A River With Three Names

Two weeks ago, I spent five days hiking through the mountains and swimming in the cold clean lakes of Norway. I stayed in cabins with varying levels of facilities, from one with a private sauna to another with no electricity nor running water. I'm not describing my vacation, but a class of mine: Nordic Environmental Studies. The aim of this course is to familiarize students with Scandinavian environmental policy and the landscape itself. Like any course, there are lectures, group projects and papers to write, but there are also excursions! For our first, we followed the Klarälven River to observe how this natural resource and environment surrounding it are used in various communities.

This map shows our approximate route. It also indicates our starting point and where we spent the night.

Click here
for wider view of the map.
A. Karlstad, Sweden
We start where the river ends. Here, the Klarälven pours into lake Vänern, along with several other river systems, to form Sweden's larget lake.

B. Trysil, Norway
We spent our first night here. Upon crossing the Norwegian border, the river takes a new name related to that of this town: Trysilelva.

C. Jonasvollen, Norway
We spent 2 nights at this small community which lies on the western shore of Fermunden lake. The Klarälven begins at the southern base of this lake. Although here, it is known by yet another name: Femundselva.

D. Ransby, Sweden
Our last accommodations were probably the best. You had to hike a couple hundred meters up the mountain to get to your cabin, but the view was well worth it.

When our instructor Linda told us the Ecophilosophy Department owned their own bus, everyone expected yer' traditional yellow school bus. We were all very surprised when Pontus, our other instructor, pulled into the parking lot in a 25-person Mercedes Benz bus. It was little rough around the edges, dating somewhere around the late 80s, but the interior was recently refurbished. Much more comfortable than a school bus.


We traveled about an hour north of Karlstad before making our first stop. There we met our first guest lecturer, a retired biology professor. He told us about the local pulp and timber industry. Log floating was the primary method for transporting lumber along the Klarälven up until 1991.

"Log floating became undesirable economically by the pulp and timber harvesters. However, heavy trucks wearing down tax sponsored roads is undesirable by us, the the tax payers."
(This is quote is not verbatim. The source is my disintegrating memory.)

He guided us along a raging river just off the Klarälven which fed a water main for a hydroelectric generation plant. The Klarälven valley is full of 'em, 9 in total. We discussed different issues caused by the dams including salmon migration. Although most of these dams have fish ladders, many salmon are not traveling as far north as they used to. The solution, and I kid you not, a state run salmon taxi service! A large sample of fish are gathered into a tank, then driven up the road past the hydro dams. Goes to show that emission free power generation doesn't necessarily mean ecologically friendly (not to mention emissions created by the salmon taxis).

We hiked further up the trail to a large waterfall, took some pictures, then ventured off to find a place to eat our lunch. We drove down a dirt road to a small red cabin with some picnic tables. Our lecturer explained that the cabin is maintained by a lumberjack society.

"It is unlocked. You can go look inside."
"What is it for?" a classmate asked.
"Anyone can use it."
"Like, stay in it? Do you have to book it?"
"It is not necessary, but you should if you have lots of people. There's a number here you can call, but it can fit many people. I wouldn't worry about it."

We continued driving north to our next stop in Trysil.

"We just crossed the Norwegian border" announced Linda.
"Huh" I said.
"What?" a classmate asked.
"I duno. It's just weird. Crossing the border like a neighbouring province."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm used to waiting an hour in line before getting into the US."
"I don't understand."
"Neither do a lot of Canadians."

We arrived in Trysil to yet another surprise. Our cabin. It was ... nice! Again, we all had very basic expectations. They faded as we pulled into a ski resort. There were demolished when the first person entered the cabin, turned around and shouted "There's a sauna in here! And a flat screen TV! And look at this kitchen!"

Linda divided us into groups of 4. Each group would be responsible for preparing all meals for one day. I was in the first group. For supper that night we prepared rice, salad and cod baked in cream and pesto. We also had a mish mash of red lentils, garlic, carrots and other goodies for the vegetarians in the group. After supper, a few of us jumped in the sauna.

"This is so strange."
"What? Four guys in a two person sauna?"
"Haha, yeah, but .... ah my english. I can't explain."
"That we're in class right now?" I suggested.
"Yes, precisely!"

