Fjell and fjäll

Fjell/fjäll is the word for mountain or mountains. Fjell is Norwegian, fjäll is Swedish. As similar the words are as different the fjell/fjäll can be.

When Annika and I started our way back home from Tromsø yesterday we could experience the inaccessible steep mountains in Norway with the dark grey summits hanging in the evenly dark clouds as well as the colourful autumnal mountain plateaus between Abisko and Kiruna.

Moving things to Tromsø

As some of you may know I’ll work for the Norsk Polarinstitutt in Tromsø from the 1 October. I’m looking forward to this extremely interesting job and the town Tromsø is outstanding. The downside is that Annika and I won’t see each other very often, because the distance it too far to visit each other for a normal weekend. Hopefully I’m allowed to work from home in Obbola/Umeå sometimes.

Last Saturday I packed around 250 different things that I may need here – from my big computer monitor to my digital piano and warm winter boots. When I packed everything into my Subaru on Sunday morning I realised that I even had spare room for my ergonomic office stool and my warmest winter parka. Nice!

On Sunday at 10 o’clock Annika and I started our tour to Tromsø. The day before our home region Västerbotten was put on the red list by Norway again, which means that we had to be in quarantine while being in Norway. Bad luck! Therefore we didn’t make our stopover in the Norwegian Narvik as considered before but already in Kiruna in Sweden.

The next day we were stopped by the police at the border. The police informed us about the quarantine rules and wanted to know our place to stay. Since I had a lease contract for my room in Tromsø with me we were allowed to cross the border. At 16 o’clock we arrived in front of the house where I have a room in a shared flat. My room is quite tiny but there is place in the living room and kitchen as well. The flat is in the 2nd floor (3rd floor for Americans) and you can see the steep and partly snow covered mountains of the island Kvaløya and the mainland. It’s even possible to watch the Hurtigruten ship passing by but I didn’t see it yet.

Yesterday we made a car trip to Sommarøya, a peninsula with some beautiful beaches. We bathed in the Norwegian Sea. At 11 °C water temperature it was warmer than excepted. In contrary to the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea – the Norwegian Sea won’t freeze in the winter because of the Gulf Stream. So I can winter bath the whole winter without chopping ice if I want to.

Two images of yesterday:

Today we will make another day trip, tomorrow we’ll start to head home to Sweden again.

And the quarantine? Well – we shall stay home, but we are allowed to buy food and to be in nature as long we are able to keep distance to others. So the restrictions were quite lax. Mostly it’s the museums and the public transport (including the cable car Fjellheisen) that we have to avoid.

P.S.: Now all things have more or less found a place in the flat and I can enter my room shown on the 3rd photo above.

 

 

Wintry weekend in June

Friday, 5. June

At 16:00 I’m at the southern entrance of the University Hospital of Umeå to fetch Annika from work. We go for a weekend tour that we’ve planned for months. We want to drive the vildmarksvägen on the day of it’s opening. Most of this tourist route is open the whole year, but a part is closed more than half the year due to heavy snow.

Today’s destination: the small town Gäddede, where we have hired a tiny cabin on the campsite. The weather is grey but all birch leaves glow intensely. The Swedish weather forecast issued a level 2 warning for high flow but to our astonishment there is very little water in many lakes we pass. We pass even some reindeers, three moose and some black grouses.

Saturday, 6. June

After breakfast we drive along the lakes Kycklingsvattnet, Stor-Jorm and Lill-Jorm. The lakes are open and everything is green. In the distance there are snow covered mountains.

Ten minutes later it looks like this:

What happened? Time travel? No, we are just 200 metres higher than before and although its only 600 metres above sea level the conditions are still wintry here. From now on we travel between the seasons. Sometimes still winter, sometimes already spring. The small brooks and streams carry a lot of water, but most of the lakes are quite empty.

We leave the vildmarksvägen and turn left to pay the Norwegian border a short visit. Of course we are not allowed to cross it due to corona. So we turn our car back to the vildmarksvägen. We travel along some lakes, first partly frozen, then still ice covered until we come to a sudden stop.

A long line of cars, motor cycles and camper vans waits in front of us. They all wait for the opening of the closed passage. We leave our car and walk to the barrier, that will be opened at 12 o’clock.

After half an hour of waiting the barrier opens and the long line of cars starts to move. The next hours there’s a lot of stop-and-go, because people are just stopping and parking anywhere to take pictures making the vildmarksvägen a single file road. But nobody seems to be impatient or even angry, they all have come to see the large snow walls beside the road that tell a lot about last winters snow falls.

Annika and I climb up one of the walls to have a look to an old concrete hut marked with a red cross. We peek inside where we find first aid equipment. Is it still in use? Well, perhaps not, the dressing bandages were fabricated 1957.

