Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Backpacking Gear 2013

Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Hiking the Kungsleden Trail, Sweden. September 2012

Backpacking and hiking gear list for my Autumn 2013 Travels: Aug/Sept – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Sept – Sarek national park, Sweden. Sept – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Plus a weekend at a music festival in Germany.

Backpack: You’ll notice a few difference from my 2012 gear list. Most importantly is a new backpack, the Osprey Xenith 88. My old Golite Odyssey started to blow a few seams, so I decided it needed replacement. It was a long and hard search for a new bag with a good combination of both volume and weight. I originally tried to go with an Osprey Aether 85, but the volume was not enough for my need of carrying camera gear, so I went with the Xenith 88. While the pack is definitely heavier than I would like, it carries amazingly well, much better than my Golite Odyssey. So despite the extra weight, I am more comfortable on long days (and weeks)

Camera Bag: Again, I’m looking for a good combination of volume and weight. I seem to change this back almost years, as I’ve never been completely happy. While I like the Mountain Hardwear Summit Rocket on paper, in practice, it leaves a few things to be desired. It is probably the base upon which I would design a better bag at only a a slight addition in weight. First, I wish it hat outside stretchy pockets for my tripod legs to go into and a water bottle on the other side. The webbing used for the shoulder straps is too thin/slick, so the straps constantly lenghten themselves over time and need readjustment. I like the top loading zipper design, I just wish there was a little more structure to the sides of the back so it doesn’t always collapse on itself when I have a lot of weight in the top pocket, makes reaching inside and pulling out a lens a little difficult sometimes.

You might wonder why I don’t carry a dedicated camera bag like the F-Stop or something else. The short answer is, I don’t need all the padding, and therefore, extra weight. I need the bag to be flexible enough to fit inside my main backpack while hiking. So far, none of the camera bags, even the ‘adventure’ style ones, fit my needs. I’m actually half tempted to try and build something myself, or possibly modify another bag.

Footwear: I’m still staying with a lightweight Goretex lines trail runner. This time it will be the Inov-8 Terrafly 313 Gtx. There seems to be something of a negative opinion on Goretex trail runners these days, the opinion being that nothing is really waterproof, so without Goretex, your feet will be able to dry faster once wet. While this may be true overall. I still prefer to have a bit of protection if I’m just walking through a bit of wet grass or a step or two through some bog. I don’t want to get wet feet every time I encounter a bit of moisture. If my feet get too wet, I’ll build a fire and dry them out.

last year while hiking 10 days on the northern section of the Kungsleden trail, and despite some evil sections of bog, the only time my feet became properly wet was from a 24 hour period of rain where I had overnighted in a tent. From the trail itself, I managed to keep my feet dry for the most part, with maybe a bit of moisture creeping in by the end of the day.

Heading into Sarek this year, I expect conditions to be worse, but with a hut every day or two, I’ll have a chance to dry my shoes out.

Shell Layers: To make a long story short, the only reason I have replaced my jacket is because I accidentally forgot my Mountain Hardwear jacket on the bed at home as I traveled to Lofoten in February. Thus I had to purchase a new jacket immediately upon my arrival in Bodø. I could have bought something cheap that I would never use again, but ‘cheap’ by Norwegian standards is actually quite expensive, so I figured I might as well buy something I would use again. Luckily enough, I found a Norrøna Falketind Dri3 jacket on sale (1500 NOK) in my size. It is a beautiful jacket and perhaps my new favorite, and I own a lot of jackets. And because I liked it so much, I went on to purchase a pair of the Falketind Dri3 pants before I returned to Lofoten in April this year. While the pants are a bit heavier than what I carried last year, they have a 3/4 lenth leg zipper, making them super flexible to wear every day; and they look quite stylish too. Normally wearing shell pants, I over heat way too much. So last year on the Kunsleden I found myself having to change pants on the side of the trail on several occasions when a big storm approached. With the Norrøna pants, I can pretty much wear them every day and just zip down the legs when the weather is fine to keep cool enough, then zip them back up when the rain arrives.

Tent: While I love the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum thanks to its light weight, it is definitely a bit of a compromise. For much of this trip I will be solo, so this is a perfect tent for me and my gear: super lightweight and enough room to fit all my stuff inside. But for 2 people, it’s a snuggle. I would more likely call it a 1.5 person tent. 2 people cannot change clothes or prepare for bed inside, so one person will have to stand outside, in the rain, while the other moves about to get in their sleeping bag. Cooking while its raining is pretty much impossible, and don’t even think about keeping 2 backpacks inside. But it is light and so I will carry it.