The next morning we trekked down the mountain to the ski lounge. Some municipal employees where going to give a presentation about the tourism industry and their environmental practices. The class was quite tired. Everyone admitted to falling asleep at some point. There was one figure that grabbed my attention between dozing. There are almost 9000 homes in Trysil. 5,700 of those are non-resident holiday cottages. Think about that! Trysil is a town accessible only by two lane roads. No train. No airport. And their tourists population almost doubles their permanent population?! It's amazing to compare with towns of the same size in New Brunswick.

Our next cabin was much smaller and more basic than the previous. That's not a bad thing. The class appreciated the cozier style, but mostly the scenery. Jonasvollen is situated just across the lake from Femunden National Park. In fact, the ferry to travel over makes a stop just a few meters from our cabin door. When I say ferry, I don't mean 450 passenger drive-on ferry. I mean a ferry the size of a fishing boat stopping at a dock made of 2x4s.

We were hoping to swim that day, but water was very rough. At least that was our excuse. The next day a half dozen of us mustered up the courage to go for a quick dip. It was the coldest (intentional) swim I've ever had. Yes, colder than the Bay of Fundy! I tried to float near the surface of the water where it was warmest. As soon as I let me feet dangle the muscles in my arches would cramp from the colder depth. Mind you, we were swimming at an altitude just a few degrees south of Iqaluit.

While in Jonasvollen, we met an interesting man who didn't just tell us about the iceage, but litterally showed us how the glaciers formed the mountains around us. We climbed a hill where he pointed out every lake, mountain and field, and gave us their height above sea level. We climbed further up one of the taller mountains in the valley. We stopped at a natural spring just underneath the peak of the mountain.

"We are now at 920m above sea level. You can drink this water without treating it. As far as I know, it is the purest water in the world. Only 9mg of total dissolved solids per liter."

A lot of us were skeptical that it was the "purest water in the wolrd," but there was no denying that it tasted some good!

It was a shame we couldn't stay longer at our final cabin. The setting was amazing. We drove up a mountain on a road our bus could hardly fit on. Every oncoming car we encountered was a challenge. More puzzling than maneuvering around these cars was asking yourself what the hell are they doing up here? There's nothing! We arrived at our accommodations to discover that there was no electricity. Normally, that would be fun. Real camping. But when you have to cook for 22 people on a wood stove, it's a bit of a pain. Nevertheless, we managed and actually it was fun. The next challenge was finding running water. We were told there was a well somewhere, but I never found it. There was a sink outside of the kitchen that worked, but I wasn't sure if it was drinkable. Linda confirmed my suspicion.

"Guys, the sink outback here you can wash your dishes, but do not drink it. There's well over here for that."
"What? I just drank a waterbottle's worth of that water!" shouted a classmate.

That wasn't the end of this student's bad luck. Later that night he chopped his finger with an axe while cutting some wood for the stove. "It's bloody, but I'm alright. Just a bit to the left and it woulda' been a gonner!"

All 22 of us ate in cabin about the size of a dorm room. When night fell we hiked up the steep field to cabins. They looked shabby from the outside, but were faily modern looking on the inside, other than the fact they were candle lit and wood heated.

Around midnight a few of us stepped out to brush our teeth. I heard something rummaging in the woods.

"Hello?" I said.
No one answered.
"Guys do you hear that."
No one answered me.
"Is that someone?"

This time it heard me, whatever it was. The rummaging sound stopped for a second, then you could hear it running. It became obvious that this thing had more than two legs and weighed a tonne. Startled, the four of us jumped back a few steps when the beast stepped into the moonlit field. It was horse! I remembered there were 3 or 4 or so fenced in with the cabins. He ran right in between the group of us and stopped promptly as if to say "Pet me! Feed me!"

"He or she likes people. Visitors must feed them."
"Hey guys! There's a horse out here."
Our cabin mates swung open the door. Immediately the horse stuck its head inside.
"Ahh, it's tryin' to come in. Close it!" someone shouted.

A tip for those seeking a career in the faculty of Ecophilosophy
Get your bus drivers license. Both of our instructors possess one and put it to good use. Pontus claims to spend over 20,000km a year behind the wheel of the Ekobuss.