Sort of by accident, it seems like my big mountain expeditions'
are in even years, while more local projects receive attention
in odd years (Greenland 04, Troms 05, Denali 06,..). Thus, I had planned
a trip to Northern Norway in May 2007. Plans were fuzzy, but quickly became
more concrete when Edward Earl (esquared) asked me about the possibility of
another attempt on Store Lenangstind. At the same time, Geir Åke Dahlen
suggested that we climb some peaks together in Northern Norway.
I quickly made up my mind to suggest that we should define the two/three arctic "Ultra peaks" (peaks having at least 1500 meter of prominence or primary factor). Thus, a plan formed that would have us attempt Sarektjåkkå in Northern Sweden, Store Leanangstind in Lyngen and possibly a few more peaks having 1000 meter of prominence. After I returned to Bergen, Åke and Edward would then attempt Jiehkkevarre. Finally, Edward would go and climb Snøhetta in Southern Norway on his way home.
I travelled to Tromsø from Bergen on Friday, May 25th. Loaded with most of the group gear (including two sleds), as well as with a complete ski package for Edward, it took focus and many nice smiles to check about 75 kilogram of luggage without any questions being asked. I got to Tromsø, checked in on the Tromsø Scandic hotel and waited to pick up Edward. He called from Gardermoen, had just missed his connecting flight, however this was still substantial progress as he arrived a full 24 hours late two years ago (3 hours this time). I went shopping for gas and common food, then picked him up. We stayed at Scandic and received 1. class service on the weatherforecast from my friend Roar (who works for the met-office). He sent us "customized" forecasts for our two main areas, in order for us to decide whether we should go first to Lyngen, then to Sarek, or vice versa. After careful examination, we decided that our best bet would be to start with Sarek, then go to Lyngen. Warm thanks are due to Roar.
At 1000, Saturday morning, Åke arrived on time and soon thereafter we were on the way to Sarek. While driving to Nordkjosbotn, our expert on local geography quickly decided that it would be substantially quicker to drive via Finland rather than via Narvik. The road is shorter and the speed limits are higher. We made a pit stop at the gas station near Skibotn, then drove to the Norwegian-Finland border. The mountains west of the road looked very nice for skiing.
We continued south in Finland, but very near the border to Sweden. This border is defined by the river Könkämäälven. We arrived in Gällivare, had dinner and continued to the trailhead in Stora Sjöfallet National Park.
Unfortunately, the snow started quite high on the mountain, thus a carry on foot would be needed. We agreed that a good evening project would be to make camp at a point from where we could start skiing the next day. However, to get there turned out to be harder than it looked. We did not locate the proper trail (before on descent 3 days later). Edward carried two plastic bags, while Åke and I tried to walk while carrying the two sleds between us. This was incompatible with dense birch forest as well as cumbersome between large boulders. On top of this, we soon faced the challenge of crossing a rather big creek. After about one hour we left the sleds behind and decided to do a double carry; first locate a place to camp, then return and carry up the rest of the supplies. Despite some initial trouble, we were on the way, the adventure had started and the view and the low sun provided a memorable backdrop that made us forget how tired we all were. We finally accomplished all goals and made camp with a good view near snow that looked reasonably continuous above us.
We woke up to cloudy skies and a mix of light snow and hail. The first section of snow was rather steep. Edward and Åke started out pulling the sleds. This was perhaps a pretty rough return to skiing for Edward, after all, he does live in Southern California. The weather improved and as soon as Edward had completed the first steep hills, we changed and I took over the sled. We steadily continued across this first range of mountains and by 1700 we were in the saddle from where we could look into Sarek. Immediately, sharp and dark peaks going straight into the clouds. What a contrast to the more gentle mountains we had crossed today.
As we skied down into Sarek, we realized that more problems could be in store. The river from the lake Vuosskeljávrre (930m) was open as far as we could see, the snow turned rotten and we started sinking in, some places to our knees. We decided to circumvent the river problem by skiing across the ice on the lake. I subsequently skied to where my Garmin map had placed a hut, there was not a trace of any building ever being there. We crossed a couple of more creeks on very dubious snow bridges and agreed that this trip should not have been much later or the difficulties across this large, flat valley floor could easily become much worse. A long day came to an end as we made camp almost at the west side of the valley floor. Reindeer with newborn "babies" were quietly walking around, but keeping their distance to this "intrusion" into their peaceful valley. We made an effort to disturb as little as possible.
The night gave us a few strong gusts of wind and some more hail, but as morning came the weather improved in a steady manner. We had a healthy breakfast and then started out uphill well equipped with climbing gear. We knew little about the route and decided to prepare for possible difficulties. Starting out around 0900, we came to the end of the east ridge around 1230 after leisurely skiing up the gentle slope followed by the even more gentle glacier.
