It was a long vacation in 2022. If you want to know about a specific part of it, here are some shortcuts.
The 2022 vacation was marked by transition.
In each of the previous six years ( 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021), my main vacation had been a dog sledding with a small company in Umnäs, Sweden.
I liked the way they organized and conducted their trips, I liked the way they trained and treated their dogs, I liked the way they handled their clients and I liked their dogs (well, most of them - specifically excluding Billy...) and I would have liked to continue going on dogsledding trips with them for a long time.
Which didn't seem unusual for them - they had some clients that had had been coming back year after year for almost two decades.
But then the pandemic hit and things got difficult for them.
In 2020, I had been lucky with the timing - when I travelled to Sweden, Covid was nothing more like a strange disease that was limited to some regions of northern Italy. Something to keep an eye on, but otherwise not much of an issue.
By the time the dogsledding tour was over, two weeks later, the world was in panic mode and essentially all international flights were cancelled (I ultimately made it back home by ferry and rental car). And that also meant the end of the season for that dogsledding company. Their customers were mostly from outside Sweden and travel restrictions meant that they weren't able to get to Umnäs. So, unexpectedly, I turned out to be the last customer for that season.
They managed to get through the year somehow. Feeding 50 dogs isn't cheap, but many of their customers were willing to 'sponsor' the dogs and they were ready for business in 2021.
But things weren't much better then.
Travel regulations were still highly restrictive and, more important, constantly and unpredictably changing.
I was desperate to go dogsledding (frankly, I was desperate to get out my apartment after a year), so I had committed to the trip early, but even then I got lucky that the restrictions at the time I was travelling could be coped with. (Lucky timing again - three weeks earlier, local regulations didn't even allow me to be more than 15 km away from where I lived.)
But most other customers didn't want to take the risk of booking a trip that they might or might not be able to get to, so booking was limited. And most that had booked did cancel.
So in 2021 there were basically just two dog sledding trips. Mine (where I was the only paying customer) and another one later that season.
In the end, even with sponsorship from previous customers, this wasn't enough business to keep the company running. (Especially since on both of my trips, I was the only paying customer.)
As a result, they sent out a mail in Summer 2021 that they were quitting as a dog sledding company and were looking for homes for their dogs.
That made things a bit awkward.
Of course, I wanted to go dogsledding in 2022 as well. But instead of this being a simple thing (i.e. replying that the date suggested by them was fine with me) I now had to look for some other company that offered longer tours and would be willing to take me as a customer. (The last part is less trivial than it seems - most companies that offer longer tours require that customers do a short tour with them first, essentially to check their suitability for a long tour. And I didn't want to go only on a three day tour or something like that to 'qualify' for a proper tour in 2023.)
The other issue was that I had already paid for the 2022 tour in Umnäs. (It was a bit more complicated than that, but that'll need to suffice.)
I could have asked for the money back (and they did offer to refund it), but that seemed wrong. They were quitting their dog sledding business due to financial constraints and were busy getting their new business running, so while they were doing alright, they probably didn't have money to spare.
On the other hand, dog sledding trips aren't cheap and it was a bit too much money to say "I had a great six years dogsledding with you - keep the money as a thank you." (also, while not about to start a new business, I also don't have that amount of money to spare).
The dogsledding issue was resolved quickly. They were friends with the owners of another dogsledding company in northern Sweden. And that company had a larger percentage of Swedish customers, so they got through the pandemic with fewer problems. And they were doing longer tours. And they were willing to take me on a longer tour without the requirement of doing a shorter tour first.
And as for the tour I already had pre-paid? There I got the idea that it wouldn't need to be a dogsledding tour.
I got the idea to rent a snowmobile for a week and do a kind of guided 'farewell' tour of places I've been to in the previous year. Followed by a week of cross-country skiing. Which meant that they would act as my guides/coaches/teachers for the trip. I would have a sort of 'bespoke tour' for my money and after that we would call it even and nobody would have any grudges about money issues.
Initially I had the idea to do that part of the trip in December, so I would have two distinct vacations in Sweden. The snowmobile/ski trip in December and the dogsledding trip in March.
But that didn't work.
The weather in December would still be too unpredictable and it wasn't clear whether there would be enough ice on the lakes to make the snowmobile tour possible. And the days would be fairly short. (And while you can drive a snowmobile at night, one of the basic ideas of a sightseeing trip is, essentially, to be able to see the sights.)
So the December trip was moved to January, but that had the same issues with the day lengths.
So late February made more sense as far as the tour was concerned, but increasingly less sense as a separate vacation.
I knew the dog sledding tour would start mid-March. And it seemed silly to travel to Sweden in February, come back home after two or three weeks, then working for two weeks before getting back on a plane to fly to Sweden again.
Additionally, at the time of planning, there was no way to predict what the travel rules would be.
