Build your own raft – Adventure holidays in Sweden

Ready for the most memorable advenutre holidays of your lifetime?

This summer I did something I never thought I would but which turned out to be  fun adventure holidays which taught me a lot.

I went rafting in Sweden. Not on a rubber boat on white water but on a raft which we built ourselves out of woodden logs and then let the calm Klarälven river guide us to our goal over five days. Equipped with food, matches, a camping stove and a tent we managed pretty well and enjoyed spending the nights on secluded beaches or meadows.
Did I like it? It was hard work but the beautiful nature completely makes up for it. So, yes, I loved it. Would I do it again? Um, ask me again once my back stops hurting from doing almost everything in a sitting position and when my blisters from rowing are gone. To have a good experience, here are a few things to consider:

adventure holidays

Tips for your rafting adventure holidays

1.Go in summer

The month with the least rain in Sweden is August and then you also still have long days with dailight.
We went in July and had one day of rain on our arrival day. So, all our stuff was wet before we even started but it dried again over the following days. Plus, was I glad that it didn’t rain on the next day, when we built the raft. That would have been 6 hours of standing in 15° C water, while tying heavy logs together. At least we had the sun to warm our feet up, everytime we went to get a new log.

2. Bring an eye patch

If you want to have a relaxing ‘I read a few books and play some games’ kind of vacation, this won’t be for you. You will be on the river for 9 to 15 hours each day or you won’t get back to Gunnerud in time. More than once we ate dinner past 10pm because we only just reached out daily goal after several hazards along the way. Luckily, it never got completely dark and even from midnight to 3 am, when it was the darkest, we didn’t need a lamp. But I was really glad I brought an eye patch 🙂 Otherwise sleep would have been impossible.

3.Prepare for a working holiday

It’s hard work and the most enjoyable it would be for 4 grown men on a double raft. However, it’s possible to do it as a couple on half a raft and even as a family on a double raft (just bring a strong husband who is able to lift the pole to push the raft away from sandbanks).

That being said, such adventure holidays and binding moments in the beautiful landscape will certainly bring you closer (or at least you will know that you are not meant for each other after all, in case all you do is yell at each other.) From what we saw, everybody arrived with happy smiley faces 🙂

adventure vacation

Here is a detailed overview of our rafting adventure vacation in Sweden:

 

1. Day Journey to Gunnerud

Already the way there was quite a journey. We flew to Stockholm and then took the train to Karlstad, from where we took a bus to Gunnerud. Since it was the weekend, there weren’t many buses and we arrived at the Vildmark i Värmland campsite at 10.45 pm. Already the first occasion that we were glad that the sun never really sets in Sweden in summer.
Most people come by car, which probably is more convenient. But public transport is possible and there even was great wifi on the bus from Gunnerud to Karlstadt. The complete train and bus journey took about five hours and cost about $34 per person.

We received our basic equipment and set up our red Hilleberg tent on the campsite along the river. At midnight, we already got in touch with the first rafters who hadn’t calculated the route correctly and arrived early. Probably good for them, since the next day it poured buckets all day long.

2. Day: Outdoor survival course

At 9.30 am we met inside a tepee to be sheltered from the rain. Only us and another group had booked the optional outdoor course. If you have some camping experience and read all the info on the Vildmark i Värmland website, you probably don’t need it. Nevertheless, for me it was funto learn how to make a fire without paper and hear about Allemansrätten – the right in Sweden to set up camp on any public grounds if you leave it the way you found it and don’t disturb nature.

After drinking a warming tea, which we cooked on the camping stove, we headed out on the river in the canoes. With the rain, this wasn’t very pleasant and since Kevin and I had already been canoing several times, the guide was soon satisfied with our performance and we could go back around a warming fire.

Raft building course

At 6 pm we had our raft building introduction with all the other people who had arrived by now. We watched a movie with info about animals we might encounter and how to read the river map which was on the back of the lid of one of our equipment boxes.
Afterward, we learned how to build the raft with its three layers of logs and how to tie the different knods. Luckily, Kevin paid close attention and could show me again the next day, since there weren’t really enough guides to help everyone all the time. Plus, if something small happens to your raft on the river, you will be glad if you can rebuild it yourself and don’t have to call the camp to come and find you. After another self-cooked meal on the camping stove, we returned into our tent, hoping that the rain would stop.

3. Day Build your own raft

At 6.30 I crawled out of the tent again into bright sunshine. At 7.30 us and everyone else had the equipment boxes ready to be loaded onto a truck. Then, we boarded a bus with our backpacks and the whole group was transported up North for one hour until we reached another campground.
There, our boxes were unloaded again and we were assigned a pile of logs. Some people headed down into the cold river rigt away but since you will be working here for the next 4 to 8 hours, you might as well put on sunscreen.

Layer number one

The first layer of the raft was made out of huge logs as thick as normal trees. We started working at about 9 am and rolled the logs down the pile and then down into the water. Quite heavy work. The water was about knee deep and like I said 15°C cold. But it made it easier to move the logs around and tie them together like we learned it. After a while we didn’t feel our feet anymore from the cold water but our only goal was to finish the log and not lose one to the current of the river.

