Sarek National Park

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Sarek National Park
Sareks nationalpark
IUCN category II (national park)
Pierikpakte in Sarek.jpg
The mountain Pierikpakte in the Äpar massif
Location Norrbotten County, Sweden
Coordinates 67°17′N 17°42′E / 67.283°N 17.700°E / 67.283; 17.700Coordinates: 67°17′N 17°42′E / 67.283°N 17.700°E / 67.283; 17.700
Area 1,970 km2 (760 sq mi)[1]
Established 1909[2]
Governing body Naturvårdsverket

Sarek National Park (Swedish: Sareks nationalpark) is a national park in the Jokkmokk Municipality of Lapland province, northern Sweden. It borders two other national parks: Stora Sjöfallet and Padjelanta. Sarek is popular with hikers and mountaineers but is not appropriate for beginners.

The national park is roughly circular with an average diameter of about 50 kilometres (31.07 mi). It has no marked trails, no accommodations, and only two bridges aside from those in the vicinity of its borders. The area is among the most rainy in Sweden, making hiking dependent on weather conditions. It is also not uncommon to encounter streams that are turbulent and dangerous to wade across without proper experience.

The delta of the Rapa River is considered one of Europe's prettiest, and the summit of mount Skierffe (sv) offers an overlook of this ice-covered glacial trough valley.

Most notably, the national park houses a number of mountains of over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). Six of Sweden's 13 peaks over 2,000 metres are located inside the boundaries of the national park. The second highest mountain in Sweden, Sarektjåkkå is located in the park, whilst the massif Ahkka is located just outside. When it is included in geographical Sarek, the number of 2,000 metre peaks within the Sarek mountain area is eight. The park also houses around 200 peaks that reach 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) or higher. Due to the long trek, the mountains are seldom climbed.

At 1,800 metres above sea-level lies the Pårte (sv) observatory, built in the early 1900s due to the efforts of Axel Hamberg. The construction material had to be carried up manually.

There are around 100 glaciers in Sarek National Park. Together with a few other national parks in Sweden, Sarek National Park is the oldest national park in Europe (1909–1910).

Place names[edit]

In Sarek National Park, as in the majority of Lapland, a large number of place names originate in the Sami languages.[3] These languages have several variations and their written forms have changed over time, which explains how some placenames don't quite match up across different sources.[4]

The most common Swedish placenames in the park are tjåkkå, where tjåkko means "mountain", vagge (valley), jåkkå or jåkko (stream), lako (plateau), ätno (river),[5] for example the Rapa River or Rapaätno.


Map of Sarek National Park, Padjelanta and Stora Sjöfallet

Location and borders[edit]

Sarek National Park is situated in the commune of Jokkmokk, 50 km (31.07 mi) from the Norwegian border in the county of Norrbotten, and the extreme north of Sweden. It is also located north of the Arctic Circle.

The park covers 1,977 square kilometres (763 sq mi) and borders the national parks Padjelanta (to the west) and Stora Sjöfallet (to the north), covering a total area of around 5,500 km2 (2,124 sq mi). There are also a lot of nature reserves nearby.


The Piellorieppe (sv) mountain and the Rapadalen valley

Sarek National Park is the most mountainous region of Sweden and in no other part of the country is it so easy to form an impression of alpine countryside.[6] In this park, 19 summits are higher than 1,900 m (6,200 ft),[7] and in particular the 2nd tallest summit in Sweden after Kebnekaise - Sarektjåkkå reaches a height of 2,089 m (6,854 ft).[8] The lowest height of the park is found in the southwest, near Lake Rittakjaure, at 477 m (1,565 ft).[7]

