Touring up Sånfjället

Having a baby has put a cramp on my winter plans this year, or maybe I can say it poisoned all my winter plans in their sleep and burnt the bodies and launched the ashes into the sun. This Winter the only stand-out trip has been a run up and down Sånfjället. It was absolutely great, the area around Sånfjället is beautiful and the weather was fine. It also made me realise again that the gear selection I’ve settled on is really working for me. With the sole exception of my gloves, nothing stood out, by which I mean the gear worked perfectly and did its job in that effortless way whereby you don’t notice it.

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I headed to Vemdalen for a few days of skiing, which involved a little baby-hauling on cross-country skis using a rented Fjellpulka. It’s a nice pulka to haul a baby, although it’s heavy and feels over-engineered, and is sickeningly expensive to buy. I recently saw this great post by Backpacking North, with a MYOG pulka based on the classic Paris frame, which I plan to have a shot at.

My little guy (pictured above) is already 11kg and hauling his lazy sleepy ass all over Vemdalen was a great warm-up for touring. It’s worth noting that I get regular abuse from the haters over my old-school leather basket ski poles, the Gipron 797s, but after this baby-hauling I will never look at another pole again. Heading uphill with the pulka was atrociously hard work. I would grind to a halt on the uphill slopes, and then had to have all of my weight driving down on a single pole, and then give a furious lunge on that pole to get the pulka moving. I would yank myself one step up the slope before coming to a halt again and having to repeat on the other pole. Through all this full-bodyweight abuse these poles barely even flexed. Super old-skool they may look, but damn they are tough.

Later Michi and I headed out for a little tour to Sånfjället, having knocked the dust off our gear with some ‘side country’ skiing at Vemdalen. We’re both relatively new to touring, both using Randoneé gear, and were both just happy to head out anywhere where there were no other people.

I used almost the same gear I had with my touring trips last year at Riksgränsen, I was very happy with it all then and I was still very happy with it now. I didn’t pack any overnight gear, but did pack down the Petzl Nao in case we got caught out later than we planned (a killer torch for skiing or skating), and also the Pieps Vector transceiver for its tracking and waypoint finding features, (Sånfjället at that time having as much avalanche danger as Holland in midsummer).

One change in my pack-list was the Stubai Tecblade loop instead of my old Ortovox Kodiak shovel. It has a very nifty loop-handle design that makes digging a little more comfortable, but had a very annoying habit of dropping its little plastic pipe ends as soon as the temperatures dropped below minus 10°C. These little plugs are just there to plug the sides of the handle, so they’re not really important, but it seems like a pretty shitty design to have them so loose that they fall out so easily in the conditions that this shovel is made for. I also replaced my Ortovox economic 240 Avalanche probe with the Stubai Carbon probe. This is not some sign of gear wankery, I swear! When I bought the Pieps Vector from Sport-conrad, it was cheaper to buy it as a pack with a shovel and probe than to buy it on its own, weird.

We parked at a handy waffle serving restaurant in Nysäterns Fjällgård, and threw on our skins and headed up the clearly marked winter trekking path towards Sånfjället. It’s a real stunner of a mountain, it rises out of the surrounding landscape like the fin of a shark breaking the surface of a calm sea. There are few other hills in the area, and it dominates the skyline.

I had the Pieps Vector in Summer mode to access all the fun tricks, and I tagged the car as a waypoint in case of terrible fog or something like that. Mostly just for fun and to try the waypoint feature out.

The route up was very easy, a gentle rise up out of forested slopes at first, and as the trees thinned out it became a slightly steeper route, but barely necessitating much hard work or any switchbacks. And by popping out the lifters on my bindings as the slope got steeper, there was nothing requiring real effort until the last few hundred metres. Good gear makes it so easy, it makes me think back to the insane effort it took me to get to Trolltunga without skis.

It was made a little more exciting when a thick cloud settle down on the slopes above the tree line, giving us very little visibility and giving the mountain a mysterious character.

This actually turned out to be the most fun part of the trip, we were trying to keep our bearings as well as we could in order to hit the peak we were aiming at, without getting disorientated in the murky fog.

We kept using dead reckoning to find our way, and although we could see no landscape or features, eventually the slope flattened out and we came across a little cairn, and guessed that it could be our target.

We had a little beer-break in the cloud, hoping it would clear up before we had to make our way down, which of course it did, in a well-mannered Swedish fashion.

I have to give serious kudos to the Klättermusen Irving down-jacket, the temperature was pretty low, and the wind had some edge to it up there, but having this jacket on is like being in bed with a couple of friendly Swedish girls; soft, warm, cozy and very morish.

Then in the middle of our cup of tea the clouds started to clear up and gave us a nice confirmation of our location, as well as showing us the way back. Interesting to note how far off Michi’s phone GPS put us compared to our actual location. It has to be one of the nicest vindications you can get, when your gut instinct and ad hoc compassing turns out to be more accurate than the latest high tech gizmos. We gave it plenty of time to get a good fix but it showed us as being in a totally different part of the mountain. The Pieps Vector (when I got home and managed to sync the files off it), had been spot on.

It’s a very flat view from Sånfjället out to the distant mountains on the Norwegian border to the west. Our next destination I hope.

In retrospect it would have been very smart to sit down the day before and put all the necessary GPS waypoints into the Vector before we set out, and use that as a our main GPS unit instead of a phone.

A highly recommended trip, even though it was super short. Hard to imagine a better way to spend a day.

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