Sarek National Park—Conclusion September 8, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, travel.
Tags: Lapland, Sarek National Park
Now I have bad news to share: my backup camera battery didn’t work.
Same brand, same size as my other battery. Fit into the camera fine… it was fully charged… but my camera gave me a message: “Battery cannot be used.” I finally figured it out when I studied the fine print. My old battery was 3.6V 940mAh 3.4Wh. The one I purchased three years later was 3.6V 1100mAh 4.0Wh.
It was the morning of Day Seven. We stopped for a rest beside the Bierikjavvre lake. As we snacked and had some water, a group of 20 or so reindeer wandered over and paused to graze just a few yards away. This was the best viewing of reindeer we’d had on the whole trip! And of course that’s when my battery died. No problem! Insert backup…
Days seven and eight featured travel over the longest distances of the trip. We proceeded northeast along a chain of lakes and crossed the boundary out of Sarek at a bridge, entering Stora Sjöfallets National Park. In the map below, you see a green boundary line and a place where we had to detour from our general heading to make use of a bridge.
It was as we approached the bridge that Christian gave us our test in navigation. The bridge was off in the distance, beyond big patches of marshy ground and several good-sized streams. In fact, I could not even see the bridge—I ‘d had my vision tested shortly before the trip and was due for a new pair of glasses. They’d been ordered but not arrived at the time I departed. So I was forced to just follow the others.
It was not a test in compass work but a test in judging the terrain and picking the best route. As it turned out, I think I could have found a good route even without seeing the bridge. It was a matter of picking up faint paths that led in that direction, and I am very experienced in spotting traces of human footprints.
We waded across wide, gravelly streams—these weren’t as difficult as some of the others—and crossed the churning Guhkesvagge River on the bridge. A water fowl was perched on a rock just below the bridge, waiting for a tasty fish to swim past. We walked another hour and reached our campsite for the night. I made a silly mistake when it came time to fetch some water for cooking, walking in the wrong direction for what seemed like a very long time until I came to a stream. There was another stream right on the other side of our campsite!
The next morning we had to cross a lot of boggy ground that was thick with scrubby willows. I was wearing shorts that day, and I began to realize long pants would given me better protection as we pushed through the scratchy willows. The mucky ground was another problem. It nearly sucked the boots off our feet! But pleasant conversation helped to take our minds off the conditions. That was the day that I had a long discussion about the Beatles with Ulf, who is very knowledgeable about music. At lunch I got into another fun conversation about “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad, ” both of which are quite well known in Sweden.
We had a sharp deadline to meet that day. We needed to connect at 6:00 with Sami people who would take us in boats to their village, at the eastern end of the lake. After lunch we crossed another stream, this one featuring a relaxed, slow current and a deep swimming hole. Several of the group took advantage of the swimming hole, diving into the refreshing water. It was sunniest, hottest day of the whole trip.
We crossed a high pass beside a distinctive conical mountain called Slugga and worked our way down to the lake, staying to the highest ground to avoid extensive bogs. It was here that friendly Bjorn presented me with an especially nice reindeer antler and insisted that I carry it on top of my pack.
We met the boatmen and had a chilly ride down the lake. By the time we reached the far end, I was damp with the spray that came over the sides. But we had a warm supper waiting for us: a traditional Sami meal of smoked fish and potatoes. The fish was Arctic char, served whole. I noticed my tentmate Jarl, a lover of seafood, expertly dealing with the bones.
After dinner we had more walking to do, up over a pass. We stopped to camp in a meadow, where a gusty wind picked up as we were pitching our tents. But at any rate we all had excellent tent-pitching skills by now.
In the morning we had just a short walk down to the Saltaluoka mountain hostel operated by STF, the Swedish outdoor group. We took advantage of the showers and sauna and enjoyed a buffet lunch. Back in civilization!
We took a boat across the lake to Kebnats, where we caught the bus back to Gallivare. How different everything seemed now. When I’d taken the bus coming in, as I’ve described, I was consumed by worry over being two hours late, not realizing that other people on the bus were part of my group. Now I had made fifteen new friends. Gradually we parted company. Inge, who lives in Ritsem, said goodbye when we got on our bus. Others went different ways at Gallivare. Still, a good number of us rode the same overnight train toward Stockholm. We shared a table in the dining car and enjoyed more conversation.
Once again, endless forests glided past the windows, and I listened to the peculiar sound made by the cables of the electric train. The journey of 16 hours seemed interminable at times, but I had a good book—Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, which I had read every evening in the tent for a short while until sleep overcame me. But I could not sleep in the train—I never sleep well unless I can stretch out, and the problem was compounded because the woman sitting next to me had unfortunately doused herself in strong perfume. Nevertheless, we finally arrived in Stockholm, and the last glimpse I had of any of my companions was of Jonas, running down the stairs at Stockholm Central.
Sarek National Park—Day Six September 3, 2014Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, photography, travel.
