Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Nordkalottleden in winter - Lappland in winter by skies!

Dear fellows!

In the following you can read my short trip-report about Daniel’s and mine trip in Lapland along a section of the famous Nordkalottleden. I’m sorry it took me so long. I hope you enjoy my report and Daniel and I are both looking forward to read some comments from you. (The photos you can find either in the German report or as a diashow).

Day 0, 4th of April 2008, Friday

Early in the morning, or lets say, in the middle of the night I jumped out of bed to get to the Vienna International Airport. My brother in law, Dominik, was so generous to fetch me to the airport. My flight to Stockholm Arlanda was at 7.10 am. I was so looking forward to come back to Scandinavia. Arriving in Stockholm, I took the bus to the city center, which took me about 40 minutes. In checked out the neighbourhood there and realized that Stockholm is apparently quite a nice place to stay. Having the opportunity for the last real lunch for a long while, I decided to eat one of my favourite dishes – yes, of course – pasta! The train to the final destination “Abisko Turiststaion” left at 5.10 pm. The weather in Stockholm was nice, with just few clouds and a slight breeze.

After having a small chat to the other guy in the compartment (it was a sleeping car), I fell asleep quite fast.

Day 1, 5th of April, Saturday

After having a reasonably good sleep I woke up at 6. 30 again, next day. And guess - it was snowing. Overnight we came from spring-like weather into deep winter. And I liked it! Daniel was supposed to join the train in Boden at about 7 am. Somehow we didn’t really know exactly how this will happen. Before departing in Stockholm I just asked the staff, if I need to change the trains on the way to Abikso or not, and they told me that this isn’t necessary. So I didn’t think much about and wasn’t worrying anymore but trusted Daniel that he will sure manage it to join the train – somewhere.

Shortly after we were departing from Boden, I heard someone opening the wagon doors very load, followed with a scream of “Marko”. I knew, it was Daniel and jumped out of my compartment and we hugged us and we both were happy. I settled to the second class carriage, where we were talking about the last opened questions. After a 19 hours train drive we finally arrived in Abisko.

We were very surprised of the poor snow conditions there, as there were maybe just around 30 cm of snow. At the Visitors Center we tried to get some information about the conditions out there, but the guy at the desk wasn’t very informative. He just mentioned that the snow condition will change significantly after we arrive at the other end of the lake, we intended to cross. Telling him about our plan to walk to Kilpisjärvi, he seemed to be astonished. We dressed ourselves there, packed the backpacks amd made a last picture of us before leaving the civilization.

The first problem of each trip appears at the very first steps. It is to find the start point. We knew, we had to come somehow to the huge lake - Torneträsk, which we planned to cross. The direct way to the lake was hindered by a river. So we followed a crosscountry track. After few minutes we knew that it wasn’t the right way. So we crossed the train tracks and came to the main road were we walked on for several kms. We hitchhiked a car which drove us for about 8 km. At that point we put our feet on the lake.

I didn’t mention the heavy backpacks yet. I had a 65 L backpack which harboured all my stuff including my civil clothing and 10 kg of food. I estimate the weight of my backpack to about 33 kg. Daniel’s backpack was of course also very heavy, but he was lucky as he travelled already with his hiking clothes.

The conditions on the lake weren’t inviting. We had a strong wind over the right shoulder (from SE), it was very cloudy and we walked more or less on ice. We couldn’t bear with a compass as there were no point to bear. So we were totally dependent on Daniel’s GPS. As we arrived at the other end of the lake, there were just 2 km left, with 250 m gain in altitude to come to our first hut “Lappjordhytta”. These final 2 km were leading through birch forrest with countless small but steep hills. These hills were too steep for our skis so we had to walk them up without skis. It was a pain, because at almost every step we were knee-deep in snow. We required 2.5 hours for these last 2 km and without GPS we would have never found the hut, as it was perfectly hidden in the forrest and in the clouds.

Arriving at the hut the first thing to do was to make a fire, melt snow and of course, dinner… Later in the evening a group of five finish skiers arrived at the hut. They started their journey in Kilpisjärvi, our aim. They seemed to be very experienced and told us that they hardly found the hut, with GPS of course. They told us that they had terrible storm up on the high plateau, which Daniel and I intended to cross next day.

