There and Back Again: Katterjåkk -12

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!

I think it worked out alright though, and certainly: sitting in the sunshine with a plate of creamy tortellini with garlic and mushrooms looking out over Gatterjavri… Awesome!

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…

Minimalist/Barefoot Running and the Hike

This post also appears at The Run Smiley Collective, go read it there as well!

Some years back, the gang and I started to get interested in light-weight hiking. A small but persistent group of Swedish hikers started moaning about the weight that you traditionally carry around: heavy back pack, heavy tents, and relevant for this post, heavy boots. That’s when I first came into contact with minimalist running, and the ideas that our feet might be best left alone, and unencumbered.

You see, hiking in the Swedish mountains is traditionally done in boots. Rather heavy ones. Preferably with extremely hard and inflexible soles. And Gore Text lining. But more and more people started to point out that 1) it’s dubious that big boots actually prevents injuries; 2) boots can protect you from becoming wet for a while, but once drenched, they stay wet for a very long time; and 3) carrying 800 grams or more per foot isn’t very cost effective, it’s going to drain a lot of energy from you.

And so it goes. We scaled back on our equipment. I went from a pack weighting in on something like 13-14 kilos (excluding food) to 11 kilos last year, and this year I scaled back further, landing on a comfortable 8.5 kilos. But my boots stayed on.

At least until now.

I read “Born to Run”. I discovered Barefoot University. I started following various blogs. In short, I discovered the barefoot/minimalist trend. And there was something that allured to me. These guys and girls seemed to have genuinely fun when running, something that I had lost a few years back. I’ve always had bad knees and stiff ligaments and tendons, but have been running nevertheless the last 12 years or so. But it wasn’t fun anymore. My last longer run, on one of the beaches of Malaga should have been great: sea, sand and sun, what’s not to like? But it wasn’t.

And so I went immediately and bought a pair of Merrel Trail Gloves. I had read up enough to realize that learning barefoot would probably be done best with actual bare feet, but being a barefoot sissy, and running  on trails 75% of the time I went minimalist instead. There was also this: I realized there would be an adjustment period, and I figured a pair of shoes that actually looks like ordinary trainers (in contrast to Vibram FiveFingers) could comfortably be used daily, hence giving my feet some needed extra practise.

Obviously I went straight for the beginners most common mistake instead: too far too fast. It felt great! It was fun! I wanted more! And almost immediately I had a sprained Achilles tendon to deal with. Ah well, I’ve always said stupidity is supposed to pay off, so this one’s on me.

And now? Well, today I ran 6 kilometers, which is a the longest so far. Perhaps a bit too long, and I figure my ankles and Achilles will tell me so tomorrow. But damn, it felt great! Two laps around the “block”, where the block being a patch of wood at my mothers cottage in the Swedish woods, and then straight down to the small forest lake for a dip, and it felt like I want running to feel: light, smooth, easy and fun. Lovely stuff!

And next week I’ll head up to the mountains for a 4 day solo hike.

See where this is going? Well, much as I love my boots, and I do, I think they’ll be left home this time. On the other hand, much as I love my Merrels, I don’t think they’ll make it either. Although I’m sorely tempted. The reason being I’m a bit of a chicken again: The mountains I’m going to (for reference, Grövelsjön) are… stony. All Swedish mountains are (as the last ice age reduced our mountains to rubble), and my feet recoil a bit at the thought of walking 5+ hours a day in thin soles with a fair few kilos on my back. But I will go with a pair of Salamon Techamphibian (or similar). They’re fairly light, have a good grip on slippery surfaces, and dry out quickly. That will bring the full weight of my equipment down under 10 kilos. Not bad, not bad.

Also, I think my feet will love me for it!

Ammarnäs -> Hemavan 2011

A new year, a new part of Kungsleden. The crew this year was V+R together with little sister C, but also an old acquaintance in the form of Gustav who went with us a short hike a few years back, and now graced us with his presence again. This was to be a warm-up for a longer trek into Sarek later this year. However, for various reasons the long trek got cancelled, so so far this is my only hike this year. Not that I have given up entirely, I may still get up there one more time!

New gear? Well, if you’ve read previous accounts you’ll be unsurprised that, yes, we had new gear! The most spectacular of which was that both C and Gustav had decided to buy new tents, and in fact single person tents (although Gustav’s Helsport Ringstind 2 is actually a small 2 man tent). So 5 persons had 4 tents :-) As documented to the left, C had the good taste to buy a Hilleberg Akto, just like mine. But shiny and red instead!

My main new gear was a new backpack. Namely the brilliant Granite Gear A.C 60. And damn! That’s a good buy. After a small adjustment it became the most comfortable backpack I have ever worn. My only gripe is the lack of places to tie external gear. But as I bought the optional top lid as well I can always add than when I need a few extra litres. Without the top lid I did fit a 6 day hike, but without cutting down more on volume going past 8-9 days may a stretch. But having said that: I’m extremely happy with it!

Day One; A Light Evening Walk
We decided to meet Gustav at Ammarnäs, and to have dinner at STF. The trip up was uneventful, apart perhaps from the fact that none of us knew how to find STF when we did arrive. Details, details.

