Day 08. 12 March. Ritsem to Akka. 13km. 3.5 hours.30m up.100m down. I had a lazy morning at Ritsem Fjallstuga where the very friendly manager, Gregor, let me use the drying room to repack my pulk as I had 8 more days of food in it and another 3 litres of fuel making 4 litres all together. It was snowing heavily outside but there was no wind so the flakes were drifting straight down. The view from my room extended just about quarter of the way across the lake and there was no sign of the Akka massif to the south. By midday I was packed, cleaned and ready to embark on the next section. Gregor kindly sold me a pair of his own wool socks so I would at least have a spare pair.
The track I had come down yesterday which was icy with gravel lurking here and there embedded in the ice was now completely covered in 10 cm of new snow with just the occasional car or snow scooter had driven on so it was a delight to ski down and within 10minuters I had covered the km to the edge of the Akkajaure Lake. This huge lakes outflow used to cascade over a large waterfall called Stora Sjofjallet and a national park was made to protect it about 100 years ago. However, soon after the waterfall, which was considered to be Europe’s Niagara was removed from the national park and the lake was dammed so a large hydroelectric powerstation could be built at Suorva. As a consequence the level of the lake fluctuates between 453 when full in the spring after the snow melt, and 423 now when all the water has been drained out for winte power. The water level generally falls after the ice had formed in November and December so as the water level drops huge slabs of ice are left stranded on the shore or on islands. I skied down this ice slab on the scooter path to the snow covered ice on the current water level.
There were scooter routes across the ice which had been marked for snow scooters to use and the thickness of the ice here was tested regularly by the authorities and passed the test of being over 50cm. The route led pretty much straight over the lake for 10 km to Anonjalmme on the other side. I just followed the even well groomed path between the stakes. The snow showers came and went, and in the midst of the showers I could only see a km in front or behind me. The pulk just followed me with little resistance and it was perhaps the main time when a pulk easily outshone a rucksack. The ski route took me close to a few rocky outcrops, once no doubt tree clad islands, but now submerged much of the year. Ice slabs a meter thick were perched at grotesque angles on them. I was thankful for the marked route as outside the trail the snow was uneven with some sastrugi formations which had been blown into anvil shapes by the wind.
Soon out of the white haze houses appeared at the bottom of a large craggy mountain. It was the hamlet of Anonjalmme, which was probably a collection of Sami summer houses used for fishing and hunting, and now recreation also. The trail went to the side of it, where a boat wharf was high above the frozen surface of the lowered lake and then continued into the bay along the shore line for another couple of km. Cabins nestled amongst the bare birch trees, their roofs under a metre of snow. At the far end of the hamlet was Akkastugorna, a collection of STF cabins. I could smell woodsmoke coming from the stove pipes as I approached. It was perhaps the 10th time I had visited this cabin, nearly all of them in the winter. On my last visit in 2008 I met Ole Bjorasen, a Norwegian who inspired me to ski Norge Paa Langs. On another visit when I was guiding here I remembered a Belgium client weilding an axe in the wood shed which eventually cut his leg open.
The warden came out to greet me and directed me to the usual cabin. I took my skis off and went to cut wood for the stove before settling in. There was already an old German here with a great sense of humour and a chuckle. We joked about the abundance of alcohol hand wash and toilet paper here in this remote hut while Europe had run out after the panic buying due to Corona Virus. As I wrote the blog the same Swiss dog musher from a week ago arrived with a new group of clients he was taking down the Padjelanta trail to Kvikkjokk. They were staying in the other hut with the warden. I was secretly jealous of them as the weather in Sarek did not look that good and I would probably have a miserable time in my tent. The wind was whipping up the spindrift outside where it was a mild minus 3, but I was cosy inside with the stove and candles.
Day. 08. March 13. Akka to Kutjaure. 17km. 5.5 hours. 280m up. 220m down. The small happy German left at 0900 and I wandered about the hut for the next hour deliberating about the weather and my plans for Sarek. It seemed that today and tomorrow would be OK, and then a short storm would arrive tomorrow night when I would be camping. Then after the storm there would be more non-weather to the end of the 10 day forecast with no clear days but no further storms. It left me in a quandary asI really wanted to go through Sarek. It was the reason for this whole trip and it was perhaps my last chance. But what was the point if I was to see nothing and could not do any day trips. In addition I would have to endure all the hardships of winter camping down to minus 20 with no chance to dry anything out for a week. Mt feet and fingers would often be numb with cold and my down sleeping bag would gradually become damper and damper.
The alternative was to abandon the idea of going through Sarek altogether and just head down the string of huts and cabins, many very simple without a wood stove but perhaps with gas, which made up the Padjelanta trail down the west side of Sarek to Kvikkjokk It would take a bit over a week. After much deliberation I came to the conclusion I was not as tough as I had hoped and just did not think the hardship was worth it to go through Sarek, which I had done some 5 times before, so opted for the Padjelanta trail, which I had not done before. Once I made the decision a weight was lifted from my mind as I knew I would not have to suffer much discomfort and could enjoy the few STF cabins and some of the Sami huts which were spaced out along the trail. I went to chat with the warden who had just put up the forecast and it now said the wind tomorrow night would be 23 mps, or Force 10, which helped ease the guilt of chickening out.
I left at 1030 and within a few minutes I was engulfed in a heavy snowfall on a bitter NW wind. Visibility was down to 100 metres and the birch trees were like ghosts in the grey gloom, gently swaying in the breeze. Pretty soon the pulk was completely covered by a layer of snow and it was even settling on my arms and piling up on my boots. It only lasted for a short hour but there were times I thought about turning back with the warm stove in the cabin still a recent memory. It was gone as quickly as it arrived and then a patch of blue sky appeared to the west and got ever bigger until it filled half the sky. It was a deep azure blue and even more striking against the white hillsides which now had real definition in the sun. The cloud and mist still lingered around the top of Akka but you could just make out the tops. It rose steeply from flat lands around it like a giant molar tooth, it roots buried deep in the tundra.
The ski trail largely followed the valley side to the west of the very large Vuojatadno River which I never really caught sight of but people had told me it was more open than in other years and difficult to find a place to cross. The ski trail, which was marked, then started to climb over a spur which came down from Gasskattjahkka mountain. It was not a steep climb for a skier with a rucksack but it was right on the limit for one with a heavy pulk, and I think mine was 50-55kg now. I had to herringbone bone up some of the slopes which in the deep loose snow was exhausting. In all the climb was about half an hour long. From the top there was a view across the valley to where Kisuris hut lay a top a series of embankments. These would have been very taxing to ascend with a pulk as they were perhaps 30-35 degrees. However one could avoid them by making a long loop to the south of the hut. Kisuris hut was run by Sami and it had gas heating only, which currently did not work according to the chuckling German at Akka cabin.
