Sweden Road Trip #8: Döda Fallet (The Dead Waterfall)

Dead Falls 1Now considered a natural wonder of the world, Döda Fallet has become a nature reserve and a major tourist spot on the roads through Jämtland in Northern Sweden. But this beautiful place is the site of one of Sweden’s biggest natural disasters, and as its name suggests it was once a powerful waterfall, known as Storforsen (which translates roughly as big whitewater rapid), with a fall height of 35 metres (115 feet) coming from the Indalsälven river and the 25km lake Ragundasjön. Now, that lake is dry and is used for farming (it looks like a field), the river has a different course (which some speculate may be similar to its course before the ice age), and the waterfall is non existent, with nothing but collapsed boulders and ground and a few ponds to hint at what was once here.

Dead Falls 2The disaster occurred back in the late 1700s, when logging was becoming a major industry in this part of Sweden. Storforsen was a bit of a problem for the loggers, as the logs often would not survive the sharp drop down the waterfall. In 1793 a man named Magnus Huss, later nicknamed Vildhussen (The Wild Huss), was given the task of solving this problem by trying to construct a new canal to bypass the waterfall. The forest was cleared out in the area but attempts to build the canal were repeatedly sabotaged by angry locals who objected to the whole project, and construction wasn’t started until 1796.

Dead Falls 3Despite a couple of delays and stoppages, work on the canal had begun and slowly it was being built backwards towards the lake Ragundasjön. But the canal was built on porous ground, and this became a major problem on the night between June 6 and June 7 of 1796. The spring flood that year had been much heavier than usual, and on this night the lake began to leak into the canal at an alarming and uncontrollable speed as the canal couldn’t hold together. Within only four hours the entire lake had emptied itself out, sending a 15 metre (49 foot) wave of water down the river, causing much destruction. Storforsen, the once powerful waterfall, had been silenced.

Dead Falls 4Amazingly, it seems nobody died in the wave that resulted from this accident. A lot of the soil and sediment washed down the river ended up forming new land near The High Coast which now hosts an airport, and the lake was turned into agricultural land which was actually useful in the aftermath of the disaster. A new waterfall also formed at the bed of the lake and that is now a hydro-electric station. Logging did become easier, but the river itself never became fully navigable. Storforsen completely dried up, along with the old path of the river in this area, and it became known as The Dead Falls.

King's RockAt the time Magnus Huss received the scorn of a lot of locals, as his ideas were both genius and disastrous as this event indicates. There are even rumours that he may have been killed – the following year he died on the river on a boat trip, but some say that locals stole his oars and pushed him out into the river. These days, however, there is a statue of him to commemorate his work (or attempts at it), and Döda Fallet has a 2.3km walkway with information on him and the disaster (the walkway you can see in some of these pictures). Some Kings and Queens have also visited and carved their visits on a rock now known as King’s Rock in the area too.

Dead Falls TheatreWhile it felt in the middle of nowhere (and it kind of was), this little brief stopover at Döda Fallet was worth it, and was a fascinating experience learning about this natural disaster from so long ago and seeing the obvious devastation it caused. If you’re ever up in Northern Sweden, this is definitely worth checking out. There’s even an outdoor theatre here and once or twice a year they put on a play about these events (presumably during the tourist season in Summer).