Monday, December 3, 2018

Day 27: The Vistas Valley Detour

September 11: It's another guest blog post from Karolina! Thanks, Karolina! =)

There was a bit of fresh snow in the mountain this morning!
***************** Karolina's blog post *******************

I slept like a baby in the soft and comfy bed of the Vistas hut. It rained throughout the night but being indoors, we didn’t need to worry about getting wet and miserable.

We woke up to a wet, overcast and foggy world. According to the weather forecast, the rain was going to continue until around noon, so we weren’t in a hurry to hit the trail. Instead, our plan was to wait out the rain indoors.

We ate a slow breakfast. I used the opportunity of having access to a kitchen and cooked warm oatmeal and tea for myself while Ryan stuck to his usual cold bowl of cereal with milk. We spent the rest of the morning reading and watching movies from Ryan’s smartphone.

As lunch time approached, Ryan went through his food bag, counting eatables. It turned out he had more than enough dinners to get him to the end of the trail, which we were planning to reach in another four days, but not enough lunches and snacks. Snacks he could buy at the next hut, which had a small store.  With regard to lunches and dinners, he had a brilliant idea: why not eat dinner for lunch today? We had plenty of time and access to a kitchen, so why not make use of it? Ryan was even so nice as to offer to share his dinner-for-lunch with me—it would still leave him with enough dinners through the end of the trail and by helping him eat his supplies, I was helping lighten his load. ;-)

After lunch, we did the usual chores one has to do before leaving a Swedish mountain hut—we cleaned the stove and the table, did the dishes, swept the floor, took out dirty water which came from dish-washing and brought in buckets of fresh water. Around 12:30, we were ready to hit the trail!

The rain had finally stopped by the time we started hiking. The clouds had lifted up and the fog had burnt out making mountains and glaciers visible again. The first kilometer or so of today’s route led through a small birch forest. This late in the season, all trees were dressed in cheerfully beautiful yellow colors. Later, the path went to a glacial creek and continued following it upstream. It was the same creek I dipped into the previous night during my sauna session. ;-)

On the northern half of the Kungsleden, we had been meeting quite a number of people with reindeer antlers attached to their packs. It seemed like many people wanted to take them home as souvenirs. I wasn’t sure transporting antlers by airplane between European countries was allowed—I assumed it wasn’t—so the only time Ryan and I found an antler next to the trail (which happened somewhere in the first week of our hike) I decided to leave it there even though I wouldn’t mind taking it home. Later I regretted doing that. The more people we came across carrying antlers, the larger grew my hope of finding another one for myself. So today, when I spotted something white lying in the middle of a meadow a hundred meters or so away from the trail, I got very excited. Was it an antler?!

I pointed out the white object to Ryan asking whether he thought that could be an antler. He said there was a chance it was and offered to walk over to it and check. He dropped down his pack and ventured into the meadow.

Very soon, he started regretting that decision. Reaching the ‘antler’ turned out much more of a hassle than it had seemed at first. The meadow was water-logged and Ryan’s shoes quickly got soaked through. He had to meander among streams flowing through tall grass, which I couldn’t even see from the trail. I heard Ryan cussing in frustration and felt sorry for accepting his offer to go and check the white thing—even more so that it turned out to not be an antler but a bunch of wood, polished white by waters of the glacial creek.

Farther up the trail, I spotted two carcasses of young reindeer decomposing on a rock spree. Poor little things must have been hurt—maybe they broke a leg and couldn’t follow their mothers and herds? How long have they been lying there? There was still some fur and meat attached to the bones, but not much. Swarms of flies were buzzing around carcasses and I had no intention approaching them too close thinking they might be full of nasty germs.

About 6 km (4 miles) before Alesjaure we reached an absolutely gorgeous waterfall coming out from a narrow gorge. The rocks that made up the gorge had beautiful shapes and warm sandy colors. There were some small trees growing here and there on the rocks, their leaves all colored golden. All in all, a truly scenic view!

