Monday, May 26, 2014

Traverse of the Midnight Sun

Setting out for a ski traverse at 11pm with sunglasses instead of a headlamp- this has got to be the nicest time of the year in northern Scandinavia. Ample snow left in the higher mountains, dry trails in the valleys and 24 hours of daylight to enjoy it all. Last night I had a solo outing near Abisko, finally realising a traverse which I first dreamed up long ago.

With a week of warm temperatures and no overnight freezes the snowpack has been melting out rapidly and snow in lower elevations turned into an isothermic slushy. I had basically written off the season as over and switched my focus to trail running. Looking at a fresh forecast on Saturday evening, which was calling for a few hours below freezing in the Swedish mountains, it suddenly looked like there would be one final chance for a longer enchainment.

With the forecast only calling for a few hours with temps below zero I wasn't anticipating a very solid overnight re-freeze. I figured that by mid morning the snow would start getting too soft for fast travel, so I made the decision to do the tour under the midnight sun.

After trying unsuccessfully to nap for an hour, I left Narvik around 9:30pm and drove over to Abisko a bit over an hour to the east, on the Swedish side of the border. The snow mobile tracks had recently melted out, so rather than being able to efficiently skate on a hard crust for the 7ish km flat approach I was relegated to hiking the summer trail, a very straightforward affair despite a few patches of knee deep sugary snow with a punchy melt/freeze crust. After around 2 hours I was at Teltlägret and switched over to ski boots. Once on skis my pace doubled, with the firm conditions making for efficient travel. I wasn't pushing the pace, just enjoying myself and being on a mountain which I had spied for so long.

My view of the first 2 mountains I was going to traverse, midway through the approach hike

About 2:30am on the summit of Giron

I made it to the summit of Giron and snapped a few photos before starting down the eastern slopes, on firm but edgeable snow between rockbands. Looking to the south as I skied down I looked over where the Kungsleden hiking trail lies and  was reminded of just how awesome the mountains in this zone are and questioned why I made it over here so rarely.

Once down at the pass I made a quick transition and skinned up the north western slopes of Tjåmuhas, the temps were much colder than expected and I found myself leaving a jacket on over my speedsuit for the ascent over icy suncups and runnels. A very short descent between the western and true summits and I was atop the local favourite Tjåmuhas. 

Looking over Čoamohasriehppi towards Abisko

I'd planned to ski the east face, which is considered to be the classic steep ski line of the Abisko Alps, it offers up 700 vertical metres of sustained, fall-line skiing in the realm of 35° to 40°. Not steep enough to be intimidating or encourage any self-doubt, even on skinny race skis with a busted edge. As I made my way down the upper slopes however it became evident that the sun hadn't had any influence on the snow yet, and that the small sun cups were refrozen and damn hard, with my edges not leaving any tracks on the surface. With the slick conditions and the impossibility of making a self arrest I was careful to ski slowly and deliberately, still enjoying the descent immensely.

"Slide for life" conditions on Tjåmuhas.

The East face of Tjåmuhas definitely deserves its classic status.
Next up was the beautifully named Ballinbogičohkka, I only visited the northern summit which I guess is what most people do as its the one which is closest to civilization. Continuing over to the southern summit and making a descent on a north facing slope looked like a terrific outing though, and something which I'd happily return for.

The family friendly route I followed heads up the slopes on the left.

The couloirs on the SE face of Tjåmuhas would be nice a bit earlier in the season too.
Up on Ballinbogičohkka I snapped a few more photos of the surrounding mountains for planning future outings and then skied back down the same way I had come up. This was the only peak which I didn't climb up one side of the mountain and ski down the other, in terms of the traverse route I followed this kind of felt like I was cheating, and it certainly isn't as aesthetic as a full traverse of the peak would have been. Next time...

On the summit of Ballinbogičohkka looking SW
Back down in the valley I put my skins back on and made my way up the shady west slopes of Pallentjåkka. Topping out at about 7am I was surprised at how fresh I felt after having been on the go for 8 hours so far, through the night and not having slept for around 24 hours. Amazing what hyper caffeinated energy gels make possible!

Pallentjåkka, 4th summit of the traverse about 8 hours after setting out.

The descent down the northern slopes was similar to what I had experienced on Tjåmuhas, with a steep slope and firm conditions which dictated full concentration. The steep section is much shorter though and before long I was picking my way through bands of snow, interspersed with walking over scree, trying to wrap around the ridge to get back to my shoes at teltlägret. This ended up taking much longer than expected, with a lot of traversing over scree as there wasn't much snow left of this aspect.

Looking down towards Abisko from Pallentjåkka and wishing there was enough snow to ski all the way back there.

End of the season.
Back in my running shoes I plodded back towards the road, growing sleepy but satisfied on having made the effort to finally ski these peaks in one continuous enchainment.

My total time was nearly 12 hours(!), about 6 hours longer than a concerted effort in prime conditions will take. Elevation gain was about 3500 metres and the total distance around 40km. The approach is definitely the crux of the trip and the reason these mountains don't see the same number of skiers as roadside peaks. Ideally the trip would be done in April, when the days are long, but a more complete snow cover would allow you to ski to/from Abisko.

No comments:

Post a Comment