Back to Index | Back to Part I: Abisko - Tjäktja


Descent to Sälkastugorna

Northern Kungsleden and a Trip to Nallo

(Abisko - Kebnekaise Fjällstation - Nikkaluokta)

Part II: Tjäktja - Nikkaluokta

April 1998

To get up at seven was a matter of routine for me, I heated the stove in the kitchen of Tjäktjastugan and we had breakfast. The sky was blue, the sun was shining. Just 3.5 km and 100 m of elevation were left from the ascent to the pass. A shelter marked the highest point of Kungsleden.

Approaching Tjäktja Pass

We were the only people on the trail this morning, and it was wonderful to be here in this lonely landscape. Because I assumed that it would be cold and windy on the pass, I had started with rather warm clothes. But very soon the sun was burning and there was not a bit of wind, so I changed against a light pullover. The ascent to the shelter was easy to go.

View on Tjäktjavagge

At the shelter the view on Tjäktjavagge was overwhelming, so we stood here for a while. Two years later, when I looked through the color slides, I detected more of the trail than I had noticed in nature, and I even saw Sälkastugorna at a distance of 8 km. It's probably hard to to see the cabins in summer.

We tried to get down from the pass with different techniques that you will not find in the book "Downhill Skiing in Style". A kind of zigzag was rather effective on the old and hard snow. But still more effective was it to put the skis off and walk the rest in the Salomon shoes. Not so elegant, but sometimes I like it to minimize risks. The rest of the way to Sälka was easy, there were few ascents and more often pleasant descents. However, the trail was broad as a highway along the slope on the left side of the valley, and on the hard snow our skis kept sliding to the right all the time that afternoon.

A final gentle slope helped us to show a final elegant downhill approach to the cabins. It was unusual that one of the cabin wardens watched the skiers coming in, brought them to the cabins and showed them beds, while the other cared for the butik. But it was very helpful, as lots of people came in from all directions, the cabins filled up quickly, and it would have been chaotic if everyone would have walked through every cabin. One cabin was partly reserved for the STF group that had stayed here for one day, so that some of the members could do a tour to the top of Sälka mountain.

We had enjoyed to be alone in Tjäktja, but we also enjoyed this place here. In adaptation to the habits of the locals, we got a Lapinkulta in the butik and sat in the sunshine, chatting with Lapinkulta - drinking Swedes. They had not joined the rest of the group on the summit tour, but stayed here to recover. "One needs time to take in the beauty of the mountain landscape". We agreed. The views on the mountains illuminated by the setting sun were magnificent. The others would soon be back. "They will be exhausted tonight - and we will be hungry", he said very philosophically. Eventually, the sun went down, it was too cold to sit outside. Some impressions of the Sälka way of life and this afternoon are preserved on a separate page.

Everybody in the cabin was preparing dinner now, and not only pots with noodles and köttbullar had to be warmed, but also huge pots with water for dishwashing. It was a great advantage that we had our own kettle and dishes, so we were independent from the hustle and bustle. We thought about staying in Sälka for the next day. It would be a nice tour to go to Nallostugan and back, less than 20 km, and with a light backpack we should be back in the afternoon without too much effort.

I got up at seven, but we were not in a hurry, had breakfast, took pictures and chatted with the other skiers. We asked the stugvärd for the weather forecast. "Same as yesterday, sunny, no clouds, no wind, no problem." And tomorrow ? "We already fixed the same weather for you for tomorrow. No problem." We spent the morning watching the activities at the cabin, a bigger group prepared six dog sledges prepared for departure. Around 10 a.m. we went on our tour to Nallo. The ascent to the higher valleys in direction of Nallo was not difficult.

In the high valley we found a ski track so that we could proceed fast. The GPS was very useful, as distances were hard to estimate and the contours of the lakes that were visible in the map were hidden by snow.

But with the GPS we could check the distance to Nallo in seconds. We had to go until 1 km before the cabin until we could see it. Underneath a steep slope the cabin is located in a narrow valley. We turned back and rested somewhere between Nallo and Sälka. The rest of the tour and the descent were passed quickly, and at 3 p.m. we were back in Sälka. The tour to Nallo with a light backpack had been pure fun, and in spite of its 18 km it had not been very strenuous. Some impressions of the tour can be seen on a separate page.

 


Returning from Nallo

 

Sälka was as busy as the day before, skiers came in from Tjäktja pass, from Kebnekaise, from Vistasstugan via Nallo, from Tarfala, and the stugvärd was busy to show them to the cabins. All the beds were occupied in our cabin by early evening. Most of the people wanted to go to Kebnekaise Fjällstation the next day, about twenty wanted to go to Tarfala, what was about the capacity of Tarfalastugan. Kebnekaise Fjällstation would also be crowded, because it was Saturday, and we thought it would be the best to spend the night in Singi.

Between Sälka and Singi

As promised by the stugvärd, the sky was blue once more in the morning, temperatures were around zero and there was no wind at all. We went in skirts, and an hour later we were already at the Kouperjåkka shelter, where we had camped two years ago on a summer tour.

Already during that hour we had noticed that Saturday was scooter-day. We had met several groups in the morning, and also in the distance we could hear scooters, mostly in groups of four to six. Scooter traffic was restricted to Kungsleden between Abisko, Kebnekaise and Kaitum, the Tsutsuvagge to Hukejaure and the Vistasvagge to Vistasstugan.

At the shelter I tried to melt snow with the Trangia, just to see how that would be. In the meanwhile we watched a group that had stopped their scooters a kilometer from the shelter. A helicopter landed repeatedly, picked up five people each time, until only the scooters were left near the trail. After half an hour, they all were brought back, started the scooters and passed us. We assumed that they had been on Kebnekaise summit. To save weight on this cabin tour, I had only the smaller version of the Trangia with me. Melting snow with it did not make much progress, so I stopped my test and we prepared a soup from hot water in the thermos.

