Up and down the canyon of the Ardèche

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The mouth of the canyon near Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche.

Two weeks ago a made a short but powerful visit to the canyon of the Ardèche in southern France. The Ardèche river has its sources in the limestone Cevennes ranges of the Massif Central and wines its way southeast in search for the Rhone river. On its way the river cuts itself through a short beautiful canyon. This canyon is very popular during the summer months when the river has almost no water left in its stream bed and each day a horde of tourists floats the river through the canyon in a rented kayak.

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Many caverns can be explored down the canyon.

During winter however, the canyon is an empty place for you to discover in all peacefulness. There is a reason why it remains so quiet down there during winter.

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While entering the canyon, the trail immediately runs along a passage over a steep rock slope above the river.

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A portion boulder hopping is not lacking either.

A hiking trail runs through the whole canyon, but as is usual with a trail through a canyon, there are a few difficult sections where the trail passes over small ledges or tries to bridge steep rock faces. The trail even so does not stay along the same side of the river throughout the whole canyon. To be able to surpass beyond some vertical rock faces one should ford the river at least twice as there are no bridges. During the summer months these river fords are most of the time an easy and fun undertaking. During winter however, the higher water levels and the stronger current will take you straight away if you would be so fool to try to fight or swim the icy cold water. But for all those with a packraft on (or in) their pack, this deserted place may still be a little adventure to discover during the winter as the river is the packrafter his friend and not an enemy.

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Looking back through the first meander bend in the canyon.

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The trail continues over this fantastic narrow ledge which was very slippery at some places by the seeping water.

All the time a strong mistral breeze was blowing in my face while I hiked upstream through the canyon. On many occasions the winds were too strong to be able to packraft the river. Luckily I had studied the weather forecast beforehand and knew the mistral would die after two days so I could packraft back through the canyon.

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A little further another narrow ledge above the river leads you towards a chimney by the use of secured cables and pins. The chimney is left through a natural tunnel in the rock. I had to take my backpack of and lower it down to clamp it between the rocks in the foreground of the photo to be able to make this passage safely and retrieve my pack later.

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The trail continues along cable section in the rockface.

However, during the weekend a lingering coldfront would probably bring several tenths of millimeters of rain and temporary rising temperatures which would partly melt the snowpack in the upper reaches in the Cevennes range. The Ardèche river is known for its rapid rise in water levels during such events of heavy rain. Water levels can rise with several meters in just a few hours down the canyon and the relatively quiet river with its small class II rapids then changes into a turbulent brown stream full of treacherous whirlpools.

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Another grateful shelter from the mistral wind.

My goal was not to procrastinate and hike quickly through the canyon and then packraft back over the river before the heavy rain would make it too dangerous. I passed many interesting ledges, steep sections along limestone faces where cables or pins in the rock secured the passages and sometimes explored a few of many mysterious caverns in the limestone rock where I was happy to be out of the mistral breeze for some time.

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Looking back through the Cirque de la Madeleine.

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Another point where you’re standing astonished in front of the next rock face while wondering how the route would continue this time.

At one spot just downstream of a rapid in the river, the trail went over a small ledge which was flooded by the higher water levels. It was impossible to pass this spot in my packraft as I couldn’t paddle upstream through the rapid. I didn’t want to return here and so I cautiously shuffled over the slippery ledge while wetting my feet in the icy cold water while searching with my hands to something in the limestone face to hold onto. And so I eventually hit the other dry side still well and truly.

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Approaching the river ford Gué de Guitard, now impossible at high winter water levels.

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Looking forward to a hot meal after a whole day fighting the cold channeled mistral breeze in the canyon.

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Delicious home made and dried spaghetti.

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The bivouac spot above Gué de Guitard.

Above the first river ford, named Gue the Guitard in French, I found my first bivouac spot for the night on a piece of sand under an overhanging rockface. Despite a few snowflakes that fell from the sky during the evening, I slept in my bivy bag and didn’t pitch the tarp. Temperatures dropped just below freezing during the night.

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I crossed the river in my packraft at the river ford which is impossible to even try during winter.

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A sign announces the ford. Note how great the French are able to write in English.