And outside: winter landscapes with metre-high snow. We really regret that we have forgot to take our skis with us. Some others are smarter than we and ski through the white. Well,maybe next time …

After driving a bit back and forth we finally take the obligatory snow wall photos.

Sunday, 7. June

After an overnight stay in the rainy Saxnäs we head back home. While there is some old snow left in Saxnäs the Swedish inland is free of snow. As on the trip there some of the lakes have very low water levels. I could stroll there for hours but we want to arrive early home in Obbola und so I only take two shorter strolls to take some pictures.

After some hours of driving, a lunch break in Lycksele and another two hours of driving we arrive home in Obbola in the afternoon. Thank you Annika for a fantastic weekend trip.

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 3

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

8 March – Vålåstugan

The weather forecast was right. After a calm and sunny day yesterday it looks very different outside. It is grey and the wind has become stormy and gusty.

All people consider their plans. Among others a group of four decides to remain. They wanted to continue to Helags, round 22 km in the southwest. They would have got the stormy wind straight from the front.

Other skiers plan to return to Vålådalen. It’s Sunday, their last holiday. They ask each other to team up and they exchange phone numbers with Olle, one of the wardens. I do not envy them being out in rough weather with increasing wind speeds with squalls up to 27 m/s in the afternoon. While they equip themselves with balaclavas and ski goggles Annika and I keep inside, peeking through the window that starts to be covered with wet snow.

After all skiers have left Vålåstugan it’s very quiet inside with 10 people remaining. Most of them are on their rooms, only one man seems to love cooking. Until noon he has baked fresh bread, made popcorn and fried pancakes. We are invited to popcorn and get part of the pancake powder so that we can make our own ones. If I’m inside the whole day my interest in eating dramatically increases.

While we spend most of our time reading and being lazy the benches on the sun terrace start to snow in. That’s however nothing compared to the other side of the cabin. A metre high snowdrift has started covering the marked way to the outdoor toilet until Olle relocates the waymarks to a less snowed area. At the same time it has became quite warm, slightly above zero.

In the afternoon the other skiers start to ring. At the end of the day it is clear: All of them reached Vålådalen without any harm. We are quite relieved because we read and heard stories about serious (and even deadly) incidents in the mountains in winter time.

We are equipped with a metal shovel, with warm down bags and bivy bags, but even good equipment is only of limited help when the weather is too severe or there is no snow to dig in.

Tomorrow we want to ski to the mountain cabin Lunndörren. According to the forecast it will be slightly colder, sunny and less windy. Good to know, then we dare to continue our tour.

9 March – Vålåstugan – Lunndörren

The next day the skis in front of the house are wrapped in wet snow, now frozen again. I’m glad that my skis are inside. Yesterday evening I glued the long climbing skins under them because we may have to climb many snow drifts today. The weather is fine and it promises to be a sunny day.

At 8 o’clock we say hejdå to the stugvärdarna – the wardens – Olle and Amie. We shall greet the stugvärdarna at Lunndörren. We put on our backpacks, mount the skis, I put on the belt that is connected with the pulka and then we depart.

The first part is easy to ski and extremely beautiful. At every branch tip of the birch trees small pieces of ice are hanging and sparkling in the sun.

We spot a reindeer. When you see one, there are probably others around, too. And so it is. Five reindeers that carefully look at us. They gather in a small group until we come nearer and they walk away.

The first 4 km the snow is perfect. There’s grip for the skis and even with the climbing skins we can glide effortlessly other the snow.

Then it gets more difficult. The plains are so exposed to the wind that they are almost snow-free. Sometimes there’s a visible path, sometimes we have to ski around.

Then the snow gets so hard and slippery that everything starts to slide and it’s near impossible to break. Yesterday’s warm weather and today’s frost have created an icy crust on top of the snow. Sometimes the pulka runs more beside than behind me. When it goes downhills I take large detours to flatten the slope avoiding becoming too fast. Beside of my problems skiing this snow can look very beautiful, especially against the sun.

Later the snow at the surface is as icy as before but the underlying snow doesn’t bare the weight any longer so that we break through. Several times I am run over by my pulka while my skis are stuck. My left wrist still hurts a bit from one fall, one of the less nice memories of this fantastic ski tour.

At last it was snowmobiles that have improved the situation for us. The tracks they have left have broken the icy crust and here we can ski quite well even though I have to unmount the skis for some of the steeper parts. We want to arrive anyway. It’s Annika, who spots the flag of the STF, the Swedish Tourist Association. And there it is: The mountain cabin Lunndörren!

