Planes, Trains and Toboggans - Jokkmokk 2013 - Sub Zero Trip Report

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Where do you start a report like this? At the beginning I guess and this journey began, like so many things, with an idea discussed around a camp fire in the dark.

This particular camp fire was a few degrees North of the Arctic Circle and the darkness was that particular kind of darkness that only a clear unpolluted night sky can provide.

We had just completed an Advanced Arctic Course and were all keen to put our new skills to good use.

The grand idea was to visit the Saami Winter Market at Jokkmokk in Northern Sweden.

The Annual Winter Market at Jokkmokk has a long history and is regarded as an unbroken tradition for over 400 years. Fixed market places near Saami wintering grounds were founded by the Swedish Crown in the early 1600s The aim was to strengthen the state's grip on the population in the north, collect taxes and spread Christianity.

A market in Lapland during the coldest time of the year had many advantages. The Saami people were gathered in forest areas with winter grazing for the reindeer, and the frozen rivers were excellent fairways for merchants, government servants and men of the church.

Today, the Winter Market remains on of the great destinations to find Saami craft work and materials, meet Saami craftspeople and sample the cultural events that surround the market.

It would be unusual if a diverse bunch of people that a forum like Bushcraft UK attracts did not have an equally diverse set of objectives from a trip like this. For me It is an event I have wanted to visit for years and it seemed like a good opportunity to obtain some interesting equipment, materials and bags of inspiration too. Add to that the chance to make contacts in the community which might lead to further possibilities in the future.

There were the usual crop of people who did little but point out the problems with such a plan but there were also a few that came forward with ideas and solutions which is always more useful.

In the early stages the plan shifted from wild camping to the possibility of using laavus on a private site. At a later stage this plan fell through and some of us eventually decided to book a cabin and use that as a base station for some wild camping. This would also provide a safe fall back position and secure location to leave equipment while we visited the market.

For Damian and myself our physical journey started with a flight out of Manchester Airport to Stockholm, Arlanda. We had decided to spend a couple of days on the way in Stockholm and visit some of the museums there which neither of us had managed to see before.

Our flight was delayed 40 minutes but we had no issues with security and everything else went smoothly.

Just two hours after we left, Manchester Airport was closed due to snow. In Sweden, the airport bus dropped us off right by our hotel which turned out to be very pleasant and served a great breakfast. (which served us well for lunch too.)

Our first stop was the Nordiska Museum which houses the Scandinavian Ethnographic collections. I particularly wanted to see the Sapmi Exhibition as I have been interested in the Saami culture for many years.

Almost the first cabinet we saw as we entered the museum was filled with carved wooden spoons. I couldn’t help thinking there was something a little synchronous about that somehow.

The Sapmi exhibit was on the top floor and predictably contained a good collection of engraved antler work, mostly knives, needle cases and the occasional match case

Engraved antler is probably the craft which is most often associated with the Saami but they are also accomplished wood and textile workers too.

A very distinctive Saami craft is the use of sinew wrapped with very fine tin wire and then stitched to leather or cloth to produce quite intricate designs. This was one technique I really wanted to learn more about on this trip.

The story of Hatta’s Reindeer interested me. Apparently Jöns Paulus Mickelsson Hatta lost his reindeer, found himself alone and poor so he started to make these small figures. Hatta’s reindeer became so popular that he earned enough to buy a new herd of reindeer.

People greatly admired his craftsmanship: the antlers and hooves were made of leather, the fur cut from a reindeer pelt and the peices were put together so that it exactly matched the fur of a living reindeer. This figure stands no more than about 6 inches high.

Another attraction high on my list to see in Stockholm was the Vasa. The story of the Vasa is in some ways similar to the Mary Rose, A Royal Flag Ship that sank on it’s maiden voyage not far from land. The difference is in the state of preservation.

The Vasa is almost complete which provides an incredible opportunity to see a 17th century warship and much of it’s contents much as it was when she was made.

Many of the tools would be familiar to a carpenter today but the quality of work they produced would put many modern chippies to shame.

Regarding the ships contents a couple of things intrigued me. I have seen wooden tankards many times before but I have never seen any spouted with a natural branch which has been drilled through the stave before.

This clever combination lock on a small wooden box caught my eye as well.

Returning to the room at our hotel gave us further opportunity to ignore the elephant in the room which we eventually decided to photograph so that we could ignore it some more at our leisure.

In the morning we had a second foraging mission to the breakfast room which provided a variety of nice bread including my favourite which was rich and slightly sticky, possibly made with molasses but definitely very tasty.