The Fins gave us a good hint to improve the performance of our skis, as we didn’t have any skins for them (so, I want to warn all people out there: never go to Lapland without skins!). We wrapped a rope around the skis and were worried about, if it will perform well enough for the steep part waiting on us. With some doubts we fell asleep this evening, but having an aim in our heads…

Day 2, 6th of April 2008, Sunday

The weather in the morning was very bad. Over night about 30 cm of snow were falling. We had very bad visibility. The norm-pressure was 1003 hPa, indicating the bad weather. Besides all facts indicating not to leave the hut we decided to try to walk to the next hut, 27 km far away. The Fins were surprised about our decision, as they knew that the 500 m in altitude are quite hard anyway. But, on the other hand we didn’t want to rest already on our 2nd day. We thought, this might bring us in real time pressure! We fixed a point 9 km far away, which we wanted to reach in 4 hours, at about 1 pm. If we wouldn’t be able to do so, we would have to turn, because otherwise we would run out of time and wouldn’t reach the next hut before night.

After few meters of walk up the slope we happily recognized that the rope-modified skis enormously improved the performance of the skis. We actually also recognized that the temperature was decreasing with each meter gain in altitude. Additionally also the wind increased with altitude. But we couldn’t improve as fast as we expected and as we wished to do. The deep snow, strong wind and zero visibility made it very hard to walk up the slope. We estimate that the wind up at 900 m reached about 30 m/s, so strong that we had to lean against it. Of course the wind was blowing exactly against us. Absolutely exhausted we reached the fixed point at 3 pm, 2 hours later than desired. We walked just at a speed of 1.5 km/h. So we had to choose a difficult but right decision – we turned and walked back. It was simply just not possible to walk the remaining 18 km in the next 6 hours; even 10 hours wouldn’t be enough. Frustrated and very tired and broken we arrived at the hut where we started the day at 6 pm. There were 2 parties in the hut, asking about the conditions up there, where we have been. The “Norwegian” party told us that they wanted to walk last day to this hut, but turned back on the lake due to bad conditions. We knew, if they did so yesterday, they would never even tried what we have done today.

Already thinking of quitting the trip, our motivation was on all time zero. We didn’t know what to do, going to Oulu and making some trips in Finish national parks was one option - an option without passion. With just doubts we fell asleep this night!

Day 3, 7th of April, Monday

In the morning the weather seemed to become better. Daniel and me agreed to try it once again. Besides this, Daniel held contact to the Norwegian fellows. They were waiting to get a call to get information about upcoming weather conditions. As they got it, they said that the wind would be strong, but calm down during the next days. They decided to walk to the next hut and Daniel and I joined them and were very happy of doing so, as we would have more breaks in between making the tracks in the snow, which changed significantly over night due to strong wind.

It was just partially cloudy, but the wind was still very strong. Nevertheless we were much faster than the last day. Of course better visible conditions contributed to this, as did the wind-compacted snow. For the firs 9 km we required just 4 hours, 2 hours faster than the day before. And of course the fact that we were five people made it much easier for making the track. After 10 hard hours we arrived at the hut, where a school class apparently had a kind of outdoor-lesson. They had some dinner left, reindeer meet, which was eaten then by us. Quite tired, but very happy I fell asleep on the ground of the hut, in mind that the next day wont be demanding at all.

Day 4, 8th of April, Tuesday

We got up very early, to avoid trouble with the kids which were also sleeping in the hut. Thus we left the hut already at 8 am. The next hut, Gaskashytta, was just 13 km away, across the the lake, so easy terrain. It was again just partially cloudy, but of course we had again strong wind blowing against us. Nevertheless we reached the hut already at 12 pm. We had tomato soup for lunch. As I was still very tired from the previous day, I took an afternoon nap to recover from the hard kilometres we have already done. In the evening Daniel and I prepared the skis again, as there will be a steep slope waiting right ahead of us to be walked up right next morning.

Day 5, 9th of April, Wednesday

We started again quite early, as the day was expected to become very hard and long. Right in the morning we had to gain 400 meters in altitude to reach a high-plateau. The first few meters were leading through a birch forest, but shortly after we passed it we were in the middle of being challenged by this long slope, of modest steepness. We had again wind blowing against us, it couldn’t be the way around. We estimated the wind strength at about 20 m/s. This slope seemed to be endless. Almost on the top three hikers passed us. They were coming from the other direction (from Kilpisjärvi). They were German and besides Daniel and me the only guys hiking with backpacks. Latest at this point it was clear to me, why no one is walking in the same direction as we were – because of the wind. We had no indications that someone was walking in our direction (followed due to book entries in huts), but we met three parties going in the other direction.

Arriving on the top, Daniel and I “unroped” our skis, as it was going slightly downwards. We have seen the hut already about 4 km ahead of us. Somehow the feeling was good to know that it can’t last long anymore to reach it, on the other hand it seemed like the hut isn’t coming closer.