Gear for 2013

Backpack
Osprey – Xenith 88 2380g – 48oz
Mountain Hardwear – Summit Rocket 30 (camera bag/daypack) 440 g – 15.5oz
Rain Cover

Footwear
Inov-8 Terrafly 313 Gtx 313g – 11oz

Clothing
Shell Jacket – Norrøna Falketind Dri3 393g – 13.8oz
Shell Pant – Norrøna Falketind Dri3 408g – 14.3oz
Insulation Jacket – Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Hoody 28 g – 10oz
Insulation Fleece – Patagonia R2 fleece 371g – 13.1oz
Pants – Mountain Hardwear Nima pant 607g – 21.4oz
Shorts
T-shirt – 2 cotton, 1 synth
Socks – 3 pair
Underwear – 3 pair
Gloves
Beanie
Sandals (for hostel showers)

Sleeping
Tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum 992g – 35oz
Sleeping Bag – REI Sub Kilo -7˚C/20˚F 820g – 29oz
Pad – Thermarest NeoAir 397g – 14oz (old version)

Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Ultra Distance 297g – 10.5oz

Hygiene -Safety
First aid kit
Toothbush/toothpase
Camp soap (multi-use)
Camp towel
Hand cleaner
Deodorant (for if I haven’t bathed in a few days and need to sit on a bus/train/airplane)

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Finding Winter in Spring

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Spring 2013 conditions on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaten national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

It has been a running joke among a few friends of mine for the last several years that I have an uncanny ability to attract abnormally bad weather.  I actually used to boast that the California sun followed me wherever I headed, but for the last 5+ years I’ve seemed to have lost that power.  Now I travel in my own personal rain, or snow, cloud wherever I seem to end up.

The Germans had a long, dark winter this year.  And that is nothing due to me.  But as I landed in Munich in mid May after a previous two weeks on the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, the temperatures felt absolutely tropical.  Walking the streets of Munich to my hostel as the midnight hour neared, I was in a full on sweat under the heavy load of my backpack, without wearing a jacket.  And so it was with a fairly optimistic outlook that my friend Till and I set our sights on some easy hiking in the Alps.

As we passed Chiemsee on our way to Berchtesgaden on a Monday afternoon, passing rain showers clogging up the normally fast moving autobahn, it was apparent that maybe our glasses were at bit too rosy.  Or plans had been for Watzmann, the second highest peak in Germany, but as we neared Königssee, it became apparent that this would be an unlikely objective.  Not to mention that I only had some light hiking boots, as I hadn’t left California planning on full on Winter mountaineering.

With clouds concealing all the high peaks, we caught the one of the last cars on the Jennerbahn up the mountain, entering into snow and blasting winds as we left the station at 1,800 meters.  If it was truly bad, I knew we could stay at Carl. V. Stahl Haus at Sneibstein pass on the German/Austrian border.  But it was only pretty bad, so we reached the hut, we decided to continue on up into the mountains in the direction of Schneibstein, 2276 Meters.  I was here last October, in a brilliant t-shirt weather week of indian summer so I more of less knew where I was going.  But as we ascended a bit further, into the whiteout of the clouds, the trail became near impossible to follow.  Finding a fairly decent flat area in the snow, we decided to set up camp for the night and see what morning would bring.

The night was cold and windy, not to mention that I only had a 0˚C sleeping bag with me.  Perhaps not the most comfortable night of my life, but still a ways off from the worst.

Morning arrived with passing moments of sunlight and raised clouds, at least high enough for me to see Schneibstein’s summit at set my bearings.  We continued up the mountain, probably the only ones having made this journey since the storm arrived several days previously with a fresh dumping of snow.  At times we struggled through drifts up to waist deep, as we watched the cloud layer begin to lower.

I knew more or less the correct way to go, or we would not have continued once we entered the whiteout, with visibility to each other limited to about 10 meters or so.  And with a 500 meter cliff near vertical cliff near the summit, it wasn’t exactly a mountain to get lost on.

I could feel the way as we got higher.  If the weather got too shit, we still had enough time to follow our footprints back down the mountain.  Had I been alone, perhaps I would have turned around, but the hubris or companionship kept us going.  As the mountain began to flatten, I kew we must be close.  But it wasn’t until I was only 4-5 meters away from the summit cross that I could actually see it in the cloud, so covered in hoar frost it was, it was rendered near invisible.

Quickly chilled by the wind, we didn’t sit long on the summit before making our way back down the mountain.  The descent proved to be much quicker, me bum-sliding most the way down the snowy slopes.  Camp was quickly taken town and then we set of for the leisurely walk back down to the valley floor.

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Deep snow while heading into the clouds, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

 

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Ascending into the clouds, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Nearing the summit in full whiteout, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

Whiteout on Schneibstein Summit, Berchtesgaten national park, Germany

Photo: Schneibstein summit, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

Schneibstein Summit, May 2013, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Mandatory summit selfies, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

 

Person stands under rainbow near summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Europe Travel Plans

Person stands under rainbow near summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rainbow watching on Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2012

Only 1 week left for me in California.  Still a few tickets to buy and details to workout, but here’s the rough schedule of my travels for the next few months.  As much as was interested in going to some new/warmer places, it looks like I’ll be sticking with my favorite areas.  I can’t avoid being pulled north.

Norway – Lofoten Islands

Next week I’m making the long journey back to Lofoten.  I leave California on Tuesday morning and reach the islands Thursday morning.  Hopefully I find some time for a bit of sleep, but like normal, that will probably have to wait for the 3 hour ferry crossing at 01:00 am Thursday.

