Archive for March, 2009

Day 85. Sitojaure to Saltoluokta

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Distance 20km | Time 4hrs | Ascent 210m | Descent 460m

Day 85. The rolling snow clad mountains north of Sitojaure lakeI managed to get to bed early and slept well. I was awake at 0600 and up at 0700. The two happy, chatty Germans were already breakfasting and the admirable Austrian 70 year olds were soon to join. It had been a coldish night at minus 23 but it was now sunny again as I had almost started to take for granted.

After some chatting I was packed and ready to go at 0900. We pretty much all left at the same time after a final banter with the happy warden. It was now just minus 18 and rising fast.

The route followed the barely used scooter track north up the gentle valley My skis gripped too firmly to the cold snow as I skied up through the birch trees. There had been a lot of snow here and the hill on either side of the valley were plastered in a thick covering of snow.

The bruising in my bum after the heavy fall 2 days ago was not such a hindrance any more but I could still not put much power through that leg without feeling some pain.

Day 85. The unmistakable pigeon toed tracks of a Wolverine are about 10 cm acrossI saw some wolverine tracks crossing the route here. They only weigh about 15 kg but have large paws. The paws are up to 10 cm across. These prints were fresh. With their large paws they can travel well across soft snow and sometimes catch their main prey, which is reindeer.

I continued up the valley for a good two hours until it flattened off completely. Not that it was ever steep. Here there was an emergency shelter which was about half way to Saltoluokta. I could see from the 2 sledges outside that the young Germans were lunching here. I did not feel like a break though so continued.

Day 85. The valley with pietsaure lake sandwiched between Rasek and Gierkav mountainsThe very gentle valley I was following now veered to the north west towards Pietsaure lake. This lake was sandwiched between the craggy mountains of Rasek and Gierkav. I was not going down onto this lake but over a gentle spur to the north. I climb up the very shallow incline to the top of the spur seperating this valley from the larger, deeper valley to the north where Langas lake was.

Day 85. Looking north west up Langas lake to Stora Sjofallet from above Saltoluokta lodgeFrom this spur I got a great view up the lake to the north west end. Here there was once a great waterfall called Stora Sjofallet. It was so spectacular and large the whole area was made into a national park in 1909. It was sometimes called Europes Niagara which was a bit of an exaggeration but not much as there was a huge volume of water which descended these falls.

However as soon as this natural wonder was preserved by law as a national park the government decided to overrule its decision a few years later and remove the vicinity of the waterfall from the park so it could be exploited for hydroelectricity. Today the falls are gone, the entire volume of water by passing them in pipes.

This means the ice on Langas lake is dubious. Not only is it dammed so the water level fluctuates due to the out-take, but two inflows at Vietas are subject to hydroelectric regulation. As a consequence the hydroelectric company is forced to build up an ice route between Saltoluokta and the north shore. They do this by spreading water on the ice at the beginning of the season. If they don’t then by law they have to ferry tourists across the lake by helicopter. Luckily for me the ice route was firm as I could not take a helicopter and the alternative was a long detour.

The descent from the ridge down to Saltoluokta lodge was wonderful. It was becoming a familiar pattern. First the descent down the open hillside to the birch forest. Then through this to the comfort of the pine forest where th lodge lay.

Day 85. The cosy foyer of the 100 year old timber Saltoluokta lodgeIt was built in 1916 just before this beautiful valley was flooded. It retains much of its charm, with old log walls and rustic furniture. It seems slightly different from the STF cabins as most of the visitors come here and stay put doing day tours. It has built up a reputation for fine food and it looks as if most of the other guests come to enjoy the old comfortable buildings and fine food as much as the leisurely day skis.

I took a shared room knowing no one else here would probably share a room and then sat in front of the open fire and wrote the blog. It felt great to have it finished before supper which promised to be sumptious. Tomorrow was an early start and long day across various frozen lakes to Teusajaure cabin some 40 km to the north west.