If there would be any quarantine or self-isolation requirements, I might spend a large part of the vacation time (and the time after coming back) alone in a room somewhere.
In the end, it made the most sense to combine both vacations into one long vacation.
So even if there had been some restrictions, there would still have been enough real vacation time to make the trip worthwhile.
In the end, the timing was, once again, lucky. Sweden had removed all entry restrictions for travellers from the EU, as well as all pandemic restrictions within Sweden, about three weeks before I got there. And when I flew back home in early April, all entry restrictions for Germany had been lifted less than a week earlier. But that wasn't predictable when I planned the trip more than half a year earlier.
The snowmobile trip started easy enough.
Kenneth and Catte, who formerly owned the dog sledding company, had found a company that was renting out snowmobiles at affordable prices.
Initially the plan was that Kenneth would pick me up in Hemavan and we would drive to the snowmobile rental place and pick up the snowmobile (presumably on a trailer) there.
Put someone from the snowmobile rental company had business elsewhere, which meant he would (essentially) drive past Umnäs anyway, so the snowmobile was delivered.
We missed the delivery itself by a minute or so, as we were driving down the road just in time to see the delivery truck leave. But the snowmobile was standing in the driveway, so everything was ready except for the paperwork. (I didn't sign the rental contract until later that evening, when the guy from the snowmobile rental company was driving by on his way back. But Sweden, especially up in the north, is relaxed about things like that. If there's a verbal agreement about things like renting a snowmobile or a car, everyone assumes that things will work out all right. Which they do. )
For practical reasons, the rental snowmobile was the same model that he owed, as he knew how to repair that in a pinch and he knew that it would be reliable. (Although this would be a good place to add a foreshadowing "Little did he know..." to the description.)
We did a short trip with the snowmobiles (about 8 km) that afternoon to get me familiarized with the snowmobile and (partly) to check on my driving skills.
Besides visiting a couple of places that I've been to on dogsledding trips as a kind of "farewell tour", the initial plan was also to prioritize something that is more difficult to do when dogsledding - namely sightseeing.
With a dogsled, you tend to follow the 'flattest' route from A to B. And while they may involve going up a hillside, you then stay as much as you can on mountain passes and plateaus.
As a result, the view around you is often restricted by mountains on both sides. And while they generally are the view by themselves and look fantastic, you only see the wider vistas when you reach the end of the mountain plateau and have a look at the valley below. Which, often, you can enjoy only for a short moment, as you're about to drive the dogsled down from there and need to pay attention to the trail and the dogs.
With snowmobiles, we would, of course, mostly follow the designated snowmobile trails (obviously), which were mostly the same trails we had been using with the dog sleds.
But we would also be able to do detours to some places higher up the hillside to have a better view from there. Something you wouldn't do with a dog sled.
And we would take more time to stop, enjoy the view along the way and take pictures. Also something we rarely did with the dogs. And even if we did, stayed close to the sled and the dogs, so we were never able to go a bit farther away to find a better photo spot.
With a snowmobile, this wouldn't be a problem. Not only would we be able to leave it somewhere without worrying about it running away. We would, in most cases, also be able to simply drive to a better photo spot.
At least, this was the plan.
We rarely did do either of these (driving up a hillside for a better view or stopping for pictures) on the main trip, due to the weather conditions.
If the weather looks like this, it's not worth a detour to see it from higher up a hill.
But we didn't know this when we started out.
One of the issues of driving somewhere off-trail is that, obviously, there's no trail, so they chances of driving the snowmobile into a snowdrift or getting stuck otherwise are higher. And my experiences with driving in powder snow, way back in 2010, were by now not only a decade in the past, but it also didn't show any mastery in driving a snowmobile in deep snow (to quote from what I wrote back then about the trip: "I kept screwing up and got stuck all the time.")
In preparation of the trip, I got a mail from Catte asking "We just wonder how much snowmobiling you have done before? Was it in the mountains or a flat track? Deep snow and so on?" and I had to admit that I had experienced driving in mountains and deep snow - but that it wasn't any sort of skillful driving at all.
So part of the short trip on the first day was to get an idea on how well (or badly) I would be at driving a snowmobile (as they had only seen my driving dog sleds for the last six years).
At least the 'test drive' went without any problems and next day we headed out to Överst-Jugtan.
It's 'only' a 50 km drive to get there. A proper day tour with a dog sled, but a quick two hour drive with a snowmobile. Initially there had been the idea to drive all the way to Ammarnäs or even drive to Ammarnäs, have lunch there and then continue to Bäverholmen, but the guest house in Ammarnäs was fully booked and there wasn't any room available at Bäverholmen either.
So we took it easy, drove to Överst-Jugtan, relaxed a bit and then did a short trip in the afternoon along the Juktån river.
We had never been down that specific track before, which surprised me, as it is a beautiful route that is fun to drive (and would be fun to drive on a dog sled as well).