Like normal, if the weather is good I’ll most likely head out to Bunes beach.  If the weather is crap, I’ll probably head to Stamsund and wait things out for a few days.  I have somewhat ambitious plans for this trip, so wish me luck that the weather cooperates!

Originally I planned to be on the islands about two weeks, and then head down to Jotunheimen national park for a few days before continuing on to Germany.  But this proved to eat up too much time just getting between locations, so I’ve decided to stay the whole time on Lofeten.  So I’ll be on the islands until September 4th.

If any of you are around the islands, look for someone in an bright blue jacket and probably a tripod.  Come say hello!

Germany – Festival Mediaval

Like last year, I’m heading down to Selb, Germany for the Festival Mediaval.  Hopefully I don’t get my wallet stolen this time!  I’m bringing a small padlock for my tent.  One of my favorite bands of the last 10+ years, the Swedish group Garmarna, is playing their first show in years, so I’m super excited to see them finally.  And then of course there’s the food and beer to enjoy after a puritan three weeks in Norway.

Sweden – Sarek National Park

I really had it in mind to maybe head down to the Alps for a week or so and then maybe to Croatia, where I’ve been wanting to go.  But logistically, Packing for both Norway and Croatia would have been a bit difficult.  So I’ve decided to stick with the cold conditions and head back north to Sweden, the area around Sarek national park to be exact.

I don’t have exact plans at the moment, but it will be a long journey from Berlin any way I go about it and most likely involve a night train and a bus or two.  It looks like it will be best to enter from the north at Saltoluokta and hike south over the next week, ending in Kvikkjokk.  I’ll probably spend a few days in the area of the beautiful Rapadalen, and with luck, have some decent light and good timing with the Autumn color.  And I wouldn’t complain about a light dusting of snow on the surrounding mountain peaks.  But it is the Arctic in September, so anything can happen, err, anything having to do with cold and bad weather can happen.

Norway – Lofoten Islands Part 2

Following Sarek, I’ll be heading back to Lofoten for another week to 10 days.  If the weather stays like last year, this should mean I’ll be finding myself up a few more mountains.  But I’m sure I’ll spend most my time sitting around the warm fire in Stamsund watching the rain fall against the windows.

Ireland – Dublin

In a change from my normal hermitude (I don’t thinks that’s a word, but it is now), I’m going to try and change things up a bit and attend the TBEX travel blogger conference on October 3-4.  I’ve never really thought of myself as a travel blogger, but seeing as I’ve now had this blog going since 2005, maybe it’s time for a little change in mindset and perhaps I can open a few new doors.  I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of all these 22 year old blond chicks that seem to get all these free ‘press’ trips all over the place 6 months after getting the first stamp in their passport.  Maybe there’s one more spot for an unshaven, probably slightly smelly, with sink washed clothes, dude with too much camera gear.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones, Orkney, Scotland.  December 2009

Scotland – Orkney

I have this weird relationship with Scotland in that I think every visit will be my last.  Yet alas, another year comes around and I seem to find myself doing my best to avoid hitting sheep standing in the middle of some small winding road in the middle of nowhere.  And after my last two New Years on the Outer Hebrides, which were pretty grim weather wise, to put it nicely, I think I’m finally due for something a little better.

It’s too far off to make plans at this point, but as I pretty much have near every road in the Highlands memorized, there doesn’t need to be one.  My inclination is to go to Orkney, but that will be a little expensive with the car, and that is if I even have any money left after more than a month in Norway and Sweden, so it might be to the familiar glens and Bens of the Isle of Skye for a week cruising around the Cuillins.

Wales

For the remainder of my time in the UK, it’s back in Wales until I fly home to California in mid November, for my first holiday season in the US since 2007.  I’ll admit that I purposely try and be away during the holidays for the sole reason of avoiding Christmas shopping.

—–

I have yet to start packing, but within the next week I’ll be posting up my gear list for both my hiking and camera equipment.  But for the most part, as these travels are pretty similar to last year, my gear list should be looking pretty similar to 2012.

Wild Welsh Mountain Pony near Hay Bluff, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Brecon Beacons Summer Evenings

Wild Welsh Mountain Pony near Hay Bluff, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Welsh Mountain Pony, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  June 2013

Taking advantage of the long summer days, along with the occasional days when it wasn’t raining, we would often head up to the Black Mountains for a bit of post-dinner exercise.  Most people outside of the UK have probably never heard of Brecon Beacons national park, but it is home to the highest mountains in the south of the UK.  While tame and gentle compared to their Snowdonian cousins in the north, the Brecon Beacons are formed by a series of soft, grassy mountains carved out during the last ice age.  A nice place to have in the backyard for summer evenings…

Female hiker on trail to Twmpa, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Hiking towards Twmpa with Hay Bluff in the background, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  June 2013

Female hiker on trail to Twmpa, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Hiking towards Twmpa, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  June 2013

Female hiker on summit of Twmpa, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Summit of Twmpa, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  June 2013

sunset over mountains from summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

A Night Camping In Snowdonia

sunset over mountains from summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Sunset from the summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

A couple weeks back the alignment of two rare conditions occurred here in Wales: the weekend and good weather.  Really, it is a rare treat in this part of the world.  Or to quote a climber we passed on the way down from the mountains on Sunday morning, ‘Come back here 10 times and you’ll never have weather as good as this!’

