Abisko 2014 — high altitude valleys

Planning preamble

For various reasons we didn’t make it to Lapland last year, so we had been looking forward to this year’s trip for quite some time, pouring over the map, reading Claes Grundsten’s eminent guides, and making plans.

Our targets this year included the high altitude valleys Ballinvagge and Siellavagge. We planned to diverge on a day trip up to the ridge line that cradles the Ballinriehppi glacier. Then we would cut over to Siellavagge and descend along this valley to the southeast, connect with the trail towards Rautasjaure, but fork off south to cross the Aliseatnu river via the bridge and then hike west along its southern bank, following the waterway towards Alesjaure, and then back up to Abisko along Kungsleden. In case we didn’t need to cash in on our extra day (planned for contingencies) to reach Alesjaure and Kungsleden, we could possibly opt to go via Unna Allakas on the way back from Alesjaure. Let’s see how it all went… [Check out the map at the bottom of this post for an overview of our route.]

Day 1: Abisko — Ballinvagge

Just like two years ago, we took the train directly to Abisko Turist, dumped our duffel bag (with books for the train ride, a comprehensive hygiene kit and towels for the post-trek sauna, and a change of clothes) in the storage room at the mountain station, and took off along Kungsleden (‘the King’s trail’). Shortly after crossing the bridge over Nissonjohka, we started climbing diagonally up towards Ballinvagge. We were blessed with great weather. Little M picked up a good pace, bouncing up the slopes. M&M carried all of their personal gear in Alpkit Gourdon packs, 25 liter and 30 liter, which weighed in at 3 and 4 kg, respectively. Dad had a hard time keeping up, but was very happy that his pack was super comfortable despite carrying 7 days worth of food for 4 people (some 12 kg) + other gear, so that his total load landed around 20 kg. Volume-wise the Porter was maxed out, with the roll-top folded twice only. Mom’s load was probably around 10 kg, or so, including 2 kg of food. Her GoLite Jam dealt with this weight easily.


We’re off! Here we are right at the very start of Kungsleden (‘the King’s trail’), still down in the lush birch forest.

Once we emerged from the birch forest and the views opened up, we could see the modest ravine cut by Ballinjohka. We stuck to the slopes high above the stream, but at one point big M dumped his pack and headed down to the stream, armed with his ‘kåsa’ to quench his thirst.


On our way up into Ballinvagge. Big M carries a bag full of mushrooms, which he picked while hiking up through the birch forest. Ballinbogicohkka (1661) is visible in the center and the slopes of Coamohas (1743) to the right.


Ballinjohka with remaining snow, in mid-August, on its north-facing bank. Spot big M sampling the refreshing water down there.

After a few hours we had climbed the 700 meters from Abisko (at 300-something meters) and reached the point where Ballinvagge opens up and flattens out. There is a wide selection of good camp sites up here and we could choose freely — not a single tent in sight. In fact, since we left Kungsleden we had seen only two other parties. Solitude was to be a recurring and much appreciated theme for the next few days. We pitched the Trailstar and the Tarptent Double Rainbow and cooked dinner. On the menu: instant Thai chicken soup, spiffed up with dried shrimps, extra thai spices, noodles, and coconut milk. Not quite as good as our favorite Tom Kha Gai, but pretty good still. We soon retired to our shelters so that we could rise early tomorrow morning for the ‘summit bid’.


Enjoying a warm meal while the sun sets and the temperature drops. The cirque around Ballinriehppi is visible in the background, although most of the glacier is hidden from view by a sizable moraine ridge.

The night was cold and calm. A magnificent, yellow moon rose above the eastern slopes of Ballincohkka and hung low over the horizon. The high-pressure system looked stable, in agreement with the forecast, which predicted predominantly sunny skies at least for another day or so.


Big M enjoying the last light on the Ballin ridge. Hoping for equally nice weather tomorrow morning — we’re going for the pyramid in the background and then onwards along the ridge.

 Day 2: Peak bagging, kind of…

Dad woke us up early and served up oatmeal with blueberry soup and superspackle, plus hot chocolate for M&M and coffee for mom and dad. We were on our way by 7:00 under bright blue skies. M&M counted lemmings, at least half a dozen, as we hiked the 3 km across the Ballinvagge floor over to the cirque. Lemmings are funny, cute little rodents with very colorful coats. Little M simply loves them!

We had started up the scree towards the peak when suddenly an adult White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) took off from its perch some 100 meters in front of us and swept past us down the valley. Wow! What a beautiful sight! It was so big! Its head was very pale, almost purely white. A few minutes later we came across the spot where it had been sitting, which was clearly marked by a huge dump (the term ‘droppings’ somehow does not seem to fit the picture). It looked like somebody had emptied a big bucket of white paint over the rocks.

At one point, we had a free line of sight through the valley that connects Ballinvagge with Siellavagge, and past Siellanjunni all the way over to Storsteinsfjellet (1872) and the Sealggajiekna glacier in Norway. Snow, snow, snow… Massive whiteness! Instant inspiration: maybe next year’s trip should be a circumambulation of the Storsteinsfjellet massif?


Views from the unnamed peak 1646, which we reached after gaining some 600 meters in altitude across easy scree. We are high above the Ballinriehppe glacier, visible to the left. Tomorrow we will cut through the valley between the two peaks in the background (Ballinbogicohkka on the left and Coamohas on the right) and reach Siellavagge, which we will follow in a south-eastern direction, down towards Aliseatnu.