When packed during the morning my first task was to inflate my packraft and paddle to the other side of the river to continue the trail. Along the left side of the river the canyon showed its wildest side. The sun shone exuberantly and soon reached the bottom of the canyon. Time for a break. I laid myself down in the grass above a gravel bank and enjoyed the rushing river and the silence beyond the blowing mistral wind.

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Here starts the wildest and my favorite section in the canyon, upstream of bivouac the Gournier.

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After crossing the next ford.

After about two hours the trail ended again onto a vertical wall and so I inflated my raft again to paddle to the right bank. It didn’t took much time anymore before I reached a canyon like side valley where I left the canyon of the Ardèche. I explored a small trail through this valley and passed the Pissevieille cascade, an impressive looking waterfall that falls of the rim of the canyon into the deeps, at least on the picture of my hiking map as the stream was dry now and I only could spot the dry creek bed incised in the limestone on the rim.

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A vaucluse spring is wetting the trail.

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Through the beech forest above the canyon.

The path climbed out of the valley in a few zigzags and there I was, standing on the limestone plateau in a deadly looking landscape with the depths gaping behind me. I followed a 4WD track until I stumbled upon the markings of the GR4 trail, which I followed for some time into the beech forest on a narrowing path.

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Bivouac on the heights above the L’Ibie Canyon.

In a clearing in the woods I pitched the tarp and went to bed around sunset. During the night I got awake a few times, the first time by deer running through the forest. Later on by noisy boars that even came very close to the tarp in search for something nourishing under the grass.

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The L’Ibie river before it enters its short canyon.

During the morning I descended from the plateau into the valley of the L’Ibie river, a small side stream of the Ardèche. I followed the river downstream through its short canyon and hiked into Vallon Pont d’Arc at noon. The village looked dead now outside the tourist season. At the bridge over the Ardèche river I inflated my packraft and started the float downstream through the canyon. The weather has been changing rapidly now and the sun disappeared behind a thick layer of grey clouds that soon invaded the whole sky. I forgot to take my gopro at home and so was not able to record my float on the river unfortunately.

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Hiking back towards the Ardèche through the L’Ibie Canyon.

I passed under the famous arch just before the entrance of the canyon and then paddled through the easy rapids while enjoying the scenery from below on the quieter section in between. Passed halfway it started to rain and when I reached the last kilometer near the end of the canyon before Saint-Martin-d’Ardèche the wind became so fierceful blowing in the face that it became impossible to paddle further downstream. I put out and walked the last kilometer out of the canyon towards the village.

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Stop at the famous arch above the river Ardèche.

Arrived in the village the rain became a rainstorm while I could witness the rivers water level rise by each minute. At home I noticed online that the gauging station in the canyon had registered a rise of the water level with about 2,7m in just a few hours that followed, the river discharge rising from 65m³/s to a peak of 740m³/s. I had just finished in time.

Tromsø to Kautokeino – from wild mountains into the desolate plain

 

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All gear and food (except from worn clothing) packed for the two week winter ski trip through northern Scandinavia.

The most beautiful winter ski trip I’ve ever done so far was skiing from Tromso to Kautokeino in Northern Norway during March 2011, even though this trip didn’t went as I had planned beforehand. First of all my photo camera broke during the first day. All I had left to catch some visual memories was the horrible 1,3 megapixel built-in camera of my cell phone and a rather cheap fish-eye video camera, similar like a Gopro camera but with less quality. The video above was shot with this fish-eye camera and all the photos below are either shot with my cell phone or are defished snapshots from the video footages I took with the video camera. Then secondly, I had to cope with quite some gear failures during the second part of the trip that forced me to leave the initial plan which was skiing from the surroundings of the Reisa river near the Finnish border passed halfway the trip, to Alta at the coast by making a traverse over the vast Finnmarksvidda plateau. Instead I chose to deviate to Kautokeino which was closer by even though I didn’t had a map with me of the route towards this Sami village! You see, this was a trip with quite some unforeseen circumstances. So lets go on to the trip report.

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Looking back through Tromsdalen towards Tromso at the coast.

Tromso, the Paris of the North as the city is also called or lets better say the Paris under a bunch of snow. The people didn’t seem to know where to go with all the snow in their yards. After buying a few gas canisters and visiting the postal office to send a supply package ahead to Lyngseidet, I left the city on my skis and pinnacle on my back. I met some cross country skiers on the groomed track in Tromsdalen. Once in the head of the valley under the north face of Tromstinden, I left the track and climbed over the unbeaten snow to the heights above the slope of the valley. The weather was deteriorating and the first gear failure of the trip became a fact. My photo camera didn’t want to turn on again, no matter what I tried. I was angry since the pictures I take during my trips are for me the most valuable memories.

