Posts tagged ‘backpacking’

January 31, 2015

Thundersnow and a freezing night on the Derwent Moors

by backpackingbongos

It had meant to be a sociable weekend camping on the high moors in the Peak District. However a threat of snow had folk dropping out at the last minute. My rucksack was already packed so I headed off anyway. I erred on the side of caution and took the Bongo with its 4WD, also somewhere to sleep if turned out to be snowmageddon.

The ground was decidedly snow free when I pulled the Bongo into the car park at Langsett. I was lucky to get a space as this popular spot was almost full, even on a raw winters day. The path along the north shore of the reservoir was busy and I ended up walking its length chatting to a local guy who regularly does the circuit. Although he has a health condition it has not diminished his love for his local hills and he tries to get out for a couple of hours as much as possible. We soon parted company and I continued to the west, parallel with the busy A616 and its constant growl of traffic.

A track led me south onto the moors, brown and foreboding with patches of snow remaining. The sky was grey and overcast adding to the bleakness. I passed the cabin at Upper Hordron and descended into Hordron Clough, a sheepfold providing a sheltered spot for a late lunch.

The plan had been to cross the moors to the south and head for a wild camp up on Bleaklow. Suddenly there was a rumbling noise which at first I though was a low flying aircraft, this was soon repeated much louder and I realised it was thunder. This is my biggest fear in the hills, having been caught out in exposed places in the past during some violent thunder storms. I beat a hasty retreat back down to the valley just as I was engulfed in a furious snow shower. Within minutes everything was white and the black clouds above continued to grumble their displeasure. The shower disappeared as quickly as it had arrived and I started climbing again, only to see black clouds once again gathering to the west. Sod it I thought, there was no way I was going onto the moors if there was a further risk of a thunderstorm.

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In the end I decided to pitch on a nice flat grassy patch next to the stream. It was early but I was well placed to get onto the hills the following morning, where hopefully the promised sunshine would make an appearance.

Th next heavy shower arrived as I was pitching, the wind picking up and making the task more difficult than it should have been. It was with relief that I could brush myself free of snow and climb into the Wickiup and put on a brew. It was barely past 3.00pm but I was happy to have a lazy afternoon and it was unlikely that anyone would pass me just an hour or so before sunset.

The snow continued to fall for most of the night and I had to frequently bash the sides of my shelter to encourage it to slide off. At one point I even had to go out and remove some of the snow that had accumulated around the bottom of the Wickiup. With the inner taking up the whole of the shelter and with no porch I managed to bring in snow with me. Despite the cold I was snug inside and with good mobile reception I could watch the traffic reports, the busy road not that far away closing due to the conditions.

After a long sleep I was keen to get up before dawn, the world clear, windless and frozen solid. Stars still shone in the sky and the eastern horizon had a smudge of yellow. I enjoyed the crunch of virgin snow under my boots as I wandered round with a cup of coffee in hand. It was gone 9.00am by the time the sun reached camp, only warming me psychologically, the air remaining far below freezing. It was tough going taking down the Wickiup, the snow and frost nipping at my bare fingers as I wrestled with a frozen flysheet.

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The stream was a black streak in the white snow but easily forded. I followed a faint track past some grouse butts before striking up across heather covered snow. The heather was knee-deep with a few inches of snow on top, not the easiest of walking.

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Once on the plateau the ground was wind blasted, miles of white hills ran to the horizon towards the west. If I ignored the steady drone of traffic on the Woodhead pass I could have been on a remote hilltop in the Highlands. There were even a string of wind turbines nearby to give it that Scottish authenticity.

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I wanted to pay the Crow Stones a visit, they were not very far away but I underestimated the toughness of the ground around Stainery Clough. I’m sure that the snow did not help as I attempted to cross various deep peat groughs.

The Crow stones however were worth the effort. They are located in a remote spot close to the head of the river Derwent, the huge bulk of Bleaklow beyond, Kinder Scout on the horizon. A welcome spot in which to get out of the wind and boil some water for a brew on my stove. One of the benefits of backpacking is having the kit to make a hot drink.

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Weather was building again in the west as I packed up and headed towards the trig point on Outer Edge. It overtook me as I picked a way through the rocks, snow and mist blotting out the sun.

