Day 1. A journey through the seasons, we begin at Björkliden
Late-summer is on the air as we wrestle our backpacks into place. A light wind blows beneath an intensely blue sky. Jonas Larsson, 30, from Gällivare, looks on contently. “It was skiing that really brought me to the mountains. Then, I just stayed for the summer, for the kayaking and fishing. You know how it is.” We distribute some gear, camera equipment, vegetables and other items. Terje Pedersen, 42, from Arjeplog, loads up his backpack while repelling friendly gibes from 22-year-old Luleå resident Anna Gjörup. David Larson, 24, from Gällivare, is joined by our little expedition’s canine companion Gandalf, who skips about, gleefully greeting everyone. Eight happy wanderers and a dog. In the lead is guide Jesper Erkki, 34, from nearby Poikijärvi, who takes to the highcountry trail with the sure-footed team of Nils Åslund, 28, and Helena Axelsson, 26, in close pursuit. The path cuts through heather, lichen and small shrubs. A rough-legged hawk glides 30 metres above us, scanning the ground for prey.
Soon, we are wandering along Rakkasjåkka, whose chalk-white stones create a surreal backdrop against the eerily clear water. Where we walk, we spot tufts of blueberry bushes, which provide an all-natural snack along the way.
When we reach the massif, the landscape changes successively. We cross small snowy plains, ramble over rubble fields and negotiate boulders. The transition is gradual, confirming that we are nearing our goal; the glacial source. Switching from trek mode to climb, we advance up the steep slope of Kåppatjåkka, an ascent that is reminiscent of a highalpine excursion. Things get technical and we have to clamber carefully up via crevices in stages, the rock face dropping steeply to a scree slope.
During our ascent, we realize, smiling, that we have passed autumn and reached winter. Above us are several snowfields, and over the ridge the clouds are swirling in. We are walking into the first snowfall of the season. A few of us try to catch the first snowflakes in our mouths. We have completed most of our ascent and can now proceed down towards Låkta, the highest, altitude-wise, of Sweden’s mountain lodges. We are a happy gang as we stumble into the warmth of the mountain lodge, where Pär Rådström and Marie Lidström meet us with broad smiles. It’s a sensational pleasure to pull off your boots and exchange them for slippers, and after installing yourself in one of the upstairs rooms, laughingly sum up the day over a beer in the sauna.
The aroma of a magnificent Låkta meal unleashes the hunger we have been carrying within us. We can’t take our eyes off the starter dish: a potato waffle topped with Kalix löjrom and garnished with crème fraiche and red onion. Another elegantly bubbling glass of André Clouet Grand Reserve will undoubtedly give us a good start to a perfect ending of our first day. Mountaineering with champagne.
Day 2. Waking up in heaven
“Come on, the weather’s perfect,” exclaims an eager Jesper, and we tumble out of bed, half-asleep, pull on fleece sweaters, pants and slippers and shuffle out into a new world. The glittering snow, a warming sun and the sharp morning light bring everything into focus. Soon, we are following Låktajokken. The stream, born of dripping icicles and rivulets trickling down the rock face and running between stones beneath the snow, grows slowly as a myriad of tiny tributaries merge.
Moving at a flowing pace, almost at one with the stream, we stroll leisurely along, mostly in silence, just being in the here and now of this wonderful experience. We settle down to a fortifying lunch beside a waterfall. Reaching the treeline, we are surrounded by bushes and short deciduous trees. We are in the valley and lake landscape again. Pausing on our trek, we turn to the hunt; a hunt for the much-prized arctic ptarmigan. Our guide, Jesper Erkki, is joined by Peter Löfgren and his bird dogs, with which our own Gandalf tentatively makes acquaintance.
Peter Löfgren: “The dog covers a wide area, moving windward, so that it picks up the scent of the bird. If it catches the scent, it stops and points. A transmitter starts to beep when the dog stands still, so I can then walk the last little way with the dog and hopefully get into a good shooting position before the bird takes flight.” The hunt turns into a frantic chase for the beeping dog collar. Soon, a flock of ptarmigan is raised, taking off noisily in all directions. To those of us who had only just been listening with bated breath, the boom of a shotgun comes as a surprise, and the whole thing is over in two or three seconds. Glad and eager, Kasper retrieves the bird and dashes proudly up to us with it in his mouth.
