“No , no this is not gonna work, the water is going above my hip and the current pulls my legs to the side, I am coming back,” I screamed to Rickard who was waiting at the side of the ice cold river. We couldn’t make it, again. This was only one of the experience which really got my heart beat up while we went hiking in the North of Sweden in the Sarek National Park.
Two years ago we went for the first time for ‘proper’ hiking up North in Sweden in the Padjelanta National Park. 160km in approx. 12 days. I never thought I am a hiking person . In fact, when I was younger I always thought hiking is boring, exhausting and simply not my thing. Well, I was wrong. When we decided to go for the first time two years ago I was skeptical but open minded. We got really, really good hiking gear, we did thorough planning and spend a lot of thought on what will be too much and what not. To summarize it ; I had an awesome time. The combination of walking, experiencing the nature and the rewarding views after climbing a peak and the break of everyday life was just great. However, that trip was the whole way through on trails, path and in between there were huts maintained by Sami people ( the native Swedish people) who sold food and had emergency phones. So overall it felt pretty safe even though we were in the middle of no where.
One year ago we did a smaller trip at the border to Norway. It was really nice, the nature was beautiful but it was super easy terrain and almost through the whole time we had cellphone reception which we did not have the year before. It gives you a whole different feeling if you simply don’t have the possibility to call someone, check facebook or your emails. It feels at first odd and then simply very very free.
After the two hiking experiences we thought we are up for a bigger challenge. We went for Sarek National Park. It is a neighboring park of Padjelanta but much more demanding, more difficult terrain and no roads, paths or huts are existent. The homepage of Sarek actually states: “
“I want to go hiking in Sarek”, you say. We, the administrators of the national park, hope you know what this involves.
Sarek is a magnificent untouched alpine area with sharp peaks and glaciers. Between the mountain massifs there is a network of deeply cut valleys with swift streams.In other words, the terrain is physically demanding for the would-be hiker.
Sarek is a wilderness without roads. The central sections of the national park are many kilometers from inhabited areas. There are no touristic facilities established, no trails or cabins here. The hiker is in serious trouble if a major accident occurs.
We want to warn you for hiking in Sarek if you are inexperienced. You should always have successfully accomplished a fair number of mountain expeditions before you set your sights to Sarek. “
Yes, I know, sounds hard doesn’t it ? We decided to go for it anyway. 13 days of actual hiking , approx. 125 km, Rickard carried 27 kg in his backpack and I had approx. 18kg. Out of that 14 kg were food. The rest was tent, clothes, stove, rain ponchos, knifes, hygienic utensils and other handy things. We had a paper map and also a phone with the maps and GPS. We had a little solar panel which we strapped on the backpack while walking to be able to recharge the phone in the evening. Also, we actually invested quite some money into an emergency device. You press a button in a case of emergency and it sends a satellite signal to the rescue station of the country you are in, and they will send a helicopter to pick you up. Luckily we did not need it, however, it was a good feeling to have it.
To be perfectly honest, we underestimated the challenge a bit. We were aware that this will be harder than anything we have done before, however, we didn’t think it will be that hard. We planned a pretty detailed route and time table, after two days we started to doubt if we would make it in the time frame we had thought of…….. What we simply underestimated was how incredibly slow you walk in that difficult terrain ! For example sometimes the amount of kilometers we wanted to go on one day weren’t really much , like 9km. BUT our average speed was often somewhere around 1,5km/h. Crazy huh? We often thought “maaaannn if we would walk that in the city it would be done in 2 hours and now this takes 6 hours instead.
So after 3 days we sat down considering changing the route completely and hike over to Padjelanta, where we had done the trip two years ago, and take the same route again. We discussed it thoroughly and came to the conclusion that would feel like giving up. Sarek would have defeated us after three days. That simply did not go well together with our egos 😉 So what we in the end did was we re-planned the route to (at least we thought that…..) make the route shorter. Still, we were afraid we would not make it back in time for the train which we had booked and paid a lot of money for. So we started to have hard days, and with hard days I mean 12 hour days. Yes we had breaks but still we would arrive in the evening at the next tent spot as late as 23.30 pm. After eating dinner around 12.00 am we finally were in bed and sometimes one of us would say through a yawn “should we play some cards or something?” The usual answer was hmm…meh…… and a few minutes later we would sleep. There was just no energy left. It was truly pushing the limits but at the same time we got rewarded by
the amazing landscapes and views when we once again climbed a mountain or made our way down into valley.
