Posts tagged ‘Lapland’

September 13, 2014

Into the wild – alone in Sarek and Padjelanta part one

by backpackingbongos

Prologue

For me wild land and wilderness is like a drug. Once I have a taste I want more, what previously satisfied me no longer has an effect and I want to move onto harder and harder stuff. It started off with Kinder Scout but I quickly found that I needed to visit Wales and the Lakes to get satisfaction. They would soon no longer give me the same effect so I endured longer and longer journeys to get to the Highlands of Scotland. Mountains do not automatically qualify as wild so I was soon seeking out the fringes; remote uninhabited coastlines and Islands. All very good but they still don’t qualify as bona fide wilderness. I then heard about Sarek and started doing research on the internet. I found myself being sucked in by the ‘Last Wilderness in Europe’ moniker. I had to go and travel north of the Arctic Circle to have a look for myself.

Travel

After two flights and a night in an airport hotel in Stockholm I found myself exiting the airport at Luleå, the capital of Norrbotten county. Swedish efficiency had meant leaving the aircraft, picking up my luggage and stepping onboard the airport bus all in the space of ten minutes. I’m not a city person so this part of the trip had left me feeling the most nervous before setting off. I had to get off in the centre of town, find an outdoor shop, purchase gas and some lunch, get to the railway station, buy a ticket and get the train to Gällivare. The reality could not have been any simpler. The exceptionally helpful bus driver told me when to get off the bus and where to find the outdoor shop. For anyone visiting Luleå I went into the well stocked Naturkompaniet where I marvelled at the high price of Outdoor gear in Sweden. The shop was a Hilleberg and Fjällräven fetishists dream! With gas successfully purchased and after a trip to the supermarket to get some bread and cheese, I found the railway station where I settled down for a couple of hours to wait for my train. My worry that the connection from plane to train was too tight was unfounded, Luleå is nice and compact and easy to walk around. It’s worth noting that neither the bus or the unmanned train station take cash for tickets, annoying when I was carrying enough Swedish Krona for the whole trip.

Norrtag run a couple of trains a day between Luleå and Kiruna, stopping off at Gällivare along the way. The large, clean and empty train was a dream for someone used to the often dirty and cramped services in the UK. It whisked me silently north across the Arctic Circle through a landscape dominated by trees. The view for two and a half hours was a wall of pine and birch.

The helpful tourist information centre at the railway station at Gällivare pointed me in the direction of my booked accommodation. Being on the outskirts of town I had worried that it would be a long walk. Gällivare however is compact and it only took ten minutes to reach. If you find yourself spending a night there I cannot rate Gällivare Bed and Breakfast enough. Single occupancy of a room came in at 440 SEK which is around £40. There is a kitchen to use to self cater and the price includes breakfast. The owner Marita is super friendly and let me store a bag whilst I went off into Sarek. She even washed the clothes I travelled in so I would be sweet-smelling on the way home. Gällivare town centre on a Saturday night was like the set of a very tidy post apocalyptic movie. A town with hardly anyone on the streets is rather unsettling and the thought of winters there when it is dark for weeks on end made me feel rather depressed.

Länstrafiken Norrbotten is the main bus company in the north and I caught the number 93 to Ritsem, a three hour journey. It took half of that time to get over the shock of paying 347 SEK (£32) for the privilege. The journey itself is spectacular once the bus turns off the main road, travelling alongside a series of lakes with huge mountains rising beyond. The driver gave bits of commentary pointing out the mountains of Sarek in a confusing mix of Swedish and English.

Ritsem has a bleak frontier feel to it even on a warm sunny day with light bouncing off the huge lake of Akkajaure. It is basically a scruffy caravan park, a scattered STF hostel and a large car park. A functional staging point for Sarek, Padjelanta and Stora Sjöfallet National Parks. A boat takes passengers across Akkajaure to the pier at either Anonjalmme (45 mins) or Vaisaluokta (65 mins). With the Ritsem pier being a good ten minutes walk away the bus driver offered to take people down on his return trip to Gällivare. This gave me ample time to enjoy a freshly smoked Arctic Char and Sami flat bread. A very enjoyable lunch.

Day 1 – 24th August 2014

Day 1

As the boat was being prepared there was a loud splash in the water. A panicked German man quickly scrambled off of the pier to try to retrieve the detached pockets of his pack which were now floating in the lake. He had managed to knock them into the water whilst busy taking photos. Luckily after they initially started to float off towards Sarek the breeze pushed them back to shore.

It was an enjoyable crossing in the worlds slowest boat, the huge bulk of Ahkka dominating the view to the south. It cost a hefty 250 SEK (£23) for just a few short kilometres. At least my wallet was to remain firmly closed for the next eleven days. There was nothing available to buy even if I had wanted to.

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After everyone had got off the boat I waited at the shore for them to sort their packs and then start the climb towards Akka. I wanted to sit in the sun for a while and get my head around what I was about to do. To travel all that way and then disappear into the wilds was a big thing for me. It was well past 3.00pm by the time I hoisted my pack onto my back and set off south along the Padjelantaleden.

