Saturday, September 14, 2019

Over the hills and far again

On the way home from the bikepacking trip in Vindelfjällen two years ago we started planning the next similar outing. Fairly quickly Jämtland came up and the idea was to go last year. However, last September I was personally forbidden to be away from work due to an important audit and we were unable to reschedule it and the trip was postponed with a year. It isn't easy to find common time when everyone is middle aged and have lots of other responsibilites. Last week it we finally managed to go there, though.

The trip started on a Thursday evening with the evening ferry from Turku/Åbo to Stockholm.We arrived early in Stockholm and immediately started the almost 600 km long car drive to Ljungdalen, where we arrived around three in the afternoon.

We packed the bikes fairly quickly and soon were on the way. The goal was to get a little past Helags Fjällstation.

The beginning was more of a road, but the trail soon became smaller.

The landscape opened up.

The 12 km stretch with a little over 200 m climbing  to Helags Fjällstation took a little under two hours. Not great, but not bad either.

We continued immediately with the trail going to the south. This one was a lot smaller, but still very visible and had tire tracks.

The climb, an additional 100 m done.

 At this point I got my first tire flat, probably due to having had too low pressure. I had noticed rock hitting the rim some time earlier, but not actually now that the flat occurred. Picture by Jarkko Holopainen.

Reindeer fence.

I had my Surly Ice Cream Truck with 100 mm rims and tough wide tires. The unnecessarily heavy tent (my Fjällräven Akka 3 Dome) was attached to the handlebar, sleeping bag and extra clothes on the rear rack and some other stuff in the frame bag other bags attached to the bike. In addition I had a Shimoda Explore 40 camera backpack with some lighter gear as well as a camera. The camera backpack is light at 1.3 kg, extremely comfortable and just perfectly suitable for something like this.

I soon got another flat for no apparent reason and we decided to make camp, since it was time anyway after three hours of riding. Maybe this Surly inner tube was just too old and had been weakened.  Happily packing up the spare inner tire I noticed that it was a 29+ inner tire. Its the same size as a fat inner tube and when packing for the trip it didn't even occur to me that it could be anything else than a fat inner tube. It didn't look good at first when inflating it, but it finally popped into place and worked without problems for the rest of the trip.

The camp site was still very nice, below the Helags glacier and with a view towards Predikstolen.

Dinner commenced and we went to sleep at ten. It rained a little during the night and there was a slight drizzle in the morning, but compared to the total catastrophy of the weather forecasts we checked out on Thursday (14-17 mm of rain or sleet) it was nothing.

There was still only few signs of the coming ruska (fall foliage).

I used the Surly Bud tires and the other had Surly Nates. Heavy and strong tires, which roll very poorly in easy conditions, but in a place like this you don't want anything flimsy.

Going again a little over eight in the morning.

After a quick downhill section we turned towards Sylsjön and the trail became a lot smaller. No tire tracks anymore and the trail was often deep and narrow enough to make riding it difficult. The views were great, though.

Matti had his Salsa Mukluk and a much too heavy backpack.

Getting water wasn't actually that easy. This is the most dry part of the year, when the snow has melted and the streams are small. Too small a stream means that the risk of getting sick gets higher. With the reindeers there is always the possibility that the water is not clean, and a small stream does not dilute potential pathogens enough. A stream like this, though, is safe.

The small trail continues.

Now we arrived at the big question mark of the trip, the 16 km long trail along Sylsjön. While it would be possible to ride on perfectly fine and well known trails in the area, such as Jämtlandstriangeln, that was naturally no option for us. There's no chance of an adventure if you know everything in advance. The beginning wasn't good. The trail was nonexistent enough that we at first tried to ride at the beach.

Unfortunately the beach zone was interrupted all the time with ridges going all the way to the water, so we had to revert to the official trail. Most of the time it was very narrow and it was constantly interrupted by small streams leading into the sea, which meant that there was a constant going up and down.


The weather got a lot better and everyone was still in a good mood.

It looked like the willow brush section was over and instead we got miles of bogs, which tried to suck down the tires and made for very hard riding. Not really any faster than walking, but much heavier, with the only advantage being that the shoes didn't get wet. Mostly.

