Sarek National Park is located in Swedish Lapland, in Jokkmokk Municipality. The ruggedly beautiful Sarek is the oldest national park in Europe, and it is often called the last great wilderness of the North. Six out of thirteen peaks over 2,000 m are located within the boundaries of the national park, and there are around 100 glaciers. There are no signposted trails or shelters in the park, which together with large river crossings and drastically changing weather conditions make trekking through Sarek a challenge. With its remote location, Sarek is the destination of many off the beaten track trekkers.
I fulfilled a long-standing dream: hiking in Sarek National Park in August 2022. Of my two weeks solo backpacking adventure in Swedish Lapland, I spent eight nights in Sarek.
How to get to Sarek National Park?
Sarek National Park is located between two other national parks: Stora Sjöfallet and Padjelanta. There's no direct route or road to Sarek, it requires a day's hike at minimum to reach Sarek. Frederik Nedergård's book (in Swedish) Fjällvandra i Sarek introduces the best entrance and exit points in the area, as well as the best hiking trails in Sarek. Basically, you start your hike from Ritsem, Suorva, Saltoluokta, Sitoälvsbron/Aktse, Kvikkjokk or Stáloluokta.
Sarek was part of my two week's hiking journey in Swedish Lapland and as I came from Kungsleden (King's Trail), Suorva was a convenient choice. When you start from Suorva dam, you hike first through Stora Sjöfallet's National Park and reach Sarek border in a day. In addition, this route leads close to nice mountains to summit. My aim was to climb to Sarektjåhkkå Nordtoppen.
Hiking from Suorva Dam to Guhkesvágge bridge
I spent my night near Suorva's parking area in some bushes. I left my litter bag at the waste management spot and walked the road to the dam and forward into the woods. The trail head toward River Njabbejåhkå was marked with orange ribbon. The trail was wet and muddy. Most of the summer flowers were already gone, but the trees were still green. The first streams were crossed by wooden bridges. The forest got boggy, and while I tried to go around the most wet parts, I stumbled and got that nasty brown water inside my boot, as well as scratches from willows.
I headed up to the mountains as soon as possible, and found a good trail. It was much nicer to walk after leaving the mud behind. Soon I came to the first small stream without a bridge, and put on my waterproof socks and sandals. The high fell scenery gave glimpses of the ruggedly beautiful wilderness I was about to enter. I greeted one hiker, the first and the last of the day. At some point, the trail disappeared, but I found River Njabbejåhkå easily. It was the first wading to get that adrenaline rush.
Around at 900 m the river splits in two streams that make a loop. The first stream was easy, water reached to my calf, and the rocks were small. But I spent a long time trying to find a good wading spot by the other stream. Finally, I just decided I had to cross the river and chose a spot that seemed the least awful. It was a bit tough, water was above my knees and there were big rocks under the water. Somehow, in photos, it always looks like you could just jump on the rocks, but in reality, the space between the rocks in much longer and the water much deeper. After surviving to the other side, I sat by the river feeling very relieved and also empowered – here I go again, facing my fears and managing things all by myself in wilderness!
The Sarek reindeer kept me company. They were different from the reindeer I had met before: they were curious, came close, stared and followed me. I stopped and stared back, they did the same. It started raining again. I packed my electronic devices in dry bags and put on my rain coat.
I had found a trail that led to River Njirávjågåsj, flowing in a deep gorge and surrounded by mist. I had to descend to reach a wading spot of several smaller streams. It was an easy river crossing. I saw a small pile of rocks marking the trail head. But the trail disappeared into some really nasty willow bushes, through which I scrambled for ages. Soon after came River Lulep Niendojågåsj. The first three streams were small and easy, the fourth was trickier, with knee deep water and strong stream. But soon I was back on a trail, this time I made sure I didn't lose it. The foggy Nienndo valley looked so peaceful and beautiful. The trail meandered up on a boulder field that reached down to the lake. Not much tenting spots here.
