I sleep long in Umbukta after the exhausting stage of yesterday. I have a good breakfast in the hut and pick up the food drop I have sent from Snasa nearly two weeks ago. After a shower I start climbing on the DNT-trail towards Sauvasshytta a bit before 10 o’clock in the morning. The weather is warm and sunny again. Although I clearly feel the fatigue from yesterday, I quickly find a good rhythm. Only four and a half months ago I have done this climb on ski’s and with pulks with 4 friends after an episode with nearly half a meter of fresh powder. Back then it took monstrous efforts and nearly 3 hours to trace our way up towards the Austerskardet plateau. Now the 200m of climbing are a piece of cake and it feels ridiculous how physically spent we were when reaching the pass.
After climbing away from the plateau I leave the trail for a while and traverse off-trail on easy tundra terrain below the Vestre Sauvatnet, to pick up the next DNT-trail into the Plurdalen a few kilometers further. The Okstinden range disappears in the south on the descent, only to make way for the massive glaciers of Svartisen in the northwest. It’s an easy, highly enjoyable walk which allows my body to recuperate from yesterday. After a while the descent gets steeper and I plunge into the birch forest again. At around 2 o’clock I reach the gravel road through the Plurdalen, and climb up to the dam at the western tip of the huge Kalvatnet lake.
There is a gentle breeze from the northwest, but not quite stronge enough to discourage me to start a 10km flatwater crossing of the lake. I follow the northwestern shore all the way to the northern tip of the lake. It is magnificent paddling in warm sunshine and with the snow-capped mountains of Ranafjellet as a backdrop. I take my time to enjoy the float and reach my destination at around 6 o’clock in the evening, after a day which has passed way too fast. I camp on a small peninsula. Small boats sail across the lake towards the many vacation cabins until sunset. It is a perfect summer evening and I stay outside in t-shirt until it gets too dark to read.
I start sweating from the very first second the next morning as I begin a steep climb to start a day which will be entirely off-trail. The birch forest gradually makes way for easy tundra as I gain a small pass (850m) on the southern slopes of Heinberget and continue with a traverse above the Klimptjønna lake, which offers massive views towards Svartisen. A last climb guides me up towards the group of lakes (992m) on a broad pass east of Østerdalsknabben. Some ice still floats on the water. I take a break before starting the steep descent a snowfields and rock slabs into the Skredbekken valley. Once I’m down I start a long traverse on the eastern slopes of the Koppardalen, which is characterized by parallel rock bands and reminds me very much of the Skjaekerfjellet.
After a somewhat difficult first part, the bushwhacking gets easier and the terrain flattens out when I approach the Koppervatnet. I do not hike up to the lake itself, but wade its outflow downstream of a ravine and stay well to the west on the slopes of Viltlausfjellet (622m). The views through the valley, with a shallow stream meandering through its floor, never get boring. I keep walking at a good pace, however. My friend Fre has travelled to Norway last night, and we have some kind of an appointment on the Elivollan plateau, today’s destination, in the late afternoon. He will hike up there from Storvollen, where his train from Trondheim arrives. After 22 days of solo hiking I’m excited with the thought to meet him in just a few hours.
The vegetation gradually becomes more scarce as I continue my way up on the gentle western slopes of the valley. Eventually I reach the pass between the Koppardalen and the Messingadalen and start the descent towards the plateau while looking for a moving speckle in the mighty landscape, with views extending deep into Saltfjellet. As I get closer I realize he is not there yet. It is around 5 o’clock. I find a great bivouac spot near the confluence of the Jarfjellbekken and Kjemingelva streams. The hours pass by in the evening but Fre does not come. Around 8 o’clock in the evening I realize he won’t come today. Bug pressure becomes high in the evening and I get into my tarp relatively early.
I pack early the next morning and leave at 8 o’clock. It is still warm and sunny, but the atmosphere appears to be less stable with towering cumulus clouds already building above the mountains of Saltfjellet. I quickly descend below the treeline in the pretty Messingadalen, with the river often digging through shallow ravines and with massive views north through the Tespdalen valley we will hike through this afternoon. Luckily I pick up a vague path while descending through thickening birch and pine forest towards the farms of Heimasen. At around 11 o’clock I reach the E6 min road through Dunderlandsdalen. I have mobile phone coverage again and manage to reach Fre. As he was too tired from the long travel, he has been chilling in a field at the other side of the Ranelva river yesterday while enjoying the warm weather. We meet a few minutes later. It’s good to see a friend again.
We take a very long break while reorganizing our packs (Fre has brought me a lot of new/replacement gear, like GTX-socks, merino wool underwear for the cold autumn days which will soon come, new batteries for my SPOT and mobile phone, among many other smaller things). It is 3 in the afternoon when we finally start our hike up the Tespdalen valley. Fre is soon impressed by the sheer extent of the Arctic landscapes. After a while we reach a special point in my journey: a wooden arc indicates the crossing of the Arctic Circle! We have a short break and a photoshoot. A quick calculation learns that I have now hiked up nearly 9 degrees latitude from Lindesnes, with only 4 and a half to go towards Nordkinn!