Here Jonas, Arne and I seeked shelter from the storm 17 days ago.  Now we are first welcomed by the friendly cabins in the sunshine and then the friendly wardens.

Lunndörren has a highlight we have been looking to for days: A sauna! Already at 17:00 Annika and will sit there enjoying the heat. But before taking a sauna we take another opportunity. Former guests asked for permission to cut a hole into the ice of the small lake by the sauna some days before. Therefore Lunndörren has an ice hole this season. Of course we have to take an ice bath before the sauna. (Taking it after sauna is considered cheating by winter bathers.)

If you ever want to take pictures of a person making faces: Throw her or him into icy water. Four examples (Photos: Annika Kramer):

After 95 °C in the sauna we took a shower. No, not a normal shower with shower head and and chrome valve, just a bucket full of hot water. But it’s enough to wash your hair and yourself. We feel so fresh again afterwards!

Later that evening I stroll around in the full moon. This will be the last night of the ski tour. Tomorrow we will ski back to Vålådalen, where I parked my car only seven days ago.

10 March – Lunndörren – Vålådalen

It’s always a bit strange, the last tour day. Car keys get more important than the pocket knife and mobile internet becomes normal again. Fortunately it’s much easier to ski today than the day before and comfortably we follow the red crosses marking the winter path. After a while we see the first cross country ski-runs and more people around. At the end we have to navigate, because there are so many possible ways. I decide to take the bridge over the river Vålån, the very same bridge I used on the other ski tour three and a half weeks ago. And almost suddenly we are standing on the parking place next to my car. We unmount the skis, load the skis and pulka into the roof box and fill the car with leftover food, sleeping bags, snow shovel and other equipment. And since we were quite fast today we even make it to lunch.

Tack för turen, Annika. Thanks for the tour. Where do we ski next winter?

 

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 2

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

6 March – GåsenVålåstugan

What a beautiful morning: blue sky, -8 °C, hardly any wind. I take my tripod and make some photos of the mountains around us.

After two cozy days at Gåsen Annika and I are eager to continue our ski tour and already at 8:15 we say farewell. Next stop: Vålåstugan, 16 km away.

The first kilometre the way leads up. The snow is grippy and soon we are on the top of the saddle. Cirrus cloud have risen and there’s a halo with sun dogs around the sun. We look back and spot Gåsen in the distance. Just some dark spots in an apparently endless expanse of snow, but there you get all you need, from shelter to food.

One and a half hour later we see the emergency hut Härjångsdalen. At the same time a helicopter is coming from north. It lowers fast, turns a lap and then lands directly by the hut. Shortly after we arrive, too. Two people climb out of the helicopter. They inspect the emergency phone in the hut. I would love to have a job that includes flying helicopters to see the mountains from above.

We continue our trip through the kalfjäll – the bare mountains above the timberline.

Slowly we descend and the first birch trees come into view. We take a break on a small hill where the wind has blown away the snow. Normally this could be a rather bad place to rest, because it is exposed to the wind from all directions but today it’s calm and sunny. Soon after the break I take off the jacket and ski without. The woollen shirt is warm enough in the sun.

At 13:50 we arrive at Vålådalen. We are the first guests today. A lot of people are expected today, among others a group of fourteen, guided by the Swedish Tourist Association STF. We have the choice, where to stay and choose room 1 in the new cabin, where we’ll share the 4-bed-room with the two STF tour guides.

Gradually other skiers come, from single skiers to larger groups. Some have pulkas, most only backpacks. Some stay in the old cabin, most in the larger new one. Here the kitchen is quite large and all people find place.

7 March – Vålåstugan

Another beautiful morning. -10 °C.

As we did in Gåsen we do not continue to the next cabin but stay here for a day. Today we are lucky, because the weather is so beautiful. We do a small ski tour to the other side of the valley. It’s always fun to ski without a heavy backpack or pulka. And on the slope leading up to the mountain Gruvsmällen we even have mobile internet. I use the opportunity to check the weather for tomorrow. Oops, that doesn’t look promising.

On the way back we pass the water source. It is protected by a wooden hut which lies deeply under the snow. A stair leading down to the hut is cut into the snow. I wonder how the stugvärdarna – the wardens – knew where to start digging, then I spot an orange plastic bar. Maybe that bar marks the entrance to the hut. Inside you can see, that the hut is built directly over a small stream. Here you can refill the water buckets from the kitchens.

And water we need. Already before our ski tour Annika has started to water the dried food: potatoes, onions, vegetables, feta cheese. In the evening we wait until the larger groups have completed cooking. Then Annika starts to make another frittata. Ingredients: the dried food mentioned above, butter, egg powder, milk powder, salt, herbs and spices. And again it tastes great.

