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A small part of Kungsleden (Winter 1997)

Abisko-Abiskojaurestugan (15 km), Abiskojaurestugan - Kieronstugan (locked, 4km, and back)

Lapporten

During winter season 1997 we planned a tour on the northern part of Kungsleden, our first ski tour with backpacks. To say it in advance, we did not get much farther than Abiskojaure.

We were engaged in preparations for our first ski tour for several weeks. We had chosen this part of Kungsleden, because we had already hiked it in summertime and because it was a short distance between cabins. In our part of Germany, where snow is very rare and where skiing is mostly understood as "downhill", it was not easy to obtain the equipment. We were equipped very well for summer tours and had a lot of experience. But, winter tours are very different, especially for beginners. Finding appropriate skis was not so easy, but we found them in a shop that specialized in cross country skiing.

Finally the departure date had come, we left all the everyday problems behind and flew to Kiruna on a Saturday in the middle of April. We met with Peter and Annika, visited the "Kirunaspelen", a World-Cup competition in various skiing disciplines with classic stars like Vladimir Smirnow, we bought the last provisions, and the time passed very quickly. On Monday we took the train to Abisko. Originally we had planned to start the tour on this day, but now it was after 2 p.m., and it was simply beautiful here in Abisko.

Abisko

So we took the cableway up to Njoulja. The views were magnificent due to the excellent weather. The wind was very strong up here, and we could test our winter clothes once more. After dinner in the fjällstation we listened to the two-man-band "Pinch Bag", which started to play in the Storstugan at 9 p.m., and we stayed to the end, when they played "Knocking on heaven's door", one of my favorite songs.

On Tuesday at about 10 a.m. we stood in nice sunshine at the scale. It showed very objectively that Carola's backpack weighed 20 kg and mine 23 kg. 1,5 kg drinking water was included. I had originally planned to stay far below 20 kg, but it was too late for such reasoning. The 15 km to Abiskojaure should be rather easy.

The weather and snow conditions were fine. The sky was blue, the temperature a little below zero and the snow not too hard and not too soft. In expectation of the coldness I was probably dressed much too warmly and started to sweat immediately, when we had to go a short distance uphill. The winter trail guided us through hills east of the summer path. After 3 km we had reached the highest point, and the trail from Abisko Östra joined Kungsleden here.

We enjoyed a short distance downhill now, but, the washboard-like surface needed concentration. We were rather exhausted when we reached the bridge across the Ballajakka and decided to take a longer rest. I had far more thirst than we had carried water, and so I ate snow lumps, mixed with sour drops.

Unfortunately, a look at the map showed that we had only come half way. We had reached an average speed of only 2.5 km/h. The backpacks felt like a package of lead. Now there were some smaller inclines, and then we could chose between going out on the river or follow the marked trail through some hills. We took the river, we could not miss the Abiskojaure. It was comfortable to go on the river, but after a while the track lead back to the marked trail.

Abiskojaure

We reached the northern lakeshore with a few locked huts and took another rest. The tracks crossed the lake now, and four more kilometers would bring us to the southern end of the lake, where the Abiskojaure cabins were situated.

Abiskojaure

The knowledge that no more ascents would come, not even small ones, gave us new motivation, and we tried to proceed as steadily as possible. At the end of this day, we had needed six hours for the tour, and so the average remained to be 2.5 km per hour. Without doubt, the heavy backpacks were the reason for the slow speed, and we would have to reduce the weight in the future. We placed our skis near the cabin door and entered to look for two beds.

Abiskojaurestugan

One part of the hut was occupied by a group, whose white skis were signed with the letters "JÄR". I interpreted this correctly as a sign for "Lapplands Jägerregiment", the name of a military division stationed in Kiruna. They transported their luggage on snow-scooters, and it seemed to be a recreational tour. We chose our beds in the other part of the cabin, where so far only Mark was staying. We had already seen him in Abisko, and soon we sat together with a cup of coffee. Later a group of sports students arrived and it was rather busy. They were here to get experience with snow bivouacking, and everybody had a big shovel strapped to the backpack.

We mostly chatted with Mark during the evening. He had been on tour for quite a while during this winter. He was from the United Kingdom originally, but he lived in Uppsala, Sweden. He had considerably more experience with ski tours than we had, and I continued to put questions. I found his pulka especially interesting, which he had built out of a child's sledge (see link at the bottom of the page). We found various interesting themes, and finally we exchanged our Internet adresses. It was late now and time to go to bed.

