Starting the journey

Day one and two

Round half past nine I started “Nordkalotten 2015”, my long journey through Northern Sweden, Norway and Finland. The first destination is Stokmarknes, which is 880 km away and according to Google Maps it takes eleven hours, nine minutes from my home in Skelleftehamn. I’m not a long distance driver therefore I divided the journey into three parts.

Day 1: Skelleftehamn – Solberget

When I started sky was completely cloudy and overcast but right after Vidsel the sky started to clear up and the temperatures dropped from -8 °C in Skelleftehamn to -21 °C in Solberget (with a daily minimum of -23 °C). On the journey I had to cross the river Luleälven three times and on one of the long bridges I could see the sun slowly going down.

I’ve been in Solberget many times and I’ll be there again in February. This time I stayed only to sleep and continued the next day. I one woke up when Sesam, the tom cat and secret owner of Solberget lay down on my feet in the dead of night.

Day 2: Solberget – Abisko

The evening before temperatures increased and it started snowing. When I woke up almost 10 cm fresh snow covered the ground and my car and it was only -2 °C. Half past nine I continued my journey heading for Gällivare, Kiruna and Abisko. It was cloudy the whole time but fortunately almost no snow fell. That made driving as easy as on the first day. Just some kilometres before Abisko sky cleared up a bit. I was lucky and could hire the same nice room where I already stayed last February for a week.

Tomorrow I’ll enter Norway and continue to Stokmarknes.

Reindeers – many, many reindeers

Day three (part I)

Today I got up early, no wonder after more than 10 hours sleep. I packed my things, cleaned the room and left Abisko heading westwards. It was still twilit and I was quite alone on the road.

That changed after 18 kilometres: A huge herd of reindeers blocked the road. I slowed down and slowly, slowly drove through the reindeers. Right after the reindeer crossing I found a parking place. Good to exit the car and take some images of these beautiful and gentle animals.

The reason why the reindeers were hanging around was probably the pile of big bags lying beside of the road. I guess they contain reindeer food.

After half an hour of taking pictures and watching I entered the car again and continued my journey to Norway.

Over the storm-beaten Norwegian fjell

Day 16 – about storms, waiting long, a dead battery and Northern Lights

Today I left Tromsø and tried to reach Abisko. But I couldn’t say if I should reach it today since two parts of the mountain road were still closed.

The first part was extremely windy and I could feel the squalls shaking the car. Again the question – was it smart to drive a car in this weather? But soon when I came to Fagernes and started crossing the mountains – the fjell – it got much better. Then I arrived in Bjerkvik where one road goes to the Vesterålen and the other to Narvik and Sweden. Just after I left Bjerkvik, after a tiny bend the storm stroke again. I left the road to Narvik and turned left following the E10 to Sweden. The car climbed the steep passage up and than I saw a queue of cars. Stop.

I switched the car off (Bad idea, Olaf!) and waited. What’s happening? Are we waiting for a convoy? Is the road still closed? I waited. After half an hour it got cold in the car – outside it was stormy and -9 °C – and I turned the car key to start the car again. No reaction beside of half a second light on the dashboard and some disturbing noises. I tried again, and again. The car was dead! “Sh**!” was my thought.

I asked the car driver behind me. No, he doesn’t know anything about cars. The next one. Yes, I should check the contacts of the battery first. That’s what I did but they looked ok. While considering what to do next, the guy came to look as well. He checked the battery contacts once more and came to the same conclusion. Just seconds later a big red car approached from the back, stopped some centimetres beside of mine, a guy jumped out, two jumper cables in his hand, fixed them to the batteries of our cars, asked me to start and my Saab started like a charm! I just could say “tusen takk” – Thousand thanks and back in the queue vanished the red car. This guy is my hero today! I was both grateful and very relieved.

Now I focussed on not stalling the engine under any circumstances. As all other cars I continued waiting. After about two hours of waiting some really official looking cars came from the back and minutes later a guy picked all the “normal” cars to follow. We had to wait another fifteen minutes (“do not stall the engine!”) and then we could follow a snowplough.