Olle, one of the wardens comes with a weather update. That’s important for the guest of Gåsen because here is no mobile reception. He confirms what I already know: Tomorrow it will snow and be very windy with average wind round 19 m/s.

People start discussing: shall they continue to the next destination tomorrow or stay at the cabin? We decide to stay another day and get a thumbs up from Olle. Others plan to ski back to Vålådalen tomorrow. Tomorrow it’s Sunday and many have to work again on Monday.

Continue with part 3 >

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 1

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

I already have made ski tours in Scandinavia. The first one was 2005 and others in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. What I never did before was doing two ski tours in a row. This year is a premiere. Four days after the last tour day with Arne and Jonas I had the pleasure to do another tour with Annika.

As the tour before we planned to start in Vålådalen and even parts of the tour were equal, only we skied the other way around. If you ask me, travelling the same area twice doesn’t matter, because the weather you cope, the people you meet, the experiences you have, they are all different.

2 March – Vålådalen – Stensdalen Fjällstuga

Annika and I start our ski tour at 9:30. 5 cm of fresh snow cover all snowmobile tracks. Only some fresh ski tracks show us that we are not the first ones.

We ski through the forest. The weather is grey, it snows a bit, -9 °C. I think the forest looks boring in this dull light. Today I hardly take the cameras out of my backpack. Only a small pine tree gets my attention.

Will I take any photos on this second ski tour? Well – I don’t have to. We’ll see …

We arrive in Stensdalen Fjällstuga, the first cabin at 15:00. We can choose: the old or the new cabin? We are curious about the new cabin and get a six bed room. We are four people in the room which is equipped with three bunk beds. I sleep in the upper bed and can look through the tiny square window. Annika’s window is snowed in.

People who know me know that I prefer the mountains to the forest. Does the mountains like me, too? It seems so. On the plywood wall of one of the earth closets it is written: “Fjället älskar dig.” – “The mountains love you.”

The rest of the day? Sauna — dinner — early bedtime. Tomorrow we want to get up at 6:30. It’s only 14 km to Gåsen but it is 350 metres higher than Stensdalen and we are not sure how long it will take.

3 March – Stensdalen FjällstugaGåsen

6:00. The alarm clock hasn’t rung yet but we are already awake. We leave our sleeping room and enter the huge common room with kitchen, where I light the huge wood stove. Annika is boiling water for tea. We have a full breakfast with bread, cheese, and eggs – all leftovers from our breakfast at the hostel the day before.

We like the style of the new cabin. It may be less cozy than the old ones but the separation of the sleeping room is nice and there’s a lot of space so that even with a lot of people it is hardly crowded.

8:20. We just walked across the wooden bridge by the sauna and strap on our skis. 8 cm fresh snow have fallen. We ski through birch forests. Our skis sink 10-15 cm into the snow.

Suddenly Annika makes a sign to stop and to be quiet. It’s a bird – a woodpecker chopping on an old tree trunk. Carefully I get out my camera with the telephoto lens and slowly I ski towards the bird. It seems to ignore me. When I’m hardly three metres away I start to crouch. Frrrr … the woodpecker flies away. For the bird lovers (and Google): It’s a three toed woodpecker.

The snow is soft and we are slow. How long will it take us to Gåsen? I hope that the snow is less deep in the kalfjäll – the parts above the timberline. After 4, 5 km the forest opens and a large ascending mountain slope comes into view. We meet two skiers that come from Gåsen (they have been really fast). We thank each other for making a trace. A trace that we hardly need for now the snow is much harder. So it’s less exhausting to ski although we have to ski up. Less than two hours later we have approached Stähtja, an emergency hut that we use for a break.

When we continue the sun has started to peek through holes in the clouds. The lighting moods are great and sometimes hardly believable. Snow is purple in the shadow and yellow in the sun, sometime the scenery looks like big studio lights have been set up for filming. I think it’s nearly impossible to catch these sophisticated moods but of course I try anyway.

We ski about a large snowy saddle that looks infinite. A sign says “Gåsen 3km”. First we are completely alone but then another skier approaches. It’s stugvärd Ebbe, one of the cabin wardens whom I already met on the other ski tour. He welcomes us and continues skiing. We continue, too. On the highest point of the saddle Gåsen comes into view.

Just before we arrive Ebbe returns from his ski trip and welcomes us again, this time with hot berry juice – the traditional welcome on the STF mountain cabins. We are the only guests and in the same room as Arne, Jonas and me nine days before. The proof? The garlic that we had forgot is still there.

Later four French people arrive. They hardly speak to us. I guess they only feel comfortable speaking French, a language we cannot speak.