Ryan pulled out his fancy camera wanting to capture the beauty of the sight. I decided to let him work in peace and continued walking—he would catch up to me soon. While walking across the suspension bridge, I spun around above the gorge I noticed a man sitting on rocks next to the waterfall. He was eating snacks and I though he had found a great spot to take his break! I waved at the man and continued walking up along the gorge, until I reached a ledge protruding above the waterfall. I stepped on it carefully and admired the views for a while. In the meantime, Ryan had finished his photoshoot and was now crossing the suspension bridge. He did that in his usual Ryan-style, that is, bouncing up and down. He also screamed a couple of times of the top of his lungs, clearly enjoying himself. I was a little surprised Ryan didn’t feel shy with a strange man watching him act goofy on a suspension bridge and when I asked him about that later he told me he never noticed the man. The funny thing is, I took photos of Ryan walking (or rather bouncing) across the suspension bridge, and you can clearly see the man crouched on a rock by the water in these photos. ;-)

This is the photo that Karolina described. I had no idea the guy was taking a break on the cliff there!
A couple of kilometers before Alesjaure we walked onto a herd of reindeer. Ryan pulled out his fancy camera again and started taking close-up photos of the animals. He noticed something strange about one of them, which he pointed out to me—there was a piece of tissue hanging off the reindeer’s antler and the antler was red as if covered in blood. We weren’t entirely sure what we were looking at but suspected the reindeer might be getting ready to shed its antlers. Later, after finishing the trail, I did some research on the internet that confirmed our suspicions. Antlers of deer—including reindeer and moose—are covered by vascular tissue referred to as velvet that starts to peel off before the animal shed their antlers. On the internet, you can easily find plenty of photos of various species of deer shedding the velvet. Some of those photos look quite bloody spooky! I even came across a photo of a Eurasian moose (called elk) eating its own velvet! Eeeww…

Other things I learned about reindeer shedding their antlers are that males do that in the fall and females in the spring. Antlers are heavy, so by getting rid of the dead weight before the winter male reindeer reduce the amount of energy their bodies will need in times when food is scarce. Female reindeer, on the other hand, are pregnant during the winter and they use their antlers as a source of calcium. They shed them once the calves have been born.

Just before reaching the Alesjaure mountain hut around 7:00 pm we walked past a Sami village located on the shore of Alesjaure lake. That was quite unexpected—none of us had had a clue there was a village in the vicinity of the hut. The village looked deserted with not a soul to be seen. We noticed a hose stretched between the village and a nearby creek—probably village’s water supply. We wondered how the village gets water in the winter—the water in the hose must completely freeze at low temperatures, right?

The first thing we did upon reaching the Alesjaure hut was to check the weather forecast displayed on the notice board. According to the warden at the Vistas hut, tonight was going to rain even more than last night and tomorrow was going to be dreary. Given such unfavorable forecast, our initial plan was to spend another night indoors.

The weather forecast at Alesjaure, however, predicted no rain tonight and no rain tomorrow. Moreover, the warden assured us tomorrow morning was going to be sunny and beautiful. If that was true, we had no reason to sleep in the hut—we preferred to camp!

Before leaving the hut and looking for a campsite, we resupplied on snacks at the little store in the hut. We even scored two tubes of Swedish soft cheese for free. Their “best-before-date” was May 2018, so three months ago and the cheese was of the blue cheese type—not the variety Ryan or I preferred, but it was free!—so we took it anyways.

We found a good camping spot on the shore of the river flowing into Alesjaure lake. The water in the river contained glacial flower, but we weren’t sure if it was good to drink. I took all our bottles and went up to the hut to ask the warden where they got potable water from. It turned out they drank water from the river. Before returning to the camp, I went for a short walk to the top of a large rock that towered above the river. The views from the top were breathtaking—but unfortunately, the lighting was too bad to get good photos. Hopefully that was going to improve the next morning with all the sunshine that was in the forecast!

******* End of Karolina's post ******

Ryan’s comment: Our detour off the Kungsleden came to an end at the Alesjaure mountain hut. We were now back on the official Kungsleden!

This reindeer is in the process of losing his antlers!

This is Karolina at the rocky point which had great views but the light wasn't good for photos in the evening. Maybe it'll be better by morning...

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