I was the first of the assembled wardens to leave Gällivare, taking the morning train to Kiruna. This train was mostly on time, as it happened, but due to repair work on the regular wagons some very old ones had been recommissioned, and since they were all but in mint condition there was quite a bit of snow inside the windows as well. Had I been embarking on a long journey this would have been worrying, but since I would soon be getting off anyway I just smiled at it. On the bus to Nikkaluokta was Lars of Tarfala, and we chatted some as the coach rolled westwards, where the weather was generally clear but the high peaks were hidden in cloud.
Once in Nikkaluokta Lars went off to the storage to collect some of his gear, intending to ski to Kebnekaise in the afternoon. Myself, I went in search of Erik, quickly learning that he had departed on a transport run to Vistas and would not be back for several hours at least. I was given a little cabin in the meantime, and I dumped my stuffs there before returning to the visitors' center to have a waffle. As the weather was still very fair I went out for a walk after lunch, upon returning from which I ran into Ulla, who was the warden in the Njunjes cottage when I passed it on my way to Sĺmmarlappa last summer. She had just completed one of her usual ski trips, and we engaged in intermittent conversation inside while I waited for Erik to show up – which he didn't, of course. Come dinner time I ordered a meal and some dessert, and then went back to my cabin.
There I found a book about Nikkaluokta which I read in for a while. Then I noted some movement of vehicles over by the main building, so I went in to find Erik and his companion Danne sitting at the dinner table. Apparently their snowcat trip had seen some problems – such as an ice breakthrough – but now that they knew which spots to avoid they were confident about the morrow, about which we made some general plans. Outside it was rather cold and clear, and I spent the rest of the evening in quiet in the cabin. I had time to observe some weak aurora borealis before giving in to fatigue at 21:45.
In the morning it was snowing heavily, and quite a bit of fresh snow had already amassed on the ground. I just made the appointed time at the appointed rendezvous, where Erik and Danne were loading the snowcats – apart from yours truly and yours truly's baggage we would be bringing six canisters of gas and two large sleighs of firewood. We then proceeded to have a snack at Erik's before setting out at 08:30. The drive was uneventful for quite some time, but at some places the others had to go out and cut off some branches to make way. Upon reaching the spot where the ice had given way the day before we took a detour through the forest, which involved some more cutting, but after that it was smooth going again. The snowfall continued unabated, but as we were approaching Vistas a wee bit of sunlight gleamed upon Vássačorru. At around 11:30 we reached the Vistas cottages, where Peter greeted us.
There were three Dutch guests there who were aiming for Nallo, which meant that I was going to get busy right away. At the moment, though, the rest of us all went inside and had a quick lunch, while the clouds lifted slightly. Then followed the critical portion of the journey: the short but steep slope up into Stuor Reaiddávággi. As expected the snowcats got stuck in the snow as the incline increased, and we had to disconnect one of the firewood sleighs and fix a wire between the machines in order to get extra traction – a process which was then repeated to get the abandoned sleigh up as well. That was only the preface, however – the bulk of the slope remained, and here we had to work for a long time just to get one of the snowcats (without sleigh) up onto the crest, which involved a good deal of retakes and manual shovelling to level the snow underneath the drive tracks.
In the middle of all this the Dutchmen caught up and passed us by, but eventually – some two hours after we started from Vistas – we had both snowcats and both sleighs above the dreaded slope. A good thing too, it was; otherwise we would have been forced to dump everything where it was to be collected by snowmobile a few days later, which meant that I would have had to break into the food parcels and rearrange my rucksack contents in order to be able to ski up to Nallo the following day. Now everything would get to its goal at once, and I would be able to welcome the first guests of the season (which officially was not to start for another two days). These guests we overtook in short fashion, driving through shifting conditions visibility-, snow- and wind-wise, arriving at the cottage sometime before 15.
There were several sets of fresh tracks outside and the open room was fairly warm, indicating a very recent human presence. While Erik and Danne unloaded the firewood beside the woodshed, I carried the past summer's empty gas canisters to the front of the building for transport and started bringing my own stuff inside. The weather seemed to be clearing somewhat, but as I said goodbye to my escorts around 15:15 it was back to fully overcast.
My first action was to dig a path through the snowdrift east of the cottage, enabling easy passage to the privy – two compartments of which (out of four) I found to be rather full. I then made a call to the police on the assistance phone, announcing my arrival – and to my surprise the woman who received my message answered that we would be seeing each other come April, since she was going to take over the wardenship in Vistas then! Small world, eh? My next project was to dig a long path to the water hole and to hack my way through the ice at its bottom some two meters below, eventually getting it into order. The hole itself was, however, already dug and the wooden construct protecting it in place, courtesy of one of the caretakers, so I didn't have to worry about that.
