The banging of the tent tears me out of my dreams. The wind hauls outside and I open my eyes. Something is different. It takes me a moment to realize. The tent roof, which should hang far above my head, is threateningly close to my face. From the outside the snow presses heavily on the tent. I must think for a moment, but then everything happens quickly. Wake up Moritz, get out of the sleeping bag, into the shell clothes. Put on Shoes, gloves, and the facemask. Then I am ready to go outside. Not on my side, because there is no way through the snow. Outside it is pitch dark. In the light cone of my headlamp the snow fly’s past, while the wind hits my face. I quickly grab the shovel and start digging the tent out of the deep snow. I just have to throw the snow into the air and the wind carries it away, away from our camp, into the darkness. The 1.5-meter-high wall we built to protect ourselves from the storm has almost disappeared and the wind constantly drives more snow towards us. Eventually I manage to uncover everything from the snow and the tent stands upright again. Completely exhausted I crawl back into my sleeping bag. It is 1 o’clock in the morning, we are in the middle of the Sarek National Park and the only thing that is certain is that I need to repeat the same procedure in 2 hours. But I feel no fear. Only tiredness and despite the adverse circumstances, a deep inner happiness to be in this place. Why? This is probably difficult to explain to an outsider. In the following I will try anyway.
But let’s start from the beginning. It all started with the idea of Moritz and me to spend a vacation together as brothers. How exactly we came to the Sarek is not clear to both of us. Maybe because it is considered “Europe’s last wilderness”. Maybe because I was allowed to get a little glimpse of it 4 years ago and the mountains burned themselves deep into my memory. But for sure we were attracted by the beautiful faces, which we found on photos during our internet research. It was striking that we found some information on the Internet about cross-country skiing, but almost no information about ski touring in the national park. So, the trip promised to be an adventure into the unknown. And this in Europe, accessible by public transport! Our plan was simple. Take food and equipment for 25 days and cross the Sarek National Park, from Ritsem in the north to Kvikkjokk in the south. If possible, we would ski the beautiful mountains and faces we encounter along the way.
The adventure already began with the journey to Ritsem. Each loaded with a 40 kg pulka and skis, we were told three times that it was not possible to travel on the train like that. Somehow it worked out every time and thanks to two night-trains we traveled comfortably and with enough sleep. The first train went from Hamburg to Stockholm, then we took another one from Stockholm to Gällivare. The last hours in the train the tension increased. On the one hand, we were getting closer and closer to our starting point and on the other hand, because we were two hours late and would therefore miss the connecting bus, which only leaves once a day. This worry disappeared when we arrived at the train station in Gällivare, where we were met by a very cheerful bus driver who waited for the arrival of our train. After all the luggage was loaded, we continued our journey in heavy snowfall on a snow-covered road through the endless forests. Both the snowfall and the forests cleared, and the first mountains appeared in the clouds. The bus driver did his best to get us to Ritsem but soon we were stuck in big snowdrifts. Now we had to wait for Jens, the driver of the local snow-blower, who had not felt like getting up in the morning. He made up for this by flying past us half an hour later and hitting the snowdrifts at full speed. This was his rather blunt but extremely effective tactic for clearing the road of snow. For the next two hours we followed Jens to our starting point, the Fjellstation in Ritsem.
Due to the delays, it was now already 4pm and to get to our Fjällstugga we still had to walk 12km over a lake. So, we wasted no time and started walking. The clouds pushed in over the mountains and with the onset of darkness we were surrounded by a gloomy mood. But after 2 days of travel and long preparation we were happy to finally start walking. Shortly after the first stars appeared in the sky, we reached the hut and were warmly welcomed for the second time that day. Here we could warm ourselves at the stove and spend a comfortable night in a bed. A luxury, we would not have for the next 3 weeks.
The next morning, we were greeted by sunshine when we left the Fjällstugga. For the first time we could really see our surroundings. Across the valley, we saw the wind blowing over the peaks of the Akkha mountain range. A sign for worse weather, which was supposed to move in around afternoon. So, we packed up our pulkas and moved on. Until noon, we followed a well-marked snowmobile track, before we finally left the marked trails, left the noisy sleds, left civilization and entered into the Sarek.
