Sarek Ski Expedition – An Adventure In The Nordic Wilderness

I have always wanted to go to Sarek National Park in Northern Sweden, but by the nature of it’s remoteness, it is very hard to get to without spending a few days either hiking in (summer season) or skiing in (winter season).  It is this inaccessibility which makes it remain so empty of people, pristine, raw, and totally wild.  It takes real effort to reach it.  I really wanted another winter adventure with a tent and pulk so I opted to explore Sarek in the winter first.  For this trip I did go with a company, so had guides (people who know the area, are trained in the skills required, and have good navigation skills) and also all the equipment required, such as winter tents, stoves, food, skis and pulk to name a few items.  These things I do not own.

 

The summary of our route was to drive from Jokkmokk to Ritsem, from where we would load up snowmobiles and head to the Sarek National Park border.  We would then skirt around Ahkka (a large mountain with multiple peaks) to Ruohtesvagge, head to Skarja (Papa River) then across Bielvallda plateau going around Äphar before heading back to Store Sjöfallet and a snowmobile pick us up and take us to Saltoluokta Mountain Lodge.

Day 1 was mainly a travel day. We needed to get from Jokkmokk with all our equipment, pick up 2 snowmobiles en route (so we could get as near to Sarek National Park border as possible), and then do a few hours skiing to our first campsite location. The weather was stunningly beautiful and sunny, and once we had set off on our skis, we were heading into a glorious sunset and dusk.  Just as we finished erecting our tents, darkness was creeping in and the northern lights were coming out to play.  We could not believe our luck as they danced over the mighty iconic Ahkka massif.  It was a very memorable and perfect start to our expedition.  We had skied about 7.7km that day (I was measuring on my strava how far we were going each day, hoping they would upload once I had reception again so I could see where I had been).  I quickly got back into the routine of winter camping life, and all that entails.  Once the tent is up you need to dig snow around it’s base to make a “skirt” to help keep the wind out and the tent down.  You also need to dig out the porch to make life easier and more comfortable so you can stand.  We also had a huge tent that the guides would sleep in, but that we would all cook and eat in together.  That needed digging out too.  There is a lot of digging on winter expeditions, not forgetting digging ones toilet holes!  The communal eating area was a really good way for us all to bond and relax together twice a day.  It made a great start to the day and breakfast, and over supper time we shared many many laughs together, and it really made the trip such a positive experience.  That first night I went to bed happy, and slept well, despite a very cold nose.  My sleeping bag (my own) is nothing short of magic in very low temperatures and I was remarkably comfortable.

Day 2 started off sunny with no wind, and we were able to sit in the sun and eat lunch (with our extra large down jackets on though to keep warm).  I was loving the peace of skiing and the views I was being treated to.  I was well aware that you can come to Sarek and see very few mountains as the weather can remain “closed in”, but it seemed we were getting lucky.  Lunches throughout the week would be cuppasoups (with hot water made at breakfast time and transported in thermos’), sandwiches we had made at breakfast, and any other snacks we had on us as well as biscuits and chocolate.  There was plenty of food on this trip and we were fed very well.  We did 12km today.

Day 3 was going to have a tough start to it, and we knew this the night before from our camping position, but it was another beautiful sunny day.  Just over two hours would all be uphill start our day, and we would reach the highest point of the whole trip today.  I was a little apprehensive but my training paid off as I managed to keep up with everyone.  We arrived at our lunch stop very hot, very sweaty, and very ready for lunch!  Just as we were finishing eating the wind started to pick up and it was time to move on before we all got too cold exposed to the wind without moving.  Although the afternoon was windy we still had sunshine and made good progress to our next campsite.  We had done about 11km.  As a beautiful cold pink dusk crept in, with the moon high in the sky, the landscape looked like we were on the moon.  We were camping near a reindeer herders cabin.  Throughout Sarek (unlike other places in Sweden) there are no cabins for people like us to use, but there are these little reindeer herding huts that give the Sami’s some much needed protection and shelter while they are in Sarek.  I am not sure if this one was still in use, as the outer door had gone and the inside was full of snow.  That evening we learnt how to use transceivers, and practised locating “people” who had been trapped by avalanches.  The next two days would see us skiing through narrow valleys surrounded by high peaks, so we needed to be to be found and to be able to help if there was an avalanche.