We sat down on the peak and celebrated our ‘climb’ with a few pieces of chocolate and a handful of nuts and a few swigs of water from the platy. We debated whether we should continue along the ridge line to complete the semi-circle around the cirque, or just hike over to the highest peak (1784), or simply call it a day and head back down. Committing to the full traverse would likely involve another 7 to 8 hours of walking/scrambling across the scree to the other end of the ridge, because we could not see any obvious bail routes when we scouted the ridge line through our binoculars. Given that dark clouds were rolling in from the east, we agreed that we should not attempt the full traverse. Little M and mom were both happy with what we had already achieved and were not particularly interested in any further exploration, especially considering the exposed nature of the continued ridge walk over to the next and highest peak of the cirque. Having settled that matter, we could allow ourselves some extra time on the peak to fully take in the great surroundings.


View from 1646 down into Nissonvagge and the lake at 1140 meters. As you can see, the incline gets progressively steeper as one moves into the cirque (i.e., towards us), and behind where big M is sitting there is a near vertical drop. Great exposure! 1646 is the outermost peak of a dual cirque, forming one arm of both the Gaskariehppi (behind the photographer to the right) and Ballinriehppi (behind the photographer to the left) cirques.



Look at that inversion layer over the Abeskoeatnu valley floor! All those people down on Kungsleden have a gloomy day, but we are basking in the sun!

Lunch was prepped as soon as we were back down to our camp in Ballinvagge: instant soup with a couple of spoonfuls of couscous, along with a piece of cracker bread with hard cheese. Little M took a nap in the Tarptent, while big M made an attempt at fishing the slower-flowing waters of the small delta close to our camp site. We had scouted the stream for rising char, both the night before and this morning, but hadn’t seen any fish at all. Still, we figured it was worth a shot. Besides, it is always fun to work on perfecting your Tenkara cast. The fish — if they were there at all — totally ignored big M’s well-placed and ‘delicately presented’ (as fly-fishing nerds would have it) flies.


View of our camp in Ballinvagge from the slopes of Ballincohkka.

 Day 3: Ballinvagge — Aliseatnu/Vierrojohka junction

That night it rained a bit, but it stopped in the early morning hours. We packed up quickly and got moving around 7:00. By 9 o’clock we had reached Siellavagge and stopped for breakfast (our standard oatmeal fare), which we reinforced with a tortilla + salami (thus making it brunch, right?). We hiked upstream along Siellajohka in the southeastern direction, traversing along wet, grassy slopes high above the stream. As you approach the watershed, the terrain changes character completely and turns into endless talus fields. We were grateful for our light packs and trail runners, which enable the precise footwork that is key to speedy travel in this type of environment. Of course, our trekking poles are very useful too.


Siellavagge, looking towards the northwest.



Siellavagge lakes, close to the watershed.

Siellavagge ends with a number of steep shelves. There is no trail here (in fact, there’s not much of a trail anywhere in Ballinvagge or Siellavagge), so finding our way down to the trail along Aliseatnu posed a fun challenge. Big M has a real talent for route finding and we made good choices all along, including the crossing of Alip Hongganjira right under its beautiful waterfall. This way we managed to stay clear of the thickets of willow that block the way down between Alip Hongganjira and Lulip Hongganjira.


Wow, big space, big nature! Looking out over the Aliseatnu valley from the edge of Siellavagge. Now where do we go from here?

There are a number of conspicuous bands of dolomite in the walls here that shine yellow among all the dark rock. The calcium and magnesium rich soils make for a very varied flora and lush vegetation in general, including lots of blueberries. We stuffed ourselves on our way down the slopes and painted our smiles purple. When we had made it down and found the marked trail that would lead us eastbound to the (only) bridge across Aliseatnu, it started raining rather heavily. The trail runs through dense willow brush, which often reached as high as dad’s chest. And the ground was very muddy and water-logged. Given the heavy rain, the only redeeming features of this section were the many beautiful flowers. We managed to time a quick lunch with a rare break in the otherwise persistent rain. Then the rain picked up again and from then on it rained continuously for 14 hours. We slogged on through the jungle of birch and willow and high herbs, e.g. fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). We had to cover some 4 km on these south-facing slopes through dense vegetation that can be described as arctic rainforest. Wet, wet, wet! A machete would have come in handy.

Finally, we made it to the bridge, crossed it, and climbed the hills, now following Vierrojohka, on the south side of Aliseatnu for another half hour before we got up on the moraine plateau and pitched our shelters around 20:00. By this time we were soaking wet. Not to worry, M&M have the routine down on how to shed the wet layers, change into their dry merino baselayers, and get into their sleeping bags while keeping things dry. It sure was nice to get out of the rain. Dad served us hot soup, cracker bread, hot chocolate, and many pieces of chocolate bar. A unanimous decision was made to skip brushing our teeth that night. We collapsed into a solid sleep right away. It had been a long day, we had covered around 22 km, most of it off-trail.

Day 4: Vierrojohka – Alesjaure

It rained all night, and around 03:00 a strong wind picked up too. By 05:00, the rain stopped and mom & dad got out to start drying our wet clothes in the wind. Some we had already dried inside our sleeping bags, on our bellies, during the night.


Early morning after the deluge. Time to dry things out in the brisk wind. The prominent peaks in the background are Siellacohkka (center) and Honga (right). Siellavagge runs between these peaks.

