Sarek National Park—Day Three August 20, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
Tags: Lapland, Sarek National Park, stream crossings
1 comment so far
When we arrived at the bank of the Sjnjuvtjudislåhkå River—where we would cross the boundary from Padjelanta National Park to Sarek National Park—we had a nice flat area to camp on. The weather cleared, after a fit of rain in the afternoon, and we had a pleasant evening. We set up our tents. By now I was getting familiar with the tent, finally understanding that the orange tent poles and the purple tent poles went into the orange and the purple slots, respectively. So we all created our tent community.
I didn’t think too much in the evening about how we would have to cross that river. But in the morning, I started thinking about it. I gazed at the river. I could see there was an island in the middle. I understood the basic law of current: it is best to cross in a wider area where the flow spreads out, rather than a narrow area where the flow is pinched and becomes more intense.
For all the time I’ve spent journeying up streams in the Smoky Mountains, I should have been able to do it with no problem. But I ended up having the biggest problem of anybody.
I went “mental.” What I mean is, I overthought the situation and worried about it—probably for the very reason that I shouldn’t have worried about it—and I had a big problem.
I started getting extremely anxious about it. This is part of who I am, unfortunately, a person who worries about things to the point that they actually do become worrisome.
After our cuckoo-clock wake-up and breakfast, Christian gathered his flock to give us some guidance. When we crossed the stream, he said, we should unfasten the belts on our backpacks in case we had to take them off all of a sudden. We should use our poles to probe the stream bottom as we crossed. One of the challenges of this stream was that the water was completely opaque with glacial silt—it looked like milk rather than water—so that it would be nearly impossible to see the bottom.
We finished breakfast and packed up. Since the crossing was very close to where we’d camped, a lot of people put on their water shoes right to start with—sandals or plastic shoes. I put on my Crocs. But then I looked at the river and decided that I didn’t want to use those plastic soles—I’d keep on my hiking shoes, lightweight Merrells with Vibram soles, instead. The traction might be better. So I switched my footwear.
We walked to the crossing point. Three or four people made it across to the middle island, and I decided I might as well go. I started across. The flow of the river was powerful. I made my way tentatively across the uneven stones, and Christian called over to me, “Face upstream!” The idea was to plant my hiking pole upstream and extend my forward foot until I found a point of stability, transfer my weight to that foot, etc. Repeat. The problem: I was so anxious about it that my muscles became very tense, which made it harder.
Somewhere along the way, with the roaring water and the heavy pack on my back, I lost my balance. My center of gravity shifted backwards, and all of a sudden, there I was, floating rapidly downstream!
I was carried along swiftly by the current. The one thing I can say for myself is that I didn’t panic. I realized that I needed to find a rock to hang onto. I passed one, two, maybe more such rocks, and finally found one that I could cling to. So there I stopped myself, finally.
Christian was heroic. He was able to come over to where I had landed, take my waterlogged pack from me, and give me a helping hand. Amazing! He helped me over to that middle island.
But I was pretty shaken up. I couldn’t manage to put that pack back on. I waited a few minutes until I collected myself, and then I was able to complete the journey across the river—the second part was easier, with less of a current, than the first. Somebody carried my pack over for me, either Christian or Bjorn, who was a second leader. I was so preoccupied that I couldn’t even observe the details.
In the course of being submerged, my pack had become pretty wet and of course a lot heavier. Some of my clothes got wet. Fortunately, my sleeping bag was only slightly dampened. Once across the river, I struggled to put my pack back on, and it was difficult.
We stopped for a break at the top of a hill on the other side. I wrung out some of my clothes and dried them out in the sunshine.
We started hiking again and passed a Sami hut that was used for seasonal care of the reindeer.
We continued along a wide valley that gradually bent southward toward the Ruohtesvagge, one of Sarek’s major valleys. We passed an interesting “glacial erratic,” a big boulder that had been deposited there by glacial activity.
During this time I was conversing with and getting to know a fellow named Anders who was delightful to talk with. I learned that his work involved providing home visits to elderly or disabled persons, and I could imagine that they must appreciate his visits very much.
Once again, the weather started to deteriorate, but this time we didn’t get the bout of heavy rain we’d experienced the day before.
Finally we arrived at a lovely campsite on a flat area near the stream. I saw reindeer antlers on the ground.
