Archive for March, 2009

Day 75. Hemavan to Syterstugan

Monday, March 16th, 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.

Day 74. Hemavan weather and rest day

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Distance 0km | Time 0hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

I slept very well and when I woke at 0630 felt refreshed. However I rolled over and fell asleep again for another 3 hours. When I went through for breakfast I found they had cleared it up long ago. Luckily I had other food from the shop last night.

The sun was out and the sky was clear. My legs however felt very tired. I had to rest. In addition I had two long days of the blog to write up and photos to chose and label. This office work would take about 3 hours. Then once the blog was done I had loads of emails to send which had been hanging over me for a while.

The dairy did indeed take 3 hours. I was not finished until 1330. My legs were not up to a 3 hour ski to the first cabin on Kungsleden even if it was just an 11 km ski so I went to the reception and paid for two nights for my bunk bed.

The lady there said that this had been a military base where courses were run and it was still used by the military. The STF or Swedish hiking club had taken some of the base over as the army used it less and less.

She let me use the internet a while to investigate some of the Kungsleden sections ahead. The section I really wanted to find out about was from Jakkvik to Kvikkjokk. There seemed to be a dearth on information on these 100 km

I then sent some 20 emails on my fiddly phone which seemed to be misbehaving a bit before supper. I was starting to have some concerns about the customs and my kayak. If the jobs worthy officers made such an issue over a 150 pound rucksack what would happen with a 2500 pound kayak and 1000 pound dry suit.

After the buffet supper in the main hut where I was one of two guests I returned to my hut to get up to date with my diary and pack for tomorrow.

There were three cabins I could head for tomorrow Viterskalstugan, Syterstugan and Tarnsjostugan. The distance between each was 3 hours so hopefully I would quickly pass through the first at Viterskalstugan.

It had been a boring day. I had spent at least 7 hours on my phone keypad. Still all the office work was out of the way for the moment and my body had had the rest it deserved. Hemavan did not really invite much exploration being an downhill ski resort with a smattering of closed shops so I gave it a miss. I am sure there are some cultural gems here but I think it would be difficult to find them in a day.

Day 73. Sivertgarden to Hemavan

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Distance 38km | Time 10hrs | Ascent 330m | Descent 400m

Day 73. Snow showers crossing Raudvatnet lake into SwedenAfter a sleep disturbed by painful cramps in my inner thighs each time I moved my legs I eventually go up at 0730. I went down to the farm house to use the toilet and was invited in for coffee and given more bread and marmalade for breakfast.

It was snowing lightly and a very grey day. I was tired and thought about a day off but then decided to continue to Hemavan. After a bit of faffing and packing I did not get going until 0930, much to late for a long day. It was snowing heavily now.

I skied across the steep field down to the lake and then picked up the scooter tracks again. Since starting to follow this scooter track or path just after Hattfjelldal yesterday barely a scooter has passed me. The tracks today are still visible under 10 cm of new snow.

I quickly reach the end of Famnvatnet lake and then started through the undulating birch forest. As my skis were so slippery and the wax was not providing enough grip I decided to put on the short skins. It is extremely tiring skiing with skis which do not provide any friction for the uphill sections, especially on ones arms, which have to work the poles more.

The snow showers died away as I went through the forest before Raudvatnet lake but it remained grey. This section of birch wood seemed thick with ptarmigan. Perhaps because it was near the border.

Raudvatnet lake seemed very peaceful. It was a long narrow lake surrounded by birch forest. Despite being on a marked scooter trail to Sweden there were no scooters. I almost wished for one to consolidate the the new snow. Near the end of the lake was a curious sign the customs had put up about contraband goods. It seemed very incongruous here.

From Raudvatnet lake the scooter trail was now unmarked as Sweden has much less strict laws on snow scooters, and they can pretty much go where they want. There are general thoroughfares from which hunter, fisherman and joyriders come and go as they please. Many of the joyriders are Norwegians over for a few days enjoying the lack of regulations which Norway sensibly adopted a couple of decades ago.

I climbed the gentle slope up to Raurejaure lakes and skied across this for a couple of km to an idyllic cabin. I did not know where to go now as my map ran out but knew I had to head over the ridge to Tangvattnet lake. The scooter thoroughfare now seemed to traverse up the south side of Ruffie hill. On the way up I met another skier and she explained the best route.

