Into the wild – alone in Sarek and Padjelanta part five

by backpackingbongos

Day nine – 1st September 2014

Day 9

Yet another day dawned clear and crisp, the sun soon drying the heavy condensation on my shelter. My destination for the morning was the security of the well-worn Padjelanta / Nordkalottleden trail. This would then give me an easy and navigation free walk back to the large lake of Akkajaure and the ferry back to Ritsem.

First I had to get off the mountain on which I was camped. With the poor detail and scale on my map I was unsure of the terrain and admit that I had spent part of the previous night worrying about the descent. It turned out to be relatively straight forward, easy to bypass any rocky sections.

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After a few days of rough ground underfoot it was good to be on a proper trail again, even the wooden duck boards were welcome. It’s good to stride out when previously you had to watch every step.

I arrived at the accommodation huts in Arasluokta desperate for a drink of something sweet and fizzy and some extra chocolate to boost my rations. The whole place was deserted and the huts locked, I deposited my considerable pile of rubbish and empty gas canister in the trash room and continued on my way.

The trail bypasses the main settlement, rising high above it and giving superb views across Virihaure, big enough to make you feel that you are on the coast.

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The weather during the rest of the day slowly changed, cloud building with a few spots of rain. The trail was almost deserted though, I passed only five people that afternoon.

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On the way to Laddejakka the path climbed onto a moorland plateau, the colours of Autumn really beginning to shine. A couple of weeks later and I can imagine that the whole of Lapland would have been spectacular.

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Descending to the north I could see the huts of Laddejakka nestling in the trees at the bottom of the valley. They had been my destination for the night but suddenly the thought of being indoors and amongst people was not very appealing. I had been on my own for far too long.

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Therefore instead I found a spot to pitch a few hundred metres before the bridge over the river. It was a real challenge to find anywhere to be honest, the vegetation was of the tent shredding variety. I was thankful to find a patch of bare earth.

That evening there was an unusual sound on the fly of the Wickiup, the soft pitter patter of drizzle. Outside it turned cold and grey, murk eventually masking the hills in the distance.

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Day Ten – 2nd September 2014

Day 10

The drizzle persisted throughout the night and into the next morning. After days of sunshine it was difficult to motivate myself to get going. However once up and outside the conditions were much better than they sounded under silnylon. Tents always exaggerate the sound of rain.

I passed the huts but did not stop to pop my head through the door. It all looked fairly quiet anyway apart from a tent pitched next to a sign saying that there is a fee for pitching.

It is a long and steep climb up the hillside above, here I passed the only person I would see for several hours. I was genuinely surprised at how quiet the Padjelanta trail was. It was only the 2nd September but it was clear that the season had definitely finished. When researching for the trip I discovered that many of the huts would shut at the end of that week. Even the boat to Ritsem would soon stop running until the following summer. The seasons are very short in the far north. I was of course very happy to have what is usually a busy trail all to myself.

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With drizzle on and off for much of the day the previously welcome duckboards became lethally slippery in the wet. I think they are called duckboards because you have to waddle to prevent an ankle breaking slip. I often found myself walking off to one side, their only value being for the many Lemmings that run underneath them.

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The bridge over the Vuojatadno is an imposing structure, I always enjoy the walk over the suspension bridges you get in the wilds of Sweden. The clanking and swaying are always slightly unnerving but in a good way.

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Soon after crossing the bridge I came across a rather strange sight considering I was more than a days walk from the nearest road. There was a caravan with a small generator chugging away next to it. An extravagantly moustached chap leant out of the window to spit as I passed and I tried to engage in conversation. He simply shut the window!

It was evident that they were replacing the bridge over the outflow from Sallohaure. A new half constructed metal suspension bridge standing next to the old wooden one which looks like it needs retiring.

The path to Kutjaure was a bit of a plod but the views back towards Sarek were magnificent, the tops of the peaks just touching the base of the clouds.

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I had no plans to stay at the STF hut at Kutjaure but went inside to check the ferry times with the hut host. He was a rather gruff chap who confirmed the times with me. I then asked if the hut marked further along the trail was unlocked and if I was ok to sleep there. His reply was that it is unlocked but it is for emergencies and not for sleeping. I nearly said something about staying there and not sleeping but thought better of it. I said my thanks and left.

