We skipped the traditional national day picnic and replaced it with a sausage grilling hike around lake Källtorpssjön near Hellasgården.

It was a beautiful day for walking – warm and sunny without being too hot. We walked mostly through the usual Swedish rocky pine forest, with the occasional beautiful clifftop view of the whole lake. The trail was nice and varied, following the edge of the lake at times and getting deep in between trees at other times, and had just the right amount of ups and downs to remain interesting. The parts nearest the parking lots were relatively crowded, but there were fewer people further away, on the other side of the lake.

The trail’s only shortcoming was a lack of suitable picnic spots. Finally by early afternoon we were so hungry that we set up our picnic and grill right next to the path. I have a love-hate relationship with single-use aluminium grills: they seem so incredibly wasteful, but at the same time they are so incredibly convenient. And the grilling is an absolutely essential part of a hike for the kids, almost the whole point of it.

The kids had packed binoculars and were amazed at how much closer things seemed when looking through those. The binoculars also allowed us to spy on follow the progress of a swimmer who swam all the way across the lake to one of the islets and then back, towing a very visible red buoy which made him/her easy to spot.


I went to a nature photo event this morning. Calling it “morning” is generous, really – we met up at 3:00, before sunrise. We photographed for a couple of hours, had breakfast, and then photographed some more.

The subject for the entire event was flowing water. You know, the long exposure photos that make water silky smooth so that even the most ordinary waterfall will look magical. This is normally not my style at all (silky? magical?) but hey, getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to learn.

The scene we were photographing at Nyfors was, to my eyes, not inherently scenic – a pretty mundane rapids rather than a picturesque waterfall. Some clumps of grass, plenty of rocks, tree branches caught between them… I found it quite challenging to find interesting photos there.

Our instructor’s advice tended towards the traditional – for example, the rule of thirds, and to create depth by including some foreground, mid-ground and background elements. I tried, I really did! But all the photos I got using that approach just came out totally boring. Too cluttered on one hand, and at the same time devoid of anything interesting.

What worked for me instead was to get closer, to simplify and pare away. The more photos I took, the more minimal and abstract they became.




Another day on my own, and with decent weather. I thought of hiking at first, but I needed to be back in time for Adrian’s swim school, and I didn’t have the use of the car, so I could only do something shortish or relatively local.

But: I did have my bike, so I went cycling instead. Tired of the local nature reserves – Judarskogen, Grimsta, Järvafältet – and inspired by a cycle trail description I found online, I decided to cycle all the way to the other side of town, to Saltsjöbaden.

(In the end Adrian came down with a stomach bug so the family returned home not long after I left, and Adrian did not go to swim school, but I found that out too late.)


I’m normally not hungry first thing in the morning, and I saw no point in hanging around at home while waiting for my appetite to appear. So I packed a simple breakfast and cycled away, and had breakfast in the little park beneath the City Hall. Hundreds of tourists were swarming around the City Hall itself, but not many were interested in the little park, so I almost felt like I was there on my own, as long as I kept facing the right direction.

The route onwards to Saltsjöbaden was pleasant enough but not very exciting. Saltsjöbaden itself had some interesting sights, including two old wooden open air bath houses.

I was feeling hungry again and thought I’d treat myself to a decadent brunch at Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden – but this place had apparently not understood the br in brunch and only started serving theirs at 12, at which point it’s a lunch and not a brunch in my opinion. I wasn’t interested in hanging around for another half an hour, so no brunch today. Just a simple soup lunch in a local café instead.

After Saltsjöbaden and Solsidan, the trail left built-up areas behind and went mostly through forest for a while. It also got close to the rocky seaside at times, which I liked. I had been hoping to get many more views of the sea, so when I finally got some views here I stopped for a long photo break.

After the forested areas, the way back home felt like doing my daily commute. Even the Tranebergsbron bridge was there like a dear old friend.


This trip was part experiment to figure out a suitable length for future day trips on bike.

I cycled about 75 km in total and felt that I could have done more. When I am out hiking, I tend to start feeling my legs after about 20 km or so. Cycling is a milder way of moving, and as long as the road is flattish and I don’t push myself, I feel I can keep going almost endlessly. (Which is probably far from true, really.) But I wasn’t feeling particularly cocky on the uphill parts at the end.