The park is formed from three types of relief, and sometimes they are difficult to tell apart: large valleys, massive mountains, and high plateaux.[9] The largest valley of the park, which is also the most famous, is Rapadalen.[10] This valley takes up 40 km2 (15 sq mi)[11] of the park, including several branches, the most important of which are Sarvesvagge, which climbs as far as Padjelanta,[12] Kuopervagge — taking up nearly 20 km2 (7.7 sq mi) — and Ruotesvagge, surrounded by numerous glaciers, including those of Mount Sarektjåkkå.[13] Among the other notable valleys not part of the Rapadalen network, Kukkesvagge forms the north-eastern frontier of the park,[13] and Njåtsosvagge is situated near the southern border.[9] The largest plateau is Ivarlako, to the east of the bulk of Pårte, with an altitude from 660–850 m (2,170–2,790 ft).[14] To the west of Pårte, the plateau Luottolako covers an area of 45 km2 (17 sq mi) and has an even higher altitude of between 1,200–1,400 m (3,900–4,600 ft).[14] Finally, interspersed between the valleys and the plateaux, we find massive mountains, often with several summits: the principal ones are Sarektjåkkå (highest point: Stortoppen, 2,089 m or 6,854 ft), Pårte (Pårtetjåkkå, 2,005 m or 6,578 ft), Piellorieppe (sv) (Kåtokkaskatjåkkå, 1,978 m or 6,490 ft), Ålkatj (Akkatjåkko, 1,974 m or 6,476 ft), Äpar (1,914 m or 6,280 ft), Skårki (1,842 m or 6,043 ft) and Ruotes (1,804 m or 5,919 ft).

Relief image of the park from the southeast, with Pårte and its glaciers in the front of the picture.
Climate data for Ritsem
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Daily mean °C (°F) −11.5
Source: Swedish institute of metrology and hydrology (SMHI)[15] · [16]


The landscapes of Rapa River
Skyview of Rapaselet 

The park's main river is the Rapa River. It originates in the glaciers of Sarektjåkkå and runs down the Rapa Valley as far as Lake Laitaure, thus leaving the park.[11] It then rejoins the Lesser Lule River which becomes a tributary of the Lule River at its confluence.[11] This river is fed by thirty glaciers, which contribute to a significant flow: it is the specific flow, that is to say the ratio between the average flow and the drainage basin, the most important in Sweden.[17] The flow fluctuates strongly by season, with an average of 100 m3⋅s-1 in July and around 4 m3⋅s-1 in winter, giving an annual average flow of around 30 m3⋅s-1.[18] The Rapaätno also transports an important quantity of sediment: in one summers day, it can carry between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of sediment. This amount is only a few tons in winter, which giving a total of 180.000 tons over the whole year.[19] The sediment explains the grey-green colour of the river and the formation of immense deltas.[17] An important delta is formed at the confluence of the Rapaätno with its principal tributary, the river Sarvesjokk.[11]

Just before the confluence, the river braids for nearly 10 km (6.2 mi), forming a zone called Rapaselet.[20] The most famous of the deltas – truly an emblem of the park – is the Laitaure delta (Laitauredeltat), which the river forms as it runs into Lake Laitaure.[11] The other important rivers correspond to the principal valleys listed above, mostly making up the drainage basin of Lesser Lule River. But the rivers in the north part of the park flow into Lake Akkajaure, in the Stora Sjöfallet National Park, hence forming part of the hydrographic network of Lule älv.[17]

The park also contains several lakes.[21] The principal is the Alkajaure (altitude 751 m or 2,464 ft) on the border with Padjelanta park, and the Pierikjaure (altitude 820 m or 2,690 ft) near Stora Sjöfallet National Park.[22]



Alggavagge (sv), in Sarek National Park. The Scandinavian Mountains were made by an ancient plateau being strongly eroded.

The Sarek National Park forms part of the Scandinavian Mountains, reminiscent of the Caledonian Chain,[7] the origin of the mountains of Scotland, Ireland, Greenland and Svalbard.[23] The Caledonian orogeny was formed by the collision of the Laurentia and Baltica plates between 450 and 250 million years ago, with the disappearance by subduction of the Iapetus Ocean.[24] This happened just before the formation of the chain and was caused by the appearance of a rift which finally led to the creation of the Atlantic Ocean.[24] The chain, once split open, continued to erode until it formed a peneplain.[25]

From around 60 million years ago, both the Scandinavian and the North-American sections suffered a tectonic uplift.[26] The causes of this are unclear and several hypotheses have been proposed.[26] One of the theories is the influence of the Iceland hotspot which could have raised the crust.[26] Another hypothesis is the isostasy related to glaciations.[26] In any of those cases, the uplift allowed the ancient chain to rise several thousand metres.[25]


