I arrived by train in Abisko a mere 45 minutes late (considering the proportions of the previous train troubles of the winter, this was nothing), and walking over to the storage building beside the tourist station I saw that a couple of snowmobile sleds were already loaded. Outside said building I met Thomas, and then his brother Anders, who is the main STF caretaker of the area. After some preparations I entered a covered sled meant for personal use at noon, and off we went.
The weather was fair and even though there had been very little snow in these parts earlier in the winter it was very much OK now, although the trail was rather bumpy. We passed and met some people now and then, but there were no great hordes. Since I had expected to have to sit out on one of the snowmobiles themselves I had put on a fair bit of clothing, but now with the sun shining through the windshield the confined space I found myself in was getting uncomfortably warm, and I had to remove a bit of what I was wearing.
When we were ascending the long and pretty steep slope up into Gárddenvággi Anders slipped off the packed track and got stuck in the deep snow, and while he and Thomas sorted out the situation I took the opportunity to get out of the sled for a while. Once we were on our way again the inside temperature was better and the terrain allowed for higher speeds, so we made good progress. At the start of Visttasvággi we stopped to look back towards Godučohkka, where a heliskiing group had set off an enormous avalanche shortly before – fortunately with no casualties. We passed a couple of skiers after Unna Vistasaš and then we reached our (or at least my) goal around 14.
There were some people about, who turned out to be friends of Ellinor whom I was to relieve. After unloading my stuff up at the larger cottage I helped unload the rest, for we had also brought goods for the shop, clean laundry as well as stuff sent up by the summer-wardens-to-be. In order to fit everything in some rearrangement was in order, while Anders and Thomas switched the accumulator tied to the photovoltaic system; apparently the old one had seen better days, which had caused some problems for Ellinor.
After I had had a chance to climb out of the rest of my extraneous clothing Ellinor showed me around – of course, I knew the site as such rather well from before, but being a warden involves knowing more than what guests see. During this the two skiers arrived (German, they were), and one of Ellinor's friends stood in for her/me while we finished our tour as three Finns also arrived from the south. I packed up while the clouds increased their presence but decreased their altitude; the sky was still blue above them, however.
After my first cottage dinner (with dessert, naturally) said clouds were lower still, but for some reason they had given way above Vássačorru, and the wind was on the increase. I spoke some with Ellinor and her party and then finished moving in, by which time it was entirely overcast with a low ceiling. After 21:30 I received a heads-up of approaching lights – it was rather dark at the time – and I went down together with Ellinor to meet another three Finns outside the lower cottage. They opted to stay in that cottage, and since they had no need of supplies for the time being I could return up to my room for a light evening snack. Everyone else had gone to bed and silence ruled the house, so I did so myself as well at 22:45, noting that it was still fairly windy outside.
After a good night's sleep I awoke to even lower clouds, wind and sleet in the air; the temperature was just around freezing. As I sat down to breakfast visibility started to improve, later also including a few glimpses of sun. After checking in on the people in the upper cottage I went down to the late-Finns, where I got to relate some tips regarding their continued journey. It was now rather windy and much of the clouds remained, but right above the sky was clear.
Ellinor's group was getting ready to leave, and I spoke some with them before they did so. I then set about doing warden-related tasks, during which I heard voices outside. They belonged to a group of four who had been in Vistas just before I came and had tried to climb over Njunni into Gaskkasvággi, but been defeated by bottomless snow in the birch forest at the start of the slope. One of them had a broken ski binding, and I got him some glue and tools to see what could be done. While they were fiddling with this the remaining Finns came up to shop'n'pay, after which I looked over the map with the quartet.
After we had all had lunch (mine was the traditional "initial omelette") three of the others decided to go on to Nallo, but the fourth one wanted to stay behind to recuperate a bit; the rest would return the next day and pick her up, as it were. Outside the clouds had lifted somewhat, and the wind was much lessened, but the snow had grown very soft from the warmth. I listened to the radio a while, and when the sun finally emerged I went out – and immediately observed the arrival of a dogsled together with a man with a single dog. They were to take a short break before continuing towards Nallo, and I talked some with them before the sun disappeared once more. Two new people soon came (Germans again) and a bit later I saw another two (Swedes) skiing along Visttasjohka from Alesjaure, so I went out to greet them. By now the sky was almost entirely clear, and the sun was returning; the snow crust had also hardened rather well.
