Sarek National Park and Pårte Mountain belong to the Laponia world heritage. The large park area is located in Norrbotten, Swedish Lapland. Sarek National Park is known as the last wilderness of Europe.
A downside of a simple life off-trail
Today, my one and a half years long time off begins. After an intense period of work and almost two full years without being on a trail. To celebrate the returning freedom, I will do a several days hike in the Swedish mountains. Untrained and lately stuck in a regular boring daily life, will I still be able to head out? What will my arthritis knee say? I did not carry out the daily needed exercises in the past four months.
My calendar gives me only 12 days before my parents arrive from Switzerland. Is it best to leave without planning? I currently have no time, energy or desire to organize something. I want to spend the nights in nature and a tent. I wish a mountain world with the first autumn and cold feeling, as I want to test some pieces of equipment. First, the shoes and the ultra-light Thermarest Hyperion sleeping bag. It is a bit cold at -6 degrees C, but I may want to take it with me on my 5000 km hike on the CDT next summer. Enough planning.
With my backpack full of experience into the wilderness
I pack my beloved backpack with food and equipment without having to think much. I appreciate the many years of experience. The most difficult choice is the right map. That decides where the 12 days will take me. “BD 10 – Sarek National Park” lands on top of the lid of my 13.5 kg heavy pack Osprey Exos 58 litre. I slam the door to my beloved new tiny house behind me, toss my backpack in the back seat of my car and get behind the wheel.
Sarek National Park and Pårte mountain
Okay, Sarek is my goal. But where do I enter this wilderness? Oh yes, is it not a long time since I wanted to traverse the Pårte mountain range? That would mean the starting point is Kvikkjokk. Fits. Tired and exhausted, I steer my Honda CRV south. Only about 250 km. I will hope to be able to do that without falling asleep.
The weather redirects my route via Kungsleden
My heart beats faster with every kilometre travelled by car. Finally, my anticipation awakens. At Årrenjarkka drizzle set in. Oh yes, that is right, the weather forecast was not so great the first two days. That cannot tarnish my now enormous awaiting. Should I take a detour to reach the mountain range of Pårte with good weather and good visibility? Yes, this is a good plan. It is clear to me that the coming precipitation at these heights will be the first white gold to fall.
I hit the trail
Many cars park in the lot below Kvikkjokk Fjällstation. Of course, the end of August/beginning of September is the best time in Swedish fells. Often clear weather with good visibility, the cold nights guarantee mosquito-free days. The first autumn colours mix with fresh snow-covered mountain peaks. I cannot wait to hit the trail. I park my Honda next to a big campervan. Jump out of the car, swing my backpack over my shoulders, grab my hiking poles and set off. First of all, a whole day on the trail Kungsleden. Good to make the planned detour long enough. At the same time to allow my tired and untrained body some warm-up time.
The raise of well know freedom and peace in nature
With the first steps, the long-awaited inexpressible feeling of freedom reaches out for me. Equipped for 12 days of independent life in the most beautiful nature. In combination with physical movement, I always feel incredibly happy. I enjoy every step. From putting my heal to the ground and rolling it over my painful toe. Besides the aching toe, my neglected arthritis knee is hammering. But such ailments have never stopped me from my goals. The drizzle turns into real rain. I dismiss the brief thought about my rain jacket. It is too warm that I prefer wetness from rain instead of sweating. The grey clouds are getting lower and lower.
A peaceful lake relaxes my soul
I reach the Stuor Dahta lake, which sends out a little threatening and at the same time peaceful calm. I place my backpack under a protective tree on the lakeshore and sit down. The rain subsides a little. The peace of the lake tries to reach my still stressed body and soul. Hungry, I put water on the MSR Pocket Rocket cooker and look forward to my Blåband Pasta Bolognese.
Magic line treeline
After a delicious Nescafé, I move on. Past the Pårte huts and head further up towards Rittak. Finally, the hiking trail winds out of the woods to the tree line. The first look over the vast forests almost takes my breath away. It must be a long time since! How I missed that feeling! How could I allow to commit myself to regular life for almost 20 months?
It is already late, but the days are still long at the end of August. I still want to go further. I will spend my first night in a tent in the pathless and treeless terrain. I pass the heights of Rittak, finally leave the Kungsleden and look for a nice campsite. Tired and over happy, I sink into my sleeping bag.
Will Sarek National Park and Pårte mountain satisfy my longing?
