March 20, 2023
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 01. 24 March. Ritsem to Akkastugorna. 12 km. 3.5 hours. 80 m up. 110 m down. I woke up in Luleå with the alarm going at 0430. It took me a while to realise where I was and also why the alarm went. Then it dawned on me I had to get all my stuff down to the station and take a train at 0600 to Gallivare. I had a shower, my last for a while, ate my breakfast I bought in the supermarket last night, loaded up the trolley and was at the station in good time. The train was already there waiting for the first passengers to arrive. I soon loaded everything and then we set off on schedule at 0609. It took a little less than 3 hours to make the journey to Gallivare. Between snoozes I saw it was cold and overcast outside with a recent fall of snow. It looked like a dull christmas card as the landscape was flat and plain.
At Gallivare there was a bus waiting for the train. It was a large minibus with a huge trailer. There were about 15 of us ready to board. After we filled the trailer and closed the lid we set off at 0900. One of the groups on the bus were 9 young lads from Lund. They all had media jobs and were combining a tour down the Padjelanta Trail for about 10 days where they intended to camp. They were a lively bunch and I am sure there would be some great tales at the end of their tour. The bus drove quite quickly given the conditions and it took about 4 hours to reach Ritsem, including a long break at Stora Sjofallet where there was a nice cafe. The final 45 km were along the north shore of the huge Akkajaure lake with which I was quite familiar. By now the skies were a perfect blue and I could see south across the lake and make out some of the ranges of Sareks National Park where I hoped to ski through for the next 10 days. I could see Sarektjahkka, 2089m, which I hoped to climb and also the large graceful massif of Ahkka, 2011m, which I had also already climbed and was probably too difficult for winter conditions alone.
Eventually the minibus arrived at Ritsem Fjallstation where everyone got out. It was the end of the road anyway. Here I went in to get the primus powerfuel which I had already ordered and they had the 5 litres I wanted. The warden, Greger, was not there but his assistant was and she was extremely helpful and organised a parcel of bags, clean clothes and my trolley to get shipped to Kvikkjokk. It cost me about £50 but it was 15 kg and it was great not to have it in the pulk. The large team from Lund almost faffed around as much as I did but they were off after a good hour while it took me 2 hours to get ready. Eventually I left at 1530 under beautiful skies and with a wonderful forecast.
I think my pulk was about 60 kg with 12 days of food and 5 litres of fuel plus all the non-consumables – which were about 45 kg on their own. It was a steep descent from Ritsem Fjallstation to Akkajaure lake although the trail was wide and smoothed by many snow scooters. A crash here would have meant a long slide with the sledge pushing me down so I walked. Within 10 minutes I was on the lake and putting my skis on in glorious sunshine on a wind still day. Although the pulk wss 60 kg it was a dream to pull on the lake and I barely noticed it as I followed the tracks of the large team from Lund. The lake was largely ice frozen to a depth of at least half a metre and covered in snow. There were some hydropower currents at the start where there was open water but the route was well marked. The ice largely formed in the lake in early and mid winter but then the water level dropped by 10 metres leaving large plates of ice perched in shallow rocks around the edge and near the many islands
For the next 2.5 hours I had an easy and quite fantastic ski across the flat lake towards the large bay on the south side. I was skiing towards the massif of Ahkka the whole time and it initially clouded over but then later cleared to reveal multiple peaks. It was a magnificent mountain and was called the Queen of Lapland. As the afternoon wore on and dusk approached Ahkka took on the golden hues of the sunset and then the rose pink of the alpenglow. It was the perfect antidote to 30 hours of travel and made it worthwhile. I really enjoyed the ski and the small skins were perfect for the surface of the lake and gave me a great glide and some traction when needed.
As I got to the south side of the hamlet of cabins, called Anonjalmme, I caught the big team from Lund up. There were of varying abilities and some were walking. I chatted briefly with them and then rushed on to get to the cabin at Akkastugorna before dusk. The Lund team were now looking for somewhere to camp in what was already about minus 15 and dropping rapidly. I went over a small ridge where the pulk soon reminded me of what a chore it would be to pull up a slope later on the tour and then curved round to the west into a bay within the bay where the cabins were. I got there at dusk as the light was fading and the temperature was now minus 20. The warden showed me a rustic room in the cabin which was already warm as 3 Swedes were in it. I made some conservation with them while I ate my freeze dried meal and then typed up the day while the Northern Lights flickered green just about the horizon. It was a nice display but I hope to see better later. It was about the 10th time I had stayed in this cabin over the last 40 years and it still has all its rustic charm and cosiness. It was a great end to the first day.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 02. 25 March. Akkastugorna to Camp near Kisuriskåten. 22 km. 9 hours. 360 m up. 110 m down. It was a nice evening in the cabin with the older 3 Swedes and I had a small cubicle to myself. It allowed me to sort everything out in the morning in the comfort of the warm hut and I put my “Arctic Bedding” together there. Eventually I was all done and had a last decision to make on which route to take to the start of Rouhtesvagge. I could either go the shorter way of about 15 Km between the large Ahkka massif and the lower hill of Sjnjuvtjudis, which would mean going through woods and the occasional climb up a steeper gravel bank. I had been this way before, twice in fact, but can hardly remember it as one was 40 years ago. The other alternative would be to go to the west of Sjnjuvtjudis on good tracks until I got to Kutjaure lake then pass the hidden, cold and private Kisuris cabin and head up the Sjnjuvtjudisjahka stream. I was less likely to get into a pickle but it was 25 km. In the end caution got the better of me and I opted for the more straightforward route which was 10 km longer.
It was stunning when I set off at 0930 in minus 18. However the sun was warming and it was windstill. I passed a few campers near the cabin including some of the team from Lund and then followed easy firm scooter tracks over a gentle ridge and down to the large Vuojatadno river, which was mostly frozen over. Ahkka towered above me to the east and I could look up its glaciers to the peaks in the heart of the massif. It took a good 3 hours of very pleasant easy skiing to reach Kutjaure lake. Much of it was on snow scooter tracks for Sami who owned fishing or reindeer herding cabins in the Padjelanta area.
I left the tracks at the lake and had to head across virgin snowfields and ice giving the outflow of the lake a wide berth as I could see there was open water here where the Vuojatadno river started its journey. On the south side of the lake I crossed some frozen marshes and entered the woods. It was firm and the weight distributed between my skis and the pulk meant I did not sink much. Kisuris cabin was hidden in a hollow in these woods up a steep gravel bank. I did not feel like looking for it as I heard there was no gas there and it was only 1300. As I went through these woods I disturbed a hare. It was completely white save for its dark eyes. It looked at me for a good minute during which I managed to extract the camera and take 10 good shots. It was a magnificent encounter with a truly unique animal. I was surprised it did not run away at once, and it probably realised I was not a fox or lynx and wanted to save energy.
Elated by this meeting I started to ski up the Sjnjuvtjudisjahka stream. There were some old tracks of skiers and I suspect the 3 older Swedes in the cabin last night were among them. The streambed was quite wide and it was easy to cut up through the steep moraine banks on each side this way. The stream was completely frozen over and there was no open water at all. The tracks meandered up the shallow streambed in the bright still sun. It was very quiet and still and the quality of the light was only something I have seen in the Arctic, such was its luminosity.
I skied up the stream bed for a good 2 hours stopping for lunch half way until the birches thinned and the bare mountain started. It was a gentle gradient and the pulk was not making me work hard. I had the big skins on the bottom of the skis now so every step had great traction and I felt I could pull a railway carriage up here and not lose grip. As the route got higher the previous winters winds had blown the snow about and some parts were nearly bare and other parts icy. However there was enough neve-type snow to find a route up the valley which had opened out.
I was skiing with the craggy mountain of Kisuris on my south and the graceful Ahkka massif on my north. Ahead was the characteristic buttress of Njiak which split the valley in two. It was the northmost mountain in the large 25 km long massif which culminated in Sarektjåhkkå,a good days ski to the south. The weather was still great as I skied towards Nijak and I intended to camp at the foot of it. However the wind got up slightly and I thought better of pushing on into dusk so at about 1730, still a few km to the west of Nijak I found an unsheltered place to camp. The tent was quickly up and I was soon in my sleeping bags as dusk fell. It was cold perhaps minus 25 and I could not write but fell asleep after I had eaten. I woke a few times with the northern lights illuminating the tent, sometimes so brightly one could read even though the moon was barely an eight. During the night the wind got up quite a bit but I felt secure in the tent which at 6 kg and double-poled was the strongest on the market. I felt I could survive a storm in the Helsport Patagonia 3.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 03. 26 March. Camp near Kisuriskåten to Renvaktstugu Rouhtesvagge. 10 km. 3.5 hours. 240 m up. 60 m down. I woke early as I think the clocks had changed to summer time, although there was little evidence of summer here as it was minus 10 in the tent. After the usual breakfast and water melting for the days drinks in the thermos and insulated bottle I eventually emerged from my sleeping bags at about 0830 and was completely packed an hour later, with the tent in the long bag which allowed the poles to stay in their sleeves ready for a quick set up at the end of the day.