Tags: Lapland, Rapadalen, Sarek National Park
This was the different day of the hike—we were not trying to march a certain distance across the park, we were climbing to the top of a mountain. Its name is Låddebakte. I should say that I had a lot of trouble with names of places on this trip. There were Swedish versions of names and Sami (Lapp) versions. I would have thought that with Swedish being a simple Germanic language it would be easy at least in that version. That was not the case.
This mountain had a relatively easy name—just four syllables, compared with eight or nine syllables for some places—but here it was the vowel sound that got me.
When we talked about our goal that day, I kept hearing what sounded something like “Lodebakkte.” Then I looked at my map, and I could not find it. I saw something that looked like it should be pronounced “Lahdebakkte.” I didn’t realize that the letter å was pronounced like a short “o” in English. You’d think I’d realize it was the same place.
The problem was, as is the case with many problems in life, a lack of focus. The name didn’t quite make sense to me, so I let it go off in a blur and didn’t figure out the problem or ask people about it. It wasn’t until I studied the map later that I figured it out.
By the way, the Sami people have a much more colorful way of describing places than the Europeans. We were very fortunate to have a Sami woman, Inge, in our group. She was a wonderful, good-natured person (also strong and agile!) who lived in the area (in Ritsem), and she had been given the gift of participation in this group trip by one of her sons. I noticed that she and Christian had a lot of conversations about place names. Although I do not understand Swedish, I could still figure that out. At one point I asked about place names. She told us that we were going toward “Idiot Mountain” and “The Mountain Where the Woman Killed her Child.” Hah! An honest description, no political correctness.
All right, enough about names. Now we climb the mountain.
We left our campsite and crossed four or five small streams, then climbed up into a narrow pass. The “normal route” in the valley climbed up to the valley of Snavvajavvre, and continued around the east end of a chain of lakes to descend into the famous Rapadalen valley at Skåkistugan. (You aren’t having any problem with these names, by any chance?)
We would climb over that narrow pass, descend into the outlet stream of this long narrow glacial lake, cross over, and climb the mountain—not on the “normal route.”
We got up high enough to see a lovely view of one of these classic “braided rivers.” If you have ever touched on the subject of geomorphology, you will understand that this is a standard feature of glacial landscapes. I am a lover of landscapes, and I had read about these places, but I had never been there before. It was wonderful.
We reached a very nice vantage point and looked toward the mountain we planned to climb. It was shrouded in cloud.
The place we stopped for a rest had a nice little monolith.
We passed big swathes of flowers as we proceeded through the valley.
For a nice contrast with the color and life of the valleys, we had the silent, powerful ice of the glaciers.
The weather was very unstable. That made it fun and interesting.
We saw a rainbow.
The mountain was basically a rubble heap of broken rock. I was more comfortable with this sort of difficulty than with the stream crossings, though it ended up being pretty tough. Some of the rocks were strangely slimy, so you had to pick your way pretty carefully.
We stopped for lunch close to the gully you see in the top photo. I had brought my full backpack, stove, and fuel. I had known before we started that we’d have a one-day trip to the top of a mountain, so I had brought along a lightweight daypack. But on the morning of our outing, I learned that a few people would need to bring stoves, so that we could join together for our customary hot soup. For some reason I felt unable to leave the heavy carrying to others, so I brought my pack and my stove. I cursed myself for doing that as we climbed the steep talus fields.
Christian had a pattern of moving the group along fairly quickly but also stopping frequently for rest breaks. My personal preference would have been to move more slowly and stop less frequently. This is simply because I get chilled quickly when we stop, have to put on a layer, and then take it off again when we get moving. Other people don’t drop and fall so quickly in temperature as I do, so this is a personal quirk. But I was so happy to be in this group that this slight discomfort meant very little to me.
After our lunch break of the usual hot soup, Wasa bread, and anonymous paste spread on the crackers, we proceeded indomitably again toward the summit. We would conquer this mountain!
The reason Christian thought it important for us to come here was to see down into the famous Rapadalen valley, described as one of the most beautiful valleys in Europe. In fact, I think it can’t really be compared to European valleys, only to Arctic valleys. It has little in common even with valleys of the Alps, having been shaped by the intensive, violent movements of giant glaciers.
We finally reached the western lip of the mountain, where we could see down into this incredible valley.
We reached the summit cairn. Hurray!
I looked downriver toward a mountain that looked like a giant fortress.
The landscape was so complicated, so intricate, I could have gazed at it forever.
Our descent of the mountain turned out to be quite long and difficult. Christian had said we would go by way of the most frequently used ridge route, but some of us—about half of the group, including me—saw what looked like an easier route off to the side and went down that way. We didn’t clearly communicate with each other about what we were doing, and I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. I found myself scrambling down an endless talus field that had a lot of slippery rock, and I became very tired. Yet I think the way our part of the group went actually turned out easier than the way the other half went. I moved at a slow pace, and every now and then Ulf, who was moving at about the same pace, said, “Let’s rest for a while.” At first I continued on without stopping but after doing this for a bit I recognized his wisdom.