As we’ve done previous years we used the excellent Bussgods to send a bag ahead of us down to Hemavan. It is very nice to be able to get a pair of jeans and a t-shirt on after your first post-hike shower! Worked this year as well, apart from the fact the the pick-up place in Hemavan had changed to the Airport which had closed when we arrived. Ooops. We did get the stuff though thanks to R and the help of the staff at STF.

After dinner we set out towards Aigerstugan. Our idea was simply to try ot get above the tree-line before nightfall. It quickly turned out that in order to get there we needed to go the entire stretch to Aigert. Which we did. The First night camp was a few hundred meters past the hut.

We did meet a fellow wanderer coming the opposite way: as a true minimalist he walked in sandals and had lightweight gear, including an umbrella (!). He talked constantly about the TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE mosquitos, and gadflies, and flies, and GOD! THE MOSQUITOES! Er… I may be exaggerating, but according to him we were heading into the worst stretch of fly and mosquito-ridden mountain imaginable. That put us on the mood. But for the record, and we’ll get back to it, it wasn’t that bad by a long stretch.

Which reminds me: The nice lady at Aigertstugan was the first person to be able to tell me if, and why mosquitoes “goes to bed” at eleven. Almost always during my hikes, at about eleven o’clock in the night, the mosquitoes disappear. I have imagined some sort of subliminal food-and-sleep clock that calls the little buggers home, but I appear to be wrong. It’s simpler than that: If the temperature drops low enough the mosquitoes becomes dormant. So a really warm night in the mountains they’ll stay awake. Which they did the first night, just to prove her point :-)

Day Two; Close Thunder
From Aigert to Serverstugan is a straight 20 km walk. But fairly flat, and to be honest, not very exciting. Luckily we got artificial excitement though: Midday we walked straight into a thunderstorm. For those of you who haven’t been in the mountains when the thunder is rolling around (yes ‘around’, not as you’d expect: ‘above’) your head, it is a special experience.

We where kind of lucky anyway and managed to bypass the worst of the rain until the last couple of hours which gave us plenty of fairly nice weather anyway. I have it by rumor that R and Gustav stopped and took a bath at one of the lakes. But bath-chicken that I am I think their just making it up to appear macho.

At the end of the day we where rather wet and the weather didn’t seem to let up. This early in the hike we really didn’t feel like packing wet tents, and when we arrived at Serve, and immediately was served lemonade on the house and putting our feet up, we decided to do something new: namely to stay in the hut as opposed to somewhere close. Apart from the fact that it was very warm inside at times, we had a relaxing evening and night.

Day Three; Oh Migod, the Gadflies!
So, our friend from the first day wasn’t entirely wrong: I have never seen, let along been stung by, so many gadflies. At the end of the day you where numb and just couldn’t give a shit about them any more: Let the little bastard sting, I’ll kill it when I’ve mustered enough interest. Oh bother!

Apart from that, this was a rather nice day, with just a little bit of rain as we approached Tärnasjön. At which point we had a choice to make: If we wanted to attempt an ascent of Norra Sytertoppen during the trip, an extra day for weather-adjustments could be good. And since there’s a very conventient boat across Tärnasjön, we could press on to Syterstugan the same day. This would cut one day of walking (mainly though birch woods, oh poor us!) and position us right at Syterskalet for the next day. Said and done!

Did I say nice weather? Well, as we arrived close to Syterstugan it became rougher. We could see heavy rain moving in the valleys. Me managed to pass through the outskirts of one during our walk, but the motherload hit us when we had pitched our tents and cooked dinner. In fact: R handed out dinner through the tent door and then me and C (having separate tents) had to run for it! Heavy rain? Oh yes… But I didn’t get too wet, and I’ll admit: sitting in my tent with the almost deafening sound of the rain and wind on the canvas, eating warm food and sipping whisky made me a very happy camper indeed.

Day Four and Five; Into a Post Card
Syterskalet is one of those iconic images of the Swedish mountains that makes a great image, but is even greater when you’re actually within it. This day started grey and boring but ended up with sunshine coming though. And we did find perhaps the best camping spot we’ve ever had.

So here’s the tip for anyone passing by who want to find the place to camp: east of Viterskalsstugan you can wade over Syterbäcken to get either up into Viterskalet or to follow the path up to Norra Sytertoppen. Just wade across the water and you have a big flat grassy plain you can stay at. But do make sure you pitch the tent so that you can lie and watch Syterskalet in the morning light. I did. And when the tent gets hot in the morning, opening up to a vista like the one to the left explains why I hike. If you still don’t understand, you’re a lost cause.

In fact, we stayed at the same place day five. C, R and Gustav went up to Norra Sytertoppen while me and V explored Viterskalet. On the whole, I think the ascent was the right choice, but V had a bad foot and my legs was a bit too tired so we opted for a simpler day. Not that I’m complaining, the weather was nice and spending a day with V is a luxury I too seldom get to do.

In the afternoon Gustav decided to press on towards Hemavan. He really wanted to catch an early bus home the day after. The rest of us was in no such rush as we weren’t flying out until the day after and opted to stay. I mean, with that kind of camping spot, you really don’t want to move! So Gustav packed up and walked away. And there was much rejo… Er… wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Day Six; Descent
Day six was basically just getting down to Hemavan. A nice, short trek ending with the birch woods in the Hemavan alpine center. Not too much to say about really. We did end the day spliendidly: first a shower, then coffee and a cake, then a beer or two in the sun, then pizza and beer. Really, is there anything more to life?!

