After 48 hours on trains and busses I finally arrived in the small village Kvikkjokk in Swedish Lapland south of the Laponia wilderness. It was around sunset and getting dark on this evening, one day after the March equinox. No single sign of human life was noticeable in the village. I immediately prepared my pulk, put my skis on and left the village in northeast direction over the Kungsleden trail.
This famous long distance trail turns into a snow scooter track during the winter and is easy and fast to follow on skis. I skied about 5km in the dark under the stars till I encountered an open spot in the forest. Here I pitched the tent in the snow and went to sleep. A few times I looked outside through the tent door to see if there would be northern lights active but the moon and the stars were all that remained visible in the night sky.
During the morning my outdoor watch was showing -12°c inside the tent. I stowed everything back into my pulk and continued with skiing northeastward over the Kungsleden trail. The Bårdde mountain massif made the horizon in the north. Today I wanted to reach the foot of the mountains in Sarek. Sarek national park counts one of the most desolate mountain terrain in the whole of Scandinavia and that’s the area through which I now wanted to make a crossing on this winter trip.
Few kilometers farther I arrived on the frozen lake Stuor Dahta. Here I left the Kungsleden behind and entered the taiga forest north of the lake to climb through the forest to the Pårek plain in the south of Sarek.
Progression became immediately very slow. I sagged till my thighs in the soft powder snow which is so typical in the taiga forests. I almost never saw my skis except from the tips. My pulk was drifting behind me through the snow, often buried in the white mass. It was difficult to find a good way up through the forest. The climb through the forest was only 2km long but it took me four hours to cover it.
After hours I reached the tree line and the snow immediately changed composition. A hard snow deck covered the tundra hills of Lulep Vardo and I could make fast progression by now. I climbed till the ridge of the hill where I had a fantastic view over the surroundings and on the southern mountains of Sarek.
After descending the hill I crossed the Pårek plain in a pretty fast speed. North of the plain I reached the foot slope of the Bårdde mountain massif. An abandoned summer Sami settlement is located on the foot slope where I found a turf hut where I could sleep at night.
I collected firewood from the scattered birch around the settlement and made a campfire in the hut. But then something unexpected happened inside the hut. At a certain moment my Petzl head lamp fell open and the batteries fell into the fire, immediately exploding. This was a serious setback since my head lamp was the only light source I had with me on the trip. How would I be able to find my stuff inside the tent at night? The disaster made me feel a bit anxious and I told myself to stop early enough before dusk each evening from now on to have enough time to pitch the tent in the remaining daylight.
The next morning the weather remained perfect. An exhuberant winter sun rose above the Pårek plain. I climbed over the southern foot slope of Bårdde into the valley south of the mountain Bårddetjåhkkå. Here I left my pulk and skis behind between some boulders and took my backpack on my back to start climbing towards the summit of Bårddetjåhkkå on my snowshoes. I had the tricky plan to pitch the tent on the summit of Bårddetjåhkkå and spent a night on the mountain if weather permitting. Two years earlier I had spent a night on the summit on an autumn trip through Sarek but did not saw any northern lights during that night. Since I found the summit panorama so overwhelming from this mountain, I had said to myself that night to keep returning to this mountain until I would see the northern lights from its summit.
The slope towards the summit of the mountain was not very steep and therefore perfectly feasible in winter. The view from the summit on all the other Sarek mountains and the taiga plains in the south is still one of the most beautiful summit panoramas I have ever seen.
Conditions remained perfect when I arrived on the summit. There was only a weak breeze and sky clear. Despite the favorable conditions I pitched the tent as secure as possible. By studying the weather forecast at home I knew the weather would probably deteriorate during the next morning.
My Hilleberg Soulo pitched on the summit of Bårddetjåhkkå (2005m) with a beautiful view of the Sarek mountains in the background. The air was so clear I could see the Lofoten Islands rising out of the low clouds over the Norwegian Sea.
