Archive for March, 2009

Day 90. Abisko to Lappjordhytta

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Distance 22km | Time 7hrs | Ascent 260m | Descent 120m

Day 90. Looking down to the western end of the 70km long Tornetrask lakeI had a relatively short day ahead of me when I woke up quite late. I had the giant hostels breakfast at 0730 and gorged myself. It would be the last good meal I will be having for a while.

After breakfast I had to buy food for the next week. I phoned Innset to make sure there was no shop there before buying food at the shop in the giant Abisko hostel. Mueseli and milk for breakfast, a bar of chocolate for lunch and a dehydrated meal with mash potato for supper. I would lose weight over the next week. However my rucksack went from 17 to 22 kilos which was the limit.

I phoned about my skis and they had been dispatched to Innset this morning so should be there when I arrive. I then dithered a bit and chatted with Andre who was staying a day here. I eventually left at 1130. It was yet another beautiful day.

I took the wrong turning en route to the lake. I whizzed past the sign to Bjorkliden before I saw it and carried on skiing to the lake ending up a half km to the east of the hostel. I then had to double back.

The estury from the river which entered the lake at Abisko extended a surprisingly long way into the lake. I thought I was skiing over ice but kept seeing stones poking through the snow. Eventually I found some fresh scooter tracks heading to Bjorkliden and followed them.

It was a fast surface to ski on and I made good time covering the 8 km to Bjorkliden in an hour and a half. There was a train line beside the lake, perhaps the most northerly in the world. It was used to transport huge amounts of iron ore mined in Swedish Lapland to Narvik in Norway. Here it was either exported or smelted. If felt odd to be skiing over a lake with an ore train of 100 wagons trundling past in the snow.

After Bjorkliden the train and road veered away from the lake and descended to the coast. I also veered from the shore and crossed a bay to the east end of a peninsular. It was very warm and I had to strip down to my vest to avoid soaking my newly washed jacket with sweat. There were just some old tracks here to follow and the going was much slower

Day 90. The tiny STF cabin at Polnosstugan was very minimalistThe was a mist coming across the lake behind me but I was still in brilliant sunshine. I slowly neared the STF cabin of Polnosstugan. I was quite curious to see what it was and how many visitors the warden met in the course of a winter. There was a deep gorge beyond the cabin where I would go tomorrow past a cabin on the Norwegian side and on to Innset.

When the old tracks I was following reached Polnosstugan cabin I looked round for it. All I could see was a small shed. I went in and realized that it was in fact the cabin. This was not what I had expected and there was definitely no warden. There was no gas and no wood. I could easily have spent a cold night here but the Norwegian cabin at Lappjord was just another 2 km across the border. I decided to go to it quite confident it would be better.

The route up to it was difficult. I went to the end of the lake and found a fence. There had been a party of some 10 skiers coming down this way. I followed their tracks but could not climb the steeper sections without zig-zagging through birch forest. It was slow hot work. A couple of months ago it would have been dreadful but I was quite fit now.

Just before the route really started to climb there was a reindeer carcass which was half buried in the snow beside the fence. I wondered if a wolverine had killed it in the autumn and stored it here. It was now getting picked clean by foxes and ravens by the look of things.

The next one and a half km were hard. The small skins were no match for the slope and I had to zig-zag up the steeper bits wrestling with birch branches. Luckily the snow was getting firmer but I was still sinking in 15 cm. I had been spoilt over the last 3 weeks with shallow scooter tracks so this was a reality check. It would have been very, very hard with a sledge.

Before I saw Lappjordhytta cabin I smelt woodsmoke so knew there were people there. I soon saw it a god bit above me. It was a slow long slog up to it but eventually I arrived. It was a very nice cabin.

There were 8 people already there. 7 Germans and a Swedish guide. They were very welcoming and invited me to the dinner of pasta and bacon they were just about to eat. They generously gave me wine and coffee also. They were a very nice bunch from Stuttgart area and made a Swedish tour every year with the same guide for the last 9 years.