We checked out but left our bags at the hotel so that we could head off for the National Museum of Antiquities, after all I couldn’t come all this way and not go to see the Viking Age artefacts could I?

I took few photographs here, Partly because I have detailed illustrations of most of these exhibits in my library at home but also perhaps because a significant part of the collection had ironically been sent to Edinburgh for a temporary exhibition there. Good job I’m due to work up there the week I get back I suppose.

After picking up our luggage and booking a taxi to the train station we discovered that they had no baggage trolleys which produced the only significant problem of the trip.

Damian had decided against taking his toboggan, figuring that, as we were mostly staying in a cabin, we would be able to set out into the woods with smaller packs. I wasn’t so confident and had larger bags to accommodate my toboggan, rolled up inside one of them.

I also had several kilograms of camera equipment, as photography was a big objective for my trip too.

The end result was over 50 kg of kit divided across three bags and as you might guess, we always ended up at the wrong end of the platform when the trains came in.

The sleeper cabin was an interesting experience too. Obviously they are designed for travellers with less luggage than we had. This cabin was designed for three… Fortunately we had it to ourselves so we could just squeeze all the luggage in as well.

The fall of snow was continuous during our long haul north and it certainly didn’t stop when we were dropped off at Murjek station.

The final leg of our journey was made by bus again and here we met a talkative and very helpful local gentleman who was intrigued by two Englishmen who intended to sleep out in the woods in winter. After addressing his initial concerns for our safety he became a mine of local information and advice. I regret to say that I never asked his name but many thanks for your help sir if you ever read this.

One particularly good piece of advice he gave us was that the bus we were travelling on went past the Jokkmokk Camping Centre, where we had booked a cabin, and if we asked the driver he could drop us off near there instead of having a two mile walk with all the gear from the town.

Once dropped off it was a simple matter to unpack the toboggan, load it up with all the gear and then haul it into the camping centre. At the reception we were greeted by the receptionist with the news that there was a problem with our two berth cabin… After the trouble I had with a cabin booking which was not honoured in Norway last year, my heart sank at that point but it rapidly recovered when she said “Would you mind having a four berth cabin for a few days at the same price?”

As it happens this turned out to be significant stroke of luck, not only was it larger which made things a lot more comfortable but it also had a drying / airing cabinet which was very useful for removing the moisture from things like boot liners and washed base layers.

Well we were there then after all that travelling. Temperatures were about -12c and the snow lay deep all around.
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So here were are, at The Jokkmokk Camping Center with our own little cabin in the woods.

I have to admit, it felt like a bit of a cop out to me at first, it just seemed too comfortable.

We had room to spare, running water, cooker, hot shower and even a drying cabinet. Compared to what I am used to on expedition this was really easy living.

I took over the small bedroom with it’s bunk beds for me and my equipment while Damian made himself at home in the lounge / kitchen area.

After settling in we walked into Jokkmokk for some provisions. I reckon it’s just over two miles.

In contrast to Norway the supermarkets here seem to stock more meat and less fish. The fishcakes that were a mainstay on last years trip were nowhere to be seen.

I must admit that after all the travelling I was ready for a good sleep. I didn’t really realise just how tired I was until my head hit the pillow.

In the morning, we set out for a quick reconnaissance of the immediate area.

In particular we wanted to scout out an area where we could set up a camp for a couple of nights. The snow was deep and powdery, fairly solid on tracks that were well beaten but off track we were sinking a couple of feet into the powder even with snow shoes on.

Sweden has laws which give campers very good access to the outdoors or “The Nature” as they say it there.

With these rights also come responsibilities.

Firstly you must be a reasonable distance from the nearest dwelling and not damage crops including tree plantations.

Secondly, you must not light fires where there is any risk of them burning out of control.

Litter is forbidden of course and although you are allowed to pick berries and mushrooms as well as fallen twigs and branches you must not cut live wood and many plant species are protected.

In the end we decided on this spot, not too far from a couple of established trails but out of sight and far enough from the houses near the road to not be a problem.

We double checked with the local Tourist Information Office that it would be suitable and then sent it’s location to the other expedition members that were due to follow us in a few days.

In the afternoon we walked back into Jokkmokk for a better look around.

Although the temperature was around -10°c there was not a breath of wind so the snow was sitting thickly on every branch or surface. It was the sort of scene that you think only really exists in fairy tales.

Many of the trees were bowing down under the accumulated weight of snow which must have built up over several days.

Compared to the conditions we get in the UK the snow here is much drier. Even when walked on it does not compact like the snow we are used to back at home.

During our entire stay the sun did not rise more than 10° above the horizon.

It is this partly this low angle which gives the light such a strange quality in the Arctic.

