tisdag 27 april 2010

A lightweight solo trip to Vålådalen

On September 18, 2009 I went on a solo trip hiking trip to Vålådalen nature reserve in the north of Sweden. I have previously written a short post on the trip, but this was mostly to show the pictures. As I will soon be going there again with some blogger colleagues I thought I will would everyones appetite a bit before the hiking season starts.
A big advantage with Vålådalen, and most of the other mountain areas in Jämtland for that matter, is that it is easy to reach from Stockholm. There are very good train (and flight) connections to Östersund and then on to other destinations (with connecting transports) to the nearby destinations like Vålådalen, Storulvån and Åre. This means you can quite easily arrange for a 3 day trip and still only take one day off from work. Fortunately for me I also happen to have a friend in Östersund who very hospitably not only put me up for the night in Östersund, but also lent me his car during the weekend. I took the X2000 express train from Stockholm at around 16H and at 21H I was in Östersund after a comfortable journey. The next morning I took the car and drove 1,5 hours to Vålådalen. At around 10H I was on the trail (somewhat delayed by a work related call. I'm glad there is no cellphone coverage in the wilderness.).
The route
One of my main goals of the trip was to practice landscape photography. This meant I wanted to climb at least one high point to get some good views. I also wanted to walk as much as much as possible off trail. After reading Tore Abrahamsson's excellent book, "Okända fjäll" ("Unknown mountains"(in Sweden)), I knew that Storådörren and Lillådörren provided some nice scenery so I choose to set my sights on the peak Saalvantjahke which overlook these valleys. On the way there from Vålådalen mountain station I would also pass the Pyramids, Issjödalen and Lunndörrsstugan (a hut). From Saalvantjahke I would slowly get my way back to the trail and continue past Vålåstugorna (also a hut) and then back home to the Vålådalen mountain station. The total distance of this route was around 60-70km. A bit on the far side perhaps, but this was my only chance of hiking this year, so I wanted to make the most of it. Most of the trip was on trail, but that was the price a I had to pay in order to be able to get so far into the area.

Through the forest
The first part of the trip was the most uninteresting as it passes through old forest and you don't get many views. The weather wasn't too good either with a light rain and an overcast sky. I met two women who commented that the ground was very soggy. Funnily enough I hadn't even noticed that, despite the fact that I was wearing trailrunners and thin trousers that get wet in an instant. The forest is still nice though since it is old and untouched. You also pass close to some nice moors.
A dead pine tree on a moss 

Almost at the end of the forest I reached the Saami camp of Grönvallen. Here I met a nice swiss couple who where out for a day-hike. I decided to have lunch here, although it was a bit early. It's always nice to have company, and at Grönvallen there is also lean-to with already prepared dry wood which made the Bushbuddy cooking a breeze (This is definitely cheating though.).

A atream near Issjödalen

About two kilometers after Vålådalen the scenery starts to open up a bit more when you enter the gorgeous Ice lake valley. Luckily the weather also improved at this stage. This valley was shaped by water during the ice age. This is true of almost all places in Sweden, but here it so visible since an old river of meltwater has left a nice moraine. You can clearly see how the water was running if you look at satellite photos.

Issjödalen - The Ice lake valley

Another interesting formation, also clearly visible in Google Maps, are the "Dead Ice Pits". These are pits formed by leftover ice in the sand. From above the terrain looks almost like a moon landscape with craters.

A dead ice pit in front of the kings hunting lodge

The Swedish king also has hunting cabin here. Ptarmigan hunting is very popular in this area. This year however there was no hunting, since there were not enough birds due to a very cold spring and otherwise poor conditions. The amount of Ptarmigans is mostly dependent on the temperature during spring and the amounts of rodents available, not hunting. Rodents, mostly Lemmings, are the staple food of the Ptarmigans predators: birds of prey and foxes. If the predators can't find enough rodents, they will eat Ptarmigans instead. Luckily, despite the scarcity, I saw six Ptarmigans on the trip.
After the Ice lake valley I wanted to see the famous "Pyramids". These formations are also creations of the great ice cover.