There was a lot of banter and laughter in the evening. I joined in a left the blog until 2200 when they had all gone to bed. It took me an hour and a half to rattle it off and deal with the pictures before crashing out at 2330.

It had been yet another good day. The ski across the 20 km of lake could have been tedious if the conditions were bad. But they were good. Polnosstugan was a bit of a joke really. The climb from there to Lappjordhytta was hard but worth it to reach this nice cabin with good company.

Day 89. Alesjaure to Abisko

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Distance 35km | Time 7.5hrs | Ascent 160m | Descent 570m

Day 89. Looking south from Alesjaure lake to Alesjaure cabinsThe sun was shinning into the room when I opened my eyes at 0700. It is amazing how quickly the sunrise and sunset changes at the moment up here. It seems each one is 5 minutes earlier and later respectively than the previous day. Each week the day is an hour longer. In another 8 weeks the sun won’t set here but just revolve around the sky for 6 weeks before setting again. As I go north the period of midnight sun will get longer.

I got up and had breakfast and dithered a bit afterwards. I also chatted with the hut wardens who were here last year also. He said West Possus glacier was difficult now but recommended East Possus glacier to Possustjokka. Something for a future visit.

Andre, I and a Norwegian guy with a dog set of eventually at 0930. They both had sledges so were slower and I went ahead. After a half hour the Norwegian with the dog overtook me. He had attached the dog to a harness and it speeded up his skiing immensely. It was warming up tremendously and by the time I reached the emergency shelter I stripped down to my vest.

Day 89. Looking north from Alesjaure lake to the saddleIt didn’t last long as although it was hot in the sun the was a bitter chill in the breeze. So the jacket went back on as Andre caught up. There was now a nice easy climb for a good hour up a gentle incline to a shallow saddle. There was a great view over to some spectacular mountains in Norway called Storsteinfjellet. I had noticed them each time I passed here.

As we went up this incline we passed some 30 skiers coming towards us. They seemed to be in at least 3 commercial guided trips from Belgium, France and Germany. The French had tiny rucksacks and the Germans were each pulling a massive sledge. The French had got it right as the cabins they would both be using had everything they needed, except a change of clothes.

Day 89. Looking north from the saddle to the end of Abiskojaure lakeFrom the top of the saddle there was a lovely run down to the edge of the birch forest. Here Abiskojaure lake appeared with the cabin at the west end of it. At the treeline the ski track became a lot steeper and I had to snowplough a good proportion of the way down. I had come up here some 15 times on my own, with friends or with groups I was taking and never noticed how steep it was.

From the bottom of the slope it was a pleasant 2km ski along a wide but unused scooter track to the very nicely located Abiskojaure cabin. This was through birch forest and then along the frozen Kamalakka river. The cabin was sited at the edge of the lake in the birch forest. I have often seen the northern lights here but obviously would not today. We stopped for lunch here and despite the temperatures we sat outside in the sun on a bench and watched a selection of birds feeding on the food the hut wardens here had put out.

Day 89. Lapporten or Lapplands gateway is a familiar landmark south of AbiskoAfter lunch all three of us continued down to Abisko. This involved a 4 km ski across Abiskojaure lake and then a beautiful 11 km ski down beside the Abiskojokka river for much of the journey. It was initially through birch forest and then the final part was in the comfort of the pines again. To the south the mountains were brilliant white in the sun. There was a deep valley between two of the mountains which was known as Lapporten or “Lapplands gateway”.

Day 89. The northern end of the Kungsleden is 474 km from the southern gate on skisBefore I knew it I was going under an arch which signified the northern end of the Kungsleden. It had been a great ski. It was 474 km in all which had taken me 110 hours over 15 days. From here I would head back into Norway.

Abisko lodge is a ugly but practical building. It looks like an old factory However it had cheapish rooms, a shop with the dry food of the brand I was trying to avoid, a restaurant and a washing machine.