After dinner I decided to go out on a short evening tour up the eastern slope – at first I thought that I could look at the sunset behind Nállu from a higher vantage point, but it soon became clear that I was a bit late in starting for that. I chose the telemark gear and set off straight up through the forest, which turned out to be an arduous affair indeed. The snow had not hardened enough to carry my weight most of the time, and I really had to work to make progress; I could appreciate why the quartet had turned around. Before I reached the crest the sun had disappeared, but the view was no less inspiring – Stuor Reaiddávággi really is a magnificent valley, especially from above like this.
I followed some tracks, from both snowmobiles and skis, over to the bare crests of the shelf immediately east of the cottages, where I stood looking out over the land for a good while. As I did so I took mental notes of possible day tours to make during the weeks to come, and I ended up with quite a good bunch. At last I turned down again and found the descent even worse than the ascent, in that it was literally impossible to make anything resembling a turn – the hard but breaking surface of the snow and the soft, sugar-like mass underneath was an unbearable combination. I tried sticking to what tracks there were when I could, but any relief thus attained was both minute and brief; this was, hands down, the worst I have experienced in these regards. Towards the very end I could glide along a snowmobile track at the end of which I could execute one (1) turn before following the stream back to the cottages after 19:15. Whew.
Back inside I went over to the German pair, which consisted of a father and his daughter, and entered into a long discussion with the dad. A similarly lengthy conversation then took place with the other two, after which I retired to listen to the evening weather forecast – and of course to have my snack. Having spotted the first aurora of the season (my season, that is) I told the others, and "everyone" went out to try to catch it on photo. Just when it looked like it was fading away it sprang back into full luminance, and we could get some more enjoyment out of it before it was time to go to bed around 23.
The next morning had quite a bit of clouds in store, but the sky was also showing in large parts and visibility was good. After breakfast these clouds started to lift, starting in the southwest, bringing more and more sunlight. I prepared to go out on my first day tour, but was undecided as to the target; I stood outside for some time looking at the shifting clouds, eventually deciding upon an uncomplicated journey to Lisa's cabin. After a little chat with one of the remaining guests, I was off around 10.
Back home I found three new people who were pausing before heading on towards Nallo, but the other three who were to return from that direction were yet to do so. Having ascertained as much I sat down on the sun-facing bench along the western wall to have a fruity afternoon snack; the sun was out most of the time, but the wind was chilly so the whole thing did not extend for too long. A bit later two Norwegian skiers came from Alesjaure, followed by a German from the same direction. Somewhat later still another two people who had been dropped off at Lisa's sometime after I left arrived, and now the weather was fair indeed, so I felt it necessary to go out on a photo round. The peak-hugging clouds were finally letting go and the wind was nothing to speak of. In short fashion yet another pair arrived by snowmobile from Nikkaluokta – having paid for transport all the way – and I spoke some with them outside before starting dinner.
The evening was still and after the sun had set also cold. After going through the usual procedures with my guests one of the three-quarter-quartet came back at last; this was the one with the broken ski binding, and unfortunately the crude fix applied the day before had not held beyond the first few kilometers. The remaining two were on their way, but he at least would be spending the night inside. Eventually those others did come, having taken the route through Unna Reaiddávággi, and one of them also wanted a bed, which left only one who intended to tent outside. I spent the rest of the evening talking with and advising the present parties, after which I waited to see if there would be another aurora show – conditions were good, with a clear, starry sky and the cold of winter gripping the land, but it was not to be this time.
The sky was still clear when the next day broke, so naturally I aimed for another day tour. The air was cold but the sun warmed nicely, and I stood outside in but a T-shirt for quite some time talking to some of the overnight guests. Two of these would take it easy a while before leaving, and they assured me that they would take care of things so that I could get an early start on my own tour. Gratefully accepting this, I took off after 09:15, heading in the exact opposite direction this time.
I spoke some with the people at the woodshed and then went over to the other two new arrivals at the older cottage. After that I went inside, put on a large kettle of water for washing, and then returned outside to have a little snack in the sun, where I found that a snowmobile transport had just dumped a group of six people and a dog who were going to Nallo. The drivers were Erik and Danne whom I knew from my sojourns in Kebnekaise and Nallo, and we chatted a bit out on the bench before they headed back. More people were coming, and among these were Carina, who was a co-attendee of my warden course, together with her husband Per-Erik and three huskies. Before long another snowmobile batch arrived, of which four Germans would tent on the other side of the stream "until Thursday", at which time they would come back and sleep inside. After having my wash I discovered a new pair of Swedes outside, and I spoke some with them as well as with Carina and Per-Erik.
