Day 11. 15th Feb. Why didn't I come here earlier?
Lapporten (Lapp gate) on the right, I was to camp in line with it in the distance. An ancient and religous Sami campground
The train pulled onto the wrong platform at Kiruna which had me do 3 trips to collect my kit. It was all in seperate bags for the train again and the boggan was rolled up.
After 30 mins, the Tornetrask valley came slowly into view in the lengthy and pink hued arctic sunrise. This was more like it! The mountains were bleak and bare of all but snow. Gnarled Scots pines, Spruce and tall Birch scattered the valleys. I spent the journey dribbling down the window at the scenery with 2 German ladies doing the same. They had spent the week there and filled me in on things to do and told me the previous night aurora was rubbish.
Getting off the train on my own at Abisko was surreal. Sled dogs howling in the deep pink sky and perfect views all around. This place felt like the Cairngorms in Scotland but colder. It was a perfect -15c and felt incredibly dry. Its actually one of the driest parts of Sweden. Loading the bags into the tiny lift, I piled them up. The bloody doors opened the other way and my bags fell out with a crack. I could now smell whiskey.
My litre bottle of Laphroiag had cracked inside my side pouch and I rescued it sharpish, pouring it into an empty Nalgene. Oh well, now I would have
to drink it.
Loading the 'boggan once again, I headed for the supermarket. It didn't open til 10 am I found when I got there. I parked up the boggan and went for a wander.
50 metres from the supermarket doors, a Moose was eating Birch twigs. I've only ever seen dead Moose, so a live one was impressive. Knowing they can be dangerous, I followed it
This one was obviously tame and just pood at me and walked off.
I went back to the boggan to get some food whilst waiting for the shop.
Fried Hamburgers cooking on the Primus bought a local Swede over for a chat. He melted some wax onto his skis over my Primus, whilst I picked his brains about the area. He suggested I travel to the ancient Sami campground beneath the famous Lapporten and camp there. I'd penciled this place for a potential camp at home and having a local suggest it was the deciding vote.
10kg of Charcoal to reduce wood use
Heading off up the hill to Lapporten was humbling.
On my own and in the mountains, traveling along the famous kings trail to Lapporten (Kuungsleden) sent shivers down my spine. I've been in many mountainous places but this had a different feel about it I can't quite fathom.
Skidoo trails are easy to haul along
I stopped a Km down the track hearing dogs approaching fast. Good move. A group of novice sledders came past me at 30 mph, bouncing off the trees and spraying turd. The guide followed on his snowmobile and stopped to ask me where I was going. " I'm going hammocking beneath Lapporten"
"Good choice" he responded, looking at my kit and obviously seeing I was carrying all I would ever need. I asked him where to find the bigger trees and he told me to keep going for a km and I would find some there "See you on Monday!" he said and I was alone once again.
This place is very special. I could see why this was an ancient campground. The view is unique, the air incredibly dry. The topography makes it almost perfectly sheltered and the firewood and amount of tinder hanging off the trees must have made life very easy for Sami's herding their Reindeer.Low snow levels make Reindeer moss easy to scratch for.
The trees were mostly sparse scrub birch, but bigger specimen grew in between and I came across bigger birches now and then. Another Km up the hill and near the top, the views opened up. Larger Birches resided here.
I decided this was the
place to find the perfect trees, so I donned snowshoes, had a coffee and headed off the Skidoo trail. No wanting to get lost coming back in a blizzard, I breadcrumbed my trail every 10m with blue biodegradable marker tape tied to the trees.
I can drive, honest!
It was hard to find suitably sized trees with decent spacing but I could see tempters in the distance further up the hill. Near the top of the small rise, 2 came into perfect view.
They were just right. 4-6" across and swathed in the driest birch paper almost falling off the trunk. Probably well over a 100 years old, incredibly strong and stiff. Plenty of dead fall birch too. This stuff was different to lowland dead birch-it was tinder dry. Jackpot!
The tinder tree
Pitching was a dream. I only needed one ground anchor, all the rest could be tied to branches. Even porch mode didn't need cord, the mini crabs clipped to branches too. This was too easy.
The fireplace was dug out, birch bark laid over birch wood and a kg of the highest quality charcoal I'd got from the supermarket in Abisko placed on top. The local I'd spoke to earlier suggested I get a load as availability of dead standing was varied. It would reduce work,save the natural resources improve cooking and cut down on the smoke too.
