I love the very north of Sweden. This is the mountain area called "Fjällen" and home to some of Swedens most amazing National Parks (Abisko, Padjelanta, Sarek and Stora Sjöfallet). Endless areas of wilderness, perfect for making multi-day hikes.
We love to go to this area and hike, all from a week up to two week-long hiking trips. On average you can find us in the very north of Sweden each other year putting on our hiking shoes and strapping on our backpacks ready to absorb the vast landscape. This is our a story about our first trip to the Fjällen.
Today's hike is from Alesjaure to Unna Allakas. On paper it all seems like a great trip... but..... things happen... weather happens....
The flag of the Swedish Tourist Association (STF) at our campingsite is waving in the wind and the blue sky makes a beautiful background. But this was yesterdays photo, and yesterdays weather..... today it is a whole different story.......July 12th: it is early morning and I feel sleepy. The night was 'different' this time, no nice and quiet sleep, but a tent that was shaken about heavily by the wind and keeping me awake during most of the night. If I thought the wind during the evening was bad, then I was wrong, during the early morning hours it was even worse. The wind got so strong that it took a big pleasure in blowing my tent out of 'shape'. Instead of looking like a cheerful blue bubble (the way it looks on a nice summer day) with nice and lots of room inside to sleep, it was now changing shape often to a more flat piece of material, clung to the ground, with me inside desperately trying to hold it up a bit and out of my face.... certainly not the best of sleeping conditions! Not that the tent would go anywhere, it was safely pinned to the ground. But the comfort inside was a different story, lol :-)
Realizing that getting more sleep this morning would be just a daydream, we got up rather early. A nice and long breakfast helped us wake up and we were ready for a new challenge with new energy. With some careful planning and good laughs we managed to get the tent down, our backpacks packed and everything ready to go, without loosing any items blown away by the wind. Unna Allakas, here we come! Just 20 kilometres, one mountain and a few river crossings ahead of us... :-)
We are on our way, and the first part of the hike is going back 2 km's on yesterdays trail. Easy peasy! :-) We are in a good mood and not so concerned about the weather, so we walk on feeling relaxed. We hike again through the 'valley of the flowers'; always a wonderful site to see, even this second time around. The slope of the mountain is filled with a mixture of "buttercups" and "smörboll" ("Globeflower" in English) and the whole landscape comes alive by the yellow glow of the many flowers.
After two kilometres of hiking the trail goes up and up the mountain; it is a steep climb beside a waterfall. Slowly we conquer the climb, but the struggle isn't over any time soon: after this first steep climb awaits us a wading through a freezing cold river. This wade is not as fun as yesterdays wade though! Today it is cold and very windy, and unfortunately my fear of height is starting to play up. I am getting the trembles with the idea of wading through this river with a steep cliff beside me. I almost go into a panic attack, but luckily, somewhere halfway crossing the river I seem to get it under control. I made it safely to the other end. I quickly put on my shoes back on to get them nice and warm again. A sigh of relief and I am ready to go again.....
The wind is blowing hard, pulling on my hair and clothes and most of all it is pulling hard on my backpack. My cheeks have turned red from the icy cold wind and the sky is filled with dark clouds predicting no good about the weather that is heading our way. Trying to talk to Åke, who is a few metres in front of me, is almost impossible. The wind is thundering in my ear blocking every other sound. The only sound that seems to get through to me is that of the material of my backpack, which is flapping hard from side to side by the force of the wind. I see Åke talk, the movement of his mouth and he seems to try and shout something to me. But the sound is blown away in the far distance, not even close for me to hear anything.
But I am still smiling, well... sort of, lol, I am trying to anyway :-) This is my first time hiking over ice and snow during our hiking trip: it's different and challenging to try. I make my way across, slowly, but without any problems. I take my steps carefully, the slippery ice and the fear for unstable areas due to melting water running underneath the snow pack, makes me aware that this is not without a risk. I start to realize that it is very tiring thing to do and looking up the mountain I realize it won't be the last bit of snow either........
The trail continues as we are climbing up to 1250 metres. It has not much to do with hiking anymore; we are struggling our way through the pass in a full storm, balancing over huge boulders while the wind is trying to blow me over. We are slowly making our way over big areas of snow... icy rain in my face. I get the doubts. I am really not sure if I will ever make it.... I keep silent. Åke must be confident. I hope he is. I am not.....
