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Through Europe's Last Wilderness: An Epic Hike Through Sarek, Padjelanta and Rago National Parks.

Distance: 250 km | Ascent: 5000 m | Descent: 5300 m | Duration: 17 days | 11 days alone | 6 days with my dad

Rappa valley at sunset, swedens most beatiful view. Sarek Nationalpark

Rappa valley, The Start of the journey!

Rago and Litlverivassforsen, The end destination!

My adventure here was part of my Adventure Academy course.

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity to explore nature and wilderness on my own, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, when I embarked on an unforgettable trip through Sarek, Padjelanta and Rago National Park, stretching from Sweden to Norway. This journey took me through what is often called "Europe's last wilderness" or "Europe's Alaska".

My journey began with my father in Sarek National Park, with 33kg on my back. Here we were greeted by large rivers, snow-capped peaks, glaciers and vast valleys. Sarek, one of Europe's oldest national parks, is home to half of Sweden's mountains above 2000 metres, more than 200 mountains above 1800 metres, over 100 glaciers and rich wildlife with Scandinavia's largest meese, brown bears, lynx, wolverines and reindeer. Here, where there are no marked trails, we were forced to cross rivers, navigate by our own judgement and follow animal trails that often got lost in the dense scrub. The national park has no huts and there is only one bridge, so if you want to cross to the other side of a river, the only way is feet first into the icy glacial water.

First camp in the Rapa valley.

The first days were spent crossing the infamous Rapa Valley - a true jungle. After a boat trip to the mouth of the Rapa Valley, we began a two-day hike along the Ráhpaädno River, which has been winding through the valley for millennia with meltwater from the surrounding mountains. Out here we met no other hikers, only the tracks of the large moose. The Rapa Valley was an ordeal - the small path often disappeared and we struggled through dense scrub, large swamps and river crossings. Although the views were impressive, the hike itself was very difficult.

We left the Rapa Valley and headed up the 'High Road', a route on the mountains above the valley. Here we walked and enjoyed the magnificent views. It felt "right" to go out there, you didn't need anything but the beautiful untouched nature, no stress, just my dad and I alone on the mountain.

View from the "high road".

A few photos from the Rapa Valley

On day 5, we found ourselves at the foot of Mount Skierfe. The top of Skierfe, known as Sweden's most beautiful viewpoint, revealed a beautiful sight: the Rapa River meandered into an impressive river delta that split into Lake Laitaure. On the opposite side stood the majestic Tjahkelij Mountain, while Nammásj, the small mountain where our adventure began, rested in the centre of the Rapa Valley. This view was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen and a well-deserved reward after 5 days of hiking. You can see it all in the first picture. The distance from the mountain on the other side of the valley to Skierfe, where I'm standing, is 3 kilometres and the distance from the river mouth to Nammásj is about 7 kilometres.

 top of Skierffe mountain Sarek national park
From the top of Skierffe

The last day with my dad was spent at Aktse Mountain Station, the day was dedicated to rest and recharge, where we indulged ourselves with tinned food, sweets and beer. The next day we parted ways, my dad was going home and I continued alone towards Norway. After leaving my dad behind, a solo hike began that required more than just physical strength. I moved into "Europe's last wilderness" with just me, my rucksack and a satellite phone. The first hours were very hard, I was sad and the journey ahead seemed impossibly long. After some time and a long comforting phone call with my mum, who was very supportive even with a crying boy on the other side, my body was filled with a mixture of excitement, worry and the feeling of being very small in the big nature.

My dad and I had been favoured with good weather, but the weather report on my Garmin satellite phone painted a different picture. Sarek, known as one of Sweden's wettest areas, now offered days of heavy rain and storms. My route crossed the Rapa Valley and with rain forecasted, time became a significant factor as the valley is known to be almost impossible to pass after heavy rain (the rivers become very large and much of the valley becomes swampy).

I navigated through the Rapa Valley before the rain came. The dense forest, the rivers and the worry of bears and moose made the trip tough. When the rain - which lasted for over 3 days - finally hit, I was above the tree line and out of the Rapa Valley. Therefore, my tent became my protection from the elements, and lying against a rock with my sleeping mat as shelter from the rain made the next few days challenging.

Trekking on the "high road" above the Rapa valley in Sarek national park.

