Padjelanta 2006, a traveldream that started exactly one year ago.....
Last year, on our way back from our Abisko hiking trip, we started dreaming a little about where to travel next year. One thing was for certain: it had to be hiking again in the Fjällen area (= Swedish mountain area). And one dream that came up was hiking in Padjelanta National Park, a long cherished dream of Åke. It didn't seem so realistic because you need 3 days of hiking to get to the entrance of the park, but then again, what is 3 days on an adventure like this. So our minds were made up in no time: Padjelanta it is going to be!!!
The first rough plans were made on the train, and it was a looooong train trip, so enough time to do some serious planning. Over the year the plans evolved little by little, making us more and more enthousiastic about the upcoming trip. One condition was made by me though: it had to be after the strawberry season! Last year I missed eating all those delicious red strawberries freshly picked from my own garden. Instead the birds had a real party eating them all. And THAT I promised myself, shouldn't happen again this year. The 19th of July we decided as the perfect date for our upcoming trip
The summer has been amazingly warm and long in the part of Sweden where I live, a good promise for our trip to the Fjällen! Or? Is it? Lapland is far away from here, the weather might be a totally different story up north
I watch the news...... I start to worry slightly, and then worry even a bit more. "Cold weather again today in the Fjällen", the weather man says, "with rain and stormy winds". But of course you can never trust those weather guys, so I check the forecast online as well to make sure..... good thing is that you can look 10 days ahead! I feel optimistic knowing I will be able to see how the first days of our trip are going to be like. We are leaving already in a few days! But the computer doesn't give me the good news I was hoping for: All it shows me are dark grey clouds with raindrops falling from the sky. Doubts start to enter into my mind again. Would this new Fjällen adventure be such a good idea? Would I cope in the cold and the rain? 15 days in a row!?? More weather forecasts, I start to follow them daily, but no improvement in sight.....
It's July 18th 2006, the day before we leave. The backpack is packed and Åke and I watch the weather forecast for the latest updates..... Oh NO!! Heavy snow in the Fjällen area the reporter says, and freezing temperatures at night! Hahaha, I guess you can imagine me panicking by now! I make a last minute change of gear: A thick sweater is added in my backpack and a summer t-shirt is quickly tossed out. Okay, the backpack is packed! I am ready to go! Although I am feeling more nervous about our travel plans then ever before.....
July 19th 2006, our vacation has started! But it will take us a while before we finally get to Padjelanta. This National Park is located in the very north of Sweden, about 1400 kilometres from home, and the way to get there is not the most easy and quick way. First of all a short trip by car, about 45 minutes. After that, the bus! Another 2 hours of travelling. After a short wait in Uppsala we finally get on our main form of transportation: the night train to the very north of Sweden! 17 hours on the train are ahead of us. And that is not the end of our travels! A final bus trip is needed to get towards the west, into the mountain area, which means another 4 hours of driving. All in all this trip takes more time to do then it would when travelling to Asia! Sweden is a very long country, and every time I travel up north (or to the south for that matter), I realize that very well.
The way to survive the trip is to travel well prepared. A good book to read and some snacks and munchies to keep you going during the long travel north makes life a bit more pleasant on board the train. And of course take a break and go to the train restaurant for dinner and maybe a drink. That's what we did anyway :-) In a happy mood and a full stomach we decided to get some sleep. The train moved on, slowly but steadily, shacking from left to right and back again hour after hour until we finally arrived in Murjek.
July 20th 2006, 8:30 Arriving in Murjek and I feel so sleepy. Sigh, I never sleep well on the train. With my sleepy head I stumble out of the train into a tiny place, located somewhere in nowhere, called Murjek. It is good that Åke is more fit and awake then I am, making sure that we get all our belongings off the train. Hahaha, as it was up to me I probably would forget everything, including myself ;-)
So here we are at the station, and I start to look around me with my sleepy eyes. I realize that Murjek is even less of a place then I imagined that it would be. But this is not our final destination; there is still one leg to go of our travels of the day! Our next mode of transportation is the bus. We have an hour before the bus to Kvikkjokk arrives, plenty of time to walk into the little village in search of some fresh coffee and tea.