Even now where the road was open and ploughed it was an adventure. You could see snowdrifts everywhere and the strong wind still blew loads of snow through the air. Sometimes you could hardly see the hazard lights of the car in front of you. Some new snowdrifts started to cover the road again. It took time until we crossed the Bjørnfjell – the Bear Mountains and came to the Norwegian border where another long car queue waited on the other side for their turn.

Now I was in Sweden and the other road segment was already ploughed and open so that we quite easily could continue driving, still minding the snowdrifts and the stormy wind. Finally I arrived in Abisko where I am in the same room like two weeks ago –it  seems like ages ago.

It really feels like home being in Sweden again – the Swedish language, the Swedish mobile internet without expensive data roaming and – last not least – the Swedish prices! After a short rest a went to a restaurant and ate and drank for 85 SEK, less than the half of what it would cost in Norway.

After that I took a photo tour. The sky had cleared up and a long band of Northern Light covered the sky over Abisko.

Translations:

EnglishGerman
squallSturmböe
dashboardArmaturenbrett
jumper cableStarthilfekabel
stall the engineden Motor abwürgen
ploughedgepflügt, freigeräumt
snowdriptSchneewehe
hazard lightsWarnblinker

Abisko: A first small ski tour

Day 17

Finally – my first time on skis! I didn’t dare to use them in the Tromsø mountains, they are too steep for my mediocre skiing abilities. The mountains – the fjäll – in Abisko however is not so hard.

EquipmentWhat do I need for a (short) day trip? Let’s see …

  • windproof clothes
  • a down jacket for resting
  • warm woolen mittens
  • hot tea
  • goodies
  • a compass
  • a good map
  • my GPS with spare batteries
  • first aid kit
  • headlamp
  • camera equipment
  • bivy bag
  • some money (just in case)

I love it when I can start a ski tour just from the doorstep. Weather was fine, partly blue sky, partly clouds, -15 °C and no wind at all. The first time in this winter I put on my ski shoes, attached the skis, unattached them again to get the other mitten that still was in the house, attached the skis again, took the backpack and ski poles and started the tour. First the tunnel under the railway (Stockholm–Narvik) then up the street and into the open woodland. First I followed the snowmobile tracks. That’s easy because the snow is solid and it’s easy to go. But it’s a bit boring, too. So I left the trail after a while and went cross-country. The snow is new – it snowed 30-40 cm the last days and quite soft. Soon the skis were more under than on the snow, mostly calf deep, later sometimes more than knee deep.

In average the snow was 70 cm deep – that’s not so much for the fjäll, but I was quite glad that I could continue cross-country even if it was a bit exhausting. Again and again the snow around me slumped down under my weight sometimes snapping like a whip, sometimes growling like thunder. This is what avalanches are build of. It was clear that I had to avoid all steeper terrain today.

Soon the valley Lapporten, that you can see from Abisko as well, came into view again.

I hit another snowmobile tracks and followed them. An a slope ahead a snowmobile approached and I stepped aside to make place – sinking into snow almost knee deep again. The snowmobile was followed by eleven tourists that booked a dog sledding tour. I laid down into the snow to make pictures and since the dogs came to a stop I could make a photo of the husky with its snow-covered nose.

The dogs continued and so did I. But now I had a minor challenge. The track on the slope was quite steep and so narrow, that I couldn’t make V-steps big enough to go up on skis without sliding back. So I left the track and tried to go up zigzag beside the track. But after ten steps I was bogged down into the snow more then knee deep. I tried to go up, but impossible, at least for me. I returned to the hard snowmobile track, unmounted the skis and went up afoot.

Up on a bleak plateau I left the snowmobile trail and continued cross-country again in direction Lapporten. On the treeless plateaus it has been much windier and the snow was pressed and beared my weight. I continued a bit further and enjoyed the beautiful views and impressions.

But soon I headed back and skied down again through the untouched terrain. Downhill skiing was a bit thrilling: Some patches where hard and the skis ran fast but soon a patch filled with deep soft snow waited for you. It was pure luck that I didn’t fell. Four hours later I was in front of the house – right before the doorstep. A nice tour.

