The Guides Manual Pt. 5 - Things I Learned While Guiding Tours
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
I am currently onboard AIDAblu, en-route towards the port of Warnemünde. Since the company decided to abort our ramp-up efforts in the light of increasing Corvid-19 numbers all over Europe we are going back home. Yesterday my home ship AIDAperla met up with AIDAblu out at sea, somewhere close to the Danish coast. We were transferred ship to ship, by our survival crafts, all together with our luggage. Which is quite an experience on its own. Since I will be back home in a few days, I will be able to refocus my blog back to the local adventures around my hometown of Munich.
But for one last time for the foreseeable future, I must revisit some memories. However, this time I would not want to focus on another cruise port. I feel that my last three blogs about these experiences have provided a good overview of my job profile and working experience on board. So, I instead would like to focus on my time in northern Sweden. Guiding canoe tours over the lakes of the Skelefteälven was pretty much my first real experience as a commercial guide. I learned a lot there, and some of this knowledge I would like to share with you, not only to provide you with some entertainment but also some knowledge you might transfer to your own outdoor experiences.
1.: How to cross a lake during a Storm
This first topic needs some prior knowledge to understand. First, you should be aware that the lakes in northern Sweden are large. Exceptionally large. And this size allows the lakes to build up some frighteningly high waves during stormy days. On this tour, we had been on the lake for five days, and we had five days of windy weather. We were following the western shore in a southerly direction. Here, sheltered between the coast and a chain of islands, the waves never got that high. From the first day of our tour, I knew, at one point, we would have to cross the entire lake to reach the eastern shore. The only road on which a car could pick us up was located on the eastern coast after all.
Since the western shore was the safer one, I planned to stay there and traverse the lake towards the eastern shore once the wind died down. This would generally take a few days, but on this occasion, it took much longer. This would become a problem. Since we would need to cross serval kilometres over open water to reach our pickup point and our guests had pre-booked flights, we would need to cross the lake at one point during our tour. And after five days out on the lake, we would now need to attempt the crossing within the next twenty-four hours.
We took one rest day on a beautiful, grassy island. Its hills shaded us from the wind and allowed us to relax in the sun without the feeling of ice-cold razor blades. This island is one of the best camping spots on all the lake. However, I had never really used it before, as it was already too far south of the ideal crossing point to be reachable without a significant diversion in the route. The reason this island is so unique, is since it has a sizeable grass-covered section, without too many trees. This is unusual for northern Sweden where most of the lake shores are either overgrown with meter high bushes of blueberries or just giant fields of boulders. Just finding enough spots for tents can be a real challenge. But on this island, there are more than enough. And that alone would be noticeable enough, would it not also have a chain of ancient and giant birch trees along its shores that honestly gives the whole island a mystic feeling.
After enjoying a pleasant and relaxed break day, we awoke to a new day and even stronger winds. However, our window for crossing the lake was now rapidly closing. So, I decided to go ahead and attempt it. We moved eastwards, always in the shadow of another chain of small islands. But once we had reached the last island in our chain and had a look at the open water, it became clear the crossing would be impossible. With waves between one and two meters, hitting us at an angle, it would be madness to attempt. Waiting further would be no option as well, as that would inevitably lead to some missed flights. Faced with that conundrum, I decided to try something, that I had read as a young boy in an adventure novel. With our two canoes, we landed at the island sheltering us from the wind. There I chose a small pine tree and used a saw to cut it down. I also cut it down in size, keeping only the broadest, most sturdy part of the trunk. And this I laid over both of our canoes, put directly next to each other. And with plenty of rope, we fixed this trunk to the middle benches of both canoes. And with some smaller branches, we build other fixtures between the tip and tail of both canoes. Therefore, we had created a catamaran from our two boats and eliminated the risk of capsizing. We paddled some circles in calmer water to get the hang of the coordination required to steer our craft with four people, and then we went out into the boiling kettle of a lake. We turned our nose into the wind and slowly started our traverse. We worked hard not be blown away by wind and waves, just to keep our position at the same height as our goal on the eastern shore.
Our craft was stable and took the waves coming at a forward angle quite well. A few times we had waves break over the bow of our canoes, but in those cases, one of us stopped paddling for a few seconds to scoop water out of the boats with a small cooking pot. It took us about an hour to reach a tiny, singular island, which roughly marked the halfway point of our crossing. Here we landed on the leeward side and took some time to relax our, already heavy, arms. We also started a small fire to cook some soup and get a little bit of warmth back into our bodies. Despite the skies being relatively clear, we all were a little bit damp, from the continuous spray of droplets blasting us at every second of the crossing.
We completed the second half of our crossing equally as successfully and made our meeting point in time. And I know now, how to cross a lake during a storm.
2: How to build a tent out of a Tarp
A second, somewhat shorter story concerns the lengths that a guide sometimes has to go to, just to keep his guest happy. This particular case starts with a guest breaking one of his tent’s poles and me fixing it. So far, nothing too mysterious. But then there was a little mishap in our material department, and the same tent was packed for a tour a few weeks later without the broken pole. But with no replacement pole either.
Therefore we arrived at our first camping ground, half a day of paddling away from any roads with one tent less than needed. The first night was an easy enough fix: On our camping spot was a little wind shelter, a wooden structure with three walls, one roof and solid dirt for a floor. I just gave my tent to one of our guests while I slept in the wind shelter. The second night was less comfortable. Towards the evening, there had started a massive downpour, and we had to cut our day short to find a spot to set up camp. Well, we found the right location, but no shelter on this one, so I had to improvise. The solution was easy enough: Take one of our tarps, intended to create some dry spots for cooking and so forth and build a roof out of it. That worked, of course, except for the ground below the tarp still being very wet. So after we finished our cooking, and everybody was tucking in for the night, I took the tarp that had covered our cooking spot, turned it wet side to the ground and fastened it to my roof with a little piece of rope.
Now I had a proper tent and went to bed quite optimistic. Later that night, the rain subsided, and strong winds arose. And suddenly I was awakened by my top tarp being blown away with the wind. So I had to jump out of my sleeping bag, in boxers, and franticly tie all ropes together again. In the dark, while being blasted by ice-cold winds.
The following days were a lot more successful. Every evening I got a little better at setting up my structure in a quick and stable manner. And going into our second week on the river, I did not even set up any structure at all, because now the weather was so good that I could comfortably sleep outside, just with a mat and a sleeping bag.
However, I increased my skillset on this tour, and I now know how to build a tent out of a tarp. Which is a rather useful skill to have in the outdoors.
If you would like to see more pictures from my time in Sweden, please click here.