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Somewhere between Skarvassbu and Nonsbu with temporary improved visibility.

It didn’t take long before it started to snow and a few moments later I got lost in a white out, fog, strong winds and horizontal snowfall. It got difficult to keep on track. Small birch sticks were put in the snow to mark the winter trail to the Skarvassbu mountain lodge but the sticks were put too far away from each other so that it became impossible to find the next one in the white out. I navigated with GPS and compass. It was dark and night when I reached Skarvassbu. The mountain cabin was cold and I was a lonely visitor. When I wanted to get to sleep I heard a group on snowmobiles approaching. They entered the cabin and were surprised to encounter a visitor. A team of the Norwegian rescue service was making a night training session and the leader was immediately warning me for high avalanche danger these days due to the large amounts of snowfall of last days and the days to come. When I explained my plan to ski from Tromso to Alta, I didn’t receive much faith by the team. A few days earlier a group of people on snowmobiles died on the Finnmarksvidda plateau in a snowstorm, they told me as a next warning. I didn’t really succeed in explaining them that I wasn’t on my spurs. Probably they thought I was a fool as nobody seem to have undertaken such kind of a trip before in Northern Norway (so they told me). They left the cabin and continued their training trip through the dark of the night.

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Nonsbu cabin.

The weather did not change during the night. Continuous heavy snowfall and snowdrifts were my part when I left in the white out during the morning. With temperatures not far below freezing the heavy powder asked lots of power to break a trail. I couldn’t find any traces that marked a ski route anymore and so I skied by navigating with map and compass even though I didn’t always knew where I was exactly. Visibility became better during the afternoon and so I could easily find the Nonsbu cabin at the end of the day where I spent the next night.

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Skihytta in the Lyngen Alps above Lyngenfjord.

The next day I wanted to cross a mountain pass and descend towards Ullsfjord. Through heavy snowfall and a visibility of only a few meters, I managed to reach the wide mountain pass but then I got difficulties with finding the safe passage down the pass at the other side due to the white out. The first part descending the pass went over a wide inclined ledge which was the only spot where I could make a safe passage. Elsewhere I would probably trigger an avalanche. The track which I had saved on my GPS was not accurate enough to locate the start of the ledge. I waited for two hours until the visibility improved to about 50m, enough to find the safe passage end then descended the pass by kicking side steps.

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Looking back to Lyngen fjord from Olderdalen.

Further down I could maintain a fast speed till I reached the birch forest on the wide valley bottom of Breivikeidet. Temperatures were around freezing here and thick wet snowflakes fell from the sky, sticking in the branches and on my clothes. Moments later I stepped on the traffic road which led me to the fjord. However, a thick layer of half a meter of snow was lying on the road. No single car could drive here through the valley. When reaching the fjord, the conceivable turned out to be the truth. The ferry line was closed too, the Lyngen Alps at the opposite site of the fjord unreachable. I pitched my tent in the snow on the shore and decided to wait for the day of tomorrow to search for a solution. The snowfall turned into rain during the night.

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Following moose traces in Olderdalen.

In the morning I found a phone number at the ferry quay and dialed the number on my cell phone. A man answered and I explained my situation. At first the guy was not helpful at all and he almost scolded me for being a fool because I was skiing through the mountains in this horrible weather and during such high avalanche risk. That was off coarse the reason behind the closure of the road and the ferry. After a while he could help me with searching the closest way to a bus connection which could drive me to the Lyngen Alps passed the fjords. The solution was to ski back to the west for 20km through the Breivikeidet valley till the village of Fagernes and there catch the bus to Lyngseidet in the Lyngen Alps. And that was what I did. In the evening I arrived in Lyngseidet while the night had already fallen. I immediately tethered my ski’s at the edge of the village and climbed to the Skihytta, a cabin placed at the tree line overlooking the Lyngenfjord. And so I spent another lonely night in a cabin.

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Deeper in Olderdalen.

