First trek of the year was to be a short one with Miss T. She’s a outdoors champion that recently moved away from Stockholm, and St Jacobs Chamber Choir, to work in Kiruna in north of Sweden. And for reasons I can’t really remember we’d talked about me coming up to do a short trek together.
Said and done! The plan, somewhat optimistic as it turned out, was to go south from Katterjåkk, turn East into Hoiganvaggi and cross over to Abiskojaure, and from there turn North again up to Abisko. Easy, huh?
(It strikes me the a minimalistic lesson in naming maight be proper here: a ‘jåkk’ or ‘jokk’ as a river or stream, ‘vaggi’ is a valley and ‘javri’ a lake. OK? All set?).
As for new gear, I was testing a Hilleberg Anjan 2 this trip. Awesome construction, light weight, versatile. But… a bit short: I’m 186 cm (6” 1′) and it was hard for me to avoid touching the far end of the tent with my feet night time. The problem is two-fold: heat and humidity. When the temperature drops you don’t want to touch cold surfaces too much, that’s why you have a camping mattress after all. And in cold weather, paired with rain, even a tent as brilliantly vented as Anjan wil get a bit of condensation on the inside. Which might be OK, provided your sleeping bag can handle it; mine is a down bag from Western Mountaineering, and down + water = bad.
So what’s the verdict? Awesome price, construction, weight and pack size , brilliant ventilation, but… I was unsure if to keep it after this trek.
Day One: Easy Beginnings
When I woke up in the morning, 06:00 or so, the electricity was out in the entire house. No problem I thought, shouldered by backpack and locked the door behind me. Only, a few blocks away on the bus I realized I’d forgotten my toiletries, which were supposed to be stuffed in the top lid, but apparently was still in my bathroom. No problem I though, jumped off the bus and walked back. Only to discover that the electrocity was out in the house, which I knew, thus making it impossible to used the key pad to get in through the port, which I… Hadn’t really thought of. Damn!
No problem, I called up a cab and proceeded to the airport where I went straight to the pharmacy to re-stock. Airports pharmacies are surprisingly good for that: the security restrictions forces each bottle to be the perfect size for a weight conscious trekker like me
I was promptly picked up by T at Kiruna airport. Last time I flew SAS to Kiruna they managed to tear apart the top lid of my back pack. And now, with a less sturdy Blaze AC I’ll admit to being a bit worried at the bagage pickup. But no problem, the bag was safe and sound.
After stopping by and saying hi to T’s two cats we sat down in her car and drove to Abisko, where we’d park and take the bus to Katterjåkk. The bus turned out to be completely empty except us for the trip: welcome to Northern Sweden.
From Katterjåkk the first kilometers rises up towards the mountains on various gravel roads. And where they ended… we had to wade the first stream. In retrospective we were probably a bit too careful, but as a portent for things to come it was perfect.
The sun was shining, and although it was still a bit cold and windy, the lovely lake Gatterjavri greeted us at lunch time. And do you want to know a secret? Miss T is a great cook, but as it was me who had prepared all food: I was actually kind of nervous. But hush, don’t tell her!
By the evening we where half-way down Dossagevaggi and there was a bit of doubt nagging my mind: This years snow melting was very late, resulting a lot of water in every stream and lake. We’d already been forced to wade a few times, and I had really no idea how Hoiganvaggi would be. What could possibly go wrong?!
Day Two: Hoiganvaggi the Triumphant
We woke up in the clouds. Literally. Dossagevaggi lies approx 750 m above sea level. And this morning, that was precisely where the clouds started. At the valley floor it wasn’t too bad, but it quickly got thicker as you ascended.