The glacier Mikka on Sarektjåkkå

The erosion of the chain rejuvenated and was then subjected to a new period of glacial erosion.[25] It was 15 million years ago, the Quaternary period was beginning and with it an important glacial advance.[27] The glaciers began to grow and invade the valleys, then little by little they unified to form an ice sheet which completely covered the region.[27] Several further glaciations then followed, forming the current landscape, with glacial valleys, cirques, nunataks etc.[28] The amount to which the chain submitted to the erosion depended strongly on the nature of the terrain, which explains the diversity in the topography. So the topography of Sarek, like that of Kebnekaise, is divided into strongly pronounced zones, in particular the two neighbouring national parks. This is mainly due to the existence of diabase and diorite dikes which were more resistant to erosion.[29] Effectively, the park is divided into a swarm of dikes dating from 608 million years ago, which probably correspond to the first appearance of the rift during the formation of the Iapetus ocean.[30] These dikes respresent intrusions into Sarektjåkkå nappe, composed of sediments probably deposited in the basin of the rift.[31]


Pårte with its characteristic glaciers

The park consists of over 100 glaciers, which makes it one of the most important concentrations in the country. The glaciers are relatively small, with the largest being Pårtejekna in Pårte at 11 km2 (4.2 sq mi). However, some of the others are relatively large for Sweden, as the largest Swedish glacier is Stuorrajekna in Sulitelma (in the south of Padjelanta) measures a mere 13 km2 (5.0 sq mi).[28]

Their evolution, in particular that of the glacier Mikka (8 km2 or 3.1 sq mi)[32] may have been studied since the end of the 19th century, thanks to the work of Axel Hamberg, who dates from that century.[33] The other glaciers have a similar evolution: between 1883 and 1895 they were mostly receding, then advanced a little between 1900 and 1916, then started another retreat.[34] They then stabilised or grew, which is interpreted as being caused by the increase in winter precipitation related to global warming, compensating for the effect of the raised summer temperatures.[35] The glaciers have retreated with a particularly rapid rhythm during the years of the 21st century.[36]


According to its WWF classification, Sarek Park is situated in the Scandinavian Montane Birch forest and grasslands ecoregion, with a small part inside the Scandinavian and Russian taiga.[37] It is not the richest site in the country nor the region in terms of flora and fauna.[38] This is mainly explained by the fact that most of the park, with the exception of the south and south-east,[7] is situated above the growth-limit of conifers,[38] which is at an altitude of around 500 m (1,600 ft) in that region.[39] Similarly, unlike a large part of the region, Sarek Park has few vast lakes or swamps.[38] In total, around 380 species of vascular plants are found in the park,[40] 182 species of vertebrates, 24 mammals, 142 birds, 2 reptiles, 2 amphibians and 12 fish.[38] Among these species, many are on the red list of endangered species in Sweden, notably the large carnivores.

The vegetation follows a fairly strict altitudinal zonation, based on the climate, and implying a similar zonation of fauna, although this is often less strict.[38]

Montane level[edit]

The montane zones are relatively rare in the park, as its upper limit is situated around 500 m lower than the northern irelands. The flora of this zone is constituted by primary forests of conifers, principally the Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), but also has the Norway spruce (Picea abies). The pines can attain a great height, particularly those around Lake Rittak, in the south of the park. The undergrowth is mostly covered with mosses and lichens, in particular reindeer lichen, and also with Vaccinium myrtillus, Empetrum nigrum and cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).