Within about half an hour I was cursing my rucksack, heavy at 25 kilos with eleven days food packed inside. Luckily my plan was to take it easy over the next three and a half days, travelling about fifty kilometres in that time. By then I would be fitter and my pack lighter.

The trail that day was easy, a succession of duck boards over the damp sections giving swift walking. It led through birch forest, leaves just beginning to turn golden with autumn coming. The splendid peak of Ahkka which rises to 2015 metres dominates this section, glaciers filling the gaps between its jagged peaks.

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The river Vuojatadno could be heard long before I caught sight of it. Even in dry conditions it is a mighty foaming beast, draining a series of lakes in Padjelanta National park. I walked across the bouncing suspension bridge, butterflies in my stomach as I stood in the middle and watched the angry water below me.

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On high ground above the river I made a phone call to my wife, Ritsem was still visible on the other side of the lake and the signal was good. I then turned my back on civilisation and continued along the trail.

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For a while the Padjelantaleden left the cover of the birch woods and I frequently found myself stopping and looking at Ahkka. I tried to imagine what the view would be like from the top. It would be great one day to return and stand on its summit. It all looks pretty daunting on the map though.

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I was getting tired and suitable pitches were not forthcoming. Even with all that space pitching a tent in the far north can be surprisingly difficult, especially at lower altitudes where various tough vegetation dominates. I would often wish for the lush grassy pitches of home. In the end I made do with a well used spot complete with picnic benches and a toilet. I’m never keen on pitching on compacted bare earth and it did not have the feeling of being in the wilds. However it was flat with water running nearby. I chatted to a young English lad for a while who had walked the Padjelantaleden from the south in four days. With a can of beer and a fag on the go he was disappointed that the toilet did not have any loo roll. I suppose we all prioritise what is important to us when packing.

Keen to spend my first evening enjoying a bit of solitude I went and sat by the stream to cook dinner, resorting to wearing a windproof to stop the mosquitos biting. It was the only night where I used a bug nest inside my shelter. Later tucked up in my sleeping bag it was a cool and still night, the quiet occasionally punctuated by the howls and shouts of a large group of youngsters camped somewhere in the woods.

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Day 2 – 25th August 2014

Day 2

A cool still night in woodland next to a stream led to copious condensation. I had planned a very easy day, just a few kilometres into Sarek itself. Therefore I was happy to lie in my sleeping bag until mid morning and wait for the sun to dry everything off. The past three days of travelling had really tired me out and it was good to stop moving for a while.

The trail to the bridge over the Sjnjuvtjudisjahka is once again easy, although it feels like there are more ups and downs than the map shows. With a heavy pack I continued to take my time, I did not want to get an injury at this early stage.

It was whilst sitting having a rest that I learned to never judge a book by a cover. A large figure with an even larger rucksack bumbled into view clutching a two litre coke bottle full of water. He was perspiring heavily and appeared to be struggling, I thought to myself that he is not going to get very far before having to return to the ferry. However after speaking to him I discovered he had walked all the way from Narvik in Norway and was continuing south on the Nordkalotteden trail. Expensive, modern kit does not make a backpacker, grit and determination does.

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The bridge over the Sjnjuvtjudisjahka marked my entry into Sarek and the surrounding area was probably the busiest spot of my entire trip. There were many folk going to and from the nearby STF hut at Kisuris. I looked for the boards that mark the coming together of Sarek, Padjelanta and Stora Sjofallets National Parks. Somehow I failed to find them, perhaps they were across the smaller bridge over Sjpietjavjahka.

After a short break I hoisted on my pack, turned my back on the crowds and headed into the wilds of Sarek.

I completely cocked up the first few hundred metres. I got drawn into following a path alongside the Sjpietjavjahka which was nice and easy until it disappeared into a tangle of vegetation and boulders. The contours on my map are at twenty metre intervals which failed to show that I should have been on the bank high above to my left. A loose scramble up the steep slope soon had me back on track and I watched a couple below also make the same mistake.

Once I was on the path it was very easy to follow across an open landscape dotted with a few trees on a wide strip of land between two rivers. This became ever wider as the rivers went their separate ways and I continued above the Sjnjuvtjudisjahka.

It was only 3.00pm when I spotted an idyllic flat grassy spot above the river. My schedule still gave me two full days to reach the centre of the park at Mihka so why not get my shelter up, relax and enjoy the glorious surroundings? That is what I did and I enjoyed a fine afternoon reading and generally being a backpacking slob.

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As afternoon slipped into evening I was treated to a magical sunset that highlighted the first hints of Autumn showing in the trees and vegetation. With a mug of coffee in my hand I sat for an hour above camp and watched the surrounding hills light up. I was finally in Sarek and there was nowhere else I would rather be.

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September 7, 2014

Back from Sarek – a few photos

by backpackingbongos

There is the temptation to write a long list of superlatives to describe my trek through Sarek and Padjelanta National Parks. Eleven days on my own where I only saw a handful of people, mostly from a distance. It was truly humbling to be able to pass through such a vast landscape. I have never felt so committed as when I reached the mid-point, escape was several days walk in any direction. Twinges of anxiety were a constant companion and I felt alone but never lonely. It was an experience that I will never forget.

