Across Sarek in winter

English Turer Sarek National Park in northern Sweden is a fantastic wilderness area. It's located in the middle of World Heritage site Laponia. And the feeling of wilderness is even more obvious in winter. This fall I was inspired to revive a trip that I had made through Sarek in 1981. That was my first really long solo trip in winter and the load was staggering, 42 kilos. This time my load was a lot lighter, my Incredible Rulk weighed 17 kilos with food for 6 days.
By Jörgen Johansson
The trip was really simple and straight forward: I started in Kvikkjokk early one morning with -16 C on the thermometer. North to Aktse I followed Kungsleden (The King's Trail) and then skied on the frozen waters of the Rapa River up almost to the roots of the Rapa Valley at Skarja. From there I took the route across the lakes of Bierikjaure and Lietjitjaure to Vietas at Stora Sjöfallet NP.

On my way to Aktse from Kvikkjokk I lucked on some open water and took advantage of this for my lunch break in the sunshine. Since I had made an early start, after having rented a cabin in Kvikkjokk, I made 32 kilometers that day, pulling my rulk along the well used trail. Dusk as well as rapidly falling temperatures came upon me while crossing the dammed Lake Tjäktja and the first night spent in my tent was also the coldest. Stupidly enough my replacement thermometer bottomed out at -20 C, so I have no exakt reading. My guess is that the morning temperature was about -22-25 C.
It was not only cold but also a glorius morning, that after about an hour saw me on Lake Ladtjo, close the mountain huts at Aktse. This is a blessed place on earth and the view probably one of the most photographed of all Swedish mountain scenery. It is a spectacular gate to the famed Rapa valley, with the sheer cliff of Skierfe on the right and the square bulk of Nammatj (below my left elbow) right on the park boundary, pointing the way into the heart of Sarek.

The second morning was almost as cold as the first one, maybe a couple of degrees warmer. It found me were the Rapa River squeezes by the Spatneks.

Where the river presses by the Spatneks the jumble of ice, snow and rock had me using my rulk as a pack for a short while, before returning it to its official pulk status. It was maybe not ultralight backpacking, but it sure felt like it, considering the circumstances.

This day, unfortunately, was a bit overcast, with some wind and snowfall at midday. Unfortunately I say, because I made my way along the Rapaselet, in my mind perhaps the most spectacular and beautiful location for mountain scenery in Sweden. When I stopped for lunch I pitched my tent (easily done in less than five minutes) and rigged the rulk and shovel as windbreak for the stove.

Luckily for me the wind and snow was at my back, always a comfort and particulary when it's -10 C. I met two Germans, probably father and son, who where not so lucky but seemed very fit and well in control of the situation in spite of heavy equipment and randonné skis.

My goal for the night was the old dilapidated board hut at the mouth of the Sarves Valley, where I had spent a couple of nights 29 years ago. I had been back in the summer of 2005, so I new that the doorless old wreck was still standing.

Amazingly enough it was more or less the same doorless old wreck that it had been in 1981, and I moved in, as I had then. A board bed and much more room to move and cook made it attractive compared to the tent. As a makeshift door I rigged my tent, to keep spindrift from coming in an settling on my sleeping gear.

I woke up around 4 o'clock and put on my down jacket because I felt a bit chilled. Several nights out had added great amounts of condensation to my sleeping bag and quilt. I then slept on for another hour and found the temperature to be -12 C in the hut, when I started my morning rituals, a k a eating and packing. The day was overcast, but with promises, and it did clear up and become sunny as the morning wore on. A cold wind, luckily still at my back, and -8 C made it nippy enough and I pitched my tent for lunch with the impressive, almost 1 000 meters rock wall of Bierikpakte as backdrop. Lake Bierik, below the wall, is a long lake to ski, but a hard wind of around 12-15 m/s blowing at my back made for rapid advancement. The cold had me stop and put on an extra wool undershirt to keep my back warm. Not a problem while carrying a pack, but a disadvantage when using a pulk. Almost blowing out from the the bottleneck at Bierikvaratj and entering into more open country, the camp for the night had the mountain fortress that is central Sarek in magnificent view.