Day 3. Kayaking and insight
Waking to the sound of light rain against the tent, I turn in my sleeping-bag and dose off again. After breakfast, we get ready. The kayaks, the lakes and gang of fun-loving paddlers are waiting. We drag the kayaks over the bog, down to the shore of Låktajärvi. Nils is already paddling full speed, with Helena in close pursuit. Well out on the calm surface, it is an extraordinary feeling to be gliding silently along so close to the deep, clear water we have followed together. By now, we’ve put some distance behind us and the massif, gaining a different perspective on the scenery through which we hiked and hunted yesterday. The group is spread out as we paddle down the lake. Jesper, who has a fishing rod, tries to catch the elusive char. I ask if he has any special tricks up his sleeve.“A net,” he replies with a cunning smile.
The valley landscape is full of ponds and streams, opening out further downstream on the enormous Torneträsk, oblong and majestic. The gigantic natural reservoir discharges into the Torne River, which flows down towards Jukkasjärvi. All the high-alpine meltwater gathers and merges here before continuing the slow journey to the coast. We arrive at the rustic village of Jukkasjärvi, the site of an ancient marketplace and church. We pay a visit to the Nutti’s reindeer paddock and Sami open-air museum near ICEHOTEL. Here, there is a large cot tent for guests, complete with a bar and fire pit, and there are several buildings and cultural artefacts. Approaching the paddock gate, we hear the characteristic clattering of reindeer hooves. Afterwards, we visit Jukkasjärvi’s rustic church, where the colourful relief of an incredible, carved wooden altarpiece immediately catches the group’s eye. It relates in frank detail the redemption of a ‘hussy’ and a ‘boozer’. So, what could be more appropriate than a visit, forthwith, to the spa for a beer, a sauna, a splash in the hot tub and a dip in the river?
Day 4. Foaming rapids and vertigo
It seems natural that our journey should culminate in a rough-and-tumble, rock-and-roll river ride that sends us splashing and careening down the roaring rapids. White-water rafting. After all, our purpose has been to follow the water’s course. The adrenalin rush comes right away when the raft is thrown over the first wave into the rapids and down into the boiling inferno. Jesper shouts his commands, and hanging over the edge of the raft, we paddle like mad in an effort to subjugate the enormous force. With expert precision, Jesper steers us right into the first giant wave, which pummels us with an icy, wet cascade. Whooping and laughing, we have no choice but to continue paddling frenetically. “Paddle harder, and maybe we’ll catch up to ICEHOTEL,” quips Jesper. But there is an element of truth in what he says, as the melting hotel is now returning to the river. However, our arms are probably
too weak. Hitting one set of rapids after another, we keep paddling and getting sprayed with the frigid water. We enter a pool, Jesper stands up, shouts ‘lifesaver’ and belly-flops into the river. A few impromptu bathers follow his lead until most of the gang is bobbing around in the calm, flowing water. As it transpires, this is where we get off. Dry clothing, coffee and sandwiches are waiting.
Our next adrenalin-steeped adventure is the high-wire course. In a grove overlooking a bay with reeds, what at first appears to be a network of cables and gadgets linking a couple of masts and trees soon turns out to be a nerve-racking test of skill and exertion. We climb higher for each minute and, looking down, a giddy sensation threatens to send us crashing to the ground. Terje is first. Anna soon follows. Finally, we are all up in the unusual labyrinth, making our way higher and higher. Via hanging ropes, over nets and wobbly logs, ever higher. The unavoidable finale is a hair-raising, bungee-like swing out over the water. A hop is accompanied by screams, laughter and, finally, a cry of relief.
Now, we head for a large cot tent on the other side of a small pine heath, where Peter is waiting with dinner: whitefish roe for starters, followed by a substantial souvas hash. Nils is moved by everything we have experienced, and his comment sums up what each of us has been thinking: “It feels like we’ve just done one thing right after the other. I’ve hardly had a chance to think.”