The wind of the night had blown a fair bit of snow around my tent and equipment but it was now almost still again. The sun was out and it was already above Nijak which looked magnificent in its coating of snow. Ahkka across the valley even more so and even the steep south facing crags, the first place snow disappeared from, were plastered in white. I set my skis SW and climbed gently up into Rouhtesvagge keeping Nijak on my left. The sun was blindingly bright and without sunglasses I would have got snow blindness in these conditions.
The open wide valley floor was gentle and undulating but occasionally covered in moraine mounds or drumlins where gravel was deposited by the retreating glacier. Most had been smoothed off in the millennia since the ice age finished. It was easy to weave a route through them climbing slightly. When I was about level with Nijak I reached a small crest and the whole of Ruohtesvagge valley opened up in front of me. To the east was the gnarly Sarek massif and to my west the smaller Ruohtes massif. Everything was plastered in white snow and the valley itself was full of deep snow. There must have been a heavy snowfall this winter.
I had about 30 kilometres to ski over the next 2 days to reach Mikkastugan, a small shed with a solar powered emergency phone, the only piece of civilization in Sarek. I could do it in a long push but I heard that the Renvaktstuga in Ruohtesvagge was still standing and open although there was a lot of snow in it. I had stayed here before 40 and 30 years ago when it was almost pleasant, but cold. It made sense to stay here this time too. It was just 10 km up the valley on a knoll. Pretty soon I could make it out and after a lovely 3 hours of skiing it stood before me. From the outside it looked fine.
Once I opened the door though it was dire. The outer door was gone and the porch was full of snow and the inner door was rotting and did not close properly. The sleeping benches were covered in ice as was the floor. It was very cold inside, much colder than the sunny outside. I was in a real dilemma to stay here or push on. The only thing in its favour was that there was a table and a sleeping bench nearby where I could write the blog and cook. It was also windproof should the wind get up. I tidied it up a bit and shovelled some snow from the furniture and it looked plausible to stay in. I daresay the tent would have been warmer though.
I had lunch and was just spreading out the bedding when another skier showed up. He was Finnish and had started from Ritsem just a few hours after me and we camped in the same area last night. He was about 35 and was an old hand with winter expeditions and had been here a few times. We chatted for a good half hour in the still sun outside, comparing equipment, swapping tales before he continued up the valley towards Mikkastugan. He hoped to camp somewhere en route. It is unusual to meet others in Sarek.
In the afternoon I put my boots and mitts on the peeling bitumen of the roof so they might dry a bit. They had both gotten a little damp from sweat and this would freeze. I then had a snooze before writing the blog which took 3 hours. I was trussed up in a sleeping bag with my duvet jacket on but still my fingers were cold despite the merino fingerless mitts. I was glad when it was done and I could cook and go to sleep. I noticed the clocks had definitely changed as it was now dusk at 1930. In a week’s time it would be 2030 such is the speed of change here in the Arctic.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 04. 27 March. Renvaktstugu Rouhtesvagge to Mikkastugan. 13 km. 4.5 hours. 60 m up. 160 m down. It might have been warmer in the tent than the semi-derelict shed but at least I could move about in the shed and write while in the tent everything must be done lying down. I usually spend my time in a tent scrabbling about like a rodent and writing is difficult. However I slept well and woke early. When I went outside i was blinded by a blaze of white light. It was yet another beautiful day and there was not a breath of wind. Being in the shed made morning tasks and packing the pulk easier but I was still not ready to go before 0930.
I clicked my skis in, still deciding to keep the full ski skins on and turned into the sun. My toes and fingers especially were very cold but it did not take long to warm up and soon I was having to stop to take my duvet jacket off and half an hour later again for a peeling off of another layer and even gloves. I also smeared my lips and nose in zinc sunblock. As I skied south east in perfect conditions I could see up the Rouhtesjiegna glacier into the heart of this massif. I once skied partially up it and then cut over a small saddle to the south where there was a frozen lake before coming back down a lovely slope to the main Ruohtesvagge valley. Essentially it was going round the smaller mountain of Boajsatjahkka, 1746m and it afforded great views to the north over the long Sarek Massif. I would be too much to do this now with a heavy pulk so I went to the north of Boajsatjahkka keeping in the valley which was essentially level
As I skied SE I passed the magnificent mountain of Gavabakte, 1910m. It was one of 3 similar height mountains in a huge cirque the top of which was the main ridge of the Sarek massif. The mountains were lathered in snow and all their crags were white. Beneath the cirque were the remains of a once large glacier which had now all but gone leaving the prominent lateral moraine ridges. I continued down the valley in the glorious weather without a jacket and just fingerless gloves on. It was a rare treat to be warm but I could not afford to sweat into my clothes or they would freeze solid later.
I was now about 6 km from Mikkastugan, to my mind the heart of Sarek. It was here 3 large valleys came together namely Ruothesvagge, Guohpervagge and Alggavagge to form the main artery of Sarek which drained to the SE down the enormous and deep Rapadalen. Rapadalen was famous for its U shaped valley floor covered in shallow lakes and deltas and much vaunted for its wildlife, including Scandinavians 4 predators and some giant elg. I could see the massifs further to the SE which formed the edges of Rapadalen. If all went to plan I would not be going straight there but would end up there in a week or so via Alggavagge and Sarvesvagge.
I followed the Finns tracks down the valley which fell almost imperceptibly towards Mikkastugan and the meeting of the valleys. Across the confluence the large Massif of Ålkatj started to unfold. It had some impressive summits but all in the 1800 metre region among its large glaciers. The last time I was here in 2008 I cut right through it on two connecting glaciers, the Ahkajiegna Glaciers, and ended up in Sarvesvagge which was a spectacular route. Soon I rounded the spur which came down from Mikkatjahkka and then I could see up the large Mikkajiegna glacier to first Sareks south top, 2049m and then Sareks stortop, 2089m. It was at the heart of this massif and it was very alpine up here, even in the summer. I had been up Sareks stortop on a poor day in the autumn some 20 years ago with my friend Stuart and to the top of the glacier beneath it in 2008 in stunning weather but without crampons and ice axe which I deemed necessary.
There were quite a few ski tracks about now, not just the Finnish guy, but many were quite old blown over. I expected someone to be at the emergency shed or camping there but could see no life as I approached. 40 years ago when I first visited there was a small unheated but comfortable hut here but it was burnt down shortly afterwards. In its place there is an emergency shed with a telephone. The shed is just 2 metres by 4 metres and is now looking the worse for wear but is still weather proof. I went in and there was a bit of snow on the floor and leaks in the ceiling but it had a table, benches and a single platform for 1 to sleep on. I moved in and made myself at home in the mid afternoon. It would be a great base camp for me to explore the surrounding area tomorrow if the weather forecast I saw 4 days ago holds true. By 1700 I had written the blog with my petrol burner staving off the deep chill which I knew was coming in the evening. As long as no one else turns up and stays the place would be great for 1.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 05. 28 March. Mikkastugan to Sarektjahkka and return. 16 km. 8.5 hours. 1260 m up. 1260 m down. It was very cold in the night and I measured it as -33 outside and -26 in the shed. I could just start to feel the cold seep through my sleep system but it would have another – 10 C to go before it became uncomfortable. As a consequence I was a little slow to get going and eventually left at 0900. Two more Finns had turned up last night and were camping. I went over a chatted to them. Like many Finns they looked like they were prepared for cold weather with felt trousers and a fox fur cap. I chatted with them briefly and would have loved to have picked their brains on cold weather camping because they looked at home in it.
I left the, crossed the huge snowbank which had completely filled in the gorge and set my sights on Mikkajiegna glacier and Sarektjåhkkå beyond. From here the skyline did not look so daunting but it had turned me back on an equally perfect day in 2008 when I thought better of it. I tried again in 2020 but the weather forecast was dreadful so I skipped Sarek and went the Padjelanta Way and emerged in a Covid locked down Europe. This time I had my ice axe and crampons. It was a gentle way up above a deeply corniced ravine which led me after an easy couple of kilometres to the snout of the glacier. As I skied up the moraine valley where the snout had retreated I spotted a few rocks with paint daubs on them making the date the glacier was there. Even since 1996 it has retreated about 500 metres. There had been other skiers on the glacier and it looked like they were going to the same saddle. This was a good thing as although the glacier is covered in deep snow there are still crevasses on it and when I went up in 2003 with my friend Stuart to climb Sarektjåhkkå in dreadful autumn weather we saw a few. But I saw none in 2008. Their tracks gave me a bit more confidence today. By now the cold of the night and morning was completely banished and I had to take off my duvet jacket and a set of gloves. I did not want my clothes getting damp with sweat.