We took our time that morning, M&M slept in, we let the wind take care of our wet gear, we had a leisurely breakfast, all the while observing the menacing clouds roll by. We finally packed up and hiked onwards when it looked like it would start drizzling again. But the weather soon improved and we really enjoyed the rest of the day. We walked along a system of moraine ridges, following the Aleseatnu waterway that includes a number of lakes. We met only one other party hiking in the other direction, so we had the blueberries and cloudberries all to ourselves. We stuffed our faces!


Grazing away on blueberries. All of our rest stops involved picking berries. The peak in the background is Miesakcohkka.

Cloudberries were less widespread than blueberries, but in a few places the supply was particularly rich. We stocked up on vitamins and anti-oxidants for sure.


A good year for the cloudberries. Yummy!



Gotta get your vitamins!!!

On this stretch we found several piles of scat that we could not identify positively, but they were presumably from either wolverine or arctic fox. We have to read up and learn more!

Day 4 presented few difficulties. We had to ford 4 streams, only one of which (Godujohka) was strong and deep enough to be exciting, even a little bit scary to little M. She crossed at the same time as dad, him walking immediately downstream and providing some support.


It’s just us out here. And the occasional raindeer.

We arrived at the Alesjaure huts in the evening after another long day of some 25 km, mostly following a weak trail. M&M got to buy a bag of almond potato chips, which we savored together with a cup of tea, while cooking our dinner. It really felt like our adventure was over already, now that we had reached ‘civilization’. Since everything had worked perfectly according to our plans, we now had an extra day to spend, given our presumption that the transport back to Abisko along Kungsleden would be uneventful. We drafted plans for the upcoming days over dinner. Who’s up for a detour over to Unna Allakas? Or perhaps we should use our extra day for some more peak bagging near Abisko? Or perhaps we should hike up to Cuonjajavri for some safe-bet fishing? We decided that it all depends on the weather. M&M decided that Unna Allakas was out, and we further rationalized this decision with the expectation that this section is probably best hiked in the other direction, considering the scenery. Also, Unna Allakas might serve as the starting point for next year’s tentative trip around Storsteinsfjellet, so we could save it for later.

Days 5+6+7: Alesjaure – Abiskojaure – Abisko

After several days of more remote adventure, this section along Kungsleden felt a bit pedestrian, as it were. Again, we had a lot of rain, but could still enjoy the great scenery. We had a cozy lunch while hunkering down and huddling together on the lee side of a small boulder; thanks to the wind, the boulder offered good rain protection even though it was not overhanging. At the Abiskojaure huts we indulged in luxury and had a sauna, followed by a swim in the lake. So refreshing!

From Abiskojaure, we continued along Kungsleden back to Abisko. Given the rather cold, rainy and cloudy weather, M&M opted out of fishing at Cuonjajavri and voted instead for a return to Abisko and a hike up to the top of Njulla (1164 m) the next day. Fair enough, on day 7 we hiked up to Njulla in hard wind and intermittent rain, passing by the ‘Skystation’ at the top of the ski lift. Visibility was not great, but every now and then the clouds opened up a little bit and we got some nice views over Dourtnosjavri and the Abeskoeatnu valley.

On our way back down through the birch forest, M&M picked another big bag full of Orange birch boletes (Leccinum versipelle; ‘tegelröd björksopp’ in Swedish), which we fried up with shallots and butter later that night. A true delicacy!


By the summit cairn on Njulla. Cold, windy, cloudy. We didn’t stay very long up here! A small part of Dourtnosjavri is visible in the background.

Seven fantastic days in the Abisko area was over. The map below shows our route through the Abisko ‘alps’, as the range is sometimes called (although these mountains don’t look much like the central European alps). We can highly recommend this route through Ballinvagge, Siellavagge, and along the southern side of the Aleseatnu waterway. We met very few people over 4 days and traveled off-trail for the most part (except for the two-lane highway a.k.a. Kungsleden, of course). The scenery is superb along this route.


Our route. The black line indicates our approximate route. Black circles indicate where we camped.

The take home message this year was that it is greatly rewarding to hike up into the high altitude valleys and to climb a few peaks. Now we are psyched to try an even higher route next year. M&M certainly are able to take on greater challenges; the question really is if mom and dad will be able to keep up with them.

Summing things up, we can also conclude that our selection of gear is near-perfect for our needs. Gear list? We’ll save that for a separate post.


Summer bike tour 2012

Here’s a much belated write-up on our bike tour from last summer. The bike tour has been a yearly tradition for 6 years now, except for one year when big M was too big to ride in the trailer but too small to ride his own bike. This year (2013) we’ll face the same problem, but now with little M who has outgrown the Funtrailer tag-along-bike. Or maybe she can ride her own bike, after all? We’ll see, but in that case she’ll need to lay down some decent mileage before summer. Big M has been riding his own bike for the last 3 years. The first year he kept a good enough pace, so that none of us grownups felt we had to slow down beyond our comfort level. The second year he pushed us all to ride 140 km on the last day, eager as he was to get out of the rain and back to the wired world. And last year, he was pretty much outperforming all of us adults throughout the trip even though he carried some of his own gear for the first time. Anyways, on with the trip report…

