Across Sarek in winter - the rulk rebooted

English Turer Another chapter in the epic story of the incredible Rulk was written when I spent a week in March crossing a wintry Sarek. Temperatures were between minus 10-20 C most of the time and my gear was pulled behind me in a combination of pulk and pack most of the time. I started out with 17 kilos, including 7 kilos of food and fuel for 6-7 days. You will find a description of the trip here.
By Jörgen Johansson
For those of you not familiar with The Incredible Rulk you will find an article here about last years trip and an article here, at Backpackinglight.com on how it was made. In brief, a rulk is a combination of rucksack, or pack, and pulk. The construction enables you to switch very rapidly between pulling it behind you and carrying it on your back.

Last years version was a piece of aluminium sheeting, this years version was the real thing. That is a commercially manufactured pulk for a very decent price. A Paris pulk that was cut off to the same lenght as my full pack. The cut off Paris was 960 mm long and weigted 1400 grams including the webbing belt and lines to pull it. This system was exactly the same as last years. There was a weight penalty, the cut off Paris sled weighs about 500 grams more than last years version aluminum version. It was worth every gram...

The pack was a 57 litre ULA Ohm backpack that was slightly roomier than last years Golite Jam2 (52 l). Since last years trip was for only three days and this was twice as long I needed the extra space for more food and fuel.

The closed cell foam pad goes on top of the pack in pulk mode. It's easily strapped in place using waist belt and sternum strap of the pack.
As with the aluminium version I attached the rulk to the pack using plastic hooks (normally used for attaching flags to flagpoles as well as some boating carabiners I came across). These were hooked around the carbon fiber "frame" of the Ohm. Last year they were hooked into the attachments for the compression straps on the frameless Jam2.

The hooks were connected with and short pieces of cord with Prusik knots that allowed me to cinch the pulk very tight to the pack. And also to adapt easily to the fact that the pack shrunk as I filled my belly with all kinds of goodies.

I used the same simple pulling system as last year. A web belt with a buckle and the cord attached. I can honestly say that with the weight I was pulling I felt absolutely no need for any padded belt.


The whole glorious Rulk in action! Here I am on my way through the gateway of the famous Rapa Valley.

The construction worked very well. It tracked very much better than the aluminium flat bottom solution of yesteryear and slid like a dream in my ski tracks. It was in fact often faster than my skis, noticable going downhill. Still, I fell that the simple cord pull is OK even if the pulk sometimes passes you. I prefer not to burden the construction with pulling stakes that make it more difficult to switch into backpack mode. But I might change my mind, and others might make different choices.

Here on a particulary topsy turvy passage a carried the rulk on my back. The foam pad is simply tied on top, using the pulling cord. It takes about 2-3 minutes to switch from one mode to another. This includes blowing my nose and gazing briefly at the horizon.

I only carried the rulk on my back twice. The second time was at the end of the trip, while decending a steep hill with birch forest and soft snow that had me sinking to my knees even with skiis. Here the light pack on my back worked very well, although I didn't do any fancy telemark turns. I was in fact happy to slip slide down the hill with not more than one nose dive.

I love to cook a meal or coffee sitting on my pad, with my legs stretched out and a tree or a rock as backrest. But the rulk can of course be structured into the perfect armchair. Just stick it in the snow at the appropriate angle, lean back and close your eyes and listen to the snow melt on your stove.

Sticking the rulk in the snow and adding the Snow Claw at right angles makes a good wind screen for the stove, when necessary.

Here is an example of how you can use the rulk as a snow anchor, sticking it down or digging it down as much as you deem necessary. You can see that spindrift has collected on the lee side of it during the night.

To sum it up, it is almost too easy to pull such a light weight as I had behind you on a pulk when skiing in most conditions. It is almost as if you were skiing without any gear at all. And when circumstances are against the use of a pulk you simply put it on your back and you are not worse of than you would have been without a rulk for starters. For this reason I'm a bit suspicious against adding a pole system instead of cords for pulling the thing. But considering the fact that I pull it 95% of the time, maybe I have to change my mind on that account. Something collapsible maybee....

Please comment here on Utsidan in Swedish, or below in English.

9 comments:

Joe said...

Brilliant Jorgen. This was kind of the direction my mind was leading me when I first saw your Incredible Rulk article on BPL last winter. I just thought the aluminium sheeting needed more 'structure' and that maybe a cut down child's sled was the way forward. The Paris pulk looks even better though and I will be making one of these for next winter. Thanks for the inspiration.

