Into the wild – alone in Sarek and Padjelanta part four

by backpackingbongos

Day seven – 30th August 2014

Day 7

When I stuck my head out in the middle of the night the sky was bright with a million stars but sadly no Northern Lights. Although nearly September and sunset being at 9.00pm it was still not getting truly dark. Sunrise was also very early. It was weird to think that by the end of November the sun would set and not rise for a few weeks.

Words can’t properly describe the weather for that and the following day. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, visibility endless, the sun warm and the breeze was cool. It was technically my day off as I had built-in a couple of days slack into the schedule. With weather that good I decided that I would climb a big mountain.

Before setting off I had an alfresco breakfast, sitting with my top off and feeling the strong northern sun on my back was something I had not expected when visiting the Arctic.

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Daktejagasi had been reduced to a trickle of crystal clear water and I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottles. When it is hot and sunny I often dip my cap in streams to keep cool. In this instance the cold made me gasp.

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My objective for the day was the 1572 metre peak of Alatjahkka which was just beginning to peek its bald head above the intervening hills. With my 1:100,000 map giving virtually no details apart from contours I was unsure whether it would be easy to climb. This gave a feeling of uncertainty especially as there was a glacier marked on the map.

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I followed gentle contours up to the summit of an unnamed 1228 metre peak. The views as can be expected were glorious. Taking centre stage were the mountains of Sarek, rocky pyramids pointing into the clear blue sky. The intervening ground was a high plateau of lakes at around the 900 metre contour. An area perhaps worthy of leisurely exploration in the future. I tried to imagine what it would be like up there in the middle of winter in total darkness whilst Arctic storms blasted the plateaus. I could not believe my luck with the weather.

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I got my first proper look at Alatjahkka, a large dome of rock. From a distance it looked like it would be possible to climb up the middle of the glacier that was marked on the map. On the ground it appeared that the central section of the glacier had melted. I’m not sure if this is due to a general warming trend or simply due to the exceptionally dry and hot summer in Lapland this year.

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Approaching the glacial moraines I found a rare patch of grass so set about pitching my shelter. Once again it was difficult to peg properly and I even managed to damage a Tornado peg whilst bashing it in with a rock (credit to the peg as the first rock broke before it did). A couple of hefty boulders had to be deployed on a couple of the pegs. A trickle of clear water was collected from nearby so I then sat and had a hot lunch whilst pouring over the map.

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I had packed a silnylon day pack which I filled with spare clothes / torch etc and set off towards the foot of the glacier. I gave a large area of wet sand a detour as it wobbled alarmingly when I stepped on it. I had read that quicksand can often be found at the foot of glaciers. It was not a good place to get stuck!

I followed the stream that was emerging from the glacier, the water was dirty looking being full of sediment. I was glad that I was not reliant on it for my water supply.

The glacier itself was a thing of beauty and I walked right up to its edge, the ice a blue colour as it reflected the sky. There was the sound of water underneath it, cracks and fissures visible on its surface. It would have been fun to walk across but that would have been a stupid thing to do with no glacier experience and on my own.

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Instead I scrabbled up bare rock, boulders and gravel. Where I was walking should have been covered in tonnes of ice, instead it was as dry as a desert. The previous weight of the glacier has ground some rock into beautiful patterns and crushed others into dust. It was a rugged and ugly landscape.

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Once above the glacier I passed a deep blue lake, sheets of white ice still floating on its surface, a glacier running up the slopes beyond. A strange sight under the hot sun.

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The climb to the summit was steep and loose and I took my time to zig zag my way up. I found it difficult to tear my eyes away from the view.

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There was a cairn marking the summit that showed that others climb the mountain. I was absolutely elated especially as climbing a mountain was not part of my orignal plan. 1572 metres is not very tall compared to other mountain ranges but I was around two hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The clarity of the air meant that the views were pretty much limitless. There was not a single man-made structure to be seen (apart from the cairn). Mountains spread as far as the eye could see, those to the west in Norway looked just as inviting as those in Sarek to the east.

I sat in the shelter of the cairn to have a snack and then realised that I had left my bag of food on my sleeping bag. I have to say that my stomach was a little disappointed after the physical effort of getting up there.

