Ski tour in Sweden – Tjäktja—Alesjaure—Vistas

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 7 – 4 March – Tjäktja—Alesjaure

I may repeat myself but again we have sunny weather and blue sky at -6 °C. The only difference, it is windy today. It started last night when we were out to watch the Northern Lights and now the wind is blowing snow over the mountains and through the valley. While we are starting our tour we are having an impressive parhelion and a piece of halo right of the sun. I’m pretty sure that it isn’t created by stratospheric clouds but by the blowing snow.

We descend into the valley Alisvággi and leave the blowing wind behind us. Now sun feels warm but on the ice of the river system Aliseatnu the cold air still wins.

It takes some time until we can spot some of the cabins of Alesjaure. I can see them behind the rocky hill. No, they are on the rocky hill. I remember having tried to climb this turtle shell-like hill with skis and pulka years ago. I have learned my lesson, we walk up. And then we are welcomed by the warden with a hot and very sweet juice. We chat for a while (we have met once years before) and then Annika and I sit on the reindeer skin lying on the bench by the table and take an outdoor picnic. We may choose a room because we are first. We enjoy the weather, inside and outside. Later, after dinner we will head for the sauna.

I thought it would be extremely crowded here but we arrived on the right day. Yesterday: 40 guests. Tomorrow: 50 pre-booked guests. Today: 11 :-)

Day 8 – 5 March – Alesjaure—Vistas

Today is a special day. We do not take a break day, we continue to Vistas where our friend Dirk is currently warden. With 18 kilometres it is the longest distance on our ski tour this year and I was a bit afraid that it could get tough. Is there a track? How is the snow? Therefore I have urged Annika into raising up ridiculously early. We have the large kitchen for us while ptarmigans are hopping and clucking outside of the windows.

The sun starts to illuminate the highest mountain peaks, soon we will have sun as well. 7:05 (sic!) we start our tour.

… and get a little lost. We navigate by eye and sync the stones marked in red with the summer trail on our map. Anyhow it doesn’t fit. The GPS helps and now we know where we are. While finding a good route to get more north were we assume the correct route to be we realise that the summer markers are all over the place. Not helpful! Our assumption was correct, there is the unmarked winter trail. It is obvious, because now we see snow mobile tracks, ski tracks, pulka tracks, boot tracks, snowshoe tracks. I guess we won’t have any navigation challenges anymore today.

We cross the first lake Bajip Čazajávri and the second lake Vuolip Čazajávri, then we stand at the “abyss”. The steepest part of this declining slope falls 50 metres on 200 metres and we both decide to unmount the skis. Beside of a patch of soft snow the snow is good to walk on.

Now we are in the beginning of the valley Visttasvággi which will gently descend for the rest of today’s tour. And since it descend we leave the barren kalfjäll and meet the first birch trees, the first ones since a week.

The next hours we will ski in the sun. The hot sun. First I take off my jacket, then cap and gloves, then I roll up my sleeves. Finally I put on the shirt’s hood again, not for cold but for sun protection. Some photos from the tour:

Moose droppings are not the only animal tracks we see. There are the typical deep moose tracks, the smaller reindeer tracks, countless ptarmigan tracks (both feet and feathers) and a special track – like a fox on snow shoes. This was the description of the Sami on Sälka when he described wolverine tracks. The wolverine track follows the trail for a long time and watching it is pretty exciting.

The wolverine tracks are special, since these animals are rare. Only round about a thousand wolverines live in Scandinavia. But I love the ptarmigan prints as well. They often seem to tell stories.

My titles: 1. Zen garden / 2. Hieroglyphs / 3. Salsa party

After some hours of sun we finally come into the shadow. Almost a relief. Now it is not far anymore to the Vistas cabin, which is not part of the famous Kungsleden trail since it lies in a side valley. Skiing there was much easier then I expected and we had a faster pace then on the preceding shorter distances.

Dirk has seen us already and welcomes us outside with two cups of hot juice. Later we get an incredible five star afternoon snack. It consists of two surprises. First surprise: We found cookies in the leftover food in the kitchen cupboard! Two sorts, one of them with chocolate. That has never ever happened to me before and I hardly can imagine why people should leave cookies behind. I won’t! Anyhow I’m grateful. Second surprise: Dirk does not only invites us to coffee but also to Christmas stollen, a traditional German Christmas cake. It is never too late to eat stollen. Thanks, Dirk, for sharing it with us!

After dinner – Dirk invited us again – I just walk around to take photos. A faint polar light can be seen but it is nothing compared with the last days, especially the night in Tjäktja.