Yes, we have pretty pictures!

Now, excuse me while I go dreaming about my second trip this year…

Saltoluokta -> Kvikjokk 2010

This year we continued our quest to do the entire length of Kungsleden. And when I say “we” I mean R+V (as usual, I’ll have to come up with better nic’s for you guys) and V’s little sister, miss C. As usual we really looked forward to it. Actually, V had been doing lists and planned the stuff since… er… well, last year I guess.Our strategy was more or less the same as the year before: follow Kungsleden south and camp by the huts, approximately, with possible modifications along the way.Did we have any new gear? Well, you’ll be unsurprised to know, yes, we had. I mean, it’s not like we’re complete geeks, is it? This year V’s been going on and on and on about lightweight packing, and wimps as we are R and me couldn’t resist her (at east I think that’s the way it went).  So we had slashed our packs and bought some new gear. R+V both sported new backpacks (GoLite Jam and Osprey Exos respectively) and all of us had generally cut down on the equipment.  But not on the food mind you! The food stays! Food is good!So in the end my new stuff was:

  • New sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering, Caribou MF. Sub-kilo down bag, which, with a bag liner, should keep me warm even through most of the autumn. Great stuff! Incredible! Expensive, but damn good buy anyway!
  • I also decided to use my Haglöfs Matrix 60L which I had used on one trip only before, instead of my usual heavy packs. The Matrix isn’t extreme lightweight but still, 1.8 kilos instead of 3 makes for a great relief.

All in all I had cut down 2.5 kilos from my base weight and R+V even more. With food my pack weighted about 16 kilos when we started, which makes for a nice change from 18+.Oh, and miss C was on her second ever trek, but had had great coaching from the rest of us – lightweight pack, lightweight sleeping bag and som on ad infinitum -  so she slotted right in. At least, let’s call it “coaching”, the truth is we’d probably bored her to death by the time we got on with it by talking gear constantly. I mean: All. The. Time.

Day one; To Saltoluokta
R had been working in northern Sweden, and V and miss C had been up at their parents place, so we decided to meet in Gällivare. I would fly up and they’d take the train. Thinking back to last year’s broken backpack (mishandled on the flight) I was a bit hesitant: ought I not pack it quite so tight? Ought I wrap it up in something? But my fears were ungrounded, I flew with NextJet, a small Swedish company only flying domestic, to small airports, the bag made it and on the whole, it was a pleasant experience: calm, relaxed and friendly.I arrived before the others and met them at the train station. There’s not much to say about Gällivare. We had a rather dreadful hamburger, bought the last of our food, waited a while and then boarded the bus that’d take us to the mountains.We took the boat across the lake from the place the bus stops, and then promptly proceeded a couple of kilometres up from Saltoluokta to camp above the tree line. A very beautiful sunset and striking view and mosquitoes ended our first day.

Day two; The next lake
This part of Kungsleden has a few lakes that you need to cross. At each you can choose: pay to get a ride or take a rowing boat, but beware: If you plan on rowing you must make sure there’s at least one rowing boat at each shore unless someone else will be stranded, which means that if you arrive and there’s only one boat on your shore you either have to wait until someone crosses from the other side or row over with one boat, tow another back and then return… It may take a while.Crossing from Saltoluokta to Sitojaure works as a nice warm-up for the rest of the trek. It’s above the tree line and easy going, although quite long (approx. 20 km from Saltoluokta station).  It’s a nice trek but probably nicer still going the other way when you get a great view the second half.The hut at Sitojaure is small, and located at the next lake. And beware no. 2: there are not a lot of camping space around the hut itself; you’d probably be better off above the tree line. As it where, we arrived first in the day and could pick spots, and even then it was hard; those who arrived later had to take whatever spot of land was left and probably had rather an uneven ground under their tent.We basked in the evening sun and generally started to seriously relax. This evening we also got the trips only – I repeat, only – rain. And it lasted a whole of 5 minutes… Incredible!We had a mystery visitor in the night! Both me and miss C woke in the middle of the night by something scratching the tent wall. As soon as we made any noise it’d stop only to come back a few minutes later.  On the third time it came back I made enough noise by slapping the tent wall to make it go away for good. What it was? I have no idea, but it sounded like it tried to get in, right where a plastic bag with sausages had fallen out from my backpack… Probably a bjärv. Yes, I’m quite sure it was a bjärv.

Day three; Closing in…
The morning started with another lake crossing. We decided to pay for the ride (“better be there early, he’s known to go 5 minutes before schedule rather than after”) instead of rowing. We where taken across the lake by a lovely little lady (the wife of “he” in the quote above) who steered us through the reefs in the middle of the crossing with a flair (“imagine the to-do if I sat the boat on a stone… well you know: men are like that”).This is also where you get your first taste of Sarek and the real wilderness, the view to the west is getting dramatic. But still nothing to what comes later…The trek to… You get it: the next lake, takes you to Aktse and what a magic place that is! You see, that’s the entrance to Sarek and lies just where Rapadalen ends.We arrived early in the day, as the trek is quite short, camped above the tree line and basked in the sun. In fact, early enough that we could have made a trip up Skierfe that very day, but decided to relax, and then take Skierfe the next day.Any bjärvs in the night? None that I noticed.

