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Sarek National Park—Day Two August 16, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, photography, travel.
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Looking across the valley to the summit of Gisuris.

Looking across the valley to the mountain of Gisuris.

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.

The blue X's mark our route. Green lines represent national park boundaries.

The blue X’s mark our route. Green lines represent national park boundaries.

Christian leads the way at a junction of unmarked paths.

Christian leads the way at a junction of unmarked paths.

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.

Dwarf birch. It has tiny, delicately indented leaves.

Dwarf birch. It has tiny, delicately indented leaves.

Dwindling forest.

Dwindling forest.

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.

Time for a break. My tent-and-stove partner, Jarl, is wearing white shirt at right.

Time for a break. My tent-and-stove partner, Jarl, is wearing white shirt at right.

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.

A kind of vetch, I think.

A kind of vetch, I think.

 

Sedums appeared in different colors.

Sedums appeared in different colors.

Catkins on a willow.

Catkins on a willow.

Luxuriant ferns.

Luxuriant ferns.

An unfamiliar blossom.

An unfamiliar blossom.

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 waterfalls were strung together, one after another.

The waterfalls were strung together, one after another.

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.

All the natural features on this side of the valley have related, unpronounceable names.

All the natural features on this side of the valley have related, unpronounceable names.

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.

Our first stream crossing.

Our first stream crossing—done in the rain.

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Comments»

1. Al - August 16, 2014

Just curious, any kind of communication used ? Cells, SAT fone, Amateur Radio, Family or CB radio, mirrors.

Jenny - August 16, 2014

Our leader, Christian, had a satellite phone. He demonstrated its use to us at one point. It had an antenna that could be rotated for better reception, and a panic button with a cover over it to prevent accidentally activating it. If I remember correctly, the panic button would summon a helicopter if it wasn’t cancelled within an hour.

Cell coverage was nonexistent.


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