And then there were the uphill bog sections.

We had some breaks and tried to eat enough, but at one point about one hour before we were done for the day I had to take an emergency brake and just stuff some sugar into me. A total bonk was less that 15 minutes away. (I've sadly bonked enough times in my bikepacking career to know the symptoms extremely well).

We wanted to get pretty high up in the Ekorrdörren pass to be in a good position for the next day. When we closed in it started to rain lightly, but the scenery was beautiful. The rained continued for a while, with a cloud leaking water being stuck above a glacier.

We erected the outer tent, which had plenty of space for the three of us cooking and changing clothes. The first thing to do was now to get dry clothes on and make a hot beverage, since at this point we were all totally exhausted after a fantastic day

Water from the nearby stream.

After having rested for a short while we made dinner. The others made do with freeze dried stuff, but I limit myself to at most one freeze dried meal a day.

Outside the tent the evening was beautiful beyond words.


We expected the night to be cold, but we were perfectly fine in the summer sleeping bags. A little before six in the morning Jarkko told us that the morning was very beautiful and at that point there was point in sleeping anymore.

It was clearly below freezing now. A perfect crisp morning.

Soon the sun hit the higher regions.

The fog was chased away over the pass from the sunny side.

We got going around eight in the morning and had around 400 m of vertical climbing ahead of us.

Picture by Jarkko Holopainen.

We arrived at the safety shelter at Ekorrdörren surprisingly quickly and enjoyed the sun for a while.

And then the bike pushing started.

 The views back were breathtaking...

... and we did take time to enjoy them.

More bike pushing...

... until we finally reached the saddle between Sylskalstöten and Templet. (Picture of yours truly by Matti H).

Looking at the views.


Going downwards there were sections that were rideable and sections that were not. One of the absolutely most important skills in these kinds of trips is the ability to judge what you can ride and what you cannot. It is more important than the actual riding skills. Getting injured is simply not an option. And causing damage to the gear isn't acceptable either, since it would be a long walk back to the car.

 At this point, Sunday noon, we encountered the first other human being since Friday afternoon, but we just said hi and blasted downwards, since this was rideable section. We saw no reason to go to the Sylarna Fjällstation and took another routed instead.

The trail now became really nice.

Lunch near Pojktjärnen.

The excellent singletrack continued towards Helags.

A short break at Miesehketjahke.

Looking back at where we had been. From this point it was only about 6 km to last night's tent spot, even though we had ridden and pushed the bikes for 16 km.

The trail got wider, but was still in good shape.

After a while the trail became more difficult and for the last few kilometers to Helags Fjällstation we mostly pushed the bikes.

About ten minutes before Helags Fjällstation I felt the energy reaching a new low, and would have needed a break, but we continued since we were so close. At the Fjällstation we had something of a culture shock. The place was full of Swedes who talked all the time. They all were good looking and fit and had clean clothes directly out of a Naturkompaniet catalogue. We drank a Coke and a beer and smelled bad. The contrast was too big and we soon continued towards the car, with the aim of finding a tent site close to a lake for washing ourselves and still above the tree line for the views.

We found an acceptable spot. The power line to Helags Fjällstation spoiled the views towards south, but otherwise it was nice.

Again we were completely exhausted.

Going to sleep around nine in the event.

The night wasn't particularly cold and we got up before six in the morning.

A quick breakfast later we were on the move.

The rear rack came loose on Jarkko's Pugsley (the original purple version), but that was quickly fixed with some zip ties.

This last section was mostly downhill and in less than an hour we were back at the car.

That's it. A very nice and quite demanding route of around 90 km on trails that varied from easy and fun to where's-the-trail style bushwacking. Thanks to Jarkko and Matti for the company. This is the kind of trip that can only be undertaken if you trust you companions to 100 percent and know that everyone have the necessary skills and fitness .

We drove the car back to Stockholm and took the night ferry to Turku/Åbo and I was back at work at nine in the morning on Tuesday. Very much adventure in a short time.

Jarkko's blog report in Finnish is here.

The approximate route:

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