Reindeer, Mountain Char & Super Noodles: ‘Gröna Bandet’ Stage 2

High summer days

 Mark Waring continues his 1,000 miles on foot across Sweden

The small village of Duved nestles amidst the mountains of Jämtland, in the summer it’s quiet as any ‘out-of-season’ ski resort. A few shops and bars lie below ski runs and lifts, with a sense of everything waiting for the return of snow. For me, it’s my first ‘town stop’. A chance for a ‘rest day’, an opportunity to eat properly, wash clothes and, importantly, to resupply for the next leg of my journey, another ten days through Sweden’s forests and mountains.

‘Rest day’ – to be honest that’s a misnomer. Every single ‘rest day’ is a round of chores. Wash clothes, dry clothes, sort through pack, sort through supply box. Get everything out and scatter it around me. Then pack everything in the right place. Check the maps and familiarise myself with my route for the next ten days. Tidy apartment/room/hut (depending on where I was). Throw mass of rubbish away. Remember to cook and eat. Search shops for fuel. Eat again! Try and get to bed at a reasonable time!

Despite this short break, my second stage came as a shock. The route was tougher than my first stage, a mix of remote forest trails and backcountry roads, real toil as I got down to the serious business of making my way north. My route choice through the province of Jämtland skirted huge lakes and cut through low fells and forest. After the indulgence of a weekend of a little too much food and beer in town, I suffered. Not only from over-consumption but initial days of long hard marches on backcountry roads. The monotony of ‘foot strike’ fostered tenderness in my right ankle that never quite shifted.  No refuge in camp either, now came nights in crowded forest or by glassy lakes, often looking for the firmest pitch on wet and marshy ground. It was mid July and the peak of the mosquito lifecycle. My arms began to swell with bites and I had the opportunity to reflect on the length of what lay ahead of me as I trudged long forestry roads in hot sun, highlights limited to breaks in the tree line with a momentary respite from tedium. Here was the shift from a simple holiday hike to something more serious. I realised I had a long way to go and that some days were going to be plain hard.

Stage 2 - Hard grind on roads

Stage 2 – Hard grind on roads

But there were surprises too, keeping things interesting. Three days into this second stage and I suffered a bout of sickness, an unsettled stomach combined with a long hot day of walking a rough road in thick forest. By five that evening I’ve had enough, my plan is to head off the road and to look for a camp around Lake Bergsjön. This lake is sizable at several kilometres wide but an initial inspection of its shoreline doesn’t throw up many options to pitch the tent. Passing two parked cars on a rough track, I eventually find a decent pitch on a small head. It’s dry but comfortable, carpeted in thick moss. I squeeze the tent into a small hollow, to offer some shelter from a rising wind. For the first time in days there’s rain, with squally showers as I pitch.

Pitching the tent

Pitching the tent

As I sort things, I notice a boat coming towards my camp. In the middle of the lake is a small island with a modest cabin. A small dinghy with four men heads in my direction. At first I choose to ignore it but it’s soon obvious that they are after me. Soon their faces are discernible. Grim faced, they don’t return the cheerful wave I make.

Now Swedish law permits me to walk and camp where I like (with the exception of the immediate curtilage of private property). I still feel a little nervous as they land a few hundred metres away from my camp and move towards me with purpose, their intent on confrontation clear. ‘Jag tältar’ I nervously call out in Swedish. I start to explain myself as the oldest man, in his sixties but clearly fit from an outdoor life, comes towards me. As soon as I explain that I am English and walking ‘fjällkedjan’ the atmosphere immediately lifts. He breaks into a smile and shakes my hand vigorously, telling me in English that I am welcome here. The three young men behind me break into smiles too and relax their stances. He explains he owns the fishing rights to the lakes and there is a problem with poaching. It’s rich in mountain char and it entices illegal fishing, particularly from over the border. He invites me, indeed, to fish if I am hungry. He even starts asking if I have enough food, offering to get some from the cabin and bring it over. I start to relax and even enjoy our conversation as he asks me to explain my route to Gäddede.
As their boat heads back towards the island the lake grows quiet again. I enjoy this camp, much more pleasant than the last two nights. The breeze keeps the insects away and the lake has a quiet beauty. Surrounded by low fells topped in cloud, there are several small wooded islands strewn across it. I sit by the lake and drink tea, lost in the sound of small waves lapping the shore.

Stage 2 - Still lakes

Stage 2 – Still lakes

The second stage throws up some real treats, not least crossing the quiet fells of Northern Jämtland, way off the normal hiker’s path. A lesson in tramping off-trail through forests – never take your eye off the compass as disorientation can follow in a second, learnt at the cost of a few nervous hours. I glimpsed also into the way of life of remote wilderness communities. Not only Sámi but ‘Swedes’ practising agriculture and animal husbandry at the limits of fertility, battling short growing seasons and pasture that must constantly be wrestled from mire and bush.