Murjek is a sleepy little town with about 200 inhabitants. In its heydays about 600 people lived here, but not much has remained of its former glory. Nowadays there are many empty homes in Murjek, giving it a bit of a sad look. Up the street we find a nice place, very friendly service, where we get a BIG cup of tea and coffee. With a biscuit of course! The nice lady that serves us insists on including some biscuits with our tea and coffee, something I obviously didn't protest against.
While enjoying my tea I finally start to wake up a bit. We make some sandwiches for on the bus and slowly make our way back to the station again. A smile appears on my face, and I start to feel happy by the thought that just in a few more hours we will arrive at the start of our hiking trip: Padjelanta here we come!
(We had coffee at the Murjeks hembygdsförening. Service was great and so was the coffee and tea. A good place to drop by when waiting for the bus to Kvikkjokk and only a 5 minutes walk from the station. The hembygdsförening is also a hostel).
The bus arrives nice on time and we are ready to go on our last bit of travel for the day. The bus is rather comfortable and I feel like I am dozing off in a light sleep when the bus suddenly comes to an abrupt halt. What's that??? Aaaah, reindeer! A big group of reindeer is blocking the road in front of us and they are only slowly making room for the bus to pas. Hahaha, yes, I am in Lapland! And this is the first proof of it! Lots of reindeer, just as I had expected :-)
We move on and stop in several villages on the way, and of course several times for more reindeer that think the road is theirs. We arrive in Jokkmokk where we stop for an hour. A perfect place to do some last minute shopping before arriving in 'the wilderness' where no supermarket exists. It is a gorgeous sunny day and we make a stroll around the village and find a nice lazy spot in the green grass to relax a bit before the bus gets on its way again. Thinking of it.... did I say "sun"??? Didn't the weather man say rain for today???! I count my blessings and feel lucky that at least the first day of our trip seems to be accompanied by some good weather. I look up to a blue sky and feel the warm sun on my face, yes, this is perfect :-)
11:30 the bus leaves Jokkmokk. Next stop will be our final destination: Kvikkjokk! And from there on it is going to be 160 kilometres on foot until we arrive in Ritsem at the other end of Padjelanta National Park. The bus takes its time though, as the bus is not only a bus, but also the local mail man. In these remote areas it makes sense to combine the two, but it is funny in a way, creeping through the landscape slowly, stopping at every road crossing we meet.
13:20, after an enjoyable bus ride and with only a few minutes late we arrive in front of the church of Kvikkjokk. It's time to put our hiking shoes on: the Padjelanta adventure is about to start......
I stumble out of the bus and put on my backpack. I feel a bit clumsy; the backpack feels so heavy and I am not used to the heavy weight on my back yet. About 22 kilo's probably, or maybe a bit more as I kept pushing more and more 'thingies' in the backpack at the very last minute, afraid of leaving anything slightly 'useful' at home. More food, more candy, extra sweater, oh yes, and socks! I will need those too!
While slowly walking down the road I try to get used to the weight on my back, keeping my balance and of course get used to the feel of the hiking shoes. I curse myself for my last minute impulsive backpack filling. Every gram on the back counts and I am feeling the result of my over-enthusiasm already. But done is done, no use to regret it now. Hahaha, and maybe this is just a good excuse to quickly eat some of the candy I am carrying, in order to reduce the weight on my back.... mmm.... thinking of it.... that is not such a bad idea at all! ;-)
The sun is shining brightly and I can hardly believe our luck with the weather. Just down the road from the bus stop are some little boats and one of those is our 'ferry' that will bring us to the start of the hiking trail. We are the only ones there, but soon after arrives the boatman. What a perfect start to our hiking trip we have: fantastic sunshine, the view over the mountains in the distance, and a small boat tour on the river. Happy smiles and happy looks, this is going so much better then I could ever have dreamed of! The ferry cost is 100 SEK per person (around 14 USD / 11 Euro), but it is worth every Swedish Krona! The good thing is that it also shortens our hiking trip with 3 kilometres, something we don't mind at all.
