Midsummer in Abisko: Pass of Snow

Abisko National Park,
Lappland Province, Sweden

Previous: Midsummer in Abisko: Valley of Waterfalls


At 6 or 7 in the morning or so people in Kårsavagge hut started to wake up, dress up, make food, pack up, and were being not at all quiet doing all that. By the sound of it there were several couples. All of them were speaking Swedish. I felt awkward leaving my bunk, hoping that maybe they would all leave and I would have the room alone to myself, but in the end it became clear that the last couple was going to stay for a while (lighting up the stove and stuff), so I had to go down. They mumbled something in response to my “hej” and then just ignored me. I didn’t feel like staying with them there for long, so I dressed up and left, intending to have my sandwiches outside. So in the end I didn’t really use the hut in any way other than for sleeping.

1. Still at least it had saved me from the nasty night rain.

2. Gaskkamus Gorsajávri lake. Morning views didn’t differ much from midnight ones, but at least it wasn’t raining anymore and the cloud weren’t hanging that low.

3. I’m really not very picky when it comes to food, and even more so on hikes. I don’t bother with cooking anything hot.

4. Gorsavággi valley stretches on for a few more kilometers to the west, ending somewhere behind these bends with mountains described as normally impassable. The mountains north of it (to the right, on this picture), however, can be crossed, and there are three different trails (one of them unmarked) going through them, from Kårsavagge hut to Låktatjåkka mountain station.

Going to Låktatjåkka station, at the shoulder of Loktačohkka mountain, was in fact my original idea. It is a mountain station as opposed to a mountain hut, so it’s like a proper (though still spartan) hostel, with showers, restauraut and private rooms available. Such stations are much rarer than mountain huts, particularly in places not reachable by road; this one is located at the altitude of 1228 m, the highest such place in Sweden allegedly. The best known one is probably Kebnekaise mountain station, serving as a base camp for hikes to Kebnekaise mountain. Of course spending a night in such a place would have been much nicer than in Kårsavagge hut. However, Låktatjåkka unlike most huts/stations is operated not by STF but by Björkliden ski resort, and while STF huts and stations have their summer season starting before Midsummer, Låktatjåkka opens for summer only from 1.7. So going there was not a useful option. Instead, I intended to cross the mountains south of the valley, using a marked trail between Kårsavagge and Abiskojaure huts.

5. But first I had to pay for my stay. I went to this warden’s hut, knocked on the door, and said that I wanted to pay. A night in the hut cost me 500 SEK, which is of course not super cheap (the Seskarö camping cabin for example had been 450 SEK). It costs less if you book and pay in advance, and also less if you’re a member of STF or a sister organization from another Nordic country like the Norwegian DNT, and even less if both of these conditions are true. Of course you should bring a receipt (if you paid in advance) or pay by cash here, bank cards are not much use here in the wild without even cellphone reception. Conveniently I had 1000 SEK in cash from the previous year’s trip that I didn’t really have any use for.

(And yeah of course I could just leave and no one would force me to pay, I don’t think the warden would even have any idea that I had been there. I still paid anyway.)

The warden was a pretty nice guy. Well, he has a pretty nice job so he’d better be! Living in relative comfort in an own cabin in such a beautiful place. I think I read there is a great number of volunteers for these warden positions every year. He asked me where I came from and where I was heading now. He seemed surprised to learn that I had used a trail on the south bank of Gorsajohka (“you mean there’s a trail there?”). However he had some pretty solid advice, namely, where I should ford the river now.

6. So yeah, there isn’t any bridge here at Kårsavagge but I had to go south, and the river is shallow and calm enough to be crossed here, barely reaching knee level. The warden told me to look for a red flag in the stream, and I did for a while, but didn’t find any. Maybe it got washed away. Anyway while I was looking for the flag, the warden came out from his cabin and told me where exactly to do it anyway. The other landmark to use was that bush in the stream to the right. I headed towards it as is; I didn’t have any spare footwear for such occasions — plain slippers are pretty useful for these occasions but I forgot to take them — and of course had to enjoy wet boots for the rest of the day. Anyway the water didn’t feel as cold as it seemed.