I arrived at the last river before Guhkesvágge valley, at River Alep Niendojågåsj. The first three streams were small and shallow requiring no wading, but the fourth meant changing the hiking boots once more. I took fresh water to my bottle, as I was expecting glacier waters in the valley. Then I rushed the last kilometers as it was already late and getting dark. And there it was: the bridge (Bron). I was finally in Sarek!
River Guhkesvákkjåhkå roared below when I walked on the bridge. The rain stopped and I pitched my tent. I had hiked faster than planned on Kungsleden in order to reach Sarektjåhkkå when it was not raining. But the forecast had changed, the next days didn't look promising at all.
Climbing Vuojnestjåhkkå (1952 m) twice (almost)
I woke up with the morning sun that was rising behind the mountains. Too bad it was going to rain in the afternoon. I pondered if I should pack and head toward Sarektjåhkkå so that I would be close to the mountain, if the weather got better. But, I just packed for a day trip and started hiking to Vuojnestjåhkkå.
The slope was boggy, grey tiny streams here and there. Some fresh water brooks too. River Vuojnesjågåsj was shallow, I didn't take my hiking boots off to cross the stream. There were some manageable willows, then boulders. It was 11 AM when it started dripping. I was still below 1500 m. I decided it was not worth continuing up. I went first to the other side of the mountain to see Vuojnesjiegna glacier, then to the other side to see Lake Bierikjávrre.
Low clouds and fog came in just minutes. I started descending. I saw two hikers a bit further down, we cheered and started shouting in English about the weather and routes. Then the guys asked where I'm from, and when I answered 'Finland', they said 'Oh let's forget the English then, we're from Kokkola Finland'. It was funny for both of us to meet the first Finns of our journeys in some random mountain in the middle of a fog. It was time to climb down, the visibility was close to zero.
I took some fresh water on the way back to my camp. Then I picked a cup of billberries in the rain for morning oats. The rain got heavier and brought thunder, it was pouring rain and lightnings the rest of the day. I crawled into my sleeping bag and stayed there. The next two days were probably going to be the same. I thought about going deeper into the valley and to Sarektjåhkkå: at least for day two it had to be good weather, otherwise the extra trip would be useless. And then I didn't have any reserve days left for Rapadalen. I had to admit to myself, that I'd have to forget summitting the mountain this time.
As the forecast had said, the next morning was foggy. I was slow and lazy, I'd go somewhere near Lake Bierikjávrre. Now I noticed that there were two tents higher up toward Vuojnestjåhkkå. I walked the same route I hiked yesterday, as I had found good spots to cross the streams. Water level was higher, I had to look new spots so that I didn't have to change boots. It looked like the weather was getting better. The reindeer stared again and some huge frog jumped out of the bushes. The ground was very wet after the rain.
I reached the saddle of Vuojnestjåhkkå. The clouds disappeared and the sun was shining. I just sat there and enjoyed the views. The thunder warning was at 5 PM, if I was fast enough, I might get down in time... Then I headed up to the mountain carrying my trekking backpack and all my stuff. The slope was steep but quite easy to climb. Soon it was just rocks. The views were amazing on both sides: Spijkkakammen and the glacier on the right, and Bierikjávvre valley and Ähpár massif on the left.
I stood at the narrowest part of the ridge. It was 4 PM, the wind was getting harder and grey clouds were moving faster. I had decided to start descending then at latest, so that I would have enough time to escape the thunder. I had climbed almost to 1900 m, but I would have to leave the final steep black ridge. It was a bit disappointing. Suddenly the clouds turned black and it was dark in the mountain. I turned and rushed down.
I went back the same route I had climbed until I could take a turn toward Lake Bierikjávrre. It wasn't yet raining but I started looking for a tent spot as my feet hurt. I found a camp place next to a stream at around 840 m with a huge stone a bit higher above. The stone would be my lightning rod. As soon as I had my dinner ready, it started finally raining. I collected my stuff inside and accidentally kicked my hot chocolate mug upside down. After dinner, I took my wet socks off and stared at my feet: the skin was white and wrinkled and it looked like it was peeling off. Holy shit. I dried them and put on loads of foot cream and stuffed them in dry alpaca wool socks. Then I slept like a baby, listening to rain.