The wind increases. We do not care. We want to stay here at least one more night.

4–5 March – two days at Gåsen

It’s windy in the morning. Outside its -8 °C, inside our cabin temperature has dropped to 7 °C. I fire the “Upland” wood stove. It is very slow and it will take half the day until the cabin is warm again. The French group leaves. I do not envy them because the wind is increasing and it is snowing.

At 10:00 we leave our cabin and go to the stugvärdarnas cabin. Ebbe has invited us to fika – coffee – and Svitlana has baked a delicious chocolate cake. We sit there and talk for almost two hours until we hear the sound of an approaching snowmobile. It transports food and goods, both for Svitlana and Ebbe as well as for the Fältjägaren Fjällstuga, 30 km in the south.

We invite Svitlana and Ebbe for dinner. Annika had dried potatoes, onions and vegetables at home to spare weight. Now she is watering the dried food.

Later that day I have another appointment. Ebbe and I fetch water from the waterhole. Ebbe wanted to do that in the afternoon when the wind has calmed down, since it’s a bit to go to. You see the tiny square right from Ebbe’s head on the first photo? That’s the waterhole. It’s four metres deep, so you take a bucket to pull up the water, fill it into the plastic containers and then use the sledge to pull it back. One container for the warden’s, one for our cabin.

And the used water? There are own buckets for it and an own place where to pour out them. They are marked with the word slusk.

At 18:00 Svitlana and Ebbe arrive. Annika has used milk powder, egg powder and the watered potatoes and vegetables to make frittata. It’s enough to invite Magnus from Göteborg as well. He slept in the tent the nights before and now stays in the same cabin as us. Svitlana brings fresh bread and Annika’s frittatas taste great. We even have some Florentine biscuit as dessert. A luxury multi-course  dinner at Gåsen with great company. What a fantastic evening!

Annika and I decide to stay another day. Magnus is not sure yet.

We take it easy this morning. Magnus has decided to stay, too. So Magnus and I can help Ebbe with the gas cylinders. Full gas cylinders have to be connected to the warden’s cabin. The gas connection is at the back of the cabin and was completely snowed in, since here the snow reaches over the roof. Ebbe has already dug down to the door and Magnus and I use a rope to slowly lower the heavy gas cylinders down to Ebbe. These are jobs, where a stugvärd needs support of the guests and we are glad to help.

Not only the back of the stugvärd cabin is snowed in. The old cabin is also surrounded of snow and with a single step you could climb on the roof. Ebbe told us, that a snow groomer would come in two weeks to dig out the cabin.

This day more people arrive. First to constantly talking women, than a party of six. Magnus already fled the crowd by moving to the other room, Annika and I follow soon. There it is cold, but quite.

The weather has got better and tomorrow both Magnus and us want to start early. He will return to Storulvån, we want to continue to Vålåstugan.

Continue with part 2 >

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 4

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Tuesday, 25 February – calming down

Midnight has passed. Arne, Jonas and I are sleeping in the tent, somewhere between the mountain cabins Gåsenstugan and Vålåstugan in the mountains of Jämtland. After ten tour days and nights with very stormy weather it finally seems to have calmed down.

Half past one – BANG! BANG!! Three people wake up, red lights from three headlamps appear. What was that? The tent was just hit by two storm squalls. A new storm again? An unpredicted one? We leave the tent and Arne and Jonas tighten the tent lines. Back in our sleeping bags we carefully listen a while, but it has calmed down again.

Interruption from the blog author: I apologise. Until now I used the word “storm” 38 times in this tour report. You may call it bad style but we had a lot of weather with high Beaufort levels. Until now. Spoiler: the rest of the tour was calm and I won’t mentioned the s-word in this article again. And now back to the 25 February!

When I wake up at 7 o’clock the sky is blue and the air is crisp and clear. -10 °C. Soon the sun rises and illuminates the snow covered mountain tops.

We have a lot of time. We have three more days to ski and it’s only 25 km to my car. So we take a detour. Although it’s -10 °C the sun is so warm that we take of our jackets.

We approach Vålåstugan where we have been a week ago. Now the main building is shovelled free and we can take a sun bath on the terrace.

After our break we continue north until the way forks. We decide to take the detour over Stensdalen but to continue tenting. And another tent night it is, between some trees and with the view over the beautiful fjäll. The sun goes down, followed by the new moon. And there are more lights to see: stars, planes, the planet Venus, satellites and in the distance the lights of Vålådalen – the gate to civilisation. -15 °C.

Wednesday, 26 February – into the forest

Another beautiful morning. Sun and blue sky. -16 °C. So calm that we can eat outside of the tent. And brush our teeth as well.