Day 73. Looking down on the farms beside east Tangvattnet lake from RufflesI continued up the south side of Ruffie feeling hot and a bit unwell. My legs were tired and I was thirsty. I had not had the opportunity to recover after yesterday. At the top of the slope I crossed a saddle and then saw Tangvattnet lake below me.

On the far side was a string of farms. Their farm buildings all clustered round a farmyard in the middle of white sunny fields. It looked good farming country but I am sure most of it was sheep and dairy. Behind the farms were the inevitable birch woods leading up to the bare white mountains beyond.

The descent from the saddle to the lake was quite steep. Luckily I still had the skins on and this slowed me up a lot but I still had to traverse through the woods occasionally. It was great snow here with a firm base under a couple of centimetres of loose snow on top. The snow conditions in the forests were at last consolidating. I reached the lake just to the west of a peninsular.

Rounding this peninsular I looked down the long stretch of Tangvattnet lake and way beyond it I could just make out the downhill ski slopes cut into the forest on the hill above Hemavan. My heart sank as it seemed a good 20 km away, and it was. The time was already 1500 so another head torch finish was on the agenda.

I followed the general scooter thoroughfare down the lake passing to the north of a large island. There seemed to me a lot of leisure cabins along this stretch of shore on each side of the small road. Eventually I reached the lakes outlet after some 8 km near a small community called Stabbfors.

Here the scooter thoroughfare entered the forest. The route was extremely bumpy as scooters tend to make divots in the snow in forest. After a hard 2 km of this the track crossed the road just below the Stabbfors village. I decided to abandon the track and follow the road so some other muscles could work while my skiing muscles rested. Apparently it was only for 6 km until the scooter thoroughfare recrossed the road for the final stretch to Hemavan.

The walk down the road was a relief from the scooter track. Very few cars passed me and I met a lady on a large Icelandic pony. Before I knew it I had done the 6 km and was at the bridge over the fledgling Umea river, one of Sweden’s main rivers. It was 1900 now and time for the head torch.

Just to the east of the bridge was a flat scooter thoroughfare which went down the east side of the river to the northern end of the town. It was a large town perhaps the biggest I had seen this year with a considerable downhill ski center which seemed to be its reason to exist. It was also a long town.

I walked down a pavement for 2 km to the center where there was a shop still open. I went in and brought some treats. I had drunk a litre of fizzy drink before I even got to the checkout. At the shop they told me the youth hostel was just 500 metres down the road. And it was luckily because it was 20.30 and I was knackered. I had done nearly 100 km in two days on a loaf of very good bread.

He youth hostel was a large collection of some 15 big wooden huts. It reminded me of an army camp. In the central hut they were clearing away a buffet I quickly jumped in for a plain greedy serving before I went to my bunk in a outlying hut. After a shower I did not even bother to write but crashed out.

I would have to write up two days of the diary tomorrow. This would take all morning. It was then 3 hours to the first cabin on Kungsleden called Viterskalstugan. I would probably rest in the afternoon instead.

It had been a very tiring day. Right from the start I had thought about the finish and the food and drink waiting for me there. This rather overshadowed the appreciation of the nature I was skiing through. However, when I finally crawled into bed with a full stomach I was contented.

Day 72. Hattfjelldal to Sivertgarden

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Distance 55km | Time 12hrs | Ascent 730m | Descent 430m

Day 72. An old forest farm beside the trail above HattfjelldalI did not sleep that long in the morning and was awake at 0600. Breakfast was at 0630 and an hour later I was ready to go. The hotel barracks had an old washing machine so I managed to wash all my cloths.

Andre and I were going different routes now and I had a long day to Sivertgarden. While he was faffing with packing the sledge I decided to go as there was little point me waiting. We said our goodbyes and off I went.

The were some prepared tracks which left the Rossvatnet lake road on the east side of town. I followed this road up for a km until I found them heading north. They were prepared ski tracks. They were a bit confusing to follow as there were so many, but by good luck I managed to thread through the maze and find the scooter tracks which apparently went to Hemavan in Sweden.

