Friday, 2 August 2013

Nordlandsruta: The preliminary round; Kvikkjokk to Sulitjelma


Storm clouds rising over Tarrekaise

After 4 trains and a bus I arrived in Kvikkjokk having set off 24 hours previously. The 3 hour bus journey passed through forest and small towns and I sat watching the windscreen wipers gradually increase in speed, I realised the forecast of heavy rain was correct. Sheltering under a very small verandah I ate a snack as I waited for the boat to take me across the Kvikkjokk Delta to the starting point on the Padjelantaleden.

The boat arrived on time, 2 Finnish brothers from Rovaniemi, a Swedish hiker and I boarded the boat. We were in for a special trip as the rain lashed the boat the skipper took us past an Arctic Terns nest, and then up a quiet stream, to show us the area before ultimately taking us to our starting point. It was clearly evident, that he loved and cared for the environment around the delta. More importantly, however, he was clearly aware of the song "Don't pay the Ferryman" as no money was paid until we reached our destination, the 2 Finns arranged to pay when he collected them in 4 days time.



The rain continued to fall and it was a soggy walk through lush waist high undergrowth, however, it was mild and the mosquitos were active, not an enjoyable experience but a survivable one. The scenery was nothing like my last trip in 2011, a grey pall hung over mountain tops and it was very much head down and walk. As I approached Njunjesstugan, shown below from 2011, the wind increased and the rain became heavier, I needed little persuasion to stay indoors for the night.

Njunjesstugan

It was not raining in the morning and the wind was less fierce as I set off up the valley, firstly passing Tarrekaisestugan where I complimented the hut warden for cutting back the waist high grass and encouraged him to continue the project. Soon after the hut, the trail branches and I turned left and headed down to the river and then up the steep climb to Vájmok. This was an eventful section of the trail, whilst for me it was easy walking I met the 2 finnish hikers, who the night before had waded waist high streams to get to their intended campsite, but now with the sun out they were fishing in the rapidly flowing Måskásjouojkka.

Soon after I met another swedish hiker as he bounded up the hill endeavouring to avoid the mosquitos, we had a brief chat and then he said "Your the lightweight hiker I met at Sälka Stugen 2 years ago?" yes I was, we were to have several discussions over the next couple of days, but for now he sped up to above tree line while I walked/climbed to the same spot where the breeze was better. We chatted, took photos and and I found out that he was to be the hut warden at Pieskehaurestugan for the next 5 weeks.

But for now he was keen to climb to a lake off the trail near Gurátjåkkå, which offered panoramic views of the Tarrekaise valley, I declined his invitation to accompany him up the side of a mountain. So I wandered off soon bumping into the Swedish hiker from the boat we stopped and chatted over lunch. A little later I passed him again as he set up his bright red Akto for the night.

With the weather clearing I was keen to camp high and get some views, I found a spot overlooking Vájmok, quickly noting that this time there was no ice on the lake, and there was much less snow than two years ago.

Overlooking Vájmok

Admittedly I had some problems getting the peg at one end of the tent deep enough into the ground, I was a little hesitant of staying in the spot in case the wind picked up, but double pegging the recalcitrant end solved the problem. It was not windy overnight and apart from the usual flying visitors (most of whom stayed on the roof) it was a pleasant night. I had reorganised my packing with most of my food now at the bottom of my pack, thereby lowering the centre of gravity which had the added bonus of simplifying the packing routine in the morning. I also recognised how quickly, you get into your routines on a long trip especially with less gear to pack.  Once packed I descended to Váimokstugan, where Eric (the hut warden for Pieskehurestugan) had stayed the night, he was awaiting a helicopter with all the necessary documentation for his wardenship before continuing to Pieskehurestugan.

Descending to Vájmok

Eric and I  chatted and agreed to meet at Pieskehurestugan, where he would happily sell me a beer. I climbed steeply up past the waterfall and then began to descend down the other side when I noticed the side of my right knee getting painful. I touched it and found a bump that was not normally there, pushing a bit harder, it moved and no more pain. I can only guess that Fibula had moved in the joint, possibly when I slipped on the wet rocks at the waterfall, but fortunately had not been too serious. Though I was worried about it for the remainder of the trip, I had no more problems.

The day was increasingly warm and humid and as I descended, I had decided to revisit the campsite where I stayed 2 years previously and as I prepared to eat lunch down came the rain. On with the waterproofs, I then sat like a shag on a rock waiting for the rain to stop. It cleared and the humidity remained, with very little breeze I wandered over to inspect the campsite and to my surprise I found another peg there, a snow peg. Last time it was 2 tent pegs, obviously it is a popular campsite.

