered. At least the receptionist was very friendly and lifted my spirits immediately by mentioning a cheap Thai AYCE buffet. I quickly set up my tent and went for lunch. Only when sitting at the table and devouring great food the stress slowly started to subside. But hey - I had made it around Lake Vättern. And this is supposed to be a learning trip


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Sometimes your stories sound like an essayist wrote it! All these ups and downs! But I guess that's just life, right?

Btw: Isn't the Vättern the second largest lake in Sweden?

Happy paddeling! :-)

German Tourist said...

You are absolutely right! I stand corrected: Vättern is the second largest Lake.

Gerold und Uschi said...

Hi Christine,
Deine Berichte sind wie immer superspannend zu lesen; freue mich schon auf Deine nächsten Abenteuer.
Zwei Tipps zum Pilzesammeln:
1. Halte Dich AUSSCHLIESSLICH an Röhrenpilze (SEHR häufig in Sverige), die sind alle essbar, wenn sie KEINE roten Röhren oder rote Stile haben. Einzige Ausnahme (weil extrem bitter): Gallenröhrling.
2. Lade Dir die Android-App "Meine Pilze" auf Dein Handy. Kostet nur wenige Euro und gibt zusätzliche Sicherheit.
LG und weiter eine tolle Tour