These forests are a privileged habitat for numerous species of animals. Among the large carnivores, the brown bear (Ursus arctos) is particularly frequent in the park and in the neighbouring Stora Sjöfallet. The bear also ventures into the subalpine region too fairly often. The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), classed as an endangered species in Sweden, is also found around the lakes of Rittak and Laitaure, but also goes to the subalpine forests of Rapa Valley. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is relatively frequent, and little by little is extending its territory towards the higher zones, so it competes with the Arctic fox, (Vulpes lagopus). In terms of small mammals, the pine marten (Martes martes), the least weasel (Mustela nivalis) and the stoat (Mustela erminea) are very frequent, but the ermine also lives easily on the higher regions too. The herbivores include a very large number of moose (Alces alces) as the forests and humid zones provide them with a lot of food.[41] They often grow to an impressive size in the park, with enormous antlers.[42]

In terms of birds, there are a number of owls, such as the Ural owl, and woodpeckers, particularly the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker.[43] The Siberian tit is also very common, as are the fieldfare, the song thrush and the redwing. Reptiles and amphibians, such as the viviparous lizard, the common frog and the common European viper, are also mostly found in the forests.[44] The vipers of the Rittak region frequently reach remarkable sizes.[44]

Subalpine level[edit]

Prairie and forest in the Rapa Valley

The subalpine region mostly consists of old-growth birch forests.[45] These forests are particularly exceptional in terms of density and richness, making it possible for a lot of mountain sediment to be torn off and deposited in the watercourses.[46] This is particularly true in the Rapa Valley.[46] In general, the transition between the conifer forests and the birch ones is more or less continuous, with birches present in the coniferous forests in a proportion that grows with altitude until the conifers have completely disappeared.[47] The size of the trees also diminishes as the altitude increases.[48] The maximum height that the forests reach — and hence the tree line varies greatly throughout the park, from 600 m (2,000 ft) in the Tjoulta valley to over 800 m (2,600 ft) in the Rapa Valley.[21]

The birch forests also contain other tree species. The populations of rowan, grey alder, trembling poplar and hackberry are relatively big.[46] The alpine blue-sow-thistle is very widespread in this level and is the preferred food of the bears.[46] Garden angelica is also present, and it grows to around two or three metres tall.[46] Many other plants at level also grow to relatively exceptional sizes.[49]

A reindeer in a valley in Sarek

The border between the birch and coniferous forests is relatively fuzzy, with many of the animal species listed above also present in the subalpine region.[50] Some small mammals are found more frequently here than in the coniferous forests, in particular several rodents such as the common shrew, the field vole, but also the reindeer.[51] The latter was domesticated by the Sami people in the park and can be found at this altitude in the spring, moving up to the alpine region for the summer.[51] Brown bears are very common in the valleys of Tjoulta and Rapadalen.[52] However, the great quantity and variety of birds is what makes this level so rich.[53] The willow warbler, the common redpoll, the brambling, the yellow wagtail, the northern wheatear and the bluethroat are characteristic of the birch forests.[53] The willow ptarmigan is also more common in this environment.[54] You can also see raptors here, such as the merlin and the rough-legged buzzard, which often nest in the cliffs.[53] The gyrfalcon and the golden eagle normally prefer lower altitudes, but nevertheless they are also found in the park.[55]

Alpine level[edit]

A flowery prairie of alpine blue-sow-thistle (Cicerbita alpina) on the slopes of the park

The alpine level is itself divided into several narrower levels.[56] The first sublevel is mostly heathland, with many alder shrubs, mosses and lichens, and frequently dense mats of crowberries.[56] Different types of heath can be found. For example there is one type mostly composed of a mix of alpine clubmoss and alpine bearberry.[57] Cushion pink and Pedicularis lapponica bring autumn colour to the heaths, which are otherwise fairly monotone.[57] In the chalky soils of this sublevel, the vegetation is very rich and forms prairies with mountain avens as the characteristic species, and also purple saxifrage, velvetbells, alpine pussytoes and alpine veronica.[57] As you climb in altitude, the dwarf willow and other lichens become more prominent, forming a second level.[58] Progressively the plants thin out, and above 1,500 m (4,900 ft) there are only 18 types of plant present.[59]

There are three rare mammals who live in this level. The wolverine has a vast territory, reaching as far as the coniferous forests in winter, but the alpine level is their main territory.[60] They mostly eat carrion, but they do also eat live creatures, and prey on small rodents, birds and insects.[60] It is labelled as an endangered species in Sweden with a 2000 estimate of 360 individuals in the country.[61] The Arctic fox is a critically endangered species in Sweden, with only 50 animals in the whole country.[62] They dig extensive networks of tunnels above the tree-line, with several families inhabiting the same sett.[60] Finally, the park is one of the last refuges of the gray wolf,[60] also critically endangered in Sweden.[63] Only one wolf was found in the whole of Sweden during 1974-1974, and that one lived in this park.[64] Although their population is now growing,[65] they haven't yet achieved a fixed population in the park.[66]