The pyramids

The path to the pyramids was a very pleasant plateau overlooking the valley. It felt great to be on the mountain, especially since the sun started to appear here and there.
After this plateau the trail towards Lunndörrsstugorna follows a nice ravine. Which I failed to get a nice shot of. Why didn't I take the time to get a good shot? That stupid branch is really annoying. I was probably in too much of a hurry to reach the sauna in time.

The ravine between the pyramids and Lunndörssstugan

Not far from the mountain hut a flock of migrating geese flew by. It was the end of the season for them too. Not long after I arrived at the hut and decided that the lake and the sauna were definitely worth a visit. A bit too luxurious, but the place just looked to inviting.

The lake at Lunndörrsstugan in the evening sun

After the sauna it was time for dinner. Despite the rain during the day, it was no problem to find suitable dead twigs for the dinner fire.

The Bushbuddy with all the fuel needed for dinner

The evening sun made scenery even more beautiful. I had never been to the mountains in fall before. I had heard that the colours are nice, but I hadn't imagined it could be this good. This nice time slowed me down however and when I started on the trail again I noticed I was behind schedule. It's seldom a good idea to look for a good campsite when it's dark. My initial plan was also to set up camp near the treeline at Tväråkåtan and it was now clear I would not have time to reach that spot.

Getting dark and still some way to go

Luckily I did not have too much difficulty in finding a site and soon my Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo was up and the Bushbuddy was put to work again to make me some hot blueberry soup. It's always nice to get a hot drink and some extra energy in the body before going to bed. The evening was a bit on the chilly side and there was also a slight cold breeze. The Lunar Duo is a single skin tent and as such it is a bit colder than a double skin. I had decided to pitch the tent pretty high to avoid condensation, but in hindsight I should perhaps have pitched lower to avoid some of the cold airflow through the tent. I could also have used the bivy bag I had with me. I slept fairly well anyway though. But I could not say I was completely warm all the time.

Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo set up for the night

When the morning came I made breakfast consisting of oatmeal, minced hazelnuts and blueberry soup. I had a small plastic bag with the mix already prepared for each breakfast. Having devoured this hearty meal I was ready for the climb up to Saalvantjahke. I was now completely off-trail and I enjoyed every minute. Finally I was making my own way. My chosen route on unknown ground, as the motto is for orienteering in Sweden. I was afraid that solo hiking would be boring, but I found that there was always something interesting to think about. How is the weather going to develop? Where will I put up the tent? What's the best way up the slope? What was that sound, etc etc. Near Tväråkåtan I saw the remnants of an old Saami Lavvu (Teepee) site.

Stone ring from the firepit of a Lavvu

Near this place I also caught a short glimpse of a female elk. It ran away as all the other elks would later do this hunting season. Soon I was above the tree line and the views started to open up.

Mountain birch

As I was approaching the top I started to think about finding fuel for a lunch break. Now was a particularly good time to practice Bushbuddy cooking in alpine surroundings (Well, a bit too easy really since there was no wind and rain.). At first glance it did not look very promising. Very little vegetation was to be found.
Above the tree line on Saalvantjahke facing west

A closer look however revealed an abundance of dry wood. The ground here is also so well drained that these crowberry roots dry very quickly. I only needed a few minutes to gather enough fuel. In rainy conditions things could be more difficult and you need to search for branches that have been sheltered from the rain.
Dry crowberry roots - Excellent and abundant fuel

Now it was time for a photo session. The view from Saalvantjahke was every bit as good as I had hoped. Both the Lillådörren valley and the Storådörren pass where well in view. Luckily for me the sun had also chased a way most of the clouds.


Unfortunately I had forgotten to fill my waterbottles, fuel might have been abundant, but water not, so the lunchbreak was transformed into a less substantial snack break consisting of blueberry soup. It turned out I was not the only one to have enjoyed this spot for eating. Some bird of prey, likely a buzzard, had left parts of a Ptarmigan here. On my way down I was lucky to actually see four live birds (Ptarmigans).

A Ptarmigan foot

Going down from Saalvantjahke you could say that I reached the peak of scenic satisfaction. The valley with the Tronnan-stream was just too beautiful; the colors, the calm, the wilderness, the warm weather, at this point I even needed to curl up the arms of my shirt. I needed to take a break again in order not be afflicted with the hillwalkers equivalent of the Stendhal syndrome.