Day 72. Hattfjell is the distinctive mountain or nunatak which the valley is named afterThe ski tracks went up through the forest passing old farms, abandoned in winter, and crossing the occasional snowy forest glade. After some 5 km they met the scooter tracks which came from the barracks hotel, but were very undulating after the hotel and best avoided. These scooter tracks continued up the forest to a ridge. This ridge was open and I got some great views to Hatten, a curious block of a mountain which was probably a nunatak. It gave the region its name.

From here there was a fast and exciting run down through the spruce forest to Rossvatnet lake. This lake the sixth biggest in Norway is dammed and the level fluctuates some 10 metres. The question now was do I go round the east or west side of the large island. Dubious advice in Hattfjelldal said west but the sign for the scooter track said east. I choose east.

There were some magnificent mountains to the north west with one very prominent mountain called Kjerringtind jutting into the sky. The day was getting better and better and I was warm under a blue sky.

The scooter tracks to my concern started to follow the shoreline rather than cut across to the eastern tip of the island. I followed them as to leave them and start across the sometimes loose snow would have been madness. Soon I reached Grubben and could see cars on the road up from Hattfjelldal.

Day 72. The ice fishermans goal is a half kilo roye or roding which is possibly arctic char in englishThe tracks continued to follow the shoreline all the way into Krutaga rather than cut across the bay. This was a nuisance but they were fast to ski along. At Krutaga I met a local family who were ice fishing. They had caught about 20 roye and when I was chatting with them they caught the biggest, a half kilo specimen. I think roye are Arctic Char and prehaps a reader could confirm that. They told me the tracks did go all they way to Verntrask further up the lake but unfortunately followed the shore.

Day 72. Difficult conditions of ice and sastrugi on Rossvatnet lakeI left them and continued round the shore. There route now became difficult as there must have been strong winds here. Much of the snow had been blown off the ice leaving it bare and the remaining snow had been sculptured into ridges and shapes like a blacksmiths anvil. This hard wind shaped snow is called sastrugi and its larger versions in the poles are the nightmare of polar explorers.

Luckily this sastrugi was small but it lasted of a good 10 km until I reached the point at Brustad. It slowed me up considerably and I had to be careful not to break a ski. After the point I must have left the wind channel as the conditions improved again and the scooter tracks reappeared again.

Day 72 A picturesque farm on the east shore of Rossvatnet lakeIt was getting on when I reached Sordalen and its collection of farms looking picturesque in the later afternoon sun. Unfortunately I still had yet another peninsular to go round to get to Varntrask which was a bit more than 5 km.

Day 72. At the north end of Rossvatnet lake the Okstind massif rises above all elseAs I rounded this final peninsular the view to the north became very clear and the whole of the Okstind massif appeared. These mountains are 1900 metres and quite alpine in character. The evening light did them justice against the blue sky.

The scooter tracks at last reached Verntrask bay where there was a collection of some 20 houses. However, they did not go in but continued across the inlet and round a smaller peninsular before heading inland. It was now 1730 and I still had 10 km to go.

As I started through the spruce forest the weather changed abruptly as a snow shower arrived from the east. It was blowing into in my face. I considered camping but continued. The scooter tracks now started to climb up a valley out of the spruce and into the birch forest. Luckily the snow shower passed and the wind died as there was no protection from the bare birch trees.

On and on it climbed, most of it very gently for a good hour and a half, crossing open frozen marshes and sneaking up rivulet beds. I disturbed plenty of ptarmigan. Just as I thought about putting the head torch on I reached the top of the climb. I could just make out the Famnvatnet lake below me and see a smattering of lights on its north shore. One of these was Sivertgarden farm.

I was dreading the ski down in the dark but the scooter track provided a very gentle run down. I enjoyed it despite my tiredness once I was confident it was not going to plunge down. It snaked down with me barely able to see beyond 10 metres, for 2 km until it reached the road. Form here I only had an easy 2km to go.

I skied along the road as it was easy covered in old snow with the recent snow shower covering any gravel. I passed a couple of houses and then reached the farm at about 1930. The farmer, a young man, was in the barn with the 40 sheep he had. He was surprised to see me and amazed I had come from Hattfjelldal.

He was very kind and even carried my skis to the small cabin he rented out. He showed me his house for toilet and shower. He offered me bread his wife had just baked and spreads. I accepted them as I could not be bothered cooking, or indeed eating, the dried food in my pack.

