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.