On the subject of the pulk overtaking you on downhills I read in Allen & Mikes Really Cool Backcountry Skiing Book that they use a loop of cord on the front of the pulk which can be used as a handle (when manoeuvring the pulk by hand through trees) and also as a brake on downhills (by dropping the loop of cord into the snow in front/under the pulk it creates enough friction to slow it down).

Jörgen Johansson said...

Hi Joe,
Glad you appreciate the solution. It might be that a very basic childrens pulk is the cheapest version. I've had difficulties finding a childrens pulk that is only a trough. Hendrik in Hiking in Finland had found one, I saw, but by then I had already bought the Paris pulk. It is not frightfully expensive, I payed 500 SEK.
I've met Mike Clelland, who is a very bright guy, but have not read the book about the loop. But one old trick that puts a brake on a cord pulled pulk is tying a small branch (with half hitches)across both lines some 300 mm or so from the front of the pulk. Going downhill when there is slack in the cords, this line will be pulled under the pulk and act as a brake. Depending on weight of pulk and snow conditions you can vary the thickness of the branch to get optimum braking.

Joe said...

Yeah, I had trouble finding a suitable child's sled, they all seem to have built-in seats and brakes these days. The Paris pulk looks perfect and more durable.

I'm glad there are alternatives to using poles. Poles, even take-apart versions, are heavier but more importantly more difficult to transport during the non-skiing parts of journeys like when you're on a train/plane and also when 'wearing' the Rulk.

Doug said...

Jorgen,

Great post. I have a few practical questions.

- Did you find that the rulk ever flipped and needed to be righted? We've had that experience sometimes with Paris sleds, and it gets very frustrating.

- Did you load your pack in a particular manner, i.e. put the heavier items towards the ground or towards the bottom of the pack?

- What was the combined weight once you had everything loaded? With regular sleds, you can easily overpack, and I was wondering if the rulk is as forgiving?

Thanks

Jörgen Johansson said...

Doug,
Yeah, it flips fairly easily on slopes and when the wind catches it, if it is packed like on the second photo above. What I did on Finnmarksvidda was try to pack it with a low center of gravity. I then attached the rolled up foam pad on the side of the pack/sticking outside the pulk a bit. This made it catch less wind and ride a lot better. Easier to switch to 'pack position' as well. The thing is, if it becomes a pain with the rulk flipping, you can always take it on your back.
You'll find the total weights of everything in a blog entry about Sarek called 'gear list'. Around 17-18 kilos in total.

Josh Spice said...

Very cool. I'm about to craft my own. I used a sled with PVC struts when hauling caribou off Alaska's North Slope. It worked well to keep the heavy load moving smoothly, but was a pain when I wanted to move anywhere but forward. Worth it for heavy weight, never for a lightweight sled. If it's hilly, just put it on your back, like you said.
Thanks for sharing this. Nice design!

http://www.joshspice.com/#tl-105ae0ea

Jörgen Johansson said...

Josh,
Thanks for your comment and appreciation. Yeah, for dragging caribou meat a rulk is of course pretty nice. Particulary since you can go out hunting with it as a rulk and return with a pack on your back and a pulk loaded with meat.
In tundra country I find that it stays on the ground 95% of my trips.

Steve Duby said...

There may now be a solution to your dilemma of rope vs. poles for pulling the rulk. Check out SkiPulk's split pole set:

http://skipulk.com/index.php/products-and-components/components-and-accessories

The split pole design solves your problem when carrying the rulk, as you can simply detach the poles, take them apart, and either put them in the pack or strap them to the outside. Ultimately it will add to the weight of your system, but the big question is will the improved efficiency of that pulling system be worth the weight?

Jörgen Johansson said...

Steve,
You are absolutely right that a split pole system like that would be a solution. And also if the extra weight is worth the convenience. The latter, I would say, is a combination of personal preference and elevation differences where you travel. The two main inconveniences with using only ropes for a light pulk or rulk is that when you travel downhill the pulk tends to travel faster than you and hit you from behind. This is obviously less of a problem in flattish terrain. The second inconvenience is that ropes do not help keeping the pulk on the right keel in windy conditions and/or when travelling across a steepish slope.
The cheapest and probably lightest solution is making poles from thin plastic tubing (often used for electric wiring in the walls of houses) through which you run the rope. You can use two or three sections going from pulk to hip. If the rope is only slightly longer than the sections of plastic tubing you get something 'stiffish' attaching to each hip, but which can easily be folded in two/three for transport.

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