And later that evening, a great herd of reindeer streamed out of a side valley and crossed the stream in front of us as we watched. It was one of those silent, gigantic happenings of nature that we are blessed with, if we see it.
Sarek National Park—Day Two August 16, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, photography, travel.
Tags: backpacking food, dwarf birch, Lapland, Padjelanta National Park, Sarek National Park, stream crossings, Swedish language
At 7:30 on the morning of the second day, a loud battery-operated cuckoo clock sounded in Christian’s tent, signaling that it was time for us to rouse ourselves. In a spare moment, I studied the contents of my food bag. All the food for the trip had been organized by STF (Svenska Turistföreningen), the Swedish outdoor outings organization, at their location in Abisko.
STF looked to be similar to the Appalachian Mountain Club, which organizes outings and runs mountain hostels and huts. The Abisko Turiststation would be the counterpart to AMC’s Pinkham Notch lodge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
My tent-and-stove partner, Jarl, and I had different items, some designed to complement each other. For instance, I had a great quantity of pasta, and he had packets of dehydrated sauce that would be used with it. I had three large tubes of processed food to be squeezed out onto the numerous “Wasa Bread” crackers that we carried. One was a cheese flavor, one a meat flavor, and one seafood. (I could tell by the pictures on the labels, not by the words, which were of course in Swedish.)
I browsed through an assortment of 40 or 50 packets of powdered soup. And a large bag of quinoa, that grain that’s become known as a high-protein “superfood” (more about quinoa in a later post). And a lifetime supply of oatmeal—but no sugar to put on it. And other mysterious packets labelled with hand-lettered Swedish words.
I would have to do my utmost to consume all this food and reduce the weight of my pack.
I was becoming familiar with the alcohol-burning stove. The equipment list had included “matches or cigarette lighter.” I thought it would be more efficient to bring a lighter. (Jarl asked me, “Do you smoke cigarettes ?”) The problem with the lighter was that unless I filled the fuel reservoir to the brim, I had to aim the flame downward, resulting in a burnt thumb every time. Fortunately, Jarl had brought matches, so most of the time we used those.
We all had our breakfast of unsweetened oatmeal and took down our tents.Today we would leave the highly improved Padjelantaleden, the main hiking artery of Padjelanta National Park, to reach the border of Sarek. Using unmaintained paths, we’d cross a pass between the peak of Sjnjuvtjudis and the western summits of Ahkka.
As we climbed toward the pass, we crossed a open space of scrub willow and squishy moss. The spindly birch trees dwindled to isolated clumps. Now we had only the dwarf birch, a ground-hugging plant more a shrub than a tree. I delighted in the variety of plant life that thrived in this harsh climate: many flowers, berries, and ground covers. One of the plants—I could never determine specifically which one—gave off a bracing, astringent odor.
We tackled our first extended climb, about 250 meters (I had switched my altimeter to metric mode). I found that I had no problem keeping up on ascents. My trouble with the pack had more to do with balance and with getting the darn thing up on my back. My usual procedure of bending one knee and using my leg as a halfway stopping point didn’t work very well, as the pack persisted in sliding back down. I experimented with loosening the straps before hoisting the pack, as I found that my arm became stuck as I tried to slip it through. Mainly, though, I started looking out for boulders of suitable height that I could use to cheat with, reducing the total lift.
I started to get to know people. I had a conversation about Swedish hydro power with Jonas, who seemed possessed of great general knowledge. He and his amiable tent partner Ulf were constantly engaged in animated talk. I exchanged opinions about plants with Juliette, the woman from France and the only other non-Swede. Naturally the general conversation was in Swedish, and I knew I missed out on some good jokes, but everyone was fluent in English, and they often courteously switched over to that language. Christian’s group instructions were of course in English.
I regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to learn Swedish. My only excuse is that it was so easy for everyone to speak English. As my friends chatted, walking along, I thought I could make out the meaning of a few phrases—I know some German, which is related. But what happened more often was that my brain would take a Swedish phrase as some funny, meaningless phrase in close-sounding English—the kind of phrase that for instance might make a good name for an experimental rock band.
We had lunch of soup and cheese-spread-on-Wasa-Bread beside a stream that tumbled down from high on the west side of Ahkka. After eating, I wandered up the stream and along an endless succession of small waterfalls, each one presenting itself as a separate space of cascade and pool. The stream beckoned me onward and I had to force myself to turn back.