Day four; … on Sarek
We’ve always wanted to go into Sarek, but never gotten around to it. This was the closest we’ve been so far, as we made it for Skierfe in the early in the morning sun. Skierfe by the way, is a cliff rising some 200 meters above the floor of Rapadalen, and offers a dramatic view into Sarek with its vertical south, south-west side.As we made it early in the morning we arrived at Skierfe before anyone else. The trek is easy if you start out from above the tree line (it’s probably a bit harder from the Aktse itself as you get a couple of hundred meters more to climb). And it’s… Majestic. Awesome. Brilliant. I really have no words to describe the feeling standing with a 200-meter vertical drop by your feet looking out over Rapadalen, the crown jewel of Sweden, with Sarek beckoning in the distance. Simple one of the coolest places I have ever been to!When the other day-trippers started to arrive we reluctantly packed our way back to camp.  We rested a few hours and then went down to catch a ride across the next lake with Lennart, the local boatman. It’s a rather curious arrangement: last seasons they’ve had a schedule, but now Lennart drives 2 times a day, at 0900 and 1700. Perhaps. Maybe. And don’t be alarmed if he doesn’t show up on time, he might be somewhere else, picking up someone else. We had to wait 45 minutes until he showed up, but after that everything went smoothly.I wonder what the Germans we shared the boat with thought though. Lennart’s English isn’t the best (which of course is perfectly natural), and he will want extra if you’re carrying a lot of equipment (which is not unreasonable as weight equals fuel equals cost). But it ended in one rude conversation. It went like this:

“You have 3 large bags. You are 2 persons. Why?”

“Er… We’re taking it across for a friend”

“And how much do you think that will cost?”

“Er… 10€… ?”

“Yes.”

Queue broken English and it sounded like something out of a bad gangster movie. Let’s blame it on the language shall we, but I can’t help wondering what he would have said, had they offered, say 50 instead of 10.From this point on you’re in the woods. Most of the time, there are still a couple of hours left above the tree line, but mostly you’ll be in the woods. Which to be honest, I find rather boring, but as they say, you have to at least try it.We went on for a couple of hours through the darkening birch forest. Until the ladies started to tire, we had after all been up to Skierfe as well, and we decided to make the day.  So we found a nice little hollow a stone throw from a river and struck camp. Slightly wet, and a lot of mosquitoes, but nice.

Day five; Pårte FTW
We had camped just below the point where the trail rises up toward the tree line and the mountain again, meaning: we had a nice warm up in the morning. Again the weather was with us, it looked as if it would rain, indeed it looked at one point as if it was inevitable when we were followed by a dark and suspiciously heavy roof of clouds, but no, it drove off and when the afternoon came and we descended down into the forest again, the sky cleared.Pårte lies on a small bit of land jutting out in a lovely lake. And when we sat there, the final piece of calm descended. There was no one there, the sun shone straight in across the lake and even the mosquitoes kept their distance. Our plan was to stay only to cook dinner, but in the end we just sat there for nearly two hours. Bliss!It was now after six and we decided to walk for a few hours more, shortening the last distance a bit.  We were closing in on a couple of lakes where we had heard there would be some nice spots to camp, when we met a party coming north. The sun was in my eyes, but I couldn’t help thinking “hey, I know that silhouette!” And sure enough, there was Robban, 2nd bass extraordinaire from St Jacobs Chamber Choir. Small world, eh? He, a son and wife had decided to walk the distance almost on a whim as far as I understood; to the point where they had actually missed to buy maps and just started walking anyway. Even though it‘s Kungsleden and “what could possibly go wrong?” I wouldn’t recommend it, but hey! It was their first day and our last, so I gave them mine and slew of good luck to go with it.And indeed, there were some very good spots to camp at the lake. Where we had this trip’s only, but very nice and cosy, campfire.  A campfire and some Balvenie Double Wood 12 Years Old? Oh hell yes!

Day six; Black hole and bus
OK, so we didn’t really enjoy the woods. And also, the ground this particular bit is rather uneven. Actually, Robban et alles had been a bit concerned when they met us and was eager to know if the trail got better further north, which we had told them it did indeed. And I understand the concern, going this part of Kungsleden from south to north gives you a rather boring and, if you’re not used to it, kind of rough, start. But you do get all the nice views at the end. Which direction to go, you pick and choose yourself; if I was to do it again, I’d go south to north instead, do the woods early and end with the nice stuff.So, not much too add really. Down through the woods. A surprisingly good hamburger in Kvikjokk. Bus to a black hole they claimed was actually populated by real people, although it was hard to imagine standing there waiting for the train in something that looked like a ghost town. Then night train home. The end.Overall? A really, really nice trek with the unforgettable Skierfe and Rapadalen in the middle. I probably never have been that tanned in my entire life. And the lighter packs really made a difference, at the end of the trek my pack probably weighted just over ten kilos (which by the way includes a 2 person tent), and R was probably down to 8 kilos or so. It is a noticeable difference and makes it much easier on your feet and back. I recommend you speak to us before your next trip if your starting weight looks to go above, say, 16 kilos including food.Yes, we have pretty pictures!Yes Sarek, we will be back…

Backpost: Abisko -> Kebnekaise 2009

I was about to set down this years trekking memories when I realized I have not documented all of last years trips. Oh my… So I’d better do that then eh? My memory being what it is, this is the trip me, V+R did between Abisko and Kebnekaise last year.

