Somewhere in 2008, the idea evolved to undertake a two-month expedition over the Vitim River, a large river that flows north east from Lake Baikal in Siberia. If I was to accomplish the expedition in 2010, it was necessary to find out if my ideas on travelling into the wilderness with a kayak were valid, as soon as 2009. I had just bought the Alley 560 Sea kayak and there were many things to put to the test. I decided that the Sarek Mountainrange, high above the polar circle, would be a good testing ground. Together with the Lofoten in the west and the Kebnekaise area in the north, Sareks makes up for the largest mountain wilderness in Europe. One advantage: I knew the area from four winter trekkings.
Day 1, 15 September
A Drizzle came from the sky. Again, reality presented a view different from the clear map I had stared at for so many times. At the other side of the lake, dark grey forms lay covered by clouds. Further to the south were hundreds of miles of inhabited land. Only one or two people would know their way up there. Not really so, maybe, because the map I carried was considerably accurate about the broad valleys, rivers, swamps and mountain peaks, overlooking the area as granite guards. Forests were only to be found on the edges of the national park and the deeper valleys.
Two hours after the bus from Gallivaere had dropped me at the little harbor of Ritsem, the kayak was assembled and filled with gear. Dressed in my dry-suit I was ready to go. Within a few strokes the kayak slid trough the glass-clear water. I went to the mound of the river Ritsem to play a little bit with the strong and changing current. Having gained some more trust of balance I headed to the other side. It took me three hours fierce peddling through cold rain, strong wind and large waves to reach the sheltered bay of an island to stay for the night. A low forested cliff kept me out of the wind.
Day 2, 16 September
It would only take a few paddelstrokes to reach the southern shore of Akkajaure, crossing narrow water. Drizzly clouds still covered the higher cliffs. I was in doubt. Without GPS it would have been a kind of suicide to wonder about in the off track mountainous terrain, without any view on the surroundings. Should I already go to the west, to Valldajahka River? I decided to go east, to the Akka Massif to wait for better weather. On the shore there were hikers with large backpacks waiting to get the boat to Ritsem. It was a splendid chance to ask for some spare amounts of toiletpaper, which I forgot to bring in sufficient amounts. Somehow they found the question to be hilarious, but I was saved. I peddled to the shore of the Akka Massif and went ashore along the river Njiramjakka.
Day 3, 17 September
The weather had proved to be stable from yesterday afternoon. I decided to grab my chance for a prolonged hike into Sareks. I filled the backpack with 15 kilo’s of gear and food for a week and positioned the kayak about three meters above the bank of a small river. The off track route went ascending along the northern slopes of the Akka. There were swamps, steep river valleys, and large stretches of low willow trees that grabbed your foot just when you were in need of balance. It was about 19:00 when I reached the east flanks of the Akka massif from where the Sarektjakka could be seen clearly in the south. At 20:00 I left my backpack to walk about 500 meters up the Akka to climb one of its peaks. I camped somewere halfway the slope.
Walk along the Akka massif
Reached the top! (almost..)
Day 4, 18 September
I strongly considered walking up over the granite ridges of the Sarektjakka Range, with glaciers in the valleys to the left and right. The sky was full of feather like patterns that came from the southwest, signs of a low-pressure area on the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t dare to go up. The route down into the valley was a joy. At the shore of a sandy lake there were footprints of rubber boots, which were not mine. The off track route led trough many boulders and some raindeer herds. Late in the evening l had to walk a long stretch along the Suottasjakka to find a tentspot sheltered from potential gusty wind. I still had to gain trust in my homemade ‘YK2’ tent, which came fresh from the sewing machine.
Day 5, 19 September
From Nijak I took a shortcut over the clear blue stream, a sign that it contained lots of glacier water, and curved south with a view on Ruotes. I cached a subspecies of trout I had never seen before, whith orange sparks. Dark clouds gathered at the south, which made me decide not to push further and to put up the tent behind a small hill.
Day 6, 20 September
It was time to go back the boat, in a large circle. I crossed the swampy valley to the west and went up towards the pass between the Lautaktjakkah and Ruotestjakka ridges. On the deserted pass a beautiful sight on Alatjakka and Padjelanta spread to the west. In the afternoon I reached the green valley with bush vegetation along the curly river. To the south a deep valley could be seen, with the Kuopervagge River running along the steep and somewhat sinister flanks.
View on Ruotes
Day 7, 21 September
The morning started with rainshowers and I had lunch under an overhanging rock. I turned right to Sierkajakka River, to become Spietjaujakka River. I went off track again to go along a very pretty gorge, between the Kisuris and Spietjau mountains. Went down the gorge along the river and put up the tent, with a good view on Nijak to the east.
