Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Björkliden to Kilipsjärvi: Part 1. Björkliden to Gaskashytta

The trip was the culmination of 12 months of planning after unexpected changes in 2009. I had decided to change the direction for transport reasons to a South to North trip along the Nordkalottleden. I travelled by XJ 2000 from Copenhagen to Stockholm Central and then the night train to Narvik, alighting at Björkliden RS at 11 am on Saturday morning.

There were many hikers on board the night train and most of them alighted at Abisko (both stations) and were presumably heading south along the Kungsleden.
It was a beautiful sunny morning and shorts and short sleeve shirts seemed to be the way to go. Having crossed the railway tracks I headed west along the north side of the line with views of Torneträsk further north. It was then I realised that “I am actually here and hiking along the Nordkalottleden.” it was a great feeling. The trail meanders between the railway line and road to Narvik, climbing a little and providing some views to the north, it was also evident that the sky was rapidly darkening.
So before long it was on with the windshirt and decisions on whether the Montane Featherlight pants should be worn. After about 2 hours I stopped besides Báktájøhkaluobbalat as the rain began to fall. It was here I cooked lunch and donned the Oz Pullover. After lunch I soon crossed the road and headed north in the increasing wind and rain, which was when I began to realise why I should have packed the Rab Demand and not the Haglöffs top. Aside from the rain and wind it was an undulating walk through low shrubs and trees and with a full pack it seemed like slow going.
I continued on finally reaching the bridge across Njuoraeatnu.

I began to realise that I would not reach my intended destination Lappjordhytta a locked DNT hut in Norway, instead I decided to stay at Pånostugan as the rain continued to fall. I reached Pånostugan quickly realising that I was wet through from the rain, especially on the top of half of my body and this was the second time that I had ended up wet when wearing the OZ pullover (when will I ever learn?)

Having arrived at the hut I set about hanging out damp clothes and deciding a fire in the stove would help to dry the wet gear. Fortunately there was some matches and I discovered how easily birch bark lights and I had a fire going in the stove and the clothes were drying. Much to my surprise, and to a couple from Narvik, who arrived to find me comfortably ensconced in the hut, when they had hoped for a quiet night. The rain had cleared by now and we had a chat about gear, the area and food. I appreciated their chocolate chip cookies. Given a long day tomorrow I retired for the night and was soon asleep.
I awoke to an overcast and windy morning and having eaten breakfast I was quickly packed and out the door. Whilst the couple slept on. There was to be a lot of climbing for the day having started at 380 m, I would climb through a pass at 950 m before descending to a yet to be determined camp.

Soon I was crossing into Norway from Sweden and would stay in Norway for the most of the trip.

With Lappjordhytta perched on a cliff top in the distance, I began the climb all the time admiring the scenery to the left and right and behind, with stunning views to the south.

After a little while I had reached the hytta and took time to enjoy the view and note appropriate campsites should I ever return to this area.

Soon I was climbing again with the wind behind me, something I began to appreciate more and more as the day progressed. Quickly I was out of the trees and climbing in the open slopes of Ganaśbaḱti, it surprised me to see small patches of flowers out in such adverse conditions.

As I climbed I encountered my first small herd of reindeer and soon after snow drifts, a pattern that would continue for many days to come. The mist began to to encroach as I climbed and it was not long before I had the first wind driven snowfall, the wind was strong up here and could easily blow me off balance as I climbed. I was however, very glad that the wind was generally coming from behind. Overall the1 trail is well marked but as I climbed higher with snow still on the ground some of the rock cairns (marked with a red T) were difficult to find. The remainder of the day was very windy and foggy at times and as I descended (or was blown) down the Luirevaggi valley, surrounded by snow capped peaks, I appreciated the ruggedness and beauty that surrounded me. The valley was mostly covered in shallow soft snow which made for slow going at times especially over the talus strewn landscape. As I descended I passed a Sami village, and finally I found a slightly sheltered place for lunch next to a small waterfall.

After lunch I continued down the valley only to be introduced to the Longtail Skua, now these seabirds nest on the tundra and unknown to me they are a little aggressive, so I suddenly found myself taking evasive action, though they never really approached more than 2 metres away. I soon learnt to recognise their call and keep an eye out for the white breast of the bird as they sat on a rock looking for unsuspecting hikers. They eat fish and live on lemmings in the tundra.

Soon I came across one of the first significant river crossings and was pleased to see that I could keep my feet dry as I crossed, then as I sat for a rest beside the river the sun appeared briefly and with a watchful eye out for a Skua I relaxed in a sheltered spot. I was soon on my way again it was getting late and it appeared it would rain again I looked out for a campsite beside the fast flowing Salvasskardet, and after passing a narrow gorge a flat spot was found and camp set up for the night.

With the wind still blowing insects were not a problem, but it was soon raining so I retired to the tent after a long and eventful day. This was to be my first night in a tent in Lapland with the midnight sun, but I hardly noticed the extra light as the sky was clouded over.

I awoke to another grey day, with much less wind along with the occasional mosquito. Today was intended to be a shorter day and it would take me through the small village of Innset also I would be in the forest most of the day.
I quickly found the access trail used by the quad motor bikes travelling to the Sami village and headed down stream towards Innset admiring the rugged valleys and surrounding snow capped peaks. It was also evident that the weather was improving with the occasional hint of blue sky. Passing across the large dam wall of Altevatn through the village of Innset, I noted the offer by the Husky Farm to come and collect hikers and provide them with accommodation for the night. I also noted that there is now a hytta in Innset named Altevasshytta (which was not shown on my maps). At the end of a gravel road out of Innset there is the familiar red “T” markings which take you towards the Koeivatnet a lake fed fast flowing stream passing through a small rocky gorge where the bridge is located. Well the bridge was interesting, would you cross this bridge?

I chose to walk about half a kilometre south and wade the thigh high fast flowing river. My boots, were no longer dry. After wading the river I picked up the trail now as it sidled around Lifjellet. Here there was no wind, some mud, more mosquitos and many boardwalks. It was on one of those water covered board walks that I slipped, resulting in a sore knee which slowed me down for a couple of days as well I had a slightly bent alloy Pacerpole. I never did like board walks.
So with many small streams and forest sections it was slow progress towards Gaskashytta. But with clearing views to the south across Altevatn there was always variation to be seen. Soon as I rounded Lifjelletangen the roar of the powerful Luodnavaggi river flowing rapidly towards Altevatn could be heard, the map indicated there was a bridge (I hoped so).

Sure enough there was one of the many suspension bridges I would meet, so I quickly crossed and headed to the hytta before looking for a campsite.

I decided to cross Strömskardet to the east of the hytta before looking for a campsite, only to be presented with a 3 metre wide chasm and a rapidly flowing river below. Hmmm ...

So down stream I headed, for about a kilometre and then found a crossing only about a metre deep and 50 metres wide. After sidling along the river bank and surprising some reindeer I found a nice campsite with views to the south and settled down for the night. Mind you the sound of the repetitive call of the Cuckoo, did make make me wonder about my sanity as well as how many more interesting river crossings there would be in the coming days.