Nervous I climb on; meter after meter, and every meter seems to be a fight. My mind is full of doubt, part of me wants to return back to Alesjaure, but then what? Returning back doesn't seem like an option, but neither seems going forward. I move my feet, one before the other, trying to block out the thought from my head. One foot, another, loosing balance by the wind, don't fall now.... moving the feet again... one feet after another after another...... meter after meter I struggle.....
It is far after lunchtime by now and my stomach reminds me of that. But the landscape is bare and there is nowhere to get some cover from the wind to sit down for lunch. Luckily we see a very big boulder in the distance, our safe haven for the moment, a place to rest, away from the wind. The lunch consists of knäckebröd and a chocolate bar, not the most perfect lunch you can think of, but it felt like luxury to me. It would be impossible to cook our usual lunch of a filling and hearty soup in these conditions. But we are glad to sit down for a minute and get some energy into our bodies. Chocolate and knäckebröd just have to do the trick for now. We talk about the option of going back, but the vote is unanimous, we both want to move on. We haven't even done 1/3 of the way, but we know we can do it. We are going to do it!!! Our minds are made up, now I am just hoping that my feet will agree with my decision....
I continue with a much more possitive mindset. Yes, I am still worried, hahaha, it wouldn't be me if I wasn't! But I know we can do it, that I can do it! So we move on. I check the map regularly to see our progress and look behind me from time to time and see that we do move on. Not far anymore before we will reach the top and have conquered this pass. The hike probably will get a bit easier when we descent on the other side and follow trail through the valley towards Unna Allakas. I crawl a bit deeper into my rainjacket, I tighten up my sjawl, and put on my gloves to keep me nice and warm. One feet before the other, one meter after another..... and a faint smile, because I realize that I can do this!
What I didn't know at the time is that this pass between Alesjaure and Unna Allakas is known for its windy conditions. Unlucky us got the full blow here on the mountain top. But it does remind me again and again to have respect for nature and realize that I am just a very tiny dot on this big planet.
Just before reaching the highest point of the mountain pass our hiking trail joins the trail of the snow scooters: the so called "winter trail". The winter trail is easy to recognize by the red-crossed signs as you can see in the photo. The summer trail which is the hiking trail isn't as easy to recognize though. Instead of big signs like this you have to concentrate on the ground. Big boulders and / or smaller stones have colourful red dots on them, indicating the trail. These 'dots' are sometimes rather far apart, but as the area is so open and it is rather clear in which direction you need to go, it isn't hard to follow the trail and stay on the right track.
Finally, we made it! We are 1/3 of the way, but this seems like the milestone during the hike. We've made it through the mountain pass and the valley in front of us opens up. I am dead tired, and I know my hiking trip must have sounded aweful until now. But something strange happened, something so unexpected......
Standing on top of the mountain overlooking the view, feeling the icy rain on my face, the wind blowing around my head, not having seen any human being since we left for our hike and knowing we still have a long way to go over difficult terrain all alone and all by ourselves...... right here and now I have one of the happiest moments of my life. I can't explain it and it must sound so strange. But just standing here, sharing this moment with my love and husband Åke, overlooking this valley this amazing piece of nature, seemingly untouched by people..... I just felt overwhelmed by happiness. This is a feeling you get in the Fjällen. I don't think there are words to describe it, you can only feel it.
A few minutes we stand here, just by ourselves, overlooking the valley, forgetting about the weather, the trail, we look at each other and we know we both feel the same. Happy. For me this is the Fjällen.... and this is how I will remember it.
We start our descent into the valley. The trail is steep and tricky at certain point because of the loose rocks on the trail, making it easy to slip down. Beside us is a roaring waterfall, following our very step until we get down into the valley. There, far in the distance, we see a tiny little dot. Would that be a human being? It is hard to see as it doesn't seem to move, but after a while when we get closer the shape gets more clear. Yes it is a human being! A lonely man hiking in the opposite direction. As people are so rare on this trail we all stop for a friendly talk. Weird how great it can be to meet a stranger in this empty landscape. We exchange hiking experiences and discus the conditions of the trail. We learn what is ahead of us. First of all a river crossing and not an easy one either! Oh well, a river, how bad could that be?