At the highpoint of the spur the weather was momentarily perfect and I could feel the sun warming my hands and face. I stopped here for a snack and noticed how much the sun changed my vision of the snow. it was not longer a dull homogenous white but was now full of ridges and ripples and shadows from the birch trees. It was the single best half hour of weather on the whole trip so far. There was now an easy descent down to bare hillside just before I reached Kutjaure lake. On the lake I turned west making my final decision to go to Padjelanta rather than SE to go to Kisuris and Sarek. The next 4 km across the lake were slower than I hoped as the snow was about 15 km deep. The dogs of the Swiss musher had been this way and they had made a rough furrow which helped slightly but it was more of a plod than a glide. Snow showers came and went in the breeze but generally the weather remained clear until I reached the cluster of Sami cabins at the west end of the lake.
The ski trail started again on the shore and the dogs had taken it making it easy to follow. There was a sign here which said Kutjaure 1.8 km, and I measured it and it was spot on. However most of these 1.8 km were up a long sustained climb in the birch trees. The dogs had beaten a furrow but often I have to leave the furrow to herringbone up a steeper section. After half an hour the trail eased and there was a lovely flat ridge top before Kutjaure cabin came into view just below me. It was a short easy descent to it. Just before I got there I passed the 40 odd dogs all tied to chains laid out between trees. They were all curled up on their own patch of snow, but as they saw me they started howling, hoping I was bringing food. Just beyond was the single cabin with a wood shed beside it. The warden was in the middle room so I knocked on the door.
The door opened and the warden had a good look at me and then said we are Facebook friends. It was Lars Munter whom I met up here in 2008 in Nallo cabin. We had befriended each other on Facebook and had kept abreast of each other lives through it. What a coincidence. We were both surprised. I took the unoccupied third of the cabin which was freezing cold and just plus 2 inside. However I got a fire going and then went to the woodshed to cut and axe logs. By the time I got back it was up to plus 4. Lars came in and we chatted for a good hour. He lived in Stockholm but his love of the mountains made him volunteer to be an STF warden every spring and some summer months as he was now semi-retired. He had had a personal tragedy a few years ago and this had sapped much of his joy and energy. It still pained him and he was quite candid about it and shared some of his grief with me. After a good hour’s chat where we moved on to other things, Lars left to go and chat with the Swiss musher and his German clients in the other half of the hut. By now my half was up to 12 degrees. I then wrote the blog beside the stove and had my dehydrated dinner, by which time my half of the hut finally reached a tolerable 20 degrees and was rising.
Day 10. March 14. Kutjaure to Låddjåkkå. 19 km. 6.5 hours. 220m up. 220m down. It was a nice morning when I woke around 0600. The sun was about to rise and it was calm with a crisp temperature of minus 13, which would probably mean firm snow. The Swiss musher, who was called Moui, was already up preparing food for the dogs. I was sure the weather was going to deteriorate badly today so I aimed to get an early start to hopefully reach Låddjåkkå cabin before the wind arrived. As I was having breakfast Lars came through with the weather forecast. It was to remain nice in the morning and then in the afternoon the wind would increase to 25 mps, of Force 10, in the night. This forecast coincided with what I had obtained from www.yr.no when I had internet at Akka.
I chatted a bit more with Lars. He was typical of the older Central Sweden wardens who almost treated his spell in the mountains as a spiritual retreat and enjoyed the peace and quiet. I suppose a bit like a Hindu Sanyasin who opts for a simple and pious life in nature, rather than a pursuit of more worldly goods and wealth. When I was ready to go Lars came out to see me and the dog teams off. We had been his third visit in a couple of weeks and it was likely no one else would visit for perhaps a week.
I skied to the dogs who were being unclipped from their chains and harnessed up to the sledges, which were also being packed. Then I found a shallow route down to the frozen stream and across it to the south side. From here there was a glorious gentle climb over a very shallow ridge. I gradually climbed for about 2 km and then gently descended for 3 km towards the large Sallohaure Lake. The snow was firm and fast except for in the woods by the cabin where it was deep. On the bare hillside the snowpack is generally made of windblown ice crystals, which were once snowflakes but have been driven by the wind and fragmented, and as such they pack together better and are firm underfoot. In the woods however the snowflakes fall and lie undisturbed like down feathers. For the skier, or indeed the dogs, the loose forest snow is best avoided as you might be up to your thighs in it.
The morning was the single best half day’s weather of the entire trip so far with near complete blue skies, great views except for the summits of the mountains, which were still cloud covered, and there was no wind. Indeed I had to slow down to stop getting a sweat, which would make my clothes, especially gloves and socks, damp and the cold. I skied past the Sami summer camp at Sallojaure, a collection of some 40 Sami cabins probably used for fishing and recreation. As I passed them the dogs caught me up and overtook me. I had made a trail for them for 6 km so they must have had a late start. Moui was just taking his clients on a day trip to the south to give them a flavour of Padjelanta before he returned to Akka cabin in the woods. He did not want to leave the dogs chained up on the open mountain in a storm. He went as far as Vasterjaure and then turned round. We had a quick chat and he asked about my book before we parted. He advised me to cross the large Vuojatadno river before Vasterjaure as it was open at the outflow.
So I crossed about 2km downstream of the outflow where the river seemed to flow through a series of lakes on a flat plain. I stopped for a snack afterwards as it was still sunny but I could see clouds arriving. After lunch I followed the south bank of the river up to a Sami summer camp on an island at the outflow of the lake. In places the river was open and the outflow had a meandering streak of open water where the current left the lake. Luckily I was on the right side thanks to Moui’s advice. It was easy now just to follow the shoreline round the east end of Vasterjaure Lake for a few km before I got to another Sami summer camp, also called Vasterjaure. There were about 40 buildings ranging from rickerty bleached boatsheds to comfortable cabins. I saw a few traditional turf kota here also. By now the sky was completely overcast and a bit misty. The wind was still mild and it was like the calm before the storm.
At Vasterjaure Sameby cabins there was a reindeer fence which was used for herding in the summer. This area was prime reindeer country and the heart of a huge area called Laponia, a UNESCO region with Sami culture and reindeer herding at the heart of it. I knew all I had to do now was follow the fence for about 5 km and it would take me to Låddjåkkå cabin, which was run by the Sami, not the STF. The first 4 km were quite straight forward and it was easy to follow the fence but the last km was awkward as the fence went into a gnarly area of knolls and small valleys, probably moraine piles left over from a glacier. I would have been better off in the valley then cut up to the cabin. By now the wind was increasing and some spindrift was beginning to fly around but I was almost there. After a slog through a large copse of birch I reached the collection of cabins. Most were used for the summer hiking season and were all locked except the westernmost one which was open throughout the winter.