Looking in northern direction from the summit of Bårddetjåhkkå onto Ahkka (2015m) 46km away in Stora Sjöfallets national park, the mountain which is also called the queen of Laponia by the Sami people. More in the foreground you can recognise the Sarek mountains Kanalberget (1937m) on the left with the summit of Nijak (1922m) just visible behind and on the right Dielmatjåhkkå (1659m), Axel Hambergs topp (1821m) and the western summit of Suottasjtjåhkkå (1822m).
During the night I woke up to search for the aurora and they appeared! It was -21°c and a moderate breeze from the west felt icy cold. I enjoyed the dancing curtains over the arctic mountains while jumping and sweeping with my arms to prevent shivering from the cold. Few hours later the night sky became entirely black again and I jumped back into my tent. During the rest of the night I could not find a good nights sleep anymore. I felt the cold reaching my body through the air mattress. The winds were further increasing towards the end of the night and when I got out of the tent around sunrise the wind was increased to stormy speeds. Low clouds were visible in the south but it was still clear above me and over the remaining Sarek mountains. When I broke up the tent everything changed at an alarming speed. In just one hour of time the low clouds reached Bårdde and I disappeared into a white out on the mountain, the winds increased to storm speed. I knew I had to be as fast as possible now so I did not take a breakfast.
I descended the mountain as fast as I could and made a pause in the lee side of the steel cabin on the ridge below the summit. Here I ate a quick breakfast and soon continued descending into the valley. Meanwhile it began to snow. Down in the valley I descended under the cloud base and could see the surroundings again, but all mountains were now hidden in the clouds. The winds were less heavy down here even though snowfall continued. I picked up my skis and pulk and started to ski towards the Njoatsosvagge over the mountain pass of Sähkok where I temporary disappeared into the white out again.
Descending down into the Njoatsosvagge went fast. I had to ski in zigzags most of the time, otherwise I would gain too much speed and that would be unsafe as my ski techniques were not yet that experienced. On the valley floor of the Njoatsosvagge it started to snow harder and the wind seemed to increase again. I met a lot of snow fowls, loudly flying out of the snow deck whenever my presence felt too threatening for them.
I pitched my tent against a rock wall on the edge of the valley floor where the canyon of the Luohttojåhkå creek runs from the Luohtolahkko mountain plateau into the valley. This way I was a bit sheltered against the wind gusts which were rushing from the Luohtolahkko plateau down over the slope into the valley.
The next day it remained snowing for a long time. Around noon the snowstorm ceased and it became quiet quickly with virtually no wind anymore. I skied into the Luohttojåhkå canyon which would lead me to the Luohtolahkko mountain plateau. The fresh layer of snow and a lot of powder snow had been accumulated in the canyon, blown here by the winds from the plateau. To my surprise the creek in the canyon was not frozen everywhere. I met a few tricky passages in the canyon where I had to find a way to pull my pulk over a slope above spots of open water.
Higher up the canyon turned into an open V-shaped valley until I could ascend out of the valley over the slope and reach the plateau. But this was not easy orientation wise as a layer of fog was now covering the plateau. I did not see anything. Everything was white. The snow and the sky before me were just one equal white display for my vision. I tried to stay on track with help of my GPS and compass. Later I climbed out of the fog and reached a hill in the middle of the plateau. This was an impressive place.
A wall of white mountains bordered the vast plateau where a trail of footprints of a wolverine was the only sign of life in this arctic winter wilderness. The weather improved so I decided to climb Nåite, an isolated mountain with a rounded summit bordering the Luohtolahkko plateau in the northeast. I left my pulk behind on the plateau and saved its position as a waypoint on my GPS. Then I climbed Nåite on snowshoes and made another summit bivouac. A layer of fog invaded the Luohtoloahkko plateau below at dusk while I tried to anchor the tent as secure as possible. The only reason I pitched the tent again this high was to get another spectacular view of the northern lights, but things did not evolve as I hoped that night.