In addition to these three mammals, Norwegian lemmings have also been found in the park.[67] This population is extremely variable in number, with massive spikes in some years, immediately followed by a very rapid decline. This phenomenon is not completely understood; it appears that favourable weather and therefore a surplus of food are responsible for the sudden population growths, but the reason for the decline is less obvious, although it is certain that contagious diseases play some role.[67] These cycles also influence the animals who prey on the lemmings.[67]

Many birds of this altitude are associated with the humid zones. However, this zone has its own characteristic species, namely the rock ptarmigan,[67] the snowy owl, the shore lark, the meadow pipit, the snow bunting[68] and the Lapland longspur.[69]

Humid zone[edit]

Cotton grass (Eriophorum) in the national park

Although the park does not have the vast marshes and lakes characteristic of the rest of the region, water is nevertheless present everywhere here. The humid zones are extremely rich and show a great diversity of flora and fauna. The stratification of vegetation is just as valid in the humid zones. In the montane region, the humid soils are covered with flowers such as the northern Labrador tea, cottonsedge, the Goldilocks buttercup, St Olaf's candlestick, common selfheal and common marsh-bedstraw.[70] At the subalpine level, the humid prairies are mainly composed of mats of Globe-flower, kingcup and twoflower violet.[46] Finally, in the alpine region we see many subalpine plants and also Pedicularis sceptrum-carolinum,[57] but the richness of the vegetation decreases with altitude.

The humid zones of the park are well known for the rich diversity of birds. The common crane, the wood sandpiper and the short-eared owl are found at the lower altitudes,[43] while the Eurasian teal, the Eurasian widgeon, the greater scaup, the red-breasted merganser, the sedge warbler and the reed bunting are common in the Laitaure delta and around Pårekjaure Lake.[54]

Further up, Vardojaure Lake is very rich in birds with a number of ducks, and also the European golden plover, characteristic of the alpine level and also found in the humid zones.[71] Låotakjaure Lake, on the border with Padjelanta, is interesting from an ornithological point of view.[72] Other rare species are present too, such as the lesser white-fronted goose, the great snipe, the red-throated pipit, the long-tailed duck and the bar-tailed godwit.[72] Finally the Luottolako Plateau is also considered to be interesting, with the most important concentration of purple sandpipers anywhere in Sweden.[73]

The Arctic char, the trout and the common minnow are found in the park's lakes, rivers and streams.[50][55]


Sarek National Park is a mainly high-alpine area with almost no special accommodation for tourists.[74]

Hiking trails[edit]

Kungsleden (The King's Trail) passes through the eastern part of the park, from Saltoluokta to Kvikkjokk. There are no cabins actually within the park, but Pårte, Aktse and Sitojaure cabins are just outside the park and they are easy to get to from Saltoluokta and Kvikkjokk.

Padjelantaleden (The Padjelanta Trail), which stretches from Kvikkjokk to Akkajaure, skirts the park on its western edge at Tarraluoppal, where the Tarraluoppal cabin is just on the border of the park.

Natural hazards[edit]

The lack of shelter combined with the shifting weather and rough terrain require hikers to have considerable experience to explore the area safely.

Fording streams[edit]

Very few bridges are available inside the park and crossing streams (jokk in Sami) and rivers (ätno in Sami) can be very dangerous for the ill equipped or inexperienced. Warm weather will increase the water levels, due to increased melting of the glaciers. Wading is often easier and safer early in the morning due to this.[74]

There is only one ford across the Rapaätno south of the Smaila Moot, at Tielmaskaite. The ford is only passable when the waterlevel is low enough, and is fairly long. It is not recommended for the unexperienced to try this ford without guide.

