Archive for April, 2009

Day 111. Lakselv to Luostejohka

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Distance 30km | Time 8.5hrs | Ascent 660m | Descent 220m

Day 111. Looking from Caskiljohka stream and gorge to Porsanger fjord in the distance I got up quite early at 0600 and had a last shower in the hotel before heading down to another unmemorable breakfast. As there was no one on in the morning the breakfast was in fact laid out the night before and I could have had it even earlier. By the time I had packed up my rucksack and was ready to go it was 0800.

My first leg was to walk some 11 km along the road towards Ifjord. It was 123 km in total but it would have been terrible to walk the road for 4 days. These 11 km were quite interesting. I went from the outlying houses of Lakselv straight into the country quite quickly. Once in the country things became more ramshackle again. Every household or farm was surrounded by old machinery, fencing materials, trailers and numerous sheds in various states of disrepair. This was not very Norwegian but seemed quite common in Finnmark.

I also walked beside the fjord here. It was frozen at the end and edges but I could occasionally see into the more central parts of Porsanger Fjord and it was not frozen. It surprised me the ice around the edge was quite intact. Obviously there is very little tidal movement here other wise the ice would be in fragments.

It was quite a long 11 km. My feet, especially the right foot was getting a pounding under the ball of my toes. I thought it was the shoe falling apart but it was in good condition when I inspected it. I had noticed this discomfort before but after today’s 11 km it was quite a irritation. From experience I knew when the skis went on it would disappear.

After nearly 3 hours I got to a gravel track turn off up Caskiljohka. This stream flowed down through a gorge it had carved for itself. However there was a gravel road to the west of this stream and gorge which went up the spur and climbed through the sparse birch forest. After some 5 km this road reached a cluster of cabins by a reindeer coral.

There must have been about 8 cabins here. They were owned by Lapps and the were working cabins connected to reindeer herding rather that liesure cabins. Beside most of the pragmatic looking cabins was a industrial container. In there were various tools, reindeer medicine and materials.

I stopped near one of these for lunch and the owner came out, unlocked the container and opened it so I could get a good view of the cluttered interior. He took a chain saw out. I tried to initiate a conversation by he was not reciprocating. He was not unfriendly, just indifferent. After 10 minutes he disappeared on his scooter. This Lapp reindeer cabin area was at the snowline really. Below here it was almost bare, save for the new snow which fell two days ago.

After the collection of Lapp cabins and the reindeer coral and fences there was enough snow to ski again. So I waxed my skis and set off. It was a very gentle climb up for about 7 km to a watershed. The higher I ascended the more winter like it became. Eventually at 300 metres altitude it was pretty much full cover with snow again.

Day 111. Luostejohka valley is high open and quite exposedAs the watershed I left Caskiljohka and entered Luostejohka at around 500 metres. The whole of the Luostejohka valley was covered in deep snow. It was on the Finnmarksvidda plateau proper and so hopefully this snow cover will extend all the way to Ifjord at least.

There were two herds of reindeer in Luostejohka valley, both with about 50 beasts in each herd. When they saw me they ran off. Perhaps they associate humans with scooters now and I was a strange thing that could have been a predator moving quite slowly.

For the final 6 km I had an easy ski. The wind was behind me and it was marginally downhill. I still had to ski but I was getting long strides with each step. The weather in the valley was just about OK with a bit of sun on some of the surrounding hills. It the distance I could make out the cabin. It approached fast.

Day 111. The very rustic Luostejohka cabin is privately owned but open for all to useThe cabin was private. It was owned by 3 couples who bought it for nearly nothing a few years ago. One half of one of the couples cut my hair yesterday. However the cabin was open and it seemed everybody used it and knew about it. Perhaps they were obliged to keep it open. The hairdresser and husband were visiting next weekend. It seemed he had already prepared the place by bringing up a few scooter sledges of wood. There was a lot of it.