I got a room, showered, washed my clothes and then ate. I reiceved the maps for the next part of the trip and studied them in the evening. My only concern was that my replacement skis and bindings had not been dispatched from Oslo yet. I was to pick them up in 48 hours in Innset. I made a phone call to Sjur Moedre at Sportsnett to voice my angst and seem to have got a result. A further phone call tomorrow should clarify the urgency.

It had been a very good day again. Apart from a slight wind at the saddle the weather had been perfect again. This was now some 11 days in a row. Had I been going south I would have been sun tanned black with this sun and its reflected intensity also. It was good to have a bit of company to ski with also. Tomorrow I would go my own way again to Norway, while Andre goes for the easy option this time through Sweden on scooter tracks.

Day 88. Singi to Alesjaure

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Distance 38km | Time 10hrs | Ascent 700m | Descent 620m

Day 88. Looking up Stuor Reaiddavagge to Nallo cabinIt had been a bit windy all night and it was warmer in the morning at only minus 10. I did not get up as early as I wanted and eventually surfaced at 0700. There was quite a bit of activity in the cabin. Most people were eating breakfast and some were packing.

I eventually got going at around 0930 after chatting with most people. It was overcast but the wind had died off. The first part of the route was the 13 km ski up to Salka cabin. It was a shame it was overcast as there would have been some great views up Rabots glacier to the west face of Kebnekaise

Day 88. The cabins at Salka and the Tjaktjavagge valley beyondThe further north I went the clearer it got and by the time I got to Kaskasavagge valley I could look up it to see the impressive Nijbas mountain. There were also some good views up Stuor Reaiddavagge valley towards Nallo cabin. The mountains up there were some of the most impressive in the Kebnekaise area.

Just before I reached Salka a convoy of dog teams came towards me. There was the lead sled with 10 dogs pulling a big equipment sledge and the leader of the tour and then 8 clients each with their own sledge pulled by 4 dogs. These commercial dog sledge tours tend to overnight as Salka.

Salka is a collection of three cabins for overnighting in. It is one of the STF’s busiest and best located cabins, as a few skiing and walking routes meet here and it is a good base for day tours. I passed at least 10 people en route from Salka to Singi and when I got there it was empty. The warden was there and she sold me a few snacks. I ate them in the cabin and rested an hour before moving on.

Day 88. Looking south from Tjaktja pass down to Tjaktjavagge valleyThe next leg was up to Tjaktja cabin. This was 13 km up the valley and over the Tjaktja pass at about 1140 metres. The weather was improving significantly yet everybody who was skiing towards me having come over the pass told tales of near storm conditions. One man had a beard full of ice so I was starting to believe them.

It was a long gradual climb up to the pass. The incline was really quite gentle for most of it so it was not too taxing. Just at the last bit did I get slightly steeper so I had to herring bone up. Just before the top I entered the mist but I had one last look a the white valley to the south I had just come up. There was no wind at all so it is remarkable how quickly the weather can change.

There was a small emergency shelter at the top which was there long before the STF built the new cabin a Tjaktja in the mid 1980’s. It was now redundant really as this new cabin was just another 4 km down the other side.

My skis had been waxed perfectly for the climb up but on the 4 km descent down to Tjaktja cabin they refused to glide which was a shame as it would have been a nice ski. Even when I scraped them they did not run well.

Tjaktja cabin had about 10 people and a friendly warden. I was tempted to stay but there was still another 4 hours of daylight and a very easy 13 km two hour ski down to Alesjaure cabin. If I left it until tomorrow and I had to ski this 13 km and the remaining 35 km from Alesjaure to Abisko in a strong head wind I would not forgive myself. So I decided to get it in the bag while the going was good.

It was a fast descent down to the main valley called Alesvagge. The 4 km took no time at all. Here there was another unmarked route from Haukejaure cabin which joined the trail I was on. Someone had been pulling a sledge along here very recently in the last hour or two. When the sledge puller met a small rise he had to herring bone and I saw he was using the same short skins as myself. It had to be Andre who had followed a different route for the last two and a half weeks but had to go through the bottleneck of Alesjaure.