We were lucky to time our trip with the best weather of all summer. Day 1 brought us to an established campground with shelters on ‘Skåneleden‘ close to lake Snogeholmssjön. We stopped on the way for a swim in lake Sövdesjön, followed by ice cream, and then for some fishing in Snogeholmssjön. M had a few perch nibbling on his lure, but he didn’t succeed in landing any, so for dinner that night we had to do with the goodies we emptied from the fridge before leaving. Later that evening we were joined by our friends from Copenhagen, making our party almost complete with a head count of 8. The next morning we rolled down south, past a chain of pretty lakes (Snogeholmssjön, Ellestadssjön, Krageholmssjön) to the coast east of Ystad, where aunt T joined us and made our party complete. T saved us by running some errands in Ystad before riding out to meet us. As it happened, both our stove and G’s stove malfunctioned when we tried to fire them up to cook breakfast at Snogeholmssjön. Note to self: always check the equipment before taking off on a trip! The pump of our MSR Whisperlite International had cracked and G’s classic old Coleman had a leaking gasket, or so we thought. It turned out that the gasket worked fine, once the weird Danish low-viscosity substitute ‘fuel’ had been drained out and replaced by honest-to-goodness white gas. T managed to get hold of a heavy-duty Primus Jan stove (the lightest stove to be found in Ystad) and a few gas canisters that served us well for the rest of the trip. We met up with T at Kåseberga harbor, where we stocked up on smoked whitefish, potatoes and veggies, all locally sourced. Dinner secured, most of us then hiked up the hill to ‘Ales stenar (Ale’s stones)‘, while dad kindly offered to stay put and take care of the bikes and a tall cup of coffee. On the way out to Kåseberga, we had scouted a really nice location to stay for the night; mission accomplished at Ale’s, we now headed back to that spot.


G’s wheels parked by the coast guard HQ in Kåseberga harbor.

This was an amazing place for a wild camp, right on the beach on a carpet of wild thyme. We dumped our gear and stripped from our sweaty clothes and ran into the sea. Refreshing! The south coast of Sweden is known for its cold waters, caused by upwells from deeper currents. But on a warm and sunny day like today, we didn’t mind at all. Besides, the water temperature was unusually warm, easily around 17C or so.


Arrival in the early evening at our luxurious wild camp. Now, where do we pitch the tents and tarps? Tough decision. Let’s mull it over while we go for a swim…

We had this beautiful place all to ourselves… well, actually, we shared it with a herd of cattle who moved down across the fields towards the beach later at night. This prompted us to arrange the bikes in a circle around our tents in an attempt to discourage any hoofs from coming too close to our guy lines. As it turned out, we didn’t need to worry about the cows, but a herd of sheep (which we hadn’t seen the night before) woke us up early in the morning with their incessant ‘baaaaah’. This triggered a synchronized turnout for the obligatory morning swim, at an unusually early hour. The early start allowed us a leisurely breakfast: oatmeal, oat “milk”, superspackle, coffee or tea. Got to feed that engine!


Sunset over the Baltic (11 pm). Cows on the horizon.

After breakfast we packed up and rolled onwards along the coast, eastbound. The coastal road isn’t the best option due to the heavy traffic and narrow shoulders. But it gets better after Skillinge, so we put our noses down and ground away for some 20 km, trying to enjoy the nice scenery despite the stupid RVs. We stopped for lunch at Skillinge and then for smoked fish (can’t get enough of this!) and smoked cod roe in Simrishamn, before we continued to Kivik where we stopped for gourmet gelato and excellent espresso at Café Strand of the Kivikstrand Hotel/’Hostel’. This magnificent place has been renovated with great taste and minute attention to detail, keeping true to traditional building techniques. It is inarguably the most stylish (in the best sense of the word!) STF hostel in all of Sweden. More superlatives? OK, the owner couple, Anna and Micael, are simply the best and happen to be very dear friends of ours. Mom and little M even appear on their web site.


Right, very well, time to hit the road again…

On we rolled towards another amazing wild camp at Ravlunda. We followed the protocol from the day before: swam in the sea, had a superb dinner (you-know-what), and enjoyed an absolutely still night with the air full of scents from wild herbs, the soft sound of gentle waves lapping the shoreline and swarms of buzzing scarab beetles (Geotrupes sp.). Magic!


Room with a view: Sunrise over the Baltic (3:40 am), as viewed from inside the Trailstar.

The next morning we celebrated big M’s 12-year birthday. He managed to sleep in while dad fixed his birthday cake and everybody else got out of their tents to assemble an impromptu choir that woke him up with birthday songs.


Not bad! Dad proudly documented the result of his ‘baking’ skills. 12 candles!

Here’s the recipe for M’s wild-camp birthday cake: 3-layered sponge cake, 1 jar of blueberry jam, 1 jar of Nutella. Layers 1-2: blueberry jam; layer 3 (top and sides): Nutella. Spread the layers really thick and rich (there’s no point carrying a half-empty jar around in your panniers). Done!


Hey, what’s this? Where’s my oatmeal?

This breakfast really hit the spot. Especially since it was accompanied by a nice cup or two of freshly brewed coffee. Aunt T’s french press coffee pot and carefully sourced gourmet beans sure made for a killer cup. There really is something to be said for bike touring: while we try to keep the loads rather light, we can very easily allow ourselves the luxury of a relatively heavy coffee pot — especially since T is carrying it! It sure is worth it.


Near-complete damage done. But remember: one slice for the baker!

We rolled out shortly after breakfast and continued along the coast on fun dirt trails through the pine forest, up towards Åhus, where we got supplies for the next few days. We stopped by the Åhus beach pier for a swim and humongous ice creams; you order 3 scoops and actually get 9, and they give you two cones (cone-in-cone), just to be able support the structural integrity of the veritable ice cream mountain.


