I had been selected to take part in the Fjallraven Classic Sweden. A 110 km walk across the nordic wilderness, carrying everything you need on your back and hitting 8 checkpoints along the way. With an early start from Manchester, I set off to head into the Arctic Circle and farther north than I had ever been before. Once in Stockholm, the buzz of excitement around the classic was obvious. Fjallraven clad outdoors enthusiast gathered at the terminal for Kiruna. The plane cut through the cloud and I caught glimpses of dense forests and bodies of water below. Once we landed I met up with Will and Laura-Lee who I’d be sharing the walk with and got one final nights sleep in a bed before starting the walk early the next day.
The meeting point for the classic was at the school in Kiruna. Outside they ran tent workshops, you collected your trash bag, fuel, and food and picked up any last-minute kit from the pop-up shop. Nervously we all ate our takeaway hotel breakfast down and rode the bus to the start point in Nikkaluokta. About an hour drive, we headed out even further into the wilderness. Reindeer wandered the roads and civilization seemed to disappear behind us as the landscape started to grow taller around us. The start was a quiet hum of people checking their packs and chatting as a musician played folk music in the background. The usual bravado and ego of a big outdoor event like this were nowhere to be seen. The inclusivity was clear from the start, people came from all over the world to simply spend time in the outdoors. After hearing that we didn't have to wait for the 9 am start time we set off on the start of our 5-day journey to Abisko.
On the first day, we followed the forest track to Lake Ladtjojaure and along to our first checkpoint at Kebnekaise. After some food the rain set in and we pushed on for an hour or so. Soon enough we found a camp spot by a small tarn, nestled at the mouth of the mountains. Singitjåkka (1704 meters) and Skrtaåive (1761 meters) loomed above us darkened by clouds. As the rain came to an end, the cloud rolled down to the valley floor and sat on the craggy outcrops all around us. We set up camp and settled in for the night, tired from long days traveling I fell asleep easily, excited for the next day.
The next morning we continued along the trail, eventually, the valley opened up to a vast tundra and a crossroads between three valleys. We headed to the checkpoint to be treated to reindeer, mash and cranberry wraps, though I opted for the vegetarian option with mushrooms, it was a perfect second breakfast to set us up for the rest of the day. Walking through the valley I became more and more aware of how remote we really were. The highest peak in Sweden, Kebnekaise (2111 meters) and its surrounding peaks now appeared to our right. Glaciers sat high in the corries of the highest points and seemingly endless valleys appeared and disappeared as we followed the route along the rocky path and wooden boards. Soon we reached our third checkpoint Sälka, with a small shop and sauna people chatted and stocked up for the next few days. Keen to escape the crowd we pressed on with the plan to camp at the foot of the pass up to the highest point on the walk. A huge river weaved its way along the valley floor and the wide river bank offered us an idyllic place to rest and set up camp. Incredibly as we tucked into our evening meals, two golden eagles soared high above us, eventually dipping down and landing on the hillside opposite before disappearing down the valley.
Being in the Arctic Circle sunset was around 10 pm and sunrise 4 am. This being said, the light overnight only dimmed slightly and the times I woke up during the night it still seemed as bright as day. On the third day, we knew we had a push to get over the highest point of the walk. The pass was the first real steep section of walking on the route, after a short time climbing we found ourselves on the top and stopped by a mountain hut as people gathered to rest and refuel. We were now over halfway on the walk. We chatted about our options for a camp spot that evening as we dropped down the other side of the pass. The landscape turned into a vast boulder field and wooden boards offered a safe passage over the tricky terrain below. Moving fast over the first three days we contemplated our options for finishing early with a long day tomorrow. Thankfully we all agreed to slow our pace and take another two days to finish as we initially planned. Why rush through some of the most incredible landscape in the world to sit around in Abisko for an extra day? With that in mind, we decided to treat ourselves to a longer lunch break than usual, sat in the sun we took our boots off and lay on our bags watching as walkers reached the checkpoint just before the Alesjaure Sami village. We followed the turquoise river along to the huts and found a camping spot overlooking the lake. We even had an actual toilet a walk away from the tents and a small shop by the huts sold Swedish beer and fruit. Feeling pretty happy with ourselves, we talked, drank, ate and watched as other walkers arrived and set up camp around the huts.
The plan for our last full day was to get to Kieron. We would be passing over into the Abisko National Park and dropping down back into the Swedish forests. We followed the lakeshore and battled with mosquitos as the air grew still and warm. Eventually, the valley narrowed and we descended between the mountains and into the vast forest of Abisko. As we approached Kieron the heavens opened and we sat soaked but elated on the ground as we were handed strong coffee and warm pancakes with jam and cream at the checkpoint. Rejuvenated we continued along to our camp spot at the lake and set up camp as the rain rolled in. After four days on the trail, the lake, even in the rain and cloud was calling our names. We slowly edged into the cold water and returned to camp feeling like brand new as we did on day one. As the afterglow set in we cooked food and chatted to other walkers before our final night in tents before the last day tomorrow.
On the final day, the realization of the end started to set in. We followed the track through the forest, eventually meeting up with the river as it formed waterfalls. Huge torrents of water cascading through the gorge and finally we saw the first signs of a road in the distance. Slowly we walked up to the finish line to be greeted by applause and cheering, something every participant received as walkers all gathered at the finish line to share stories, photos and of course enjoy a well-earned drink. The event as a whole was a real celebration of the outdoors in its simplest form. To get outside, share the experience with others and be part of a world which welcomes and promotes both of these things. As Fjallraven says, ‘Nature is waiting for you’ all we have to do is get out there and experience it.
Fjallraven issues a kit list for the trip but here were some of my highlights.
Five days is a good amount of time to see what kit works well while out walking. As usual I packed my kit in individual dry bags inside my bag with a dry set of clothes to sleep in. Walking poles were a must and with plenty of water around a 1L Nalgene was perfect. Taking good care of your feet is essential during a long-distance walk and each night i was sure to clean them, during the day I would take my boots and socks off to give them a break when I could. In hindsight I would have taken a pair of sandals or something similar to wear around camp. I purposefully went as lightweight as I could with the kit I had to make the trip as pleasurable as possible. This being said I did allow myself a couple of ‘luxury’ items one was my Kuksa (Swedish wooden cup) and the other a book.
Fjallraven Keb jacket
Rab Mantra Beluga
Patagonia Nano Air Light Hybrid
Osprey Levity 45
Hanwag Tatras *Coming soon to George Fisher*
MSR Hubba NX
Sea to Summit Ether Lite XT
MSR Pocket Rocket
Patagonia Capilene SS Cap Cool Shirt
Light My Fire flint and steel