Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Day 19: The Skierfe detour

Happy news! Karolina wanted to write some more guest blog posts, so she took over today's post. I only did the editing (not much--it was quite good already!) and added the photos. =)


September 3: After a rather humid night, we woke up to a nice morning – the sun was shining, large patches of blue sky were visible and even though clouds were many, they were mostly white and friendly-looking. A good morning for the detour we planned–to the top of the famous Skierfe mountain!

The top of that cliff on the right side of the photo... that's Skierfe and our main goal for the day!
We ate breakfast, broke down camp and hit the side trail leading to Skierfe around 7:30. We had 8 km (5 miles) to reach the top, then we would need to backtrack–we were going to return to the Kungsleden at the very same spot where we camped. Initially I had been planning to leave all my gear at the campsite and hike to Skierfe lightweight but Ryan talked me out of this idea. He said the campsite was too well established, so there was a real risk that rodents could make damage to the gear we would leave behind–and certainly to any food we would leave behind. Too bad because food made up the heaviest part of my pack’s content and I would be more than happy to not have to carry it. Now, too concerned about critters just waiting out there in the bushes, willing to grab every opportunity to feast on careless hiker’s resupplies, I was reluctantly carrying my fully loaded pack. 

The first few kilometers of the Skierfe detour were flat and easy to hike. We were walking along the ridge overlooking Lake Laitaure that we had crossed by row boat the day before. On the far end of the lake we could see the place where we had started our boat crossing. Ryan kept on looking back in that direction, hoping he would see some hikers trying to row across the lake. He thought it would be amusing to watch the row boat struggle with wind and turn around in circles just like we had done the previous afternoon. No boat was visible, though.

After a while of hiking we noticed two tents pitched not far from the trail. Outside one of them we saw Claudia. The other tent must have belonged to the couple from Czech Republic who we had first met during the motorboat ride to Kvikkjokk and who we had seen passing our campsite the previous evening.

We waved at Claudia and congratulated her on the great campsite – the views she had were stunning, with Lake Laitaure down below and Skierfe ahead. Claudia was just having her breakfast and told us she was going to start hiking in about a half hour. She was going to leave her tent pitched where it was and hike lightweight, carrying only the things she needed for a few hours’ hike, such as snacks and a camera. I felt so jealous.

In the meantime the trail conditions deteriorated and we entered a wet and muddy area. We were doing our best to not get our feet too dirty and too wet. That required getting off the trail and bushwhacking around large puddles. We could tell we weren’t the first ones to do that–there was a clear network of paths stamped out through the vegetation by previous hikers who had been maneuvering around the most muddy spots and the deepest puddles.

After the muddy area the path started going up. With every step up I my pack seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. I couldn’t stop thinking about Claudia who was going to leave all her gear in her tent. A short while later the Czech couple passed us and neither of them was carrying a pack. I was really regretting not having left my pack at the campsite. I felt like a looser carrying many kilograms of dead weight on my back while other, smarter people enjoyed their lightweight day hike. 

I started making loud complaints about the situation. That got on Ryan’s nerves. He first told me to pour out the 2 liters of water I was carrying. The previous evening we filled up with extra water, knowing from our maps that there weren’t any water sources around our intended campsite and along most of the way to Skierfe. We learned from another hiker who had gone up the day before, however, that there was a small stream available just before the last assault to the top where we could pick up more water, so the extra water was no longer necessary.

That wasn’t enough, though. My pack still felt terribly, terribly heavy and I kept on complaining, pushing the limits of Ryan’s patience even further. Finally, Ryan had enough and suggested in a very nice and friendly way that I better leave my pack hidden somewhere behind a rock and continue hiking to the top of Skierfe without it. Now we were far away from any established campsites, so rodents shouldn’t be a big problem and there weren’t many hikers on this trail, so people shouldn’t be a problem either. I hesitated for a moment, but the idea of lightweight hiking was very appealing, so I did as Ryan suggested and left my pack in a place I considered safe enough. Ryan, however, preferred to keep on carrying his full pack. 

