I must be getting something's right, this time I flew Edinburgh to Stockholm direct missing out the hell-hole that is Heathrow. Just enough time for a quick sandwich and on to Luleå. Bus into town, walk around the corner and into the outdoor shop to get some gas. Then on to the Hotel Comfort Arctic for the night. The hotel is opposite the train station, so after a leisurely breakfast I just strolled over and onto the Narvik train, I take this as far as Gällivare. Then four hours on a bus takes me to the fjällstation at Ritsem on the north side of the huge Ahkkajaure lake. This time it all went like clockwork everything was on time and the times on the tickets I had matched the times the train and buses were actually working to, unlike last year.
Next morning the lake was rough, waves breaking over the top of the little ferry that took me across to the tiny settlement of Anonjálmme, in reality just a collection of summer cabins. There were three of us on the ferry one guy in running kit with just a small day pack, he ran off as soon as we landed. Another guy with a very big backpack and myself. It was luck the other backpacker was there as I very nearly slipped between the boat and the quay, he managed to grab me. He was heading down the Padjelanta trail and planned to be in Kvikkjokk in a weeks time. I had twice as long to get there and no fixed route. Between Anonjálmme and the mountain of Ahkká a short but extremely powerful river flows into Ahkkajaure, the Vuojatadno. I often like to watch whitewater river and try and imagine how I could kayak it, trying in my minds eye to pick the best route down. But not this river, the volume of water was so huge the power so intense that I couldn't even see how anyone could survive it, luckily there is a bridge. Once across a little blond haired toddler comes running up to me chattering away for all her worth in Swedish, when I answered - in English – she looked horrified, turned on her heels and fled.
I'd read that the moorland to the east of the hills was a good place to see wolves. Last year a pair had past by my tent in the night leaving footprints in the wet sand, but I've never seen them. I was trying to contour across the slope, something easier said than done. Go to low and you get ensnared in the willow thicket, harder to penetrate than a barbed wire entanglement. Get to high and it's all steep scree's and crags much of it snow covered. I spent a lot of time climb up hill only to have to descend again just a few metres further along. All the time the rain continued to fall, sometime in mid-afternoon I stumbled across a flat spot, probably the only flat spot I'd seen all day. A covenant stream flowed just a couple of metres away. In minutes the tent was up, water bladder filled, wet kit draped over the inner and the brew was on the stove.
Last year I'd used my Tarptent Notch a very light tent which uses trekking poles as it's main supports. Mostly it was fine but there were a couple of nights where the weather was getting near it limit. What would happen if the weather was worse than last year? This year I'd switched at the last moment to my old but much stronger Macpac Ultralite. Being stronger unfortunately meant to was also heavier, a kilo heavier. The groundsheet of the ultra is much wider than on the Notch but because of the way the back of the tent slopes there's less usable headroom, something that with all the sitting out bad weather was beginning to grate. The rain didn't let up at all and it was now getting windy, I went to sleep thinking maybe it was a good decision after all. In the end it never got that bad and the Notch would have been just fine.
A couple of kilometres further on from my campsite I came to the end of the north-east side of Ahkká. A big black cloud sat on the mountain right down to about the 1000m contour. The floor of the valley to the south of Ahkká was at 900m, between the two I could just about make out the way ahead. On the valley floor was a string of shallow lakes and marshes, mostly snow covered and frozen. Dozens of streams were pouring off of the flanks of Ahkká, from tiny trickles to ranging torrents. Somewhere at the other end of the valley away in the gloom was a couple of tarns and a col that lead on to the next section of my route. I trudge on, felling a bit like Titus Oats, rain getting into my waterproofs down the neck and up the sleeves, wet snow soaking and freezing my feet. Eventually I pass the tarns and cross the col, on the other side I can't see much but know there's a wide valley down there somewhere. Again I pitch camp early feeling quite pissed off. Next morning it's still raining, I start to pack but think “Sod it” and un-pack again get out my kindle and spend the day reading about the Flannan Isles lighthouse disaster of Christmas 1901. I went to sleep to the sound of rain falling on the tent fly, I woke to silence. Either I'd gone deaf or it's stopped raining at last.Now I could see, ahead of me were two big snowy mountains Gisuris, and Niják. From the valley between these two flowed a river, another one flowed down from between Niják and where I was where they joined together they formed a big wide turbulent whitewater river the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhká. Somehow I needed to get across this. Feeling much happier - san Goretex - I stroll down to the river and waisted a couple of hours trying to find the non-existence way across. Eventually I have to bite the bullet and hike the twelve kilometres down stream to the bridge and then twelve kilometres back up stream to get to a point two hundred metres away. It wasn't that bad, the sky was clearing it was getting warmer by the minute and the mosquitoes were still asleep. I'm concentrating on avoiding the boggy bits trying to find the easiest way through. I'm approaching the upper limits of the trees, all stunted, spindly, widely spaced birch trees and some dwarf willows. When I see something moving, something big, an Elk (that's a Moose to the Yanks) with massive antlers and a calf in tow is running towards me. I fumble with the camera, she disappears, then I see her peering out from behind some bushes. I raise the camera and she vanishes. How can that be? How can an animal half as big again as the average farm cow with great big antlers just vanish in such rubbish cove. I'm flabbergasted, I stand there scratching my head for a full five minutes but she long gone. I continue down to the bridge which is back on the Padjelanta trail, I've gone around in a big circle and am now only 15km from where I started. I go a couple of kilometres up the other bank before finding an idyllic camp. I spread all my wet things out to dry, set the solar charger up and for the first time on this trip sit out to cook and eat; bliss.