For the first few days we hardly saw the sun but whenever it did try to break through the cloud it lit the landscape with the kind of warm glow that landscape photographers usually look for in the so called golden hours just after sunrise or before sunset.

Jokkmokk is a relatively small community of just under 3000 people but this multiplies vastly in the week of the market.

When we arrived it was still quite peaceful but you could tell it was winding up towards something.

The snow ploughs were busy clearing every flat space that was available and posters for any kind of cultural event associated with the market were in every shop window or outside all municipal buildings.

We checked out the other supermarket in town for more supplies and then had a nosey around.

There was some beautiful craft work or “Duodji” at the Saami Handicraft Foundation and they also had some very good books in their library as well.

Damian found some very good woollen socks in one of the local stores too (I bought a couple of pairs a few days later too.)

In the evening we scouted out a good spot on the edge of the river for a bit of stargazing and in the hope of seeing some auroral activity. As it turned out there was a little but it appeared to be much further North than our location so we only could only see a faint green glow on the horizon.

Another 2 or 3 inches of snow overnight. we had breakfast and made a packed lunch of cheese, salami and Polarbread before setting out with the snowshoes to tramp along a local track heading towards Jokkmokk on a more round about route through the woods.

The trees are still laden with snow waiting perpetually for that Jack London moment when they can release an avalanche of powder onto an unsuspecting soul below.

It’s about -6°c but still not a breath of wind as we pass the area we eyed up for a bivi and into the woods.

The Boreal Forest is breathtakingly beautiful in the Winter, especially on a calm day.

The texture of the trees is brought into relief by the snow and there is a kind of exaggerated reality to it all.

There is also an eerie silence interrupted only by our footfalls and the occasional flock of feeding birds.

There were lots of tracks to be seen, mostly hare but also reindeer and elk too.

Old man’s beard was easy to find and there was plenty of birch about too.

The trail we were on was obviously used by snowmobiles on a fairly regular basis which had compacted the snow to some degree making progress much easier than it would have been off track.

As it was we didn’t see another soul all day apart from a lad on a snowmobile where our track crossed another at the far end.

We returned by the same track as it looked more interesting than coming back via the town. I also wanted to stick to a known trail because an injury to my Achilles tendon that I had last year was starting to trouble me slightly with the unaccustomed use of the snowshoes.

The map we were working from was a local tourist map which was larger scale than any of the topographical maps we had seen in the town’s outdoor shop.

Not the sort of map I would usually choose but in this case more accurate than the alternatives.

The main problem was a lack of reliable distance information so we had to estimate or distance at about 6-7 miles for the round trip.

We had been given advice not to venture out onto the river when we arrived and given the low temperatures at this time of year it might be tempting to think that this advise was over cautious.

Having said that we observed slush pools in various places on the ice covering the river and there were frequent piles of snow which must have been covering collision piles of broken ice.

What did surprise me however is the open leads in this small stream running through the woods and the slush pools we saw on even quite small pools that we passes along the mire.

The consequences of breaking through such thin ice, often disguised by a covering of snow could be very serious indeed at these freezing temperatures and this goes to show how important it is to heed the advice of people that live with these conditions and know the area well.

At one point we discovered a small snow covered sign indicating that the track we were following made up part of the “Arctic Trail”.

This is a network of snowmobile trails covering Northern Sweden, Norway and Finland allowing “Travel without borders” through some of the most spectacular winter landscapes on Earth.

This certainly started Damian thinking about future projects.

As we returned to the cabin we saw the first arboreal avalanche of what turned out to be many more.

It was as if the whole forest had grown weary of it’s burden and one tree after another shrugged it’s shoulders to lighten the load.

A faint breeze of just a couple of knots was all it took for this hair trigger response and we spent some of the evening watching these sudden downpours of powder and the associated “crump” of the snow as anything up to a hundred pounds or so of snow cascaded from the overloaded trees.

We set aside the next day to visit Ájtte, the Saami museum in the town.

We gave ourselves 4 hours for this but soon discovered it was not really enough time. There was loads to see and here are a few of my edited highlights although there were many more.

An interesting variety of displays.

This pack frame with it’s extra lever was intriguing.

I fancy making myself some leather mitten shells.

This caught my eye because I found one of these at a car boot sale many years ago and wondered about it’s origin. It turns out to be a traditional Saami pipe pouch.

Birch Bark used to wrap stones for net weights.

A Scarf Ring of antler.

Another of Hatta’s Reindeer.

Wooden blade protectors for an axe and an adze. I wonder how soon we'll see that from some clever woodcarver of this forum.

