Tromsø – Narvik: Kayaking Winter

Tour name: Tromsø – Narvik
Degree of difficulty: advanced
Tour length: 175km
Alignment: South-West
GPS: route and track as GPX

Every year, the orcas head south off the coast of Norway. They follow the herring swarms along the Gulf Stream up to their spawning areas at the height of Ålesund.
The proximity to the mainland offers the unique opportunity to see the whales in their natural habitat.
… and that ‘s what we want to do – but not with a whale – watching boat, but with our own kayak …

happy me
me ©Christian Hein

On the trail of the orcas

The journey of the black and white giants begins at the beginning of the year in northern Norway.
There it is winterly cold, changeable and stormy at this time. Most of them would not call that an ideal paddle weather, but my decision was clear: I want to see Orcas! Also, after our last winter hike in northern Sweden, a year ago, I am drawn back to Scandinavia – a magical region full of snow, silence and polar lights.
Antonia sees things differently. Also, the argument that it is significantly warmer in Norway in the winter due to the Gulf Stream (average temperature -5 degrees) than in Sweden (-10 degrees), could not convince her … But my climbing buddy Martin explains without further ado to accompany me.
Together we plan the tour and test our equipment (especially the kayaks and drysuits). On the 9th of February 2018, the time has come: we fold the kayaks together and take the train to Berlin. From there it goes the plane to Tromsø.
Tromsø is the largest city in northern Norway and is 350km above the Arctic Circle. From here we want to paddle through the archipelagos along the coast the 175km long route to Narvik. Luckily, it is not far from the airport to the sea. We assemble the boats, stow our luggage, went shopping … and we are ready to go!

Storm and waves
storm and waves ©Christian Hein

The first days

At first, Norway shows its wild side: We are struggling with an enormous headwind and are making slow progress. There are also high waves (up to 1.50m high). However, our kayaks are doing very well: they are stable and safe. One day a violent storm surprises us – in the middle of the water! Strong gusts push us out to sea. We paddle like crazy to get back to shore. After some time we have fortunately again solid ground under the feet!
Gradually, we get used to the paddling and develop a routine. We have breakfast, smear cuts for the day and gets back on the water at 9am. Depending on weather conditions and mood we paddle between 5 – 19km (4-6h) before we look for a place for camping or accommodation. After a long dusk, it finally gets dark around 4 pm.

stars in the night
stars in the night ©Christian Hein

The nights

Everyman’s rights in Norway allow you to go wild camping. We usually pitch our tent right on the coast. A self-standing tent is required, as the ground is rocky and icy.
The people we meet are very friendly and sometimes even offer us free sleeping places.
At night it gets increasingly colder during our journey. The reason: The thick cloud cover of the first days dissolves. During the day we paddle in bright sunshine, while at night the northern lights fill the sky. It’s a Dream!

Sunrise in Tromsø
Sunrise in Tromsø ©Christian Hein

The only drawback: The temperatures fall … down to -18 degrees. In the kayak, this is not a problem as it is a bit warmer on the water than on land and the movement keeps us warm. And even in a sleeping bag, the cold is no problem …
if there were not the time between getting off and getting into the sleeping bag – and vice versa!
To the cold comes an enormously high air humidity. In the morning, the kayaks and tent (outside and inside) are covered with a thick layer of hoarfrost. Everything is wet or at least damp – and mostly frozen. Getting in our stiff-frozen neoprene gloves in the morning is a real torture. And still … we are damn happy!
And that’s exactly what we answer if someone asked

„Why are you doing this?“

The question of why

Even before we left, friends and family asked us why we were actually doing this trip in winter! The risk and toughness seemed too big and too low the probability of actually seeing whales.

  • frozen kayak
  • Martins hands after a day in his gloves

The people we met on the way responded in a similar way: we were asked why again and again. The orca thing was definitely an incentive for us – no question. But that’s not all.

„Sometimes the way is really the goal.“

The silence, the sea, the mountains, the rugged coastline and the northern lights … all these things are in themselves answers enough. And not despite, but together with the toughness and fears that’s what makes this journey in the first place.
With this insight and a crazy feeling of happiness, we finally reach our destination after 12 intense days at sea.

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