Now that the essentials were taken care of I went inside and changed out of my rather wet (or, more to the point: icy) clothes, turning on the gas heater in the warden's room. Not long thereafter the Dutch trio arrived, and since the off-season guests had been diligent indeed in cleaning and looking after the year-round room I could just show them in. Outside the wind had died down and the clouds were lifting, but at the same time dusk was falling. I went about doing this and that in my room and then prepared dinner in conjunction with unpacking all the food, establishing a refrigerator box in the vestibule.
After going through the various papers and suchlike intended for my benefit I went over to the Dutchmen to collect payment, something which took some doing since the credit card imprinting device was behaving badly. Then the smoke detector in the vestibule started its klaxon for no particular reason, so I took it down and then returned to my room to continue the installation process. Outside the sky had cleared completely, showing the full host of stars, which together with the cold and crisp air made for a wonderful winter feeling. I executed the first of a long series of evening rituals by having a snack and listening to the weather forecast, eventually climbing into an unfamiliar bed at 22:45 for my first night as warden of Nallo.
I arose in time for the morning weather report – another sacred ritual – as well as a glorious dawn underneath a blue sky, which was fairly cold and windless. After breakfast I set about putting up and rearranging the relevant signs and posters, and then I started shovelling a path to the woodshed. To my dismay I found that my key wouldn't fit the lock to the storage compartment, so I assumed that there would be another key somewhere which I would have to find. I improved the other paths a bit and then tried all other keys I could locate that were likely to work – all in vain. At last I did manage to get the original key into the lock, but it could not be turned – the whole thing had obviously frozen solid.
I tried alleviating the situation with matches and a cigarette lighter, but since a wind had picked up this was met with limited success. I also tried a tong for increased torque, but it was soon clear that that would only result in a broken key. The Dutchmen were leaving for a day tour to Unna Räita, but they promised that if I still hadn't managed to break in when they returned they would lend me the use of their portable gas burner. I made one final attempt with warm breath as the main means of affection, finally resulting in the successful opening of the door – without breaking the key. I could then bring in the recycling containers, after which I threw together a food pack and changed into skiing gear, setting out for a short lunch tour at noon.
Directly west of the cottage is a slope of gentle yet satisfactory incline and height, which is perfect for short runs up and down. I climbed just south of the shallow depression making up the natural downhill course, quickly emerging into sunlight – the cottage was still in shadow owing to the close proximity of the steeply rising Reaiddáčohkka. Once out of this shadow the temperature increased appreciably, and there was only a weak wind. All around me the impressive mountain world of the Nallo area stood out in perfect clarity, and if there were any doubts in my subconscious whether I would enjoy the rest of the winter, they were now thoroughly shattered. I continued up onto the main crest where I found a strangely suitable rock to sit down against, which I did sit down against to eat. I remained there for a prolonged period of time, absorbing the beauty of the land to the fullest – also keeping an eye on both arms of Stuor Reaiddávággi for new arrivals, of which there were none.
When I eventually started moving again I continued over the flat outrunner behind the crest to lake 1078, crossing several animal tracks in the process, and then I went up a bit on the westward extension of the ridge of Nállu itself. Curving back east I came to another crest from which I could see that the sun had now reached the cottage at long last. I descended a bit and then turned back as I judged the slope to be a tad on the steep side, making another turn before I started the actual descent north of the ravine that begins at the outflow of the lake. That route is still not a cakewalk, and it was only at the end that I felt secure enough to make actual downhill turns. I was back at the cottage around 14, where there was both sun and wind.
I had not been back for long when a police helicopter appeared in the sky, and after circling for a while it landed a few hundred meters away. Wondering what this was all about I started to approach it, but then it took off again and flew in the direction of Tjäktja. Probably an exercise of some kind, I presumed. I then carried out some stuff into the storage building and continued going through the information material, while the sun disappeared again behind the next peak after but two hours of shining on the cottage. Then the Dutchmen returned, feeling most content with the day (as they should), and they also said that they had seen 2-3 more people coming from Sälka. These three – German – persons arrived shortly, and I put them in with the others as I had yet to open the other room.
After dinner I went out for a photo round in the wonderfully clear (but cold) evening, and then I wrestled some more with the card device before going over to the guests to take care of business. Later on I saw some tenuous aurora borealis off to the northwest, so I put some (as in, a good deal of) clothes on and went out to look at it in its own element. It grew for a while but then disappeared entirely, leaving a sky strewn with stars behind. Suddenly I found that one of the Dutchmen was lying outside wrapped up in his sleeping bag, but he had apparently had enough and was now returning inside. The northern lights made one more return just before bedtime, which occurred around 22:30.
