Ingvar Loco Nordin & Anna Nygren
Lisa's Helmet Hike
(Mårma - Three Pass Trail 2011)

Anna moving cautiously down the edge of The Giebmebákti Glacier

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Chapter 17


Yellow line shows the distance covered in chapter 17, which also is the total hiking distance of the day.

8 August 2011

Lake Darfáljávri and the Tarfala hut beyond, seen from the beginning of the descent

 

When we woke to check the weather, it was the same: dense fog, high winds and from time to time showers of rain. If anything the conditions worsened. The wind got stronger, and it was very gusty, tearing madly at my Hilleberg Nallo 2.

The inside of the inner tent was highly affected by condensation from the warmth of our bodies and our breath. I had special drying cloths along just for this purpose, but it was a disappointment anyway, that so much condensation formed inside the tent. If we hadn’t brought cloths to suck it up, everything inside the tent, like our sleeping bags, would have gotten all wet after a day or so. Admittedly, the conditions for formation of condensation were ideal, with air temperature falling, plus cold rain beating the tent simultaneously with very dense fog rolling in for hours and hours, but still… Hilleberg owners should be aware of this problem, which can be worrying under certain circumstances.

Happy to finally be un-stuck, liberated of the vile high-altitude spirits, we moved down toward Tarfala

 

Anna on Giebmebákti's mighty side moraine, taking us down, down, down...

We tried to rest, but it was a somewhat nervous situation. We slid back into sleep or semi-sleep, the wind tore loudly at the tent, making it wobble and creak. It was very noisy.
I had a fear, sometimes, that the tent wouldn’t hold up, because the wind came from the side, really doing it’s best to cut it to shreds, the way it sounded. I could imagine us up there right smack dab in The Tarfala Pass without a tent in this storm, getting wet and confused, freezing to death before long. In retrospect I see I was overly nervous about the situation, because these tents are made to withstand much harder winds. We did have another chance in store, too, with Anna’s little Hilleberg Akto tent, if worse came to worse. I don’t think, however, that what we encountered was a storm, technically – meteorologically – speaking, but a fresh gale, but the whole context made me nervous. Anna told me, also, that her Hilleberg Akto tent had withstood much harder winds last year up on The Cievrraláhku Plains. I couldn’t help contemplating, though, that we’d pitched our tent right in a wind tunnel, atop The Tarfala Pass, where winds are known to be notoriously hard, and the place is famous for the hardest winds ever measured in Sweden, i.e. severe hurricane force winds, which is why the houses down in the valley are fastened in the rock with wires. I tried my best to keep my imagination from those facts, but sometimes I felt like going crazy over that nothing changed for the better as the hours went by.
We kept a watch on our provisions of water, since we couldn’t get at any water sources during the fogged-out circumstances. Luckily, I had brought an extra bottle up the pass.
We tried calling The Mountain Rescue, not to ask for assistance, but for letting them know the situation we were in, and how long we would be able to hold out without other problems than restlessness (probably about three days and nights), but we couldn’t get any cell phone connection, in spite of the high altitude.

The view looking back up... into Mordor!

As I looked out very briefly in the middle of the day, the rain had turned into snow, which blew sideways at our tent, building up to a little wall of wet snow on one side of it. The wind got even a little bit harder; the gusts severe, and Anna went out to check the boulders that held the tent in place, and she tightened one of the ropes. She also brought my full urine bottle with her, to empty it for me. That is love: getting out of a warm, comfortable sleeping bag, into severe weather in a wild mountain pass, to empty your partner’s urine bottle (I did bring the luminescent urination bottle I had found in Abiskojaure back in April, which eventually got filled-up from urine, and had to be emptied)
Later I was forced to go out to have a shit, and I rushed off ten meters to a bigger rock, seeking some shelter from the storm there, with the tent just barely visible in the fog, but it was a very quick shit, a most chilly and discomforting venture in wind and snow and fog, giving you the impression of being on a slab of land in the middle of absolutely nothing, floating about in nothing, as if all we hitherto knew and believed was just imagination, a mirage of our minds.
When I pulled up my pants and wind pants, I accidentally stepped in my own shit with my Meindl boots, which we discovered when I entered the tent again. It was quite miserable, I tell you.

At one time a loud, long, violent sound was heard over the loud noise of the wind tearing at the tent, and we realized that rocks were crashing down the precipice of The Gaskkasbákti Mountain right by us, invisible in the fog. It was an immensely scary sound, adding to the vulnerability we felt, and Anna asked me if we were far enough away from the mountainside not to risk having boulders come crashing our way. I didn’t know.

The irony of the situation was that we’d come that far, hiking all the way from Abisko, managed the two dream passes of our wishes – Mårma and The Pyramid – and almost finished The Three Pass Trail, with only a couple of kilometers left down to The Tarfala Hut – when we got this seriously stuck! At times I felt that our situation was something one reads about, not something one encounters! However much I was affected by irregular fits of worry, Anna stayed cool throughout.

