Expedition to Lapland - Preparations
A month before our departure for Lapland, our merry band of madmen played the role of adventurous apprentice cooks. For several days we concocted some famous dehydrated* dishes, mainly based on couscous. Fortunately, there were no gluten intolerants among us. But the must-have dish that we cooked and that delighted our taste buds during this trip was Beefs Jerky's. To make them, we used a dehydrator and vacuum-packed our sauced semolina in airtight sachets.
The menu for our expedition to Lapland
- morning: porridge with grapes, chocolate, plain (yuck...), honey.
- midi: 20g de Beef Jerky’s maison, une tranche de pain de seigle et une tranche de fromage.
- evening: crushed crisps (to fit easily into the bag), semolina with chilli or green pepper or Bolognese sauce and for dessert, a piece of chocolate (preferably with as much sugar as possible).
Here's one of our typical menus:
In addition to this, we provided one cereal bar per person per day and one studentmix per day for the group. We also had a few extra bags of Pinda's peanuts.
*The difference between dehydration and freeze-drying lies in the process by which the water is removed from the food. In dehydration, the water is removed by the action of hot air, whereas in freeze-drying, the water is removed by placing the food in a vacuum in a very cold environment. During freezing, the water particles escape in gaseous form, better preserving the vitamins and other properties of the food.
A slightly heavy bag...
Here we are, on the eve of our departure for Lapland on 9 September. On this day, our objective is to distribute the equipment in our bags. We have almost 36 kg of food, 2 tents for 3 people and small equipment such as rescue ropes, inflation bags, etc. to divide up.
We soon realised that our bag would be filled almost entirely with our food and rafting gear, and that it would weigh in at around 25kg.
First days hiking in wild Lapland
September 10 is the big day! Departure from Zaventem, first connection in Stockholm where a second flight to Kiruna awaits, and from there we have to catch a train to Abisko. When everything goes according to plan, it's all too easy. Our first flight was delayed, so we missed our connection in Stockholm. SAS' excellent customer service paid for us to spend the night at the Clarion, a charming hotel right in the heart of Stockholm airport. We'll remember the breakfast we had on the morning of the 11th, which became our main topic of conversation throughout our trip. Because yes, couscous is good, but the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Clarion is even better! Grab & Go bags were available, so we were able to stock up on fruit, biscuits and cake for the first day. A real treat for our taste buds!
DAY 1 - Off to Lapland!
On 11 September we were finally able to catch our flight to Kiruna and then our bus to Abisko. While waiting for the bus, we found a full tank of gas followed by a note from some Italian trekkers wishing us a good trek, thank you! After a 2-hour bus journey, we finally arrived at the start of the Kungsleden at around 3.30pm. We hiked through a gold-coloured birch forest along a gorge with crystal-clear water. Despite the late hour, we had to walk at least 16 km to pitch our tent outside the Abisko nature reserve, where camping is forbidden. We don't know it yet, but the next time we have a phone signal will be in 9 days' time. Welcome to Lapland!
After 16.1 km, we decide to set up camp, build a fire and, after eating a delicious couscous with pepper, we begin our fun time by the fire, playing the flute or harmonica while making sure we go to bed early.
DAY 2 - The first pass
After a gentle night in this beautiful birch forest, we discovered that our tents have a truly exceptional capacity to accumulate moisture, allowing us to have a little rain on each side of the inner tent, a delight when it's freezing outside. After this pleasant awakening, we took advantage of the first rays of sunshine to warm up, dismantle the camp and start walking. Today's objective is to reach the area around the Tjaktja hut, 24 km further on.
We decided the day before to walk for 1 hour before lunch, so that we could eat in the sun and replenish the water for our fabulous homemade porridge (with water, of course, and no sugar, otherwise it's too easy). It's a system we'll be keeping for the 4 days on Kungsleden.
