Last year, 2 friends from BushcraftUK Damian from Woodman Bushcraft and Wayland who is a member on here decided they would like to fulfill a lifelong ambition and visit the traditional Sami market in Sweden(Jokkmokks Marknad) and arrange a meet there. A thread was put up on BCUK and I decided to join in and visit them on my way up north to Abisko in the far north of Sweden to see the Northern lights at solar maximum.
Hoping to see something like this from my hammock....
...From somewhere around here
Amongst the group who signed up for Jokkmokk were 2 friends from the intensive Arctic Survival course I completed. We had a professional Bushcraft instructor
and expedition leader a Mod from the forum with a few -50 dog sledding and snow shoeing trips under his belt in Alaska and Canada.
Those with experience decided to camp out for the duration, those with cold but not arctic experience booked a nearby cabin in case they got into difficulty. We all had emergency accomodation in the cabins if needed.
I was the only sensible enough to be hammocking
All together, 8 of us were to be venturing out there, leaving me on my own for 9 days once I'd got acclimatised and was suitably confident in my abilities.
Damian was to oversee everybody, not in a professional capacity but to make sure everyone was safe.
The aim of the trip was to get some proper cold weather experience as all my previous trips over the years to the arctic have seen heatwaves. -16c had been the lowest arctic temperature I'd seen. I also wanted to do some hauling with heavy loads and push the cold hammocking boundaries.
This time, the weather thankfully played ball for the first week and we saw a recorded -37 on the Kestrel Anemometer before the cold got to it and it cut out.
Anyway, enough of the prologue. Here's the report;
Day1. Feb 5th; 2c The easy day
Travel 100 miles down to Heathrow to spend the night in a Travelodge for the 3am trip to the airport.
Day 2. Feb 6th. Flying over
Heathrow-Stockholm-Lulea on SAS. -25c
The day started off well. SAS's automated check in had given me no option for oversize/overweight baggage and they charged me £25 only for a 32 kg oversize bag, a fully loaded behemoth 130l KarrimorSF sabre. The other bag was 23kg 120l army deployment holdall. All my valuables, gloves, hats, sunglasses and goggles etc added up to 10kg and this went in my pockets of my Rab Expedition down jacket with room to spare. Carry on was 8kg( may have been a few grams over that of food, a good portion of what I took.
Going through airport security was very easy, my size 14 yelow Baffin boots wouldn't fit in the boxes for the X-ray machine which caused security much amusement and they waved me through with big smiles.
I landed in Lulea on time at midday, repacked some kit and then caught an outrageously priced taxi 6 miles to the bus station in Lulea. I had 3 hours to spend in Lulea before my next bus. It was -17 in town.
My kit wouldn't fit in the lockers, so the lovely Swedish lady in the station offered to put it in the Staff room for me. I bought her a box of chocolates in return and made a new friend-she held the bus for me and got the drivers to load my gear on. Petrol and fruit juice were bought in an excellent outdoor shop, water bottles filled. Panic ensued when 2 of my debit cards said I'd entered the incorrect pin trying to get Kroner! I hadn't. I still had 2 credit cards though and quite a bit of Sterling so I was OK.
I spent the 3 hour bus journey from Lulea to Jokkmokk talking to a Sami girl that had moved back to Sweden from the states. She filled me in on weather conditions and we happily chatted about camping in the winter and what the States, England and Sweden were like.
8pm local time, the bus got to Jokkmokk and the adventure started proper. I re-arranged all my kit under the bus station floodlights outside and packed it for hauling. 90 minutes, 2 coffees and a bag of chocolate raisins later, I was off with my now 80 kg load. The grit the Swedes use to grit the roads made hauling a little tricky and I dodged them as best I could. 10 minutes later, I'd picked up the stone free ski path and was heading 2 miles back east along the road I'd just been down to where the guys were camping.
It felt cold and I had to keep stopping to check my nose and chin were still OK, Ice was forming all up my nostrils and my eye lashes were sticking together. 2 hours later, I reached the campsite. To my horror, my phone had now stopped working. All I got was a Swedish voice that I didn't understand. Right, time to find the guys in the cabin. Went to the cabin and no one was there. Oh crap I thought. Off to find the other guys that I didn't know which cabins they had been given. That drew a blank too. By this time, I needed a hot drink and some decent food. I was getting irritated and decided it time to switch to survival mode. I headed for the forest to where the other guys were camping, hoping to find them but if not I would set up camp. 5 mins hauling through the forest, I picked up a side trail and decided to walk up that. A glow of a fire in the distance lifted my spirits and Riam and Dave from the forum were half asleep but with a fire burning. A quick chat, brew and munch had me reaching for the Cold Avenger, hammock and tarp, and I got set up in quick time. An hour of boiling water on the Primus for a drink and hot water bottles and I was away to sleep at 2 am.