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September 27, 2012

Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt4

by backpackingbongos

Day 7 – 13 kilometres

Dawn and the man with the worlds most annoying voice was up early.  Much of the surrounding campsite was stirring, probably getting ready to climb Kebnekaise.  This is the highest mountain in Sweden and the main objective of many of those that visit the mountain station.  After walking for one hundred kilometres I have to admit that I was really not that fussed, preferring to have a lie-in and a lazy day.

It was a cold morning and I stayed in my sleeping bag until the sun finally warmed my tent.  With most of my neighbours gone it was a nice quiet spot and I sat outside for a while, drinking coffee and eating my usual camping breakfast of noodles.

The peace was soon shattered by a relay of helicopters coming in to land.  It turns out that many people do not walk the nineteen kilometres to the mountain station, instead taking a short flight.  The helicopter is remarkably cheap at £50, especially if you compare it with what I had paid to shower and use the toilet!

I could not wait to leave and get back on the trail, the hustle and bustle around the buildings too much.  I found the place to be a bit of an intrusion in what otherwise would be a wilderness area.  I shouldered my pack and set off back into the woods.

Initially the birch woods were sparse, giving uninterrupted views back towards Duolbagorni, the main bulk of Kebnekaise hidden by the lower peaks.  A very impressive backdrop of mountains that would remain with me for the rest of the day.

With a small drop in elevation the birch forest quickly established itself, becoming taller, the undergrowth thicker.  I was once again back walking on wooden boards, they were doing a good job at preventing damage from the many passing feet.  I have to admit that I soon grew to dislike the birch forest with its restricted views.  I had got used to the high open country, a sense of space and freedom.  In the woods I felt a little enclosed, hemmed in, only able to move forwards or backwards, sideways movement restricted by thick vegetation.

However there were still frequent open areas amongst the birch trees, small rises that gave views back towards that awe-inspiring skyline.

The day turned out to be hot, the enclosed valley sheltering me from what would have been a welcome breeze.  With the warmth and lack of breeze the mosquitoes came out in force.  They fed on my discomfort.

Sitting at home typing this I would love to return and walk that section through the forest again.  However at the time I felt that the best of the trek was over and I was looking forward to the end.  I failed to savour it, instead beginning to think about the long journey home.  This is common with me on any long trip, towards the end I lose the rhythm I have developed, no longer that feeling of just living in the present.  The worries and anxieties of modern day living start to creep back in.

I passed the landing stage for the ferry that serves Laddjujavri lake, an opportunity to cut off a few kilometres on the walk out to Nikkaluokta.  It was tempting as I am sure that the views from the small boat would have been spectacular.  However after walking this far it would feel like cheating to me, I wanted to complete the journey on foot.

My ‘proper’ leather boots had served me well on most of the trip, providing warmth and support during the previous few days.  However in the heat on a firm forest path my feet were suffering, cooking in what felt like leather coffins.  It was bliss to find an open spot with a cooling breeze to sit barefoot for a while.  I wished I had my trail shoes for the next few kilometers, the open mesh would have been a welcome relief, along with the spring they would have put in my step.  However they would not have suited much of my trip.  Kit selection is all about compromise.

I had rough plans to end the day next to a river a few kilometres from the end of the trail at Nikkaluokta.  However I soon passed a sign saying that there was camping available for 80 SEK (£8).  The campsite was situated spectacularly next to the lake and a cafe, the name of which caught my eye.

I am happy to give my money to a business that manages to subvert the name of a pretty unpleasant multi national company.  I passed on having a reindeer burger, settling for a real coffee which was appreciated after a few days on the trail.

The campsite was deserted and I picked a spectacular spot next to the lake to pitch the Scarp1.  There was a strong wind blowing which was a bit of a nuisance, but it did a great job at keeping biting insects at bay.  I spent a pleasant evening in my tent enjoying the warmth of the sun out of the wind.  I expected that the campsite would fill up but I ended up being the only person there that night.  I frequently got up to walk the short distance to a stony beach.  I found myself just standing there at the water’s edge, hands in pockets staring at the view.  The horizon was crammed with by now familiar peaks, my mind filled with spectacular images from the past week.  It was a great place to spend my last night outside before returning back to civilisation.

Day 8 – 6 kilometres

The wind dropped in the night but it was unfortunately replaced by the gentle pitter patter of rain.  I had a bus to catch just after midday and it was very important that I did not miss it.  Therefore I was up and packed away by 8.30am which is pretty good going for me.  The mosquitos that morning had been joined by a few midges and some small biting flies that were particularly persistent and annoying.  As there was no one around to witness it I managed to do the Scottish midge dance whilst taking the tent down.

It was then back into the birch forest which felt rather humid in the damp and still conditions.

Stopping for a break after an hour I was soon caught up by several groups who must have got the first ferry of the morning.  The earlier drizzle had been replaced by a cold rain as I eventually reached the end of the trail at Nikkaluokta.  A passing couple offered to take my photograph.