I followed what I thought was the trail but half an hour later whilst splashing through bog I finally admitted to myself that I had lost it. My GPS confirmed that I was nearly a kilometre too far to the west. I cursed my lack of attention and spent a while crossing high vegetation to get back on track. All the while the wind was picking up and the skies darkening.

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After a long climb and on the edge of a plateau I came across a patch of flat grass. With heavy rain looking imminent I decided to stop and pitch for the night. I was glad that I had found somewhere comfortable and with great views for my final night in the wilds.

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Day eleven – 3rd September 2014

Day 11

Heavy rain came in the night, persistent with a strong wind. With no inner in the Wickiup I felt exposed to the elements and found a pool of water developing in a depression in the ground close to my head. Thankfully it was mild and I slept well, enjoying the sound of the rain.

Morning brought no relief from the weather, I was also just below the cloud base, banks of mist drifting past on the strong wind. There was no time to wait for the weather to clear as I had a ferry to catch in the early afternoon. To miss it would mean missing the only bus of the day from Ritsem to Gallivare the following morning. I felt a bit of pressure for the first time since starting out on the hike.

The high level walk along a string of lakes was not very enjoyable, the views non-existent, wind driven rain soaking me through. I was grateful to see the refuge hut appear through the mist. I opened it to find a Swedish couple sheltering from the rain. They made some room for me and shared the coffee they had just made. They were surprised to meet a person from the UK in the hills, most being from Germany. They even joked that there are more German language guidebooks on Lapland than Swedish ones.

I left them and continued my soggy march, it was a case of head down and get on with it. It took two hours at full throttle to get down into the shelter of the birch forest. There sitting on a soggy log under a dripping tree I managed my first call home since the start of the trek. It was good to hear my wife’s voice.

I arrived at the STF hut at Vajsaluokta with over an hour to spare before the ferry departed. The hut host welcomed me in like a long lost friend, gave me a drink and let me wait in the warm and dry kitchen. After wearing the same clothes for ten days I was very aware of my aroma as my body interacted with the warm air!

As the boat came into view the host walked down to the small pier with me so that she could welcome new visitors. I tried to board when it had been tied up but was met by a hostile skipper who told me to go away as they would not be sailing that night. The weather was too bad and he was cancelling the boat. I tried to ask some questions about what to do and he shouted at me to go away. With a sinking feeling in my stomach I followed his instructions and walked back to the hut with the host. She said that the boat had never been cancelled in the years she had been there. I started to panic that I would miss the only bus the following day.

The skipper later came up to the hut and apologised for his rudeness, he said that the weather was so bad on the lake there was a risk to the boat. He had been unable to land at Anonjalmme and had left several people waiting at the pier. He thought that it was unlikely he would be able to leave that evening and planned to go early the next morning. Apparently it was several years to the day when there had been a ‘tragedy’ with the same boat.

A couple of hours later I walked down to the lake and was surprised at how calm it was in this spot.

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I settled down for a night in the hut, unpacked and cooked my dinner. Then suddenly after dark and just as I was about to go to bed I was told that the boat was leaving in five minutes. I stuffed everything in my rucksack and legged it down to the boat by head torch. The engine was already running and the boat left as soon as I was onboard.

There then followed a surreal forty minute crossing in the dark, no lights inside or outside the boat. The skipper would flash a powerful torch every now and then to warn other boats. Finally as we neared Ritsem I was called onto the deck to hold the torch and direct the boat towards the darkened pier. I was pretty relieved to get onto dry land!

It was by then past 10.30pm and Ritsem was in darkness. I got a lift up to the STF huts and the reception was unlocked and I was booked into my own private room for the dorm rate, £10 also knocked off for helping the boat get in safely.

My trek was over, ending in less than relaxing circumstances. What was to me a big trekking adventure had been completed and I was thankfully still in one piece.

A trip of a lifetime. Until next time.

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31 Comments to “Into the wild – alone in Sarek and Padjelanta part five”

  1. Wonderful. Really enjoyed reading about your trip and gazing at the photos.

  2. Thank you James, for one of the most inspiring set of blog posts I’ve ever read.
    Great writing. Fabulous pictures, Maps to guide us through your day.
    My map is on it’s way, and I hope to make the trip over there in 2016.
    Thank you.
    🙂

    • Kind words indeed Alan. I think that you should most definitely make that trip over there in 2016, I know that you would really enjoy it. Like the Highlands on steroids. No pubs though…….

