Archive for March, 2009

Day 80. Jakkvik to Vuonatjviken

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Distance 26km | Time 5.5hrs | Ascent 290m | Descent 190m

Day 80. Looking east down the vast Hornavan lakeGiven I had a relatively easy day I did not hurry in the morning at all. I enjoyed a lie in until nearly 0800, had a shower and leisurely breakfast. I enjoyed the cabin and eventually left it at 1000. It was a glorious day outside with a bit of a cold wind, but a blue sky.

I headed down to the lake from the cabin and at once was on the scooter track heading east up a wide inlet. The wind was behind me and I was skiing fast. There were quite a few scooters about and nearly 20 must have passed me Just about all were joy riders and none were Lapp as they always carry skis.

Before long I reached the far side of the long lake. It stretched all the way to Arjeplog and must have been at least 50 km long. When I reached the small islet of Nammatsholmen the track left the lake and headed up through the forest. I had to rewax my skis for this climb.

I snaked through the pine trees to a small tarn. Here a reindeer herder had put out some silage for his animals. I was surprised to see about 30 feeding from it. I previously assumed all the domesticated reindeer were still down in the forests to the east. These reindeer fled as soon as they saw me.

I crossed the lake and then reached another lake. This was disconcerting as I should have been going north not south east. Eventually the scooter tracks doubled back and started to head north gently climbing through the pines, some of which were very old and venerable.

It was a delightful ski through this forest as I climbed gently for some 200 metres. There were many reindeer tracks so there must have been more in the forest here. Eventually the pine trees pettered out and the birch took over and remained the only tree until I reached and crossed the ridge.

There was now a gentle descent through the birch for some 15 minutes until I reached Riebnes lake. There were no pines here on the south shore. The tracks had taken me a bit south of where I wanted to go but they now crossed the lake to the pine covered north side and the headed north west for 3 km to reach a broad peninsular.

Day 80. Riebneskaise mountain dominates the west side of Riebnes lakeAlthough it was sunny there was a bitterly cold wind which cut through my clothing. I had to stop and put on my windproof trousers and warmer mittens. The mountain of Riebneskaise dominated the south side of the lake.

From this broad peninsular it was just another 4 km to Vuonatjviken. Quite a few scooters passed me. I suppose it was a Saturday and the weather was good so people were out. As a skier I felt quite rare. I had not seen another skier for days.

Day 80. The cabin I stayed in at VuonatjvikenVuonatjviken was not as quaint as I had hoped. There were many private cabins and a small enterprise which rented out pragmatic and uncharming cabins. I took one which was relatively expensive and compared to Baverholm poor value for money. Still I had a roof between me and the cold night to come.

I managed to finish my blog early then went up for moose stew in the main house come restaurant. I needed energy for the long day tomorrow and the very early start at about 0400.

It is remarkable how long the days are becoming now. The spring equinox is 21 March give or take a day depending on leap years etc. This spring equinox was in fact the 20th March this year. This is when the sun crosses the equator on its way north again. It is when the day become longer than the night in the northern hemisphere and shorter in the southern hemisphere. In theory it is when the sun rises in the north pole and stays up for the next 6 months. In reality this does not quite happen due to the wobble of the earth. For me in practical terms it now means I have about 15 hours daylight and this will increase by about 5 minutes a day at these latitudes. They call it the first day of spring here in Sweden but it will be minus 15 here tonight!

I am also just a few km south of the Arctic circle. The Arctic circle is the latitude at which you get the midnight sun on the summer equinox which is the longest day on the 21 June, give or take a day. At the Arctic circle the sun does not set on this day but just dips to touch the horizon and heads back into the sky again. In the very north of Norway the sun will not actually set for about a month each side of this summer equinox and just revolves around the sky.

It had been a very good day. The ski was great. The weather was great. It was easy, almost a rest day really. This was what I planned and needed as tomorrow would be a very long day to Kvikkjokk which is about 60 km. If I can’t make it I can stop after 45 km where there is a rustic unheated wooded shelter. Vuonatjviken was a bit of a disappointment with its scooter culture but it might improve yet.

