A Packrafting Film: Sweden’s Vistas River

8-minute read + 14-minute film

Brothers Adam Andersson and Arvid Bååth grew up canoeing with their parents. In this film, the brothers talk about their paddling lives with the turquoise waters of Sweden’s Vistas River as their backdrop.

The brothers’ friend Jacob accompanied them and filmed the highlights of their visit to this wilderness region far north of the Arctic Circle. This included an overnight stop at the regionally-famous and remote Lisa’s Cabin.

[FILM FACTS: It was filmed in Swedish Lapland the summer of 2020. Camera, editing and post-editing by Jacob Kastrup Haagensen in Denmark and Sweden, 2022. Starring Adam Andersson and Arvid Bååth. The film is in Swedish with English subtitles. It premiered at Nordic Adventure Film Festival in November 2022.]

The filmmaker, Jacob, is part of Aqua Bound’s Ambassador team and is an avid packrafter. We connected with him to learn more about the story behind this trip and film with Adam and Arvid.

In his own words, Jacob shares about their experience:

Why Choose Northern Sweden’s Vistas River

The original plan of summer 2020 was to travel to Norway and paddle the Trysilelva River. Trysilelva is only a 7-hour drive (500-600 km) from home and more suited for a 5-day trip. Unfortunately, Norway closed its borders to Sweden that summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finding an alternative inside Sweden was not easy. Trysilelva is a high-volume river and works well even in summertime. But there aren't any other rivers worth running in the summertime (because of low flow levels) within the same driving distance in Sweden. This forced us to look further north where a later snow melt and glaciers would secure a decent water level even in July.

As Arvid Bååth tells in the beginning of the film, Vistas had been on his bucket list for a long time. He suggested it as our plan B.

 packrafters in a tandem packraft paddling a river through the mountains

Brothers Adam and Arvid packrafting the Vistas River in Swedish Lapland

Vistas River is located well above the Arctic Circle—three times further north than Trysil, Norway, our original destination. It would have been ideal to hike in but we simply didn't have the time for 3 or 4 days of hiking. We already had an almost-24-hour train and bus journey.

So instead, we booked a helicopter from Nikkaluokta which flew us up the Vistas Valley and put us down 5 km north of the Swedish Tourist Association hut. The bonus was that we could scout the river briefly from the helicopter.

I did not have any plans for my film beforehand, but decided to film and see what the result would be. I also decided not to include myself in the film much and instead make Adam and Arvid my main protagonists. As the trip was pretty undramatic, I've made their paddling story the main storyline and the Vistas Valley the frame.

Despite the chaotic planning, Vistas Valley was really a special place. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. We were surrounded by some of the highest peaks of Sweden with glaciers, green alpine meadows and a beautiful river in the middle.

The summer of 2020 produced pretty bad weather in the Swedish mountains, but somehow we managed to hit a weather window. We had sunshine the entire time except for some light rain one afternoon.

On the way I realized I had been to Vistas Valley back in 2006 when I'd hiked it on my way from Abisko to Kebnekaise with two relatively new friends. Back then I crossed the valley at the bridge where we camped after the first night at the river. It was my first hike in the Swedish mountain range.

two men prep their packraft for the river trip

Preparing for put-in

14 years earlier, we passed Vistas Valley from Morna Pass east of the valley and continued over another pass into Tafala Valley just beneath the Kebnekaise glaciers. The trip then began a tradition of annual hikes from 2006 to 2012. Being at the same spot here again brought back some good memories.

Arvid and Adam’s First Packrafting Experience

As they tell in the film, both Arvid and Adam have prior river experience growing up in a paddling family. Adam took a long break from paddling between 2003 and 2016, but Arvid has kayaked and canoed since childhood. I have been paddling with Arvid since 2016 and have a couple of times with Adam, as well.

This was the first time either of them had packrafted, as it wasn’t possible to bring their kayaks on the train. Packrafts are light, packable and easy to travel with on a night train.

