16th August 2016
9:00am – 5:00pm 19km
I awoke with the early sun and dozed for a while. Stretching out, I discover my legs actually feel OK. Maybe the knees are a little sore, but that’s to be expected as the pace I took the descent from Kebnekaise yesterday was a little brutal on the joints. They may have lasted almost forty years but if I put them through that too often they won’t last another forty. As I lay there I could here the sound of walkers on the nearby path heading up Kebnekaise. It’s an odd feeling knowing what they have in store for the day and feeling chuffed that I did that yesterday.
Today is the first day where I do not have the luxury of being ahead of schedule. There are four days left with somewhere approaching 80km to go, so I will need to stick to a minimum of 20km a day as I head up to Abisko. There are two routes of nominally equal distance and similar amounts of climb. I had the choice of trudging back through the valley towards Singi and heading up the walkers ‘motorway’, or taking a scenic route over a high pass, through Vistasvaggi and joining the masses further up. The latter would require navigation away from any defined path and would be a lot more remote. That sounded like a much more appealing prospect.
Breakfast and packing up took a lengthy hour-and-a-half on account of making a double mug of “gott kaffe”, enjoying the views and generally being a little lackadaisical.
Heading down to the Fjallstation I stocked up on two fresh bread rolls, a bag of “motivational pick-n-mix” (picking a good number of orange Skittles of course) and some route advice. A last pit-stop at the ‘facilities’ and I was heading off at 9am.
The first two kilometres were through the Fjallstation grounds where tents were dotted here and there. It reminded me of images you see of a post-Glastonbury field. I’m sure these weren’t abandoned though! At the bridge over the gorge I took a left signed for Tarfala, a scientific research center. A sign on a post reads “Remember kids, the difference between screwing around and science, is writing it down”. I’m reminded of the office … In a good way of course!!
Now starts the up hill climb. Six kilometres has typically been taking me ninety minutes. Add to that five hundred feet of climbing with a 20kg load and I’m expecting it to take over two hours. Feeling strong I marched on up the valley arriving at 11:30am. Looking up at the ridge I take half an hour to demolish the two fresh rolls filled with Reindeer cheese. It made a change from the heavy malty Krosnobrod.
The next ascent is where I leave any kind of formal trail and head off on a path that the map describes as “Trail; poorly marked”.
No joking! The ‘path’ consists of a couple of posts and the odd cairn. Essentially you can see a col between two peaks and you blatt up the rocks and shale until you reach the top. The next hour finds me scrabbling nervously on loose rocks in a bid to minimise the amount of rockery I send downhill. I reach the top at 1pm. My bag of motivational pick-n-mix has taken a big hit.
By 3:30pm I’ve clambered over another six kilometres of what I would call “moon”. Basically rocks ranging from pebbles to boulders that you jump from one to another. I find it easier to stash the walking poles as they keep getting stuck between the rocks and throw you off balance.
No ankles twisted. Everything intact. I start to head down the final descent to the “Sommarbro”. It looks rather permanent to be a “summer bridge” and I pause to wonder whether it’s only put up for the summer or whether it’s only ever used in the summer. Both have feasible reasoning but I shall have to ask someone.
As I pause for breath I notice a shadow is moving around by the bridge. I assume it’s a dog and walk on. After a few moments it dawns that there is no owner present. This is clearly a wild animal. Without my contact lenses in I run through the options. It’s certainly not a reindeer or moose. They would be taller, would be grazing and if startled would move quickly with chin up and head back in the comical fashion that I have seen elsewhere. It’s not a bear. It would be “stumpier”, more rounded and would be walking with a lolloping gait. It’s not a member of the cat family. It would have a more graceful prowl with the shoulders rolling up and down whilst it’s body glides forwards.
This is definitely a member of the dog family. It’s body is a darker brown with a lighter under-belly. As it walks around I can see it’s gait is ‘bouncy’. It is moving its head to and fro, as though it were tracking the scent of something. It is very long but not that tall. I consider its size relative to the bridge. If it were on the walk-way I guesstimate that it could poke it’s nose out of one side, whilst it tail was half out the other. That would put it around the size of an Alsatian! Goodness! As I descend further to get a clearer look it gradually winds its way up he hillside and disappears into the rockery. Wolf? Wolverine? I’ll have to wait for some help from Google. On subsequent days I quiz a few other walkers. Looks like this was a wolf after all. And quite a rare sight they are too. Cool!
I cross the bridge and take the path that tracks gradually up the hillside. The river follows its course downstream. I bump into the first hiker of today. He is carrying a massive traditional looking Haglofs pack with fishing rods and every item of bushcraft camping paraphernalia you can imagine. I utter my usual “Jag prater into svenska. Jag är en engelsman.” It’s what I hope is a polite way of saying “I don’t speak Swedish and although I’m English I’ve at least made some effort”. We get chatting and it turns out he has been touring the area for around three weeks. He mentions that he has not fished the lakes which are coming up. Looks like he is just living off the land as he goes. We exchange camping advice and I mention about the animal. He is very excited but can’t offer any suggestions.
Further up the valley I bump into a father, daughter and son trio. The father is shocked and alarmed that there could be a wolf. I notice a twinkle in his eye and realises he is winding his daughter up. They too have fishing rods and are surprised that I don’t carry a knife. I’m not sure if that is also a wind up – it probably is.
As I crest the final ascent a mountain lake appears of the deepest darkest blue. It looks inviting. Throwing up my tent I strip down to my swimming trunks and step into the lake. It’s cold, as I expected. What I wasn’t expecting was how the rocks were covered in algae and make any kind of upright progress treacherously dangerous. I splash a little water over me to cool down and clamber out to dry off.
Having finished off the motivational pick-n-mix on the last climb I need something substantial. Dinner tonight is a pasta carbonara which you just add water too. It’s easy and tasty. I wash this down with a cup of earl grey tea. Very British.
As I type these notes outside the tent the sun drops and is obscured by the mountain behind me. Up at one thousand meters in the shadows it suddenly grows very cold and I start to shiver. Forecast for Kebnekaise Fjallstation was down to minus four tonight. It’s likely to be a less up here. Off to bed then to warm up. It’s been a physically tough day but mentally stimulating. One day closer to home too! Looking forward to that as well.