The glacier jokk from Pårtejekna, Kåtokjåhkå, is unfordable. To pass it, use the bridge (67°09′25.9″N 17°51′20.9″E / 67.157194°N 17.855806°E / 67.157194; 17.855806) or move upstream until you can pass over the glacier. The later alternative requires experience in glacier crossing.

Sarek in the winter[edit]

The lack of marked trails and accommodations makes it very difficult for tourists to pass through the area in the winter, unless they are very experienced and well equipped. The steep valley sides also create a high avalanche risk.[74]

Places of interest[edit]


Aktse is an old farm settlement on the Kungsleden trail, roughly 1.3 km outside the park limit.


In 1788 a chapel was erected at Alkavare (67°20′32.7″N 17°12′55.3″E / 67.342417°N 17.215361°E / 67.342417; 17.215361) to serve the Sami that were herding reindeer in the area during the summer. The walls of the building were dry set from local stone and the roof was made from timber, transported from Kvikkjokk, 60 km (37 mi) away. Originally, service was held every summer on June 25. It took the minister from Kvikkjokk three days to reach the chapel, and three days to get back. It was deserted in the mid-19th century but was renovated in 1961 and is still active. It now belongs to Jokkmokk parish of the Swedish Church, and a church service is held there every summer during the month of July.[75]

The Smaila Moot[edit]

Just above the canyon formed by Smailajåkk as it descends toward Rapaätno there is a cabin for the National Park Service (67°22′38″N 17°38′42″E / 67.37722°N 17.64500°E / 67.37722; 17.64500). There is also a bridge over the Smailajåkk canyon which allows hikers to cross the stream safely. The bridge is removed every winter and put back in the spring, after the spring flood. The cabin is not open to hikers, but there is an emergency shelter as well as an emergency telephone and an outhouse there. The presence of the bridge and the fact that three of the major valleys of the park (Routesvagge, Rapavagge and Koupervagge) converge here has given it the name the 'Smaila Moot'. If you do not meet other hikers anywhere else, you will probably meet them here. This is also one of the best locations to start an attempt on the top of Sarektjåkkå (2,089 m or 6,854 ft), via Mikkajekna glacier.


Pastavagge (Basstavágge in Lule Sami Orthography) is a narrow valley, forming a pass, running from Pielavalta (Bielavallda) towards the east, terminating north of Rinim on the shores of lake Sitojaure (Sijddojávrre). The trekking distance from Pielvalta to Rinim is roughly 18 km.[76] As there is a boat connection[77] between Rinim and the Sitojaure cabins on the King's Trail, Pastavagge is an often used route to and from the interior of Sarek. The altitude difference between the eastern entrance of the valley and the highest level of the pass is about 750 metres. This, together with the high-alpine terrain and the multiple fordings required along the way, usually requires hikers to set aside at least a full day for the passage.


The Sami people[edit]

Mount Skierfe (on the right) is a sacred Sami site

The region's first inhabitants arrived with the retreat of the inland seas 8,000 years ago.[78] They were probably the ancestors of the Samis, a nomadic people who lived in Northern Scandinavia.[78] Initially they were hunter-gatherers, living off reindeer in particular.[79] For these people, the mountains often had religious connotations, and several were Sieidi (places of worship).[80] They often made sacrifices (e.g. of antlers) in these places.[80] One of the most important Sieidi was situated at the foot of Mount Skierfe (1,179), at the entrance to the Rapa Valley.[80] The Samis from the whole region converged on this point for ceremonies.[80] Mount Apär was itself considered to be the home of demons and legend tells of an illegitimate child's ghost inside it.[81]

Despite their hunter-gatherer way of life, the Samis kept some domesticated reindeer with them. Among other things, they were used for transport and milk.[66] Towards the end of the 17th century, the number of domesticated reindeer increased, and the Samis began to organise their travelling around the need for reindeer pasture. Little by little, hunting the reindeer gave way to farming them.[66] In the mountains the Samis gradually developed a system of transhumance (movement between fixed summer and winter pastures).[66] In effect they spent their winters in the park's plains, moving up towards the mountains in summer, principally Padjelanta.[82] Sarek was mainly used as a corridor, although certain prairies (Skarja and Peilavalta in particular) were used for pasture.[82] They built some huts (kåta) in the park to use during their long journeys, which could last for several weeks.[83] Little by little, they left the reindeer to graze naturally, and stopped following the herds in the same way.[66]