While one of the reasons for never travelling that way was that it doesn't lead anywhere useful (at least as far as dog sledding is concerned), there had been a couple of times in previous when we were stuck in Överst-Jugtan and had nothing much to do, so we did do day tours.
But we never did a day tour with a dog sled along that route.
It seems the main reason for that was that there's no regular snowmobile trail along that river. And while it would have been fun to go on a dog sled if a snowmobile had passed that way earlier that day, there would be no way to be sure that this happened. And without a trail, it would have been needless (and tiresome) slogging through deep snow.
But with a snowmobile, we didn't have to worry about existing tracks, so on this 'last chance to see' trip, I did at least get to see the scenery there.
Something I also finally got to see was Viktoriakyrkan, the church that gives this corner of lake Överst-Jugtan its name.
I had seen it a dozen of times, as it's only a hundred meters or so from the cabin we were using, but as there usually wasn't a path to it, it would have meant walking a hundred meters in deep snow without snowshoes. So I looked at it from the cabin (and usually, like in the image below from 2020 , from the lake as a sort of navigational beacon')
But I've never been close to it. With a snowmobile, however, it was easy to drive there and have a look.
Initially, next day would have been a long driving day.
The accommodation in Ammarnäs was booked out, so the plan was to drive there in the morning (it's only a 35 km drive), have lunch there, drive on to Bäverholmen (55 km) for dinner and then continue all the way to Laisstugan (35 km) to stay there. So it would have been about 125 km do drive.
But then it turned out that a booking in Ammarnäs was cancelled, so we would stay the next night in Ammarnäs.
As it only took us one-and-a-half hour to get there, so we had lunch and then spent the afternoon driving along lake Stor-Tjulträsket and Lill-Tjulträsket and a bit further along the side of the Servvejuhka river.
For a while the weather was pleasant and it was fun to drive. But then it got increasingly windy with the cloud cover getting denser the closer we got to the mountains.
And while driving was still surprisingly comfortable (I had expected it to be more chilly, especially as we were going a bit faster on the lake than we did on the mountain trails and a leather jacket is not really 'proper' snowmobile wear), it got a bit dull once we had the thrill of driving fast on the lakes behind us and were going along the smaller trail by the river.
As this was supposed to be a fun trip and we didn't need to go anywhere that afternoon, it seemed a bit silly to continue driving in bad weather, simply to increase the distance we needed to drive back in bad weather. So we turned around after a while and headed back to Ammarnäs.
That turned out to be a good decision, as the weather was only bad close to the mountains and the closer we came to Ammarnäs, the better it got again.
So, when we took the (kind of) traditional picture on the veranda of the Guidecenter, we were sitting in sunshine again.
The image is a sort of tradition, since we had taken essentially the same picture every time we had been in Ammarnäs. Though, of course, this is likely to be the last entry in the series.
Later that evening, we had dinner at the Ammarnäsgården Hotel.
Usually we were eating at the Guidecenter (which has a small restaurant), but there weren't any guests there that evening (due to the cancellation that enabled us to stay in the guest rooms at that place), so we decided to go over to Ammarnäsgården in the evening, to eat and meet Ida again. And later on, Idun.
To make things a bit clearer - the Guidecenter is run by Peter, a friend of Kenneth. And Peter has a girlfriend named Ida, who is working as a cook at the hotel. So eating at the hotel restaurant was not only a chance for Peter not to do any cooking that evening, but also a chance to have his girlfriend cooking for him.
Also, Idun, who once was one of Kenneth' lead dogs (and is quite a lovely dog) was getting a bit old to work as a sled dog (that was even before their dogsledding company stopped operating), so she retired and went to live with Ida.
So after dinner, we went to Peter's place (not the Guidecenter, but the house where he lives) with Ida following soon after (we were the last guests in the restaurant that evening), sat in his winter garden with a bottle of wine, chatted and met Idun again. (And also Flea, who is Peter's dog.)
Next day we then did as a day tour what would otherwise been the afternoon tour the day before. Drive to Laisstugan via Bäverholmen (so it would only be a 90 km tour, not a 125 km).
But first we went to the snowmobile repair shop in Ammarnäs.
Kenneth's snowmobile was having problems and he wanted to get that sorted out before continuing.
For some reason, his snowmobile went into some sort of 'safe mode' after an hour or two of driving.
And 'safe mode' means that the snowmobile is saying "something is seriously wrong, I'd prefer to stop right now".
In a car, it would probably shut down and refuse to go on. But the makers of snowmobiles are aware that snowmobiles are often used in extremely remote places. And that it is not a good idea to strand their drivers somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with no means of transport. So if the snowmobile thinks "I'm likely to fall apart any minute now.", it goes into a mode that is as easy on the engine as possible, allowing the driver to continue driving (albeit with limited power). So when the snowmobile finally fall apart, at least the driver is a bit closer to somewhere safe.