After days of spectacular walking Nikkaluokta was a bit of an anti-climax, although I am not really sure what I was expecting.  It certainly is not a destination in itself.  It basically consists of a restaurant, a service building for campers and a large car park.  I timed my arrival just as a tour bus was disgorging its passengers into the restaurant.  I did not fancy hauling my carcass in there to join them.  I walked to a shelter and sat down to prepare for a two hour wait for the bus, reading my kindle to pass the time.  The weather began to close in even more, the rain falling heavier and the temperature dropping.  The surrounding hills eventually disappeared in the murk.

A small crowd had gathered by the time the bus came, whisking us through the forests of Lapland to the town of Kiruna.  I had pre-booked a hotel a couple of months previously, securing a reasonable deal.  I was glad to get into the warmth of my room, shower and put on the clean clothes I had saved for travelling.

The following morning as I got a taxi to the airport the temperature had fallen to 1.5 celcius.  Flakes of snow were falling amongst the heavy rain which had continued unabated through the night.  Weather wise I had timed my trek perfectly.

September 18, 2012

Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt3

by backpackingbongos

Day 5 – 16 kilometres

As I lay snug in a cocoon of down I noticed that the sound of the rain hitting the flysheet had changed.  The rain was somehow more solid and there was a distinct sliding sound.  I unzipped my tent and stuck my head outside to be greeted by wet snow falling, curtains of white drifting across the valley.  It was rather uninviting out there, the snow too wet to settle, my surroundings a cold soggy mess.  I went back to sleep.

An hour or so later the snow stopped and I forced myself out of my warm sleeping bag to face the chilly damp air.  I sat for a while in my tent drinking coffee and eating bacon noodles, waiting for some enthusiasm to appear.  I did not relish packing up and walking into the mist.

My hands went numb as I took down the Scarp1, the wet material making it difficult to wrestle into its stuff sack.  I cursed when I realised that I had packed my gloves along with my dry clothes at the bottom of my rucksack.  It was my fifth day on the trail without resupply so my pack weight had greatly reduced.  This was appreciated when I set off up the hill, the river tumbling away to my left.

The surrounding peaks were firmly hidden under a thick blanket of cloud, mirroring the greys of the rocks below.  The Jagged peak of Nallu had disappeared, a feint outline of its grandeur was all that remained.  I wondered if the German lads would manage to get to its summit later in the day.

I noticed that the cloud base was just skimming above the valley that I would be climbing into.  Using a map with a scale of 1:100,000 I was worried about having to navigate in the mist.  I made a mental note that the river should remain on my left until I got to the lake and then I would cross it.  Climbing higher the terrain got rockier and the path less well-defined, although well placed cairns kept me on track.

My heart skipped when I noticed movement on the hillside.  I was excited to see a small herd of reindeer grazing, amazingly well camouflaged against the browns and greys of the mountainside.  So far on the trip I had been rather disappointed with their general absence.  Maybe it is rather childish but in my head they really scream out ‘Lapland’ to me.  I tried to creep a bit closer to get a good photo of them, unfortunately this immediately resulted in them legging it as fast as they could.

The encounter had really made my day, apart from a squirrel they were the first bit of wildlife that I had spotted on the trek.  With a bit of a spring in my step I continued to the head of the lake.  I stood for a while and admired the sullen atmosphere of the place, swirling clouds teasing me with glimpses of the mountains above.  Atmospheric it most certainly was but I have to admit I was bitterly disappointed with the lack of views.  I had been looking forward to a day surrounded by huge peaks and tumbling glaciers.  I was now at the highest part of the trek at 1056 metres on the shores of Reaiddajavri.

Walking along the shore there was a final tiny cairn and then the path disappeared.  I continued for a few hundred metres trying to relocate it but to no avail.  I finally got the map out to check if I was too close to the shore line.  It turned out that I was completely on the wrong side of the lake.  I had stupidly forgotten to cross the river as mentioned earlier.  It was a bit of a dilemma, should I turn around and backtrack or continue ahead and hope for the best?  I continued ahead.

It turned out to be a bit of a boggy morass, the ground covered in standing water.  A roar of a stream up ahead made me a little nervous as according to the map I would have to cross it at the end of the lake.  Thankfully the stream and the lake were separated by an area of high rocky ground, a slight inaccuracy on the map.  A couple of hundred metres of walking across slippery boulders got me back on track and I located the trail.

I crossed a fantastic moonscape of grey rock, the going slow to avoid twisting an ankle.  An unforgiving and bleak landscape, slowly revealing itself from the banks of cloud.

The terrain soon turned grassier, a noisy river cutting through the landscape reinforcing the fact that I was actually now going downhill.  Such is the scale of the place it still felt that I was on a vast open plateau.

The weather was quickly turning for the better, jagged peaks including Nallu finally revealing themselves.  A boulder next to a side stream provided somewhere to sit whilst I made a brew and cooked couscous for lunch.  Although getting brighter there was still a chill in the air and I pulled on a synthetic hooded jacket over my waterproof.  I sat filling my belly with warmth and watched the landscape shift and change in front of my eyes.  Magical.

