Snow Flapping through Sarek

Springtime. Daylight starts to win over dark. Trees turn into green. The morning air is filled with aromas. People get out, smile and look happy. Jogging and cycling seem like a plague again. It’s the time of the year that the house get scattered with winter outdoor gear, tiny plastic food ratio bags and folded open maps from remote wilderness areas far north. The food drying machine is running overtime, filling the house with strange odors.

We pack up and fill the Pulka with down jackets and sleeping bags, a 4-season tent, merino wool socks and heaps of enthusiasm. The carry-on luggage is exploding. We need some kind of plan to bypass the strict lady at the check-in counters. Luckikly i have big teeth and lips which can stretch from ear-to-ear.

Sorting out gear at the STF-"Butik" in Ritsem after 24-hour travel from Belgium. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

Sorting out gear at the STF-"Butik" in Ritsem after 24-hour travel from Belgium. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

A 2-hour flight, a 45-min time gap for the Stockholm-white-gas-quest, 17 hours of railroading and 4 hours of bus-speeding over glassy roads trough never-ending boreal forests. Suddenly the majestic, white mountains fill the bus window again. Every time again, it shivers down our spine. Adventure is approaching.

The ice stalactites are dripping in the sun at the small shop in Ritsem. A Saami comes by and wishes us good luck. “It has been very nasty the last couple of weeks. It’s the first day in weeks since I saw this kind of blue”.

Crossing Akkajaure with Áhkká mountain massif behind. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

Crossing Akkajaure with Áhkká mountain massif behind. Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Sweden

We buckle the rods around our waist and shoulders and leave for a 2-week traverse into Laponia. We cross the solid frozen Akkajaure while the sun sets ahead. We meet Markus Heim, who flatly proclaims his 86th days on skis. The grin on his face, the length and colour of his beard blabs out an epic adventure. His girl is awaiting him at the other side of the lake. I urge him to stop spending his time on me. His compass designates north, ours south-east.

Entering the Sarek under the watchful eye of Niják (1922m)

Entering the Sarek under the watchful eye of Niják (1922m)

We cross into Sarek National Park. There are no traces from previous passer-bies. It’s so virgin here. We continue in base layer. A small breeze reminds us that it’s still -8°C and not summer. I always forget how fast my fingers congeal with such blows from nowhere. Mr. Bolt can learn something from the speed I reach for the primaloft-layer. Perfect conditions. Me like.

Leaving the warm nest in the tent for snapping 2AM norhtern lights pics in a breezy -25°C, is something on which some people would point with their finger to the sides of their head. But man, I am willing to make some shaking sacrifices for this spectacle.

Northern lights over the Ruohtesvagge-valley.

Northern lights above Skarja. Sarek NP

Deep cut valleys make it childishly easy for navigation. Leaves us loads of time to swallow the landscape. Ouch. Topsy-turvy. This can satisfy my hunger. Some of them rock faces are way too steep from this side. Snow is playing with gravity-rules there (if Newton would have known!). The Ruohtesvagge-valley does not fail to dissapoint. Even in bad weather this must be beautiful.

The lack of shelter combined with the shifting weather and rough terrain require hikers to have considerable experience to safely explore the area. Very few bridges are available inside the park and crossing streams (jokk in Sami) and rivers (ätno in Sami) can be very dangerous for the ill equipped or inexperienced. – writes Wikipedia. Luckikly everything is silently frozen white. Makes its easy to float by on snow flappers.

Ähpár massif and Skarki-massif scatter the horizon

Ähpár massif and Skarki-massif scatter the horizon

Skarja could count as a wilderness intersection. Here we meet the first human being in days. Otto, a pleasant Swedish fellow, is here to ski down the forementioned gravity-defying faces. He is a nice companion while gazing in the sun. We agree on “Awesome” as the appropiate term for this heavenly place on earth. While the temperature drops below what we could measure, stories from our adventures in the Karakorum mountains in Pakistan, nourish Otto’s dreams on this far-away-destination of which Sarek reminds us.

Sarektjahkka-massif, the highest (2089m) summits of Sarek NP

Sarektjahkka-massif, the highest (2089m) summits of Sarek NP

We tried to capture our small adventure in Sarek in the following shortfilm:

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Bloody Mary, a new lightweight girlfriend for the coming exciting year

Bloody Mary, a new lightweight girlfriend for the coming exciting year

We have underestimated the night temps in this clear weather. Our fresh from the shelf 3-season Bloody Mary promises us that she will be a trustfull girlfriend, willing to go over her boundaries if necessary, altough we have to beef her up with a downjacket in this temperatures. It has been an nice acquaintance Mary. You deserve your own blogpost. That’s right!

Following Rahpajahka along Laddebakte (1537m)

Following Rahpajahka along Laddebakte (1537m)

The second morning at Skarja we wake up with noizes from outside. It’s like somebody is talking. When cleaning out the morning ear-and eyewax, it becomes clear that Mr. High Pressure had changed chairs with Mr. Cold Front. Snow is drifting trough the valley from all sides. It’s like all dust has to be collected at this intersection. We break up camp and leave in the white-out. Destination Rovdjurstorget, the place where Rapadalen is born. This place is more popular called Predator Square. I wonder why? It’s so Bambi quiet in here.

ET's life would have been lot more easier with this SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger

ET's life would have been lot more easier with this SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger

When we taught Sarek had offered us all we had came for, we needed to traverse one more valley. A new high pressure sets in. Why did nobody warned us on Rapadalen? That’s not a valley. That’s extravaganza. How can we absorb all this? Pfffff. In a couple of months we’ll come back here. A packraft will be necessary,….