It also seemed like that the elephant in the room had followed us and found a friend.

This was an ice sculpture in the middle of Jokkmokk that was part covered by snow.

There were a few sculptures and interesting objects made of ice. It’s something we don’t do much in the UK because the temperatures are generally so mild I suppose but it gave me a few ideas.

Back at the cabin we started packing for our first night out in the woods.

The toboggan is a joy to use. It has a larger capacity than the pulk I used last year and seems to steer just as well.

It is slightly more awkward on tight turns but rides on this powder very well indeed and is narrow enough to follow the trail left by our snowshoes.

It is easily capable of carrying two men’s gear for a cold camp and I suspect a hot camp would be no problem either.

I had noticed this bent tree on our earlier foray. I had the idea that it would make a good structural frame for a modified Adirondack style shelter which is my preferred tarp rig in these conditions.

I stamped the snow down with snowshoes and let it set up for about half an hour before proceeding with my rig.

It’s worth pointing out that this surface was still about a foot above the forest floor and walking without the snowshoes meant sinking about six inches further into the snow until the surface hardened after a couple of nights.

I had a hot drink in a flask and a packed lunch, which admittedly was a bit crunchy as it had frozen somewhat, but still provided the food I needed for just one night.

My sleeping arrangements were much the same as last year. My Exped Down Mat with an Alpkit Skyhigh 800 Down bag inside a Nanok -10 Extreme Synthetic bag both contained by a British Army Bivi Bag. Warm, cosy and comfortable at the very mild -10°c we were out in that night.

Damian set up a ridge tarp over a dug out area which gave him snow walls on three sides.

He also dug a small “fire pit” in one corner which he used to shelter his stove for a brew up.

We prepared some firewood and left it under my shelter in case the lads arrived too late to sort anything out themselves and left that shelter standing to see whether it attracted any attention in the next couple of days.

One thing we were aware of is that if the others wanted to visit the market, they would have to leave their bivis standing because there was not really enough daylight hours to break camp and re-set up every time.

We noted a few sources of dead wood so that we could find them in the dark if needed and marked the trail into the camp area in case we were not around when the lads arrived.

The area was relatively high and dry as far as we could determine but was bounded on two sides by an area that could well be a bit boggy.

Given the evidence of free water that we had seen earlier we wanted to be very sure of our position in the dark.

There were some very large erratic boulders around.

I’m guessing that the area was partly a glacial moraine left by the last ice age but I’m no geologist so I’ll let more knowledgeable souls consider that one.

This was not the biggest boulder I saw but it was easily larger than my van so cannot imagine any other force that could have placed it there.

There seemed to be a high pressure system moving in.

Finally we were starting to get some glances of the sun.

Andy, the next arrival of our group was due to arrive on this day and it looked like he was bringing good weather with him.

This shot across a bend in the river shows a fire shelter that we considered using for our evenings watching the sky until we realised that having a fire, comfortable as it might be, would spoil any night vision that we hoped to acquire.

The foreground of this shot with it’s slightly different texture shows fresh snow lying on top of a slush pool that we had observed all week.

Water must have been coming up through a crack in the ice nearby and any non waterproof boot stepping into such an area would quickly become saturated with icy water.

The chances of stumbling into such an area would greatly multiply in the dark of course.

We were told that a lad had tragically lost his life in this area trying to cross the river on a snowmobile last year.

It’s all too easy to underestimate these conditions unfortunately.

The town itself was really starting to gear itself up for the week ahead now.

These huge laavus were just half of a complex that was to become a bar and music venue during the market.

With the clear weather the temperature is dropping steadily. We took another evening out to watch for the Northern Lights and once again it was clear that it was happening much further north than where we were this time. -20°c now and you can feel the dryness of the air.

The next day there is a small art exhibition opening at the Old Pharmacy. The first real scheduled event of the week.

The handicraft sale on the ground floor gives me another chance to suss out the kinds of prices that craft work sells at here.

It is not cheap but good quality rarely is. Anyone expecting to pick up bargains here would do better to visit a boot sale somewhere.

This is work sold by the makers themselves and many of them expect to make a reasonable living from such work.

When I consider buying such items I look with a craftsman’s eye.

How long would it take me to make something like that? and how much would I expect to earn in that time?

I certainly didn’t think the prices were unreasonable.

I’ve seen people spend extraordinary amounts on mass produced equipment but these things are unique creations made by well known local artisans.

As the sun went down once more over Jokkmokk you could almost cut the sense of anticipation with a knife.

The so called ”Historical Market” was opening in the morning.

This is an extension to the real market aimed at the tourists and held in the old “Settlers Museum”

I was hoping it would provide some interesting picture opportunities.

