WHERE: Stage 5: Sarek National Park, Sweden
WHEN: August 25-September 1, 2016
WHO: Karma & Helena
OBJECTIVE: A challenge! (addendum to the thru-hike), #rebootatforty
DISTANCE: 90 km (completed: 426 in total)

Sarek National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Europe. It is an awe-inspiring place, often touted as Europe’s last wilderness. It is holding an almost mythical allure to hikers. Probably due in part to the fact that there are no marked trails or accommodations within its borders and weather conditions and turbulent streams also makes it a challenging place to hike without the proper experience. But part of the attraction is of course the truly remote and wild nature holding stunning glacial trough valleys, some 100 glaciers, 200 peaks over 1,800 meters and another six over 2,000 meters including the second highest mountain in Sweden, Sarektjåkkå. We wanted to at least get a small taste of Sarek since we are passing its borders on Kungsleden. To get the most out of the 6-8 days we had budgeted for the brief detour from the thru-hike we opted for a helicopter ride out into the wilderness. Sarek should be a challenge – and also very exciting!

Sarek route and campsites

Kungsleden thru-hike + Sarek travel diary

Saltoluokta – Stuor Dijdder
Distance: travel day + 5 km of hiking
Date: 25 August, 2016
Camped: 67.328043° N, 16.793175° E

Today was mostly a travel day. We were supposed to catch the bus from Saltoluokta to Ritsem, but I misread the bus schedule and we actually missed it! Slight panic, we have a helicopter to catch! First plan was to hitchhike, but there are almost no cars on this desolate mountain road. Time was running away – fast! I decided to go for a hail mary and call a cab… in the middle of nowhere… and actually managed to get one! Amazing!!! The taxi arrived in 20 minutes, and stepped on it. We made it to the helicopter in Ritsem just in time.

I have never flown in a helicopter before, so this was pretty cool, though shakier than I had expected. The 25 minute flight provided expansive views of Sarek and Padjelanta National Parks before landing in Stàlaloukta, a small Sami summer camp by lake Virihaure. It was really windy down by the helicopter pad but got a little better once we get up on the mountain away from the lake. Two of the other passengers on the helicopter was going the same way as we were, for the first bit at least. They hiked up ahead as we stopped to fill up on water and change into rain gear. It is already after five, but we wanted to get up on the mountain and get a head start on tomorrow. A light drizzle started falling as we began to climb.

At first the faint trail was fairly easy to follow but it got increasingly harder and we managed loose it several times before even getting up on the first plateau. I need to get into the habit of checking the map more often! The two guys we had flown in with had the same problem. When we caught up with them they were backtracking and we decided to join forces in finding the faint trail we needed to follow to navigate the difficult terrain. It was nearly impossible to see where it jumped the narrow gorge and started climbing out up a nearly vertical ravine. So hard we almost missed it the second time around too. We finally found it thanks to the GPS in my iPhone and the guys were very grateful for the help. We have different hikes planned and they are taking a slightly different route tomorrow, but at least we are neighbors for the night.

This was the first night in my new tent, but since we came in so late (around 20:30) I had very little time to get acquainted with it. My first impression… it is HUGE! Works the same way as the Soulo but it is a little harder to find a perfect spot for it since it has a much larger footprint. Nice with all that space, but at the moment I am not quite sure what to do with all of it. I hope to stay dry tonight though, my primary objective, it is going to be a wet and cold night. Sooo sleepy now. Nite nite!

Stuor Dijdder – Àlàvjàvrre
Distance: 10,5 km
Date: 26 August, 2016
Camped: 67.334903° N, 17.045136° E

Slept pretty good, though a bit cold so I kept my thermals on all night. Tent was fairly dry this morning, but not perfect, so I guess I will have to ventilate at maximum after all. Fine. It had been cold and raining all night after all.

Todays hike was beautiful but strenuous. The first few hours consisted mainly of laborious wetlands and grueling willow thickets. We finally we ended up putting on our wading shoes and just pushed on through. Stopping for lunch we saw a golden eagle fly overhead. Such majestic animals! The walk after lunch was fairly easy by comparison though mostly uphill. We followed Àlàvjàvrre lake for the rest of the day while enjoying blue skies and sunshine! What a difference the weather makes. So nice to be walking in t-shirts for a change.

