I've been meaning to write some observations about backpacking gear successes and failures from the Sarek trip this year. Unfortunately, because of too many other commitments, things fell by the wayside a bit, and it's taken me this long to clear some much-needed head space and return to thoughts of backpacking and picking apart equipment.
In the beginning of August I spent a fantastic week in Sarek National Park, Swedish Lapland, with my (increasingly) old friend Bob Blaker. In lieu of an actual trip report (which will appear in another format later this year), I present here a series of “Views from Sarek” – notes, observations and opinions about the trip, the trail, and the park, accompanied by a selection of photographs.
This last week, I've enjoyed reading Roger's write-ups of his hike along the Nordkalotten trail. His pictures and experiences reminded me of a hiking trip I did with Bob a few years back around the three borders section of Lapland, where Finland, Sweden and Norway come together in beautiful harmony.
As I won't be around much the next few weeks - I'm filming our next art installation in Ely, Minnesota this week, and heading back to Finland to visit friends after that for a couple of weeks - I thought I'd post a few photos from that trip, mainly for nostalgia reasons. As you'll see, the trip was heavy on packs, and will be light on concrete details!
Bob and I drove up from Rovaniemi to northern Norway via Kilpisjärvi. We wanted to first spend a couple of nights up on Norway's Lyngsdalen mountains (the Lyngen Alps), which rise dramatically out of the sea, and on which we hoped to get up close and personal with a glacier.
We arrived at Elvevoll, and found a route up the side of the mountain at the north end of Lyngsdalen that we had set our sights on. In out somewhat unfit state, it took us (well, me) a long time to struggle up the trail, but we were rewarded in our efforts.
We set up camp next to a glacial run-off stream. This was mid-July, but there were still pockets of snow around.
Shortly after we were settled in, and were busy regaining our breaths, a little old Norwegian man came running - an I do mean running - up the way we had come, his two trekking poles clicking on the rocks. We had a nice chat with him as he regaled us with stories of how his friends had all died on the mountain, climbing up to the glacier, skiing down it, and engaging in all kinds of hair-raising Norwegian mountian activities. We concluded that death-by-glacier was not our cup of tea, and decided against any heroic attempts to climb up the ice-covered rock to get to it.
Instead we made do with ambling aimlessly around the plateau beneath it.
At this point I should not that the number of mosquitoes encountered on this mountain was precisely one (1).
I would post the picture of myself washing in the pristine, freezing glacial run-off, but I think you can be spared the full-fontal nudity at this point. This is, after all, a respectable blog, and not one of those new-fangled .xxx domain names.
Next morning, we set off for Kilpisjärvi again, and the trail head for out trek into the three-border area. We stopped on the way to admire the work of Slartibartfast, and a cavorting dolphin.
But onward we must go... on the trail towards the meeting point of three Nordic countries. The hiking trail begins in Finland, at Kilpisjärvi.
Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the triangular border marker. The reason for this was primarily a sudden attack by out winged, blood-sucking friends; the Finnish air force.
We had no choice but to head in to Sweden and rush frantically through a birch copse, swiping at our head, arms and legs, attacked on all sides. According to the map, we saw an escape point a couple of kilometers ahead, and a potential campsite by a stream. Sometimes, you want exposure for the benefits of wind to blow the hyttyset away.
Thankfully our plan worked - this time.
The next day we made haste deeper into Sweden, aiming to camp high every night to avoid mosquitoes. We actually changed our planned route to avoid a long trek along a marshy area, as this would probably have resulted in the loss of too much blood for us to continue.
That night, we risked storms and camped on the top of a fjell, with spectacular views across into the Swedish wilderness. The alternative would have involved another descent through a birch forest, with its vampiric guardians.
The disadvantage being that the water supply was somewhat 'chilled'.
The next day, we headed down in to the valley, and northwards towards the mosquito-free haven of Norway. Based on our experience on the Norwegian mountain, we truly believed that the mosquitoes had left Norway for Finland and Sweden, presumably in some oil- or whale hunting-related dispute. How wrong we would be.
Nevertheless, the trail along a small glacial esker was charming.
We found a chilly lake to cool off in.
Before reaching the boundary of Norway...
But we had to continue, for another night - and another high campsite.
On this occasion however, our plans failed us. The entire north side of the mountain was, somewhat inexplicably, swamp. The higher we went, the more mosquitoes we awoke. When we eventually set up tent, the air was thronging with them. All we could hear was the high drone of tiny wings. We zipped up the tent, stole what sleep we could get, and awoke in the morning to find our brains melting as the sun rose on the tent.
There was no time to waste. We had learned our lesson.
Only idiots go hiking in Lapland in July. There are benefits: there are no other people. But there are also reasons there are no other people! Several billion of them.
Once again, we made a hasty escape through the birch copse of doom, running past the three borders until we reached the cooling respite of a waterfall.
After which we knew it was only a few more exhausting kilometers to the safety of the car.