We set off directly for the first pass on the route, which is admittedly modest in terms of ascent (300D+), but with 25kg rucksacks and legs that were still numb, it was hard work. As we climb and move on, the landscape changes, with fewer trees giving way to low-lying copses and grass in marshy areas.
The beauty of Lapland
The colours of Lapland are as crazy as ever! Red, gold, yellow... The sun is shining brightly on this day, making the view even more beautiful with the reflections of the sun on the lakes we pass. Alongside the lake, we enjoy our first lunch in trekking mode, 20 grams of beef jerky (tastes vary from day to day: pepper, salt, herbes de Provence, beef jerky, etc.), a small piece of cheese and a thin slice of rye bread. It's a meal that leaves us wanting more, but it's a pleasure nonetheless - your stomach will get used to it! When we got close to the hut we were aiming for, we found a good spot to set up camp by the water! Max takes the opportunity to try his hand at fishing for the first time. The view was once again incredible, and the sky was still kind even though it had become very overcast during the afternoon.
Despite the changeable weather in the early evening, this first full day away from civilisation was incredible. The Lapland landscapes are grandiose, the weather is still mild and the atmosphere is top-notch!
DAY 3 - The first Lapland rains
The night was very rainy but not windy, so we all had a good night's sleep and we're thinking that, with a bit of luck, enough water has fallen from the sky so that it won't fall too much during the day, as a big day of 27 km and a pass awaits us.
That day, we realised just how great the plank paths that run through part of Kungsleden are! In the absence of planks, the paths are not easy on the feet, with lots of stones in the ground, which are obviously placed in the least practical direction to walk on, and with a spacing that makes walking absolutely uneven. With paths like these, our pace slows down a bit and our system of walking for 45 minutes, taking a 15-minute break and then carrying on takes over.
The weather in Lapland, changeable you say?
The path to the pass seems to lead us towards less threatening weather and away from the Mordor that has been chasing us since we left the tent. The quest for the Shire motivates us to keep moving forward, without dawdling too much to avoid getting drenched. The burden of our rucksack is making itself felt, but it's not too heavy to carry.
So we clocked up the kilometres in 45-minute walks/15-minute breaks, 45-minute walks/15-minute breaks... We arrived at the foot of the pass and began the ascent, which was modest in itself, but with 25kg rucksacks it was a completely different story. We arrived at the top completely exhausted and had a well-deserved lunch break. After a 45-minute rest, we set off again: we still have half the distance to cover before the end of the stage.
We arrive at a viewpoint offering a breathtaking view of the valley on the other side of the pass, the one we'll be sleeping in that evening. We took the opportunity to take a few photos of the group and then got back to walking, walking, walking, walking and ....walking. This Lapland landscape is breathtaking. The colours are magnificent.
DAY 4 - Discovering exceptional landscapes
After 11 hours of sleep, we get up and discover an even more magnificent landscape than the day before: all the peaks are completely covered in snow. The snow had fallen about 100m above our bivouac. This was the last day of the trek. We leave this magnificent valley and head off in the direction of Kaitumjaure, the starting point of the river.
After a few kilometres of walking, we reach another valley where a tributary of the Kaitum flows. A few raindrops began to fall, but with the final destination of the trek fast approaching, our motivation remained high. We left the landscape of sparse, orange-red vegetation to return to a forest of birch trees, tortured by the wind and as golden as on the first day. The atmosphere is incredible; it's like being in Japan. I've never been there, but that's how I imagine this country.
Meeting new people in the midst of Lapland's wilderness
We arrive at Kaitumjaure. It's at this point that we are warmly welcomed by Monika, the hut keeper. We briefly explain our plans and ask her to show us the best spot to pitch our tent near the lake so that we can easily get into the water the next day. She explains that the water level is particularly low this year because of the very hot summer we've had and shows us the best place to pitch our tent. She also invites us to her house for a lemonade once we've settled in.
