Gold D of E Canoeing Expedition in Sweden
At 5.00am, 13 SFC1 girls gathered in the departure lounge of Heathrow airport ready to start the expedition stage of their Gold Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) in Sweden, with over 100 kilometres of paddling ahead, carrying all the equipment and food they needed for the four-day and three-night expedition.
After a short trip to the starting location and bunk house accommodation for the night, day one was preparation day. The main equipment was issued, such as tents, waterproof barrels, cooking equipment, canoes, paddles and buoyancy aids, and the girls went on a shopping trip to the local supermarket to get food for the next four days, managing their budget in a different currency and translating the packaging from Swedish. The girls had the rest of the evening to finish route planning and pack everything into one barrel each.
The day’s objective was to paddle around 16K, through five locks and a portage past a dam. Our group of six (Group 6) started first, fitting everything into three canoes and setting off south into a wide expanse of water. They settled in quickly and soon disappeared into the distance. Our group of seven (Group 7) then set off half an hour later. After a few kilometres the challenge of the first locks appeared.
The locks where all closed for the season, so each lock had to be portaged around with some long walks for the girls as they wheeled the boats. Lunch was taken on the route, with Group 7 choosing a very picturesque lock, and the weather was not too warm and there was no rain. The groups' spirits where all high and even though the locks took a while, they took on the challenges well helping each other out when needed. The final portage of the day was an uphill struggle with the girls dragging the boats and equipment to the top, relieved that this was the last one of the day. Once back on the water, both groups started the 6K paddle to find the campsite for the evening.
The campsites within Sweden are very much wild camping at its best, with composting toilets and nice campfire areas, but with no electricity or running water. The girls soon set up the tents and began cooking dinner. It was a nice forest location next to a lake, and as the sun started to set, the girls were able to enjoy their first evening.
The aim of this day was to cover more distance, up to 24K in a northerly direction, leading the groups into some of the larger lakes in the region. This day brought more overcast weather but this did mean a bit more wind which, luckily, was in the right direction. It was pleasing to see the groups using the skills they had learnt during training, joining the canoes together and creating a sail out of the emergency group shelter. This helped the group cover the kilometres needed in an energy efficient way.
The paddling and sailing was good throughout the day with the groups progressing well through check points and lunch stops, with Group 7 choosing to have lunch whilst drifting on the lake and Group 6 having lunch on the bank. The groups kept the momentum up and, after 9 hours on the water, they started to arrive at the wild camp for the evening. With a lot of pasta and noodles cooked, the girls prepared themselves for the rain predicted for the early hours of the morning, which would add another element into the morning routine.
The day began with some very heavy bouts of rain overnight and some soggy kit to be dealt with. The girls had another long day of paddling ahead of them to reach the most northern point of the trip and then start the route back. The girls continued with smiles still very wide, as the groups paddled though some amazing scenery. The wind had died away and a steady paddle saw the girls achieve more than 20K at an amazing rate and, apart from a little island hopping for Group 6 as they looked for a place to spend the night, the girls chose a spot to wild camp on an island, with some girls enjoying a swim in the lake.
The final day of the expedition was the longest day in terms of distance with a gruelling 27K to be achieved to get them back to civilisation. With a stronger wind in their favour, it turned into the perfect day for canoe sailing and both groups spent over an hour of the day sailing along the wide lakes. The incentive of the bunk house meant the girls made good time, completing the expedition by 4.30pm.
The post-expedition debriefs from the assessors soon followed and all the girls were very happy to finally get into the accommodation and have a well-earned meal out at a local restaurant.
It was an early night for all as the journey back to the UK would began at 1.30am with our drive back to the airport, flight back and then a final bus journey dropping us all off safe and sound back in Cheltenham.
Mr Allison, Outdoor Education Co-ordinator, and Miss Troth, Head of Outdoor Education