ALTIDUDE TRIBE ON TOUR IN SAREK NATIONAL PARK – PART 1/4
03.08.2019 - Day 1 (Hamburg > Stockholm > Kiruna > Murjek - 1680 km):
3:20 in the morning! What a godawful time to get up. A quick shower to wake up.
Then meet the others at the train station at 4:00 am to catch the train to the airport. Check-in, security check, all in a trance. 40 winks on the flight, waking up at 8:00 am in Arlanda, Stockholm’s airport.
You have to pick up your luggage there and go over to Terminal 4 to check it right back in for the SAS flight to Kiruna. A little annoying. The connecting flight was to leave at 1:00 pm so we had loads of time. We hung around the airport in the SkyCity area and bought a bunch of snacks. Vegan options were scarce so we settled for some wraps. And then of course, there was a delay. The flight finally left at 2:20.
But we didn’t run for the bus to the train station as we should have. We took too long re-adjusting our packs and managed to miss the one and only shuttle. So we had to call a taxi - 500SEK to get to the station. You can’t take propane fuel on an aircraft, so you have to buy it at your destination. On the way to the station, we tried to find a store to buy some, but because it was already 4:00 pm on a Saturday, everything except the supermarket was closed. The fuel would have to wait. The train arrived on time at 6:30 pm. But since we had booked the train tickets separately, our allotted seats were scattered throughout the train. So we sat together in some empty seats until someone came along to claim one. We got some beers and salted nuts to pass the time. When we arrived in Murjek around 9:00 pm, we were immediately welcomed by a huge swarm of ecstatic mosquitos. So we headed as fast as we could to the Vandrarhem (hostel), where we had booked a room. Again, we received a warm welcome, but this time it was a more pleasant one, from Lena and her mum, who ran the place. By the time we had all showered and eaten, it was past midnight. But outside, it was still light and it wouldn’t get any darker either. Above the arctic circle your sense of time quickly vanishes. In summer, it never gets dark.
04.08.2019 - Day 2 (Murjek > Kvikkjokk > Pårte > Huornásj - 23,7 km):
We got up at 6:00 am and got everything ready. Repacking our backpacks for optimal weight distribution was essential since we were all carrying beyond 20 kilos on our backs. It’s quite tricky to get it right, as you also need to keep in mind which items you will need first, during the day. This of course, comes with experience and as you hike, you’ll find yourself fine-tuning your packing skills every day. We headed over to the bus station, which is also the train station. The bus to Kvikkjokk leaves from the kiosk at the station. We shoved our packs into the luggage compartment and got on the bus.
The first stop was in Jokkmokk, the Sami capital. Jokkmokk is well known for its annual Sami Wintermarket, ‘Jokkmokks Vintermarknad’ where since 1605 Sami people from all over Lapland have offered their wares for sale. The bus driver told us there was a one hour layover. We went to the supermarket and bought some fresh food because we knew that this would be our last chance to get anything the least bit green. There are two supermarkets in Jokkmokk: ICA and Coop. ICA sells many Sami specialties made from reindeer meat. You can get anything from fresh steak to sausage and also dried, smoked reindeer meat which is called ‘torkad renkött’. Dried reindeer meat makes very good hiking food if you are a meat eater.
After that we headed over to the gas station and finally found some cooker fuel, but there were only two canisters left and we needed three for our trip. What to do? Procrastinate over more cups of good, strong Swedish coffee sitting in the sun. An hour passed, and we hopped back on the bus, continuing our ride towards Kvikkjokk. Shortly before arriving there, the bus made one more stop by a beautiful lake where we decided to take a group photo. The last time I had been here, there had been a 30-minute layover. The bus driver, like most Northerners, was the strong and silent type, so there was no announcement about the schedule. He just got off the bus, grabbed a cup of coffee and exchanged a few words with the locals. Very few, as it turned out. While we were still posing for photos in front of the beautiful backdrop, we heard the sound of an engine and wheels on gravel. The bus was leaving without us! Oh no! I shoved my camera into Hendrik’s hands and ran after the bus as fast as I could, waving my arms and shouting. The driver finally stopped and let us on. And then he rather belatedly announced that our ten-minute break was now over. We were so happy to be back on the bus with all our gear. As we took our seats, everyone was laughing. It must have been a hilarious sight.
Relieved and rested, we arrived in Kvikkjokk exactly on schedule - at 12:00 noon. We got off the bus and climbed the steep road leading up to the STF Mountain Station (Fjällstation) to see if there was a shop that sold campstove fuel. STF is short for Svenska Turistföreningen, which means Swedish Tourist Association. If you consider hiking in Sweden it’s a great idea to get a membership. A membership costs about 30€ per year and is well worth it. Along many of the hiking trails in Sweden there are STF cabins. These range from small emergency shelters to large mountain cabins with accommodation, shops, sauna as well as campgrounds. If you are an STF member you can freely use the cabins between 9:00 – 17:00 and use the stove to cook, get out of the weather and dry your gear in front of the stove. As a member you will also get a discount on accommodation, should you want to spend the night in more luxury or to escape bad weather. If you hike Kungsleden, for example and stay only three nights in one of their cabins, your annual membership fee will already have paid for itself. We were lucky and campstove fuel was readily available. Now we felt confident that we would have enough for our trip.