Day five of the trip became a tipping point. I skied back down to Lyngseidet during the morning, caught my food package at the post office and headed to the ferry over the Lyngenfjord which was not closed instead of the ferry over Ullsfjord. Bulldozers were pushing tons of dirty snow from the roads in the fjord. The weather had become dry now for the first time since it started snowing on the first day of the trip. While crossing the fjord on the ferry a modest sunray pierced through the clouds, the first sunray I saw during the trip. Arrived at Olderdalen, the small settlement at the mouth of the valley with the same name, I immediately left civilization behind my back and skied gently uphill through the Olderdalen valley. The sun appeared more and more between the clouds and I started enjoying the skiing. Deeper in the valley I encountered the footsteps of a moose which I supposed to have frightened away. I kept following the traces till I finally saw the moose climbing up the slope of the valley ahead of me above the lake Olderdalsvatnet. The moose, a cow, tried to reach a mountain pass in the valley ridge to get rid of me. I continued through the valley and went on into the night. The sky became clear and the higher I climbed the colder it became. For some reason I wanted to keep going and reach the mountain pass at the head of the valley under Heargegaisa (1284m) mountain. The mountain pass existed of a wide elevated plateau bounded by an abrupt abyss. There a fierce wind made the snow drift into my face. Finally I dug a snow hole in the mountain slope at the edge of the plateau. It was already deep in the night when I finally laid snug in my sleeping bag.

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At Olderdalsvatnet with the moose somewhere on the mountain slope (difficult to see with a fish-eye camera you know).

Coming out of the tent during the morning gave me a “wow” feeling. I had reached this place high up in the mountains by skiing through the night where I was not so aware of the surroundings and now the weather had became fair so I could admire a wild and desolate snowy mountain landscape I had never recognized the day before. Snow surface was hard and so skiing went effortless. I slipped through multiple valleys, crossed several gentle mountain passes which offered splendid views, encountered a few red foxes searching for snow hare, grouse or lemmings in the snow. By the end of the day I was not so far anymore from the Finnish border. I pitched the tent down a wide valley where a Sami family was camping in their teepees. The night offered the first aurora display. I remembered a vast wide curtain in colors from yellowish to green with from time to time nice moving undulations. And off course I was cursing my photo camera while watching the night sky.

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Myself somewhere in Olderdalen (and you can see my vapor barrier clothing by the way).

On day seven I skied eastward over rolling terrain while the snow surface became more and more icy, calling for caution. By the afternoon I reached the edge of the Reisadalen canyon where I searched a passage down into the valley. At the bottom of the canyon I skied upstream through the valley over hardened powder in the forest. The night fell and I continued under the stars which were later joined by a weak aurora display. All this was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had on a winter trip. With headlight shining ahead, searching a passage through the forest during the night on skis with the northern lights glowing above the treetops is one of those amazing experiences which will forever remain engraved in my visual memory.

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The night is falling in Olderdalen.

Deep into the night I reached the Sieimmahytta cabin by crossing the frozen river. Moose traces lay everywhere around the cabin. This day was the first day I had to cope with frozen ski bindings. I entered the cabin on my socks with my skis in my hands and the boots iced up in the bindings. I lit the wood stove inside and let the boots thaw out of the bindings. This cabin became the most enjoyable of the whole trip… and also the latest.

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Eating breakfast in the tent.

After the necessary nighttime sleep I continued over the frozen Reisa river the next day and passed under several frozen waterfalls which draped the cliffs of the canyon. Further upstream more and more open areas appeared in the ice of the river and not many kicks further on my skis I had to leave the river bed as the river turned into a bed of fast flowing open water over most of its width. I followed the traces of a lonely skier through the forest on the riverside which seemed to have passed over here with a pulk two weeks before me I later learned when I read the inscriptions in the guestbook of the Naustihytta cabin. The guestbook confirmed me to probably be the second visitor only of the Reisadalen canyon this winter.

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The bivouac spot under mountain Heargegaisa (1284m) in the Reisa mountains.