Hiking, I base my plans on an average pace of 3 km per hour including all breaks, and I’m never too far off. Cycling, my speed varied massively: from barely above walking pace on the twisty little forest paths, to “whoo this is nice” going downhill on straight, wide, empty asphalt roads. All in all I was out for nine hours, but I’m not sure if I can generalize all of this to any kind of average at all. I took longer meal breaks than I usually do on my hikes. And of course I cannot take photos while I’m cycling, or even look around as freely as I can when I’m walking, so I had to stop whenever I wanted to do that.

The whole family joined me for a walk along a circular route based on Sörmlandsleden, stage 15:2 and part of 15, between the old mine at Skottvång and lake Marviken.


The weather was cloudy and cool but otherwise fine. We saw blue anemones everywhere. The white ones were just starting to bloom, but they were camouflaged since their flowers only open in sunshine. I also saw a very early marsh marigold.

 

The kids did not enjoy the actual walking part too much, which was pretty much as expected. Luckily there was stuff for them to do and to look at.

At the beginning and end of the trail, near Skottvång, there were numerous works of art in the forest along the trail – odd constructions, plastic plants in unexpected places, funny road signs (pointing towards “tree”, “path”, “air”, “water”, “berries” etc), coffee cups hanging on trees, a modern rune stone, etc.

We stopped for lunch at a picnic spot just off lake Marviken, roughly at the halfway point, and made a fire to heat and cook our food.

There was no firewood at the picnic spot, but there was no shortage of dry branches in the forest nearby. I guess not many people had stopped there recently. The fireplace was a small one and we had no proper tools with us to cut the branches to size. I couldn’t find my camping knife when packing so I only had a little pocket knife with me, but that turned out to be enough for whittling down the thicker branches until I could snap them in two.


Our standard campfire food is “hike bombs”, a recipe I learned from Ingrid’s scout hikes: foil packages containing diced pre-cooked potatoes, vegetables etc. Easy to prepare, easy to pack, quick to cook, and delicious. Our version consists of potatoes, salmon, and broccoli. For dessert, we had “hike bananas”, which is also a traditional outdoor recipe in Sweden: bananas, slit and stuffed with pieces of chocolate, and then grilled.


Both kids enjoyed poking in the fire and putting on more branches, but Adrian was quite cautious about getting close to it. Somehow he nevertheless managed to get soot marks on his forehead, which Ingrid then turned into a war painting.


After lunch we passed and climbed a viewing tower. The tower was more fun than the viewing – the surrounding area is quite flat and all we could see was forest, looking the same in all directions.

 

The walk back felt shorter than the way out, because we made slingshots for the kids. Shooting and looking for projectiles kept them happily occupied almost all the way to the car.

We only had pieces of ordinary sewing elastic to work with, so the slingshots were neither powerful nor easy to use, but kids were happy as long as their stones flew a few metres. We’ll probably make new ones next time we’re out walking, so I’ll have to do some research to find a better material to use next time.


Glitterheim to Gjendesheim, 23 km.

A slog of a day. We’re coming down from the mountains and running out of snow. It’s the end of the season, and according to the local folks, they haven’t seen a winter with this little snow in some 60-odd years.

Up, down, along mushy snow and around bare patches. Skins on, skins off – and even skis on, skis off, where the bare patches are too many to ski around. Sunshine and a nice icy lake in the middle provided a bit of a break. But the further we went, the worse the conditions were. Some slopes were too patchy to ski, but the snow there was so mushy and deep that we kept sinking thigh-deep into it and getting stuck when we tried to walk on it, so we walked from one rocky juniper patch to another. Finally towards the very end we ran out of snow entirely and could simply walk.

Knowing that this is the last day of our trip, and tomorrow means going back to civilization with all its trappings, does not make things any better. I’m doing my best not to think about it.



A rest day and optional day trips from Glitterheim, where we’re staying for two nights. Ascent of Styggehøe, 10 km, and skiing Øvre and Nedre Steinbuvatnet, 9 km.