But connecting the snowmobile to a diagnostic computer and reading the on-board chip data didn't reveal the cause of the problem. So Kenneth bought some spare part and some oil and we continued to Bäverholmen.
The drive to Bäverholmen was quick and easy (and a bit dull). Most of the trail is over a mountain plateau. And while that is a bit of a slog on a dog sled (as it never really evens out, but it continues slightly uphill for a long time), it's quick to do with a snowmobile (as the trail is well travelled and an easy drive).
And the final bits down to Bäverholmen are fun to drive. (It's a nice, wide downhill trail through a forest which is fun to drive on a dog sled as well.) At least if you sit on a snowmobile that works. (Even though the other snowmobile had been checked earlier that day, it had started to fall back into 'safe mode', so Kenneth was running slow again.)
We got to Bäverholmen in time for lunch.
And, somewhat fitting for a "farewell tour", I finally got to order the burgers there.
It had been a bit of a joke at first, which then turned into a bit of tradition.
The restaurant at Bäverholmen has a somewhat limited menu of four items - and burgers.
The first time we went there (back in 2016), I couldn't decide on what to eat, so I ordered the first thing on the menu (some sort of reindeer ragout, as far as I remember). And when I got back to that place in 2017, I took the second thing on the menu. When I was there again in 2019, it had become a custom, so I took the third thing on the menu. And in 2020, obviously, I ordered the fourth thing (which was some kind of fish fillet, I think).
All those years Kenneth had a burger.
Visiting Bäverholmen for the fifth (and presumably last time), I was done with the normal menu and did order a burger as well. So now I'm kind of through with all the food options that Bäverholmen has to offer and don't need to go back there again...
After lunch we continued along the Lais river to Laisstugan.
The drive wasn't difficult. Though we had to cross the river a couple of times, as much of the trail runs on the river itself. And in cases like that, trails tend to be close to the shore (you don't run a trail along the middle of a river) and, depending on the river bends, one of the sides might be better for the trail than the other.
But the skies had become overcast again and there wasn't much to see. And driving along a river means that you're driving in a valley anyway, so the views are limited in any case.
I had been in the Laisstugan hut before.
The panorama is nice, but on an overcast day, there's not much to see except for the treeline.
And there was one thing I remembered - the toilet is somewhat difficult to access, as often a snowdrift builds up next to it and it takes some snow shoveling to be able to open the door. (The toilets are behind the second and third doors - the first one leads to the firewood storage.) But at least the snow wasn't hard packed and there was no ice around (the first time I was there, the ground was so icy that going to the toilet seemed dangerous, so I spent some time with an axe, breaking up the ice to make it less slippery), so it didn't take long.
While I was making the toilet (and the firewood) accessible, Kenneth worked on his snowmobile, replacing some parts with the replacements he bought at the snowmobile repair place.
Ultimately it didn't help much, but at least there was a phase of optimism every morning, where the snowmobile worked well and there was hope that the repairs of the previous day might have fixed things. Unfortunately that hope lasted only about an hour the next day before the snowmobile went back into 'safe mode'.
Next day were going to Jäkkvik and with nearly a hundred kilometers to go. It was going to be a long drive.
When leaving Laisstugan, the weather looked a bit ominous, so there was little hope of a drive in the sun with great vistas and panoramas.
About half of the drive is along a valley between two mountain ridges and, as far as the weather was concerned, it wasn't as bad as expected. There were even moments when sunshine made it through the clouds.
And as long as there was a bit of sun, everything was easy.
But for long periods, the sun was behind the clouds and all contrast was gone.
While the trail of the other snowmobile is clearly visible in the second picture, I could no longer see it when the light got diffuse, as everything became a uniform grey colour.
The trail markers are a clear indication where the snowmobile trail goes, but the terrain under the snow is not necessarily flat, so there might be unexpected dips or rocks hidden underneath the snow. It's usually safe to follow the established tracks, but if you can't see them, you need to take care to drive slowly and be prepared for bumps. So, even though we were following a marked track and we were mostly driving on flat sections, our progress was slow.
When we were past the mountains and heading towards the lakes that lead to Jäkkvik, we had been driving for about three hours, so we felt we deserved a bit of a rest.
So we stopped at the Ruonekjahka hut and made lunch.
Usually, on his dog sledding tours, lunch meant eating a sandwich and having a quick cup of tea before moving on, but mostly it meant taking care of the dogs. Giving them a quick snack, checking their booties, untangling tug lines and similar things. That was also a reason why I usually had some sort of small snackable junk food in my pockets (like candy, fruit gums, chocolate covered nuts and other confectionery). These allowed me to quickly pop some food into my mouth while driving the dog sled and left me more time to spend with the dogs during lunch breaks.
Without any dogs to care or worry about, we could have a somewhat more elaborate lunch break.