Sarek and the Swedes[edit]

A Sami home near Pårek (sv)

When the Sami territory was taken over by the Swedish crown, the Sami had to pay the same taxes as the other Swedes.[84] In the 17th century the Sami were evangelized by the Swedes, who often built churches and markets in locations where the Sami typically passed the winter.[84]

The Swedes considered the mountains to be frightening and dangerous so they did not explore them.[85] So, when the first ore deposits were discovered in the region, the Swedes attempted to persuade the Sami to prospect for other ores in the mountains, in particular silver.[86] But in general, the Sami did not dare to reveal information to the Swedes because they did not want to incur the disapproval of their fellow Sami.[86] In effect, such a discovery was likely to mean that the Sami would be forced into near-slavery, working the mines and transporting the minerals.[86] The Alkavare deposit was an exception, revealed by an extremely poor Sami, who then became very badly viewed by his tribe.[86] Anyway, the exploitation of the mine began in 1672, but it was never profitable and was abandoned in 1702.[86] A few people tried to reopen the mine but without success.[86] The ruins of two buildings and a little chapel are visible nearby.[86]

The first Swede to really explore the mountains was Carl von Linné in his Lapland expedition in 1732.[85] Then many years later, in 1870, Gustaf Wilhelm Bucht mapped the region.[87] Shortly after, the Frenchman Charles Rabot became the first man to reach the summit of Sarektjåkkå, in 1881.[87] The 1890s marked the start of systematic scientific expeditions.[88] In particular, Axel Hamberg, who had participated in the expedition to Greenland with Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, began his study of the region in 1895.[88] He studied the park, in particular the glaciers, until his death in 1931.[88] He created a very high quality map and constructed five cabins in the park to help him study it.[88] Axel Hamburg's work was particularly important for widespread public recognition of the park.[88]


The 1872 creation of the world's first national park in Yellowstone[89] started a universal momentum for the protection of nature. In Sweden, the polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld became the first to propose using the new concept to protect Swedish nature.[90] Axel Hamburg, Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld and others grouped together to plead for the creation of the country's first national parks, and in particular Sarek.[90] They convinced the Swedish botanist and MP Karl Starbäck from Uppsala University to raise the question in parliament.[90] The proposition was accepted in May 1909, and the first nine national parks were created.[90] These were actually the first in Europe, not just in Sweden. Among others they included Sarek and its neighbour Stora Sjöfallet.[91] The official reason given for creating the park was to "preserve a high mountain landscape in its natural state".[92]

In the middle of the 20th century, with the massive developments in hydroelectricity in Sweden, the big rivers of the north of the country were frequently dotted with dams.[93] These barrages also reached the national parks; Stora Sjöfallet National Park was cut by nearly a third of its area with the creation of a dam in 1919.[89] But in 1961 an accord was signed called the "Sarek peace" (freden i Sarek), which prevented hydroelectric developments in Sarek and also in certain rivers, called national rivers.[94] It also created Padjelanta National Park.[94]

The borders of the park

In 1982, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) mentioned a vast zone including Sarek National Park in its tentative list of natural sites to be classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.[95] Sweden proposed that part of this zone, the Sjaunja nature reserve, should go onto the list, and in 1990 the IUCN recommended an extension to the proposed area.[95] In 1996, Sarek Park was classed as a World Heritage Site together with the neighbouring areas of Padjelanta, Stora Sjöfallet, Sjaunja and Stubba nature reserves, Muddus National Park and three adjacent zones, making a total of 9,400 km2 (3,600 sq mi). The whole area was added a mixed site (of cultural and natural value) called the Laponian area.[79] The park also became part of the Natura 2000 network.[96] The addition to the World Heritage list allowed the park to have its first protection plan. The plan was written with elaborate consultation with the Sami, who had not been consulted on the creation of the park.[97] The WWF paid for this process.[97]