We spent the next 3 days of changing weather walking deeper and deeper into the mountains. The clouds hung low, and we could only guess what kind of area we were walking into. Now and then the sun’s rays broke through and provided a golden contrast in the otherwise deep blue atmosphere. Again and again, we made breaks to soak in this natural spectacle and of course to take pictures, because we could hardly believe our eyes witnessing this beauty.
It was surprising for both of us that the pulkas could be pulled quite comfortably despite food for 25 days, mountaineering and camping equipment. Here our big advantage was that we had the freeze-dried food from Tactical Foodpack with us. We each had 30 dinners in our packs, which together weighed only 3 kg per person and gave us a delicious and, most importantly, hot meal every night. As soon as the water was about to boil, we poured it into the foodpacks, closed the zipper and put the warm foodpack into the sleeping bag. This helped the sleeping bag to warm up for the night, and after ten minutes of waiting we were treated by a delicious meal like “Moroccan Lentils Pot” to warm our bodies from the inside as well. Our diet was supplemented by a large muesli in the morning. Then during the day, we each ate 200 grams of mixed nuts, two homemade granola bars and a handful of dried fruit. For lunch, we each had a Core Shake from Tactical Foodpack in combination with a piece of cheese and a slice of homemade fruit bread from grandma’s recipe, which is also called “stone” in our family due to its consistency. But trust me, it tastes great. If we wanted to reward ourselves in the evening after an exhausting day, we had a Kama Bar from TF for both of us. Rather inglorious and yet delicious were also the 20 bars of chocolate, which we had taken with us.
With walking, eating, and relocating the tent, the days went by fast. After 4 days of walking, we found ourselves in the middle of the Sarek Naional Park, while a snowstorm raged around us. Out of the white that surrounded us, an abandoned reindeer keeper’s hut unexpectedly appeared in front of us, to our surprise it was unlocked, and we fled from the storm to the inside. In the shelter we made ourselves as comfortable as possible between rotten mattresses and blown in snow. Checking the weather report, our hearts leapt for joy. A high-pressure system was approaching, and the next week promised bright blue skies. The weather forecast also prognosed temperatures of up to -25 degrees. We skillfully ignored this information. The important thing was that we would get good weather to go into the mountains. Later in the day, a Finnish couple came to the cabin, happy to escape the still very cruel weather outside. After a nice afternoon, they thankfully left us a detailed map of the region, which we could not obtain in Germany. Thanks to this generosity and the good weather forecast, we stuck our heads together over the map and drew up a rough plan for the next few days. The plan was to use the weather window for ski tours in the mountains. First, we planned a tour in the upper Ruohtesvagge. Then we wanted to follow this valley, to set up our camp below the Sarektjhakka for a few days and explore the mountains and glaciers there.
The wind already calmed down in the evening and the sky cleared up. The next morning, we pulled our pulkas to the start of the tour, where we deposited them. Without the extra weight that had accompanied us the days before, we literally flew up the valley until we reached the glacier Ruoghtesjiegna. In the sun, on the glacier we got warm for the first time that day. Since we did not have a good feeling for the avalanche situation we decided for a flat, nevertheless very beautiful ascent to our first summit, the Sjielmatjhakka. Arriving on the summit ridge, we were speechless. In front of us, the mountains of the Sarek spread out. What we saw exceeded all our expectations. Peaks, as far as the eye could see. The mountains were freshly snowed in and presented us steep faces, one prettier than the other. The rest of the ridge became a panoramic walk to the summit.
Once at the summit, it was windless and relatively warm, so we sat down for a summit lunch. The Core Shake and our nuts tasted fantastic, as we soaked up the energy of our surroundings. The silence was only interrupted when one of us pointed to a face, admiring how beautiful it was. At some point, the wind picked up again and we set off our descent. Always staying in the flat terrain, we headed down to the glacier in a seemingly never-ending powder run. The powdery snow combined with the monotonous turns gave a feeling of floating. Once down in the valley, we set up our tent and briefly enjoyed the sun before crawling into our sleeping bags and preparing for a cold night. Cold it was indeed. On top of that, the wind shifted twice during the night, so we had to get out each time to replenish our wall. The next morning, we woke up a bit rumpled, only to find that all our stuff was covered in a fine layer of snow, even our inner shoes.