It was an easy day. Almost a rest day. The pain in my bum was easing but I had a nagging pain in my wrist from the ski stick. The weather was easy although the fine spell seemed to be coming to an end. I would enjoy a bit of comfort and some polite, calm, middle aged and middle class chat this evening before crossing to the more frank, rugged northern quarter of the Kungsleden tomorrow. This northern quarter went up through the Kebnekaise area and was quite mountainous.

Day 84. Aktse to Sitojaure

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Distance 14km | Time 4hrs | Ascent 430m | Descent 320m

Day 84. Looking west from above Aktse to the Delta land Parte massif and SkierffeI slept quiet well and was reluctant to get up at 0730. My legs were quite stiff but the knock I took on my bum when I fell on the icy surface last night was sore. If I was not so well padded I could really have done some damage. The impact was just to the side of my coxis bone. As it was I was having to limp to walk around.

I had a slow breakfast resigned to the fact that Saltoluokta was not on and it would just be the 14 km to Sitojaure due to my injury. I chatted with the two Swedish ice fishers and also the two young Germans who had just come out of Sarek after a weeks trip through it.

Once they all left I had a lie down again to rest more and enjoy the sun streaming through the window. For the last week or so the nights had been down to around minus 15 and the days down to about minus 8. The weather had been great though, and it was to continue.

I eventually set off at 1200. Initially it was a steep climb up through the spruce forest. I decided to walk rather than put my skins on and the track was hard enough to do so.

Behind me Laitaure lake was slowly appearing through the trees. Its delta land was quite visible to the west. On the other side of the valley was the steep block of a mountain called Tjakjali. In the middle of the delta land was another nunatak, which was also called Nammasj. This one was a more classic shape and better known than its Kvikkjokk namesake.

To the north of the delta land was the well known and often photographed landmark of Skierffe. This peak overlooked the valley. The side facing the valley was vertical for some 600 metres in a great dark wall. I have once seen the winter view from Skierffe and the delta land looks amazing. Everything is white except for the gentle curves of the levees beside the river channels and lagoons which are covered in a thin dark line of birch trees like a giant monochrome paisley pattern.

Unfortunately I did not had the time or energy to climb it again as the view from here into the remote wilderness of Sareks angular hidden massifs would have been magnificent on this clear day.

Day 84. Looking north west up Sitojaure lake towards Pastavagge valley and Apar massifAfter some photos I continued to climb up the steep ridge separating Laitaure lake from Sitojaure lake and after a laboured two hours made the crest. My bum caused me to limp slightly if on can do that with skis on.

The top of the ridge was 1000 metres high and well above the treeline. On my west was the white rounded curves of Njunjes while to the east was the vast forest and lake tracts which stretched many hundreds of kilometres to the Baltic. I was on the very eastern part of the mountains. These mountains had been thrust onto the bedrock to the east of me in the Caledonian Mountain building collision some 400 million years ago.

The sun remained warm and bright for the long mostly gentle descent down to Sitojaure lake. Occasionally I took my skis off and walked as I could not contemplate landing on my bum again. Down and down I went until I was in the birch forest which surrounded this 600 metre high lake. Too high for conifers.

There was a long 4 km across the lake to reach the cabin. I felt very lazy skiing along it. There was none of last nights vigour. Perhaps it was because there was no urgency in reaching it. I eventually got there at 1600.

Looking west up Sitojaure lake I could see some of the eastern massifs of Sarek, most notably Apar. Beside Apar was a deep valley called Pastavagge. It was renowned for its large avalanches which apparently spread out across the valley floor and then continued up the lower slopes on the other side.

Day 84. Sitojaure cabin was very comfortableThere were the two nice young Germans who had been in Sarek and also left Aktse today. There was also a 70 year old Austrian couple who were very sporty still. They went to the Julian Alps a lot and we talked about the mountains there which I also found fantastic and beautiful.

The cabin warden was also a very nice retired army officer. He kindly gave me some dried bread, butter and cheese to supplement my dehydrated meals. The cabin itself was quite new, warm and comfortable. I was here in 1984 and 1986 but the cabin I stayed in then had burnt down and this was the replacement.