The valley gradually opens up further north with splendid walking through thin birch forest and rolling tundra. We call it a day on a panoramic bivouac spot about 1km short of the old Gila Fjellstue and enjoy yet another warm evening well into twilight.
Fog and low clouds drift through the valley the following morning. It already feels weird after the 5 days of brilliant sunshine. We give it a go at around 9 o’clock and easily climb up towards the Tespvatna, where a group a fishers is camping along the shore of the lake. The climb gets a bit steeper on the way up to Lappflytarskardet, but the views from the pass are exceptionally rewarding: the immense Bjølladalen, one of Saltfjellet’s main valleys which cuts from north to south through the hearth of the national park, suddenly appears in all its splendor. There is no wind at all and we can clearly hear the Bjøllaga river flush down through multiple long rapids, with meandering sections through peat bogs in between. Fre is impressed by his first Northern Scandinavian panorama.
We descend into the birch forest and reach the valley floor near the southern end of the meandering sections of the river through the Krokkimyra swamps. In the meantime the clouds start to break. After a highly enjoyable stroll through the birch forest we reach the Krukkistua cabin in glorious sunshine, and in t-shirt! The Krukkistua is yet another of these small, cozy and unstaffed DNT-cabins which are so typical for Northern Norway. We have a quick look inside, then take a lunch break at the picknick table in a meadow.
The next section is one of the most enjoyable of the entire Saltfjellet crossing, with excellent trails, rolling terrain through open birch forest, splendid views through the Bjollaga valley and warm august sunshine. The kilometers fly by and we quickly reach the next cabin, Saltfjellstua. This is somewhat of a special place for me as I spent a rainy night in this hut during a Saltfjellet crossing in early autumn 2009. I even find back my entry in the ‘Hyttebok’! Aaaah, nostalgia…
Upstream of the Saltfjellstua the Bjøllaga river cascades down through a ravine. We cross the river on a spectacular summer bridge and start a short but steep climb towards a shoulder south of the large Sore Bjøllavatnet. I know this route from my trip 3 years ago, and motivate Fre to push on for another 20 minutes as there are splendid bivouac spots above the lake waiting for us. We eventually call it a day just after crossing the stream coming down from the Raudiskardet pass. It gets calm, overcast and humid in the evening and that’s the perfect recipe for a hardcore mosquito invasion. After dinner we go for a read in our respective shelters.
The next morning we start climbing into the barren Steindalen valley. As the name suggests, this valley offers lots of rocky tundra and boulderfields as it cuts right through the highest part of Saltfjellet, with summits like Lonstinden (1506m), Addjektind (1444m) and of course Orfjellet (1751m, highest mountain of the National Park) lining the valley. It’s a wonderful section, but also a long and sometimes annoying one which requires concentration. We are lucky to be able to hop from boulder to boulder in dry weather.
The terrain gradually becomes easier again while we descend into the Kjemadalen. The crossing of the Kjemabekken stream requires some concentration and long leaps from boulder to boulder. Three years ago I had to wade this river after a rainy episode, now it is just possible to get across with dry feet. We take a long break on the other side while we watch two other hikers descending from the Steindalen. It’s a young guy joined by a women of about 45. The boy carries an enormous bag, but hops across the river with incredible ease nonetheless. We have a chat, and turns out that he is also hiking the entire Norge pa Langs! He started around the 20th of june and thus is way faster than me (although I also made quite a few detours). But what is more… this guy is only 17 years old, and carries a monster pack of over 30kg. He has not prepared his resupplies as thoroughly as I did and bought food in Mo I Rana for the stretch all the way up to Narvik! His mother is joining him for this section. He definitely became my hero of the day 🙂 They also show us the so-called “Møltebear”, or “cloudberries”, berries we did not know but which become our gastronomical highlights during the next few weeks.
It slowly becomes overcast as we traverse above the shores of the Kjemavatnet, but it remains warm and dry. Views onto the steep and dark slopes of the mountains in Junkerdalen National Park open up. This is the place in Norway I have visited most: twice in summer and a few months ago on a brilliant day in early spring. We climb across the rock bands east of the lake and start the descent to Lonsdal. Blueberries are very abundant and we have a few stops to eat as many as we can find. When we finally arrive in the small town (rather a collection of vacation cabins), we search for a bivouac spot on the very wet terrain around the DNT-hut Lonsstua. Just like in april we go for a good shower in the Polarsirkelen hotel a bit further up the hill, and collect the second food drop I’ve sent from Snasa. I try to post a blog update, but the computer I get in the hotel has no SD-card reader. And honestly, at this point in the trip, I don’t feel like blogging too much either. It has been six weeks since I’ve done an update.