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I reversed my route feeling confident that it was safe as long as I took my time and was careful. Once the sun disappeared below the horizon the temperatures on the high plateau where I had camped dipped very quickly.

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Day eight – 31st August 2014

Day 8

I woke in the middle of the night for a call of nature. Sticking my head out of the Wickiup I saw a bright arc of white light in the sky above me. It was not moving and the horizon was blocked by the mountain I had climbed. It was like a sprinkling of stardust in the sky but separate from the stars themselves. A possibility that I had a brief glimpse of the Northern Lights?

It was the coldest night of the trip but not quite enough to give a frost on the shelter. I lay in my sleeping bag and waited for the sun to warm me up. It was another morning of incredible clarity in the air and after burning the day before I smothered my ears and face in factor fifty. The sun was strong enough to wander around camp barefoot and without a top and I relished another alfresco breakfast.

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The descent to the large lake called Alajavrre was easier than I had imagined and I was soon walking along its northern shore. Its waters looked very inviting for a dip and it was tempting to strip off and dive in. However a hand dipped into its crystal clear waters persuaded me otherwise. It was easy to forget I was in the Arctic.

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There is a locked Sami hut at the western end of the lake complete with a brightly painted outdoor loo which was also sadly locked. I can’t blame the owners though after witnessing the filthy habits of trekkers at other huts.

Over a small rise and an infant river was picked up. On the map it looked like it would be simple to follow its banks all the way to the huts at Aras. However there is marsh and dwarf willow marked on the map so I decided to keep to high ground. Instead I made a beeline to the small summit of Unna Liemak at 984 metres.

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I contoured its northern slopes which gave good views back to the lower slopes of the peak I had climbed the day before.

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I was now in a very different landscape from Sarek. Gone were the long dramatic valleys and soaring peaks. Instead I was in a land of rolling hills, lakes and high plateaus. Reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands I felt much more at home.

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With the weather remaining so good I decided to have one more high camp before joining the Padjelanta trail. I therefore decided to climb Stour Djidder and camp near its summit.

One thing you do not expect in Lapland is for streams to be dried up. It ended up taking ages to find a spot that was flat and dry with no tough vegetation and close to running water. Being above the massive lake of Virihaure it felt like I was wild camping on the west coast of Scotland. The similarity from my camp spot was striking.

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The sunset that evening was spectacular. Sadly it was the last one of the trip. The weather was about to take a turn for the worse.

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28 Comments to “Into the wild – alone in Sarek and Padjelanta part four”

  1. Superb! Boy you were lucky with the weather.

  2. Stunningly beautiful. Am I allowed an “Awesome?”
    😀
    This series has to rank amongst the most inspirational blogposts I’ve ever seen, Sir.

  3. Utterly stunning, awesome scenery James, your photography skills come to the fore

  4. At what time did you set your alarm at the end of last episode? Just to let you know – it should have been at 1am!
    Seems as if you had a decent trip anyways.

  5. Absolutely loving this blog agree with Alan’s comments bloody inspiring

  6. Excellent weather, admittedly when I was up there it was pretty good as well. It seems to me that your photos have captured the natural beauty of the area and the reason why I keep going back. There are so many options. And isn’t fun navigating by 1:100 000 maps.

    • I really could not believe my luck with the Weather, the forecasts before I set off were not looking very good. Thanks Roger.

  7. When I see the weather conditions you experienced, it makes me gurn with jealousy!!! Amazing blog, amazing trip; thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. This is panning out to be an amazing walk. I can imagine these memories staying with you for a very long time 🙂

  9. Really quite surprised how good the weather was. Is this normal for this time of year?

    • I’m not sure that the normal weather is meant to be like Mark, although people often say that early Autumn is a good time to visit.

  10. What an absolutely stunning place to hike and the fine weather certainly enhances its majesty. By the looks of it you could go weeks without encountering another sole.

    • I did not see a single person on the two days of this section David. Although wild and remote, Sarek does actually get quite a few people visiting.

  11. You were a lucky man, climbing a big peak on such a glorious day, very jealous 🙂

  12. I hope you’ve ordered similar weather for next August!

  13. Very nice pictures! I passed Álájávrre on 24th September 2014. I saw the Álátjåhkkå mountain with some more snow on the peak: Sarek and Padjelanta trekking tour

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