Saturday, September 16, 2017

Over the hills and far away

Sometime during last fall we started to think about going a little further away for a bikepacking trip with a few friends. I had already thought about another version of a route I did a few years ago in Vindelfjällen, and this alternative got support from the others. We planned the trip in a messenger group, which was named "Over the hills and far away".

A week ago it was time to actually perform the trip. We started from Turku by car at four in the morning, drove for four hours and arrived in time for the ferry from Vasa to Umeå. The weather was excellent and we spent more than an hour on the top deck checking out the surrounding, which were quite familiar for me from kayaking in the area. We saw no less than four lighthouses during this time, which was quite nice.

The ferry to Umeå took 4.5 h and was in part spent enjoying a quite excellent archipelago food buffet. In Sweden we still had over four hours in the car before arriving at our starting point in Norra Fjällnäs. The road follows the Ume river and is quite scenic. Discussions in the car showed that everyone had a good set of muscle relaxants and painkillers in the first aid pack, a sure sign that we are not that young anymore.

We packed our bikes and got going a little before seven in the evening.

We started with a few kilometers of gravel...

... before something more like a trail started.

The aim was to find a nice tent spot by the Biellojaure lake, but with the sunset at eight in the evening we had limited time and ultimately had to take the first decent overnight spot we could find. The terrain was quite dry, so we stopped after 8 km of riding when we came upon a stream that was big enough to have good water. (The following morning we did notice that an excellent beach spot would have been maybe 20 minutes away).

For this first evening we had sausages to grill and a little beer to drink.

The morning...

... with coffee.

Nice colors.

Packing everything...

... and starting to ride at 8:30.

Jarkko still rides his original purple Pugsley, one of the first fatbikes in Finland.

Tommi rides a first generation Salsa Mukluk.

After Biellojaure the trail started to gain height.

A reindeer fence.

The first part from Biellojaure to Kungsleden had been my biggest question mark. I hadn't been able to find any information about it, other than that it existed, and the guides I had asked in Hemavan also had no idea. Looking at the map, there was potential for some really poor terrain, but in reality the trail was excellent, just about the best you can hope for in that kind of a landscape. Coming a bit higher up, the trail also opened up nicely.

More nice colors.


A view towards the Syterskalet valley, where we would go tomorrow.

Coming up on a nice place for a small break.

Matti though a little swim was a good idea.

I made coffee...

... and Tommi took a little rest while waiting for his freeze dried meal to be done.

The trail was mostly quite small and obviously not used often.

Matti rides a 2016 Salsa Mukluk and obviously has put a lot of thought into the color coding.

I rode my Surly Ice Cream Truck with the new frame. 100 mm Clownshoe rims with Surly Bud tires was an excellent combo. Good rolling, good grip and plenty of cush with around 0.35 bar in the front and 0.4 bar in the back. The bike has been built for these kind of trips, not sparing much weight, and really is excellent for the purpose.

The trail went upwards still.

Nice to see fish so high up and in so small streams.

Arriving at Kungsleden. From this on I had ridden the trail. In practice the trail was worse from here on, due to having been used a lot more.

We took a late real lunch at the Vuomatjåhkka shelter.

Waiting for the freeze dried food to reconstitute in an almost sacral silence.

Continuing after the break, I started with the down jacket on get some warmth in the wind. We took water from this stream and I wanted purification tablets for this one. It was just on the border of being too small in this landscape and a little later we actually saw reindeer a bit upstream. Having had two very unpleasant encounters with poor water in the mountains (the first one certain, the second likely from water) I'm a lot more careful these days.

After the break it was mostly downhill to Servvejuhka.

We continued to the Serve cabins, where we had a chat with the cabin host, telling him of our intentions to ride to Tärnasjö, where there was the possibility of sauna. After that we again had a climb ahead of us.

At some point Tommi was becoming too tired and darkness came closer, so we just stopped at the first suitable place, next to a stream running down to Servvejávrrie. The distance of the day was 42 km. It had now rained for a while already. Basically all of us are about at the same fitness level, with Matti better currently due to actually doing some training. Tommi was just a few days away from major shoulder surgery and also had a lot of other injuries, and really had to struggle from now on. I had mainly kayaked during the summer, but I'm still able to do this sort of things just out of old habit and an efficient riding technique. At this point I was actually starting to feel like a cyclist again, instead of like a sea kayaker that occasionally rides a mountain bike.

I slept in my Hilleberg Niak 1.5 and Tommi had his Hilleberg Nallo 4 GT for the rest. The Nallo 4 GT is really an excellent tent for occasions like this. With the inner tent tucked away there is plenty of room for four persons to make food and eat.

The night was rainy and windy, as was the morning. I made coffee in my own tent.

Breakfast in the big tent.

It turned out that I didn't remember much from this section from the previous time here. The weather had been so poor that I had just ridden with tunnel vision.

I did remember the final descent to the Tärnasjö cabins. Pure fun and it didn't even rain anymore.