Day 88. Looking up to Possustjokka from near Alesjaure cabinIt was a very pleasant ski down to Alesjaure. The wax had worn off and I was gliding well. The weather was back to its perfect state and the sun was starting to set as I arrived. The mountains around Alesjaure were turning yellow under the blue sky. Particularly impressive was the view up to Possustjokka where I had previously gone a few times over a glacier as a spectacular route to Nallo cabin.

Day 88. The wonderful evening light over the upper end of Alesvagge valleyI soon reached the steep slope up to Alesjaure cabin. I took my skis off for the short climb. At the top Andre came out to meet me. It was good to see him. No doubt we would have a few stories to swap. The warden showed me round and opened the small provisions shop. I bought some snacks and more supper.

After settling down I went through to the kitchen cum living room. There were about 12 people, all men. Swedes, Finns, a Dane and Andre who was holding court. I joined the conversation. Andre had done some long days but had been hampered by the weather and broken sledge so had to cadge a lift for a good few km through Saltfjellet. If he had not I would have been well impressed.

As the evening wore on I was getting anxious my paperwork was falling behind. At 2130 I started to ignore people and write. Pretty soon afterwards everybody else went to bed and I had an undisturbed time until midnight to work.

It had been a great day. I had done a good distance but never felt rushed. I stopped and chatted with at least 30 people en route and in the two cabins I took a break in. It was also good to see Andre again. The weather which I was told was going from bad to worse went from pretty good to excellent. Tomorrow there is an easy 35 km to Abisko and then end of the Kungsleden which I have enjoyed tremendously.

Day 87. Teusajaure to Singi

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Distance 23km | Time 5.5hrs | Ascent 500m | Descent 270m

Day 87. Looking down to Teusajaure cabin and lake from the steep climbI got up at 0700 to do the blog after a solid sleep. It had been a cold night down to minus 22, but the day looked like it would be good again.

I had quite a leisurely writing session interspersed with breakfast and a quick chat to the warden, Marianne. I also lit the fire again as it was somewhat chilly. I was physically still a bit tired and I suppose me dithering a bit was an unconscious way of preventing me going to Salka. I was eventually finished at 1100. I then tidied up and was ready to go at 1200 after fetching more wood.

Just as I was leaving a group of Swiss arrived. I recognised the guide who I had met up here last year. His group had just come from Kaitumjaure cabin which was a days journey. They had randonee equipment. Wide short skis, huge uncompromising double boots and binding on a hinge which could be locked down. For all but the downhill section they used full length ski skins.

I have seen loads of Germans, Swiss and Austrians on this equipment here. It is very suitable for the steeper Alps but far too cumbersome and heavy to use here. There must be magazine articles in these countries which propagate the myth it is sensible to go along the valley floors in Kebnekaise with randonee equipment.

I eventually left at 1230. The weather was still glorious. Initially I had a short steep hill to climb. As the snow was frozen hard I walked it. It only took half an hour and then I was up to the tree line and the terrain eased off enough for me to put my skis on again.

Day 87. Looking down to Kaitumjaure from the ridge between it and TeusajaureThere was now a gentle climb up to the top of the saddle between two mountains before I could start my descent again. At the top I met the hut warden returning from a picnic in the sun. She must have been nearly 60 but was gliding quickly and easily in her Nordic skis. Her Teutonic counterparts were comparing blisters after their 9 km day when I left them in Teusajaure cabin.

Day 87. Kaitumjaure lake is squeezed between steep mountainsThere was a lot of snow on the mountains here and all the imperfections were smoothed of under large drifts. Kaitumjaure valley and cabin soon came into view as I crested the ridge. It was a short run down to this valley. The cabins were located in the birch woods well above the end of the lake.