After the hard rocks under foot it was good to walk across soft yielding grass and my pace quickened accordingly.  Once again the landscape was changing and I felt that I was finally leaving the jagged spires of Lord of the Rings country.  The soft sweeping curved forms appearing in front of me had the character of parts of the Scottish Highlands.  Three days previous I had felt that I was walking through the Cairngorms on Steroids, here I could have been in a beefed up Northern Highlands.  The peaks were speckled in white, not glaciers but patches of snow that had remained right until the end of the summer.

My planned destination for the day came into view, the scattered huts of STF Salka completely dwarfed by towering peaks.

On the descent to the huts I stopped and chatted to a Finnish man heading the way I had come.  He was carrying the biggest pack that I have ever seen, it must have towered a metre above his head.  I could not resist making a comment about it and he proudly told me that it had weighed twenty seven kilos when he had set off.  I hope that he had a couple of weeks food otherwise I can’t for the life of me imagine what he was carrying!

I had planned to stay the night at the Salka huts, either camping outside or getting a bed for the night.  However it was much too early and my antisocial tendencies were beginning to kick in once again.  I have to say that the thought of a sauna in the evening was rather tempting though.  I left my pack outside the wardens hut and went inside to pick up a few supplies from the small shop.  The warden was exceptionally helpful and friendly and welcomed me with a glass of juice.  I brought a couple of packs of noodles and biscuits, the cost of which reflected both Sweden and the fact I was a major yomp away from the nearest road.  The area around the group of huts was a hive of activity, people arriving after a day in the hills.  In UK bothies there are often comments left in the bothy book about the Swedish netball team paying a visit, relying on the stereotype about beautiful Swedish women.  My short time at Salka hut simply reinforced that stereotype.

The warden let me deposit my rubbish before setting off, an effective system as I had not spotted a single piece of litter during the whole of the five days.  I had enquired about good places to camp further down the valley, aware that the vegetation at the lower altitude had become much more shrub like.  I therefore set off with purpose, keen to bag a spot she had told me about.

I was back on the Kungsleden again, the trail wide and easy to follow.  It was still fantastically scenic walking even though it was much busier than the previous days.  I stopped to look back at the view, mountains rising above a wide river valley.  What struck me was the similarity of these mountains to Glencoe’s three sisters.  All that was lacking was a piper playing in a litter strewn layby.

I never am sure of the etiquette when someone stops you and starts speaking in a language you don’t understand.  Is it polite to interrupt and say so or do you wait until they have finished?  A couple were trying to work out the name of one of the impressive mountains, quickly switching to English after noticing the look of bewilderment on my face.

A slow steady climb took me away from the river, curtains of rain once again gently sweeping across the hills from which I had walked.  I had been lucky to escape the rain for much of the day.

The promised campsite soon materialised, an oasis of proper grass amongst the prickly shrubs.  I quickly got the Scarp1 up, getting inside just as a shower started.  The shower soon passed and I got out in search of water.  I walked down to a nearby thundering side stream and noticed that the water had a strange blue / grey tinge to it.  I could remember reading that water from a glacier can make you sick due to the sediments, so I decided to pass.  In the end I found a trickle a couple of metres from the tent, somehow I had missed it earlier.

I spent another magical evening and night wild camping, the play of light on the surrounding hills keeping my attention until it was time to sleep.  The evening temperature was cold, thankfully keeping the mosquitos as bay.

Day 6 – 20 kilometres

The temperature had dropped close to freezing in the night and I was glad that I had brought my winter bag.  I was up and away early as I had decided that I wanted to get to the Kebnekaise mountain station by the end of the day.  I was pretty keen on having a shower!

Within a few minutes walk I passed the unmanned hut at Kuoperjakka, with a couple of tents pitched outside.  I looked through the window but it looked pretty grubby and uninviting, although I imagine I would have a different opinion in bad weather.  It even came complete with an outside privy.

Once again showers were tracking their way down the valley, but through luck I managed to avoid them.

All along the Kungsleden there are poles with a red cross on the top, markers for the winter route.  I think that the sign below is clear in its message.

I soon left the Kungsleden once more to climb the shoulder of a hill on a popular shortcut towards Kebnekaise.  A final opportunity to look back the length of the immense valley I had walked through.

The path climbed steadily to a lake simply identified as 980 on the map, indicating its altitude.  It was a busy spot, groups enjoying the sun, Trangia’s busy making brews and cooking lunch.  During planning I had decided to spend the night here and there were plenty of idyllic pitches.  However if I got to the mountain station by evening I would be a day ahead of myself, making the final morning much more relaxed, time to ensure I would not miss the bus.

The route was pretty much all downhill now, however lower elevations would not mean the scenery became any less impressive.  Soon after leaving the lake a huge pyramid of rock reared out of the valley ahead.  Just off my map I have no idea of its real size and I have the feeling it was the end of a much bigger mountain.  All I can say is that it was immense.

The path down to the head of the valley was steep, a shock to the knees after the generally gentle ascents and descents of the past few days.  I found a boulder to perch behind and got my faithful Jetboil out once again to make a brew and cook lunch.  A routine I am keen to continue when backpacking in the UK.  Hot food is appreciated for lunch and it gives you time to just sit and appreciate your surroundings.