  3. An Inspiring series of posts James, I really enjoyed reading them. Food for thought as far as future trips go, so thanks for that.

    • I’m really surprised that so few Brits make it over there David, a real good alternative to the UK hills if you crave something a bit wilder.

  4. Wonderful. There were some pictures there that reminded me a bit of Harris and Lewis. What sort of temperatures did you generally get overnight?

    • There are some striking similarities to parts of the Highlands Chrissie. The temperature never dropped below freezing whilst I was there, the coldest I recorded in my tent was 3C. Most nights were actually remarkably mild. Not sure if it is always like that though, it can snow at that time of year…..

  5. Awesome, inspiring and mega fantastic stuff. Humongous enjoyment reading and admiring the stunning photos. A cracking write up James. As said before, fantasmagorical.

  6. Thanks again for sharing a stunning trip,brilliantly written and stunning pictures.

  7. James, I really enjoyed your series of posts into the wilderness. Thanks.
    Mark

  8. James – thank you for such a captivating and inspiring report on what must have been an amazing experience.
    Jim

  9. Brilliant. Finally managed to sit down and read all these in a oner. Some simply stunning photees and sounds like a incredible solo trip. Had planned to get there myself this year but the packraft ban, plus a host of personal changes meant it didn’t happen.Now thinking I shouldn’t have been so easily put off. Norway next year if plans hold, though…anyway, that was ace, ta

    • The packraft ban is a bit of a strange one, surely less damage will be done floating downstream as apposed to boots on fragile ground? Would be good to do the Rapa delta by packraft. Enjoy Norway, another for my list one day………

      • Two reasons for the ban – It’s because packrafts can transport foreign bacteria etc from other rivers into Sarek’s waters and to prevent commercial rafting companies using the place as their workplace!

  10. Damp end but I don’t suppose you can grumble after the middle section. Nice bit of “how the hell do I get home” panic to finish as well

    Inspiring stuff though 🙂

    • Shame that the run of good weather broke, I had forgotten just how miserable rain can be! The boat did not help the travelling home anxiety levels!

  11. Great photos. You are right about the sound of rain on a tent – it always sounds a lot worse than it really is. I too sometimes find it hard to get up when I’m nice and warm in a sleeping bag whilst there is rain outside.

  12. No pubs? Crikey . . . Alan won’t like it very much.
    I never trust duckboards, or whatever they’re called, in the rain. They were common on the Appalachian Trail and frankly, I’d rather have walked on sheet ice, far more grip.
    It looks an amazing part of the world and is often met with the usual comments of others wanting to visit, myself included. The whole Nordic experience has been on my wish list for years.
    Great photos!
    ~ Fozzie

    • Alan is going to have to take his own Keith, even the nearest town only had a dodgy looking sports bar instead of a nice cosy pub.

      Get yourself up there, superb trekking country.

      Cheers 🙂

  13. A fine end to one rather special trip. I really glad the weather was good overall for you. So far to go – you can only hope the weather is good when you get there. I have long wished to go there. My map has been on my shelf a long time. One day I hope. Enjoy the next time james, and share we hope how it went and with the same superb level of writing and photos.

    • Thanks Martin, already really looking forward to going back next year. I can only hope that the weather is as good as this trip. Weather can really make or break a trip like this.

  14. Good to see what the trail looks like heading up to Vaisa. Duckboards are rather lethal when wet, I remember my first Sarek trip in 09 when I was pleased to have cleared the place safely but as soon as I hit P’leden at Aras’ I hit the ground hard twice in quick succession as I skidded off wet boards!

    It’s not far off where you exited Sarek that a young dane got lost in the mist in 2012 and his remains has never been found to this day. He had no map and compass, Sarek’s a big enough place to things to go seriously wrong if you dont take care!

    • Its not just the wet duckboards that can be lethal, its the rotten ones too, some have clearly seen better days. I could imagine the area where I exited Sarek being confusing in mist. Although it is wilderness Sarek is still reasonably easy to access and perhaps people visit who don’t have the experience. Sad to hear about the young Dane.

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