Reindeer graze in the cool of the night

Reindeer graze in the cool of the night

Reindeer husbandry was never far away. On the fells small Sámi huts, aids to winter grazing; below permanent Sámi communities, modern housing next to corrals and pens. The Sámi have a deep relationship with reindeer, wealth yes but also a statement of who they are. Looking for the trail up into the hills of Oldflån, I decided to stop at a neat house, sweet smelling birch smoke rising from a chimney on a wet summer’s morning. I knocked on the door for directions. A gentle Sámi family welcomed me in and showed me the motherless reindeer calf they were nursing. It was hard to leave the human warmth of their home but out into the rain again I must go, the schedule demanded that.

Reindeer dart back and forth

Reindeer dart back and forth

In the main I was blessed by the weather but the end of my second stage saw days of precipitation as I followed the high fell border line with Norway before descending to my second town stop at Gäddede. In contrast Stage 3 was characterised by intense heat. With now around 300 miles in the bag I was ‘walked in’ but the heat made labour as I crossed into southern Lapland. My tastes for food began to change with the weather. Normally a prodigious tea drinker I craved salty soups mixed with ‘super noodles’ instead.  They were prepared and eaten with relish as I enjoyed camps on bright fells, living and walking in constant sunlight.

Norwegian fells as I run parellel to the border

Norwegian fells as I run parellel to the border

But whilst the heat added challenge, there was much to enjoy on this third tranche as I headed to the Lapland town of Hemavan.  Stage 3 was pure mountain, wide open fell all the way, across country I’ve never even contemplated travelling in before. This is deep country, little visited despite the good trails and the odd huts. I have whole days to myself with no other hikers around. Human contact comes only with passing through a Sámi settlement. One morning  though I pause by a river for ‘lunch’ of a few pieces of broken crispbread. A dog sidles up quietly and before long I am enjoying a chat with a pleasant Swedish couple who have parked the car on the border highway a few kilometres below and wandered up into the hills. We chat, he asks me if I’ve been fishing my way across the fells. To the man’s feigned incredulity I reply that I haven’t been fishing. He tells me with a glint in his eye that the mountain char literally throw themselves out of the water at passing fishermen. I’ve clearly missed something!

Warm days on Stage 3

Warm days on Stage 3

Food often occupied my thoughts but I was never hungry out walking. Noting the requirements of the Gröna Bandet that the walker was to aim for self sufficiency, I sent five supply boxes out from England to my rest stops. Each box had everything I need for the next stage, typically ten days, excepting fuel. This worked well, I set off on a new stage with exactly what I wanted and needed from enough of my favourite tea to muesli bars. My evening meal was important, enough calories required of course to fuel my walking but also food to enjoy whilst I sat and marvelled at my surroundings. Over the years I have become adept at preparing food at home and ‘dehydrating it’ using a home food dryer. A simple process that blows the water out of food with a stream of hot air thus preserving the food for quite an extended period. Vacuum seal it at home and you’ve got home-made trekking food at a fraction of the price of what’s available in the shops.

Simple hut on Stage 3

Simple hut on Stage 3

Inside a simple hut on Stage 3

Inside a simple hut on Stage 3

That said the promise of a proper meal when I completed a stage was much anticipated. I had time to think about food on my penultimate day of stage 3. After almost ten days of pure mountain I have to head hard east, away from the Norwegian border, to put myself nearer my third rest stage. Hemavan is a significant point, it’s half way for me and the start of the Kungsleden. Sweden’s most famous trail is not my route though, I’ve an eye on some wild remote country that cuts through some seldom visited landscapes. Before that, the final stretch of road walking however as I leave the soft trails of the hills and onto the cross border highway that leads some 30 km to Tarnaby. The last significant road walking of the trip, I keep reminding myself as I put my head down and pick up my stride. Rain bounces off the road as I begin to march. Head down and ignore the aggravation in my right foot, I’m almost half way, I think to myself.

  1. Champs
    December 20, 2016 at 12:40 am

    Very well done on setting such a challenge. Interested in the huts along the way as I am a member of the Mountain Bothies Association and regularly use the bothies around the Cairngorms. Always carry a small recon tent in case but seldom need to use it. Look after the ankle and don’t let it develop into an injury for later in the trek. Plenty of cold water immersion for the limb. Hard surfaces have to be coped with but are no fun. Very best wishes for the remainder of your venture.
    All good wishes,
    Champs.

  2. Mark
    January 18, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Thanks for your message Camps. I made it through to the end ok, albeit the ankle nagged to the end. Back snowshoeing on part of my route next month. Mark

  3. April 18, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Great article! I might try doing that someday and I’ll be take some notes from this post.

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