A magic evening was had looking at the mountains in the moonlight and filtering whiskey through a paper coffee filter. Another fish stew was cooked. No wind forecast, -15c temps, huskys howling in the valley and as dry as I have ever experienced. Absolute perfection. Disappointing aurora though. I slept like a log once more.
I'm not sure Dutch intended his tarp Flyz for use on cookpot chains
Day 12. 16th Feb. Cloud and snow.
I woke to another red sunrise. Today I was to photograph the area. All didn't go to plan. It clouded over and went dull. The blue hole of Abisko was just hanging on, but losing the battle with the vast amounts of cloud. Not wanting to risk anything, I didn't venture far from camp and wandered around on snowshoes, collecting odd bits of firewood from distant trees, so as not to remove lots from one area. Tracks were everywhere- Moose, Fox, Hare and Reindeer. The snow started and didn't stop. It wasn't heavy but the light was flat. I was getting irritated with the weather, the blue hole was almost gone. It got worse, I could see it in myself. Time for the hammock I decided, so went to bed at 1800 and slept through til 0100. The temps had dropped to around -18c or so as the sky had cleared. I watched the aurora with some whiskey in some coffee but again it was a disappointing show and I went to sleep after another 2 hours.
Day 14. Feb 17th. Last full day in the mountains.
I woke to more snow and dull grey conditions. It was warmer this morning at -10c and the humidity had risen. The mountains had disappeared.
Fried Sausage on Maize wraps for breakfast.
Sometimes, a man has to blow his own sausage
I was getting bored of being in one spot, so went for a few wanders. I stoked the fire with wetter wood so it smoked to provide a point of reference in the distance. Hoping the clouds would clear, I shoed to the top of the hill. On the way, I found Hammock nirvana in a small valley-lots of bigger birch in a very enclosed setting.
I stood at the top, disappointed to no be able to see any views. Reindeer and Moose had been sleeping here with beds scratched out and bare reindeer moss. Today had a curious weather phenomenon. It was -9c and hailing. The hail was wet and it wet out my cotton outer layer. 20 mins later, it had turned to snow again and my cotton outer was frozen stiff as a board. I headed back to camp but by the time I'd got back the cotton was half dry. Every day is a school day out here.
It was obvious the snow wouldn't clear tonight-the pressure was dropping slowly and I settled in after a few more short walks, double checking my route back. Stew for dinner, a bit of whiskey to wash it down with at the now barmy -10c constant temps. It was a struggle to stay cool tonight and I slept with no sleeping bag for a few hours with the last of my firewood burning. The fire was big tonight, I had burnt my toilet waste in the high flames and lots of char provided warmth into the tarp. No aurora tonight.
Day 15. Feb 18th. The non existent train.
I woke up early and started packing for my 13.59 train back to Kiruna. I was getting good at packing my boggan by now and an hour later, I'd broken camp, eaten, packed and tidied up. Today, the skies had cleared. The 'boggan was easy to tow-I'd used 10kg of charcoal, 4kgs of petrol, 10kg of food and various other bits. Removing the marker tape took an hour and stopped me over heating as I'd stop every 10 m to untie it. The walk down was quick when i got to the Skidoo trail. 2 miles in well under an hour.. I managed to ride the 'boggan several times on steeper downhills, sitting on my sabre full of clothes. Riding the Dyneema horse is fun but a bit unstable and it steers badly.
One foot stuck out is the best way to steer it, like a railed ride on sled. Down at the bottom, the weather slowly started improving.
I wan't one of those!
I'd planned on burying the kit in the snow for a few hours before I got the train, checking out lake Tornetrask and getting some photos. I got to the train station to check the train times. My train wasn't listed!
Riding the ghost train
Thew only one back that day was 2 hours early at 1200. I didn't now have enough time to get down to the lake. Swedish transport was now looking distinctly unreliable.
Chuntering to myself, I got on train and headed to Kiruna. Quizzing the ticket lady, she said it was "Probably a computer malfunction". Her reaction made me think this is less than uncommon and she apolagised on behalf of the train company, SJ. Arriving at Kiruna, I headed for tourist info to get a room for the night in the hostel, in order to pack properly for the next days flight home. Hours of trying to roll the toboggan tight enough to get it in the holdall, and finishing the now vinegar tasting whiskey and I was set. I went to sleep watching CSI Miami on a Swedish channel.
