Sverige, del två: Hiking the Bergslagsleden

Del ett: Stockholm…a cobblestone whirlwind, finding my feet in this cosy, multifaceted, vibrant, sparkling city. The middle, I’ll get into here: a foray into the forest in central(ish) Sweden. After that, we go back to the city to continue the outdoor adventuring, which is intertwined in one’s existence here. Friluftsliv.

Sverige, dag två: I meet my Calvin, Swedish interpreter and de facto tour guide, at the family flat in Stockholm, for a week of birthday adventuring in the homeland (my birthday, his homeland). My Swedish is admittedly atrocious (read: nonexistent), so I’m counting on his prowess combined with the 11 or 16 words I’ve managed to string together to get me through these next days. Luckily the trees don’t care much what language you speak, as long as you treat them with respect. And they do here; treat the forests well, I mean.

We are geared up to the brim with equipment and supplies to hike the Bergslagsleden from Kloten to as far as we can get in order to arrive back in Stockholm to celebrate my birthday on Friday.

Our first day, we arrive in Kloten to do some kayaking. It’s windy and a bit overcast, but we try our luck with the kayak place at the beginning of the trail.

The kayaks are nice…ditto, the company and the scenery. The wind, not so much. So we return the kayaks after a couple of hours and decide to begin the hike that afternoon (15:00ish), aiming to reach the first camp shelter, 11km in, by sundown. [For the record, I’m glad we decided against the kayak-camping option…]

And they’re off… It’s ambitious, our goal, but we lace up the boots, pile on the packs (on the order of 15 kilos each), and set off. Adventure points* earned for both the kayaking and the strong start!

By km 7, though, we’re tired from the drive, the kayaking, and the hike thus far. We’re hungry, and I’m feeling the jetlag. So we begin to look for a place to pitch the tent when we stumble upon a stuga along a little stream.

Åbostugan, it’s called: a semi-restored stone cabin built into the hillside (green roof and all!). The Bergslagsleden info sheet tells us that the name of the stream is Sandån, and the stuga was the type of house in which the area’s (very) poor lived…they’d harvest the reeds around the pond for food for the animal(s), and even bring the cow or goat inside in wintertime! The cabin is about 4 metres x 5, with a dirt floor, fire pit, sleeping platform, and table for eating.

We’re fully-content with our lodgings for the evening, but considering the (not-so) posh accommodations, we wonder where we’d put our cow.

We’ve logged 8km this afternoon and dinner is well-deserved and a little indulgent (and quite international): home-made knäckebröd with olives and sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted veggie masala and rice, Moroccan mint green tea and dark chocolate peanut butter cups for dessert. We toast to a pretty excellent start to our adventure, climb into warm sleeping bags, and consider ourselves lucky to be able to do this as lifestyle, not life.

The Bergslagsleden is broken down into stages. Stage 1 is 20km; Stage 2 is 17…and so on. We’re shooting to do a couple of stages, then double back to the car or figure out another way to get from Point B back to Point A, in Kloten. The Swedes are nothing if not orderly. So their maps indicate where to find clean drinking water, camp shelters, good places to pitch a tent, trail highlights, etc.

We wake up on Day 2 to that fine mist-type rain that soaks you to the core in minutes. We cook a trail brekkie fit for royalty (food dehydrator for the win!), re-pack our packs, thank the gods of Gore-Tex, pile on the layers, and begin the day. We’re shooting to finish Stage 1 and make some headway on Stage 2 today. There’s an established camp and conference center at the end of the Stage, so this should be a good place to rest for lunch and assess the rest of the journey.

By the time we reach Gillersklack, and the end of the stage, we’ve renamed the Bergslagsleden to the Bog Slog (laden). Intermittent rain has turned the lovely blue- and lingonberry-lined trail into a muddy skating rink. I deftly demonstrate how gravity works by sliding off a wooden plank (perhaps ironically placed to provide safe passage across a boggy patch) and onto the mossy forest floor. I briefly contemplate staying there for the evening but hoist my ego (and my heavy pack) upwards and onwards, for it’s the ego that’s bruised far worse than my arse. Fall #2 is my knee vs. a boulder: as they say, that one’s going to leave a mark!

