Walking the dogs: Seiland 93-109hrs

Tunnel Vision

I awake one more time with a face full of yoke-yellow inner tent. A few drops of rain had smashed hopes of a night under the stars. Hydrophobia, common to rabid dogs and the owners of down bags who've left their bivvy bags at home, had motivated some late-night high-speed pitching. The fun didn't end there either. I'd moved back indoors to find my attempt at the intrepid had been rewarded with a puncture. A sickening hiss, a cold sensation at the hip and shoulder, some heavy swearing and a field repair had helped while away my last night in the field. I crawl out of the tent a wizened old man. A cup of Randulfs strong coffee starts my heart. I decide that coffee grounds, like duct tape and super glue, should be part off all field repair kits.

I notice that I've now fallen into the routine of a longer trip. Breakfast is consumed, packs get packed, tents get struck. All of it rhythmic and without undue effort. The ground-hog-day, good not bad, that backpacking days converge to. On short trips I don’t always get there. This time out I get there on the last day. Just in time for the jiggity-jig of the homeward leg.


We stride out of camp under blue skies. Heading roughly North-West, aiming for Ovrevatnet, covering ground I’d reccied the night before. This is the easy bit. We can be sure of a good line. Randulf is once again handling both dogs. In less than half a kilometre we cross the watershed and are dropping into the Stuorajarvaggi. The descent is easy. Nowhere too steep and always with views to distract. Backpackings paydirt. This valley seems different to the others. Softer somehow. We cross a carpet of greener green, lush by comparison with what we’ve seen so far, studded with flowers. The flowers give the game away though. They’re the same ones I know from the South, except in miniature, their size testament to the short summer season and the long hard months preceding it. We decide that this would make a great base camp for an extended trip to explore the parks interior. You could get here by canoe by way of Storvatnet and Ovrevatnet packing in all you could need for a couple of weeks.


The Ovrevatnet is another gem. Long and narrow with one ruler-straight shore and squeezed into an unfeasibly narrow valley. At first sight it’s hard to envisage passing through without a boat. The Western shore is flanked by a rise just shy of 600m over a run of around a half a kilometre. To all intents and purposes, to the backpacker, it might as well be vertical. The eastern shore offers better potential but a spur, running down from the heights of Suolorassa, dips its toe in the head of the lake. From here it looks hard to negotiate.

Tight rope walk

As we press on down I hope that a new perspective will change my outlook but is doesn’t happen. The red line of the suggested route stays high above the lake crossing the spur at the 225m contour. We decide to go with the suggestion and start to climb. A little toil puts us on top of the spur but once over the top we’re confronted by a steep complex slope, a series of grassy terraces separated by rocky steps. The hillside is convex and although we can see enough to work out our next move we can’t see far enough to plan a route down. We start down with caution, the dogs once again adding spice to the proceedings. A couple of steps lower I decide to try and make some ground on Randulf and the dogs, hoping that from the base of the thing I’ll be able to spot them down. A series of random left-right decisions sees me on steeper ground, wet underfoot and slippery under my soles. I pick my way down, on occasion utilising my arse to generate valuable extra friction. At times, if you count both cheeks, maintaining five points of contact. By the time I’m down the pack are already at the bottom. We see our mistake immediately, the route around the headland is passable right at the lake shore. Next time we’ll do it differently.

A pause and a glance at the map tells us what we have in store. Between us and the car there are seven or more kilometres of perpetual rise and fall, all of it over a mixture of fellside and scrubby vegetation. I run my finger over the intricate ridge of Suolorassa and wonder if we would have been better staying high. False optimism perhaps given the nature of the high ground we’ve encountered in days previous.

Pack Dogs
Up and down, up and down we go as the hardest day so far unfolds. The skies stay clear however and each rise brings new reward: long views of sea and rugged fell with powder blue, cloud streaked heavens. The near field an intricate cameo of vegetation and still water. The light is perfect. A landscapers heaven. It’s hard to find fault with this little island.

We move deliberately, at a steady pace, pulling up the inclines and catching breath when mood and view demand. As we approach Storvatnet wetter going and stands of silver birch demand more detour. We pause for a food break. Insects are bothersome here. I thank my stars we’ve camped higher these last nights. We discuss our options. Another night out near to the car or push hard to make the last boat. The latter comes with the promise of a beer and home cooked food. The ayes have it. Beer works its magic on me once again.

Still waters

After the break we push harder. Bearing a few degrees East of the suggested route we work our way onto higher ground and across the shoulder of Glimmerfjellet and enjoy our last taste of open fell. I fall back a little and watch Randulf weave through the terrain with both dogs on the line. Man, dog, wilderness. There’s gloriously primative about the scene.

In front of us lies only a descent across vegetated hillside. Not my favourite but, tiered legs or otherwise, I resolve to enjoy it. As we pass by a small group of lakes we see a small helsport lavvu pitched at the waterside. The first sign that we don’t have the island to ourselves. Nobody is home. We’re a long way into our fifth day and we havn’t seen another soul. That’s a rare and wonderful thing in this new Europe of ours.


The last kilometre brings one more dog incident. As Randulf negotiates a rock step Thule launches forwards. No barking, no whining, just a sudden acceleration and the clinical application of all his strength through the leash. Randulf very nearly takes a tumble and only going to ground saves him a fall of a couple of meters. At first it’s not apparent what’s caught Thules attention. Having returned to composure, a few steps later we see the reindeer lolloping away, pausing to look back and check we’re not in pursuit. To me, uninitiated in the way of the Greenland dog, this is another lesson. These dogs, as cute as they look, are bags of muscle and hairsprung instinct. These are about as far from yappy terriers as the canine can get.