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Visibility was seriously reduced on Outer Edge and it was a bleak crossing to get to the security of the Cut Gate path. I passed a couple of groups of runners, rather them than me with so little kit on such a day. A quick chat with a National Park Ranger on the summit of the pass before putting my head down and yomping back to the Bongo.

Luckily once down at valley level the snow had melted, no issues in getting home. A short and sweet route but it’s amazing how a few inches of snow transform the familiar into something much bigger and wilder.

December 17, 2014

A backpackers best friend – my first published article

by backpackingbongos

I am very pleased to have had an article published in a proper bona-fide outdoor magazine. It is about the pleasures of backpacking with a dog and is set in the winter hills of Mid-Wales. It’s in the Jan / Feb 2015 edition of Outdoor Enthusiast which is available to read online for free via the link below.

http://www.oe-mag.co.uk/oemag/imag/oejanuaryfebruary2015/

Reuben panniers spotting something

November 9, 2014

Backpacking the Kentmere and Longsleddale watersheds

by backpackingbongos

It was time for one of my infrequent backpacking trips to the Lake District. Time to put on my best smile and practice saying hello every ten minutes before visiting one of the busiest mountain areas of the UK.

It was late afternoon when I pulled into the small car park next to the community hall in Longsleddale, an isolated valley in the south-eastern Lakes. There was initially a bit of confusion as I could not find the pay and display machine into which to pour a weeks worth of wages. Instead there was a box asking for a donation of £2 a day to go towards the upkeep of the hall and public toilets, even I can’t find fault with that.

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Day 1 – 9 Kilometres with 350 metres ascent

It was warm for September, unpleasantly warm as I walked north along the lane with Reuben. I was actually worried that it may be a bit much for him as usually at the start of a walk he is very enthusiastic and pulling at the lead. That afternoon he was simply trotting alongside with his tongue hanging out like a half-formed slice of spam.

The plan for the day had been to climb onto Yoke and wild camp next to Rainsborrow Tarn, however my heart was not in for a big walk that afternoon. I decided that I would sit in the shade and examine the map for a camp spot that would not involve much effort to get to. It turns out that the bridleway that leads from Ullthwaite is not a good place for a sweaty backpacker and his hound to rest. The first mountain biker nearly ran over my leg whilst the second missed poor Reuben by inches, the third swept up a rock that just missed my head. At least I had got myself out of the way of the fourth and fifth. Bloody backpackers getting in the way eh?

I settled on a rare low-level wild camp, although I made sure that I was out of sight of any buildings and paths. The air was incredibly still and humid, perfect for the last few of the seasons midges. My shelter was dripping with condensation even before it got dark and it was a rather sweaty night where I had my sleeping bag unzipped. A fine misty drizzle fell after dark.

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Day 2 – 14.5 kilometres with 1040 metres ascent

It was grey, overcast and uninspiring when I woke up, even the lower fells were hidden under a thick duvet of clouds. I did my favourite backpacking thing which involves turning over and going back to sleep for a few hours. When I had eventually finished making brews, having breakfast and packing it was gone midday. Slackpacking at its finest.

I picked a totally rubbish way up Sour Howes that involved tussocks, deep rushes and bogs. Once at the top I could not decide which of the numerous lumps and bumps was the true summit. I therefore visited all of them, from each one the others looked to be higher. It was then a case of following the ridge round to Sallows which was just beginning to lose its cap of cloud. It was along the way that for the first time Reuben met another Staffy on the hill, it was having a great time bounding along with a couple of fell runners.

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The cloud suddenly dissipated on the ascent of Yoke, melting away to reveal extensive views under a soft light. The rollercoaster of a route north over Ill Bell and Froswick was a delight, only spoilt by the overly manicured path that in places is more suited to a city park.

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I was surprised to have the hills to myself, perhaps people had been put off by the low cloud. After a late start and unhurried walk I was reaping the rewards by being on the hills during the late afternoon, the sun working its way towards the horizon. The fells were taking on a purple hue, shafts of sunlight occasionally piercing the broken clouds.

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I enjoyed the high level contour round the head of Kentmere, working a way round to drop down to the Nan Bield Pass on a narrow path. Harter Fell was the last hill of the day and I fancied camping on its summit. However the wind was too strong and the ground parched, the upper reaches of the stream had dried up a long time ago.

