It's hard to find sleep. It's full daylight, I'm too warm and my heads brimming over with the happenings of the last twenty four hours. I'm too warm because, although I've packed a sleeping bag suited to nights that follow ten degree days, here, ten degree day is followed by more ten degree day. I fiddle around a little with my layers, work out I'm warm enough with my bag pushed down around my waist and pull my beany down over my eyes. Bingo, instant night. Even if sleep doesn't come I'm at least comfortable.
Sleep does come. And when it does it's deep. I come round slowly. I'm hot. Far too hot and for a moment I'm twenty one again and lying suffering in a cheap tent in the south of France on an interailing holiday. The tent's in full sun and it's yellow interior amplifies the Mediterranean illusion. With the realisation that I'm at the very top rather than the very bottom of the continent comes, first the joint pain and stiffness that reminds me I'm no longer twenty one, and then the need to get out of the tent and into fresh air. I sit up, pull on my boots and crawl outside grabbing burner and food bags on the way. The dogs prick their ears and watch me with interest as I make coffee and munch on muesli. I check my watch, it's 8:30. Far too early and far too late all at the same time. Too early given I was still milling around in the small hours but hardly an alpine start nevertheless. Time seems irrelevant. More important is enjoying the location to the full.
Randulf emerges and we sit and drink coffee in silence. Strong, black, fresh coffee sweetened only by the view. The sun shines intermittently through patchy cloud. There's a long view south through the pass and over the last lake to the line of hills defining the coast on the mainland. Layers of cloud hang low over the tops. It feels like a two brew morning and so it turns out as a second pot of coffee is set. I take advantage of the slow pace, taking photos, at first without filters but then with all the bolt on paraphernalia. I so often pack this stuff only to leave it in the bag, schedules overriding photographic experimentation, but not this time. The captures look fine on the small screen. I'll have to wait and see how they look in the real world. Fish jump in the lower lake as we sit. We decide to try our luck. One last indulgence but with a purpose, if we can bag some extra protein already we'll be sure of a good evening meal.
We catch but nothing big enough to keep. The main achievement is to kill so much time that we decide to eat lunch before setting out. The alternative, stopping soon after starting, doesn´t make sense. So it´s with full bellies that we pack up and head out. It´s long gone midday already. Today I´m paired with Kangia. As we leave the camp she darts quickly and purposefully to the left taking me with her a metre or so. Before I´ve worked out what´s going on she´s uncovered and swallowed a fish head. Rule number two of Greenland dog handling is that they get no food between meals. I start this second leg, therefore, with another exemplary display of dog handling. As I pull her away I promise to do better.
We wind our way through the valley, skirting round the Northern shore of the lower lake and then veering further south looking for a higher traverse to avoid loosing too much height. At the three hundred meter contour we cross the first patches of old snow, pausing briefly, perhaps instinctively, to allow the dogs to roll around and cool down. Then we climb more steeply, due south, making for a slight notch at the root of a high spur that, if our interpretation of the contours is correct, should bring us into the breach of another unpronounceable high pass, the Geaidnovaggi. On the way up we are rewarded with views back across the Buogojavri, the Tinstua hut perched in splendid isolation on it´s northern shore. An ideal location, I imagine, for a winter base. As we drop the few metres to the first of a long string of lakes in the Geaidnovaggi we continue to reap reward. Austere, monotone, an acquired taste perhaps, but beautiful to my eyes. This first stretch running South-South-East, an irregular hotch-potch of rocky knoll, tarn and fast flowing stream. Further in, after a slight dog-leg, narrow, ruler straight. All of it, rock strewn and desolate.
Our passage through the Geaidnovaggi starts with a river crossing. Narrow, not too deep, but fast flowing. Under normal circumstances a minor obstacle but with dogs requiring a little more care. We scout a little to find a good place to cross and then, with dogs on a tight lead and shouting instructions, cross stone to stone. Feet still dry we pause briefly for a drink and snack and continue up the valley. Towards the summit the scant vegetation gives way to rock and lichen. Since setting out yesterday we've passed through birch woodland, crossed berry-strewn hillside and have arrived in the mountains. Three hundred and fifty meters of up is apparently all that's required to reach high alpine territory in this part of the world. All the usual climatic zones are here, they're just sandwiched into super thin layers separated by sharp transitions.