A chat with the Tärnasjö cabin hostess revealed that they had gotten the message about the sauna and heated it. At nine in the evening they had a temperature of 100 C in it, since they had heard that a few Finns were coming. A shame that we couldn't make it.

We did use the little store at the cabins to buy more chocolate and stuff, since at least I had underestimated how hard this trip really was and risked running out of chocolate. No beer anymore, though. We were a week too late for that.

After this a section along the Tärnasjön lake followed.

More colors.

We took lunch at the bridges over Tärnasjö. The rain had stopped and the lunch break was quite nice. I managed to eat almost a full freeze dried meal bag (until now I had eaten only half of the bags, meaning I was getting only a fraction of the energy I needed).

We continued and as far as I remembered the next section should be mainly bike pushing. In the picture I'm looking at the map wondering why we still could ride. The last time I was here I pushed myself pretty hard and obviously didn't remember many details from this point on.

The bike pushing eventually started.

The trail was mostly a bit poor, until the last kilometer before the Syter cabin.

Refilling the water supplies before the last big climb over Sjulolsaxeln.

And then we pushed the bike up again. The Syter cabin in the back.

At this point Tommi did struggle quite a bit and Matti went down to help him with the bike. Not a single negative word was said, though, and while the smile was probably a little forced at times he appeared to be in good mood, which is a mark of true strength.

The climb ended and there was a flat section.

After this flat part came a downhill section that was so fun and fast that I didn't get a single picture. The place below was the last place to shorten the route, which I didn't tell anyone. Going directly to Solberg would probably have saved 3-4 hours in total. It didn't seem worth it, since the Syterskalet valley is a nice place and in clear weather quite breathtaking.

The Syterskalet trail was easy and fast like I remembered and Tommi now got new energy from an unknown place. The speed was good with a fairly hard wind pushing us forwards. At this point my body had already moved into full fat burning mode, meaning that I could continue for a long time still with minimal food, though with some limitations in top speed.

At the western part of the valley it started to rain quite hard and we were soaked in minutes. We continued and the trail started to descend, from which point I started looking for reasonable tent spots. We continued and stopped at the Viterskalet cabins, where we managed to buy a little beer. The cabin hostess told us it had rained hard all day there, which really was visible in the terrain. A little over a kilometer from the cabins we finally found a tent spot with gravel underneath the vegetation, meaning it was fairly dry despite the massive rain amounts. No pictures here, though. Everything might seem nice and cozy while reading this, but at this point the circumstances were quite demanding. Hard rain, hard wind and not many degrees above freezing. After having erected the tents and changed into dry clothes we again had dinner in the big tent. The distance of the day was 41 km.

The wind was hard during the night and it mostly rained quite a lot, but in the morning some lighter spots could be seen in the cloud cover.

Déjà vu. Not the first time I'm taking pictures of bell flowers at this particular place.

Packing for the last time of the trip.

We tried to synchronize our starting to ride again, but didn't succeed completely. After having put the soaking wet clothes on there was however no possibility to wait, since hypothermia was not far away. We needed to ride to get warmth.

Matti and Jarkko went first and I went a little ahead of Tommi. After a while I heard Tommi shout my name. I couldn't see him and rode back, fearing something much worse than what actually had happened. It turned out that the chain had broken. Given the conditions there was no possibility to fix it easily at that point. We would have needed to put up a tent to give some shelters, since the fingers would not have been up to the task in those conditions. The terrain was poor enough that bikepushing wasn't too slow. I rode ahead to tell Matti and Jarkko and found them waiting in shelter behind a big rock. By the time Tommi arrived everything was ready for a pit stop and the chain was fixed very quickly.

The last section to Hemavan wasn't easy. There was quite a bit climbing before the trail would go downhill.

Matti tried to lift his bike above his head in some sort of victory ritual, but the hard wind prevented him.

The final section actually was longer that I remembered. Last time I just rode through it quickly in an endorphine rush.

The downhill section eventually came and we arrived at Hemavan around half past ten, after a distance of 10 km for the day. I tried to get a taxi, but couldn't get one fast enough. Instead I rode 28 km in rain and headwind together with Matti to get the car. We changed into reasonably dry clothes, drove back to Hemavan, took a shower and changed into clean clothes before having an excellent pizza lunch at Nanna's kök & bar.

A four hour car drive to Umeå followed, where we stayed at a simple cabin for the night, in order to catch the ferry back to Vasa on Monday morning.

We were back home at around seven on Monday evening.

All in all, an excellent trip and I actually enjoyed every second of it, despite it being a bit harder that I had planned and at times even fairly demanding. It feels like this area is quite unknown in Finland, except maybe around Vasa. I would say that the Norra Storfjället area is the closest real mountain area if you live  reasonably close to Vasa. From Turku, the Jämtland area is basically equally close if you count car driving hours, but it feels longer, since after taking the night ferry to Stockholm you have around eight or nine hours in the car. I have been in the region a few times before and will certainly return. There are still trails to be ridden there.

Jarkko's report in Finnish.

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