Ok, I can’t continue describing all this… so let’s end with some more stills.

Now I hear you talking.

Oooo, before I forget, this was the last time we came in snow shoes. We have enough of the eyebrow frowning born-with-skis-on-their-feet-Scandinavians. Yeah yeah, we’ll join your club of slats-addicts.

Speak soon. Peace out!

Rapadalen. Nature extravaganza.

Rapadalen. Nature extravaganza.

Skierfe, Nammasj and Tjahkelij proudly guard the eastern entrance of Sarek

Skierfe, Nammasj and Tjahkelij proudly guard the eastern entrance of Sarek

SKierfe (1179m), a sheer 700m cliff... pride guard of Sarek

SKierfe (1179m), a sheer 700m cliff... pride guard of Sarek

Skierfe and Nammasj, guarders of Rapadalen

Skierfe and Nammasj, guarders of Rapadalen

Two dreamers at 67°N

Two dreamers at 67°N

Destination Kvikkjokk... lonely on the Kungsleden.

Destination Kvikkjokk... lonely on the Kungsleden.

Northern lights... need to say more?

Northern lights... need to say more?

Please visit my online album from this trip…

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Undulating snow on the Vercors Plateau (French Alps)

Panic in november. No freezing. No snow. Ski resorts in full frantic. Xmass holidays are coming. Hyperventilation! But when people were losing all hope in climate, big fat “high pressure” momma left the continent and made way for northwesterly runs smashing in moisture into the Alps, providing 2m of snow by the time the turkeys were filled. Whew! Winter saved. Get the snow shoes of stable. Ready for some powder blues.

Mont Aiguille

Mont Aiguille

With a winter traverse of arctic Sarek scheduled for end March, we wanted to do some more field tests of our winter gear: pulka, snow shoes, Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All-Season,… and yeah, testing the tarping business on stable winter conditions. Que?

So on the last week of the diverse year 2011 we spent on the Western Alps’ finest balcony: the undulating Vercors. Set upon a limestone plateau in the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France, the Vercors plateau extends into the Western Alps, catching the first moisture before it hits the main ridges and high summits of the main Alps more to the west.

Surrounded by high cliffs whatever the side you approach it, you will need to enter the plateau trough deep gorges or tight passes. The Vercors plateaus generally run north-south at around 1400m altitude, is rather woody (esp.pines, it reminds us a lot on northern Scandinavia) with intermediate vast, windswept spaces. It’s real danger however lies in the large network of karst cracks permeable to water making it a desert in summer and a “crevasse-hidden glacier” in winter.

Winter bivaouc with view on the Mont Aiguille (2087m)

Winter bivaouc with view on the Mont Aiguille (2087m)

On the north side of the plateau, easy accesbile from the city of Grenoble, you will find some ski-stations, where it’s less interesting for the “wilderness”-hiker. To the south-east, the plateau is protected in the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors, only dotted with some very basic shelters, providing some refuge for when it gets erratic on the plateau. And when nasty weather hits in, then it can howl badly, so come prepared, summer or winter! In winter it’s a paradise for snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and even pulling a pulk. No experience so far in summer, but water scarce seems to be the bottleneck in this season.

The trip report is put in a short movie, so I will not talk too much about the tour in detail, it takes 6 minutes of your valuable time:

Gear field tests:

Altough not as such use for short trips and especially if it is not too cold (like it was on the first night), we wanted to test the vapor barrier line technique in our sleeping bag.

So this was the winter set-up, from skin towards open skies:

– base layer
AMK Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy Sleeping Bag (VBL-layer, to prevent body vaporation to get into the down sleeping bag)
Valandre Classic 900 down sleeping bag (-7°C comfort temperature)
Rab Survival Zone Bivy Bag (external bivy bag)
MSR Twing Tarp

This was the winter sleeping set up, which worked only well when temperaturs reached -7°C and lower. One night it was barely freezing, and we were litteraly boiling eggs. Result, half way night we woke up in a puddle of sweat (collected in the VBL) and had to ditch the VBL and base layer. This will be our setup for Sarek, but we will bring along a heavy winter tent for frantic nights… to be continued.

Winter tarping  under the Milky way

Winter tarping under the Milky way

Back in november in Switserland we did’nt come to testing our new Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All-Season (R4.9) sleeping pad. This was payback time, immediatly in winter! We used to haul with the bulky and heavy Prolite Plus (R3.8). Unlike the prolite plus, a self inflating matress, the neo air has to be inflated completely manually. The store away serves as inflate-bag, but this just doesn’t work. So ditch it, and use your bare lungs. It warms you up. But leaves you with some hyperventilation 🙂

When you lay upon the matress, at first it will feel cold and the squeezing metallic sound of the inner fabric bothers you. After a couple of minutes the technology unfolds: the inside warmth reflection reliefs! How nice is that! On a surplus it’s more comfartable sleeping then the “hard” prolites. Are we happy with this quite light product: you bet yes!

Jump!

Jump!

Windy and Undulating Vercors

Windy and Undulating Vercors

Before we forget: a happy new year to you all and thanx for passing by this blog.

2012 promises to be an adventurous year with loads of things coming up. We are especially and eagerly awaiting a new member of our family: the Alpacka unrigged explorer PACKRAFT! Our adventures will no longer be limited to mountains, fields and forrests, but will be extended onto open waters.

So more coming up on that shortly!

For more pictures from this trip, please visit our online album!

Cheers
S+K