I then sent emails about the deteriorating condition of one of my skis. It was going to be a problem to change them due to logistics. They current ski would probably still do for another few hundred km.

Day 84. A red fox by Sitojaure cabinThe blog took up the early evening and despite heavy eyelids I persevered as I did not want to get behind again. As I started a red fox appeared outside the cabin. It must be a hard like for them in the winter here.

It had not been a great day by any means, yet it was not a bad day either. My sore bum prevented me from skiing to Saltoluokta. On the other hand the weather was perfect and the views great. Hopefully tomorrow I would feel more up to it.

Day 83. Kvikkjokk to Aktse

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Distance 41km | Time 7.5hrs | Ascent 450m | Descent 220m

Day 83. The route from Kvikkjokk to Parte goes through mixed conifer forestI got up at 0700 to get started on my writing. Breakfast was at 0800 so I should have got a bit done by then. By breakfast however I had barely started as there were other people about who I ended up chatting with. The same thing happened after breakfast. By 1030 I still had not done much. Rather than return to my room I just ignored everybody, almost rudely, to get it finished which I did by 1200.

I then had to pack before setting off at 1230. It was another beautiful sunny day. The wax on my skis was perfect for the cold snow and it gripped well. I made fast time through the forest and up the hill. I hardly noticed the incline. The forest on each side was mature spruce and pine trees. Before I knew it I was a the Dahta lakes.

There is a summer route here which goes off here to the Lapp summer settlement of Parek and the Parte Massif beyond, but there was no sign of that now The mountains were looking splendid covered in deep drifts of snow.

Day 83. The pine forests around lake Rittak are superbHalf way across the Dahta lakes I turned east and started heading along the very beautiful Rittak valley. It was sandwiched between the Parte Massif to the north and the crags of Kabla to the south. However the valley was gentle, calm, sunny and peaceful yet the mountains on each side were craggy and rugged.

I reached another lake, called Sjabttjakjavrre, soon after starting to go through this lovely valley. There were a herd of some 20 reindeer lying on this lake when I arrived. They got up and ambled into the forest while I was still a few hundred metres away. In another couple of weeks hooper swans will arrive at this lake. Landing on the ice they will wait for the first melted patches of water and then breed here and other similar lakes in the area.

At the end of the lake was Parte cabin. I was there at just after 1500. I had already done 17 km in a little more than two and a half hours. It would be ridiculous to stop so soon. Besides the snow conditions were very fast. I decided to skip Parte cabin and blast the other 24 km to Aktse cabin after all. I would probably reach there just after dark.

The next 6 km down the Rittak valley to Rittak lake were idyllic. The easy ski track followed the frozen river, crossing it regularly from glade to pine forest and back to glade again. This valley was once thick with bears a century ago. The sun was lighting up the trees in the warm evening colours. On each side to the valley were rounded mountains with occasional craggy spurs and knolls.

All this came to an abrupt end after a spur at the east end of Rittak lake. The next lake was Tjakjajaure and it was dammed. The water level fluctuated some 30 metres. This resevoir filled up in the summer months. Then in the late autumn it froze over to a depth of about half a metre. Then in the winter the resevoir was emptied to produce electricity. As the water level fell the ice fell with it. However where the ice rested on submerged knolls and slopes it stopped falling and broke into large angular slabs. The result was a barren wasteland of ice slabs lying across the floor of the empty resevoir.

Before the original lake was dammed to extend it over the ice slabs before me Rittak valley extended down here for many kilometres. Its beauty was fabled.

Luckily there was a scooter route over these ice slabs which had also been covered in a metre of winter snow to smooth of the edges. The scooter route went along the southern shore for 6 km before cutting across the lake to the north side. As I descended one of these huge slabs of frozen ice to reach the original valley floor I fell heavily on my bum. I am sure there will be a large bruise.

With light just starting to fade I reached the north shore. I left the surreal ice slab world and entered the forest again just to the east of the steep block of a mountain called Tjakjali. There was a kind of peninsular between two lakes here. It was a very gentle 4 km saddle.