In the morning there were definitely more mosquitoes around, not enough to really bother, but definitely more than yesterday. When I crossed the river I also crossed from the Stora Sjöfallets national park into Sarek NP. The area between here and the Norwegian border is the Padjelanta NP just why they differentiate between the three I don't know on the ground their all just one big wilderness area. In Sarek there are no maintained paths and the few bridges there are are there for the Reindeer herders not walkers. Having said that the route up the south bank of the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhká is a popular route through the area so there is a faint path which makes the going a fair bit quicker. Soon I'm back opposite where I was trying to ford. There's an old Sammi hut here, made with a round base and a square top. The frame is made of logs with birch bark woven between the logs and then finished off with a covering of turf. Graffiti inside show a date of 1909, back then I think the Sammi were still nomadic. The wind has eroded away much of the turf leaving the frame exposed to the elements. It looked rather sad and forlorn, a monument to a bygone era.
That night I camped between Gisuris and Niják, again sitting outside the tent to eat but there's a few more mosquitoes about as it was getting warmer. There's a big ridge coming down from the summit of Gisuris down to a col just above where I camped then it goes up to a couple of small rocky tops. The big ridge is just a bit too steep and snowy to do alone and without ice axe etc. but the rocky peaks look much more do-able. I left the tent up and all the food and camping gear behind and set off with just a small day pack, oh the joy of not having that great big lump on your back. I quickly get onto the start of the ridge and look back at my little tent. Two people are standing near the tent, one goes up to it and bends down; then they leave. “Funny” I think, I guessed they were maybe checking whether there was anyone in the tent and was ok, but put it out of my mind and climb on. The two tops were just a little bit scrambley had to use my hands every now and then but mostly just a nice ridge walk. Big views to the south and west across Padjelanta all the way to the distant peaks of Norway, lots of snow that way. I Dropped off the summit down to a col between my peak and the main bulk of Gisuris, sidestepped the cornice and was back at the tent by mid-day. There on the grass by the tent door was a pair of binoculars, not mine, mine are Bushnell's these were Sliva. There wasn't much I could about them the couple were long gone. I can only assume they'd found them and thought they might be mine.
