I am wearing rubber boots, a helmet on my head and a life jacket is tightly secured around my body. A drop of sweat falls on to my forehead from under the helmet, and the neoprene gloves feel sticky in the twenty-degree heat.
My moment as the Queen of River Kitkajoki
The river calmly ripples as the sun peers out from behind the clouds over the group of rafters who are gathering around the rafts.
The guides are called captains, and there are two of them; both are young men. One of them drags a waterproof sack to the bottom of the raft and secures it with a knot in a professional manner. The first captain smiles in an encouraging manner and explains what is going to happen. There is nothing to be scared about, but you have to listen to the captain’s instructions.
If you happen to fall off the raft and in to the river, you have to remember to stay on your back and turn your legs towards the flow. You have to get in to a position similar to if you were lying on a divan, in which case you slide along the river legs first, while your head remains above the surface. The captain promises to pull any lost sheep back on to the raft as soon as possible, if you happen to fall in. I can feel a slight pinching sensation at the bottom of my stomach, I am nervous, although I try and look brave. The serene water does not scare me, but I have seen photos of frantic rapids, which can be waiting right around the corner.
We scramble on to the rubber raft, all six of us brave seamen and seawomen. You can hear squeaks, creaks and grates. The rubber boot feet must be kicked in to the seams of the raft, as far as possible. They stick in place and my toes feel squashed. You are secured to the raft by your feet, just keep pushing your feet as deep as you can get them, the captain guides. I sit against the bulging edge of the raft with sweat pouring down my face. We have all become one with the rubber boat.
One of the captains sits at the stern and the other at the bow. Everybody paddle, rings out. And so, we paddle. Gradually I begin to relax, and fresh water splashes on to my face every now and then. The pace of the flow begins to increase and paddling becomes lighter. The first easy-ish cascade, Niskakoski, is ahead. The captain directs the pace, left paddle, right paddle, everyone paddle, and the rafts hits the foam. Water splashes in to the raft, but we stay afloat. The first challenge has been successfully completed.
As we approach Myllykoski, I can already see from a distance that this is going to be a wilder encounter. The white foams swirl and twirl. From the corner of my eye, I can see people photographing us from the rope bridge that crosses the river and at the old mill. Paparazzi or hikers on the Little Bear’s Trail, is all I have time to think about, when suddenly the raft dives in to the freezing cold rapids, and soon after, I bounce back to the surface like a piece of cork. My heart is pounding, adrenaline has taken over, and I paddle like crazy. I don’t even realise my trousers are wet.
Occasionally the river calms right down to take a breath. The captain tells stories of funny occurrences. The third rapid is Aallokkokoski, which is a long, consecutive swirl between a rock gorge. It feels surreal to jiggle around amidst this landscape in a funny rubber tub accompanied by strangers. Cooperation is however seamless and the smiling captain remembers to continuously direct on whose turn it is to paddle and whose turn it is to break.
After the surges of Aallokkokoski, the raft is directed to shore and the captain helps us out. The wet clothes and my feet, that have become jelly, hardly manage to carry me, but the guide is awake. We scramble up the steep river cliff and the raft continues its journey to Jyrävä’s waterfall without passengers. As its name suggests, Jyrävä’s mesmerising peal embraces all your senses. We are not able to go down it on the raft because it has been classed as life-threatening. I am rather relieved to get off it before the fall, although an extreme side of me has awakened which secretly imagines that I could have managed it. A churn that is tens of metres deep is estimated to be in the depths of Jyrävä. A washing machine that I do not want to end up in.
After admiring Jyrävä, we saunter through a coniferous forest for another half an hour and arrive to the launch site and begin to pack up the equipment. Again, is the only thought inside my smiling head.
Find out more:
Rafting on Kitka river daily during the summer, more information in Ruka-Kuusamo Summer Weekly Program. Family route (7 rapids from Käylä to lake Juumajärvi) is suitable for everyone from the age of 5 years. Wild Route (3 rapids from Juuma to Jyrävä) age limit is 18 years. Possibility for the long scenic route from Juuma all the way to the Russian border.
Duration 2-5 hours, prices 30-90 €/adult, kids usually for half price.
Read more: Ruka-Kuusamo Summer Weekly Programme
Text: Salla Karhumaa
Photos: Salla Karhumaa and Ruka-Kuusamo Tourist Association