We discover our bivouac spot and, once again, the view is fantastic! A little fox comes to say hello. We then head to Monika's house for some lemonade. Once there, a trekker interested in our project is already waiting to hear what we're going to do. Monika is fascinated by our project. Her husband then joins us and we continue chatting over a good beer. It was a real pleasure to share this moment with the Swedes. Monika asked us what time we were planning to leave tomorrow, so she could follow our progress with binoculars. Before we left, she gave us some delicateballs.
Then it's back to camp. Tonight's programme: curry noodles followed by a cigar brought by Quentin to celebrate the resting of our backs. For dessert: delicateballs courtesy of Monika.
The packraft - Encounter with the Kaitum river
JOUR 5 – l’excitation du packraft en Laponie
We wake up around 7am, prepare breakfast and pack up. Today is the first day of packraft. This change of activity requires us to completely change our routines and automatisms. You also have to reorganise your bag and dress differently. All this takes time. Monika couldn't resist seeing us off, so she wished us good luck and off we went. We're all overexcited, so overexcited that we don't realise that the wind has turned against us and that bad weather is on the way. After 10 minutes on the water, the wind picked up again and whipped us in the face. Waves are starting to form on the Kaitum River and we're finding it very difficult to make headway. We had to fight to gain every metre. Lapland welcomes us.
A difficult day, full of lessons
To add an extra dose of pleasure, it starts to rain, first lightly and then steadily. It's now pouring down. Despite our waterproof jackets, it's raining so hard that the moisture is gradually seeping in. We try to take a lunch break to regain our strength, but we soon realise that in these conditions, if we stop for more than 2 minutes, we're going to freeze to death. We all quickly swallow a Snickers 100% pleasure and off we go again. We take a quick look at Martin's phone and realise that we've barely done 8 km... at which point doubt sets in. Will Lapland get the better of us?
A day of doubt in Lapland
We're freezing, it's raining like crazy and it's not going to stop any time soon, with the day's objective still more than 17 km away... We decide to get out the rafting maps to see if there's a fisherman's hut nearby where we could stop. Stopping for those few minutes to get the map out of my bag totally chilled me. My teeth are chattering louder and louder. All I can think about now is getting back into my raft and paddling as fast as I can to warm up. Lapland is a polar destination, so we've been warned.
We spot a hut 2 km away. We decide to go there, hoping it will be open. When we got there, we took shelter under the hut's boat and started to put up the 2 tents. Unfortunately, the hut was locked, so we couldn't get in. That's when we hear the sound of a helicopter. It was coming straight at us. Martin makes the "NO" sign with his arms to indicate that we don't need any help.
Is Monica worried about us and sending help? The helicopter lands and 4 shoemakers and their 2 dogs get out. We find ourselves unloading 450kg of gear with them. They kindly invite us to have a beer in the little hut made for 4. There were 10 of us in the little hut, sharing a great time with them, even if we would have preferred a nice hot tea at the time. After 2 hours spent getting to know each other and warming up, we return to our tents. It's still raining hard. We quickly made ourselves something to eat and tried to fall asleep to regain our strength.
The unexpected drama
During the night, the wind began to pick up. Several of us woke up in the middle of the night because of it. Stan woke up his tent to go and put stones on the rafts to stop them blowing away. I go to do the same thing a few minutes later and arrive reassured when I see that someone else has had the same idea as me a little earlier. What a relief to see that our rafts are still there.
Lapland lesson number 1
First lesson: always weight the rafts with stones or deflate them during the night. We try as best we can to get back to sleep. At around 4.30am, a particularly violent gust broke a pole in the MSR tent. The broken pole tore more than 80cm from the outer tent. Stan wakes up the other tent and we take it down, all of us in our shorts and numb from the cold, wind and rain. We decided to wake up the hunters so that the people sleeping in the torn tent could find shelter somewhere.
The hunters welcome the survivors and offer them a coffee. They also ask us if we have a satellite phone or other means of communication in case anything else goes wrong during our journey. We have to admit that we weren't very clever, our mobile phones are useless in Lapland, no mobile phone communication gets through. If something happens at this stage, we'll have at least 1 or 2 days to walk to warn the emergency services that something has happened...