The water in the picture above reminds me an important thing: None of the stream water needed to be purified. Giardia is not a problem here, which makes backpacking life much easier.
After lunch we passed the Sjnuvtjudisjavrasj lake. The sky began to darken, and it looked like we were in for rain.
The rain finally came pelting down as we descended toward the river that forms the Padjelanta-Sarek boundary. We stopped to put rain covers on our packs. I realized that I had stupidly put my rain cover in nearly inaccessible depths in my pack, and opted to do without it. My clothes were protected in a stuff sack.
After walking through a marshy area, we came to the first significant stream crossing of the trip—the first where most people opted to switch to water shoes. On this first crossing, I did as the others did and put on my “Crocs.” I would soon come up with a different system, using the plastic Crocs only as camp shoes. My system, and what happened with my boots, became a source of fascination for the others over the course of the trip.
We crossed with a bit of slipping and sliding and camped at a high, flat area at the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhka River. Christian told us we had a bit of a “creek crossing ahead,” just possibly harder than the last one. As we set up camp, I gazed at the river. It didn’t look like a mere creek to me. It flowed wide and fast, full of white glacial silt. We’d tackle it the first thing in the morning.
Sarek National Park—Day One August 13, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
Tags: Ahkkajaure, Lapland, Nature Travels, Ritsem, Sarek National Park, STF, Stockholm
In the days before my trip, I spent much time studying the equipment list sent to me by Nature Travels, the UK-based company through whom I booked the trip. Like most Americans, I am metrically impaired and had to convert all their kilograms to pounds. For a backpacking trip of eight nights and nine days—far longer than my previous longest of five days in the California Sierra—they said, “The backpack does not need to weigh more than 18-20kg including tent and food.” 40 to 44 pounds! I certainly hoped not!
We would divide into two-person teams to share tent and stove. I wondered how that would work—whether for instance I would share with someone who snored, or bother my partner by snoring myself. And would I disturb that person unduly if I had to get up to pee in the night—under an eternal Arctic sun, above treeline, no place to hide? (In fact, I was so pleasantly tired every night, I never had to get up in the middle of the night.)
As tents, food, stove, and fuel were to be provided at the starting point (adding 6-8kg, or 13-17lbs.), I set 25lbs. as my maximum weight for the pack at home. I had a lot of the gear already, but needed to acquire some items, such as a mosquito face net and a rain cover for my pack. Would it be rainy and buggy the whole time? I re-read Internet information. “Sarek is one of the rainiest areas of Sweden.” I hadn’t noticed that detail before!
My trip featured logistical challenges. For instance: I would arrive at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport at 7:50 a.m. July 24. My hotel had a check-in time of 3:00 p.m. Could I leave my luggage at the hotel that day? Should I find a luggage locker at the train station? For the air travel, I had a giant red duffle with roller wheels, the backpack encased inside it together with clothes suitable for the couple of days I’d spend in the city. I was packing for two identities, my “wilderness” self and my “urban” self, one nested inside the other.
The real challenge was that I had to emerge from the 19-hour train/bus trip from Stockholm to Lapland with only what I would carry on my back for nine days.
My stay in the city worked out well. My hotel, the Central Hotel on Vasagatan a few blocks from the train station, gave me a room when I arrived at reception six hours ahead of check-in time. Soon I set off to explore around town. The only negative: Stockholm was experiencing a heat wave of 28-29 degrees C (in the mid-80s F). The sun blazed down from a metallic-looking blue sky, and I found myself searching for shady spots. My hotel was not air-conditioned.
I will share pictures of Stockholm and describe my experience in a separate post when I complete my account of Sarek.
On the 25th, my train was scheduled to depart 5:17 p.m. It left the station nearly an hour late, and I had a connection to make at Hudiksvall with a 27-minute layover. This was the start of a journey that proved stressful. I had little room for error at the destination: it all depended on catching a certain bus that would be met by our group leader at a little place called Ritsem, just north of the Arctic Circle.
It happened that Sweden’s SJ rail system experienced a major electrical problem that evening affecting all northbound traffic. I made my connection (the train I connected with was even later than the one I started with), but by the time I arrived at Gallivare for the transfer to bus, the train was three hours behind schedule.
