Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Sarek, Europe's last Wilderness.

 In truth there isn't much to Kvikkjokk, a campsite, a heliport, a church, a few houses and the Fjällstation that's about all. Hard to imaging I'd just taken two days, three flights, a two hour train and a four hour bus journey just to get here. I stayed all of five minutes just long enough to send a quick text home adjust my pack, get my bearings and go.
 I started off on the Kungsleden a marked trail that threaded a way through thick forest, well used and misused campsites just off the path. From the thick forest into an open wooded area of bogs and lakes, wide views of the hills ahead. The first river crossing, over twenty in all, boots off running shoes on trousers rolled up. Still higher a moorland zone dwarf willow and alder colourful flowers and reindeer lots of reindeer. Another river this one a wild raging torrent, a huge snow patch had bridged it but that had collapsed a few day before. Took me all morning to walk to the tarn at it's head here at last I could cross, evidence of recent glacial retreat all around.
 Back on the trail, over a ridge and down into the next valley, Njoatsosvágge – more river crossings. Up again into the Alpine zone this time, ridges and glaciers and moraine and bare rock. Jaw dropping Sáitaris and Ryggåsberget rise about a desolate plateau devoid of vegetation and nowhere to camp. Snow in the night and a blizzard by morning.
 Retreat to the valley and soaked crossing another river, lost my footing and fell in. The sun came out and I dried off walking along past the Njoatsos lakes. Another day and another river to cross, this one slow but deep. Feeling somewhat self concious, stark naked with a rucksack balanced on my head, I slowly waded in, the water came up to my chest. The next one was wild wide and fast white water, thigh deep and frightening. This took me to the Álggajávrre (jávrre = lake), I needed to be on the other side this meant crossing the out-flowing Miellädno river. On the map there's a bridge but it's not there on the ground, it's another 2.5km downstream. The sign on the bridge, in Swedish naturally, is quite clear even if you don't read Swedish. It says something like “DO NOT USE, BRIDGE UNSAFE”. I crossed it anyway, it's not safe.

 It finally stopped raining and the sky cleared next day as I romped along the lovely wide flat bottom Álggavágge into the heart of Sarek. And then the stream no longer flowed towards me but away from me, down into the next valley. Another river, the Guoperjåhkå, on my left flowed into the valley and further along I could see yet another, the Smájllájåhkå, where they all meet marks the start of the Rahpaädno river. The Smájllájåhkå enters the valley through the spectacular 2 – 300m deep Skárjá gouge.

 You hear the roar of the waterfalls long before you can see down into the gouge. It looked like a huge curtain of rock was hiding the river from view except for a tiny gap in the curtain where thousands of tons of water spewed out in a massive horizontal spray. Further upstream a waterfall had bored a hole through the rock leaving a great Gothic arch above and a boiling foaming cauldron of whitewater below. Still further upstream the whole river is forced through a narrow slot in the ground barely 5m wide, over this slot is the foot bridge.

 From Skárjá the path such as it is contours high above the river, above the treeline in the moorland zone. There are no made up or marked paths in the park, only the passage of others leaving a trail to show where they went. Ahead the view was of the wild river meandering around the foot of Låddebákte mountain. Behind of the sparkly white snow covered peaks. At Låddebákte the trail leaves the river and short cuts the big meander. Winding a way over and under huge rocky crags and zigzagging across steep scree slopes before climbing up to the beautiful Snávvájávvre set in a high Alpine meadow. Looking back at Skårvatjåhkkå a peak across the valley, a glacier spirals down it flanks. Running down the middle of the glacier is a ridge of lateral moraine, a moraine of bright red Iron ore.

Descending back to the river next morning a moose wades across a small lake on the far side. As I enter the woods the temperature soars well into the mid 30°C, not what you'd expect in the Arctic. Once in the woods the path became something far more abstract, you'd be following it all nice and dandy one minutes only for to disappear under a thicket or into a bottomless bog the next. This was a real wildwood it grew or didn't grow as it pleased no regimented lines of uniform trees here. When trees died they just fell, dead wood lay in heaps everywhere covered in the biggest most colourful fungi I think I've ever see. The river had obviously changed course many many time over the years as old dried up channels and ox-bow lake were all over the valley floor. The contrast between the serene pools and the thundering rapid of the river was stark.

I camped that night beneath an old nunatak called Lulep Spádnek right on the bank of the river. As the river was quite low at the time I was able to walk out near to the the middle of the channel and sit watching the flow until the mosquitoes drove me back behind the mesh of the tent. Next morning the path again did it's disappearing act so I returned to the river to walk down it dry banks. Only this time I found tracks. Two animals, one large and one smaller had wandered down the river turning over stones and digging in the sand. They were members of the dog family but domestic dogs aren't allowed in the park, and I didn't see anyone for the three day I was in the valley, but there are wolves. Not many, they're very shy and wary of people, they're as often as not shot at.

Further downstream is another nunatak called Nammasj at it's foot on a sandspit in the river sits a post with a plastic bucket on it, in the bucket a radio. I call Sonja-Ann for a pick up but she says she can't get up to Nammasj as the river is too low, so I'll have to walk. Below Nammasj the river enters the delta before flowing into Lájtávrre. On the north side of the delta is Skierffe who's south face rises in a spectacular 600m shear rock face. A mornings bushwhacking and I was standing on top of Skierffe. Peering over the edge the delta spread out before me, it looked like some abstract painting all blues and greens and other worldly quite fantastical. East of Skierffe is the Lappish village of Aktse on the shore of Lájtávrre, and it was here that I picked up the Kungsleden once again. This meant bridges over the rivers, board-walks over the bogs but also other people. Somehow after the solitude and wildness of Sarek I really resented having to share with others. Although once across Lájtávrre we were soon spread out and I didn't really see anyone again. I could have made Kvikkjokk in one long day but my bus/train wasn't for another two day so why rush. Mostly the walking was in thick forest and heavy rain but I was used to that by now.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Getting ready for Sweden.