It feels already a bit chilly at +8 degrees C. My arthritis knee keeps me up late at night. Still, I wake up happy with the first light of day. Is there anything better than alone with a backpack in the healing nature? No, no and no again. The silent and inexplicable longing is finally satisfied. Or? Does it only become stronger? Whatever. I am alive again, now and here and happy about everything.
Pathless terrain in Sarek National Park
In pathless terrain, it is always important to think ahead when choosing a route. Map and landscape reading is a prerequisite for the choice of the right way. Knowledge and experience are also helpful. I walk deeper and deeper into the almost untouched nature of the Sarek National Park. Intending to fulfil my wish the next day and climb the summit of the Pårte mountain range. The weather is mixed as sometimes the sun peeks out through the clouds. Now and then I see the fresh snow on the mountain peaks.
Climbing Pårte mountain with trail running shoes
The fact that I hike with my Meindl Moab trail running shoe does not bother me. I walk for the first time in the Scandinavian fell without high hiking boots. Still, I am safe thanks to my many years of experience. I know the associated risks and weak points. But I am curious how I will experience the moments in question. Humidity combined with cold, for example. Not my strength and normality in the Scandinavian mountains. With my waterproof Seal Skin socks and gaiters, I will find a solution when the time comes.
The cold Pårte mountain range and its alpine summit
At the foot of the Pårte range, at a high altitude, I set up my next camp for the night. Due to the now clear sky, the temperature drops to a fresh 0 degrees. The light wind feels cold. Good, I prepared and enjoyed my dinner in the warmth of the day. Before I slip into my dubious sleeping bag, I run a few hundred meters to raise the body temperature. I enjoy hot tea and hope for a not too cold night. But the accumulated heat does not last long. The degrees outside has dropped below zero. It only feels a little warmer in my sleeping bag.
The first ice-cold morning breaks in
The rising sun wakes me from cold sleep. What a great day for my summit ascent! I enjoy my hot, fresh brewed coffee in my tent. The sun, rising higher and higher, snuggles my face and the view into the far opens all my senses. Soon afterwards I start my ascent up the steep rocky ridge.
With every meter gained, the cold also increases. Gloves and a hat will help for now. After about two more hours I reach the mountain ridge, the eastern end of the massif. An icy wind blows through my whole body. To be able to put on the warming underwear, I have to take off some cloth first, bitter, but I have no choice.
The incredible view of two extremes
On one side, I look into the endless huge Swedish forests. On the other into the high alpine mountains with glaciers and steep mountain slopes. Finally, I see my planned traverse. The stony ridge meanders impressive over some intermediate peaks. Further to the abandoned observatory and up to the main top of the Pårte massif. The partly snow-covered or frozen stones are insidious.
Wandering alone deep in the wilderness without a mobile reception requires a clear awareness of the dangers. To reach your destination safely. I put the hiking poles on the backpack and put one foot in front of the other. My Meindl MOAB trail running shoes master the challenge perfect. Still, my arthritis knee hates the necessary twisting. On the northern side, the ridge often falls straight down onto a glacier. The southern flank is a large screen field. Enjoying this contrast, I reach the abandoned observatory after another two hours.
Pårte mountain observatory
Wind and cold tore for the last hundred years at the research station built by Axel Hamberg in 1914. The observatory looks a bit eerie with the rising fog. The light mist comes in faster and lower over me, but I still tackle the summit climb. The dim is only around the top.
Pårte summit in the mist
Once at the peak, there is no visibility left but a strong wind is coming up. I start the descent immediately. The southern stone flank, my planned descent, seems long. I make my way from one to the next old snowfield and ease the downhill by sliding down. At the bottom of the valley, the wind whistles down from the mountain. That is a regular evening cold-heat exchange in the heights.
Night camp by a water source
Uncertain how long the temperature change will last, I look for a sheltered place to set up my next night camp. I find my little paradise right at a beautiful water source and enjoy the last warming rays of the sun. Pårte looks disappointing from this southern side. Hard to believe from here that the summit, at 2005 meters above sea level, is Sweden fifth highest peak! Despite renewed freezing temperatures and a bad, swollen knee, I crawl tired and satisfied into my ultra-light MSR Reflex I tent. I hope for a not too cold and pain-free night in my sleeping bag.
