ten days of bliss & blisters – hiking in sarek

Six years ago, I joined a (supposedly) 3-year training in wildlife guiding. The goal was to be able to lead groups in the wild, and there were many different things to specialize in – survival, hiking, kayaking, climbing, downhill-skiing (Telemark, and the like) and much more. The training was part-time and aimed at people who already work or study; we had courses 1-2 times every 2 months.

As too many others, I never finished my training, despite enjoying it immensely. Other things got in the way, and choices were made. Fortunately, though, I’ll never forget the training and how much I enjoyed hiking for 10 days with 30 kg on my back; making my own knife; climbing an 80 m cliff in a forest in Sweden; jumping through the ice on a lake in full gear, and pulling myself out of the water; singing “Happy Birthday” while standing in a kayak (without falling! for a while); yes, even starving in a forest for 4 days. I dream of doing these things again – it’s hard to match the joy and excitement I felt while being out in nature, learning a huge amount and singing by the fire.

During the second year of our training, we went to Sarek National Park in Sweden – one of the most inaccessible places in Scandinavia. A part of the course was to plan a route and the provisions needed. Fortunately, the water that flows in Lapland can be drunk, so that wasn’t a problem. It’s also some of the most wonderful water I’ve ever had. We hiked for 10 days through areas without access to shelter (we had tents, of course) and only a satellite phone in case of emergency.

It was 10 days of complete joy for me. The scenery was something I had never seen; I got the confidence to read maps and lead the group; I learnt more about packing (my backpack was 30 kg, certainly more than it had to be); I got to know some really great people; I enjoyed every meal as never before; and we even made the bathroom breaks enjoyable by making it a competition for best view (a photo competition, that is – and everyone won). I also got some blisters after the first day. Fortunately, our teachers were very competent, and I didn’t really suffer from them.

I’ve wanted to share these pictures with you for a while. I bought my first DSLR-camera for this trip (a Canon EOS 400D), and really enjoyed using it. Now that I feel I know a bit more about photography, it pains me to look at some of the photos I took. The views were magnificent, and I couldn’t do them justice. I also hadn’t realized the usefulness of RAW at this point, and was shooting in .jpg. Some of the photos are still worth sharing, I think, and I hope that I can convey some of the awe and excitement I felt when I took these photos, 5.5 years ago. Warning: A LOT of pictures.

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A hike that starts with this view can’t be bad, right?

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This is not yet the national park – we hiked for a few hours to get to the boat that would take us into the park. Sarek can only be reached by boat or helicopter.

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No stress – on the way we took breaks to collect and enjoy the big, juicy cloudberries we found.

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I had the joy to join the guy who took us to the national park when he went to check his fishing nets. He lives at the edge of the national park, which is something only the indigenous Sámi people are allowed to do.

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The pier, which was the first part of Sarek we stood on, had clear instructions on how to get there.

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Finally, Sarek! This barren landscape is where we put up our tents and spent the first night.

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I took the chance to play with and learn to use my camera on that first night. Fortunately, I also brought a tripod.

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The second day there was snow in the air. In august.

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… but it wasn’t too bad, since we came to, and put our tents up, in a place like this.

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We decided to stay there for two nights, and have a day of do-what-you-want in between. This was the view in the morning.

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Me, my blisters, and two other similarly crippled people, took it easy on that day to let our feet heal. The rest of the gang headed to a mountain, to try to climb it. With views like these, it was hard to be upset about not conquering a mountain that day – not that I tried to be! This beautiful mountain is Bierikbakte, which has a sámi name, like all other places and mountains in the national park.

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We found a spring! The water was exquisite.

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After dinner, I took a walk by myself and found this angry little guy – a Norway Lemming (they don’t only occur in Norway, obviously). It was very talkative and clearly upset that I walked on its land without asking permission.

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After a night of good sleep, we woke up to this! A completely different-looking landscape. Earlier, we had almost sniffed at the teachers’ suggestion to always bring all parts of the storm kitchen into the tent, but that morning, we understood what they had been trying to say (and were happy we listened). Small pieces could easily have gotten lost under the snow.

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I was the first one to get out of the tent, and saw this: three lemming highways leading straight into the neighbouring tent! It was hilarious, especially since the lemmings hadn’t managed to eat all their food. We packed up, and continued forward.

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It was an amazingly beautiful day when we walked through Soabbevágge (vágge = valley).

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By the end of a sunny day, almost all the snow had melted. We entered a new valley and got closer to where we’d put our tents up next.

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We reached one of very few emergency shelters, almost in the center of the park.

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Mmm, fresh drinking water!

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After finding a suitable place to put up our tents, we ate, slept and woke up to another day of adventuring without a huge backpack. Me and a couple of other people climbed to the edge of a close-by glacier. I looked back, and saw this. I can’t even remember how many times I lost my breath from pure awe. I never wanted to leave.

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We got to the edge of the glacier which reached further than our eyes could see. Can you see the tiny people at the bottom?

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The view was still incredibly amazing and I could not understand that there are places like this on earth, and that I was there. I’m amazed I managed to take any pictures – that’s how much I loved just standing there, staring at the low clouds sweeping through the valley we had just come from.

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View of Guohpervágge. If you look really carefully, you can see a red tent in the lower right corner (a bit above the t in the watermark) – that’s one of our tents.

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After a couple more nights in Sarek, we reached the point where three national parks meet – Sarek, Stora sjöfallet and Padjelanta.

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The joy of  sámi place names!

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We spent a night at the foot of the Áhkká (“old woman”) massif, which consists of 11 peaks and many glaciers. It’s a holy massif in the Sámi tradition.

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Me and a friend climbed the peak in the picture above, which is 1,734 m above sea level. The view wasn’t great – this is basically what we saw. We both learned a lot about safely ascending and descending a mountain during that adventure…

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The last evening of the hike, I left the others to have a look at the river. Quite soon after the national park (Stora sjöfallet) was founded, the Swedish parliament allowed the construction of dams for hydroelectric power. This was of course a huge loss for the national park, and the part that is used for this is now no longer a part of the national park. This was not only problematic for the environment, but also for the indigenous people living there.

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The river was very impressive, though, and I decided (not by choice) to sacrifice the knife I made earlier that year to it. Well, I could’ve lost it in worse places.

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One last night surrounded by mountains.

Even after 10 days, I still didn’t want to leave. It’s always very strange to get back to civilization – to no longer fall asleep to the sound of rivers, to wake up surrounded by concrete instead of snow-covered mountain tops, to taste the chlorine in the water and react to the strong smells of perfume. The great part of getting back was the sauna, though – and I still have all the memories. I really need to go back.

If you’d like prints of any of the photos above, you can find some of them on my RedBubble page. If there’s something you’d like, but can’t find, contact me!

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10 thoughts on “ten days of bliss & blisters – hiking in sarek

  1. I can quite understand your excitement. After time camping out in the Australian bush, I also find it hard to leave and return to so-called civilisation. Thank you very much for sharing these images.

    • Thanks! Oh, I could’ve stayed another 10 days – but after that, I probably would never have left.

      The first thing I did was have a sauna! That was wonderful. I seem to remember that the food was better on the hike than in the first restaurant where we ate after leaving the national park – I’m a vegetarian, so restaurant food is sometimes a bit hit-and-miss…

      It seems like I’ll be going back here this Autumn, so I’m planning on taking a stupid amount of photos then, too!

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