Archive for September 10th, 2012

September 10, 2012

Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt2

by backpackingbongos

Day 3 – 16 Kilometres

I woke to the dispiriting sound of rain falling on my tent flysheet.  It was obvious that the blue skies of the previous evening had disappeared.  There is only one thing you can do when you wake to rain whilst wild camping, turn over and go back to sleep.  An hour later there was still the pitter patter sound and I stuck my head out of the tent.  It was only a light drizzle falling, as usual the weather sounds much worse when you are cocooned in nylon.

Low cloud was just beginning to dissipate from the high tops as I started to pack.  There was a distinct chill in the air, the temperature several degrees lower than the day before.  The landscape appeared bigger and less welcoming under a mantle of grey.  I set off along the narrow path hoping that the rain bands sweeping further up the valley would not come my way.

Passing to the south of Njuikkostakbakti I got a different perspective of its giant black cliffs, a really impressive piece of mountain architecture.

The path along the eastern shore of the long lake of Alisjavri was a joy to walk.  Often it would only reveal itself a few metres ahead as it wound its way across the rough landscape.  One minute it would pass through thickets of vegetation and boggy stream crossings, the next there would be rough boulder fields.  The scenery was simply outstanding, with parts of this walk having a Cairngorm like character.  It was in part familiar yet at the same time completely alien.  The scale of the place made it feel like you were not moving, it seemed to take an age to progress along the lake.  Using a map with a scale of 1:100,000 did not help matters in this respect.

On this side of the lake many fingers of land extend towards the water, making the shore appear much more complex than on the map.  The path would constantly climb up and down in an attempt to keep on a fairly straight course.  On one such rocky rise I caught my first glimpse of the STF huts at Alesjaure, right at the head of the lake.  They were on my original route and would be buzzing with activity despite their remote location.  From where I stood they may as well have been a million miles away, this part of Swedish Lapland was all mine.

The path then vanished into a boggy section, failing to materialise on the other side.  Thankfully the vegetation was short and progress was easy and I headed directly towards the Sami settlement of Alisjavri.

I passed the huge reindeer enclosure, the earth churned from countless hooves from when they are rounded up.  The settlement itself consisted of numerous wooden huts, complete with outhouse.  It was eerily deserted, the huts locked and shuttered, just a feint scent of wood smoke in the air.

I walked through the settlement picking up a narrow path above the highest hut.  Once again the path provided easy walking as I slowly gained height, aiming for a lake nestled in a low pass through the mountains.

The sun finally managed to put in an appearance, the temperature quickly rising.  This initially lifted my spirits but had an unfortunate side effect.  The mosquitos once again started to buzz around me and I was aware that they were starting to feast on me through my base layer.  Although I was now dripping with sweat I pulled on my pertex windshirt which provided an effective barrier.  The bites from the previous day were beginning to become sore and itchy and I did not want to add to them.  Despite the buzzing in my ear I could not help lingering, the views to the south as I came around the corner demanding my attention.

I passed the first people I had seen all day, three young lads sitting having a break in the sun.  I tried to engage them in conversation (being British I chose the weather as a topic) but it was a bit of a non-starter.  The ground became increasingly squelchy and the path less well defined.  The shelter marked on my map turned out to be an old Sami hut which looked like it had seen better days.  Still, I bet on a wet and windy day it would provide a welcome lunch spot.

The ground started to drop away slowly, the long empty valley of Visttasvaggi beginning to reveal itself, enclosed by towering peaks.  It was another stunning scene, the scale of which I have totally failed to capture in a photograph.  For that I highly recommend you walk to and stand at the head of the valley.  You will not be disappointed!

Just before the last steep descent into Visttasvaggi I passed another group of young people who really did not appear to be enjoying themselves.  Two of them were dressed in jeans and what could only be described as skater shoes, canvas with a flat sole.  Out of the four only one returned my greeting.  They were a bit of a strange sight in the middle of Swedish Lapland, nearly three days from a road.

I could hear the water long before I could see it, the path doubling back on itself, finally revealing a hidden gorge which is crossed by a suspension bridge.  A waterfall plunged into a deep blue pool, clear water then carving its way through the rocky depths.

