Day five – 26th August
I was up and out of my tent by 7.00am. Chrissie was up before me, standing looking down at the river, her face full of worry. It was clear that she was not keen at attempting to cross the river and I was careful not to push her into doing something she was not comfortable with. I would be lying to say that I was not disappointed, being keen to see the two lakes further up the valley, nestled amongst mountains of sheer black rock. However we had come to Sarek as a pair and that means compromises. Continuing the planned route was out of the question (an extra person and a rope I reckon would have got us safely across). I therefore set about persuading Chrissie into doing an alternative high level route I had cobbled together the night before.
I had traced a line through areas where the contours widened out, linking together several shelves amongst steeper ground. The scale of the map is 1:100k and lacking detail, conditions under foot being a bit of a lottery. I was hoping that none of the steeper slopes would be covered in snow. Chrissie was willing to step into the unknown with me and give this mountain alternative a try. The only other viable route was to return the way we had come, neither of us really fancied that. It was still early when we left our campsite.
The initial climb was up slopes covered in dwarf willow, this was eventually replaced by grass as the hillside got steeper.
We eventually got a glimpse of the snout of the huge glacier which was responsible for spawning the river we could not cross.
The originally planned route involved crossing the Njoatsosvagge river and valley and climbing steep slopes to a lake high on a plateau. This lake Goabrekjavraj soon came into view and it was clear that it would have involved a bit of a slog to get up there.
We were now on the far side of the mountain range that had originally dominated our view at the beginning of the trip. From the forest to the south they offer up their gentle side. From the north they are composed of fearsome pinnacles of rock and glaciers hanging at improbable angles from steep dark rock.
From our lofty position I gazed into a long high level valley that runs parallel with the upper reaches of the Njoatsosvagge. Late August and much of it was still covered with snow. I imagine that it gives a wild and lonely through route to the north, perhaps one to try on my next trip back to Sarek.
It was satisfying to sit on a mountain top at over 1300 metres whilst north of the Arctic circle. For the first time on the trip it was cool enough to pull on some warm clothing and there was not a mosquito to be seen. The weather was beginning to turn as forecasted, cloud bubbling up and covering the highest peaks.
I have to say that the scale and majesty of the place was almost overwhelming. With cloud building over the dark jagged peaks there was a sense of menace in the air that I have not felt in Sarek before. It was clear that we were now in serious mountain territory, miles from civilisation and help if anything went wrong. It was at least three to four days of walking to get to a road. A place to truly feel your own insignificance.
We would often find ourselves skirting large patches of snow, unsure of what was beneath them. Water was running everywhere and we were afraid of walking across a small hidden lake covered in soft snow.
Bagatjavrasj is a large body of water which was mostly free from snow and ice. It was difficult however to tell how far the snow bank on the western side extended into the lake. There were large sunken craters that indicated that much of it was not above dry land. We gave it a wide berth.
As we got closer to the wall of mountains they took on a truly terrifying appearance. Climbing them would be well out of my league, at least without someone who really knew what they were doing. The pinnacle of rock above was mesmerising.
The vegetation was scarce, the ground covered by boulders and gravel, the odd patch of moss and lichen eking out a living. However even in such a brutal place there is beauty, tiny little flowers were thriving wherever they could find shelter.
The outflow from the lake was surprisingly wide but thankfully shallow, we got across with dry feet after a large amount of rock hopping.
We had probably the most spectacular lunch break of the whole trip. A rock bench next to the icy crystal clear waters as they rushed down the mountain. The sun was warm enough to remove boots and socks and dry them out a bit. I got my stove on and made noodles, a hot lunch always satisfying when out backpacking.
Nothing can beat sitting in the sun eating a tasty lunch and looking at a view like this.
We crossed another river and followed it downstream for a while. On slopes high above the far bank we spotted a group of backpackers make their way slowly across a snow field. They returned our waves and soon disappeared amongst the rocks of the endless plateau.
Glacial moraines towered above us, their slopes steep and loose. It took a bit of effort for our tired bodies to make the climb. Gaining height the plateau behind made us feel like specks of dust on the landscape. Gently rolling rocky hummocks as far as the eye can see. A vast desert reaching to further snow capped mountains. It was good knowing that there are small signs of life in the shape of tiny flowers in an otherwise alien land.
Our route took us along a wide rocky shelf, steep slopes above and below. We entered a large boulder field of unstable rocks, each one wobbling underfoot as we took a step. Progress was slow and tiring, a slip would mean both pain and disaster. I was glad that I had good old fashioned leather boots on my feet. I don’t think I could have made it across in trail shoes.
After what felt like hours we descended steeply and sighed with relief when we felt grass beneath our feet. We could relax for a couple of miles of relatively easy walking above a series of deeply incised spurs that jut out above the valley below.
The cloud was sinking ever lower through what had become early evening. Every now and again we would be enveloped in mist and a few spots of rain began to fall. We pulled on our waterproofs for the first time in five days, not bad for Sarek which has a reputation of being wet.
I was not one hundred percent sure about the planned descent into the gorge of the Ruopsokjahka, the map was not giving much away. All I knew was that it would be steep. Some Jedi map reading meant that we managed to descend into the only section that did not have cliffs or near vertical walls of vegetation. The skies opened, heavy rain making everything slippery just at the wrong moment.
We got across the river and pulled ourself up through sopping wet Dwarf willow on the other side. At the first flat bit of ground we got the tents pitched. After more than twelve hours on the go we were wet and tired. Wind whipped over our exposed spot, ragged clouds drifting not that far above us. Summer in Sarek had ended.