With the wind increasing, and spindrift really flying around I went to the cabin and found I had to dig about 20 wheelbarrows of snow from the door where it had drifted. There was a good spade beside the door for this. After 10 minutes I was inside. There was no stove and it was minus 10 inside. However there was a gas oven and gas cooking. I found the main supply outside and turned it on at the bottles and went in to see if it was flowing. It was, which was a relief as sometimes these Sami cabins run out. I unscrewed the vent from both stoves and managed to light them both which was also relief as they can be fickle. Soon I had 2 buckets of compressed snow melting on the gas cooker and I could withdraw inside. By now the wind had stepped up to gale force and there was spindrift flying around everywhere outside. I unpacked, settled in and after two hours the cabin was up to 12 degrees. The gas ovens just did not have the output of a wood stove. Had there been a stove in the cabin it would have been 30 degrees by now as it was small, cosy and well insulated. It had 6 bunks and a small kitchen area and tables and chairs. I sat and wrote the blog in the last hour of daylight, during which the wind seemed to ratchet up again. The birch trees were bucking wildly and the spindrift was whirling around everywhere like an Anatolian dervish. Had I gone out I would have been white in less than a minute. The evening was quite cosy and I was thankful I was in this cabin rather than in a howling, freezing, cold tent in my sleeping bag hoping the ripstop nylon would hold. Even though it was wild outside I don’t think the wind had reached the predicted Storm force but it was certainly a Strong Gale with winds of 45 knots.
Day 11. 15 March. Låddjåkkå Weather and Rest Day. 0 km. 0 hours. The wind did not reach a crescendo during the night and it was strongest during the early evening. By the morning it had almost completely died off but it was snowing heavily. I went to open the outside door which opened outwards and it was nearly blocked with a metre of new spindrift. I managed to heave it open enough to sneak outside through a small gap and then set about shovelling it away from the door. Had there been more snow, and the door was blocked, I would have had the option of going out one of two windows. The visibility was poor in this snow and I decided to go back to bed for a lie-in, and see what mid morning brought. However, by 10 it was still snowing and I could not even see the bottom of the slope I was to go up and over to Arasluokta cabin, which was only some 12 km away. I then decided that I would take a day off. I had been going 10 days, although, some were quite easy. As I was no longer going through Sarek I still had 6 day’s food left and would be able to buy more in 5 days.
It had taken a while for the cabin to get up to 20 degrees, but it was now there and I turned the gas heater down as I thought it might be giving me a headache. There was a notice to say the stoves had been checked recently. It was warmer outside now anyway at minus 5 and without the wind the triple glazed log cabin maintained its heat well. There was little to do and the scant reading material was all in Swedish, which I could just understand. As I was reading I suddenly noticed a ptarmigan (fjallrypa) right outside the window. It stayed still long enough for me to get a photo. It had come down from the nearby trees, where there were about 20 were roosting, to nibble on shoots at a bare patch outside the window where the wind had cleared the snow. The ptarmigan often either roost in trees, where there is a danger from hawks, or make a hollow in the snow and hope their camouflage outwits the foxes.
The two bits of reading I enjoyed most were a pamphlet and a small book, both on Laponia. Laponia is a large amalgamation of some 10 adjacent national parks or reserves. Of the 3 main national parks Sarek was the jewel in the crown, and Padjelanta and Stora Sjofallet were still very protected. For instance there are no snow scooters or trail markings allowed in either, but there are huts, whereas Sarek had none. The huts in Padjelanta were run by the Sami. The whole of Laponia, as mentioned, was a UNESCO heritage site, largely due to the centuries of rich Sami culture here and the way it interacts with nature. The whole of Laponia is nearly 10,000 square kilometres and some 6 Sameby, or Sami cooperatives operate in the area with their pastures running NW to SE, pretty much in the direction of the rivers and lakes. The largest of these Sameby was called Sirges and I was in its territory, which went from the Norwegian border to the west of the lakes I had been skiing across in the last few days, SE across the flat high plain of the Padjelanta. Then further SE to encompass the majority of Sarek and then further SE into the huge pine forests towards Jokkmokk. The Sameby to the south of this, whose territory I would be entering tomorrow, were called Jåhkå-gasska, and it was arranged along similar ecological zones.
These Sameby territories were ancient and were established when the Sami started following the wild reindeer in the stone age, hunting and trapping them, and then at least 1000 years ago when the Sami first started to capture and domesticate them. The reindeer follow an annual pattern from winter in the lower pine forests where they break into smaller herds to forage for lichen; and nowadays are also fed by the herders. Then in March the herds head NW into the lower mountains eating lichen on the trees and foraging on the bare windswept pastures as they appear from under the snow. By May the herds will have reached their calving areas on the south facing slopes of the lower mountains where larger patches of pasture are springing forth. This is a dangerous time for the herds as predators like Wolverine, lynx, bear and fox pursue the herds, and they are defended by the Sami herders, frequently illegally. In the summer the herds go progressively higher up the mountains and further NW with their calves to escape being plagued by insects. It is during this time the Sami now move to the mountains themselves with their families as the calves must be marked, fish caught in the lakes and streams, and soon berries picked. They would previously have stayed in tents, then turf shelters, and now cabins such as the clusters of which I have been passing. As autumn arrives the reindeer who have been freely roaming the mountains and high plateaus start to head SE down to the lower mountains and try to put on weight for the forthcoming winter by grazing in the lush upper birch woods. During mid autumn the reindeer are at their best and are ready to breed. This is also the time when the Sami harvest the redundant stags and older deer in the annual slaughter. In the late autumn the reindeer return to the lowland forests to eke out the winter foraging on the forest floor in the pines and the Sami return to their winter villages.
This pattern the reindeer follow is thousands of years old, and they followed a similar pattern on the plains of Germany during the ice age and then moved north as the ice melted. The Sami lifestyle has adapted itself to fit in with these annual patterns of the reindeer, and it is the reindeer which once gave them nearly everything, food, clothing, shelter and a rich culture. They supplemented the reindeer with fishing and hunting and gathering and were thereby able to exploit an abundant summer to cope with a harsh and resourseless winter. Despite attempts by both the Swedish and Norwegian governments to suppress this culture for the last 250 years it has remained, and now with persecution turning to reverence the Sami identity is resurgent and confident. Indeed, it is in Europe one of the few cultures which still stands out against a homogenous stampede towards commercial Nivana, completely disenfranchised from the land and seasons, and for that it is to be applauded. Whenever I visit Northern Scandinavia and Swedish Lappland in particular I always vow to come and spend a summer and autumn with the Sami, preferably from the Sirges Sameby to combine it with trips to Sarek.
While I was cosy in the cabin all day it had continued to snow. Sometimes it was a frozen drizzle and other times large plump flakes. It was nice to sit at the desk and watch it fall. However, with the lack of wind it would still be loose on the ground and it would be hard work pulling the pulk tomorrow in what might be 25 km of new snow.
Day 12. 16 March. Låddjåkkå to Arasluokta. 15 km. 6.5 hours. 310m up. 330m down. It was beautiful when I woke at 0530 but I did not get up until 0700 as it was a short day and hopefully the weather would improve. However by 0700 it had clouded over a bit, but it was still a nice, clear, calm day and the sun was making patterns on the slope I had to go up, which did not look too steep after all. I packed up everything in the hut, tidied up my home of two days and then dragged the pulk out of the door. I left at 0830 and skied past the rest of the cabins which were just opened up for the summer hiking season. It was too steep to go down to the valley from the hut and it would have been a nightmare to come up this way, and in retrospect maybe the fence was best. As I continued west up the fence the snowpack compressed under me in loud thuds and if I was on steeper ground this would have been an avalanche risk. There was a good place to cross the river valley just above the summer bridge.
