American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

A Tour in Swedish Lapland

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  • Publication Year: 1937

A Tour in Swedish Lapland

Donald W. Brown

LAPLAND is an ethnological rather than political name, since the country inhabited by the Lapps extends from the Atlantic in northern Norway, across Sweden and Finland to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Of this country the part of most interest to the climber and the walker is that district in northern Sweden bounded approximately on the S. by the Arctic Circle, on the W. by Norway, and on the N. and E. by the railroad, running N. W. from the Gulf of Bothnia to the Atlantic. While there is in Russia a railroad extending to the Arctic, and in Finland a road going N. to the ocean, it is only in this district in Sweden that the interior of the country is readily accessible to the tourist.

The mountains of Lapland are mostly concentrated in this region, for N. and E. the country is one more of low, open hills and rolling tundra, covered sparsely with dwarf birch. The watershed follows closely the international boundary between Norway and Sweden, and it is here, around Sulitelma1 and to the N., that the heaviest glaciation is found. The highest mountains, however, are to the E., entirely in Sweden, in a range running N. and S. about 100 miles in length, and averaging thirty miles in width. Kebnekaise (2123 m.) is the highest, with about a dozen more around 2000 m. This range is divided in the middle by a chain of long, and very narrow, lakes, going almost from the Norwegian boundary on the W. about 100 miles S. E. To the N. and S. are other long, narrow lakes, reaching up to, but not going through, the mountains. These lakes provide the most convenient means of communication with the interior, a regular motorboat service being maintained on them.

It is not surprising that Swedish Lapland is so little known to English-speaking people, for it is a distant land, and one seldom written of in English.2 Moreover, there are neither great and spectacular mountains to bring the climber, nor wonders of nature to attract the curious; with the result that Swedish Lapland is left for those with a “temperament, friendly to the tranquillity of solitude,” who are satisfied with walking and easy climbing, and are content with the quieter joys found below the snowline. For such, the wild and lonely beauty of Lapland, and the weirdness of its white nights, will have a strong appeal.

It is the Svenska Turistföreningen, known as the STF, that one has to thank for the amenities of life in Swedish Lapland. This excellent organization has opened up the interior to the walker and the climber. It has built the “Turiststations” and huts, blazed the trails, established the motorboat service on the lakes, and published guide-books (in Swedish only) and maps. For 5 krone, one can join the STF, and it is money well spent; since membership includes a 10 percent reduction in fares, and lower prices in the “Turiststations” and huts. The former are actually small hotels, food and service being available. They vary in size and appointments in direct ratio to their difficulty of access, but are all immaculately clean and most comfortable. The “stugan” is a small, wooden hut, unattended, but completely equipped for cooking and sleeping. One need bring only one’s food. These also vary in size from a single room with bunks for four, to a three-room affair with accommodations for sixteen. Likewise used occasionally for overnight stops in the mountains, is the “kåtan,” the indigenous Lapp hut.

One morning last July, I descended from the train a few miles south of the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden, at the little station of Murjek, about twenty-one hours N. of Stockholm. We were soon off in the daily bus for Jokkmokk, travelling through the forest on a good dirt road. The country was typical of the greater part of northern Sweden, endless stretches of pine and birch forest, with an occasional isolated farm in the midst of a clearing. We crossed many rushing rivers, with much white water, all flowing southeast towards the Gulf of Bothnia. The Arctic Circle was unceremoniously crossed just before Jokkmokk, where we stopped for luncheon; afterwards changing to a smaller bus, in which we went as far as Björkholmen, where the road ends. Here began the six-hour boat ride to Kvikkjokk, where we arrived about quarter past ten in the evening. The first part of this trip is down Skalka Lake, at the end of which are rapids which cannot be navigated, so one leaves the motorboat and walks about a mile to Saggat, the next lake. Low, wooded hills line these lakes, with an occasional Lapp settlement of red wooden houses on the shore, while in the N. W. rise the distant mountains with patches of snow.