We’ve hiked roughly 12km to Gillersklack in unfriendly conditions (but at least it’s stopped raining) and we’re now fantasizing about the sauna we’ll take when we arrive at the camp (this is Sweden, after all). And we do. Arrive, that is. What isn’t there is the camp. Its season has ended, quite literally; the owners have gone bust. So what greets us at the end of Stage 1 is 3 guys looking for a real estate deal.

The wind is still blowing, but at least the sun is out by this time… We resist the urge to accept a ride into town from the real estate guys, so we make a late-ish lunch at one of the defunct camp’s tables, take a much-needed siesta to dry out a bit, and after some grumbling we’re ready to roll again. Though it’s again late in the day, the goal before dusk is to find the first shelter in Stage 2.

The good news is that we’re rested and well-fed. The bad news is that my knee hurts, C’s feet are soaking wet, we’ve overshot the trail and have to ask a local for directions (he turns out to be a chatty Danish guy who runs a Spiritual Center in the nameless place we’ve wandered into by accident). Dusk is drawing near, but luckily after our long slog we find the camping shelter…just as the sun is setting.

Neither of us is in the mood to make dinner, rehydrated or otherwise. I coerce a grumbly tentmate to make a fire, hoping to fix the day’s shortcomings with s’mores, that weird and much-too-sweet American delicacy he’s never tasted. I’ve not made them since my Camp Waziyatah days, but this is one recipe you can hardly muck up. The combination of toasted marshmallows and chocolate does somehow make up for the soggy, boggy day, and smiles return to the forest. We fall asleep in the Olovsjön shelter, stora Björnen dancing over our heads. The day’s tally: 23km. I’m awarding 10 adventure points. Sleep: well-earned.

We wake up the next day with a plan: the weather has made the trails less than fun. We’ll hike to Kopparberg (8km or so), get a bus or taxi back up to Kloten, go touring in the Swedish countryside where C grew up, crash in a real bed, and hike in that area the next day.

Reality: Hatched plans don’t often take into consideration the what-ifs. Like, what if no buses run between Kopparberg and Kloten? What if the taxi company doesn’t answer the phone? What if we have to make camp that night beneath the Kopparberg Midsummer pole then hike back up to Kloten the way we came?

Kopparberg

Because of a little thing C calls trail magic, that last what-if didn’t turn into a when. For the record, the Kopparberg bus schedule is, erm, limited. And the taxi company is unreliable. But as C finally gets the taxi guy on the phone, a fairy godmother, in the form of a kind older woman, appears and volunteers (literally out of the blue) to drive us the 20km back up to Kloten. Trail magic indeed. Score: Soggy, boggy hikers – 0; Bergslagsleden – 1. Our elder savior lady gets the adventure points for the day. And the Belgian pralines C had brought me as a birthday treat. And a story to tell her grandkids.

A hot shower and clean sheets never felt so good. In fact, waking up on the right side of a real bed helped the weary wanderers manage 17km in the Swedish countryside, including a foray to forage kantareller for dinner!

Aside: Sweden has a law called Allemannsretten or freedom to roam. Essentially, anyone has a right to walk, hike, bike, ride horseback, pitch a tent overnight, and pick berries or mushrooms when and where they find them (all within the guidelines). It’s a law based on mutual respect of people, their property, and the environment. Instead of No Trespassing signs, it’s closer to, “Hello neighbour, I hope you have a nice time in the outdoors today. Would you care for a snack? Have a nice day.”

I’m liking the Swedish way of life more and more.

…to be continued, back in Stockholm!


*Adventure points: a system we devised a couple of years ago to reward our adventursome efforts in Sardinia. The concept stuck.

[Sverige, del ett: Stockholm…Part I]

Hiking and Peeping New Hampshire

I’ve spent the last week as tourist in New England. As the carpet of nearing-peak fall colour unfurls in the White Mountains’ valleys, this week I relinquish thoughts that one must go far and wide to properly travel. It’s like touristing in my backyard: open-eyed, wondrous and ready for whatever nature (and New Hampshire) has in store…

Fall cooperates fully, with seasonably-warm days and threats of hurricane and cool, wet weather all but an afterthought. Nature’s annual fireworks show begins in earnest on the drive along New Hampshire’s scenic Kancamagus Highway, as we stop intermittently (as one does) for photo opps with nature.