Once in the valley I started on the long climb up to the saddle on the south side. I noticed the odd snowflake and the skies were now overcast but I thought nothing of it. In a few hours I would be at the next hut some 12 km in total. The snow pack was not as deep as I thought and I could easily zig-zag up the slope. After an hour the wind had started to pick up and it was starting to snow more heavily. Just a freak passing shower I thought and I continued up in my thin hiking trousers and thin jacket. When I got to the reindeer coral and the huts beside it things started to get a lot more serious. I plodded on optimistically hoping the visibility would improve and the wind would diminish but about a km after the coral it started to get really ferocious. I thought about turning back but then thought I was nearly at the top (which I was not). Then I thought about seeking shelter in the reindeer herders cabin which would probably be open but cold. In the end I thought it best to stop and put on my salopettes and goretex jacket, something I rarely do, while I still could, as the wind was up to a force 7, or 16 metres per second, and with no sign it was going to stop. I was quite alarmed at how quickly everything had deteriorated. Once I was fully dressed and windproof I felt warm but clumsy and under my balaclava and two other hoods my glasses were steaming up.
The weather soon ratcheted up another notch and the wind increased to 20mps, or a force 9, but it started to snow very heavily. I was skiing south and the wind was from the SSW so there was no hiding and the flakes were smashing into me. Spindrift was flying everywhere and was well above my head height and the visibility reduced to zero. The terrain was virtually flat and there were no features showing at all, not a rock or a bare patch. For the next hour and a half I shuffled forwards going entirely by compass. Once I had established the wind direction it was pretty easy to keep at One o’clock to me as it was such a faff to get the map out with mittens on. I was in a bubble of white, I could not tell if I was going up or down or where any horizon was. The only thing I could see were my ski tips a metre in front of me ploughing through the snow. I was just hoping there were no cornices I was going to ski off, but felt confident there would be none in this terrain, but the thought always lurked. I was in a maelstrom of white terror. Not really knowing if I was going in the right direction or not I suddenly came across a single rock. It was the only tangible thing I had seen for an hour and a half. I then realized it was the 2 metre high pillar of chalk I had seen in a picture in one of the books yesterday. By checking my altimeter I could see I had reached the highest point and was now starting the descent. Still I skied blindly hoping for anything to give me some idea of terrain as I gingerly shuffled forwards. At one point I thought I was skiing slowly down and thought it time to turn, and then realized I had been standing still, just under the impression I was moving. This traumatic white terror lasted for another half hour before I at last saw some rocks in front of me.
They were infrequent and when I saw on I headed over to the tangibleness of it. Often I saw a huge rock 100 metres in front, just to ski for 5 metres to see it was a small cobble at my feet. The white terror was completely disorientating. Still the wind stopped rising and maintained a force 9 and I was slowly shuffling on. At last I saw a small birch tree and then another and soon there were stunted birches and willows spread out before me. I had come down 200 metres also, so knew I was approaching the Mielladno valley. As I descended further the snow shower eased and the visibility improved and at last I could see perhaps 100 metres. It was a great relief to know I was down after what had been 2 hours of some of the most extreme conditions I had ever skied in. I crossed the indiscernable river and stopped to check the map again. Stupidly I took my inner glove off and held it clumsily with the other mitten as I fiddled with the zip. I did not have a good grasp on it and suddenly it was gone, flying across the tundra at 60km per hour. There was no way I was going to catch, it but luckily I had spares for later days.
The last section of the day was much easier as I crossed a small ridge in improving visibility and less wind. There was a gentle 2 km climb and then an easy descent through sparse trees to reach the first of the Sami cabins at Arasluokta. I could see from the map the tourist cabin lay at the far end of the cluster of Sami cabins. The wind had dropped to a stiff breeze now and the snow showers had finished so it was a joy to ski the last 2 km through the hamlet. There were a lot of traditional turf shelters and beside them newer cabins built in the last 40 years. Beside each summer homestead was traditional Sami stabbur, or food store. Essentially it was a tiny log cabin sitting on top of a pole, perhaps 2-3 metres high. Any animal would be unable to climb the pole and then get past the bottom of the flat base of the cabin, even the cunning wolverine. These stabbur were accessed by a log ladder which was taken down after each visit. I skied past the chapel with it’s very Samisk clock tower and then made it onto the cabins and found the winter one quite easily. I opened up the vents and turned the gas on then went in.
I was tired. I had been on the go for 6.5 hours without stopping or eating. There was simply not the opportunity. I ate all my lunch bars and drank a litre of hot chocolate and was about to start melting water when two others arrived. They were a young German couple, Sebastian and Merline. They had come from Tuottar cabin some 20 km away and were equally shell shocked at the ferocity of the weather. They were going all the way from Kvikkjokk to Abiskio. It was Merline’s first time on skis. What they lacked in experience they made up for in spirit and after a snack they were revived and in good humour. On their ski today they, in the last kilometers when the visibility had improved for them, they saw 3 large elg and also a lynx. I had never heard of another skier seeing the rare and elusive lynx and this was a rare treat for them. The cabin quickly warmed up and we settled in for a cosy kerosene lamp and candle lit evening as we ate our freeze dried meals just a few hours after the trauma of the white hells we had both endured.
Day 13. March 17. Arasluokta to Tuottar. 19km. 7.5 hours. 490m down. 150m up. When I woke in the morning I could hear the wind rushing around the cabin and rattling something loose. I looked out of the door and could see it was a near gale with spindrift flying around everywhere. However, it was reasonably clear, but that could change anytime. Most worryingly the wind was coming from the SSE exactly the direction I was going. Also according to Merline and Sebastian it was quite gnarly terrain with a few cornices and large snowdrifts with 5-10 metre drops formed by the wind. Which if it was like yesterday I just would not see. The other two had a shorter and easier day and with the wind at their backs, which made me envious.
None the less we all had breakfast while peering out of the window frequently in the hope it was diminishing. But it was not. However, it was also not getting worse either. We lingered without packing and had more cups of tea but there seemed little change so eventually around 0930 we all made the descision to go. Having already had a day off in a replica cabin recently I would have been very bored here for a day, especially on my own. But 1000 we had said our goodbyes, closed up the cabin, switched of the gas and were off. I was fully dressed with my salopettes and goretex jacket as I knew I would need them. As always once away from the cabin and into the gale it did not seem as bad as I thought. I was being buffeted about and the spindrift was stinging my nose and lining the inside of my mittens if I took them off to adjust something, but I could at least see.
My route took me SE up along the reindeer fence for about 4 km, keeping north of the Arasjokkho stream which I could see had carved a slot in the terrain which would be difficult to cross. Once the terrain opened out into a shallow bowl I veered south and skied up the very shallow slope to a gentle col between Stour Dijdder and Unna Liemak. I could see at least a kilometre ahead of me so could plan a route between the hummocks and the windswept barer patches where the snow was thin and icy and it was difficult to get traction. Nonetheless I still managed to traverse a steeper side slope and the pulk rolled over twice meaning I had to stop and deharness. In fact my progress was very slow as I was often checking the map in this somewhat featureless terrain. At last I made it to the shallow col, where a couple of frozen lakes were barely perceptible as everything was so flat, and started to traverse down the south west side of Unna Liemak. The wind was still strong but I think it had dropped from a force 8 to 6 and the spindrift was now just in the first metre above ground.