The most challenging wading in Sarek: River Bielajåhkå
In the morning, the sun was shinging bright. And it was raining. And hard wind gusts were whirling. All-in-one! I had to carry my breakfast stuff inside the tent again, as it started raining more. While it was pouring rain, I was chilling out in my sleeping bag researching the map. The water system near Pielastugan seemed somewhat complex. After the rain, I packed my tent, having curious reindeer friends hanging around again. I got my wading outfit ready as I started the day crossing the small stream next to my camp, but I ended up hiking all the way to River Bielajåhkå in Crocs sandals. There were lots of small streams on the route, so I saved some time not changing boots after every hundred meters. The glacier streams had quite a lot of water in them, and one normal crossing seemed a bit challenging. I noticed reindeer crossing river downstream and followed them.
The whole shoreline of Lake Bierikjávrre was wet. On the western side there were large boulder fields. Pielastugan hut was a tiny dot in the huge mountain scenery. I came to the site where all the valleys cross and admired the rugged landscape. Suddenly a man passed by, looked like an ultralight backpacker. I started looking for the crossing of River Bielajåhkå. Easier said than done, I walked here and there and looked the map many times before I finally found the right trail coming from Skárjá. The normal crossing spot was horrible: so much grey water roaring down from a waterfall and forward to the next waterfall. I put my pole in the river and to the bottom, the water level was around to my waist at least.
The next hour, I kept searching for an alternative wading spot. There was at least one meter of water at the upstream where the other trail runs. I started thinking about pitching the tent and postponing the problem solving until morning. Then I saw some happening downstream. I had noticed a couple earlier, now there were two couples walking along the river. I decided to invite myself to their company to ask if they had found any good wading spots. They had, but they didn't know if it was doable.
The woman of the Dutch(?) couple was brave and jumped into the river. The water level was close to her bottom and it took a long time to manage the wide meander. I packed my stuff and headed to the river, and crossed it after the couple. She cheered and supported me while I was wading in the raging ice-cold glacier river. One of my sandals almost dropped, but I managed to put it back on a big rock in the middle of the stream. I survived. I sat on a turf feeling extremely grateful, watching the Swedes wading. We were all going to Rapa valley. I said many thanks to the folks for their help and company – I would not have waded River Bielajåhkå alone, at least on that night.
I had planned to camp near Låddebákte, so that I could climb the mountain in the morning. After spending a lot of time at the river, I was still far away. In addition, a storm came suddenly, making just walking hard. The winds blew from Rapa valley and straight to the slopes of the planned camp. Climbing higher was not an option, I had to go around to the other side of the mountain to have some shelter. I really learned how to pitch a tent in extreme conditions in Sarek! Then the wind kept vestibules so flat, that I couldn't boil any water. I just ate some candy and cookies and crawled to my sleeping bag a bit hungry. Because of the storm and hunger, it was cold and I wore my down coat throughout the night.
Summitting Låddebákte (almost)
In the morning, weather was still unstable, but it didn't rain much. I hadn't slept well and I was so slow making breakfast and packing. Eventually, I started climbing the trail to Snávvávágge pass. This part of the trail was probably the steepest of the whole route, not exactly exposure, but required sometimes scrambling with the help of hands. Down in the valley, Spökstenen (Ghost stone) was staring at reindeer. High above a mighty Sarek eagle was circling in the sky. I planned to buy a new lens someday, so that after an adventure, I wouldn't have to guess what a totally white photo with a tiny crap dot is supposed to present.
Finally, I arrived at Snávvávágge pass. I met a couple coming from the other direction and chatted for a while. They were hiking through Sarek from Kvikkjokk to Ritsem, a classic route. Rapa valley had been very wet yesterday, which didn't change my expectations for the better.
In the mountain pass, there are lakes and connecting streams, that you need to cross if climbing Låddebákte. I wandered around, looked at suitable fords, but couldn't decide where to go. I took photos of cottongrass tussocks and ate chocolate. Then I checked what time it was, and estimated how long the summit journey would take. It would take a long long time. It would be already late night when I'd be down from the mountain, and I didn't know if I needed to return to the Northern end of the pass. I wanted to cross River Jilájåhkå while it was still daylight. I decided to walk through the pass, and summit just a 1066 m peak and a view point at the South-East side of the mountain.
