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