DAY 6 - Reacting accordingly
Everyone has had a bad night. It was impossible to get any sleep, and everyone was thinking of different scenarios for the rest of the trip. In the morning, the rain finally stopped, so we took the opportunity to dry the tents and repair the MSR. There was a tear of almost a metre in the outer tent. We repaired it as best we could with good old power tape, but we knew full well that the tape would fail if it rained heavily on it. We're in Lapland...
The broken hoop is also repaired. Then came the discussion about the next stage of the expedition. Knowing that in the event of heavy rain or strong winds, one of the two tents would be unusable, we were left with two possible solutions at this stage: The first was to turn back so that we no longer had to sleep in a tent.
Cela signifie qu’il faut retraverser le lac dans l’autre sens et ensuite marcher sur le Kungsleden jusqu’à Nikkaluakta. Même si cette idée était probablement la plus “safe”, on est vite tomber d’accord sur le fait que faire demi tour n’était pas absolument nécessaire étant donné la situation. On a donc décidé de suivre l’option numéro deux: continuer le projet de base et suivre la rivière Kaitum. Cela signifiait qu’on allait peut être devoir dormir dans des conditions difficiles pour l’une ou l’autre nuit si les conditions ne s’arrangeaient pas mais on a pris le risque en se disant qu’on trouverait bien une cabane d’ici Kaitum pour se réfugier. Il y’a en effet de nombreuses cabanes d’éleveur de rennes en Laponie.
Lapland lesson number 2
Avec cette nuit, on s’est vite rendu compte qu’un GSM satellite aurait bien été utile vu notre isolement… La décision de continuer impliquait un deuxième choix que vous avons fait ensemble, s’il arrive quoi que ce soit à l’un d’entre nous, le seul moyen pour prévenir les secours est d’envoyer la moitié du groupe aller chercher des secours…
After breaking camp and thanking the hunters, we were ready to set off again, the wind was still strong but had turned in our favour. It was finally going to help us make headway on the lake. The weather and this more favourable wind gave us a good morale boost. Now we're recharged. The wind was so strong that it created waves sometimes a metre high. As it was blowing at an angle, we had to keep rowing on the right side. Although surfing on the lake was great fun, everyone was a bit nervous, as the waves could be quite impressive and it was important not to fall into the water. The outside temperature shouldn't exceed 10°C and the water temperature 5-7°C.
First rapids on the Kaitum river
Shortly afterwards, we were about to go through our first rapids. A class II to start with, followed directly by a class I. Nothing too scary, apart from the low water level. The rafts are scraping the pebbles well. We hope that won't be the case for all the rapids...
At the end of the day, the wind died down and we reached our campsite for the evening: a small village of fishermen's cottages. As we explored the area, we didn't come across a soul - everything was closed. We realised that we wouldn't be seeing anyone for a long time.
We set up camp behind a shed so as to be protected from the wind and not risk breaking the tent even more, which we managed to do anyway... When we put it up, the broken pole gave way again, the damned carbon rod, not solid to the touch! Once again, the power tape saved our lives.
The sky clears and we can admire a magnificent sunset.
DAY 7 - Unexpected weather in Lapland
We woke up to glorious weather. No sooner had we packed our bags and unpacked our tents than the weather changed and the clouds began to roll in. Another Lapland!
Nous nous mettons à l’eau. La première partie de la journée consiste en la traversée d’un lac de 8 km. Nous nous arrêtons dans un fishcamp à midi. Nous espérons trouver des gens là-bas pour avoir un update météo et les conditions de la rivière. Arrivé là-bas, on a vite remarqué qu’à part des reindeer, il n’y avait plus personne ici. La saison de la pêche semble bel et bien finie. Quelle sensation étrange de manger dans un petit village “abandonné”.