Those newcomers were nice enough to invite me to dinner consisting of local elk, and I took it easy until it was time, feeling dozy from the day's activities. After the meal I remained for a long time talking, and then I went over to the other guests for more of the same. Having finished with this all I went down to the lower cottage and found it empty, but almost immediately Carina and Per-Erik came back from an evening walk with their dogs. It was a rather cold evening, but I still remained outside speaking with them for quite some time before returning to my room for an evening snack. All the stars were showing so I simply had to go out again and gaze a bit before being the last to turn in after 22.
The fair weather continued, as did the cold – the morning thermometer reading was –15°C. I talked some with my guests outside feeling a slight discomfort in my foot and legs from the last few days, and I had all but decided to make this a day of rest, despite the beautiful weather. Carina and Per-Erik were taking it slow, and I talked for a long while with them before turning to other tasks – one of which was to see what could be done about the extensive (and growing) area of pure ice that was strategically placed right in front of the woodshed. The rest of the forenoon was as nice as the morning, albeit somewhat warmer, and when it was time for lunch I settled down on the outside bench to eat it. From there I saw the tenting Germans cross the open and still snow-covered heathland on the other side of Visttasjohka, turning up the main track towards Nallo. In the end I gave in to the weather conditions and went out for a shorter tour myself after 12:45.
I started out by following the Nikkaluokta track to Visttasjohka, and then crossed to the outflow of one of the arms of the stream from Stuor Reaiddávággi. This I followed upstream in varying conditions, after a while finding some old ski tracks. I proceeded into the lower part of the ravine whence the stream came, still keeping to the old track, but after a bit I picked my way up the southern side. I continued up to the crest of the slope and then turned back down to the edge of the ravine a bit further up, to have a look at the corniced shapes. I then followed the edge of the closest cornice into the shadow of Reaiddáčohkka, which was not as cold as expected.
When the ravine started levelling out I skied down to the bottom, where there was a pocket of very cold air. I continued up the other side, seeing two of the Germans (and their dog) above. I aimed for the dragon tail of Siehtagas, spotting some wolverine tracks, and after I had reemerged into the sun the snow became good indeed. I proceeded up to some strips of bare ground where I stood looking over the valleys before starting down towards the marked "cliff hill" that juts out above Visttasvággi proper – and here the snow was such that I attained nearly reckless speeds.
The hilltop was bare and I walked around on it looking for a signal; I had heard from others that it was usually possible to acquire the mobile net from this precise spot, and at a large cairn I did get enough coverage to get an SMS through. With my skis back on I made my way down to another set of tracks, shifting my heading several times, and then I went out to the northern edge of the ravine for another perspective. The snow down beside the main track was perfect for telemark approximation, and I had some fun going down to a small hill located on the side. This hill I walked up onto, and from there I saw a snowmobile arriving at the cottages from up the valley. It was soon joined by another, and from what I could make out of the dresses of the drivers they were from the fjeld rescue service. I used my poles to propel myself home on the nicely firm track, going over to the two men by the old cottage around 14:30.
As expected they were out scouting, having gone from Nikkaluokta over Čievrraláhku to Gaskkasvággi, and then around the massifs via Alesjaure. Now one of them was in a bit of a hurry, however, so they soon left again. I proceeded to have afternoon tea out on the bench, observing two of the Germans return from Stuor Reaiddávággi and make their way towards their camp beneath the cliff hill. The wind was chilly so I soon returned inside, and it was almost dinnertime before I detected movement in the form of three youngsters who had come from Mĺrma and found the last bit down through the forest to be the most demanding. They had started in Abisko, and at least one of them worked there, so I showed them around a bit.
Then Erik arrived with a group, saying that eight more were on the way. Four people and a dog disembarked, but the rest were to be driven all the way up to Nallo, and the trio also departed in that direction, but under their own power. I talked some with the new people and then made dinner, during which the second transport dumped the other eight, two of which would be spending the night in a tent across the stream.
Despite their divided sleeping arrangements they were one group, and they asked me to guard some supplies of theirs for their planned return some days hence. Outside the wind had died down but it was still rather cold. After taking care of business with the people in the main cottage I went down to the lower one, where dogs are permitted, to do the same with the quartet there. After a long talk I noted a bit of aurora to the south, and later on it reappeared behind Nállu and Siehtagas, starting out as an undulating arc and then growing into a marvelous display of dancing ribbons of more colors than the typical green. Happy to have witnessed this event I went to bed at 22:30.
