mandag den 12. oktober 2015

Hikers guide to the galaxy, part 4, in which I reflect on the gift of a path

We wake up to a grey, cool day and pack up the gear early. We are going to eat breakfast at the little swimmingplace at the river, where we were caught in the nude yesterday. There is plenty of running water there for the oatmeal, the coffee and for doing the dishes. I thought I was going to go for a morning dip, water in all it's forms is a bit of an addiction, but I'm cold and not in the mood. So having finished breakfast we follow the path through the birch thicket that turns into real forest as we get closer to the valley. 
Once in a while the path disappears, and we spend a bit of time finding it again. This is the first time since we started hiking that we actually have a path, we can follow, and it's worth while sticking to it. It kind of guarantees us that we will find the easiest route through the valley and up again. We are following the river down where you can see it says Alep something and then following the river all the way to the place where it says Skårkistugan (which by the way is not a place to stay; it's locked and we actually missed it somehow) then we head up towards the mountains again. Looks easy? Think again. All the tiny blue threads are rivers that we have to cross and there are no bridges here, remember, this is wild nature. Wilderness. 
You see where the dotted line is on the map? That's the path. We ended up walking more in the middle of the river so to speak, where there was kind of a sandbank, we could walk on, which saved us a lot of time wading some of the rivers, that the other path crosses. See, you don't have to wade, when you're already in the water. But... I'm getting ahead of myself. 

We are following Alep down towards Rapaselet, but the path takes us further and further away from the constant murmur of the river and suddenly all we hear is the whisper of the birch-trees and the sound of our boots on the soft earth. We realize that this path is southbound and that just because there is a path, that doesn't mean it leads us in the right direction. This one clearly doesn't. We must have missed a fork somewhere and we have to backtrack. After about 10 minutes we find the right path again and follow it untill we meet the big river, the delta of Rapaselet. 
Now we just have to find the path that takes us along Rapaselet to where we head up again. We are at the grassclad banks and the birchforest ended a bit up, so there is literally nowhere to go but in along the river, so we just start although we haven't found a real path. We haven't hiked far, before we come to a sideriver, that we have to cross. Its quite wide, and although the water looks shallow, it's also not clear, so we can't see the bottom. We hesitate, but we have no choice, but to take off our boots and put on the Nikewaders. The sandy bottom is quite spongy and gives as we slowly wade across, using the sticks to feel our way. But we make it to the other side where we find footprints. Promising. Although again ... just because others have walked here, doesn't mean we're on the right track. We change back into boots and continue. We are on a sandy beach and hiking is easy here, so we continue in high spirits; it seems that we have come to a path of a sorts and at least leading in the right direction. Then a new river joins the delta - after all this is all a delta. I'll just show you a photo again of what it looks like. 
To be fair this hikingtrip starts further in the valley. On the photo on the right hand side you can see the rockface Skierfe, where we slept the first night, and we have come down now after Nammatj, the big flattop mountain in the middle of the valley. But you can tell by the colour of the water, that it's not easy to see what lurks beneath the surface or how deep the waters are. But one things for sure ...

It's very ... wet. A new crossing, we take off the boots again and put on the Nike; The temperature of the water is 10 degrees maybe, and compared to the icy glacial rivers this is comfortable. Having crossed, we again dry our feet, put on socks and boots and continue. New sideriver. New crossing. Boots off, boots on. After the fifth time I hear myself saying: "Now I don't want to have to do this again." Then I laugh, because who am I talking to and who am I trying to convince? This is beyond my control. Whether I like it or not we have to cross rivers for as long as there are rivers to cross.
Whether I like it or not we have to surrender. Some things are out of our control.

Finally after having done this a few times more, time consuming and tedious, we end up on the path we wanted to find. Luckily it hasn't rained for a while, so we can walk on the sandy bank in the river. After a rainy period the banks just disappear, which we were to discover a few days later. 
The grey day is a relief, cooler and no mosquitoes as long as we're walking anyway. We eat our lunch standing, not as pleasureable as sitting, but there is nowhere to sit and it's still a highlight to start the gasstove, heat up water, pour it into the bag containing the crunchy dried food and wait the 10 minutes it takes for the stuff to absorb the water and turn in to a tasty meal. Some more tasty than others. One favourite is lentils and spinach, another is lamb-casserole. Normally I don't eat meat, but here I relish the nourishment of this hardy dish.
We have been hiking along three small lakes on our right hand side, maybe you can spot them on the map, and we know that after them we have to find Skårkistugan and make our way up again towards the mountains. It feels like we have been hiking for ever. We pass a firesite, but no sign of a path heading up through the undergrowth and the birchforest and no sign of the cabin. Without a path, it's going to be hard if not impossible to get through the forest. We come to the end of the bank in the river, ahead of us only water, and for the second time today we have to backtrack. As we pass the firesite, I get the idea to cross inwards there and just check ... and sure enough, on the other side of the firesite, there's the path. 
There's this sense of relief and gratitude to once again be on a path. 

Reflections on a path: 
When we come upon a path, either by chance or because we know that it's there, there is this sense of trust, that it will take us to where we need to go. People have walked here before us and they have maintained the path. kept it open and easy to find by using it. This is the hallmark of a path, that it is used. But what really makes a path is not a something,(although some paths have steppingstones or bridges, the one we are following now is very basic), but the absence of something. The absence of obstacles/of hindrances. We know, that when we follow this path that thousands before us have walked, we are harvesting the fruit of their hard work. We can relax our efforts a little and let the path lead us. And at the same time we are also cultivating the path for others, the people who will in time follow in our footsteps. I feel such gratitude when following a path. At the same time a bit of discernment is wise, since not all paths would take us in the right direction, as we learned earlier today. We have to know what our general direction is and be able to make a decision to leave the path if it doesn't take us where we want to go ... even if doing so feels uncomfortable and scary. 

We make our way through the green and moist birchforest.. Everywhere we hear the sound of trickling streams. Soft, gentle, like the voice of little forestelves inhabiting this lush space. The path winding it's way upwards untill we're finally above the treeline again and can look down on where we have been. It's been quite a hike today and we still have to continue up, cross a river and find a place to camp for the night. 

I have lost count of how many times we have had our boots off and on today. My socks are damp, and I have hung my spare socks to dry on the backpack(they got wet, because I tried to cross one time witouth taking my boots off. I almost made it. But no sun today that can aid in drying them - still the sky is grey and heavy, pregnant with the promise of rain. We make our way up from the valley, up the side of the mountain ... and then down to the glacial river, that is lodged in a canyon.

 Suddenly we see a guy almost running towards us on the trail, and we step aside to let him pass. But since we see so few people out here, we grab the chance to ask about the conditions further along our route. 
He is german, and he will reappear later on our trip, but for now we just talk about his gear, that is all ultralight. He is wearing sneakers, a thin jacket and an ultralight backpack, that he has more or less designed himself. Johannes is curious and all ears, while I feel happy for our sturdy, although of course heavier gear. He seems almost uncannily enthusiastic about his ultraweight gear. I wonder what happens if the weather really gets tough. After all Sarek is known as the most rainy place in Sweden. He continues out of the canyon in the direction we came from, while I proceed to get my socks wet crossing the river. 
We decide to pitch the tent high up
on a slope looking back down on the valley and stay an extra night to rest tomorrow and maybe "just" climb the peak closest to us.But things are about to take an unexpected turn. 

More about that in part 5.

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