Once on the glacier I was in a dream world of vast snowy bowls which flowed down from the jagged and corniced mountains far above. The bowl to the east was especially dramatic with the peaks of Svartspitsen and Buchttoppen forming a fantastic ring of black cliffs with the glacier emerging from the base of them. On one part of the glacier there was an enormous “vindgryte” where the wind had carried snow drifts to form a large cliff some 50-100 metres high. It would not do to ski over this in a whiteout! I followed the other skiers’ tracks up across the rolling icefield passing a few more ice-filled accumulation bowls coming down from Mikkatjåhkkå and Vargtoppen. However it was the one on the east side which caught my attention as it was the one which came down from the two main peaks of Sarek, namely Stortoppen and Sydtoppen. In the summer this was an ascent route. After a good hour slowly climbing the glacier it reached a steeper bit between two nunataks which protruded through the ice, their dark buttresses squeezing the flow of ice like boulders in a stream. Here the other skiers tracks seemed to zig-zag up and I remember doing this 14 years ago. Above me the crags on the west ridge of Sarek Stortoppen loomed menacingly. I can’t remember them being quite so threatening, and it was a little alarming as I had to climb them.
Soon the tracks and I reached the watershed, or iceshed really as there was a large glacier on the other side. I had looked down on it from Sarek Nordtop and it was fissured with crevasses in the late summer but they would all be filled in and covered over now. It would be possible to make a tour up the Mikkajiegna glacier and then down this Sarekjiegna glacier and then on to Akkajaure Lake in civilization over a couple of days. For me though the route was to the east edge of this saddle where the west ridge of Sarek came down and I could step onto it. It looked worryingly steep again and it was plain to see why I turned round 14 years ago. This time I had come prepared and it also seemed that two skiers whose trail I had been following also went this way.
I put my crampons on at the foot of the ridge and packed my skis on my rucksack in case I descended a different way. I secured the lease of my ice axe round a wrist and used the ski poles in the other hand and set off up the hard neve snow. For the next hour it was a full on mountaineering experience. Without crampons and an ice axe I would have slipped and probably slid to my death or at least a few broken limbs. I was thankful for the route which the other two had made and it gave me confidence to carry on knowing others had been – although the other two seemed very experienced mountain men. It was never that steep and was just 45 degrees at the worst parts but combined with the exposure it was a memorable ascent. At last the crags finished and icy slopes between them merged into a single ridge.
This ridge was much more exposed but the angle now was just 30 degrees at the most, and often less. The ridge was covered in large icy formations and small snow patches with a cornice on the southern side. I clambered up each of these icy formations with my crampons biting well into the neve snow, which was hard and squeaked. It was quite an exhilarating experience climbing up the ridge, but I was a bit daunted by it and worried about the last section which seemed to be a knobbly icy cone. The faint footsteps of the previous two climbers helped my confidence and it showed me the obvious path. As I climbed the view was simply breathtaking and there were mountains with huge cirques filled with glaciers in every direction. Sarek National park really was a wild and rugged place, perhaps the wildest in Scandinavia. It was similar in scale to Jotunheimen in Norway but the Jotunheimen was full of people, lodges, marked trails and footbridges, and access roads, yet Sarek was completely devoid of these. It is perhaps the last raw wilderness in Europe. While I was marvelling at the view I had suddenly gained the foot of the final cone. It was not as bad as I feared and soon I stood on the summit. I had been here before but then I could see 20 metres this time I could see at least 100 kilometres.
There was ridge upon ridge in every direction. Especially the South and West. I could see north to Kebnekaise and also some big mountains in Norway which I think was the Okstind massif. It was the best view I had had from any of the 137 two thousand metre mountains in Scandinavia, and I had been up all of them. Sarektjåhkkå was also the most inaccessible of them all needing at least half a week to climb it. Only Balkatt in the southern ranges of Sarek National Park was comparable in remoteness and I could just make Balkatt and Pårte out, some 30 km away on the other side of the deep and arterial Sarvesvagge valley. I lingered here in the relative warmth with just my fingerless gloves on in the still sunny day. I was a lucky man to encounter this and I soaked it up. As long as I could get down without incident this would probably be my best mountain or outdoor day ever in 45 years of exploring. I took a few videos and many stills and then turned my attention to the descent.
The footsteps of the two I followed went south off the main ridge into a large couloir filled with snow. It was quite steep but it was not exposed and had I slipped I would have slid down the concave slope for hundreds of metres until I came to a natural stop. I then noticed that the two mountaineers I had followed had gone this same way but after a short distance they had put skis on and skied down the couloir. They must have been supreme athletes as this was extreme skiing and even with the right equipment takes some mastery. I faced the slope and front pointed to where they put skis on and then continued to front point descenting another 100 metres. With burning calves I then started to walk down the slope and was delighted at how well the crampons suited the boots. Soon the snow became softer and the gradient eased. I began to consider putting skis on myself. I still had the full skins on and they greatly reduced the glide but inhibited any easy turns. So I descended quite steeply down the bottom of the couloir which merged into the glacier doing cowardly step turns at the end of each zig-zag. After 5-6 zig-zags I was down on the main glacier. Here I could pretty much glide down the ski tracks I made in the morning and so perhaps 90 minutes after leaving the summit I was skiing off the glacier onto the snow covered moraine at the bottom; I had made it.
I now just had an easy 2-3 kilometres to ski down my tracks to reach the shed at Mikkastugan which I considered my basecamp. The sun was out and it was warm and the weather was still. It was a fantastic end to a spectacular and memorable day which I will cherish for the rest of my life. Whatever else happens on this trip it will be a success because of today as it was an unfulfilled ambition to climb Sarektjåhkkå in the winter on such a day. An ambition I have harboured for nearly 40 years. As I cruised down to the hut on the clear spring day I was surprised to see noone else. It also suited me as I could retire to the hut and have a late lunch and write the blog. It took a while to write and I was finally done by 2030 by which time it was dark outside and the temperature was falling dramatically and would be minus 30 again I am sure. Today was the last of the good weather according to the forecast I saw 5 days ago, but I am sure that might have changed but there is no way to know. Sarek is off grid in every sense. I had a tasty freeze dried meal and got into my sleeping bags at 2100 very satisfied with my day.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 06. 29 March. Mikkastugan to Alkavare Kapell. 22 km. 8.5 hours. 280 m up. 250 m down. It was very cold in the morning at minus 26 which was quite surprising as it was a bit overcast and this would block the coldest atmospheric air descending. However as far as the weather went it was great, just not perfect. I eventually left the small shed where I have stayed a few times now at 10 and headed west up And headed up the large arterial valley of Guohpervagge for 4 km. This valley headed west for about 20 to spill out of the Sarek Mountains on the high plateau of Padjelanta. I followed the track of the single Finn, who stayed quite high on the north side, until I needed to veer off down to confluence with Alggavagge. Alggavagge was another arterial valley which also gently descended down to Padjelanta, but to the SW. Splitting these large valleys in two was the large mountain of Harrabakte, 1711m, almost a massif in itself.
Sarek and its twin Kebnekaise to the north were two ancient geological nappes some 420 million years old. There is a line of the nappes all the way down Scandinavia and geologists refer to them as the Scandinavian Mountains. When Pre-Northern Europe, then called Baltica, collided into Greenland, then called Laurentia, massive mountains were created similar to today’s Himalayas. The hard gabbro rock of the sea bed of the vanishing ocean was squashed and folded like a tablecloth on top of the old basement of the continents, to enormous proportions. Later when the two continents separated 65 million years ago and the Atlantic appeared and widened, these hard oceanic deposits still lay on the edge of the continental basement as they do today although they are greatly diminished from 8000m to 2000m by erosion, especially of multiple ice ages. These oceanic deposits are called nappes and they make up the Scandinavian Mountains and their counterparts in Greenland. Padjelanta was not a nappe but part of the even older continental basement.
At the confluence of the two valleys I climbed bed up to a small hut. It was a Sami herding hut and covered in snow and I am sure it is locked, although it looked unmaintained. This was the border between two Sami herding groups. Cirges group was one of them and they had a very big area running from the pine forests on the Baltic plains to the SE, through the central portion of Sarek and on to the lakes of Padjelanta. The reindeer were now in the forests to the SE but already would be making way up to these mountain valleys in their annual migration to their calving grounds in these valleys and then the pastures of Padjelanta. They would then return in the autumn. They had been doing this since the ice age vanished here 10,000 years ago. The Sami (Lapps) and their predecessors have been following the reindeer for millennia and their whole culture and livelihood is based around it. During the winter they supplement fodder in the forest, during summer the herding groups round up animals in huge corals and mark family ownership and in winter they round them up again for the yearly cull. They also protect the animals from predators, especially wolverines and eagles whose talons can puncture a reindeer’s lung. Wolverine are especially good predators and rely on reindeer to survive. From the mists of history there has been a triangle of hate and fear between Reindeer, Wolverine and Sami. I am sure it is in the Sami DNA to persecute and kill them and conversely the Wolverine has evolved great cunning to elude and circumvent the Sami. It is strictly forbidden to kill wolverines now and is a prisonable offence but I am sure it happens and they are quietly buried.