We left the skis and started up the flank, a short discussion on the route made us decide to climb the relatively easy slope on the north side and hit the ridge quite a bit higher up. We started out with the rope in the backpack, at least initially this route looked quite doable. (photo: Geir Åke) We hit the ridge for the first time just below a rockstep that could be bypassed to the left. The right (south) side of the ridge is far steeper along the lower part. Soon, we could see the ridge above us, including what looked as a somewhat steeper section. (The slope going left got gradually steeper, however it was significantly steeper than what it looks like in a few of the pictures.) We had partly cloudy weather, but breaks allowed for getting a glimpse of the terrain below. As we got higher, the ridge narrows and the exposure to the left (north) increases. We agreed that things should not get much steeper or we would need the rope, notice in this picture the footprints below in the rightmost picture, while one can enjoy the view to the south in the leftmost picture. As we got closer to the summit, we all observed the ridge leading up to a first hump followed by a small saddle before a steep and fairly formidable wall went straight up to what appeared to be the summit. Oh, Oh, the party was struck by silence, this looked like a pretty good challenge, what if we would not be able to finish the last 20 meter? Edward had moved ahead, but I could hear and see that Åke shared my thoughts - that certainly looked like technical climbing up front.
We continued cautiously and each step brought us closer to what looked inevitable, a major difficulty. Meanwhile, Edward had disappeared beyond the first, small hump on the ridge, but then he suddenly exclaimed: "This is it". It seemed hard to believe, but there he was right next to a 1.5 meter tall snow tower, possibly just a buried summit cairn. We had all been terribly deceived, the vertical wall had been rather small, somehow completely blown out of all proportions. We talked about it and had to laugh, very seldom had we ever experienced such a mistake in judgement about what lay ahead.
Edward made "the summit" slightly lower, in order for us to climb it. Here, I finally stand on this summit, just 34 years after it entered my mind. The weather was nice, we were sort of above the clouds. (photo: Geir Åke) Drifting clouds made for a change of views and after a while we had seen most of the terrain below. Nearby, the ridge to the North Summit would rise out through the clouds. It looked uninviting, sort of good to know that this point can be climbed from the opposite side with no technical effort. In the opposite direction the Rapa Valley would sometimes come into view, a valley that I have crossed earlier both in winter and summer.
Finally, after a long summit break, it was time to start down the ridge. It had taken us about 3 hours just to ascend the ridge. Looking down to where we started, this ridge has gained almost 500 vertical meter, we acknowledge that this is indeed quite a formidable ridge. Formidable, but with no major difficulties, the rope remained in the pack. Descending partway down the ridge, sort of brought me back below the clouds and I got a new and different glimpse of Sarek towards the south. Towards the north, but more in the distance, the Akka mountains dominate the landscape.
We made it back down considerably faster than going up, all looking forward to a long, gentle, continuous downhill back to our Base Camp. As I ski back down, my thoughts are drifting to Alaska, there is some sort of Alaska proportions in this landscape. The single word that comes to mind is BIG, BIG country. Not just down into a valley and right up on the other side. Down, then across for a considerable distance. Somehow, you know that you are not in Norway.
A happy team returned to BC as the sun got lower and the sky cleared to produce a brilliant, arctic evening. Right now, I wanted to stay here for a week, there are lots of nice peaks within reach. Our main objective had been reached in a long, but quite nice day. It certainly looked like we would get another good day tomorrow.
May 29th. the third morning of our "mini-expedition", the summits are still there, but the light has changed. The reindeers are already active, the mountains are quietly lined up in the bright morning sun. We pack up camp and say goodbye to Sarektjåkkå then cross the creeks and lake on solid morning crust. Then a long uphill in order to deserve a good rest in the saddle. This is the place to look back, as well as north, to take in the Sarek panorama in a deep breath and then a last gaze on the highest peak. The ski trip back is certainly easier, more downhill and good views as we approach the main valley in Stora Sjöfallet. Looking downstream, we certainly see that we return from winter to spring. We skied a bit higher on our return and managed to bring our sleds quite a bit closer to the trailhead before a last carry was called for. (The first of these pictures, photo: Geir Åke.) This time, we came upon the proper trail and the return hike was quite easy compared with the struggle we experienced on our first day.
The trip had come to a successful end. We drove back to Gällivare for a well deserved night in the local hotel including dinner and breakfast. The next day, we headed north along the same route. We started early as our goal for the day was to establish a new BC, this time on the Strupebreen glacier at the foot of Store Lenangstinden.
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