By Eric Mulder
It’s 6am. The sun is out with not a cloud in the sky as I turn my car onto the tiny parking next to the bridge in Undersåker. Mount Åreskutan stands tall in the distance. Although it’s early in the morning, I’m welcomed by a pleasant warm summer breeze. I’m here to meet up with Rickard, owner of a local outdoor company. We are going for an adventure at one of the region’s most well-known places, Lake Blanktjärn.
A few years ago, Lake Blanktjärn suddenly received worldwide attention when a short video released on YouTube showed ice skaters playing around on crystal clear “see through” ice. The clip logged over a million views. The video inspired us to try a similar thing in summer with our standup paddle boards. In addition, when looking up the location on Google Earth, we discovered that it might be possible to paddle our boards from the lake all the way back to our starting point using a network of streams. Although we weren’t sure whether these streams carried enough water for us to navigate, this little adventure just sounded too good to leave for someone else.
An Adventure Begins
The Jämtland region, located in central Sweden and bordering with Norway, hosts a small town called Åre. This buzzing little town is well known in winter for its skiing and winter sports, and also in the summer when the area is full of mountain bikers and hikers. SUP has also become an established popular activity in Åre, with many places renting out SUP’s. There are even a few that teach SUP-yoga on a regular basis. Rickard, a tall, bearded and slightly bald outdoorsy Swede, is known as a visionary man, driven to try new things and embracing trendy sports such as SUP. In the past, he has introduced activities such as zorbing and mountain carting to this heavily visited area. And now he is keen on taking the flourishing SUP sport in Sweden to a new level. If today’s adventure turns out to be a success, he plans to offer guided SUP tours at this popular location.
I jump into his large red SUV and we make our way through a landscape filled with mountains, spattered with lakes large and small, and seemingly endless pine tree forests. After a short 45-minute drive, we arrive in Vålådalen, where the road simply ends. A few sprawling settlements can be seen along the road. Some homes fly a colourful flag with a circle in it above the entrance, indicating that its owners are probably Saami, the indigenous people of Scandinavia. There is also a museum and Vålådalens Fjällstation, a small resort with hotel and restaurant dating back to the 1920s. Many elite Swedish athletes have come here over the years to train for cross-country skiing in winter and numerous sports during summer. This is also the starting point for many hikers and mountain bikers eager to scout the abundant trails leading into the wilderness.
After unloading our inflatable SUPs and paddles, we hurry to gear up and start hiking, mainly to avoid being eaten alive by the large swarms of tiny flying insects, referred to as “knott”. They began attacking us from the moment we stepped out of the car. Together we file down the trail with Linda and Julia, who are joining us on this little adventure. The trail, a narrow sandy path, is one of many wind
ing through the ancient forests of this large, 1,200-squarekilometre natural reserve. The terrain, filled with twisted and bent birch trees, leads us slightly uphill towards the partly snowy, distant Anaris Mountains, over rocky passages and across swampy mires where we use duckboard footbridges. It’s a beautiful hike and quite understandable why this particular trail is so popular with hikers of all ages.
An hour and a half later, the four of us stand sweating but gaping in awe at the edge of Lake Blanktjärn. This landscape could come straight from a fairy tale. The clear turquoise water of the lake seems other worldly and quite in contrast with the dark coloured lakes that are the norm in Sweden. We rush down to get ourselves and the SUPs ready. After a nip of some freshly brewed coffee, we take to the water. Although the weather is obviously different, we are still reminded of the crystal-clear ice from the skating video. The water is stunningly blue and so extremely clear that we can see everything in the water below us. It invites for a swim but a quick dip is all most people can endure. The temperature of the water is barely above freezing. Paddling around for some time, we explore this magical place, floating above fallen trees and watching trout swimming over the sandy bottom. “This really is a divine experience”, Rickard yells at me with a huge smile on his face. We paddle towards the distant hills and the far end of Lake Blanktjärn. We don’t know if anyone has ever paddled here before. Lacking any word of mouth or video witness, we choose to believe that perhaps, we are the first to do so.
We find the shallow creek we spotted earlier on Google Earth. Leaving the lake behind us, we float down to where it joins a wider stream. We drift through its currents in this dreamy landscape splattered with many shades of green. Sometimes we stand, but mostly we paddle on our knees. Sometimes, we need to lay flat to avoid falling off on extremely shallow parts. The stream takes us through a section with strong currents and many rocks sticking through the water. It demands the best of my technique to manoeuvre around them. It’s not easy but I find this the most fun section so far. However, as I turn around, I notice both of the girls have fallen of their boards and are having a less good time slogging their way through the rocky stream.
An hour later we are spat into the river Vålån. The water is still ultra clear but the riverbed is deeper and rapids are scarcer. Before we know it, the small ski lift on the opposite hillside from Vålådalens Fjällstation comes into view. Soon we are approaching the suspension bridge that will lead us back to the car. Our mini recon-expedition has come to an end, but I could almost pack my bag and start hiking back up the river. It was an incredible experience and I have a feeling this is not the last time someone will bring a paddleboard along to this beautiful location.
This article was first published in Wild issue 160. Subscribe for your copy today.