The first problem came when we encountered the jåkk existing Hoiganvaggi. The thought of wading it wasn’t very inviting, it seemed just a bit too deep and quick. The trail starts at the south side of Hoiganvaggi, but we decided to follow the jåkk east and into the valley to see if we could possibly wade over somewhere else. We could, but only just when we were about to turn around. On the map there are few very small lakes marked as Hoiganvaggi rises up towards 850 m above the sea. And at the entrence of the second lake the jåkk spread out to something that was perfectly wadeable. Apart from the fact that it was more than 50 m, in icy cold water. Somewhere half-way my feet were frozen stiff and I’d lost all feeling in them. Painful? Oh yes…
The above is officially the worst wading experience I’ve had. It was not fun.
The visibility decreased and during the day we had perhaps between 50 and 250 m in general. And water. Water everywhere. And snow. Huge bloody snow fields. And did I mention we were effectively walking, not on, but in the bloody clouds? There’s a few problems here the experience trekker will recognize immediately:
- Too much water not only makes it hard to navigate because you need to find places to wade where you normally would just walk on, but also it makes navigation much harder as there will be way too many stream and lakes compared to what you see on the map. A small stream that isn’t even marked on the map might have swollen to epic proportions, so exactly which stream was it you just waded, eh?
- Too much snow makes navigation tricky for several reasons: snow fields will cover any trail markers and if they are big, count on loosing the trail. But not only that: they will obscure and distort lake contours making identification hard. And if that wasn’t enough: a collapsed snow field which ends in a stream that needs to be waded is… not fun.
- Limited visibility makes it damn hard to navigate. In fact, I can’t remember seing the south valley wall at all during the day. And this despite the fact that we were actually on the south side of the valley floor… This means you can’t use your distant surroundings to navigate.
Now combine the last point above, no distant formations or peaks to navigate by, with the two preceding and you should get the point: how the hell do you find your way?
Turns out we didn’t. At the afternoon we had to give in. We were standing at a place which we by all rights should be able to find on the map: a distinct turn of the jåkk with a large stream exiting in it on the far side. But we couldn’t mark it on the map despite this, nothing in the surroundings seemed to fit. Our bestimation ended up being “er… somewhere within this 2 km circle… er…”: Hoiganvaggi vs T and L: 1 – 0.
So, we turned around. It is possible the weather would clear up the next day, but without knowing for certain we ran the risk of ending up late to Abisko. And Miss T absolutely needed to be at work in time. If you’re a doctor that’s kind of non-negotiable.
As we exited Hoiganvaggi, the jåkk seemed even worse than it had in the morning, and we decided to go south to Stuor-Kärpel for the night.
At Stuor-Kärpel we spent an hour or so in the emergency hut drying out a bit together with a very nice couple from Västerås and their two, somewhat overprotective but extremely cute, dogs.
Day Three: Propaganda Weather
The morning was one of these magical experiences that it is very hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t been up in the mountains. The air, the snow, the water, and the blue skies all conspire to amaze you. Contemplate a bit on this photo if you don’t understand. Or this. Or this.
Wading the Hoiganvaggi jåkk turned out to be much simpler in the morning. In fact, here’s a trick for any trekker in the mountain: when there’s snow melting going on, the streams will be significantly higher in the afternoon and evening. And mellower in the morning. It all has to do with the warmth during the day melting more snow than the relative cold night. (Obviously you have to look out for rain as well though).
We had all the time in the world, so we slowly made our way back north during the day. And apart from me having a short argument with a slippery rock, we ended up camped at Gatterjavri’s edge, on the beach, in the late afternoon.
Relaxing. Playing cards. Just sitting in silence gazing insatiably at the mountains and the lake. Lovely, lovely stuff.
And that was it really. Day four consisted of going down to Katterjåkk again and catching the lunch train to Abisko. Which we did.
Despite the set-back in Hoiganvaggi this ended up being a lovely trip. My hat off to T who turned out to be an excellent trail companion, not the least when things got rough: Spending a day freezing in the clouds and the water and the snow, without really knowing where you are can really screw you up, but T held up admirably. And when she started singing children’s songs as we turned around in the fog… You can trek with me anytime Miss T
Yes, we have pretty pictures!
And… Hoiganvaggi? I’ll be back, I promise you…