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2013 Expedition - Jokkmokk - Part Two

Our Cabin - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
The lounge in the cabin - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

So here were are, at The Jokkmokk Camping Center with our own little cabin in the woods.

I have to admit, it felt like a bit of a cop out to me at first, it just seemed too comfortable.

We had room to spare, running water, cooker, hot shower and even a drying cabinet. Compared to what I am used to on expedition this was really easy living.

I took over the small bedroom with it’s bunk beds for me and my equipment while Damian made himself at home in the lounge / kitchen area.

After settling in we walked into Jokkmokk for some provisions. I reckon it’s just over two miles.

In contrast to Norway the supermarkets here seem to stock more meat and less fish. The fishcakes that were a mainstay on last years trip were nowhere to be seen.

I must admit that after all the travelling I was ready for a good sleep. I didn’t really realise just how tired I was until my head hit the pillow.

The bunk room in the cabin - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

In the morning, we set out for a quick reconnaissance of the immediate area.

In particular we wanted to scout out an area where we could set up a camp for a couple of nights. The snow was deep and powdery, fairly solid on tracks that were well beaten but off track we were sinking a couple of feet into the powder even with snow shoes on.

Sweden has laws which give campers very good access to the outdoors or “The Nature” as they say it there.

With these rights also come responsibilities.

Firstly you must be a reasonable distance from the nearest dwelling and not damage crops including tree plantations.

Scouting for a camp location - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Camp  Location - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Secondly, you must not light fires where there is any risk of them burning out of control.

Litter is forbidden of course and although you are allowed to pick berries and mushrooms as well as fallen twigs and branches you must not cut live wood and many plant species are protected.

In the end we decided on this spot, not too far from a couple of established trails but out of sight and far enough from the houses near the road to not be a problem.

There was plenty of dead wood in the area and it was near enough to the Camping Centre for a retreat if required.

We double checked with the local Tourist Information Office that it would be suitable and then sent it’s location to the other expedition members that were due to follow us in a few days.

In the afternoon we walked back into Jokkmokk for a better look around.

Although the temperature was around -10°c there was not a breath of wind so the snow was sitting thickly on every branch or surface. It was the sort of scene that you think only really exists in fairy tales.

Many of the trees were bowing down under the accumulated weight of snow which must have built up over several days.

Snow Laden Trees - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Low Sun - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Compared to the conditions we get in the UK the snow here is much drier. Even when walked on it does not compact like the snow we are used to back at home.During our entire stay the sun did not rise more than 10° above the horizon.

It is this partly this low angle which gives the light such a strange quality in the Arctic.

For the first few days we hardly saw the sun but whenever it did try to break through the cloud it lit the landscape with the kind of warm glow that landscape photographers usually look for in the so called golden hours just after sunrise or before sunset.

Jokkmokk is a relatively small community of just under 3000 people but this multiplies vastly in the week of the market. When we arrived it was still quite peaceful but you could tell it was winding up towards something.

The snow ploughs were busy clearing every flat space that was available and posters for any kind of cultural event associated with the market were in every shop window or outside all municipal buildings.

We checked out the other supermarket in town for more supplies and then had a nosey around.

There was some beautiful craft work or “Duodji” at the Saami Handicraft Foundation and they also had some very good books in their library as well.

Damian found some very good woollen socks in one of the local stores too (I bought a couple of pairs a few days later too.)

Jokkmokk Church - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Snow Laden Brush

In the evening we scouted out a good spot on the edge of the river for a bit of stargazing and in the hope of seeing some auroral activity. As it turned out there was a little but it appeared to be much further North than our location so we only could only see a faint green glow on the horizon.

Another 2 or 3 inches of snow overnight. we had breakfast and made a packed lunch of cheese, salami and Polarbread before setting out with the snowshoes to tramp along a local track heading towards Jokkmokk on a more round about route through the woods.

The trees are still laden with snow waiting perpetually for that Jack London moment when they can release an avalanche of powder onto an unsuspecting soul below.

It’s about -6°c but still not a breath of wind as we pass the area we eyed up for a bivi and into the woods.

The Boreal Forest is breathtakingly beautiful in the Winter, especially on a calm day.

The texture of the trees is brought into relief by the snow and there is a kind of exagerated reality to it all.