Sarek has been a bastion National Park for over 100 years and is surrounded by other important National Parks which act like a buffer zone. Sarek is the largest, wildest and most remote wilderness area in Europe. There are no paths, cabins, bridges or amenities for hikers or skiers at all save a single emergency rescue phone at Mikkastugan and a bridge over the gorge there as there were many deaths from people desperate to cross the flooded river. But although Sarek is 100 years old the Sami have been here much, much longer and they have certain rights in the park, solely to do with reindeer herding. Therefore there are about 10 herding cabins owned by the various herding groups and a few fences to corral the animals or keep them seperate, and the Sami are allowed snow scooters to maintain them. However the use of scooters by the Sami is strictly logged and monitored.
From the herders cabin at the confluence of the valleys I easily made it some 3 km to the watershed of Alggavagge. Interestingly here I saw some single reindeer tracks of a large lone animal and wolverine tracks following it. At the watershed ? could see up a side valley into the heart of the Ålkatj Massif. Here there are two glaciers connected by a watershed. The glaciers are called the Nuortap Ahkajiegna and Oarjep Ahkajiegna and it is possible to go up one and down the other to Sarvesvagge. I did it some 14 years ago on skis but had a heavy rucksack and I think it would be prohibitive with a pulk as there are some slopes to traverse. It was spectacular, I remember.
I now had one last look at Sarek, topped with a bit of cloud. This was my seventh winter trip through Sarek including 1985, 1986, 1989, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2023 and I had intended it to be my fanfare so it was a poignant last look. I then set my sights down the valley and towards the blue skies over Padjelanta. Harrabakte dominated the descent on the north side with its dark craggy ramparts. The descent was very shallow and my glide was zero due to the big skins. I had calculated to leave them on until tomorrow to climb over the watershed in Sarvesvagge and did not want to jeopardise the adhesion. There were a few willow scrub poking up from the shallow braided stream now long buried under snow and ice. This was a calving area and I once walked here in summer and saw plenty of newborn. I passed a small valley, called Neidariehpvagge, which cut through to Sarvesvagge. I walked it once in the summer but thought it was too steep for the pulk. I calculated it was easier to do the extra 8 to 10 km down to Alggavare lake and round Sarvestjahkka.
As I reached the lake I now harboured thoughts about staying at Alkavare Kapell as I did before in 1985. It was fine then and I remembered sleeping on a pew. However maybe it had blown away or rotten since then. It was a slight detour across the lake and up a tall knoll to the Kapell which I saw was stone. When I reached it I was delighted to see it was refurbished and the plank roof was covered in thick Stockholm tar and huge irons held the new timbers place. In the last few hundred years there was considerable missionary effort to convert the Sami from their renowned Shamanistic beliefs to Christianity. Incidentally our whole Christmas traditions are lifted from the Shaman Sami ones. Along with this missionary work was exploitation and soon prospectors arrived to mine silver on Padjelanta and forced some Sami to work for them. Those who refused were held under icy water. Excitedly I opened the unlocked door. It was full of snow which had blown through gaps in the stone wall during the winter storms. Everything was 30-50 centimetres deep in it including the refurbished altar and even the candle chandelier was covered in it. There was no way I could stay in it and I was disappointed. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. I quickly set up the tent nearby in the last of the sun’s rays. It got cold quickly once the sun disappeared behind a gentle hill on the Padjelanta so I brought the stove into the inner tent, which I am usually reluctant to do without my small fire blanket which I had left behind. It became very warm in there, if not hot and toasty in there, and soon everything which was a bit damp was crisp and dry. There was also the danger of falling asleep and not waking up due to monoxide fumes poisoning. It should still take me 3 or 4 days up Sarvesvagge and then down Rapadalen to the fabled homestead at Aktse now a simple STF cabin but with a stove.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 07. 30 March. Alkavare Kapell to Sarvesvagge west of watershed. 13 km. 6 hours. 200 m up. 160 m down. When I woke in the morning it seemed to be warmer. When I opened the inner door I could see why. It was snowing. I opened the fly and saw large perfectly formed flakes of snow gently drifting straight down in the still air. They were like eider duck down. The visibility I noticed was not that good however. I melted snow, cooked and ate breakfast all from the comfort of my multiple sleeping bags and then got up and packed. It was minus 10 and that made a huge difference to my hands and I could perform all my tasks with just fingerless gloves on which speeded everything up as I was more dexterous. I eventually set off at 0930.
The descent to the lake was fraught as I could just not make out the ridges in the snow or even some of the slopes. The odd rock or willow shrub poking out of the snow gave me some perspective but it was difficult to judge.
Once on the lake I could see nothing. It was like scuba diving in milk. As it was flat I just had to take a bearing and follow it to where the Sarvesjahka stream entered the Alggajaure lake. Soon I could see some willow branches on the other side. Here I knew there was a difficult landscape of drumlins and moraine debris and the river picked a path through them. I had intended to follow the river but was a bit alarmed at how open it was. I could see it was quite shallow though but there were deep holes in the snowpack covering it. I decided to pick a way through the drumlins.
It was a mistake and I was totally disoriented immediately. The boulders which were 100 metres away turned out to be stones just a few metres away. I could not see what was up and what was down. At one point I was heading to a boulder and the slope quickly steepened. I had to descend it as the pulk wanted to go that way and at the bottom with the pulk tugging me down I was on the river again. It seemed easiest to follow it after all. However it soon went into a narrow ravine. To climb out with the pulk would have been difficult, if not impossible and I thought I would have to retrace my steps. However by good fortune there was a bank of level snow on one side above open water which then crossed to the other side, also above open water. After some 100 metres of angst the river rose above the rocky sides onto a flatter area.
For the next 2 hours I plodded, frequently having to correct my course across a network of lakes, marshes and stream channels although I could see none of it as it was all a frozen white desert obscured by a white fog and white snow. Here and there I saw willow branches or boulders and veered to them as if they were friends. I was lonely out here in the white emptiness. At last I spotted some rocks higher up and knew I was going round Sarvestjahkka, which marked the northern jaw to Sarvesvagge which I intended to follow for 2 days at least. I kept these higher rocks and the ridges of gravel banks on each side of the small stream descending the mountain on my left and plodded on in the white featureless world for at least another hour.
Judging by my GPS location and other navigational aids I soon reckoned I had crossed the last of the marshes and was now starting to head into the valley itself. This was soon confirmed when I saw the landscape on the south side rising steeply also. The wind was now getting up a bit but it was at my back and the snow was flying past unnoticed. It was probably at a depth of about 10 cm now and the going slowed down.
I thought about calling it a day a few times but wanted to put a proper shift in first. I decided to head up the valley until I had done 6 hours. It was too miserable to stop and have lunch so I plodded on up the obscured gentle slope with a mouse gnawing my stomach. After a good hour with little achieved except a couple more unseen and unenjoyed kilometres I found a very small cone of moraine and thought I would camp in the lee on it on its west side. Not that it would afford any shelter should a storm brew up. Within half an hour the tent was up, the stove was on and my meal was hydrating from thermos water. It felt secure in the tent. After an hour I was in my dry sleeping bags lovely and warm as the primus roared away in the inner tent so much so my gloves hanging from the apex were hot. It must have been 40 degrees up there. I put my thermarest into sitting position with a couple of daily food rations as a lumber support and felt very very cosy. I turned the stove off after an hour and then had a small siesta in the crispy dry tent while the snow continued to fall. When I woke I wrote the blog slightly alarmed at some of the gusts which rattled the tent. I was done by 2000 as dusk was falling and then melted more water. I noticed the temperature falling again and thought the snowy weather might be coming to an end. It was a very remote and lonely spot I chose to camp and although the tent is stormproof I had not put a full complement of snow pegs in, relying on skis, poles and ice axe and just 2 on the 18 pegs.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 08. 31 March. Sarvesvagge west of watershed bad weather day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0 m up. 0 m down. The wind did increase quite a bit in the night. I was not going outside to have a look but I think it was a good Force 8. It was also snowing all night I think. When I woke and undid the outer fly door a little I could see it was a blizzard. Visibility was appalling and there was spindrift everywhere. I melted water for breakfast and the day to put into a thermos and insulated Nalgene bottle for lunch in the hope it would blow over. It was a warm wind from the WNW. The temperature was only minus 5 and even fingerless gloves were unnecessary. Which was just as well as the stove had been playing up a bit and I thought the fuel was not getting warm enough to turn it full into gas and it would splutter and flare. I had to do quite a bit of maintenance and it was only when I changed the nozzle to a spare one did things improve again. I am very careful about using clean fuel and putting it into clean bottles and now am using Primus Powerfuel. This was learnt the hard way after years struggling with dirty paraffin in Nepal. After the stove was done I packed the bedding, kitchen and put my boots on to start packing the pulk. However the wind might have eased to a force 5, lulling me into a false sense of good weather but I could not see anything. It was a flat valley with some moraine piles and hummocks behind which could be lurking small steep drifts or cornices and I would not be able to see them until I was over them and tumbling down. I could not make snowballs all day.
