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Sarek National Park—Day Six September 3, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, photography, travel.
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Finally! We get up into the talus fields and gullies!

Finally! We get up into the talus fields and gullies!

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.”

The red "X" marks our objective. We started from the easternmost of the blue "X"s, and returned to the same point.

The red “X” marks our objective. We started from the easternmost of the blue “X”s, and returned to the same point.

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.

I could look at this all day.

I could look at this all day.

We reached a very nice vantage point and looked toward the mountain we planned to climb. It was shrouded in cloud.

It looked iffy as to whether it would be worth going to the top.

It looked iffy as to whether it would be worth going to the top.

The place we stopped for a rest had a nice little monolith.

Perhaps the makers of Stonehenge placed this here.

Perhaps the makers of Stonehenge placed this here.

We passed big swathes of flowers as we proceeded through the valley.

Big swathes of color.

Big swathes of color.

For a nice contrast with the color and life of the valleys, we had the silent, powerful ice of the glaciers.

Two realms next to each other.

Two realms next to each other.

The weather was very unstable. That made it fun and interesting.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

We saw a rainbow.

You may need to click to enlarge the image and see the rainbow.

You may need to click to enlarge the image and see the 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.

Our summit is the high point along the distant ridge, not a dramatic Matterhorn-type mountain.

Our summit is the high point along the distant ridge, not a dramatic Matterhorn-type mountain.

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.

 

It's like a kind of fluid script that the rivers are writing in the valley.

It’s like a kind of fluid script that the rivers are writing in the valley.

We reached the summit cairn. Hurray!

We have conquered the mountain!

We have conquered the mountain!

The Rapadalen is really beyond description.

The Rapadalen is really beyond description.

I looked downriver toward a mountain that looked like a giant fortress.

Guardian of the river valley.

Guardian of the river valley.

The landscape was so complicated, so intricate, I could have gazed at it forever.

River, lake, peaks.

River, lake, peaks.  Shadows.

No fear of heights!

No fear of heights!

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.

You see the endless talus field in the foreground. There was no moment that wasn't effortful!

You see the endless talus field in the foreground. No moment wasn’t effortful!

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.

Low angle of light where we waited for the rest of the group.

Low angle of light where we waited for the rest of the group.

Sarek National Park—Introduction August 6, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, camping, hiking, photography, travel.
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A half-sky of rain in Sarek.

A half-sky of rain in Sarek: human beings dwarfed by beautiful immensity.

This is an overview of my recent trip to Sarek National Park in Swedish Lapland. I will follow up with reports on my day-to-day experiences.

I spent July 26 to August 3 in haunted regions of rugged mountains north of the Arctic Circle. The landscape shows suspicious signs of the powerful violence of glaciers grinding down the valleys, spilling big piles of geological rubble, weaving strands of shining rivers, and shaving off the sides of sharp mountains.

This was one of those experiences that settles deep inside and leaves a mark that will never go away.

I had the great fortune to spend these days with a wonderful group. It was 15 people, of whom 13 were Swedes. They were friendly and helpful. We laughed together—isn’t that the best thing people can do in the face of challenges?

It wasn’t an easy trip. For me, the stream crossings were difficult and at times even frightening. We toiled through dark, mucky bogs that tried to suction our boots off. We teetered along through big talus fields, stepping from one awkwardly tilted rock to another. We squeezed through dense tangles of willow, fought off mosquitoes and midges, and sought traces of faint paths that expired at critical junctions.

Here I present a few photos to give a feel for the trip. In the following posts I’ll give details of the experiences of an eccentric American who found herself caught up in a compelling adventure.

First, I’ll throw in the same map I used when I announced I was doing this trip, to help you see where we are talking about:

We are north of 66'66". Pretty interesting for someone who lives at 35'  latitude.

We are north of 66 degrees latitude. Pretty interesting for someone who lives at 35 degrees.

Bridge we crossed at the start of our trip. We were still in Padjelanta National Park. Sarek has only two bridges.

Bridge we crossed at the start of our trip. We were still in Padjelanta National Park here. Sarek has only two bridges.

In the valley of Vuojatadno, below the Ahkka massif.

In the valley of Vuojatadno, below the Ahkka massif.

Ripening cloudberry.

Ripening cloudberry.

Our second campsite.

Our second campsite.

The second night we camped close to the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhka river. We would have to cross it the next morning. I’m sure you notice the name is nearly impossible. It comes from the Sami (Lapland people’s) language and I only know it because I looked at the map.

Trying to cross this river, I lost my balance and got swept downstream a short distance before finding a handy rock to hang onto. Our trip leader, Christian, rockhopped over and gave me a hand to help me get out of my bad situation.

The water is milky with glacial silt. This is just downstream of where I got swept off my feet.

The water is milky with glacial silt. This is just downstream of where I got swept off my feet.

This river marks the boundary between Padjelanta and Sarek. So now we were going into “the belly of the beast.”

Sami hut.

Sami hut.

Flowers in the foreground, snow in the background.

Flowers in the foreground, snow in the background.

While we were sitting around having dinner at our third campsite, near the mountain of Nijak, a great herd of reindeer crossed the river below us. One person in our group counted more than a hundred.

They kept streaming out of a side valley and across the river. It lasted for ten or fifteen minutes.

They kept streaming out of a side valley and across the river. It lasted for ten or fifteen minutes.

The next morning, swathes of silvery clouds swarmed across the mountains.

Was I still dreaming?

Was I still dreaming?

We proceeded up the Ruohtesvagge valley into the very heart of Sarek. Right at a crossroads of giant valleys crowned by glaciers, we made camp at a site that has the only emergency telephone centrally located in the park. It was quite civilized, with an emergency shelter, an outhouse, and a place for people to gather. It even had one of the park’s two bridges.

Our dining room.

Our dining room.

A person looks at what is impossible to describe.

A person looks at what is impossible to describe.

The next day featured a couple of stream crossings. The second was difficult for me—I would say the next hardest to the one where I lost my footing.

I spend a lot of time in streams, but I didn't like this.

I spend a lot of time in streams, but I didn’t feel comfortable with this.

We left the Rahpajahka valley and followed a spidery network of game paths that have evolved into vague human paths, and camped at a place called Pielastugan. The next day, rather than continuing our traverse of the park, we did a day trip to the top of a mountain called Låddebakte, 1537 meters in elevation. Christian’s idea was to give us a view of the famous Rapadalen valley with its braided watercourses and deep green forests where moose and bears live. The weather was a bit iffy (see top photo), but we made it to the summit. Here I am partway up, with our summit in the background, at that moment shrouded in clouds.

I am happy to be here.

I am happy to be here.

It seemed that much of the day we had to deal with big talus fields that were tough to negotiate. I scientifically determined that fifty percent of the rocks were safe to step on and the other half were slick and treacherous.

Toiling across the talus field.

Toiling across the talus field.

It turned out to be a very long, hard day, but it was definitely worth it.

Our fearless leader, Christian Heimroth.

Our fearless leader, Christian Heimroth.

Lots of big glaciers around.

Across the valley.

Across the valley.

When we finally reached the top of Låddebakte, we had the much-prized views that Christian had wanted us to see.

Very complicated here in the Rapadalen, what with silt, forests, and winding strands of river.

Very complicated here in the Rapadalen, what with silt, forests, and winding strands of river.

I’ll leave you for now and return soon with Day One in Sarek in more detail.

Reindeer calf and mother.

Reindeer calf and mother.