There is also an eerie silence interupted only by our footfalls and the occasional flock of feeding birds.

Old Mans Beard on Bent Tree - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

There were lots of tracks to be seen, mostly hare but also reindeer and elk too.

Old man’s beard was easy to find and there was plenty of birch about too.

The trail we were on was obviously used by snowmobiles on a fairly regular basis which had compacted the snow to some degree making progress much easier than it would have been off track.

As it was we didn’t see another soul all day apart from a lad on a snowmobile where our track crossed another at the far end.

We returned by the same track as it looked more interesting than coming back via the town. I also wanted to stick to a known trail because an injury to my Achilles tendon that I had last year was starting to trouble me slightly with the unaccustomed use of the snowshoes.

The map we were working from was a local tourist map which was larger scale than any of the topographical maps we had seen in the town’s outdoor shop.

Not the sort of map I would usually choose but in this case more accurate than the alternatives.

Tunnel of Snow - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Stream under Snow - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

The main problem was a lack of reliable distance information so we had to estimate or distance at about 6-7 miles for the round trip.

We had been given advise not to venture out onto the river when we arrived and given the low temperatures at this time of year it might be tempting to think that this advise was over cautious.

Having said that we observed slush pools in various places on the ice covering the river and there were frequent piles of snow which must have been covering collision piles of broken ice.

What did surprise me however is the open leads in this small stream running through the woods and the slush pools we saw on even quite small pools that we passes along the mire.

The consequences of breaking through such thin ice, often disguised by a covering of snow could be very serious indeed at these freezing temperatures and this goes to show how important it is to heed the advice of people that live with these conditions and know the area well.

At one point we discovered a small snow covered sign indicating that the track we were following made up part of the “Arctic Trail”.

This is a network of snowmobile trails covering Northern Sweden, Norway and Finland allowing “Travel without borders” through some of the most spectacular winter landscapes on Earth.

This certainly started Damian thinking about future projects.

As we returned to the cabin we saw the first arboreal avalanche of what turned out to be many more.

It was as if the whole forest had grown weary of it’s burden and one tree after another shrugged it’s shoulders to lighten the load.

A faint breeze of just a couple of knots was all it took for this hair trigger response and we spent some of the evening watching these sudden downpours of powder and the associated “crump” of the snow as anything up to a hundred pounds or so of snow cascaded from the overloaded trees.

Wayland on the Arctic Trail - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Damian in Snow

We set aside the next day to visit  Ájtte, the Saami museum in the town.

We gave ourselves 4 hours for this but soon discovered it was not really enough time. There was loads to see and here are a few of my edited highlights although there were many more.

Ajtte - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

An interesting variety of displays.

Saami Mittens - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

I fancy making myself some leather mitten shells.

Birch Bark Net Weights - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Birch Bark used to wrap stones for net weights.

Scarf Ring - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

A Scarf Ring of antler.

Axe Case - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Saami Pack Frame - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

This pack frame with it’s extra lever was intriguing.

Pipe Pouch - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

This caught my eye because I found one of these at a car boot sale many years ago and wondered about it’s origin. It turns out to be a traditional Saami pipe pouch.

Another of Hatta's Reindeer - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Another of Hatta’s Reindeer.

Adze Case - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Wooden blade protectors for an axe and an adze.

The Elephants in Jokkmokk - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

It also seemed like that the elephant in the room had followed us and found a friend.

This was an ice sculpture in the middle of Jokkmokk that was part covered by snow.

There were a few sculptures and interesting objects made of ice. It’s something we don’t do much in the UK because the temperatures are generally so mild I suppose but it gave me a few ideas.

Back at the cabin we started packing for our first night out in the woods.

The toboggan is a joy to use. It has a larger capacity than the pulk I used last year and seems to steer just as well.

It is slightly more awkward on tight turns but rides on this powder very well indeed and is narrow enough to follow the trail left by our snowshoes. It is easily capable of carrying two men’s gear for a cold camp and I suspect a hot camp would be no problem either.

Bent Tree - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved. Compacted Floor - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

I had noticed this bent tree on our earlier foray. I had the idea that it would make a good structural frame for a modified Adirondack style shelter which is my preferred tarp rig in these conditions.

I stamped the snow down with snowshoes and let it set up for about half an hour before proceeding with my rig.