I scrambled down towards the water, finding a comfy perch where I could make coffee and cook couscous for lunch.  I took off my shoes and socks and dipped my toes into the river.  Toes were as far it got, the water was simply too cold to put my whole foot in.  Ten minutes later the three lads who I had passed earlier crossed the bridge and came and sat down right next to me.  What was really odd was the fact that they still managed to shrug off my attempts at conversation.  They proceeded to get a huge Trangia stove out of an enormous pack and cooked lunch between them.  I found the whole sit down next to a stranger and then ignore them rather uncomfortable to be honest.  I quickly packed, said goodbye and left them to it.

The speed at which the weather changed surprised me.  It literally felt that one minute it was blue skies and sunshine and the next it was grey and drizzly.  I pulled on my waterproof and soon passed the jeans wearing group who had crossed the bridge whilst I was having lunch.  They appeared to be struggling a bit under their large packs, stopping to rest every couple of hundred metres or so.

The upper reaches of Visttasvaggi was simply extraordinary, a real timeless almost primeval landscape.  I half expected to see some prehistoric animals grazing alongside the river.  The path passed through areas of birch and thickets, open boggy areas crossed by the now familiar wooden walkways.  However far from the Kungsleden these were poorly maintained, sections missing and others rotting.

The valley simply got better and better, the peaks to my right rising almost to two thousand metres, vast walls of rock dominating.  It was hard to keep my eyes on the trail ahead of me to avoid tripping over.  The word awesome is probably vastly overused and I wish that I had a better alternative.

After crossing a large boulder field the valley opened out and I noticed that the vegetation under foot was much more tent friendly.  Looking at my map it became apparent that this would probably be my last chance to camp before reaching the STF Vistas hut.  I estimated that it would probably still be three hours away and it was already nearly six.  The sky to the north was darkening so I found the least prickly spot and pitched the Scarp1.  The mosquitos in the warm, humid and still air quickly sent me scurrying inside to unpack, the familiar sound of rain on flysheet soon following.  It was an enviable location for a wild camp and I can only just refrain myself from using the word awesome again.

I would love to say that I lay in my tent with the door open, staring up at the surrounding peaks.  The sad reality is that my doors were firmly sealed against numerous winged invaders.  Removing my baselayer I was in my own personal hell, my back and shoulders covered in numerous yellow and raised bites from the day before.  The temptation to strip the skin from my body through scratching hard to resist.

An hour later and I heard footsteps pass the tent, I peered out and watched the jeans clad group pass, looking damp in the drizzle.  I made dinner by boiling water and adding to an expensive bag of freeze-dried gloop.  Amazing that I was camping somewhere so beautiful yet I felt strangely dejected.

Day 4 – 18 kilometres

Drizzly rain continued through the night.  Just after dawn there was a huge crack like a gunshot followed by a crash, perhaps a rockfall or a chunk of glacier being overcome by gravity.  A grouse like bird chuckled and three winged creatures flew low over my tent, startling me.  I suddenly felt tiny, all alone in the vast landscape and my mind drifted towards bears.  When researching my trip I had read that there are meant to be bears in Visttasvaggi.  Any encounter is probably an impossibility but the thought of them played on my mind until I drifted off back to sleep.

The mountains were shrouded in mist when I finally got up, my waterproof providing armour from a few hardy mosquitos.  I was passed by a couple of backpackers who had camped half an hour back up the valley.  Yet again one of them was dressed in rather damp looking jeans, just the thought of denim related chaffing made me wince.

The rain soon stopped although the clouds on the hills were still boiling and churning away, occasionally revealing a glacier.

The going through the valley was surprisingly tough and I was glad that I had not attempted to get to the hut the previous evening.  The narrow twisting trail wound its way though boulder fields, open bog and thick areas of birch.  There were constant small ups and downs, roots and slippery mud making the walking slow and tiring.  The further down the valley I got the more the birch forest dominated until it ended up a muggy tangle of vegetation.  The atmosphere was thick and humid and the mosquitos hungry.

My initial glimpse of the peak Nallu lifted my spirits.  Firstly because it meant that the Vistas hut was near and secondly because it is just so damn impressive.  A tower of rock that would dominate the rest of the day.