Ahead of me was a watershed, the river I'd come up – the Nijákjågasj – flowed back the way I'd come. The one I was approaching flowed away from me. It drain a large glacier bowl to the west (the right as I travelled) on the side of a mountain called Ruohtes. When the many braids of slit laden icy cold water came together they formed the Smájllájåhkå river. But first I had to cross each braid one at a time. None of them was much more than knee deep but the force of water against my leg was enough to keep me concentrating. After each crossing I had to empty the grit out of my shoes as it made walking painful. Just as I started crossing it also started to rain, just a shower, but it turned a lovely warm afternoon into a humid mosquitoefest. I tried camping by a large snow patch but it didn't really do much, I tried my head-net but it was far to hot under that. In the end I eat inside my cramped inner tent balanced on one elbow cursing the mozzies and wishing for a bigger tent. The route down the Ruohtesvágge (Rouhtes valley) following the Smájllájåhkå river is a popular one so the path was well worn and quick. Soon I was down at it's south end at the top of the truly amazing Skárjá falls, I try to video them but I'm no film maker. The falls drop about 200m over a kilometre down an often very narrow gorge, sometimes only 3m or 4m wide. At the bottom the Smájllájåhkå flows across a wide flat boggy valley floor, here it flows into another river – the Guohperjåhkå – together they now become the Ráhpa, the big river that effectively divides the park in two. Last year I'd taken the path down the true left bank of the river, this time I was going over to the pathless right bank, but first I had to get across. I followed the Guohper upstream for about 8km to a point where another river – the Algga – joins it. There's a good ford here I'd used last year. But this year the water was very high maybe a metre higher. Even though it was still early I decided to camp for the night and try early the next morning when water levels would hopefully be lower.I was away by six and the rivers were much lower, the Guohper can up to mid–thigh, the Algga was only calf deep. The rest of the day was spent wandering up and down the steep hillside between the willow thickets and scree slopes. By six that evening I'd only covered ten kilometres on the map but what felt like three times that over the ground. The mosquitoes were now beginning to get bad and it was hot maybe into the lower thirties Celsius. I camped that night on a rocky promontory over looking the river 300m below, thinking it would get any breeze there was. Only there was no breeze to be had, it was however a great viewpoint. I spent a long time just scanning the valley looking for any sign of the abundant wildlife that is said to live here, didn't see a thing.
Again I was up early, I left the tent up and set off up the hill behind my camp. An hours scrambling saw me up the steepest section and onto an easy angled snow slope. The snow was even at this time of day very soft, but ok to walk on. Higher it gave way to scree, here I was meet by a pair of fat fluffy white birds with black streaks on their wings. They were very defiantly defending their nest site, chirping away at the top of their voices. I took their photo and moved away, later I found out they were Snow Buntings. The hill I'd climbed was “point 1354” it was just the end of a scree ridge that flanked a glacial cirque. At the head of the cirque was a peak called Skårvatjåhkkå, the climb up to this peak looked to technical to solo but I could follow the ridge up to the hill next to it, point 1658. The going was quite easy, alternating scree and easy angled snow patches. I was romping along, taking photo's and just soaking it all up when a movement to my right caught my eye. I only got a glimpse of it but the unmistakable silhouette of an Eagle soared by. I also saw a heard of Reindeer plodding purposely up the middle of the glacier. Just what were they doing up here? Across the glacier a crumbling rock outcrop on the side of Skårvatjåhkkå had laid down a long line of moraine right down the middle of the glacier, the rock was pure Iron ore and the moraine was bright red. From the top of point 1658 I was able to look down to the col before Skårvatjåhkkå and there were the reindeer laying down in the snow cooling off.
Next morning was the eight day in a row that was hot and sunny after the wet start I could hardly believe it. South of where I was camped the river Ráhpa goes through a big meander around the base of a hill called Låddebákte on the other bank. The path on that side shortcuts the meander by crossing a col on the other side of Låddebákte. Another river – the Sarvesjåhkå – flows into the Ráhpa on the apex of the meander. The whole area around the river bend has a very remote feel to it, there are no paths down here. This section would be the crux of the trip, I had a succession of rivers to cross and any one of them could turn out to be my Rubicon. The first couple of hours were idyllic wandering along in the sunshine, keeping just above the willows. I look up and there are not one but two eagles, White tailed Eagles, lighter than Golden eagles almost grey with very distinct white tails. Then I came to the stream that drained the glacier I'd been on the day before. There was an island of river gravel in mid-stream, getting to that was easy. The stream on the other side was something else. I loosened my pack straps and stepped in, leaning heavily on my walking poles I got about five metres across with only three more to go, I couldn't feel bottom with my pole it's too deep, I back off. Try again just down stream, no better. I walk upstream and come to the base of a waterfall that issues fourth out of deep gorge, no chance there. I walk downstream, I try again and again, still no luck. Then I'm down by the main river – the Ráhpa – there's a gravel bar just before the stream flows into the river, the ground is less steep here so the stream should be just a little slower. I inch my way across, there's still power in the stream but it's not threatening to throw me off balance, it comes up over my knees but no further.
