March 05, 2021
Passion for the Pulk - Freedom from a Plan in Sweden
Words and Photos from Iona Pawson
I love it when places surprise you. When you have a preconception about an entire country’s wilderness, but you take a gamble, agree to an expedition, and soon realize how wrong you were! Take for example, Sweden. Thoughts of cross-country skiing over rolling Nordic terrain, reindeer herds, Father Christmas, bad weather, and kilometres of wild remote frozen landscape come to mind. But there are plenty of mountains to explore with stunning ski couloirs and interesting journeys connecting them.
Our ski expedition had a starting point, Vakkotavare, 11th April, and an endpoint, Abisko, 25th April. In between, there was no agenda or fixed route. Instead, we had identified a selection of possible routes we might be able to take through the mountains that would be ‘pulk friendly’; but most importantly, have some good skiing. As a backup, the Kungsleden, a marked trail, ran the entire length of our route and would be our access and exit from the area. Despite venturing onto this trail at times, the vast majority of our trip was spent many miles from it.
Fully self-supported, we carried everything needed to survive until our train home from Abisko. I was using my 4400 Porter pack with Porter pack stuff pocket (which was invaluable for putting another layer, more food, and my maps into so I didn’t have to delve into the main pack during the day–especially when the weather was poor). It was my first time using the pack, and I fell in love with it. It’s since been on another big trip, and I’ve used it at work teaching camp craft and mountain skills. Other than the weight and loading of the pack, I love the fact that I can have my compass and map pen easily accessible in one hip belt pocket, with a stash of food in the other.
The first three days were spent skinning and skiing from the road head towards the mountains North of the STF Singi Hut. Itching to ski some of the peaks, on day four, we went up Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest point, 2101m. Interestingly, the southern point is no longer the highest after last summer’s hot temperatures, and the northern peak is now the tallest. At the summit, we couldn’t believe we met some other people! They were marshaling on the Keb Classic, a skimo race. If we had arrived an hour earlier, the summit would have felt very busy!
Over the following ten days, we skied a further nine mountains and had fresh tracks on most of them. Often, from the summit of one, we would look across and eye up lines to skin up and ski down that looked fun, safe, and feasible. This freedom from a set plan was a welcome difference to most ski trips I’ve been on, and the lack of a list of peaks to tick off left us to pick and choose a variety of objectives from larger individual mountains to steeper faces and glaciated peaks that held more snow. A particular highlight of the journey was finding a way from Stuor Reaiddávággi over the V Bossos and O Bossos glaciers to Unna Visttasvággi.
Typically, we would aim to move camp each day, either before, during, or after skiing a peak we had spotted in the distance. At times we met cross country skiers, but Heli-skiing seemed to be the most popular mode of skiing in the area. We didn’t meet anyone on a ski touring set up outside of Kebnekaise.
Luckily, we had just enough snow to ski all the way to Abisko, although it was exciting, with deep slush, melting rivers, and muddy snow patches. I think we can all say we would love to go back to Scandinavia and explore more of its wilderness. We are planning another trip there for Spring 2020.
Iona Pawson is an obsessive ski mountaineer with a passion for self-sufficiency and exploring new places using skis as a form of transport and fun. When she isn’t on holiday, you can find her sharing her enthusiasm for the mountains with others, working as an outdoor instructor for Plas Y Brenin, on Instagram, and at http://betweenskiingandclimbing.blogspot.com/