What helped for now was a warm breakfast with the lovely sounds of Hildegard Knef. Then it was time to get into the cold inner shoes and out into the wind to pack up the tent. With loaded Pulkas and covered in our thick clothes it was already starting to get better. While we followed the Ruohtesvagge the views compensated for everything. For everything except the cold toes, they were just annoying! Around noon, the wind fortunately died down again and it got a little warmer. Soon we had reached the entrance to the Mihkajiegna valley. In front of it we set up our camp for the next days. Already looking at the faces for the coming days, not knowing that we will ski them. Throughout the afternoon we dug ourselves an igloo to protect us from the cold. Even though it was freezing cold outside, it was worthwhile to go to the toilet outside during the night. While emptying the bladder we could look at the wild and peaceful mountains of the Sarek illuminated by a sky full of northern lights.
The goal for the next days was to explore the mountains of the Sarektjhakka. We set off the next morning with the first rays of sunshine, following the Mihkajiegna valley and then up to the glacier. To get a better feel for the terrain and the avalanche situation, we decided to take a mellow route, as we had done on the last ski tour, and laid our tracks past crevasses up to Vargtoppen. Even though it was windy and cold at the summit this time, we had a good overview over the terrain and were rewarded with a really nice powder run down the glacier. From the top we also got a glimpse of the ridge leading to the summit of Stortoppen, the highest mountain in the national park. This looked like fun, but not too difficult, climbing. In addition, we saw the South Face, with two wide gullies towards the glacier. We had already seen this face from afar, from up close we saw that it was in perfect conditions with powder snow and no wind drifts. A snow pit in similar exposure gave a promising result, boosting our confidence. We joyfully headed back to camp, where we spent a cold afternoon in the sun gazing at the beautiful panorama, being at the apex of the three main valleys of Sarek. Nothing but mountains and silence surrounded us. As soon as we stopped our rustling of the thick down jackets, which was mainly caused by eating nuts, we could fully enjoy the silence.
Even before the sun disappeared, it became too cold to sit outside and we packed up our stuff. When bringing the first load into the igloo, Moritz was in for a nasty surprise. The roof of the igloo had caved in during the day. The igloo was still standing, but we didn’t trust it anymore and so we put up our tent in a hurry. Shortly before sunset the tent was finished, and we were able to crawl into our sleeping bags. At least we got warm again in the afternoon.
The night was clear and again the sky was full of northern lights. Impressive! But a clear night also means a cold night and accordingly our feet were frozen in the morning. We forgot this at the latest on the glacier, at the very latest on the ridge to the Stortoppen of the Sarektjhakka. This could be easily walked with crampons and offered views of the entire Sarek and north to Kebnekaisa and the vast plains of Sweden. To the left there was a steep cliff, falling here would not be good, but the view to the right side increased the anticipation of the descent. Filled with powder snow, the Southface laid in the sun as if it was waiting to be ridden. Not believing how lucky we were with the conditions we took a rest at the summit before we started our descent. We put on our skis and off we went. Before we reached the right gully, we had to pass through the summit area covered with Rime ice. This required all our focus. A quick look into the snow cover confirmed our good feeling and moments later I could already watch Moritz skiing in bigger and bigger turns towards the glacier, getting smaller and smaller. When he was just a dot in the otherwise untouched landscape, I did my best to complement his track and it just felt amazing. Day 8 in the Sarek and we were able to make big powdery turns down a seemingly endless slope in the sun. Full of happiness, we made our way back to camp.
