Archive for September 18th, 2012

September 18, 2012

Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt3

by backpackingbongos

Day 5 – 16 kilometres

As I lay snug in a cocoon of down I noticed that the sound of the rain hitting the flysheet had changed.  The rain was somehow more solid and there was a distinct sliding sound.  I unzipped my tent and stuck my head outside to be greeted by wet snow falling, curtains of white drifting across the valley.  It was rather uninviting out there, the snow too wet to settle, my surroundings a cold soggy mess.  I went back to sleep.

An hour or so later the snow stopped and I forced myself out of my warm sleeping bag to face the chilly damp air.  I sat for a while in my tent drinking coffee and eating bacon noodles, waiting for some enthusiasm to appear.  I did not relish packing up and walking into the mist.

My hands went numb as I took down the Scarp1, the wet material making it difficult to wrestle into its stuff sack.  I cursed when I realised that I had packed my gloves along with my dry clothes at the bottom of my rucksack.  It was my fifth day on the trail without resupply so my pack weight had greatly reduced.  This was appreciated when I set off up the hill, the river tumbling away to my left.

The surrounding peaks were firmly hidden under a thick blanket of cloud, mirroring the greys of the rocks below.  The Jagged peak of Nallu had disappeared, a feint outline of its grandeur was all that remained.  I wondered if the German lads would manage to get to its summit later in the day.

I noticed that the cloud base was just skimming above the valley that I would be climbing into.  Using a map with a scale of 1:100,000 I was worried about having to navigate in the mist.  I made a mental note that the river should remain on my left until I got to the lake and then I would cross it.  Climbing higher the terrain got rockier and the path less well-defined, although well placed cairns kept me on track.

My heart skipped when I noticed movement on the hillside.  I was excited to see a small herd of reindeer grazing, amazingly well camouflaged against the browns and greys of the mountainside.  So far on the trip I had been rather disappointed with their general absence.  Maybe it is rather childish but in my head they really scream out ‘Lapland’ to me.  I tried to creep a bit closer to get a good photo of them, unfortunately this immediately resulted in them legging it as fast as they could.

The encounter had really made my day, apart from a squirrel they were the first bit of wildlife that I had spotted on the trek.  With a bit of a spring in my step I continued to the head of the lake.  I stood for a while and admired the sullen atmosphere of the place, swirling clouds teasing me with glimpses of the mountains above.  Atmospheric it most certainly was but I have to admit I was bitterly disappointed with the lack of views.  I had been looking forward to a day surrounded by huge peaks and tumbling glaciers.  I was now at the highest part of the trek at 1056 metres on the shores of Reaiddajavri.

Walking along the shore there was a final tiny cairn and then the path disappeared.  I continued for a few hundred metres trying to relocate it but to no avail.  I finally got the map out to check if I was too close to the shore line.  It turned out that I was completely on the wrong side of the lake.  I had stupidly forgotten to cross the river as mentioned earlier.  It was a bit of a dilemma, should I turn around and backtrack or continue ahead and hope for the best?  I continued ahead.

It turned out to be a bit of a boggy morass, the ground covered in standing water.  A roar of a stream up ahead made me a little nervous as according to the map I would have to cross it at the end of the lake.  Thankfully the stream and the lake were separated by an area of high rocky ground, a slight inaccuracy on the map.  A couple of hundred metres of walking across slippery boulders got me back on track and I located the trail.

I crossed a fantastic moonscape of grey rock, the going slow to avoid twisting an ankle.  An unforgiving and bleak landscape, slowly revealing itself from the banks of cloud.

The terrain soon turned grassier, a noisy river cutting through the landscape reinforcing the fact that I was actually now going downhill.  Such is the scale of the place it still felt that I was on a vast open plateau.

