A rough canoe trip to the frozen Hellfjord | Northern Norway

It was our first full day at Guvåg’s wilderness cabin and after a night of heavy snowfall we woke to a calm morning and decided to take our chances and go for a canoe trip. As soon as we sat in the canoe and began shuffling down the ramp into the sea, the wind picked up and we contemplated giving up…and then we all decided to fuck it and go anyway.

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The conditions weren’t too bad to begin with so we headed left and entered the dramatic Hellfjord. We passed islands and high mountains and paddled as far as we could along the fjord until we reached a vast sheet of ice stretching to the back of the fjord. It was about four inches thick on the edge and made for a perfect mid-way point to stop for coffee and chocolate. A couple people slung their legs across both canoes so we could stay together and float right next to the ice sheet. It was hands down the most unique place I’ve ever sipped coffee and some of our friends rested their coffee cup on the ice as if it was designed to be a table. Craig even managed to spot two moose far away in the snowy mountains, it was such a lovely, remote place.

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The wind started to pick up and it was coming straight towards us which didn’t bode well for our journey back. Then our imagination took the better of us and we were joking about not being able to escape the fjord and having to survive off the land for decades…riding moose in the mountains with eagle-feather headpieces and handmade bow and arrows. We laughed a lot, and then we had to be a bit more serious and genuinely paddle for our lives…sort of. It was tough, and our friend Copt who was sharing our canoe had a bad elbow so she was paddling awkwardly and her oar smacked into the canoe every single time. If I closed my eyes it sort of felt like I was in a dragon boat race with someone drumming to keep up the rhythm. The fjord section was almost conquered but we hadn’t reached the open sea yet and that’s when things started to get a little scary. The sea was really choppy and sloshing into the front of the canoe and the conditions were worsening. We had to come up with a plan B incase we couldn’t get home so we figured we would tie the canoes up to a rock and bush-whack back to the cabin.


We managed to sneak around some rough passages by going between islands where the sea was totally flat and scattered with floating slabs of ice and swaying seaweed beneath us. The sea was really shallow between the islands and at one point we became wedged on a rock, pivoting like a seesaw. We were beyond relieved when we shuffled off the rock and soon saw a buoy marking our little bay.

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As soon as we got back the boys went off to prepare the sauna and after lunch we all ran out into the deep snow in our swimwear. The sauna was a welcome relief from the coldness outside and we all squeezed into the wooden room and melted away. When the heat became unbearable we ran outside and jumped into the fluffy snow and we quickly realised that some areas weren’t so fluffy and a couple of us ended up with cut arms. I also wouldn’t recommend drinking cans of beer in a sauna unless you can drink very quickly because the can will burn your lips!


We spent a couple of hours cooking in the sauna which became so dry that breathing in too deeply felt like my organs were burning. We had to add more water onto the coals so we took it in turns to step outside into the heavy snowfall and walk to the well. As the temperature dropped further below zero and more snow fell, it became trickier to access the well. It was snowing so the flakes were freezing cold on our bare bodies and my feet felt like they were actually burning from the snow. Then the well door was sealed shut from ice and snow so we were having to bang the ice off with sticks and scoop snow off with our hands. So a quick run to the well in our bikinis ended up being quite a painful but funny experience, and boy did it feel good when we reentered the sauna!

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More snow fell overnight and a few of us were getting worried about the conditions back in our village. Our only job while our hosts were away was to clear the snow, especially from the boats which could sink if enough snow fell. So we walked through another snowstorm, sinking a foot down into the fresh powder, and eventually reaching the car. After an hour of shovelling snow from all the boats, jetty’s and pathways we headed back to our cabin for another well needed sauna.

On our final day the sun finally came out and we decided to go on another canoe trip. The conditions were so much calmer than our first trip and we slowly paddled between islands with such ease. Then we connected both canoes and just floated above a shallow area where we could see the rocks and starfish below us. It was really relaxing until we realised a huge boat was coming our way and we quickly separated and paddled towards an island for protection. Luckily the captain spotted us and engaged reverse really quickly and then he just curved around the back of an island and disappeared like a creepy spy.

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All good things come to an end though and it was time for us to head back and pack our bags. We had the best time staying in the beautiful cabin and the snow made it feel like a proper winter retreat and a perfect excuse to stay inside by the crackling fire and play board games. We could even spot otters swimming in the sea in front of the house and eagles swooping down for a resident rabbit. From dancing aurora and dangerous canoe trips to jumping in snow and playing card games all night, Guvåg was a place we will always remember.


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