7. From there one the trail across the mountains is mostly not very well visible in the terrain (particularly in rocky places higher up of course) but well marked with cairns. The trail is about 9 km long, but with significant elevation gain.

8. Snow patches begin to appear pretty much right away.

9. The trail does not just climb straight up steeply, instead going somewhat to the eastern direction along the mountain too. The mountain in question is a spur of Boazočohkka massif, meaning “Reindeer Summit” in Northern Sami. The highest point is at 1300 m, and the trail goes through a pass at about 1140 m on its Njunesgeahči spur. I’m not sure what the latter name means, but according to the dictionary I often use maybe it’s something to do with with “nose” and “see”. The climb from 690 m (Kårsavagge) to 1140 m is of course not a small undertaking with a full backpack, but at least there aren’t any really steep or exposed parts.

10. Going up. The cabin is still well visible.

11. Getting higher.

12. It is again possible (if barely) to see a strip of the huge Torneträsk lake beyond the valley’s end.

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14. Now we’re getting into the fun parts!

15.

16. Snow on the ground outside of old melting snow patches appeared at about 900 m above sea level.

17. And at about 1000 m it became contiguous.

18. And the actual mountain pass was not much higher than that. I walked a bit to the side of a trail to a small local summit (1150 m). Unfortunately the views from there are not particularly impressive, especially in this sort of weather. It was of course very windy and new snow was falling.

19. Snow areas were completely undisturbed and it appeared that no one had been there before me in quite some time. Although farther down on the other side one old set of tracks did appear. Maybe they didn’t climb up to the pass or just chose some other route in general.

20. I don’t like snow, but a bit of snow in the mountains in June is cool. There isn’t really any possibility of dangerous falls on this trail, so I was not completely careful and at one point I slipped in the snow and slid on my ass down a bit.

21. And beyond the pass, the snow zone ends again and you can see Ábeskojávri lake and Gámaeatnu river flowing into it far below. Abiskojaure huts are located near the river mouth.

22. The section of the trail from the pass to Abiskojaure is longer and has to descend more; Abiskojaure huts are lower than Kårsavagge, at 490 m over sea level.

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26. Eventually some greenery begins again.

27. And then, fell birch.

28. Descending to the lake through a fell birch forest.

29. There is a little beach on the shore close to the huts. The lake probably never gets really warm but I guess there are always people willing to go for a swim.

30. And finally the huts show up.

31. Abiskojaure STF huts are much bigger than Kårsavagge, with “51-75 beds”, as their website says. They include several buildings, with a sauna and a grocery store. This time however I intended to sleep in a tent, as the weather was better than the previous days.

32. The hut warden was an older lady, and she was quite impressed that I came from Kårsavagge over the pass. I paid her for staying here in a tent, which is not free as well; you have to pay a service fee of 300 SEK. You’re allowed to use facilities like sauna or a separate kitchen building for tent users then.

Note that the few huts along the most visited part of Kungsleden trail (and Abiskojaure is the first stop on Kungsleden) cost a bit more than others, as they’re the most popular and crowded by far.

33. Tent area next to the buildings. In general you can put up a tent in Sweden wherever you want for free, but this is not true within Abisko National Park territory; the regulations here do not allow putting up a tent outside designated places. The extent of the national park proper is however rather modest; it basically includes just a 12 km or so long stretch of the Ábeskoeatnu river valley, ending a short distance south of Abiskojaure huts. Gorsavággi valley for example is mostly outside the national park area, and thus wild camping there is completely legal (and indeed I had seen a number of tents there the previous day).

34. I had my own food again but I couldn’t resist buying some beer from the grocery store. It’s Norrland Guld, a generic Swedish beer brand that tastes like piss, and it cost 50 SEK a can.

