Jernleden Recce: The Iron Trail
John Bamber is an old friend of Montane, and a highly accomplished Polar Explorer in his own right. He recently undertook a mini-expedition to Arctic Sweden to support Phil and Scott’s Lake Baikal World Record Attempt, and scope out routes for an audacious route for a number of new races the pair are thinking about.
Fancy a trip to Arctic Sweden? Obvious answer is yes. When the question is from Phil and Scott the RD’s of the Montane Spine Race then the why/what for has to be interesting. “Bring your cold weather gear you’re on a snowmobile” was all the persuasion I needed. The trip went from interesting to an adventure.
A new race for 2019 was in the planning stage; 350k-400k of frozen lakes, rivers, and mountain passes in the Kiruna area of Northern Sweden. Three races of different lengths, two encompassing different sections of the “big one”. Theory had to be put into practice so six of us flew into Kiruna and then on to Jukkasjarvi where we would be based for the first few days. As the mountain section between Nikkaloukta and Abisko had been recce’d the previous year the focus this year was to assess the route along the Torne river and lake system for checkpoints, access and rescue feasibility between Abisko and Jukkasjarvi.
Phil and I were to recce the route on a snowmobile while Scott and Mike were to do the short race on ski’s as a warm up for their attempt later in the month at the fastest crossing (lengthways) of Lake Baikal, the worlds largest lake in Siberia. They went on to knock 18hrs off the record (see here for their report). All of us ably supported by Alex and Pete in a 4×4 with trailer.
Our first objective was to check the section from Kurravara back to Jukkasjavi so we were transported up there by 4×4 and set off back down the lake towards Jukkasjarvi. Meanwhile Scott and Mike had set off on their loop from the Ice Hotel
We set off across the ice upstream to where the lake narrowed and promptly encountered deep snow where we added another method to our one hundred and one ways to roll a skidoo. It took us about twenty minutes of digging and kangaroo jumping in waist deep snow to get us back onto firmer ground.
Phil and I go back many years with six trips up to the North Mag Pole, much of it on snowmobiles so we soon got back into our routine and the days’ recce went without any further hitches. Arriving back at Kurravaara with plenty of daylight in hand we decided to go anti clockwise around Scott and Mikes route and resupply them with food and fuel.
Pleased with the progress of our first foray out we headed back to our pickup point and returned to Jukkasjarvi.
Over the next few days we added tens of kilometers onto our recce’d route but the temperature was dropping from a mid -20C down to a bone numbing -37C, which when the wind chill was factored in took us down to lower than -50C on the back of the snowmobile, a tad cool.
My cold weather and specifically snowmobile clothing has always been a Montane Extreme shell, recently replacing the old orange smock with a Resolute one and my original fleece Montane salopettes with the Extreme ones, these coupled with Primino base layer and Deep Cold down jacket kept me toasty if not on the odd occasion roasting hot.
Original Extreme smock and sallys
Later in the week we moved up to Abisko to survey the top end of the Torne lake system,with some long days of skidooing we managed to recce all the way section by section down to the Ice Hotel at Jukkasjarvi with the exception of a section between Tornetrask and Kurravaara which on Google Earth looked like a large waterfall. Earlier in the week we had kept to the winter trail which by-passed the area ,we now wanted to have a look at this section.
Needing to move back down to Jukkasjarvi and on to Nikkaluokta we declined the offer of a lift and decided to “go for it” and skidoo the whole 120k down to the Ice Hotel in one go taking in the falls en route. I have to say its one of the best journeys I have ever done on a snowmobile. Now we had all the GPS tracks and all the significant points waymarked. Job done.
All photo’s copywrite John Bamber