Day 87. The two cabins at Kaitumjaure are typical STF cabinsThere was no one staying here and the warden was cutting wood. She had a small shop so I bought some food for this evening of her, and some snacks for immediate consumption. As I ate we chatted. She was a keen paddler and was interested to hear about my trip. She had been at the cabin since it opened in mid February. It was nearly minus 40 then. She had heard a lynx just two days ago.

After spending an hour here I continued to Singi. It was just a two and a half hour blast up the valley for 14 km. I should be there around 1800. The route took me across two large frozen marshes which lay on the valley floor trapped by steep crags on each side. There was now ski tracks to follow rather than scooter tracks so it was faster still.

Day 87. Looking north up the Tjaktjavagge valley to the foothills of KebnekaiseAs I approached Singi I entered Tjaktjavagge valley. This huge valley cut through the middle of the whole Kebnekaise area. To the east of this valley were the highest and most alpine of the mountains. I could not see their summits from here but could see the bases of the ridges extending down from them. Singi cabin was at the base of one of the first.

The cabin here was surprisingly busy with about 15 people. I knew 4 were German speaking because of the wide randonee skis at the door. The rest it transpired were Swedes. I chatted with them while preparing and eating my dehydrated dinner.

The warden came to get payment in the early evening. We recognized each other from previous visits I made here. She even remembered my name. In the evening everybody suddenly went to bed at 2000. This was great as I could then write the blog undisturbed for an hour. I eventually crashed out at 2200.

It had been a nice easy day. Almost a rest day with just a few hours skiing The weather was again perfect. Every day the cabin wardens said the weather forecast indicated it would end that day and every day they were luckily wrong.

Day 86. Saltoluokta to Teusajaure

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Distance 48km | Time 11hrs | Ascent 300m | Descent 220m

Day 86. Following scooter tracks down the north shore of Langas lakeSaltoluokta lodge was a bit of a disappointment. The staff were very nice but did not know much about the vicinity. It had a reputation for good food but dinner was very poor. Dinner was mixture of nouvelle cuisine and cremated moose. I think the STF, Swedish Trekking Club, who own the place have lost the plot a bit here. It is an historic old rustic mountain lodge not the boutique hotel it is trying to be, complete with pretentious ice statues of love hearts outside the porch! Tacky and naff.

A rich Italian red wine was suggested to compliment the moose. It was so overcooked none of the Swedes at my table ate it. I was hungry though. Overcooked moose has the texture of dry liver and the tenderness of a suede walking boot. My recommendation to compliment the dinner would have been a pint of diesel with overtones of dubbin and a hint of sock.

No one at the hotel knew much about the routes and the managers forte seemed to be catering rather than the outdoors. He followed the party line and told me to take the scooter across the lake and thereafter bus to Vakkotavare from where I could ski to Teusajaure cabin. I knew this area better than he did having skied north and south along these lakes over the last 25 years and knew his adamant stance was not the best alternative.

Day 86. The road through the pines from Vietas to Satihaure lakeAs this “boutique hotel” only served breakfast at 0800 I got a packed one at 0630 and set off at 0700. I followed the marked route a km west from the lodge then straight across the lake. On the north side instead of continuing to follow the stakes east for 2 km to Kebnats as requested, I went north west along the shore for 11 km towards Vietas. The manager had denied anybody went here but there were good scooter, dogsled and ski tracks here, pretty much hugging the shoreline.

It was a very pleasant ski in the morning sun. The anticipated break in the good weather did not seem to be arriving and it looked another beautiful day. The craggy mountains each side of the lake were catching the sun and the pines on the north shore were a bright green in the light.

Just before Vietas I reached the small bay where tiny helicopters operate from in the summer. There is a scattering of cabins also here. The tracks all headed up into the forest beside the road now to avoid the area where hydroelectric water is discharged into the lake. A km through the forest is the leisure hamlet, cafĂ©, pub, shop and petrol station at Vietas. I didn’t stop here as it was just 1000 but I had done 14 km. In hindsight I would have been better continuing to here yesterday for unpretentious food and a shorter day today.