It felt so good to not have those kilograms on my shoulders! I almost felt as if I grew wings, as if something was pushing me up and ahead! I could go fast! I could go far! I was jumping happily from rock to rock, looking back at Ryan hauling behind me, trying not to outrun him too much.

We reached the top of Skierfe at around 10:15. The last stretch was steep and rocky, without clearly marked trail. It was just going up, towards the top. The couple from Czech Republic arrived at the top mere minutes before us. Claudia had been there already for a while, sitting and enjoying the views. Apart from the five of us, there weren’t any other people around.

The view from the top of Skierfe (1,179 m/3,868 ft) was spectacular! According to our guidebook, it was supposed to be the most beautiful view in Sweden–and this might as well be true. The western wall of Skierfe is practically vertical. It overlooks the Rapa River flowing into Lake Laitaure, forming the truly scenic Laitaure Delta. Looking down we could see a network of rivers and lakes. The most interesting thing about them was that some of them had the beautiful turquoise color of glacial flour while others were filled with dark blue water. Trees were growing only along the riverbanks and on the slopes of mountains while most of the valley bottom was covered with yellow-green wet-looking meadows. Further in the distance there were granite rocks and mountaintops covered with snowcaps, and enormous glacier tongues flowing between them. I felt lucky we got to reach Skierfe on a relatively nice morning, with enough direct sunlight to make all the colors and shades visible. Yet, there were enough clouds on the sky to make photographing the panorama difficult–either the lighting was changing too quickly from very bright to very dark or only some patches of the land were lit by sunrise while others remained in the dark shadow casted by thick and heavy clouds.

We stayed on the top of Skierfe for the better part of an hour. Enough time to admire the views (or—as I sometimes like to say— “let our eyes graze on all the beautiful views”), take photos and have snacks. I would have loved to hang out there longer, but it was getting cold and windy. We needed to get moving in order to warm our bodies up and get down to lower elevations and less exposed terrain to escape the wind. The Czech couple left Skierfe maybe a quarter of an hour before us and Claudia intended to still stay there for a while. Later she would return to her camp where she intended to spend the second night. 

Views from the top of Skierfe were absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful!
The hike back to the Kungsleden was rather uneventful. I managed to retrieve my pack from the place where I had left it without any problems. No damage done to my gear! Whew! Putting the large and heavy pack back on my shoulders after hiking for several kilometers with only a small day pack wasn’t fun, though. Earlier, when I had switched from the heavy load to the light one I felt as if I grew wings. Now I felt quite the opposite—my pack was weighing me down. 

Not far from the place where I retrieved my pack, we met the Polish couple, Magda and Kamil. They were going towards Skierfe, of course not wearing their heavy packs which they had hidden among rocks and bushes further down. We chatted for a while, asking each other about further hiking and camping plans. Then we continued our separate ways.

Around 13:15 we arrived at the junction with the Kungsleden where we stopped for a break. Ryan spread his tarp out on the ground to let it dry in the sun. We pulled the map to locate water sources, potential campsites and plan the rest of the day. Originally, we had thought of spending the second night near the junction with the path to Skierfe, after completing the 16 km (10 miles) long detour to the top of the mountain and back. Now, however, we felt like continuing the hike —we didn’t feel tired (the detour turned out to be a relatively easy hike), it was still early in the day and according to our map the next water source and—thus the next possible campsite—was just 4 km (2.5 miles) ahead. We decided to go this extra distance.

As we were sitting near the trail junction making our plans, the Czech couple passed us. They intended to hike as far as the lakes Gåbddåjávree and Gasskajávrre, which they wanted to cross by motorboat that evening. They were on a tight schedule, rushing to complete the Kungsleden before they had to fly back to Czech Republic. That meant that they were going to do longer days than Ryan and I and we wouldn’t see each other anymore. We wished each other happy trails and the Czech couple left.