My friend has arrived from Europe to tick off an item on his bucket list: fall hiking on the Appalachian Trail. First stop, the Twinway Trail via the Zealand Trail and the AMC’s Zealand Falls hutDSC_2146Views from the lookout over Whitewall Brook towards Whitewall Mountain are nothing short of show-stopping (Mt. Washington making a cameo appearance in the far background, over my shoulder…actually I don’t think it even snuck into this picture), and we realise this is just the hors d’oeuvres for our big hike tomorrow: the Franconia Ridge. Looking out over these purple (green, red and orange) mountain majesties, it’s no wonder my hiking partner keeps breaking into assorted patriotic tunes as background music to the rhythmic sound of boots on rock (and f-bombs exclaiming the occasional mis-step). The only irony is that he hails from some distance across the pond.

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Franconia Ridge: I’ve done this hike before, but not in something on the order of 15 years. It’s a rocky, bouldery, scraggly above treeline hike that’s accessed by the sweet-sounding Falling Waters Trail. I say sweet because for all its scenic splendor, the trail traverses active waterfalls and ascends a steep and treacherous boulder-laden trail that teases you at every corner (“we’re almost at treeline…really…just 1km to go…hehehe”). So just when your quads are screaming, “uncle” and you’ve gotten one foot stuck beneath the other in a bit of rock (and just by telling said hiking partner, will never live that admission down) there’s just a little bit more to climb.

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The above-treeline views are more the reward than are the (now-squashed) sandwiches we’ve packed for lunch. But our revelry is short-lived because the fog rolls in and its little cat feet kick our butts into gear to move along the trail, bagging Little Haystack (4760ft), Mt. Lincoln (5089ft) and Mt. Lafayette (5260ft) in the process. There’s something deeply satisfying about both checking 4000-footers off a “did that” list and feeling that you did that with your own steam. Yay, us!

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DSC_2223As if the descent might be easier than the ascent… We descend with the hope that the wisps of cloud and fog don’t follow us back into the trees and morph into forest trolls. Quads steeled for the endeavour, we march onward, downward and into the forest via the AMC Greenleaf Hut and the Greenleaf Trail. It’s all downhill from here, though this particular downhill section also includes its gauntlet of slick granite and really gnarly boulderized and rooty outcroppings. Proceeding with caution and a smattering of hummed ballads (and Queen songs), we land back at the car feeling that way you do when you’ve used the human machine as intended.

Our third day of hiking was the much more relaxing, yet only slightly less bouldery, Arethusa Falls trail to Frankenstein Cliff. As if the highest/biggest/best views thing could be outdone with each subsequent day, it delivered as promised: tallest waterfall in New Hampshire, jaw-dropping views from the cliff and an opportunity to walk along the tallest railway trestle in NH. By suggestion, I’m bringing back the term “neat-o!”

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Leaf-peeping in New England is somewhat a sport, with prognosticators forecasting the best weeks to catch peak foliage months in advance. Reality dictates that you get what you get, though we’re more than giddy to have caught New Hampshire on a good week, the right side of peak.

Another thing you don’t much do when you’re home: hire a guide. So in the tourist spirit, we hired a climbing instructor for the day from IME (best climbing store in the region), and set off to scale some rock and help me surmount a dread-fear of multi-pitch climbs.

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And so, looking from the top of the first climb, seeing Mt. Washington and the butt-crack of Huntington Ravine, I felt small but strong; held firmly by my faithful belayer and the trusty ropes and harness. The 2nd pitch was not nearly as daunting as expected (though the bruises on my legs from gripping razor-sharp rock may tell a different tale), and from something on the order of 100 feet from where my feet left the ground, the views and the feeling of being simultaneously surrounded by and part of nature were something there are not words in the English language to describe.

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While my version of travelling has little to do with seeing crowded attractions or doing the mainstream, we surely partook in our share of cider donuts (a seasonal New England delicacy), wandered in and out of gift shops and even contemplated taking the Cog Railway up Mt. Washington before nixing that idea in favor of a day of climbing across the way. Another hike to add to the next NH Adventure itinerary, I reckon…

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The ride home had us detour through Ogunquit, ME for lobsters at Barnacle Billy’s (because you have to!) and some outlet shopping in Kittery to dodge the inevitable raindrops. A good time was had by all as they say… And so the week ends with a local afternoon of people-watching in Salem as the witch-crazy flock here from all ends of the earth for their annual pilgrimage.

Next adventure will hopefully take me out of New England, but as adventures in one’s backyard – and adventures in general – go, it was pretty great.