Inside the cabin it was a bin of a mess. Half eaten meals lay mouldy on the table while the floor was covered in twigs and bark. Overflowing tins used as ashtrays were on the table surrounded by empty vodka bottles. It seemed scooter folk had been using the place as a party venue. The nice hairdresser was about to get a shock.

I got the stove going and burnt huge amounts of plastic and food remains. I then covered the table in newspapers which were only 4 days old. Once this was done and th place warmed up I cleaned 2 pans and melted water. The place started to get more cosy.

I struggled to find the mental energy to write the blog but after 3 hours and a long snooze in front of the stove I finally got it done around 2100. I then had a meal and looked at the maps again.

From here to Ifjord was about 100 km of winter wilderness. It was quite exposed and if bad weather reappeared there was virtually nowhere to hide. There were a couple of small squares on the map indicating simple cabins. These could be open and one is about 50 km from here in the direction I want to go. I will try and reach it tomorrow as a more spacious and warmer alternative to camping.

It had been a good day. My shoes are not up to road walking any more I fear but are OK to ski in. From the Lapp cabins and reindeer coral there was a good winter landscape again and the skiing was excellent. I was also very lucky that there was this rustic cabin open and wood to boot. I had a quiet cosy evening as the wind outside increased and the visibility started to diminish with both mist and dusk.

Day 110. Lakselv weather and rest day

Monday, April 20th, 2009

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

Remnants of yesterdays weather still lingered when I got up at 0730. However the gale force wind had abated considerably. It was to be an easy day as I had various errands to do before I was ready for the next section to Ifjord.

After an unmemorable breakfast I set about my tasks. The first was a haircut. I had not had one since Christmas and it did not look pretty. There was a hairdresser beside the hotel and she gave me a number 1. Even the eyebrows got a hard trim to stop so much ice accumulating on them.

Next was maps. I got all the maps I needed for the next section to Ifjord. This was some 130 km which should take about 4 days. I found the maps in the bookshop and sportshop.

I had some pressing bank matters to deal with and also needed to top up my wallet at the mini bank ATM. The bank staff were noticeably unfriendly, perhaps it was the haircut.

Finally I had to buy some food. Just when I was about to go a local journalist called at the hotel. He wanted to do a small interview. I obliged and we had rattled it off in half and hour. It was for a Lapp newspaper called Saggat.

I finally made the supermarket and bought some of the usual staples, namely chocolate, milk powder, nuts, drinking chocolate and some muesli. This was the basics. I had to go back to the sports shop to buy some very expensive dehydrated meals which I knew to be easy to prepare and tasty.

I finally had to buy some camping gas and new boot laces before I had everything I needed. The only thing missing was a new basket for my ski stick as one of the leather supports had broken. Nobody had a replacement and I hoped I could continue with the damaged one which still had 3 of the 4 leather bands in place.

Finally it was all done by late afternoon. I had nothing more to do so went for a pizza. I ordered a large one. When it arrived I was astonished. Having got used to poor value for money in Finnmark I was expecting something to whet my appetite. What I got must have been a good 60 cm across and heaped with ingredients. It was very good but even I only managed three quarters of it.

I managed to borrow an old computer at the hotel. With it I spent a couple of hours researching the route ahead and sending a few emails. I also transferred money for the kayak and kayaking equipment which was about to be shipped from Finland, where it was made, to Kirkenes.

The weather forecast did not make good reading. It seemed north Norway was going to receive a few low pressures over the next week.

I also tried to contact Ifjord Camping to confirm they would be open when I arrived as I heard they might be closed. Nobody answered the phone.

Then finally the blog in the evening and when that was finished I was ready to go. Tomorrow it was about 30 km.

Initially 10 km along the road until I reached a track which went up into the mountains a short way passing the hazards the steep birch forest might bring. At the end of this track I would be onto the Finnmarksvidda plateau again. Then it was about 15 km to a very simple cabin, the last luxury for a while.