At Snávvávágge, a small valley located 500 metres above the Rapa Valley, I came across a small group in a serious situation. Half of the group was suffering from illness and they were in a tense situation, as helicopters are only allowed to fly into Sarek in true emergencies. With at least three days of trekking ahead, and probably more due to the condition of the sick, their situation was dire. One of the group members told me that they had established contact with emergency services via a satellite phone and were on the verge of declaring an emergency in order to get help. I was also given important information about a river I had to cross the next day. One of the men showed me with his hand that the water was up to his belly button and warned me about the strong current.

View from Snávvávágge, overlooking the western part of the Rapa Valley, where it starts.

That evening I found myself overlooking the start of the Rapa valley, a beautiful view. I had previously read in my guidebook about this river crossing being categorised as "difficult", if something is "difficult" in Sarek, then it is very difficult. I also read that I had a difficult descent first thing the next day, which required extra care if it was wet, which was great as it rained all night and the next day.

The next morning I set off and shortly before the descent I met two Swedish hikers. They shared their experiences with me and warned that the descent would require scrambling in several places. They also informed me of the river I would be crossing and pointed with their hands to illustrate the water level, which went up to just above the hip. These two walkers had crossed the river the day before. I managed to make the descent, but at the end of it all I hit my shin and a sharp pain galloped through my body, luckily the injury was not serious.

During the morning, the weather began to clear and I reached the first river crossing of the day. The water from the glacier was murky and the bottom was covered in smooth, round rocks, making it challenging to keep my balance with my crocs. With a waterfall just 20 metres from where I crossed, the current was particularly strong. Just before the other side of the river, the water depth increased to about thigh-deep. I managed to cross the river, but unsure of how much bigger rivers I would be able to cross, it made me think carefully about the next river crossing that I had heard so much about, and I was unsure if I would be able to do it. I had also realised that the river I had just crossed was considered "easy" in my guidebook, which only made me more nervous. However, I saw two people on the horizon moving in the same direction as me. I decided to wait for them and cross the next river with them. It turned out to be a confident Swedish couple who wanted to accompany me across the infamous river. The man told me that this was his third visit to Sarek.

We were approaching the dreaded river and the current looked fierce. We walked along the river bank to find the best place to cross. The river was once again filled with slippery rocks and murky glacier water, but the water level was "only" up to our thighs. The current was even stronger than before. I loosened my rucksack before crossing so that I could quickly get rid of it in case the current caught me. It's important to keep your backpack loose at dangerous crossings, as a 33kg backpack combined with strong currents can pose a serious danger unless you can get free quickly. Filled with excitement and adrenaline, I took my first steps into the cold water. I used my trekking pole to feel where I could place my feet in the strong current, I had to use both hands to control the movement of the pole. To keep my balance against the current, I had to lean forward and support myself on the trekking poles. After a little more than two minutes, I had crossed the river, but it felt like much longer.

After the river crossing, I parted ways with the Swedish couple and continued my hike towards the centre of Sarek. Here was a small wind shelter, a bridge and an emergency telephone - the only form of habitation in Sarek apart from a few old huts where the Sami, a nomadic people, traditionally and still do their reindeer herding in Lapland. I spent the night in Ruohtesvagge, a valley surrounded by Sweden's second-highest mountain and several of Sarek's impressive peaks. Unfortunately, the valley was covered in low clouds, which meant that the high peaks remained hidden from me.

The following day was an easy walk through the Ruohtesvagge valley, where there were only a few river crossings, most of them relatively easy. However, the next day I came across a man who told me that 10 years ago two Germans had died in one of the rivers I had just crossed the day before, while trying to cross it when he had been in Sarek. This is another reminder of how seriously nature should be taken here.

The night before my last day in Sarek, I experienced a heavy storm that kept me awake all night. The wind was pushing the tent fabric down against my sleeping bag, while the tent poles were moving around worryingly. I was constantly worried that one of the poles would break or the tent fabric would tear, which would have meant an early end to the trip.

After many days, I finally reached Padjelanta National Park and headed into an area of endless expanses and hilly terrain, towards the Sami village of Saluhavrre. Padjelanta is Sweden's largest national park, covering around 2,000 square kilometres (ten times the size of Møn). The name Padjelanta means "highlands" as most of the park is above the tree line.

