Tours › 2006 › Northern Kungsleden › Day 5

Saturday 15/4

Stage map 5

Sälka – Nallo

Horizontal distance:10.5 km
Vertical distance:+300 m, -180 m
Time:2 h 30 min
Lunch break:(none)
Dinner:Chili con Carne
Night accommodation:Cottage
Stage classification:Medium/Hard
Map points:Sälka, Nallo
Čeakčavággi 14

After another night of frequent disturbances, I awoke in a room of comfortable temperature at 07:30. The wind, which was now southerly, was keen, and although the Pass could be seen clearly, the not-quite-covering clouds were lower and denser than the previous evening.

I packed up most of my things before making breakfast, feeling a dull ache in my ribs. The Sevens left for Nallo and Vistas, but the men in my room had decided to stay behind another day, before pursuing the same course. The outside view had grown a tad whiter, but the south looked better by a similar tad. The wind kept blowing, but I reckoned that one layer beneath the anorak would be quite enough, since the day would see a fair amount of climbing. Before 09:30, I was on my way.

The condition of the snow was very good, and proceeding up the slope into Stuor Reaiddávággi was an easy matter. Almost immediately, I found some old tracks from both snowmobiles and skis, and in short fashion I came upon the tracks made by the group. I caught up with them about halfway up into the valley, where they had stopped to put on/adjust their ski wax. I had no need for that, obviously, so I continued on ahead. I kept close to the eastern wall, just at the base of the mountains, where I could see their rocky sides through the fog, thereby making direction-keeping effortless. It was quite apparent that I was passing into the clouds rather than out from them, for except for the vague sights of the closest mountainsides it was all white, and some snow was falling as well. Visibility was much better in the direction I had come from, however, and when I was well into the valley, keeping my altitude, I could discern the group down on the mostly flat valley floor leading up to Reaiddájávri.

As I was coming up on the mouth of Unna Reaiddávággi, visibility had dropped further still, and I could only barely make out the line of the northern slope of Vaktposten. Now, it had been my plan to go to the Unna Räita cabin that sits right on the threshold between the two tiers of that valley, have lunch, and if the conditions of the building and the (hopefully present) firewood supply would allow, also spend the night – if not, I would go on to the Nallo cottage. However, things being as they were, that plan seemed neither entirely safe nor preferable – the cabin is small and the aforementioned threshold is a sheer precipice of some 150 m, and even if I could get to it safely (which I probably would have, had I really tried to do so), sitting in the middle of a cloud hardly seeing my own hands in front of me for the rest of the day wouldn't have been much fun. Therefore, I resolved to continue to Nallo directly.

Gaskkasnjunni 2
Gaskkasnjunni and the sauna
Reaiddánjunni 2
Rounding Reaiddánjunni
Sälka cottages 5
Sealggá and the cottages behind

It had become rather warm, so I changed into the lighter cap and gloves first. Then I brought out the compass to double-check my bearing, and upon confirming my sense of direction I set out down the slope towards the floor of Stuor Reaiddávággi, aiming roughly northwest. As I left the security of the still faintly visible mountainside of Vaktposten behind and descended into almost complete whiteness, I felt an involuntary surge of anxiety which I fought down; after scanning the surroundings carefully I spotted one or two stones, which, although they weren't exactly in my line of travel, I could use as a directional guide. After some gliding and skiing through this whiteout, a darker patch slowly emerged high above me to the left – obviously the wall of Čeakčačohkka.

I adjusted my heading slightly, going almost straight towards the mountain, and after I judged that I had passed the lowest point, where the stream from Reaiddájávri runs its course, I continued for a bit up the gentle slope to be on the safe side. When I had reached thus far, I changed maps (the one I had been using ended just about where I stood) and took a short break. I pointed the tips of my skis directly towards the cliff ahead and above, and used the compass to reaffirm that I was indeed facing almost due west. I went on to estimate my position as best I could, and then I plotted a course aiming just south of the cottage, where there is a line of marking sticks going up the slope, intended for situations just like this. I fixed the compass around my wrist, and then set out into the thickness again.

Since I have walked this exact route in autumn, I know the shape of the terrain, and I used that knowledge more than I did the compass, but I looked at the latter every now and then to make sure I wasn't drifting. After a while, I spotted a pole sticking out of the snow, and as I approached it I was almost certain that it was the pole marking the ford of the not-quite-a-summer-trail, which meant that my estimation of my previous position had been accurate to within a few hundred meters. Other than that, conditions were about the same as before, with the intermittent appearance of a rock or two. What little things I could make out, though, together with the inclines under my skis, added to my feeling of being on the right track.