Soon I could ski again over the river ice as the river became frozen again over its full bed. During the later afternoon I left the Reisadalen canyon by climbing towards the plateau through a narrow chasm. I continued over the plateau by following the markings of the Nordkalottleden summer trail which were now temporary visible above the snow surface from time to time. I now reached the extreme west part of the Finnmarksvidda plateau and gently climbed further uphill deeper on the plateau between the scattered birch and small spruces. Soon the skiing went less smoothly. A breakable crust capped the powder snow and became harder and harder the more deeper onto the plateau. I called it a day around sunset, dug my tent into the snow and I crawled inside. While eating dinner I could admire the third aurora display of the trip from inside the tent with the door wide opened. This one was now the most active one with quite fast undulations and some appearances of red colors in the light which I here saw now for the first time in my life.

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The view back while crossing a mountain pass in the Reisa mountains.

The trip was becoming more and more troublesome tough. My ski bindings were frequently icing up even though I managed to get out of the bindings today by simply knocking my boots out.

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Frozen waterfall in the Reisa canyon.

Day nine announced itself as the most tiring day of the trip. I continued with skiing eastward deeper onto the Finnmarksvidda plateau while snow conditions kept worsening. The snow crust on top of the powder became almost unbreakable while not able to carry my weight on my skis and so I continuously sank till my knees in the powder, pounding with my forward leg to break the crust with each step, a grueling activity to persevere for a whole day long. By late afternoon I reached the vast Raisjavri lake and encountered the Reisavannhytta, but unfortunately locked. The night announced itself to become very cold as it was almost sky clear, windless and the thermometer at the cabin already showed -21°c. I searched for a spot to pitch the tent higher on the slope of a hill to get rid of the basins with trapped cold air on the plateau. My ski bindings were again iced up and now I couldn’t break them loose anymore myself. Melting snow and pouring hot water over the bindings was the only solution I had.

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The Reisa river was not always frozen.

Beside the binding problems two other problems had arisen today. My pants got torn in the crotch and I didn’t took needle and threat with me, neither some tape to fix it. Now it sounds laughable but I remember it as a serious discomfort at my balls whenever temperatures were very low or the wind blew. The third problem troubled me even more. A hole had appeared in the instep of both my ski boots, both about as big as a golf ball. Snow now easily entered my boots and so I couldn’t keep my feet warm and dry anymore. I much regretted that I did not take some roll of tape with me on this trip, a serious lesson I’ve learned here. With some tape I could have at least temporarily fixed the holes in my boots and the tear in my pants. Skiing all the way to Alta at the coast, as was the initial plan, started to frighten me with these problems. Now the weather was fine, but would it stay like this for the next couple of days? Skiing to Alta over the Finnmarksvidda, 92km to the northeast as the crow flies, would have taken at least three days to complete if at least snow conditions would not become worse than today. That evening I made the decision in my tent to ski to Kautokeino instead of Alta, 36km to the southeast, a distance which seemed bridgeable in only one long day. Even though the Sami village was far outside my map there was a small road connecting the town with the Biedjovaggi mines here at the surroundings of Raisjavri. This road, now probably a snowmobile track, would show me the way to Kautokeino.

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Skiing over Reisa river in the canyon.

The next morning strong winds appeared, although the weather remained fine otherwise. I searched for the road and indeed encountered a clear snowmobile track. Navigating towards Kautokeino became handy this way. Exactly at sunset I reached the village and pitched the tent on a frozen lake just outside the village. That night temperature dropped to -24°c inside the tent, the coldest of the trip.

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On the Finnmarksvidda plateau.

The trip now ended prematurely in Kautokeino. I spent a whole day in Kautokeino, took a bus to Alto the next day and amused myself with skiing in the groomed tracks in Alta for three more days. Despite the gear failures and the bad weather during the first half of the trip, I will keep remembering this trip as the most beautiful winter trip I’ve done so far even though the photos and movie shown here don’t reflect this feeling at all in my opinion. Failure of photo equipment, oh I hate it!


Faint yellow = planned ski route
Red / orange = actual skied route

Photo-essay : A May and an Oktober walk over the Hautes Fagnes trail

No excess of words here, only simple pictures reflect the beauty of this 152km long trail, a trail that for long only existed in my imagination and has now become a secret among those who love the mysterious high bogs and countless idyllic peat rivers on the roof of Belgium. Enjoy the trail.

Part I: Jalhay – Brackvenn
17-20 May 2012

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Hiking through the meadows south of Jalhay.

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A first encounter with the Hogne river.

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Footbridge over Hogne river.

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Sawe river.

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The view to Solwaster from Rocher de Bilisse.

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Statte river.

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At the foot of Rocher de Bilisse.