A hump on the side moraine, quite a bit further down, as we approached lake-level!

At about 4 PM the mist suddenly lifted enough for us to see clear across to the mountains in each direction, so we quickly got out of the tent, packed our stuff and was about to fold the tent, when conditions worsened again, showing us that visibility might be a very brief commodity up there on a low-pressure day. I decided, then, to leave the tent there, as it was, zipped and closed up in the wind, for two reasons. One reason was that the visibility window may have been of such a brief duration that we’d make it to the safety of the side moraine only if we rushed for it, and the other reason was that if we couldn’t make it through the area I wasn’t sure of in this weather, we’d need the tent to return to, for another night.

We went over to the edge, looking down to The Black Lake (Lake Gaskkasjávri), and saw a trail of boot prints all across the snowfields leading to the rocky part by the lake’s right (southern) side. When we stepped out on the snow, we found it perfect for getting a good grip without crampons, so we eased across the field that tilts into the icy water of the lake, and arrived at the rocky part, with a steep incline some twenty, thirty meters up to our right. The path, or rather a number of paths up the steep side were marked by cairns, and soon enough we were up on the small plateau, from where you have this wild view all across The Tarfala Valley, for the day with the cloud base (or lifted mist cover) just above us.

Across the last of three snow fields before only rocks kept us from the lovely rest at Tarfala!

 

I felt elated by now, because I knew that even if the fog once again closed in, I’d find the way down with ease. The mist didn’t return, though, and the wind had died down good. That was important too, since the balancing act the 300 elevation meters down into The Tarfala Valley atop the huge, snaking Giebmebákti side moraine would be hazardous in high winds.

We didn’t waste any time up on the plateau, but moved briskly to the opposite side of it, the right (southern) side, where we got onto the ugly Giebmebákti Glacier, i.e. the very edge of it, which you must tread steeply about 150 meters or so down around the protruding plateau we just descended from, to get around it and onto the side moraine, which connects directly below the sharply rising side of the plateau, leading all the way down into the rocky, beautiful Tarfala Valley.
I mounted my crampons to be extra safe down the side of the glacier, and to be a steady support for Anna, would it be called for, but they weren’t really needed, since the snow was soft enough to stick your boots into and descend safely. There was just one section around a protruding cliff that was very narrow and icy, and a slip of the foot there would instantly deliver you into one of those horrible, deep crevasses in the glacier below to your right.

Green cap and a beard; it's me approaching across one of the Tarfala snow fielsd, out of the darkness of Mordor!

(photo: anna nygren)

Loco Varg

(photo: anna nygren)

At 4:15 PM we were edging down the glacier edge section, and shortly found ourselves on the wonderful Giebmebákti side moraine, easing ourselves down to comfort and bliss after our closed-off conditions up in the pass. At 5:30 PM we moved across the first snowfield down by Lake Darfáljávri, and by 6:15 we arrived at The Tarfala Hut, speaking to the hostess, who assigned us he last two bunks of the establishment, in room no 2, with two climbers who were guides from The Kebnekaise Mountain Station, out practicing.
The Tarfala Hut is seldom crowded, usually receiving only day hikers from Kebnekaise, who return down again same day, but now there was an STF tourist group doing excursions in the area, onto glaciers and so forth, plus the Kebnekaise climbers and a family of four.

At Tarfala, checking in for a good rest!

Your host, simply enjoying gravity and a cup of coffee!

The two climbers were really nice and considerate people, with whom we had interesting conversations. They told us a true story about some guys coming down the same way we’d done. One of them had stepped out further on The Giebmebákti Glacier than needed, walking backwards to take photographs, thus disappearing into a deep crevass. His pal stepped out after him, to check his condition, and fell into another crevass. Against all odds, both men were consequently rescued. You don’t go out onto that ugly monster of a glacier; I wouldn’t dream of it!
We also talked with campers who had their tents some distance off, visible from the kitchen windows. One of them was a guy in his 30s from Stockholm who hiked alone, and was in dire need of human company. He had a feverish way of talking that made me edgy and nervous. I could actually feel my heart rate increasing! He had no feeling at all for when to stop talking, but I’d also been hiking alone many times, and knew that warm feeling of finally speaking with somebody, so I endured the guy, and Anna didn’t find him so trying. Finally he returned out into his tent in the cold. He was 190 centimeters tall, which I know because he said he thought Hilleberg Nallo 2 was to short inside to really fit him, which is true. It fits me, but just barely, and I’m 184 centimeters.

Anna about to enjoy her hot tea, having done both The Mårma Pass and The Three Pass Trail!!

 


To chapter 18

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