Off we go, swinging over bogs and lakes, forests and roads. The sun is shining, and we see the shadow of the little white basket we're travelling in gliding across the land. So here we are, in what was commissioned in 1943 as the longest cableway in the world. In those days, ore was transported between the mine in Kristineberg and the smeltery. But these days, we're on a pleasure trip between Örträsk and Mensträsk, or back the other way.
The Second World War resulted in a blockade, and hence fuel and tyre shortages. How was the ore meant to be freighted? It'd take too long to build a railway, and so in the end the authorities decided on build a cableway that ended up being 96 kilometres long.
Snow and ice
It was built during the tough, snowy winter of 1942-43. So start your trip by watching the film about how it was built.
No matter how nice it is to chomp on reindeer meat and potato salad from the picnic you've brought with you and to sit back and enjoy the view, you just can't help but think about the snow, the cold, the roadless terrain. In one year and five days, 515 posts of between 7 and 38 metres high were cast.
2 tonnes of concrete were needed for every metre of post. Okay, now read that sentence again. And then add the hand-mixed stuff. And marvel and be as impressed as I was. How on earth could they do all that, in a part of the country with no roads? The posts were numbered, and that was how the people who had to get the supplies out to the workers knew where to head for. With the food, women cooked the breakfast, dinner and supper, put warm covers around the steaming pots and headed out to the workers on horseback. 1 500 men had to be fed.
Groundbreaking work mustn't die
It seems like groundbreaking work, but the designer of the
cableway had tried building a 42 km long cableway in Köping and
brought with him his experiences of that.
The cableway had been operating round the clock since it opened, but in 1998 the new owners of Boliden that it'd served its purpose. The people of Örträsk had no intention of understanding or accepting this decision. 28 men had kept the cableway in service and fully function, and everyone knew someone who'd told tales of the hard slog and the construction work. Something had to be done. The main supporter of the initiative was music teacher Alve Johansson, who'd been to Australia and seen industrial relics being used with respect and pleasure.
The result of a lot of voluntary work on technology and safety means that we now can travel 13.6 km by cableway over one and a half hours, from Örträsk to Mensträsk. The price includes travel in a four-person cabin, the film (which you absolutely mustn't miss) and a coach back to where you started.
Chamber pot and comms radio
Bosse Biström, who knew a lot of people who built the cableway, and who himself had actually worked
on it throughout his entire adult life, said forcefully:
"We gave it a go because we wanted to honour the men who built the cableway, and we wanted to give our villages a chance to survive.
One part of the battle was to make sure the posts were left in place all the way along - and so they do. They look like sculptures, straight backed and stylist in the landscape. Silent memorials with enormous power.
A foundation owns the cableway these days, and Bosse Biström runs it together with Marie-Louise Eklund. We're booked in, and Bosse and Marie-Louise make sure everyone gets a place in the cabins. Bosse shows us how the communications radio in every cabin works. Marie-Louise shows us the chamber pot beneath the seat. Fully equipped, you might say.
Pike and waterlilies
Both answer questions. This is an exciting experience for adults
and children alike. We head jauntily off, and on the fold-down
table we find a map that points out streams and waterways, where
people lay for hours so that they could cycle and drive a
wheelbarrow, farms and villages. Halfway there, we meet the people
coming back from the other direction. They come closer, and for
every post we pass, the gearwheels go on turning. And there's
someone working on the cableway. But was that a real person? And
there's the sign for the snow scooter track heading for
Glommersträsk. It's the middle of the day, but we still hope to see
an elk. And look! Maybe that's a fox we just caught a glimpse of
there. At one point, I think I can see a pike gliding forwards. And
there! Yellow waterlilies.
And... oh. We're arrived already.
In Örträsk, a film is shown in the old Skrädhuset, and there's an exhibition and a little café with contemporary café furniture. The ore used to be sorted at the Skrädhuset. The repair workshop and old ore baskets are there, too.
Ore was found in Mensträsk on Bäckerudden in 1945. A pit was built here which was 245 metres deep, and galleries were blasted beneath the lake. In the end, water leaked in and made the structure so unsafe that the mine was closed down in 1949. At the old pithead, there's a café called Krogen i Skogen. This is open when the cableway is open, and you can book parties or accommodation here too.