I think in retrospective that this was the hardest river to cross during our hike. Probably the river is easier to cross most of the time, but the water level was high today and the current strong. And maybe most of all; the river was wide! We do our usual ''river crossing routine'. Changing shoes into sandals, wearing shorts instead of long trousers and take a deep breath to start another challenge: Freezing cold water as usual, the unstable rocky surface of the riverbed making it hard to keep balance and the current trying to drag our feet away from below us. And it almost worked.... eeks.... I feel like loosing my balance, but I withstand the current and move slowly on. The dangerous part is that my feet are loosing all sense in them because of the cold water. They are numb, all the way from my little toe up to my lower leg. The water gets up as high as my knees and there are still quite a few metres to go. I don't know how wide the river was, but it seemed like forever. But I made it! And I feel proud! Another hurdle taken, another proof that I can do much more then I ever thought was possible :-)
In the beginning of the day I hiked through the 'Valley of the Flower", hahaha, and I guess I could call this the "Valley of Water"! On the left side a mountain from where a lot of melting water runs down, on the right side the river and in the middle this greenish area and hiking trail filled with water puddles and little flowing streams. In short: lots of water! As I already described in a previous chapter: this is my first 'real' hiking trip. Over a week in the wilderness with a backpack on my back. As it is my first, I hadn't the best of equipment with me. And one that certainly lacked some desirable features were my shoes. They were comfortable, they were stable, but no way could they withstand this amount of water! Hahaha, there I was proudly crossing the river without any troubles and now getting very wet feet after all! So after a while I just gave up trying to avoid the water. How wetter then wet can feet get? So take this advice from me: when hiking in the Fjällen you need some very good hiking shoes! I have those now, so I am not worried for similar areas again next time around :-) I learned my lesson!
The area are hiking through is rather easy to do. But it is much longer then it appears to be on the map. So for a tiny moment we lost track where we exactly were. It felt like we should almost be at the Mountain Hut of Unna Allakas; but were we??? Some confusion... studying the map. But heee.... look... there.... reindeer!! Hahaha, nooo, not on the map! Over there, beside the hiking trail! What a wonderful sight to see! My first group of reindeer in the wild! They belong to the Sami people living in this area; maybe someone of them could point out where we exactly are? But the moment that thought popped into my head, I also remember that the reindeer herds don't live near the Sami villages. The summer habitat of the reindeer is often located far away from the villages. Wow, so strange to realize that there is no one around here to ask for directions! It sure is different walking here in the wilderness! Yes, of course, I could ask those reindeer, hahaha, but I don't think they would give me an answer ;-)
We concentrate again on our map and the little climb we just crossed. We still have a few kilometres to go.... we better move on, it's getting late already......
The chances of seeing reindeer in this area are quite good. I saw several of them during my hike towards Unna Allakas of which one very large group just before coming to the lake Allagasjavri. It was really great to see such a large group. They are shy animals though and probably will try to get away from you as soon as they spot you.
The reindeers here in Northern Sweden are domesticated animals and they are raised for their meat, milk, hides, antlers, and for transportation. Reindeer that live in the wild in North America are known as Caribou. And did you know that Reindeer antlers grow again each year? If you want to know a bit more about the Reindeer why not look it up on Wikipedia where you can find lots of info and facts about them:
We made it!!! After 20 kilometres, 9 hours of hiking, wading through 2 rivers, climbing up 600 metres and down again 800 meters, I can see the Mountain Hut of Unna Allakas in the distance. I am dead tired and the last little climb of 100 metres up has taken the last bit of energy out of me. The rain is becoming more and more dominant by the minute, but I can see it, our home for the night! Unna Allakas! :-)
Warm food, a hot cup of tea, my feet up, a warm fireplace and a nice and warm bed to sleep in :-) With all these thoughts in my head I slowly make the descent down to the Mountain Hut. Åke found a last bit of energy and seems to fly down the hill like crazy. hahaha, with a smile on my face I see him fly off. I wish I could walk as fast as that, escaping the rain, but I just can't find the energy anymore. Who cares about the rain anyway, I am almost there! :-))
Unna Allakas is only a small Mountain Hut and it is so cosy. There is only one log cabin containing three different sleeping areas with in total 18 beds. The cabin also contains a kitchen and dining tables. But it feels more like a living room than a kitchen. There is a stove in the room that always seems to burn as everyone tries to keep the fire going. This is the ideal spot to dry your clothes and warm your hands. And it really gives this cosy feeling to the place.
The supervisor / host (stugvärd in Swedish) of the Mountain Hut lives in a little cottage nearby, but drops in from time to time. He opens up his little shop if you need any supplies and always has time for you to give advice and trip or go through your trip planning. It doesn't really matter which time of day it is, he always seems to have time for you. Ossi had been at this Mountain Hut for 8 years now, during winter and summer season. The calmness he has over him is evident, and maybe characteristic for this area.
Good morning everyone! :-) After a good nights sleep at cosy Allakas, we have decided to make this new day a lazy day. When planning this trip we already planned today as a rest day, and now we are enjoying that idea to the fullest.