Another beautiful morning
The night got cold in my bag. The thermometer showed -8 degrees C in the cold hours of the morning. Every hour I crawled out of the tent to do a few warm-up laps. Though my hopes for a pain-free night distinguished, I am happy and satisfied when I open my eyes for the morning. My wish to cross the Pårte massif is satisfied. I manage to ignore the disruptive factors of the too cold sleeping bag and painful knee. The golden sphere of the sun rises behind the horizon and promises another beautiful day.
Whats next? Sarek summit? Northkalottleden? Padjelantaleden?
I have another eight days to enjoy the beauty of the Sarek National Park wilderness. In which direction am I going? What else do I want to do? Climb the Sarek peak? Explore little connecting valleys between Algga- and Sarvesvagge? I have to make a decision. While studying the map I remember a piece of advice from a friend: “Do you have one day the opportunity, hike the Njoatsosvagge, wonderful!” Since the valley is straight behind the next chain of hills, I made a decision, do not plan any further for now and move on.
A great tip indeed! I enjoy the day and the following warm night. On the next day in this valley, I come across the first people since leaving Kungsleden. Njoatsosvagge is easily accessible from Kvikkjokk. As I hear from these people, the valley and the Sarek National Park, in general, have become popular. A dream destination for many central European hikers. Whether you are an experienced hiker or not, you have to be able to tick off the Sarek National Park from the to-do list. A frightening fact. Wilderness areas like this one are very insidious. According to these hikers, there are currently a lot of people in the park, which tells me the way to go. I want to be alone.
More decisions to make
As a matter of fact, I decide to cross the remote Padjelanta National Park to Staloluokta. Then hike back to Kvikkjokk via the few known Nordkalottleden trail. I love being alone in solitude. The next four days and the healing nature pass me too fast.
Renewed longing accompanies the way back home
I am right before the confluence of the Nordkalottleden and the Padjelantaleden. For the last thirty km back to Kvikkjokk the two long-distance hiking trails are on the same route. I wish this mountain village would never come into view. Two years since my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, I have lived daily with the longing to go on for days and weeks. Without a visible end. Somewhat weird, this feeling overwhelms me right now in its fullest strength. A mixture of this longing spiced with an inexplicable sadness and resignation. That clouds my mood on the remaining way from Tarrakaise to Kvikkjokk. The fact that I will be on a trail for almost the whole of 2021 does not help me either.
Nevertheless, besides fulfilling my Pårte wish, I also managed to test my equipment on this tour. I finally get rid of the Thermarest Hyperion sleeping bag for my trail adventure in 2021. Warm ultra-light nighttime relaxation guarantees me only the EE Revelation or EE Convert.
As well I have learned how to beat wetness combined with cold in trail running shoes. The Seal Skin socks are not waterproof. But they work like neoprene and warm the water when it enters, and gaiters prevent ankles cooling out. A perfect solution if Covid-19 directs me from my “dry” CDT plans in the USA to “wet” 5000 km in Scandinavia in 2021.
What is pain? How is it related to willpower?
I already learned how to hike with constant pain on the 4300 km long Pacific Crest Trail. Due to the cold in the past 12 days and the lack of training in advance, the grieve is gruelling. Since I hardly consume any medication, I try to cope with these phases mentally. I always recall the following description form the World Pain Organization: ”Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that links to actual or threatened damage. All living beings can temporarily switch off or attenuate constrain. So strong that in a dangerous moment nothing is noticed of an injury that has just occurred. Even fakirs learn temporary freedom from constraining through years of training.”
How do I handle the pain?
Imitating a dangerous situation to forget the pain is impossible for me. Attention, inner attitude and feelings increase or weaken our aches. Distraction and focus on something unrelated to my pain help and works fine for me. I do not achieve freedom from pain, a wish that is still unfulfilled. But I am always working on it and prefer it to the joint surgery suggested by conventional medicine.
The return to my simple life off-trail in my tiny home
The Fjärrholmen boat dock emerges from the forest. I know Björn the ferryman well from my time as a tour guide. I am happy to see him again. We enjoy exchanging old stories while he is driving me and a young German hiker to Kvikkjokk. Along the river Tarraätno and across the delta of Gamajåkka. Since the young lab wants to go to Jokkmokk, which is on my way home, I offer him a ride.
As soon as I drop him in Jokkmokk, I am finally overwhelmed by the anticipation of my parents. By train from Switzerland, they will arrive at the train station in Gällivare in two hours. I am simply looking forward to showing them my new tiny home on wheels!