Today was a boring day. It had to be done and the rest was good. I was however eager to get going again. By my estimates I reckoned I had about 8 to 10 days to go to reach Nordkinn, Norway’s most northerly mainland point.

Day 109. Skoganvarre to Lakselv

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Distance 26km | Time 7.5hrs | Ascent 170m | Descent 240m

Day 109. The blizzard after leaving Skoganvarre was from the northIt was a slow start and after the breakfast that the campsite owner had prepared for me the evening before I eventually got going around 1030. The weather was not what I expected, and it was snowing quite heavily.

I thought I would take the scooter track down to Lakselv. It was longer but more scenic perhaps than the 26 km road. The scooter track crossed over to a series of lakes, the most southerly of which was Gaggajarvri. It then followed these lakes northwards and went down Brennadalen valley to Lakselv town.

As usual I was skeptical as to where the scooter path started. The place which was pointed out on the map had no sign of one. So I carried on down the road in the snow showers. Eventually some 2 km south of where I thought, was the start of the scooter track. This perpetual confusion arises because the scooter tracks are not marked on any map just on the brochures, signposts and websites produced by the council. The signpost here said “Lakselv 38 km”. It was now only 24 along the road so I opted for the shorter but more tedious way.

The road was not very busy, with a car every 10 minutes, however I had to walk rather than ski which was slower. The road followed the famed Lakselv river for down through a series of small lakes. The river was open in many places as it flowed down from one small lake to the next. This river was famed for its salmon. Of the top 10 salmon caught here last year the smallest was 17 kg and the largest 24 kg. Indeed Lakselv means Salmom River.

Day 109. Suddenly the blizzard cleared to reveal Lakselvdal valleyThe weather improved considerably as I approached Porsangermoen and I got a great view across the large valley to the high mountains I noticed yesterday on the west side. I also noticed how gnarlly the landscape had now become. The glacial ice had played havoc with the flat plateau of Finnmarksvidda here.

Just before Porsangermoen another snow shower arrived. This one was accompanied by strong wind. It grew in intensity quite quickly so I had to find shelter among some trees and put on windproof cloths and gloves. I also had to lower the skis on my rucksack as they were catching the wind. It was just in time really.

Porsangermoen was not a village but a military camp. Fences surrounded the place. It was home to the Finnmark Jeger Regiment and the Royal Marines also trained here for winter exercises. As I passed it the snow showers increased to a blizzard. Two different military personnel took pity on me as I walked down the road and offered me a lift in their jeeps. I had to decline.

For the next 3 hours all the way to Lakselv the blizzard varied in intensity. I was walking directly into it and had to look down the whole time. My front half was plastered in snow and my eyebrows covered in ice. The birch trees at the side of the road were roaring and twisting in the strong wind, if not gale.

If I had been on Finnmarksvidda at this time it would probably have been a minor storm. I would have had to have dug a snowhole to escape its wrath as a tent would have been difficult to set up. It seemed winter had returned with a vengeance. It was impressive. A few more kind people stopped to offer a lift which I had to decline. I am glad I did not take the longer scooter tracks as these would be very exposed across the lakes.

Day 109. The blizzard returns with a vengence en route to LakselvAs I approached Lakselv there was a lull in the snow but not wind. The visibility improved and I could see beyond the verge and down to the valley. I was a large deep valley with the now mature river Lakselv meandering through lazy bends on its floor. What really struck me was the huge terraces of sand, gravel and small boulders on each side of the valley. These were some 100 metres high and many hundreds of metres wide in some places. The river had worn through these deposits. Occasionally a meander would erode the base of the terrace and a whole section of birch clad platform would landslide down into the river and slowly be carried down stream to extend the alluvial delta at the fjord.

I was tired when I reach Lakselv. Road walking is much harder and with a strong headwind I felt quite sapped. There was just one hotel. Like most places I have encountered up here it was poor value for money. The blizzard had returned and was full thrust again outside so I took it.