It is only just past eight-o-clock but I am sooo tired right around now… Early bedtime. The wind has picked up and temperatures dropped as soon as the sun set behind the mountains. I will be another cool night. Hard to get motivated getting out of this warm and cozy sleeping bag to brush my teeth… well, better just get on with it before I fall asleep. Nite nite!

Àlàvjàvrre – Álggajåhkå
Distance: 14 km
Date: 27 August, 2016
Camped: 67.327493° N, 17.321626° E

Woke to pouring rain. It had actually been going all night, but for once the tent was perfectly dry! No condensation inside for the first time in weeks, I am so happy! Granted it required max ventilation, including most of the tricks I used to do with the Soulo, but who cares, it worked. A very strong headwind probably contributed. Thank goodness, no way of drying anything today.Breaking camp in the rain sucks so we waited an extra hour to see if it would let up, but no dice.

We walked in a cold headwind and drizzle for most of the day. We had a large river to cross today and tree options to do it. We could either hike a few kilometers up stream to look for a bridge that may or may not be there. Or we could wade across the 20 meter wide river in what looked to be at least waist deep – or we could row. There is a small stone chapel on the opposing hillside and once a year they do a mass there. So they keep two row boats at the river, one at each end. Hikers may use the boats, but this means crossing 3 times, once with a boat in tow. Given our options, we chose to row. It was really hard to get the heavy aluminum boats into the water since the beach was so rocky and there were no ramps. The current was pretty tricky too, especially with a boat in tow, but we managed. Girl power!

We climbed up the hillside to the chapel to get out of the wind for a while and change into dry socks. While we were sitting there another hiker came in. Ha was on his way back to Kvikkjokk so he was heading in the opposite direction, meaning he also had to row. We watched as he went through the routine all by himself, made it look easy. Strong guy! We had another 6 km to go today and it was already 16:30… time to get a move on! At least it was a fairly easy hike along the gorgeous blue glacial lake of Álggajávrre. We attempted to follow a very small animal trail but it was increasingly difficult to see. Still faster to try than bushwhack through the willow thickets, though it should probably be called trail searching rather than trail following…

We came up on our intended camp site around eight. Another late night, but at least it was not raining at the moment, always nice. As soon as the tents were up though the skies opened again. Actually, it was snow mixed with the rain this time. Last night we had seen some snow too, but only up on the nearby peaks, not down in the valley like this. The peaks still show a light dusting and temperature are dropping… I wonder if it will stick on the ground too. I am trying not to go to bed in all the clothes I own… we’ll see how I do.

Álggajåhkå – Skárjá
Distance: 15 km
Date: 28 August, 2016
Camped: 67.375053° N, 17.639542° E

Woke up to snow! It had been snowing quite a bit on the peaks all around us and now the ground was white too – and it was still going. Beautiful in a surreal sort of way. A bit of a rough morning though. Motivation was wavering a little. I had somehow managed to kick a hole in the toe of my right boot and even though I had tried to repair it with Liquidsole in Saltoluokta it was leaking now. Wet feet sucks. I put some more glue in the hole last night looks like it dried over night, so fingers crossed.

As we prepared for a winter hike in snow flurries the weather unexpectedly started clearing up right after lunch. My mood changed along with the weather and it ended up a really fantastic day! By the afternoon it was barely a cloud left in the sky and the sun came out! Still freezing cold in the wind, but very nice to experience Sarek in the sun. The colors and vistas really come to life in the sunshine. Sarek truly is a place like no other and Álggavágge simply takes your breath away. One of the most dramatic u-shaped glacial trough valleys in Sarek. You feel so small and insignificant yet remarkably present and aware. A feeling of serenity and energy combined I have never felt anywhere else before! It was an incredible experience… really hard to process and take it all in. I cannot put into words the feeling! Truly magical! I mean it! Alright, I think I am officially out of superlatives…

Hiking along the northern shore was fairly easy for the most part. There were some pretty obnoxious willow thickets to push through, but that is par for the course here. We were attempting to follow a very faint trail that was actually marked on the map but it was hard to see and we constantly lost it. Still nice with a path to follow. Although after a full day on the bias you tend to feel it somewhere in the body… in my case the right ankle. My right foot is slightly smaller than the left, so that boot is a tad too wide and I cannot seem to get it laced tight enough. Very frustrating! What started as a mere nuisance eventually grew more painful and I finally ended up having to wrap the ankle. It helped some. That and some ibuprofen. Still, I would not let this subtract from the amazing scenery of the day.