Descending into the valley, the conditions became more oppressive. A water soaked buff around the neck did help, but with little breeze the mosquitos were very active, stopping to put a headnet on required a lot of arm waving as to ensure that the bugs remained outside, not inside.  I set off around the marshes and bogs, stopping for a breather was not really an option, as the bugs soon chose that time to descend enmasse for a feast. I was grateful for the long sleeves, long pants and Extremities Windy Lite Dry Gloves for total protection. Arriving in the vicinity of Pieskehurestugan I looked around for a campsite realising that the options were limited, locating a spot adjacent to the trail with a slight breeze I set up camp. The breeze did not last long and it was dinner accompanied by more arm waving.  Later Eric arrived, having done some fishing on his walk from Vájmokstugan and after dinner we sat down and chatted over a beer (39 Swedish Kroners, cheap by Norwegian standards).

Bridge over Varvvekjåhkå

I was up early the next morning and with gloomy skies and a little breeze I set off with some trepidation on a route which would take me over a high pass and down into Norway and the following day to Sulitjelma. Turning off the trail to Mavas, I climbed along the sides of Láirrojåkå there was no markers but generally there was no need as the Láirrojåkå was the perfect handrail.  The terrain varied from gravelly raised sections to large sections of marsh and stunted bushes, looking behind me I realised there was a storm approaching from behind and in front the weather did not look much better. I located a spot for a rest (which would have also made a great campsite) I barely had time to put the waterproofs on before the wind picked up and a heavy downpour lasting more than 30 minutes hit me. I soon decided that lying face down, was the best place in this treeless environment and whilst laying there I began to realise that this would have been an ideal "mid" time, as having some shelter while it rained and blew would have been nice. These thoughts reverberated in mind for the remainder of the trip as often was the case, a rest stop was quickly followed by a downpour, sometimes accompanied by hail. However, this is the outdoors and you have to be prepared for such conditions and at no time did I feel that I was underprepared for the conditions.

One of the appealing features of the section of the the route was the views to the Sulitelma glacier, but given the weather I was somewhat concerned that all I would see was mist. I did see a lot of mist, but as I climbed higher it seemed the weather gods were on my side and as I  approached the border pass the cloud began to clear, stopping for lunch and I watched the mist swirl around the peaks.

Sulitelma Glacier 3

The changing shapes of the clouds and mist as it rolled across the glacier was a sight I will remember for a long time to come. I was glad I had chosen what was a shorter but harder route to Sulitjelma.

Sulitelma Glacier 4

I was now in Norway, and immediately noticed the difference, a marked trail, which I still managed to loose at times, the trail crossed the plateau before beginning the steep descent to Låmivatnet.

  Descending to Låmivatnet

After a very steep descent I arrived at a bridge, now the Norwegians are known for the bridges and this one was no different. Not only does it sway as you walk on it, but the edge of the falls is just the other side of the bridge so you have a sense of crossing a 100 metre deep gorge on a flimsy bridge, not for the fainthearted.

Bridge over the falls

Soon afterwards the sounds of another waterfall could be heard, but this time there was no bridge just a fast flowing river diving quickly to the lake below. Crossing that waterfall soon lead to another "bridge", if you can call it that. Two girders placed across the fall, were they pre bent or did the water and ice/snow do the bending, I wondered. With water pouring over one I chose the second girder, not knowing what to expect and was surprised to find that there was some sort of non slip paint on the girder, though at the bottom of the dip there was less paint.

Girder Bridge

By now it was getting late and as is often the case, the planned destination, Lomihytta, seemed to be getting further and further away. A side track took me to what I thought was the hut, only to realise it wasn't, oh well, I retraced my steps and continued.  Eventually I arrived at Lomihytta which is adjacent to the lake, the hut was empty so I spread out my wet gear and had dinner admiring the view out the window before retiring. There is nothing like a soft mattress in a dry and warm hut to ensure a good nights sleep.

Låmivatnet from Låmihytta

I awoke to a wet and foggy morning, and with wind in my face I set off to resupply in Sulitjelma which was 8 km distant including 600 metres of descent. I continued around the misty tops disturbing a small herd of reindeer which soon trotted off up the hill. Have you ever noticed how fast the reindeer can move up hill? I enjoyed the walk and soon reached the road and intersection to Ny Sulitjelma hytte.

Now it was time to descend.

Sulitjelma

The steep descent on a hard gravel road to Sulitjelma with the occasional passing shower was hard on the knees and quads and one I would feel for a few days to come. As I neared the township, a female dog walker passed me striding up the hill in a purposeful manner. However, they startled me as they jogged past me downhill, hoods on waterproofs have a habit of blocking out sound. Soon I would be passed by a car heading up the hill, bouncing on every pot hole and corrugation. Ultimately, I passed the church and the rather interesting looking restaurant  before locating the local Coop Supermarket, the only store in town. I suspect I provided a talking point for some of the locals as the wandered in and out of the store purchasing their weekend supplies.

To be continued...