We’d decided to Kungsleden one bit after another and also that we go south, hence Abisko first. We also decided to follow the trail and possible camp close to the Huts.

Any new gear? Well of course… :-) My old trusted Haglöfs boots where finally starting to give in, so I decided to give them an early retirement. And started looking, and looking for something new. It turned exhaustive; there didn’t seem to be any boots that could get a proper grip on my heel. In the end the salesman at Kängspecialisten pointed off to a window saying “oh, you could try those, there quite new but people seems to like them and I’m getting a pair myself soon”.  “Those” turned out to be a shiny pair of Kayland Apex Trek, and hell yes, they fit!

Day one; To Abisko and Abiskojaure
I met R+V at Arlanda in Stockhom to fly up to Kiruna from which we’d take the train to Abisko and immediatey set out to Abiskojaure. The flight was unspectacular. Except for the bagage retreival. Kiruna is a small arport and this flight was mainly made up of hunters, fisher-folks and trekkers. All crowing the small bagage pickup belt in their outdoor clothes. The bagage started to arrive, and immediately there was a wave of sniggers: someones coffee mug came out first… “Someones”, eh? I sniggered with the rest of them until, between two backpack, my Kåsa came out, with my watch and Spork neatly tucked inside. Oh… It turned out the zipper to the top lid had broken, nut a huge loss, but I never got back my toiletries, and for a while I was afraid my glasses had been in there as well.

So arriving to Abisko I had to attack the small shop at the station first to buy things like toothbrush, etc. But hell, it could have been worse!

The walk to Abiskojaure was without any big adventurers though. It was heavily overcast as we walked the rather beautiful part through the wildlife preserve. And as we got nearer it looked like it was going to rain for earnest. It did start raining as we reached the Abiskojaure hut, so we camped right at it and used their facilities for the dinner.

Day two; Onwards
We started out in the nice sunshine south through Gardenvaggi, ascending 300 meters fairly quickly and then turning south west on a long and slightly booring trek. The view over Ahppajavri is excellent to the south east, but for some reason it didn’t hook me.

We stopped a few kilometers before Alesjaure and had an un-eventful evening. Nothing much to add here, but we did shift loads a bit in the beginning: V had a few kilos too much which I and R managed to talk off her before lunch :-)

Day three; toward Tjäkta
The day started heavily overcast and stayed that way most of the day until the evening.

The Alesjaure hut lies splendidly on a small rise in the middle of the long valley, and we couldn’t resist stopping for a second breakfast with coffee and a cookie on our way forward. As you pass Alesjaure the view turns a bit more dramatic as well as you continue south west.

Kjäkta lies in the south west end of the valley and some 100 meters above the valley floor, giving it a magnificent view. And as the weather cleared up you couldn’t help feeling envious on those lucky bastards working there. What a place!We arrived fairly early and spent the evening washing up and relaxing in the nice evening sun.

Day four; Over the top
The mountain pass south of the Kjäkta hut is the actually the highest point on Kungsleden at 1100 meters above the sea level. After the stony bit leading up to the pass, it quickly opens up south giving you a splendid entrance to the magical valley Tjäktavaggi, which runs almost straight southwards and in which the next one and a half days will be spent.

Tjäktavaggi is unusual in that it is fairly long and wide and very straight, but also sports a flat fairly wide valley floor. It is easy walking, especially in the sunshine we had. And every step brings you closer to the might Kebne area where Sweden highest peak lies. A lovely day indeed, although we started to feel we had walked for four days, well trained as we were… We camped at Sälka and decided to take the next day off.

Day five; Magical stillness
This was the first time we had ever just stopped anywhere on our treks and relaxed. The weather was with us and we proceeded to make the least of the day. Basically just sleeping, relaxing, talking and embracing the calm.

At the afternoon at decided to brave Tjäktajåkka and wade to the west side, on a small detour. The wade was long but not hard, and I proceeded up Sälka to have a look at Dalsjön, a small lake nestled in the mountains. The hike not as easy as I had hoped, and involved traversing some fairly steep snow fields. But coming back made it worth the while as I got a stunning view of Kjäktavaggi in the evening sunshine.

And yes, we baked some bread in the evening. When I say we, I mean R+V. Lovely! I can’t recommend it enough, freshly baked bread in the middle of a trek! Lovely indeed!

Day five; And a short-cut
This day we continued south and a had a few choices to make. The trail goes straight south to Singi, but there is also an option to head into the Kebne mountains in the east, taking a rather bold short-cut to Kebnekaise with an option to camp on the way up from Sinnivaggi, greatly short cutting an attempt on top if the weather allowed.

But it would mean quite a bit of ascending with full packs, and also the weather was not it’s best with rain, wind and mist. So we decided to continue south but to strike south east, bypassing Singi and possible camp at lake 980 which apparently has a very good view south west. But we had made very good speed, and when we arrived at the lake some hours after lunch the weather was worse again so we decided to simply press on to the station at Kebne. This would mean a spare day, but we though we could use it to gamble the weather for an extra chance at climbing Kebnekaise.

Day six; Yet more rest
And so we did. We stayed some kilometer from Kebne station and again just enjoyed the luxury of doing nothing for a while. All hoping for good weather the day after to brave Swedens highest peak…

Day seven; Mighty Keb
The weather seemed to play nice with us. As we started up in the morning it wasn’t still certain if the high clouds would lift and permit access to the top, but we decided to chance.