Dave and Riam were due to arrive in the morning too and it felt like our trip was moving into another phase.
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I made a quick check of the bivi area in the morning to make sure it hadn’t been disturbed and set up a couple of trail markers to lead the lads in to the camp if needed, then we set off towards the “Historical” Market.

The “Historical" Market is set in the Hembygdgården (Homestead Museum) which consists mainly of a few sturdy timber buildings of an older style than generally seen around town.

Sweden seems similar to Norway in one respect at least in that when something is scheduled to start appears to be the time that people begin setting it up.

As such there were no great crowds at first, which suited me fine as it gave me the opportunity to take pictures without to many public getting in the way.

Temperatures were about -10°c with steady snowfall and it was the first time I got my clothing mix wrong.

I had anticipated more moving around but ended up standing about while a group of “Actors” recreated an incident from local history involving the murder of some tax collectors and the subsequent awarding of Hi Viz reflective vests to the perpetrator and his accomplices.

Something may well have been lost in translation but this was a long way from re-enactment in any form I have seen before.

Having been herded into a line and even prodded with a stick by one of these “Actors” I couldn’t help but compare it to the professional standard of events that I am more usually engaged in.

Once this scene had concluded, much to the bafflement of many visitors, I was able to find a quiet, sheltered spot and throw an extra jumper from my daypack on under my Parka

There were a few traders selling craft wares and a couple of demonstrations to be seen.

Apparently there was also supposed to be a blacksmith but nobody seemed to know where he was.

Although there was less to see than I had hoped there were a few interesting things going on.

This gentleman was a silversmith but unfortunately didn’t speak much English which is a pity because I would have liked to talk more with him.

While I was there he seemed mainly engaged in posing for pictures at the request of various tourists but he had some interesting work on show and I am sure that if conditions had been better it would have been fascinating to see him at work.

I did rather like his backpack though.

Another interesting demonstration was the use of a long log fire which is a traditional method of providing heat all along the body length of someone sleeping by the fire.

It appeared to need regular fettling to work at it’s best but given the right materials and a good axe I can see how valuable this method could be.

The top shot shows the fire about one hour after lighting and the bottom shot was taken on the next day. .

Obviously it’s not the same two logs but if it was lit at the same time in the morning I’d guess that it had been burning about 2-3 hours by then.

This young chap had done a lot of research into the traditional Saami archery equipment and I was intregued by the basket on the bottom of the bow allowing it to be used as a ski pole or even just a walking pole in the snow.

He invited me to draw the bow and fortunately I sensed his look of panic as I started to draw it like my longbow so I didn’t bring it to full draw.

It is of laminated construction, wrapped in tightly in birch bark. It was about 60lb by my guess but I gather they do not draw it nearly as far as our English Longbows.

There were several types of decoration made using ice which seemed quite popular and possibly traditional as I saw them in a number of different places.

These rings were presumably frozen in something like a cake tin but there were also lights that appeared to have been part frozen in a bucket before emptying out and setting a candle in the shell of ice so formed.

Unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph one of them when they were lit up but the worked really well.

We met up with an interesting chap called Luke from Belgium a few times. He is an avid and knowledgeable collector of Saami handicraft and seems to be following the same schedule as us. Sure enough he was at Attje for the opening of the next exhibition as well.

We caught an interesting film there called “The Hands of Art”, made in 1966 which showed a number of prominent artisans at work.

The film was in Swedish but instructional non the less and included an interesting part where a wood carver, making a cup from a birch burl, rough it out and then heated it in a cauldron of water over a fire before apparently drying it in his hands by the fire.

Obviously done for a good reason but not being an expert when it comes to wood it left me wondering what the reason was.

Lennart and Ramko had arrived at the Camp Site when we got back but no sign of the others.

Next morning I decided I wanted another night out in the woods. I didn’t travel 1200 miles to sleep in a cabin all week so i set out in the morning, Brushed a bit of snow off the bivi and moved back in. The 11:00 bus from Murjek that I expected the lads to be on drove straight past so I presumed they had gone into town for some provisions first.

It turned out that they had missed that bus and by the time they arrived in the mid afternoon I had beaten down a fire pit area. collected a bit more wood and been joined by Andy who set up a winter tarp behind my pitch.

They arrived full of gusto after a long journey and after some deliberation chose a spot for a double pitch with it’s own fire.

It didn’t make much sense to run two separate fires so we moved the firewood we had already collected to their pit and that became the communal fire.

Damian joined us for a while and later Lennart and Ramko returned from their wanderings too.

