October 1, 2021

Kayaking challenge in Lapland, a Duster adventure

This summer, a team of six extreme kayakers set themselves quite a challenge: journey into the stunning wilderness of Lapland to venture up hitherto unexplored rivers. An expedition like no other, 11 days north of the Arctic Circle cut off from civilisation. The hardy group of kayakers hauled all their equipment north into the watery wilderness aboard a trusty Duster. Built for adventure, Dacia’s iconic SUV proved an ideal vehicle for the sporty gang as they traversed the 8,000 km expanse to reach the wild waters in the North Cape region for an adrenaline-packed expedition after more than a year of living in lock-down.

With kayaks on the roof and bivouac equipment stored in the boot of their Dacia Duster, the sports team journeyed down dirt tracks and off-road paths, to reach the unexplored rivers of the great European north.

The journey was long, we clocked up some serious milage, but that’s the beauty of going on an adventure: take a car and some mates and drive off into the unknown.

Eric Deguil, four-time extreme kayak world champion and member of the Lapland Expedition

 

 

A fine team of experienced kayakers ready for the great north

What better destination than the Padjelanta National Park, in Lapland, to entice this group of extreme kayakers! Located in northern Sweden, close to the Norwegian border, the area is often referred to as Europe’s ‘largest area still untouched by man’, with nearly 200,000 hectares of wilderness. With its rich network of waterways, the reserve is an ideal playground for sportsmen looking for an adventure out of the ordinary and to push their boundaries.

Padjelanta National Park, a playground for kayakers looking for adventure in the wilderness.

The man behind the expedition: Julien Turin, also jokingly known to his crewmates as the "Alpha Male". A remarkable kayaker, he has spent the past 10 years planning a crossing of the Nordic regions. Having taught as a kayak instructor in Sweden for many years, he not only speaks the language but is also very familiar the country’s wilderness. With the help of maps and satellite imagery, he came up with the ‘dream vacation’ that he would happily talk about with athletes he met as he travelled the competition circuits. "Frankly, it wasn’t hard to convince them, we even had people sign up on their own accord!”, he jokes.

Julien Turin set up a crew with five other seasoned kayakers.

Among them, Eric Deguil, four-time extreme kayak world champion and three-time winner of the Green Race – said to be the most gruelling race in the world. The crew’s central pillar and expedition leader.

Other multi-medal-winning kayaker and sole woman on the team, Nouria Newman also signed up for the adventure. Triple world champion, in 2014 she became the first woman to descend the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, whose rapids are among the most dangerous in the world.

Nouria Newman and Eric Deguil concentrating on the final preparations before descending the unexplored rivers of Lapland.

The unusual invitation also piqued the curiosity of Guillaume Hasson, a.k.a. “Mac Guigui”, the man who can do everything, who can fix cars and kayaks alike. "We had to have someone like him on the crew," his fellow kayakers added. President and instructor of the local canoe-kayak club in Cahors (France), he has been one with white-water rapids since the age of 10.

Thomas Neime, known to his friends as “El Mejor”, also joined the expedition. “A heavyweight in today’s world of extreme kayaking.” A competition kayaker who has taken to rivers around the world, scouring water bodies from Pakistan to Canada and South America in search of his next hit of adrenaline, a true thill seeker. For example, he is set to kayak the winter swell over the 27-meter fall at the Saut du Doubs (France) for the second time this winter.

A breath-taking fall that’s not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced and one that Jonas Le Morvan, the last crew member on the list, kayaked over in 2019. Teacher of Physical Ed, he has known for winning the team race King of the Alps Extreme alongside his team partner, Nicolas Caussanel, in 2017. 

Left to right: Sammy Billon, photo-reporter and adventurer, in charge of capturing the expedition on film, and the six extreme kayakers Guillaume Hasson, Nouria Newman, Julien Turin, Eric Deguil, Jonas Le Morvan, and Tomas Neime.

An 8,000 km road trip into the wilderness with the Duster

The group of sports afficionados and friends, all thrill seekers, meet up in Grenoble. For their road-trip into the extreme, they chose to take off aboard a trusty Duster. Rugged, modular, and built for adventure, the SUV met all the requirements of their expedition. Its generous boot volume (ranging between 471 and 1,574 litres) means there is enough room for all the gear they would need during the expedition. With the boot loaded and kayaks securely lashed down to the roof bars in a few quick movements, the six athletes take to the road with a smile at the thought of the wild rivers, waterfalls, and rapids that lay ahead.