Kvikkjokk is a small Lapp village, situated at the far western end of Saggat, in the midst of open fields, covering the delta formed by two rivers flowing into the lake. This being a village of settled Lapps, there is a small wooden church, and well-built houses, painted the usual red, with but a few “kåtor.” The Turiststation, with accommodations for thirty, is a large wooden building in the woods on a low hill behind the village, with the rapids of the Kamajokk roaring behind it. After a large dinner, consisting of the usual Scandinavian “smörgåbord,” we all turned in. I shared my room with an elderly Swede, who spoke no English and little German; but he was very deaf, so we got along splendidly, quite heedless of linguistic difficulties.

It was 12.30 p.m. the next day before I was off, heading N. for Pårtestugan, twelve miles distant. There was a light rain falling, and the day was dark and misty, with low clouds covering the surrounding mountains. At 4 o’clock I had reached the hut, after a pleasant walk through thin birch and pine woods, over an easy trail, well marked by the red paint blazes of the STF. The “stugan” is well situated on a small promontory at the N. end of Sjabatjokk, with a nice view to the S. over the lake and the surrounding hills. Near the hut was a “kåtan,” the earth- covered, dome-shaped dwelling used by the nomadic Lapps in the mountains. These “kåtor” are occasionally used for overnight stops, when nothing better is available. The STF keep blankets and cooking utensils in some and, in fact, one can spend quite a comfortable night in a “kåtan.” In the “stugan” were a number of other tourists, Swedes and Danes, all heading S. They spoke either German or some English, and were most friendly.

The others in the hut were not yet up when I left the next morning at 7.30, under another low ceiling of clouds, with mists covering the landscape and a light rain falling. For an hour the trail went due N., through more woods, and mosquitoes, rising gradually the while, until after a short steep pitch, it came out above timberline on to open moor-like country. Here the trail was marked by cairns and red paint marks on rocks. The next two hours I walked in the clouds across typical “fjäll” country, rocky and barren, with coarse, brownish grass under foot, and small, scrubby gorse-like bushes. A few white and purple wild flowers were the only touch of color in the somber scene. Reindeer would suddenly appear out of the mist, stand questioningly a moment, then turn and trot noiselessly into the void. The occasional cry of a bird and the rushing of a brook, were the only sounds to break the utter stillness.

Only too soon the trail descended again into the woods, where the mosquitoes were waiting, timberline apparently being the limit of their operations. A little more than an hour’s walking and I had reached the shore of Laidaure. It had been explained to me at Pårtestugan that on the far side of the lake was a Lapp with a boat and an outboard motor, whom one summoned by building a fire. It had stopped raining by now, and all the available wood was thoroughly soaked, so I cheated and produced a most unwoodsmanlike fire by means of a tin of benzine which I was carrying for my Primus. I soon heard a welcome putt-putt out on the lake, and in a few minutes I was heading N. across Laidaure. The low clouds at the W. end of the lake were very disheartening, as according to the map I should have had a good view of fine mountains. The valley of the Rapaädno River, flowing into Laidaure at its W. end, leads up into Sareks National Park, the wildest and most interesting part of Swedish Lapland. No trails or huts, and the greatest concentration of mountains over 2000 m., as well as the largest icefields E. of Sulitelma.

The crossing took fifteen minutes in the boat, and from the lake shore it was a ten-minute walk up to Aktsestugan, situated on the upper edge of a large clearing in the woods, with a number of Lapp houses in the nearby fields. In good weather the hut, large and comfortable, with three rooms, would be a nice place to stay, having a fine view over the lake and the mountains in the W.; but the mosquitoes are bad. Beyond the hut the trail went up through more woods at a good grade for an hour, before the woods gradually thinned out and finally gave way to the open plateau. Across this I went for two hours, the low clouds and distant mists shutting out any view. After a gradual descent, at 4.15 p.m., I reached Situojaure, another lake to be crossed. On this lake there was no motorboat, so I had to row; and moreover, there was only one boat on my side of the lake, which meant three trips across, as all good tourists in Lapland make sure that there is a boat left on either side of the lake when they have finally crossed themselves. To make this possible, the STF provides three boats on each lake.

