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!

Sarek 201009
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).

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 2008
The braided Smájllájåhkå during autumn, shallow and milky.

Sarek 2008
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.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 2008
The whitewater just upstream from the canyon near Mikkastugan.

Sarek 201009
The Smajllajåhkå throws itself into the canyon at Mikkastugan, Sarektjåhkkå (2089m) mountain in the background.

Sarek 2008
The Skarja footbridge spans the canyon at the Mikkastugan.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 2008
Ráhpajåhkå river down Rapadalen valley seen from the Snavavagge.

Sarek 201009
The river has a wide channel and many smaller braids.

Sarek 201009
The braided work of mother nature.

Sarek 201009
The mouth of Tjågnårisjågåsj creek into Rahpajåhkå river, Bierikbakte (1789m) in the background.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
First part of the Upper Rahpaädno river with some easy whitewater, the valley slope towards the Snavavagge in the background.

Sarek 201009
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).

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
The river makes a few braids again while gradually slowing down towards the Sarvesjåhkå confluence.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
Start of the class III canyon downstream from Rapaselet.

Sarek 201009
Rapadalen and lower Rahpaädno river with the isolated mountains Nammasj (823m) and Tjahkkelij (1214m).

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
The point where Várdasjåhkå joins Guhkesvakkjåhkå.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
The rocky Sijddoädno above lake Sitojaure.

Sarek 201009
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.

Sarek 201009
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! 🙂

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24 thoughts on “An introduction to packrafting in Sarek national park

    • Hi Peter,
      At the time you pointed me to the new regulations, I was pointed by someone to your statements on a German forum where you started to berate me behind my back. I don’t have a problem with people that proclaim their opinion about a certain subject, but please keep it polite, respectful and don’t just throw an invective in a comment. Thanks!

  1. Great piece Joery, thanks for sharing your experiences there.

    Having looked at the Ráhpaädno delta on maps over the past couple of years, I’ve always thought it disappointing that paddling on it is banned. But, given the reason is conservation, I would respect that. I’ve seen indications that people sometimes do it anyway, but it is not always clear which part of the river they paddled. I suspect there are packrafters who have gone much further than just ferrying sections.

    It is pretty heartbreaking to hear that all paddling is to be banned in the park, I won’t be there this year or next. Isn’t it worth trying to lobby about this or something? Couldn’t there be a strict permit system rather than an outright ban? There are blanket bans in place in Grand Teton and Yellowstone in the US, but also a good deal of pressure to lift them.

    Well done for a great article anyway.

    • David, I think you were talking about Rapaselet instead of the delta at Laitaure? Strictly speaking the delta is not located inside the park and so does not fall under the park regulations. I already know about several people who paddled illegally on the lower Rahpaädno last year, including friends, and I’ve also mixed feelings about it. I admit that I’ve also paddled a short section here in 2010. Now afterwards I admit that I feel guilty about it. Unfortunately I will probably not go to the area again in the first two years, so this will remain the only packrafting I’ve ever done there. It is unfortunate for you and others who are not able to go there this year or the next. Anyway I would respect the new regulations.

  2. A really wonderful account but sadly I am unlikely ever now to acquire enough whitewater rafting water skills to paddle solo. I have traversed this area N to South from close to Kebnakaise through to Kvikjokk but in winter with dog teams so seeing this in summer is really something of an eye opener.
    Thanks the virtual journey Dzjow!

  3. Hi Dzjow, once again you have done an outstanding job. Most of us won’t go to Sarek but it is still wonderful to see your brilliant photos.
    Sjnjuvtjudisjahka just rolls off the tongue nicely, best wishes

  4. Thanks for the tips and bad news, Joery! Awesome report but such a pity to hear all packrafting (and all water crafts) to be banned in Sarek. The potential seems awesome. Have to reschedule my calenders, I have to get some floating done in Sarek before 2015!

