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Exploring my home mountains

A first encounter with the around the corner wilderness
Text: Per Jonsson, Foto: Fredrik Schenholm

Many people have been on ski trips around the world, but not many have actually explored their home surroundings and their own mountains. I'm one of these people. It's not often I really open my eyes and see what's around me. What really is around me?

Location: Nallo, Sweden
Rider:  Per Jonsson
Photographer: Fredrik Schenholm

When you look at the snow statistics, you realise quickly that Scandinavia is not top of the list. The ski systems are often smaller than the others in Europe and much of the winter is cold and dark. Sweden and Scandinavia don't have the highest mountains or the most snow either, but they have something else entirely. Wide open spaces, grandeur, desolation, solitude, and last but not least, silence. Being able to go for days without seeing a single human being and not being able to use your mobile is "normal". The area around the Nallo mountain is a place just like this.Its just a stone's throw from the highest peak in Sweden, Kebnekaise.

Most people who have been around Nallo have been on touring skis and not many have stayed more than one night in the area. There is an STF cabin, but it's only staffed a few measly weeks a year. Lots of people know about the place, but very few have actually been there.

Camping in the winter for several days far from civilization or mobile coverage takes a lot of planning. You have to take everything with you and constantly think about what you're doing and where you're putting your things. You can't get wet or you'll start to freeze. You have to conserve gas for the kitchen. Ski skins must be kept dry, not to mention the permanent problem of keeping your feet warm.

The list of things to bring on the trip was long. It had definitely been emailed round the group more than once shall we say, before everyone in the group was happy with it. I seldom overthink my packing, just pack the usual stuff. I bring roughly the same things on all my ski trips. My logic is that if I forget something, I can always borrow it from someone or buy it again. This time felt different. I laid out all the things I was bringing with me on the floor of my little flat. I counted out and checked items off the packing list. Everything was there! I had been thinking about going back to my old neck of the woods by Kiruna for several years to spend a few days at the foot of Nallo mountain, but thinking about it was as far as I had got until now. Now it was finally happening.

Location: Nallo, Sweden
Rider:  Per Jonsson
Photographer: Fredrik Schenholm

I put down my huge pack in the snow and looked around me. What a setting! The mountains look almost like they do in the Alps. High snowy peaks all around me, and it feels a bit like I'm standing in a massive, deserted castle hall. It has taken a long time to get here and I realise there's only about 30 minutes of daylight left until dark. It's the end of February and the beautiful spring sunshine hasn't had time to break through yet. I am struck by the silence and desolation. We are truly alone. The feeling is both wonderful and frightening at the same time.

I watch the others dragging their headlamps, shovels and tents out of their backpacks. We have to build a base camp with the tents protected from the wind. Large blocks are cut out of the snow and placed in a ring around the tents. More and more blocks are piled on top of each other, and in the end we've built high walls. After we've all been working on cutting out the snow blocks for about an hour, I look up. The sky isn't black anymore, it's neon green. The best chance of seeing the northern lights is during the cold months, not every day by any means, but we're in luck today. The sky is fully lit and green chunks are dancing around like carefree fairies. It feels like watching a film with no plot and no ending.

There are many beautiful mountains to ski on around Nallo, and Sielmatjåkka is one of them. The mountain is XX vertical metres and sweat drips down my back while I slowly climb all those metres towards its peak. We've planned our upwards route carefully from the foot of the mountain, to be as safe as possible. We walk with a gap between each other. This is to avoid the whole group being pulled down into the snow if there were to be an avalanche.

We need climbing irons on our feet for the final vertical metres. The snow which was previously soft and fluffy, has now felt the effects of the wind and is hard. We take a well-earned break on the peak, and it's like standing on a roof. We can see in all directions, with no other mountain obscuring the stunning views. It's usually windy when you're standing on a peak but today, stillness.

On my previous tours of the Alps, it has always felt a bit unreal looking out from a peak. It usually feels like I'm a visitor in someone else's dream world. Just about all I see from Sielmatjåkka's peak is Swedish mountains and it feels like "home". A back garden that's been mine all my life - but I've never been there before.

We finally click into our skis and I get the honour of going first. A few cautious turns before I get down to the soft powder snow. The wind howls in my ears and I increase my speed. A feeling of complete and utter freedom fills me. I am one with nature, one with my skis and time stands still. I take a mental photograph, I don't ever want to forget this moment. Click. I stop when I get to the bottom and call out to the others to follow. Get my system camera out to take a picture of my friends who are also flying down at full speed. When they reach the bottom, we don't say anything. We just laugh at each other and our rides. Freedom!

It might not be the best snow I've ever skied in, but it's one of my best ever overall ski experiences. We are all alone. We live in tents and we climb peaks under our own steam. The feeling of being at one with nature is palpable, and I feel all warm inside.

When I crawl into my sleeping bag later on that evening, I take out my mental photo and look at it. The area around Nallo and my home Kiruna really is as great as I imagined. It's my first trip to the area, but definitely not my last. We have climbed one peak, but there are hundreds more left to climb.

Featured friend

Per Jonsson Freeskier

Per Jonsson is one of Sweden's best telemark skiers. He grew up in Kiruna and has been a Haglöfs friend for many years.