We took to the road early on a Saturday morning for the 3+ hour drive north to Snowdonia national park.  Although only a couple weeks before midsummer and with plans to bivy somewhere in the mountains, we weren’t all that worried about time. After a slightly long lunch in Betws-Y-Coed, we were at the trailhead for the north ridge of Tryfan a little after noon.

The north ridge of Tryfan is supposed to be one of the classic ridge scrambles in Wales, and thus in the fantastic weather I was expecting to be hiking among huge crowds.  But luckily with our afternoon start, most of the people must’ve gone ahead of us and we enjoyed the ridge mostly to ourselves much of the way.

The sun was beating down and I was a bit worried about or water consumption on the way up, trying to conserve as much as possible of the 3 litters I was carrying which would need to last me the next 24 hours.  Luckily I had a sun hat with me here for some reason otherwise I would have ended up more sunburnt than I did.  Not that I’m complaining!

Sometime later we reached the summit of Tryfan, sat around for a bit, then headed down the south side to Bwlch Tryfan.  From here we headed along the trail leading east of the summit of Glyder Fach.  There were some nice tarns in the grassy flats here and I thought it could be a nice place to make camp, but maybe in poorer weather.  In these conditions, it would be a shame not to camp on the summit of one of the peaks, and so we headed up the easy trail to Glyder Fach.

Once on the summit, I found a decent place to set up the tent; we had been prepared to bivy in the open, but a steady wind was blowing so being inside a tent would be a more comfortable night.  With 5+ hours until sunset I started to think that maybe I should have brought a book to kill a little time.  Though finally the summer sun sank low on the horizon, but not before a dark band of haze had formed out over the sea, dashing any hopes of a spectacular sunset.  I think I more enjoyed the mild conditions in the mountains that I don’t think I’ll come across again for some time.  And despite the weather, we were the only ones staying on the mountain this night.

For some reason I though sunrise was at 3:50, not 4:50, so I woke up a bit early on Sunday.  The light was fairly dull anyhow, so after an hour or so of wandering around in the somewhat fresh breeze I found myself back in my sleeping back for a couple more hours when the sun finally lit up the tent too much.

After an easy walk to the slightly higher summit of Glyder Fawr we headed down out of the mountains along Llyn Idwal and finally back to the carpark by late morning.

Female hiker on Cantilever stone, Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Blue skies over Snowdonia, Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Female hiker on Cantilever stone, Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Cantilever Stone on Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Silhouette of lone hiker on rocky summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Rocky summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Rocky summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Sunset over Tryfan from summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Tryfan from the summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Silhouette as female hiker balances on rock viewing mountain sunset from summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Sunset from Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Castell y Gwynt - Castle of the wind with Snowdon in the background from summit of Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales

Photo: Castell y Gwynt – Castle of the wind with Snowdon in the background,Glyder Fach, Snowdonia national park, Wales.  June 2013

Brecon Beacons – Pen Y Fan Winter Sunrise

Brecon Beacons Pen Y Fan winter hiking

Photo: Winter sunrise from summit of Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  Feb 2013

With clear skies forecasted for Saturday morning, and in need of a bit more exercise before heading off to the Lofoten Islands next week, I decided that catching one last sunrise on Pen Y Fan would be a good idea.  So I set the alarm for 5:00 am and promised myself not to be lazy.

We left the car park just after 6:00 am for the short hike up the trail, and found ourselves to be the 2nd people on the mountain on Saturday morning.  It had been fairly warm all week with lots of rain so I was surprised to find the summits still covered in snow.  Wasn’t the most brilliant sunrise, but was still good to get in a short hike before breakfast…

Pen Y Fan Brecon Beacons winter sunrise

Photo: Winter sunrise from summit of Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  Feb 2013

Brecon Beacons Corn Du winter hiking

Photo: Cold morning on the summit of Corn Du, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  Feb 2013

Pen Y Fan Brecon Beacons winter sunrise

Photo: Dawn approaches on Pen Y Fan, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  Feb 2013

Winter Walking Brecon Beacons

Photo: Hiking across Corn Du in the morning light, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  Feb 2013

Kungsleden Trail Sweden – Part 4 – Alesjaure to Abisko

Hiking kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Long shadows in late afternoon at lake Radujavri, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Alesjaure to Abiskojaure: 20km – Abiskojaure to Abisko 15km

[This is part 3 of my hike along the northern section of the Kungsleden trail, Sweden from Sept 11 – 20, 2012.  Part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE, part 3 HERE. You can find a complete photo gallery of the hike HERE. For a general overview of hiking the trail in autumn, CLICK HERE ]

Even after a full day of rest at Alesjaure, our colds were still taking a toll on energy an motivation levels.  The original plan had been to leave the Kungsleden trail proper and head west to Unna Allakas at the Norwegian border, but this would also add another 24km to our journey, something my stuffed up head and runny nose weren’t very excited for at the moment.  Even the thought of staying another night at Alesjaure was discussed, but quickly dismissed.  Best to get a move on, even if not all the way to Abiskojaure.  After a bland breakfast, we were once again on the trail, heading north towards our final destination, which now sat only 35km away.

