Day 75. Hemavan to Syterstugan

Posted by: James on March 16, 2009

Distance 26km | Time 7.5hrs | Ascent 870m | Descent 600m

Day 75. The start of the 450 km Kungsleden route in HemavanI got up at 0700 for the simple cheap breakfast and managed to get away by 0800. It was snowing a bit as I left. Initially my route took me up Kungsvagen road for almost 2 km past chalets towards the hotel. There were some acrobatic ravens pestering an eagle above me. Just before the large hotel on the east of the road was the start of the Kungsleden route.

The Kungsleden is a 450 km walking and skiing track which goes from here to the north of Sweden. There are a few sections rich in cabins and a few areas where there are none, except simple shelters without stoves.

I thought the Kungsleden would be the quickest way north as March is traditionally the month with the most snow and equinox low pressure systems are hammering in from the Atlantic. These would affect the west coast of Norway first and be a bit of a spent force once they had passed the mountains. If the weather was bad I would still be able to make progress along the Kungsleden as half of it was in the forest and all in the lee of the mountains if the wind was westerly.

The mountains in north Sweden are part of the same chain as south Norway, namely the Caledonin Mountains. They were created some 420 million years ago when the Baltic plate collided with the Laurentian (North American) plate. The mountains then were some 10km high.

After this collision was over and the mountain building processes were finished these giant mountains quickly became eroded down to their hard roots. Some 60 million years ago this land mass of Balitca and Laurentia started to split. Scandinavia and Greenland parted company as the Atlantic ocean formed between them.

More recently the Scandinavian landmass was subject to forces which caused the west to rise, heaving the eroded stubs of the original mountains into the air. It is these eroded stubs, which have been further eroded by the recent ice ages into a chain of peaks and valleys which form the present Caledonian mountains of south Norway and north Sweden. The Kungsleden route weaves through the peaks of the Caledonian Mountains in north Sweden.

Day 75. The bright beautiful birch forest at the start of KungsledenAt the start of Kungsleden there was a symbolic gateway. I put my skis on here and followed the prepared ski trail up through the birch forest. The sun was out and the forest was glistening with new snow. The ski trail soon climbed up to the tree line and met the top of the ski lifts which came up from the town.

I crossed this area of downhill ski development and was soon on the bare white mountain. To the west another snow shower was crashing towards me and the wind was picking up. It would be miserable in the Norwegian mountains now. I just had time to admire the delta formations in the Umea river as it flowed into a lake before my view was obscured.

It was still another 8 km to the first cabin at Viterskalstugan. With the wind behind me I cruised along in the mist with a line of marker stakes showing the lie of the land. The route was quite flat but climbed gently. After a good hour the cabins appeared in the white landscape.

The cabin had some provisions for sale so I bought a chocolate and drink. After an hour I was ready to leave and do the second 13 km stretch to Syterstugan, however the weather had deteriorated. It was now heavy snow and a gale. In short a strong blizzard. I waited for it to improve or worsen before making a decision. After another hour the wind dropped a bit and the visibility improved a lot so I left.

I skiied up a classic U shaped glacial valley. On each side of the valley were the high craggy mountains of North and South Sytertoppen at around 1700 metres. It was an alpine landscape. It was an impressive valley. There was a large area of avalanche debris on the south side which I kept away from.

About half way up the valley the wind and snow returned. The wind in particular got quite violent and was up to a force 9 or 10. It was difficult to tell.

Day 75. The near storm at the emergency shelter between Viterskalstugan and Syterstugan cabinsI reached an emergency shelter and went in to put on my windproofs for the short climb ahead. I had to heave to open the door against the wind. This was a natural wind tunnel between the high mountains and the shelter must have seen some tremendous gusts in its time. I managed to get a photo of the maelstrom and violence of the spindrift.

Continuing east I descended slightly before the short climb. The climb was not as windy as I had predicted at all, and in all my clothes I was ready for the worst. After passing a shallow saddle I started on the descent.

The descent was 3 km and took me all the way down to Syterstugan cabin. It was a wonderful even descent and not too steep although I fell twice as the snow surfaces changed abruptly. Within 20 minutes I was at the cabin on the edge of the birch forest. It was 1730 and was staying here.

The cabin had a resident warden for the spring season and only one other guest. The warden was a biologist for the rest of the year. He was very nice and even had a fire going when I arrived as he saw me coming. The other guest was a young man.

I bought some food from the wardens shop and then cooked a large meal. The 3 of us chatted while I ate and later. Although I speak Norwegian I find Swedish difficult to converse in. I soon reverted to my dairy.

It had been a mixed day. Some great weather in the morning and some spectacular winds in the afternoon. I had not got as far as I had wanted but it was a respectable distance given the weather. It was nice to be back in the mountains in a cabin without electricity. I could look forward to more of this simple mountain accommodation over the next 2 weeks.

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