The going is very slow. There´s little by way of rise and fall, the summit, at just just shy of four hundred metres, requires a net climb of just fifty meters in four kilometres, but it's rough ground. We're dealt a stretch of uninterrupted boulder that has us rock-hopping for what must be a kilometre or more. Rock hopping, for me, already difficult with a full-pack, it turns out is even harder when tied to a dog. Kangia moves quickly and unpredictably. Less insistent when we're in the lead but pulling hard to catch up when we fall behind. I don't always get to decide when to take the next step. Without a moments pause to find equilibrium and choose the next landing my movement is even more awkward than usual. On occasion the tight rope acts as a handrail but the benefit comes at a cost. I find myself frequently having to pirouette on one toe, turning a full three sixty degrees, in order to disentangle my lower legs as Kangia runs rings around me. Two entities, with two agendas, tied to the same rope. Fun to watch from the sidelines I imagine but my knees are grumbling under the strain.
It's close to six in the evening by the time we've reached the summit of the pass. We pause for another break, munch on some snacks and drink. Dropping down on the Southern side into the head of the Guicavaggi is a pleasure even on tired legs. Before long we're back on a carpet of bilberry and we move faster and more freely. As we lose height the large expanse of the Guicavakkejavri swings into view. Pausing to take photographs we discuss the options. On the one hand crossing into the next valley, a move that would require a steep but short climb, would put us in a great jump-off point to make a day trip to the Seilands Jokelen. On the other hand the Guicavakkejavri is a beautifully situated lake and will clearly make a superb camp. We agree to make the decision at the waters edge but in truth I can't see us digging deeper to make the extra climb leaving the perfect camp behind in the process.
A couple of hours later the tent is standing on a green rise on the lake shore, the dogs are tied up and fed, and a short trip to a stand of stunted birch has unearthed enough firewood to fuel a good fire. There's drama in the sky as I twist on my big lens and take some shots of the camp and of Randulf preparing a meal of pancakes. As I focus through the smoke and flame I get a strong sense of deja vu. I've captured the self same image before. The same man, the same setting, two fleeting moments each lasting a few hundredths of a second separated by nine years.
It's a cold camp. Exposed to a wind following on our heals through the head of the valley. I pull on every scrap of clothing I've packed. Even my gloves. It's enough, but only just. Even with a full belly and a blaze. There are two choices open to me, crawl into my bag or get active. I choose the latter and try my luck with rod and reel. I walk the shore, first against and then with the clock, casting and reeling in the little golden lure that served me well the evening before. Nothing. An hour and a half of nothing. This lake is different. Deep, black, cold. I suspect if there are fish they're not active yet. Still, I'm out, soaking up the views, watching the change of light and the drift of cloud. Breathing the air. I'm just about to call it a day and throw one last cast. Less than half focussed on the job in hand I reel back in. A second later my rods bent double and the mono-filament is whistling a high pitched tune. Ten minutes later I've landed the biggest trout I've ever caught. Beautifully marked, a sleek torpedo of muscle and skin, built for speed a mouth at one end and an arse at the other, surely one of natures finest designs. No room for improvement. No useless widgets. I feel genuine sadness as I deliver the coup de grace. Randulf approaches, camera in hand, and captures the moment. He comments that most fishermen would be smiling broadly right now and that I instead look like the best thing that's happened to me today is getting my balls caught under the wheels of a tram. I'm smiling broadly on the next few captures. I'm still smiling and the suns still shining on my way back to the tent.
Brilliant writing and images once again Dave. I'm really enjoying following your account of this trip.ReplyDelete
Your remorse at dispatching that fine trout is something I feel when I'm fishing for food too. However, it seems I mostly catch non-target species and I get a sense of great joy when I am able to return them to their watery home.
a sleek torpedo of muscle and skin, built for speed a mouth at one end and an arse at the other, surely one of natures finest designs. No room for improvement. No useless widgets
Joe, Do real men talk about such things in public :-o I think a little sadness and respect on taking the life of such a fine animal is a good thing. I'm happy to return fish but I have to admit to being happy to eat them too.ReplyDelete
Anon, Welcome. The phrase or the fish? The fish was as close to perfect as any I've ever caught. The phrase just describes exactly what I saw in the fish.
The fish looks perfect as well, but I was referring to the phrase.ReplyDelete
Anon, Thanks. I do think the fish should get most of the credit though :-)ReplyDelete
Two brilliantly written posts there Dave, with you every step of the way. I would love to take those two dogs for a walk!ReplyDelete
James, Thanks. You're always welcome. Yes they're fine animals. They're not always the easiest of walking partners but they certainly add interest. I understand that when they get a little older they'll be able to start earning their keep and carry the gear.ReplyDelete
Very nice bblog you have hereReplyDelete