The STF hut at Vistas provides a small amount of civilisation in the wild Visttasvaggi valley, thirty four kilometres from the road head at Nikkaluokta.  It would be a long walk through the endless mosquito infested birch forests to get here from that direction.  I had planned to buy some supplies as it has a small shop.  I started out with enough food to last five to six days but wanted to stock up with biscuits and noodles.  Unfortunately the warden had gone out for the day and the shop was locked.  They had left a few items in the porch along with an honesty box.  I enjoyed a sugar fix with a can of coke on the front steps but there was no food light enough to carry.  After quickly exploring the accommodation on offer (pretty good considering the remote location) and using the rubbish bin I shouldered my pack and headed towards the river.

A swaying suspension bridge crossed the now considerable river giving grand views back the way I had come, cloud beginning to lift from the mountain tops.

I passed the three lads from the day before who were taking down a rather large tent, this time I received a friendly wave.  I was now on a different trail that would eventually lead back to the Kungsleden nineteen kilometres away.  It was these nineteen kilometres that I was looking forward to the most on the entire trip.

A narrow path took me across flat open ground before starting a steady climb into Stuor Reaiddavaggi.  The view back down the valley was vast, the birch forest along the flat valley floor seemingly endless.

With a bit of height the true wonders of Stuor Reaiddavaggi began to reveal itself, the leading cast already hogging the limelight and taking centre stage.

A final glance back towards the Vistas hut, a familiar landscape was being left behind.

I was now entering a tolkienesque world of jagged peaks puncturing the sky, waterfalls, rocks and glaciers.  I wish that I had brought my iPod as Sigur Ros would have been a perfect soundtrack to accompany the visual feast.

The further I climbed into the valley the more the peak of Nallu began to dominate.  It is only 1585 metres high, much lower than many of the surrounding peaks.  What it lacks in stature it makes up in its rocky architecture, a jagged spire pointing into the sky.  It sort of reminded me of a Lapland version of Suilven as that spire is in fact the end of a ridge, from other viewpoints it is more of a whaleback mountain.  My camera barely got put back in its protective case for the rest of the afternoon.

Just past a long boggy section where electric green moss contrasted vividly with the many greys on offer, I found a dry spot to sit and eat a late lunch.  The three young lads had been tailing me for a couple of hours.  Once again they sat down next to me, this time engaging in some pleasant conversation.  They were from Germany and I think that they had just been a bit shy rather than standoffish.  I was by now a familiar figure who could be talked to!  They said that the jeans wearing group the day before had reached the hut totally exhausted just before dark.  They had a bus to catch meaning that they would need to walk the entire thirty four kilometres to the road in one day.  The chance of them staying on schedule were looking very slim.  The three German lads were hoping for some clear weather the following day as they planned to climb Nallu.  I crossed my fingers that they would get it, a great sounding expedition.

Continuing up the valley my surroundings got much starker, vegetation having to fight with bare rock which was starting to dominate.  The boulder fields were tiring and I was glad that I had decided not to trek in trailshoes.

A glacier hung high on the other side of the valley, most of it hidden in the clouds.  I heard a crack and looked up just in time to see a couple of large rocks bounce down the cliffs below.  I was walking through a constantly moving landscape.

The STF hut of Nallo soon came into view, sitting amongst a lunar landscape.  At over 900 metres the temperature had dropped significantly and although tired the cold kept me moving.

The hut sits on the other side of the river, with many braided channels at the crossing point.  It was wide but the easiest route was marked by cairns meaning that I got across with dry feet.  I left my pack outside the hut and went into the almost overwhelming heat inside.  It felt overly busy inside its dark confines, its occupants preparing their evening meals.  After four days on the trail without a wash or changing my clothes I was aware that I stank.  I found the warden and asked about good places nearby to camp as I decided I did not fancy staying the night.  She was exceptionally helpful and pointed me further up the valley.  She said that the nine people already in the hut was an August record for a night there.  With the weather dry I was glad to escape back to my own company for the night.

I climbed for ten minutes up the hill and found a relatively flat spot above the river.  There was a cold wind blowing but the view from my tent was exceptional, worth a bit of buffeting.  I managed a ‘Jetboil bath’ in my tent, a soapy j-cloth around my body with warm water.  It removed some of the stink building up.  The same clothes went back on though.  Unlike the night before I enjoyed the evening immensely, laying in my sleeping bag with the door open, drinking in the view.  Spirits were high and I was looking forward to the following day and the highest section of the trip.