A steep trail led to River Jilájåhkå. The water was clear, water level reached a bit above my knees. I was ahead of my hiking schedule, so I pitched my tent on the highland right after wading. First, I picked all the huge and juicy billberries, then I started enjoying the amazing evening sun. Since I had one reserve day left, I could have climbed Låddebákte the next day, but I didn't feel the urge to do that. The sceneries from the South-East edge had been incredible enough. In addition, I still had the most exciting (and scariest) stretch left: Rapadalen. I really wanted to get to Rapa valley on a good day and avoid any high water levels.
Rapa valley: mud and heat in a jungle
The leaves in the ground were frozen in the morning, but the sun was already shining in the blue sky. I walked the trail down to the valley, but didn't spot the trailhead that leads to the waterline. Rapa valley was as muddy as I had expected, the dense mountain birch trees and the heat made it feel like a jungle. At some point I thought I had found the route to the lower trail, but the traces I followed in wetland were probably made by moose. Brown and grey water was deep, both my hiking boots were soon totally wet and I was covered with grey dust, as was my camera. Willows tore my rain pants. I cleared my way through the wetland with Finnish sisu and got myself to the beach trail. I walked happily ten meters, and stumbled upon the Swedes I had met by River Bielajåhkå. They had turned back from Svirjakanalen stream, as the water was too high. We all got back to the jungle, Swedes first, me scampering behind them later.
I lost GPS signal many times, and it was difficult to locate myself on the map on the many trails in the forest. I looked the paper map and mobile phone app, it didn't make any sense. I wandered through thick bushes. Finally, I was back on the right trail that runs along the shoreline of the lakes and wetland. Many streams were dry. Sometimes the canals were extremely deep and too wide to jump over carrying a backpack. I took breaks under the trees, it was really hot in the sun. River Skoarkkijávrátja was just a small brook, but from the fallen trees and roots you could see how it floods when the water level is high. I thanked the universe that I wasn't in Rapa valley when it was flooding.
Lower in the forest, an Austrian couple was waving and in a need of help. They had lost the trail. They also told that some Italian had waded River Bielajåhkå and that there had been water to the waist. I forgot to ask, if the hiker had been a tall man, but I was very grateful I didn't try wading at the normal wading place. They also warned about the mire I was about to enter, as they had lost the trail there. Well, the bog was huge and I lost the trail too.
I found the trail again just before arriving at River Alep Vassjajågåsj. The grey glacier stream seemed a bit challenging, and I walked along the river to find any alternative wading spots. Eventually, I crossed the river at the normal wading place. Water reached a bit above knees and the stream was quite strong. After River Bielajåhkå, this felt quite easy. I sat on the river bank after wading to cool down, it's always exciting to cross rivers. But now I was all smiles, as this was the last river I had been anxious to wade. The sun was shining in the sky and life was great.
After the third stream the trail turned left and up to the mountains. I hiked up to the waterfalls, where I had a map reading break. I couldn't spot any proper trail, but there were some traces in the bushes that I followed through the birch forest, where small birds were singing. I also found fresh water after the glacier streams, it would have been wise to carry more water on a hot day. Soon I arrived above the treeline, sweating. Up in the mountains there are often no visible trails, just some reindeer trails, but the terrain of arctic vegetation and small boulders is easy to hike. I got closer to the saddle where I had marked my camping place, but I saw already from afar that it was taken.
I found a small stream and put my camp next to it, a bit earlier and lower than the original plan. The views to Rapa valley were scenic anyway. I was happy to spend a long evening in the magnificent summer weather, and all the troubles of my journey were fading like clouds. Below my tent, there was a huge stone that served as a kitchen table and a living room sofa. I just sat there, having dinner and gazing at the spectacular sunset in the mountains. I was grateful for surviving Rapa Valley. It was the kind of moment, where I feel the most connected to the universe. A moment, that I will remember vividly, perhaps for the rest of my life. I went sleeping long after the last pink slice of sky had turned into dark blue.