Half-eaten already.
“People ask me what I’m on. I’m on my bike, 8 hours a day.” (famous cyclist, in TV commercial) So are we. And then we’re on ice cream!

‘Slightly’ bloated, fueled to the max, and firmly dedicated to focus on nutrition for the remainder of the trip, we then forked off inland and headed up north towards lake Immeln. We were in for a pretty hard ride in order to make it to the lake before night. Here we grunted away along some really fun and hilly dirtroads. Mom suffered badly in the hills even though little M put in an heroic effort to help out by pedaling hard on the tag-along-bike. It was obvious that she has outgrown the Funtrailer, it is really time to pass this beloved wheel on to someone else. We even hit some short stretches of single-track — yes!! It was really nice to finally get away from civilization, even if it meant that we needed to haul food and supplies up and down the hills for some 80 km. No more ice creams for a while…


Dad’s wheels: a trusty old Giant Sedona anno 1992 with its original Shimano Exage 400LX rear derailleur. The bottom bracket, crankset, and front derailleur have been replaced with generic parts. The cassette is a 13-30 7-speed. The bike is further pimped with Selle Italia Trans-Am saddle, Ergon GT1 handles, Tubus rear rack, Shimano SPD/standard pedals, Vaude Aqua panniers with roll-down tops (no zippers to brake), Vaude Aqua box + handle-bar bag (simply an old stuff bag + pack straps), tool bottle + Topeak saddle bag (for tools), Burley Nomad trailer. (Gear geekery to follow in an upcoming post.)

We set up camp right on the lake, at one of the maintained campgrounds of Skåneleden (‘Brotorpet’), where there are several fire rings, a lean-to shelter, picnic tables, an outhouse, and water (although the water in the lake is also fit to drink). We inherited a nice fire and bed of glowing embers from two friendly guys, who had pitched their Tarptent Cloudburst not far from where mom and M put up their Double Rainbow. None of us had ever before seen two Tarptents next to each other in Sweden, so we naturally had to compare notes. Our dinner preparations were off to a speedy start as soon as we had cooled off in the lake. On the menu: grilled pork-chop fajitas, home-made salsa and guacamole, tortillas, and a huge salad with G’s secret dressing. We weren’t suffering. Somebody magically pulled a box of red wine out of a pannier. And the kids were treated to a magnum bottle of Pommac, just to keep celebrating M’s birthday in style. Again we enjoyed a superb evening, with the surrounding dark, dense forest standing in contrast to the moonlit silvery lake and light night sky of summer. Pure bliss.

The next day we circled Immeln on twisting and winding dirtroads and then headed down southwest towards another lake, ‘Lursjön’. As you’ve figured out by now, we always aim to set up camp by the sea or a lake. We got some friendly pointers from the locals when we stopped at a farm to purchase a fishing license (which wasn’t needed since kids fish for free, cool!), so we headed out into uncharted terrain along fresh logging ‘roads’ that provided a significant shortcut to the lake, which was very welcome at this late hour. The Burley Nomad dealt with the rough trails surprisingly well. After swimming and a quick appearance at dinner, M made some half-hearted attempts at fishing, but soon gave up and retired to the Trailstar. It had been a tough day.


Sleep system: Trailstar, MLD bug bivy, old raggedy ground cover (Mountain Hardwear), Exped UL sleeping pad, MLD Spirit 48 quilt (airing out, draped over the Trailstar). M sleeps on a Thermarest Prolite, in one half of a 35 year-old ‘Caravan’ down double bag that has seen a lot of use through the years in Lapland, New Zealand, Outer Hebrides, the Rockies, the Sierras, Joshua Tree, and elsewhere; still holding up, excellent quality.

Our original plans included one more wild camp at Söderåsen, but the next morning brought cloudy skies, strong winds, and some light showers. The forecast for the following day was not pretty.  Better end on a positive note, we thought, so we set the controls for home. We stopped for lunch at lake Dagstorpssjön, which we reached after battling some steep hills that primed us well for the refreshing swim. After a long lunch break, including a nap for some of us, we hauled it all the way back home in one long push against a very strong headwind. Six days of biking —some easy coasting, some hard grinding — had taken it out of us. We could look back at a gorgeous bike tour covering some 540 km of great scenery. Now, what’s up for next year?

Family gear for Lapland

This is the follow-up to our previous post on Kids’ Kits, expanding onto mom’s and dad’s and our communal gear. First, let’s summarize what worked really well. Then, let’s look at what didn’t.

The Dialed-in bits

Shelters: M and dad sleep in the Trailstar tarp from Mountain Laurel Designs. In addition, we use bivy bags when needed to keep the mosquitos away. The Trailstar is arguably the best shelter we have ever used. It is extremely flexible and can be pitched in several different modes. It sheds wind amazingly well. We’ve had it out in some serious weather without any problems whatsoever. Some people complain that its footprint is too large, but we cannot see that this could ever be a problem unless you are camping in a dense forest or similar. As long as you have enough space to lie down, it doesn’t really matter if there are rocks or tree stubs or even bushes under the tarp. Furthermore, the Trailstar is very light, weighing in at 700 grams, including 6 Easton pegs (16 cm) and 5 aluminum skewers + cord and line-locks. Since we use trekking poles anyway, the weight of these come for free, so to speak. It is very easy to pitch, especially if you follow these guide lines.

