An introduction to packrafting in Sarek national park

What the Brooks Range in Alaska means for packrafters in America, does Sarek National Park in Swedish Lapland for packrafters in Europe. Although I immediately have to put this statement into perspective. First of all, Sarek is a very small mountain area only compared to the Brooks Range, so the possibilities are not infinite here to what it may seem in Alaska. The area is not big enough to contain a river that can be paddled for many days in a row. And secondly, Sarek national park has regulations for visitors that will become more strict in the near future and will affect packrafting in the park drastically.

Sarek 2008
Rapaselet in the Rapadalen valley. Packraft porn, isn’t it? However, all you see in the photo is actually prohibited to float!

A few months ago someone pointed me to these new regulations that will be imposed by the park staff starting on January 1st 2015. These new regulations prohibit to bring any type of watercraft into the park (see paragraph 4§ point 8.) which in other words means that packrafting will be totally illegal in Sarek over two years. This year and next year packrafting is still allowed, except on the Rahpaädno river downstream of the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå river as can be derived from the current regulations.

Over the last year I’ve quite often received questions about the packraft possibilities in the park. It seems there will be a lot of packrafters over there this summer and undoubtedly also the summer after. You still have two chances to inflate your packraft in Sarek and paddle on its rivers legally, so I would say take your chance before it is too late!

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Rapadalen forms the main valley in Sarek.

The best time for packrafting in Sarek is definitely the first half of the summer (end of June and July) when water levels are usually high from the snow melt, resulting in extensive packraft possibilities. As the summer progresses into August, most of the snow in the mountains disappears and water levels gradually drop significantly to lower levels, apart from a few short episodes after abundant rainfall which always remain possible. During the month of September the average river discharge then keeps decreasing.

Rapaädno discharge

In the above graph you can see daily mean, maximum and minimum discharges of the Rahpaädno river in Sarek national park at the Litnok cabin (that is just upstream of the mountain Námmasj) measured during the period 1916-1945. During the last century Swedish explorer Axel Hamberg mapped the region for the Swedish government and installed a device overthere in the river to daily measure the water level. This graph is a result of his spadework.

I’ve only visited the park with my packraft during late August and September and have always met low water levels except from one short episode of high water after two days of heavy rain. From my experience I can say that only the Ráhpajåhkå / Rahpaädno river remains enjoyable during lower water. I’ve also paddled other rivers but these were not as enjoyable due to many portages that were needed at these limited flows. Yet as I keep being asked about the rivers, I will give a description of the rivers in the two biggest watersheds in Sarek as I have experienced them in my packraft and will give an estimate of the whitewater rating at average water levels (let’s say for what is average in July).

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Ahkajåhkå river in the Alggavagge valley.

Please don’t interpret this post as an encouragement to continue with packrafting illegally in Sarek after 2014. That is not my intention here! Furthermore, please keep in mind that the character of all rivers can vary greatly depending on the flow rate. So keep the whitewater ratings here only as a guideline to begin with. Hence my description may differ greatly from what you can experience at a different river discharge. Therefore I am obviously not responsible for any errors nor any negative consequences that may result from paddling any river based on my descriptions.

That all being said, I hope this post may still be helpful for anyone who plans to take its packraft to Sarek during the next two summers. And it would off course be appreciated if you could give your feedback after paddling a river. Best is to have Google Earth on your computer screen zoomed in to the specific river and the BD10 hiking map in front of you when following my descriptions. Most rapids can be recognized in Google Earth.


1) Ráhpaädno watershed

  • Smájllájåhkå (13km): class II becoming class III ending in a canyon that needs a portage.

The Smájllájåhkå river is the queen of all braided rivers in Sarek. It drains the meltwater of the Ruohtesjiegna glaciers and then mainly runs southeast through the Ruohtesvagge valley to change its name into Ráhpajåhkå at the confluence with the Guohperjåhkå river in the head of the Rapadalen valley. Its water is very opaque which makes it impossible to spot the river bottom, even in shallow water.

Sarek 2008
River Smájllájåhkå in the Ruohtesvagge valley seen from the ridge of Kantberget.