Overnight rains turned the trail into a boggy, slippery mess, and it was slow going around the lakes.  We had heard that the forecast promised clear skies, but as noon neared, heavy clouds still guarded us against any possibility of getting a sunburn.  The winds were calm however, giving the day a much more relaxed feeling than what most of the previous week had been.

Sometime around noon, we ended up at the small shelter near lake Radujavri.  Taking a slow lunch, I began to notice the the clouds seemed to be quickly clearing.  I then mulled the decision, to stay or not to stay.  We had not even reached the halfway point to Abiskojaure, but on the other hand, we still had some extra days, and I didn’t mind laziness.  Not to mention, I was hiking to trail to enjoy myself and hopefully get some nice photos; I was carrying too much camera gear to miss the possibility of a good photo opportunity just because I was in a hurry.  The reason I purposely scheduled a few extra days than necessary for the trail.

I also knew that if the weather did clear, it would be better to remain up in the high country rather then head down into the forests which surround Abiskojaure.  I’d also heard some mentions of a moth infestation which had stripped many of the birches barren.  And so at that, the decision was made. We would stay at the small hut.  And luckily enough, there was even one last log of firewood that had thus far survived the season.  Though the saws and axes were in a bit of over-used state and it required a little creativity to get the log into a burnable state – no need to mention that it was also pretty wet.

As as the afternoon hours passed the sun finally emerged from the clouds.  As dusk arrived the sky was now almost completely clear and my excitement grew at the possibilities of something that had thus far eluded us, Northern Lights.  The night grew clear and crisp and dark.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars!  It was a struggle to choose between remaining outside in the cold, or the warmth of the hut.

I soon settled into a restless sleep.  No doubt because I set my alarm to go off over 30 minutes so I could check for Auroras.  The hours passed and passed but the sky remained quite.  Sometime around 03:00 am I gave up hope, knowing that if anything were to happen, it likely would’ve by then.  I didn’t wake again until the light of dawn was creeping through the tiny window.

The morning arrived with a chill and not a single cloud in the sky.  A good decision had been made to stay up in the high country.  An added benefit was that the previous day’s boggy trail was now frozen solid, making for much easier going.  Or at least most parts of the trail.  The wooden plank sections were covered in a layer of ice and slippery as hell, needing much extra caution at times.

We made quick progress towards Abiskojaure and arrived by late morning.  The stories of the moth infestation was true and we near suffocated as we had to hike though clouds of them that hung over the trail at times.  And indeed, much of the forest was nothing more than brown twigs, the leaves not failed, but eaten.

Abiskojaure turned out to be a pretty crowded place as it seems many people make just a single overnight trip there from Abisko.  A lazy afternoon followed and thoughts of our last night in the wilderness.  The morning would see us back to civilisation, at least as much as Abisko can be called as such.  We turned in for an early night.

the final 15km to Abisko went by quickly and we arrived before noon.  We checked into the hostel for a couple nights and then quickly headed to town for something that had been on our minds a lot in the last days, food!  I generally know better than to go shopping while hungry.  I should have definitely known better than to go shopping in a Swedish supermarket after 10 days in the mountains.  To say we overbought for the next two days would be a fairly large understatement.

The hostel in Abisko was a much more popular place than I was expecting and we had the unfortunate benefit of a school group of teenagers from Kiruna who pretty much ran uncontrolled about the place.  It took some harsh words by a middle aged German dude before that at least quitted down somewhat.  I guess the Swedes are a little more relaxed in their supervision of youngsters, though I don’t think the teacher were much pleased when they heard the Sauna had been left littered with empty beer cans.  Kids will be kids…

Abisko markets itself as a ‘Northern Lights watching destination,’ and it appeared many of the guests at the hostel where there for this.  Our first night passed uneventful, mostly thanks to the clouds.  But finally, on the second night some Aurora’s finally decided to make an appearance, though still mostly hidden by clouds.  The photographer in me wished I could have been back at the hut on the shores of lake Radujavri as I don’t actually find Abisko to be that scenic of a place.  I don’t quite know why it is such a popular destination, other than perhaps ease of access and the fact that the weather is often better than over in Norway, where there seems to sit a perpetual wall of cloud quite literally at the border to Sweden.  Quite funny actually.