Boat times from Kvikkjokk to the Padjelantaleden during the peak season in 2017 is 9;30, 13;00 and 16:00. Back from the Padjelantaleden to Kvikkjokk the boat departs 30 minutes later.
There is a sign at the waterside with the telephone number of the boatsmen. The times are a bit flexible, it is only a small boat and a short tour, and the boatsman waits until everyone from the bus has arrived. So you don't need to worry right away if the bus has a slight delay.
The boat costs 100 SEK per person in 2006, one way. link to boat trafic in Kvikkjokk
Our first aim is to reach the mountain hut at Njunjes today. This is about 13 kilometres from where the boat left us, so quite the walk! And as we started hiking at 14:00 we doubt if we will be able to hike the whole way. So we decide to go as far as we can get and find a suitable camping spot along the trail. Having our own tent, stove and food with us makes a hike like this very flexible as we don't need to depend on the mountain huts for a place to sleep and eat. And that feels really good!
For us this meant that as long as the weather is okay we have the freedom to hike as far as we please and stop whenever:
Our feet seem to get too tired to carry us any further :-)....
Or we get hungry....
Or the location is so beautiful that we want to stay a bit longer....
Or we just feel plain lazy to do more kilometres that day....
Or we hike much more as we are feeling so fit and the day is going good....
Or..... well, hahaha, I guess whatever comes into our mind and what we feel is good for a particular day :-)
In the beginning of the hiking trail (between Kvikkjokk and Njunjes) I didn't see any suitable camping spots. The vegetation seems too dense along most of the trail and people probably haven't really had an interest to camp here as it is still close to Kvikkjokk. After about 7 - 8 kilometres of hiking (getting close to the waterfall) I spotted a nice spot to camp, which we didn't take, as we decided to walk on a bit more. After the waterfall are some more suitable camping places, and just before arriving at Njunjes we saw some great sites at the waterside. Of course you can also camp at the mountain hut itself.
Of course we make our first 'beginners fault' right away! NEVER EVER forget to put on the insect repellent before you go on your way!!! Those little mosquitoes are waiting in the forest eagerly for some fresh meat like us. And 'unprotected' as we are, we are the 'perfect victim' and breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time for those little buzzing insects.
To escape a bit of the mosquitoes we hike quite quickly as they don't seem to bother as much as long as you move. But as soon as you stand still..... ohhhh boy!!! There seem to be hundreds of them! Or maybe even more. And all willing to take a juicy sip of my blood!
We make our first stop quite quickly in order to put on the so much needed insect repellent. But of course the mosquitoes take their change in the loooong loooong minutes required to take of the backpack, open the pocket with the little bottle of repellent in it, open the bottle (which can be painstakingly difficult with those hundred mosquitoes or more buzzing around you), and finally, with a sigh of relief..... be able to put the repellent on. Phew, now I can breathe easily again :-)
All depending on the weather, time of season, type of terrain: the amount of mosquitoes differs. Some days they are not there at all, some days they are going to drive you crazy. In 2005 I wasn't bothered by them at all, this year 2006, they were a bit of a pest. Best tip is to be prepared for them, both mentally and with insect repellent and the right clothing.
The hiking trail from Kvikkjokk (from where the boat dropped us off) towards Njunjes is an easy hiking trail. The terrain is quite flat and the trail itself easy to hike. In some parts there are some rocks, but not so bad that it is too bothersome. From Kvikkjokk towards Njunjes is 16 kilometres in total, but by taking the boat, this will be 3 kilometres less, so 13 kilometres. Njunjes is located at 475 metres above sea level.
