Into the Arctic Circle

Jamtland – Handöl– Ȧre – Ottsjö – Ostersund – Storforsen – Jokkmokk – Stora Sjöfallets National Park – Kiruna – Nikkaluota Valley – Abisko National Park – Kärekevagge Valley

Our return back into Sweden started off very snowy, walking a small section of the 3 day hike known as Jamtland triangle. We managed half a day trudging through thick slushy snow and snow-covered bog. We didn’t see anyone else the whole walk, had our picnic in heavy snow and got completely soaked through. It was ace! Though drying everything out in the van afterwards is a little complicated and smelly.

Right next door to Jamtland triangle is the creepy village of Handol. It used to have a big soapstone industry but now that has closed down it’s a rather quiet eerie village. Our guidebook said it was good for birdwatching so while Graham did some work on his papers I went off to the one bird hide which overlooked a massive bog. There wasn’t a lot going on in the way of birdlife but I had a very relaxing breakfast and saw my first red throated diver. Handol waterfall was very impressive though and worth the trip. In Norway the waterfalls were mainly skinny and running down huge steep cliffs, in Sweden they seem to mainly be big wide rivers carrying lots of snow melt with a series of drops and rapids.

Our next area on our journey up north was Are (via visiting some more waterfalls), it’s a popular ski area and mountain bike area in the summer. Apparently, no one apart from us would be silly enough to visit in Spring because there isn’t a lot to do as still far too much snow / snow melt for most of the walks. We did our best with a few short walks. That evening we travelled just south of Are to Ottsjo. It isn’t as high in altitude as Are so there wasn’t snow around when we got there, but overnight about 10 cm of snow fell and we woke up to our version of paradise. We had an amazing walk along a lake and through a forest making fresh tracks in the snow and looking across the water to snow covered mountains. That night we stayed at a campsite right by the river with a stunning big waterfall next to it.

We had a couple of days driving to get closer to the arctic circle. The driving in Sweden is less distracting than Norway – in summary largely straight flat roads with dense pine forest as far as the eye can see interspersed with lakes. The one good thing about the drives is the roadside wildlife; we saw loads of Reindeer (including albino ones that have pink antlers) and two moose. We visited Ostersund which was a nice town on a huge lake and visited another amazing waterfall/rapids called Storforsen.

We made it to the artic circle yay! It was very sunny and warm on arrival and no snow so didn’t feel very arcticy but we felt incredibly happy that Scooby had made it this far. We hadn’t planned to visit this far north when we left so couldn’t really believe we were now officially in the arctic circle!

We actually did a cultural thing (!) and went to a great museum in the town of Jokkmokk. It was all about the Sami culture and wildlife in the area. I normally struggle a bit with museums because there is always far too much reading in tiny print which isn’t very dyslexic friendly and makes me quite tired. But this was all big pictures, sculptures and scenes, all with an audio guide, so I was very happy.   

After a day inside, some hardcore nature was needed to balance things out, so we drove off the beaten track to Stora Sjöfallets National Park which over looks the mighty mountains of Sarek National Park and in-between is an incredible semi frozen lake. It finally felt like we had arrived in the arctic circle. That night in Scooby was very surreal, chatting away in the van you could be anywhere, and then you move your head and look out the window and it’s like looking at a TV. We really couldn’t believe we were in such a beautiful icy landscape! Proper pinch yourself moment.

View towards Sarek National Park
View into Stora Sjöfallets National Park

Driving further North we reached the town of Kiruna which is one of the strangest places I’ve been to. There is a huge iron ore mine which is taking over the city. Our guidebook had said go and see the town hall because in a few years it will be knocked down and rebuilt 3 km east as the mine expansion slowly moves the whole city. Our guidebook is clearly a few years out of date as they were knocking it down in front of our eyes. The whole place had a very depressing feeling about it, but it was pretty fascinating at the same time. The wider Kiruna area however has some very nice scenery and we had a lovely day walking in the Nikkaluota Valley with reindeer for company.

The furthest northern part in the Swedish artic circle is Abisko National Park. Small but beautiful with a wide winding river full of rapids, artic tundra, beech woodland, a huge clear lake and snowy mountains in the distance. That night we saw our first officially midnight sun, though it had been light throughout the night for a while we hadn’t until now actually seen the sun at midnight.

Our final day was spent walking in the snow up Kärekevagge Valley. It was a really interesting rocky landscape thick with cloud on the way up and then we were lucky that the cloud parted and revealed an even more beautiful landscape complete with snowy mountains and semi frozen lakes for our trip down.

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