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We descended down into Wren Gill, locating a reasonably flat spot on a spur above the watercourse. It was dark by the time I had pitched the Wickiup and collected water. The shorter days of early Autumn had nearly caught me out.

 

Day three – 17.5 kilometres with 450 metres ascent

The night was cold and clear, stars filling the sky when I poked my head out in the middle of the night. It was even colder at dawn and my shelter was dripping with condensation. I watched the shadows gradually recede and waited for the warm sun to reach us before getting out of my sleeping bag. The sky was a deep blue without a cloud to be seen.

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Being released from the confines of the shelter into warm sunshine made Reuben a very happy dog.

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It was a tiring contour around steep slopes to get to the summit of Adam Seat before descending to Gatescarth Pass. Haweswater gave a good backdrop, leading the eye out of the Lake District and towards the North Pennines.

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I originally had grand plans to go and bag Selside, a Nuttall that still eludes me. However after the short afternoon walk on the first day I was now too far behind schedule. Instead I headed south towards the car, taking in the summit of Tarn Crag with its distinctive stone pillar.

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There then followed a grand walk south over the silent and empty fells that form the eastern boundary of Longsleddale. I met one couple and saw another in the distance that hot and sunny Sunday afternoon. It felt like we were in the Howgills rather than the Lake District. The various ups and downs felt much more than the map suggested, not helped by the lack of running water. I had to drop down on one occasion to ensure that both Reuben and I remained hydrated.

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The last hill of the day was Whiteside Pike, guarded from the north by a drystone wall with no gate or stile. I eventually found a tumble-down section, probably in that state due to there being no gate or stile to help access.

The summit is marked by a tall and precarious looking cairn that is much more sturdy than it appears. It was a good spot to rest before descending back to the road and the long slog back to the car.

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October 17, 2014

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.

October 10, 2014

Into the wild – alone in Sarek and Padjelanta part four

by backpackingbongos

Day seven – 30th August 2014

Day 7

When I stuck my head out in the middle of the night the sky was bright with a million stars but sadly no Northern Lights. Although nearly September and sunset being at 9.00pm it was still not getting truly dark. Sunrise was also very early. It was weird to think that by the end of November the sun would set and not rise for a few weeks.

Words can’t properly describe the weather for that and the following day. The sky was blue, the air was crisp, visibility endless, the sun warm and the breeze was cool. It was technically my day off as I had built-in a couple of days slack into the schedule. With weather that good I decided that I would climb a big mountain.

Before setting off I had an alfresco breakfast, sitting with my top off and feeling the strong northern sun on my back was something I had not expected when visiting the Arctic.

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Daktejagasi had been reduced to a trickle of crystal clear water and I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottles. When it is hot and sunny I often dip my cap in streams to keep cool. In this instance the cold made me gasp.

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My objective for the day was the 1572 metre peak of Alatjahkka which was just beginning to peek its bald head above the intervening hills. With my 1:100,000 map giving virtually no details apart from contours I was unsure whether it would be easy to climb. This gave a feeling of uncertainty especially as there was a glacier marked on the map.

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I followed gentle contours up to the summit of an unnamed 1228 metre peak. The views as can be expected were glorious. Taking centre stage were the mountains of Sarek, rocky pyramids pointing into the clear blue sky. The intervening ground was a high plateau of lakes at around the 900 metre contour. An area perhaps worthy of leisurely exploration in the future. I tried to imagine what it would be like up there in the middle of winter in total darkness whilst Arctic storms blasted the plateaus. I could not believe my luck with the weather.

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I got my first proper look at Alatjahkka, a large dome of rock. From a distance it looked like it would be possible to climb up the middle of the glacier that was marked on the map. On the ground it appeared that the central section of the glacier had melted. I’m not sure if this is due to a general warming trend or simply due to the exceptionally dry and hot summer in Lapland this year.

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Approaching the glacial moraines I found a rare patch of grass so set about pitching my shelter. Once again it was difficult to peg properly and I even managed to damage a Tornado peg whilst bashing it in with a rock (credit to the peg as the first rock broke before it did). A couple of hefty boulders had to be deployed on a couple of the pegs. A trickle of clear water was collected from nearby so I then sat and had a hot lunch whilst pouring over the map.