Most of the trail leads through a forest of birches. The area is lush of green vegetation, with lots of flowers on either side of the trail. Along the way you will pass several bridges, of which this one is most clearly recognized as a ' big bridge'. On the map you can see 6 bridges; the first one is where the boat usually drops off its passengers. The other ones are located from each other in regular intervals, making it a bit easier to navigate the terrain and know where you exactly are on the map. The only little problem is that it is sometimes hard to see the different between a small bridge (not indicated on the map) and the bridges that are indicated on the map. But after a few bridge crossing you will get the hang of it.... I did anyway, hahaha, and that says a lot! ;-)
At certain points during our hike we walked through a sea of flowers. It is so wonderful to see so many different flowers in bloom and it feels like in the Fjällen area (Swedish mountain area) they all bloom at the same time! Maybe that is not as surprising as the summer season is so short in this part of the world. The most dominating flower I saw in this area is the one that you see in the photo: the Geranium sylvaticum L. (Latin) / skogsnäva; alpnäva (Swedish) / Wood Crane's-bill (English). The flowers are often blue - violet in colour and are over a half a meter in height. They often grow in groups and seem to thrive in birch forest. In Sweden they are also called "Midsommarblomster" or translated "Mid Summer Flower" as they often flower around this date, the 21st of June. Up north the flowering season is a bit later and July is more common.
Another one, and for me a bit more unusual flower that I saw in abundance is the Aconitum lycoctonum L. (Latin) / stormhatt (Swedish) / Wolf's-bane (English).
After approximately 8 kilometres of hiking you will start hearing the sound of a waterfall. The thundering sound of the water can hardly be missed and you can hear it from far far away. The trail leads right beside the waterfall, although you can't really see it from there. But there are many small little path through the wooded area and it only takes a few metres of making your way through the dense vegetation to get to the waters edge. The waterfall is the perfect spot to make a nice long stop during your hike, maybe eat some lunch or just have something to drink and a rest.
During late July (and after a rather dry winter and spring) the water power wasn't that immense. But I can only imagine, looking at the width of the river, how much force and water there must be during the spring and early summer when the snow starts to melt in the mountains. That must be an impressive sight to see!
We found a nice spot on the edge of the rocky river bed, enjoying a nice break on this very sunny afternoon. The weather was perfect to sit beside the waterfall, but not so perfect for taking photos. Late afternoon the sun is right behind the waterfall, making it impossible to take any descent photos: so instead a photo of the water a little bit downstream of the main waterfall.
After 9 kilometres we called it a day and our stop of the night is "Bäcken". Just before you go over the bridge over the river Njunjesjåkhå, look to the right. Here, hidden in the trees, is a fairly nice camping spot. The terrain is quite flat, so perfect to put up a tent. Water supply is ideally located beside the tent by means of the lovely river/stream Njunjesjåhkå. There is even a little fireplace, which is perfect for early evening when the temperature start to drop a bit. And as the camping is in the middle of a forest, there is lots of firewood available. And.... it even had a little bench! Hahaha, luxury! :-)) Well, considering for the area you are in anyway :-) For us it was perfect and it only took a few minutes to set up the tent.
In the second photo you can see "The view from the tent" a tradition we started last year. On each and every location we visit we try to take a photo through the window, or when camping, the view from the tent. It often shows very well in what sort of landscape we are, and in this case it is clearly a wooded landscape with lots and lots of undergrowth. The third photo is of the little river, taken from the bridge.
As there no fridges located anywhere nearby (there is no electricity in the area, hahaha, so a fridge would be rather useless anyway!), you'll need to find alternative ways to cool your drink. And the perfect way to do so is by putting it in the cold water from the river. Make sure you put your bottle/can on a safe place, the stream can be rather strong at places, and your bottle might be floating downstream before you know it!
And yes.... I know, I know..... it is rather crazy to carry a beer in the backpack when going on a long hiking trip, but we figured out that a tiny bit of luxury is worth extra weight on the back. Unfortunately the luxury only lasts for one day, hahaha, as we didn't carry more with us then this one beer :-)
The nights here in the Fjällen can get very cold. During this particular night the temperature dropped to +3C (37F) inside the tent during the night, and we were told that there was frost in Njunjes. So be prepared with some warm clothes AND a good quality sleeping bag! A nice cosy fireplace isn't such a bad idea either, to keep a bit of the evening chill away while preparing dinner.
Good night everyone! Get some good sleep.... tomorrow is another long day, and another long hike. But I'll tell you more about that one on my Tarrekaise page