Heading down the valley I was once again confronted by another wall of rock, thin slivers of water cutting across its surface.  The path was rocky and it’s difficult to walk and stare in amazement without tripping over.

The valley finally opened out, impressive peaks to my left giving a taste of the panorama to come.

The views back to the peak of Duolbagorni were spellbinding, one that would remain on the horizon for the next twenty plus kilometres.  It’s a foothill of Kebnekaise, bypassed by the popular path to the summit of the highest peak in Sweden.  Kebnekaise itself is well hidden but the jagged fangs of Duolbagorni is the star attraction in many of the views of this area.

Close to the Kebnekaise mountain station I started noticing tents dotted around the hillside, occupying just about any bit of flat ground.  I planned to stay in their campsite so continued past many idyllic looking spots.  The afternoon weather at this slightly lower elevation was hot and sunny, very welcome after the mist and cloud of the previous couple of days.

Cresting a rise the mountain station lay ahead of me, a strange sight considering that it is located nineteen kilometres from the road head.

I wandered down to the busy reception building, a complete culture shock after six days walking on my own.  There was a sign stating that the place was fully booked as I approached the desk.  I was glad that I was camping.  I enquired about the campsite and was told that there was none.  However I could camp for free as long as I was more than 150 metres from a building.  The caveat was the 300 SEK (£30) service charge if I wanted to use the toilets or showers.  Yep you read that right.  I was hot and tired and could not face a walk to find a good wild pitch so paid up and headed into an area I was told would have some camping spots.  I managed to find a spot of bare earth which was almost passable within the nearby birch forest.  It was a busy spot full of disappointed campers who had failed to get a proper bed for the night.

It was great to shower and feel clean once more, unfortunately soured a little by the fact it had cost me £30.  What peeved me was the fact that no one asked to see my pass in the service building, I could have sneaked in for nothing.  I then managed to spend £20 on some couscous, biscuits and a can of pop.  Please please if you come this way give the Kebnekaise mountain station a wide berth unless you have very deep pockets and enjoy a busy wilderness experience.

The evening soon got cold and I read for a while in my tent, disturbed by the group of lads in the tent next to me.  It was not the fact that they were loud, it was just that one of them had the worlds most annoying voice.

I vowed that the next night would be spent in an idyllic location.

Alone.

September 2, 2012

Above the Arctic Circle – trekking in Swedish Lapland pt1

by backpackingbongos

The journey from Stockholm Arlanda airport to my hotel in the city was remarkably easy.  A lift (I liked the fact that the sign read ‘hiss’) from the terminal building took me down to the railway platform where the Arlanda Express was waiting.  The immaculately clean space age train then whisked me at 205 kpm almost to my hotel door.  In the UK turning up on a Friday night at 11pm in a strange city can be a hair-raising experience, drunken chaos sadly being the norm.  Stockholm at that time of night was remarkably calm and ordered and I spent half an hour wandering around after checking into my room.

I had booked a sleeper train for the following evening to take me to Abisko, north of the Arctic circle.  This meant that I had a day to spend in Stockholm.  I have to admit that I am not a big city fan, for me they are something to escape from.  Therefore after a late breakfast I found myself walking rather aimlessly around the city centre killing time.  I managed to locate the street with several outdoor shops and had a good old browse.  Stockholm is not the place to head to if you want to pick up some bargain outdoor kit!  I purchased some gas for my Jetboil and some mozzie spray and then spent a few hours walking in a large circle, returning to the train station rather hot and footsore.  I had not expected the city to be so warm and sunny.

I was relieved to finally board my overnight train later that evening.  Being of a slightly misanthropic persuasion I had paid a few extra pounds and had a cabin all to myself.  I was glad that I had as it would have been a tight squeeze to fit three adults in that rather narrow box.  I enjoyed being able to spread out on the bottom bunk whilst watching the Swedish countryside drift past the window.  There are rather a lot of trees in Sweden. It was early to bed in an attempt to make the 18 hour journey go a little bit quicker.

I woke to find that we were stationary in the middle of nowhere, enclosed by a wall of trees.  I felt rather sick and my stomach was making some very unhappy noises.  The morning was spent making several emergency dashes to the loo and I have to admit that the idea of shouldering my pack and hiking into the wilds was becoming very unappealing.  A series of lengthy announcements came over the tannoy in Swedish.  Chatting to the occupants in the cabin next door it turned out that due to signaling failures in the night we were running over four hours late.  As we pulled into Boden station I set off  down the train in search of the buffet car on a mission to purchase strong coffee.  Unfortunately the buffet car had been removed and connected to another train.  For some unfathomable reason we then sat motionless in Boden for nearly two hours waiting to connect with another train, compounding the late running.  It is good to know that the UK does not hold a monopoly on having an unreliable rail network!

Day 1 – 14 kilometres

It was 4.00pm by the time I got off at Abisko tourist railway station, twenty two hours after boarding the train.  After such a long journey and having spent most of the day on the loo I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  It did not help that I was four hours behind schedule and had fourteen kilometres to hike by evening.  In Sweden you are pretty much free to pitch a tent wherever you want, but there is an exception to this rule within Abisko national park.  This meant that I had a bit of a route march ahead of me to get my tent pitched in a designated place that evening.