Less than two weeks to go now getting very excited, I've more or less sorted out what's going in my pack and it weighs just under 18kg. Only thing to add to that is gas once I get to Lulea as you can't take it on aircraft. I'm taking a few things that I wouldn't normally carry, the most important being a Delorme inReach SE tracker so I can let people know where I am and that I'm alright. To charge this I've a small solar panel and a backup battery powered charger, these can also charge my phone. There's no phone signal out in Sarek but I can connect my phone to my inReach which makes writing/reading text messages much easier than using the tiny screen on the inReach. I'll also be using my phone as a GPS this time. I'd normally use a Garmin but the Garmin maps for Sweden cover the northern half of the country and cost £180, a bit overkill for what I want. Viewranger do a free map of the main Sarek Peak and £5 worth of tiles covered the rest of my route, quite a saving. On course I'll be taking paper maps as well, these are at 1:100 000 scale and printed on some very flimsy paper so I'm taking two. 
There are only a couple of bridges in an area about half the size of Scotland so I'm expecting to have to wade quite a lot. To help with this I'm taking a pair of fell running shoes, the idea is to take my boots, socks and possibly trousers off wade across wearing the running shoes and putting the dry stuff back on once across. The fell shoes will dry out much quicker than boots. My sleeping bag is now 25 years old and not as good as it once was, so I've got a new one which is slightly warmer than the old one. Actually the weather and temperature over there has been better than here in Scotland over the last couple of weeks. 
As I'll be solo there's not much point in taking rope and harness and I'm not going to carry an ice axe or crampons. Which means I'll have to keep off the glaciers and stick to the ridges but I think I'll have plenty to climb even without them. I'm still in a bit of a quandary as to which camera to take, I've a DSLR but it weighs a whooping 1.5kg, or I've a small waterproof compact, very light but doesn't have a very good lens. I did think about getting a small bridge camera but decided I couldn't afford it. So I think it will be the compact and accept that I won't get many stunning photo's.    

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

A bit of a road trip.

It's been a busy couple of weeks, first I went down to North Wales to visit my oldest sister Jenny. I spent three day with her and her partner Martin. Then I went over to the Bowline climbing club hut at Brynrefail near to the north end of Llyn Padarn. I had a nice walk around the lake, brought myself some new rock shoes and then managed to hit my head on a rock whilst bouldering on Lion Rock. I ended up with a nice red cut on my scalp, silly old fool. Next day I drove up to the Pen y Gwryd hotel and set off around the Snowdon houseshoe. Once-upon-a-time I'd have run it but this time it took me all my energy to walk it - it was an incredibly hot and humid day - well that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. 
After that I drove on, down to Devon in the deep south to my youngest brother Pete and his wife Ro. We walked up Ridders hill saw a very recently born Dartmoor foal and went climbing on the Dewerstone. Only the heavens opened just as we started pitch two of Colonel's Arete, lucky it was an easy climb.
Next day it was back on the road again, all the way back up to Scotland. A day at home and on up to Dundonnell for a friends birthday party at the Smiddy. Only I didn't quite make it, my car broke it's cam belt about five miles short of the hut. I won't bore you with the details but eventually the car went home and I did get to go to the ball. Three of us had a lovely walk and swim in the Fannich before the rest of the guests arrived. Then seven climbed An Teallach on a glorious day, the third time I've done it but the first time I've had any kind of a view from the top. Some of us found it easy, some found it hard someone thought they were about to die, but we all made it all the way around and had a lovely evening back at the hut.  

Saturday, 30 April 2016

August in Lapland.

The plan is coming together, flights booked, Edinburgh – London – Stockholm – Luleå ( on top end of the Gulf of Bothnia), and return. Accommodation for first and last night booked in Luleå. Train and bus journey from Luleå to Kvikkjokk and back, booked. That leaves me with fifteen days in the Arctic National Park of Sarek. Roll on August.

I'm not quite sure what I'll do once there, the maps aren't very detailed so I'm not sure just how difficult travelling around will be. There's a group of mountains just north of Kvikkjokk called Pårte which look good for some climbing. It's a small cirque around a glacier but looking at the map and some photo's it looks like I can avoid the ice. North again is Alkatj and Sarekjåkkå so plenty to go at.       

It's not over yet!!!

Three weeks ago the weather had the feel of spring about it, I thought the skiing season was over for this winter. How wrong was I? I text from a friend put the idea of a ski tour around Ben Macdui and Beinn Mheadhoin out for offers. How could I refuse?

 Starting out from Cairngorm ski centre up the Fiacaill a Choire Chais ridge.
Looking across to Braeriach from near Lochan Buidhe.
 Lynn at the summit of Ben Macdui.
Fantastic skiing down to Loch Etchachan.

 Skinning up Beinn Mheadhoin.
 Approaching the summit of Beinn Mheadhoin.
 Carry the skis across the River Avon.
The rough track up to "The Saddle".
Above the Ptarmigan for one last run down, long after the piste patrol had gone home.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Winter's end.

Winter started off very wet, here is what's left of the old road at Lynn of Quoich taken from the bridge. The river had diverted and now doesn't flow under the bridge at all, instead it's washed away a huge section of road.

 Snow in January allowed for some cross-country skiing in Glenmore forest, the owner of the Red Squirrel cafe has a track cutting machine and goes out when ever there's enough snow.
March sew some very good touring conditions, this is on Fiacaill a Choire Chais heading up to the Cairngorm plateau.

 The ESTC out in force.