M and mom sleep in the Tarptent Double Rainbow. This is a single-skin tent, which comes with a single flexible pole. If we experience or expect really windy conditions, then we beef up the construction with two trekking poles that insert under the “awning” at the doors. It is also possible to use trekking poles in a completely different fashion to make the tent freestanding, but we never use it in this mode, since we always peg down all four corners. The TT DR is close to ideal for M & mom, who appreciate having a mosquito-safe space to sit around in and don’t really like the idea of bivy bags. As with any single-skin shelter, condensation can become an issue, but it has never been really bad under the conditions where we’ve used it so far; sure, a few drops here and there, but so what? It is a relatively light-weight shelter at 1215 grams, including the pole and 6 Easton pegs. Super-easy to pitch.

Sleeping bags: Western Mountaineering Ultralite, Alpkit Pipedream 400, Marmot Sawtooth, TNF Cat’s Meow. The first two are awesome. The latter two are very good, but don’t make it under the 343 cut-off.

Cook kit: We have a well-functioning and compact kit, consisting of: Optimus Crux Lite canister stove, which we typically use with a 230 g canister. The Crux Lite works well, even if the clearance between the pot and the burner head seems to be a bit narrow. Makes you wonder if combustion wouldn’t be more efficient with a greater distance? Trangia aluminum pots of 1.5 and 1.75 liters, Trangia pot lifter (good old “Tage” in Swedish outdoor parlance), mini-Bic lighter, matches, aluminum foil windscreen, paperclip, single-use pie form of aluminum foil (as a pot lid, which we use for a long time before discarding it), mini-dropper bottle with detergent, small piece of scrubby. Everything, including the gas canister, goes into the 1.75 liter pot and then into a light ditty bag. Altogether, the kit weighs 505 grams in addition to the gas canister. If we pair it down to just the 1.5 liter pot and other hardware that constitutes the core cooking system, then we land on 320 grams, which is pretty decent; compare it to the Jetboil Sol Ti, which has received rave reviews, at 280 grams or so. Nothing needs to be changed, we’re happy.

Drybags: We use Alpkit Airlok drybags of different sizes for just about everything that must not get wet: 13 liter bags for our sleeping bags; 4–8 liter bags for clothing, 4 liter for the DSLR camera (which is simply wrapped in a micro-fiber cloth without any further padding; works great so far). Zip-lock bags are used for most other little things (e.g. money, credit card, driver’s license, binoculars, hygiene kit, toilet paper, repair kit, first aid kit, etc). We use the same color code for everybody’s bags: day-bag is black, night-bag is red. The former contains our extra layer, hat, and gloves. The latter contains our long merino underwear and sleep socks + extra underwear for some of us.

The Need-to-fix bits

In general, we were extremely pleased with how our gear functioned. What didn’t work so well? A few things: dad’s backpack, mom’s sleeping pad, mom’s gloves, Mattias’ shoes. Now, what about them?

GoLite Jam. This is a very good backpack in many ways and dad really likes it. The shoulder straps and hipbelt are very comfortable, the mesh back panel ventilates nicely, the compactor straps and pocket features are well designed, and the gridstop Dyneema pack body makes for a durable construction. But we learned that when dad carries food for 4–5 days for 4 people, then he is simply too heavily loaded (approaching 20 kg) and the Jam simply doesn’t cope with that kind of weight. This should be expected, as he is trying to use the pack well outside of its intended range: the maximum recommended load is 14 kg. It didn’t really matter how he packed it, the back panel still collapsed (putting the fishing net inside the pack as an internal frame was perhaps a brilliant idea on paper, and actually improved things somewhat, but didn’t fully solve the problem). He will have to “upgrade” to a pack that meets our needs better, and thinks that he has found a near-optimal one. More on this in a later post.

Pacific Outdoor Equipment Ether Elite 6. (It appears that the company POE is defunct.) This is an air mattress with synthetic fiber attached in the torso region. Mom sleeps cold, so we will upgrade to an Exped SynMat UL 7, i.e. same as dad’s. Dad being a real gentleman, he swapped pads with mom, but in the long run it will be more convenient to have two SynMats (actually, come to think of it, why not four?), since we already have an Exped Schnozzle pump bag, which is an absolutely ingenious invention. Mattias will then get the Ether Elite, which has been functioning well for us in other respects (although inflating it requires a fair bit of huffing and puffing, resulting in build-up of moisture inside). This should work out nicely, since he usually has the Exped MultiMat underneath his bivy bag in the Trailstar and thus gets a bit more insulation between the Ether Elite and the ground than mom does when using it in the Tarptent (directly on the silnylon floor). The Ether Elite is quite light (395 grams) and packs down much smaller than the Thermarest Pro that he is currently using. 

Mom’s gloves. Polartec Powerdry or merino liners are simply not enough to warm mom’s cold fingers. She suffers from a bad case of circulation problems that probably are further aggravated by Raynaud’s disease. Next time we will bring a pair of thick fleece mitts + rainproof overmitts.

Mattias’ shoes (and Myra’s and mom’s), as stated under the previous post on Kids’ Kits.

Kids’ Kits: clothing and gear for Lapland

As already reported on this blog, we went hiking in the Abisko region this summer. Here’s a short write-up on M&M’s gear. What worked and what didn’t work, etc.