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First bivouac.

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Entering the Hoëgne valley.

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River Hoëgne.

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The tiny Leopold II waterfall on the Hoëgne river.

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Further upstream along the Hoëgne.

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Polleur river leaving the upstream bogs.

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Bushwhacking over the ancient boardwalk path between Croix Dehottay and Croix de Rondchêne.

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Targnon river leaving Fagne de Moûpa.

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The path through Fagne de Moûpa.

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Deep in the canyonlike valley of the Trô Maret river.

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Fagne de Fraineu.

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Meeting the Polleur again on Fagne de Lonlou.

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Peat lint in the Fagne de la Polleur.

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Boardwalking through Fagne de la Polleur.

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Fagne de la Polleur on a misty morning.

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Crucifix at the edge of the Grande Fagne.

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A first glimpse of Noir Flohay over the Fagne Wallonne.

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Standing on Botrange, the highest point of Belgium.

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The young Bayehon river.

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The Bayehon waterfall.

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Upstream along Ghaster river.

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Spring flowers.

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Tussock growth in the Fagne Wallone.

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Easter flowers in Herzogenvenn along the Rur river.

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Following the Rur river towards Monschau.

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Meadow bivouac near Kaiser Karls Bettstatt.

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Beaver dam on the very young Getzbach river in the Brackvenn bogs.

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The boardwalk through Brackvenn.

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Springtime in Brackvenn.

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Countless white fluff.

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The crèche.

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A peat puddle in the Brackvenn moors.

Part II: Brackvenn – Jalhay
24-26 October 2012

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Brackvenn in autumn colors.

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Getzbach river.

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Allgemeines Venn.

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Fly agaric along the trail.

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Imgenbroicher Venn.

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The path through Imgenbroicher Venn.

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Weser river through the beech forest.

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Mouth of Steinbach in Vesdre river.

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Upstream along Steinbach river.

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Confluence of Eschbach and Steinbach.

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Dusk in the forest along Eschbach river.

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Kutenhart peat moor at sunrise.

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Dew morning.

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Golden colors of Kutenhart.

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Getzbach once more.

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Helle river in Hertogenwald.

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Upstream along Helle river.

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Helle river through Grand Bongard.

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Further upstream along the Helle river, reaching the traces of the 2011 wildfire.

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Helle at Pont Anne-Marie-Libert.

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Young Helle river through the traces of the 2011 wildfire in Fagne Wallonne.

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Destroyed boardwalk by the 2011 wildfire.

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Unusable boardwalk along the Helle river.

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Burned wood and rusty nails.

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Searching a passage through the peat moor towards Noir Flohay.

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Noir Flohay, a mysterious spot in the peat moors.

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Reaching the burnt trees of Noir Flohay.

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Though still standing, most trees seem dead after the 2011 wildfire.

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Burnt trunks of Noir Flohay.

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Following the vague trail through the peat moor towards Geitzbusch.

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The trail through Geitsbusch forest where half of the trees are dead after the wildfire of 2011.

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Fagnes des Deux-Séries in the fog.

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Along Fossé d’Eupen.

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Descending over the faint path along Gileppe river.

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Following Louba river towards terminus Jalhay.

A classic round trip railtracking and packrafting : L163A, Vierre & Semois

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The 1350m long Ste-Cécile tunnel has long been the longest tunnel in Belgium.

At the beginning of the 20th century a very controversial railway was built in the south of Belgium. L163A as is the name of this railway is undoubtedly a difficult feat in the history of the Belgian railways. First of all this railway should never have been built. It runs through the south of the Belgian Ardennes and the Gaume region and was built with the goal to connect the Belgian rail network with the French rail network to create a fast connection with the – at that time – thriving industry in the basin of the Chiers river just south of the border. The most ridiculous is that this connection could have been built rather easily near the village of Florenville. However due to local political interests the railway was finally built more to the west over a very difficult and hilly path. It then took 12 years to build the 26km long railway which finally contained 3 viaducts, 3 tunnels and 24 bridges. Eventually the railroad has never been very useful except for the German occupiers during both World Wars.

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The Ste-Cécile tunnel is closed to the public but real adventurers still now how to enter by climbing over the fence and wires.

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Lots of bricks fall from the ceiling in the Ste-Cécile tunnel and make for a dangerous enterprise.