It's not hard to adapt to packrafts as they’re more stable than kayaks or canoes. For the Vistas trip they borrowed a packraft from me, an Alpacka Raft Forager. This is a two-person self-bailing packraft. You paddle it like an open canoe. Its buoyancy and self-bailer make it very stable and fun in rapids.

 two men paddle a tandem packraft on a river

The brothers used Alpacka Raft’s Forager tandem packraft and Aqua Bound’s Shred Apart paddle

I had previously used that same packraft to paddle the Colorado River from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek through the Grand Canyon. Arvid and Adam were so happy with it they decided to buy their own packraft.

Why Jacob Likes to Film His Wilderness Expeditions

For me, storytelling is an important part of being out on wilderness expeditions. Making a film about a wilderness adventure like a paddling trip somehow rounds out the experience. I like the creativity in filming and editing, but also like a way to preserve a trip in film.

Before I make films from my trips, I draw a lot in a sketchbook, like a kind of diary. I did that on my previous hiking trip to Vistas Valley. Making films is similar but with the opportunity for a broader audience. 

The Trip Highlight: Lisa’s Cabin

Visiting Lisa's cabin was a special experience I wanted to show viewers.

The cabin is very remote and lies on the opposite side of the river from the hiking path. Most visitors come in the wintertime, but there are not many. It’s like stepping into a time capsule where you can imagine the life Lisa Zetterlund had many years ago there.

a tiny historic log cabin in the wilderness 

Historic and iconic Lisa’s Cabin sits along the Vistas River

About Kebnekaise and Vistas Valley

Kebnekaise and the Vistas Valley are neither national parks nor nature reserves. The Swedish state claims ownership to the land but the claim is disputed by the indigenous Sami people who also claim ownership. The dispute is mostly about hunting rights, reindeer herding and, more generally, about the rights of colonized indigenous peoples.

But the ownership of the land does not matter much for visitors as Sweden has the Right to Roam.

The Right to Roam—or literally translated from Swedish as Everyman's Right (allemansrätten)—means you are allowed to hike, boat, ski and camp everywhere as long as you respect the privacy of people's homes and gardens.

The right also includes collecting berries, mushrooms, flowers and firewood. You are allowed to make a fire as long as the risk for wildfires is low. With that right comes a great responsibility to leave no trace and respect nature, crops and wildlife.

The right is more a common practice or a commonly recognized right than legislation. It’s a strong part of Swedish and Nordic culture.

Kebnekaise is the highest mountain in Sweden with a current height of 2,097 meters above sea level. Today the north summit is the highest. The south peak is on top of a glacier and used to be the highest summit. When I summited the mountains in 2006 it was 2,111 meters. Since then, the south peak has shrunk because of climate change and is now the lower of the two peaks.

two men in a tandem packraft on a rapids section in the river

Tackling a section of rapids on the Vistas

You can hike to the south summit but the north peak is much more exposed. You need climbing equipment to summit it.

The name Kebnekaise is in the Sami language and means Cauldron Crest. Vistas Valley is one of the three valleys surrounding the Kebnekaise massif (a massif is a compact group of connected mountains).

The famous long-distance hiking path, the Kungsleden (the King's Trail), passes west of the Kebnekaise massif through Tjäktja Valley. The Kebnekaise and the King’s Trail attract a lot of visitors every year but Vistas Valley is less visited.

The Vistas River (or Vistasjohka in the Sami language) has its source around Kebnekaise massif. Together with the Laddju River it forms the mighty Kalix River of which the Kaitum River (from the film Earning a River) also is a major tributary.

Kalix River is one of only four free-flowing river systems in northern Sweden. All other river systems are subject to hydroelectric power plants with all the problems that dams make for fish migration and flooding for water reservoirs.

That these four river systems were held free of dams was the result of an agreement between the Swedish national power company Vattenfall and the early nature conservation movement in the late 1960s.

The Vistas River, only 40 km long, runs through high alpine landscape, meadows, mountain forest and marshes. The river supports a rich array of wildlife and birdlife.

Learn more about Jacob and his film work on his website Urban Packrafter.
All photos courtesy of Jacob Kastrup Haagensen.

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