Sunday, 23 June 2013

Hemavan for Midsummer's Eve

(Grab a cup of coffee before you start reading. It's a long read)

A backpack that weighs 10 kg might seem quite light when you're testing the straps at home, but after hiking up and down the hills of Hemavan for 10 km don't be surprised if you get horns bumps on your shoulders of such horrible appearance people might think you're the spawn of Satan. At least if you have as crappy a backpack as the one I have. The hordes of mosquitoes occupying the woods around the lower areas are the least of your problems in that case. We were going camping and hiking in Hemavan. 4 days, 3 nights. 

Day 1

After driving for 4 hours (not including the stopover for pizza in Storuman), we parked right where Kungsleden begins. Kungsleden is pretty much just uphill the first few kilometers, and carrying as much weight as we did (J double as much as I did) we got breathless after a few hundred meters. We took small steps up the hills, our faces protected by the mosquito nets hanging from our hats. It was the day before Midsummer's Eve, and we didn't meet a single soul before we got to Viterskalsstugan, the first shelter on Kungsleden. 

Once we got there, the shelter host came out to greet us. He had just gotten there himself – the shelter wouldn't open until Midsummer's Day, and he invited us to come over and celebrate Midsummer's Eve with him, as he would most likely be spending it alone. After he gave us some tips on where we could put up the tent, we walked on until we found the perfect spot. Syterskalet opened up in front of us, a magnificent view to wake up to.

Not a bad place to put up a tent

We cooked some dehydrated food and rested our legs. One thing we learned was that, right after you put down your heavy backpack after a long walk, you will not be able to walk straight. Also, people might think you're drunk. Good thing there was no one around to think that. We have a reputation to uphold.

The weather was good, so we decided to try and climb up mountain Norra Sytertoppen. We crossed the wide stream running by our tent with our hiking boots hanging around our necks, the ice cold water making our naked feet ache. The hike after that was easy, climbing gently up the hill. It was all going very well, until we came up to a sort of chute consisting of loose earth and scree. It got steep pretty fast at this point, and it took a lot of courage from both J and me to climb up. Our courage did not pay off. A bit higher up, our way was blocked by a patch of snow that was too slippery and at an angle for us to try and walk over. Neither of us fancied falling to our deaths, so we turned back. We climbed down the chute sitting on our butts and appreciated life a little more than we did before. Especially each other's.

The view was worth the climb

We got back at one in the morning, almost too tired to sleep. Almost.

Day 2

Defeated by Norra Sytertoppen, we decided to try our luck in the opposite direction. The mountain top we aimed for was an easier one, one that J had climbed before. A corridor of grass would help us reach higher ground avoiding scree as much as possible. The hike was easy from a technical point of view, but steep enough to send our pulse racing with effort. As we got higher, the wind got stronger. It didn't take long before it was so strong that J, nearly two meters tall, had trouble staying upright. At that point, climbing even higher, where the wind was sure to be even stronger, didn't seem like a good idea. We turned back, once again defeated. 

Hard to believe that anything would grow in such harsh climate, but there were many sorts of flowers around.

Home-made flapjacks tasted great on the way down.
When we reached the shelter, the host came out again to greet us and offered us some coffee. We accepted gratefully and spent an hour or two in the shelter, chatting about mountain-related activities. I took this opportunity to ask him about running in the area, and got some great tips about possible excursions for our running trip in July.

After cooking and eating our dinner by the stream in the company of mosquitoes, the evening was still young. The weather seemed good enough for a hike to one of the glaciers in the area, right at the far end of Viterskalet. We started off around 18.30. The initial climb was gentle and it was followed by a patch of marshland. Already the view was spectacular. Brutally steep mountain walls surrounded the valley, dwarfing the clear blue snow-water lake at the bottom. The landscape was lunar, barren but for some short grass and alpine flowers, littered with rocks, some of which were enormous – a remnant of a much colder era, when the glacier we were hoping to visit reached all the way to Syterskalet.

We made good progress into the valley, crossing rivulets and snow fields. We kept thinking that the glacier was right around the corner, but it was much further than we thought. Then we came to a snow field that we couldn't cross. It covered a stream and we didn't know how deep the snow was, or if it would hold our weight. For the third time, we had to turn back. 

Just around that corner. Or so we thought.

Once again, the wind had picked up, so strong that we thought it would throw us off our feet. We sought shelter in as low ground as possible, making our way carefully over ridges and using our hiking staffs as support against the gusts. We wondered if our tent would still be there when we got back, or if it would have flown off to the land of Oz. It was great to see that it was, indeed, still standing when we got there. I rinsed my legs in cold stream water. Both J and I were getting very sore muscles at this point, having logged many kilometres within a short period of time, and the icy water brought much needed relief.

Day 3

We got very little sleep that last night. The wind was mercilessly whipping our tent with rain, threatening to rip it apart. I kept worrying in my half-asleep state about what we would do if that happened. Pack our things in the middle of the storm, head to the shelter and knock on the door? Being outside the tent was a daunting prospect. After a while I stopped worrying. There was nothing I could do. I couldn't control the weather or what it did to the tent. I fell into a restless sleep, twisting and turning, trying to find the position that hurt my muscles the least.

Morning brought anything but sunshine and blue skies. The wind had hardly eased down and some black clouds hung over all of Syterskalet. We called it quits. We would cut our trip a day short and head back. After a hearty breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, we packed our things (our tent, surprisingly, none the worse for wear except for a crooked pole) and left. 

Oatmeal, chocolate chips, coconut flakes and dried cranberries

J was plagued by some sort of inflammation in his ear and walking back with 20 kg on his back was taking a heavy toll on him. My backpack straps continued to rub against my shoulders. We took small breaks to catch our breath. We could see herds of reindeer on the hills across from us. Did I think to take out my camera then? No. Of course not. I thought it would burden my shoulders even more. And, as always, when you don't have the camera readily available, that's when amazing things happen. We surprised a small group of reindeer that were grazing leisurely not 30 meters from us. They looked at us, momentarily frozen in place as if we had caught them doing something bad. Then they trotted away with a ”harrumph”, their crowned heads in the air as if to say they had no time for the likes of us.

We came across even more reindeer after that, and this time the camera was hanging around my neck. But now they were (of course!) too far away to photograph.

The best I could do with my camera. Yep, those white dots are reindeer.

We started our drive home some time after 4 in the afternoon, many experiences richer and glad to get a load off our backs.

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