You can walk up Kebnekaise without any tools, but you should be aware of a few facts. The west route up, which is the walking-friendly one, is fairly long and involves crossing a small middle-top adding 500 meters hight-meters to your climb. Also, it is going to be steep and stony and you’ll be at it the whole day. And you might have to wade a bit as well if it has been raining. It is also a tourist attraction, so don’t expect to be alone…

The climb went alright. We met a few people who clearly didn’t know the above compressed facts though. Like the very nice couple we met just under Vierranvarri. They had sports shoes and no clue. For example, they seemed amazed that I knew exactly far it was left and asked me if I had been there before, when I said no, the man seemed perplexed and then asked, “so you know how to read a map then?”

We were indeed lucky in the end. The weather cleared up and as we approached the south top, which is actually a glacier, there weren’t many people around giving us a few special moments at the roof of Sweden. A special call-out to R at this point, as he is actually afraid of heights and made his last meters crawling. But he did make it, which is bloody strong!

Even though Kebnekaise isn’t very high internationally, for a Swede to stand there is special, it is the highest peak in Sweden which you have been taught about in school, and standing there you feel, for a short moment, like you’re king of the world.

The descent also went alright although V started to get tired and R and me had our bad knees to content with. But we took it easy, we had food with us and no real hurry, it was worse for those who hadn’t prepared and started getting really tired and sore without anything to eat.

Was it worth the aching knees? Oh hell yes! :-D

Day eight; Just end it will you…
Not much to add here. We went straight east to Nikkaloukta on a very well kept train. Boring though. We had a hotel in Kiruna booked for the night and flew home the day after.

Conclusion
A very good trip. We had two resting days, which wasn’t in the plan exactly but did give us a higher chance on good weather at Kebne, which we took.

And my new boots? Excellent! Truly excellent. There are only three rather small, things I’d like to change on them: 1) they look like super-hero boots: come on, red and silver?! 2) they are made for tougher mountains than this, and the sole is actually almost *too* stiff, if that is possible; and 3) the sole is turned quite a bit upwards at the toes giving you a nice rolling step, however, my big toes would like to have them more straight, which gives me some pressure ache under the soles. Other than that, brilliant stuff, do try Kayland of you’re after new boots. Their new Zephyr seems like a really good choice for the Swedish mountains.

And yes we had whisky.

And yes, we have pretty pictures!

Abisko 8-11 July 2009

Introduction
Thanks to Carina and Gustav I finally got together the n00b trek I’ve been speaking about for a while. So, Yours Truly, Carina, Gustav and to my happy surprise also Jennyann (also known as Red Eyed Jenna elsewhere on this blog) went for a short hike in the Abisko range in the beginning of July.

Yes, we have pretty pictures!

As usual, being a complete nerd, I had some new equipment:

  • Hilleberg Allak. A two person tent, and of course in Hilleberg’s usual standard, in other words absolutely lovely. And in a red lovely color.
  • Exped Alpine poles. I was curious as to how it would be waling with poles. I ended up using one pole and Jenna the other. It was indeed very good, good for the balance but also I imagined it helps the back by introducing small movements in the shoulder area.

The simple plan looked like this:

  • Night train to Låktatjåkka train stop
  • Låktatjåkka -> Rissajavri (Geargevaggi)
  • Geargevaggi -> Låktatjåkka station -> Latnjavaggi
  • Latnjavaggi -> Gorsavagi (east end)
  • Gorsavaggi -> Abisko (and fly home from Kiruna)

Day one and two; The dreaded train
I’ll point out directly that I’m no particular fan of the night train to northern Sweden. I have, after all, lived up there, and it ended up with me swearing never to set my foot on the train again. However, that was a few years back and this time we’d be travelling in a group, thus getting our own compartment, so when C+G actually wanted to take the train I made an exception.

And it was actually very good. A nice slow start to the trek, and sharing a compartment with friends as good as C+g and Jenna is rather harmless. So we talked, talked, slept and then all of a sudden it was afternoon again, and we had arrived at Låktatjåkka (which is basically only a small hut beside the rails).We went up Geargevaggi – which is a gourgeus valley with rather interesting stone formations – heading for “Trollsjön”. Quite a few day trippers, but as it was late afternoon and we didn’t need to get back to the car afterwards, but they did, we mostly met those on their way back. Trollsjön is completely clear down to 24 meters (owning to copper traces in the water) and a really nice location. Ice on the water and majestic mountain sides.The ladies had promised they would take a swim. I mean, seriously, how cold can it be? But for some reason I must have missed it…

We went back a kilometre or two in the valley and found a really nice spot for the night. The weather was gorgeous and the sunset striking.

Day three; Up and down and rain
We back tracked Gorsavaggi and then went up Loktajonka towards the Låktatjåkka Station. The rain entered as we where striking the tents and then kept as a steady downpour for a couple of hours. Also, it was rather windy. And we needed to take some height before reaching Låktatjåkka at 1200 meters above sea level. Brace yourselves ducklings! This is where it gets harder :-)

The shelter in Gorsavaggi came in really handy for lunch. And a huge applause to whomever left the shelter just before we came. It was warm and cosy!