Passing under the gates to the Kungsleden trail I followed the wide track through the birch forest.  It was at this point that it really sank in where I was.  I kept muttering to myself, “I’m in the Arctic, I’m in the Arctic, I’m in the Arctic” over and over again.  Soon I was grinning from ear to ear.  My Arctic trek had finally began.

The Abiskojakka river would be my companion for most of the afternoon.  At the beginning of the trail it thunders through an impressive rocky canyon, the water crystal clear.

Wooden boardwalks would soon become a familiar sight on my trek as I passed through areas of bog and delicate vegetation.  You have to concentrate when walking across them as it would be easy to misplace your feet and twist an ankle.  Also in the less frequented areas they are not always well maintained and have a habit of acting like a see-saw when you walk on one end.  I soon got used to them and could quickly see the benefits to the ground and vegetation.  They also keep your feet dry across the boggy bits, which is nice.

I have to admit that at the first meditation spot on the Kungsleden I managed to take a wrong turn.  Maybe it was because I was trying not to disturb the woman sitting with her eyes closed high above the river.  I noticed after a few minutes that the sound of the river had disappeared and that the path was now only a few inches wide.  I retraced my steps back to the Kungsleden which is as wide as a motorway in this early stage.  I wondered how I could make such a navigational error.

I passed a constant stream of day walkers who were heading back to Abisko for the evening.  Backpackers however were thin on the ground due to my late start.

A few kilometres after setting off I passed a designated camp site.  I was tempted to stay as I was tired, but I was aware that it would add at least ten kilometres onto the twenty two I already had planned for the following day.  I also felt that it was a rather dark and gloomy spot, the tent pitches being damp and muddy.

I crossed the first suspension bridge of the trip, it was great fun as it bounced and swayed high above the river.

It was a shame that I had to rush the first day of the trip and I found that I was constantly looking at my watch and then the map to gauge my progress.  It was a lovely warm and sunny afternoon and it would have been good to spend time lingering, the landscape slowly unfolding as I passed through.  From riverside to open moorland to lakeside.

At the north eastern end of Abeskojavri there was a Sami settlement next to the lake.  It looked like an excellent place to camp with plentiful patches of flat grass.  However I was aware of the no camping rule in the national park and was also unsure of the protocol of camping near a Sami settlement.  I thought that the traditional huts were impressive though.

A few hundred metres along the lake I passed a small stream and decided that I would collect water and have a stealth camp out of sight of the path.  I was simply too tired to continue and I found myself getting rather grumpy.  I headed to a flat looking terrace above but was dismayed to find that what looked like grass from a distance was actually inches high shrubs and trees.  There was absolutely no chance of being able to pitch a tent.  I ditched the water and continued along the lake towards the huts at Abiskojaure.

An hour or so later I was greeted by a rather stern warden who informed me that the hut was full and that he hoped I was carrying a tent.  Not being a member of the STF I was charged a ridiculous 240 SEK (£24) to camp on a muddy patch round the back of the hut.  I tried to join so that I could get discounted rates during the rest of my trip, but they had run out of membership cards.  I was rather peeved that I therefore still had to pay the non-members price.  I was then forbidden from entering the main hut and forbidden from cooking in my tent, instead shown to a campers kitchen.  I have to say that the whole STF experience was rather off-putting and I vowed to wild camp as much as possible during the rest of the trip.

Day 2 – 15 kilometres

I woke at 5.00am and got up to use the loo.  I have not seen air so clear and sky so blue since trekking high in the Himalaya many years ago.  The clarity of the air was amazing, the sun just lifting above the horizon and shining through the birch trees, the precipitous slopes of Giron towering above and casting its shadow.  It was a breathtaking moment but I could not linger as the temperature was close to freezing and I was dressed in my sleeping clothes.

I managed to get another couple of hours sleep, waiting for the warming rays of the sun to reach my tent before getting up.  I was glad to leave the rather regimented vibe of the Abiskojuare hut, the suspension bridge across the river promising real adventure.

I could not believe my luck with the weather as I slowly ascended though the birch forests.  The going was easy and with every step I was moving into ever more remote country.

A suspension bridge crosses the tumbling Siellajohka river, boulders providing plentiful places to sit in the sun.  I removed my boots for a while and dipped my feet in the fast flowing water.  That lasted only a few seconds as the water was painfully cold.

Across the river the path starts climbing steeply until you are high above the river.  There is a feeling that you are now entering the high mountains, the forest spread out below my feet.

An engraved boulder marked another meditation spot, one of many between Abisko and Nikkaluokta.  I did not feel the need to meditate but it did provide a nice handy seat to rest for a few minutes.

The scenery was now outstanding and I could have been in the Scottish Highlands, although the landscape was on a much bigger scale.

It was a long hot and steady climb around the shoulder of Garddenvarri, the mosquitos becoming very active and annoying.  As I came around the corner the scenery became much more alpine with the jagged peaks and ridges ahead rising to nearly two thousand metres.  Unfortunately the position of the sun made it difficult to capture just how impressive they really were.