A few minutes further and we’re at the car and still have a fighting chance of making the ferry. No time for reflection we throw the bags and dogs in the back and drive away. As I watch the island flow past the realisation hits me. This trip is at an end. It occurs to me to that I may never get another stab at Seiland, I may never get a look at that Glacier, the higher ground may never feel the tread of my boots. The whole is a familiar sentiment. After all there will always be more undone than done. Still it doesn’t pay to be greedy and, if I’ve learnt anything this time out, it’s that there's still reward when you leave your list of goals at home. As we round the next bend my focus turns to beer and hot food. After all, it’s been a long day.


Walking the dogs: Seiland 68-93hrs


We're up and about at the crack of midday. My head says we've burnt too much of a precious outdoor day but I'm coming to terms with the irrelevance of time in this place. The sense of urgency I brought from home is starting to look like dead weight. As I sit and munch muesli I cast my eye over the Gressnesfjellet yet again. Ever since we started our descent from the pass to this fantastic pitch I've been wondering what's on the other side of the rise. The map tells me that a fantastic water-filled mountain valley is tucked in behind the rocky barrier but is the grass really greener? Today we should find out. Today the sky is clear. Today the tops are bathed in crisp cool light. Waiting a day was the right tactic. Waiting a day is something I wouldn't have done in different company.

The intention is to cross over into the valley system running along the western side of Suolorassa, climb up another ladder of lakes and then wind our way back North along the red dashed line of the recommended route via the Ovrevatnet to find a last camp at a suitable jump off point for the boat. If we break the back of the walk out today it will leave us with just an easy stroll to the car. By the time we're packed up and moving off my watch is saying two in the afternoon and I'm expecting to burn the last of our midnight oil before we make camp.


It's a sharp but short climb up onto the broad ridge separating the Guicavakkejavri from the Voulit Guhkesjavri. Warm in just a baselayer I take the climb slowly never missing an opportunity to look back at the lake shore home we've just left. The little tarn is right in the saddle where the map says it should be. It's prettier than the map suggests. Just a shallow scoop but its mirror glass surface is coated with sea-deep reflections. We shamble across the flat and, just as I have to let go of the view behind, the view in front opens up. There follows one of those moments of affirmation. Before me, all around me, lies the answer to the question “why do I do this?”. The question I ask invariably when weather or terrain or joints or mood or all four are against me. The answer I find invariably elsewhere, in the warm, dry well fedness of return or in moments like these. Moments sometimes fleeting but thankfully recurring. Moments where the majesty of these wild places cuts through to my core. Today the Vuolit Guicavakkerjavri, hemmed in by steep rock and scree, is picture postcard. On another day this would have just been another mountain lake but it's not just a question of place. It's about time and place. I'm uniquely privileged to be here and now.

A beaming Randulf passes comment on the surroundings. It strikes me that his enthusiasm borders on the miraculous. As much as I love the outdoors getting back home and washing it off my skin remains equally pleasurable. This place is Randulfs office, his everyday, his bread and butter, and he's still blown away by it all.
Move along

We move slowly on traversing, sometimes on a steep slope, around the lake. Pausing to take photographs. Pausing just to stand and gorp. It's an improbably beautiful scene. The lake is a patchwork of mirror and ripple, patches of troubled surface betraying the complex pattern of down draft and local wind that flows around the intricate topography of its shores. The southern end narrows dramatically and hangs, levitating in the notch between the Gressnesfjellet and the Kastarfjellet. A fast flowing stream runs into its Northern end to replenish whatever runs over the southern edge.


We turn our backs to the lake and climb along the stream. Randulf takes me by surprise once more suggesting that we take a break. It's only an hour and half since we broke camp and we've covered just a kilometer as the crow flies. We've scratched the surface of what is set to be the longest day so far but we're in the golden moment of this trip. Randulf reasons that the moment is too good to waste. We should stay right here and mine some more gold before moving on. We go with the impulse, park the dogs, dump the packs, take out cameras and just idle around enjoying the moment. In fact we stay so long we're in need of a meal and a brew before we move on.


The rest of the day follows in the same vein. More perfect day. More lakes, seethrough in the shallows, as reflective as polished silver where deep. We thread our way up along two more kilometres of the valley suntil the next urge to stop takes over us. Another lake, unnamed and two hundred meters higher up the chain, looks like the perfect camp but if we stop here we'll still have a long walk out tomorrow. If need be we have enough food for an extra night but it won't make for an exciting meal. It's just 5:30 and three and half easy hours since we set out. We decide to stay put and to hell with the consequences.

Rock Water Sky

The rest of the evening is spent relaxing. Our unnamed lake gives us a grandstand view of a gnarly unnamed peak. Fishing doesn't yield fish but we have a good fire courtesy of a collapsed reindeer fence. The sky stays clear and it looks like the night will be a fair one. There's next to no insect activity so I suggest we forgo setting up the tent. After three sunlit nights and sweltering mornings in a tent the idea of sleeping under the stars and waking in the fresh air carries a strong appeal. So, deal done, we mill around some more and when the time comes roll out the bags and lie down. Simple. Just like nature meant for us I think to myself. Then comes the rain.



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