Before midnight, however, I was abruptly yanked from sleep by the persistent beeping of the smoke detector in the still closed guest room, but as expected there was no fire. I removed it and also took down the one in the vestibule, which I had put back up after the last incident, as well as the one in my room lest they go off too; I would try changing their batteries in the morning. As a safety precaution I looked into all rooms for any concealed cause of the initial alarm, and having contented myself that there was none I went back to bed.
The rest of the night passed without interruption, and I arose to another perfectly clear and cold albeit windy morning. One of the tasks of the season was to do a full inventory of the linen belonging to the cottage site, so I started doing that after breakfast. The Dutchmen were staying at least until lunch, since one of them wanted to build an igloo, and the Germans were thinking about leaving shortly. I busied myself outside while two of the Dutch started the igloo project beside the woodshed, and now the Germans had decided that they would make a day tour to Unna Räita instead and remain for another night. I finished converting the interior of the cottage to in-season standard, unlocking the eastern room at last. By lunchtime the igloo was complete and its makers prepared to depart for Sälka, and I made myself an omelette.
Clouds were now rolling in from the southwest, in time veiling the western peaks. I switched batteries in the smoke detectors and finished moving the full gas canisters into place – something which was not too easy considering their weight, and, not least, the complete lack of handles on the cold, smooth metal cylinders. Back inside I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the battery of the photovoltaic system gave no juice, which meant no radio, but I had already observed the existence of an ordinary alkaline-power unit in a cupboard, so at least I would not be completely cut off.
Troubleshooting revealed that there was no problem with the battery charge per se, but something was breaking the circuit. The obvious culprit was the main fuse, and upon tinkering with it power was restored intermittently. "Loose ends", in other words, so once I had found a position that seemed stable I vowed not to touch it again, and from there on I had no further trouble. Outside the haze had grown in density and was now spouting a bit of snow, letting only a small percentage of the sun's rays through. Then the Germans came back, and they had apparently missed the bulk of the approaching bad weather.
The snowfall was gaining strength, and as I settled down for afternoon tea and crosswords everything was white. Later in the afternoon an easterly wind picked up and no one felt any particular need to go outside, so I joined the Germans for a long talk and a few pancakes. The weather grew steadily worse until dinner, following which another long conversation took place, coupled with the changing of hands of money. I spent the rest of the evening listening to the radio – and to the wind, which was now strong indeed. On my last visit to the privy I found that quite a bit of snow drift had taken place, and things showed no sign of improvement for the night, or even next day.
Things had in fact improved within the range of perceptibility come the morning, but not more than that: it was still bad, but not too cold, and all traces of paths had blown over. The trio was intent on going to Sälka despite the weather, and while they packed up I went out to see what I could do about the paths. Well, not much, as they were half covered in snow again by the time I had reached the other end, but at least I got some exercise, eh?
Both wind and visibility kept changing back and forth, and I started sawing through the fresh firewood to pass the time; it is the warden's task to cut newly delivered logs into meter-length pieces to be stored outside for drying for a season. As I progressed the weather deteriorated again, and the cold wind made sure that exposed patches of skin suffered immediately. The Germans finally departed for Sälka, following the marking sticks covering the breadth of the valley at first, intending to rely on GPS later. Myself, I returned inside and had a bath. No more had I finished than the Germans came back, having decided not to challenge the weather gods under present conditions after all.
After lunch it was even worse outside, and I took it easy reading. When I checked in on the others I found that they had just prepared some peculiar-looking foodstuff, and when I queried them as to its identity they said that they did not know themselves, as they had found a package with Swedish text in the cupboard and thought, "what the heck"; they had an idea that it might be some kind of Swedish bread. I dug up the discarded wrapping and burst out laughing – this was no bread, but blood pancakes! While I personally wouldn't raise my eyebrow at that, it had an amusing effect on the surprised would-be bread makers...
Around 13:30 we were all surprised to see not blood pancakes, but a fresh arrival. What was not very surprising was that he came from Vistas, having skied with the wind, but what was somewhat noteworthy was that this was the same Danish man whom I had shared a train compartment with on my way to Gällivare. Small world, again. When dinnertime was approaching I fired up the stove in the eastern room and prepared to prepare a pizza in its oven, reading in a particularly interesting STF yearbook I had found lying about. After the meal it was still snowing profusely but the wind had abated considerably, so we did not need to shout to overpower the background roar during the usual evening talks. When I was about to go to bed I could see that the clouds had broken apart in the not-quite-dark night, so it looked as though the storm had passed for now.