Not long after wrapping my ankle I had to undo it again. We had a river to cross. It was glacial water loaded with blue sediment so we could not see the bottom, which meant we had to feel our way across blind. I am quite pleased with the light trail runners I had brought for this purpose though (Inov8 – Trailroc 245), they have a really nice grip and dries fast. I am glad I did not opt for the sandals, these provide much more stability and protection.

It was already freezing cold when we stopped so I had my dinner in the tent. It is kind if nice though, these evening routines. Winding down… eating, reading a little, then some foot care and tending to other aches and pains from the day… Today it was my right ankle causing trouble. Wrapping it up really helped though. Putting some liniment on it now will hopefully do some good. However, I think I am coming down with a cold. Damn! I am falling a part here!?!

Song of the day: Den döda vinkeln by Kent. “Ge mig en vinterdrog. Ge mig allt du har. Kom nu, jag är kroniskt låg bara mörkret hörs. I ditt öga var en storm jag såg, som sommarsnö.”

Skárjá – Vuojnesvárásj
Distance: 14 km
Date: 29 August, 2016
Camped: 67.387148° N, 17.892851° E

What do you know… we actually woke to sun! Blue skies, no wind and glorious sun! Oh… did I mention sun? Incredible! The energy from the solar body seem to translate directly into me. I feel so alive!! Our campsite was providing the perfect setting to enjoy it too, with 360 degree views och stunning peaks and valleys all around. Amazing how much the weather affects everything. We lingered a little extra, enjoying the day, drying a few things in the sun and hit the trail by ten.

The hike today went through two really beautiful valleys and past Bierikjávrre, one of Sarek’s most amazing glacial blue lakes. Fairly easy going due to a very well used trail for the most part. Almost felt a little like Kungsleden at times. We welcomed the easier hiking conditions though since we are both a bit worn and hurting in places. Unfortunately my right ankle is still quite bad. Keeping it wrapped and popping ibuprofen all day dulled the sharp stabbing pain in each step to a mere grinding ache which was manageable. Pushing on. We had to wade across three rivers today, made for a lot of unwrapping and wrapping, but that is life. None of the crossings were too difficult though, but one was quite wide, feet were almost numb by the time we made it across.

Stunning weather all day! Sarek presented in all its splendor! We were oh:ing and ah:ing and taking a million photos. I guess we used up all endorphins in one pop because we both felt kind of an energy dip after lunch which made the last part of the day a bit mentally rough. We were joking that we had already experienced so much beauty that we just could not possibly take any more in. In truth, it really felt that way. It is very strange the effect Sarek is having on me, quite emotional experience.

We got to our intended campsite and could find the lake marked on the map. It is either gone (dry) or the map is wrong. Even double checked on the GPS. We still found a beautiful camp spot, a bit further up in elevation with 180 degree magnificent views on one side and massive peaks on the other. Stunning! Fantastic end to a very special hike. Tomorrow will be a bit of haul out of here in to Saltoluokta. The original plan had been to catch a boat ride over lake Pietsjaure for at least half of the distance, but the season closed last week so we are hauling it.

I am definitely coming down with a cold though. My throat is a bit sore and the nose is stuffing up big time now that I lay down. Sigh. I try medicating with ginger & lemon tea, a gift from my friend, and I am already taking ibuprofen for my ankle. That will have to do, because it is all I have got.

I had the theme music from Kill Bill, the whistling (Twisted Nerve), stuck in my head all day. Yeah… a woman who kicks ass and survives just about anything. That’s me right now!

Vuojnesvárásj – Saddle between Gähppo and Vuovres peaks
Distance: 16 km
Date: 30 August, 2016
Camped: 67.398834° N, 18.222972° E

Slept like crap. Mainly due to my nose being clogged and I had a difficult time regulating my temperature, on and off hot/cold. I hope I don’t have a fever… We woke to sunshine at though, that was very nice!

Today’s hike was mostly gruelling though. No trail, only big blocks and oceans upon oceans of blocks… mixed with wetlands and willow thickets. Wonderful! One of the harder days on this stage. Longest too, about 16 km. At least the weather played along. Granted, a bit cold and windy, but we stayed dry and sun came out now and then to cheer us on. Only one wade today, plenty of near misses though that we managed to hop across.