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I had packed a silnylon day pack which I filled with spare clothes / torch etc and set off towards the foot of the glacier. I gave a large area of wet sand a detour as it wobbled alarmingly when I stepped on it. I had read that quicksand can often be found at the foot of glaciers. It was not a good place to get stuck!

I followed the stream that was emerging from the glacier, the water was dirty looking being full of sediment. I was glad that I was not reliant on it for my water supply.

The glacier itself was a thing of beauty and I walked right up to its edge, the ice a blue colour as it reflected the sky. There was the sound of water underneath it, cracks and fissures visible on its surface. It would have been fun to walk across but that would have been a stupid thing to do with no glacier experience and on my own.

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Instead I scrabbled up bare rock, boulders and gravel. Where I was walking should have been covered in tonnes of ice, instead it was as dry as a desert. The previous weight of the glacier has ground some rock into beautiful patterns and crushed others into dust. It was a rugged and ugly landscape.

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Once above the glacier I passed a deep blue lake, sheets of white ice still floating on its surface, a glacier running up the slopes beyond. A strange sight under the hot sun.

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The climb to the summit was steep and loose and I took my time to zig zag my way up. I found it difficult to tear my eyes away from the view.

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There was a cairn marking the summit that showed that others climb the mountain. I was absolutely elated especially as climbing a mountain was not part of my orignal plan. 1572 metres is not very tall compared to other mountain ranges but I was around two hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. The clarity of the air meant that the views were pretty much limitless. There was not a single man-made structure to be seen (apart from the cairn). Mountains spread as far as the eye could see, those to the west in Norway looked just as inviting as those in Sarek to the east.

I sat in the shelter of the cairn to have a snack and then realised that I had left my bag of food on my sleeping bag. I have to say that my stomach was a little disappointed after the physical effort of getting up there.

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I reversed my route feeling confident that it was safe as long as I took my time and was careful. Once the sun disappeared below the horizon the temperatures on the high plateau where I had camped dipped very quickly.

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Day eight – 31st August 2014

Day 8

I woke in the middle of the night for a call of nature. Sticking my head out of the Wickiup I saw a bright arc of white light in the sky above me. It was not moving and the horizon was blocked by the mountain I had climbed. It was like a sprinkling of stardust in the sky but separate from the stars themselves. A possibility that I had a brief glimpse of the Northern Lights?

It was the coldest night of the trip but not quite enough to give a frost on the shelter. I lay in my sleeping bag and waited for the sun to warm me up. It was another morning of incredible clarity in the air and after burning the day before I smothered my ears and face in factor fifty. The sun was strong enough to wander around camp barefoot and without a top and I relished another alfresco breakfast.

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The descent to the large lake called Alajavrre was easier than I had imagined and I was soon walking along its northern shore. Its waters looked very inviting for a dip and it was tempting to strip off and dive in. However a hand dipped into its crystal clear waters persuaded me otherwise. It was easy to forget I was in the Arctic.

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There is a locked Sami hut at the western end of the lake complete with a brightly painted outdoor loo which was also sadly locked. I can’t blame the owners though after witnessing the filthy habits of trekkers at other huts.

Over a small rise and an infant river was picked up. On the map it looked like it would be simple to follow its banks all the way to the huts at Aras. However there is marsh and dwarf willow marked on the map so I decided to keep to high ground. Instead I made a beeline to the small summit of Unna Liemak at 984 metres.

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I contoured its northern slopes which gave good views back to the lower slopes of the peak I had climbed the day before.

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I was now in a very different landscape from Sarek. Gone were the long dramatic valleys and soaring peaks. Instead I was in a land of rolling hills, lakes and high plateaus. Reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands I felt much more at home.

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With the weather remaining so good I decided to have one more high camp before joining the Padjelanta trail. I therefore decided to climb Stour Djidder and camp near its summit.

One thing you do not expect in Lapland is for streams to be dried up. It ended up taking ages to find a spot that was flat and dry with no tough vegetation and close to running water. Being above the massive lake of Virihaure it felt like I was wild camping on the west coast of Scotland. The similarity from my camp spot was striking.

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The sunset that evening was spectacular. Sadly it was the last one of the trip. The weather was about to take a turn for the worse.

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