Given a normal boat, the rowing would be but a pleasant change from walking. But a Lapp boat is not normal in the eyes of anyone save a Lapp. It is primitive and picturesque, and most unpractical. However, the one I found on Situojaure floated, and with patience and perseverance could be made to advance in a crablike fashion, with the result that, after an hour’s labor, I had covered the mile and a half to the other side. In the vicinity of the landing place, identified by the presence of the other two boats, were a number of Lapp huts, “kåtor,” which providentially I found inhabited. In a few moments I had made a deal with a Lapp to row the boat back again for the small fortune of 3 krone, the Lapp little realizing that I would have ransomed my soul to avoid further crew activities. With twenty-five miles, not including the lake, behind me, I was glad to find Sitojaurestugan, my stopping place for the night, but a short distance from the lake, and I was soon comfortably settled in one of its two rooms, contented to have the place to myself. From the window I could see two small specks out on the lake, the Lapp and his small son, poor lad, hard at it, and I confessed to myself that had it not been for the Lapps and 3 krone, the next tourists coming N. would probably have had to swim.

I was away the next morning in leisurely fashion about 8.30, having only sixteen miles ahead of me to Saltoluokta Turiststa- tion. After a half hour’s gentle clmbing, I was once more clear of the woods, but with rain and low clouds preventing much in the way of views. For the next four hours the trail went along a broad open valley, the Ausutsvagge, with even less vegetation than usual, though considerable bird life. As I began the descent to the Turiststation by the lake shore, the clouds lifted sufficiently for me to have a good view N. W. up the narrow Paijeb Luleju- jaure, stretching between steep mountainsides to the famous Stora Sjöfallet (literally, “big water falls”), at the end of the lake, where but a narrow buttress separates the Kårtjejaure from Paijeb, 125 ft. below it. To the E. lay Langas, a continuation of Paijeb, the two lakes forming a part of that chain of lakes which here cuts diagonally across the range from E. to W. At 1.30 p.m. I reached Saltoluotka, a large and luxurious building, in the woods of birch and pine which usually are to be found lining the lake shores.

Saltoluotka Turiststation can be reached without the effort of walking, and hence is large, with accommodations for forty- seven, and popular. A six-hour boat trip up the lakes from the railroad station at Luspebryggan brings most visitors. Only once a week, however, can the trip from the railroad to the falls and back be made in two days, with the night spent at Saltoluotka, accordingly that night the Turiststation is full; the rest of the week it is relatively quiet, and a delightful place to stay. It is in the center of fine walking country, with grand views to be had from the nearby mountains, easily climbable from the Turiststation.

Most of the following day I spent going by motorboat up the lakes, actually seeing the sun momentarily in the morning, though the afternoon was, as usual, grey and rainy. I stopped to view Stora Sjöfallet, which seemed relatively impressive; then changed boats and went on up the Kårtejejaure. At its head a small dam and power station are being built, and there is a small workers’ village; likewise another Turiststation, Suorva, by name. This is probably the least attractive place in Lapland. In the afternoon another boat took me up the next lake, Suorvajaure, to Vakkotavarekåtan, about a half hour’s run. In this “kåtan” I spent a very comfortable night, using my Primus for cooking, and sleeping 0n a bed of reindeer skins. The boat trip from Salto- luokta is through good scenery, the lakes being shut in a good part of the way by steep mountainsides, rocky and barren, though the mountains themselves are not very high. Where the woods line the shore, the slopes are usually more gradual, generally leading up to open plateaus with higher mountains behind.

