Text: Hans Petter Aalmo
When choosing local guides and a serious rafting company, you do not have to be very brave to go white water rafting in the Sjoa River.
The Sjoa River is in Heidal in Sel municipality, at the top of the Gudbrandsdalen Valley. Sjoa is one of the top places for rafting in Norway. We drove from Oslo, and it was a nice four-hour drive on the main E6 road.
I have to admit that I am not particularly brave or daring. This is one of the reasons why I during the last decade or so have refused to go white water rafting with my friend Jan Tore. Jan Tore has over the years become one of Norway's most experienced rafting guides.
I have refused for several other reasons too; partly because I have always been a little afraid of white water rafting. Not because I am over the average squeamish, afraid of water or do not like action sports. But there is something about the pictures of the foaming water, combined with the image as an extreme sport that led to the fact that there were many other things I had more desire to expose myself to.
Then there are the annual horror stories about foreign tourists who are hurt or worse in Norwegian rivers. Eventually, I was overwhelmed by the desire for the experience itself, and I gave in and joined for the annual white water rafting trip to the Sjoa River.
The focus on safety before and during the trip was very high, so high that it almost became a bit obvious and repetitive, like on planes.
"Better safe than dead" I thought, and followed closely with the required security review before we were let out into the river.
When the rafting rafts finally were out in the river I was surprised. Seldom have I had such fun, and even though the adrenaline was pumping in my veins, I had the odd feeling of being safe. Hey, I never felt scared due to professional guiding and a good team effort.
It was inevitable that one and another fell into the river, entire boats tilting over, even whole teams fell into the river. Then it was reassuring to see that the guides on the boats all feel a strong commitment to quickly and effectively help each other out. It was impressive to see how quickly they were able to get control of the situation, turn the rafting boats around and get everyone on board quickly, under these difficult conditions.
Then it was my turn to end up in the river, and not even when I fell out of the fleet and under water, was I scared. I was quickly pulled aboard, and even if I swallowed some water, the experience was not sinister; I still wanted to go white water rafting again. Too bad we only had time for a one-day trip. But I am definitely up for another trip.
Safely with professional guides
After the tour was over, I spoke to Jan Tore and praised my admiration for their professionalism.
Jan Tore explained the focus on security:
- Two weeks ago, there was an accident with some Russians here. They set out downwards the river, without knowledge of local conditions, and just set off without checking if it was safe. The result was that they had an accident, where two were injured. Media presented it as if it was dangerous to go white water rafting in the Sjoa River, and we had cancellations for almost 100,000 Norwegian kroner over the next weekend.
- All the serious companies here help each other out, and we provide advice to groups who want to go white water rafting alone, but we resigne when this happens. It is very unnecessary and dangerous when people who do not know anything set off on their own. We will always assist when something happens anyway, but the vast majority of accidents would have been avoided. It is not dangerous to go white water rafting here, about 15,000 people do so each year and, after all, serious accidents rarely ever happen.
For me, being a bit squeamish, I believe you should be either raving mad or at least having a death wish to go down a river with high water levels and intense power without knowing the circumstances. But with experienced guides , like in my case, white water rafting is highly recommended.
Is not difficult, even for one who is in the middle of physical shape, and the price is not deterrent. Expect about 1,000 NOK for a day trip, including lunch, and you have an experience for life.
Getting to the Sjoa River:
By train: Train to Otta. Ten kilometres from Otta to the river.
By bus: "Gudbrandsdal express" stops by E6.
By car: Approximately four hours by car from Oslo to Sjoa. Approximately three hours and thirty minutes by car from Trondheim to Sjoa.
Follow the main road E6 to the river, and take road 257 towards Randsverk.
For further information, see Sjoa Rafting, Sjoa Raftingsenter NWR and GoRafting.