Friday, July 18, 2014

29th of June

This blog was originally posted on the Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blog on July 3, 2014.

by Otto Rimfors and Erica Sheeran

Perhaps what made Tarfala feel like a paradise was not the majestic mountains that shielded the valley on all sides, nor the pulsing river that thrashed its way over misplaced rocks, nor the snow, vibrantly white against the muddy and lime coloured ground. Rather, the smiling flowers that peeked from behind the rocks and through the crevasses were the things that completely pulled the picture together. They were the bunches of life that kept things going; the hint of summer in an Arctic threshold.

On our last day in Tarfala, instead of focusing on the glacial landforms and the wonderment of the scraggly snow-crested peaks, we set out to look at the little peaks of happiness known as Arctic flowers. Before this, however, we learned a bit about the formation of the mountains surrounding the valley; in Alison Anders lecture beforehand, she explained that the rocks of the mountains were created during the Caledonians, wherein Greenland and the Scandinavian Peninsula collided and pulled apart several times. This resulted, of course, in layers of rock formation which include quartzite, mylenite, and amphibolites, which contain garnet stones.

There must be fairies around here somewhere…
Of course, trudging over these layers of rock (the tiredness had begun to set in) we soon found ourselves at a small place where a stream trickled out from a giant rock into a mossy pad of an assortment of greens, yellows, and speckles of a variety of various other colours. The elevation was noted at 1,020 meters. Upon further investigation, the pad was found to be squishy and spongy, composed mostly of mosses and small green shrubs with soft leaves (reminiscent of the ‘lambs’ ears’ garden plant), interspaced with plenty of rocks. The flowers just outside of the stream were plentiful, though not all were identified, as Swedish and Latin together is pretty much an indestructible beast.

The Arctic Willows with their fluffy softness.
We ventured a little further down to an area around some exposed bedrock (noted by Alison due to its same slope as the rest of the valley and its contents as a rock) and, naturally, found some more flowers, although these were much smaller than the initial ones clustered around saturated ground from earlier. Little delicate mossljungs and teensy ferns decorated the area. Naturally, the little fairy flowers varied in size and shape as we moved up and down elevations, but in any case, I felt several times as if the myths of fae were true, based solely on the teensy nature of these flowers.

In any case, the day was spent examining the different elevations and habitats of these plants with the accompaniment of reindeer and a cute little lemming. We ended our excursion climbing a so-called “rock glacier”, whose formation and legitimacy is disputed, returning to our stations after a day of frolicking research.

Last night in Tarfala and of course we had to go to the lake. I had heard rumors that it was possible to jump on the rocks in the riverbed all the way up there. It turned out to be a modified truth, but also a really exciting adventure.

The group started off together, trying to find a way across to the middle of the river beds where there was some “solid” ground. It was a labyrinth, with ice cold water running in between and over the rocks. Some were slippery, some were not. Some were wackily, some were not. Some were too far away to jump, some were not. Some of us gave up, some did not.

And we who didn’t, we didn’t get wet. But there were some critical and hysterical moments.

Jumping on the rocks
When finally managing to get over to the middle part of the riverbed we realized that it wasn’t possible to walk further upstream on the rocks, not without getting wet at least. We threw big heavy rocks into the water, creating our own path, stabilizing it by holding hands while one of us reached out with his foot to put it in place.

At some point the urge of eating ice cream just took over and all the white ice around was too tempting.

Natural ice cream

We found a beautiful partly ice covered lake on the isfallglaciären-side of the moraine on the far side of the river from the research station.

Small ice lake

Then we were finally standing on the shore of the lake far up in the Tarfala valley. It was almost fully covered with snow and ice and we doubted if we could even cross the river on the way back.

Large ice lake

We didn’t really believe that we could have pulled off the same stunt as on the way there. We could see the STF-hut through the binoculars.. In distance.


Unfortunately we didn’t have skis. But using two old gray pieces of wood, to increase our area in order to not fall through the snow and into the underlying river, we managed to get across, one slow meter at a time.

Crossing snow
Lucky for us, we got back safely.


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