During lunch the rain let off and we could climb the last bit rather easily. The Låktatjåkka station is manned and well stocked. I believe the ladies in particular enjoyed themselves (with a bit of help by a “våffla”).We aimed south for Latnjavaggi. There was a bit a snow to get over, and the path wasn’t always clear, but no big obstacles (not counting when yours truly temporarily lost his mind, crossing a snow field leading everyone over a completely stupid and unsafe snow bridge).

We went up Geargevaggi – which is a gourgeus valley with rather interesting stone forLatnjavaggi was a very good spot for the night. Plenty of water, nice flat soft ground and stunning surroundings. And reindeer. A. Lot. Of. Reindeer.

They came slowly during the evening. Small groups entering the valley. But keeping their distance. Until we sat down in C+G’s tent for a small night cap, when they obviously surrounded the tent… Stupid animals!

When the sun hit the tent wall in the morning it quickly became very warm. Jenna, who wasn’t quite prepared, looked half-panicked and scrambled out, only to realize that there was now several hundred reindeer in the valley, surrounding us completely!

As you should disturb reindeer in the Swedish mountains I was a bit worried that we’d have to back track or take a ridiculous way out of the valley. But thankfully a herder came by and all of a sudden all the stupid meat was gone again.

Day four; Down Gorsavaggi
The exit of Latnjavaggi into Gorsavaggi is dramatic and well worth the trip in it self. This is where the magic grandeur and splendour of the mountains really hit you. I could spend hours just sitting there, watching the valley floor below.

We lunched at the Gorsavaggi station. Hat off to the man who provided the lunch time entertainment by making the crossing below a bit hard on himself. It is a long streak of water, not very deep, but significant. And he hesitated, stopped, climbed rocks and eventually half fell to his side, only to quickly jump to his feet and give us – who where sitting like a jury on a small rise just above him – a friendly wave. He also was good sport and gave a stage bow as we applauded him when he was over.

We landed for the night at the end of the valley, just outside the wildlife preserve (in which you’re not allowed to camp). C+G went for a small expedition of the mountain side. Me and Jenna settled for a wind-free spot, with whisky and a wonderful view and soft conversation.

Day five; High flying home
The next day we needed to make the train in Abisko by lunchtime, so we started a bit earlier than the other days. The trek down was lovely through the birch woods of the Abisko wildlife preserve.

We took the train from Abisko to Kiruna. In Kiruna we had the almost traditional after-trek-pizza, talked to some German fellas, and visited the lovely little wooden church while waited for the taxi to the airport.

And then, home.

Over and out: Fjällborgarmärket
So how did it go for my little ducklings? Did they enjoy themselves? Did they exit with flying flags and high colours? Did they in fact make it?Yes, I do think they did! :-)

Jenna and Gustav brought the whisky. And it was lovely.

We have pretty pictures!

Grövelsjön 4-7 September 2008

Introduction
I have talked about walking alone for some time now… Actually, since I first started hiking the Swedish mountains. But I never got around to it. Until now.

Since this would be my first time up alone, and also because I was on a bit of a budget, I decided to go back to Grövelsjön again. Easy to get to cheaply and also familiar, which felt safe and comfortable.

I had a bit of equipment upgrade for this trip.

  • Therm-A-Rest Z Lite mattress. An instant hit. Light, compact, not very expensive, and warm. Apparently some people have had problems with condensation in the small “egg shell holes”, but so far I haven’t seen it.
  • Primus EtaExpress stove. All thumbs up here. Fast, light and… and… just good, OK?

I also decided to make it a fairly short trip. Going up to Grövelsjön over a day, staying at STF (hostel) there over the night, hike around Töfingen (lake) and its wild life preserve, and then back. Day by day:

  • To Grövelsjön, stay the night at STF
  • Grövelsjön -> Hävlingstugorna -> Slagufjället
  • Slagufjället -> Spångkojan -> Nedersthån
  • Nedersthån -> Grövelsjön -> Home

Sound easy huh? Well, it was and it wasn’t.

Day one; Travel on
So… Train to Borlänge, another train to Mora and then 4 hours of bus 170 to Grövelsjön. Total travel time, aprox. 8 hours. Whee!

But in reality, it’s not that hard. I’m getting quite good zoning out and just passing time when traveling. At least as long as I have earplugs or head phones to shut out conversations around me.

The trains where uneventful. The bus…interesting. This was after all a Thursday evening, which meant that there weren’t many people on the bus to start with and they just dropped off. From Idre and onwards there was me and… the driver :-)

I’ve stayed at STF before. A nice place. Helpful and friendly people. However, this time I was only slightly disappointed by the dinner. A hamburger which left a lot to wish for. Dry, tasteless and rather sad. But I did have a Belgian very dark, very nice beer (Bernard?) to it so that’s alright :-)

Update: If I whine about the ‘burger, I absolutely must mention the breakfast: It’s excellent! Really, really nice. 5 out of 5 on my personal scale.

Most other guests seemed to be day trippers. This was a bit off season of course. But surprisingly many guests there, which is nice.

I slept very well thank you.

Day two; Overcast and warming up
I followed the trail east of Jacobshöjden up to Hävlingstugorna. Or rather, I went off track immediately slightly west of the real track towards Jacobshöjden. Could have been a bad idea as the terrain there is rocky.

Oh yes, I learned that, and no one is going to be surprised by this, Grövelsjöns name probably comes from the Norwegian word gravel which means stone or rock. You can just image someone looking at the place thinking “oh dear, this is a rocky place indeed, what shall I call it?”