A pleasant evening around the fire with excellent company, preparing food, melting snow for water, exchanging our travel stories and looking forward to the market.

An interesting discovery was made at this point. We had been walking around on the powdery snow with snowshoes for some time by now, the surface was still barely stable in just boots, when Riam decided to remodel his end of the shelter.

This started off with shovelling snow from one area to another but eventually he decided he wanted to try his snow saw out on the job and cut blocks to build a wall sheltering part if his bivi.

What rapidly became clear was that the compacted powder was cutting into blocks that would have been perfect for building the kind of Inuit snow house commonly referred to as an “Igloo” (Which can actually refer to any kind of house in Inuit language.)

Although we didn’t have time on this occasion there was definitely some thought about deliberately preparing an area of snow like this in the future and trying it out.

The wind increased a little coming in from the East -8°c overnight with the barometer rising.

After another warm comfortable night. I struck camp at about 07:00 and left the tarps with Dave and Riam in case they wanted to add them to their shelter. In the end we left all the plastic tarps with the Camping Centre for them to use as it would have been more expensive to fly them back than to get new ones in the UK.

Because the Camping Centre was fully booked for the market, we had to move out of our 4 berth luxury into a more compact two berth cabin for the rest of our stay.

Still comfortable enough but what we missed the most was the drying cabinet.

All of a sudden every available hook, shelf, door or surface had to be utilised for airing kit when needed.

I even strung up a couple of lines with paracord to serve the purpose.

Some people say the World shrinks a little every day. I travel to a Saami market on the edge of the Arctic and bump into someone I shared a house with a few years ago in the Lofoten Islands of Northern Norway.

Alicia, from Italy, was one of the guides at the “Lofotr” Viking Museum and had just started going out with Andreas, a blacksmith working there for the summer, much as I was.

Sure enough they were still together, living now in Stockholm but visiting Jokkmokk for the market. Andreas was now working for a Swedish craft council and as he said, “Certain places just attract crafts people.”

Jokkmokk market is certainly one of those places.

The mystery of the elephant was solved that evening too.

Once the snow had been brushed off it turned out to be a pair of Dancing Elk...

The opening ceremony seemed to be an opportunity for every local dignitary in the surrounding area to make a speech. It would probably have been more interesting if I had understood more than a few words of Swedish but the crowd were attentive and many had turned out in thier best clothes for the occasion.

The market was officially open and a few of the traders were already starting to display their wares.

The temperature has dropped to -18°c and the barometer reads 1000mb.

After an evening meal we’re off to see the lads in the wood. Pete should be arriving soon.

When I first proposed this trip someone said, “Looks interesting enough to kill an afternoon, what would you do for the rest of the week.”

Well so far I’ve hardly stopped for a minute and the market is only just beginning.

A trip like this is really what you make of it and if you can’t find something to do in somewhere like this then I guess you should just go and book a holiday at ”Maplins” instead.

Apart from the physical activity (60 miles of walking or more in snow), I’ve been living in a fantastic landscape, seen cultural treasures from a fascinating culture and now I have the opportunity for a bit of retail therapy which cannot be matched in any high street or shopping mall.

Well that’s so boring isn’t it?

I had a few target purchases in mind and one of them was a nice warm hat.

It wasn’t that my head was cold you understand. the truth is I just just believe that if you want to get a head then you should get a hat.

Some were lined with synthetics, some with woollen cloth but the one I went for in the end was lined with fine shearling and came in a variety of sizes making it easy to find the right one.

I could have spent a fortune on knives or knife making equipment or materials. There was some stunning cutlery on show.

Woodwork of all descriptions available.

I was also on the lookout for a nice kuksa or gukse and there were literally hundreds to choose from.

There were pelts, hides and leather of many types.

I bought a couple of Reindeer hides for future projects.

Outdoor clothing, much of it hand made and not unreasonably priced.

But what impressed me the most was the fine Saami craft goods, especially the engraved antler work.

As I said earlier, It isn’t cheap but the quality is outstanding.

I knew what I was looking for and I had budgeted accordingly. You’ll have to wait for part three to see what I came away with but for anyone like me interested in craft where the form and the function is in perfect balance then this market is a real treasure trove.

Best of all you have the opportunity to buy from the craft workers them selves which supports those skills for the future.

There is a great sense of something much bigger here than meets the eye. We talked to many visitors that said they have visited many times, some every year.

Something that I was pleased to see is that this is still a market for the Saami people. There were many stalls selling specialised equipment that would have been of no use to the tourists or even collectors.

Three or four stalls were selling what looked like plastic washing line in different colours. In reality it is the cord used to make the modern lasso or Suohpan for catching reindeer when earmarking or separating them out. The range of colours mark out it’s flexibility at different temperatures.