Kenneth had brought a sandwich maker and a propane heater, so we could have toasted sandwiches. Mostly we did have those in the morning or in the early afternoon, when we arrived at a hut (in this case using the stove instead of the propane heater), but this time, we had them outdoors.
As a 'luxury item', we also had foldable chairs on the snowmobile trailer, so instead of sitting on the snow or the snowmobile, we had comfortable chairs with backrests to sit on. There was also a bit of sunshine coming through during 'lunch hour', making it fun to sit there, eat, drink and enjoy the view.
From there, it was mostly along lakes towards Jäkkvik. This was an easy drive for me. But Kenneth was once again having troubles with his snowmobile - the repairs he did the previous day hadn't helped much.
Lakes were the sections were driving a snowmobile and driving a dog sled differed the most.
On a dog sled, you (sort of) go into 'pause' mode. You know that you will be on the lake for the next hour or two, that there's nothing much to do. You won't run into anything. The dogs are unlikely to injure themselves (you check on them from time to time anyway, but you know things will be fine). They will run at a steady pace. So at the back of the sled, you relax, eat some sweets, maybe put in some earphones and listen to music. Essentially, you relax. (Standing on a moving sled, instead of reclining on a couch, limits the amount of relaxing you can do. (Sometimes I even consider to sit or lie down on the sled instead of standing on the runners, but I have only dared to do that once.)
On a snowmobile, lakes mean "Speed!". As there are no obstacles, you can push down the throttle and quickly go across. (Yes, in theory, there might be a bit of broken ice somewhere on the lake and hitting that can make you lose control at high speed. But in practice there isn't and you don't.) So lakes are things that pass by quickly.
Lakes are also the areas where snowmobiles significantly outpace dogsleds.
Because, unexpectedly, in most other areas, the speed difference was much less than I had expected.
I generally assume that a dog sled will do about 12 km/h when it's moving and about 10 km/h as an overall speed (including rests, snacking the dogs and other short stops). That, of course, depends on all kind of factors, like terrain, weather, wind, snow, number of dogs and weight of sled. But it's generally a reasonable ballpark figure to estimate travel times.
For the snowmobile trip, I had assumed that we would average 50 km/h, so we would be roughly four times as fast as on a dog sled tour. As we tended to have daily distances of 40-50 km on the dog sledding trips, my assumption was that 200 km would be a reasonable daily distance to do on a snowmobile. (Which would also give us more spare time, as you don't have to feed, harness or put straw out for snowmobiles.) This also matched my experience from a tour I did in Finland in 2016, where we did 240 km on the first day (mainly on lakes), although the speed limit in Finland is higher than the one in Sweden, where you can go 'only' 70 km/h on lakes.
In real terms, our average speed over the whole trip turned out to be only 22 km/h. Which meant, that we went about twice as fast as we would have been on a dogsled.
A lot less than I expected. (Though Kenneth, who did the trip planning, obviously has more experience with the real conditions, so on average, we had daily driving distances of about 90 km, which fits the "about twice of the average daily dog sledding distance of 45 km" surprisingly well.)
But, getting back to the initial point, this is different on lakes. A dog sled will go across a lake at 14 or 18 km/h (that depends mostly on whether we were on lakes - when we left Överst-Jugtan on mornings and the dogs were rested and excited to go, they would easily run 20 km/h (which they shouldn't, so we had to stand on the brake or mat to slow them down), while when running back to Överst-Jugtan (coming back from Ammarnäs), they would go at a much slower trot). A snowmobile will usually go at 60-70 km/h. So, on a lake, the snowmobile is really about four times faster. And a lake that would be a two hour relaxed ride on a dogsled becomes a half hour of speed and excitement.
First stop in Jäkkvik was the petrol station and the general store (this first, as we had driven about 200 km since Ammarnäs and needed to refill, the second to get some stuff for dinner). The place had changed a lot since we had been there last time in 2019. Back then it had been only a little store (similar to the one in Slussfors, near Umnäs), but that had been recently torn down and replaced by a full size supermarket.
So we do some shopping and then move on to the guest house, which is again, as in 2017, Kyrkans Fjällgård. It's a kind of church vacation building. Owned by the Church of Sweden, its main purpose is to be guest house for religious groups in Sweden that want to go on a retreat, As far as I can tell, it's less a place for believers, but more for people working for the church. It seems to be intended for seminars and works outings.
But in any case, when it's not used for church purposes, it's rented out as a guest house. It's a large place (together with some annex buildings, it offers about 80 beds, roughly the size of a mid-scale hotel) and not used much in the winter months. In 2017, we had the place to ourselves, this time there were two other guests there, who were from some construction company to do some bridge repairs. So there was lots of choice in accommodation.
Another attraction (though we didn't use much of it this time), is that it has a large and well equipped kitchen (it is designed for catering up to a hundred people).
It had been a long drive and we were getting hungry, so we had a simple but massive dinner of fish-burgers.