After crossing the thundering Lonselva river the following morning, the climb towards the Vestre Viskisvatnet not only offers cloudberries, but also fantastic retrospective views towards the highest summits of Saltfjellet. When we cross the pass towards the Junkerdalen valley, the landscape starts to change dramatically. Other than Saltfjellet (and most regions along the Norwegian west coast), Junkerdalen is composed of sedimentary and low-grade metamorphic bedrock. Spectacular and deeply incised U-shaped valleys, witnessing to the last ice age, cut deep through the landscape. Where these valleys join, spectacular mountains with crests as sharp as razor blades form. The spectacular Solvagtind is the perfect example.
After a quick and easy descend we reach the Junkerdalen Turistsenter. It is sunny once again with temperatures in the lower twenties. Summer has really been giving it all in august, with hardly any rain and many splendid days. The arctic circle has been crossed and that calls for some writing! We have an ice cream on the terrace while sending postcards home. After I very long break it is nearly 3 o’clock when we get going again. The rest of the day should be easy anyway, starting with a gravel road through the lower Skaitidalen towards the DNT-hut of Trygvebu.
But that gravel road is a long forgotten access to the farms higher up. The first stretch is ok, but as the valley flanks get steeper, much of the road has been washed away be the river or simply collapsed off the steep slopes. It takes as many (very) steep traverses on loose scree and a lot of bushwhacking to fight our way up, and what looked like the easiest section of the week on the map suddenly becomes one of the hardest. It takes us one hour and a half to reach easier terrain again, and we have a very long break when arriving near the cabin.
Fre is rather spent, but we push on for another hour on little trodden paths through luscious birch forest in the Skaitidalen. It’s one of those valleys where we expect to run across a moose every minute, but unfortunately it once again doesn’t happen. It’s hard to find bivouac spots in this valley, but a bit before the summer bridge across the river we find something perfect: a flat spot on a small plateau above the river, and near a nice pool at the base of a 200m waterfall! It’s a last warm summer evening and we try to go for a swim… but oh boy the water is so cold! Fre does a few strokes before hurrying back to the shore, I stop my attempt just before halfway the body…
The weather starts to take a 180° turn the next day. We start during the last bright spells, but it soon gets overcast in an ominous, silent atmosphere. The valley remains spectacular with the trail running through wonderful birch forest beneath impressive cliff faces. We soon reach the Argaladhytta, one of the oldest DNT-hut built early in the 20th century near the river. We take a break and then continue hiking higher into the valley, with the forest now making way for tundra terrain, moraines, deep gullies and alluvial fans at the base of the steep valley slopes. We eventually cross the subtle pass towards the Balvatnet. Further north, the weather is still bright, and the impressive peaks and glaciers of the Sulitjelma range glister in the sunlight.
It starts to rain just before we reach the huge Balvatnet lake. Three splendid warm, sunny and dry august weeks have come to an end, but at this moment we do not realize yet that this will be the start of a steep dive into autumn. The weather remains calm, however, and it would have been possible to raft across the lake in 2-3 hours towards the Coarvihytta. Along the western shore it’s a 16km walk to get there, but as Fre does not have a packraft I join his on this stroll. The first kilometers along the southern shore are easy, with some marshy sections with plenty of delicious cloudberries. But as the (sometimes vague) trail veers north near the western tip of the lake, multiple gullies have to be crossed, with a lot of steep up-and-downs. Fre hasn’t food his good rhythm yet and when the rain starts to intensify somewhere on the way towards the Fuglvatnet we call it a day.
It rains for most of the night, and the next day starts with damp and grey weather with a low cloudbase and regular drizzle. The remainder of the hike towards the Coarvihytta is a tundra highway, on which we encounter a few reindeer along the way. The weather is not too inviting for any long breaks and we push on towards the gravel road at the northern side of the lake without any brakes. From there it’s a long and rather boring 20km walk down the gravel road towards Sulitjelma. Fre gets a hitchhike along the way, but – to the disbelief of these friendly people – I of course prefer to continue walking. When I eventually reach Sulitjelma in the late afternoon, Fre is enjoying fruit and a coke in front of the supermarket. We do shopping for a ‘good’ dinner in the evening, buy food for the next stretch, ánd I get my new Big River Dry bag at the small post office. We camp in the garden of an empty house next to the church (the only nice building in the ugly old mining town), and are excited to see all the upcoming nice stuff when we look at the map: the next 9 days are should become the absolute highlight of the entire trip: a raw, west-to-east crossing of the vast wilderness of Sulitjelma, Padjalanta, and last but not least: Sarek.
15/08/2012: Umbukta – N-point Kallvatnet (24km, +440/-400, 6u25)
16/08/2012: N-point Kallvatnet – Elivollan (21km, +670/-660, 6u10)
17/08/2012: Elivollan – Tespdalen (20km, +440/-450, 5u00)
18/08/2012: Tespdalen – Søre Bjøllavatnet (19km, +500/-390, 5u40)
19/08/2012: Søre Bjøllavatnet – Lonsdal (19km, +460/-660, 5u40)
20/08/2012: Lonsdal – Skaitidalen (21km, +550/-540, 5u45)
21/08/2012: Skaitidalen – W-point Balvatnet (19km, +260/-210, 5u30)
22/08/2012: W-point Balvatnet – Sulitjelma (29km, +180/-690, 6u35)