I had a sudden fear of getting separated from the rest of my half-group as I went down, and I called out, “We need to stay together!” I think they already understood that, and a couple of guys asked me if I would like them to help me with “my luggage.” Their command of English was nearly perfect, but I had to laugh at this slightly odd usage of the word “luggage.” To them it meant my backpack with its stove and so on, but to me it means a suitcase that you would carry through the airport. I pictured myself rolling a suitcase through this steep talus field, and the humor of that helped me to get down to the lake at the bottom.
Finally we got down to the lake, and there we finally managed to connect with the other half of our group. They had descended via a very difficult route. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was around 8:00 in the evening before we connected. I tried to ease the experience for my companions by telling them about times I have been caught out after dark on hikes. In this place north of the Arctic Circle, the sun would dip below the horizon, but it would never get really dark.
Once the two halves of the group reconnected, we still had quite a long and challenging walk back to the campsite. I was, I would have to say, exhausted by the time we got back. I didn’t even bother trying to rockhop the small streams at the end—I just trudged my way through. But it was very much worth it.
Sarek National Park—Day Five August 30, 2014Posted by Jenny in camping, hiking, nature.
Tags: Lapland, Sarek National Park, stream crossings
Day Five began with the novelty of walking a short distance without our heavy packs. Just downstream of where we had camped, the river flowed through a deep narrow gorge, and Christian took us to see it. We crossed the bridge pictured above and walked beside the river.
The gorge was so deep and narrow that it was hard to get a picture of the water running through it. Christian warned us to stay away from the edge, telling us about two Polish hikers who had come here in the winter. One stood on a block of snow at the gorge that turned out to be an overhanging cornice. It collapsed beneath him—and he was gone forever.
Swirls of mist rose from the gorge, and the water raced onward.
Today’s outing would be a short one. Rather than continuing south into what eventually becomes the great Rapadalen valley, we turned east toward a large lake, the Bierikjavrre. We would arrive early enough to relax and maybe have a bath in one of the smaller lakes in the vicinity. Then the next day we would do a day trip to climb the mountain Låddebakte and return. From that peak, we’d have views down into the Rapadalen, which has been described as one of the most beautiful river valleys in Europe.
The day before we’d met a group of hikers coming the opposite way, and Christian asked them about the current condition of the stream crossings. They said we’d have one slightly difficult crossing, but they had put up a stone cairn to mark a good place to get over.
I looked at the map and saw two crossings. The streams were drawn with very narrow blue lines. I couldn’t see how they could pose any problem. I still hadn’t figured out something pretty obvious: it all depends on the size of the glacier at the top of the stream.
Before long we came to the first stream. A cairn had been placed beside it. Oddly enough, it had not been placed at what was clearly a better spot to get across. We went to the easier place and got across with no trouble. Perhaps those other hikers had found it difficult because they’d picked the wrong crossing spot?
At any rate, I felt smug. I had clearly mastered the art of these crossings. No problem at all!
Before too long we came to the second stream. And suddenly I realized, with fear in the pit of my stomach, that this was the difficult crossing. I could see that the way wasn’t bad as far as an island in the middle. But the side past the island looked deep. It foamed with fast-moving current.
A few people crossed before me. I watched where they put their feet and decided, “Okay, let’s get this over with.” I got about halfway across the hard section and started to wobble. My heavy pack was once again trying to pull me over backward. Christian came across to me and offered a helping hand. With his steadying, I made it across. Whew!
We crossed a boggy area and left a well-used track to get up to the chain of lakes that was our destination. Sometimes we picked up game paths, other times human paths. They braided in and out between bits of bog.
We arrived at our campsite with a few hours to relax however we chose. Some went for a swim in the closest lake, but it was too chilly for me to do that. I wandered about taking pictures of plants.
It was Day Five that we had our evening meal of quinoa. As mentioned earlier, this is supposed to be a high-protein “super-food” with a number of unusual nutritional benefits. It is considered a great thing by agriculturists on the lookout for plants with high nutritional value that can tolerate poor soil and cold, dry climates. It is not a cereal-type grain but what nutritionists call a “pseudo-cereal.”
Well, the trouble with the quinoa was that it took forever to cook. We boiled it for about 15 minutes, and it tasted crunchy. As in, it tasted as though it hadn’t even been cooked. So we boiled it. And boiled it. And it was still crunchy. Finally we gave up and ate it with whatever sauce was supposed to go with it—I forget what that was. Afterward Christian went around to our tents and said, “I’m going to tell them [the folks at STF in Abisko] not to give us that again! Uses up too much fuel!” “And it doesn’t taste good either,” Jarl and I agreed.
I applaud the “super-food” concept, but this wasn’t good for a backpacking trip. Perhaps if it was pre-cooked and then freeze-dried? And served with something truly delicious?
I looked forward to the next day. Finally, we were going to reach the summit of a mountain!