The Alta Canyon is the name often given to the canyon carved out by the mighty Alta river working its way down from the Finnmarksvidda plateau to the Altafjorden at the coast. Several hundred metres of high cliff walls plunge down to foaming rapids, and the river banks are a mass of impenetrable scree formed of enormous boulders. From a traditional riverboat you can view the natural splendours of this near-inaccessible canyon from the best seat in the stalls.
By boat up river
We joined a riverboat trip on a bright sunny day in July. The trip up river begins through a green, fertile wooded landscape of pine, birch and aspen, with low hills, houses and farms along the banks. We stop at fishing pools along the river and hear all about salmon-fishing on the Alta river. As we continue further up river we spot golden eagle soaring above the treetops.
The scenery quickly changes character, however, and cliffs and mountains creep nearer the river. The landscape grows darker and more threatening, and we pass through a series of rapids. Suddenly, the boat is yanked diagonally off course, almost hitting the opposite bank, and we proceed carefully over the huge rocks we can see down on the river bed. Our skipper has been operating riverboats since he was very young, and he knows every rock in the river as we move upstream.
At Sautso we can go no further, for the rapids are simply too dangerous. Our skipper claims he would have navigated them in his youth, but that courage fails with age.de ep down inside, we are relieved. In the past, people going further up river would often have a new boat stowed above the rapids, so they could continue to some of the best fishing places where the biggest salmon were to be found.
In the scree
Leaving the boat, we jump first from rock to rock, then follow an almost imperceptible track through the scree up past the rapids. Above the rapids, the river flows peacefully once more, and we see the road that leads to the famous hydropower station in Stilla. Our guide tells us about all the royalty, nobility and plain common-or-garden millionaires who have fished in the river through the decades.
Here, we make an offering to the Old Woman of Gabo ‒ Gabokjerringa. We can see her face in the south-facing wall of the mountain. She demands expensive brandy; Swedish vodka isn’t good enough. One needn’t sacrifice to her, of course, but then the salmon won’t bite. The act of sacrifice takes place on the sharp rock in the middle of the rapids and, naturally, the entire party knock back a wee dram as well. What doesn’t one do to get the salmon to bite?
Pause to allow traffic through
There is one word that typifies summer along the Alta river: salmon. Local enthusiasts as well as fly-fishermen from all over the world have made camp here, along the river banks, for the Alta is one of the best salmon rivers in the world. Since the fish bite best at night, the fishermen sleep in the middle of the day. Then fishing is prohibited, and the river can be used for transport.no -one messes with fishing times in the Alta river; it is all taken very seriously by everyone.
The Alta riverboats are an ancient form of transport. These long, slim, flat-bottomed wooden vessels are just as well able to navigate the rapids as the shallower parts of the river. The boats were originally punts, propelled by poles, but now have outboard motors. Since the road network is extremely sparse around the upper reaches of the Alta, the riverboat is the only way of reaching good fishing places. And so this traditional form of transport is still the best on the river.