It was whilst standing around taking photos that I heard the commotion behind.  One of my pet hates in the outdoors was quickly approaching, the outdoor mega hiking group, their members stretching out in a long crocodile line.  I continued on my way, hoping to put some distance in front of them.  I passed a large hairy man of the mountains, all beard and suntan who looked like he had been in the hills for weeks.  He returned my greeting and then his eyes widened in horror when he saw the group behind.  He said that he was going to find a boulder to hide behind whilst he waited for them to pass.  I left him muttering, “Too busy, too busy”.

The climbing was done and I found myself on a plateau on the eight hundred metre contour.  The view to the west was stunning with a mountain in Norway looking all rugged and pointy above a large glacier.  I think that there are endless possibilities for exploration in this area.

Two lakes came into view with a Sami settlement spread out between then.  My pace had become relaxed and the mega group had caught up.  Feeling in a bit of a huff I decided to go off path and found a boulder to perch for a while whilst I waited for them to disappear over the horizon.  I was happy to hang around, the view being exactly how I imagined the Arctic tundra to look.

The mega group decided to have a faff and it was evident that they were being guided.  I have seen companies that offer guided walks on the Kungsleden on the internet and cannot fathom out why someone would want to pay large sums to be herded along what is a very well-defined trail.

I managed to get ahead of mega group and came to another, “Oh wow” spot, the large lake of Ahpparjavri nestling amongst high mountains.  Once again a photo cannot do the scale of the place justice.  I stood and gawped for a while before deciding that it would be a good place to sit and do some further gawping whilst I had my lunch.  It was a very happy man who removed his boots and sat against a boulder drinking coffee and eating couscous.

I had photocopied some pages from the Kungsleden guidebook and I sat reading them in the sun, no real hurry to get moving again.  The following caught my eye, ‘Look out between Radujavri and Mieskajavri for a spot where it is possible to wade across so as to continue along a path on the east side of the lakes towards Visstasvaggi.  But be cautious, wading is difficult unless the water level is very low’.

It sounded like a challenge and with mega group appearing once again on the horizon I decided to change my route.  I followed the Kungsleden a little bit further until a rickety faded signpost pointed towards the lakes, no visible sign of a path in the boggy tundra.  My heart fluttered a little in my mouth as I took the plunge and headed into a much more deserted Swedish Lapland.

I actually managed to find a few vestiges of a path on the boggy walk towards where the two lakes met.  There were even a few sections of boardwalk which had not been eaten up by the bog and vegetation.  The path frequently disappeared and it was a bit if a game trying to work out where it would reappear.

At the crossing point I met a couple who had been sitting there for half an hour trying to decide whether they should cross or not.  They said that another couple had successfully managed to get across earlier.  I have to admit that I was rather nervous, I had never crossed such a large body of water before, it was probably at least two hundred metres to the other side.  Although there were plenty of boulders where I could rest, it was difficult to gauge how deep the water in-between was.  Also the water towards the far bank appeared to be fast flowing.

When I declared that I was going to go for it the couple decided they would try as well.  I removed my boots and changed into my inov8 recolites and made a tentative step into the water.  It was cold enough to make me gasp and my feet quickly went numb.  To start with the water was knee-deep and I slowly made my way to the first boulders where I could rest in safety.  In places I could see that the water was over waist deep and I spent a while backtracking to find a safer way across, the boulders underfoot being rather slippery.  At times the water came to mid thigh.  Finally I came to the fast flowing section which thankfully was only knee-deep, more water would have caused difficulty.  Twenty minutes after first starting the crossing I reached the far bank.

The couple was only half way across and whilst stopping to put my socks and boots back on I paused to photograph them.  Hopefully it shows the scale of the crossing.  I felt rather pleased with myself and I was happy that there was now a large barrier between me and the Kungsleden.

After the wide and often eroded Kungsleden the narrow trod on the other side of the lake was a pleasure to walk.  It was just a feint groove marked by the occasional cairn as it twisted and turned through boulders and thickets of vegetation.  All alone and with the mountains towering above I felt that I was now properly exploring the stunning scenery.

The path climbed to cross a finger of land sticking out into the lake, the height giving a better view of the huge bulk of Njuikkostakbakti, its black cliffs an impressive sight.

A small amount of ascent meant that the vegetation was much shorter and there was evidence of grazing by reindeer.  I decided that it was too good an opportunity to miss in terms of a wild camp spot.  With excellent conditions underfoot, fantastic views and water a few minutes walk away I decided to pitch the Scarp.  It was rather windy but it was doing a good job at keeping the mosquitos away.  In fact the location was perfect, probably the best of the trip and perhaps one of the best I have ever had.

With my tent pitched, gear sorted and my 4ltr platypus full of water I wandered across the small rocky outcrop overlooking the lake.  Once again the view was superb and I could not believe how good the weather was.  I drank it all in aware that by the end of the following day rain could be falling, according to a woman on the train.

With the sun slowly sinking behind the mountains the temperature quickly dropped and I got cosy in my tent.  A perfect wild camping moment.