Today the railroad hasn’t seen a train anymore for 4 decades. The railway itself has been broken down, but the track bed including the tunnels and viaducts are still there today, albeit in various stages of decay. Technically speaking it is possible to hike, or lets say to railtrack most of this ancient railroad, an interesting adventure as some parts of the route are changed into a jungle. Furthermore all the 3 tunnels are by law forbidden terrain, but that makes it an even more exiting adventure, isn’t it?

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Water was seeping through the ceiling of the Ste-Cécile tunnel at several places during this very rainy day, creating a stream of water over the bottom of the tunnel.

Luc Selleslagh is under the spell of this railway line and has throughout the years examined the history of the railroad. His work can be admired on his site trekkings.be. You will not only find the into detail history of the railroad on his site, but also handy tips to explore the railroad on foot with the latest updates of the situation at the critical points. If you ever feel attracted to go railtracking overhere don’t hesitate to sift through its pages.

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Conques viaduct over the river Semois near the village of Herbeumont is 38m high and 160m long.

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Entering the Linglé tunnel.

Now, what is so interesting for us adventurers with a packraft is the fact that this ancient railroad makes a very fast connection between the river Semois near the village of Herbeumont with the river Vierre near Martilly and so an interesting and very varied round trip can be made here in the south of Belgium, both combining hiking/railtracking over bridges, viaducts and through tunnels with packrafting over the rivers.

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A frog kept us company while seeking shelter from the rain under the trailstar.

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The St-Médard tunnel is the wildest of the three tunnels and is always standing under water over a short stretch, forcing you to wade through shin deep water and mud.

Last weekend tons of rain were forecasted and me and a friend were eager to go explore this round trip. I especially took some pictures of the tunnels, but not of the packrafting part. The rest is your imagination. The map below is the guide if you ever feel ready to complete this round trip. However, keep in mind that packrafting on the rivers in the Wallonia part of Belgium is regulated by law and is depending on the actual discharges. On this site you can check which river sections are open. We had 5,5m³/s on the Vierre at Straimont and 29m³/s on the Semois at Chiny.

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Putting in on Ruisseau de Grandvoir, a small side stream of the Vierre river.

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Hiking above the Semois river.

Another wilderness trip through European Alaska

Today almost exactly 2 years ago I finished another long autumn trip through and around Sarek national park in Swedish Lapland after my trip from 2008 and a ski crossing during the preceding winter. This time I took my packraft with me and tried to follow a route with as much as packrafting sections as possible. Eventually I floated pieces of the rivers Guhkesvakkjåhkå, Sijddoädno, Miellädno, Smajllajåhkkå, Rahpajåhkå and Rahpaädno and crossed several lakes. Sarek is a real packraft paradise and can make you think you’re somewhere wilderness paddling in remote Alaska instead of Europe.

And as the rivers here invite you to inflate your inflatable boat, so do the mountains invite you during the clear weather windows to visit their summit for a wide mountain vista. I even spent three nights on a mountain and saw quite active northern light displays during each.

Just like with my first trip through Sarek I wrote a very long trip report about this trip, however unfortunately it is only available as a trip report in Dutch. But those really willing to read it will definitely find an appropriate online translator to struggle through it. Even though I have almost visited every corner of the park, I’m sure this last visit will not be my very last.

Packlist
All the gear and food for the trip except from worn clothing.

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Backpack ready for a new day hiking.

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Searching a route through the many rocks and small lakes on the Gassalahko mountain plateau.

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Suottasjjåhkå mountain stream under the glacial tongue of Suottasjjiegna, easy to ford with these low water levels. The mountain above the glacier is Såltatjåhkkå (1928m).

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Packrafting Guhkesvakkjåhkå river with often shallow water.

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Taking a break on the Sijddoädno river which was difficult to packraft due to many impassable boulder gardens.

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View northward from Namadis (818m) with the Sijddoädno river meandering through the valley, the mountain Guravarasj (1050m) on the left.

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Looking back towards the saddle (1066m) in the Bastavagge valley under Basstavarasj (1492m).

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Morning in the Basstavagge valley after a tarp bivouac on the snow.

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The mountains Unna Stuollo (1766m) and Skajdetjåhkkå (1933m) at dusk.

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First northern lights seen from the bivouac spot at lake Dielmajavrasj (1175m).