Eventually, Ryan and I had rested enough, and we were ready to hit the trail too. In the meantime, the weather started changing for worse. Until now, it has been rather sunny, with some friendly-looking clouds covering the sky, now the clouds were becoming more ominous. They covered the entire sky. Rain was imminent—in fact, looking towards Skierfe, we saw a sheet of rain falling down. How lucky we were to have completed out detour while the weather was still good!

The trail continued going slightly up. Far in the distance behind us, we could still see Lake Laitaure where at some point Ryan noticed a small dot moving slowly between little islands. This must have been a row boat! Apparently, some hikers were trying to cross the lake and from what we could see they were doing good—going forward, rather straight.

After about an hour of hiking, we reached the top of the hill where a notice board was placed with information about the next boat crossing on Gåbddåjávree and Gasskajávrre Lakes. According to the notice board, we were less than 2 hours walking from the shore of the lakes and if we wanted to cross them by motorboat, that very spot was the only place where we could receive a signal from a mobile network and make a phone call to arrange the transportation. It was also possible to cross those lakes by rowboat. However, Ryan and I had already decided that this time we would arrange a motorboat. That next lake crossing was 4 km (2.5 miles) longlonger than our previous crossing on Lake Laitaure. Rowing across Laitaure the day before was tiring enough and took a lot of time—we did not feel like repeating the experience, especially when we had no guarantee there would be two rowboats on “our” side of the lake, which would allow us to make a single trip across the lakes.

This sign marks the one place where people can get cell-phone reception to call for a motorboat at the next lake crossing a couple of hiking hours away.

I pulled out my smartphone and dialed the number I read on the notice board. Nobody answered. I tried calling again. This time someone rejected my phone call. Not being successful with phone calls, I decided to send a text message:

“Hej! We are a couple of hikers who would like to cross the lakes from south to north tomorrow morning. If we understood correctly, there should be a boat at 9:30. We tried to call this number, to no avail. We will continue hiking towards the lakes now and won’t have mobile reception anymore. We will be waiting on the shore tomorrow at 9:30.”

Two minutes later, I heard my phone ringing. A woman confirmed that she will pick us from the southern shore of the lakes and told us to be ready and waiting at the dock at 9:15.

Karolina calls ahead to make a boat reservation.
Transportation arranged, we continued hiking and searching for a good place to camp. As it turned out, that latter proved rather difficult… Going down the hill, we spotted a few nice looking campsites. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop at any of them—we didn’t have enough water. We had to continue our hike until we reached a water source. Eventually, we reached a fast-flowing creek where we filled up our bottles and bladders with water. There were, however, no campsites near the creek as the area around was boggy and not campable. We had no choice but to push onward until we found a better place to set our camp. 

We kept on walking and walking across boggy meadows, not seeing any campable piece of ground. How difficult could it be to find a campsite for tonight? We had passed several of them when we didn’t have enough water on us to take us through the night, now that we had water, the terrain wasn’t suitable for camping!

Eventually the boggy meadows finished and we entered a birch forest. The forest was very pretty, with all leaves golden-yellow colors. The fall had started for good in this area! Among the trees, we spotted a campsite we could claim for the night. We put our packs down and before settling for good, we scouted the terrain around—maybe we could find an even better spot. Ryan went further down the trail while I remained near our packs, keeping an eye on them. He was gone for quite a while. He returned with news: we were just about five minute walk from the shore, there were nice campsites , there was an outhouse and he met the Czech couple waiting at the dock for the motorboat. He chatted with them for a while, which was why he was gone for so long. We decided to camp by the shore, so we picked our packs and walk the last few hundred steps.