BackpacksAlpkit Gourdon 25 liter for Mattias (12 years old). Simply perfect! The Gourdon is essentially a drybag with shoulder straps + a hip strap (not a hip belt). It fits M just about perfectly and carries very well. The Gourdon accommodated all of M’s personal gear: sleeping bag and pad, night-bag (sleep socks, merino longjohns) and day-bag (fleece hat, gloves, extra layer), ditty bag with sun glasses and binoculars, and Crocs; except for his raingear, which was kept in a side-pocket of mom’s backpack. M’s sleeping pad (Thermarest Pro, size regular) was folded four times and packed inside his Gourdon to serve as an extra back support, which worked very well. His night- and day-bags were both Alpkit Airlok 4 liter drybags, which is overkill, really, given that they were packed inside the Gourdon. However, the extra margin of rain protection never hurts when you are hit by the sudden urge to rummage around in your backpack during a downpour.

Upward bound towards the pass. M carries his Alpkit Gourdon with ease and comfort.

Osprey Jet 18 for Myra (9 years old). Very good, although a bit too small. M carried her sleeping bag in the main compartment, together with her day-bag containing her fleece balaclava and gloves, while her raingear went into the outer stretch pocket, her Crocs went into one of the stretch side-pockets, and a 500 ml PET bottle went into the other side-pocket. She shared her night-bag with mom, and this was packed in mom’s backpack. M’s sleeping pad, a first-generation (25+ years old) Thermarest, size short, was folded three times and packed inside mom’s backpack (GoLite Jam) to provide a bit more structure than the integral backpad does. Next year, we should probably upgrade M to a Gourdon, or perhaps a less bulky sleeping bag (see below), which would leave more room in the Jet for the rest of her kit.

Sleeping bagsAlpkit Pipedream 400 for Mattias. The PD400 was stuffed into an Alpkit Airlok 13 liter drybag and kept at the bottom of the Gourdon. The PD400 is arguably the best value for money in sleeping bags out there. Very well designed and well made, 750 grams with 400 grams of 750+ down (EU fill weight), rated to –3 ‘C. M slept very comfortably in his 200 merino baselayer down to +2-3 ‘C. He really likes the fabric, which is soft like silk to the touch. A great bag.

Mattias’ sleep system also includes an MLD Superlight bivy bag with the optional ‘all net head area’. The Thermarest Prolite goes inside the bivy bag, of course. We typically use the Exped Multimat as a torso-level ground cover under the Trailstar, while a sheet of polycryo goes under our legs.

TNF Cat’s meow for Myra, stuffed into an Alpkit Airlok 13 liter drybag. This is a nice synthetic bag that has had a strong following for many years, albeit not perhaps among lightweighters. It’s a good bag for kids (and adults), ruggedly built to handle some serious abuse (not that this is needed any longer; at age 9, M takes good care of her belongings).

Yippee! The clouds are lifting. M on her way towards the sun and the Gorsa glacier further up the valley.

Rain wear: Didrikson Tigris Junior set for both kids. The Tigris is water- and windproof, with taped seams. M & M really like their Tigris rain jackets and pants, and are now working on their second pair. Despite being relatively light (compared to most other kids’ models), the Tigris has withstood a lot of serious abuse through the years and is the kids’ go-to rain gear for everyday use throughout the year. The uppers breath well enough that they also serve as wind jackets. Very good value for money, in our opinion.

Pants: Marmot Boy’s Cruz and Girl’s Lobo’s convertible pants. These are essentially the same model, but slightly tweaked to suit boys and girls, respectively. Both were excellent. Made out of a single layer of 100% nylon, these pants dry out in no time. The leg zip-off feature came in handy when we forded streams. It is really rather surprising how relatively few good outdoor pants there are available for kids, at least in Sweden. Most are way too heavy, with multiple layers, including Cordura or other industrial-strength materials. Kevlar anyone? Yeah, right. Several manufacturers do make very good kids’ pants, but they do not seem to make their way to Sweden in any great numbers, unfortunately.

Fleece: Patagonia Synchilla Marsupial (which seems to be discontinued?) for Mattias and an old nondescript fleece hoody for Myra. Mattias also prefers a fleece hoody, but we couldn’t find any good and reasonably priced ones at the time of buying. By contrast, the Marsupial was a steal at a recent sale. Super nice and toasty, it immediately became a big favorite of M’s.

Base layers: Both M & M wear Smartwool or Icebreaker merino, typically of 200 g/m2 weight. Both kids had synthetic underwear to make sure a wet butt doesn’t stay wet for days on end, which tends to happen when you use cotton undies. As a matter of fact, cotton is essentially banned from our gear list. We are looking for merino underwear for the kids, but haven’t found any so far. Please let us know (post a comment) if you know of any!

Socks: Smartwool or Woolpower liner socks. Our entire family particularly likes the Woolpower liner socks, which is all we need, even for temperatures down to freezing, as long as we are on the go. Our sleep socks are thicker, typically of the “expedition weight” quality.

Shoes: Adidas running shoes for Mattias (a very old and ragged pair that was well worn in). Adidas gore-tex lined shoes for Myra. Neither were optimal. The insoles couldn’t be removed from Mattias shoes, which made them dry relatively slowly, despite the predominance of well-ventilating mesh on the uppers. Same thing goes for the gore-tex lined shoes, once they get wet they tend to stay wet. We will hunt around for running shoes or trail runners with removable insoles, well-ventilating mesh fabric, and without any water-impermeable barrier. Both kids also brought their Crocs, which they slipped into in camp if their shoes were wet. They also used their Crocs for planned fording of wider streams. Dad threaded some elastic cord through the holes in the Crocs and tied the cord around M & M’s ankles to make sure the Crocs didn’t sail away when we waded through the jåkks.

Gloves: Rab Polartec Powerdry for Mattias, Icebreaker merino liners for Myra + a pair of generic fleece mitts. We will probably complement these with a rainproof barrier.

