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.

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51 Responses to “Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt2”

  1. Absolutely amazing James! Stunning scenery, which I have to say is very reminiscent of Alaska – but that’s probably hardly surprising! I’m quite surprised you bumped into anyone once you’d left the main trail though. Mosquitoes don’t care where you are mind do they? It’s funny because after I’d texted you and said we’d hardly had any mozzies at all, we had a horrendous 48 hours with them – even the dogs were covered in them.
    Looking forward to the next instalment….

    • I would love to go to Alaska, been on my wish list for years now! Still a few people around once off the main trail, probably due to the excellent hut system that they have there. Those mozzies are monsters, big hardy biting things. I also discovered some proper midges like in Scotland and on my last day some small biting flies. If I went back I would probably go a couple of weeks later to avoid them all.

  2. Stunning photos of a primeval landscape. The walking sounds enervating and uncomfortable: is it the kind of walk that you’re glad that you’ve done, or are you raring to go back and do it again?

    • The walking was not really any tougher that in the Highlands of Scotland Mark. The mozzie only replacing our midge, both very unpleasant. Perhaps easier walking as I stayed in the valleys, so not much climbing. The dejected feeling is probably due to being a solo backpacker, lots of time to navel gaze. Lots of ups and respective downs when you are on your own hiking for 8 days. I am raring to go back again!

  3. Awe-inspiring scenery and a really gripping read. I imagine the ‘wild’ areas of the UK will feel a bit tame for a while – and rather small!

    • Thanks Jim. I am going to have to get myself back out into the wilder areas of the UK to see how they compare with this trip.

  4. A great report again. Awesome is the word.

    It always amazes me to see people hiking in jeans up here, even though I see it so often I should be used to it by now. Still in wilderness areas like that…

    I also agree with you re trail shoes boulder fields. I wore Terrocs on my Kasivarsi WIlderness hike, but to be honest by the time I’d got back to the trail head I was wishing inov-8 still made a GoreTex-free version of their boots. The extra ankle support is really needed on lengthy boulder crossings.

    • Mark, what about these http://www.sportsdirect.com/hi-tec-sierra-v-lite-wp-mens-walking-boots-182133 Chris Townsend gave them the thumbs up in the latest TGO Mag.

      • Yeah, they look pretty good. I would still love a pair of non-waterproof ones, but the mesh on those at least seems to suggest a faster dry if they get wet. It may be that at the moment my ideal non-waterproof, ultralight-yet-sturdy boot is unattainable. The Ecco Bioms you posted about look good too – I have a pair of Vaude’s with that rubber all around the toe and they’re pretty good.

    • Thanks Mark. Some of that scenery is awesome, no better way of describing it. Jeans must be so uncomfortable to hike in, possibly dangerous when wet, especially considering how quickly the temperature can drop there.

      I nearly went in my trail shoes but in the end mostly happy with leather boots on this trek. The exception was the first and last couple of days. It was far too warm and my feet felt like they were on fire, I had to stop and air them every couple of hours. I had turned my ankle a couple of weeks before departure leading to a minor sprain so I appreciated the extra ankle support. The Kungsleden itself does not need more than trailshoes though.

  5. Another excellent installment James.
    Glad you eventually got some conversation out of the young guys, always feels a bit strange to me when people sit close and then act as if you are not there.

    • Cheers Paul. It was rather odd when the lads sat next to me and did not speak, although they turned out to be really friendly in the end. Generally most people I met came across as rather reserved and not that chatty. Not unfriendly as such but not up for passing the time of day when you meet them on the trail. It felt odd considering that in the UK you end up chatting often to strangers you meet on the hills.

  6. Loved it James. Such a huge space to enjoy.

  7. Excellent report of a very beautiful part of the world. The grey skies and mist only add to the beauty in my view. The last photo from inside the tent summarises everything I love about the area.

    • There is nothing better than laying cosy in your sleeping bag, day dreaming whilst staring at the scenery Roger. Love it. The mist made things even more dramatic, although I do enjoy blue skies!

  8. Superb trip, those glaciers look great. Pointy bits and big ominous slabs of rock also ‘fairly’ impressive 😉 It does look pretty out there and remote up in them parts.

  9. This trip report is bloomin’ marvelous. A perfect blog – leading to long searches on the internet of plane timetables and searching for maps. Inspirational stuff, James.
    🙂

    • You make me blush Alan. Great to hear that you enjoyed it, makes it worthwhile. I’ll do a planning post at the end with transport info, supplies etc.

  10. Another superb instalment! I was really enjoying your wander through the valley but then when you crossed the river and climbed up those views of Nallu were just, wow! Given the height would it just be a full day trip to add the peak on to the journey? Shame about the mozzies – I know what you mean about the slight dejection that comes from getting confined to a tent but it looked much better on the fourth night. As Alan says, really inspirational stuff – I’m off to find a map!

    • Many thanks Nick. I think that Nallu probably could be done in half a day as only around 600 to 700 metres ascent. I think that you would need good weather though to make it safe. Navigating in mist with the 1:100,000 map would be tricky.

  11. Outstanding trek James. I was planning to go back to Iceland again, but I must admit this area is food for thought. Mind you I have thought about Lapland (Finland and the area around Levi) before but the mozzies have always put me off when it comes to a summer visit.