So I decided to stay put. I had to dig the pulk out from a drift and found the snow pegs. I then dug down to solid snow and put in 8 snow pegs and stamped them in. The tent was rock solid now. I then went back inside unpacked everything and got into my sleeping bags again. It was so warm in the tent (and outside) much of the frost in the tent was melting. It must be a warm front passing through or the recent high pressure had shifted east and it was dragging warm spring air up from Europe. I made a note to look at the historic synoptic weather charts when I got home.
After my lunch I had a siesta while the blizzard continued outside. I woke mid afternoon and put my thermarest into sitting up mode, pulled my sleeping bags around my shoulders and started to do some blog work and process some of the photos ready to post. My office was very cosy and it was remarkable to think there were only two thin layers of ripstop nylon between my calm office and the stage set to Ice Station Zebra raging outside. My sleeping system consisted of a large waterproof lime green bag. Into that goes all my bedding. First a 12mm foam mattress then a 50 mm large thermarest in a sleeve so I can lift an end 90 degrees to form a “chaise longue”. On that I have my sleeping bags. From the inside I have a vapour barrier sheet to stop moisture permeating into the next layer which is a minus 30 rating down bag. Then over this I have a minus 18 rated large synthetic bag. It gets slightly damp but mostly from my breath. Then over the synthetic bag I have an ex army supposedly goretex bivvy bag. It takes me a good 5 minutes to truss myself up in the bags but the system seems to work and the down bag is still totally dry after a good week. So my basic needs of warmth and a dry shelter are met.
When people hear I am skiing in Sweden though they probably think gluhwein, apres ski and crayfish seasoned with dill. It could not be further from the truth. It is so time consuming extracting myself from my sleeping bags I just pull the top half down, pee in a Nalgene bottle and empty it in an ever deepening hole in the snow in the tent porch. I eat the same dehydrated meals each day, propped on an elbow, and dribbling the overflow from the long titanium spoon onto my jacket or sleeping bag. All this in a small tent in a blizzard in the middle of the most remote wilderness in Europe. Dancing Queen or crayfish tails in dill for me. No Sir!
By evening the temperature had fallen again to what one would expect, as the warm front seemed to have passed and normal Arctic service was resumed. I was fascinated and a little alarmed at how high a drift had grown on one side of the tent. The pegs I put in this morning were under a metre of snow now and the pulk also. Hopefully it will stop growing as I can see a fair bit of digging tomorrow to extricate everything. It is the foibles of drifting snow and aerodynamics which if I was a seasoned polar explorer would be second nature.
I reckoned I still have 3 full days to go to reach the homestead at Aktse but it might be longer as the snow will be deep and uncompacted by the wind in the woods off Rapadalen.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 09. 01 April. Sarvesvagge west of watershed to Rovdjurstorget. 22 km. 9.5 hours. 260 m up. 530 m down. I woke at 0600 and started to melt the day’s water at once. I needed about 2.5 litres in all but I already had a litre of quite hot water in the thermos to get the snow melting started. The half litre was for the dehydrated oats breakfast. All that and eating breakfast took an hour. It did not take me long to pack and pop my head out of the tent again. I could hear it was a still day and I had decided I was going whatever the visibility. It turned out to be poor, but not appalling.
However the big issue now was the tent and pulk. I had to dig about a metre of snow away from each of the 8 snow pegs and almost the same for the pulk. The tent was in a hollow now with just the top half showing. It could have withstood a hurricane like that. I had to dig about 50 cm of snow from the storm flaps around the perimeter of the flysheet, which also secured it down. Pulling the tents flaps from the frozen snow took a fair bit of careful tugging but after half an hour it was free and on the pulk.
I set off up the valley with just the odd small gust of wind. I could see the rocky features on the mountains on each side of the valley as I headed east to the watershed. I reckoned it was about 4 km away. However soon the gusts got stronger and more frequent and the visibility in them became appalling. I had the wind in my back which was a godsend as to go into it would have been cold on the face. As I reached the top some of the gusts were easily force 9. It was remarkable how quickly the weather deteriorated. Once over the watershed I hoped it would ease off, but it got worse. I hoped that I was not about to be hit by a Polar low, similar to an Atlantic low but smaller and more intense. After 2 km of descent and just 2 hours after setting off the winds were storm force. I doubt I could have set the tent up in this without it getting ripped from my hands. During the worst gusts the visibility vanished and I had to wait 15 seconds for it to abate enough so I could see rocks again which showed me the lie of the land a little. It stayed like this for a good hour but at least it was not getting worse. I think part of the problem was the small Neidariehpvagge valley merged here and it was nearly aligned west east so the wind from both valleys were merging between ever tighter mountainsides.
I hoped the wind would ease as I descended but it remained ferocious. At one stage a gust hit so strongly it lifted the 45 kg sledge and spun it round, yanking me off balance. I fell and the sledge rolled a few times so the dragging poles twisted and one broke. Me, the pulk and the harness were in a tangle and I had to unattach myself and undo it. Luckily the dragging poles have a wire core so the kinked poles were a nuisance but not critical. This violent gust, hurricane force and full of heavy spindrift seemed to be the crescendo and over the next hour the winds and associated visibility returned to gale force and then diminished again. I was saved as had they gone up a notch again, I would just have to have sought some shelter behind a boulder, if I could have found one.
Half an hour later I saw a patch of blue sky and the wind reduced again to a force 5 or 4. I reached a small reindeer herder’s cabin and it was locked as expected. A bit beyond my eye caught some orange fluorescent material flapping in the wind. Then I saw skis and ski sticks. I went over and saw a tent in a hollow surrounded by walls of cut snow blocks. I shouted “good afternoon”. “Good afternoon, do you want some dried apple? ” came the retort with a German dialect. They were two young German brothers and they looked to be in their very early 20’s. Yet these were the two whose footsteps I followed up the very exposed ridge to Sarektjåhkkå and who were such excellent skiers. Initially I thought they would be some expert French guides experienced in all manner of cutting edge mountaineering and I was quite astounded how these two young boys could be so competent at such an early age. It was too windy for them to come out and I did not want to linger in the gale so when we worked out we should see each other in Kvikkjokk in a week or so we parted company. They told me the weather was now improving and hope to go and play in the Parte massif for a few days.
For the next hour I skied down the valley until the visibility improved so much I could see the adjacent mountain tops and the birches further down the valley. Indeed it became so benign I could stop and have lunch. As I ate the sunny patches grew and blue sky almost filled half the sky. It was a relief.
At lunch I took off the big skins and out on my small mohair kicker skins. The glide was now superb after a week of the full length skins. I skied down the stream bed but it was in a small trough and was full of loose snow, so I kept on the rounded bank where the wind had rolled the snow flakes, breaking their arms off and packing them more tightly and firmer for me. For the next hour I had a lovely tranquil ski down the valley to the start of the birch woods passing the end of the glacier route I came over from Alggavagge 14 years ago. My mood lightened hugely as the snow was not too deep and the weather was continuing to improve and the barometer was rising.
Once in the woods the Arctic charm started. Firstly the light is so special everything is illuminated and even the dullest of dead tree trunks stand out against the gleaming snow. Secondly I came across areas where flocks of ptarmigan had hunkered down in the snow, almost buried in a deep divot. They would emerge to waddle to the sapling birch growing through the snow and eat the infant buds. Thirdly, it was so calm and peaceful in the woods. They were a magical place. I saw some flocks of ptarmigan but they spotted me from 100 metres and 20 or so took off. I wandered through the trees past an area known as Rovdjurstorget or “Predators Meeting Place”. Here there were known to be Bear, Lynx, Wolverine and Wolf. However I knew I would not see any and probably not even their tracks. I didn’t, but I did see plenty of fox prints as they stalked the flocks of ptarmigan.