A huge shallow valley with lots of moraine and esker (piles of gravel) was spread out to the south. This was the area the others had seen the lynx and the elg. I decided not to lose the height and go down into it, but to continue traversing the southside of Unna Liemak and then Stour Liemak. It was perhaps a mistake as I still climbed and undulated over the uneven terrain on this flank of the valley, and had to stop again and right the sledge when it rolled on a small drift. Ahead I could see the steep crags on the north side of Junjatjohkka mountain, which stood huge against the valley. It looked intuitive to follow the valley up beneath this rampart which was almost 10 kilometres long, but looking on the map I had to take a much more insignificant valley to the north of it and to the north of a hill called Leltivarre, which was dwarfed by its huge neighbouring mountain. By now the wind had diminished again, perhaps to a force 4 and through the clouds I could sometimes catch the glow of the sun. It looked like the weather was heading in the right direction.
The shallow valley I had to go up was full of firm snow and although it was slightly uphill I made good time as I hauled the pulk behind me. Patches of sun were soon flickering across the snowfields and soon these overpowered the shadows as the sun finally broke through and blue sky started to dominate. Indeed the weather was so benign I could stop for a break and eat my snacks and drink cocoa in relative calm and with my mittens off and dangling from my wrists. It was luxurious to be here at last in this weather surrounded by a white empty space with a rampart of impressive mountains to the south. Had it not been for the freak meeting with the young German couple I would have been completely alone for days now. Meeting other people in the Padjelanta in March is the exception rather than the rule.
I continued up the valley crossing more lakes until I got to a very confusing area with many knolls, side valleys and frozen tarns. I needed good visibility for this area as there was plenty of drifts and cornices around here. Even in good visibility I had to go by map and compass, and even use the GPS to find out my coordinates. The Swedish maps are just 1:100,000 and are not a patch on their Norwegian counterparts. Indeed the Swedish mapping department just a few years ago had to revise a mountain from 1997 metres to 2004 metres and it is surprising in this age of satellites and precision such a mistake could linger, and the maps remain quite vague with 20 metre contour lines. At the top of this gnarly area I climbed a small gentle ramp and briefly caught a glimpse of the giants of Sarek, which were basking in the sun against a dark background sky. These mountains were all about 1900 metres and their sharp aretes and soaring tops were all supported by buttresses of steep ridges on each side propping them up. I waited to take a photo but then they were gone as I dropped down to another lake.
Rounding a corner the huts appeared at the far side of yet another lake. I slid down an unseen drift at the edge of the lake as a small snow shower arrived and obscured my vision slightly and yet again my pulk turned over needing another 5 minutes of deharnessing and harnessing. But before long I was approaching the collection of huts. I headed towards the one with the arial as I was sure this was the winter hut which was open and then did the now familiar tasks of clearing the door with a spade, filling up the stainless buckets with clean snow, removing the vents from the gas stove outlets and switching on the gas. Inside I could only light one stove as the one in the small drying room was broken, but this was no hardship. It took an hour before the temperature reached 10 degrees and I could start to take some of my outdoor clothes off. It had been a long day and I was physically tired, but not shell shocked as I was yesterday. Had I had the white terror today on this more difficult terrain I would probably have had to have stopped and put the tent up.
Day 14, March 18th. Tuottar to Tarraluoppal. 13 Km. 3.5 hours. 80m up. 320m down. It was a glorious morning and quite unexpected when I woke. The air was calm and there was a hue of saffron across the snow in the early morning sun which then became more golden. Unfortunately I had to do yesterday’s blog before I left so I sat at the table and typed for an hour while sipping hot chocolate. The good weather seemed quite settled but there was the odd gust which started the spindrift dancing across the snowpack outside. By the time I had finished, had breakfast and packed up it was 1000 and the clouds were starting to stick to some of the tops and there was a darker bank of cloud, which almost looked like a front, far to the south. I had a short day and was quite relaxed about my late start.
After looking at the map I decided I would not go SSE across what looked like garnly ground with lots of knolls and small lakes, followed by a steeper descent, but would instead go south across a string of larger lakes to the bottom of the ramparts of Jungatjohkko and then head down the stream which emerged from the last lake, called Festajaure, which on paper looked a lovely descent. The string of lakes were a delight to follow and it was difficult to see what was snow covered ice and what was snow covered isthmus because everything was so flat. The sun was on my face and I was just in my normal clothes but was still warm, and soon had to stop to take my hat and mittens off. The air was still about minus 5 but there was some heat in the sun which was also reflecting off the snow to give me a double dose of comfort.
At the end of the last lake there was a beautiful descent down the open valley to frozen marsh and small lake at Riggoajveluoppal. I held my height making a traversing glide down and got right past the flat marsh and onto the lake before I had to start taking steps again. This high basin was about 2 km long and it was a joy to ski along it as the weather was just holding, and after I turned a wide bend in the valley some of the giants of Sarek, namely the nearly 2000m Ryggåsberget massif came into view. I had wandered about this massif, but not up it, some 13 years ago. It’s tops occasionally pierced the cloud surrounding the summits and it’s ridges were bathed in atmospheric sun. From the end of this flat marshy area there was another wonderful descent to a further marshy area, frozen and hidden under deep snowfields where the stream meandered through an ox bow lake. The gradient of the descent was just enough for me to stand there and whizz down at 15 kmph on soft silky snow. Where the gradient threatened to get a bit seep I simply put in a few turns or found a traverse.
After skiing across this second marshy area I got to the edge of it and then saw the huts about 2 km ahead down in the valley. I was all set for another soothing smooth descent but soon came to a precipice. It seemed the stream had carved a huge U shaped cauldron some 40 metres deep and there was no way down it or round its sheer jaws which were a few hundred metres long and heavily corniced. After this deep cauldron the stream continued down in a ravine and going anywhere near it was dangerous. Indeed in a whiteout, the likes of what I had endured the other day it might have been possible to shuffle over the edge of a cornice here and plunge some 40 metres into the rocky depths of the cauldron sailing through the air with the 50 kg pulk still firmly attached round one’s waist. On the map I had there was no indication of it, not even a narrowing of the 20m contour lines and at least 2 of them should have been touching each other here.
Luckily there was a way round to the north side and I had to climb a small ridge to gain an open slope above the cauldron which led gently down to the collection of huts. Just at the top of the slope I could look SSE down Tarradalen and the thick birch and pine forests which lined it and led to Kvikkjokk. Tarradalen is one of the richest places to see wildlife in Scandinavian outside Sarek and there are a number of bears and lynx which live in the valley. Unfortunately it is not a restricted area and there is a snow scooter trail which goes up it shattering the pristine environment especially at the weekends. I would essentially be skiing down Tarradalen valley for the next 3 days to reach my goal in Kvikkjokk, but did not want to go too fast as there was no bus out until Monday morning and it was just Wednesday now.