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The braided Smájllájåhkå during autumn, shallow and milky.

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Many silt banks are encountered in the upper part of the river.

Under the face of the mountain Gavelberget, about 3 to 4km downstream from the glacial tongue of Oarjep Ruohtesjiegna, is usually a good spot to put in. You could probably start further upstream at high water levels, but the speed of the water flow in the braided channels is usually very high here. For the following 10km the river has a strong braided silt river bed with a relatively slow current and only contains a few easy class II rapids. Best time is to packraft at higher water levels since in case of low water you will get stuck on silt banks too often.

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Smajllajåhkå river seen from Jållok (1501m).

Sarek 2008
Lower part of the river seen from the ridge of Gavabakte.

After about 10km, under the face of the mountain Jållok, the river suddenly becomes a fast and almost continuous class II-III single channel with moderate gradient and rock gardens. At the Mikkastugan cabin the river throws itself over several waterfalls into a dangerous canyon. Be aware to put out in time before the entrance of the canyon if you choose to run the whitewater till Mikkastugan. The canyon can be portaged along both sides. A permanent footbridge is constructed over the canyon at the Mikkastugan. From the end of the canyon the river slows down and starts to braid again (class I). A put in is possible just at the end of the canyon. Not much further the Guohperjåhkå river joins from the west and the name of the stream changes into Ráhpajåhkå.

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The whitewater just upstream from the canyon near Mikkastugan.

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The Smajllajåhkå throws itself into the canyon at Mikkastugan, Sarektjåhkkå (2089m) mountain in the background.

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The Skarja footbridge spans the canyon at the Mikkastugan.

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Put-in spot at the end of the canyon.

  • Guohperjåhkå (2km): class I

This tributary joins the Smájllájåhkå to form the Ráhpajåhkå south of Mikkastugan. The river shows a very varied character over its course, from waterfalls over swift braided parts and a narrow canyon to a slightly meandering section between swamps in the head of the Rapadalen valley. Only the last 2km of the river in Rapadalen is packraftable and worth a put in when coming from the west on foot. Afterwards you can continue over Ráhpajåhkå.

Sarek 2008
The Guohperjåhkå river meanders between pools at the valley bottom of Rapadalen to join the braided Smájllájåhkå and give birth to the Ráhpajåhkå river. Mountain Bierikbakte (1789m) in the background.

  • Ráhpajåhkå (8.5km): Class I

Wide braided river bed with slow to swift current and few shallow channels. A few class II rapids may appear at higher water levels, otherwise there are no rapids worth mentioning. This part is in my opinion the most scenic packraft section in the entire park! This section ends under Spökstenen (indicated on the BD10 hiking map) where the braided channels suddenly join into a single channel and the river its name changes from Ráhpajåhkå to Ráhpaädno.

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Ráhpajåhkå river down Rapadalen valley seen from the Snavavagge.

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The river has a wide channel and many smaller braids.

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The braided work of mother nature.

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The mouth of Tjågnårisjågåsj creek into Rahpajåhkå river, Bierikbakte (1789m) in the background.

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End of the Rahpajåhkå section in the center left of the photo where the braids join again into a single channel. Sarvesvagge and Gådok mountains in the background.

  • Upper Ráhpaädno (6km): Class II with a short Class III rapid

The upper Ráhpaädno starts under Spökstenen where all channels join into a single channel and ends at the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå river. The current suddenly increases at the start of the single channel. Rocks appear in the river bed resulting in frequent class II whitewater.

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First part of the Upper Rahpaädno river with some easy whitewater, the valley slope towards the Snavavagge in the background.

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Rocky river bed of the Rahpaädno under Låddebakte. At this spot I started my portage around the class III rapid.

A class III rapid is encountered after about 2km under a couloir in the face of the mountain Låddebákte, where several boulders have slid into the river bed. This rapid can be easily located from the river if you keep an eye on the couloir in the face of Låddebákte. Finding a place to put out before the rapid might be somewhat difficult at strong water flow, but you should manage to find a place to put out at either side otherwise. Make a short portage around the rapid and search for a place to put in behind it (you can try to run the rapid after scouting if you feel really confident).