After we reached the hut, Daniel and I were starting to think about to continue to Kilpisjärvi, and not to exit the hike in Dividal, from where we would go to Tromso. It would take ages until we would come to Oulu from there. On the other hand we regained our strength and motivation and we put so much effort into it so we didn’t want to quit at all, but instead just had to try to continue. So we decided quite fast to take the opportunity and continue, since otherwise this trip would hardly count anything.

Later in the evening a couple arrived at the hut. The woman was coughing. As Daniel’s cough hasn’t been gone at this time, his cough immediately worsened again. I was worried about his cough and also about the fact that he could also infect me… We soon went to bed, to get up early again…

Day 6, 10th of April, Thursday

Our aim for this day was Havgahytta, a Swedish hut with just two beds. As we didn’t want other people to occupy them, we started, as mentioned, very early, to arrive there at noon or shortly later. The “Norwegian crew” wished us much luch and told us to take care of ourselves as the light conditions were bad this day. It was very cloudy, and I don’t need to repeat myself, but I do, wind was blowing against us. After we crossed the lake, it went downhill and the weather changed. Almost no wind and for the first time we had really nice weather. Going downhill through birch forest was big fun. The last 100 m in altitude were through moderate steep birch forest, wherefore we could literally ski down. If you have ever seen a James Bond movie, you have alredy seen how it looked like. Great fun! We reached the hut and a girl, with a dog, was just about to leave. We were sitting in front of the hut, as the sun was so enjoyable. Later we took an afternoon nap. For dinner we had once again 250g of pasta, each. But, surprisingly, we were still hungry. So we fell asleep with a stomach still offering much place for food.

Day 7, 11th of April, Friday

We started the day already at 7 am, as the longest day-trip was ahead of us – 45 km should be covered this day. Somehow we both felt really strong this day, and overall, it was a beautiful day, with amazing landscape! For the first time we had wind favouring our movement, which made it much, much easier for us! We made a break at Daertahytta, had some tea and Powerbars, and continued with 12 km remaining to the Storrosta-hut. The sun was about to be hidden in the back of the mountain ridge, and as we made a 90° turn to the north we entered the shadow of this mentioned mountain ridge. We have seen the hut already in front of us, about 2 km far away. When we finally reached it we were surprised about the hut – it was brand new. Nevertheless this also had some disadvantages, as it was very difficult to make fire in the oven. But after a fire alarm and a smoked hut, the wood in the oven was finally burning! For dinner we had two packages of expedition food. This means, we have taken in about 1500 kcal. I was full, but Daniel was still hungry. With a full stomach I fell asleep in my comfy sleeping bag, but wake up in the middle of the night as two other guys entered the hut. It was a bit scary, as you don’t expect someone coming to a particular hut right in the middle of the night. They recognized that we were already occupying the hut and moved to the neighbouring hut. This attitude was very niche from them, so they didn’t disturb our really required sleep.

Day 8, 12th of April, Saturday

The coldest morning - -20°C. Another long and demanding day was ahead of us, so we again started very early, this time at 7.30 am. For breakfast we had, as always, muesli. For me it became from day to day harder and harder to eat enough muesli. We had about 200g – 250g muesli per breakfast. I knew I have to eat as much as I can, although I had to stuff the last half of breakfast somehow in my body making it not enjoyable.

The weather became worse again. Sky was covered with clouds. But luckily the wind stayed calm. It was very hard to bear, so we walk in a kind of zigzag lines and made some additional km, as we wouldn’t have enough to walk! Snow wasn’t nice to walk on, so it once again made the story quite hard and painful. We had our break in the last Swedish hut before arriving in Finland. We had Powerbars and chocolate for lunch to get supplied with energy as there was the last mountain ridge waiting to be walked over. Luckily from this hut the way was marked and a snow-scooter track contributed additionally to easier walking. We didn’t need to pay attention to navigating, but could put all our energy. After arriving on top, we have seen for the first time the valley we wanted to go to. Besides the bad weather this view was still amazing. We skied down the last 4 km to the valley and arrived at the point where Norway, Sweden and Finland border on each other. From there on there were just 200 m left to the hut, where we spent our last night.

A young finish girl arrived later. She was an elf from Santa Claus. Of course I had to ask her quite many questions about working for Santa Claus. I’m sure she felt like being in a cross-examination.

As I forgot to put my shoes from the ground, a mouse filled my right shoe with food. Next morning, when I stepped into them, I was wondering about the strange fit of the shoe…

Day 9, 13th of April, Sunday

Our alarm rang at 5 am. It was already bright, of course, since the sun rises at 5 am. For the first time I didn’t have muesli for breakfast, and as I discovered later, I was feeling that energy in the muscles was simply missing.

