A Hike in Sarek 2006

2006-08-19 — 2006-09-02

Text and photos by Peter Andrén

peter.andren (at) gmail.com

This travelogue is written more than a years after we did the hike. Due to faltering memory some details might be wrong. On the other hand, you don't have to read what we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, or the weather on a hourly basis, which some authors (myself included, alas) tend to fill up space with.

Our hike in Sarek really started in the Easter when we went to Saltoluokta in order to experience the fjelds in the winter. With us we had a large box with food, which the friendly personnel let us put in the basement. Our thought was to walk for two weeks in Sarek, go to Saltoluokta to get out stashed food, and then do another two week in Sarek. As things turned out, after the first two weeks in Sarek we decided to walk north from Sitasjaure, and ended our hike in Abisko. The last part, from Sitasjaure to Abisko was quite uneventful, and I don't write much about it.

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On our hike through Sarek we followed this route (link to Google Maps). As you can see from the satellite images we started walking from the Akka Hut. It was a beautiful late summer day, and we felt great to be able to hike in Sarek at last. We had planner the hike for some time, and even if the overnight train from Stockholm is nice it's a long trip. I think we both felt like the people John Muir thought of when he said "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home /.../".

We had made pretty detailed plans for our route by, in general, looking at the map. On the map, however, everything looks just nice, and you apparently need some experience to avoid the hard parts. In any case, we had decided to walk on the north side of Áhkká. When we sat at home and just followed out imaginary path with the index finger we estimated that it would take maybe one day — but it wasn't until three tough and hard days later before we had passed the dense forests of willow that cover most of the north side. Also, it was very warm, and we were pestered by some small blood-sucking insect.

We were both rather stubborn and fought on. At times I was so tired I didn't even have the energy to check if Jenni was doing all right, I just kept walking in the tempo I could muster for the moment. What's slightly embarrassing about this is that I have a complete set of the rather uncommon Vegetation Maps, but I never thought about consulting it when we prepared. But then, if I had it probably wouldn't have made any difference — the willows are not marked with warning triangles. Maybe they should be  . . .

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The first night, before the troublesome willow shrubbery, we camped at site with a splendid view over Áhkájávre, and there were many cloudberries to be found. Just looking at these photos make me drool  . . . One interesting detail with our equipment was that we had two single-person tents. Jenni really wanted to use her Hilleberg Akto, and my Vaude Taurus II is on the small side when you are two metres tall. Most of the time we used the Akto as an storage tent, which definitely is on the extravagant side.

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The second night we had to make camp in the midst of a tangle of willow and birch as we realized we wouldn't be able to make it to a more open terrain. The site was pretty depressing in every way, but we were both exhausted after the hard work and slept like babies.

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The following day was so warm we had to pitch the tent at about noon and just wait until six when we could walk again — walking in that heat was not an option. Finally we passed the last willow tree, and all of a sudden it was all worth it. It was a wonderful feeling to stand on the first bare rock of Áhkká and look at Áhkkájaure and further north. A cool breeze soothed us, and the clothes dried quickly in the warm sun. From here on everything was much easier. The panorama below is almost 180°.

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Truth be told we wanted to get away from the north side of Áhkká and, hence, soon continued to walk to the south side. We made camp at a place with a breathtaking view over Gássaláhko, with its thousands of small lakes. Thanks to the fine weather Sarektjåhkkå was clearly visible on the horizon.

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A stay in the fjelds doesn't get much better than this. The weather continued to be fantastic, and we still had lots of exquisite food. To bring and big supply of tasty food is a weight I find light to carry. We brought four salamis, three large pieces of cheese, lots of sundried tomatoes, half a kilo of butter etc. When you cut some parmesan cheese over the fried grounded meat you definitely don't mind the extra weight. And some other cheeses for desert — thank you very much. Also, the packing will get lighter quickly, and you will keep your stamina thanks to the tasty food. I'm sure this is possible to prove scientifically.

Butter is actually a very convenient thing to bring in the backpack. When you stay in a hut you might consider leaving it outside in some shady place. I usually wrap the butter in some insulating bubble-wrap and put that in a zip-lock bag. It makes all the difference in the world to add some butter to your outdoor food.

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We stayed in this wonderful camp for three nights. On the first day we walked up to the highest lake in Sweden. Grundsten wasn't too enthusiastic about it, so my expectations were not that high. But it really is a splendid lake, and should be top priority to all Sarek hikers. As you can see in the panorama below half of the lake is bounded by a glacier which, at times, "dumps" small icebergs into the lake. To see this lake was worth much more than the ascent of Niják which we climbed a few days later. I thoroughly recommend the highest lake in Sweden.