A wind had started to blow, which indicated that I was passing into more open land, and soon I saw some cliffs on my left-hand side; since I clearly remembered the stream flowing through a ravine just about where I thought I was, I simply followed them. I kept my altitude, though, as the slope turned around the last outrunner of the Reaiddáčohkka massif, entering a region of improved visibility – before long I could discern the sheer southern wall of Nállu itself, as well as the slope to the northwest. However, all of this indicated to me that I should also be able to see the cottage; I had a distinct feeling that it could not be much further down. Just then I saw the marking sticks, and from following their line with my eyes and also skiing ahead a bit, I discovered that I had been right – the angle I had been approaching from had just hid the buildings behind a hill. Finally, a bit before noon, I could place my skis against the wall and enter the cottage.

Ravine 1
The ravine of the stream
Nállu 1
Nállu emerging from the mist

Inside I found one Finnish and one French couple, who had already spent one night in the cottage and remained indoors, but the warden was out in the woodshed. Nállu was now mostly visible, and the sight limit had been moved back substantially; the fog in the direction of Sälka hadn't changed, however. A little while later, two Sámi snowmobile drivers came up from Vistas and spoke for a bit with the warden, who had now returned. Since I had previously overheard that the snow cover down in Visttasvággi had been very scant indeed, I queried them on this matter, and they said that it was sufficient now. Then they left again, and I went back inside to have lunch.

Later on, the group emerged out of the white (not blue), and also went inside to eat, followed by another four people from Vistas. When travelling under such conditions the mind can really play some tricks on people, as evidenced by an account of one of the men: he was positive that he had seen a raven flapping its wings at a distance, but when they got close it became apparent that the would-be bird was nothing more than a quite stationary rock. It looked as though it was clearing somewhat to the north and northwest, but otherwise the fog persisted, and an easterly wind was blowing. I felt a bit tired, so I just relaxed for a while.

Another couple came from Vistas and had lunch, which included carving pieces of a rather huge slab of reindeer meat; it's becoming more and more apparent that other people bring much more heavy stuff than I do on their fjeld tours. I had been holding out to see if the clouds would lift, in which case I might have went for a short afternoon tour, but since no such change seemed to be in evidence, I "went inside" for real, changing into my leisure clothes and all. After they had eaten, the couple with the slab departed to Sälka, but the Seven Companions were still in the other room. A small patch of sky had appeared just above Nállu, and although the higher clouds drifted to and fro that patch remained. I set about reading some magazines, and relaxed some more.

Later, I parted ways with the group at last, who continued down to Vistas. The cloud cover was partially breaking up, but the distribution of the individual clouds kept changing all the time, obscuring and revealing back and forth. It was still entirely white to the southwest, though, and not at all long after their departure, the couple who had intended to go to Sälka came back – they had seen literally nothing, and due to an unfortunate choice of initial direction had been too unsure of their position and heading to continue, so they decided to sit tight in the cottage and see if conditions improved later in the day. By stark contrast, the north looked rather good, and there was even a bit of sunlight playing upon Nállu.

Nállu 2
Nállu showing itself more...
Nállu 3
...and more

I played some solitaire and continued to read, looking at the ever-changing – but never dispersing – cloud pattern outside now and again. The couple with the failed attempt were wavering; on the one hand, they had doubts regarding their own ability to reach Sälka safely under the present conditions, but on the other, they needed to be in Nikkaluokta the following Monday. This meant that in case they were to stay, they would have to go all the way to Kebnekaise the next day, a distance of about 33 km – and there was, of course, no guarantee that the Sälka route would be any better then. However, after receiving some advice from the warden and myself, maily about the ease of using the ravine as a guide, they decided to go for it.

Shortly after their second departure, a dogsled came down out of the fog. It looked as though it was going to pass at first, but then it turned towards the cottage. It was pulled by a team of six dogs, and handled by a lone man who intended to tent just outside. While he set about feeding his dogs and pitching his tent, I myself made dinner – while the Chili con Carne I had certainly was several far cries from the peak of human achievement, its bean base was still a welcome change from the ubiquitous pasta – and went back to reading. Another group of five arrived, who also elected to spend the night in tents, and then the dogsled driver came in to prepare his own (gourmet-ish) dinner.

Dogs 1
The dogs
Tents 1
Two of the three tents

I read some more and had my evening snack later on. The weather appeared to be starting to clear to some degree, although a short burst of snow passed first, and the forecast for the next day, related by the warden, was promising. I went to bed at 22:00, being the last to do so, and read for a while before sleep.

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