Guillaume Hasson, a.k.a. ‘Mac Guigui’, secures kayaks to the roof rails on one of the Dacia Duster used for the expedition.

They pass through Switzerland then Germany before taking a ferry to Sweden. The first leg of the expedition thus begins with a stretch of more than 2,900 km before reaching Stockholm, the Swedish capital. They then headed off to Sulitelma, Norway. On the way, they cross paths with their first reindeer and delight in the landscapes that pass by outside their Duster. "The roads of the great north are so different; it's crazy! There’s so much space but yet you never get bored of it; you become more aware of the nature that’s all around."

The Dacia Duster, kayaks on the roof, en route for adventure.

The Dacia Duster, on the ferry headed to Sweden.

The Duster passes throughs landscapes that become more and more wild.

Crossing paths with the first reindeer. It is official: the crew is in Lapland!

The road trip north is peppered by nights under the stars, river-side fishing stops, and test runs with the equipment. "The first rivers were amazing, but the more you ventured into the wilderness, the more grandiose it became. The expedition really came into its own."

By camping out, the group of sporty explorers could add a spot of fishing to improve the freeze-dried meals already on the menu

The first Laplander rapids encountered in the Dacia Duster. That’s looking more like it.

With the Duster, kayakers can uncover idyllic locations to pitch a tent.

It’s more than just simply driving there; it is a mindset that takes hold. The crew of athletes prepare themselves to brave the biggest obstacles in the hostile north. The cold, humidity, and ever-present mosquitoes in the summer are going to test their mettle. But above all, category IV and V rapids and falls, the highest around in the world of extreme kayak.

The Duster hot on the trail, kayaks on the roof…

… scouting out the road ahead in the Padjelanta National Park.

Vast bodies of water are within paddle-reach.

Dreams become reality. Each carrying 20 kilos of equipment, kayak on their back, the hardy crew venture off into the Laplander wilderness driven by their thirst for freedom and testing their own limits. From Sulitelma, they headed to Ritsem in Sweden, traveling more than 210km by kayak and by foot.

Each carrying about twenty kilos, with kayak on their back, the crew venture through the Laplander wilderness.

The Duster is the perfect ‘shuttle’ to drop off the kayaks in the water and pick them up at the end.

Eric Degil is ready for a paddle.

The first three days are full of sunshine. It illuminates the breath-taking landscapes that spread out before the athletes. Then comes the endless rain. Temperatures stay below the 5°C mark with the odd snow fall throughout their expedition. Out on the “tumultuous” Lake Vastenjaure, the kayaks are set in motion to cover a few dozen kilometres of 1.5 metre swell against constant headwinds. Not a problem for our athletes! While the going is tough, they are elated being out in the wild!

Lapland unveils its sumptuous wonders.

Athletes with a keen eye plan out a descent…

…but also take the time for a break between each leg.

Julien Turin is looking for the best place to put his kayak in the water.

Nouria Newman on Lake Vastenjaure.

Despite adversity, the crew is in seventh heaven. "We paddled down every type of river a kayaker could ever hope encounter." The numerous rapids gave them the rush they were looking for. Especially the last stretch before arriving on Lake Ritsem. A “fantastic” set of rapids flowing at around 300 m3 per second for over 100 meters!

A joy to behold, kayakers sometimes encounter dizzying waterfalls.

As said by Eric Deguil, the versatility offered by the Duster meant it "delivered on its promise". In addition to the fun times spent on board, it was an ideal “scouting” vehicle that came into its own when “shuttling” between kayak drop-off and pick-up points. No matter how dusty, rocky, or steep the path ahead, it was always up to the challenge!

Nouria Newman behind the wheel of the Dacia Duster

The Duster en route to a kayak drop-off

… and then to the pick-up point.

The Duster was the ideal vehicle for this kind of expedition. We covered nearly 8,000 km and it was at ease as much on motorways in France, Switzerland, and Germany, as it handled like a dream on roads through Sweden and Norway and off-road dirt tracks that are accessible only during summer.

Mission accomplished: the six extreme kayakers heading home with many fond memories.

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