The campsites were indeed nice. We picked the one closest to the shore. Within the campsite we found a little bench created from rocks and a wooden board and a fire pit. Ryan suggested that we should make a campfire, so while he got to pitching his tarp I went around collecting wood.
Just as we got the fire started and were enjoying watching the flames we saw the Polish couple reaching the lake shore. Ryan went ahead and invited them to join us at the campfire, which they did for a while. They couldn’t stay for too long, though—in about ten minutes, they were expecting the motorboat. They had decided to cross the lake tonight and camp near the Sitojaure Mountain Hut on the other shore. We chatted a bit in Polish and English. Ryan practiced his Polish a bit by asking the couple where in Poland they came from. As it turned out, they lived I a city he was familiar with—Katowice.

Working the campfire--our first on the trail!
The Polish couple gone, Ryan and I continued to enjoy the campfire when to our surprise we heard voices coming from the direction of the lake. It looked like there were people milling around the dock. Ryan went to check this out and found a young couple from Austria who had just arrived in a motorboat, the same one which took the Polish couple to the opposite side of the lakes. The Austrians were looking for a place to camp. Ryan directed them towards free campsites and invited them to join us at the campfire once they settled down. They joined us some time later and even brought some fire wood as a contribution to keeping the fire burning. The four of us chatted for quite a while, exchanging experiences from the Kungsleden and other trails. One of the things we learned was that during the previous summer the Austrians had hiked the GR20 on Corsica  – Ryan and I hiked that trail in 2015. For the young Austrians the GR20 was the first multi-day trek they had ever done and I admired them for choosing a trail with such a high level of difficulty to be their first big hiking experience.

It was already quite dark when the Austrian couple retired to their tent. Ryan and I had the fire going for a little longer. It kept us warm. Finally, we got tired enough. We made sure the fire was out before crawling into our sleeping bags. It had been a very enjoyable evening. 

Karolina blows on the campfire sending a shower of sparks into the air!

Gorgeous, gorgeous views from Skierfe! The turquoise lakes are filled with glacial flour from the distant glaciers. Those dark blue lakes don't have glacial flour and are filled up directly from precipitation or (I suspect) from the glacial-tainted lakes when water seeps through the ground (filtering the glacial flour out of the water) and into the lake.

We couldn't take enough photos from the top of Skierfe!

These are the distant glaciers giving the turquoise-colored lakes their color.

That's enough photos from Skierfe. Time to get down!

Watch out for rock monsters! Unfortunately, the "eyes" of this monster don't really pop out of the photo because they blend in with the background rocks so well. It looked a lot better in person when everything was 3D and the rocks that make the eyes on top of the head are much more obvious because they're a lot closer than the background.

Looking back at Skierfe. (See the glaciers in the distance?)

You can't really see it in this photo because it's barely even a dot, but there's a boat rowing across the lake!
Rainbow on the trail! It's faint, but it's there!
Karolina points out where she thinks the motorboat will pick us up tomorrow morning.

Our ride wouldn't come until morning, but we made it to the "boat place!"
Karolina builds us a campfire!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Day 18: Row, row, row your boat...

September 2: I woke up to a light rain, which surprised me since no rain was in the forecast. But we lingered in camp until 8:30 at which point the rain had stopped. Soon after starting, we spotted some reindeer--clearly the reason for the unexpected rain.

We passed a surprisingly large number of people along the trail. One large group was clearly part of a larger organized tour, but we guessed that everyone was clustered fairly close together because they all took the same boat across the lake that was still ahead of us.

But the day's hike was largely uneventful, and we arrived at the lake shore where two rowboats greeted us. Karolina and I wanted to row across this lake although a charter boat was an option here. The lake in our way was Lake Lajtavrre, an usually light blue lake filled with glacial flour. The other side of the lake was three kilometers away as the crow flies. With only three kilometers to do and because two boats were already on our side (meaning we wouldn't have to row across three times to return a boat to this side), we wanted to row. It would be fun!

This water crossing had a list of rules to follow, such as a lifejacket being required and directions to follow large, white signs to the other side of the lake. From our location, they looked like tiny pinpoints, but we could see it which is what mattered. We knew where to go!