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Now, I think I know what you're thinking  . . . But no, I did not swim in the lake. If I had known that it was a proper lake, then maybe I would have brought a towel. But now I didn't and it was quite chilly. Also, the whole lake was covered by a thin sheet of ice, so I assume it would have been very cold indeed. But it would be fun to have a photo of me swimming like an icebreaker. Next time  . . .

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The next day we aimed for the Áhkká "big summit", but we were unsuccessful. We misinterpreted the instructions in Grundsten's book and walked on the wrong side of an "nameless glacier". It would be great to have all those routes in the GPS — something for the future.

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2006-08-23--12-27-27.00.jpg It would be convenient if you could just download the route for, say, the Royal Trail, and then just walk on. Some people objects to this as it would remove the "free" element of hiking., but I disagree. Even though I always carry an GPS I have managed to get lost in the most charming way. The thing is, if you think you're on the right path you don't care to look at the GPS.

This can be illustrated by the fact that we didn't just walk on the wrong side of the glacier, but actually walked on the glacier. That seems to be clumsy on a grand scale if you look at the photo below, but it happens easier than you think. When I checked the GPS after our little misadventure I could clearly see we had walked right up on the glacier. Now, if I had looked while walking I would probably just have laughed at the map error, as there was maybe two metres of gravel and rocks above the glacier ice.

All in all, it turned out to be a nice day-trip. Along the way we came upon the very large drops of water resting on the moss (as in the photos below). I can't recall I have ever seen this phenomenon before, or after. It was difficult to take a representative photo, but the largest drop was about one inch across.

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When we left our "Camp Áhkká" we walked towards Gisuris and Ruohtesvágge on a comfortable path which was broken by a sea of boulders once in a while. I think it took about an hour to walk through the scenery in the panoramic photo below, where you can see Gisuris in the background.

This is a rather desolate path of Sarek (if I may treat Áhkká as a part of Sarek). On six days and five nights we only saw some walkers (probably soldiers, as they were marching) speeding through Gássalákho. As we entered Ruohtesvágge we met some people, but usually just one group per day. A few days later we spoke to the Sami people in Rinim, and they longed for the good ol' days when they used to ship in 50–60 persons per day. This was in 1967 after Svante Lundgren had written "Hike in Sarek: travels beyond the cairned paths" (or something like that). Today, maybe ten people per week enter Sarek through Rinim. Which is a good thing, as most people prefer Sarek without all that people.

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I like the small boulder that look like a miniature Niják. As can be seen from the photo from our break we had another day with sunshine, which, combined with the easy walking, made life very enjoyable. We "debackpacked" and walked up to Rákkasoalgge, and the near total absence of boulders made it feel like a rock at the sea. Even though the altitude is nothing to mention the view was quite fantastic.

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If you click on the photo with the glacier you can see a row of reindeers walking on it (on approximately the center of the photo). Unfortunately they took some other path before coming to the part where they would have had the sky as a background, which definitely would have made a better photo. I hope I will walk less and take more photos in the future, even if I like to use my legs when I'm away from my normal desk.

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2006-08-26--13-41-58.00.jpg After Áhkká we camped at Niják for a couple of nights. As we had decided to climb Niják we were very happy with the easy walking that day. And ascending Niják turned out to be more exerting that we thought.

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The climb itself wasn't so hard on Niják, but it was both hard and a bit scary to walk in the enormous sea of boulders, which Niják basically consists of. The photo above says it all, I think. Jenni almost disappears in all the stone, and if it hadn't been for her red jacket I don't think it would be possible to spot her.

Often the boulders moved under your feet, and, what was worse, boulders five metres above moved too. Apparently not many people walk up on Niják a normal summer, or your think the boulders would have stabilized more. From the summit we had a (needless to say maybe) incredible view. I worked my camera to the max, and made a 360° panorama. The result is okay, but one would need to print it on a banner or something.

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Below I take cover behind the "one picture says more than a thousand words". In general, I find it difficult to write anything about hikes. Not much happens. That's why I write about all strange things only vaguely related to the hike. People you meet is a bit too personal and the rest too boring.

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After I shot the photo above we had one hell of a storm for one day and one night. Unfortunately, I hadn't bought a water-proof bag to my camera, which was a bit damp after the storm. Due to this I couldn't take any more photos in Sarek.

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Copyright © 2007,2010 Peter Andrén