Archive for September 15th, 2015

September 15, 2015

Mountains, Marshes and Mosquitoes ‚Äď Arctic Sarek 2015 (part 3)

by backpackingbongos

Part one.

Part two.

Day 3 – 24th August


I woke in the middle of the night feeling hot, sweaty and trapped. I fought my way out of my sleeping bag, got the door open and spent a couple of minutes on my hands and knees being sick. I think that the heat of the previous day along with a couple of days travelling had taken its toll on my system. Luckily that was the only time during the trip that I was sick, so probably not a bug.

I felt much better when I emerged from the Enan at 7.00am into a bright warm morning. Chrissie was already up and about, sitting on a rock next to her tent, cup of tea in her hands. Despite the less than ideal ground conditions on which to pitch¬†(lumpy, rocky, prickly vegetation) you can’t ask for a more idyllic location.


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After stopping short the day before we were packed and away by 8.30am to walk the short distance to the first river crossing of the trip. I was aware of its sound during the night, the noise seemingly amplified as I lay in my tent.

Although wide¬†it was a perfect introduction to river crossings for Chrissie who admitted that the prospect of some of the rivers made her nervous. She decided to keep her boots and gaiters on whilst I changed into the Inov-8 Recolite 180’s brought along specifically to cross rivers. This one¬†is about a hundred metres from bank to bank, joining two lakes. This meant that the water was calm, especially after a week of hot and sunny weather.¬†A series of wooden triangles built up on stones show the best way across. The water barely came¬†to mid calf,¬†although by the time I had crossed my feet were numb with the cold!


As I was changing back into warm fluffy socks and dry boots Chrissie decided that in future she would remove her inner soles and save a pair of socks specifically for crossing rivers.

The good path continued on the other side, climbing up through a dense forest of birch, duckboards once again giving easy passage across the boggy stretches. We had hoped to see the huts at the Sami settlement of Parek but the path veered too far to the left and we decided not to do a detour.

Soon we were leaving the forest behind, the birch trees thinning out and the mountains rising above us. A handy boulder gave a good spot in which to sit and snack whilst swatting at the mosquitoes. We thought that they had disappeared whilst walking through the forest but they came back with a vengeance as soon as we stopped moving.


Leaving the last of the trees behind there was a real feeling of entering a mountain landscape. The path which initially is very clear climbs across vast moorland slopes, the vegetation growing closer to the ground, even the dwarf willow being no more than knee height.


Unfortunately with the heat the views to the south were very hazy. We still got a sense of the scale of the Parek bog that we had crossed, numerous lakes interspersed with forest and marsh.


The higher we got the more intermittent the path, often disappearing amongst the boggier sections. Above 900 metres it changed direction to contour high above the Sahkokjahka river, heard but unseen deep in the valley below. We would have to cross it higher up, the German we met the day before warning us of its difficulty. ‘It’s a white water river’ he told us several times. The look on Chrissies face at the time suggested that she was not thrilled with that prospect.


Further on a side stream was completely buried under snow, still solid despite the hot sun, the kicking of steps a change of rhythm.



We approached the Sahkokjahka at the point in which it was covered by a huge snow bridge. We could see water disappearing under it, the exit end fractured, car sized chunks of snow ready to break off. We crossed together, the exit steep and needing good steps kicking in to get to the solid ground above.

The high plateau we then crossed was very reminiscent of the Cairngorms. I looked back at the 2000 metre mountains behind us, picking out what looked like climbable routes to their summits. I could even make out the tiny red dot of the observation hut near one of the tops.

The next river crossing was wide and rocky but also shallow. I was pleased to find a way across without getting my feet wet.



Another long climb followed, the path disappearing underfoot but the occasional cairn marking the way. This section was boggy in parts and the mosquitoes and horseflies were still biting, even once we passed the 1000 metre contour.


A large snow bank blocked the final slope of the day, unavoidable and increasingly slushy. We passed a young couple on their way back to Kvikkjokk, nearly out of food after being in Sarek for ten days. Tanned and fit looking they wished us luck as they headed down the way we had come.



Finally we arrived on the mountain plateau at 1200 metres, an absolutely breathtaking spot. My eyes were immediately drawn to the north-east, a wall of incredible mountains towering above the twin lakes at the head of Njoatsosvagge and our planned destination for the following day.



Our route dropped into a large upland bowl at the head of a stream. Once again we were short of our intended destination by a few kilometres and it was still early afternoon. However we could not face the long descent down into a valley and the heat and insect life that would bring. The ground next to the stream was soft and springy and there was a gentle breeze blowing. Pretty much perfect. We therefore did not waste much time in pitching the Enan’s.



Of course what happened as soon as we had pitched? The breeze dropped and the mosquitoes came out to play. The ones at 1200 metres seemed to be bigger and meaner than the ones we has encountered in the forests. I took myself off to sit on a rocky bluff overlooking the valley for a while, a breeze keeping them at bay. Returning to the tents for dinner it was back on with the windproof and head net in an attempt to keep my sanity. With the sun shining it was far too hot to retire to our tents. It was hard to believe that we were camped at 1200 metres above the Arctic Circle!

The evening was spent pacing round camp cursing the sun which still sets late at the end of August. Eventually it dipped and the temperature fell enough for us to escape to our tents. I lay on top of my sleeping bag gazing out through the mesh door watching the light change on the surrounding hills.

I must have nodded off because I woke to a clicking noise and some grunts close behind my tent. I popped my head out to see a herd of reindeer pass us within a few metres. A real National Geographic moment that I won’t forget. Just a shame that by the time I got my out camera they¬†had moved off.


By then the temperature had dropped, the sky blushed pink with the moon beginning to rise. A perfect end to a great day.