Archive for September 27th, 2012

September 27, 2012

Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt4

by backpackingbongos

Day 7 – 13 kilometres

Dawn and the man with the worlds most annoying voice was up early.  Much of the surrounding campsite was stirring, probably getting ready to climb Kebnekaise.  This is the highest mountain in Sweden and the main objective of many of those that visit the mountain station.  After walking for one hundred kilometres I have to admit that I was really not that fussed, preferring to have a lie-in and a lazy day.

It was a cold morning and I stayed in my sleeping bag until the sun finally warmed my tent.  With most of my neighbours gone it was a nice quiet spot and I sat outside for a while, drinking coffee and eating my usual camping breakfast of noodles.

The peace was soon shattered by a relay of helicopters coming in to land.  It turns out that many people do not walk the nineteen kilometres to the mountain station, instead taking a short flight.  The helicopter is remarkably cheap at £50, especially if you compare it with what I had paid to shower and use the toilet!

I could not wait to leave and get back on the trail, the hustle and bustle around the buildings too much.  I found the place to be a bit of an intrusion in what otherwise would be a wilderness area.  I shouldered my pack and set off back into the woods.

Initially the birch woods were sparse, giving uninterrupted views back towards Duolbagorni, the main bulk of Kebnekaise hidden by the lower peaks.  A very impressive backdrop of mountains that would remain with me for the rest of the day.

With a small drop in elevation the birch forest quickly established itself, becoming taller, the undergrowth thicker.  I was once again back walking on wooden boards, they were doing a good job at preventing damage from the many passing feet.  I have to admit that I soon grew to dislike the birch forest with its restricted views.  I had got used to the high open country, a sense of space and freedom.  In the woods I felt a little enclosed, hemmed in, only able to move forwards or backwards, sideways movement restricted by thick vegetation.

However there were still frequent open areas amongst the birch trees, small rises that gave views back towards that awe-inspiring skyline.

The day turned out to be hot, the enclosed valley sheltering me from what would have been a welcome breeze.  With the warmth and lack of breeze the mosquitoes came out in force.  They fed on my discomfort.

Sitting at home typing this I would love to return and walk that section through the forest again.  However at the time I felt that the best of the trek was over and I was looking forward to the end.  I failed to savour it, instead beginning to think about the long journey home.  This is common with me on any long trip, towards the end I lose the rhythm I have developed, no longer that feeling of just living in the present.  The worries and anxieties of modern day living start to creep back in.

I passed the landing stage for the ferry that serves Laddjujavri lake, an opportunity to cut off a few kilometres on the walk out to Nikkaluokta.  It was tempting as I am sure that the views from the small boat would have been spectacular.  However after walking this far it would feel like cheating to me, I wanted to complete the journey on foot.

My ‘proper’ leather boots had served me well on most of the trip, providing warmth and support during the previous few days.  However in the heat on a firm forest path my feet were suffering, cooking in what felt like leather coffins.  It was bliss to find an open spot with a cooling breeze to sit barefoot for a while.  I wished I had my trail shoes for the next few kilometers, the open mesh would have been a welcome relief, along with the spring they would have put in my step.  However they would not have suited much of my trip.  Kit selection is all about compromise.

I had rough plans to end the day next to a river a few kilometres from the end of the trail at Nikkaluokta.  However I soon passed a sign saying that there was camping available for 80 SEK (£8).  The campsite was situated spectacularly next to the lake and a cafe, the name of which caught my eye.

I am happy to give my money to a business that manages to subvert the name of a pretty unpleasant multi national company.  I passed on having a reindeer burger, settling for a real coffee which was appreciated after a few days on the trail.

The campsite was deserted and I picked a spectacular spot next to the lake to pitch the Scarp1.  There was a strong wind blowing which was a bit of a nuisance, but it did a great job at keeping biting insects at bay.  I spent a pleasant evening in my tent enjoying the warmth of the sun out of the wind.  I expected that the campsite would fill up but I ended up being the only person there that night.  I frequently got up to walk the short distance to a stony beach.  I found myself just standing there at the water’s edge, hands in pockets staring at the view.  The horizon was crammed with by now familiar peaks, my mind filled with spectacular images from the past week.  It was a great place to spend my last night outside before returning back to civilisation.

Day 8 – 6 kilometres

The wind dropped in the night but it was unfortunately replaced by the gentle pitter patter of rain.  I had a bus to catch just after midday and it was very important that I did not miss it.  Therefore I was up and packed away by 8.30am which is pretty good going for me.  The mosquitos that morning had been joined by a few midges and some small biting flies that were particularly persistent and annoying.  As there was no one around to witness it I managed to do the Scottish midge dance whilst taking the tent down.

It was then back into the birch forest which felt rather humid in the damp and still conditions.

Stopping for a break after an hour I was soon caught up by several groups who must have got the first ferry of the morning.  The earlier drizzle had been replaced by a cold rain as I eventually reached the end of the trail at Nikkaluokta.  A passing couple offered to take my photograph.

After days of spectacular walking Nikkaluokta was a bit of an anti-climax, although I am not really sure what I was expecting.  It certainly is not a destination in itself.  It basically consists of a restaurant, a service building for campers and a large car park.  I timed my arrival just as a tour bus was disgorging its passengers into the restaurant.  I did not fancy hauling my carcass in there to join them.  I walked to a shelter and sat down to prepare for a two hour wait for the bus, reading my kindle to pass the time.  The weather began to close in even more, the rain falling heavier and the temperature dropping.  The surrounding hills eventually disappeared in the murk.

A small crowd had gathered by the time the bus came, whisking us through the forests of Lapland to the town of Kiruna.  I had pre-booked a hotel a couple of months previously, securing a reasonable deal.  I was glad to get into the warmth of my room, shower and put on the clean clothes I had saved for travelling.

The following morning as I got a taxi to the airport the temperature had fallen to 1.5 celcius.  Flakes of snow were falling amongst the heavy rain which had continued unabated through the night.  Weather wise I had timed my trek perfectly.