Having caught the coach from Gallivare to Vakkotavarekatan, we had a final (for everyone but Steve) pack of our rucksacks and headed off into the unknown. It was a fairly steep uphill section to start, but before long we were above the trees and treated to fabulous views over the surrounding lakes. Once on the plateau we selected our first campsite at a beautiful spot beside the Rassejahka stream. We also had an amazing sunset, of which Dan tried to get an even better view by jogging over a tiny hillock that stood between us and the setting sun...he clearly had no concept of perspective...it wasn’t small; just very far away...
After a pleasant walk through marsh (there were wooden boardwalks so it was actually pleasant), we began to descend into the next valley only to be stopped in our tracks by a wide lake. Enough to dissuade even the most determined of walkers, we knew we couldn’t just wade across. Luckily we didn’t have to, someone had left two rowing boats on each side of the lake, complete with life jackets to help you get across!! The effort of rowing left us all quite hot, sweaty and just between us, pretty damn smelly, so we decided to have a sauna at the stuga beside the lake. Now, time to get a few things straight: 1. you don’t get naked in a sauna if you’re English 2. the whole beating yourself with larch twigs is Finnish (not finished; Finnish; i.e. it only happens in Finland). Basically you go under a freezing cold shower until you almost pass out due to the cold. Then you go in a boiling-hot room until you almost pass out due to the heat. Then you repeat the process several times. Surprisingly, when you crawl out for the last time, you’re clean!! After the sauna, it was another slog up the other valley side to reach our second campsite where we were treated to some impressive clouds floating beside, around and beneath us, and where we treated ourselves to hot chocolate and a very long midnight game of Swedish Rounders.
This was another stunning day’s walking in beautiful countryside, complete with a much needed resupply at a very small, but impressively stocked shop at Kaitumjaurestugorna. It was here that I had my first Plopp; that’s a brand of Swedish chocolate bar and nothing else that’s small, brown and gooey... In the evening we wild-camped at a small abandoned Sammi hut called Forfallen where we were treated to an amazing panoramic view that blew everyone away – certainly one of the best wildcamps I’ve ever had!
We decided to cut off the corner of the route here and take a marked alternative that proved to be even more off the tourist route. After leaving the path shortly after 10am, we didn’t see anyone else till we got to our proposed campsite shortly after 1pm and would you believe it, someone pinched it first! After some discussion, we decided to camp a short way from them and behind a hillock for good measure, before climbing up Liddunjunnji (1007m). The weather had really started to change for the worse though and no sooner were we down and fed than the rain started...and didn’t stop...
Now I’ve got a fair deal of experience when it comes to sitting in tents listening to the rain thanks to my trip to the Pyrenees in 2003. Luckily, this was the only night in Sweden where we really experienced this delightful occurrence and by morning it was overcast and windy, but dry. The day was spent going through a canyon-like valley with towering mountains and thundering waterfalls either side, before it opened out onto the flat plain where our mountain journey would eventually end. That evening we camped at Kebnekaise Fjallstation, which was across between a hotel and a hostel, complete with a well-stocked shop, a restaurant and two saunas. Forget what I said earlier about saunas (apart from the larch twigs; that still applies) – there was no avoiding it – if we wanted to be clean we had to get naked and we weren’t alone... Steve and Dan got even more intimate later that evening over a candlelit dinner for two... Things were hotting up in the arctic...
The ascent of Kebnekaise was quick, but tough, we did it in less than 5hours, summitting just before 1pm. It was well worth it – amazing views all the way until the very end when the top was just scrapping the underside of a cloud – spectacular. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the view through that cloud of the pyramid of brilliant white glacier 70m in height that marked the final trudge up to the summit and created some of the most impressive mountain shots of the trip. In the evening, we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet back at the Fjallstation that really hit the spot and rounded off a great day in the mountains.
This was the final day of the walking section and was the longest stretch of all, down through green meadows and beside swollen summer lakes towards the tiny hamlet of Nikkaluokta. The highlight was beating the lake steamer and “Lap Danalds” Lapland’s answer to the golden arches, involving the best reindeer burger I’ve ever tasted!!