Day 9 – 6 March – Vistas

Today is the fourth and last break day we take on this tour. Are we lazy? Yes and no. Annika is sawing logs, I am chopping the wood (not my best day though). I fetch water from the river by lowering a bucket from the bridge into a patch of open water. The ice on the river is not save. But we also sit outside reading and I am using the short period where the sun shines on the cabins (yes, another fine day) to take some photos.

Tomorrow we will ski to Nallo and stay there over night, then we will come back to Vistas.

Ski tour in Sweden – Sälka—Tjäktja

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 5 – 2 March – Sälka—Tjäktja

It is our second morning in Sälka. The night was quiet – no storm, no snow. That’s quite a bit of luck for the travel group that left pulkas and skis on the ground without even thinking about finding shelter for their equipment.

Today Annika and I will have a short distance to ski. It’s only twelve kilometres to Tjäktja but we have to cross the Tjäktjapasset which is pretty steep. 8:15 – we say goodbye to the warden and his friend and follow the undulating terrain north. We can already see the pass in the distance. It is still 8 km away.

The terrain is still undulating but it slowly changes. First we skied up and down, now we ski up or straight ahead, a sign that the terrain starts to rise.

Ah, I love my pulka. Most of the time I can pull it effortlessly over the hard snow, although there is a lot of food in it and a tripod and safety equipment and two down jackets and other clothes two sleeping backs and more. But when I have to climb steeper passages I realise that both my fitness and my strength could be better. So at the pass I have to take small breaks to catch my breath. The next photo is taken by Annika and long before the steep passage where we were too occupied to take any pictures.

Each of us climbs up in his/her own pace.

But then we are on the edge of a platform where I just must look back. 19 years ago on my very first ski tour I stood there and was completely flabbergasted when I looked into this valley Tjäktjavagge. And so it still is today. We stand there for a while before we continue skiing further up the pass.

Whew, that was exhausting, but now we are on 1100 m, the highest altitude on our tour. Time to take a rest at the shelter. No photos, just some tea and nuts before we continue. Now it only goes down, down, down and we remove our climbing skins. Soon Tjäktja comes into view. It is smaller then the other cabins on the Kungsleden. To our surprise we are the only guests tonight.

Day 6 – 3 March – Tjäktja

The weather on this tour has been extraordinary well and today we have another sunny day with blue sky. We are staying at Tjäktja and after breakfast we start our “duties”. The stugvärd (warden) is sawing logs, I am chopping wood. And then Annika and I take two empty canisters to fetch water. This means we have to go down to the frozen river where there is a hole and some tools to crush the ice. We have heard that the ice was very slippery and so we put on our spikes. Good choice.

The first container I pull up the snowy slope. Yes, it works but it is pretty exhausting. The other container Annika drags over the ice. I fetch the first container and we pull both back to the cabin. Well – pull … . It is a bit like walking puppy dogs. Twenty kilo puppy dogs. The containers stay behind, hurry ahead, bump into each other and then leave the path again. But finally we “walked” them home and have 40 litres of fresh and ice cold water from the river Čeavččanjira.

I go down to the river again to take some photos. I like the bridge and the icy area beneath.

But what I really love is the huge snow drift hanging there near the now frozen and invisible waterfall. I crawl in more and more until I can make the last of the three photos from my private “snow cave”.

Resting days are made for – well – resting. We are reading and taking a nap while other guests arrive. Slowly the sun is setting and the colours on the mountains go pink.

Time to cook and eat something. Right after dinner a beautiful polar lights have formed, although the sky is still kind of blue and not black yet. What a luxury to see it so early.

The northern lights are lasting for hours and are everywhere. Annika and I are standing there for a long time together with two people from Switzerland. Every now and then I leave to take photos. And more photos. It is an incredible experience to see the aurora far away from the light pollution of the cities. This is an extremely beautiful moment and this evening which marks the first half of our ski tour is a perfect end of the day.

Yes. The northern light continues, but the photographer has to catch some sleep. God natt. Good night.

Ski tour in Sweden – Singi—Sälka

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Tour day 3 + 4: 29 February – 1 March

Day 3 – 29 February – Singi—Sälka

Today is our second tour day. We will go north from Singi to Sälka. It is seven o’clock and beautiful out there. If the forecast is right that might change round noon where wind gusts of 16 m/s where expected.

This is why we decided to start early despite the short distance of 12 km. At 8:00 we leave Singi behind. The way is a bit hilly but relatively easy. We pass the Sami village Goržževuolli and then the bridge over the river Tjäktjajåkka. Here goes the summer trail to the cabin Hukejaure in the west. Not our destination today.

