Thursday, 25 July 2013

I won't even mention how many times I stumbled and almost got my skull crushed

I couldn't come to Hemavan and not try to put in a long run. J had spent the night in a tent somewhere close to Kungsleden, the King's trail. I consulted the map. I wanted something relatively flat. I say relatively because we're on the mountains. Nowhere is flat, except maybe the airport, and I'm not even sure about that. I had run to the first STF cabin a couple of years ago, a long run that I remembered fondly. Now I was curious to see what lay beyond it. During our hiking trip here a month ago, we had put up the tent about a kilometre after the cabin, right at the mouth of the Syterskal valley. The map told me that a reindeer guard hut bookended the valley on the other side of the passage.

I ate a hearty breakfast and set off around 9. I walked the first 4-5 kilometres, knowing from past experience that they are uphill and not worth wasting energy on. Speaking of energy, all I had with me were two flapjacks and some peanuts. In hindsight, it was probably a bit optimistic of me to think that would be enough. I also had almost three litres of water, my VFF for crossing streams, a towel to dry off my feet afterwards, a compass and map, an emergency whistle and a bandage. Just in case.

An hour later I was able to start running. I met a few people along the way, said quick hellos. I saw a dark brown forest hare disappear into the jungle-like vegetation near a stream. The sun was mercilessly turning all intake of water into steaming perspiration before I had even started running, and now it was threatening to turn my brain into boiled mush. It was unbearable. The heat sucked all my energy from me. I tried to combat its loss by eating but what I really wanted to do was to jump in a stream. Soon enough, I came to a big one, the one we hadn't been able to cross without poles on our previous trip. The water was so low now that I didn't have to change into my VFF. I splashed some cold water on my face and on my head. It was a great relief.

Some clouds had started casting thick shadows across Syterskal valley, as I could see even before getting to the STF cabin. This was great news for me, of course. After passing the cabin and our old camping place, I was enveloped in the darkness cast by the clouds. The ground was flatter, too. I could run longer distances without having to stop all the time. I did have to stop where the terrain got really technical. Huge, unstable stones covered the path at times. At some places, little rivulets of melted snow from the vast mountain walls above made the ground into a muddy mess, forcing me to stop and think how I would get across. I didn't want to get my shoes wet. I had a long way to go and my feet had enough blisters as it was.

Blisters. I had gotten them during our 32 km-long hike up South Sytertoppen (1685 metres high) two days earlier. My legs were tired, sure. But the blisters felt like needles were stuck into my feet with every step. 

The ridge we walked on our way back from South Sytertoppen

I saw the reindeer guard hut in the distance. It got closer, but at an excruciatingly slow pace. It was mental torture to be able to have my goal in sight, yet feel like I'm running on a treadmill and getting nowhere. The Syterskal valley was adding to this effect by being monotonously flat, with no distinguishing landmarks.

Finally, I was there. I turned to look at the valley and its two sentries standing on either side, North and South Sytertoppen. The precipice at the Eastern side of South Sytertoppen looked horrifying and I couldn't believe we stood just a couple of metres from its edge two days before. 

South Sytertoppen looms over the reindeer guard hut.

Two runners showed up just as I was trying to figure out where I was going to take a break and eat. We started chatting. One of them had started off in Abisko (where Kungsleden starts, approximately 450 km from Hemavan) and the other one in Ammarnäs (”only” 80 km away). I reflected on my own condition. I couldn't help but compare myself with them. I had only run 11 km at that point and I was already knackered. How did they train for such an enormous adventure?

After a quick bite, I felt some raindrops on my arms. It felt nice to get cooled down but I knew that if I stayed too long, I would start getting cold. The sun was shining somewhere else at the moment. I got a text message from J, who had climbed up a 1300-metre high top and was getting a bit worried that there might be a thunderstorm on the way. Mountain tops and thunderstorms are not a good combination. I hurried back, thankful for the flatness of the valley this time, but then I realised that I couldn't help J. He was half-running down that mountain, and I wouldn't be able to get to him before he got back to his tent, at the foot of the mountain. I took another break by our old camping site, removed my shoes and socks and put my feet in the cold Syterbäck river water. Heaven.

Beach 2013

An hour later, I saw J walking down the slope near the bridge, waving his hands at me from the other side of the river. I waved back, glad to see he was ok. I ran over the bridge to meet him. After catching up briefly and getting an update on each other's plans, I decided to run back down to the village a different way. Big mistake. I climbed up the first bit of the trail and tried to start running when the ground became flat again. It didn't work out so well. The mud that covered large parts of the trail was threatening to suck the shoes right off my feet. Then, the trail got divided in two, looking just as untrodden on both sides. I, of course, picked the wrong side and was soon bushwhacking through a birch-canopied, Downy Willow (Salix Lapponum) shrub-covered forest, completely lost with nothing but an inkling to where I was supposed to be going.

Warning! This is where my parents should skip the next paragraph. All others, keep reading. Great stuff.

Bear poo. BEAR POO. Right by my SHOE. In the middle of the forest, in the middle of my frantic efforts to find the bloody path again. I'm not certain it's bear poo, at least not until I see something that looks suspiciously like a bear paw print in the mud, but unless they've been lying to us all these years and the dinosaurs are not, in fact, extinct, I can't imagine what other animal would be able to produce poop this size. I'm so sorry, Internet, that I was a lousy blogger and didn't stop to take a picture of the poop. I was too busy getting the hell out of there, with my emergency whistle in my hand. A whistle that I was hoping would scare any bears away. Yeah. These are the phenomenal survival skills that would make me think bringing a kitten along on a swim in Australia to scare off approaching sharks is a fantastic idea.

Why, hello there, mum and dad! You just read all that, didn't you. Well, I did warn you.

I didn't have to use my whistle. The only thing that attacked me was a swarm of really persistent flies and something that kept buzzing angrily in my ear. I found the path and was hit by a tsunami of relief. A few minutes later, I was down by the road and the tsunami of relief was replaced by a heat wave that almost made me choke. Without the trees to provide shade, I ran on the tarmac road back towards Hemavan, suffering with each step, sipping on my water but suspecting that the reason I was so sluggish was salt deficiency. I had sweated buckets, as anyone who stood within 100 metres of me could attest to. I also desperately craved ice-cream but I only had 10 crowns with me and wondered if someone at the store would take a look at me, feel sorry for me and give me one for free. I didn't test my theory. Instead, I switched off my Garmin at 27 km and walked the rest of the way up the hill back to our flat. I reckon that the total distance I covered today, including the walking parts, was close to 37 km, and it took me 7 hours to do it. The thermometer showed 33 degrees in the sun.

I bought an ice-cream on my way to pick up J.


  1. Jösses vilket äventyr! Du var mer än väl värd en glass!

    1. Det var den slags äventyr som man mest uppskattar efteråt, med en glass i handen :)