Lakselv seemed quite a suburban town with a small centre and many houses in spatial gardens. However through all this ripped the blizzard which would have clouded anyones opinions. We shall see more tomorrow. I was also by the sea at the end of a fjord on the north coast. It was the first time I was beside the sea since leaving Lindesnes on January the first on the south coast.

I had a meal at the hotel and then hand washed all my clothes. I tried to write the blog but there was no urgency as I was free tomorrow. I watched some news instead. It seemed the north of Norway, especially the coast, was indeed battered by a “Storm”, which had closed many roads.

It had been an interesting day but not one I would want to repeat too often. I am sure spending a day at Lakselv will be more useful than a day with the vodka-pickled Finnish white trash at Skoganvarre campsite. Here I could prepare for the next leg which was the 4 days over the wildest part of Finnmarksvidda to Ifjord.

Day 108. Stiipanavzi to Skoganvarre

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Distance 27km | Time 6hrs | Ascent 170m | Descent 510m

Day 108. Descending down Silesskaidi into the birch treesI slept well in the cabin and woke with the sun streaming through the large windows at 0630. I got up soon after. I still had the blog to finish from yesterday as I was just too tired to write it last night. I let the dehydrated chicken curry simmer for breakfast while I made a start on the blog. The fire still had some embers so I put on a couple more logs and within five minutes it was roaring.

There was no great hurry today, which was just as well because by the time I had finished the blog, had breakfast, packed my stuff and tidied the cabin it was nearly 1030. I had to ski down to the Savnjajavri lakes, cross them and then ski some 10 km along an official scooter route; a total of 27 km.

It was an short ascent back to the plateau from the cabin. The weather was fair but there was a chilly north wind. After crossing a small lake I climbed slightly and then started a glorious easy descent to another lake. The new snow lay on the firm base and to give great conditions. My skis quietly slide over the snow with all the stealth of a of a snake crossing silk. When I got to this second lake the sun was warm and the wind had disappeared. I was now in the birch forest again.

I found some old scooter tracks buried under the new snow and followed them. They snaked through the birch trees and across marshes and small tarns until they reached a stream coming down from the south east. This stream was open in places and I stopped for a drink. Where this stream met the Stiipanjohka just a half km further down it grew considerably and there was a lot open deep holes in the ice. I was cautious crossing it.

The old scooter tracks now followed the west side of a reindeer fence down for about 5 km until they reached the most southerly Savnjajavri lake. This was again a nice pleasant quiet ski across new snow.

Day 108. Looking north from Silesskaidi to the Savnjajavri lakesThe Savnjajavri lakes were essentially two main lakes and were about 4 km long. There was a cold wind blowing down the lake into me and I had to wrap up again. I was off the map I bought from Per at Nedre Mollesjohka lodge now so hoped the scooter tracks I was following joined the end of the official scooter track at the north end of the lakes.

When I reached the northern end I was surprised to see a hamlet appear. There seemed to be about 15 houses and cabins. Most of these were in an unkempt state with collapsing sheds and rickety a lean-to or three on the house. Surrounding the houses were large scooter sleds, old machinery, old upturned boats, piles of raw fence posts and other rural detritus.

I assumed the hamlet was called Savnjajavri. It was a Lapp community. Half of it looked like it would be a working community in the summer with net fishing on the lakes and reindeer herding on the surrounding hills while and the other half of the houses looked quite sad and neglected with the owners dulling their boredom with vodka.

While I dithered about which way to go a heavy snow shower swept over the area. I sheltered on the balcony of an unoccupied house while it passed. After 15 minutes it had passed and I skied over to another part of the hamlet where I could see a house which was occupied. I asked here for the best way to Skoganvarre. Apparently there was a road which was now a scooter track. It was 10 km and was the only way as the alternative had many bare patches.