In the morning came the train back to Kiruna where our journey had begun 10 days and 130km earlier.  All in all, it was a brilliant week in the Sweden’s mountains with some excellent days and a much greater variety of weather than my first trip.  No doubt I’ll be back again.  [As I type these words I’m working out the possibility of a winter tour on skis for the coming months, but will more likely have to wait until Spring 2014]

Kungsleden trail hiker autumn

Photo: A rare photo of me.  Practicing my rock jumping skills, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: A more balanced approach to standing on a rock, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Kungsleden trail Autumn Landscape, Sweden

Photo: Yellow grasses of Autumn, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Snow covered mountain peaks in Autumn, Kunglseden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Mountain sunset, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Mountain landscape, near lake Radujavri, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Twilight comes to the mountains, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Snow covered mountain rise above lake Radujavri along Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Blue hour on the shores of lake Radujavri, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail in Autumn

Photo: Keron rises in the north, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail in Autumn

Photo: Descending back into the trees near Abiskojaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail in Autumn

Photo: Autumn hiking under bluebird skies, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Abiskojaure hut Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Enjoying some afternoon sun outside Abiskojaure hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Lake Abiskojaure - Abeskojavri with overcast sky, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Final morning on the trail, Abiskojaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking through autumn birch forest near Abisko at northern end of Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Hiking under a golden birch canopy in the final kilometers to Abisko, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Abisko Sweden

Photo: Wandering the shores of lake Torneträsk, Abisko, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Northern Lights Abisko Sweden

Photo: Northern Lights shine from behind clouds, Abisko, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Kungsleden Trail Sweden – Part 3 – Salka to Alesjaure

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Hiking north through the scenic Tjäktjavagge, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Sälka to Tjäktja: 12km – Tjäktja to Alesjaure: 13km

[This is part 3 of my hike along the northern section of the Kungsleden trail, Sweden from Sept 11 – 20, 2012.  Part 1 HERE, part 2 HERE.  For a general overview of hiking the trail in autumn, CLICK HERE ]

I woke in the morning with a sore throat and a bit of a headache, which for me typically means one thing.  I’m about to get a cold.  I probably picked something up in Germany, most likely from my coughing neighbour at the festival, who also happened to sit behind us on the train, constantly coughing until we had to change trains.

It was another blustery day as we left Sälka, heading north towards Tjäktja pass, the highest point on the Kungsleden’s northern section.  And unfortunately this day, the wind was heading directly into our faces.  It was also on this section in 2009 that the wind was so strong, it blew my rain cover right off my pack, which unfortunately I didn’t notice for a few minutes then had to turn around and go chase it down.

At 1,140 meters in elevation Tjäktja pass is not especially high.  But as it sits at the northern end of the long Tjäktjavagge, the views south are some of the most spectacular along the trail.  Unfortunately for my camera, I didn’t choose the most scenic day to head over the pass.  I gave some thought about spending the night in the shelter at the top, but eventually decided to continue to to Tjäktja hut.  Arriving at Tjäktja hut, we were now a little more than half way though the 110km distance of the trail.

After a cold windy day hiking, my cold had worsened, and infect we were both now sick.  I loaded up on Ibuprofen and tried to make the best of it.  If there is one hut that seems to be most often skipped along the trail, it is Tjäktja.  And as it ended up, it was just the two of us there for the night.  I actually feel a little bad about staying in an empty hut, as it takes a lot of wood to head the place up for just two people.  The hut warden, an old lady that didn’t speak much English, but was always smiling, must of thought me to be a bit crazy as I was running around and setting up my cameras to shoot time-lapse sequences.  I tried to explain what I was doing, but I’m not sure I got the point across, but she did seem amazed at the amount of crap I was carrying!

As the morning light increased, a fresh layer of snow was covering the ground around the hut.  And so once again, we headed out into the wind and snow and rain for a relatively easy hike to Alesjaure hut.  Luckily the wind was back to our backs again, it what turned into a pretty grim day for the most part.

Partly because of our colds and partly because we were a few days ahead of schedule, we would spend two nights at Alesjaure hut.  I knew the area around the hut to be fairly scenic, so this would also give me a change to see if the weather might decide to clear up.  And as luck would have it, I would have the pleasure of meeting another one of my blog readers here, this time from Austria.  I’m always amazed at how small the world can be sometimes.

So some lazy days passed.  A few photos here and there, but the light largely remained elusive.  We even spoiled ourselves and bought a can of beans, perhaps the most expensive beans I’ll ever eat in my life, and instant mash potatoes to bring some variety to our bland diets of couscous thus far.  I think even one of the worlds most expensive apples was bought, though I don’t think I received any.  Oh, and a nice warm sauna in the evenings was nothing to complain about!

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Mountain sidewalk, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Hiking north towards Tjäktja pass, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Awaiting the arrival of a snow flurry, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Hiking over rocky terrain, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Autumn snow from Tjaktja hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Photo: Overnight dusting of snow at Tjäktja hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: A brief moment of light on the way to Alesjaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Alesjaure mountain landscape kunglseden trail Sweden

Photo: Dark skies to the south from Alesjaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Autumn mountain reflection in river, Alisvagge from near Alesjaure mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Mountain reflection near Alesjuare, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

 holding axe to cut firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Perhaps I should sleep with one eye open? Alesjaure hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

cutting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Preparing the evenings firewood at Alesjaure hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Kungsleden Trail Sweden – Part 2 – Kebnekaise Fjallstation to Salka

Female hiker with mountains in distance, Ladtjovagge, near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Leaving Kebnekaise Fjällstation under sunny skies, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Kebnekaise Fjällstation to Singi: 14km – Singi to Sälka: 12km

[This is part 2 of my hike along the northern section of the Kungsleden trail, Sweden from Sept 11 – 20, 2012.  For part 1 CLICK HERE.  For a general overview of hiking the trail in autumn, CLICK HERE ]

As morning came to ebnekaise Fjällstation and we prepared for our third day on the trail I had already seen more sun than my entire 10 day journey in 2009.  With an easy 14km to Singi hut, we lazed around for a bit, not taking to the trail until mid morning.  This goes slightly against my normal advice to take advantage of good weather when you have it.  It is never a question of if it will rain, but rather, when.  And so in tempting fate, we hiked west into the Ladtjovagge while surrounded by some of Sweden’s highest peaks which already carried a dusting of the season’s first snows.

