Posts tagged ‘Arctic’

September 26, 2018

Under the Northern Lights

by backpackingbongos

The previous week had been frustrating. I was 430 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and the Aurora forecast had been good. Whilst deep in the wilderness of Varangerhalvøya National Park and miles from any light pollution, cloud had stubbornly blanketed the night sky. I went to bed most nights with the sound of rain on my tent rather than gazing with wonder at the sky.

The Aurora forecast continued to be good whilst I took a backpacking break in a cottage 50 metres from the shores of the Arctic ocean. As the sun set the sky began to clear to the east, and as the first stars started to appear I went into the garden and looked up. The sky was not yet fully dark but I noticed a faint shimmer which intensified and then vanished before reappearing. East is not the best direction to look but the northern skyline was enveloped in cloud. To see the lights dance across the calm sea with Russia in the distance was magical. Sadly the cloud quickly filled the sky once more and I went back inside feeling disappointed at such a brief glimpse.

Later that evening I wrapped up warm and headed out onto the Arctic tundra behind the cottage in an effort to escape the light pollution from the surrounding street lights. The lights from the small hamlet were soon behind me but I was aware of the glow from the town of Vadsø to the south.

As my eyes adjusted I could make out a band of clear sky above the northern horizon. Initially it looked like a series of laser beams were being projected up into the clouds. These broke up and a band of light shifted across the horizon, the colour of the Aurora battling with the orange of light pollution from the nearby town. The evening flight to Vadsø came into land at the nearby airport, they must have had one amazing show above the clouds.

The Aurora was not constant in the sky, it would briefly intensify before fading to nothing. Twice I started to walk back to the cottage but would be stopped in my tracks as the search lights from below the horizon built up and released a curtain of light. It was evident that the lights were dazzling right about my head as the clouds filled with colour. It’s just a shame that the weather prevented them shining to their true potential.

September 6, 2015

Mountains, Marshes and Mosquitoes – Arctic Sarek 2015 (part 2)

by backpackingbongos

You can read part one here.

Day 2 – 23rd August

scan0031a (1)

We were late setting off walking, the travelling from the previous couple of days having taken its toll. Thankfully we found out that the mosquitoes were even more reluctant than us to get up in the mornings. There was always less of them first thing, although the midges were often keen to compete.

The one added bonus of our established campsite was a surprisingly clean privy, essential due to the volume of traffic the Kungsleden gets. I’m always happy for an extra bit of comfort when out in the hills.

Leaving the campsite the Kungsleden goes through another open area giving good views north to the Sarek mountains. I began looking out for a path on my left that would lead to Boarek (Parek). I did not want to miss it and spend the rest of the day crashing through deep bog and vegetation. I needn’t have worried as it was clearly signposted.



At the junction of paths we came across a very heavily laden German hiker for the first time. We were to cross paths several times through the day during rest and lunch breaks. The first two times that we met the conversation was awkward and very stilted. For some reason it was really hard to communicate. It finally transpired that he thought that Chrissie and I were Swedish and he was doing his best to communicate with us in what he thought was our native tongue. We also thought that he was Swedish. There was even a brilliant moment when he was trying to learn from me the correct Swedish pronunciation of places on the map. I thought that he was trying to teach me! It turned out his English was absolutely perfect.

The path during the day was well-defined, I’m thankful that it was as it passed through thick forest, boulder fields, moorland and bog. The wettest areas were crossed by duckboard, a narrow strip of wood stretching into the distance.





The path is marked on the map as running close to the lake Stuor Dahta, a section that I was looking forward to. On the ground it actually climbed a distance from it, obviously taking an easier line. I have to say that with the heat and humidity I was glad of an easy route through the forest.

The mosquitoes were in good health due to the heat of the day. It was a bad move wearing a black merino baselayer. They seem especially attracted to black and the open weave is perfect to bite through to get a good meal of my blood. This section was also popular with some very large horseflies that would doggedly follow us for miles. Occasionally we would manage to persuade them to bother the other person. They were so big that they sounded like bumble bees when they were flying.


The route finally came out on a plateau at around the 700 metre contour. It is a beautiful place, mostly free from the densely packed birch trees that you get at lower altitudes. It is dotted with numerous lakes and large areas of marsh which were just beginning to take on an autumnal hue. The mountains of southern Sarek blocked the way ahead, rising to 2000 metres. The following day we would be crossing their shoulders, topping out at 1200 metres. I was looking forward to gaining more height to hopefully escape the heat and biting insects.