Saluhavrre, Padjelanta national park

After two days of walking, I reached the remote and very small village of Saluhavrre, exhausted. These parts of Sweden and Norway are almost untouched and there is nothing to be found in books or on the internet about how best to cross the mountainous border. In Saluhavrre, I was lucky enough to meet an elderly Sami man. He shared his knowledge and pointed me in the right direction, showing me on the map how to approach the route. I decided to follow his advice and set off towards my final destination - Norway.

During the three days it took me to get to Norway, I didn't see any humans, nor did I encounter any human tracks. The terrain was extremely challenging to move through as there were no trails - neither for humans nor animals. This meant that my average speed was around 2 km/h. I moved up and down hills and mountains, navigated through dense scrub and crossed several rivers, one over 20 metres wide.

Border area between Norway and Sweden (Rago and Padjelanta national park).

As I approached the border, the area became more alpine. The entire landscape was covered in rocks, some snow, and several deep ravines that had not been visible on the map. As a result, for every 100 metres I tried to move forward, I had to go about 2-300 metres to the side to find passages where I could climb up and down. My speed dropped to around 1 km/h in this difficult terrain, it was extremely strenuous and demotivating to walk here.

It wasn't until 11 pm that I finally reached my destination, Ragohytta in Norway. After a strenuous journey, I was rewarded with a spectacular sunset over the majestic mountains stretching out towards Bodø. The next morning, after a long time alone, I finally encountered other people. I had a lovely conversation with a couple who were fishing in Rago, and we shared stories and cosy up in the small cabin for a short while.

Rago National Park is a hidden jewel, famous for its valleys, large waterfalls and challenging terrain, the area even has its own name for distance, a "Ragomil", due to the national park's very difficult terrain. Rago in Sami means "difficult mountain area" and I have to agree with the Sami!

My journey continued towards the destination of the trip, Litlverivassforsen, an impressive waterfall with a drop of 225 metres. It was surrounded by beautiful mountains, whose small waterfalls all fell into the large lake that sat at the top of the mountain and provided Litlverivassforsen with its water. I chose to spend the night here, hoping to capture a beautiful image of Litlverivassforsen with the valley and mountains as a backdrop. Unfortunately, the light was not good for photography in the evening and shortly afterwards a thunderstorm rolled in.

The next day would turn out to be my last. On my way down from the waterfall, I came across a Dutch couple. The woman had clearly broken her hand and they needed help. The way back required the use of hands, which was a challenge for them. I gave the woman painkillers and then activated the SOS button on the side of my Garmin Inreach. Before long, I was in contact with the IERCC (International Emergency Response Coordination Centre), describing the situation. As it wasn't a life-threatening emergency, we waited longer, which gave me the opportunity to chat with the friendly Dutch couple.

Being escorted by the Red Cross.

However, it ended up with 8 Red Cross volunteers heading out towards us on foot, we decided to meet them as it would soon start to get dark, the lady required some help to cross several places but she did it well, a real fighter. We met up with the Red Cross halfway and walked to the car park of Rago, adventure over. Not exactly what I had expected, but I'm glad to have helped the two Dutchmen (who later came to Denmark, took me out to dinner and invited me to stay at one of their hotels 🙂 )

It was my longest solo hike ever, a journey through extremely beautiful and challenging nature. At first, I missed my mum, dad and dog, but gradually I learned to appreciate being alone in the beautiful wilderness. Already on the flight home, I started to miss life - the silence, the beauty and the constant challenges of the wilderness. So the planning for the next trip is already underway 😉.

A little practical:

My Dad and I started at Sitoälsbroen, we had travelled here via. Fly to Luleå and then rent a car to the car park at Sitoälsbroen, then hike 10 km in a motorboat to the national park boundary. If you take public transport you can go to Kvikjokk, walk to Aktse and then in, this takes 2 days. Alternatively, you can enter from other places, common to all of them is that it takes 1-3 days just to get to the start of the national park.

My father and I parted at Aktse where I walked to Rago. When I was going home I was lucky that one of the volunteer Red Cross travellers was from Bodø, so I could get a lift, otherwise you had to walk 10 km to a small bus stop, and the bus went twice a day. Then a flight home from Bodø.

You need to carry all food and all the backup and repair gear you need for the 2-3 weeks. It is possible to buy some snacks at Gisurisstugan, and sometimes reindeer meat or smoked fish from the Sami.

Feel free to ask questions, I'll try to answer everything!


A few photos:

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Marius Karlsson
Marius Karlsson

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