About an hour into the day we came across a group heading our way.  “You have three options – wet, wet, or wet.”  The warning from a Swedish woman who had just passed through the particularly flooded and boggy section along the trail, which we now faced.  Another couple from their group sat on the side of the trail putting their boots back on, having given up any attempt at keeping their feet dry and preferring a barefoot crossing of the river.

So there I stood in my light trail runners, still fairly dry at that point, looking for any sort of weakness in the in 100+ meters of Swedish super bog interlaced with series of small rivers that needed fording.  The following few minutes weren’t particularly elegant:  a quick hop onto a slightly submerged rock, almost slipping into knee deep and ice cold water.  Another long step saw me onto a broken bush, the bog creeping up around my shoes with every second my foot remained.  Moving fast I found another, more secure bush with which I could use scout out my next few moves.  More steps and more cursing as the mud crept up around my feet, the first hints of moisture beginning to penetrate though.  Another small stream to hop across and then I came to the final section with no way around.  I put my trekking poles as far forward as possible and did a sort of flying leap into another clump of small bushes.  My poles flexed and sank as I used them like crutches in a desperate attempt to keep from sinking past my ankles.  Finally across I surveyed the damage: left foot somewhat wet from taking the worst of the bog, right foot muddy, but overall pretty dry.  Success.  Or at least success for my preferred use of trail runners in a country where people often hike in wells.

The next hours passed uneventfully as the valley narrowed and we hiked in the shadows of mountains and along crystal clear rivers and waterfalls, everywhere.  We passed another large group of school age kids taking a break on the side of the trail.  My thoughts immediately diverted from the scenic terrain to one of dread; that we might encounter another such a group at Singi, where they would literally take over the whole place.  While I don’t go to the Kungsleden expecting some isolated wilderness experience, I also don’t expect to share a small mountain hut with 19 (yes, I counted) teenagers.  It’s good to give kids an outdoor experience, but I feel such large groups have too much impact on their surrounds in an isolated mountain area and the small huts that shelter us.  So it came to my relief as we arrived at Singi just prior to the rain that we would have the place almost totally to ourselves, just an elderly Swedish couple across the hall in a separate room.

Morning arrived to clear skies once more, but a fresh, to put it nicely, wind was coming from the south and I knew it wouldn’t be long before some not-so-nice hiking weather would arrive.  So before 8:00 we were back on the trail, this time heading almost perfectly north, towards the Sälka hut, 12km away.  This part of the journey was now familiar with me, as Singi had been my southernmost point while on the Kungleden in 2009 when I hiked from Abisko to Singi and back to Abisko again after I learned there were no more busses running from Nikkaluokta for the season.

With the wind at our backs, I wasn’t paying much attention to the weather behind us until I stopped for some quick photos and saw a wall of snow quickly heading our way.  Having taken chances in the morning and not wearing rain gear, we we both in for a rather chilling change of clothes on the side of the trail.  Minutes after our backpacks were back on a terrible mix of snow, sleet, and icy rain hit us with a fury.

A couple more hours of hiking saw us arriving to a warm fire at Sälka.  It is here that I learned some wisdom from the hut warden: wood warms you twice.  Once while preparing it for the fire, and once while in the fire.  It was also at Sälka that I learned that I was somewhat known in this part of the world, as a nice young Australian couple at the hut had read my blog about my 2009 journey.  Cool!

I knew Sälka to be a nice place.  I knew there to be some good potential for photos in the area, but once again, like 2009, the weather chose otherwise.  This is a frustration that I, and we, as landscape photographers often face I think; that I’ve hiked several days to get to an isolated place, only to be shut down by the weather.  I made the most of the light and conditions that I could, but already put a note in my mind that I’ll have to come back once again, not that I would complain!

And so our 4th night on the Kungsleden arrived as we sat warm and dry from the heat of a glowing birch wood fire.