We had planned to pass the Sami settlement of Parek and climb above the treeline to find a camp on the slope of the mountains. However we were struggling in the heat and decided that we would stop short and pitch next to a crystal clear lake, the mountains reflected in its surface.

The ground was less than ideal, both lumpy and rocky, but we both eventually found a spot each on which to pitch our Enans. Chrissie was close to the lake, whilst I found a spot slightly higher and with just a hint of a breeze. I was literally melting, my top crusted white with all the salt that I had sweated out. I therefore asked Chrissie to avert her gaze whilst I went skinny dipping in the lake. I managed to get my shoulders under the water and then immediately dashed out. As fitting of the Arctic the water was very cold.

Being pitched by 4pm we had plenty of time to enjoy our campsite. The whole experience however was marred somewhat by mosquitoes aiming for any exposed bit of skin. Although baking hot I once again had to resort to my windproof and head net.

I was urging the sun to hurry up and drop below the horizon so that it would become cool enough to get inside the sanctuary of my tent. Chrissie ended up deciding that it would be preferable to cook inside hers rather than being eaten. The sunset when it finally came was rather lovely.



It was another night where I did not need any clothing other than the clean baselayer that I carry to sleep in. For the first few hours I lay half out of my sleeping bag, the outer door of the tent open to let some air in. I lay in bed watching the mosquitoes frantically trying to get to me through the mesh of the inner.



September 4, 2015

Mountains, Marshes and Mosquitoes – Arctic Sarek 2015 (part 1)

by backpackingbongos

Day 0 – 21st August

I couldn’t fully relax until our luggage emerged on the carrousel at Luleå airport. Being on a tight schedule we couldn’t afford for it to go missing. Luleå is the capital of Norrbotten County, the northernmost county in Sweden and our jumping off point for Sarek National Park.

The passengers on the fully booked flight from Stockholm soon went their various ways in cars and taxis, leaving Chrissie and myself waiting half an hour for the airport bus. It was after 9pm and the sun had just set, however the sky would remain light for another couple of hours. The bus itself is a bargain for Sweden at around £1.50 for the thirty minute ride into town.

At 10pm on a Friday night Luleå is about as far removed as it is possible to be from the UK. The streets were eerily quite and lacking gangs of identically dressed young men going through mating rituals or out looking for a fight.

The Comfort Hotel Arctic is handily placed opposite the train station and booked in advance was a bargain at £49 for a single room each. We went to our separate rooms where I spent an hour repacking my rucksack, double checking that I had everything I needed. I have to admit that I find the whole packing process a little stressful, my main fear being of leaving something important behind. I spent a restless night worrying about the logistics of purchasing gas and getting to the trailhead the following day.


Day 1 – 22nd August

It was a beautifully crisp morning, banks of fog drifting under a crystal clear blue sky. The breakfast at the hotel was typically Swedish. Freshly baked bread, cheese, cold cuts, eggs, salad and various jars of herring. Plenty of strong coffee on tap.

The first job of the day was to find the supermarket and buy a few provisions for lunch. At 9am on a Saturday morning the city centre was even more deserted than the night before. It looked like the human race had vanished, soon after giving the place a good clean. Luleå is spotless, even the windows were gleaming under the late summer sun.

A Swedish supermarket is always worth a baffling browse, I am always amazed at the sheer number of products that come in large squeezy tubes. Thankfully bread, cheese and biscuits are easily recognisable.

The main thing that I had been worrying about before leaving home was the purchasing of gas for our stoves. I had emailed the Luleå Naturkompaniet store six months before, asking if it would be possible to purchase gas in advance and have it delivered to our hotel a short walk away. This was agreed and the hotel said that they would keep it at the reception for us. This would have enabled us to catch the 08.30 train, connecting with a bus to get us to the trailhead in time to get a few kilometres under our belt that day. When I emailed two weeks before the trip I just hit a wall of silence from the store, whilst their head office said that it would not be possible. This sadly meant that we had to catch the 10.47 train instead, the connecting bus not being scheduled to arrive until nearly 17.00.

I was therefore waiting outside the outdoor shop when it opened at 10.00 and was pleased to see a large pile of Primus gas canisters near the till. Chrissie had been left with our packs at the station and I got back to our platform with plenty of time to spare.

We caught a train that was travelling all the way to Narvik in Norway, our station being in the small village of Murjek a couple of hours away from Luleå. The train was initially virtually empty until we reached Boden where it filled to bursting point with hikers and their huge rucksacks. It must have been one of the highest concentration of backpackers in the world! I began to worry that they would all be getting off at Murjek and the bus would not be able to fit everyone on. As it turned out only a handful got off with us, everyone else must have been heading to Abisko and the northern terminus of the Kungsleden trail.