Next day we got up a but earlier than usual (although not remotely as early as we would have on a dog sledding tour), as we would have the longest drive of the trip. Almost 150 km; all the way back to Överst-Jugtan.
It was also a route that even Kenneth didn't know well, as it's a trail that is not that suitable for dogsledding. The first 50 km are easy to do. A wide, well travelled and mostly flat snowmobile track, followed by an long stretch along a lake.
At first, the weather was a bit dull, but it improved during the morning.
But then it's up to a mountain plateau and it's a rather steep way up. Easy with a snowmobile, but tedious with a dog sled.
And then it's (roughly) 60 km of mostly dull mountain plateau to cross. No cover in case of stormy weather. No huts to stay in. No impressive views on the way. And there's also a low lying river right in the middle of the plateau, meaning that you need to descend about 200 meters over less than 2 km and then ascent about 400 meters over about 5 km on the other side.
Of course, it could be done by dogsled, if you need to go that route from Jäkkvik to Ammarnäs, but on a touristic trip, why would you want to? It makes a lot more sense with a dog sled to go via Bäverholmen, which is an easier trail, offers much more to see on the way and also makes it possible to do it in a two day trap, spending a night at Bäverholmen.
As Kenneth hadn't used that route much, it took as a while to find the proper entry point to the snowmobile trail from the lake. Partly, because it doesn't start opposite to Laisvall, as the signs seemed to indicate, but opposite to Laisvallby, a bit further down the lake. Partly because there's a well maintained and used trail opposite Laisvallby, which looks promising, but leads only to some private homes (the real trailhead is nearby, but 300 meters further). And partly, because nobody had used that trail since the last snowfall, so there weren't any obvious tracks leading to it.
We made it without problems to the small river, but when we tried to drive up again on the other side, the ascent turned out to steep (and the snow to soft) and I got stuck with my snowmobile.
I had been pleasantly surprised that I hadn't got stuck with the snowmobile on the whole trip (although I stopped twice to let Kenneth drive the snowmobile out, as I got in situations where the snowmobile had tilted and I was worried about it falling over if I tried to move on - so it seemed better to let someone get it back in even ground who knows what he's doing, instead of trying it on my own and damaging something - but that wasn't as much 'getting stuck' as being overly careful). But here, I tried to run up that hillside with the snowmobile and I got slower and slower and then I wasn't moving at all. And couldn't go forward or backwards. So Kenneth had to come back, shovel most of the snow around the snowmobile away and lead me up along a more serpentine way.
Fortunately, this did work without a problem. Going 'sideward' along the hillside meant that there was a risk of the snowmobile tipping over (and, in the worst case, rolling downhill to the river), so it was important to stand on the uphill side when driving as a counterbalance.
At least I got stuck in a place with a nice view in the background.
After another 25 km of "nothing to see here, move right along..." landscape, we made it to the descent towards Ammarnäs.
And, once down from the mountains onto the big 'snowmobile multilane highway' to Ammarnäs.
But this time, our first stop there was not at the guidecenter, but we went straight to the snowmobile repair place. Which was closed at that time, but at least we managed to buy two liters of oil. Because by then, the snowmobile that Kenneth was using had developed an unhealthy appetite for it. He had refilled the oil when we left Ammarnäs three days ago. And he had put in another liter in the morning in Jäkkvik. And by now the oil level was critical again. So he put in another liter and kept one in reserve.
We then had a nice but somewhat rushed dinner at Peter's guidecenter.
Rushed, as the sun was already getting low and we needed to continue to Överst-Jugtan. And we didn't want to drive there in the dark. Especially with Kenneth's snowmobile a bit unreliable and it would not have been fun to be stuck somewhere on the mountains with a broken snowmobile in the middle of the night. (Of course, if that happened, we would probably have abandoned his snowmobile and driven to Överst-Jugtan with the other snowmobile and then come back the next day.)
While we got up onto the mountain plateau without any issues, once we got up there, things got awkward.
After another stop to restart the snowmobile in an attempt to get out of 'safe driving mode', a large fireball came out from under the snowmobile. While such an 'afterburn' can happen when the engine expels unburned fuel out of the exhaust and it gets ignited by the hot exhaust, it is not a regular occurrence (given modern, computer controlled, ignition systems - when is the last time you heard the bang of a motor misfire or flames coming out of a regular car?) and not a good sign.
An even word sign was when Kenneth tried to start the snowmobile again and the engine itself was on fire.
When Mr.Snomobile is on fire, Mr.Snowmobile is no longer your friend...
The fire was extinguished quickly. A convenient feature of winter landscapes is that there's lot of water (in one form or the other) around you. Quickly ripping off the plastic panels and throwing snow onto the motor did do the trick.
But it was clearer than ever that the snowmobile wasn't doing well.
While it did run again afterwards and did go the remaining distance to Överst-Jugtan, it was not a comforting sight, as there was lots of black smoke coming out of the back of it. It seemed to be burning almost as much oil as it was burning fuel.
