Archive for September 23rd, 2015

September 23, 2015

Mountains, Marshes and Mosquitoes – Arctic Sarek 2015 (part 4)

by backpackingbongos

Part one.

Part two.

Part three.

Day four – 25th August


Sadly there were no reindeer to be seen when I emerged from my tent under yet another clear blue sky. It was looking like it would be another hot and uncomfortable day, especially seeing that we would be descending into a deep valley to make battle with the legendary dwarf willow. I had brought clothing that I thought would be suitable for the Arctic, little did I realise that my Merino base layer would prove uncomfortably hot. To save weight I had taken one set of clothing for walking and another for wearing in the tent. We were both prepared for wind and rain and temperatures in single digits. I know that it sounds like I am complaining about sun and blue skies, however I am aware of just how incredibly lucky we were to see Sarek under such superb conditions.

Anyway who can complain about waking up somewhere like this?


After packing the tents we crossed the upland bowl, climbing onto another wide ridge.


The view that greeted us to the north-east was mind blowing. Below us was the wide basin of the Njoastsosvagge which we would be walking later that day. This curves round to two high lakes crowded by jagged glacier covered mountains. The view was so good that I thought that I should present it to you twice.



It was one of the most impressive places that I have ever backpacked, only being surpassed the following day when we got higher and closer to the big peaks.



Above us an enormous fin of rock rose sheer into the blue sky. It was difficult to pin point exactly which mountain it was on our map as most of it was hidden by the bulk of other mountains. It is on the right of the photograph below.


Route finding during the end of the previous day and the start of this was simplified by the line of metal posts that ran parallel to the narrow path. We pondered their use, coming to the conclusion that they would have something to do with the Sami who work the land and farm reindeer here.

On the descent into the Njoastsosvagge the posts and path diverge, we had to keep a keen eye out for the path which would become indistinct amongst the vegetation. The scale of the Njoastsosvagge increased the lower we got, it truly is a wild place. Having experience of walking through valleys in Sarek I had a good idea what was coming.


Close to the valley bottom the path comes close to a locked hut. It is marked Renvaktarstuga on the map, my powers of deduction coming to the conclusion that it is used by the local Sami in relation to reindeer. We had planned to pitch there the night before, the surrounding area having several possible camping spots.

I had read that the river Ruopsokjahka can be tricky to cross. Its water was thankfully low and I managed to get across dry shod and without removing my boots. Just prior to the crossing we passed three young giants, all sporting massive packs, long beards and wooden staffs that would make Gandalf envious.

After the river crossing we managed to pick up a well-worn path for a while, giving us a false sense of security. Before we knew it the way forward looked like this.


The next few hours was a battle with head high dwarf willow and rucksack grabbing birch. It was all rather exhausting, compounded by the fact that dwarf willow likes to grow in really boggy areas. Whilst we were fighting the green leafed monsters the bogs were trying to remove our boots. The mosquitoes buzzed in our ears whilst the large horseflies attacked us with stealth.


Thankfully there were open areas, an opportunity to make forward progress and take time to enjoy the surrounding mountains.



The first testing river crossing of the trip was where the Balgatjahka meets the Skajdasjjahke. The river comes from both lakes and glaciers on the mountain plateau above. This means that it has a blue milky hue due to the glacial sediment. It was running pretty swiftly but there were sections where the water was calmer. We linked arms and crossed together, both of us soon regretting not removing our trousers. It was deeper than it looked, the water coming to the bottom of my boxers. The water once again was very cold!


On the far bank we put modesty aside and stripped to our underwear, trousers being draped over bushes to dry in the sun. We were glad of the good weather as it would have been a miserable experience if it had been cold and raining.

The sun worked its magic and we were soon on our way wearing dry trousers.



We heard the Luohttojahka long before we saw it, the rushing water being hidden by the surrounding dwarf willow. I think that all the colour drained from Chrissie’s cheeks when she finally saw it. A great volume of milky white water was rushing at speed through the narrow confines of the river bed. This was a full on glacier fed river, totally opaque, the bottom not visible. The heat of the previous few days had obviously made a dent in the large glacier above.

I dumped my pack, changed into my river crossing shoes and removed my trousers in preparation for a solo test crossing. I got about a third of the way across, the water at mid-thigh proving far too strong a current to progress any further. It was also impossible to gauge how much deeper it would become. The risk of being swept away was far too great so I made a hasty retreat.

I tried to cross at a couple more places downstream where the river was a little wider, but the current was still far too strong. Our path was effectively blocked that afternoon.

I was hopeful that if the night was cool enough the water levels might drop due to most of the water coming from a glacier above the 1300 metre contour. If we got up early enough we might just get across. The alternative was to walk back the way we had come but there was no way I wanted to battle the dwarf willow again.

There was one other possibility, but that would involve a long hard mountain day crossing giant boulder fields and traversing steep slopes below glaciers. I went to bed pouring over a rather inadequate 1:100k map.



Here’s a short video showing the river we could not cross along with that nights camp.