Almost becoming a routine, the next morning we walked with cold feet in the direction of Mihkajiegna again. Because of the good snow from the day before, we decided to do the Southface of Sydtoppen. The snow pit gave us a good feeling again. We started with big kickturns and later found ourselves bootpacking through a beautiful couloir guarded by Rime Ice until we reached the ridge which we followed to the summit. Following the summit break, we enjoyed some big and fast turns down to the glacier and back to camp. What a feeling…
After four days in the Sarektjakka area, we decided to use the next two days to move over the Ahkajiegna further into the Sarvesvagge. At least that was the plan. But after only two hours of walking, we saw a couloir that we just couldn’t walk past, it looked too good. We spontaneously changed our plans and instead of torturing us with the Pulkas 400 vertical meters up to the glacier, we soon found ourselves lying in the sun in our sleeping bags. It could have gone worse. The New plan was to ride the couloir the next day and then follow the Algga- and Niejdariehpvagge to reach the Sarvesvagge before the weather turns bad.
At that time, we did not know that we were in for the coldest night of our vacation. After a night somewhere deep in the minus 20 range, we were freezing the next morning in the shade. This time the cold bit into my toes, and my skins would not glue to my skis because of the low temperatures. However, the mood changed abruptly when we reached the sun. And so, an hour later, we bootpacked up the sunny couloir without jackets. Thanks to the excellent 30 cm of powder that lay in it, it was a fantastic bootpack which got steeper the higher we got. Soon we found a good exit past the summit cornice. At the top we were full of anticipation for the descent. In the German vernacular, anticipation is considered the most beautiful joy, but what we were allowed to experience in the following descent, exceeded this anticipation by far. After some Jumpturns on harder snow, we were soon able to point it. We took turns watching each other’s snow fly into the air. Fully charged with endorphins, we flew out onto the open slope and towards our tent. Quite sure that we were the first skiers to ever ski this couloir, we decided to name it “cold-feet physics” because while looking from the distance, Moritz asked me whether this couloir is physically skiable. And “cold-feet”? Well, that is quite self-explanatory…
After arriving at the tent, we had a short lunch, packed our pulkas and moved on, always following the Algavagge to the west. The sunset in the evening marked not only the end of an exciting and long day, but also the end of the high-pressure system.
We were getting one more day of usable weather before a bad weather front was announced. We used the day to get through the Niejhdariehpvagge into the Sarvesvagge. The “Vagge” in English: “Valley” turned out to be a beautiful pass crossing. At the top, the mountains on the other side were just coming out of the clouds and we got an impressive taste of what would await us in our next and last mountain region.
Arriving in the Sarvesvagge, we first had to build a snow-wall, and a high one, since storm and heavy snowfall were forecasted for the next three days. The building demanded our energy and completely exhausted we crawled into our sleeping bags after 12 days of continuous effort. We were glad that we now had a break of three days. Besides the physical recovery, another positive aspect of the snowfall was that it was associated with higher temperatures. “-10 degrees?” That sounded like vacation mode. Completely satisfied with what we had experienced in the central part of the Sarek, we now waited patiently for the storm to pass over us and better weather to arrive for our next chapter. We passed the time with eating, playing backgammon, reading and of course a lot of snow shoveling.
And just because of the past experiences and the beautiful prospect that we had ahead of us, it was not bad to have to go out at night to free the tent from the snow like described in the introduction, it was almost pleasant to spend three days in the tent because outside the weather was raging and it did not matter at all that we had not showered for over two weeks now.
After three days of waiting the weather became good again. After we dug out and packed all our equipment, we found ourselves already one hour later in the middle of the slope to the plateau called Luohttlahko. Everyone who has carried a pulka up a big hill, knows how exhausting this can be, but fortunately we were able to walk up to the top with kickturns and needed “only” 2 hours for the 400 hm to the plateau. With incredible views, wherever we turned our head, we approached the Bardde chain. We wanted to cross this mountain range in the coming days, but it still made an almost unbreachable impression and so we were allowed to feel very small in a large and vast landscape. An intense feeling, which I have learned to appreciate especially in the wild mountains of this world.
At the edge of the plateau, at the foot of Lullihatjhakka, we set up camp and witnessed a sunset that made the light golden and was later replaced by the tender colors of the Scandinavian blue hour. Full of anticipation, we looked towards tomorrow’s destination the Lullihatjhakka, which was bathed in a soft pink while the moon stood above it.