We take a break at the Stendalsstugan. We are welcomed with hot berry juice, the traditional welcome on the STF cabins. The old building burned down in 2010, so a new one was built and inaugurated 2014. It’s huge and very modern. It looks very practical but less cozy and we are not sure whether we like it or not.

We continue the way down to Vålådalen. Single birches become birch forests, spruce trees become spruce forests. Moorland appears and huge pine trees. With the snowy mountains in the back this land looks Canadian to me. (I’m an expert, I’ve never been to Canada.)

We find a nice place to camp with the hope for sun in the morning. The temperature has dropped to -21 °C, the coldest temperature yet. This will be our last tent night. Tomorrow it’s only 10 km to go the parking and then we have booked rooms in the near hostel Vålågården. I’m always sad to bid the fjäll farewell but I’m looking forward to a hot shower and fresh clothes. I guess I smell like a wet fox.

Two course dinner: the main dish is couscous and for dessert chocolate creme.

Thursday, 27 February – back to civilisation

Blue sky again. Our sleeping hang or lie outside for drying. Yes, it is possible to dry a sleeping bag in -16 °C. The ice round the opening sublimes.

The last day is a day of last time activities. Melting snow the last time. Dissolve milk powder the last time. Dismantling the tent the last time. Packing the pulkas a last time. And starting a day on skis the last time.

Relaxed we ski back. Today we meet more skiers than the 12 days before. Some start a longer tour, many are doing day trips. A fallen tree invites both for a rest and a tour photo of all us three (there aren’t so many).

And that’s the last of more than 120 tour photos I published in this four-part tour report.

Dear readers, thanks for reading. You are very welcome to comment the articles. (Or pay me a winter holiday in Canada)

Dear Arne and Jonas – tack för turen! Thanks for the tour. I’m looking forward to the next one!

P.S.: Here’s a link to a map with our overnight stays and some of the breaks: Google Maps – Skitour Jämtland 2020.

 

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 3

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Saturday, 22 February – skiing to Gåsen

Day 8 of our ski tour. After we have found shelter from the storm in the emergency hut Hulke we where eager to continue out tour. Next stop Gåsen fjällstugan and finally a resting day is awaiting us.

As usual I am awake before 7 o’clock. Time to visit the utedass – the outdoor toilet – and take a snapshot in the blue hour with my iPhone SE. Technically the image is crappy but I love the almost pointillistic appearance of the photo. Since it looks rough it reflects reality much better than the technically superior photo, that I took with my Nikon D750 45 minutes later.

The first 4 km lead us 150 meters up. Easy, but a bit boring since the weather is grey and dull. When it’s cloudy like that, the contrasts are so poor, that you cannot see any structures in the snow.

That’s not a big deal as long we climb the mountain. Soon we can see the buildings of the Gåsenstugan although they are still nearly 5 km away. But between them and us there is the valley Holkendurrie. We have to ski down 150 meters again. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big deal for me although I’m a real lousy downhill skier but just in this valley it starts to snow and it gets quite windy. Now there’s even less contrast and the snow looks like a white, untouched paper.

It takes some time for me to ski down. I know, that there are icy patches and snow drifts but I cannot distinguish between them. It’s all plain white. I fall the first time, when my right ski gets stuck in a small snow drift, while the pulka – still on fast, crusted snow – just pushes me down. Ouch, my left wrist didn’t like that. I fall once more, but after a while I managed to reach the valley, where Arne and Jonas have waited for me. Now it’s time to ascent again, this time round 200 metres. At 13:30 we arrive at the cabins.

Anders, another skier that we met at Helags recommended the old cabin which he considered very cozy. This cabin however is almost completely snowed in and it’s quite clear that it is not habitable right now.

Anyhow it’s the stugvärd we have to ask where to sleep. For today is the first day, where the mountain cabins are officially open. That means, that one or two stugvärdar are around. These voluntary working people tell guests like us where to sleep, accept payments, show where to fetch water or firewood, explain the kitchen (if necessary) and sell food and some other items in a small shop.

So we walk to the cabin with the sign “Stugvärd”. We have to climb down some large stairs cut into a huge snowdrift, then we enter a small anteroom and finally the shop where we are welcomed by the stugvärd. We are the first guests today. We directly pay for two days because we all want to have a day off – both for resting and avoiding new storm squalls that are forecasted for tomorrow. We are in the left part of the (only) other habitable cabin, another Abrahamssonstugan. I use the shop to buy ecologically chips and cola – pure luxury!

Jonas fetches firewood, Arne water from the well (and by chance catches a river trout with the bucket). We hang up our jackets, sleeping bags and other clothes to dry. The rest of the day we throw firewood into the wood stove, since this part of the cabin hasn’t been used since last year’s September and everything is cold, especially the walls and mattresses. It takes hours for the room to get a little warm. No other guests come this day, we stay alone, enjoying the cabin that provides everything you need.