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The short class III rapid of the upper Rahpaädno under Låddebakte at low water levels. The river is in reality bigger than it looks on the photo. Keep the birch trees in the background as reference.

Then a wide rock garden follows about 300m behind the rapid near the mouth of Jågåsjgaskajågåsj creek (now try to pronounce that correctly) which can be too shallow at lower water levels to pass through fluently. Afterwards the river splits up again in a few braids, the current gradually slows down and the difficulty level decreases gradually to class I near the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå river.

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The river makes a few braids again while gradually slowing down towards the Sarvesjåhkå confluence.

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At the confluence with Sarvesjåhkå.

  • Rapaselet and lower Ráhpaädno: Class I becoming Class III

The entire river is forbidden to float downstream from the confluence with the Sarvesjåhkå regarding the actual park regulations. Hence I will not make any further detailed description here (I have only ferried the river here a few times and ran a short section), but if you still choose to float here be especially aware of the Class III canyon that follows after Rapaselet where a portage is necessary. Afterwards the river contains some more albeit short class III rapids.

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Rapaselet seen from Kanalberget (1937m).

Sarek 2008
Rapaselet is what now remains from an ancient glacial lake in the Rapadalen valley. The river has filled the lake with sediments and now turquoise channels swing between shallow silt banks that come above water at low water levels.

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Start of the class III canyon downstream from Rapaselet.

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Rapadalen and lower Rahpaädno river with the isolated mountains Nammasj (823m) and Tjahkkelij (1214m).

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Fast current on the lower Rahpaädno after heavy rain.

  • Laitaure delta (7.6km): flat water

Below the isolated mountain Nammásj, the Ráhpaädno exits the park borders and is allowed to float again through its delta at the mouth into lake Laitaure. The river splits up into three main channels and several more smaller channels through the delta. Choose the middle channel when water levels are low as the right and left channel become too shallow. When there is a sufficient water flow through the delta, choose the right main channel if you want to join the Kungsleden trail to the south from the southern shore of Laitaure. Choose the left one if you aim for Aktse and the Kungsleden to the north. The left channel splits up into several smaller channels towards the end and so might make orientation difficult. Pay attention to the wind if you would take the middle channel as sudden strong winds can bring you into troubles more easily on the lake since you will have to paddle a longer distance to reach the shore of the lake from the mouth of the channel.

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The Laitaure delta filling up with new sediments at higher water and lake Laitaure in the background. You can clearly see the river split up into its three main channels.


2) Sijdoädno watershed

  • Guhkesvákkjåhkå (15km): class II with short class III rapid at the footbridge

The river becomes packraftable south of the Gássaláhko plateau where Várdasjåhkå river joins from the west. For the first 3.5km the river contains frequent dense rock gardens. At lower flows most of these rock gardens have to be portaged as there is no passage through them (they might be passable over the water at high water but I have no confirmation yet). If you prefer a fast progression through the valley you can better skip these rock gardens and put in behind the latest rock garden just upstream from the isolated hill Sarekvarasj.

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The point where Várdasjåhkå joins Guhkesvakkjåhkå.

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Shallow flat water connected by short rock gardens that you might need to portage.

After the latest rock garden near Sarekvarasj the river remains flat with a slow current and absence of obstacles for about 5km until the next rock garden (at the mouth of the creek Lulep Sarekjågåsj). After this class II rock garden a flat braided section follows. Almost 2km further downstream, rock gardens are interspersed with short sections of flat water. I was able to find a passage through all the rock gardens till the footbridge at low water levels, except from one where a portage was necessary. At the footbridge the river shows a short rocky class III rapid and splits up in several smaller rocky channels afterwards which only seem possible to run at higher water. I think it is a good decision to start a portage to lake Liehtjitjávrre from just before the bridge if you would like to continue on the Sijddoädno river.

Sarek 2008
The river contains more rock gardens closer to the bridge.

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The class II rocky river bed of Guhkesvakkjåhkå just before the footbridge.

Sarek 2008
The footbridge with the class III rapid.