Hats: Fleece balaclava (from MEC) for Myra, fleece bucket with inca-style earflaps (from REI) for Mattias. Both are old favorites and worked very well.

That’s it, that’s all we need. A few tweaks here and there, and then we have a solid system in place.

Footwear for hiking in Lapland

1 kg of weight on your feet equals 6 kg carried on your back, or so the saying goes. We believe it. And so we hike in trail runners.

Crossing Gorsajohka, M & M wore Crocs, dad wore his trail runners, with the insoles removed, and mom actually waded barefoot, carrying her Gore-tex lined shoes around her neck. Going barefoot is certainly not recommended, since your feet get so numb from the cold water that you cannot really tell if you cut yourself on sharp rocks. We need to work out a better strategy for mom. Once her beloved shoes wear out, we should replace them with a pair without any water impermeable barrier, so that she can follow dad’s strategy.

After stomping out the little water that collects in the mesh of the trail runners, dad put the insoles back in place and put on a pair of thin merino liner socks. His feet were warm after a few minutes of hiking and nearly dry after another 30 minutes or so. This system is unbeatable in dad’s opinion. And the insoles-out, socks-off procedure is not really needed at all, usually he just walks right across any waterways on the fly. Of course, it doesn’t work if you wear gore-tex lined shoes, since they trap water inside the shoe.

A perfect setup for hiking in Lapland (and elsewhere).

The details of dad’s recommended footwear system: trail running shoes, in this case Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra; Superfeet blue insoles (taking care of dad’s achilles tendonitis); and Woolpower merino liners. A pair of lightweight gaiters (MLD Superlight Gaitors) stop grit from getting into the shoes.

The ideal shoe is made of ventilating mesh fabric and has a removable insole to make the shoe dry out really fast.

If it is cold and our shoes and socks aren’t dry by the time we stop for the night, then we take off the wet stuff, dry our feet, put on our night socks (thicker merino socks) and a pair of Sealskinz over these, then step into our trail runners again with the insoles removed (to allow for the extra bulk). Perfect!

Why Ti?

Why titanium? Do you think you save weight? Yes, you do if the only viable alternative that you are comparing with is stainless steel or other high tensile metal. But for cookware, cutlery, etc. you almost certainly don’t, because aluminum or plastic or wood works just as well and is typically lighter. For a family of 4, it makes sense to carry one or two reasonably large (> 1.5 liter or so) pots, a strategy that in our opinion offers the greatest convenience and cooking efficiency. In this category, we simply haven’t found anything lighter than aluminum. We are very pleased that the two pots from our old (30+ years) Trangia set actually outperform all of the alternative and supposedly light, high-tech gear.

Here’s a comparison of the weight-per-volume of various popular cook pots:

Manufacturer, model, capacity Volume Weight Weight/Volume
Trangia, aluminum, 1.5 l 1500.00 127.00 0.085
Trangia, aluminum, 1.75 l 1750.00 149.00 0.085
Antigravitygear, 2 l aluminum non-stick pot 1900.00 167.00 0.088
Snow Peak, Trek 1400 titanium 1400.00 124.00 0.089
Evernew, UL Titanium pot 1300 ml 1300.00 140.00 0.108
Vargo, Ti-Lite, 1.3 l non-stick 1300.00 140.00 0.108
REI Ti ware non-stick, 4.0 l 4000.00 451.00 0.113
Snow Peak, Cook’n save, 2 liter titanium 2000.00 234.00 0.117
Tibetan, Titanium 1100 Pot 1100.00 136.00 0.124
Evernew, UL Titanium pot 1900 ml 1900.00 244.00 0.128
Evernew, UL Titanium pot 900 ml 900.00 117.00 0.130
MSR, Titan Kettle 850.00 118.00 0.139
Ti-Time, titanium pot 900 ml 900.00 128.00 0.142
Tibetan, Titanium 900 Pot 900.00 130.00 0.144
Primus Etapower, 2.9 l 2900.00 446.00 0.154
Trangia billy, aluminium, 2.5 l 2500.00 395.00 0.158
Primus, saucepan, stainless, 3 l 3000.00 493.00 0.164
GSI, aluminium, 1.9 l 1900.00 335.00 0.176
Snow Peak, Trek 700 titanium 700.00 126.00 0.180
Evernew, UL Titanium pot 600 ml 600.00 112.00 0.187
Primus Etapower, 2.1 l 2100.00 412.00 0.196

The result is clear. By using our old Trangia pots we save weight, money and a precious resource.

On windscreens

Aluminum foil wrapped around the pot and secured with a paperclip.

A paperclip does the trick. By mounting the windscreen directly onto the pot it actually serves the dual purpose as a windscreen and as a poor man’s heat exchanger of sorts, increasing heat transfer to the walls of the pot. We really ought to do some quasi-scientific benchmarking of the increase in performance, but based on our initial experience, this seems to be a fairly efficient way of speeding up boil times.

Update: You need to be careful with this setup if you have any plastic components on your burner, so that they do not melt! Recently, we were a bit too slack and didn’t monitor how hot the stove got, with the result that the plastic trigger on the piezo igniter melted. This overheating problem becomes more serious the lower the windscreen reaches. It goes without saying that the windscreen shouldn’t reach any lower than shown in the photo above. Since you need to be able to adjust the flame, it is kind of natural that the windscreen doesn’t go any further down that slightly above the control valve. Be careful!