Day 79. Baverholm to Jakkvik

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Distance 28km | Time 8hrs | Ascent 550m | Descent 600m

Day 79. The birch woods of Pieljekaise are the reason it received National Park statusWhen I woke at 0500 I was shocked to see the roofs dripping profusely. I opened the window and it was warm outside with a very strong wind and some drizzle. A warm front must have been passing causing havoc with the winter wonderland. It was a short day ahead so I returned to bed hoping it would improve and got up at 0730. It had improved as the drizzle had stopped and it was colder at zero.

I left at 0900. I was partially blown and partially skied down the rest of the delta channels until I reached the Iraft lake itself. From here it was about 4 km to Adolfstrom. I hardly moved a muscle for these 4 km as the wind blew me along the lake in about 20 minutes. It is very seldom one has such good luck.

I stopped at the shop in Adolfstrom. It was like a stage set for a 1920s period drama. Old scales and a hand operated cash register were on the thick wooden counters. Ornaments adorned the roof and everything was on wooden shelves or pigeon holes. The couple who ran the shop explained the best way to ski to Jakkvik over Pieljekaise mountain.

Initially my route took me up through the pine forest to the north of the village. After some km the pine vanished and I was in birch woods until I reached Lutjaure lake. There were a few friendly scooters which passed me. I occasionally ventured off the scooter track into the forest snow. It was impossibly deep and loose. Well above the knees. Perhaps when this short thaw refreezes it will support a skiers weight.

There was a route marked with branches across the lake and scooters were not permitted here as it led into the Pieljekaise National park. An old scooter track made by park authorities 2 weeks ago was barely visible and although covered in new and blown snow it was firm under the 10 cm of cover. It seemed no other skiers had been for a while.

The route then went through the birch forest for 6 km over a small ridge and across a shallow valley. The birch woods in this area are the reason this small, somewhat unglamorous, National Park was created in 1909. This area of mountain birch was as good as undisturbed 100 years ago so it was decided to preserve it. As I passed it today it was dormant in its winter hibernation. In mid summer however this would be a transformed environment.

The birch trees would host a huge amount of insects. Millions of migratory birds arrive from warmer climes to take advantage of this feast. The forest floor is covered in wild flowers and grasses hosting further insects. A far cry from today’s frozen winter wilderness.

One species of insect which inhabits these birch woods is a moth. Sometimes the lavae of these moths reach epidemic proportions, as last happened in 1957, when the lavae devestate the trees, sometimes irreparably. In addition to a rich bird life there are other mammals here too like hare, fox and even wolverine and bear occasionally.

Day 79. The small cabin in Pieljekaise National ParkI stopped at Pieljekaisestugan cabin. It was open so I went in. It was simpily furnished with a kitchen, stove and 4 beds. It would have been comfortable to stay here. But I had to continue.

Day 79. The modest mountain of Pieljekaise is the only part of the park above the treelineIt was a short trip through the remainder of the birch forest. Again I was lucky and there were some old scooter track to follow. Soon I was on the bare mountain side skirting round the side of the modest Pieljekaise mountain In an increasing wind I reached the highest point and started the barren descent.

As I descended the rounded ridge the valley which I was heading for appeared. Initialy the dark birch woods on the far side appeared then the west end of the vast Hornavan lake, and then finally the village of Jakkvik in a forest clearing. It was still a long way down.

Day 79. Looking down to Jakkvik and the west end of the vast Hornavan lakeThe descent however was absolutely fantastic. It was not that steep, but steep enough to keep moving. I covered the 4 km in an exciting quarter of an hour. First through the birch woods and then the comforting pine forest again to arrive in Jakkvik.

The youth hostel was booked by a single group and was full, so I went to the shop. They phoned a cabin owner who had just one free. It was expensive but very comfortable. I had no choice other than camping. I bought food in the shop and returned to the cabin.

I had a comfortable evening with a inside shower and full kitchen. I ate a good meal, wrote the blog and poured over the map for the route to Kvikkjokk. Tomorrow I would have an easy day to Vuonatjviken, then a massive 60 km day to Kvikkjokk or which I could break in simple shelter some 15 km from Kvikkjokk.

Despite the wet warm start the day returned to winter. I felt tired today but enjoyed it, especially the wind assisted ski to the quaint Adolfstrom. The rest of the day was quite interesting but Jakkvik was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed to have a very strong snow scooter culture and there were many spoilt Norwegians here to take advantage of the cheaper alcohol and lax scooter laws.