I woke to a completely calm morning and -16 C before the sun started warming things up from a clear blue sky. Looking out of the tent, while emptying my pee bag (yesterdays freeze dried dinner bag with ziploc)I saw the tracks of a fox that had passed during the night an stopped briefly just outside my door.
I took my time during this beautiful winters day, stopping to take photos an lazing about while having lunch. After all, I was on vacation and was making good time, still ahead of schedule.

Coming down from the high up hills I encountered some stunted birches by the time my body cried out for the afternoon coffee break. Here I left Sarek NP and entered Stora Sjöfallet NP. I found some shelter from the chilly wind behind a big boulder and basked in the sun with my rulk as backrest.
Crossing the little valley that would widen into Lake Pietsaure, I climbed again up on the last wide ridge before the huge dammed lake that once was the greatest of all Swedish waterfalls. That was where I was picking up my bus the day after. The wind picked up on the wide ridge and the daylight was rapidly fading, so I had to don my Primaloft pullover to keep from getting chilled the last half hour.
The wind blew off and on fairly strongly during the night. Not storm or hard wind, but quite noticeable. I had pitched my tent among a cluster of trees, trying to get as much protection as possible, and with some of the guylines fastened in trees I was not at all worried. By morning the wind had blown itself out, but left a bit of a drift by the tent door that I had to kick away before getting out, as well as some build up underneath the tent floor.
After breakfast I started down from the ridge to the great waterway below. There was open water at the damm I could see. The snow was soft and I sank to my knees in spite of my skis as I slowly made my way down the steep slope among the birch trees. In this terrain it worked best to carry the rulk on my back. I crossed the frozen damm a good couple of miles below the open water, ice on artificial lakes like this can be very treacherous. The area where I crossed is among the safest though and I had no incidents.

I arrived at Vietas, Stora Sjöfallet with lots of time to spare to catch the bus. I loafed around in the sun in the small bay with some old Sami houses, from which I used to fly and radiotrack raindeers one summer half a lifetime ago. Another reminder that I was at the age where many things happened 20-30 years ago. But something that happened right now was the sun glittering on the snow and the bulk of Alep Kierkau across the lake.

While having a last cup of coffee, I summed up my trip of the last few days. One thought was sticking out: Easy. It had been really easy and comfortable. Lightyears away from hauling 42 kilos, even though I had then been 29 years younger and stronger.

The reasons for this trip being easy were mainly two: Only 17 kilos when I started out and around 11 kilos at the finish is very, very nice.

The second reason was the rulk. Pulling the load behind you instead of carrying it on your back is infinitely to prefer when the the weather and the snow conditions are suitable. When not suitable, pulling a pulk can be hell, particulary if it is heavy. And there is always the temptation to add a bit of extra gear. Bad idea.

Also in spite of the weather being fairly cold, I had not been cold. I had in fact slept deeper and warmer than I can ever remember having done during a winter trip like this.

The weather was not difficult, but not easy either. It was what you have to expect for a trip in March on these latitudes. And of course, doing a trip like this takes experience with winter campingg. And Sarek is not the place where to get the experience, but the place where you use it. Like the boxers say: Train hard, fight easy.

Also, I don't believe that lack of experience can be replaced by more or heavier gear. Keep the load light and the trip will be light. Easy as that.

Comments are welcome, at Utsidan here in Swedish, or below in English.

There will be other articles coming up on the gear I used.

5 comments:

Joe said...

The Incredible Rulk! Not only does it look like it makes easier work of carrying your load it doubles as a back rest and windbreak! Is it a Paris sled you're using now?

Stunning scenery and inspirational account. Something for me to aim for next winter.

Jörgen Johansson said...

Yep, it's a sawed of Paris pulk. Worked like a charm, I'll do a write up on it later.

Hendrik Morkel said...

A very nice story and pretty photos, Jörgen! Are we going to see a gear list in on of the following articles?

Nielsen Brown said...

Thanks Jörgen, I think your comment of 20 years since the previous trip indicates how much gear has changed and combined with new ways of thinking about travelling in such regions. Sarek is on my wishlist, though summer more than winter is the most likely option. I am assuming you were using a gas stove?

Jörgen Johansson said...

Yes, I'll be covering gear, like stoves, in some upcoming articles

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