Day 108. The mountains of Beiggevatgaise rise steeply from the plateau of FinnmarksviddaI set of along the road. Occasionally it was sparsely covered but 99 percent of it was well covered. There were a number of recent tracks obviously from those who lived at the hamlet. The road climbed slightly for the best part of 4 km through birch woods. There was a great view to the west towards Beiggevatgaise, which was a steep group of mountains rising up from the flat plateau. It was surprising to see them here. They looked like sedimentary mountains.

Indeed the landscape was changing considerably here. The plateau descended into a gnarly terrain of small deep valleys and crags knolls and hillocks. Above it rose the mentioned mountains.

Day 108. Approaching Skoganvarre and its pine clad valley as another snow shower arrives from the northFrom this high point in the the road I now had a long descent down to the gnarlly lowlands. I could see from here they were covered in the luxuriant greenness of pine trees. I had just seen birch trees since Dividalen about 2 weeks ago so was looking forward to ski down to them. I could also see another heavy snow shower was arriving and wanted to be in the trees before it reached me.

I sped off down the road which was quite steep in places. It didn’t take long to reach the comfort of the pines. I was now in the main Lakselvdal valley and it was an easy ski along the final stretch of this gravel road until I reached a bridge over the Lakselv river to the main road. The Skoganvarre campsite was a half km down the road.

Skoganvarre camping was a dreadful place. It was a collection of some 50 static caravans and numerous small cabins. The owner was a nice helpful person, but his wife was a shaky legged drunk. They were both Finnish. Most of the customers here were also Finnish over here to ice fish in the winter and river fish in the summer. I retired to my cabin to write, emerging to eat the worst meal this year which luckily was extremely bland. The campsite was also in the middle of the vodka belt.

The Finnish owner had various maps and there was a customer who was extremely knowledgeable about the route I wanted to take, and gave me good advice as to how to cross the mountains to Ifjord. He said it would be winter up there for another month. I seemed I could stay in a rustic hut one night and then camp for 2 nights if all went well.

Ideally I should go from here at Skoganvarre onto this mountain massive but I had to resupply, buy a few more maps, replace a ski stick basket and other chores which I could only do in Lakselv. I had a rule not to take cars buses etc on my tour otherwise I could have nipped down to Lakselv the day after tomorrow to buy things and return.

It had been a good day. The skiing was great and the weather was generally fine with the odd heavy shower. The cultural void at Savnjajavri and then the cultural shock of Skoganvarre campsite was a definite disappointment, especially the latter.

Day 107. Mollesjohka to Stiipanavzi

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Distance 32km | Time 8.5hrs | Ascent 350m | Descent 390m

Day 107. Per of Nedre Mollesjohka lodge dressed in reindeer leggings to drive supplies on his scooterTwo guests at the lodge, and also Per who owned the lodge, told me there was an open cabin owned by the military about halfway to Skoganvarre. This was great news as Skoganvarre was about 60 km and t would be best to break it up. The cabin was at Stiipanavzi about 30 km away. This meant I did not have to leave at 0400 but at a normal time.

So I got up at 0730 for the breakfast at 0800. It was a simple breakfast with newly baked bread. It was quite a social affair with the group of about 10 lively ladies and the 3 other groups. By coincidence one of the lively ladies was from near Otta and had seen my newspaper article from a month ago. They were a very nice bunch.

The weather was trying to put a damper on things. It was snowing heavily and blowing a force 5 or 6. Miserable really. At 0930 the owner o the lodge, Per, appeared. He looked a real Lapp in his reindeer trousers and fur hat. He was going to Ravnastua lodge with some things and would also make a trail for the lively ladies and another group to follow to the junction with the official scooter trail. They all set off around 1000.

I was a bit more undecided as my route was across open moorland with no shelter and featureless to navigate in. If the weather turned really nasty I would have to dig a snowhole but there was generally too little snow for this. I dithered as a few snow showers came and went. Eventually at 1100 I decided to go. It was as late as I could comfortably leave if I wanted to get to Stiipanavzi cabin.