Layer number two

The second layer were logs of about the size of a thick tigh. We thought we’d be finished with our 3 by 3 meter raft at noon but when the guides said that we should cook some lunch now, we had only just started the third layer which were again half as thick as the second layer.

I was amazed that all these heavy logs that now already looked like a raft were actually swimming and didn’t just sink. After all this hard work and the first few splinters (bring working gloves!) you wish to just sit down and eat but instead we had to carry our heavy equipment boxes to the log pile and then cook our lunch on our camping stove. Again, I was amazed how many items of food we received in a quick cool style. We only had things that took a maximum of 5 minutes to cook (came in handy when we made meat and 3 minute rice another evening). Today we had gulash and pasta with crakers.

Layer number three

As soon as we had eaten and cleaned up, we went back to looking for the right sized logs and finished the third layer. I thought that building the tent on top of it wouldn’t take much longer but until we had the tent set up and carried all our equipment on the raft, we needed at least two more hours. At least three groups had already left. If this was the Amazing Race, we would have failed…But it wasn’t a race and we could be glad that there were still so many people around since our two ton raft was a bit too close to the shore and already sat on top of a sandbank. It took 12 people and 10 minutes of pushing until we could finally hop onto our raft and start the journey.

The journey begins (my arms already hurt like hell)

It was somewhere between four and five o’clock and we knew we had to do at least two more hours to get some distance between us and the starting place. Luckily, the river took us onto a good path and we didn’t have to paddle away from branches or other hazards. We passed one other raft before we also looked for a place to spend the night. Then, we realized that we would never be able to paddle ashore while sitting on the raft. It was very hard to make it move into the direction we wanted it to go. So, we got into the canoe and tied the raft to it.

Paddling with a two ton raft in tow

We paddled even harder and after passing about two nice beaches to which we didn’t make it in time, we finally reached the shore and tied the raft to two trees. The small beach we spotted was still about 30 m upstream and we’d just load the equipment for the night onto the canoe and first cook dinner on the raft.

While eating, we had about 5 million mosquitos as our uninvited guests. Three other rafts passed us while we were eating. One of them also wanted to get ashore at “our” beach but they also didn’t paddle hard enough and drifted by. As a result, we really had a beautiful meadow behind the beach completely to ourselves. To get rid of the mosquitos, we made a fire with our newly learned fire making skills and at some point climbed into our tent. I didn’t think that I’d be able to lift the paddle again the next day or do any other kind of work.

4. Day: A calm day on Klarälven river

As soon as I got up, I had to work again. First, put away the tent (which was wet again from the humidity) and then row back to our raft which luckily was still waiting for us in the trees. We ate a lovely omelet and then pushed the raft away from the shore with the pole. From then on we had a beautiful and calm day, floating down the river, never seeing another soul. Although, we did pass a few small villages. Except from paddling away from shore whenever we got too close, we didn’t encounter any hazards but we still had to stay alert all the time and couldn’t even play a card game.

Being stuck – It’s only so bad (or funny) as you make it

At about 6 pm it started raining again and then it happened; we got stuck on a tree. Instead of going out into the rain to push us off, my boyfriend rather wanted to stay under the tent and finally play a card game. After about half an hour, the rain stopped and with one push, we were moving along again.

Two hours later, we were wondering why we still hadn’t seen anyone else from the people who had built their rafts with us. Did we perhaps take a wrong turn on the river? Of course not, the water was only floating in one direction. At least we saw a few beavers. We would have liked to start cooking dinner but we didn’t want to be the ones who arrived back in Gunnerud too late, because we didn’t go far enough.

Finally, at about 9.30 pm we spotted the first raft tied to the shore and right after that two more. Since we were pretty hungry by now, we just wanted to eat and sleep. We saw that one group had already made a fire on the beach and they were kind enough to leave it to us and even offered us some wine. They had been sailing with two other groups all day. It seems like our 3x3m raft was going slower that the 3x6m ones. At midnight we also finally made it to bed. Again, we were really glad that the sun had been up for such a long time.

Day 5: Two sandbanks and a rock

We got up with our neighbours, so that we wouldn’t end up as the last ones again and even were the first ones to start rafting today, since we decided to finally try cooking on the raft. It worked but was just quite uncomfortable and more than once I had to stop and paddle to get away from branches or sandbanks.

Unfortunately, at some point we only saw sand around us, very close to the water surface. Since the guides had told us that the sand banks were mostly on the inside of the curve, we paddled to the outside as hard as we could. Just to really get stuck since we paddled on top of the sandbank. Our raft didn’t move anymore and we got off to see in which direction we should push it (the river was still as cold as before but at least being stuck gave us a reason to finally take a proper bath).

Unloading the raft in the middle of the river

Apparently, our situation didn’t look serious enough, because the three rafts that were behind us floated by on the other side of the river without a problem. But we had a problem because after shoving the raft around for 30 min we really couldn’t push any more sand around. The next logical step was to unload all our heavy boxes onto our canoe.