Day 4 started off beautiful again and  we set off in good spirits.  The group seemed to have bonded very well, no one was really struggling physically, and we were very much enjoying each others company in our down time and having lots of proper belly laughing.  The days were spent in a meditative state (for me anyway) as you put one ski in front of the other for a good few hours of pulk pulling throughout the day, whilst enjoying the most spectacular scenery.  The wind was stronger today so to keep us sheltered from the elements while we ate lunch we erected the large communal eating tent.  We were all getting quite organised and fast at doing this now, but it did involve yet more digging as we still had to dig out the inside for lunchtime as well.  By the evening the wind had really picked up and there was a change of weather conditions to come.  We had covered 11-12km today.

 

 

Day 5 and the weather had changed.  It was still good conditions as far as weather in Sarek went though.  It was overcast making seeing the undulating landscape a little harder, but there were no snow storms.  During the morning we had a few little difficult patches.  Some distance was traversing slopes where the pulk would swing round to the side of you trying to drag you down the slope and you fought against it to remain going at roughly ninety degrees to it.  Another section was very very steep.  We all took different solutions to this problem.  Some skied with the pulk behind them, and invariably spent time on their bottoms as the pulk pushes you too fast.  Some went with the pulk infront of them, and others (myself included) took our skies off and held the pulk in front as we negotiated the steep downhill slope.  Once we had all righted ourselves at the bottom and had a small break after all the excitement we were off again.  After we had pitched our tents later, the wind really started to gain momentum, so for the first time we were building snow walls for extra protection…more digging required!  we used the snow saw to create bricks and then lifted them into place.  We had done just over 14km today and we were all quite tired after the extra activity of building snow walls and battling the stronger winds.

Day 6 brought with it news of a change of plans.  Sarek had decided our time was up and a storm was moving in.  If we camped one more night, due to the weather the snow mobiles would not be able to collect us as planned on the Saturday.  So we needed to ski out of Sarek today and meet them to be taken down to Saltoluokta mountain lodge.  If we did not make it, we would probably be needing to camp until Sunday, and then that would be providing the wind dropped and the storm moved on.  So we headed off, again wearing our transceivers, but today it was in case we lost sight of each other as the snow storms were so bad, making visibility bad.  The morning was hard going with the wind, and when we stopped for lunch we had to hang onto the tent for dear life while we erected it to take shelter in it.  After lunch we pressed on as we had a RV to make.  The weather cleared a little making visibility a bit better.  After a total of 16km for that day we made the RV and hid in the tent until we heard the snow scooters coming.  Then it was all hands on deck to get all the equipment and us safely down to the mountain lodge which was just over an hours ride away.  As we descended down the landscape to the mountain lodge, a big red moon was rising in the sky, and it seemed a very fitting and beautiful end to our adventure, if not a slightly premature one 16 hours or so too early.

We got to the mountain lodge safely and there we waited out the storm the following day.  It threw very strong winds at us as well as rain, jeopardising the lake crossing on snow mobiles the next day back to transport.  There is a large lake that the snow scooter needs to cross, and in the end the “ice road” was open, but with about 50cm of slush on top which makes it very tough going for snow mobiles and they can get stuck.  We just had to go for it and not slow down!

The week had been everything I had dreamed of and I had totally fallen in love with Sarek National Park.  My addiction for winter adventures, winter pulk pulling, and winter camping has grown even more.  I spent much of the week laughing, often with tears streaming down my face.  The group was lovely and the guides worked bloody hard.  They were outstanding, knowledgeable, had a lot of enthusiasm, were extremely patient, and had a happy nature.  I can thoroughly recommend Laponia Adventures.

Since writing this and returning home, I have discovered a team were not quite so lucky as us to manage to get out of Sarek before weather conditions became too severe of them.  They took the same route as us, but due to weather conditions later in their route they could not cover the ground they needed to due to the severity of the weather.  Running out of food and stove fuel, they called in the mountain rescue to help them end their expedition safe and well.

Sarek, I totally fell in love.  You showed us your wild winter beauty in all its glory.  You are so well hidden and hard to access in Northern Sweden that we had you virtually to ourselves.  Over 6 days we saw around five other people and three reindeer, seeking the calm that comes from being in your mountains.  You gave us northern lights, cold, sun, wind, and snow storms.  You decided when our time in nature was up by throwing us a party with an epic storm.  The going was tough at times with the pulk, and winter tent life is always hard work, but I can honestly say I loved every minute.  I really hope I will return one day.  Sarek you have my heart.

I have written about more of my recent adventures.  Dog sledding for a weeks expedition in northern Norway, hiking Kungsleden in Northern Sweden, a skiing expedition across the Finnmark Plateau, and a hiking expedition in the mountains of Northern Sweden.  So click on those links to read more!

Sarek, Sarek National Park, Sweden, Lapland, Sapmi, ski expedition, winter expedition, arctic expedition, arctic, adventure, mountains, fallen, www.mammasschool.co.uk

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