  • Sijddoädno (17km): class III with a class IV canyon

The outflow of lake Liehtjitjávrre at its northeast side forms the Sijddoädno river. This river is the second largest in Sarek after Ráhpaädno and is a mixed mess. It contains many rock gardens and best packraft possibilities are hence at high water levels. You should avoid the river in case of low water, even though I have paddled a large part of it at low water, I can not say it was quite enjoyable. Over the first 3km the river actually consists of a wide rocky channel connecting small lakes with each other. Three dense rock gardens are encountered which all need a portage at low water. The first rock garden after one kilometer has a height drop of several meters with whitewater pressed through sieves and pillows in a narrow channel between the rocks. This rock garden is best portaged along the left side. I think the other two rock gardens should not pose a major thread at higher water.

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The Sijddoädno river between the second and third rock garden.

900m behind the third rock garden (and after almost 3km from the lake), the river increases speed, rapids appear and a bit further the river then throws itself into a shallow canyon with a class IV rapid to flow into the lake Guordesluoppal afterwards. A long portage is necessary here to the lake to avoid the canyon.

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Start of the shallow class IV canyon.

From the outflow of this lake the river bed remains very rocky with several class II-III rapids of which the latest ones (you can easily recognize them in GE) towards lake Sitojaure should be portaged or at least scouted from the shore. The river finally flows into the lake Sitojaure through a small delta. The continuation of the river after Sitojaure lies outside the park.

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The rocky Sijddoädno above lake Sitojaure.

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Lake Sitojaure (630m) and the delta of Sijddoädno river.


3) Other watersheds

All other rivers I’ve already tried in Sarek did not have enough water flow to continue over a long section. Still I think the following rivers might provide opportunities when water levels are higher:
Suottasjjåhkå, Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå, Sierggajåhkå , Sjpietjavjåhkå, Guohperjåhkå, Låvdakjåhkå, Låddejåhkå, Alggajåhkå, Alep Sarvesjåhkå, Miellädno, Njoatsosjåhkå, Sarvesjåhkå and Bierikjåhkå. So that is still a lot! If you ran any of these rivers, I would love to hear your experiences.

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Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå river at very low autumn discharge. Mountain Nijak (1922m) in the background.

Sarek 2008
The Njoatsosjåhkå river with the Bårdde mountains in the background. This river is the third biggest in Sarek.

And now not all at once to Sarek! :-)

Hochschwab-Salza loop trip planning

Diurnal instability triggering daily thunderstorms, the airmass in the boundary layer moist enough to keep the base of cumulus clouds low enough, often obscuring the mountain summits in fog, temperature at 1500m around a warm +11°c during the first few days with till Thursday 30 to 60mm of precipitation calculated over the mountains by the ECMWF model. That seems to be the weather I may expect on a traverse of the Hochschwab massif during next week, a limestone mountainous plateau in the east of the Austrian Alps. On Thursday a coldfront passage is expected giving lots of rain, possible snow at the end over the highest summits. Afterwards the 850hPa temperature of the operational run, although the ensembles plume is diverging significantly by that time, drops to slightly above freezing. Might become cold towards the end of the trip even though that remains premature to consider as a certainty at this point.

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Packed for the Hochschwab-Salza loop.

This forecast may sound discouraging to many. To me it sounds very exciting! It’s been a long time I have had such unstable weather on a trip. I like thunderstorms in the mountains even though it demands special safety considerations while planning the trip beforehand and while out on the terrain. I will start the 8 day loop on the Salza river with my packraft. The river has some beautiful canyons with up to class III white water. I will put out on the second day before the hardest part on the river near Palfau and then hike back over the mountains with a traverse of Hochschwabs summit itself (2277m) if conditions permitting. Winter has been snow rich, higher then average, but the recent warm temperatures have made things evolve rapidly when looking at the local webcams (Wildalpen with Salza river in the valley, Tauplits Alm at 1656m, Bergstation Polster at 1800m). The big question: carry snowshoes or leave them home? The only pair of snowshoes I own are 25inch MSR Lightning Ascents. That’s in general too big for spring snow and I will probably not walk on snow for at least about 60% of the hiking distance. The absence of night frost and all the rain will keep compacting the snow. If the snow has become portable enough I can done the snowshoes. Will assess the conditions just before starting the trip and decide what to do best.