The following morning was as cold as the previous one – and also as fair, with only some thin wisps around the peaks. These dissolved as the morning progressed, and I started preparing for another day tour. Most of the guests were in the process of leaving, but the dog people were in no hurry, so I checked in on them before departing myself, which occurred at 09:30.
Two people were sitting on the porch of the old cottage, having arrived by dogsled from Nikkaluokta. As it turned out they were almost-relatives of Peter, who has served as a winter warden in Vistas for many years earlier (and whom I met during my stay in Nallo). While I was speaking to them three kids skied up soon followed by two adults and another young one. There were also a French couple sitting up on the bench, and once again I was asked what aid I could provide in repairing a broken binding. In the vestibule I found a bag with a terse note which I took to mean that it would be picked up "on the 11th", so I moved it out of the way as best I could for the time being. Three more people arrived from Alesjaure, and then I could sit down to devour some food.
I later learnt that the two French people were Régis Cahn and Sophie Rossi from Skirandonneenordique.com, who were collecting material for the site. I also talked for quite some time with the family and then went down to the lower cottage to talk to the dogsledders. There is a memorial plaque behind this building commemorating the death of a sled dog, and as it turned out it was their dog who had died there some years ago.
Back up in the upper cottage I managed reasonably well to carry on a conversation in French, but I do find my vocabulary sorely lacking. I went on to listen to some jazz on the radio, feeling suspiciously fresh despite the rather heavy exercise of the day. There was some more aurora borealis to watch later in the evening, but it came nowhere near the splendor of the previous night. It is sometimes said that the aurora is accompanied by a crackling sound, but now there was some noise of a very different sort: the calls of the willow ptarmigans scattered throughout the nearby forest, which were to become a regular nightly feature.
The next day started with a good deal of clouds centered around the peaks, as well as a good deal of wind, and the combination brought the occasional snowflake. I conveyed my usual morning report to the overnight guests – again turning to French for the French, who were going into Kiruna to change the damaged ski. The dogsledders were having second thoughts about continuing given the present forecast, locals of Kiruna as they were, and in the end they decided to head back to Nikkaluokta. Both the clouds and the wind were increasing, but there were still patches of blue and glimpses of sun. I busied myself with various indoor tasks until lunchtime, after which the German campers came with their dog, one day ahead of schedule.
After they had installed themselves in the two rooms of the lower cottage, a snowmobile arrived from the north, carrying Lasse from the county administration's nature monitoring division. He was out taking inventory of the local wolverine population, but seeing as how the snow was extremely hard at present there were no tracks to find, and so he turned back towards Alesjaure. Right after him two men came walking with their rented skis and snowshoes tied to their sleds; they were Belgians who summed up the present conditions with the words "very hard but very beautiful!". They were geocachers and were just now looking to find a cache right here at Vistas before continuing on to Nallo, and after I had translated the given clue for them they managed to locate the hidden "treasure". There were other caches in Nikkaluokta and Kiruna, but they had been forced to forego the one in Abiskojaure because the current seasonal circumstances simply made it impossible to retrieve it.
The clouds shifted in extent and density throughout the afternoon, and at times some light snow fell. A snowmobile transport brought a group of nine gentlemen, as they called themselves, but there were no other arrivals. "The gentlemen" were actually seven in number, and the remaining two were Swedish-speaking Germans who decided to stay for another day. I spent some time in the older cottage speaking to the Germans there; two of those were also Swedophones, and they translated back and forth for the benefit of the other pair. Later in the evening the temperature had risen to –3°C and the wind had died down completely. The outside silence was deafening and I listened to it for a while before being the last to hit the sack.
I awoke to overcast skies and snowfall, but visibility was good nonetheless. The snow had concealed the ice patches, which had caused at least one slapstick-style slip so far. The two Swedish-Germans were going on a day tour to Unna Reaiddávággi, and after The Gentlemen had left I started a baking session as I was running out of fresh bread. During this the weather slowly improved, and it was also somewhat warm outside, so the fresh snow was wet. The other Germans were going for a shorter outing down the valley, but not before buying a handful of postcards. After lunch I went for a short walk across the bridge and then sat down on the bench to read a newspaper brought by another group, but it soon started snowing again, and when it intensified I returned inside.