Day 3. 7th feb. The Market
Me on left, Dave and Riam walking to market( Andy's photo)
Many more stunning pics of the market and the trip from a capable photographer here
Set up at 01.30 at -25c odd
Dave and Riams (left) camp
Woke up to hear voices at 7am. Andy had got up and seen a hammock and tarp erected in the night behind his tarp which I think had him scratching his head a little. They informed me it was -25 the night before and felt colder this morning.
Andy's 4.5m DD tarp
Woohoo! PB hammock smashed and I'd set up in it in the early hours. The temps were due to plummet through the week and I knew there was a good chance of seeing the PB smashed every night. I lit the fire and had porridge, coffee and chocolate.
We left an hour later to walk the 2 miles to the market, stopping by the cabins to find out exactly where they were staying.
The Sami Market occupied the main street. Full of fur pelts, fur hats, dog sledding equipment, knives, axes, cutlery, leather and fur clothes and endless amounts of Reindeer meat. It was around -19c and felt cold standing around. Damian and Wayland spotted my yellow boots from a distance and we were all together.
We wandered round the market, ogling kit that I thankfully dare not buy as I may have maxed out my now probably only existing payment methods. The stalls didn't take cards, another stroke of luck to my bank balance.
Andy and I went to the supermarket and bought big bags of fresh Onions, potatoes, carrots, celeriac, leeks and various sausages. We also bought 3lbs of Reindeer meat for the nights stew.
A few hours later and at around -28c, the stew was cooked in my big pot. Near the end of eating it came my first mistake-my little finger was feeling quite cold on my plastic spoon. I had liner gloves on but I persevered for another 30 seconds. Ouch! it was now near frostnip and had caused my body to shut down circuation to my extremeties-not good I ran for the hot water bottle stored in my sleeping bag and saved it.
The guys all went to bed early, so I vacated the fire where they were bivvying and did all my water boiling and snow melting on the primus.
For safety's sake, I'd decided to at no time to be without 2 l of hot flask water and a nalgene hot water bottle when in camp. One of my nalgenes had fallen out of my bag though and was frozen solid with orange juice and this took 20 mins to thaw out in hot water and empty.
It was a near -30 by now, feet were starting to feel the cold standing around and I hit the hammock for another PB.
1 nights frost
Day 4. 8th feb-28- -30c Snowy pants and ice burnt bum cheeks.
Comfortable constitutionals if you kick the tree first
I'm no stranger to arctic pooing horrors. I was determined to get the first one of my return right. 2 days of no go and I was running for the poo tree.
Trews and gruds off, bib straps over boots, steaming baby wipes at the ready this was going to be pleasant. Mistake 2 though, in my rush 'd forgotten to take my axe to knock the tree. Not wanting to kick the tree too hard and have an accident, there were still snow bombs above me. I lent back, hit the tree and a snow bomb hit me square in the gruds.
I got most of it out but my gruds had melted the snow a little and an icy layer was now poised to insulate my derriere. They had warmed up by the time I got to my hammock, but the damage was done. Ice burn on my cheeks
I spent the rest of the day chatting to the guys, collecting ever dwindling dead standing pine and enjoying my time in the woods. Another stew, loads of chocolate and it was hammock time. It would probably hit just under -30c that night I thought. I reached for the -50c thermometer but as I pulled the thermometer out my bag, the now rigid wire snapped clean off with the cold. It was saying -28.9 and stayed there for the rest of the trip. Dammit! All our thermometers had succumbed to the cold by now. The decision was made there and then never to to do another trip without an iButton setup. Lennarts alcohol thermometer was stuck at -27 full of ice and all the other battery thermo's were also showing no display. My -10c weather station was working but just said "COLD".
This felt even colder to everyone, so I went to bed with 2 hot water bottles and slept like a swedish log once more.
The setup as I woke up. Kit wrapped in the tarp, smock and reflector hung over the foot end
Wiggy's Ultima Thule. Condensed ice build up with the cold avenger is limited
A metre of snow
Day 5 9th Feb. The Snowshoe trek.
Today, Lennart my good Dutch friend ( a real Dutch, not the real Dutch) and Remko decided to venture down the frozen river on the skidoo trail and explore the 100's of square miles of surrounding forest.
It had warmed up a little today in the sun. -18 or so according to Lennarts once again working thermometer. I slowshoed just in my base layer,top and trousers in the vain attempt not to sweat. My camera didn't work at all today as it was frozen under my single base layer.
We found an epically beatiful campsite with masses of dead wood and I vowed to return in the next couple of days on my own.
Trekking back, the temp plummeted and I stopped sweating. I could wear my Paramo jacket again, albeit fully unzipped.