Abisko: White snow, white sky

Day 18

Another ski tour today, not up the hills but down to the lake Torneträsk, which ist the seventh biggest lake in Sweden and 168 metres deep. But on the lake there’s a layer of at least 50 cm ice and a bit snow. This snow was so low in contrast that you could see just a uniform white without any structure at all. When I came to the first small island I could hardly see where the slope began. White snow, white sky.

I went half around the first nameless island and half across. Then it was only some hundred metres to the island Ábeskosuolu which is bigger and higher. I didn’t dare to climb the top with my skis but went around here and there. After taking a rest I continued to Abisko Turiststation, the big tourist station in Abisko. I went over the ice straight ahead.

Even on land I tried to continue quite directly, which was both quite stupid and quite funny, because the labyrinth of steep small hills was full with a thicket of birches. A snow hare looked at me from a safe distance. I guess he thought, I’m mad and perhaps the hare is right. I continued plunging through the deep snow taking many detours to come uphills until I reached the station. Arrival 13:45 – just in time to get a late lunch. I enjoyed especially the salad bar. After a rest and eating a bit too fast and too much I went back to the village Abisko, but this time on the direct way near the road and the railway line. That’s only two kilometres and I was soon home again.

Meanwhile home: A snow storm has covered Skellefteå and around with huge amounts of snow. Some people wrote on Facebook, they’d been snowed in. I looked at the photos and – yes – I, as a snow fan would love to could have shared this experience. But on the other side we had much snow in Skelleftehamn the last years, especially because the nearness to the coast. For example:

Here in Abisko wind starts to increase and snow shall come tonight, but just some centimetres.

Abisko: Where are the mountains?

Day 19

Where are the mountains? I guess they’re still there, they are hard to move. But I couldn’t see them the whole day. When I stood at the edge of the lake I could see the island Ábeskosuolu, 700 metres away, but the rest of the terrain was hidden in a greyish white. I guess it was less the falling snow but the blowing snow that hid the surroundings, because the wind was quite fresh and gusty. SMHI, the Swedish weather office published a level 1 warning for today: hård vind med snödrev/nederbörd (high wind with ground blizzard/precipitation).

Two other images of today, the first showing one of huge snowbanks that were built up on the houses lee side. The other shows the restaurant and bar from the outside with blowing snow.

Photographers note: I like the last photo of the restaurant’s outside. And I took it without a tripod: ISO 3200 35mm f/2.0 1/320 sec

 

A ski tour near Tornehamn

Day 40

After leaving Solberget together with Annika on Saturday, we drove to Abisko where we made a marvellous day trip on skis yesterday.

We started in Tornehamn north from Björkliden with quite cold weather (-17 °C) and deep blue sky. We were surrounded by the snow covered mountains and birch trees packed with hoar frost that sparkled in the sun. After some hundred meters on the lake Torneträsk we followed a winter path marked with red crosses. When we looked back into the sun we could see tiny ice flakes that gleamed goldenly in the sun.

Mostly the way was very easy to ski but some short parts were quite steep. No problem for the snow mobiles that left many tracks on and beside the trail but not so easy for us with skis.

After a couple of kilometres we followed the hiking trail Nordkalottruta northward. This trail isn’t marked in winter time but since all the tiny lakes were completely frozen we chose our own way northward to the bridge over the small river Niuoraeatnu. The terrain is hilly and mostly we want zigzag to avoid the steeper slopes. On a hill top after a quite steep ascent we made our first break and had a view over Lapporten.

We continued climbing small hills, skiing through birch forests along slopes with cornices until we finally came to a steeper slope down to the river Njuoraeatnu with the chain bridge overstretching the river.