Sunday, 23 February – a stormy resting day

Again I am the first to wake up. Again the night was stormy and it still is. Round 9 o’clock, Ebbe, the stugvärd drops in. He invites us to fika – the Swedish coffee break – for 15:00. If we shovel free his door.

First I take some photos through the window, then I go out into the storm. According to the forecast we have storm squalls up to 27 m/s this morning. Snow is blowing everywhere and my wide angle lens will have problems with moisture for days.

Then I go the the cabin of the stugvärdarna. The entrance door is snowed in over the door handle. How did Ebbe get out of the house? I shovel away the snow and then enter the cabin. Ebbe tells me, that he had to climb out of the window since he couldn’t open the door. It was the second time since they arrived five days ago. I’m glad to help.

It storms all day. When we go to the utedass (hardly 50 m away) we look like polar explorers. In the night we will be glad about the reflecting waymarks to find the way.

At 15:00 we leave our cabin and visit the stugvärdarna Ebbe and his wife Svitlana. It’s not only coffee we get, Svitlana has baken delicious brownies. Tasty! I feel honoured being invited by them and we have a great time together talking about hiking tours, places like the Sarek and safety in the mountains. After an hour or so we use the shop to buy additional food for the evening, then we leave.

Two other skiers have arrived. It’s hardly visible from the stugvärdarnas kitchen because the snow in front of the window is piled up so high. They join us in our room. It’s warm inside and the candles provide a cozy light. Outside it’s still storming. As the evening before I wear balaclava, ski goggles and headlamp when I go to the utedass.

It was a good day for resting! Thank you Svitlana and Ebbe for your hospitality. Hopefully we’ll meet again!

Monday, 24 February – finally tenting again

Again a stormy night, nothing to mention anymore after so much wind and storm. I remove about 80 cm fresh snow in front of the entrance door of the stugvärd cabin and trudge back through knee deep snow drifts. My pulka is visible from the side, the others almost completely buried in the snow.

If the weather forecast is right, wind shall finally decrease for some days. Hopefully that’s true so that we can sleep in the tent again. We leave Gåsen at 10 o’clock. First we have to ski through deep snow but then the snow is more compact and effortlessly we ski down to the emergency hut Härjångsdalen. After a short break we continue equally fast.

If we continue like this we’ll soon reach the cabin Vålåstugan. Since the wind really calmed down we slow down, too and start looking for a good place to camp. After several days in the kalfjäll above the timberline we spot the first birch trees. We stroll around a bit because it is still early. At 14:00 we have found a nice camp ground amidst some birches. As usual Arne and Jonas erect the tent while I take photos.

Later even the sun comes out. The first time while tenting.

Now it’s time to melt snow, to cook and to eat. Today’s dinner is spaghetti with pesto and chocolate as a dessert. Already at 19:00 we lie in our warm sleeping bags. The outside temperature -14 °C. I close my eyes and minutes later I fall asleep.

Continue with part 4 >

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 2

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Wednesday, 19 February – tenting in the kalfjäll

The night in the mountain cabin Vålåstugan was stormy, but in the morning the wind has calmed down. We leave Vålåstugan behind and head southeast.

Our way leads to Helags, the highest mountain in Jämtland. The Helags Mountain Station is about 23 km away, but we don’t have to go the whole way today since want to camp. The way leads up and there are less and less birch trees. Soon we are above the timberline in the kalfjäll – the bare mountains.

We take a break at Ljungan, one of Jämtlands emergency huts. For once it is not windy but it’s cozy to sit inside anyway.

Now we are already halfway to Helags. We decide to continue since the weather is supposed to get worse tomorrow. It would be nice to have just a short distance to the mountain station tomorrow. Ljungan lies in the valley of the river of the same name. Now we have to ski up again. We continue skiing the whole afternoon. On the one side I consider it quite exhausting, on the other side it’s so beautiful watching the light changing in the setting sun. White – yellow – orange – “peach” – purple and finally white again, but a cold one.

It’s already dark when we have found our campground for tonight. It is hardly protected again wind and storm but according to the weather forecast this night is supposed to be relatively calm.

If people ask me why I love winter tenting although it can be uncomfortable and sometimes even troublesome, have a look at the next photo. Can you imagine standing there? With an itching nose in the cold but the down parka keeps you warm? Looking at the milky way and zillions of stars? Hearing nothing than the crunch of snow underfoot and your own breath? Feeling how you calm down and find a deep satisfaction inside? That’s why I love winter tenting!