It was a really hard day, I am not going to lie. We are both rather worn now with assorted ailments. My knees are thankfully much better  but I still notice them. My ankle is raw and I would be limping if I did not keep it wrapped. I wish my cold would pass though. Motivation is a lot harder to conjure up when the body is fighting you.

We finally made it up the hill to our intended campsite and we tucked in right away. Tired! The map does not let on what a miserable climb it would be to get here… through endless oceans of blocks, wetlands and willow thickets for the better part of it. One of those summitless hills, every time you think you have reached the summit, you learn there is still another, and then another… Sarek is protecting her secrets well. Noone in their right mind will cross this willingly going in!! We barely wanted to live through it coming out! It is going to be a windy and cold night. Tents are shaking like crazy!

Song of the day: When I’m sixty four – by The Beatles …probably because my body I feels that old today… he he… sorry for whining. Other than physically I feel awesome!

Gähppo/Vuovres saddle – Saltoluokta
Distance: 15,5 km
Date: 31 August, 2016
Mountain Station: 67.393823° N, 18.519689° E

Woke to a heavy layer of frost on the tent and the ground was white. I actually even had some frost on the inside of the tent too, but luckily not too bad. The wind had died down late last night, except for some sporadic manic tent rattling gusts, which probably did not help with condensation dispersal. It was probably the coldest night we have had on the trail so far. I was wearing every piece of clothing I carry in my sleeping bag – but was still cold. Teeth rattling kept me awake. I even dissected my pillow half way through the night to put on my puffy jacket too. Any colder than this and I will need a warmer bag and something more underneath, like a closed-cell foam pad.

The demanding stage yesterday promised to be repeated today. Block terrain… endless fields of it… Some wetlands too, but not as bad as yesterday. We had to wade across six rivers today though, two of which were quite tricky. Probably not great to hop in and out of freezing water all day with a cold, but what to do? Feeling it today. I also managed to damage my left knee coming down a steep ravine lined with rocks and boulders. So now it is very tender, sore and a even a little swollen. Shit!! Hope some rest will fix it, that and my crappy ankle. Too funny… I feel awesome, but my body disagrees.

We have a day to spare so we plan for an extra rest day in Saltoluoka to give our bodies a break. First a shower then to sleep!

DAY 8-9
Rest days – Saltoluokta
Distance: 0 km
Date: 1-2 September, 2016
Mountain Station: 67.393823° N, 18.519689° E

Nice to sleep in a warm bed again. My body needed this. I walked around a bit in a daze all day though, as usual. Did chores, that is about it. We plan to treat ourselves to the three-course menu this time too, but are saving that for tomorrow. Splurged on a bottle of wine tonight though, but that is just medicine. Speaking of medicine. I am running out of ibuprofen and they do not sell any pain meds here. So I am left to begging fellow guests for handouts. I figure most of them are going home after this so they won’t need whatever they might have left. It worked. Kind of funny though. It felt a bit shady doing all these “drug deals” in dark corners of the mountain station, even though they are legal.

Different vibe this time around at Saltoluokta. I liked it a lot better last time. It was calmer and mostly hikers then. This time it was fully booked, with 9:th graders and bus loads of pensioners. Kids are loud. Pensioners weird. I am retreating into my own bubble… already missing Sarek. Funny how fast you forget the difficult bits.

We do our own thing. Mostly I care for my aching body… I hope some rest will perform miracles, we still have another 105 km to go after all! Nice to curl up with a good book for a few hours. Interesting packing priorities when you count every gram, cut the handle of the hair brush but still choose to carry a book weighing 386 grams on a 500 km hike…

Watched a medevac helicopter come to pick up one of the school kids who managed to stab himself in the thigh with a knife… about all the excitement for today. I spent quite some time going through photos, hard to select only a few for social media this time… there are so many amazing moments to share! On a side not, my iPhone does not recognize my fingerprints anymore… I told you I would come back a whole new person!

Had some time to reflect too. I will need plenty more time I’m sure, but I am feeling rather melancholic over the fact that our brief Sarek visit is over. We have walked through three seasons in the space of a week: from gorgeous summer sunshine to ominous rainstorms to snow flurries and frost. It has been an amazing experience in a truly magical place. The inaccessibility being a large part of its charm. You feel utterly alone with nature – as a part of nature. I feel very fortunate – but a bit sad too.