Last week we returned from Sweden having spent a week tackling a grand section of the Kungsleden in Arctic Sweden.
We managed to miss our flight northwards from Stockholm due to fog delays in London so we arrived to meet Charlotte after a night sitting up on a train from Stockholm to Umea. Charlotte had persuaded the ski hire shop to open specially for us so we could collect Grits skis. I had decided a year earlier to buy a pair of Nato Combat skis with short skins. So armed with skis and Charlottes comprehensive provisioning we drove north to collect Svarte from his forestry conference.
We then continued north through the Arctic Circle and on to Jokkmokk where Svarte was originally from. By now there was snow as there was a distinct lack further south. We were to stay with Svarte’s sister for the night before heading off to the start of the adventure.
On Saturday Svartes other sister drove us to Saltoluokta Fjellstation which we reached by skiing across a frozen lake. A local warden offered to tow our pulka across saving us one drag. This “Hut” bordered on hotel and had a top notch restaurant where we enjoyed our last posh meal before the journey would begin in earnest in the morning.
The weather the previous week had been appalling with winds reaching 47 metres a second but things had calmed down and we were expecting some fine conditions.
Sunday. The first day was to be 20 km with a steep initial climb for 3 – 4 km then mainly gentle uphill through a mountain pass. We were to be pulling the pulka for the first time for most of us. It was quite warm at minus 10°C with light snow. The Norwegian weather site www.yr.no is recommended. We arrived at Sitojaure Stugan in reasonable light. It was close to the equinox so it got dark around 1800. Charlotte brewed up a massive spaghetti on the stove which we shared with the hut warden. We were going to share it with a guest there called Lars but there was none left when he returned from ice fishing. We offered him some nuts and got a beer in return. What a result! Not only that, but Lars offered to take our heavy pulka up the mountain on his snowmobile to save us an arduous tow.
Monday. A shorter day of 14 km but we were originally planning a long detour to Skierfe which is a massive cliff. As it happened it would have taken too long so as compensation Charlotte and I climbed Doaresoajvve (1,083 m) and had a pleasant ski down. I still have little confidence skiing downhill with these kind of skis especially after breaking my arm last year. Gradually I am sure my skills will improve especially with my new skis. The temperature was minus 17°C but fine. We arrived at Aktse hut to be greeted by a wonderful lady who wore strange shoes and, apparently, does massage! What’s more she sold beer! These Swedish “huts” are pretty good!
Tuesday. Down to minus 22°C but clear and sunny. We had 25 km of pulka towing ahead of us. Our progress was pretty slow at about 3 km per hour and it became very apparent that it could be a very late arrival. It made sense for two to go ahead and get the hut prepared and the fire underway while team two pulled away. Svarte and Charlotte were the fastest skiers so they went on and Grit and I pulled the pulka. The pulka weighed about 60 kg (guess) and would slip along quite easily on flattish ground. We had a technique with two people pulling using rubber bungee (gummi stropper) to even out the pull. The ropes were 8 m long and about right. We eventually arrived at a private hut at Sjabtjak at 8 pm and minus 26°C. Interestingly we discovered LED Lenser torches will work at this temperature but if you turn them off they wont come back on. I checked with the manufacturer and they agree that minus 20° is the lowest they effectively work at. Petzl headtorche remained on.
Wednesday. We decided to rest up and do a few hut tasks today but we also found time to drill a hole in the ice and catch an Arctic Chard. I also learned that so long as the temperature is below minus 10° C you can walk around in the snow in your socks without bothering with boots! My Eskimo socks with Bridgedale liners were perfect.
Thursday. Grit had a bad blister and decided it best to rest up until it healed. Svarte, Charlotte and I decided to climb Oarjep Sjabttjakvarre 784 m. We set off through the forest and made a fire for coffee. Actually we ended up climbing the peak behind our intended mountain which was a bit higher.
The weather was beginning to close in and it started to snow heavily with reduced visibility. Time to head for the hut. We kept our short skins on the skis as we descended the trickier steep slopes then took them off as we entered the tree line. Skiing downhill with skins is tricky on bumpy paths as the skin catch on the hummocks throwing you forwards. It is best to ski with one ski in front of the other by about a foot length to help with some front to back stability. We made it safely back to the warm hut for our evening meal.
Friday. We pulled the pulka to Klivkok through relatively flat landscape of lakes and woods before making the steeper descent to our final destination. The mountain station here was very well equipped with a wonderful warden who told us about the geology of this interesting delta area. I would imagine a trip here in the summer with a kayak would be as good as it was with skis in the winter although actually it wasn’t winter despite the snow but the spring equinox. The lady in the shop told us that we had left a credit card and a sun glass case at the Aske hut about 75 km north of where we were. Instead of telling them to cut up the card another plan was hatched.We hired some powerful snowmobiles to collect the credit card! It would be a 150 km trip over the Kabla Mountains. I had only driven a snowmobile years ago and they have got faster! In the dark we hacked across a lake at about 50 kph to Kalle and Ilvers country retreat.
Saturday. Armed with about five SkiDoos we set off at a fantastic pace towards the Kabla Mountains. This was a bit of a treat as we had hoped to ski across them on our trip to Klivkok but ran out of time. Travelling at high speed, some were going at 120 kph, across fresh deep snow in deserted mountains is quite an experience. We reached Aske and once again met the lovely warden with weird shoes. Once the card was safely collected we headed up into the woods to make a fire for lunch. More on fire making and food later. We returned to hand back the snow mobiles and had a fine meal in their posh restaurant. It was soon to be over.
Sunday. We drove back to Umea ready to catch our night train back to Stockholm and then home. Thanks to Charlotte and Svarte for an amazing and educational week!