We left at 6 am to ensure, we wont miss the bus, which was going to leave at 11 am. We had just a distance of 12 km to walk, so we should have absolutely no trouble with time. After 1 km we put for the first time our feet on lake Kilpis – Kilpisjärvi. So, the last 11 km were leading on the lake. Somehow, as already mentioned, my body didn’t want to walk fast. On the other hand Daniel was in the lead and made tremendous speed. As I knew that our journey was shortly to be over I put all my energy to follow Daniel. The distance seemed to be endless. After making a slight turn to the left, around a peninsula, we have already seen the coast. The pulla in front of our eyes pulled us somehow to the coast, as it was our dream to eat them.

Finally arriving at the very end of the marked path, we just had to find a way up to the main road. We did so and there we were at “Kilpisjärven Retkeilykeskus”. It was an amazing feeling, although quite tired, to be there. We both enjoyed to be finally back in civilization. In this restaurant we had a huge breakfast buffet. Of course I had finish makara for breakfast.

We left Kilpisjärvi at 11 am with the bus to Rovaniemi, from where we took a train to Oulu. After 10 hours of journey we arrived in Oulu. Winter was coming back and it was snowing when we arrived.

We both were very happy that we successfully completed our tour and looked forward to spend some nice, relaxing days in Oulu.

Conclusion

The trip was far more demanding than previously expected. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to prepare myself for this trip, mentally and physically. Therefore I want to thank Daniel for his effort to plan this trip so well!!!

So, for the ones who read this and might intend to go hiking in Lapland as well, I have still some advice.

If you consider taking a longer hike during wintertime in Lapland I highly recommend taking a pulka, as it will enlighten your trip significantly. Hiking for 10 days with this giganormously heavy backpack was no fun at all. Your back will be very thankful of doing so (my vertebra is still hurting). It might be a bit trickier to walk up slopes, but skiing downhill with a pulka is also much easier than with a backpack as it provides you with additional stability. To maintain balance is much more difficult with a heavy backpack on your shoulders.

Once again I was quite desperate of the wind. Not just the strength, but the continuity it blows is what might be very depressing. I wore almost the entire time a balaclava to protect myself from strong wind – especially the lungs. Going there, you should be aware that you might have wind the whole day blowing. So, don’t be surprised, if it happens!

We underestimated the impact of weather conditions to come forth. In case of a snowstorm don’t try to walk farther, as it is just too demanding and too dangerous. If weather conditions don’t permit it, don’t hesitate to wait and rest one day.

Eat as much as you can for breakfast and dinner, as they are usually the only real meals you eat. For me it was very hard to eat a huge breakfast and I literally had to stuff it into my body, but it was of great importance to do so, as this is the energy supply for almost the whole day (besides eating some bars during walking). And for dinner, take yourself time. I have to say that I liked the expedition food very much. It has just advantages. So, in my next trips I will for sure omit pasta but instead take the expedition food in pouches. Don’t forget to drink much and to take in increased amounts of vitamins.

In bad weather conditions a GPS very helpful and maybe it is also vitally important. Many stories have been told already about GPS saving lives of hikers in bad weather conditions. Although I am not a fan of highly sophisticated technology in the wilderness, it is nonetheless good to know that in case of emergency you still have a system, which can provide you “safety”.

Don’t be so naïve of following snowmobile tracks. You might think they go into the right direction. Don’t trust your gut feeling, but rather check on map the real orientation and in case of slight deviation leave them. It will safe you time and energy.

The one very comfortable thing going hiking in Lapland in April is the daylight. But, on the other hand the nights are short, so one could easily have problems of getting enough sleep.

So, there might be still some things not being mentioned. But, as I learned, sometimes you have to make mistakes by yourself to learn. But, on the other hand, you can trust me, sometimes it’s also better to take someone’s advice.

Planning for the next tour began already…

Hope, you enjoyed our posts and pictures we have made. Thanx for being interested in our trip!

Wish you fellows all the best.

Moi moi,

Marko.

3 comments:

Paul said...

Hi Daniel & Marko,
Great to read about your trip in english. I tried to read the german, but didn't get past the first sentence.
Glad you both managed to survive the expedition.
It brought back memories of trekking Halti with you guys.
Best Wishes from Australia.
Hopefully see you soon.
Regards,
Paul

Anonymous said...

Only after reading the story I could grasp how demanding trekking you had done. Quite impressing stamina you showed not turning back...

And no, I didn't feel cross examined - once an elf, always an elf :)

SantaClaus girl - elina

Daniel A. said...

Hi Elina, quite cool that you found our blog! Was nice to meet you there and learn about santa Claus... How as your trip?

Would be nice to stay in contact, just look for us on facebook?

Bye, Daniel