The run down from north lip of the cauldron to the huts was perhaps 2 km and it was the best descent of the whole trip so far. It was not too steep, the snow was consistent and the sun shone on the slope to highlight all its nuances and foibles which otherwise might have caught me off guard especially with the pulk. I glided down putting in a few turns using the hardy birch trees growing up here as slalom poles, though never going very fast. In a glorious 10 minutes I had made it down to the bottom of Tarradalen and the cabins stood just above me.
There was a snow scooter and laden sledge outside one and I thought it would be a Sami stocking it for the summer or maintaining it. But it was a Swede who came to the door. I recognized him and his wife as they were here last time I came 12 years ago. Then, I had just spent 5 nights camping in Sarek, the last night being in Sarvesvagge and decided to bail out to here. When I arrived these two Swedes were also at the hut. I remembered him because he was a dentist who had worked in Greenland. They were frequent visitors to the huts here apparently and had some sort of authority with the Sami management. He showed me where the winter hut was and I went up to it and quickly completed my routines to collect snow in the buckets for melting and getting the gas stove going. The weather which had been threatening to break for the last 2 hours finally conceded and it started to snow, sometimes quite heavily, and the wind started to pick up. But I cared not a jot as I was ensconced inside my cabin which was heating up and getting cosy and before long I had a bucket of water. For once I had luck with the weather.
Once I had settled in and written the blog the dentist came up to have a chat and invited me down to their cabin. He was called Anders and his wife was Marianne. They gave me coffee and cake and I showed them a slide show of Norge Paa Langs and also Nepal. About half way through 2 scooters arrived and Anders went out to talk to them. They were two Sami who were taking summer supplies up to Staloluokta and had about 400 kg in each sledge trailer. As it was late and it was getting dark they decided to stop here for the night and would be sharing the cabin I was in. After another hour’s chat with Anders and Marianne,, when I also paid them for the 4 Sami cabins I had used from Låddjåkkå southwards, I returned to the cabin to meet the other two.
I had expected them to be dull, pragmatic and having a sense of ownership over the cabin. However they were far from It. Only one was Sami and the other was Swedish and they both spoke superb English and were around 30. Unfortunately I did not get their names so will just call them Sami and Swed. Sami was a very cool dude who had everything going for him. He had looks and charisma and was a reindeer herder throughout the year. He was taking fuel and provisions up to his familiy’s cabin in Staloluokta while there was good snow. He would then return to monitor the start of his Samebys (the one below Sirkas) reindeer migration from the winter forests to the low mountains, which had just started. He had all the paraphernalia of a herder with a large belt onto which there were attachment points for his knife sheaths and other tools. He hung the whole belt up with everything still attached. He also had two dogs, both mixed breed but one based on a New Zealand herder which had a short coat and the other based on a Swedish Lapphound with a thichk pile of soft fur; “like expensive gloves” Sami said. The two dogs adored him and he was kind to them. I said to him he must be very proud and purposeful still be practicing the traditional herding of his forefathers while his Swedish counterparts were getting lost in a homogenous monoculture without any connection to the country. Sami said “yes it feels like two parallel universes”. He told me a a lot about his life while we pampered the dogs.
Meanwhile Swed was a trained nurse and emergency response paramedic with 4 years training. He had been a member of the Gallivare helicopter ambulance team until he resigned due to a new and unsavoury boss, who got rid of half the team in Gallivare. He was now setting himself up a documentary maker and had a lot of fancy camera equipment and gimbals. He had funding to make what he called a Poetry Motion Movie about Sami, Sami’s girlfriend and their lives as herders today in this time of climate change. It was also fascinating to listen to him and see how he interacted with Sami. The two were obviously good friends and respected each others skills. Swed had come along on this trip to film Sami as he made his delivery. It was all going towards a 5 minute movie and all the filming on this entire trip would only account for some 20 seconds in the whole film.We chatted until about 2200 and they also gave me the latest on the Corona virus and how much things had developed since I last heard about it over a week ago at Ritsem. It now seemed it would be difficult for me to get home to the UK, but there was no need to worry about that yet as I still had 3 days to get out of the mountains and reach Kvikkjokk.
Day 14. March 19. Tarraluoppal to Såmmerlappa. 15km. 4.5 hours. 130m up. 290m down. It was very stuffy and hot inside the cabin and I had to open the door to the outer hall in the middle of the night. When dawn broke and I went outside for a look it was a miserable scene with snow showers and a near gale, a force 6 or 7. There was nothing to get up for yet so I went back to bed and we all slept until 0800 when there was little change in the weather. On the plus side the wind for me was NW so at least it would be behind me. Sami and Swed gave me some breakfast goodies like fresh bread, butter and brie and a delicious cloudberry yoghurt. They were a tasty supplement to my freeze dried fare. We chatted for a couple of hours while we watched the weather. Eventually at 1000 I thought it had eased enough for me to be able to have a reasonable day and set off soon after. It had been a very interesting interlude to my Padjelanta sojourn.
I harnessed up my pulk and then skied down to the cabin where Anders and Marianne stayed. They saw me coming and came out to say Bon voyage and then I was off across the huge white expanse to the south of Tarraluoppal, which was a frozen marsh and lake, both indistinguishable from each other. The sun was quite bright and the visibility was great but the force 5 wind behind me was blowing a lace curtain of spindrift across the snowfield in a constant fluttering flow of millions of tiny snowy particles in search of some lee to settle in. After 2 km at the end of the flat area the valley sides came together and pinched the floor into a narrower U shape but it was still easy to pick any route down the very gentle incline into a scattering of bare skeletal birch trees. The buds on these trees were just about to start forming but it would still be another 10 weeks before the first leaves emerge.
It was difficult to see any scooter tracks as they had all been blown away so I just made up my own route. With the pulk I had to avoid knolly areas and keep to the open valley floor in a constant game of chess with the landscape. I had to think a few moves ahead to avoid being lulled into a cul-de-sac of deep snow drifts and cornices, even if I had to sacrifice a small climb here and there to stay out of trouble. I just managed to do it and seemed to keep to the west side of the valley as the east side was far more wooded and lumpy. The spindrift kept flowing past me like a river of surf. All the small lumps I would kick up when skiing would be blown ahead quickly becoming a round disc which would cart wheel off, before getting ever smaller as the edges wore away until there was nothing left. Up on the mountainsides to my west the wind was much stronger and huge plumes of spindrift were flowing across the bowls and then launching huge plumes as the flowed skywards of the ridges.
After a few hours I came to the edge of the Padjelanta National Park and a forlorn sign in the snow and another nearby, randomly appearing in the snowfield saying snow scooters were not allowed in the area from where I had just emerged. I expected to find recent snow scooter tracks from here on down to Såmmerlappa but there were none, just the faint, blown over, tracks of Sami and Swed from yesterday. The snow was not as firm as I would have liked all morning and now I left the park it got slightly deeper at around 15cm. Each step was a plod rather than a glide however, I could see a descent coming up soon. When It arrived it was wonderful. It was reasonably steep but but now in the lee much of the spindrift had found somewhere to settle and the snow was a good 20cm deep. This depth of snow on my skis and the pulk was just enough to stop me cascading down the slope in chaos and instead I glided down as if floating and if I ever felt I was picking up too much speed it was easy to take a turn round a tree and slow down a bit. The descent lasted for a good 10 minutes by which time I had gone nearly 2 km and lost 100m altitude. It was warm and calm now and the skies were the azure blue of a wonderful spring day.