From Vietas there is a small road which goes north beside the river for 6 km to Satihaure lake. This road is not cleared, but is a scooter track and easy to ski along in the winter. No scooters passed me and I was lost in thoughts as I skied up through the pines in the hot sun. Craggy mountains towered over this valley on each side. Just before the lake there was a large collection of fences and corals which was for reindeer herding.

An older Swede who was sitting at my table yesterday came zooming up to me. He had stayed for late breakfast and had not left until 0900. He had 8 huskies pulling a sledge on which he was standing. We chatted, moaned about Saltoluokta lodge and admired the day for 5 minutes. He had his snow break full on and the dogs as the dogs were straining. They were yelping with eagerness to get going and quivering with excitement. He would do about 70 to 80 km a day at 10 km per hour. He was out for a weeks tour along the entire Kungsleden from Hemavan to Abisko.

The ski along the side of Satihaure lake was extraordinary in that there was hardly any snow. It must have been in a severe rain shadow. Luckily it was only a couple of km but I had to walk half of it. Without a sledge this was no problem. Perhaps it was the effect of the wind on this open expanse.

Day 86. Looking west up Gagirjaure lake to the mountains each side of Teusajaure cabinI passed this open area and then went into the birch woods again where the snow had settled. There was a short ski now beside a frozen channel between Satihaure lake and Gagirjaure lake. When I reached the latter the tracks descended onto its frozen surface and turned north west again.

It was a very easy ski along the lake in the sunny windstill day. To the north was a long line of sheer cliff rising some 500 vertical metres. Small cascades of water had frozen into huge buttresses of ice like giant melted candle wax. An ice climbers dream. Even on the south side were steep crags but not cliffs. There had obviously been a powerful river of ice scraping down here in the glacial periods.

Day 86. Kouperatjokka mountain rises above the birch forestAt the west end of Gagirjaure lake there was a marked route through the birch forest for 7 km to Teusajaure lake. This valley was something of a hidden world. I think very few people came here. The snow was covered in moose track and there was evidence of them eating birch buds everywhere. There were also hare, fox, weasel and ptarmigan tracks around.

There was also a few fresh wolverine tracks. The steep craggy mountains on each side of the valley were a good 1000 metres higher than the deep valley floor and these would offer superb places for the wolverine to find a lair It would be impossible for Lapps to drive scooters up from the valley floor in pursuit of these cunning animals. They are not allowed to hunt wolverine but occasionally do, discreetly hiding them once done. The wolverine is the number one enemy of the reindeer herder and has been for 1000’s of years. It is in the Lapps cultural DNA to eradicate these animals.

Day 86. Looking west down Teusajaure lake in the evening sunBy the time I got to Teusajaure lake I was tiring. Luckily the weather was benign and I had an easy ski up some 10 km of lake to reach the cabin. Had I had the wind against me I would have struggled. Teusajaure lake is also in a deep valley with craggy mountains on each side of it. The sun was going down ahead of me producing a warm glow, but unmemorable sunset. Behind me though the higher mountains were turning bright yellow in the evening sun above the dark shaded valleys.

I reached the cabin at 1800. I was the only guest. The very nice hut warden came down to explain things. I lit the fire, unpacked and settled down for supper. Latter she came down for a chat. She had been in these mountains for some 40 years as a walker skier and now warden. She knew the Swedish mountains and its people and villages well. It was fascinating talking to her. By the time she left I was too tired and it was too late to be bothered with the blog.

Some people consider the northern Kungsleden between Abisko and Kvikkjokk to be among the worlds great treks. Its chances would be greatly improved of making the top 100 if it did not have the nonsense of the ugly Vakkotavare cabin location and then the bus journey down the industrial hydroelectric complexes at Suorva and Stora Sjofallet to Vietas or Kebnats. Perhaps the route I took today could be a better alternative, certainly in the winter.

It had been a very good day. It was longer than I anticipated so I was lucky the weather was kind or I would have been camping. It was minus 22 so I am glad I made the cabin.