It’s worth pointing out that this surface was still about a foot above the forest floor and walking without the snowshoes meant sinking about six inches further into the snow until the surface hardened after a couple of nights.

Jokkmokk Shelter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Damian set up a ridge tarp over a dug out area which gave him snow walls on three sides.

He also dug a small “fire pit” in one corner which he used to shelter his stove for a brew up.

I had a hot drink in a flask and a packed lunch, which admittedly was a bit crunchy as it had frozen somewhat, but still provided the food I needed for just one night.

My sleeping arrangements were much the same as last year. My Exped Down Mat with an Alpkit Skyhigh 800 Down bag inside a Nanok -10 Extreme Sythetic bag both contained by a British Army Bivi Bag. Warm, cosy and comfortable at the very mild -10°c we were out in that night.

We prepared some firewood and left it under my shelter in case the lads arrived too late to sort anything out themselves and left that shelter standing to see whether it attracted any attention in the next couple of days.

One thing we were aware of is that if the others wanted to visit the market, they would have to leave their bivis standing because there was not really enough daylight hours to break camp and re-set up every time.

In Jokkmokk Shelter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Damian under Shelter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

We noted a few sources of dead wood so that we could find them in the dark if needed and marked the trail into the camp area in case we were not around when the lads arrived.

The area was relatively high and dry as far as we could determine but was bounded on two sides by an area that could well be a bit boggy.

Given the evidence of free water that we had seen earlier we wanted to be very sure of our position in the dark.

Damian on Trail
Eratics - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

There were some very large erratic boulders around.

I’m guessing that the area was partly a glacial moraine left by the last ice age but I’m no geologist so I’ll let more knowledgeable souls consider that one.

This was not the biggest boulder I saw but it was easily larger than my van so cannot imagine any other force that could have placed it there.

There seemed to be a high pressure system moving in.

Finally we were starting to get some glances of the sun.

Andy, the next arrival of our group was due to arrive on this day and it looked like he was bringing good weather with him.

This shot across a bend in the river shows a fire shelter that we considered using for our evenings watching the sky until we realised that having a fire, comfortable as it might be, would spoil any night vision that we hoped to acquire.

Fire Shelter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Over the River - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.
Slush on the River - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

The foreground of this shot with it’s slightly different texture shows fresh snow lying on top of a slush pool that we had observed all week.

Water must have been coming up through a crack in the ice nearby  and any non waterproof boot stepping into such an area would quickly become saturated with icy water. The chances of stumbling into such an area would greatly multiply in the dark of course.

We were told that a lad had tragically lost his life in this area trying to cross the river on a snowmobile last year.

It’s all too easy to underestimate these conditions unfortunately.

Big Laavus - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

The town itself was really starting to gear itself up for the week ahead now.

These huge laavus were just half of a complex that was to become a bar and music venue during the market.

With the clear weather the temperature is dropping steadily. We took another evening out to watch for the Northern Lights and once again it was clear that it was happening much further north than where we were this time. -20°c now and you can feel the dryness of the air.

The next day there is a small art exhibition opening at the Old Pharmacy. The first real scheduled event of the week.

The handicraft sale on the ground floor gives me another chance to suss out the kinds of prices that craft work sells at here.

It is not cheap but good quality rarely is. Anyone expecting to pick up bargains here would do better to visit a boot sale somewhere.

This is work sold by the makers themselves and many of them expect to make a reasonable living from such work.

Damian in Jokkmokk - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

When I consider buying such items I look with a craftsman’s eye.

How long would it take me to make something like that? and how much would I expect to earn in that time?

I certainly didn’t think the prices were unreasonable.

I’ve seen people spend extraordinary amounts on mass produced equipment but these things are unique creations made by well known local artisans.

As the sun went down once more over Jokkmokk you could almost cut the sense of anticipation with a knife.

The so called ”Historical” Market was opening in the morning.

This is an extension to the real market aimed at the tourists and held in the old “Settlers Museum”

I was hoping it would provide some interesting picture opportunities.

Jokkmokk Sunset
Talvatis Sunset - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Lennart and Ramko were due to arrive in the morning and possibly Dave and Riam too, although there was some confusion about their arrival date, it felt like our trip was moving into another phase.

Part One       Part Three.

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