Nordic Touring in Lappland

This year, the first weekend of May wasn’t spent in Narvik like the previous two years. Instead I went touring on the Swedish side of the border with my girlfriend. The tour started in Kattejåkk and ended in Abisko, with the last day of our tour following the famous Kings Trail (Kungsleden).

The landscape is a bit different from Narvik. On the Norwegian side the mountains are steeper with sharper summits, whereas around Riksgränsen and Abisko, the landscape is softer, with wide valleys and rounded summits.

The tour

We arrived with the train in Katterjåkk just after noon, not far from the Norwegian border, and headed south. The first 10 kms or so was very frequented by snowmobiles so there was a sort of freeway of snomobile tracks that we skied on. This of course makes progress faster, but takes away from experiencing the untouched nature. We also met a few snowmobilers on the way. As you problably know, snowmobiles are loud and stinky, but there weren’t too many of them so we were still able to enjoy the nature.

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Our first campsite

The first day we skied about 10 km before finding a nice campsite. We dug out a big hole in the snow to get a stable platform for the tent and made a nice little kitchen out of snow.

The next day, the weather had turned a little bit worse, with stronger wind and overcast skies, we even had a bit of snow come down in the morning. We headed east on the unmarked trail which turned out to be the nicest part of the tour. We were completely alone in the 15 km valley, passing lakes, rivers and snowy mountain sides.

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By noon, the clouds started clearing and the wind died down. As we approached the Kings trail and lost altitude later in the afternoon, the snow got wetter and softer to the point where we sank to our knees, and on a short stretch to our waists in the wet snow. We later learned that it had rained down in the valley a few days earlier and that the snow hadn’t really re-frozen since.

On the kings trail we found a nice spot to pitch our tent and had a wonderful evening and a good night sleep after struggling (for what felt like hours) in the soft wet snow. We didn’t know at that moment that the following day would be even more wet.

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The following day we headed north on the Kings trail. The snow hadn’t frozen over night so it was still really wet. For the most parts we followed snowmobile tracks, but at some points they would go through sections of deep slush or water forcing us to zigzag through deep wet snow, trying to find snow bridges over marshland, creeks and lakes. With so much snow that had started melting, the snow at the bottom of the valley had absorbed a lot of the water, turning it into slush. Some of the lakes and creeks had a thick layer of ice covering them, but on top of the ice, there was a 20 cm layer of slush and/or water.

The day was partly a struggle and partly very enjoyable. The whole day, the weather was fantastic.

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Following snowmobile tracks, trying to stay dry.

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Following (what was left of) the trail towards Abisko

We had originally planned to spend three nights in the tent, but in the afternoon of the third day we started seeing our goal, the village of Abisko. Since our feet were pretty wet, we didn’t feel like camping in the wet snow so we decided to push through and go directly to the hotel in Abisko.

The last 5 kilometers or so was a bit of an adventure. Melting snow had formed small rivers and creeks and we were once again forced to zigzag to find snow bridges and higher land in the forest. At one point we even followed a trail that suddenly ended in what was a deep and rapid current. After even more zigzaging we eventually found the summer hiking trail with bridges over all the biggest currents.

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Finally, bridges on the kings trail

The last couple of kilometers on the summer trail was very enjoyable. It was dry and we had the evening sun warming our backs as we skied the last bit to Abisko. It had been a very long day and arriving at the hotel we just made it into the restaurant before the closed and enjoyed a marvelous dinner.

Maps and Gear

We had the 1:100 000 “fjällkartan” covering everything from Narvik down to Kebnekaise which is a huge area. The maps are also available free online at: https://kso.etjanster.lantmateriet.se/?lang=en

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Our route marked on the map, starting in Katterjåkk and finishing in Abisko

For the gear I usually refer to my old list of gear for winter camping found here. The main difference this time being that we skied on Nordic touring skis in stead of alpine skis. The Nordic touring ski is a slightly wider version of a cross country ski with steel edges to give some grip when traversing on hard snow.

Conclusions

The tour was a very enjoyable three day outing. Camping at that time of year is very enjoyable with long days and pretty nice temperatures. Rikgränsen and Katterjåkk usually gets a lot of snow and is excellent for ski touring this time of year. Abisko (and the Kings trail) is at a lower altitude and gets much less snow. I would recomend to go a few weeks earlier if you plan on skiing the kings trail.

To conlude: Springtime in Lappland is an awesome time of year, go if you have the chance!

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