My shoes and clothes get a chance to dry in front of the fireplace, my aching complaining muscles and feet are enjoying the rest and my diary finally gets some attention too. This is a good day!
Reading books (they have a little bookshelf here filled with donated books from passing by hikers, so you have something to read during your lazy days), writing in my diary, planning tomorrows hike were the main activities of the day. Oh yes, and eating some decent breakfast, lunch and dinner as well! As far that is possible with the limited selection of food we are carrying with us, lol :-)
Hahaha, we did do something though! After a light and lazy breakfast of knäckebröd, musli, tea and coffee we decided to go for a short walk. Partly to comfort our bad conscience, so that we at least had been out and did something. But on the other hand it was nice to explore a bit of our surroundings. We didn't go that far though, just around the little lakes in front of the Mountain Hut. The rain started again, so our enthusiasm disappeared quickly. We turned around, zipped up our raincoats and went back.
A great excursion from Unna Allakas would be to walk in the direction of Norway. Just after crossing the border there are some wonderful views over Lake Cunojavri. This was our original thought as a nice daytrip from the lodge, but right now the cosy fireplace sounded much more appealing to us :-)
If you look at the sign you can see three words: toa, vatten, Norge, giving you the directions to all three of these important places:
Toa = toilet
Vatten = water
Norge = Norway
Just a very funny combination I thought :-))
It is quite busy at the mountain hut: although what is busy? There are still quite a few empty beds available and there is plenty of space for everyone. 3 French guys arrived during the day and decided to stay. And there is also a German guy who sprained his ankle. I feel so sorry for him. It is going to be hard to hike the 35 kilometres back to Abisko with a swollen ankle like that.
It does make you think how easy it is to get in a bad situation here in the Fjällen. And it makes me wonder why people do hikes in remote areas like this all by themselves? When hiking with at least two there is always someone that can come to the rescue, but when alone, well, you are really alone! And on these not so busy hiking trails it could mean that no one is going to find you maybe for a whole day or more. The 'stugvärd' was his rescue though, helping him out by collecting his backpack that he had to leave behind at the side of the trail because of his injured ankle.
In the photo you can see some of the nice flowers growing in this area.
As you gathered by now the 'stugvärd' of Unna Allakas is a very friendly man. He is a pensioner and now working here for about 8 years. A calm type, taking everything easy. We asked him if he sold tea in his little shop as I almost run out of my supply of tea --> reason to almost panic, hahaha, as I can't live without my daily cuppa tea! But bad luck for me, he didn't have any.
The store is very tiny and only sells some essentials, well, not even that! All he has are some supplies that might be handy for hikers; like mashed potatoes in a package and similar type of supplies. But my disappointment only lasted for a second. He didn't drink tea often and he had some supply of tea at his house that I could have instead. So nice and friendly of him! So about an hour later I was the proud owner of 10 teabags :-)) I thanked him with a very big smile. The lodge isn't new, the comfort is basic, but it feels so cosy and with personal touch like that, it is a place for me to remember.
Just after dinner there was a fox outside the window. It's a half-tame one as it is regular customer looking for food around the Mountain Hut. As soon as I spotted it I tossed on my sandals and ran outside to try and take a photo. As it such a tame fox, it was walking towards me instead of running away. I felt sorry for the poor fellow though, it was so skinny. Life must be hard for it here in the Fjällen.
My fondest memory of Unna Allakas is probably the moment when looking out of the window. The beautiful rough landscape of the fjällen is so calming and beautiful. A feeling impossible to capture in pictures, but it will always be in my heart.
Staring out of that window and enjoying the landscape I am worrying about the day to come. Tomorrow we are going to hike towards Abiskojaure, a very long hike. But it is not the distance I worry about. Partly the weather makes me nervous, it might rain and storm again But most of all I worry about the 'vad'. This wad will be crossing a river about 500 metres from the lodge and everyone is talking about this 'vad' and saying it is difficult. It makes me nervous. Will I be able to cross it without falling down?
I worry and I do hope that I can sleep. I wish it was done and behind me or that I could avoid it somehow. I guess it will come back to stubbornness again: Don't think and just do! Or as the 'stugvärd' said: "Everyone seems to have made it so far....." followed by a silence..... Mmmm, yes, hahaha, but he is not really telling how they got out on the other side, lol. But I guess he is right, I will make it too. And most likely I will feel very proud afterwards..... sigh, let's wait and see what tomorrow brings.....
Simone & Åke, Unna Allakas, Sweden, July 2005
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