The farmer and his wife were not from here but bought the farm at the turn of the century. It was dilapidated so they got it cheaply. Since then they had restored the 2 houses and various cabins, built a barn, raised 4 children and worked as a teacher at Verntresk and as a nurse.

He lost a few sheep every year, to wolverine mostly and the occasional bear. He had seen wolf prints around the farm but never seen them. His farm was one of about 5 on the north side of Famnvatnet lake. Behind them rose the birch forest which then petered out up the mountain. They were very hospitable as rural north Norway seems to be.

I returned to the cabin, now warm with the huge stove heating the small room and ate the bread. I tried to write but fell asleep in the chair at about 2200.

It had been a long day. My longest yet in distance but not in effort or time. I ended up exactly where I wanted to be after a spectacular day.

Day 71. Kvalpskarmo to Hattfjelldal

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Distance 18km | Time 3.5hrs | Ascent 230m | Descent 320m

Day 71. The luxurious cabin at KvalpskarmoI was both physically and mentally tired when I dragged myself out of bed at 0730 this morning. It was a long day and late night. I felt pretty sore around my ankles and the soles of my feet. However I slept very well in the comfortable bed with cotton linen.

The lady who owned the cabin came over in the morning to settle things. She amazed us by saying we could stay for free. Not only was it a great cabin, house really, but completely free. I almost felt embarrassed by her generosity. She rented out a few cabins at Kvalpskarmo which seemed a pretty place tucked away at the end of the road.

Day 71. The scooter trail along the forest trackWe set off at 0900 under a blue sky. The forestry track which we were now to follow was an extension of the road but was not cleared from snow. However this uncleared 9 km was a scooter track in the winter which gave perfect skiing conditions.

Day 71. This herd of sheep were kept outside to enhance their fleecesI shot off as my skis were well waxed and enjoyed the fast undulating ski through the spruce forest. I nearly took my jacket off but the downhill sections were cold. After these pleasant 9 km the road was now cleared from the other direction up to a picturesque farm. This farm had a herd of sheep in the snow covered fields. Usually sheep are kept in the barns all winter in comfortable conditions before they go up to the summer pastures. I suspect these sheep were breed for their fleece as a specialist wool variety.

I was getting rather bored of skiing along roads, even deserted ones like this. The snow is packed like ice and the skis are very slippery despite copious waxing. This means my arms work hard. In addition on the downhill sections which are very fast there is a lot of gravel embedded in the snow which damages the skis and strips off the wax. There was just 4 km to the junction with the main road up Susendal which went on the east side of the valley.

I had skied or walked down the very quiet west side of Susendal for about 26 km now since coming down from Borgefjell last night. It was an interesting cultural landscape dominated by farming and small scale forest harvesting We now crossed a wooden bridge over to the east side for the last 3 km on the busier road.

This road had a sparse covering of ice and snow at the sides. To frustrating to ski so I took them off. Andre continued with his sledge scraping the base. We passed a few chatty pedestrians walking dogs before we reached Hattfjelldal.

It was a reasonably large village or small town, with a saw mill and perhaps 500 houses. It had a shop with a sports department, a bank, a post office, a café, and a cheap hotel with barrack style rooms. We checked into the barrack rooms and then each did various chores like repair ski bindings and shop.

Tomorrow we would split up. I would head onto Reesevatnet and then go halfway up it before leaving it to cross into Sweden to pick up the very southern end of the Kungsleden track by Hemavan. Andre will continue to the North of Reesevatnet and then go through Okstind and Saltfjellet before crossing to Sweden. His route will cost him a week but if the weather is good will be more scenic.

Kungsleden is a long hiking and ski route from Hemavan to Abisko. It is about 500 km in all. After a bit of zig-zagging at the southern end it heads north. It has a few stretches without cabins for up to 60 km in the southern end, but I feel confident I could do these in a tiring day. Halfway is Kvikkjokk where I have friends Bjorn and Helena. After that I skirt to the east of Sarek, probably the finest mountain wilderness in Europe. Finally Kungsleden passes through the Kebnekaise mountain area to arrive in Abisko and north Sweden.

It was an easy day. I had earnt it yesterday. The ski down the scooter tracks in the forest was great but the road section spoilt it a bit. The weather however was on my side and it was a beautiful day. It was just a pity that I was not in a mountain region to really appreciate it.