Day 78. Ammarnas to Baverholm

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Distance 50km | Time 11hrs | Ascent 910m | Descent 800m

Day 78. A very quaint cabin and stabbur just north of AmmarnasI managed to get up at 0530. It was already light and there was a strong glow in the south east heralding the arrival of the sun. I had bought a lot of bread and spreads in the shop yesterday for breakfast. By 0630 I was ready and set off.

The scooter tracks seemed to go along the river near the shop so I skied down to it and followed it downstream for a short distance. When the river and scooter tracks reached a more residential area they detoured through the fields to the south. These fields had many hay barns scattered around them.

After the detour the scooter routes reached a signposted junction and split up. I took the one to Adolfstrom which was 55 km. The route headed across fields and onto the Vindelalven river. I followed it for a good km up to a bridge. The scooter path now left the river and followed the uncleared track beside the river for 8 km

It was a very nice ski up beside the river. No scooters passed me and the sun was out. It remained cold at about minus 15. I passed many more old hay barns and a very quaint restored homestead.

Day 78. The traditional north Scandinavian stabbur or larderThis homestead had a very traditional north Scandinavian stabbur which was Lapp in origin as it stood on one pole.

Soon after this homestead the road left the valley and headed up the east side of the valley for 4 km to a mass of corals and fences. This was an area where the reindeer where killed and butchered. All this happened in the open. Reindeer meat is therefore about as organic as you get as the animals are not transported to a slaughterhouse.

Day 78. The white expanse of Bjorkfjallet broken by a reindeer herders cabinThe route now climbed up through the remainder of the birch woods and onto the bare mountain side. The white rolling hills were covered in snow so hardly a rock showed. I passed two small lakes and a reindeer herders cabin where Lapps would spend part of the summer, especially during the marking and ear clipping in July.

The sun had started to started to disappear now behind a veil of mist and the wind began to pick up. By the time I was up on Bjorkfjallet it was strong enough to create spindrift. I had hoped it would disappear as I descended the north side but it got worse.

Day 78. Dellikalven is one of the many remote rivers draining the Vindelfjell mountainsWhen I reached a steep mountain called Laddiebakte it was a gale. This was perhaps a bit of a wind tunnel caused by the steep sided mountain. The snow cover here was very thin compared to just 5 km further south. Thankfully when I left this area the gale dropped back to a wind.

Before long I reached a small cabin which was open at Sjnultjie. It replaced a proper cabin which burnt down a few years ago. This replacement cabin was just an emergency shelter really. It would make a nice alternative to camping. As I was leaving the cabin 3 families with infants arrived on scooters. They had been fishing. The infants were very well wrapped. We chatted a bit before I went.

The last 15 km to Baverholm was pretty easy. Initially there was 4 km across the very top of the treeline until the tracks crossed a frozen river. Then they climbed over a spur to the bare mountainside again. The wind was back for this stretch, wiping up spindrift.

Finally I began a wonderful descent. First down the bare mountain and then into the birch forest. It was not too steep so I could enjoy it in my tired state. Below me was the lake I was heading for called Iraft. Like many mountain lakes in northern Sweden it contained a delta where silt was deposited by the river flowing in. Eventually this delta will consume the lake.

Day 78. The final descent to Baverholm with a silt delta beyond in Iraft lakeAs I descended the weather became more benign. Soon the first pine trees appeared. There is something very comforting about returning to the pine forest after a day being buffeted in the bare mountains. After a lovely couple of km in the pine forest I reached Baverholm.

Baverholm was a homestead which had been turned into a café come restaurant and had a few rooms to rent. It was rustic, cheap, friendly and had a nice vibe. I had not expected such a nice place in this remote hamlet. I took a cheap room and then went to the café. It was not even 1800.

The café was covered in taxidermied animals and birds. Moose antlers lined the old wood panelled walls. Pictures of fisherman with prize trout were posted everywhere. There was just me and 2 Norwegian ice fisherman staying. I had reindeer for supper and then tried to write the blog. It was very difficult to concentrate and keep my eyes open. At last I finished at 2100 and crashed out at once thereafter.