While it was quite easy crossing the river that still was partly open it was quite difficult to continue our tour. We didn’t dare to go on the river, therefore we had to go up the hill. This part was so steep that we had to unmount our skis and go uphill without. Not too easy in metre deep snow …

Phew – that was exhausting but finally we were up on another hill ready for a lunch break. The wind increased and clouds gathered. Therefore we continued to a small bay of the Torneträsk where we found shelter from the wind for a longer break. We put on our down jackets, drank hot tea and ate sandwiches and chocolate. (Tip: Ham freezes, feta cheese works fine.)

Eventually we had to continue our ski trip; day light wouldn’t last forever. We went round the peninsula Stállobieskkenjárga against the wind. The wind increased and increased and slowed us down. I put on the fleece balaclava and tightened the fur rimmed hood to get as much wind protection as possible. The landscape lay grey in grey and all you could hear was the wind with its stormy gusts. It started to get dusky. What a contrast to the first part of our ski tour!

Slowly we continued to the southeast tip of the peninsula where we crossed the bay Njuoreanunjálbmi. Finally we reached Tornehamn again, entered the car and drove to the Abisko Mountain Lodge where we got our reward: A hot chocolate and a cool Coke.

Tack för turen, Annika – thanks for the tour.

 

Lapporten – Fire and ice

Today Annika and I are in Björkliden, a real nice place in our opinion. But I fell into some kind of tourist mode and was much too lazy to take many pictures today. Just two pictures of the famous Lapporten from the inside of the Hotell Fjället:

OK, one more picture, the upper storey of the hostel:

That’s all for today, a lazy day. Tomorrow we’ll be driven up to the Låktatjåkko Mountain Lodge, 1228 meters above sea level, for a overnight stay.

Låktatjåkko – between ski tour and luxury

Day 43 and 44

Yesterday it promised to be a fine day with great weather. The mountain valley Lapporten was gleaming and glowing in the early sun.

Annika und I planned to go to Låktatjåkko, the highest Swedish mountain lodge, where we planned to stay overnight and even to eat a three course dinner. It’s not far away from Björkliden where we started, but parts are quite steep. Therefore we decided to take the snow cat, that drives to Låktatjåkko every day. And I could sit in the front to take pictures.

After the first steep passage we left the snow cat, took our skis and backpacks and continued the way on our own. The view over the snowy mountains and the lake Torneträsk was just amazing.

But some steep passages waited for us and after the first longer part we made a longer rest enjoying the sun, food and our warm down jackets.

After a while we continued our tour, short in kilometres but still quite steep, at least without skins. But finally the Låktatjåkko Mountain Lodge came into view.

We were greeted by the two women running the Lodge. We asked how many people would stay over night. “Just you two”. And how many people will eat the three course dinner? “Just you two”. Now the pure luxury part began. We had a sauna, we sat in the fireplace room the fire already lit and at 7 p.m. we got a fantastic dinner, just the two of us! And we just did nothing for it. Almost a bit crazy!

After a snowy and quite windy night I went outside to take some pictures. The light was so diffuse, that it was hard to see where terrain went up or down. Therefore we took a quite relaxed morning waiting for the snow cat to come and bring us down into civilisation again.

Thank you, Ulrika and Yanina for the great service and the fantastic food. This is a place where we would love to be snowed in for a while.

 

From Nallo to Vistas, Alesjaure, Abiskojaure and back to civilization

August 30 – September 2: Day eight to eleven of the summer hike through the mountains of Swedish Lapland

Nallo – Vistas

After two days in Nallo Annika and I were eager and keen to move on. After our breakfast we said goodbye to stugvärd Janne and started to ford the stream behind of the hut. Fortunately the water level dropped to normal again and quite easily we could cross the stream.

Then we went along the Nallú, a fantastic mountain that changed its appearance every other second because of the moving clouds and the changing light situations. We never tired of looking at this big mountain that seemed to accompany us a long way.

After a while another stream that we had to cross, came down from the lake Nállujávrrit. While I managed to splash through with my high rubber boots, Annika decided to take of her shoes and wade through it in her sandals – brr, the water was really ice cold!

We continued the hike through the fast-changing scenery. Quite soon we saw the first trees and realised that the big mountain ahead was the Vássačorru, that lies behind the valley Visttasvággi, where our next destination, the Vistasstuga is located.

