I followed the quite distinct tracks of the previous party, which started right behind Skarta. These tracks in turn mostly followed the route of the summer trail to the bridge over Darfáljohka, where I came upon the snowmobile track leading up into Darfálvággi. The sun was shining brilliantly as ever, and the thin wisps of cloud were moving off to the south, but down at ground level there was absolutely no wind.
A bit up the valley a ski track broke off from the main route and headed up the eastern slope at a shallow angle; seeing as how the western slope is prone to avalanches I thought I might just as well try it out. It went fine for a while, but soon it became apparent that the snow cover was not substantial enough to provide sufficient skiing conditions in the rocky terrain, and about where the previous skier had come to this realization and turned around, I myself started wiggling my way down between patches of bare stones. From there on I kept to the snowmobile trail, getting warmer and warmer as the morning passed into full day.
A few kilometers in, the valley makes a distinct turn to the northwest, where Darfáljohka has gouged out a fairly narrow passage. This neck acts as an effective vision block, and it is not until one enters it that the true grandeur of Darfálvággi begins to manifest itself. Holding the course I did, Gaskkasbákti is the first mountain to appear, and it is not a bad one to play the role as vanguard – at 2043 meters above sea level it is the sixth highest in Sweden, and one of few mountains within the borders of this country an ascent of which requires actual rock climbing, due to its Alpine shape.
After the gorge the track climbed a fairly steep slope, and following that there was a longer one of milder inclination, which although it was not difficult in any way felt rather tiresome by the end of it. As I reached higher more and more of the dramatic ranges surrounding the heart of the valley came into view, putting me in a state of increasing awe – four of Sweden's 11 (or 12, according to some) peaks that reach above 2000 m and a number of glaciers overlook it. I passed a good bit above the Tarfala research station – run by Stockholm University and specializing in glacier science – and then maintained my altitude, coming up on the Tarfala cottage a kilometer further ahead from the southeast, where I arrived before 11:45.
The Hydrologist cave
Panorama over Giebmečohkka, Storglaciären, Giebmegáisi, Södra Klippberget, Isfallsglaciären,
Giebmebákti, Norra Klippberget, Gaskkasbákti, Lillietoppen and Gaskkasčohkka
The warden came up to check on the new arrival, and then returned to digging a water hole at the outlet of Darfáljávri. It was entirely windless and cloudless, and very warm – drops were falling from the eaves, and it almost felt like spring. (The lack of wind is worthy of a small digression – the shape of the valley and the distribution of the surrounding passes and glaciers do for not wholly understood reasons frequently give rise to exceptionally strong winds, with an all-time high velocity noted at a staggering 81 m/s in December 1992!) I sat myself down in a suitable drift right next to the woodshed to have lunch, and I remained there for a long time enjoying the sun.
Finally, when the shadow of Norra Klippberget was getting uncomfortably close and I was readying myself to leave, the warden had also finished his task, and I walked over to present him with a fresh cinnamon roll, a fresh biscuit, and a fresh magazine (the group who had visited him the day before had also brought a cinnamon roll, so I thought I had to top that). We went on to talk for a while – this warden was only there for a short period (about three weeks) at the start of the tourist season, since STF had had trouble filling the vacancies, and we Kebbers were so far the only visitors he had had (and, as it would later turn out, the only visitors he was to have before he left himself).
I departed before 14, emerging into sunlit land again around the research station. At first I followed a lower route than I had done going up, but before the slope started I crossed my own tracks and skied on higher ground for a while. The snow was such that passing down that slope was a bit tricky, but fun of course. Having passed the neck I let gravity do all the work, staying in the snowmobile track all the way down to the bridge – there was no need to push or skate, and the resulting velocity was a good compromise between exciting and reasonably safe. As I was being transported down the valley, I noticed a gradual drop in air temperature, and back down in Láddjuvággi it was rather cold. I took a slightly different route back to the station, noting a couple of skiers on the way, and pulled in at the main building at 15:30, going inside to have a snack before returning to Skarta.