During the morning I awoke in a white out, light snowfall and increasing wind, but a next real snowstorm did not look to be on its way. I broke up the tent, descended the mountain and found my pulk and skis again on the plateau. Now I had to leave the Luohtolahkko plateau and descend into the Sarvesvagge. The only spot where this is possible during winter is through the Noajdevagge, a small canyon like side valley of the Sarvesvagge. From my earlier summer trip in Sarek I knew there is only one narrow strip on the valley slope where I could make a safe descent from the plateau down the valley. At other places the valley slope is too steep and avalanche danger too high. Reaching this only spot with help of my GPS was easy in the white out, but skiing down the slope on deep powder with a pushing pulk in my back was another story. Because it is only over a narrow strip that the slope is not too steep for a winter descent, I had to ski down in zigzags. Making a sharp turn with a pulk is not possible so I gained a lot of speed in each turn. Besides that, there was no possibility to orientate in the white out which made keeping equilibrium an impossible task for me. I fell several times and one time my pulk got twisted behind me. Luckily this slope was not that long and soon I could ski downward over the narrow valley bottom with ease. A reindeer herd had chosen the valley to search for food under the snowdeck. They were probably left aside by the Sami as the mountains of Sarek are not supposed to be their winter grounds.
On the lower part of the Noajdevagge the river ran into a canyon with too many passages of steep ice and open water rapids in the river that were too dangerous to pass along. I had no choice than to search a way to pull my pulk out of the canyon as moving over the river became too dangerous. I succeeded with much effort. Further down the slope I reached the valley bottom of the wide Sarvesvagge, one bigger valley in Sarek and also one of the least frequented during the summer season. I was now below the cloudbase and could see the lower part of the valley. By skiing eastward I reached Rapadalen, the big main valley inside Sarek, where I pitched the tent in the birch forest. During the night the following snowstorm arrived, throwing a load of drifting snow on the tent with each wind gust and that kept me out of sleep for a long time at night.
It took till the afternoon the next day until the sun appeared. The wind however remained blowing strong. I decided to explore the slopes of Rapadalen on snowshoes and to wait till tomorrow to move on.
The next day I skied upstream over the frozen Rahpaädno river in Rapadalen. Skiing over the ice went faster than through the powder in the birch forest on the valley floor. Around noon I left Rapadalen behind me and climbed over the valley slope to the wide saddle of the Pielastugan under the huge face of mountain Bierikbakte (1789m). Footprints of a fox led me to the frozen Bierikjavrre mountain lake. After crossing the lake I was heading for the hill Vuojnesvarasj and had to cross the frozen river Bierikjåhkå. Something unexpected took place while I crossed the river ice. The ice started to crack and before I really realized what was going on I immediately started to ran to the other side of the river to get rid of the collapsing ice. The ice collapsed under the pressure of my weight but by moving as fast as could I could save myself from sinking too deep into the water. My pulk however was floating behind me like a boat on the water between the broken ice. Once on safe ground on the riverside the ski bindings immediately froze solid and sticky ice formed on the skins as well as under the pulk. It was a hard work to get my boots out of the bindings with help of my knife and then scrape all the ice from the skins and the bottom of the pulk with my snow shovel.
Hard work or not, I realized I had been lucky. By sinking deeper in the river water the consequences could have been much worse. One lesson learned: never cross a river downstream from a lake. Warmer water from under the lake ice seems to stream into the river which prevents the formation of thick river ice immediately downstream from the lake outlet.
On Vuojnesvarasj I searched a sheltered spot to pitch the tent. It was snowing again during almost the entire night. During daytime I waited for the weather to improve and during the afternoon it even became sunny and quiet again which made me decide to climb Vuojnestjåhkkå. And why not take the tent with me to the summit. I searched my way to the summit over the long and wide east ridge of the mountain which never becomes steep to be dangerous. On the summit I could admire another spectacular winter panorama. I studied the weather which remained pretty fine and decided to give it a try. So eventually I pitched the tent before dusk on the hard snow just below the summit ridge of the mountain. At sunset I went to sleep and decided to wake up at least once every hour to check for the northern lights to appear and to keep an eye on the weather evolution. Conditions can change very quickly in the arctic mountains and I wouldn’t get surprised by a snow storm in the middle of the night. A full moon rose above the mountains and gave me a lot of helpfull light at night since my head lamp was still useless without any spare batteries.