Karolina and I put on lifejackets. We didn't wear them the first time we rowed because we didn't know they were stored in a large plastic box. The German guy was about to push off and we were so anxious not to miss the boat, we totally missed the lifejackets. Not that we really thought we needed them, but if they're available, why not?

While getting ready, a woman arrived hiking in the same direction as us. We had first met her earlier in the day. Actually, to say we 'met' was something of an exaggeration. More like we had crossed paths a few times. She passed us on the trail, then we passed her, then she passed us again, and then we passed her again.

We asked if she wanted to join us on the boat, but she said she didn't know how to row. We assured her that it didn't matter. We were happy to row and would be rowing anyhow, but it's also not very hard and she'd get the hang of it in a minutes if she wanted to give it a try. It's not rocket science or anything. So we talked her into joining us. Originally, she had planned to take the charter boat.

Karolina and Claudia, rowing the boat
Before pushing off, I suggested that if anyone had to pee, now would be a good time to do it because there were no restrooms on the boat and it might take over an hour to cross the lake. Everyone was good, though, and it was time to launch the boat!

Just pushing the boat into the water was a challenge in itself, but eventually we got it floating in the water and all three of us boarded. We made introductions as we headed off, and we learned our new friend was Claudia from Switzerland.

Claudia and Karolina were sitting where the oars were located and both of them grabbed one and started paddling, but they weren't well synchronized and we soon ran aground on the shallow rocks of the lakeshore. I took another paddle and used it to try pushing us off the rocks, and eventually we got ourselves into deeper water. I don't think the water was actually deep, but we couldn't actually see more than about two inches through the murky glacial flour of the lake. The water could have been one foot deep or a thousand feet deep--there was no way to be sure. But I was pretty sure this glacier-made lake was rather shallow all the way across.

The un-synchronized paddling by Karolina and Claudia spun us in circles and Karolina soon took control of both oars and Claudia joined me on spectator's row.

When Karolina got tired of rowing, Claudia went back at it for another go. You'd never have been able to tell that she had never rowed before.

And then when Claudia got tired, it was my turn to row. The rowing was difficult, too. We spun in circles. The wind was blowing in from the west and pushing our boat hard, and I quickly realized that 90% of my effort was going towards rowing the right oar. Ten rows with the right oar, one row with the left, ten on the right, one on the left. My right arm was definitely getting tired.

Now it's my turn to row!
The wind also picked up as we approached the center of the lake. When we launched the boat, it was in a small bay of the lake and was somewhat protected from the wind, but halfway across, we had no more protection and the boat swung wildly out of control.

And Karolina started worrying that the boat might capsize. The water was definitely getting choppier, but I wasn't especially worried. Not yet, at least. I couldn't see whitecaps on the water, but we were getting close to it, and Karolina would cuss in Polish every time a particularly large swell hit the side of the boat. Eventually, she sat down on the bottom of the boat, presumably to lower the center-of-gravity and make capsizing the boat less likely. I didn't think the swells on the lake were big enough to be a concern--but that's not to say that I didn't have concerns. I worried the weather might get worse before it got better. The skies didn't look pretty and if the wind picked up even more, it could get bad. I didn't mention my concerns to Karolina, though.

Karolina looked back and asked if it might be better to return to the side we came from, but at this point, it appeared we had already passed the halfway point and I had no intention of going back. Nope! It wasn't happening!

After a half hour, my arms--especially my right arm--was getting tired and I wanted to switch off with someone else, but I was a little worried about Karolina and wanted to exude a calming presence. She seemed calmer sitting on the bottom of the boat and I didn't want to upset the balance. Not just by making Karolina take over rowing where she'd be higher up and feel the rocking more, but I didn't even want to switch places with Claudia because just switching places would make the boat rock.

