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Panorama in the lower Vistasvagge

Vistasvagge

Part I: Nikkaluokta - Alesjaure, 52 km, 3 days

(© 2000 Kurt Bangert and Carola Bläsing )

Introduction:
We planned to go on a short and early summer tour, and it should be in a place that was easy to reach and where we had not been before. Conditions vary from year to year, and this year there seemed to be a lot of snow in the mountains. So we changed our original plans to hike to the south from Kvikkjokk, as that part of Kungsleden reached the 1000 m level more than once, and that obviously was too early for now. Hiking along Vistasvagge seemed to be much easier at that time of the year, because the maximum height would be 850 m. It was easy to reach from Kiruna, and if there would also be problems, we could finally go on Kungsleden.

A little map for orientation can be found here.

We entered the bus to Nikkaluokta at 10.30 a.m. on Saturday in Kiruna. Job stress got worse from year to year, and before the tour there had been less time for preparations than ever. We had written a list of forgotten items in the plane, and in the bus we finally noticed that we nonsmokers did not have a lighter for cooking with the Trangia. I swore to work through a good packing list next time.

I didn't know much about the 50 km trail in the valley, just what I could read from the map. I had not found a description in my German books, but to hike along a valley should be easy, even when the trail was not marked. And I did not have great expectations, I supposed that the tour would be perhaps a bit monotonous in the depths of the birch forest.

We arrived in Nikkaluokta around noon and went to the shop in the main building. We bought two lighters and listened to the hikers that stood near the reception, discussing about trails, snow and the weather in general. There were no real news to learn, most of the people here wanted to hike Kungsleden. Only a Danish teacher had just come down from Alesjaure through Vistasvagge with his class, boys and girls in the age of 16, perhaps. There were still lots of snow in Nallo, and it was thawing, but there was nothing special to report for Vistasvagge. A single hiker, Martin from Amsterdam, wanted to hike the same tour as we had planned. We would not hike together, but it was good to know that at least one more person was in the valley. In fact, Martin was the only hiker that we met on our way to Alesjaure.

We started shortly after noon with a walk of about 2 km on the street to the trailhead. A local man working near the street asked us: "Do you know there is a bridge missing 20 km from here ? The water is probably high and, perhaps, you might not be able to cross it." With his hand he indicated approximately waist-deep water. His question surprised me. Had not the Danish school class just hiked down from Alesjaure ? I was not convinced, and I just thought that we would go back in that case. Therefore I did not ask what I should have asked, that is which one of the three bridges he meant, all of them about 20 km from here. We went on to the trailhead, left the street and were in the forest.

Martin was ahead of us, he walked faster, but seemed to make longer rests. We had our usual slow pace, but took only short rests. So we met from time to time when we passed each other.

The landscape reminded me of the Padjelantaleden near Kvikkjokk. The trail was mostly flat and we walked through a dense forest of birch trees. Sometimes the forest opened, and rather often we crossed little streams that came from the mountains at the right side of the trail.

Path in the Vistasvagge

Sometimes it made us sweat when we had to step down in small ravines and get up on the other side, with supplies for five days in our backpacks. Sometimes we went through muddy areas, sometimes there were comfortable boardwalks. All in all, we proceeded very well.

In the meantime the sun was shining, and it warmed up. We enjoyed the feeling that we had 2000 km between us and the stress of our everyday life. All the problems that were so important every day did not have any meaning here.

At 5 p.m. we checked the map for a place where we could camp for the night. The lower and muddy parts of the trail were mosquito areas. It would be better to stay at a higher part in between. We would cross a wet area in a while, so we could either hike one more hour, or stay here. Though we had only hiked 15 km until now, we were tired from getting up early, and so we decided to stay.

Martin passed us, he wanted to hike still for a few more kilometres. We talked about the possibly missing bridge. If there would be problems tomorrow to cross a river, he would wait for us.

Campsite in Vistasvagge

We built up the tent, and I went for water. In the surroundings only surface water from little streams was available, which had a touch of brown color from the moor, but it was too far to get to the next bigger stream. I cooked it for a few minutes, though it was probably not bad. In the meantime the news spread out in the mosquito population that two tourists had arrived, and we had to retreat into the tent for dinner.

After midnight, helicopters were permanently flying along the valley. As we later heard, the Sami were moving to their summer villages, and because it did not get dark, the time of the day was not important. At 4 a.m. it was finally quiet.

The sun warmed the tent when we awoke in the morning. A warm and sunny day, that was really the better than expected. At 9.45 a.m. the tent was stowed away in the backpack, and we continued our hike through birch forest and occasionally across meadows, until we reached the first of three bridges.

We stood at the embankment of a little river. The trail seemed to continue on the other side, but there was no bridge. In the map it looked like the bridge should be located where the trail met the river. We followed the paths upstreams and downstreams, but did not see a bridge. As the trail was unmarked, there was no indication in which direction it might be, if it existed. The compass was not helpful, and I thought the GPS would not help either. That surely was the place where the bridge was missing, fording the river was easy, we did not need a bridge, and so we did not hesitate and soon were on the other side.