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View into the Sarvesvagge valley with at the opposite side the north face of Nåite (1620m) which dominates the whole east half of the valley.

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Prints of a wolverine in the snow while climbing Dielmatjåhkkå (1659m).

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View over a part of the Jågåsjgaskajiegna glacier with a glacial lake under Axel Hambergs topp (1821m), seen while climbing Kanalberget (1937m).

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The wild morainic debris in the Ridanjunjesvagge.

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Wet weather while reaching the outlet of the Sarvesvagge valley towards Padjelanta.

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The falls of Ahkkajåhkå river and the mountain Guohperskajdde (1644m).

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Ahkkatjåhkå (1974m) and the renvaktarstuga cabin under Algganjalmme.

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View into Padjelanta and onto Gasskatjåhkkå (1517m) in Norway from the summit of Låvdaktjåhkkå (1445m).

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Northern lights above Padjelanta seen from the summit of Låvdaktjåhkkå (1445m).

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The mountain Låvdaktjåhkkå (1445m) with its glacier remnants.

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Taking a midday break along the Sierggajåhkå mountain stream.

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The Ruohtesvagge valley and the mountains of the Sarektjåhkkå mountain massif seen from Gisuris (1664m).

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The Ahkka massif from Gisuris (1664m) around sunset.

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Lake Vastenjaure (547m) in Padjelanta National Park with the mountains surrounding Sorfjord in Norway at the horizon, seen from Gisuris (1664m) just after sunset.

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Making a mountain bivouac under the tarp on Gisuris (1664m).

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Aurora Borealis reflecting in lake Allohaure (545m) as seen from Gisuris (1664m).

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View over Padjelanta with the Sulitjelma mountains at the horizon seen from Gisuris (1664m).

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View to the north from Ahkka Borgtoppen (1963m) with the vast lake Akkajaure (423-453m) deep below.

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The lake plateau Gassalahko seen from Ahkka Borgtoppen (1963m).

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The mountain massifs of Lavdak, Ruohtes, Lanjek en Alkatj in Sarek seen from Ahkka Borgtoppen (1963m).

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Northern lights behind Ahkka Stortoppen (2015m), seen from Borgtoppen (1963m).

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Ahkka Stortoppen (2015m) during the late morning.

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A tundra vole liked my food cache. All the pecan nuts had disappeared from the desserts.

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Bivouac in the Ruohtesvagge valley under mountain Gavelberget (1819m).

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View over Mihkajiegna glacier to Sarektjåhkkå Stortoppen (2089m), Sydtoppen (2023m) and Bucht-toppen (2010m) from Mihkatjåhkkå (1735m).

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The braided Smajllajåhkå river down the Ruohtesvagge valley.

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The falls in the Smajllajåhkå river near Mikkastugan cabin with Sarektjåhkkå Stortoppen (2089m), Sydtoppen (2023m) and Bucht-toppen (2010m) in the background.

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The braided Rahpajåhkå river on the valley bottom of upper Rapadalen.

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Mouth of the mountain stream Tjågnårisjågåsj in Rahpajåhkå river with mountain Bierikbakte (1789m) in the background.

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Braided Rahpajåhkå river in Rapadalen with mountain Låddebakte (1537m) to the left.

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Looking back to the Rahpaädno river while hiking through the birch forest.

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An old Sami shelter in Rapadalen which can still be used today.

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A winding birch.

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Rapaselet with Låddebakte (1537m) in the background from a river island.

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My home made woodgas stove burning on birch bark.

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A moose with young in Rapadalen.

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A young male moose in the forest in Rapadalen.

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Rapadalen with Nammasj (823m) and Tjahkkelij (1214m) seen from Lulep Spadnek (816m).

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Part of the Laitaure delta and Nammasj (823m) seen from Skierffe (1179m).

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Packraft ready to float through the Laitaure delta, table mountain Tjahkkelij (1214m) on the background.

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View back to Nammasj from within the Laitaure delta.

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Morning at lake Sitojaure (630m) along the Kungsleden trail.

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A wide view back to lake Sitojaure from the Kungsleden trail.

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Last night of the trip in the Autsutjvagge shelter on the Kungsleden trail.

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Spot messenger at work.

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Continuing over the Kungsleden trail to Saltoluokta.