  5. I appreciate the effort you put into the post (and the blog in general). The information about the rivers is going to be useful for my upcoming trip to Sarek at the beginning of September, even though I am not planning to do any packrafting during the trip. It is sad that probably I will not be able to go packrafting in Sarek before the introduction of the ban. Fortunately there are still going to be other areas in the Northern Europe which might be not as wild and alpine as Sarek but which offer some great legal packrafting. Besides, ‘not far away’ from Europe there is northern part of European Russia and Siberia which have plenty of packrafting rivers ranging from popular ones with detailed descriptions and numerous trip reports to ones which never been rafted.

  6. Nice pics dude, but i dont like the way you are “arguing” about the restriction/ban issue. its one thing to raft in potentially precarious areas ( did you ever think about why sarek is called a “national park”?) where it is not forbidden so far, but invocing in public a run on sarek for rafting as long as it is not forbidden-sorry but i cant go along with that. Did you ever think that such behaviour maybe will affect other areas as well?

    • First it would be nice to know why packrafting is to be banned in Sarek. To conserve nature? If so, good, but for the restrictions to be fair and make sense, there should be scientific data to support the restrictions. Otherwise it’s just random madness.

      I don’t say that there isn’t research to support the ban, just that I’m not aware of it and if you see how things go in the US (see: http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.fi/2013/06/snake-river-headwaters.html) and in governance in general, there might not be any sense in the decision. Somebody just thought it would be good idea and decided so…

      • Sorry, a late reaction from my side (I was in the mountains). I can understand that some may find this post in some way provocative, though I think it is difficult to discuss the impact of an activity like packrafting without the aid of objectively scientific based research on this subject. Even though I am not an expert in this area, from my experience I cannot say that packrafting in general does more harm to nature than does an activity as hiking, even the contrary and because of that reason I feel nothing wrong with encouraging packrafting in tundra areas as is Sarek as long as there are no prohibiting rules. This is of course only my own subjective opinion and if there has been done any objective research about this, I am all ears to hear about it. If my opinion proves to be wrong, I am the first one to adjust my opinion and I will not hesitate to remove this post.

        I also regret that there is no transparency in the regulations of many national parks. Some regulations in some areas have nothing to do with conservation for sure. Many activities are often prohibited to be sure not to be held responsible for any accidents for example or to prevent commercial activities to ensure that a park will not be flooded by commercial organizations. I am not saying that this is the reasoning behind the change of the regulations for Sarek NP, but it would not surprise me if it proves to be so. More openness in the regulations can only create more tolerance and understanding along both sides. So far we remain in limbo.

  7. Great post, thank you. I recently published a similar guide to Yellowstone National Park (http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.com/2013/06/packrafting-guide-to-yellowstone.html) where packrafting is currently forbidden. I believe it important for people to know what they are missing. I’m curios why your Freedom to Roam Laws (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam) do not apply?

    Very inspiring landscape, rivers, and photos. I might need to make a trip to Sarek next summer.

  8. About the ban on packrafting. If you read the document you mention, you can see that it is a working document (dates are not filled in and still some word-editing stuff visible). Furthermore the last sentense says: “These regulations come into force on (insert date) and shall expire on 1
    January 2015.” I am not convinced (based on this document) that it will be forbidden…

    • @ Koen, it is real and not only for Sarek NP, also for Padjelanta, Stora Sjöfallets and Abisko NPs. The news of the ban has been a hot topic for a while in the European packraft community last summer and someone working for the Swedish nature conservation organisation has just recently given a respons in person about the reasoning behind the ban. You can read it here.

      @ Forrest, I’m sorry I’ve never got back to you. Your guide to Yellowstone is an amazing piece of work! About the Freedom to Roam Law, this law applies but I guess only for people on foot. Rivers seem to have become an exception to the rule in the national parks in Sweden.

  9. Pingback: No water vessels in Sarek – The reason why | Deliverance Team

  10. Pingback: Introducción al packrafting en el Parque Nacional Sarek, Suecia

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