However, after a few metres the visible trail ended at a campsite. Now finally I took out the GPS, and it said that we had not been very intelligent. We were more than 200 m away from the map coordinates of the bridge, and it was easy to guess where it would be. It was not easy to get along on this side of the river, we had to climb about rocks, but it would also take time to ford back. Finally, there was the bridge. We were back on the trail, but it had cost us one hour.

Two more kilometres to the next bridge, where further downstreams also a river crossing without a bridge was was suggested in the map. We searched for the bridge more carefully this time, but when we saw the concrete foundings, it was clear that there was no bridge any more. (The bridge should be rebuilt now).

We hiked back 500 m to a place where two stones seemed to indicate the turnoff of the trail to the fords. Without a path we crossed birch forest, and without problems we forded four arms of the river, and walked also the passages in between with sandals. Our feet were cold and numb already after the first ford, but fortunately, the sun warmed us from above as a kind of compensation.

After two more kilometres we reached the trail fork where you can cross the Vistasjåkkå on a bridge. Trails lead into the mountains and along the river on the other side. We had a nice view into Unna Reaiddavàggi.

 
Vistasvagge, View to Unna Reaiddavàggi

Martin sat near the bridge. He had assumed that we were ahead of him, but we had not started so early, had been not very clever at the first of the bridges, and so we were later than he had expected. We did not stop very long, we wanted to finish the hike and just 4 km were left. The path ceased in a grassland, but with some luck we found it again before we had to enter the next forest. The ground was very muddy here, and so were the legs of our trousers. Finally, the forest opened to a meadow, and we saw Vistasstugan and the valley, where Nallostugan is located.

The larger cabin was still closed, only a four-bed room in the smaller one was accessible. We enjoyed the evening sun, while we cooked a dinner on a bench with the Trangia. The Stuor Reaiddavàggi in the background was tempting. Though, the people in Nikkaluokta had not recommended to hike to Nallo.

Vistasstugan

We placed our tent at the campsite near the river, while Martin stayed in the cabin overnight. The night was quiet until raindrops started to fall on the tent in the early morning. I awoke from a rumbling sound. Was it a herd of reindeers crossing the river ? As fast as possible I opened the tent with the camera in my hand. No, it was a little avalanche of stones and snow that came down from a wall in some distance. And it was still raining.

The Stuor Reaiddavàggi was filled with clouds, and the Nallo mountain had vanished. Regarding the rain, it was more comfortable to have a breakfast in the cabin. We did not hurry with the breakfast, it was surely better to sit here than to hike out there and get wet. And it was easy to make the decision not to hike to Nallo, where knee-deep slush was waiting for us. Would the mud avalanches be a risk ? That would depend on how close the trail would come to the slopes of the mountains.

During our leisurely breakfast, it stopped raining. At 11 a.m. we finally were on the trail together with Martin. The path leaded along the valley of Vistasjåkkå underneath the steep slope of Vassatjårro.

Mini-Avalanche

Occasionally we stopped, when we heard the rumbling sound that in the meantime was familiar to us. Sometimes the avalanches were hidden in the clouds, and it was never close to us, so they seemed to be no danger.

We walked along in a flat valley, mostly on a good trail, but there were rocky areas also. A herd of reindeers approached us quickly and passed very closely. We just had to stop to get pictures. On the other side of the river, some big rocks had fallen out of the wall and would be lying there for thousands of years.

In upper Vistasvagge

A police helicopter came along the valley right above the trail at low altitude, actually checking if there were any hikers in problems. It flew probably to Alesjaure and came back on the same route 15 minutes later. We did not know, of course, that just at that day there was record of high water levels on Padjelantaleden, so that hikers had to be brought out by helicopter. High waters were almost everywhere except here, where everything seemed to be quite normal. Afterwards, it was good to know that there would have been help if we had needed it.

 Mårmajåkkå

We had reached the end of the valley. For two kilometres the trail did not follow Vistasjåkkå, but Mårmajåkkå that comes down from the mountains to the right. We crossed the impressive canyon of Mårmajåkkå on a bridge.

Beyond the bridge a steeper, but short ascent of 100 m began, and we reached the plateau with the Tjatjajaure - lakes.

 

Tjatjajaure

There was still snow and ice, the lakes had not thawed yet. But the trail was easy, we had to pass only a few shorter snow fields.

Sameviste at Alesjaure

In the meanwhile, it was 6 p.m., and we were rather tired. After all, the descent down to Alesjaure began. It still took quite a while until we could see the lake. The cabins seemed to be quite close, but it still took us 45 minutes on a path that went through the sameviste.

Around 7 p.m. we reached the Alesjaure cabins, and shortly after us did Martin arrive. One cabin was open and still empty, and so we took a room there. Soon it was warm in the kitchen. We spent a lot of time for dinner, tomorrow we would just relax here in Alesjaure. On our list for tonight was just a visit in the sauna, a Lapinkulta and lots of sleep in a real bed . Was it the same room where we had spent a night in 1992 ? The view out of the window was quite similar.

The past three days went through my mind. The tour through Vistasvagge had been much more impressive than I had expected before. The unmarked wilderness trail, the loneliness, the gradual change of the landscape from birch forest to snow and ice, it had been eventful and a bit adventurous.

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