Soon we crossed the Visttasjohka on the chain bridge and arrived at the cabin to meet the stugvärd – the warden.

Oh look: Coke and beer are priced down! That’s because the season only lasts three other weeks. After that the huts are closed down until their reopening for the skiers in February or March. But because none of the cans would survive the frost, all liquids has to be drunk in the next three weeks or poured away. We decided to save some cokes from this cruel destiny.

We were placed in the outhouse – the main building was in the act of being renovated. There we sat on the front stairs, ate, drank and looked on the river Visttasjohka. And we took a bath in this cold river. Chilling but refreshing! Finally the sun came out. I crossed the bridge to make a photo of our cabin.

Later – it started getting dark – we got a visitor: A big moose stood beside the river. I went out, where I could observe this huge animal, how it ate leaves and grass, less than 10 meters away. It looked at me but wasn’t disturbed by me at all, it even passed quite near until it vanished between some trees. This was one of the moments were I was glad and touched as a “normal person”, but a bit grumpy with myself, that I was too lazy to carry my big tele lens for better and sharper pictures. I never experienced a moose so near and so fearless.

Vistas – Alesjaure

The trip the day before was short: only 9 kilometres, this day it would be twice as much: 18 km. The first kilometres were a bit boring since they went through birch forests and quite muddy passages. But after a while the landscape opened and we could see the mountain Siehtagas with its glacier Siehtagasglaciären. In front of the mountain there were alpine meadows and small birch forests. In front of that the turquoise water of the Visttasjohka glimmered in the sunlight.

We went up again until we again were over the treeline. This part of the valley Visttasvaggi is beautiful and very varying. The first rest we made in the lee side of a huge cuboid rock. We weren’t the first – someone built a bench by laying a plank over two stones. The second rest we made at the Tjatjajaurekåtan (there’s not much left of it).

After a while I saw some reindeers grassing. There were shy and quickly went away when I came nearer. We saw (probably) them again when we had a view at the sami village Alisjávri that lies at the lake with the the same name. From that it’s not far to the mountain huts of Alesjaure – the Swedish version of Alisjávri. The Alesjaurestugorna are the biggest mountain huts of the STF – the Swedish tourist association. I prefer the smaller ones as e.g. Nallo, but it’s fine to have a shop, a drying room and especially a sauna. And we used it all! It’s nice to go to sleep after being in the sauna and having a wash in the river Aliseatnu.

Alesjaure – Abiskojaure

I didn’t make many pictures of this part of our tour. I was a bit bored of this part of the trail and found nothing special in the landscape. Just some photos of human evidence: Tent poles for a lavvu and a crossing over a long reindeer fence.

It was the first time, that I was really impatient and just wanted to arrive. Some kilometres before Abiskojaure we came below the treeline. Most of the birch trees still were green but you could see, that autumn is near. No wonder, it was the 1st of September, beginning of autumn for the meteorologists.

Finally we reached another chain bridge and shortly after it arrived in Abiskojaure. The sun came out and even though it was much colder than one week ago we could sit and lie on the short-cut lawn in front of the hut. I took the last bath of the journey and strolled around making some photos. After crossing a small swamp I came to a quite huge sandy beach beside the lake Ábeskojávri. A beautiful place!

The evening it started to become chilly, hardly 3 °C. I was curious if we would get the first frost of the season next morning …

Abiskojaure – Abisko Östra

… and yes, we got frost. -2.5 °C showed the scientific thermometer of the swedish weather service, when I had my first look. On the water surface of the buckets lay a layer of ice and round the leaves of lower plants I could see the first autumnal hoarfrost.

I was up very early that morning and I went to the beach at the lake again. First it looked quite normal but then it started to get foggy and misty while the sun rose behind the mountain Giron. What a beautiful sight! I stood there for at least an hour and only walked back to get another full battery for my camera. Later I met Annika, showed her the place and was glad that I could share this awesome experience.