Resting among blueberries

After having rested comfortably on my Jysk foam pad on the heather and feasted on the ripe blueberries I gently strolled down to the stream and started to think about the upcoming ford. The water was very shallow so fording was a piece of cake. My feet got wet of course, but after five minutes I had forgotten about that. Some walkers put on gore-tex socks or SealSkins before fording, but I must say I find that completely unnecessary as long as the temperature is not too far below 5C or so. When walking my feet get warm so fast anyway.

The Tronnan stream

A few kilometers downstream I started to get hungry again and it was time for a proper lunch. I brought commercial freeze-dried food of different variaties on this trip for all major meals. I cannot say I was happy with any of the bags though. They were all edible, but all of them had some artificial flavor. The next time I will try to prepare my own dried food. The meal was made a lot better by the company though. A flock of reindeer joined me for the meal. A trip to the Scandinavian mountains is never fully complete without a reindeer encounter.

Reindeer as lunch company

My last few kilometers of off-trail travel provided for more photo opportunities. It's no wonder that many artists like to paint pictures of the mountains in the fall.

A good motive for Helmer Osslund?

Having passed through the Helmer Osslund painting I soon arrived on the marked trail again. It was with somewhat mixed feelings. On the one hand I was happy to have navigated correctly, but it also meant that due to time constraints the rest of the trip would now be almost exclusively on well-beaten paths. One day of bushwacking in the wilderness was all I would get this year.

The bridge over Vålån

Now there was not too much time to stroll around anymore. I needed to keep up the pace in order to have some safety margin for the next day. I put the long leg ahead of the short one as we say. When I arrived at Vålåstugorna I was actually a bit tired. Although going off-trail is more enjoyable, it also a lot more taxing. Especially when you gain and lose altitude.

Vålåstugan mountain hut

At Vålåstugorna I had a short rest and stocked up on some fruit soup. The rest stop would be short however, and I got some exercise of another kind here as I was kindly asked if I could chop some firewood for the winter.
Now it was getting a bit late, but I anyway wanted to push on a few kilometers more. I set my sights for the slope of Smällhögarna which seemed to provide a nice scenic campsite. On the way up I was lucky again and saw another flock of Ptarmigans which took off just a few meters from my feet.

Campsite above Kroktjärnarna

I wanted to camp high to try out my new tent a bit. There was not much wind to talk about, but still enough to get the fly to flap around. The Lunar Duo takes a bit more time to set up correctly compared to a tunnel- or dometent. I think the weight savings is definitely worth it in the summer though. 1,3kg for a roomy two person tent is not much. This time I pitched the tent with the fly all the way down to the ground to avoid draft. This was probably a wise choice as I felt warmer during the night and the small breeze removed almost all condensation anyway.

Even though I was toasty in my sleeping bag, I did not feel all well anyway. A flu had started to set in. I couldn't really sleep well. The upside of this was that I didn't oversleep the sunrise. I had the longest photo session during the trip and had some fun playing with different exposure settings.


In the morning I packed up and set out in the ultralight style without a real breakfast. This way the hike quickly got my body warm and when I sat down for breakfast a kilometer later I could enjoy the meal better.


The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful and I just hiked as fast as I could in order to have plenty of time to relax at the mountain station in Vålådalen. It was a real pleasure to have a hot shower after all the hiking. After eating lunch in the restaurant I was back in the car towards Östersund. As happy and content as a man can be.

20 kommentarer:

  1. A very helpful report Gustav, I need to think carefully about stove and shelter, I have many options to choose from. It seems that a bushbuddy and a single wall shelter is a good option. Hmm more planning needed which maybe governed by the size of the pack.

  2. Excellent report. And wonderful pictures. Have walked in this area several times. Agree that its easy to reach. Maybe time to go there again, with less weight. Last time it was very heavy load. Walked with a group of teenagers from Gothenburg. It was their first experience of the swedish mountians. They loved it (of course). And I will remeber they swam in almost every lake and stream. A sunny week in July...