On the other side I try to eat but the mosquitoes are out, and not just normal mosquitoes. Here were some super mosquitoes, about 2cm long with yellow stripes. At first I thought they were wasps but they don't sting they bite with a proboscis just like normal mosquitoes. Their bites were really painful like a clegg bite, they actually drew blood. The only escape is to keep moving. An hour later another glacier stream flowing into the Ráhpa, again there's a gravel bar just before it flows into the river. This ones deeper, but less powerful so is easier to cross. Still I'm mobbed by mosquitoes. Now I'm walking along right next to the river on sand and gravel out of the trees, making good time until I come to the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå, which I followed upstream. The ground here is very boggy and the willows grow right up to the river banks, it feels more like the jungle than the Arctic. I find a ridge of river gravel, an old bank, it's dry and flat topped, I camped on it. The rain started just as I zipped up the tent and it lasted all night. I was therefore quite surprised to open up to sunshine in the morning, however everything was soaking wet, every bush, every leaf. I pushed on upstream looking for somewhere to cross, everything depends on getting over to the other side. On the other side two large streams flowed into the river, upstream of them the flow should have less volume, so should be easier to cross. That was my theory, but it didn't look like that from the bank. Then I came to a section where the river widened out into several braids, this had to be it. Normally I change my boots for trail shoes and roll up or take off my trousers for river crossings but now I was so wet with water audible sloshing about in my boots it didn't seem worth the effort. I just waded in, the first couple of braids went easily then I came to the main flow. About a hundred metres then a small gravel bar and then another forty metres, there was so much silt in the water I couldn't see the bottom so couldn't tell how deep it was. Straight away it was over my knee, then hip deep and finally up to my waist. The pressure against my legs was so strong I was being pushed backwards downstream with each step I took. Then I was being pushed back even when I stood still, the pebbles on the bottom were rolling under my feet. I couldn't stop where I was, I couldn't go back I was over halfway, so I kept going. I paused for breath on the gravel bar before plunging in again for the last stream, this was not quite as bad as the main flow. I was now on a big island mid-river, I couldn't see what was on the other side, luckily there was only a shallow backwater to cross. Despite the mosquitoes I sat on a rock in the sun for over an hour empting my boots, drying out and regaining some equilibrium, now I'd crossed the Rubicon there was no going back.
So, onward and upward. Climbing up through these natural forests is such a joy, seeing the vegetation change as you go up or down, so different from the man made woods in the UK. An hour later I'm at the timberline and making my way up into a long V-shaped valley. I'd crossed the river at about 600m, up at the head of this valley at 1400m there should be a pass into the next valley. There's no path, no sign anyone has ever been this way not even Reindeer tracks in the snow. I'm contouring steep scree slopes maybe 100m above the stream. It's a long straight valley but somehow I just can't quite see very far ahead, there's always a little rise blocking the view. Once you get to that rise there's another one just a short way ahead. Then there's snow bridging the stream, I kick steps up this “soon be there” I think, but each time I think this has to be the top there's another little bit to climb. By now the sun has disappeared and a cold mist descended, all the step kicking in wet boots had cooled my feet. I'm wriggling my toes trying to get some feeling back into them, “just where is the El Paso” I come to the end of the snow and it's all big blocky unstable scree, and then finally I'm there. No time to stop too cold for that. Down the other side, more blocky scree to wobble over. A couple of kilometres further I find a level-ish if not very flat patch of grass between two streams. In minutes I'm in my sleeping bag warming my feet.
More rain in the night and thick mist in the morning but it does start to lift as I pack. On one side the foot of a big glacier, on the other a rocky scree slope disappearing into the clagg. Somewhere down the valley around a corner out of sight a bridge is marked on the map, I head for it. Despite the colder weather there are still loads of mosquitoes the only way to avoid them is to keep moving. The valley floor is covered with moraines, not so long ago that glacier must have come all the way down. I climb over one moraine heap only to be meet with another, up down, up down. Still I can't see any bridge. I'm beginning to wonder whether it's been washed away, not unheard of around here. I climb another heap and there it is right under me. I'd planned to do another climb around here but not in this weather, so I had plenty of time. I camped just after the bridge even though it was still early. Next morning started with the last climb, just a few hundred metres over a saddle on the end of the mountain and then I'm looking down on the Sammi autumn cabins at Pårek. Beyond them the lakes and forest around Kvikkjokk. Once again I get soaked from walking through the wet forests but it doesn't matter now. I camped for the last time just a few kilometres form Kivikkjokk where my route meets the Kungsleden in a small clearing. And then the last walk down to the fjällstation and the end of the adventure.