Day 8, 22 September
I crossed the Sjnjuftjutisjakka and passed the lake where I had lost my aluminium snow pegs in 1996 on a winter trip. After several hour I had passed Akka Mountain to the right, meanwhile meeting backpackers from Ritsem who had crossed the lake by boat. I met a friendly older Swede who started making solo hikes only a few years ago, but was hooked to the sport the most. He worked at a paper mill somewhere in the south. That evening I was glad to retrieve my kayak.
Day 9, 23 September
I packed everything in the boat, and went along the north shore of Akkajaure, in a little bay to the east. The wind reached gale force and I managed to find a sheltered place behind a low granite ridge, and hung the hammock between to large birch trees. Oh what a good night sleep I had!
Day 10, 24 September
I went diagonally over the Akkajaure to Ritsem. A strong wind from the west created large blue waves. Because the wind and waves came in diagonally, the crossing was tiresome for the arms. I reached Ritsem at about 16:00 and bought some food and a map for the western part of Akkajaure, near the Norwegian border. I peddled away before dark and found a spot on a mossy rock, rather high above the lake. I was surprised not to be attacked by clouds of musquitoes.
Day 11, 25 September
Rain, Rain, and then suddenly the sun broke trough. I took off to the west at about 13:00 and two hours later I reached the shore where the river Valldajahka mounds. The idea was to peddle upstream to the west as far as possible, all the way to the Norwegian border. An ideal practise for the upstream paddling I had in mind during my coming Siberia adventure. It took a while to find a good tentspot on the bumpy, mossy floor, near an old campfire. Hundred meters to the north the Valldajahka rushed loudly into the lake.
Day 12, 26 September
I carried the kayak and all the equipment over the first whitewater section for one kilometer. Then on a broad part of the river, with more whitewater just behind it. I pulled the full kayak upstream a little, where the water in a deep pool made the boat turn with great force, and I could just manage to relase the boat from getting twisted between to rocks. I carried the gear two hundred meters, went on, reached another strong current and carried again. In the cold rain it was good the have the drysuit.
Day 13, 27 September
I made a good peddle upstream to reach the flanks of the Ravddaoajvve mountain, where two smaller streams collided. I went out for a litle scout and then walked up with the backpack. It was quite swampy and found a nice tentspot on an elevation just large enough. I played with the thought to carry the gear along the stream, reach the fjords, and paddle along the coast to Narvik, and take the train home to the south. A very inspiring thought, however time was running short.
Day 14, 28 September
Up the Ravdomountain I went, to reach the dry and higher skirts of the mountain. The route continued to the left along some beautifull small lakes. I counted the days: there were only three left! What a bummer. There wasn’t even enough time to hike into Padjelanta, to the south. I ate and drank somewhat, left the backpack and went up to the top of the mountain to breath the scenery and take some pictures. In the west lay the Lofoten, a continuous row of sharp peaks that resembled the teeth of a predator with it’s mouth facing the sky. It was already dark when I reached the backpack after a long descent along the slope.
Crack in a stone
View to the north
Day 15, 29 September
I realised I had to go back to reach the bus, train and the flight back to Amsterdam on time. So I went to the kayak and started to peddle downstream the Valldajahka River. The weather was clear and it was a beautifull journey. In the evening the water was as still as a mirror. That night I had just manouvred myself in the hammock with a sleeping matrass and a thick sleeping bag, when I heard a dusty ‘crack’. A fraction of time later I hit the mossy floor with my bottum and in a reflex I covered my head with my arms and legs. The dead tree smashed just along my legs and hit the floor. I didn’t notice that I had attached the hammock to a dead tree.
Day 16, 30 September
I decided to make a shortcut along two series of whitewater. It took about three hours to directly reach the lake, through dense forest and large rocks covered with moss. It was about 17:00 when I finished some food and drink, zipped the dry suit and peddled to the east. I reached Ritsem in the dark. A light wind came from the south. I placed the kayak on the carrier, filled it with the gear and walked up the road. I put up the tent at a nice grassy field just behind the buildings where I ate a pizza in the winter of 1996. An hour later the southern wind picked up to gale force.
The next day I washed my clothes in the building and took the bus just on time. The sun was shining over the lake, a feast of foam-heads. At about 16:00 I managed to take the train from Gallivaere to Stockholm, where the adventure echoed again and again.
Map of the route, click to enlarge.