I hit the track again north of Jacobshöjden and continued. The tracks leading out half a day from STF are all well walked “highways” making for good speed.

I lunched at the lean to north of the bridge between Hävlingen and Särsjön. The day was overcast, but now the sun decided to honor me with a visit making the quiet little meal a treat.

I had opted for bought dry food for this trip for convenience. Worked well.

The part from Särsjön east to Slagufjället looks like its going to be easy, but be warned, you’re now outside the day-tripper area. Also, this is a wild life preserve. It was very beautiful, but also rather hard to walk. And I now started a game which lasted for well over 24 hours called “spot the path” :-)

“Spot the path” reached its peak late afternoon when I decided to take the small track down to Töfingen and have a look. Oh dear, you wouldn’t want to try to hurry about that path.

In the end I struck tent behind the east-most lean to. And started to relax.

Two things to note at this part of the tale: It’s getting dark early. It’s getting cold over the nights. Which meant getting into the tent at 2000 or so. I had bought a small lantern for the tent time which was very comforting. Also I had Douglas Adams as an ebook. Which also was nice.

The night was cold with the tent covered in frost in the morning. It was very nice, but I was slightly unprepared, and problem is: When you wake up at 0400 in the morning realizing you’re slightly under-dressed, you still really don’t want to get out of you sleeping bag to fix the problem. It’s much easier to just lie still and hope for morning :-)

Day three; Hard to come by
Nice weather. The path up east through the birch forest towards Spånhkojan was lovely in the morning light. Here the calm of the mountains reached me, I figured I’d been slightly nervous the first day, but having survived the first night with flying color I started to relax.

Through the forest to Spångkojan the path was again rough. Not hard to spot, just… fairly rough walked. But nice and varying.

For some reason I had figured that going up from Spångkojan following Storån would be a little bit easier. I… was wrong. Dead wrong :-) The first 3 kilometers or so of that particular bit was surprisingly hard. The path was occasionally hard to spot (the game continues), climbing over boulders, under stocks, getting across moors. You got the whole package there.

In fact, I met passed an older guy at the end who seemed almost chocked. He had very much *not* counted on the toughness of that last bit.

After Töfingån came down the path got a lot better and I started to make up lost time (remember, it get’s dark early, you don’t want to be caught without your camp setup after nightfall).

I planned to make camp at approx. the same place as two years back. I found the place although I couldn’t pinpoint the exact place we had had the tents. But I remember to surroundings well. In fact, I think I must have been very close indeed, the stone in the brook where I washed up looked decidedly familiar :-)

As it went I found a very nice spot among the birches. A spot which didn’t get frost for some reason, in the morning a could see frost all around, but not in my little copse.

The evening was spent with La Boheme -69 (Pavarotti, Wixell) and sundown over Slagufjälet.

Day four; Homerun
Since you tend to wake with the sun when you also go to bed with the sun, I have now witnessed my first sunrise in… Er.. A long time apparently :-)

Blazing sun and clear skies. Also, again within day tripper range of STF which meant nice paths again.

I passed on the path cutting north west of Storvätteshågna and straight home. In fact, since I really didn’t want to cut it to close to my bus departure, I made sure I had plenty of time and arrived 2 hours early at Blåkläppen just above STF. So, I stopped, had lunch and promptly laid my self down for a bit of a siesta in the sunshine. Lovely stuff!

The bus down to Mora was packed. This was Sunday after all, and every student and their dog needs to get out of the woods back to civilization. It went alright though.

The calm of the mountains stayed with me for the train trip as well. I didn’t mind it being late. Or packed. I had my head phones and my peace.

Aftermath and after thoughs
So, how was it, doing it alone? It was very nice. Although… I had hoped for some sort of… I don’t know, revelation? Nothing big mind you, but I know how the lonely wolf inside me can feel when the large vistas opens up before him. Exaltation. Freedom. You get the picture. But I figure that didn’t happen, and perhaps for a very simple reason: I’m a fairly high-controlled guy, I like thinking before doing. I like knowing what and how to do things. And exaltation and revelation is more, in my experience, of *not* tightly controlling things. And perhaps alone in the mountains isn’t the best time for me to let it all go with the wind eh?

But don’t get me wrong, the second and third day had some truly lovely moments. Also, going alone puts a very real edge on every step you take, it’s for real and no messing up my boy, or there will be trouble of a kind sheltered city-people like me aren’t really prepared for. I like that edge. I like it a lot.

There’s a small problem with my tent as well. When you’re out this late, condensation is always going to be with you and in a small tent (in proportion to you size) you absolutely cannot get always in the mornings without touching the inner tent when dressing. Meaning you’ll get wet. Also, a small tent (again in proportion) makes it hard to relax in the evenings and/or rainy days. My next late autumn solo walk I’ll consider carrying a two person tent despite the extra kilos.

The whiskey for the trip was Morrison’s Islay Legend, a blend of Islay whiskeys based on Bowmore. Quite good, I’m sipping it now as well :-)

Yes, we have pretty pictures!

The aftermath? Well I came back late Sunday, emptied my back pack in my living room (this includes the tent, separated, which needed to dry out). Worked 12 hours a day for two days and then disappeared to Fano for the choir tour with St Jacobs CC. I still have camping gear all over my living room :-D

Will I do it again? Oh hell yes!