It had been a tremendous day. Apart from the wind it was faultless. The skiing was very good and the snow conditions near perfect. The descent was perhaps the best of the trip so far and the pine forest was as enchanting as ever. Baverholm was very nice and I had notched up another 50km day, the easiest of them all so far.

Day 77. Servestugan to Ammarnas

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Distance 22km | Time 4hrs | Ascent 50m | Descent 380m

Day 77. Looking down to Tjultrasket lakes from near ServestuganI had a pretty easy day ahead but was up at 0700. It had all the promise of a great day weatherwise and there was a bright glow in the sky where the sun would soon be rising.

Breakfast was a tin of stew and some rice which I bought last night for supper but ate something else instead. I was ready to go at 0800 but paying the bill, fetching wood and saying goodbye to the warden, Sigvard, took a good half hour.

The first part of today’s ski was a near continuous 5 km descent down the valley to the Tjultrasket lakes. It was a very nice start and at times quite exhilarating as it was rather icy and very bumpy in the scooter tracks. Occasionally they descended quite steeply through the birch forest.

This area was still part of the Vindelfjallens naturreservat. This was a 5500 square kilometre nature reserve, the largest area of protected nature in Europe. The rules are not as strict as in a national park but there are restrictions. For example snow scooters can only go on dedicated routes and fishing and hunting are restricted. Vindelfjallens naturreservat is best known for its Arctic foxes and there are over 100 multi-chambered dens in this region but only about 10 percent are occupied.

Once on the lakes it was a very pleasant and easy ski down the first and smaller lake. To the south two buttresses rose steeply from the lake. While to the north the birch forest rose up the more gentle hillside.

Day 77. The old buildings of Geunja homesteadAt the end of the smaller lake was a very traditional homestead called Geunja. It had a collection of about 8 small houses. The larder, or stabbur, was a much smaller more simple version of the grand stabburs I had seen earlier in Norway. This small stabbur was raised up on 4 stilts. Obviously there was not as much food to store here due to different farming methods.

The second larger lake was 6 km long and took about an hour to traverse. The weather was very pleasant but there was one short snow shower just to remind me what it could be like. At the end of this lake the quiet scooter track climbed slightly. Three scooters went past towing little mini caravans about 1.5 metres high and as long as a man. They were obviously more serious ice fishermen.

Day 77. Entering the conifer forest again after the Tjultrasket lakesThe last 5 km down to Ammarnas were quite idyllic. Partly because I was back into the conifer forest and partly because the sun was out. The trail was also very easy to ski along. There were a number of glades in the forest with old well ventilated log sheds so grass could be stored and dried. This practice had certainly now ceased but the sheds and occasional horse drawn hay gathering implement remained.

Day 77. The river Tjulan flowed over some rapids before AmmarnasThe trail passed close to the river where there was a long stretch of small rapids. As I approached the river bank 3 mallard ducks took off. There was very little water in the river as most of it was frozen in the mountains waiting for the spring thaw in a month before it rushed down transforming this quiet river.

After the rapids the scooter track descended to the river and followed its frozen surface for the final 2 km to Ammarnas. Indeed the river surface had become something of a scooter road here with signs for scooter tracks to other destinations some 70 km away. I soon reached the road bridge over the river and headed up to the shop and hostel which lay nearby. It was just 1230 and glourious weather.

The hostel was pragmatic but not that nice. It was full of kids. However it had a kitchen and washing machine. And the shop had fruit, veg, meat and chocolate so I could cook a good meal.

I went to the small nature centre which had a very good compact display of the flora and fauna of Vindelfjallens naturreservat. There was a small shop in the centre also. It was run by a very nice biologist who explained more of the area to me. The shop had all the maps I needed to Kvikkjokk.

I returned to the hostel to write the blog. Ammarnas had a very nice vibe to it. Every person I passed nodded or waved and everybody was very helpful. There were only 120 people who spent the winter here. The kids at the secondary school had to go the 90 km to Sorsele every morning and then return each evening.

I had a hearty supper as tomorrow I had a long ski to Baverholm. It was about 40 km and much of it above the treeline. The very sparse settlements I would be passing now en route to Kvikkjokk would all have a “frontier” feel to them, and most were either wholy Lapp or partly Lapp.