Nous nous remettons à l’eau et sentons enfin la courant s’accélérer. Quelle joie d’avancer à 2-3km/h sans faire le moindre effort! Nous nous arrêtons à nouveau près d’une cabane de pêcheur, à son tour hyper cadenassée. Ce n’est pas pour aujourd’hui qu’on pourra se faire un sauna. Max part à la pêche, sans succès malheureusement.
We set up camp and enjoy a lovely evening around the fire without the rain. We examine the map carefully to anticipate tomorrow's route. On the programme, lots of rapids including some serious zones. Class VI and V. The wind has died down and the night will be calm. We can sleep soundly without fear of the MSR breaking again.
DAY 8 - The rapids of Lapland
You wake up excited as ever. Today promises to be the most intense day of rapids. We start straight away with a class II. Then comes our first class IV, a very muscular section that fills our rafts with water.
Arriving at Class VI, we deflated our rafts and went round it on the left bank. It's not even midday, we've made great progress this morning and we're eating in front of this beautiful washing machine. The weather is magnificent, not a cloud in the sky. We'll even have to wear sun cream today! A miracle in Lapland.
La journée continue, tout s’enchaîne parfaitement, on s’amuse comme des fous. Entre deux rapides, Nico sort son harmonica sur l’eau et nous offre une beau moment hors du temps. On arrive vers 17h00 à une cabane non gardée. Le coucher de soleil derrière nous est magnifique. La cabane est cosie avec son poêle à bois et son vieux plancher à l’odeur de feu de bois. Nous nous réjouissons de passer une soirée hors de nos tentes et de pouvoir profiter de la chaleur d’une cabane.
Après le repas, nous profitons du ciel totalement clair pour faire quelques photos du magnifique ciel étoilé qui nous entoure. Nous remarquons vite des lumières assez étranges sur les photos. Serait-ce des aurores boréales? Quelques minutes plus tard, le spectacles est grandiose. Un magnifique spectacle d’aurores boréales s’offrent à nous, un moment magique ou 6 gamins s’extasient comme des enfants. La Laponie c’est magique!
DAY 9 AND 10 - The magic hut
We wake up in Riekkhu's little hut, where we've managed to put our 6 mattresses inside. Since yesterday, we've had a network, and even 3G. After looking at various weather websites, we quickly realised that 2 days of very bad weather were on the way. We agreed to take a break today. Our bodies have been put to the test over the last few days and a day's break can do us a world of good. A typical Lapland break where we improvise a sauna after a swim in the Kaitum.
The temperature has dropped a lot too. It won't exceed 7 degrees from now on until the end of the trip. We keep ourselves busy as best we can. Martin eats and empties the food supply while Max tries to catch us something. In the evening, we spend hours discussing what to do next. Do we set off again the next day in the rain to reach the motorway? Or do we wait another day and take advantage of the beautiful day after tomorrow to get to Kaitum?
Kaitum is our alternative way back. A train stops in this little town and goes straight to Kiruna. One thing's for sure: if we don't leave tomorrow, we'll never get to the motorway in time to hitchhike and catch our plane. After much discussion, we decide to stay another day in this little 8m2 hut. We're not thrilled with the idea, but it's probably the most sensible decision we've made.
DAY 11 - Last days in Lapland
Dernier jour sur la rivière Kaitum. Comme annoncé dans le bulletin météo, une belle journée s’annonce. Avec la pluie des derniers jours, le niveau de l’eau a bien monté. On s’attaque à notre dernière journée de raft. Ce soir nous serons de retour à Kiruna et finirons notre expé en Laponie.
We get into the water and enjoy the last rapids on this river. In the final meanders, the wind that had previously been at our back is now facing us. We were in a class I rapid, but the wind was so strong that we had to fight to go with the current. At around 4pm we arrived in Kaitum. The sweetshop advertised by Google Maps is well and truly a myth. No sweets in sight, and not a soul in sight. We're waiting for the train to Kiruna.
Want to go on an expedition like Stan, Nico, Mathieu, Martin, Quentin and Maxime?