I was greeted by sun in the morning, and it remained actually half clear until afternoon, and I was grateful, for the ten-mile walk from Vakkotavarekåtan over the open plateau to Teusa- jaure offers exceptionally fine views. A half hour’s walk up a steep trail took me above timberline, where I finally got a full view to the S. across Suorvajaure and the plateau beyond to the distant mountains and glaciers in Sareks National Park. This district contains several mountain massifs, notably, Sarjoktjåkko, Alkasfjället and Pårtefjället, all of which should offer good, though unspectacular, climbing. An hour further, and I had a splendid view of Akka, isolated and imposing in appearance, 011 the horizon to the W. This mountain is, after Kebnekaise, the most frequently climbed in the region; the others, in fact, being rarely climbed at all. It is easy of access, the motorboat taking one to Akkastugan at its base, and equally easy of ascent, with a good view as reward.

The trail soon began gradually to descend towards Teusajaure, where I was finally stuck for the three trips, there being neither Lapp nor motorboat to do the work for me. The lake was only about 300 yards across, but a side wind coming down the lake produced white caps and made the going slow, with the result that I spent an hour in making the three trips. I stopped for lunch in Teusajaurekåtan on the far shore, where I found three Germans en route S. W. to Norway. The time passed easily around the fire, with talk of Lapland and far-away places, and not a word of politics. It was late before I was off again, for the six- mile walk over another plateau to my last lake, Kaitumjaure. This one, likewise, was short in distance but long in work, and it took me half an hour of vigorous rowing and cursing to cross; the wind from the wrong direction, the waves and the inconsiderate fate which put so many lakes in Lapland, all sharing my maledictions. On the far side of the lake were two “kåtor,” neither with an inhabited air ; but the gods were kind, and in the first into which I stuck my head I found a Lapp. Another deal was quickly made, and I went my way rejoicing, leaving the rowing situation in his capable hands. The rest of the day I spent in a grand walk heading due N., through the valley of the Tjaktjajokk to Singi- stugan, nine miles distant, where I arrived about 7.30. The weather had been growing worse all afternoon, the clouds sinking steadily, but the rain held off.

Singistugan has the finest location of any hut in Lapland, being placed in splendid isolation, in the middle of a broad basin, formed by the junction of four valleys, surrounded by mountains. It is the place where the main trail heading N., up the valley of the Tjaktjajokk, is joined by the trail coming in from Kebnekaise Turiststation to the E. In 1935, having come in this way, I followed the trail N. to Abisko, the large hotel on the railroad, much visited by those induced by tourist agencies to peer at picture- card Lapps, and contemplate the midnight sun. Abisko is a disappointing end to a glorious walk through very fine scenery. It can be reached easily in two days from Singistugan, the night being spent at Alesjaurestugan. A pass is crossed, in July liable to be well covered with snow, which is likely to prove sufficiently deep and soft to make the crossing tiresome. There are, likewise, several torrents to ford, which, early in the season, may well be high, and provide some entertainment. This part of Lapland, to the N. of the chain of lakes dividing the range, is to my mind far more attractive than the region traversed by the trail to the S. of the lakes. There is less timber, no mosquitoes, and more mountains.

The night in Singistugan I had to myself, both spirit and body being the happier thereby. For it is a minute hut, with only two bunks in which four persons can squeeze themselves. Being alone, I could spread out at my ease; and gaze contentedly over the surrounding country. The flat valley bottom is green with meadows, filled last year with herds of reindeer. On all sides rise abruptly bleak and rocky mountains, in early July likely to be well covered with snow. In the midst of such a scene, the world seems unreal in the eerie light of: a white summer night. The sun rests behind the mountains in the N., and there is a long, lingering afterglow. Then the atmosphere is permeated gradually by a light similar to neither dawn, nor dusk, nor daylight; but unique unto itself. Familiar scenes become strange, and the world changes. Such was my experience of summer nights in Lapland with the good weather that I had in 1935. On this visit, the surroundings of Singistugan were dark and gloomy under the low-hanging black clouds, and the valleys, disappearing into the mists, seemed to lead off into unimaginable space.