We spent the evening in the cabin. It was the last night for all the other guys. At around 11 pm we headed off for the huge river Jokk to sleep in its cold sink effect. The temps were really dropping tonight. It was -27c at 6pm.
Damian passed the Spot GPS beacon to me for the rest of the trip.
Getting to the lake, no trees were low enough down in the cold sink effect, so I dug a flat area out in the 4 or 5 feet of powder and went to bed in my hammock, using it as a bivi.
3 hours spent watching the wispy Aurora, waiting for it to brighten was in vain. I went to sleep in my unzipped sleeping bag (boiling in my Rab jacket and 1 base layer)
I woke in the morning to my eyes stuck together with ice, ice inside my cold avenger mask and solid ice in my down collar. This was undoubtedly the coldest night yet. The air felt cold to breath in through my mask. Ice was buiding up inside my nose. We got back to find the Kestrel was showing -37c at 0800 outside the cabin. Undoubtedly it lower where we were sleeping. New bivi PB and my Pertex 4 double layer Velcro closure hammock worked perfectly as a very roomy and breathable bivy.
Day 6. 10th Feb. Alone in the arctic.
Toboggan roughly packed for the 500m trek from the campsite to the woods camp
Today, I was to be left alone. I spent the morning with Lennart and Remko, ate some warm food in the horribly warm cabin and said goodbye to them in the early afternoon.
I went back to the woods and settled in. By now, firewood was hard to find. I was OK because I was surrounded by the best arctic firewood in the world-green birch but its against the Swedish outdoor code to cut it, so only to be used in times of emergency. I managed to find some mediocre standing dead that was a bit green a few hundred meters away.
I also had 1 litre of alcohol and 6 litres of petrol the guys had left for me. On top of this, I'd got all their leftover food! 30kgs of food in my holdall now.
I ate well, modified their tarp setup to make it less smoky and slept well once again. Quite happy in my solitude, I burnt the last of the firewood and had another huge stew.
Day 7. 11th Feb. Birthday.
Today, I was leaving the camp to head for the camp we'd found 2 days previously. It was 3 or 4 km away. On top of packing my now 100kgs of load, I had to dismantle camp (I'd happily offered to do it like an idiot)
4 hours later and quite annoyed I was leaving so late, I set off down the now well frozen river and onto the Skidoo trail. Today was very cold and a Siberian breeze had got up. It was well under -20c, probably -25c to -30c Despite the temps, I was in one base layer and sweating. The 100kg load was hard to get over minor hills. Not sure if I was being sensible, I remembered my training. If unsure, stop and make a cup of tea. Then make a decision. A cigarette replaced the tea and I carried on.
By now, my base layer was covered in 5mm of ice crystals. I was still having to stop every 100 meters to cool off though.
In my haste to get to camp to get the fire on, I shot straight past the lake by a Km I ended up at a tiny access road for a new hydropower site being built. There was a nice clearing and some nice dead standing, with large trees. It felt like home, and so it was for the night.
Hammock and tarp up, I'd decided to cold camp tonight to cut down on risk and unnecessary work.
Plenty of digging later, I'd dug some low walls and put the toboggan on top of the wall.
Tonight felt the coldest yet. I struggled to get the petrol to light. My usual method of priming the stove with a stick covered in old mans beard in the jet of petrol to soak up a little petrol was struggling. The petrol wasn't lighting. I tried three times and on the third after holding the lighter under the stick for 8 seconds, it went. I then had to hold the large flame under the stove for 10 seconds to get the priming pad to light.
The water wouldn't boil with just the windscreen. I had to use one of the CCF foam sleep mats rolled up as a secondary insulator.
The svelte windscreen
A local drove down the road, walking their husky without getting out of the car With a huge hamburger and chorizo stew in my belly, I went to sleep to probably do another PB. My family who were checking the weather said it had been shown at -40c that night.
Day 8. 12th Feb. Hunker down.
A very good night in the hammock. I had managed to get the useless valve on my Exped mat open the night before to let some air out. I'd also shortened the SRL a little and it payed off. Today, I'd decided to stay and eat some more food from my epic store, collect firewood and hunker down. The weather station was showing dropping pressure and this tied in with the long range charts from the previous week for today or tomorrow. I dug a windbreak for the fire and put the 7x5 m tarp over a seperate ridgeline. I wasn't expecting lots of wind, but snowbombs were a risk too, so a little extra protection and cover from the snow was deemed wise. I built the snow walls in a shape to focus the fires warmth into the open end of my tarp. Digging down, I hit a load of rubbish-plastic bags and garden waste. Typical for me to find it.