With the sun now strong in the afternoon it was pleasant and warm and I continued through the woods until the Sarvesjahka stream met the Rapatno river at the confluence of the two valleys under the huge face of the very impressive Beilloriehppe. I was now in Rapadalen and this is where I intended to camp. I crossed the Rapatno river and was delighted to come across old ski tracks. They would make my next two days to Aktse easy as it is heavy work ploughing a furrow for oneself. I pitched the tent in the late afternoon sun beside some ancient venerable birch. The ice lining the tent from this morning soon melted and I was soon inside with the stove going. I had an abundance of fuel so heated the tent for a good hour over and above the 2.5 litres of snow melting needed for supper. I could make it to Aktse in a long day from here with the tracks to follow but had already decided to savour Rapadalen and its magic especially as the good weather seems to be restored. It had certainly been a mixed day today.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 10. 02 April. Rovdjurstorget camp to Nammasj camp. 23 km. 8 hours. 60 m up. 160 m down. I slept well and woke late about the time the sun cleared the low ridges down the valley and lit up the porch. I guess it was about 0800. I popped my head out of the porch and it was a stunning sunny wind free day. The sharp fluted spurs on the upper flanks of the towering Bielloreihpe were just catching the sun which made them look even more dramatic. I lingered over breakfast and packing and did not get going until 1030. The day was warming up nicely at minus 5 but it was minus 26 in the night. Soon I was sweating and had to stop to take my jacket off. The tracks I was following soon veered into the woods and quickly became covered in 10 cm of new snow. If I stayed on the track it was easy going but frequently I stepped off the hardened track underneath and then I was into 25 cm of snow until I stepped back on the submerged track again.
After stepping off the track about 40 times in the space of half a kilometre it did not make the effort of following them worthwhile so I left them and veered onto the large frozen braided delta of Rapsalet. There were many lagoons here and I had sometimes seen large elg in the summer standing chest deep and dropping their heads into the waters to graze on the aquatic weeds. One of the biggest lagoons was called Bielloriehppe Javre and it was about a kilometre across. Occasionally I could see the wind had blown all the snow off the lagoon in patches revealing the ice. I was often clear with bubbles and I could see them 50 cm below the surface. One could have driven a tank over the ice. After this lagoon I carried on down the flat of the valley across, lagoons and braided channels and large gravel banks. It was difficult to see what was what but occasionally twigs sticking through the surface showed me that I was on a gravel bank. Rapasalet was essentially a glacial lake which had been completely filled in with alluvial sediments swept down the river. These sediments still flowed down and the braided paths they took down Rapsalet would change over the course of a century. The only problem skiing here is that there had been some strong winds in the winter and they had sculpted the snow into small ridges and formations known as sastrugi. It was just small sastrugi compared to the large anvil shapes one might get in the polar areas but it still slowed me down and the pulk was bucking and twisting over each one also pulling and pushing me like a banshee. Rapsalet was about 10 kilometres altogether and it took a good three hours to ski down it. It was windstill under a perfectly blue sky. Indeed the weather could not have been better and it was a joy to travel down the valley between the massive mountains on each side.
As I reached the bottom of Rapaselet the valley veered more to the south as it ran into two hard knolls on the valley floor called Alep and Lulep Spadnek. The valley also narrowed here and while it was still U shaped it was a narrower U verging on a V. Here I verged to the north side of the river and skied along the edge of the woods. From time to time I came across the ski tracks and they were much easier to follow now as they were more prominent. It was an absolute delight to ski here occasionally through the woods looking to see what the ptarmigan had been doing, looking at the way the fox tracks darted about the ptarmigan hollows in the snow where they might be hiding. I saw just one wolverine track here but it would not bother with the ptarmigan as it probably had a small moose or reindeer cached under a stone in a drift which it lived off during the winter. The other delight with the woods was the light, the luminous bright white of the Arctic which illuminated everything and showed up every fissure in the tree or nuance in the surface of the snow.
I stopped for lunch on a natural levee the Rapatno river had formed along its bank between the river and the marshes. There was no wind at all and the sun was hot. I could feel my face starting to burn and my lips crack.The was no need for any gloves at all. After lunch I had gone about 300 metres when suddenly I saw 6 people coming towards me. They were not fluent skiers. Then I recognized the leader, Geoffroy. He was a Belgian who ran small bespoke camping trips for fellow Belgiums. Last time I was up here in 2020 we had bumped into each other up Tarradalen and then again at Kvikkjokk where we both wondered how we would get home after Europe had locked down for covid while we were in the wilderness. I mentioned the Old Amsterdamer cheese he gave me then and immediately his face lit up he went to his pulk, dug out some Old Amsterdamer cheese and gave me a huge chunk saying “There it is a tradition now”. It was very touching. We must have chatted and reminisced for a good half hour, his clients fascinated by our acquaintance.
After this joyful encounter in the middle of the remote Rapadalen I carried on downstream towards the two rocky Spadnek knolls. The river now started to flow in more of a single channel and there was a noticeable descent to it; perhaps half a metre every 100 metres. There was the occasional open section here but there were a number of tracks to follow. At one stage the river was too difficult to follow just where the large tributary called the Gadok joined it from the SW. Here Geoffry and his team had detoured into the woods on the south side over a spur, and I followed their tracks through the deep snow in the bright still of the mid afternoon. I could see the river nearby and it was open in many places and I saw a pair of dippers flying from one opening to another in search of any larvae which might be forming on the submerged boulders. Not long afterwards once past Lulep Spadnek the river flattened out again and the tracks returned to the river. The skiing now became very easy as the winter winds had not blown the surface into uneven structures and the firm snow surface had small channels to follow from Geoffroy’s team. I had a good time as I sped down the flat surface now intent on getting to Nammasj to camp.
Suddenly a snow scooter came from the corner and stopped by me. We started chatting and it turned out the driver worked for the Swedish Wildlife Service and was going up to their hut near Rovdjurstorget to continue his surveys, especially on Gry Falcons. I told him I had once seen a pair on the southern slopes leading down from Luohttolahko some 15 years ago. He said they were still there. What he did not know about Sarek was not worth knowing. He had been studying here for 20 years and knew every ravine. I would have loved to have chatted longer but after half an hour we had to part. Him to his hut at Dielma and me down to Nammasj.
It was a great ski and I was astounded at how long it stayed light for now.. It was nearly 1800 and the sun was still up and shining on the south facing slopes. On and on I skied with Nammasj getting ever closer. It was a fortress like nunatak, or tower of rock in a glacial flow, which now stood proud of the valley, it was flanked further down the valley but the near vertical walls of Skierffe on the north and Tjahkelij on the south with the nearly full moon rising above all. It was quite a sight.
At the base of Nammasj the snow was very firm and it was easy to find a comfortable place to camp on this still evening and with the temperatures about to drop to minus 20 at least I found a nice spot on a snow covered levee. I had the tent up, sleeping bag deployed inside and stove on in 14 minutes. The tent soon warmed up with the stove going in the porch. Once the water melting duties were done and supper was rehydrating in the bag I brought the stove inside to heat up the inner. It did not take long before it was full of hot dry air inside and my gloves were crispy. I had an abundance of fuel left, over a litre, so could be liberal with it. I fired the stove inside for a good hour, opening the door to the porch occasionally to let in more oxygen. It finally got dark at about 2100 now and after writing a bit in the heat I fell asleep for the last time in the tent this trip. Aktse was 10 km or 3 hours away and I would be staying there tomorrow. It was a simple hut but had the comfort of a wood burning stove, gas rings, stools, tables and mattresses on bunk beds. These were the comforts I had been dreaming of for days.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 11. 03 April. Nammasj camp to Aktse. 11 km. 3 hours. 80 m up. 30 m down. I was woken at 0630 with a ptarmigan chuckling right outside the tent. It was signalling to others as a cockerel might. It was a cold night and I measured minus 22 in the tent’s porch. However the barometer was now at 1035 and still rising so it was hardly surprising it would be cold. I had pitched the tent so the morning sun would not be blocked by the gabbro block of Nammasj and at about 0730 the first rays hit the tent. I opened the fly sheet door and could feel the heat of the sun at once. I cooked only enough water for breakfast and ate it with the burner in the inner tent. The night’s frozen condensation was soon evaporated from the inner nylon and it was dry. I soon stuffed the sleeping bags into the Arctic bedding roll and the tent into the long sack both designed to save time and effort and had the sledge packed by 0900.
Initially the skiing was in a similar easy fashion to last night with good tracks on a firm surface. As soon as I passed Nammasj though I entered the delta of the Rapatno river and more and more ice appeared on the surface of the river. It was not the smooth sheets of water ice but knobbly rough ice where the water had seeped up from the river and wetted the snow which then refroze. It was slow and difficult to ski on and the tracks seemed to follow the edges of the channels.