The initial plan for today was to ascend Glittertind, Norway’s second tallest mountain. But considering yesterday’s quite tiring skiing, and the continuing high winds, and the long day we have ahead of us tomorrow, we decided against it. 1100m of ascent and descent, with high wind and on a mostly icy surface, would have us all quite exhausted.

Some of us stayed in the hut and read; others went out for short walks. I joined a group that skied up Styggehøe, a somewhat less exciting mountain that happened to be nearby. We actually had clear skies today, but it was still windy enough that we only stopped quite briefly for coffee and photos at the top. The skiing was nothing special and neither were the views, frankly.




Back at the hut some of us felt that the morning’s 10 km outing was not enough to count as a proper day of skiing and talked about going out again in some other direction. Having learned on Wednesday that not enough skiing leads to not enough sleepiness, I joined in, even though I knew I’d slow the group down – the other goers were among the strongest skiers in the group. But the gentlemen said they didn’t mind.

We climbed a short slope right behind the hut and then skied back and forth along/across two lakes, Øvre and Nedre Steinbuvatnet, beneath Glittertind. On the way out, we had the wind in our faces and the going was hard, so we made stayed on the snow on the side of the lake. The wind kept spinning up into whirlwinds, which were pretty to look at (and I’m quite miffed that my camera decided to stop working at this time) but hit quite hard when they hit me. On the plus side, the snowy whirlwinds were easy to spot in advance so I could brace myself.

On the way back there was no more slogging through snow. Instead we raced back across the icy lakes with the wind at our backs. Point the skis in the right direction and pole away, with the skis humming along the ice. According to the GPS unit of one of the guys, he had skied the lake at an average speed of 18 km/h. I was not quite as fast but nevertheless I felt like I was almost flying. This was the most fun I’d had all week! The speed and power and focus made for an almost ecstatic experience.


Back at the hut, we still had time to kill before dinner. The couple in charge of this hut were celebrating their 10-year anniversary as caretakers, so they had a knitted friendship banner/scarf project going, that visitors could add to. I felt I had done enough reading already so I was definitely up for some knitting.

Plain knitting is a decent way to make time pass, but there was time for something more fun, so I embellished my knitting with an embroidered Warthog logo for the company organizing this trip – Warthog Off Grid Adventures (web site, Facebook page). Orange, of course.


Spiterstulen to Glitterheim, 17 km.

The day’s skiing started with a steep ascent that I personally found quite unpleasant. Those of us who had no climbing skins did some last minute shopping at the hut at Spiterstulen and bought skins. An absolute necessity on the steep, icy slope, and a new experience for me.

Skis with skins on behave quite differently from skis without skins, which is of course the whole point, but it also means that a different technique is required. You have to plant each ski strongly and deliberately to get the best grip, and make a conscious choice for each step of a traverse, depending on the conditions – edge or skin?

Higher up the trail got flatter, but the weather worsened again. Yet more blizzard, with winds reaching gale force today, and gusts of over 20 m/s. Visibility was so bad that we were forced to stay almost within touching distance, so as to not risk losing anyone. For the strongest gusts of winds, everybody stopped, planted their poles and braced. If you didn’t, you’d either be blown off course, or bowled over, plain and simple.

And again I enjoyed this experience, despite everything. Definitely more than I enjoyed the seemingly endless, frustrating ascent in the morning.

The inclement weather only had two downsides, really. (a) no views and no photos, and (b) instant chill as soon as we stopped. As long as we kept moving, I was warm with my two thin layers. When we stopped, the warmth was sucked away instantly. I resorted to sheltering behind the gentlemen in our group.


Leirvassbu to Spiterstulen, 15 km.

An easy day: short, and gently downhill pretty much all the way. But the blizzard stayed with us for another day and for the first half of the day, visibility was crap again. We skipped lunch break entirely and ate our sandwiches when we got to our destination for the day. Our only snack break was spent crouched up between a large rock and the drifts of snow that had accumulated around it.

Speaking of snacks, I’ve come one step closer to finding the ultimate winter trail snacks: Skotte bars. (Viennese) nougat with raisins and chopped nuts, covered in dark chocolate. They are less chewy and faster to eat than Raw Bite, which is otherwise my preferred trail snack, and unlike many other, more popular chocolate bars they contain no toffee that becomes inconveniently hard in cold weather.