Flushing the stove
Day 13. Feb 19th. SASmaggeddon.
It started so well. I gave the rest of the unused petrol to the excellent camping shop in Kiruna, packed the last of my kit and got the taxi to the airport early to check my bags in. I'd planned on going for a walk from the airport. I tried to check in but the attendant said they had problems and I needed to wait. This went on for 6 hours!
Trolleys don't work well in the tundra
Kiruna Airport-Haul from the doors
Candlestick made from ice
It was now 15 minutes before the flight and we still couldn't check in. Apologetic, they eventually took my bags and waived the baggage charges for keeping me waiting for 6 hours. We got through security, I watched my bags being loaded onto the plane and then we were told the plane had broken down with a hydraulic leak. An hour later, they told us we would have to wait 4 hours for replacement plane. I'd been waiting for 10 hours now and getting a little tired of it. We would also miss our connecting flight to Heathrow from Stockholm and need accommodation.
The plane arrived-an older plane that stunk of aviation fuel. The fumes in the back were almost choking! I'd been breathing firesmoke in for 2 weeks and the plane was worse. Something was wrong, we were flying just above the clouds for the whole journey.
Getting into Stockholm at 11pm, 6 hours late, no flights were available and they put us up in the Hotel in the airport. They provided adequate meal vouchers and breakfast vouchers.
I hammered the mini-bar, wandered the airport and had a little party in my room.
4 star hotels are 5 star with 850 fill down quilts
This is how a hotel table should look! Baffins, cheap Champagne and a VB sock drying over a Nalgene
Day 14 Feb 20th. Home and squashed kit.
The flight back was uneventful. It left at 1100 and security once again fell about laughing at my huge Baffins. Wearing massive boots really is the way to get through Airport security
In Heathrow at 1400, I drove back home.
Unpacking my kit, It was clear it had been squashed. My MSR snowshoes had been crushed sideways in the middle where they had been inside the almost bombproof toboggan and twisted, my axe damaged with the leather sheath cut through, my 2 thermos flasks badly dented, my Voile snow shovel bent out of shape and both my Primus fuel pumps had the fuel take ups twisted. How they managed this I don't know. The squashed kit had been packed inside my rolled up toboggan. Rolled up, this is 25mm thick solid Dyneema. It will not even deflect if I jump up and down on it. The toboggan was packed with heavy polypropylene tarp material around it, with protective foam at either end! The axe, shovel and handle was used to further stiffen the bag. Not chuffed.
Poor care to my baggage. Its soured the trip a little and I think SAS have some apologies to make if I'm honest.
Sweden was stunning again, the people very friendly and welcoming. I didn't meet one Swede who couldn't speak excellent English. The Tornetrask valley and the area around Kiruna are ideal for hauling and extreme cold winter camping. The camping shops are well stocked and kit can be bought with ease. A return is certain, probably not with SAS or on public transport though
. I'm awaiting resolution from SAS on the Snowshoes.
A definite -37c and a very likely -40c are going to be hard to beat in Europe though.
I took lots of kit. Hammocking is great fun and where my heart lies, and this meant more kit than usual. I took a goretex bivi too and made sure I would be able to cover a potential -50c with wind chill on top, so no matter where I was or what conditions I encountered, I would be able to survive. I didn't have to use all my insulation at any point, I still had a 3" loft down top quilt and CCF mats to go, plus my Rab Expedition down jacket to go. Being on my own, I needed to be self sufficient in every way.
The hammock setup;
DIY 3.3m x 1.6m double layer Pertex 4 hammock with Velcro closure-I could make a snowproof coccoon when lying inside. Full length doubled SRL whoopie to hang another tarp off.
DIY 6 ft Amsteel whoopies with Nacrabiners and big loop polyester tree straps
Wiggys Ultima Thule sleeping bag. Faultless, huge.
Exped Downmat 9LW inside the layers, kept in the bivi bag for quick deployment. The mat is very warm, the valves useless at -15 and under.
DIY 2/3rds 3 season down under quilt 2" of loft
DIY Full length down winter underquilt with cinch cords, adjustablity and hooks on all channels.
DD 3x3 tarp with sewn on DIY doors.
Stein 2.2mm ridgeline with DIY ridgeline hook and Dutch Tarp Flyz
DIY Schnozzle pumpbag clone for pumping the airmat up.