After some days even though it was hard we started to get the hang of what kind of terrains where to be expected and how to treat them differently. We developed favorites and most hated terrains; conveniently enough Rickard and I had quite the different opinion on which one are the hardest, so when one of us had a hard time the other one could motivate. The terrains I disliked the most where steep downhills with head-high bushes and streams in between which you would often only notice when you stepped/fell into them . My second most disliked terrain was very hard uphills where I sometimes would simply either reach the limits of my energy or my calves would burn so much that I just had to stop. Rickard’s most disliked terrains where when we had to walk over rocks and stones over long distances, a few valleys we had to climb down or up would really only consist of huge boulders and small stones which could be quite annoying . His second most disliked thing was crossing rivers. Rickard being not the biggest fan of water and being slightly sensitive to coldness, I mostly took over the motivational part when river crossing was on the schedule.
We had to cross quite the number of rivers , most of them originating from glaziers and therefore being really cold and often quite strong. Rickard has hiking rubber boots which got him through less deep waters and even if the water was too deep for them , they would dry quite quickly. I , however, have normal hiking boots so I did the river crossings in Crocs. Yes Crocs. Even though I am not very sensitive to cold water, sometimes the water was so cold it really took my breath away. Crossing a river is never a fast thing to do as one has to consider that it potentially could be a dangerous thing to do. We always had to test the water first, how deep it is, how strong the current is and if the riverbed is either made out of stone or mud. The probably biggest challenge we encountered while hiking was actually related to a river crossing.
We had planned to cross a bigger river in the beginning of a famous valley called Rapadalen. While walking down a mountain towards the valley we could already see that we might have underestimated how big the river is. When we arrived at the river our doubts got confirmed. We faced a big river with a strong current. Even though almost knowing that we won’t be able to cross at that point we tried and failed. Too deep, to strong, too muddy. So we kept on walking along the river and tried several times, and failed. We failed crossing it for almost 2 days and in the end we had to make an ~18 km detour. On top of the frustration about all the failed crossing attempts, we had to deal with bushy and muddy terrain along a mountain side the whole time. It was really hard to keep up the good spirits. After almost 2 days we finally found a spot where we hoped we would make it, even tough it was still pretty deep and strong. You are actually never supposed to cross rivers where the water level rises above your knee as it can be very dangerous in case you fall and the current pulls you under the water or else. We decided we will max. go to our hips. In only underwear and Crocs , holding hands with Rickard (which you are actually not supposed to do either as one falls, the other one might fall too- but in our case having found only one good walking stick which Rickard was holding in his other hand , we had no other chance). We took it slow and careful and stabilized properly after each step. The water rose just above my hip and was freezing when we reached the middle but then we were simply not willing to fail again. AND WE DID IT !!! When we finally reached the other side we started screaming and dancing on our numb feet and laughing like hysterical people. It was such a strong feeling of achievement, I felt more achieved than when I got my Bachelors degree in June 😛
The whole time while hiking we saw 42 people. 13 in first two days , then we didn’t see a single soul for 7 days, and then towards the end getting closer to the border of the park we saw the remaining 29 people. It felt quite odd not seeing anyone for a whole week but it also felt really free and refreshing. We met many reindeer which actually helped us quite a bit since they often created little trails to walk on in difficult terrains. We did not see any moose. Again. I live over three years in Sweden and still have not seen a single one !