The 2007 Environmental Protection Agency plan for the national parks includes a plan to expand Sarek to include the missing area of the Laitaure Delta and the Tjuoltadalen Valley to the south of the park.[98] This extension had already been proposed in the 1989 plan, but the situation had changed with the World Heritage designation as the proposed extension would make up a sizable part of the Laponian Region.[98]

History of tourism[edit]

Sarek National Park figures in the Swedish spirit as one of the most beautiful landscapes of their country. The enthusiasm was fired by Axel Hamberg's book on the park, presenting Sarek as the joy of the Swedish Lapland.[99]

The Swedish Tourist Association (STF) was created in 1885. The following year in 1886 they mentioned Sarek as a potential tourist site.[100] However, the number of tourists did not exceed a few dozen.[100] In 1900, the association studied the possibility of creating a big hiking trail crossing the Lapland mountains, between Abisko and Kvikkjokk.[101] The initial proposal passed through the park, with a marked trail, a boat crossing of the Rapaselet and a mountain hut beside the river · .[99][101] The project was abandoned and the STF concentrated mostly on Kebnekaise and Sylarna.[99] The path (Kungsleden) was built, but only touching the park on the eastern extremity.[1]

In 1946, Dag Hammarskjöld popularised the expression "vår sista stora vildmark" (our last great wilderness).[93] Dag Hammarskjöld advocated growing tourism in the park that took care not to damage the environment.[93] Edvin Nilsson's 1970 book on the park improved its reputation, increasing the number of tourists from two or three hundred in the 1960s to 2000 in 1971.[102] This sudden success caused several problems such as the temporary overcrowding of certain paths in the Rapa Valley which were unable to cope as channels for the sudden rush of tourists.[102]

Management and regulation[edit]

The general case[edit]

As for the majority of the Swedish national parks, the management and administration of the park is divided between the Swedish environment protection agency and the county council (Länsstyrelsen).[103] The Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of proposing new national parks in consultation with the county and municipality council. The creation of each new park requires a parliamentary vote.[103] The land is then bought by the state through the intermediary of the Environmental Protection Agency.[103] The rest of the park's management is done by the county council. This is Norrbotten in Sarek's case.

The park rules are relatively strict, to preserve the park in its near-pristine condition. So fishing, hunting, picking and any other activity that could damage the wildlife are all forbidden, with the exception of picking berries and edible mushrooms.[104] Similarly, no motorised vehicles are allowed in the park.[104]

The Sami exception[edit]

A herd of reindeer grazing in the park.

The Sami benefit from several relaxations in the above laws. Since 1977 the Sami people have been recognised by Sweden as an indigenous people and a minority group, which implies that the people and their way of life are protected by law.[105] So the Sami have the right to farm reindeer in the park.[104] Also, because the park is situated on territory belonging to the Sami villages of Sirkas, Jåhkågaskka and Tuorpons, the Sami who are legal residents of those villages are allowed to pasture their reindeer in the park too.[106] In carrying out these activities, the Sami have the right to use motorised vehicles such as snowmobiles or helicopters.[104]

These rights do conflict with the protection of the wildlife. For example, sometimes carnivores attack the Sami reindeer, which led in 2007 to the slaughter of a wolf,[107] a protected species and very endangered in Sweden. Similarly, snowmobile use and grazing cause damage to the park's indigenous vegetation. This shows the importance of including all affected parties while drawing up the protection legislation, including the Sami and the scientists.

Map of reindeer altitudes in the three neighbouring parks.


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  • Abrahamsson, Tore (1993), Bonnier Alba, ed., Detta är Sarek: [vandringar, bestigningar, geologi, fauna, flora] (in Swedish), Stockholm, ISBN 91-34-51134-2 
  • Curry-Lindahl, Kai (1968), Rabén & Sjögren, ed., Sarek, Stora Sjöfallet, Padjelanta: three national parks in Swedish Lapland, Stockholm 
  • Kihlberg, Kurt (1997), Nordkalotten, ed., Laponia : Europas sista vildmark : Lapplands världsarv = Laponia : the last wilderness in Europe : Lapland's World Heritage Site (in English and Swedish), Rosvik, ISBN 91-972178-8-3 

External links[edit]