The next morning was even wetter, the rain coming down steadily with a strong head wind blowing it into me, and the ten- mile walk to Kebnekaise Turiststation became almost a swim. The Ladtjodalen, through which the first half of the trail leads, is a narrow valley, savage and forbidding, with steep sides of scree and rock, and huge boulders scattered around. It is a striking place even in good weather, but this time it seemed rendered even more impressive by the darkly veiling mists, suggesting the unseen. The bottom of the Ladtjovagge, the broad valley on the far side of which the Turiststation is situated, behind a small knoll, turned out to be almost a lake. Across this I waded, the actual fording of streams being noticeable only by the fact that the water was deeper and faster. At length I reached the Turist- station, glad to be back again, having fond recollections of my 1935 visit. Here were warmth, food and comfort, and the usual kindly welcome found throughout Lapland.

Kebnekaise is the least visited of the Turiststations, being the most isolated, and accessible only by the use of one’s legs. It has accommodations for only twenty-eight, but is most comfortable; with a large combined living and dining room and the kitchen on the ground floor, and upstairs dormitories for men and women. I found the place but a third full, a group of young Scandinavians being the only visitors. They were all very friendly and cordial, with German and broken English most frequently used. In summer, Kebnekaise Turiststation is a delightful place to stay; in the month of April, when it is open for a few weeks, it becomes a paradise for skiers, at least for those who can ski without mountain railways. It is the base for what is probably the most interesting climbing to be had in Lapland, namely, the face climbs on Kebnekaise and Kaskasatjåkko; though I am not certain that there are not good routes to be found on other mountains as well. The views in all directions from the Turiststation are very fine, and there are a number of excursions in the vicinity, as well as minor ascents in the Kebnekaise group. I climbed the mountain itself in 1935, taking the ordinary route, which I found quite uninteresting. One can go all the way with one’s hands in one’s pockets, there being no technical difficulties; and four hours take one to the summit. The view from here is well worth the effort. To the N., W. and S., as far as one can see there are only low, rolling snow-capped mountains, while to the E. the country is less mountainous, a greenish-brown in color, with little snow, and several lakes.

On this visit I had hoped to climb Kaskasatjåkko, but another day of bad weather exhausted my patience; so the following afternoon I reluctantly left the Turiststation, and started down the valley, going E. towards Nikkaluokta. It was still raining, and the views of Kebnekaise rising up behind one, which one should be able to enjoy, were hidden by the clouds. It is a pleasant walk down the valley, through thin woods of dwarf birch and along the shore of Ladtjojaure, then through more woods and across a few fields to the village of Nikkaluotka, a Lapp settlement of both houses and “kåtor,” situated at the head of Paittasjärvi. Here there is a “stugan,” kept for the STF by P. Haugli, the genial Lapp boatman, who runs the motorboat which takes one down the lakes to Kallasluspa. Unfortunately I found this “stugan” already full with tourists who were going in to Kebnekaise, so I and the other three tourists who were going out, were put up in a Lapp house. This was a palatial building of two rooms, built in a moment of extravagance and pride by a Lapp who had grown rich in his old age, but who still preferred to live in his “kåtan” in a nearby field, and apparently kept his house for purposes of exhibition only.

We were away the next morning in the boat at 6.30, for the thirty-mile ride down Paittasjärvi and Kaalasjärvi, two long, narrow lakes surrounded by low, wooded, rolling hills, with exciting fast water connecting the two, down which the boat went at a great speed. We debarked at Kaalasluspa at the eastern end of Kaalasjärvi, after a ride of about four hours, during which we had our last views of Kebnekaise far behind us. This is another village of settled Lapps, consisting only of actual buildings, without the more primitive “kåtan.” From Kaalasluspa there is a pleasant walk of six miles through the usual birch and pine woods to Kalixfors, the railroad station. Here I took the first train N. for Narvik in Norway, leaving Lapland with a determination to return for a third visit.

1 A. J., 20, 443.

2 The only article known to the writer will be found in A. J., 41, 355.

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