At least we got where we wanted to go and arrived there in daylight.
But spirits where somewhat muted.
Originally, the idea was to do another day trip in the area around Överst-Jugtan before returning to Umnäs the next day, but somehow it didn't seem to be a good idea to drive with that snowmobile when it wasn't necessary. (Also, oil was already low again, so it had used nearly a liter of oil on the short 35 km drive from Ammarnäs. Some of it was surely used to create that impressive fireball and some nearly as impressive black clouds...)
As it had been two long drives on the preceding days in any case, we decided to have a day off.
While Kenneth attempted a few more repairs to his snowmobile (like tying the side pannels back on...), I did some fun driving around on the lake with the rented snowmobile, making sure to stay in sight of the cabin.
The next day, it was time to say a final goodbye to the Överst-Jugtan hut (and the by now no longer used dog houses there), a place where I spent a fair amount of time over the last seven years.
Time to drive to Umnäs.
Or at least halfway there.
After the experience with the snowmobile that Kenneth was driving, we didn't trust it to make it all the way to Umnäs. Theoretically, it would have been possible to drive a car with a trailer to Överst-Jugtan and pick us up, but due to the way the road connection works, it would be almost a 100 km drive by car.
If we could make it over the first mountain plateau, about 15 km by snowmobile, we would be at a place much easier accessible by car, which would require only a 25 km drive by car to meet us.
So we refilled the oil and hoped we would make over the mountain and to that street.
We managed to get there (with fewer problems than we had feared), so we loaded the snowmobile onto the trailer. As there wasn't enough room for anything else, we then attached both snowmobile trailers (a small one with metal runners and a larger, plastic, one that was dragged along on the ground) to my rented snowmobile and Kenneth drove it the final 30 km of trail back to Umnäs with me as a passenger. (And a proper seat in the back. We had removed the passenger seat when we started out (to be able to tie stuff like my bag to the snowmobile), but Catte had remembered to bring it with her when she drove to us with the car and the trailer, so my bag went into the car and we put the passenger seat back on for comfort.)
And so we made it back to Umnäs - with one of the snowmobiles getting there under its own power, but one on a trailer.
But the mood wasn't as gloomy as it could have been. And instead of having lunch somewhere along the trail, we set up the folding chairs and the propane burner outside their house, next to the snowmobile, and made some hot sandwiches there.
And that was the end to the snowmobile part of the vacation.
Here is a zipped KML file (for viewing in Google Earth) of the trail we took: sweden2022_snowmobile_tour.zip
And here is a map of the trail:
As a sort of 'celebration' there was a light show later that evening.
Northern lights were visible in the sky, so I walked down to the lake to have a good view and to take some pictures (exposure time was two minutes, which is the reason why the stars look like litte dashes).
Next day it was time to start learning cross-country skiing.
I had visited various locations where they had cross-country skiing trails that were on reasonably flat terrain (like some that were running along the side of a river), on glaciers or sea ice. And I had rented some skis there and enjoyed moving around on them.
But it rarely felt like 'skiing'. More like an awkward way of walking - shuffling my feet over the snow, with the skis being more a means to avoid sinking in (akin to a long snow shoe) than something improving motion.
And I was unable to go uphill or downhill. And I'm not talking about an alpine downhill ski run. Even if it was two or three meters up or down a hill, I would usually take off the skis and walk that bit until I was back on level ground.
Obviously, this wasn't going to improve. Putting on skis and using them for an hour or two every couple of years does not lead to experience. It's essentially starting from scratch over and over again.
So the idea was to put some effort into it and try to learn it properly for a week.
I didn't expect to get good at it, but I expected to improve somewhat, get an approximate idea of my learning speed and to figure out what kind of distances I might be able to do per day when going somewhere on skis.
Catte's goals as a teacher were much more ambitious - her aim was to get me skiing behind a dog (skijoring) at the end of the week.
To jump ahead a bit - we didn't even get close to the skill level required for that.
But it was fun and also an unexpectedly relaxed part of the trip.
As this was the most physically demanding activity of the trip, I had been worried that I'd be completely exhausted at the end of the day and after two or three days, I would be so tired that I would be barely able to stand on the skis.
But we kept the daily lessons short (usually about 1.5 hours a day on skis) and added a fair number of breaks, so my muscles were less sore than I expected them to be. (Which was a good thing - the idea was not to build physical fitness, but to learn how to ski. And that's probably easier to do when you're not aching all over.)
On the fist day, we went out to the trails and lake behind Umnäs ('behind' is to the southwest) to learn the basics of moving on level ground. My main deficit here was that I was not using the ski poles properly - I used the more to keep me from falling over than as a means to propel myself forward.
Herkules wasn't really impressed...
At least the sunset was nice that evening...