To make a long story short, I arrived at Ritsem thinking I was on my own and too late to join the trip. I asked other bus passengers if they were in fact with the “Nature Travels” group, but they all said no. I didn’t realize that they were going on the same trip, but they had booked it through STF, the Swedish outdoor adventure organization. To compound the problem, I’d gotten off the bus one stop too early, at Ritsem’s boat dock rather than the buildings up the hill.
The handful of other passengers who disembarked at the dock quickly dispersed, moving off purposefully. I decided that all the Nature Travels people must have somehow arrived earlier and already taken the boat across the Ahkkajaure lake to the start point of the hike. It looked as though I’d have to return to Stockholm—my trip an utter failure. I sat down in the bus shelter to wait two hours for the next bus—after 22 nearly sleepless hours of travel from Stockholm. I’d have to talk the bus driver in letting me on without the appropriate ticket, and the same for the train ride back. I stared across the lake toward cloud-shrouded mountains with white splotches of glaciers. I took a picture, but my hands were shaking and it came out blurry.
Then our trip leader, Christian Heimroth, pulled up in his truck. I was rescued! One of the bus passengers had noticed that an English-speaking woman with a backpack had gotten off at the dock—Christian was missing one person from his list—maybe I was that person. What a relief!
We drove up the hill, and I discovered a beehive of activity as members of the group organized their gear and enjoyed a hot meal. I was introduced to everybody, and received my food bag, stove, and fuel. I was to partner with a man, a very nice fellow named Jarl. Somehow, pairing with someone of the opposite sex—potentially awkward—never became a problem. We quickly established routines around our tent, and Jarl proved to be an interesting person to talk to and a good partner.
My food bag seemed extremely heavy. I got everything into my pack and, with some difficulty, hoisted it onto my back to test it out. Had I added only the stated 6-8kg, or was it more? I will never know. I can only say that I have never done a trip before with a pack I could barely manage to get onto my back. And I wasn’t satisfied with my arrangement for putting things in the pack or strapping them on—this was partly because it was a new pack of a different style than my old one, and my old system didn’t work.
So we walked back down to the dock while Christian drove our gear down. I wish I could tell you what time it was. Between my own travel fatigue/disorientation and the very different angles of sun at that latitude, I can’t tell you. What I came to learn about the sun angles: somewhere between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, the sun dropped below the horizon, but it wasn’t dark. It was an eternal, beautiful dusk that lasted until about 6:00 in the morning. I quickly adapted to sun below horizon/ sun above horizon instead of my usual sunset/ sunrise times.
We collected our gear from the truck and climbed onto the boat. I had not yet adjusted to my heavy pack and felt very clumsy. I was embarrassed that I needed to take a helping hand getting on the boat. This theme would continue for quite a while.
We crossed the giant lake that is like a scar across Lapland, somewhat like the Great Glen in Scotland. Unfortunately the detailed map I purchased in Stockholm depicts an area just a tad too far to the south to show the lake. It shows the landing point on the southwest shore of Ahkkajare, marked with an “X”. You will see two blue “X”es on the map, our starting point and where we camped, after a surrealistic journey through stunted, twisted birches and across bridges over angry, ranting rivers.
We would soon leave all trees behind, but this dreamlike twisted birch forest and lush groundcover were beautiful.
We soon started crossing the Vuajatadno river and its many side streams and tributaries. Glaciers generally send their water down in complicated paths.
I felt very top-heavy with my pack, but this section was all in Padjelanta National Park which, unlike Sarek, has level, maintained paths and bridges. By the time we got to Sarek, I had become more accustomed to my high center of gravity.
It was a good thing a bridge existed here.
The theme for the next section was the raging water and how we were able to negotiate it with the civilized bridges of Padjelanta. Eventually we would have no bridges.
We climbed above the Vuotadjano valley and looked at the river from a more forgiving perspective.
Finally we reached our first campsite. I had long since lost all sense of time, so I can’t tell you what time it was. We set up camp and had a dinner of reindeer meat fried in butter. I coordinated with my new partner. The butter was in my food bag, not in his, and we used about 1/16th of it for this dinner. I contemplated the total 1/2 lb. or more that I had in my bag. I must say, the folks who prepared the food bags leaned toward heavy supplies, but I adjusted. Still, we never used even a small portion of that butter.