Will be continued…

Pinhole repair

Recently on a trip on the Ourthe Orientale river, I got a small hole, about 15mm wide, ripped in the floor of my packraft. The damage already occurred about 200m on the river after the put-in. I’m quite sure I didn’t hit a rock but that it was a metal rod or something instead. I had my camera tripod stashed on the floor of my raft between my legs and this sure was the cause for the occurrence of the leak in the collision as the rod bumped against the tripod and pinned the hole in the floor. Besides the leak, there are also long scratches carved in the floor around the leak. If I didn’t kept my tripod on the floor inside the raft, chances were high I only had some scratches and not an additional leak. Again a lesson learned. Upon closer inspection I even noticed I had two leaks, the second one being very small.

Untitled

I’ve repaired the leaks and the scratches with Aquaseal by the method described by Alpacka Raft. The pinholes got a thicker layer of Aquaseal on top. This movie also shows the rejuvenation method by Alpacka Raft. An almost pinhole on the tube now also received a thin layer of Aquaseal.

A small additional note: Mcnett’s Aquaseal is sold in Europe under the name Aquasure. You can easily find it at scuba diving shops like this one for example or you can try the alternative Stormsure glue from Packrafting store. When the repair is done, store the tube in the freezer or use it further to reinforce the seams on your new trailrunners. ;-)

My Llama is ready again to re-enter the water and that should happen already next week in the Austrian Alps!

A new look

Today it’s already a bit more than two years when I changed my blog into this English version and yet it seems like yesterday. Yet I found it was time now to make some changes to the blog, especially its look. I was bored with the old theme and I noticed that more and more other blogs have showed up with just the same blog theme, so I even got bored faster with the look of my own blog.

Hulle
Hulle stream in the Ardennes, May 2008.

I’m sticking with wordpress. Since I’m not a hero at all in dealing with computer nerdy stuff I will keep using what I’ve become familiar with. The blog has now a wider and flexible width and new posts will from now on contain larger sized images compared to all the previous posts as long as you watch the site in a wide window.

Houille
Taking a swim in the Houille river, May 2008.

Gear related posts have remained scarce so far, so I’ve also made the decision to start writing more about gear related stuff instead of focusing almost exclusively on trip reports. I’m not really the person who is very hard on its gear I must say, so I think it will be a challenge to find a good balance between the positives and all the failures, but I think it will go without saying. Concerning trip reports, I will still occasionally keep writing about old trips from years ago just like I’ve been doing from the beginning. I can really enjoy looking back at my brash years with an associated amount of nostalgia. So stay tuned!

The Peel watershed packraft trip: an upcoming talk

It’s about time to make an announcement! On Sunday February 24 I’ll give a visual presentation about my last summer trip, 40 days solo hiking and packrafting in the Peel watershed in Canada’s Yukon Territory. This presentation will take place on the Reismarkt travel firm in Bruges, organized by Wegwijzer. During one hour I will tell stories about my encounters with grizzly bears (yes there have been a few) and other wildlife, about the ridge walks in the Wernecke mountains and the Taïga ranges, about the dangerous passages through Aberdeen and the Peel canyons on the Peel river, about all the cold nights waiting for the northern lights and about the problematic head winds on the lower Peel for days in a row and so on, all this while showing lots of photos and video material. In case you might have missed, you can already see a small selection of photos from the trip in the earlier post Protect the Peel and first pics.

My own presentation at the firm will be preceded by an “introduction to packrafting”, a short presentation given by Willem Vandoorne and myself. We will bring our packrafts and inflate them on the firm so anyone who’s interested and not yet into packrafting can even touch the toys.

Now I have to confess that I have not found the time yet to write more about my Yukon trip here on my blog but I hope to finally make that change in the upcoming weeks.

For now you can watch this short movie I already made about the trip, showing some short impressions while on the move. Enjoy the movie and maybe see you next month in Bruges!

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Down Aberdeen canyon.