View over the Vuojnesjiegna glacier with the mountains Spijkka (1976m), and Sarektjåhkkå Sydtoppen (2023m), Bucht-toppen (2010m), Stortoppen (2089m) and Nordtoppen (2056m) from halfway on the east ridge of Vuojnestjåhkkå.
On the secondary summit of Vuojnestjåhkkå with view onto the main summit (1952m) and with Sarektjåhkkå Sydtoppen (2023m), Bucht-toppen (2010m), Stortoppen (2089m) and Nordtoppen (2056m) visible behind.
Deeper into the night the green glow appeared in the sky, not very active but I was happy enough to admire yet another aurora night from a mountain summit. I did not feel so comfortable about the weather evolution though when looking at the sky in the southwest. Lens shaped lenticularis clouds appeared over the mountains overthere and grew into larger proportions. I was hesitating at first but than made the decision to listen to the rules I had set myself each time I would make such a bivouac on a mountain summit. Whenever hesitating about the weather evolution, just be better safe than sorry, pack and leave the mountain. While I was packing my tent and other bivouac gear the clouds were invading all the Sarek mountains one by one while the aurora disappeared behind them when the cloud sheet reached the mountain ridge of Sarektjåhkkå. It was a long way down again. My track in the snow over the east ridge was perfect to discern and to follow in the dark. At the time I finished pitching the tent again at the base of the mountain it was already past three during the night and when I could finally lay myself down in the tent it began to snow. All mountains were again hiding in a thick cloud deck. I definitely had made the right decision and on time.
The next day I did not move anything. It remained snowing the entire day while the winds were increasing too. The following night everything evolved into a third snowstorm and I had to come out of my tent in the middle of the night to close a gap under the flysheet through which the drifting snow was entering the tent. Weather improved slowly at daytime and during the afternoon I was on my way skiing towards Sjuodji, a long hill marking the border between Sarek and Stora Sjöfallets national parks. Here on the slope of the hill I waited for two nights in hope for more northern light shows. The weather did not cooperate in a positive way though. Two cloudy snowy nights were alternated with a sunny day in between. I made another lazy day, only exploring the hill and enjoying the lookouts onto the Sarek mountains and the plains of Stora Sjöfallets.
A long day followed when I skied through Stora Sjöfallets towards lake Langas where the small settlement Vietas is located at the other side of the lake, the end point of the trip where I needed to catch the bus. On my way I passed the volcano like mountain Slugga and met a Sami family ice fishing on lake Bietsavrre. By late afternoon I could start with the descend through the taiga forest towards lake Langas. A big surprise was awaiting me. The lake was not entirely frozen and I had to find a way to cross it! The outflow of the hydroelectric power station near Vietas brought a strong current into the lake with a big area of open water as a result. Further downstream the lake was frozen again even though the ice did not look very safe out there.
It was a nervous job to bring my pulk down over the steep descend in the forest where I met many traces of moose. I skied towards the Stora Sjöfallet waterfall which connects lake Vietas with the upstream lake Gårtejavrre. A narrow strip of land separates the two lakes from each other. The river connecting the two lakes was not frozen and therefore impossible to cross. Gårtejavrre, the upstream lake was frozen though. That saved me from an unsafe crossing over Lake Langas. I spent de last night in the Sjofallstugan, a small hut on the southern lakeside of Langas. The ice on the lake was making loud cracking noises all the time. It was a bit frightening to hear. Later during the night the northern lights appeared for a last time and remained active for hours till about four o’clock in the night. I remained watching the show in the cold till the very last convulsion. This was a memorable moment to end the trip. The next morning I skied over Gårtejavrre and the small strip of land to Vietas where I caught the bus at noon.
Man, this was a great Sarek winter crossing!