Cold swimming in waterfalls and a night on a mountain
I woke up with the sunrise. Time just flew while I took photos and admired nature. After packing my camp, I started navigating to River Lulep Vassjajågåsj. Fell higland was amazing to hike after Rapa valley. Arctic birds were singing among the willows and boulder fields. The river was flowing peacefully at the bottom of a steep canyon. I could spot a good wading place at a stream pool already from the highland.
I climbed down the slope and noticed some kind of trail leading to the river. While I was sitting on a rock and changing my wading sandals, I saw two people high up on the other side of the gorge. I waved at them, they waved back at me before they disappeared to vast wilderness. I was happy to realize that water in River Lulep Vassjajågåsj was clear instead of being glacier water. It was quite an easy wading.
I climbed back up to the highland. Sometimes there was a visible trail to walk, sometimes not. Suddenly, I arrived at beautiful waterfalls with wide and deep turquoise stream pool. It was like designed for cold swimming. Since it was a really hot day without a breath of wind, and I had been sweating a couple of days already, I thought to myself: oh heck, why not!
After the invigorating swimming, I sat on the warm rocks drying. I wished I had some sun lotion, as the sunshine was so intense. It's hard to believe how much variation there can be in weather in just two weeks hike in mountaineous wilderness! A visible trail and some rock piles marked the route toward River Buovdajågåsj. Here and there the ground leaves had beautiful autumn colors. It felt so great to walk alone in wilderness.
Water level was low in River Buovdajågåsj. There was loads of rocks in the stream, but just not enough to cross the river without wading. The rugged canyon looked fantastic in the afternoon sun. I headed to the slopes of Suorkitjåhkkå. At some point, I noticed that I've climbed too high, as the boulders became too large to pass. It's sometimes hard to find the right altitude and line between the lower bog and willows and the higher boulder fields. After going around Suorkitjåhkkå, it was time to descend to ayet another steep gorge. There were several waterfalls, and I crossed the river at a shallow stream pool. The last sports of the day was to climb up a very steep slope to Gierdogiesjtjåhkkå.
At Gierdogiesjtjåhkkå I began to realize I've come closer to civilization: there were those tiny rock piles at every corner of the mountain. I don't know if it's a good thing in true wilderness. Tonight's planned agenda had been camping at the root of Skierfe, but as I had the extra day left, I stayed at Gierdogiesjtjåhkkå and enjoyed the spectacular evening sun. It's a rocky mountain with only few tenting spots, but I found quite a nice turf under my tent from the Western side.
The evening was about enjoying existence and enjoying dinner in wonderful scenery. Just at sunset, I walked to the other side of the mountain in sandals to watch Skierfe and Rapa valley against pink sky. It felt magical to be on the mountain alone in the warm summer night. I woke up in the middle of the night to open my tent zipper and to see if I got any luck with Northern Lights, as it was the end of August. No green Auroras, but the sky was full of bright stars. I was too tired for photography, but the starry night will stay in my memories for a long time.
Sunset on Skierfe – making dreams come true
The beautiful warm and sunny weather still continued. I run out of toilet paper, I'd have to manage with slices of printed map and note papers for the next three days, as it was a long way to Saltoluokta, where my two weeks journey would end. I started the final stretch toward Skierfe and walked around and down Gierdogiesjtjåhkkå. I had expected a very steep and rocky mountain, but a marked route run along mostly flat and easy to hike path.
I arrived at the saddle between Gierdogiesjitjåhkkå and Skierfe. There were tens of reindeer grazing in the golden grass. I also saw a couple of hikers further away. Then I started ascending again, walking along trails of Skierfe. At the root of the mountain, I found a great tenting area with some shelter from winds and views to the Rapa valley. I pitched my tent and had some snacks. It felt like there were loads of people hanging around Skierfe.