During our ascent the next day, it showed us a completely different face. Shortly after our departure, dense clouds moved over the plateau and dipped everything in an impenetrable white. Always following a gully, the orientation was quite simple and so we could reach the summit despite limited visibility. On the descent, we could just see our track from the way up and the 10 meters in front of it. Nevertheless, it was fun and in the middle part both the visibility and the snow got better, so we could enjoy a few really good turns. Even though the weather was objectively worse than on the previous tours, we both found it a pleasure to be out and to feel the adverse elements. Around noon, we were glad to be able to get back into our dry and warm sleeping bags.
The coming night started quietly, but soon the wind increased and blew snow into our tents. Our sleeping bags got coated in a thick layer of snow. This problem could only be solved by going outside and adding our protection-wall. Without snow in the tent, but in wet sleeping bags, the rest of the night went accordingly.
In the morning it was still windy, but after digging out all the gear, we were ready to go. It was day 18 and our last big hurdle was coming up. We bundled our forces again and pulled our pulkas over a pass for the last time. As a reward we got wind and bad visibility at the top. Without a break and in a whiteout, we slowly descended to the Barddejiegna. On the glacier we eventually got under the cloud cover and now we were really rewarded. In ideal inclination we could descend with the pulkas through the landscape, while on the left and on the right new peaks and rock faces kept poking out of the clouds. Even the sun came out and gave the mystical atmosphere something friendly.
A completely new world awaited us in the following valley. The wind had blown stronger here than in the regions before and exposed a Martian landscape. Between blown off and eroded hills with black rock we wandered around in search of a suitable place to sleep. After some searching, we fund one behind a large stone. With the tent set up, the sun shining, the view of the mountains and the birds playing around us, the world seemed friendly again. In the evening we checked the weather forecast and made a plan for the next days. We wanted to use the announced good and warm weather for two final ski tours and then make our way back towards civilization. After all, it was still two days of walking to Kvikkjokk.
Now the end of our trip was in sight, which made us a bit pensive, but it had one big advantage: we could ration our food so that it only had to last four, maximum five, instead of 8 days. This meant a lot of oatmeal in the morning and especially a double ration of Tactical Foodpack in the evening. Even though we were very happy with our diet during the crossing, we still built up a food deficit during three weeks of daily effort. In this state, two foodpacks are a miracle.
The remaining days we feasted like kings. We used the warmer temperatures for an urgently needed wash and for sitting in the sun. After all, this is the real reason why you go camping in nature: to sit in the sun with enough snacks and soak up the silence of your wild surrounding. Since laying in the sun is even more beautiful after a ski tour, we made sure to do one in the morning. On the first day we followed a gully on the east side of Gaskastjhakka. Since the summit slope was too rocky, we felt happy without it and rather had a long break in the saddle. On our last day in the mountains, we climbed Skajddetjhakka through the southeast face in good conditions. From the summit we had another view of the entire Sarek National Park and all the valleys we crossed. Even today, the conditions we had, and what aesthetically beautiful mountains we were able to ski seem like a dream to me. With this certainty, deeply grateful to the Sarek, we skied down the powdery summit face one last time in big turns.
The next morning the weather had closed in. Nevertheless, we took down our tent, packed up the pulkas and set off across the plateau. The view was white all around and so we were grateful for the assistance of the GPS device in navigating. We were also thankful when we saw the first tree after three weeks. But soon the forest became so dense that it became adventurous to find a way through it with the pulkas. Luckily, we learned to ski in the Rhön!
That reaching the Kungsleden does not mean end of the adventure became strikingly clear, while we had to break trail through deep wet snow through in a thick forest. It turned out that we were on a summer section of the Kungsleden and the last 3 km to the valley were quite exhausting. In the valley we spent one last night in a forest clearing before following a snowmobile highway to Kvikjokk in sunshine the next day.
And then it was suddenly over. There we were, standing in front of the fjellstation in Kvikkjokk. After 22 days in the mountains, we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves now. Be happy that we had made it to the end? Be sad that it is over now? Well, in any case, first take a shower!
Written by Till Fladung