    • Cheers David. This area is well worth exploring and fairly accessible from the UK. Not a cheap country but then I would assume that Iceland is the same. If I went again I would probably go the first week of September as they should all be gone by then.

  12. Incredible stuff James. I’m enjoying your report a lot. Keep it up, the pictures are fantastic.

  13. Looks an amazing trip. Particularly like this picture, which could be looking up or down:

  14. What a great trip report, that valley looks jaw dropping. It’s hard to comprehend the presence of the dispirited youths in such an incredible setting, maybe it’s the Swedish princes trust? Looking forward to the next installation.

    • Cheers Rich, that valley has got to be one of my favourite places on the whole trip. I think that the dispirited youths had bitten off more than they could chew by the look of them, along with their huge heavy looking packs!

  15. Epic tale of mountains, lakes, streams, mossies and jean clad hikers. The odour of the long term backpacker can be a pungent one. We once sat in a Little Chef after a few days in the Scottish Wilds and wondered what the bad smell was. Took a few minutes to realise it was us!
    Nallu looks awe-inspiring, I don’t think I could have resisted climbing it, assuming it was relatively easy.
    Come on, next instalment please…

    • The smell was even better on day eight when I got on a nice warm bus!

      I would have loved to have gone up Nallu, unfortunately the weather was a bit pish the following day.

  16. Tremendous backpacking and report. The landscape is highly reminiscent of Scotland Highlands in many parts, but somehow more exotic in the pictures.
    The terrain here looks more pitch friendly than the dwarf shrubbery encountered before, though I’ve heard that some parts at those latitudes are covered in ground-hugging prickly plants – not good for tents!.
    I would have been more than a little nervous at that dauntingly wide river crossing.

    • There are lots of similarities with the Scottish Highlands, probably due to the mountain being roughly of the same age. It’s the scale of the place that differs, some real remote country out there. The terrain on the ground can be deceiving, what looks like grass turns out to be ground hugging shrubs. The higher you get more grassy it seems to become (before the rocks take over).

      The river crossing was rather daunting, I was ready to turn back if it got too difficult. It was also very very cold!

  17. An excellent trip report with excellent pictures. One of the pictures from Visttasvággi is actually taken just a few meters from where I had my tent on a trip there about ten years ago, see the third picture from the top here: http://www.yetirides.com/2011/05/my-tents-and-shelters.html

    As I remember, my favorite section was the one between Vistas and Sälka huts through Stuor Reaiddávággi. Your writeup makes we want to go there again…

    • Hi Peter, I found Visttasvággi to be pretty mind blowing, a fantastic valley. Shame it was so full of mozzies. I also really enjoyed the walk between Vistas and Sälka huts through Stuor Reaiddávággi. Unfortunately the cloud was down for me past the Nallo hut so I missed the scenery on that section. I would also love to go back and do a different route.

  18. Bloody Nora! That’s lovely. Leaving the busier route behind seems to have been just the ticket. I have to say it’s great to be taken on a trek across a region I know nothing about by such a fine narrator, Mr B. It looks a magnificent region too – grand scenery indeed.

    As you’ll remember, I do like a river crossing and the 20 minute escapade in part 1 is a good ‘un.

    Funny, the whole hiking in denim sketch. TLF walked the WHW some years ago with a German friend who insisted on wearing jeans and as a consequence suffered first degree chafe-age after the inevitable wind driven rain extravaganza.

    • Hey Pete, cheers for the kind wordage. Leaving the busier route behind was a great spur of the moment thing to do. Glad that I had read that page in my guidebook whilst I was having lunch on day 2, gave me a push to cross that river. Indeed I remember that you enjoy a river crossing and Fiona likes to get across bum first…………………….

      The thought of denim related chafe-age makes me wince!

  19. Very interesting and scenic! Primeval, yes. I discussed the Kunglseden with a Swede couple of months ago and considered doing it. Decided against it for weather reasons and a preference for sunshine. Also didn’t realise mozzies are an issue. They get me – badly.

    • It is actually meant to be the driest bit of Sweden around Abisko where I started the trek. Something to do with it being in a rain shadow. Much of the weather was suprisingly warm and sunny when I was there, which was welcome. The mozzies are purely and simply complete barstewards……………..

  20. A really captivating description of an area I know nothing about. Was sort of with in the moment reading this : Marsden (my home village) has its own variety of pesky midges and i got mugged on the arms yesterday, still wincing. And then I skipped on to some sigur ros when you mentioned them in the post and read the rest with that as a soundtrack, good call 🙂

    • Sigurr Ros is an excellent soundtrack to these hills Mark, I wish that I had taken music to listen to whilst hiking there. I was hoping that the midges in the British hills would have been on their way out by now. Nice town Marsden, although been a while since I last visited.

  21. Nice report, we did the northern half of the Kungsleden las March on skis with a Nature Travels / STF group, group needed for safety above the Circle. 18 Kilos of food & gear each too! The huts were great. Pics at https://picasaweb.google.com/117046503509730839676/ArcticLightKingsTrailSweden2011

  22. Just found this blog. Quite excellent and fair whets the appetite!

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