Padjelanta and Sarek

August 2012, finally I would travel to Sarek, a place I had been wanting to go to for a long time. 15 Days of adventuring by foot and packraft through the mountains of Lapland, one of the remotest parts of Europe, carrying all our food and gear in our backpacks. There would be rain and there would be pain, but this would surely be outweighed by the scenery, the freedom and the genuine feeling of being alive.

Ráhpajåhkå from Snávvávágge, Sarek

Sarek is a national park in Swedish Lapland and is famous amongst those who love trekking and especially those who like to wonder off the paths. The park has no huts, no signs to tell you where to go and bridges are sparse. Additionally there are no mountains in bordering Norway at this latitude resulting in notoriously bad weather.

Bad weather is not something that should put anyone off to come to this region though. We packed our bags with all that gear that would keep us dry and warm. Even tossed in some extra whisky (a nice Caol Ila 18 yrs; thanks Martijn!). We flew into Stockholm Arlanda airport from where we would take the nighttrain to Murjek. From there would be a bus that would bring us to Kvikkjokk, arriving just in time to catch the regular boat to the Njunjesleden (the unofficial start of the Padjelanta trail). The Swedish rail company decided differently though: the nighttrain arrived at Arlanda 2 hours late. We woke up to good news though: the Swedish railways had arranged a taxi for us from a station before Murjek! Excellent service…and although the taxi driver had no clue where (or what) Kvikkjokk was we arrived in excellent time for the boat…

Paddling Tarraure, Padjelanta

The boat brought us to the Njunjesleden; a trail that eventually becomes the Padjelantaleden. We set off with heavy backpacks packed with the usual stuff including food for 2 weeks. Additionally we had brought packrafts to paddle some of the lakes and rivers we would come across. All in all my backpack weighed roughly 28kg’s…needless to say my body wasn’t in full agreement with my minds great ideas, at least not for the first days… I was surprised with the amount of lush vegetation at this part of the trip. It felt more like hiking through the jungle then through an iceage shaped mountain area above the polar circle. The weather added to this feeling with temperatures well above 20degC and a high humidity. We had dressed for hypothermia but ended up in danger of a sunstroke! With this incredible weather we also had to face the many mosquitos that were supposed to have died by now but obviously hadn’t or maybe had already hatched. Since I had not epected too many of these nasty buggers I had only brought one flask of mosquito repellent…

Anyway, we hiked and camped along the beautiful Tarraätno, a river that could easily be packrafted down for the most part. Tough luck that it flowed the wrong way. We did paddle the lakes Luoppal and Tarraure which offered lovely views on the surrounding mountains.

The third day we walked into the Padjelanta national park. The temperatures were extremely high and we longed for a jump in the lake we would camp at. Uppon arrival we tore off our clothes, ran into the water, ran more, and then some more, and realized the water wouldn’t get deeper by continuing. Then we made acquaintance with the enormous amount of mosquitos that had made this area their home. We bathed in the kneedeep cold water anyway.

From the Darreluoppal lake we boldly went off the Padjelantaleden to follow the Vássjájåhkå river. This small river forms the border between Padjelanta and Sarek and we would be hopping back and forth between these parks for the coming days. These days as it turned out would be the only days in our trip where we would be trekking completely without paths. We thanked the reindeer for creating some trails which made walking through the shrubs and bushes a bit easier. We camped below the Tjågnårisvárásj which provided us spectacular views towards the Tsähkokk mountain in the evening sun.

Camping below the Tjågnårisvárásj, Sarek

The following day we put our packrafts to work on the Alep Sarvesjåhkå river for a bit of floating. It would only be 1 km or so, but it’s 1km of us being carried by the raft instead of us carrying it and besides, every minute in the raft is fun anyway. We then hiked passed the beautiful Álggajávrre lake and down the Miellädno river, which we paddled when possible untill the Renvaktarstuga at the Máhttoajvve mountain where we would hike away from Sarek, deeper into Padjelanta. The Máhttoajvve started off fine, as everything starts fine after having had your spirits boosted by some floating in your packraft. Once we had crossed to the north flank of the mountain the wind died completely though and mosquitos used us as pincushions. We fled to the Låddejåahkå river where the conditions were a bit more bearable.