Soon thereafter a couple of snowmobiles came from the north, carrying Pelle from the local Sámi village and a younger companion of his. He was a jolly fellow who by his own admission enjoys talking to tourists, whose presence he finds "invigorating", and we spoke for a while. Right now he was in the process of building a new cabin up at Alisjávri, and from the looks of the almost daily transports passing by he was not alone in that regard. After they had gone I went back to baking, producing a cake this time. As the weather was now getting better again, even with a fair bit of sun, I had afternoon tea out on the bench. A positive consequence of the mild temperatures was that the surface of the ice patches was getting mushy, and therefore not so slippery. A snowmobile group of ten from Pirttivuoppio then stopped by, and when they turned back two of the German quartet returned. The weather was now quite fair but it was also getting windy, so I went back inside to read. The Swedish-Germans soon returned, having not gone that far into Unna Reaiddávággi because of the scant snow cover.
After dinner it had started growing cloudy again, but this made for a nice sunset. Later the wind petered out as did the clouds, and it was a pretty evening which I spent reading and listening to the radio. Nothing else of consequence happened until it was time to go to bed, which occurred at 22:15.
I slept until about 06:30 but remained in bed for a while longer. The sky was mostly clear but the sun was weakened by a veil, and a large bank of cloud was hovering close by to the southeast. Two of the Germans in the lower cottage had already left, but without most of their stuff; a snowmobile would be coming to Vistas at noon to fetch the other two, so they would simply pick up the skiers on the way back at whatever point they caught up with them. The cloud bank was retreating somewhat and the rest of the sky was clear, so a day tour was in order. The Swedish-Germans were finally arising, and since they were looking for good slopes to make use of their alpine equipment I related what I knew of the area and the present conditions. It was now very comfortable outside, and it was with high spirits that I set out in the direction of Stuor Reaiddávággi before 09:30.
Two people were sitting in the wooden chairs that some warden has crafted at some point, having moved them to the side of the entrance to get some protection from the wind. I talked some with them outside, having a snack while my washing water heated. The talk continued after I had washed, during which we realized that we had met in Nallo at the time of the migraine incident, and then it was time for dinner. As I was feeling tired I spent some time resting after the meal, noting that the clouds had returned at a low altitude. Suddenly I spotted smoke coming from the lower cottage, so I went down and found that the cause was a couple of Kiruna residents who had gone for a quick tour with their three dogs. I spoke with them for quite some time, and before long we discovered a connection via Östersund; it's funny how well you can often play the degrees-of-separation game in the fjelds. The rest of the evening progressed calmly to the sound of the ptarmigans among the trees, and now the peaks were emerging again.
When I turned on the radio I found that the Saturday morning nature program was broadcast directly from Kebnekaise, so I listened to that during breakfast activities. Outside the sky was perfectly clear, but there was also a considerable northwesterly wind. The night cold had frozen everything solid again, so it was back to slippery. Soon some clouds were appearing in and around Stuor Reaiddávággi, but neither in distribution nor size were they constant, so I bided my time to see if I would go for an outing or not. When the wind decreased somewhat I decided that, yes, I would indeed, but before leaving at 10:15 I checked on the dog people down in the lower cottage.
The people at the woodshed were the ones who had been forced to stay in Nallo due to the stomach flu, but the afflicted one seemed fine now. From them I learnt that three people had arrived by snowmobile and that two girls had come from Mĺrma, of which one had continued on to Nallo and the other one hitched a ride back with the snowmobile. The other trio were about to go out on an afternoon tour, and I spoke to them about the Unna Visttasvággi route as they expressed an interest in those parts. A bit later three more people came from Lisa's, and they said that another seven were on their way. The clouds had started to lift, and a bit of weak sunlight was finding its way through. The septet arrived in the middle of my dinner preparation, so I quickly saw them in and then sat down to eat.
While I was taking care of shopping and payment a bit later the single man I had met when returning from Nallo the day before came in; he had gone through Gaskkasvággi from Sälka and found the descent from Njunni rather perilous, and he had had quite a bit of trouble in the deep snow in the forest below, so he did not recommend this route. Outside conditions were largely unchanged and I lay down to rest for a bit. A good deal of talking followed, centering on tour tips and things relating to STF's web of tourist cottages. At last the clouds were lifting again, but they remained inside Stuor Reaiddávággi, and the wind was unchanged.