We awoke in the morning and found that the weather had changed completely. The stugvärd already had received a new weather forecast at the help telephone. He reported it to the people in the cabin. There was strong wind from the south and it was snowing. On the way to Alesjaure we would have to ascend about 300 m. Up there the weather would be stormy, and because we wanted to go south, we would have it against us. To save weight, we left behind a package with food and only kept provisions for one day, hoping to buy food in Alesjaure.

Mark had already left an hour before. Now it was time for us to put on the skis. The tracks lead in southwesterly direction along the valley, before they turned south and the uphill part began. With a short break we continued to ascend for 300 metres. The backpacks were 1,5 kg lighter now and that made already a very comfortable difference to the day before.

Not far from the tracks we could see the locked Kieronstugan on the opposite slope. Here we had to make our decision. To proceed further would only make sense if we did the complete trip to Alesjaure, and we were in doubt whether we would be able to finish it under these weather conditions. There was a new shelter at about half-way, but it surely was not very attractive to spend a night there.

We looked back to Abiskojaure, which was down below us. It had cleared up a bit. But out on the Alesjaure lake the wind would still be stronger. We thought it would be wise to turn back. Perhaps the weather would change and we could try it again tomorrow.

The way back was easy and downhill skiing was fun. In Abiskojaure the stugvärd proposed that we use the smaller of the two huts, which had only four beds and was dedicated to tourists with dogs. At the moment, there were neither tourists nor dogs inside.

 

We watched the weather from inside the hut, and this was quite comfortable while we drank a cup of hot chocolate and sat near the wood stove. It was not boring at all, it was quite recreational just to care for the basic things of life. There was a hole in the ice of the Abiskojaure, where we had to fetch the drinking water. Together with a Swedish tourist we chopped firewood and stored it in the shed.

 

Late in the afternoon I looked for a place where I could test my new shovel. I wanted to find out for myself how long it would take to dig a snow bivouac. It started snowing again, and Carola decided to read "Miss Smilla" instead of watching the progress of my work.

 

Only a grouse seemed to be curious about my activities.

At the following day the weather was worse still. During the night about 20 cm of snow had fallen. "Varning för hårt väder i kalfjäll", that was the forecast for today. The wind speed above tree line would reach up to 17 m/s. The decision was easy, we had to stay at the hut. It was still more quiet here than the day before, only around noon the first snow-scooter came in from Abisko. We spent our time with just relaxing and doing nothing, and in the afternoon we made an excursion in the vicinity of the hut.

Since no dramatic changes of weather conditions were expected for the next day, it made no sense to continue the tour. We had used up most of our time and our provisions, and we had run out of espresso powder. So we decided to return to Abisko. This easy section should not be a problem, since we knew it and would have the wind from behind.

At seven in the morning I filled the small stove with chops of birch wood and lit them fire. Soon the little room warmed up. We drank the last cup of espresso and ate the last mug of cold cereal. We packed our backpacks, filled the buckets with fresh water and cleaned up the hut. Carola talked to a Swedish couple, which had come down from Alesjaure. They brought greetings from Mark. He had... , but that is a different story, and Mark will tell it himself. And they had met two Germans at the wind shelter, who had been rather exhausted and had stayed there for the night. "I've never seen people so exhausted in the fjäll", said the man. So, we had probably kept on the safe side and therefore we should not be disappointed.

A group of about ten people had set out from the hut half an hour before. Now we followed them across the lake. Their tracks were already covered with snow, but we could still see them far away on the wide area of the lake. From time to time they vanished in a whirl of snow.

I found it fascinating to move along the lake. Like in a slow-motion film, there were no changes to notice. It took forty minutes until we reached the lakeshore. We changed between the marked trail and the river, depending on what seemed to be the easiest way. Much faster than expected we had reached the bridge where we had rested three days before. Today, we were in much better condition. In good temper we prepared a mushroom cream soup with croutons. After a while we reached the group that had started before us and was taking a rest. Now they were following behind us.

One of them took a photo of us at the sign-post to Abisko Östra. It started to snow again, but soon we had reached the fjällstation. We heard that the weather had been still worse here than in Abiskojaure, the road between Björkliden and Riksgränsen had been closed for three days due to snowdrifts.

This time the trip had taken only four hours instead of six, including the breaks. We weighed the backpacks again. Mine had 19 kg now and Carola's 16.5 kg. Sitting in the dining room of the Abisko Fjällstation, we felt we were pleased with our tour. It did not seem to be of importance that we had not been successful with our plan to go to Kebnekaise. We never had experienced a winter vacation like this one, we had enjoyed skiing, living from what we carried in our backpacks, we had met people and we had learned a lot. We would surely be here again next year.

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