The weather is still nice, the sight perfect, navigating is simple. So we do not follow the winter road which lies to the right but just ski in the middle of the large U-shaped valley Tjäktjavagge. This leads to some confusion when we cross a winter trail marked with the traditional red crosses, but this is the snowmobile trail to Hukejaure, not the winter trail to Sälka which is not visible from here. The valley is broad and slightly hilly. We both can “climb” hills since we have skins under our skis but sometimes I go a detour when it gets too steep for pulling up the pulka.

When will Sälka come into sight? Behind the next hill? No. But the next one? No. Then the next? No.

At 11:30 it gets windy and snow is blowing above the ground. But first we have it in the back and then we are already quite close to Sälka and after another hill (we didn’t count) there there they are: the cabins of Sälka.

Sälka will be crowed tonight. 38 guests have pre-booked, amongst others two larger groups. We are extremely lucky to come early and to get the small two-bed room marked with a sign “private” at the door. Thanks a lot, warden Z.!

Now it has become quite windy. All other guest arrive from the north and are equipped with balaclava and ski goggles to cope the head wind.

The toilets at Sälka are 200 metres away. So take your down parka and a head torch with you if you go at night.

Night – Sälka

And yes, I was out to go the loo several times. But I like winter weather, so I do not complain. And then when I have to go again at three o’clock the sky has become clear and the first northern lights on our tour cover the starry sky. Beautiful, especially with the low hanging moon.

The first photo by the way shows the toilets.

Day 4 – 1 March – Sälka

Another resting day according plan. We have the luxury of having time for the tour that many others have to perform within a week.

A snowmobile has arrived. One of the groups had booked luggage transport. Here only the local Sami are allowed to drive snowmobile. We chat with the driver that shows us some of his reindeers that graze high up in the mountains. Do you see them on the photo below?

He also asks if we have seen wolverine tracks. These vicious animals kill reindeers as pray. But here and now a wolverine is around that attacks the animals without killing. Tome of them have a slow and cruel death. The Sami are not allowed to hunt wolverines due to species protection but they are allowed to scare them away. How the paw prints look like? “Like a fox on snowshoes.”

While he is telling us that either I or Annika are occupied by scratching the dog that cannot get enough of it.

Wolverines are endangered species and the biologists are interested in them. At the same time only the Sami are allowed to drive snowmobile in this part of the mountains. This leads to the curious situation that they collect wolverine droppings for the scientists, of course with proper metadata as time and location. Imagine you have a predator around threatening your flock and at the same time you collect its poo!

The rest of the day: Sawing logs and chopping some wood. Taking some photos. Early dinner to avoid the big group cooking at the same time. Sauna! Retreating to our room when the combined kitchen/living room is too crowded. Early bedtime.

Vacation.

 

Meanwhile in Tromsø …

While I’m looking through the photos I’ve been taken on our ski tour and writing blog articles live goes on. I’ve been in Tromsø for a week now and since it snowed a lot this weekend (18 cm of snow until know) I took on my skis and went out for a small tour on the island. I could start right in front of my apartment.

Sometimes the weather was cloudy but calm …

… but at least half of the time if snowed, sometimes quite heavily.

On this ski tour I learned something new about the island Tromsøya: There are banana trees here, even in winter.

Ski tour in Sweden – Kebnekaise—Singi

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Tour day 1 + 2: 27 February – 28 February

It has been four years since Annika and I went on a ski tour. In winter 2021 we didn’t travel because of Covid, in winter 2022 I joined an arctic expedition and in winter 2023 I worked on Svalbard and we went on vacation there. But now it is 2024 and finally we have the opportunity to go on a winter tour.

Prologue

On Sunday, 25. February I take the car from Tromsø to Kiruna. In the back of the car: My skis, all stuff for a two-week winter tour and a pulka. It has been a good choice to take the car because an ore train has derailed between Narvik and Abisko the day before and the railway line is closed (and will be until end of May).

On Monday Annika arrives by train. We buy some extra provisions for the tour such as salami, crisp bread and chocolate and then went to the hotel where we stay over night

On Tuesday we pack the car, take an early breakfast and then go off to Nikkaluokta, a Sami Village and our starting point for the tour. We would have skied the 19 km to the Kebnekaise Mountain Station but it is still closed. Luckily there is another way to get there …

Day 1 – 27 Feb – Nikkaluokta—Kebnekaise—Singi

The family business Sarri AB offers snowmobile transport to Kebnekaise. You can pre-book it. Soon we sit in the surprisingly comfortable trailer and are dragged to the start of the trail to Singi, our first tour destination. Our thick down jackets keep the frost outside.

