Sarek National Park—Day Three August 20, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
Tags: Lapland, Sarek National Park, stream crossings
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.