In Norway, there are plenty of rivers with tall tales behind them but few have a reputation as intimidating as the Skjøli (pronounced a little like ‘Shirley’) which is changeable, steep, fast and continuous.
In October last year, the area was hit by an insane flash flood that tore through the valley and rearranged the landscape. One of the areas most affected was the Skjøli river drainage, trees everywhere, rocks strewn and stacked in strange places and the rapids that we knew so well, unrecognisable. The river we loved was gone.
This year I decided to go and see what was left with Adrian Mattern and Martin Vollen to decide whether we could still kayak down it or not. We drone scouted and hiked the river and were pleasantly surprised by what we saw and decided to give it a go.
While every rapid had changed, what stood new in its place was just as good as the old rapids, maybe better.
Asides from this one rapid, this thing had a brutal hole on it that had us all running away from it with our tails between our legs.
The river quieted down from roaring class 5 to fast class 3 and we boogied down and we took out to avoid a log jam.
At one point, Martin had been unable to scout the whole rapid and had told us to grab an eddy when we could, which seemed like an ideal spot to stop and grab a look. I set safety for Martin – one of the holes in the rapid above had almost gotten me and I wanted to be ready. Martin stuck the line and floated up to the horizon line, he looked back at me for some information ‘Big hole, big effing hole’. He charged for the left shoulder of it but hit rock feeding him into the hole. Adrian was already there scouting and ready with a bag, I ran down the bank in case Martin floated downstream. Martin was just about to float past me, so I hit him with my Lighting bag and reeled him in – gassed from his fight with the hole but otherwise fine.
While we all love this river, we all accept that a swim on the Skjøli could easily lead to broken bones and flush drowning. I was relieved to have Martin out of the water.
We unpinned Martyn’s kayak from its resting place on a rock and he set off hiking to the road. Adrian and I continued downstream. The euphoria had evaporated after Martin’s swim and every horizon line and blind turn was much more nerve wracking. We ran everything but some of the lines around holes where pretty tight and at least two rapids involved must-make boofs.
I am rarely happy to reach the bottom of a river because I never want the fun to stop but I was genuinely relieved to be at the bottom of this lap.
Despite the changes and despite the reminder of how dangerous this river can be, we still love it. The Skjøli has changed, it is less boulder garden and more bedrock, with more must-make moves but that I love it! We call it the ‘Don Skjøli’ because this river will always be the boss. Also I just recently watched the film about Don Shirley …