Great, it was already hard enough to carry them on land. Now we had to lift them above the water from the raft to the canoe. I hoped that the canoe wouldn’t tip over with all our belongings. But the main thing was that the raft was lifted a little higher and we could finally push it to the edge of the sandbank. We loaded our boxes back onto the raft again and finally could move along. We lost about an hour and of course were completely alone again. But we were also feeling great because we had survived our worst rafting fear on our own.

Here is a quick hazard overview:

  •  Small branches along shore: no problemo, the raft is stronger
  • Big branches along shore: hold on to the raft, so that you don’t fall off, but the tent is built well enough and either the raft will spin itself away from the branch or you can push it away with the pole
  • big rocks: hold on to the raft and hope that it doesn’t damage the bottom layer too much. All our rafts crashed with a big rock (probably the same one) and they all suvived fine
  • sandbanks: they can get very inconvinient. That’s why it’s good if you have another raft ahead of you and bring a real canoe and not a sit on top one. You have to be able to unload your boxes because you don’t want to have to de- and reconstruct your raft in the midde of the river. Building it once was hard enough. Read the sand bank info on the map and that’s why it’s important to stay oriented.

Stuck once more

But so, we happily floated on until again, the sand came dangerously close. This time we didn’t want to paddle ourselves into the mess and trusted the river that it would take us onto a path that would work.

Until we were stuck once more. Ugh, oh no. We tried pushing with the boxes on it. However, soon we realized that we would have to unload the raft once more. This time, we even had to shovel some sand away. After another hour, the raft was finally freed. Unfortunately, the river picked up so quickly that we couldn’t load all our boxes back onto the raft. I worried the whole time that they would land in the water in case we collided with something. Ah yes, that was also the day we hit a rock which was hiding under the surface and made us feel like on the Titanic. I hoped that this was enough now and that it would stay the worst day on the river for us. But you never know while rafting on the Klarälven.

Wine and secluded beaches – what more do you need?

Again, we shipped past our prefered dinner time. At least this time, we prepared all the food on the raft and didn’t encounter any more hazards along the way. Around the bend where we thought would be a good daily goal, we also saw three other rafts. Due to the current we had to tie the raft up on the other side of the river. After a rushed dinner (thanks to our friends the mosquitos) we paddled in the canoe to the beach on the other side of the river. One of the boxes was still in the canoe since we loaded it in a way that we couldn’t reach it from the raft. Unfortunately, it was the box with the map and the info about sandbanks. Yet, it seemed no matter what we tried, we always landed on the sandbank.

Nevertheless, I tried to enjoy our last night out in the wilderness. We walked along the beach and joined a group of Danish guys. They had a lovely fire going on and even found the time to buy wine during the day.They had rescued another family off a sandbank today who had to take their raft apart and needed more than 4 hours to sail again. Phew, how glad I was that we always managed to move on with the complete raft. Generally, it did seem that the bigger rafts traveled the better routes. All the other people we talked to hadn’t hit one sandbank. But they hadn’t seen any beavers either 🙂

canoeing in sweden

6. Day: Taking the raft apart again

The next day we had a clear goal. By 5 pm we needed to be back in Gunnerud. We started first (which was a stupid idea because again, we ran onto a sandbank). Luckily, the nice Danish guys behind us tied came to our help. They tied up their raft to the other side of the river and rowed over to us. With four people we managed to push the raft off the sanbank without even unloading the boxes. Thank you so much again for stopping and helping us!
After that we reached Gunnerud without anymore inconvenience. I was really relieved when I saw the sign 1400m to Gunnerud. Only about 40 min of floating left…

Destroying our raft after only four days

When we arrived, three other groups were already there, dismounting their raft and putting the equipment back where it belonged. I thought that I would have troubles having to destroy our home from the past days. After all we only put it together (with so much effort) a few days ago. If it were possible, I’d have taken it home. But it also gave a huge sense of satisfaction when we pushed the lose logs off the raft and let them float into the timber trap. It took us two and a half hours to dismount the raft and tie the 10 ropes to nice bundles, clean the canoe and store everything away.

In the end, we had one hour left to cook and eat a very late lunch. We didn’t want to miss our bus at 6 pm. We hardly had time to say goodbye to the Swiss family. Our paths had crossed at some point every day over the past days. The four Danish guys had already left. Poor them had to drive 8 more hours to get back home. We just had a 1.30 hour bus ride ahead of us and then we’d treat ourselves to a nice hotel.

Summary

Was this a relaxing vacation? -No.
Was it an adventure? -Yes. And it left me with a huge sense of satisfaction and pride of all that we had achieved.
Such a trip will definitely make you a stronger person. It starts with having to dig a hole to go to the bathroom and goes over the heavy lifting and small dangers you come across. Only to realize that they weren’t really that dangerous.
If it were just for Sweden’s beautiful nature, I’d definitely do it again. Perhaps in a canoe next time, without the heavy lifting of logs. But if you want a uniqe experience, definitely go for building your own raft with Vildermark.

What was the most adventurous holiday you have ever had? Please, tell me in a comment.

If you want a calmer trip, check out my posts about Thailand.

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