It was still a good 3 km to the cabin and there was no obvious way to go now and the snow scooter tracks had vanished under last night’s snow and the spindrift which had got blown down here earlier. I had to make my own way and it was slow and hard work as the snow was still 20cm deep. I plodded on for a good hour crossing the river a few times. I was surprised and somewhat alarmed to see so many open patches of water. It should have been completely frozen already in December. It made me consider what my journey down Rapadelen and the much larger river there would have been like, and I suspect very taxing. There was always a bit of trepidation when I crossed the river which I must have done 3 times in all in these birch woods. After a good hour’s slog I saw the cabins on the other side of the river again about ½ a km away and skied across the open frozen marsh towards it. Just at the cabin I crossed the river for a final time and my skis got wet with water lying on top of the ice. The balled up immediately as the water froze in the air and snow stuck to it but I only had 100m to plod with great clumps of snow on each ski.
At the hut I met Ingrid Svernell, the warden, who had been here for about 3 weeks. It had been busy with up to 15 ptarmigan hunters on snow scooters for the first 2 weeks but the season had just ended on the 15th March and they had all gone home and I was the first visitor since. She was a very liberal and an experienced hut warden who was a retired nurse. Again we talked about the unfathomable panic of the Corona virus and Scandinavia’s draconian reaction to it. Niether of us wanted to dwell on the topic so we moved on to life at Såmmerlappa. I soon had a fire going in my cosy back room and spread out on a table in the main room. Ingrid was an avid reader and left me after supper which meant I had peace to relax and write surrounded by the gentle light of candles. Outside the temperature was plummeting and would reach minus 20 but inside it was plus 23. I was looking forward to my final two days which were all in the shelter of the birch woods of Tarredalen.
Day 16. March 20. Såmmerlappa to Tarrekaise. 13 km. 3 hours. 20m up. 80m down. One minute the sun was out and the next it was snowing heavily as I ate my breakfast. As I was listening to Ingrid telling me about the 15 ptarmigan hunters who had been here for 2 weeks I noticed all the bird boxes outside for the summer passerines, many were rotting or broken. The hunters who came, all on snowscooters, brought with them slabs of beer, bottles of spirit, even a ghetto blaster, and essentially took over the hut for those two weeks. They had all booked online and it had earnt the STF some 72,000 Kroner or £6000 GBP for the 180 individual nights booked. It had caused Ingrid some stress as an unpaid volunteer cabin warden. It seemed to me the STF had sold their principles and prostituted out their cabins so their Central Office could get some hard cash. To me it seemed totally wrong and mercenary that the STF had done this and surely against their founding principles, which is to encourage people to go out into, and explore, the natural world. Allowing the hunters to stay in the cabin and party was akin to the Youth Hostel Association allowing their youth hostels to be used stage bare knuckle boxing contests. Perfectly legal but wholly inappropriate. The fat lazy hunters would never have had made it here without snow scooters as it was a 2 day or 40km ski from Kvikkjokk and they could only do this because snow scooters are allowed here. In Norway they are not and abuse of the equivalent mountain cabins in Norway is rare, certainly on a sanctioned scale. I was fortunate I missed it by half a week but would have been furious to have shared a hut with them. Unfortunately the snow scooter genie is out of the bottle in Sweden and it is impossible to put it back in but let it be a lesson to Norway who continues to resist unfettered access.
As we spoke 3 scooters turned up outside. They all had big laden trailers. The riders dismounted and came inside. They were all Sami and were all taking building materials from Kvikkjokk to Arasluokta. They had just dropped in to drink their thermos of coffee and have a snack before continuing en route. They were all older serious reindeer herders and not younger cowboys. After 15 minutes they were off again towing their trailers of timber up to their cabins in Arasluokta for the summer herding season. For them the snow scooter was an essential tool of their trade. As they left a very heavy snow shower came in but I continued to get ready as the 3 Sami had said the weather would come and go all day with bright spells and showers. Some half hour later I was setting off into the same snow shower, blizzard almost, but with the wind behind me. However, after a mere 5 minutes it had passed and the sun was breaking through.
I followed the Sami scooter trail which went right down the frozen Tarraätno river. It followed every turn and meander and took me right under the steep boulder field below Såmmartjåhkkå where I knew a family of lynx once lived in a lair beneath the giant jumble of rocks. Soon the wind died off as the birch trees hemmed in on the river banks and after 2 km it was warm enough to take my jacket off. It was easy idyllic skiing on the firm tracks on the flat riverbed in the sunshine. There were fox tracks all over the place, crossing and recrossing the river on scent of anything. Here and there were some trails from ptarmigan as they waddled about in the snow, but I did not see any. There was the odd small cluster of spruce trees growing on the north side of the valley, the first I had seen this trip. For a good hour I skied down the track making fast time on the packed snow. I was surprised how open the river was and in a couple of places where I would have expected it to be thick ice, there was flowing water and along large stretches of bank there was no snow of ice on the water, as it under cut the drifts. On one rise I saw a single reindeer, it was quite small and did not look like a pregnant female. I remember Sami telling me how reindeer also fall prey to eagles who swoop down on their backs and puncture the reindeer lungs with their talons. This lone reindeer seemed very vulnerable and I was surprised it had not fallen prey to a predator.
To the east of the valley was Tarrekaise mountain, and its steep ramparts dominated everything. Huge plumes of spindrift were blowing off the high ridges, and its summits looked very inhospitable especially compared to the calm bright valley. However, the wind was now cold enough for me to warrant putting my jacket back on, but it was still warm enough to stop for a snack. I ventured off the scooter trail just after to get a photo and my skis once again dropped through the firm snow onto wet slush that was on top of the ice. They froze almost at once and I had to go back to firmed snow and scrape the newly formed ice off. Ther tracks continued down the river and under a summer footbridge and I knew soon I would reach Tarrajaure lake. There was a long frozen marsh to ski across first and as I crossed it the sun disappeared and a snow shower arrived and by the time I got to the Tarrekaise cabin on the shore of the lake it was snowing heavily.
There were two scooters outside and my heart sank however they belonged to a nice family who were just leaving and had left the room in the cabin warm for me. I went to see the cabin warden who were an older couple. I explained I had no money or food now and hoped they could put it on a credit card, but they could not. Instead it would have to be a faktura which I could pay tomorrow at Kvikkjokk STF. So I selected a few things from the tiny shop, which was just a cupboard and settled down to have some noodles. By now the snow was falling very heavily and the spindrift was flying around making it unpleasant outside with a jacket. I settled in, stoked the fire up and unpacked a very few things from the pulk. I could have gone on another 7 km to Nunjes cabin but it had a mobile phone signal and I did not want to squander my peace looking at depressing news on the internet about Corona virus and international and regional border closures, so decided to stay put and in ignorant oblivion for another day. I would ski the 24 km to Kvikkjokk tomorrow where my tour would end, and then there would be plenty of time for the internet and working out how to get home. Two snow scooters arrived and they went into the other room at the hut warden’s request leaving me the skier in peace. They came through to say “Hi” after dinner and they were in their 60’s also, both with booming laughs. One was a retired colonel in the Swedish army.