  3. The colours are superb in the photos. I really enjoyed reading that.

  4. Thanks for your encouraging comments! If now I could just get the layout working properly. CSS is not my forte.

    I'm also in the process of thinking which pack to take next time. For this trip my pack weighed about 11kg in total when I sat out. I would like to trim that down to at least 9kg. I think I will have to skip my DSLR and tripod.

  5. For purely selfish reasons I would like you to take your DSLR and tripod :-)

  6. You definitely got me all excited, Gustav!

    I'd appreciate if you bring your DSLR and tripod, so that my DSLR and tripod have company ;)

  7. Very nice. Particulary enjoyed your way of avoiding the Stendhal Syndrome. I also think you should bring camera and tripod, that way I only have to bring an SD-card and borrow :-)

  8. Aha... looks like there will be some bloggers together on the trail. Will be extremly intersting to read. Looking forward to hear abt you discussions :-)

  9. Gustav, thanks for posting this! Really looking forward to the trip!

    So whoever has the lightest pack-weight in the car park when we leave has to carry the group dSLR?! ;-)

  10. Hehe, I must admit that the described "slackpacking" approach to photography had struck my mind. 1,5kg of camera with lenses and tripod is a bit too much (More ambitious photographers will surely laugh about this. 5kg is probably more normal.). I'm thinking of buying a new compact as a complement. A Canon S90 or Panasonic LX3 perhaps. Anyone has any other suggestions?

  11. Your trip sounds great! I am from france and could be interested in going for hiking in this park, do you have some links or books names/ maps toà share that you used for planning this hike ?

    p0ulp3 AT gmail DOT com

  12. Salut Gabriel! Ca me fait plaisir de voir un francais sur mon blog! Je vais t'envoyer un peu d'info

  13. Nice report Gustav, and the scenery is well captured in your photos. My camera recommendation is the Fuji F200EXR. Shadow detail is kept without losing the blue skies.

    I am travelling to Oslo in a weeks time. I hope I can find some place to visit as beautiful as your trip.

  14. Hi tallbloke! thanks for the hint on the camera. I've read some about it and looks real interesting. Good price tag too.
    Concerning Oslo you are in luck. Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. I would suggest you go a little further though. Take the train from Oslo to Bergen across the Hardangervidda plateau. This train ride is stunning. Easily among the best in Europe. Jump off at FInse or Geilo right in the mountains. This will probably be skiing though. Another suggestion is to go a bit further and take the Flåm train and see the Fjord and hike in the surroundings. Absolutely stunning. Worth a trip to Norway in itself. Bergen is also definetely worth a visit. A norwegian ought to give you some more specific advice though. Joe Newton lives in the area and could perhaps give you some advice. Check out his blog:

    If I were you I would take some extra day off and do a long weekend.

  15. Hi Gustav, thanks a lot for the pointer to Joe's site, Bergen was our intended destination anyway. I'm glad to hear it is possible to jump off for the sights on the plateau and then rejoin the train. We have 5 days in Norway before flying down to Wroclaw in Poland to walk the mountains along the Czech border.

  16. Beautiful photos! My family and I have dreams of making a Europe trip some day, and backpacking will be a big part of it. These photos just make it that much more compelling!

  17. Re: Camera, I would recommend the GF1 - see the review on my blog ;)

    I'll bring my EOS 50D and a GorillaPod SLR, and as my weight for the trip will likely be around 8 kg I won't mind the extra two...

  18. My Canon S90 just arrived today! Will try to test it during the weekend.

    Yeah, the GF1 would have been nice, but it is too close to a DSLR for me and the camera I bought has to be pocketable as it is also to serve as the "always with us" family camera. The GF1 is not exactly cheap either, but you get what you pay for.

  19. Great trip report, Gustav. Very evocative, and lovely photographs. I can almost smell the crisp air. Thanks, I enjoyed reading that. Brightened up my rather dull afternoon of cleaning!

  20. Mark, thanks for popping by and I'm glad you liked it. I will follow up soon with a gear review of both this trip and the latest one, but my three kids keep me rather busy these days. Your comments on Hendriks blog also made me think that I should do a a proper post on my position on the footwear question some day.