Another couple with a scooter stopped at the shelter for lunch, and a moment later, group of three more scooters arrived, and seemed to prepare for a barbecue party. Without hesitating they took the necessary wood from the shelter. We decided to leave that busy place and continued to Singi. So far, the only skier we had seen today was the German who also wanted to go to Singi. All other skiers from Sälkastugorna had taken the way to Kebnekaise, and the rest of tourists were motorized.

The trail descended to Singi, and the closer we came to the cabins, the less snow was left. Close to Singi, skiing was only possible on the trail, and large areas lacked snow.

It was rather quiet in Singi, and we took beds in the cabin, sharing an eight-bed room with three other people. A group of skiers stayed in the other cabin, while more and more scooters arrived. In the afternoon 14 scooters were parked in front of the cabin.

Singistugorna

Still more arrived in the evening. People asked the stugvärd for beds. According to STF-regulations, scooter drivers should move to another cabin, if beds are needed by skiers. For a short while I counted 26 scooters on the parking lot, and one group inspected our cabin, but finally two groups moved on, one to Kebnekaise and one to Sälka. Whether the stugvärd wanted to keep beds free or for what other reason they left, I don't know.

While it had been sunny during the afternoon, the sky was covered with clouds in the evening. In the night I heard the sound of water dropping from the roof. Half asleep, I dreamed of streams that we had to ford. In the early morning, it was quiet again. I got up at seven, heated the stove in the cabin, and checked the conditions outside.

Ascent from Singi

The snow had soaked up the rain and was wet, but there were no rivers to ford. The thermometer showed +2°C. Thanks to the scales of our skis we did not have to think about the correct wax. The grip was fine, and we rapidly ascended to upper part of Ladtjovagge. The clouds went away, and the sun showed up. After some ups and downs, we rushed down on a track that resembled a highway with several lanes.

In Ladtjovagge

We passed some smaller ponds and had to carry the skis for a while, but at 2 p.m. we reached the Fjällstation where the the thermometer at the entrance showed +9 °C. We weighed the backpacks once more, Carola had 14 kg now and I had 16. We got a two-bed room, now on Sunday evening most of the weekend-tourists had already left, and there were rooms enough available. We bought a bastu-paket in the butik, completed it with Sweden's best sold car, and went to the sauna in the service building. Well recovered we enjoyed dinner and spent a quiet night.

A tracked vehicle, the bandvagn, offered comfortable transportation from Kebnekaise Fjällstation three times per day to the bus in Nikkaluokta. But we did not want to leave out, what would be the last day of skiing for quite a while. The tour was easy, we knew it from the year before.

It rained in the early morning at temperatures around +5 °C. We did not hurry with the breakfast. Later, we chatted with Mr. Lappalainen, who wanted to do a Kebnekaise tour with his two friends. I had noticed his self-made pulka, he kindly showed me some details, and I took photos. The pictures can be seen in the equipment chapter.

At 10 a.m. it stopped to rain, and we went on the trail. A year ago, we had needed four and a half hours, so we should be early enough for a lunch in Nikkaluokta before the last bus would depart. In the beginning there was enough snow on the trail, though it was wet from the rain, and we were rather fast on the slightly descending trail. But down in the valley all the lower areas were under water.

Ski track in Ladtjovagge

It was obvious what we should do: we had to stay on the left, that is the northern side of the river, and follow the summer trail as good as possible. For a while we proceeded well, but then it became more difficult. Following scooter trails was not helpful, because they drove through water where it was flat. And it was not possible to go in hiking boots, because without skis, we would break through the ice.

Ski track in Ladtjovagge

I checked the position in the map with the GPS and found that we were exactly on the summer trail. If a stream would come down from the left, we would only have the options to ford or to turn back. I worried the most about the fact that our "speed" was only one or two kilometres per hour, and there were 7.5 km left to the kåta at the end of the lake. Soon we stood at the next stream and had to look for a good place to cross it. It was clear that it would take us until the evening and more, if we would have to bypass some places.

A fast Swedish couple with small backpacks showed up behind us. They had decided to go under any conditions, did not hesitate and overcame this wet hurdle quickly. We decided to go back. If we were quick enough, we would get the bandvagn at noon and be in Kiruna in the evening. We hurried up the ascent. Soaked in sweat we reached the Fjällstation, and Carola went to get a ticket at the reception. She came back with the information that the bandvagn had problems, too, and it would only go for one more trip today, probably at four p.m. Tomorrow, it would also do only one of three tours, and so it would be better to leave today. An hour later the Swedish couple that had passed us was back to the Fjällstation, they also had given up.

We spent the afternoon reading, and at four p.m. we were waiting with a bigger group for the arrival of the bandvagn. The luggage was stored in the rear part, and we also took our place there on a seat, facing a huge mountain of luggage. When the vehicle started to move, it did not take long until the luggage slided in our direction. Carola was in danger to be buried under a huge bag with ski shoes, and the whole vehicle was shaking. I don't get sea-sick on ferrys, at least in the baltic sea, and I don't have problems with airplanes, trains or buses. But I found that a bandvagn is still different. To distract me from the upcoming nausea, I switched on the GPS. It worked. I could see on the display that there was hope and Nikkaluokta came closer, but I also saw that it would still take about one hour. Several times we went through shallow waters, and I could see at the lakeshore that there would have been little space to pass with skis. The download worked at home and so I could look up the route of the bandvagn in the map (200 kB picture)

With the bandvagn through Ladtjojaure

We boarded the bus to Kiruna, and soon we were back in civilisation. All in all, this classic tour had been a perfect one for our abilities.

Back