The biting cold hits face first as I roll into the icy water of Sogne Fjord to prove to be certified by the Norwegian Canoe Association that I can wet-exit and reenter a kayak in event of an emergency. As I surface, sputtering from the cold, I hear giggling from six others who will soon also take the plunge.
This was the only time anyone fell out of their kayak during the lux two-day kayak expedition, but the wet-exit drill showed the lengths Norwegian guides, like those at at Njord Kayak, go to lead trips through one of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth.
Yes, there are plenty of sightseeing vessels and cruise ships that motor through Norwegian fjords every day. They can’t compare to seeing the landscape in slow motion, camping out for a night or two and feeling that insignificant introspection that can come from the enormity of the fjord landscape.
Waterfalls, jutting cliffs, green forests and tiny villages punctuate any kayak expedition through the fjord region of Norway. Our expedition began at the town of Flam, wound through the narrow Sogne Fjord and into the UNESCO World Hertitage Site Nærøyfjord before ending in the small town Gudvangen.
Nærøyfjord is located in southwestern Norway, a short train ride from the town of Bergen. From the small town of Flam, our Norwegian guide Liselota led the group along jutting rock walls, into inlets rushing with the tailings of waterfalls and into the small town of Undredal.
A surprise snack waited in the form of a delicious brown goat cheese that Is made from whey instead of curds. The stuff has a crumbly texture and savory flavor that is one of a kind. Opplev Undredal, whose family has lived in the village for generations, shared stories about the region and a tasting of local foods at the Eldhuset visitor center.
His deep voice carried through the brick structure as he told the stories of region filled with supernatural trolls and holder (a sort of Norwegian she-devil, pronounced hoo-der) and the close link between humans and nature in the fjord region of Norway.
With a brief cultural excursion under our belts and some cheese and wine in our bellies we paddled along the Fjord until finding a suitable campsite for the night. The guides from Njord Kayak put together a gourmet feast fitting a fine restaurant and started a fire in a soaking rain.
This is where guides tend to shine and, in Norway, I was pleased to see their geographically attention to detail pay off. We erected a tarp large enough for eight adults to stand comfortably and broke out the local firewater, Aquavit. Soon, seven men and one woman (the guide) moved through the tall grass to explore our small oasis of flat land among a vertical landscape.
Coffee fueled the next morning. We broke camp red-eyed and launched the fleet onto the glassy water of the fjord. Hours smooth gliding later we saw our first cruise ship pass. Smoke chugged from the vessel as hundreds of people gazed over the rails from the top deck.
We waved as the boat passed, leaving us bobbing on its wake. Within minutes, the ship was a small dot on the horizon and then gone around a bend in the fjord. We paddled the rest of the day far from the sound of motors with just the rush of falling water, conversation and the cut of paddles.
Hours later, we pulled the kayaks from the water next to the cruise ship in the town of Gudvangen. As we loaded a van and trailer with gear for the trip home, I was glad to have had the time and opportunity to take the slow route because, hey, that’s what a vacation is all about.