I just had enough light to see the undulations of the scooter track as it weaved through the trees across this saddle. It was dark in the denser patches of forest and just before I considered the headtorch at 1900 I reached Laitaure lake. This lake was undammed.

Laitaure lake is home to perhaps the biggest and most well known of all the deltas in Lappland. The huge Rapaatno river which drains some half of Sarek and is fed by 40 glaciers flows into the lake. The sediments in the river settle as it enters the lake building a magnificent delta of lagoons, channels, embankments and marshes. The delta is 6 km long and 2 km wide. It has already filled half the lake, which is also squeezed between the mountains of Tjakjali and the sheer walls of Skierffe.

The Rapaatno river has probably filled in at least 3 lakes in the Rapadalen valley above Laitaure lake. The delta lands of these infilled lakes contain meanders and lagoons. It has allowed the development of a group of very large moose who feed on the vegetation in these lagoons. Indeed in the summer time the 30 km Rapadalen is a lush paradise of birch woods and wild flowers. It is bristling with wildlife.

After a short ski across Laitaure lake and a climb up through the woods on scooter tracks in the near dark I eventually reached Aktse cabin at 2000. I just avoided putting my headtorch on out of stubbornness. However the evenings will be getting longer very quickly from now on. I found a room in one of the cabins here. There were 7 of us all together in this large cabin. I reheated some reindeer meat Bjorn had given me and chatted with the others for a while. When they crashed out I did my blog wthout any disturbance.

It was a day of two halves. The office like morning where I was getting frustrated I was not getting things done and then the afternoon where I exceeded my expectatations. The highlight of the day must have been the pine forests, frozen tarns and sunny glades of the Rittak valley.

Day 82. Tsielekjokkstugan to Kvikkjokk

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Distance 18km | Time 3.5hrs | Ascent 200m | Descent 510m

Day 82. The Parte Massif is one of the 10 or so major massifs in Sarek national parkI slept remarkably well in the small cabin. It insulated me well against the minus 20 of the night. My clothes had dried and I was ready for a new day From the waist up anyway, my legs were not happy about having to perform again.

I got up at 0730 and looked outside. It felt remarkably warmer and there was even a freak snow shower passing. Beyond this light shower was blue sky everywhere so I could not see where it came from. I set off at 0900 in perfect weather again.

Day 82. Tarrekaise massif rises steeply above the mammal rich Tarrekaise valleyAfter crossing the the Tsielekjokk river I started up a gentle slope to the north. The Tarrekaise Massif dominated everything to the west. The valley beneath it is teaming with wildlife. Last year there was a licence to hunt and kill 3 bears in this valley. Such is nature conservation in Sweden.

There is also lynx in the valley. When I skied down it last year 2 helicopters flew over me. They were the equivalent of the Nature Protection Agency who had chartered the helicopters. They were en route to shoot this lynx with a tranquillizer, measure it and put a radio transmitter collar on it. Too many biologists chasing too few animals with too many resources. Such is nature conservation in Sweden

Day 82. The mountain of Parte is just over 2000 metres and had an Axel Hamberg research cabin on top of itI soon reached a very shallow birch covered ridge by Lastak tarns. As I crested it Parte Massif suddenly unfolded across the entire northern horizon. Parte is one of the 10 of so massifs in Sarek National Park. It contains two mountains over 2000 metres, namely Parte and Palkatt. Parte is not particularly difficult but it involves a 2 day walk from Kvikkjokk to it. Palkatt is even longer with a 3 day walk and is more challenging with glacier crossings or steep ridges. I spent a week climbing these two mountains in unsettled weather in September some 4 years ago.

From Lastak tarns there was a wonderful descent down the tracks through the birch, then spruce, then pine forests to a small valley south of a nunatak called Nammasj. This nunatak was once covered in ice also and as the ice flow over the hard knoll it rose up the ramp on the upstream side and then ripped blocks of rock of the downstream side so it is very steep here. This is usual for all nunataks, especially in north Sweden here. A nunatak, incidentally, is a block of rock which wholly or partially protruded from the inland ice sheets during the glacial periods.