Female hiker leans on bridge in Ladtjovagge Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Enjoying the day, Kunglseden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking trail in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni - Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Autumn colors fill the landscape in Ladtjovagge, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Panoramic view of Ladtjovagge viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Mountain peaks surround Ladtjovagge, Kungsleden Trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Singi hut Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Night arrives at Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Singi hut Kungsleden trail Sweden

Photo: Candlelight at Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden in Autumn

Photo: Autumn colors and snowy mountains; late season hiking on the Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking Kungsleden trail Sweden in Autumn

Photo: ‘Mountain sidewalk,’ Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Hiking boots rain kungsleden trail sweden

Photo: Are your feet wet? Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

River at Sälka mountain hut along Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: A river flows near Sälka Hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Photo: A river flows near Sälka Hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  Sept 2012

Kungsleden Trail Sweden – Part 1 – Berlin to Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Autumn view over STF Kebnekaise Fjallstation mountain hut, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Kebnekaise Fjällstation mountain huts in Autumn, Lapland, Sweden.  Sept. 2012

Days 1-2 Berlin – Kiruna – Nikkaluokta – Kebnekaise Fjällstation

[This is part 1 of my hike along the northern section of the Kungsleden trail, Sweden from Sept 11 – 20, 2012.  For a general overview of hiking the trail in Autumn, CLICK HERE ]

Beep, Beep, BEEEEEEPPPP! WAKE UP!!!  My imaginary mental alarm wakes to the 4:00 am darkness of Berlin.  My real alarm wasn’t too far behind; my head likes to give me a bit of a warning so I have a moment of brief calm before the day begins.  Showered (would be the last one for a week) and packed, we head out the hostel door into the mild morning air barely 12 hours after we’d arrived in Berlin the previous afternoon.  Hopping on the U-bahn, we ride with the early morning commuters, most looking like they wouldn’t have minded a few more hours in bed.  But despite our tired faces our backpacks give us away.  Just passing through…

At 7:00 am we were in the air heading north to Stockholm.  A few hours later, we were landing north of the Arctic Circle, under the grey, misty skies of Kiruna, Sweden.  Though it doesn’t really ever appear on any schedule, or at least not the two times I’ve flown to Kiruna, there seems to be a bus that appears from somewhere mysterious and takes you to the city center.  The last guy to get on the bus asked if there would be another one later that night, as his girlfriend would be arriving on another flight.  ‘Nope,’ the driver replies.  ‘Only one bus today.’  That seems to be how things work in the north, and I’m always wondering if the info I read, especially if found online, is accurate.  Does the bus actually come when the schedule says it will?  Or do they just go by their own rule.  Luckily, the bus taking us to Nikkaluokta did show up at the bus station in Kiruna and by late afternoon were were deposited at the trail head. The next 120km would be by foot.

The clouds hung low in the valley, concealing the peaks around us.  A light drizzle fell from the grey sky.  One of those rains that temps you not to put on rain gear, but then ends up getting you unexpectedly wet somehow.  After taking shelter to change into full waterproofs, we took to the trail for several hours of uneventful hiking into the fading afternoon light.  At the estimated halfway point, I found a nice flat spot amongst the autumn birches and setup camp.  I did put a little effort into trying to find someplace slightly scenic, trying to remain optimistic that I could put my camera to work at sunrise. As morning came heavy drops pelted the tent, a bit more sleep seemed the best idea.

The only thing worse than setting up a tent in the rain is taking down a tent in the rain.  And the rain was falling, and falling as the morning hours passes.  Finally tired of waiting to see if the storm would relent, we packed up camp and continued along the trail.  In my best swag (scientific wild ass guess) of an estimate, we’d reach Kebnekaise Fjällstation is about 3 hours, around noon or so.

The rain was relentless a we continued down the sloppy trail and through forests of golden birch trees.  We passed the ghostly silhouettes of hikers, hoods up and heads down, more closely resembling waterfalls than men.  My (supposedly) waterproof shoes soon began to show their submission to the weather, and my thin fleece gloves left my hands wet and cold.  We continued in silence towards the dream of warmth and of fire, of a place to dry off and relax, of an expensive bunk at Kebnekaise Fjällstation.

And then, out of nowhere, the clouds parted and a brilliant blue filled the sky!  My first thoughts where that we should have waited in the tent longer.  My next thought was that it probably would have rained for a week straight had we waited.  I think the North sometimes likes me to suffer a bit before she offers me any rewards.  As we neared the surrounds of hut, my thoughts drifted to finding a nice place to camp and maybe a few nice camping photos.  And then reality reminded me that the tent was completely soaked, sleeping bags were damp, clothes were wet, and most importantly, if I set up my tent, it would rain again.  And so I forked out the 500 SEK for a bunk bed and went even more extreme and bought myself a beer or two.  And since I was carrying a laptop for no other reason than I had no place to leave it, I even made use of some internets.  Luxury in the mountains.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation turned out to be a busy place, or at least much more so than I imagined, it being so late in the season.  And entering the guest kitchen I was presented with the dilemma I always seem to find myself in: Yummy free food to eat or the beginnings of a lighter backpack.  A mix of both would do on this night.  And so my head hit the pillow that night, full, dry and warm.  Luxury in the mountains…

1662 meter Tolpagorni - Duolbagorni rises above Ladtjovagge viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjallstation, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: 1662 meter Tolpagorni – Duolbagorni rises above Ladtjovagge viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden.  Sept. 2012

 

Autumn tree with summit of Tolpagorni - Duolbagorni in distance, viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjallstation, Ladtjovagge, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Autumn tree with summit of Tolpagorni – Duolbagorni in distance, viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Ladtjovagge, Lappland, Sweden.  Sept 2012