From there it is 14 km to Singi. The weather is more than fair: blue sky, hardly any wind, frosty but not too cold. Annika is carrying a backpack, I am pulling a pulka.

We are skiing westwards. Beside of a moose and some crows we are alone. Clouds have gathered and the dull light made the mountains look sublime, unreachable and a bit hostile.

Head wind has come up and the sight has worsened a bit. Still we can see far, but the snow is harder to read. Is it hard? Or soft? Does it go up? Or down? It just looks white.

I’ve been here before in winter and I am waiting the cabins of Singi to come into view but it takes longer than expected. Anyhow we finally pass some ice fields …

… and then we can see Singi! After a while we arrive there and are greeted by one of the stugvärder – the wardens. We get hot juice and may choose a room, since there are only two other guests. The rest of the day is mostly eating and sleeping.

Day 2 – 28 Feb – Singi

We have tvelwe days in the Swedish mountains but only eight planned tour days. That leaves four break days, one of them being today.

The morning looks quite promising. Parts of the sky is clear again, parts are cloudy. Some of the clouds move through the valleys which can look quite dramatic.

After breakfast Annika and I take a small tour to the Sami village Goržževuolli (or Kårtjevuolle). On the way there we find an interesting paw print:

It is a paw print of a reindeer, but raised. When it went there it compacted the snow under its foot. Then wind came up and blew away the loose powder snow round the print but not the compacted one.

We pass Singi’s water hole. If you do not want to melt snow (tastes awful) you have to fetch water there. Singi is famous for having the water hole quite far away. If I remember correctly it is 800 metres away (and ca. 25 metres down). We are lucky, the other guests have already fetched a lot of water.

We continue to the village which is only inhabited occasionally. There are a lot of wooden cabins and sheds but there are also some traditional goahtis. Goahtis can be built from different materials, this one is probably built of peat moss and timber:

We look around, enjoy the sun and made a large turn to head back to “our” cabin. Later I am out again to take some photos.

In the evening Annika prepares dinner. While a lot of other people we will meet the next days use to eat “outdoor meals”, which is more or less quite expensive powder we have the luxury of having other food with us. It’s potatoes, feta cheese, onions and sweet peppers. Now fresh – too heavy, too bulky – but home-dried by Annika within the last weeks. Then with the help of fresh garlic, butter and vegan egg-powder (all in our provisions) Annika cooks a tasty frittata for dinner. I understand the point of light-weighted food but this stuff is so much better! Delicious! Tack för maten – Annika. Thanks for the food. Anyhow we can eat this kind of food only on our break days because the dried ingredients have to be covered with water for hours to rehydrate before being used.

After lunch Annika is reading, I am writing my travel diary then we head to our beds and fall fast asleep. Next day we will continue to Sälka, our next cabin.

A nightly snowwalk

I woke up at 4:20 and since it still snowed I decided to to go out to take a photo. Or two. Taking a photo – or two – became a longer promenade in the snowy neighbourhood.

Just some photos before I continue sleeping. My sleeping room is behind the window behind the bush on the second photo. You see it?

For the stats: Last Saturday 90 of snow were measured at the meteorological station Tromsø PLU. Now it’s 128.4 cm.

Almost like a ski tour

When I look at these photos it looks like I’ve been on a multi-day ski tour. Deep snow, packed pulka, white mountains, snowy forests, a snowed in cabin, a cosy fire in the oven. And more snow.

But these photos do not come from a long ski tour but from five different locations nearby. Some are on Tromsøya, some on Kvaløya and the photos were taken within the last two weeks.

1. A short ski tour near Håkøybotn, Kvaløya.

I was tired, I was lazy, I was in a couch potato mood. Anyhow I managed to take the car to the Håkøybotn graveyard to do a little ski promenade up the hills. The snow was fluffy and when I was almost back at the car I realised, that it was quite deep too in some places, when I put off my skis …

2. Sunrise

Last Saturday I could see how the sun slowly started to illuminate the snowy mountains on the island Kvaløya in the morning. What’s special about this is that I took these photos from the balcony of my new flat. Yes, it’s a 600mm telephoto shot and the photos are slightly blurry but that doesn’t reduce the experience standing there and watching the daylight appear.

3. Pulka test tour

The last ski tour I did was with Annika in 2020. In 2021 Covid prevented a tour. In 2022 I was on my first arctic cruise instead. In 2023 I worked on Svalbard for a week and we had vacation there.