I was a bit sad – this would be the last day of hiking through the wonderful mountain landscape of Swedish Lapland. But each journey has some kind of end and so had ours. We started our tour through the birth forests along the lake Ábeskojávri, than along the river Abiskojåkka.

After a while a famous landmark came into sight: Lapporten – “The Lapponian Gate”, a U-shaped valley framed of two mountains that give this valley its specific and recognizable shape. However, since this photo is taken from the backside, it hardly shows this special shape.

Since Alesjaure we followed the Kungsleden – the King’s Trail, but right after the bridge over the stream Nissonjohka we left the main trail that leads to the Abisko Mountain Station and turned right to Abisko Östra, the village, were we planned to stay for two other days. The way, however, was not much fun to go. A lot of all-terrain vehicles has turned the way into mud. Since I lost my lens cap and I was afraid that mud would splatter my lens, I packed the camera into its waterproof bag long before the worst mud patches. And that’s why this is the last photo of our hiking tour:

Thank you Annika, för trevligt sällskap – for nice company. Where should we hike next?

Any suggestions?

Torneträsk and Port of Narvik

On thursday – three days ago – Annika and I drove to Abisko to enjoy some winter days in the Swedish mountains. Skelleftehamn is in Northern Sweden, Abisko is in Northern Sweden, but it’s still 570 km to go by car.

Yesterday I stood up quite early, because the sun was shining and I wanted to go onto the lake Torneträsk (one of Sweden’s biggest lakes – 70 km long) to make some photos. The whole lake is covered by a thick layer of ice and a thin layer of snow.

In the front you can see stacked up ice that builds along the fissures in the sheet of ice, in the background you can see Lapporten – the landmark of the region.

After a while fog came down and when you looked against the sun you only could see vague shades and pale colours. It looked more like standing in a sandy desert, not on the icy surface of the Torneträsk.

Some hours later: Annika and I had planned to do a ski tour near the Swedish-Norwegian border. We packed the car with our skis, cameras and hot tea and set off. It’s 38 km to the border. Behind that border – on the Norwegian side – there’re a lot of cottages and since it’s Easter and probably every single Norwegian is in his cottage there were a lot of parked cars, too.

We looked for a parking place as well. The most parking places were stuffed with cars and were furthermore only for private use. I continued driving and we looked for a public parking place. Well, we found one but the surrounded mountains were too steep for skiing. We stopped anyway to check our position on the map. After that we helped some Norwegians to dig out their car that was completely stuck in the packed snow – on the very same parking place! There’s a reason, that most of the locals have all-terrain vehicles or at least cars with all-wheel drive.

My Saab doesn’t have such and from now on I was even more cautious in choosing a potential place to park. To make a long story short: We didn’t found a single parking place that was (a) available, (b) public, and (c) not too snowy. That’s why we changed plans and continued to Narvik, which is 46 km behind the border.

There’re (at least) three signs for leaving the mountain plateau and approaching Narvik:

  • The road is narrower
  • The road has much more curves and bends
  • It gets much warmer. (down to -9 °C in Sweden, +5 °C near Narvik)

Soon we saw the first fjord, the Rombaken:

We continued to Narvik that seemed to be completely closed due to the Easter Saturday. Therefore we headed to the Port of Narvik and looked around there. Most ports I know are locked and fenced off. Not in Narvik. Here it’s possible to walk around, enter the piers and have a closer look to the ships. And we were completely alone.

Narvik is a huge contrast compared to Abisko! Even if I prefer landscape and nature to towns, I like this place.

But anyway we drove back to the wintry mountains of Swedish Lapland quite soon and round an hour later we arrived again at our fine and cozy room at Abisko Cabin.

Wintry Scandinavia in a nutshell (without the skiing).

A day trip in direction Lapporten

Start at 10:00 – up through birch forests – against the sun – looking through sun glasses at the multicoloured clouds – gaining height – over the treeline – less and less snow and more and more stones and rocks – fantastic views over the lake Torneträsk and the Swedish and Norwegian mountains – too rocky (and too late) to continue – skiing down – birch trees again, first some solitary, then denser and denser woods – back at 17:15 – too lazy to write more …