HIKING

TREKKING FJALLRAVEN CLASSIC IN THE SWEDISH ARCTIC

After a second attempt we returned to our tents defeated. The 3kg satellite receiver had failed to connect to the world wide web and we were officially in the wilderness. I actually thought that was pretty cool, the wilderness part I mean. I grew up on the south coast of England; wilderness wasn’t something I was familiar with. The malfunctioning satellite receiver, on the other hand, was immensely frustrating. I’d already lugged it around on my backpack for the past two days, over a distance of 50km. I would be forced to continue lugging it around for another two days and a further 60km.

To say I was pissed off was an understatement. I’d not wanted to bring it, or my computer and spare batteries. But Joel, my manager at Fjällräven, had insisted that ‘we’ (meaning me!) try and blog from the trail. People would be interested in following us live, he said. I was doubtful. And now I was just plain angry.

Adding insult to injury, we were having to walk at a faster pace than I liked owing to the fact he’d booked his flight back from Kiruna a day before mine. So we had to trek at his pace. All very well for him. He wasn’t carrying 25kgs for 110km.

A ‘perk’ (I could argue it wasn’t as perky for me as it was for some of my colleagues who didn’t have to write a blog post after trekking 25km+ each day) of working at Fjällräven was that we were encouraged to take part, without personal cost, in Fjällräven Classic Sweden.

The event has been running annually since 2005 and it’s Fjällräven’s most prominent and effective way of getting more people to experience Swedish nature. I’m not actually a fan of trekking in a group. When I go hiking I prefer to be alone – it’s a personal experience. But I couldn’t really say no to the event and, after all, it was a free week out of the office. Anything is better than sitting eight hours a day in front of a computer in a business park on the outskirts of Stockholm.

The event itself is a 110km-long trek from Nikkaluokta to Abisko in the Swedish Arctic, following part of The King’s Trail (Kungsleden). The stunning, sweeping, epic countryside rolls on and on as if forever. And thanks to a generous right to roam law in Sweden, you can pitch your tent virtually anywhere, so you can walk Fjällräven Classic at your own pace, making the most of the long late-summer days and broad expanses of flat, open plains fringed by mountains smoothed and rounded by glaciers, like pebbles in a stream.

The path follows the king’s trail through stunning countryside that rolls on and on as if forever.

Despite my backpack being unnecessarily heavy thanks to the satellite transceiver and laptop, and regardless of the drizzle and low cloud, I enjoyed my first free-camping trekking experience. Freedom comes at a weighty cost – literally – but for that heavy price you get to wake to landscapes untouched by human habitation. You get to stop and set up your camp in your Goldilocks spot – wherever that may be. You can get up to pee in the middle of the night – midnight sun or not – and not risk getting caught with your pants down. And of course, you don’t need to share a stinking dorm room with snoring randoms.

Day one was mostly flat; the weather was warm and sunny. It was a suns out guns out kind of day. We walked from Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise mountain lodge. This part of the route is well trekked, for good reason. It takes you to the base of Sweden’s highest mountain and passed beautiful lake Ladtojaure with a backdrop of a giant halfpipe between two ice-age-sculptured mountains – spectacular is an understatement.

Day two was green. That’s how I remember it. Green as far as the eye could see. The mountains were like giant mole hills, topped with roaming reindeer.

Day three was long, but the scenery was more varied and the weather changed dramatically from damp and bleak before the Tjäktja Pass to bright, dry and cool after it. We made it to Alesjaure, a stunning lake that reflected the surrounding mountains at sunset in what looked like a pool of runny honey.

Day was even longer. And wetter. And rockier. Not really my idea of fun. We walked for more than 35km at a pace that was too speedy for my heavy backpack and tired legs. We continued walking into the night as the rain began, first as a light mist then as a torrential downpour.

As we crossed the finish line, soaked to our underwear, at 11.45pm on day four, we were greeted by the rhythmic pulse of clapping hands, as a sprinkling of volunteers welcomed us into Abisko. I felt proud, but too exhausted to really understand what we’d achieved.

A minute later a colleague ran up to me, gave me a hug and told me I had a bed in their room and didn’t need to pitch my tent in the rain for a final soggy night under canvas. I could’ve kissed her!

Finishing, showering in warm water followed by a cold beer and a comfortable bed was blissful but somewhat anticlimactic.

It wasn’t until the next day, clean, rested and with friends and colleagues that I was able to relax, take it all in and reflect on the wild beauty that I’d been honoured to pass through.

I still prefer trekking alone. I like my own space. I enjoy walking with my own thoughts. And I’m not afraid to admit I like the little luxuries you get in a hut, like washing my hands and brushing my teeth in a sink and having a toilet that flushes and doesn’t stink. A bed is also a wonderful, wonderful invention. But this isn’t the last camping trek I’ll be doing. I just need to do it on my terms next time. And without a shit-load of blogging equipment.