The weather was still windy when I left but the forecast was it would ease during the day. Initially I followed the tracks of the lively ladies who in turn were following the tracks made by Per’s scooter. These tracks went across moorland with willow scrub poking out of the snow. The snow was compact but must have been less than a metre deep. After some 6 km of this undulating route across moorland and frozen lakes with the odd snow shower and force 5 wind against me I eventually reached the official scooter track to Ravnastua lodge. I was just going to cross it and continue north east. However I met Per returning on his scooter.

Day 107. The shelter between Ovre Mollesjohka lodge and Ravnastua lodge lies beside lake BeatnatjarviPer said there was a emergency shelter some 5 km down this official scooter track. I thought I would head for it and put my windproof salopettes on. It was a fast ski to this shelter as the wind was now partially behind me. I crossed the three lakes as directed and the shelter was in a bay on the third lake. It was old, simple and somewhat dirty inside with grime and coffee residue. There was one filthy mattress on one of the 4 sleeping platforms. It was cold inside but I dressed here and ate some chocolate.

While I was here a couple of scooters turned up. One was driving up fuel to a depot for reindeer herders and the other was an old wizened Lapp of about 70 years at least. The latter spoke no Norwegian. The younger said the weather would get worse this afternoon.

Day 107. A view of flat Finnmarksvidda between the snow showersThe wind was still strong outside, indeed I think it had increased to a force 6. It was 20 km to Stiipanavzi cabin but I was going virtually straight into the wind. I wondered if I should turn back after I had gone a km as it was bitterly cold and my extremities and face were getting chilled. I put more gloves on pulled my hood right down and continued.

It took a good 5 hours before I was approaching Stiipanavzi cabin. The journey was quite tedious. The only thing that changed was the amount of bad weather. The wind continued as force 5 or 6 for the whole distance. It brought some snow showers with it, each one lasting for about half an hour. The flat landscape, strewn with boulders and glacial erratics disappeared during these showers. I frequently had to use the GPS to find out where I was as there were no features to orientate myself with.

During the snow showers I had to remove my glasses as they got so covered in snow I could see nothing. Then I really had to pull my hood down look to the ground to avoid my face getting plastered in snow. Between the showers however the sun tried to return. In the sunny periods the light showed up every detail and contrast in the landscape and snow where even the most minute ridges and imperfections were highlighted. It was a very crisp Arctic light.

Soon I was just 2 km from the cabin. I could see the dark canyon of Stiipanavzi which was filled with birch trees. This canyon cut into the flat undulating landscape deeply and drained it. They were a feature of Finnmarksvidda. I had recently crossed one 6 days previously and they were a nightmare. Deep loose snow and steep sides.

Day 107. The cabin at Stiipanavzi was well sited between Mollesjohka lodge and SkoganvarreThe cabin was sited just at the lip of this canyon. It was owned by the military. It was easy to descend the few hundred metres to the shelf it was perched on and surrounded in birch trees. I skied down to it and was nicely surprised as how good condition it was in. Inside it was quite nice with 4 beds and a wood stove. Initially I did not see any wood and then found a whole sack of it. Within an hour I had it quite cosy. This cabin seemed to get a bit of the scooter traffic and there were a lot of coffee spillages and empty vodka bottles around which would take the shine of in in some years.

It was 1930 where I reached the cabin and I was not settled and warm until 2100. After my dehydrated meal I set about the blog. I did not finish until midnight though. Even at midnight there was a small glow in the northern sky where the sun was resting just below the horizon.

It was hard day with the wind sapping my energy. However it was really just what I needed. It was a full return to winter after the scare of spring some days ago. The temperatures must have been down to minus 10 and plenty of new snow had fallen. The cabin at Stiipanavzi was perfect and finding the wood was enough for me to forgive the coffee spilling scooter drivers who must have brought it here.