The Murjek to Kvikkjokk bus must be one of the slowest and most leisurely in the world. It only travels about 160 kilometres yet takes nearly four hours. The scenery gets progressively more spectacular the nearer you get to Kvikkjokk, the last part being along a series of huge lakes with a backdrop of mountains. It’s just a shame that it does not stop at the large sign showing that you are crossing the Arctic Circle.

We finally arrived at the church in Kvikkjokk, a short distance from the STF hostel where we had arranged to leave a bag so as to lighten our loads. It was 17.00 yet still baking hot, the sun hammering down from one of the deepest blue skies that I have seen. This meant that clouds of mosquitoes were buzzing and biting due to my failure to bring along any repellant. They should have died off at this time of year. Sadly the hostels tiny little shop had sold out (along with gas canisters so I was glad we had not relied on them to get any) so I spent the rest of the week begging the odd spray from Chrissie.

It was with a bit of excitement that we finally shouldered our packs and headed north under the large Kungsleden sign.

scan0032a (1)

Even though the shadows were lengthening it was hot and humid in the forest, especially felt on the long and steady climb. The trees mean that the view is restricted, but the forest itself is beautiful, a mix of pine and birch with the ground being covered in bilberry, juniper and dwarf willow.

The path alternated between wide and rocky with numerous tree roots to navigate, to marsh with long sections of duckboards to protect the fragile ground.




Finally we came to a clearing and voices indicated the first suitable area to camp since leaving Kvikkjokk. Places to pitch a tent can be few and far between in the forests, the ground being a thick tangle of vegetation or bog. Sadly there are not many nice grassy meadows.

The clearing was full of long shadows and early autumn colours under the setting sun, clouds of mosquitoes hanging in the air.



Between the two bridges marked on the map there are a few places suitable for pitching a tent. The popularity of the Kungsleden means that you have to pitch on bare earth, areas with vegetation left being far too stony. I was glad that I had brought a tyvek groundsheet to keep my tent floor clean.

It remained very warm all evening and I ended up sitting cooking outdoors with my windproof on to stop the mosquitoes biting through my merino base layer. I had to resort to a head net at one point, the buzzing and biting getting too much.

We both felt a bit daft sitting there fully protected against the insects when a giant of a man passed dressed in only shorts and t-shirt. Five minutes later he came back carrying a large tree under one arm. He said something that translated roughly as, “Me man, me make fire”. I had visions of him snapping the tree into logs over his knee.

As soon as the temperature became bearable we escaped the insects for the sanctuary of our tents. It was far too warm so late in the evening, especially considering that we were in the Arctic. It would be days before I wore more than a baselayer, even at night.


There was a fair bit of nocturnal rodent rustling in the night, the patter of little feet on the tyvek groundsheet in the porch. Luckily nothing was eaten or chewed. I fell asleep with the thought in my head that the trip would start properly the following morning. We would leave the busy Kungsleden and cross the boundary into Sarek.

August 31, 2015

The Arctic dwarf willow appreciation society

by backpackingbongos

You can never really fully appreciate dwarf willow until you have tried to force a path through it on a hot day with clouds of mosquitoes and horse flies biting. The first two thirds of our Sarek trip was dominated by an unrelenting sun, powerful through the crystal clear Arctic air. The mosquitoes should have died off at this time of year but the heat had given them a second chance. They were very hungry!

When the rain came it came with a vengeance and we were faced with flooded paths and rivers. On the final night rodents ate our tents.

Sarek can bite but it provides plenty of rewards to those willing to tough it out. The scenery is out of this world and the sense of remoteness is hard to beat in Europe.

I’ll do some trip reports over the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime here are a few photos giving a flavour of the place.










Tags: , ,
August 17, 2015

Off to Arctic Sarek

by backpackingbongos

On Saturday afternoon a bus will deposit Chrissie and myself at the end of the road at Kvikkjokk, above the Arctic Circle. From there we will head into the wilds of Sarek for a week, exploring some of its hidden valleys and exposed plateaus. I went to Sarek last year on a longer trek, visiting some of the more popular through routes. This trip is shorter but potentially more committing, a bit more off the beaten track and climbing to 1200 metres. The planned route is 94 kilometres. There is no plan B.

I have spent the last couple of weeks tracing our route on Google Earth, from which you can pull photographs that have been submitted. The photos below are bang on our route, in chronological order. Just looking at them is giving me butterflies, both of nerves and excitement.

Please note that these photos are not mine but taken from Google Earth, clicking them links through to the original page.





















Tags: , ,