After a while the tracks veered off form the channels altogether and headed into the woods. I followed them but became alarmed when they seemed to head north into dense birch woods. However I was committed now and followed them for a good kilometre on what seemed a wild goose chase. To go off them through the woods on my own would have been foolhardy. Just as I was about to turn around I saw a traditional Sami Kåta, a small pyramid hut made from logs and covered in turf. This one had a stove pipe coming out of the roof. In the old days of herding and hunter gathering the sami would use these hut a certain times each year for fishing, or berry collecting, or hunting ptarmigan and then the rest of the time they would be closed up a left. This one had not been used all winter and was covered in a huge cone of snow.
After this the tracks veered east again and Nammasj was behind me again. I headed down a small channel towards the very foot of the 500 metre south wall of Skierffe where there was a lagoon called Sajvva, about a kilometre across. At the far end were two huge boulders and I think one of which was an ancient place of worship for the Sami and to leave offerings for their deities.
From here I thought I could almost see the snow clad roofs of the homestead and cabins at Aktse. I followed a set of tracks down the hard neve snow on top of the ice on the northern channel. A snow scooter had been this way too and helped flatten the undulations. Skierffe towered above me, its top 700 metres higher mostly up a sheer cliff. It was perfect for BASE jumpers. After an hour of following this channel I finally got to the Laitaure lake. The lake was very slowly being displaced by the delta which must grow a few centimetres a year.
I was spoilt for tracks to follow on the lake itself, both skiers and snow scooter tracks but took one which went to the boat shed for the summer crossing of the lake. Here there was a small jetty and I knew there was a gentle but sustained climb up through the mixed birch and spruce woods to reach Aktse. Luckily the climb was well used by skiers and snow scooters so it was wide and firm. I had to herring bone up a few steeper sections but generally the short skins coped well. The ascent was only 15 minutes anyway before the fabled homestead at Aktse appeared. It was owned by the Lanta family who well over 100 years ago gave up their reindeer to build and run a homestead here. It was very fertile and the farm prospered. Some 40 years ago I once bought a book by the Journalist, photographer and naturalist Edvin Neilson who spent a number of summers here with the Lanta family. The STF (Swedish Tourist Association) had a cabin here also and it had been hankering for its luxuries for a few days now. I hauled the pulk up the last 100 metres like Julius Caesar returning to Rome with the spoils of another conquest.
The Warden was about and showed me a lovely room with 10 beds, 5 in two cubicles off the main room with stove, cooking area and tables. It was the classic STF cabin design and was both cosy and conducive to good conversation in the evenings. The hut warden, Erik, was quite local and very familiar with Sarek and Norbottenslan in general. He was 67 and still very fit. He knew Bjorn Sarstad, who I also knew in Kvikkjokk well having known him all his life. We chatted for half an hour before I went to my cabin and unpacked. I spent the rest of the afternoon washing myself, the clothes I had been wearing for the last 11 days and had to peel off, and also drying out all my equipment. I smell like a delicatessen. It took a good few hours in the empty hut with the stove on and the sun pouring through the window. I was just left with a clean dry pair of underpants by the time 5 Finns arrived, but they went into the other mirror image room of the same cabin I was in as I rushed to put my goretex jacket on to cover up. An hour later I was joined by 3 Italians and a Czech called Jerome, who was skiing the whole Kungsleden from Abisko in the North to Hemevan in the South. He seemed to know what he was doing but the Italians were not so prepared to cross Sarek, which was their intention. Jerome shared the small 5 bed cubicle I was in while the Italians had the other. By the time the dusk fell we had had a chatty evening round the stove, my clothes were dry and I was looking forward to a night under a duvet in a comfortable warm bed and not being trussed up in 4 sleeping bags. It was utter luxury.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 12. 04 April. Aktse Rest Day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0 m up. 0 m down. I pretty much got up when Jerome, the Czech, rose. He wanted to ski the entire 40 km to Kvikkjokk and set off at about 0800. I had no doubt this careful, experienced, considered man would not do it. The Italians, a bit more haphazard, set off an hour later to head up Rapadalen. That just left me on my own. I returned to bed for a very early siesta and then did some typing. About midday I went out onto the balcony and noticed a very small gathering on the terrace of the warden’s cabin and thought nothing of it. Half an hour later the door of my half of the cabin burst open and someone said “James it is so nice to see you” It was Bjorn from Kvikkjokk whom I had known for over 25 years. He had been on the terrace but I had not seen him and the warden must have told him I was staying. I stayed with Bjorn and his partner Helene quite a few times in Kvikkjokk some 20 years ago. I went down to join the gathering and catch up with Bjorn. He had brought a woman up on his snow scooter as she was doing a snowshoe tour and was hurting her knee. I chatted with Bjorn for a good hour and told him I would be in Kvikkjokk in 48 hours and would seek him and Helena out. He then had to return to Kvikkjokk.
Later in the afternoon two witty Swedish ladies, Karin and Mathilda arrived from the cabin to the north and they were assigned to my half of the cabin in the other 5 bed cubicle. They were an Engineer and Firefighter respectively and good company. They spent much of the afternoon on the cabin’s balcony drinking tea in the sun. Then later Olav, a Dutch musher arrived with 18 dogs and two clients. Each sledge had 6 dogs and he was very thoughtful about their welfare. The clients it turned out were two Brits, Yvonne from Wiltshire and Neil from Berwick on Tweed. This trio had been on a few trips together and their jokes and banter were from weeks for familiarity under some hardship. Olav the Dutchman had lived in Sweden for a couple of decades running a successful outfit with 36 Alaskan huskies in all. He was the type of Dutchman I really admire, quick of thought, independent, witty, multilingual and a great conversationalist. He not only looked after his dogs well but also his clients. They went into the other half of the hut and took a cubicle and I went in there to chat with them.
I thought that was it but around dinner time 3 Swedes arrived. They were weather beaten, rugged and smelled like I had yesterday. It turned out they had just emerged from Sarek where they two had been camping for a week. They were also quite relieved to be in the warmth, sitting on a chair with the prospect of a real bed. They were great company and we exchanged tales for a good hour as they relaxed and unpacked into my cubicle which was now stinking and full of damp gear. As bed time approached I decided to beat a tactical retreat from my cubicle and go into the spare one in the dog friendly section where Olav and his team were. Between these three groups of people I had an excellent evening in the hut with plenty of banter and tales. It had been a very sociable day off.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 13. 05 April. Aktse to Pårte. 25 km. 6.5 hours. 160 m up. 220 m down. It was slightly cloudy in the morning but completely windstill and mild at around minus 5. The 3 Swedes who came in from Sarek last night were going to have an easy day cleaning up and enjoying their oranges once they had thawed out. They were a great bunch and I really warmed to them. As I did with the two young Swedish girls and the dog-sledding team of the Dutch boss, called Olav and his two English clients Yvonne and Neil. It was perhaps some of the nicest company I have had in a cabin. So it was with a tinge of sadness I packed my pulk, now with the arctic bedding system and tent dried off and dismantled into their component bags. The pulk looked a lot smaller now. The Swedish girls left for Parte about 8 but I was a good hour behind them and headed off down the slope at 0900 almost running down a very organised team of German snowshoe hikers who had assembled outside the lower hut.
The first kilometre was a delight as I sped down between the spruce trees to the lake. The spruce were very thin and pointed, typical of the taiga type forests, so they shed snow more readily and did not store it in their upper boughs so a storm might snap the top off. The ski path was like a gentle version of the Cresta Run. It was a slot in the forest snow almost 2 metres wide and a metre deep. It was wide enough so I could control my speed with a snow plough as I never knew what was round the corner. Down I went for a good 5 minutes with the pulk heaving and tugging as I went over the bumps, and they were virtually continuous. After an exhilarating kilometre the track spilled me out onto the bright surface of Laitaure lake.
There was a line of sticks across the lake marking the snow scooter trail to the south and I followed these across the lake. I guess about 20 snow scooters a day came this way so the trail across the lake was smooth and easy to ski. The pulk was almost forgotten as I skied with gliding strides and made great time for nearly 3 km to reach the other side. It was a lovely ski and for once I felt like an oiled machine rather than a collection of badly fitting parts. I could see up the lake to Nammasj at the far end of the delta land and the two defining edges of it in the tall cliffs of Skierffe and Tjahkelij. Rapadalen beyond them was a bit ill defined in the flat light. By the time I reached the other side I was hot and had to strip off gloves, hat and jacket.
The trail now climbed slightly for 2 kilometres through the lovely narrow spruce again with a scattering of birch lower down. I was on the scooter track as there was no option. If I went off into the forest freestyle I would have been thigh deep in loose snow and so would the pulk have been. I would be lucky to make 500 metres an hour through the unblemished virgin forest snow. Occasionally the climb was too steep for the kicker skins on the skis so I had to herring bone up the compacted wide trough of snow. At the very shallow apex of the broad saddle I had another exhilarating ski down a “Cresta Run” again until I reached Tjakjajavrre Lake, which again was blindingly bright after the shaded stillness of the sprucer forest.