After the first 9 days and the successful river crossing the terrain started to be a bit easier and we noticed that we actually have more time left than we thought, which took away the pressure a lot. We finally had time to actually enjoy the time in the tent as well , playing cards and word games, watching movies on Rickard’s phone which was an absolute highlight on some evenings 😛 and simply laying around and being a little lazy. We were very lucky with the weather apart from the last days when it rained fairly often and even stormed in some nights. One night the wind and rain was so strong
we were truly concerned that the tent is going to break. And it got cold in the night, really cold. When one believes the weather forecast, it was 1 to 5 degrees in the night. Thankfully we have great sleeping bags and well isolated mattress against the coldness in the ground. One thing, apart from being cold, which I really can’t stand is having wet pants from the rain. I can deal with wet hair, arms, upper body, even feet but when my pants get wet and stick to my body and the cold wind blows, yea it’s just not fun. Once we tried to make a fire to dry some of our stuff , when Rickard finally (and believe me it took time…. :P) got a fire started, it started to rain. When he finally almost succeed again it was so late that we had to go to bed as we couldn’t stay up all night watching the fire because we had to start early the next morning.
We did quite the spot-on planning with food. As I said, we brought 14 kilos of food. Sounds much doesnt it ? It actually wasn’t. We usually had a small breakfast, a full meal for lunch and a fairly small dinner again and in between some snacks for keeping up the energy , like nuts and dried fruits. The snacks ran out fairly fast but the other food was well planned, we got back with one pack of chewing gum and one instant coffee. 🙂 Surprisingly enough (as I usually have bad luck) none of us got really hurt apart from the normal events of back and foot pain. I fell a few times but never hurt myself badly. Rickard got a bad blister which we had to take care of several times a day but apart from that nothing really happened.
On day 6 our camera rolled into a river. Bugger. But at least we have images for the first half and the insurance will cover it. So we decided that we wont get too upset over it. We got quite a few very nice shots as you can see (by the way, you can click all of the small images to watch them bigger) 🙂
In the end we managed to be back 1/2 a day early. We had booked a bus which would pick us up the next day at 14.00 pm. We didn’t note down any other bus times and we obviously couln’t check them online as we still had no cellphone reception. Rickard faintly remembered that there were two busses a day, and one other might ( !) be around 10.00 am . We took the chance and the next morning we packed up and went at 9.30 am to the stop. At 09.40 it started to rain a little. By 9.50 the rain was pouring down. We have two rain ponchos , we used one to cover the bags and the other one to cover ourselves. We sat on a rock cramped up under that poncho and waited. Waiting for something, freezing in heavy rain, which you are not sure if it will actually arrive is tough. At 10.15 our feet had fallen asleep and our good spirits where gone. What if we would have to go through this til 14.00 pm…
Suddenly Rickard screamed: ” the bus, the buuuuuusssss!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And we jumped out of our rain poncho screaming and waving through the rain. Rickard who had not considered that his whole left leg fell asleep completely, jumped from the rock, almost fell, lost his shoe with a face of extreme confusion until he noticed he can’t really feel his leg. I bet it was a funny scene to watch for the bus driver. When the bus door opened we must have looked truly pity worthy. Wet to the bone , jumping and trying to get back the feeling in our feet and legs again , pleading the bus driver to take us in even though our ticket were for the later bus. We were welcome to board. I had never been as happy to be in a bus as I have been that day. 🙂
On the way back in the train we had our private sleeping cabin (on the way up we had a shared one) which was really luxurious after having slept in a tent for two weeks. 23 hours train ride was suddenly not really a bad thing any more. Coming back from hiking having a bed, different kinds of food, a proper bathroom, internet and cellphone reception again seemed enormously great. You really get to appreciate the ‘normal’ things again when you have been out in the wilderness for a certain amount of time !
After finishing the hike we talked about if we would have done it , if we would have known before how hard it would be. We came to the conclusion that we are incredibly happy and proud that we have done it but probably would have planned an easier route and not cross the whole park. It was one of the most physically demanding things I have done in my life so far and I am extremely proud that we after all managed so well. I’d say we are a good team in mastering adventures 🙂 Sarek was demanding and hard but at the same time incredibly beautiful and rewarding .
Now being back home my Master Studies at Lund University have started and I am most of the times bend over some books as the reading work load is ,well, challenging. So far I really like it and am pretty optimistic about the upcoming two years. In one year I will do an internship again as a part of my studies and at the latest then a new adventure is on the schedule 🙂 I would love to go into the Middle Eastern Region again, I have some ideas but no concrete plans yet, we will see 🙂 I am also sure that I will run into some other adventures before that, and then I will of course write about it here and you will hopefully enjoy reading it 🙂