Floating on the Vuojatädno, Padjelanta

After having spend the night close to the Låddejåhkåstugan we inflated our packrafts for a full day of paddling. We put in just below the hut and floated down the pretty Låddejåhkå. The views became increasingly stunning once we floated into Vastenjaure, a large lake. We had lunch at a little sandbank and stared dreamily at the Norwegian mountains in the distance. Then, in a matter of minutes the mountains dissapeared in a lot of grayness, some rumbling was added and we were suddenly confronted with an incoming thunderstorm. We paddled quickly towards the Vuojatädno river while the wind was picking up and drove us to the shores of the lake. We had to walk a bit to actually make it to the river since paddling against the wind had become impossible. Once on the Vuojatädno the wind and current helped us move to better places…

Evening sun at Áhkká, Padjelanta

This would be the first river with some rapids and it was rather exciting to paddle a packraft down some higher volume wave trains. Needless to say we made great progress. The weather turned out beautiful again and we finished the day with a leisurely paddle across the Tsågahavrre towards our camping spot with famous Áhkká mountain continuously in our view. The evening sun was spectacular…

Next morning we took the Padjelantaleden untill the Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå. Here we turned right to follow this river upstream into Sarek. We picked “steinsopp” (porcini mushrooms) along the way to make our food a bit more tasteful and camped under a mountain called Niják with views on Áhkká and Gisuris.

Reindeer at the tent, Sarek

The following day would be characterized by reindeer, lots of ’em. In the morning they brought our tent a visit and after an hour walking we found a whole herd of these beautiful animals. The reindeer herder camped between the reindeer in a tipi stye tent. What a different life these people have compared to our hectic western ways…
We continued into the Ruohtesvágge valley accompanied by the whole herd. They moved much quicker then us though…Thinking back we could have been just as quick if we would have packrafted the river flowing through the valley. I’d say it would have been possible for at least 5km. We camped just before the Mikástugan. A closed down hut with the only emergency phone present in Sarek.

In the morning the whole reindeer herd showed up again coming very close to the tent. Todays target was the Snávvávágge. We crossed the first river by one of the few bridges present in Sarek and then had to wade through the following rivers. The views on the Ráhpaädno river and Bierikbakte were supurb. The climb at Spokstenen was not so supurb and I imagine it would be a real hassle in bad weather. We had bright sunshine though…
On a philosophical note we discussed the matter of the name “reindeer” versus the easier and quicker pronouncable “moose” during our camp at the Snávvájavvre lake and concluded that we would use the word roose instead of reindeer.

Looking out over the Ráhpaädno river, Sarek

Next morning we hiked down to the Ráhpaädno river and had a supurb 7km float (I later discovered that it is actually not legal to paddle this part of the river). This would also be the start of deteriorating weather. It had already become apparent to us that as soon as we inflated our packrafts the sun would dissapear. This time it didn’t come back for a while. We also discovered it is not always easy to find your trail back when you get out of your packraft. So we lost some time “mush” whacking through the wetlands. The next day we decided to float down the complete delta instead of spending another night in the park. This turned out to be a good decision. As soon as we passed famous landmark Skierffe it become covered in rain. Once we arrived at lake Láitaure all of Sarek looked rather miserable. We paddled across the lake to Aktse which is a manned hut and part of the popular Kungsleden. Here, they had a shop. So we ate crisps and cookies and I had a beer, a cold one. And in the hut we were offered the “leftover” food of a group of Swedes, which was sweet. And this leftover food was actually a reindeer meat stew with mushrooms…and those of you who are lucky enough to know what reindeer tastes like know that we were happy campers…

Paddling the Ráhpaädno, Sarek

We had planned to walk to the top of Skierffe this day. The views from this mountain are supposed to be unsurpassed, stunning, jawdropping, breathtaking and drop dead gorgeous on top of that. Unfortunately Skierffe was invisable. The weather had seriously let us down this day. We paddled across Láitaure to continue our trek back to Kvikkjokk via the Kungsleden.

Last camp…

The whole day was rather miserable and we ended up sitting in the unmanned hut Rittak with an international group of fellow hikers. We would meet these pleasant people regularly during the remainder of the hike. Our last camp was at the Stuor Dáhtá lake where we made our last fire…always a sad moment…what was not so sad was the hot showers that were available the day after at the Kvikkjokk Fjällstation, the great reindeer stew they cooked up for us and the cold beers they served…

The bus and train back were all without delays. We had some spare time in Stockholm which is a nice place in itself. Now I’m back home in the Netherlands thinking about what a great place Lapland is while looking at the the pictures of the spectacular landscape it boasts. Although a lot of warnings are given to those who venture into Sarek, and although I know we were extremely lucky with the weather, it is not all that hard to trek through this beautiful national park. The paths are genuinly good and with the right mindset and experience I think it’s as safe as any mountain area in Scandinavia…

See photo slide show with music from Peter Nordberg and Vidar Johnsen.

See more pictured of this trip.

PS. Some words of warning here in case anybody who reads this wants to paddle some of the above rivers as well. Rivers like the Vuojatädno are big volume rivers and paddling its rapids requires some white water paddling skills including the in this case most important one: “reading” the water. I have paddled quite a number of white water rivers in my life and can safely navigate a river like this or make conscious decisions to portage and instruct my partner to follow me and be safe. People not having these proven skills should probably not attempt paddling the rapids of some of these rivers even if they look temptingly easy.