Last winter in March I did my first attempt at cross country skiing with a pulk in Lapland. It was not something that was on top of my list and I wasn’t really planning to go north again soon. But when a friend I met in Sarek september last year asked me to join him for a winter adventure in the north I said yes. We decided to ski from Katterat in Norway just accross the Swedish border to Abisko in 5-6 days. We would bring a tent and the plan was to camp as much as possible. Eventually he couldn’t do the trip because of a back injury. So I had to go on my own with zero experience. I never really skied before and I never saw a pulk from up close. I had been in Lapland a few times in winter so I knew the conditions and the terrain but I never camped in extreme cold. Therefor I chose to skip the camping and stay in the huts on the way. It ended up being a bitterly cold but amazing trip. This is how things went!
How I got there
The route I had in mind started at Katterat Station just across the Swedish border in Norway. You can only get there by train or snow mobile because there is no road going to the village. It used to be a old mining station. Now it is mostly deserted for most of the year. The train takes you from Abisko to Riksgransen and then accross the border.
Your starting base can be Narvik in Norway or Kiruna in Sweden. I flew to Kiruna and took the train to Abisko. I still needed to rent a pulk and ski’s. This can be done at the STF Tourist Station. There you can rent out all the gear you need for a winter trip.
Just have a look on their website:
From Abisko it is just a 20-30 minute rid by train to Katterat. Here your winter adventure can start.
Train tickets can be bought right here:
Day 1: Katterat – Hunddalshytta
11 km – 4-5 hours
As soon as I got out the train with all my gear I realized how bitterly cold it was. I still had to find out how to setup the pulka sledge. Because I had never really been on nordic ski’s before it was going to be a surprise how I would handle all these new challenges. I found out the real challenge is in trying to strap and tie everything with frozen fingers. It took me 20-30 minutes to get ready and start my adventure.
The first part behind the train station was a bit uphill straight away so it was a struggle with my fresh ski skills. The skins helped to give me some grip so I made it to the top anyway. From that point the hike is actually pretty straight forward to the hut that is nestled in Hunddal. It took me about 4h30 to reach it. The scenery is amazing with lots of snow and high mountains. The trail is not crazy steep at any point. As a first timer I managed quite easily. But the wind was brutal and it was very cold as soon as I stopped moving. Taking pictures was a bit of a mission because my hands froze straight away. I even had to warm them up from time to time inside my pants! I loved the sound of the wind racing through the valley and the sun was shining bright.
The Hunddalshytta is in the middle of a bowl shaped mountain range. There are few huts you can stay in. I met 3 other guys that were snowboarding in the valley and I stayed inside a 4 person hut with them. We lighted the stove and warmed ourselves to some warm food and got comfy. The northern lights showed up later that night and the sky was full of stars. Great first day!
Day 2: Hunddalshytta – Oallavagge
6.5 km – 2-3 hours
The morning was crisp and cold. I just love the feeling of the cold touching my face. So fresh! I planned to go to Cunojavrihytta but that idea was abandoned after 1 hour. I had to cross over a mountain pass into the next valley. That was a mission! It was very steep and I had to struggle with the ski’s and the pulka. It took me a while to reach the top of the pass and the wind was howling between the mountains. The decent was also a battle for me because the pulka kept pushing me down and I barely had any balance on my ski’s.
This shot is made at the top of the pass. You can see I am cold and tired!
When I arrived at the bottom of the pass into the next valley I was exhausted. On the map it showed there was a small shelter called not to far into the valley on the edge of a frozen lake. After 15-20 minutes I spotted it on my left side. I was initially planning just to have lunch there and push on but when I got inside and lighted a fire I decided to call it a day and relax.
The rest of the day was just reading my book and taking it easy in the warm cosy hut. It was quite a nice place with two beds, a kitchen and table with a oil lamp. Perfect! The sunset was amazing as well and the wind was shaking the hut and in the evening the stars were shining bright.
Day 3: Oallavagge – Cunojavrihytta – Una Allakas
16.3 km – 5-6 hours
This day was about descending to Cunojavrihytta and then cross the Swedish border and continue to the Una Allakas hut. There are some breathtaking views into the valley. I was so lucky with the weather. Clear skies and the wind started to become less strong. I could finally just chill somewhere, drink some hot tea, relax and enjoy the view.
After a quick lunch at Cunojavrihytta I made my way to Una Allakas. It is quite straightforward. I skied over the lake and crossed the border into Sweden. A little bit of up and down and I reached Una Allakas while the sun was setting. This hut is well provisioned and there is a small shop and room for a quite some people. And a sauna! That’s always something to look forward to when you have been out in the cold for most of the day.
There was a group of kids that were from a outdoor school and I had a great chat getting to know them. The sauna made my day and after a bit of aurora in the sky I decided to hit the sack.
Day 4: Una Allakas – Abiskojaure
23 km – 6-9 hours
My gps watch died on my because of the cold this day so I don’t have a gpx file for this section.
This day was a long stretch all the way down to Abiskojaure. The trail is easy to follow until you come closer to the valley and the treeline. Because it had been extremely cold the last weeks the river froze all the way to the bottom and pushed water to the outside. This created a lot of small lakes and swamps that froze as well. There were a lot of trails going in a few directions and I decided to just follow one and see where it ended up. In a forest apparently and I had to struggle for a bit with my pulka and ski’s to battle my way to the other side of the trees. But the cool thing was that I ran into a few small mooze that were hanging out in the forest.
Abiskojaure hut is wel equiped and there is room for over 100 people. There is a fireplace, a small shop and a great sauna! I just loving running outside naked and jump in the snow. Makes you forget about the sore muscles.
Depending on how many stops you decide to make this stretch will take you 6-9 hours. Make sure you leave early so have enough daylight to cover the trek. You will need headlamps if you continue in the dark and I can imagine it might be difficult to find the trail if you end up in the trees like I did. But all by all it is a straight forward long day on the ski’s!
Day 5: Abiskojaure – Abisko
14 km – 4-5 hours
I did the last section to Abisko already a few times. Once in winter on snowshoes and once when I ended the Kungsleden trail in Abisko. The start is over the frozen lake and then onwards next to the river into the forest around Abisko. Beautiful day on the ski’s and ending up at the Abisko.net hostel. My favourite place to stay in Abisko. They also have a sauna!
What sums it up
In the end it was a great trip. I managed quite well with the ski’s and the pulk and was happy that I decided to stay in the huts. The wind chill was at least -40 degrees during the first days and I didn’t have the right gear for that. I was lucky with the weather because I had clear skies for the whole trip. If it would have been a lot worse I might have been in trouble because I didn’t bring a snow shovel and a windsack to protect myself against the wind, snow and cold. Make sure you take these if you go for a trip in winter in the arctic. I will definitely try this again another time. Better prepared and with some company!