But our next ski tour is just a week away. So the question was – does my pulka sledge still work? So I tested it last Sunday and everything seems to be ok. Nice!

4. A cozy fire in the oven

Back home I changed clothes and fired the oven in my cozy new flat. I don’t use it for heating, but for hygge.

5. Today’s ski tour

It has snowed quite a lot and last night the official snow depth exceeded 100 cm for the first time this winter. I put on my skis already on my parking place and skied up to the forest, where I first followed the tracks and then went “off-piste” though the forest. The snow was so fluffy that I couldn’t see my skis anymore. There were somewhere under 30 cm of snow.

Now the days are getting longer and longer and when I’m back from our ski tour I guess I can just do such shorter ski trips right after work.

Bonus

There are three holes in the photo grid shown at the beginning of the article. Time for three more photos. Why I didn’t put them into the grid? Because they do not look like ski tour photos. I made them on different shore locations on the island Kvaløya on my way back from the ski tour two weeks ago. Here they come:

An icy yet colourful art exhibition

While we had temperatures below -30 °C last week the air became much warmer on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday morning the temperature had risen to -3 °C and today to +5 °C.

Yesterday – running on the ice

Yesterday I used the opportunity to something that I rarely have done before: running on the ice of the Baltic Sea. First round the small islet Lillskär and then to the beach Vitskärsudden. All the ice was covered with ice feathers and the running felt a bit fluffy. I had a mobile phone with me and took some photos.

Well – that was fun – and beautiful. The next day it should become warm and the ice feathers probably won’t survive.

Today morning – checking the ice

What a difference a day makes! The dew made all the ice by the coast blank and a lot of melt water covered it. I walked around the island Lillskär and everything looked so different!

You see the gaps between the ice floes in the first image above? It is thick ice as well and you can easily walk on it. The whiter ice is just older and contains more bubbles while the darker, newer one was built in the days of strong frost and is much clearer and more translucent.

Today afternoon – an extraordinary ice exhibition

At one o’clock I decided to go onto the ice again. Since I wanted to go further I used a dry suit and a life vest beside my ice spikes that I always have round my neck on the ice.

I went along Lillskär and headed south. The sun was already low and partially covered behind a thin layer of clouds. As some hours ago the ice looked endless like you could walk to Finland (which you couldn’t).

Ice, water, air, sun – these were the ingredients of the art expedition exhibition that took place on this sea ice today. “A picture is worth a thousand words” – so let the photos speak (although they need some more editing due to the extreme contrasts):

I could have stayed for hours, so beautiful it was going on the ice from object to object being alone on the ice and taking pictures with my small Sony camera that I carried in a waterproof bag. Anyhow the sun was going down and I had to continue working so I headed back to our house.

So, this was my photo studio today. Thank you, sun, thank you, air, thank you, water, thank you, ice!

It gets even colder

After the first days of the new year with temperatures down to -26 °C it got even colder.

4. January

In the morning temperature is between -26 and -27 °C and despite the weather forecast the sky is clear.

At lunch time I take another promenade along the coast. The sea ice Baltic Sea looks extremely cold due to the frost patterns that cover everything.

In the afternoon it gets colder and in the evening the temperature sinks below -30 °C for the first time. I go out and take a photo of our tree in our garden. It’s the very same tree under which Annika and I got married three and a half years ago – barefooted. Now it is covered in frost and Orion and Sirius are in the sky.

Luckily I have a lot of very warm clothes. To go out I only had to slip into my down suit and my Russian rubber boots, put a hat and woollen mittens on and I won’t freeze at all.

5. January

Twice I was awake and outdoors this night to enjoy the cold air and the starry sky. At 3:18 the thermometer shows -33.4 °C, the coldest temperature ever I experienced being at home!

These days a lot of places experience temperatures below -40 °C and less and many people (including us) have trouble with their cars or heating. Near Arjeplog a guy measured -51 °C with a laser thermometer the day before. That’s exceptionally cold even for Northern Sweden.

In the morning it was time for Annika and me to repeat a known experiment in the cold that we never tried out by ourselves: Throwing hot water in the air and seeing it freezing almost instantly into a cloud of ice dust. While my photos are ok-ish, Annika took gorgeous photos with my Nikon showing me doing this experiment. It works best with temperatures below -30 °C, which we had.

While I write this article in the night to the 6. January it is still cold, but “only” -22 °C. You get used to the cold after some days. And yes – I love these cold and crisp winter days a lot! The weekend will still be cold, then it will get warmer. Much warmer! On Tuesday, four days from now, it may be 40 degrees warmer than yesterday morning with day temperatures round +6 °C!