Backup for -50c- 2 x CCf mats
DIY 3" loft down top quilt.
2 X Nalgenes with hot water
Rab Expedition Down Jacket- Stupidly warm, It was hard not sweating at -35c with one base layer on.
Reflective polyester VB suit.
My clothing system was a real performer, very happy with it and I wouldn't change much.
Klattermusen Gere Climbing trousers. There must be something that these trews can't handle but I haven't found it yet. -40 to + 25c. Snow, shower, wind proof. Base, mid, top layer.
Aldi Angorra and wool base layers x 2. Who needs Woolpower?
Mountain Equipment Grid fleece over the base layer
2 x Cashmere sweaters
Aquascutum Lambswool zipped sweater, knitted into stretchy square cells.
Swedish Army Cotton Snow Smock, modified with a Coyote fur ruff, velcro sleeves and toggles instead of buttons. Very highly rated.
RBH Vapour barrier socks x 2. If you want warm feet and dry liners, get these.
Baffin Doug Stoup polar boots.
Marks and Spencer 65% cotton ski salopettes.
MEC Hut booties- good down to -30 standing around, snowproof and warm in bed.
Rain gear; Keela Munro salopettes
Paramo Quito .Used as a mid layer too.
4 x Karrimor polyester liner gloves- cheap,quick drying and as hardwearing as needed
US N48 Sheepskin backed leather palmed flying gloves with spare liners. Faultless. If gloves come better, I don't need them. They negated a snow brush many times.
Cold Avenger face mask and balaclava with cheap polyester liner. It made cold air breathed in feel warm and vastly reduced ice build up on my bag.
Synthetic fur bomber hat from the market with silicon and Nikwax combed through the hair. Treated, the fur sheds ice as well as Coyote.
Spare wool terry socks for bed to let my feet breathe after wearing VB socks all day.
Aldi Merino dress socks as liners for the RBH socks. Wearing them lined and unlined, I prefer the feel of some liner socks and my feet were less irritated.
Hultafors Bruks Swedish chopping Axe 800g head, 60cm shaft. Excellent.
Voile Telepro snow shovel.
KarrimorSF Sabre 80-130 pack with side pockets. 156l. Carry 50 kg and more if needed.
Primus Omnilite Ti with spare pumps and 2 bottles and plywood base. A little underpowered at -30 with my pots.
FAK with spare shoe and toboggan fixings.
DIY 3m Roll up PE1000 5mm Toboggan and rope haul, Amsteel lines with Nylon tumpline.
2 x 5x4m polyprop tarps. The king of tarp material for the arctic, perfect size for a 3m toboggan.
Various cordgage for lashing everything.
Mora Triflex knife.
DIY Telescopic blow poker-indespensible.
Spot GPS beacon-indespensible.
Garmin GPS Etrex nav aid-unused.
DIY carbon fibre ice spikes-un-needed thankfully.
MSR Lightning Ascent snow shoes-Brilliant, just able to cope with the huge Baffins too.
2 x 1l thermos flasks.
2 x 1l Nalgene hot water bottles.
6l Ceramic coated and lined stainless cookpot-made life very easy melting snow and cooking stew. Washing up wasn't needed for 2 weeks.
Zebralight H51 with modified external power supply.
Aldi weather station.
Imco petrol lighter in DIY leather holder.
Antique Fox trench petrol lighter as a lifesaver lighter.
Gas lighters with gaffer tape wrap stashed all over my kit.
Aldi non-stick pans-excellent.
Supermarket plastic cook spoons-stays flexible at -30 and below.
Addis washing up brush. Stays flexible.
Lomo lightweight Drybags. Exploded at -20, waste of weight.
Gossamer gear Mariposa plus- the cabin bag and carried my Rab Exped jacket.
Brit army deployment bag-a great toboggan and flight bag.
Brit army ECWS mitts as spares.
2 x MX scott goggles for blizzards.
Aldi sunglasses with replaceable lenses-cheap and comfy.
Nivea lip sunscreen-kept my lips from cracking.
Norwegian formula hand moisturizer-kept my hands in good shape.
I'm gutted all the thermometers broke and to add insult to this, the SD card started shutting down in the cold. I must have lost 50 or so pics, including an ice Rainbow over Lapporten.
Early stage planning for the next one has already started.
Thanks for looking.