This is a living tradition that still brings the Saami community together as it has for over four hundred years.

Central to this culture is of course the reindeer. It’s in the materials you see everywhere you look. It’s in the air itself, even if it is just the smell of the reindeer burgers on sale on the fast food stalls.

There is a reindeer caravan each day which is often impeded by crowds of tourists with cameras, but what is clear to see is the pride in the eyes of the Saami people standing right there next to them in their finest costume.

It is difficult to imagine how people could have survived the harsh winters and landscape of the Arctic without the reindeer.

In the early days in was hunted of course but later it came to be domesticated and this connection led to the old nomadic life of the Saami.

The reindeer provided their clothing, their tools, their transport and their food.

Today much of that traditional nomadic life is just a memory but the reindeer is still very much an important part of life here.

Down on Talvatis Lake there are reindeer races held in the afternoon on market days.

This isn’t just for the tourists, I saw money changing hands and the competition is obviously keen.

the sleds were transporting members of the public but there was no illusion that they were in control.

One of these powerful steeds decided that it didn’t want to wait long enough to be tethered to a sled and set off down the track dragging it’s handler round the track, sliding helplessly on the snow until jumping the fence near the end.

At the other end of the lake a different kind of power supply was being used for transport.

Dogs pulling sleds is a tradition from the other side of the world but growing in popularity here as well.

I must confess it is something high on my list of things to do before I die but that may well form the basis of another expedition.

In the meantime I’ll content myself with taking a couple of shots and dreaming of the future.
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Well I suppose some of you are wondering what I bought at the market. Apart from materials like leather I also found Beckolja for half of what I pay for it in Britain.

“Tin” thread is something I’ve never seen at home so I bought some to experiment with.

I wanted a gift to take home for Debbie of course and as she is a keen embroiderer and needle worker a Saami needle case or nállogoahti was high on my shopping list.

This one made by Tyko Lampa, the gentleman in the fur coat sixth picture from the bottom of part three, fitted the bill perfectly.

I also found a traditional sewing purse on another stall, with cloth patches for storing needles in.

I was also on the lookout for a small reed like the Saami use for weaving bands but the only one I saw was a real work of art in antler but far beyond my means on this trip.

I am a great fan of simple matches for lighting my fire with so a nicely engraved match case was another thing on my wish list.

This one, made by Per Erik Nilsson has a plain concave channel down it’s back where I will attach a striker with simple latex cement that can be peeled off and replaced when necessary.

Top of my list though was a Gupse, Kuksa or Noggin depending where you come from.

The Gupse has become an iconic outdoor drinking vessel. Variations of it’s design can be found all over the World but it started with the Saami and is just one of a number of carved wooden vessels used in the old nomadic life.

I have a few commercially made ones that I use a lot when I’m out but I’ve hankered for a nice hand made example for many years.

Looking around the market there were many to choose from but it would seem that Roger Grönlund, the maker of this cup, must have hands very similar to mine because every curve, every hollow fits my hand perfectly.

I saw a lot of fine cups but this one was made to be mine.

An important point behind all fine Duodji is that it is not art for arts sake, the form and the function should be in balance.

That is a principle I try to follow with much of the gear I make or modify for my own use. It may not fit everyone’s needs as we all have differing hands and tastes but the kit I use suits me very well.

When thinking of how my kit performed on this trip I have very few complaints.

For the most part I used the same equipment as I did on last years trip. It worked well then and it did equally well this year.

The one major change was the use of a Toboggan in place of the ill fated pulk I used on my last trip.

Although I did not use it over the same sort of distances this time, I was impressed with it’s handling and capacity.

I would say that the pulk had a better sense of direction, the toboggan occasionally developed a will of it’s own on smooth cross slopes but in deeper snow it followed the snowshoe float faithfully.

As far as the trip is concerned it ticked all the right boxes for me bar one.

I was fortunate last year to see and photograph great auroral activity but this time although we could see the lights in the distance we were a little too far south for a good display.

However, this was more than compensated for with the light that we got during the day, particularly the golden hours around dawn and dusk.

For a landscape photographer like myself, the light of the Northern Boreal Forest is rather special.

At this time of year on the edge of the Arctic Circle the sun does not rise 10° above the horizon which gives the light a quality that we only see in the late afternoon or early morning back at home.

Of course cloud often obscures the direct light of the sun but on the occasions when it does shine through it turns the snow covered landscape into a wonderland.

I could quite happily have spent much of my time with photography but the shots you see here were mostly taken while moving from one place to another and as such lack the attention that the conditions really deserved.