I kept paddling, but keeping control of the boat was devilishly hard and we continued spinning in a circle on a regular basis. Progress seemed agonizingly slow.

Finally we started nearing the other shore and I could see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. We were almost there! If the boat capsized, I'd definitely swim for north shore. Or walk--if the water was shallow enough. It was impossible to tell how deep the water was.

The wind was blowing up pretty well--the wind was our biggest problem the whole time--but I suddenly realized that if I paddled directly upwind of the dock--which was ever so close!--the wind could essentially push up the last part across the lake and I could rest my arms.

So I rowed to a point that I felt was directly upwind of the boat launch then pulled the oars in and just allowed us to float in the water.

It was kind of nice. Claudia and Karolina seemed skeptical of my concept, but I was so glad just to rest my arms. My right arm and hand were exhausted. After several minutes, the shoreline and boat launch were noticeably closer and the girls finally seemed convinced that my plan was working.

Although I did have to make a small coarse adjustment halfway there. After a minute or so adjusting course, I let the boat be pushed by the wind again.

As we got closer to the boat launch, I noticed that we were once again starting to run aground and tried to paddle the last part checking the depth of the water with my paddle. I was a little worried we'd run aground and get the boat stuck. If push came to shove, we could get out of the boat and walk to shore pulling the boat behind us, but none of us really wanted to do that.

And happily, we did not. I finally manuvered the boat into the boat launch while Claudia helped control the boat's direction with an extra oar. I jumped out of the boat onto dry ground--well, mostly dry ground. I couldn't avoid stepping in the water that was an inch or two deep so my feet got a little wet. But once I was securely on dry ground, I pulled the boat further up the ramp where Karolina and Claudia could get out without getting their feet wet and we unloaded the boat of our backpacks. When the now lightened boat, we pulled the boat the rest of the way up the boat ramp. I tied the rope at the end securely and we were done. We had made it across! It had been a lot more difficult than we ever anticipated, though, and it took us an hour and a half to make the 3 km journey. (Well, 3 km as the crow flies. With our spinning in circles and zigzagging, we probably covered a lot more distance than that!)

We finally make it to dry land!

I finally had a chance to take a closer look at my right hand. Just as I thought--two small blisters had formed where I had been rowing with the oar. My hands weren't used to doing so much work! I named the blister on the left "Port" and the blister on the right "Starboard." It seemed approapriate.

Just up the trail, maybe a five minute walk away was the next hut on the trail. We walked to it where we took a short break and filled up with water. We wanted to camp a couple of kilometers up the trail and wasn't sure if there would be water around, so we would pack in all the water we needed for the night and most of the next day.

We stopped to set up camp at the trail junction with Skierfe. It included a nice, scenic overlook of the lake we had just crossed, and a view of Skierfe which Karolina and I planned to conquer tomorrow.

Karolina wanted to cook another one of her freeze-dried meals so I boiled extra water for her and accidentally poured the boiling water onto my bare hand that was holding the bag. I dropped the bag, cussing loudy. Some of the food from Karolina's bag fell out onto the ground, but fortunately for her, most of it stayed in the pouch. After taking stock of the situation, I finished filling her bag with water before making my own dinner.

My hand--already with two fresh blisters--was now bright red where I had poured the boiling water onto it. It hurt and felt like a bad sunburn, but except for being a bit red the skin looked normal. I figured I'd be fine, but I was grumbling over the unnecessary injury.

It had been a tough day....

View from camp

I take a break in a chair we found on the trail. I also pulled out my tarp to dry from the rain and condensation earlier  in the morning.

Lots of reindeer today!

The lake in the distance is the first view we had of the lake we'd have to row across.

Karolina preps the boat!

That mountain the background is Skierfe--which Karolina and I planned to conquer tomorrow!
Another view of Skierfe, this time from the other side of the lake.

I fill up a platypus with water at the hut we passed

Karolina and Claudia rowing the boat!

And my turn rowing a boat