Since I hadn't summit many peaks, I headed to Bassoajvve. The flat fell was nice and easy to climb, it took only an hour to get to the summit. Amazing sceneries opened up to every direction, but the wind was so hard, that I had to go back down almost immediately. I also thanked myself for having the coordinates of my tent in my phone, as I navigated around two hundred meters to the wrong direction. Then I made lunch, packed my backpack, and made a trip to see the sunset at the famous mount Skierfe (1179 m).
According to maps, there should be a trail going up to Skierfe summit, but I didn't find it. However, it was easy to climb without a trail. From my tent spot at the root of the sharp peak, there was not much elevation left to the summit, so I was up in no time. All the hikers I had seen earlier were gone, I got the whole mountain to myself. While the winds at Bassoajvve had been extreme, at Skierfe only mild wind caressed my hair. The late evening sun goldened Rapa valley below, the river delta mirrored the bright sky.
I sat in silence on warm rock as close to the edge as I could. I thought about my long solo hiking adventure. This was the last night in the beautiful wilderness, in Sarek National Park. Tomorrow, I'd be back on King's Trail, with many other hikers around me. The journey felt astonishing. I had encountered extreme weather from thunder storm to heat, survived scary river crossings, and carried everything I need for living for 15 days on my back – for the first time in my life. I hadn't been tired, I could have trusted my body and mind in every situation. I had had spiritual conversations. I had peace in my heart. I felt like I wasn't scared of anything anymore after Sarek. While I sat there at the summit of Skierfe gazing at the mesmerizing sunset, I realized that I had just made a huge dream come true.
I returned my camp after it got dark. I sat outside for a long time watching the mountains and drinking hot chocolate. In the morning, low clouds and fog came from the valley and covered everything in white. I put my compass hanging on my neck and headed to Aktse direction. But before that, I turned around, and showed my gratitude with a deep bow.
Hiking in Sarek in August
- There are many hiking trails and routes in Sarek National Park. My route in Sarek was Suorva – Bron – Pielastugan – Rapadalen – Skierfe – Saltoluokta.
- Lightweight equipment were extremely great choice for lightweight backpacking in challenging conditions.
- There is plenty of unmarked trails, which make hiking in Sarek a lot easier. Using ready trails limits erosion of vulnerable vegetation in the wild.
- It is much easier to hike up in the mountains and fells than down in the valleys, where you've got either bog, willows or boulders.
- River crossings are easy to moderate during normal water levels, but some wadings become difficult (or even impossible) during high water levels.
- Water levels are usually lower in late August compared to June and July in Sarek, but it only takes a day of heavy rain to get the water level rising quickly. Warm days may increase water level in glacier streams. Rapadalen is not a nice place during high water levels.
- In the end of August mosquitoes and midges are usually gone, and you can find loads of billberries and cloudberries.
- Sarek weather: expect the weather to be whatever: heavy rain, thunder, hard winds, snow, freezing cold, hot. Sarek is one of the most rainy places on planet Earth.
- If you want to summit mountains, take reserve days. Two reserve days don't guarantee any summits though.
- Drinking water is available all the way on Sarek hike, you dont have to carry a lot of water. It's not a good idea to drink glacier water.
- There are days when you meet other hikers, and there are days you don't.
- There's a rich wildlife in Sarek, you'll often see big Sarek moose in Rapadalen. I saw only an eagle and maybe fox traces.
- Sometimes you may lose GPS signal. There's no mobile network coverage in the wild.
- There are no huts or shelters, make sure you've got a stormproof tent.
- Sarek National Park is one of the great wilderness areas left in Europe – do not build any rock piles or leave any litter or other traces in nature.
- My solo hiking experience in Sarek was incredible – I'm definitely going back some day!
Hiking in Sarek
- Destination: Jokkmokk Municipality, Lapland, Sweden
- Distance: Around 72 km (From Suorva to Skierfe, without summits)
- Difficulty: advanced / difficult (mountaineous wilderness), no marked trails, big river crossings, challenging weather
- When to go: from June to August for a summer hike
- Duration: multi-day adventure, a daytrip to Skierfe from Aktse
- Where to stay: in a tent