35. I didn’t really have much sleep in the tent either (see, I’m really not that good with multi-day hikes). The tent that I took was a shitty 20€ from from a supermarket that I had bought on a whim. It was of course pretty flimsy, but not entirely unusable. It was a single layer tent, which means that it’s rather light but suffers from condensation forming on the inside surface. Well, and the night’s rain meant it became pretty wet both on the inside and the outside.

Having spent an evening and part of the night in the tent, I decided that this was going nowhere and I might just as well pack up and head to the car, as the third and the final leg of my hike. So this is what I did, at 3 in the morning or something, leaving Abiskojaure behind.

36. Kungsleden trail continues on to the Alesjaure hut, leaving the wide Ábeskoeatnu/Gámaeatnu valley. If you continue up the Gámaeatnu valley instead, you’ll eventually reach Unna Allakas hut, very close to the Norwegian border; from there on you could continue to Norway. But I of course was heading down the valley — in the direction of “Abisko Turist”, the main entrance to the national park and the Kungsleden trail.

37. Bridge over Gámaeatnu.

38. View upstream…

39. And downstream towards the Ábeskojávri lake.

40. The entire Abiskojaure-Abisko trail goes through fell birch forests on the eastern shore of Ábeskojávri and then Ábeskoeatnu river. The trail is extremely well trodden and marked, of course — this is Kungsleden/Dag Hammarskjöldsleden after all.

41. There is even a sort of a dirt road, mostly parallel to the trail and sometimes trail just goes along it. It even has these odd double duckboard tracks over some wet areas. I saw some tire tracks suggesting a quad bike, but really you could probably reach Abiskojaure with a good 4WD car (which of course wouldn’t be allowed without a special permission). Judging from the map this road seems to continue to Unna Allakas (but not along the main Kungsleden route).

42. The last view of the huts.

43. And sure enough, as I was getting closer to the end, the weather finally started to get better. Despite this trail being pretty easy, flat and not especially long, it was actually much more difficult for me to walk there than in the previous two days. I thought I was just that tired but eventually realized that my backpack just was weighing a lot more because the tent was soggy, and not only the tent in fact but the sleeping bag and mat both were also significantly wet with its condensation. Well, at least it happened only on the third day and not on the second… Eventually I got exhausted enough I had to take a short break every few hundred meters.

44. There are some private cabins along this trail.

45. About the sunniest view that I’ve got.

46. I passed some landmarks I knew from the previous year, including a camp site and a “meditation spot”. There’s a number of them along Dag Hammarskjöldsleden trail specifically, because Dag Hammarskjöld was into meditation or something. I’ve got no pictures (because I was too tired to bother) so I won’t bother with telling a detailed story about him.

47. When the trail starts to follow the very river bank you know you’re close.

48. And then the Ábeskoeatnu canyon and road and railroad bridges visible ahead mean you’re really really close.

49. And finally I emerged from this gate at the Kungsleden trailhead.

50. Yay…

51. It felt so good to change into dry clothes. I didn’t waste much time and drove off right away, at 7 in the morning or so. The lack of sleep began to catch up with me rather quickly, and within the first 150 km of the 900 km drive I pulled over for a nap twice, the second time actually sleeping for an hour or so in my car. I normally sleep in the car no better than I sleep in the tent, so this says something about how exhausted I was. The rest of the drive was smooth and mostly uneventful. I stopped at a gas station in Tornio to eat a pizza, and eventually arrived home rather early in the evening.

This wasn’t the end of the adventures related to this hike. My legs hurt for three days, and the next weekend I discovered I managed to do some long term damage to my left knee, as it began to hurt again after walking just about 5 km. This got me pretty worried, as this never happened to me before (even though this hike didn’t actually feel like the toughest thing I’ve ever done). Thankfully it gradually got better over the next month or so.

So, overall this trip wasn’t perfect, with the weather lack of sleep and overexertion, but still…  mountains!  Yay!  I’m still glad I finally got to explore Abisko a bit more, and this also helped to quenched my wanderlust for a while until the big August vacation. Still wish I saw more reindeers though!

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