Since it was clear that we might encounter long and heavy rainstorms in Sarek, we didn`t want to have to scrimp on hot drinks, if we had to wait out bad weather in the tent. We went to weigh our packs: I was carrying 23 kg, Hendrik was carrying 24 kg, Mine’s weighed 20 kg plus the stuff we were wearing. We weren’t wearing much because it was quite warm. Around 2:00 pm, we started to hike, and ascending the first hill, were instantly attacked by mosquitos. It was clear very soon that we would have to push hard that first day to get above the treeline. The fewer trees, the fewer mosquitos. But this meant hiking over 20 km on that first stretch. Mosquitos love damp, shadowy places out of the wind. If you want to escape them, it’s a good idea to get above the treeline where there is no shade and more wind.
It was a strenuous hike to Pårtestugan - since we wanted to get away from the bugs as soon as possible, we didn’t even stop for a break. But the next section was tough with many ups and downs. And at some point, we could walk on no further - we definitely needed a break.
We built a small fire to keep the bugs at bay. Mosquitos don’t like smoke very much either. Feeling refreshed after the break, we pushed onward and finally got to the treeline after a steep section.
Dusk was settling in. We refilled our water supplies at the last stream before our planned campsite. You can drink the water from streams everywhere in Lapland. But we knew that there was no water up on that first hill, so we had to stock up. It was past midnight when we finally lay warm in our sleeping bags with something warm in our stomachs. We fell fast asleep.
05.08.2019 - Day 3 (Huornásj > Aktse > Njunjes - 21,2 km):
We awoke around 8:00 and the view from our tent was awesome. It took us ages to pack our packs and we started to hike around 11:00 - We had to make it to the lake by 5:00 pm to catch the motorboat across. There are also rowboats but rowing across takes roughly 45 minutes, depending on the weather conditions. If there is only one rowboat, you must row across and tie a second boat to it and row back, making you row three times. There must always be at least one boat on each side of the lake. The motorboat is usually the best option. If you arrive early in the morning, you might get lucky and there will be more than one boat and you won’t have to row three times. The crossing by motorboat costs 200SEK per person (about 20€).
Our route took us uphill further along the Kungsleden. We would be staying above the treeline for some hours before descending. On our way we saw some grand views of the valley below.
We arrived early at Laitaure – The lake we had to cross by boat. We still had about 45 minutes before the motorboat would come. Rowing was not an option for us because there was only one boat left. Even though I was eager to row over, I didn’t want to row three times.
After a waiting and being harrassed by all sorts of bugs, we finally saw the motorboat jetting towards us. We hopped on and enjoyed the ride. More wind. Fewer mosquitos. The captain even stopped midway across to tell us something about the surrounding area.
We stopped at Aktse for some beer and salted nuts – We felt we needed to chill a bit before starting the ascent to the next camp.
Above the Aktse cabins, we found great campsite with an awesome view. If you want to camp on the mountain behind the Aktse cabins you need to stock up on water about half way up, as there is no water to be found up there.
We had great weather that day and the night was very still, even though we were quite exposed up on the mountain.
06.08.2019 - Day 4 (Njunjes > Skierfe > Gierdogiesjtjåhkka - 13,3 km):
That morning it took us a long time to get going. After all, we had pushed hard on the two previous days to get away from the bugs. Today the plan was to climb Skierfe to get one of the best views of Rapadalen you can ever hope to see and after that find a nice place to camp at the base of our next ascent near Gierdogiesjtjåhkka.
The weather was as good as it could be during our ascent to Skierfe. About half way up we took a break, using what would be the last LTE signal to write some last messages to civilization. After all, we would be offline for at least the next two weeks. As we sat there, taking a couple group photos we could see a herd of reindeer literally chilling on a nearby snowfield. It was pretty warm that day and they like to hang out on snowfields to cool down. I took my camera and walked over to take a couple closeups. At some point I got too close and they started running.
We were quite thirsty as there is no water source on the way up. As we reached the pass behind Skierfe we refilled our bottles, stashed our packs and took only a couple of snacks and our cameras with us.
While we were up there, enjoying the truly breathtaking view, the weather changed, and we could see the rainclouds rolling in toward us.
There was a mild drizzle during our descent which resulted in a beautiful end to end rainbow in the valley behind Skierfe. Then we headed over to Gierdogiesjtjåhkka and pitched our tent close to a small river just in time before being fully engulfed in a heavy mist with a range of vision of only 3 meters. It rained all night long.