Sarek National Park, September 2002

It was time for the yearly hike in the mountains of Lapland. Like last year me and my cousin Peter went for Sarek National Park, a vast uninhabited and untouched area. Sarek has no trails, no cabins, no civilisation at all except from what you carry with you. This year we took a slightly different approach: We started in Saltoluokta, a large comfortable mountain station. From there we headed west and then entered the Sarek National Park from the south. Our plan was to negociate the Rapa valley from the south and proceed through it before turning southeastward again to return to the Saltoluokta Mountain station.

Our first camp for the season. Behind the tent you can see the route we would follow the next day: a steady climb where we had to gain 400 meter in altitude up the rocky slope below a very small glacier.

The first night is always a bit confusing, did I bring all necessary equipment? But it also a peaceful experience to finally be out there: at last no buses, trains, phones, computers, emails, meetings ...

Me unpacking my backpack after the tent has been raised

The Rapa valley northwards: an intimidating view

On the third day we entered the mighty Rapa valley, we approached the valley from its eastern slope. Up until that moment the weather had been grey but stable, very little rain. But now we saw awaited us further north ... Heavy rain.

The Rapa valley is famous for its increadible lushness, its animal life and its notoriously bad weather. It is quite increadible to enter a green vally bursting with life in the middle of the otherwise sparse alpine mountain environment.


The next morning we started out in rain mixed with snow, fog and a cold sharp wind. It takes a bit of will-power to get out of the warm and cosy sleeping bag and to leave the dry inside of the tent such a morning. But once you get going you actually very quickly get warm again. The biggest frustration a rainy day is actually the fact everything gets slippery. You have to thread carefully and keep a close eye on where to set your foot every step of the way.

Peter in a wet and cold world

Me negociating a small ford

Negociating fords is at best a slow experience, at worst quite dangerous. The water is just a few degrees above freezing and the stones often both slippery and unstable. If the water becomes knee-deep it becomes very difficult to keep standing: the force of the water is tremendeous. The method is to be patient, move just one foot or pole at a time.

This particular ford was an easy one since the water was quite shallow.


After a few hours of slowly making progress along the misty slope the clouds suddenly lifted right around where we were and we got a grand view of the valley below. As it happened, we were about to find a good spot for descending down in the actual valley -- and the lifting clouds revealed a very good spot. Very timely indeed. Somehow this was the story of this years trip: The weather was bad during large parts of our hike, but was always good when we best needed it.

A short break before descending into the Rapa valley

Peter fighting his way through the hostile osier bushes

Hiking in the actual Rapa valley is at times very hard work. The ground is uneven, either soft and wet swampy ground or ridges of large rocks overgrown with osier bushes and small birch trees. You could write a whole book of curses uttered by hikers over osier: it is stubborn, strong, thickly growing bushlike plant that tend to get hold your arms, your backpack and cunningly trapping your feet every second step.

However, the thick lushy thickets that make the Rapa valley so difficult for hikers is also the heaven for many animals, large and small. Here you can meet moose, bear, wolf, wolverine, lynx, an abundance of birds and of course the ever present reindeer.


As we were trudging forward through the tickets a large female moose with two calfs suddenly sprang up. They had been lying down digesting food when we disturbed them. Normally moose is a shy animal keeping away from humans. This big mother moose however gave us an unintrested look for a few moments and then laid down again unperturbed even as we passed less then 50 feet away from her.

The king of the woods, or rather in this case, the queen

The sunny side of the Rapa Valley

After a couple of days of hiking it was time to leave the Rapa valley floor and ascend the valleys eastern slope. By now the weather had lightened up and we got glorious views as we climbed higher. It was quite amazing how abrupt the green lushy lowlands was replaced with the more typical sparse alpine flora. As we climbed higher the grass disappeared, then the osier and finally the birch trees.


After a day of hiking up and down it is a relief to lay back and watch the view through the tent opening. Also taking of the boots and strapping on a pair of sandals is a huge releif. Regardless how good boots you have, the feet are sore after a day of hiking. And the socks need drying ...

We try very hard to find a place to put the tent where we get a good view. After all, enjoying the view is very much was hiking is all about.

Relaxing and letting the feet get some fresh air

The next day was the only with truly bad weather. It was raining and the wind grew stronger and stronger. Towards the end of the day the gusts reached storm speeds and it sometimes was hard to stay on the feet. When taking brakes to eat and drink during the day we had to search for large rocks to crouch behind or deep ditches where we could get out of the howling wind. In the end of the day we had to search quite a bit to find a protected place for the tent. But we found a steep little ridge with a flat protected area below.


The kitchen entrance and the panorama window

Living in a small tent is surprisingly convenient: All you need is easily within reach. As you can see the kitchen entry can be a bit crowded with stuff. You have to step carefully when entering or leaving. We use a traditional Trangia aluminium kitchen fitted with a gas burner. For food we use a mix of commercially available frooze-dried food and some courses Peter has invented. We prioritize good eating and rather carry the extra kilo. A wholesome dinner is the perfect reward after a day of hiking.


This evening the view grew more and more spectacular as the colors of the sky changed from one hue to another. The pointed mountain second from the left is the target for the following day. We now had two more days of hiking to go and the ideas of a steaming sauna, a warm shower and a delicious dinner was growing on our minds.

Changing colors of the sky

Making the evening soup

Before going to sleep we usually drink a hot sweet soup or a cup of hot chocolate. This evening was so cold we actually closed the tent to keep the slightly warmer air inside the tent. Outside the temperatures is just above freezing. As you can see Peter is dressed in the typical hiking evening dress: Sleeping bag, a couple of warm fleece sweaters and a warm cap on the head.


When passing the bridge we left Sarek National Park and entered Stora Sjöfallets National Park. The weather had cleared up during the night and was actually quite warm.

In the background you can see the Sarektjåkko mountain range that has given Sarek National Park its name.

Bridge over troubled water

Wading deep

The last day of hiking we kept a good speed, and did not even slow down noticeably for a deep ford: The water was steaming slowly and not very hard to negociate. Here our wading boots (thin water-proof "bags" to put around boots and leg) really made the day. The option is otherwise to take of the boots, strap them on the backpack, roll upp the trousers and put on a pair of sandals. Belive me: wading in sandals in water just slightly above freezing ... It hurts!


Here we can see signs of civilization (the road on the other side of the lake). By now the need and desire for a shower and food who does not come out of a bag was getting very strong. The final lap down towards the lake and Saltoluokta mountain station we covered in record speed ...

To sum up, this was a very good hiking tour. The weather was mixed, but was good when needed. The route was beautiful and the idea to return to the starting point added comforts like clean clothes in a bag left at the station...

Signs of civilization

All pictures taken by Peter Blomquist and Martin Agfors. The text is written by Martin Agfors.