The next day was pretty much of the same, but including some minor, gentle slopes to get me accustomed to skis starting to slide.
And an outdoor barbecue for lunch.
Next day we did do a bit more slopes on the trails (these are walking and snowmobile trails, not specifically prepared for skiing) behind Umnäs and then went to the 'proper' cross-country skiing trail at Slussfors. There are two 'advanced' prepared tracks (which I didn't even attempt) and one 2.2 kilometer loop that was flat and easy - perfect for beginners. Especially as almost nobody was using it, so I wasn't blocking anyone's way.
With proper grooves in the snow, it was much easier to concentrate on the proper body movements (as opposed to paying attention to where the skis were going and making sure that they roughly point the same way.
There's also an outdoor fireplace with grill and benches at the place were all trails converge, so we did combine the skiing lesson with some grilled sausages again.
To provide some variety, we went to Tärnaby then next day, as there are longer and more varied skiing trails there. The available loops were a bit too difficult (with an altitude difference of more than 150 meters). But there is a 15 km non-looping trail that starts from a parking spot outside of Tärnaby and leads to it.
And the first ten kilometers of it are reasonably flat and suitable for beginners. After that, it goes downhill and provides an altitude drop of nearly 250 meters. Which is great news for experienced skiers that can ski down to Tärnaby with a flourish (providing they have some other way to get back to their cars). And if you don't want to do that (and it would be somewhat tedious to ski down to Tärnaby and then climb up all the way again to get back to the parking place), there's even a sign on the trail map marking the turning point "for those who do not want to go down to Tärnaby. The trail continues with nice steep curves down to the green trail."
I definitely didn't want to go down the trail to Tärnaby, so we went along the more gentle parts of the trail for about 5 km, turned around and then went back the same way.
It was a fun day. The weather was pleasant, the views great, the tracks well maintained, the ski grooves freshly made and while not completely flat, the slopes weren't too steep.
And every kilometer or so, someone had carved a snow bench at the side of the track, so we could stop for a tea and chocolate lunch.
Although Catte was clearly a lot more confident about skiing than I was.
It was a fun day (and I didn't even fall once), but as far as learning things was concerned, my progress was rather limited.
One of the lessons of the day was learning to brake properly, so that any downhill slope didn't automatically turn into an uncontrollable, increasingly fast, slide downwards.
So this is myself trying to keep from going faster and faster by braking:
That didn't work the way it was supposed to do.
On the other hand, it didn't end in disaster either.
Unfortunately Tärnaby is more than an hour's drive away from Umnäs, so the next day we started the morning by crossing the lake in front of Umnäs (partly to go back to an environment where there are no prepared grooves and I needed to pay more attention to keeping the skis properly aligned).
Herkules kept watch over out skis when we had a bit of a break at the other side of the lake.
Well, at least he gives the impression of guarding the skis. Realistically, though, anyone trying to take the skis would probably not risk much more than having the face thoroughly slobbered...
In the afternoon, we went back to the beginner's trail in Slussfors for another three rounds around the track.
And that were the skiing lessons.
There's not that much to write about that week (and also not too many pictures), as I was trying to learn things and improve my skiing. And advice on how to move the skis or use the ski poles was helpful, but doesn't work well when repeated on a web site. And as the main idea was to learn, I intentionally didn't do that many pictures (I don't think I even took a camera with me when we went to the track at Slussfors, which is unusual for me.)
Next day, Kenneth and Catte had to be at the bakery, as they had a large number of orders and needed to catch up on them.
I originally wanted to have a 'real vacation day' where I would do nothing at all, but then I noticed that I had, so far, covered 38.3 kilometers on ski and, without any real rationale behind it, decided that it would be a good idea to do another 4 kilometers on ski, so I could say I covered a marathon distance while cross-country skiing. (Which, of course, has no real meaning at all, as it wasn't done in one go. Applying the same lack of logic, I have also walked a marathon distance every month, simply by going to work (in those days before home office...))
But, reasonable or not, I took it as a reason to put on the skis and cross the lake on my own (twice, as it's approximately a kilometer across).
(The whole thing turned out to be a bit pointless in any case, as, after coming back from the dog sledding tour, I took the skis and went to Slussfors for another two rounds of the loop track there. Which would have brought me over the 'marathon distance' in any case. But, ultimately, the more training the better (presumably).)
At least, by now I have a more realistic view of what I can and can't do on skis.
Any non-trivial uphill or downhill is still a struggle, but I can handle small bumps along the way. I can go over frozen lakes that don't have any marked trails. And while I'm not faster on skis than I am walking, I'm also not slower. And the effort is about the same. So 10 km a day is easily done and 20 km each day would be possible to do for a while (and anything beyond that would presumably require rest days in between). Time will tell whether that's information worth knowing...
Then it was time to go on the next parts of the trip - the drive up to Gällivare, the visit to the ice hotel and the dog sledding tour. More about this can be found here.