When I opened my eyes at 7 one of the Swedes was already up starting a fire in the heater, and the German had gone out in the equally beautiful morning. I had breakfast myself, and then one of the wardens came in with the same weather forecast I had seen at Kebnekaise – that it would be very fair for another day, and then turn worse. The Swedes were set on taking advantage of this by remaining in the area, but everyone else would be leaving. Outside there was a wind that changed in strength all the time, but its general source was northerly, and there were a few small clouds in the sky.
I left at 08:45, during a time of light northwesterly wind, finding the snow hard but good. At Goržževuolli Sámi encampment I met a snowmobile, but after that there was nothing – not even wind. I followed the summer trail around the bend before the bridge over Čeakčajohka under Mádir, and then I skied onto the stream at my earliest convenience. There I found both snowmobile tracks and ski tracks, and I alternated between those and going my own way. It was still mostly still, and although the sun was blazing unhindered it was not yet too hot.
Going on the level snow atop the frozen water was very easy, but around the mouth of Čuhčavággi I broke off – I knew from before that the stream passes through a small ravine around the bridge there, something that could well prove troublesome. I obviously was not the only one with such concerns, for there was a dogsled track leading over the low hills east of the stream, among which I encountered three other skiers. Where this track returned to Čeakčajohka at the reindeer fence (which does not run across the stream) I met another four, and from there I aimed pretty much straight at the Sälka cottages; they could not yet be seen, but I've acquired quite a good sense of their position by now.
Panorama over Čeakčavággi, showing Roavgoaivi, Sealggá,
the Tjäktja pass, Čeakčačohkka, Gaskkasnjunni, and Duolbanjunečohkka
I reached the cottages at 10:45, being both welcomed and warned by the warden – there were quite a few guests staying or arriving at Sälka, and apparently there was also a group of 14 going to the Tjäktja cottage, which has only 20 beds. I sat down in the sun with my back to one of the cottages to have lunch, patting the dog of the Nikkaluokta workman who was currently there. I could also see two people with sleds – and without dogs – who were going into Stuor Reaiddávággi towards Nallo, but when I looked again after a good while they had only moved a few hundred meters, so their sleds were obviously rather heavy.
Down at Sälka it was springlike in all respects, with the ground starting to show around the buildings. As I sat there some high, thin streaks were sliding in front of the sun, dimming its light slightly, but it was still windless. In the larger cottage a man clad in STF clothes was fiddling about, and there was a good deal of luggage there, probably belonging to one of the groups I had heard about.
When I left I chose to wear the thin mittens and no cap, since the temperature had risen appreciably. There was some wind at first, but it soon settled into an irregular pattern of light gusts, which provided some relief from the sun. The snow was fantastic for skiing – offering very little in the way of resistance to forward motion and giving perfect grip at the same time – and there were several tracks on the stream. Early on I caught sight of some sort of figures far ahead, and a patch of color, but I couldn't make out what it was until I was much closer – a group of six were sitting on a line facing the sun. I also saw another group of eight going south on the actual trail further east. Everything was excruciatingly beautiful, and I savored every moment of it.
At the penultimate brook of note falling from the Čeakčačohkka massif I broke away from the tracks I had been following, and halfway to the next one I reached the trail, where another, unbelievably good track waited for me. A bit up the slope to my right yet another octet was having a break, but they seemed to be on the move soon. Up to (and down from) the Tjäktja Pass there were a good many tracks, and by then the snow conditions had shifted to adhesive – while this was annoying on level ground it was perfect for the ascent, and there was no need whatsoever to put on climbing skins. It was also very warm, so I took off the anorak before starting to climb for real.
I went almost straight up, ignoring the marked route, in a growing southerly wind, and a few hundred meters below the pass point I stopped to absorb the amazing view of Čeakčavággi stretching out below – due to the shape of the terrain one can't see south from the pass itself. I put on the cap and then continued past the shelter at the crest, skiing in another set of tracks on the trail. I met an older fellow who was actually walking with regular boots, pulling a sled (which had snowshoes strung onto it); he also had a large dog with him. The remaining portion was very easy, gently sloping downhill as it was, and while I went along I observed a total of 12 people going up across unbroken snow some distance off to my left. A nice slope followed, and then I finally found myself at Tjäktja – a cottage which I had thitherto always bypassed.
Göran, a fellow fresh warden examinee, was present in the warden's cottage, and we sat down on a bench against its outer wall to talk. It was still fair and all, but there a steady wind was blowing – something which is not at all unusual for Tjäktja (in fact, reports had reached me earlier that in the beginning of the season things had been so bad that snow invaded the vestibule, and the front door couldn't be fully shut). Later on two dogsleds came up from Alisvággi; they constituted the vanguard of a tour arranged by KE Adventure Travel, carrying all the group's food. As it happens Göran also works as a tour guide, and would be leading a tour for the same company later in April.
As for me, my feet were starting to get cold since moisture had accumulated inside the ski boots due to the warm weather, so I went inside the cottage to claim a bed before the rest of the group started to arrive. As this group consisted of 12 people, and I had seen another 14 skiers who were not in southward motion on the way, I assumed that the latter were the ones I had been warned about in Sälka, which meant that the cottage would be overcrowded.
It was around 16 when the UK/US contingent finally came up to the cottage, being led by a Swedish guide, having had a wonderful tour so far. I had a little something to eat and read for a bit, while the group started a fire in the heater and prepared afternoon tea and biscuits (there were Brits in the company, after all). There was, however, no sign of the other group we though was en route from the south, and when no one else had arrived by the end of our collective dinner it was evident that I had been misinformed – perhaps the Sälka wardens had actually been talking about the KE group and simply misjudged their number. All for the better, though, since this meant that the available space would be more than enough.
I lay in my bed reading for a while, lighting a fire in the room's heater before going over to Göran's cottage with a cinnamon roll. We had some tea and spoke together for quite some time; I was of course especially interested in how he had fared with his first assignment, hoping to pick up some practical tips. Outside the moon had risen and was draping the land in a wonderful light, and despite the wind it did not feel very cold. Back in the main cottage the Adventurers were still up and about, and I had an evening snack off on my own side so as not to disturb the game they were playing. I lay down to sleep at 22, listening to a keen wind blowing in the chimney.