I passed to the south and east of this nunatak and then spilled out of the forest onto the blindingly bright surface of Saggat lake. It was then just a 3 km ski north through the delta of two large rivers which met here, to the charming village of Kvikkjokk.

This delta is laid down by the glacial silt from the glaciers of south west Sarek. The delta grows by at least a metre a year as silt is deposited at its drop off zone.

Kvikkjokk is a Swedish settler village. In the 1660s the government was giving incentives for Swedes to come and settle remote outposts in Lappland. People were encouraged to set up homesteads. Soon after silver was discovered nearby and at Alka to the west of Sarek. This forged its present identity somewhat and made it more significant than other settler villages.

Today Kvikkjokk, has a church, shop, many cabins to rent and a hostel run by the Swedish trekking club. It is the southern gateway to Sareks National Park and lies at the south end of the more popular northern half of the Kungsleden track. Carl von Linne (Linneaus) stayed here on his Lappland travels when formulating his theories on taxonomy.

There are 18 people who spend the winter here. The school children take the bus at 0530 every morning for the two and half hour,130 km, trip to school in Jokkmokk every day then return in the evening.

In the spring and summer the village lives of tourists. Snowscooter drivers, fisherman, some hunters, many outdoor enthusiasts and scientists all arrive here.

I checked into the trekking hostel and they kindly did my washing. I then had to do a lot of writing and emails. This tedious job took the rest of the afternoon. Still it was nice to sit down but a waste of great weather.

After supper I went to see my friend Bjorn. He is tenth generation Kvikkjokk, his ancestors being one of the original settlers. Bjorn ferries walkers across Saggat lake and show them the hidden gems of the delta land in the summer while his partner, Helena, is an artist with a gallery in the village.

Bjorn is an accomplished amateur naturalist is a library of information on the area. He knows where the eagle owls nest and when the moose will come and feed on aquatic weeds in the delta. Now his is almost a lonely voice drowned out in the scooter culture.

The scooters are an environmental nuisance. They destroy bushes, spew 2 stroke oil onto the snow, create a racket in villages and destroy the peace. Bjorn is fighting a campaign to keep them out of the middle of Kvikkjokk, like the village of Ammarnas, where they bypass the village centre. With the scooter culture the genie is out of the bottle and the Swedish government cannot put it back in again just limit the damage. This will jepodise the redneck vote.

I returned from Bjorn’s about midnight and slept well. It had been a short easy day with perhaps too much office work regarding blog and emails. I was still not finished and I had more to do tomorrow morning before I left for Parte cabin, and easy 16km. I had wanted to go to Aktse but the catch up with the blog put paid to that.

Day 81. Vuonatjviken to Tsielekjokkstugan

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Distance 57km | Time 13.5hrs | Ascent 980m | Descent 780m

Day 81. The glorious sunrise an hour after leaving VuonatjvikenI got up at 0330 as I knew it would be a long day. Naturally it was still dark, the stars were out and it was very still but bitterly cold at around minus 20.

I had done Vuonatjviken as bit of a disservice yesterday by dismissing it as scooter culture. The couple who owned and ran the place, The Johannssens, turned out to be very good hosts. He had grown up on this homestead and knew every thing about the area. She did the catering and made a delicious smoked reindeer stew. She then gave me a bag of sweets for the next leg.

I recalculated the distance to Kvikkjokk after Mr Johannssen said it was nearer 80 km. Right enough it was 75 km. Too far for a day surely but I would try. It was 57 to Tsielekjokkstugan cabin as a fall back.

I eventually set off at 0500 when the light was just appearing. It was cold and my skis gripped firmly on the snow with yesterdays wax still on. I climbed very gently up through the pine forest crossing the occasional lake for an hour until the rich glow of the sunrise eventually bore the sun at 0600 exactly.