It had been a very good day. Perhaps a bit too easy but if I continued from here I would have had to have camped before Baverholm. I managed to use the spare time to see the nature visitor centre and to wash clothes.

Day 76. Syterstugan to Servestugan

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Distance 28km | Time 7hrs | Ascent 350m | Descent 400m

Day 76. Sun in the birch woods on the run down to Tarnasjon lakeI had a very slow start despite getting up at 0700. The weather outside was quite changeable with frequent snow showers between clear spells. The wind was slight but increased in the snow showers. All this encouraged a slow lingering breakfast and further chats with the cabin warden, Morgan, and the other guest.

Eventually I set off at 0930 for the short 14 km ski to Tarnasjonstugan cabin. The weather was much better now and the snow showers had almost ceased leaving longer clear spells. I soon skied down into the added shelter afforded by the birch woods.

As I have come further north the treeline has dropped considerably. In southern Norway it was about 1000 to 1050 metres. Here in north Sweden it is more like 750 to 800 metres at which the highest birch grows.

The descent to Tarnasjon lake was magical. The descent was gentle and yet sustained so I really just stood as I glided down the 3 km to the lake. All this was in the sun.

The southern end of the lake here has an archipelago of small islands. These islands are formed by moraine mounds. In the summer the walking track goes over them with numerous small bridges connecting each island. It must be quite idyllic here in August, a bit like wandering through a Japanese garden. So much so the previous king had a summer cottage near here called Forsavan. The fishing between these islands is said to be excellent and is restricted.

Now in the winter the ski route goes to the west and then north of this archipelago and then cuts across the white expanse on the ice for 7 km to reach Tarnasjonstugan cabin. As I ski over the ice the weather stayed fair as a snow shower remained stationary over the northern half of the lake. Only when I reached the cabin was I slightly affected by the shower.

I bought some snacks here and chatted with the lady warden. She seemed amazed I was contemplating skiing for another 14 km to the next cabin having already done 14 km. They were very easy segments though and the first 14km had only taken two and a half hours.

Day 76. Looking back down to Tarnasjon valley from the route to ServestuganI left at 1300 and continued up the frozen lake for another 2 km before following the scooter tracks into the forest on the east shore. From here there was a very gentle climb up through the birch trees and across bare frozen marshes to the the treeline. The sun was out again and the wind was behind me.

The marked scooter route continued to climb onto the bare snow covered hillside and I got a great view looking back down to the forested tarns and delta at the north end of Tarnasjon lake. It was bad weather to the west and I was just on the edge of the weather divide. I felt justified I had chosen this route and was not stuck in a cabin across in Norway.

Day 76. The high plateau between Tarnasjonstugan and ServestuganThe scooter route continued up across the snowy slopes over a saddle before descending to a small lake. The snow on this plateau was deep. I skirted round the north of the frozen lake before climbing up onto the plateau again and over a second saddle to reach the bigger lake called Servvejavrrie. There were a couple of small cabins here which were probably owned by Lapps and used for reindeer herding and fishing.

After the second lake there was a nice gentle run down the valley back into the birch forest again. The wind which had been behind me, on the saddles especially, now died away. After an easy km through the birch trees I reached the sheltered Servestugan cabin. It was nestled in a small valley in the birch trees. The sun was just setting on the surrounding mountains in a glow as it was 1730.

The cabin was very tidy and well kept as all had been so far on Kungsleden. I was the only guest. The warden, Sigvard, was a retired army officer. He had the leg pulling jokey antics which years of army banter had developed. After I got settled in and bought some tinned food I started to write for 10 minutes. Sigvard then appeared with coffee and a dram of Jaegermeister.

We spent the next 3 hours chatting about the Sweden, the STF or Swedish Trekking Club which owned the cabins and numerous other topics. I was anxious not to forget the blog as I did not want to postpone it. However Sigvard was extremely knowledgeable and the conversation very easy and informative for me. Eventually at 2200 he called it a day and I spent an hour writing before crashing out. Tomorrow was an easy 22 km to the small town of Ammarnas.

It had been a very good day. The weather was kind given what was happening to the west of me. The skiing was pleasant and easy and the views were great. I think I was lucky.