I found several small dead pines that had been killed by the building of the road. Cut down with the folding saw, I carried these back to camp. Plenty for the night and next day. There was a dead 40 footer behind me but I dare not fell it as it was close to camp and snow was resting on the side I didn't want it to fall. As I'd found a rubbish dump under the snow, I decided to cut corners and use 2 plastic bottles to start the fire on top of the dry paper bag I'd dug up, using some alcohol to get it going. Cutting corners never works and the fire wouldn't start. after an hour of blowing and 3 more Vaseline soaked cotton wool balls, I dismantled it and went back to basics of split pine and birch bark. The wood here was difficult to use. The pine was still damp and a layer of quite thick ice covered every surface. Old mans beard held on to the ice and snow, and stopped it being knocked it off.
The fire was established now and another epic stew was prepared.
By now the temps were rising and snow was falling. Clothes had to be taken off. The bottle of 40% rum was now liquid again and the thermometer showed -12c. This is no challenge, I decided there and then to go north tomorrow.
Not a good dinner to see being recycled
Day 9. 13th Feb. Scarring a local.
Today, I was off to Jokkmokk to head north from there. It was -6.5c.
I had only seen the dog walker and 5 construction worker vans in the 3 days, so made no effort to hide my toilet trip this morning. Sat down and movement facing the road, a Swedish lady came running up the road with her dog and looked straight at me doing the do. I can still feel her mental pain
'Boggan loaded for walking to Jokkmokk
It took 2 hours to break camp and tidy up. As snow had fallen and temps had risen, the river crossing was unappealling so I opted to haul down the road to Jokkmokk. Flag donned for visibilty, I was off. I kept tucked right in to the ice on the side and stopped hauling every time a car came into view, moving off the road and standing in the snow. After a few cars waving at me and smiling, I knew I was OK and carried on. 10 cars later, one was driving straight at me. All the others had changed lanes 200 or 300 meters earlier, giving me wide space in return for me stopping. I dived for the verge. The lady driving swerved with 30 yds to spare! I'd like to say this was the only time but it wasn't. 30 cars passed me, all the men moved early and slowly, 6 more women made me run for the verge. Only a male lorry driver mad me dive.
I'll reserve comment
Nice hauling surface
I made it to Jokkmokk town at 16.30 and booked a room at the excellent and very fairly priced Asgard hostel in town. I'd missed the last bus and took the opportunity to get a shower and wash my vapour barrier socks.
Villa Asgard, recommended.
Train and bus times were checked in tourist information and I was to be off at 1200 the next day for Gallivare, Kiruna, then Abisko.
Another epic stew was cooked in the kitchen, a few bottles of Staropramen lager were downed and I was set for tomorrow.
Day 10. 14th Feb. Public transport fail.
'Boggan in the bus
The day started well. A nice lie in, look round the shops and I was on the bus. The driver let me put my toboggan in the wheelchair space til it was needed which made life easier.
An hour later, I was in Gallivare.
Gallivare bus and train station
I went into the bus station to triple check the bus and train departures from Kiruna. She told me there was no connecting train tonight and the bus was leaving later than expected from Gallivare Completely at odds with my research and Tourist information had said. Ah well, a night in Kiruna it was. The bus journey to Kiruna from Gallivare was stunning. Heavy snow made the view through the bus windscreen mesmerising and the snow here was deep.
60mph in the bus
The road skirted the epically beautiful Sarek national park and I thought of getting off there to explore for a few days. The trees were all bent double with snow and it had an air of extreme remoteness. This area shall be visited one day.
The bus got into Kiruna at 1800 and I loaded the toboggan. Kiruna is a bit hilly and I made my way to the train station as the bus depot office was now closed. A Swedish lady passenger at the bus station informed me that I could sleep there if needed as Kiruna was very expensive. A steep downhill with 90 odd kg of gear was easy and I rode the toboggan for a short stretch . Getting to the train station, the lack of a connecting train was confirmed on the automated ticket machine. Peed right off, I settled in for the night. 2 poles looking for work in Sweden kept me company and 2 English lads came in to check train times too. They were ice climbers and geologists and gave me loads of good advice. One of them, Joe, I was to see again at the airport. Despite being in obvious rough end of town, I felt quite safe. Its amazing how much comfort sleeping with a big axe and knife gives in a strange town. I wasn't being mugged without taking limbs. An uncomfortable night on the bench with 2 bags of peanuts, sweets and luke warm coffee had to do for tonight. My train left for Abisko at 06.25 and a hotel and taxi just weren't worth it. The temp was around -8c but a stiff wind was up and blowing straight down the station tracks with heavy snow. Not having eaten well, and with no hammock option, I decided to stay inside. The doors were locked at 2300 by security and I was alone once again, left to sleep securely in a very, very warm station.
Kiruna train station and my bed for the night. Tomorrow, I was off to the Abisko and the mountains
To be continued;