The weather was quickly turning for the better, jagged peaks including Nallu finally revealing themselves.  A boulder next to a side stream provided somewhere to sit whilst I made a brew and cooked couscous for lunch.  Although getting brighter there was still a chill in the air and I pulled on a synthetic hooded jacket over my waterproof.  I sat filling my belly with warmth and watched the landscape shift and change in front of my eyes.  Magical.

After the hard rocks under foot it was good to walk across soft yielding grass and my pace quickened accordingly.  Once again the landscape was changing and I felt that I was finally leaving the jagged spires of Lord of the Rings country.  The soft sweeping curved forms appearing in front of me had the character of parts of the Scottish Highlands.  Three days previous I had felt that I was walking through the Cairngorms on Steroids, here I could have been in a beefed up Northern Highlands.  The peaks were speckled in white, not glaciers but patches of snow that had remained right until the end of the summer.

My planned destination for the day came into view, the scattered huts of STF Salka completely dwarfed by towering peaks.

On the descent to the huts I stopped and chatted to a Finnish man heading the way I had come.  He was carrying the biggest pack that I have ever seen, it must have towered a metre above his head.  I could not resist making a comment about it and he proudly told me that it had weighed twenty seven kilos when he had set off.  I hope that he had a couple of weeks food otherwise I can’t for the life of me imagine what he was carrying!

I had planned to stay the night at the Salka huts, either camping outside or getting a bed for the night.  However it was much too early and my antisocial tendencies were beginning to kick in once again.  I have to say that the thought of a sauna in the evening was rather tempting though.  I left my pack outside the wardens hut and went inside to pick up a few supplies from the small shop.  The warden was exceptionally helpful and friendly and welcomed me with a glass of juice.  I brought a couple of packs of noodles and biscuits, the cost of which reflected both Sweden and the fact I was a major yomp away from the nearest road.  The area around the group of huts was a hive of activity, people arriving after a day in the hills.  In UK bothies there are often comments left in the bothy book about the Swedish netball team paying a visit, relying on the stereotype about beautiful Swedish women.  My short time at Salka hut simply reinforced that stereotype.

The warden let me deposit my rubbish before setting off, an effective system as I had not spotted a single piece of litter during the whole of the five days.  I had enquired about good places to camp further down the valley, aware that the vegetation at the lower altitude had become much more shrub like.  I therefore set off with purpose, keen to bag a spot she had told me about.

I was back on the Kungsleden again, the trail wide and easy to follow.  It was still fantastically scenic walking even though it was much busier than the previous days.  I stopped to look back at the view, mountains rising above a wide river valley.  What struck me was the similarity of these mountains to Glencoe’s three sisters.  All that was lacking was a piper playing in a litter strewn layby.

I never am sure of the etiquette when someone stops you and starts speaking in a language you don’t understand.  Is it polite to interrupt and say so or do you wait until they have finished?  A couple were trying to work out the name of one of the impressive mountains, quickly switching to English after noticing the look of bewilderment on my face.

A slow steady climb took me away from the river, curtains of rain once again gently sweeping across the hills from which I had walked.  I had been lucky to escape the rain for much of the day.

The promised campsite soon materialised, an oasis of proper grass amongst the prickly shrubs.  I quickly got the Scarp1 up, getting inside just as a shower started.  The shower soon passed and I got out in search of water.  I walked down to a nearby thundering side stream and noticed that the water had a strange blue / grey tinge to it.  I could remember reading that water from a glacier can make you sick due to the sediments, so I decided to pass.  In the end I found a trickle a couple of metres from the tent, somehow I had missed it earlier.

I spent another magical evening and night wild camping, the play of light on the surrounding hills keeping my attention until it was time to sleep.  The evening temperature was cold, thankfully keeping the mosquitos as bay.

Day 6 – 20 kilometres

The temperature had dropped close to freezing in the night and I was glad that I had brought my winter bag.  I was up and away early as I had decided that I wanted to get to the Kebnekaise mountain station by the end of the day.  I was pretty keen on having a shower!