The life of a landscape photographer is often spent standing around, waiting for the world to change.

The only problem doing that in the Arctic is that it’s a good way to get very cold.

I used two cameras on this trip, both of which performed perfectly at temperatures far below their operating specifications. I was regularly working at 30° below freezing and at one point it was about -37°c.

The biggest problem I had was my moustache freezing to the camera on occasions and keeping my hands warm.

On this occasion I had no need for the external power packs I carried with me but we had the ability to recharge batteries regularly in the cabin which made a big difference. On another trip, without such facilities, I think they would have been a real bonus.

Sadly, all things must come to an end and our time in Jokkmokk was drawing to a close.

It was time to start travelling again. Bus to Murjek, Train to Stockholm and then a little time to kill before another bus to Arlanda Airport.

There was one museum we had not had time to visit on the outward leg of our journey which I thought might be worth a look.

The Ethnographic Museum is a little further from the city centre than the ones we had visited but easily reachable by bus so we dumped our gear in the rail station lockers and set off on our course.

It would be a great injustice to single out particular exhibits as the interesting ones because this was perhaps the most interesting and diverse museum we visited in Stockholm.

from the navigational instruments used by early explorers to the cultural treasures they brought home from the places they travelled.

Today of course we question the morality of such practices but right or wrong the collections they formed offer a fascinating glimpse into cultures in parts of the World that are rapidly changing.

The Octant above and the Transit Board left seem like crude tools to trust your life to on the wide oceans but three hundred years ago such instruments were opening the Globe to trade in ways that have formed the World as we know it now.

One of my favourite museums in the UK is the Pitt Rivers in Oxford and one section of this museum the “Magasin” reminded me of that.

The haphazard manner in which early collections were built up means that many museums have storehouses full of miscellaneous “stuff” that does not lend itself to any meaningful manner of displaying it all.

This is a great shame as much of this material is fascinating in it’s own right and often quirky by it’s nature.

Pitt Rivers gets around this by following a thematic approach which is really interesting but in this exhibition they have just opened the boxes and put the items on display with computerised access to whatever information is available.

What you are presented with is an absolute treasure trove of items that you might never see in another museum.

I could have spent all day sticking my nose into drawers and cabinets full of the kind of stuff that people from cultures all over the World used in their everyday lives.

I’ve already used the word too much but here it is again... fascinating.

Just as a quick sample, here were a few fire steels mounted on small leather purses for carrying tinder originating from areas around the Himalayas.

Half the stuff I saw I simple forgot to photograph as I explored the collection. Many of the cabinets were multi layered and the drawers were brimming with artefacts I didn’t even know I didn’t know about.

I will certainly return to Stockholm some day and the Etnografiska Museet will definitely be on my list for a return visit with more time.

I didn’t have time to take in much information about these masks but I remember they came from North America, possibly from the Pacific Coast area but I couldn’t resist photographing them, even if one of them did look like a certain pop star.

Craftsmanship is worthy of study in any culture in my book and I have to admit to thinking towards future trips that may take us to that side of the pond.

Finally from that museum I will leave you with this picture.

It took me a few moments to see the peculiarity in this shot so I will leave you to ponder it on your own.

I came away from this trip with a few treasures but most of them were not the ones I had expected.

The real treasure of this journey is the knowledge and deeper understanding, particularly of the Saami culture, that I gained along the way.

That is something difficult to express and I would be the first to say that I have barely scratched the surface.

Another treasure I found was real friendship when I needed it most.

I regret to say that I found gaps in my photographic record when I returned home, most notably I found I had no pictures of Andy, Pete, Lennart or Ramko. A hideous oversight and one I hope I can rectify soon by borrowing some photos from my companions on this expedition.

The landscape was breathtaking and left me pining for more.

Damian, I know, is already thinking about a return trip of some kind and possibly to Canada as well, but events at home have overtaken me somewhat it may be a while before I can get such deep powder under my snowshoes again.

But fear not, I will return to the Arctic some day soon.

Tired but happy, the last wait before the delayed flight home.
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Soo many pictures, so many things that happened over the two weeks, it's going to take a week just to sort out the photos. I'm just starting to upload them all now.

What can I say Beautiful Country, Very friendly and helpful locals, and best of all good company to share it with, many thanks all who helped make this the trip what it was :You_Rock_


Full Member
Feb 14, 2012
The Netherlands
I am already excited looking at the pictures, I will try and be there next year, as it looks like a bloody brilliant trip to be a part of.
And I am practically made for the winter conditions ^^
Yours sincerely Ruud

No stress Gary, take your time ^^