Tjaktjajavrre Lake is a large dammed lake used for hydro power. Its surface can rise and fall some 40 metres. It was created over 70 years ago by building a large dam and flooding the Tjaktja valley. This open valley was fabled for its beauty as there was a string of lakes along its floor all surrounded by mixed woods of pine, spruce and birch. When the reservoir is empty, as it was today you can still see the original small lakes on the floor as they are unblemished flat snow covered ice. But the rest of the reservoir is a grotesque jumble of sheets of ice formed during the early winter to a depth of about 50 cm. However as the stored power is used up the level falls and the ice sheets come to rest on the old valley floor, with boulders beneath the ice protruding through and propping the ice up at angles. The winter snows had covered these ice sheets and smoothed them off a bit. The snow scooter path went through the middle of them and it was easy to follow across to the south side some 3 km away, gently dropping to the old riverbed and then climbing up easily on the other side.
I had been going for 3 hours now and had done some 13 km already so stopped for lunch. As I ate 4 Finns came the other way and we chatted in Swedish. Many Finns speak Swedish and some even have Swedish as their mother tongue. After lunch I started the most delightful 3 hour, 12 km ski, which lasted the rest of the day. Initially it was along the southern shore of Tjaktjajavrre lake for a short hour. While there were the ice sheets of remnants of the reservoir on the north side on the south side there were patches of mixed woods, including some pine trees. The trail was easy and virtually flat save for the odd short climb. However once the trail got to the end of Tjaktjajavrre lake it climbed a short shallow ridge covered in pines and then reached a lake called Rittak. Rittak lake was one of the original lakes of the fabled valley and it had not been affected by the rise and fall of the reservoir of the hydro scheme and was still pristine.
I skied over Rittak lake in perfect sunshine feeling the heat in my face after the warm day. beside the snow scooter tracks unblemished snow stretched across the surface to the spruce and pine trees around the shore. It was a picture postcard scene and it brought back memories of similar skis along here. Once, perhaps a bit later in the season, I remember some swans on a small open patch of water on the lake having migrated from the south to breed up here. At the west end of Rittak lake there were a few smaller lakes and frozen marshes all separated by the comforting and nurturing pine trees, which made me feel I was in a safe maternal embrace again. Here and there were some small patches of water opening up where the stream which threaded the lake together flowed out of one. After a meditative hours in this sunny winter wonderland I came across Lars Thulin. He was doing the whole of the Kungsleden south to north and lived near the end of it. It was literally skiing home. He was a photographer and outdoorsman and we had a lot of interests in common. We chatted for an hour in the sun while his Finnish Lapp dog, a herding type dog, lay on the snow and listened. We had a few mutual friends, it turned out. Lars was in no hurry and had everything he needed on his large stable pulk, made by Hilleberg the tentmaker. After Lars and myself parted I just had a couple more kilometres to ski in the pristine winterscape to reach one of the most charming and idyllic of the STF cabins at Parte.
It was a small cabin of the familiar Abrahamson design and it was arranged like a small homestead on a wooded promontory overlooking the small Sjábttjakjávrre lake. The warden small cabin, and the woodshed formed the other two sides of the compound. I noticed a flock of Siberian Jays hovering in the trees nearby. The warden came out to meet me. I recognized Håkon at once as he was the warden at Sitajaure where I stayed 3 years ago. He was an ex soldier who had spent time in the Swedish peacekeeping contingents in the Balkans 30 years. We chatted for a good half hour before I went in. The Swedish girls, Karin and Mathilda, were in one half with a grumpy mother and daughter team from Belgium. They had a cubicle each, so I took a cubicle in the empty mirror image of the other half of the hut and soon warmed the place with the stove. Håkon appeared with a cake he made, for which he is legendary, and I went through to the Swedish girls and chatted with them and ate my portion. As the full moon came out over the bare snowy ridge of Kabla to the south I went into my half, lit the candles and had a quiet supper, reflected on what a great trip it had been and wrote the blog until it was dark outside.
Sarek Ski Expedition. Day 14. 06 April. Pårte to Kvikkjokk. 17 km. 3.5 hours. 80 m up. 230 m down. I heard Karin and Mathilda get up early and leave at 0700 in the next door room. However as it was a short day I lingered in bed in the quiet, peaceful cabin. I had breakfast with the Belgian mother and daughter team who were much more gentle this morning. Håkon came over to say goodbye to us later on and I eventually left around 0930 with a slight haze in the upper atmosphere giving an almost overcast feel. The pesky Siberian Jays were out in force to see me off hoping I would leave something. I had already seen them tugging at the zip on my pulk trying to open it.
Initially I skied west across Sjábttjakjávrre lake which Pårte cabin sat on the edge of. It was a lovely ski for a couple of kilometres and the skis glided across the snow beautifully and the pulk followed behind gliding silently on the snow with virtually no friction. I almost forgot about it. As I skied the high haze burnt off and the sun began to break through. I could feel my already weather-beaten face start to heat up in the sun. Along the shores of the lake, on the flat valley floor, the narrow taiga-like spruce trees filled the immediate horizon and pierced up into the white flanks of the mountains beyond the stakes.
At the end of this lake there was a gentle passage along the virtually flat valley floor skiing between scattered spruce and pine trees. It was getting quite warm now and I could see small birds, mostly tits, starting to chase each other from tree to tree as the spring courtships got underway. This led to another lake, Stuor Dáhtá. It was also aligned east-west for about 4 km. Again it was a beautiful easy ski along the lake. There were more and more snow scooters here and they followed the same line of stick markers I was and had created a very firm layer of smooth snow with a loose topping a centimetre of two deep. It was perfect to ski along. To the north above the green spires of the shoreline rose the Pårte massif, whose 2000 metre top is the easiest of the 4 2000 metre tops in Sarek but still takes 3-4 days from a roadend.
At the end of Stuor Dáhtá lake and arm headed south over more undulating terrain in the forest for 4 km. There were some nice, gentle downhill sections but also some smaller climbs which were hot in the midday sun in the breathless wind of the still forest. The trail dipped to a stream bed and then gently climbed again. I knew there was a good downhill section coming but the start of it seemed further away than I thought. Up and down the trail went for nearly an hour in the spruce forest crossing the occasional open patch of frozen marshland. There were a few scooters here and most seemed quite respectful and pulled over to the side or even stopped for a chat when I went by.
At last there was a longer section of downhill and I could see down to the Gamajahka valley now where the village of Kvikkjokk lay. I knew this heralded the last 3 kilometres and it was occasionally quite fast and intense. The ski and scooter trail here was wide and it was easy to snow plough down some of the steeper sections. I took up the whole trail in places and it was lucky there were no scooters coming up. They could stop but I would need 20 metres with the pulk pushing me onwards. There were some quite exhilarating sections where I almost lost it. If I crashed here I would have slid 30-40 metres down the track with the pulk’s momentum. The last kilometre was much more gentle as it was down a snow covered track and I glided down here between an avenue of trees until I passed a large parking place and the signpost for Kvikkjokk Fjallstation just beyond. I intended to stay here so I took the small track up, when under the arch of the old building and then skied to the front door.
They had a bed in a shared room for me for a couple of days and had also received my package of clean clothes and bags I had posted from Ritsem. I had lunch, chatted with Karin and Matilda before they headed off in a taxi and then had a shower. I washed a few extra clothes to last me the next 3 days and then started to pack. It took a couple of hours but at last everything was in the pulk or the large ski bag. I attached my kayak trolley to the bottom of the pulk so I could move it about easily between here and Luleå airport where I had to be in 3 days time. I had allowed a bit too much time at the end of this trip in case of bad weather of which there was less than I anticipated. The trouble was there were no buses to Jokkmokk for the next 5 days so I would somehow have to get a lift or if there was no one get a taxi to Jokkmokk and then take a bus from there. I was determined not to rush my departure and spend 3 days in Luleå which would have rather tainted an otherwise perfect ski trip. I would rather relax in Kvikkjokk instead where I would meet fellow skiers and spend some time with Bjorn and Helena whom I had known for 25 years. This particular ski strip through Sarek had been my 7th and it had probably been the best. If I never have the opportunity to go through Sarek again in the winter I will be leaving on a good note with memories to cherish.
Sarek Ski Expedition. 24 March – 6 April 2023. 14 Days. 207 Kilometres. 74 hours. 3120 metres up. 3280 metres down.
There is an hour long video, filmed on my phone, with some great views and also a lot of narration. It is not the most exciting or professional but you can skip to the more interesting parts which as a rule are in the middle. The link is HERE