Within a few minutes walk I passed the unmanned hut at Kuoperjakka, with a couple of tents pitched outside.  I looked through the window but it looked pretty grubby and uninviting, although I imagine I would have a different opinion in bad weather.  It even came complete with an outside privy.

Once again showers were tracking their way down the valley, but through luck I managed to avoid them.

All along the Kungsleden there are poles with a red cross on the top, markers for the winter route.  I think that the sign below is clear in its message.

I soon left the Kungsleden once more to climb the shoulder of a hill on a popular shortcut towards Kebnekaise.  A final opportunity to look back the length of the immense valley I had walked through.

The path climbed steadily to a lake simply identified as 980 on the map, indicating its altitude.  It was a busy spot, groups enjoying the sun, Trangia’s busy making brews and cooking lunch.  During planning I had decided to spend the night here and there were plenty of idyllic pitches.  However if I got to the mountain station by evening I would be a day ahead of myself, making the final morning much more relaxed, time to ensure I would not miss the bus.

The route was pretty much all downhill now, however lower elevations would not mean the scenery became any less impressive.  Soon after leaving the lake a huge pyramid of rock reared out of the valley ahead.  Just off my map I have no idea of its real size and I have the feeling it was the end of a much bigger mountain.  All I can say is that it was immense.

The path down to the head of the valley was steep, a shock to the knees after the generally gentle ascents and descents of the past few days.  I found a boulder to perch behind and got my faithful Jetboil out once again to make a brew and cook lunch.  A routine I am keen to continue when backpacking in the UK.  Hot food is appreciated for lunch and it gives you time to just sit and appreciate your surroundings.

Heading down the valley I was once again confronted by another wall of rock, thin slivers of water cutting across its surface.  The path was rocky and it’s difficult to walk and stare in amazement without tripping over.

The valley finally opened out, impressive peaks to my left giving a taste of the panorama to come.

The views back to the peak of Duolbagorni were spellbinding, one that would remain on the horizon for the next twenty plus kilometres.  It’s a foothill of Kebnekaise, bypassed by the popular path to the summit of the highest peak in Sweden.  Kebnekaise itself is well hidden but the jagged fangs of Duolbagorni is the star attraction in many of the views of this area.

Close to the Kebnekaise mountain station I started noticing tents dotted around the hillside, occupying just about any bit of flat ground.  I planned to stay in their campsite so continued past many idyllic looking spots.  The afternoon weather at this slightly lower elevation was hot and sunny, very welcome after the mist and cloud of the previous couple of days.

Cresting a rise the mountain station lay ahead of me, a strange sight considering that it is located nineteen kilometres from the road head.

I wandered down to the busy reception building, a complete culture shock after six days walking on my own.  There was a sign stating that the place was fully booked as I approached the desk.  I was glad that I was camping.  I enquired about the campsite and was told that there was none.  However I could camp for free as long as I was more than 150 metres from a building.  The caveat was the 300 SEK (£30) service charge if I wanted to use the toilets or showers.  Yep you read that right.  I was hot and tired and could not face a walk to find a good wild pitch so paid up and headed into an area I was told would have some camping spots.  I managed to find a spot of bare earth which was almost passable within the nearby birch forest.  It was a busy spot full of disappointed campers who had failed to get a proper bed for the night.

It was great to shower and feel clean once more, unfortunately soured a little by the fact it had cost me £30.  What peeved me was the fact that no one asked to see my pass in the service building, I could have sneaked in for nothing.  I then managed to spend £20 on some couscous, biscuits and a can of pop.  Please please if you come this way give the Kebnekaise mountain station a wide berth unless you have very deep pockets and enjoy a busy wilderness experience.

The evening soon got cold and I read for a while in my tent, disturbed by the group of lads in the tent next to me.  It was not the fact that they were loud, it was just that one of them had the worlds most annoying voice.

I vowed that the next night would be spent in an idyllic location.