Around February this year all my waking thoughts were dominated by my planned trip to Sarek National Park later this summer. If I was not trying to find blogs in English I was watching YouTube videos, anything to give me a sense of what I am letting myself in for. Maps were bought and a route painstakingly plotted out on one that had to be imported from Sweden. This still proudly sports the price sticker, and it was not cheap! Sadly there are currently no guidebooks written in English. With a route finally worked out I then had a rough framework on which to organise travel to and from the trailhead. By the end of February this was all pretty much done and with months still to go I managed to shove it to the back of my mind. Now at the tail end of July and with only a month to go it is beginning to dominate once more.
Before I go into some detail about the route I have planned and how I am getting there I think that I should extend a big thank you to Mark Waring. Mark has provided me with a wealth of information about Sarek and trekking in Sweden generally, patiently answering my many emails. He has helped me translate various timetables from Swedish and generally been a good sport. Thanks Mark!
It is often cited that the journey is just as important as the destination itself. The journey to where I will start walking is a long and convoluted one. It goes as follows: Three hour train to Manchester airport. Two and a half hour flight to Stockholm. A night in Stockholm. One and a half hour flight to Luleå (dash around an unknown town to pick up some gas). A two and a half hour train journey to Gällivare. A night in Gällivare. A three hour bus to Ritsem. The final bit of travelling will be a forty five minute journey by boat to Anonjalme where I start walking. A mere fifty hours from my front door.
Thankfully getting home is a much less convoluted affair. I need to reverse the journey to Gällivare by boat and bus and spend another night in the town. I then fly all the way back to Manchester in a day on a single ticket. I do have to wait around some major European airports for a few hours but at least I will be in my bed the same night.
After the trip I will do a write-up about the journey there including timetable links etc. This will hopefully be useful to other folks travelling to Sarek from the UK.
The main elephant in the room is that Sweden is not a budget destination, but I think you already know that. However with a bit of judicious planning you can make travelling there a bit easier on your wallet. On my last trip to Sweden I walked into the Kebnekaise mountain station and paid their service charge (to use the shower, toilets and kitchen facilities), brought some couscous, biscuits and a can of coke. It came to £50. I still have not recovered from the shock of that. This time round I’ll make sure I have enough food with me in the mountains and not worry that I’ll be smelling like a restaurant wheelie bin on a hot summer day.
With the modern miracle of the internet I paid and booked much of the travel and accommodation several months ago. Advance planning really does pay off. The two flights to get me to Stockholm and then Luleå came to a total of £135. The additional train, bus and boat look like they will come to around £90 on top of that. My return flight to Manchester from Gällivare cost £150, with an additional £60 to cover the return boat and bus trips.
Therefore all transport is likely to come to around £435, give or take a few pounds. It sounds a lot but to put that into perspective the fuel and ferry to get the Bongo to Harris and Lewis earlier this year did nearly £400 of damage to my wallet.
Accommodation in Sweden can be booked fairly reasonably if once again you do this in advance. I have managed to book three nights in hotels for £140 in total, probably cheaper than you can get in the UK.
As I will be taking my backpacking food with me (some of which will be homemade and dehydrated) there are not that many extra costs. I will need to eat out on the journey to and from the trailhead. Alcohol will probably be avoided as from experience that is not cheap! There will be the option of mountain huts at the start and towards the end of the trek, these could be tempting if the weather is bad. They come in at between £30 and £40 a night for a bed, adding on another £10 at STF (Swedish Tourist Association) huts if not a member. I did not stay at any when I trekked the northern section of the Kungsledden but sticking my head in they always looked clean, warm and comfortable (but basic).
The route that I finally chose takes in three national parks, these being Sarek, Padjelanta and Stora Sjöfallet. When I first laid the map on my lap there was the temptation to try and do too much and cover too much ground. Although the Calazo map that I purchased is pretty good, it is a very poor relation to the Ordnance Survey we have in the UK. For a start the scale is 1:100,000 and there is nowhere near as much detail. Translating what is on the map into what will be on the ground has been tricky for someone used to the OS. On the plus side my whole route is on one lightweight map and it is printed on Tyvek so should not fall apart if it gets damp.
(Click on map to enlarge)
I have ten full days in the wilds between travelling, plenty of time for a good exploration and to get a feel for the place. Being a bit of a slackpacker I decided that I did not want to overstretch myself. The aim is to spend an extended period of time in the wilderness, soaking up the atmosphere and exploring its hidden corners. I do not fancy rushing though, head to the ground in an attempt to eat up the mileage. I would much rather be enjoying a camp days from civilisation. I’m lazy like that.
With ten days food and no chance of resupply my pack is going to be heavy. Another reason to keep the daily mileage manageable. I decided that I would stick predominately to the valleys, without any major ascent and descent. I also wanted to keep clear of the numerous glaciers, not places to explore solo when you have no experience of them.
In the end I came up with a nine day trek of 144 kilometres, leaving me with one day spare in case of bad weather. The route splits nicely into three sections of equal distance with each section having a different character.
Section one takes me from the pier at Anonjalme and along the Padjelanta trail through mixed birch forest to where the three National Parks meet. I then cross over into Sarek and follow the impressive Ruohtesvagge south-east into the centre of Sarek. Although this is not a marked trail it is meant to be easy to follow and probably offers the easiest way into the National Park. Although I am following the valley bottom I will be walking at altitudes of up to 9oo metres, much of it above 800 metres. Not to be taken lightly when you are north of the Arctic Circle. I plan to camp at Mikkastugan which is the centre of the park, several long valleys radiating from this point. There is a locked hut there which I am sure will tease me if the weather is bad.
Section two will be a bit more difficult as I follow another long valley called Alggavagge to the west. As I approach the lake of Alggajavrre there will be the challenge of head height dwarf willow to push my way through along boggy ground. I will then come to a Sami chapel and (hopefully) a bridge over the Mielladno. Once across the bridge I leave Sarek behind and cross into Padjelanta. I then head across trackless country via the large lake of Alajavrre to get to the Sami settlement at Arasluokta. This could prove to be the trickiest day as I will be crossing a high plateau, I just hope that the clouds do not roll in. Once at Arasloukta the hardest trekking is behind me and I have the option of staying in a Sami run hut. Apparently there is a shop there which sells smoked fish and maybe bread, although this is not something that I will count on.
Section three should be the easiest as I follow the Padjelanta trail back to Anonjalme and a boat back to Ritsem. Three days on a good trail with the option to sleep in huts if I fancy it. The final day will be a repeat of the first. However there is the option of branching off and taking the Nordkalottleden trail to Vaisaluokta where I can pick up the boat back to Ritsem.
I am hoping that it will be a fine walk in the largest wilderness area in Europe. A couple of weeks ago when I was casually Googling Sarek I came across a website from 2006 in which the exact same route as mine was taken. It is good to know that it is doable and the photos have whetted my appetite even more. The only difference is that they took thirteen days to walk it, compared to my nine. The website can be found here.
Finally I will leave you with the best videos I have found on Sarek. Excellent stuff.