Thursday, 20 February – visiting Helags Fjällstation

Two o’clock. Suddenly we are all awake. It has got stormy again and tent was shaken by some stormy gusts. Is another storm approaching? No, soon it calms down again.

The next morning it is cloudy but calm. Through some gaps we can see the colours of the sunrise.

Some of the daily morning routines: melting snow – dissolving milk powder for the muesli – having breakfast – packing our things – dismantling the tent – putting on skis and the harnesses for the pulkas. It always takes a while, but we are not in a hurry, Helags is less than 7 km away. We leave at 9:40, ski to the winter trail that we left yesterday evening and follow the waymarks.

The wooden red crosses are our friends! Sometimes it seems quite boring following these waymarks, especially if you can see dozens of them standing in a straight line. But there’s a reason, that the distance between the red crosses is quite small. The weather can by very rough in the mountains and the visibility very poor. And the weather in the mountains can change very fast.

And so it happens to us. Within short the wind increases more and more. First it’s easy to continue but soon we are skiing in full storm. You hardly see more than the next red cross while the storm tries to knock you over. I manage to take some last snapshots with my smartphone.

Then I have to stop taking pictures because it would be too dangerous. We could loose each other or I could loose a mitten and get frostbite. There is hardly anything to see anyway because the visibility is extremely poor. I can spot a Arne, who is in the lead, my skis and sometimes the next red cross, that’s all. It’s very demanding to ski in storm, both physically and mentally and I’m really glad when we finally arrive at Helags. How long it took? I don’t know. I loose any sense of time in this kind of weather.

There are people at the Helags Fjällstation. Some craftsmen fixing things and two women working for the STF preparing Helags for the opening in eight days. After a bit of confusion we are shown the way to the emergency shelter, where we push the pulkas and ourselves inside. Arrived and protected from the storm.

We are safe and sound but disappointed. The cabin has eight beds and even electricity but no possibility to cook. I talk to one of the STF people who reacts with a mixture of confusion and ignorance. The only answer I get: it’s pre season and everything is closed. I tell them, that the mountain cabins as Lunndörren and Vålåstugan do provide everything even off-season but I get the same answer again. Quite disappointing.

Two other skiers have arrived. They manage to persuade one of the women to open another cabin with a kitchen until tomorrow. But the chaos continues. First Arne is locked in while using the indoor toilet in the main building and all STF people have left by snowmobile. Then they arrive again and want to lock the cabin with the kitchen already now, while we’re using it.

I never felt more unwelcome in Sweden since I moved here ten years ago. Actually we wanted to take a day off at Helags but it’s clear that this is not the place to be. We will leave tomorrow morning.

Friday, 21 February – finding shelter in Hulke

The next morning the storm has calmed down a bit and it promises to be a sunny day.

The kitchen is still open. Jonas fetches snow to melt on the electric(!) stove.

The utedass, the outdoor toilet is more than 100 m away from our cabin and lacks waymarks. I wouldn’t have dared to use it in full storm. But now I do. Things to bring: A warm jacket and a head lamp.

Although the storm subsided, it is still windy and the blown snow glistens in the sun.

Our departure is delayed a bit: A mitten I accidentally have dropped is blown away 20 metres. Jonas can fetch it before it is blown away even further. I pull on the glove and we can start.

The Helags massif is incredible beautiful and only reluctantly I break up. I would have loved a resting day but as I mentioned above not here.

Easily we continue. We have the wind behind us. First we slide down, then we have to cross the saddle between the mountains Miesehketjahke and Soenehketjärra.

From there we can spot the emergency hut Hulke. We only have to slide down the mountain saddle and we are there. Quickly we decide to stay here for the night because again hard winds are excepted for the night.

Most emergency huts have signs that restrict overnight stays to emergency situations. Not Hulke, so we feel safe to use it. Of course the firewood stays untouched. It is provided to save lives, not to increase comfort. We use our camping stove to cook and our warm clothes and sleeping bags to stay warm.

It doesn’t take long and it’s stormy again. I have to go to the utedass. After I have finished I open the door of the utedass from the inside. It is blown open so violently that the handle pulls me out of the building before I realise what happened. Jonas happens the same with the hut. From now on we open the doors only a bit and squeeze ourselves through the gap. And I wear ski goggles outside. My Nikon cameras dislike this weather and I only make some snapshots with my smartphone.

We sit on our inflated camping mats on top of the wooden benches. Mukluk boots warm our feet, warm jackets our body. After dinner we lie down. Jonas and I on a bench, Arne on the floor between us. Storm squalls howl in the stovepipe and make the hut vibrate. Will the stormy weather stop one day or will it continue forever?

Continue with part 3 >