Day 81. The cold crisp morning was a fine time to cross the Arctic circleA little further I crossed the Arctic circle. This is the latitude where the midnight sun appears at the summer equinox. It remained very cold despite the sun. My route now turned east and followed the Arctic Circle east for 7 km. This was because the scooter tracks went this way as the summer route was too steep to follow. A necessary detour.

The route finally veered north again and climbed over a bare ridge. From the top of the ridge there was a tremendous view north with range upon range of bright white mountains rising from the dark forests.

It was a very gentle descent to two lakes strewn with a mass of small islets. Once the descent got a bit steep so I left the tracks and traversed across the side of Barturtte mountain. The generally hard icy surface had the occasional hidden trap where I would suddenly break through the surface into knee deep sugar. The result would be an undignified head plant as I ploughed head first into the snow. After a few of these I returned to the tracks before I broke my equipment or temper.

Day 81. Skiing across the Tjieggelvas lake with the mountains to the west of itA scooter passed me, the first of the day, and he stopped and chatted. He had been ice fishing with no luck. After the lakes there was a sometimes steep descent down through the birch, then spruce and finally the comforting pine to reach the large Tjieggelvas lake.

Day 81. The Swedish settlers village of Vasterfjall had a simple beautiful churchOn the lake the sun was working up a heat in the absolutely still day. I had to stop to strip down to my vest and ditch the hat and gloves. Something unthinkable a few hours before. It was a short hours ski along the northern tip of the lake under white mountains to reach the village of Vasterfjall.

This village was a Swedish settlers village, as opposed to a Lapp village. There were some 10 to 20 homesteads here. I could not see any sign of life but there was the smell of smoke. This village has no road and was probably just used in the summer, with the odd cabin rented out in the winter to scooter drivers doing some ice fishing. The village had a very quaint simple church and tower reflecting its simple Lutheran origins.

Day 81. En route from Vasterfjall to Parka the mountain of Raskka rises above the pinesI had lunch here at 1330 and realized that at just under halfway I would not reach Kvikkjokk today. The next leg was the 11 km to the Lapp village of Parka. My route took me along the bumpy scooter track through the pine forest initially. There is some almost undefinable quality about Scandinavian light and especially Arctic light. Today it was crystal clear, crisp and bright. The simple colours of the pine trees against the white snow were brilliant.

The scooter tracks skirted round to the south of the scattered cabins of Parka hamlet. Nobody was here at the moment and the Lapps would probably only use it in connection with reindeer herding and hunting in the autumn. The last hurdle of the day loomed in front of me as I was resigned to stay at Tsielekjokkstugan.

This hurdle was a long high ridge well above the treeline. It was a big climb for my tired legs. Due to the steepness of it I put on my skins and set off. It was not a bad as it looked and I got a second wind, probably caused by an urgency to get to the shelter now the sun was low in the sky and it promised to be a very cold night.

Day 81. Tarrekaise massif lies on the southern edge of Sarek national parkThe descent down the north side of the ridge was steep. Too steep for my tired legs to keep control so I walked a short half km section. Then it eased of for an easy 2 km run down to the cabin. I reached it as the setting sun dipped west below the Tarrekaise Massif illuminating it in a yellow glow. The temperature was plummeting.

Day 81. The rustic cabin at TsielekjokkstuganThe cabin was tiny. Just enough room for 2 sleeping benches and a tiny stove. Most importantly there was at least an evenings supply of wood scattered about. I lit a fire as my toes started to chill. Then fetched snow in the 4 battered pans of dubious cleanliness and closed the door.

Within an hour it was very cosy in the shelter and I could take of my duvet jacket and saw my socks were steaming dry in the torchlight. I had a dehydrated meal, a litre of hot cocoa and then got into my sleeping bag on a sleeping bench to write the blog. My eyes were way too heavy and I gave up after a few minutes and crashed out around 2030.

It had been a momentous day. I could not really fault any aspect of it. The scenery was wonderful, the weather was magnificent, there was the odd gem of settler and Lapp culture, and I ended up in a cosy cabin with enough wood. In addition it had been my longest day with 57 km.