Just as I was brushing my teeth the hut warden came in to say the Northern Lights were out. I had not seen them this trip so went outside to see them and fiddle around with the camera in the minus 12. The lights were mostly to the NW and there were about 3-4 clusters of them. They were doing a slow dance with each other as they changed shape and took on hues of green and dull yellow. It was cold for me to fiddle with the camera in the slight breeze and cold but I eventually found an open aperture, with an ISO of 2000 and 10 second exposure on autotimer worked well, with the camera balanced on a chair jammed in the snow as a tripod. The pictures were very grainy and poorly focused compared to many of the others I had seen, but they gave a general impression.
Day 17. 21 March. Tarrekaise to Kvikkjokk. 24 km. 5 hours. 80m up. 270m down. It was a cold, clear, crisp start to the day and I was up quite early to ski the 24 km to Kvikkjokk, which from memory and the map looked easy. I said goodbye to the lively colonel and his brother, then put my skis on and shot down the dark 300 metre avenue of birch trees on the scooter trail and onto the blindingly bright frozen surface of the lake in full sunlight. I turned to the east and headed off down the edge of the lake. There was a wide trail formed by many snow scooters across the ice which followed a line of branches indicating a safe route across the ice. After a couple of fast kilometres I was approaching the end of the lake, a small breeze behind me helping slightly.
At the end of the lake I climbed a very small rise and then started an almost flat descent down along the wide open valley with the river to my south. I was shocked to see how much of it was open below the lakes outflow. After a couple of km of this varied easy terrain the valley made a steeper descent and I stood on the lip of it and looked down to the spruce and fir trees below which covered the valley floor some 50m below. The descent was not so steep and it was easy enough to snowplough down the snow scooter track with the pulk heaving me onwards and after a few exciting minutes, over a series of small bumps, like a mini roller coaster, at the bottom and I spilled out into the conifers on the valley floor below. It was still down here in the trees and I was soon hot. The trail then left the forest again as it crossed a heathery rocky mound, devoid of trees, and then traversed the hillside to the south of Njunjes cabin. I had already done 7km in less than 90 minutes.
As I passed just above Njunjes cabin I heard the shrill hum of snow scooters. Soon there were about 15 coming towards me spread out across the hillside widening the already wide trail. They all slowed down and nodded when they passed me and I begrudgingly nodded back. Some were dressed in perfunctory thermal coveralls but most were in bright racing coveralls which often matched the colours of the scooter. I suppose it was a sunny Saturday and people were out on a joy ride with the pretence of fishing, but I deeply resented it. During the course of the next hour and a half a further 5 or 6 big groups passed me and many individuals, perhaps 100 scooters in all. At times the smell of exhaust lingered in the air. I felt my right to enjoy the peaceful abundant oasis of Tarradalen was being violated. Most riders were responsible but there were a few cowboys, charging off into the forest over saplings and drifts. By the time I reached the old farm at Backen the flow of them had stopped and peace returned. I guess they were all up “fishing”, and they would all start to return in the middle afternoon when hopefully I would already be in Kvikkjokk. In fact, and remarkably, not one other scooter passed me again in the day.
Backen farm was an old farm, now long abandoned as a farm but still in good shape as a holiday cabin, was a lovely old building perhaps 60-80 years old surrounded by a few small barns and outhouses which were much older, perhaps 120 years, and whose log walls had been darkened by a century of scorching sun and occasional applications of oil or tar. It was surrounded by trees, mostly birch and alder, with a pasture in front of it. In summer it would be full of flowers. After Backen the scooter trail I was following descended slightly and went into predominantly conifer forest. It was warm and still and I had to take my jacket off. I noticed some ski tracks on the trail in front of me and they seemed to be pulling a pulk. Around one corner I caught up with the Belgium couple who had made them. They were a bit younger than me, perhaps 50 and seemed very experienced and knowledgable. We got talking and then decided to take lunch, I only had a chocolate bar but they shared their biscuits and vintage Gouda.iIt was a rare treat. They had been all over Sarek in the last 15 years and knew it well. He ran the Belgium Alpine Club and as a couple they had also walked most of the Via Alpina Red Route which I intended to do this summer. It was a very sociable lunch. Their names were Geoffroy and Anne. They were also heading for Kvikkjokk Fjallstation so we parted saying see you later.
Pretty soon the scooter trail left the forest and went onto the Tarraätno River. The scooters had made an even piste at least 10 metres wide and it was easy and fast to ski down the very slight decline for 3 km. The woods on each side of the river were dense conifer and not even the scooters dared ventured in, so deep was the snow. The river ice seemed OK, but at the edges flowing water had occasionally melted the ice. Once or twice a cowboy on a scooter had gone off piste and broken through, but the water in these gravel banks was not deep. I passed to the north side of Nammasj, a curious wedge shaped knoll once in the middle of the flow of ice. On the north side of Nammasj there was once a lake but it had now filled in with sediment carried down by the Tarraätno river which had settled in the lake forming at delta land. The lake was still being filled in and the slope of the sediment was 33 degrees. I did not venture onto the lake but kept on the channels in the delta until I reached the first houses of Kvikkjokk. I could see an old homestead on the west side of the other river which tumbled down some frozen rapids into the same delta land. I knew it belonged to Bjorn and Helene who used it as an art studio. I skied into the village passing some lovely old houses and then skied up the snow covered pavement to the Fjallstation but which time my discontent with the scooters earlier in the day had faded. In the evening I ate with Geoffroy and Ann with Bjorn sitting in. Geoffroy and Ann were fascinating and a kindred spirit and I am sure we will keep in touch.
It was the end of the trip. The weather had not been kind except for a few days and this was disappointing. I had not seen the dramatic mountains of the area as I skied amongst them, and I did not really have any good photos. Still I had enjoyed the tour, especially the Padjelanta section, which had stood in as a quick replacement when I did not think it worthwhile to go through Sarek. It made a change from skiing in the Langfjellene of Norway but I don’t think it matched the Langfjellene.
The main issue for me now was how to get home. For the last 10 days I had been blissfully ignorant of worldwide developments with the spread of Covid 19 and the fact that something like 90% of flights were cancelled and many European countries had closed their borders. My original plan of going to Oslo and flying home from there was out of the question. I now had to just get to Stockholm airport and take a flight to London. I have two options to get to Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport; take a series of buses to Luleå Airport and fly down, or take a series of buses to Murjek or Boden and get the night train to Arlanda. Once in the UK it would be easiest to fly to Edinburgh from Heathrow as I have the 40kg sledge and the ski bag and taking this across London to get a train does not appeal. But it seems my problems are minimal compared to many who already have contracted the disease.