Hot drinks are almost more important than snacks. Last year on the Kungsleden we stayed in self-service huts where we made our own drinks, just like we made our everything else. Here in the fancy schmancy Norwegian DNT huts, the staff make hot drinks for you. At exorbitant Norwegian prices (40 kr per thermos flask!) but on the other hand there’s a whole menu to choose from. Coffee? Tea? With milk or sugar? Or even hot blackcurrant cordial for those who, like me, prefer non-caffeinated drinks.

Lunch is packed sandwiches that you make yourself, from the materials in the breakfast buffet. Also at exorbitant Norwegian prices: 17 kr per slice of bread, which means 70 to 100 kr for a sandwich lunch where I’ve done almost all the work myself.

By now I’ve settled into this whole skiing thing. I have re-found my ski technique. I’ve figured out how to best organize my pack so that I can easily access everything I may want during the day’s skiing.

The muscles that were sore yesterday are getting used to being used hard. (I’d expected some soreness in my hamstrings and hips and glutes, but I was surprised to notice how tired my forearms were yesterday evening. I guess I’ve been gripping the poles too hard.) The small blister on one toe, due to tensing my foot when pushing off, is in retreat now that I’m taking care not to tense that foot any more.

It seems I am quite a bit stronger than last year. Thanks to my twice-weekly circuit training and regular day hikes, I guess. Most of the time I do not feel my pack at all – if it weren’t for all the straps, I’d forget it was there. When I checked it in for the flight, it weighed in at about 9 kg. Minus the clothes that I’m now wearing rather than carrying, plus a litre of drink, it should be just under 10 kg.

We arrived in early afternoon, which left us with hours of time to kill. The weather had improved, and one of the guys went out for some more skiing. I thought of joining him but hesitated and missed my moment. So instead I went for a brief photo walk with another guy. It was a pleasant mini-hike, but afterwards in the evening I had trouble falling asleep, because I hadn’t tired myself out enough during the day.


Day 2: Gjendebu to Leirvassbu, 21 km.

From Gjendebu hut right on the shore of Lake Gjende we headed upwards, first through scrubby, sparse birch and juniper forest and then onwards above the tree line into fells/fjäll: snow, mountains, a line of sticks to mark the trail, and not much else. Gradual ascent most of the time, except for one long lake (Langvatnet) and a few small ones – covered with snow, unlike yesterday’s lake – and one steeper uphill section next to a waterfall.

The morning started out cloudy, but the weather gradually got worse as the day went on. High winds and fine, stinging, icy snow made the going rough and meant that most of the time we couldn’t see anything of the presumably beautiful landscape around us. Just snow. Occasionally the clouds broke and we got beautiful views for a few brief minutes, and then it was back to blizzard again. Our lunch break was a hurried, huddled affair in the lee of a tantalizing locked hut.

I found the adverse weather perversely enjoyable. There was something oddly exhilarating about being opposed by something as implacable and impersonal as a blizzard, and still going on. The blizzard was infinitely stronger than I am, but at the same time I was stronger than the blizzard.

I could of course only stand up to the blizzard because I protected by a combination of ancient and modern technology. Wrapped in a layer of windproof Goretex all over, with a wool top, mittens, buff and hat to keep me warm, and goggles to protect my face. I’m not too fond of wearing goggles, but I’ll take them over eyecicles in my eyelashes and tears streaming down my face, any day.


The day ended at Leirvassbu hut. “Hut” is almost an insult to what was basically a hotel in the middle of wilderness. All of the huts on this year’s route are full-service huts with all kinds of comforts, including electricity, hot showers, restaurant dinners etc. But this place is one step above the rest, especially its restaurant. (Waffles! Espresso!) The decorations in traditional style stood out as well – the other huts have been much more utilitarian in style. It even had phone network coverage, so once we’d gotten out of our gear and had our showers (which are always the first priority when we reach a hut) the gang headed straight for their phones and beers.


Day 1: Gjendesheim to Gjendebu along the frozen Lake Gjende. 21 km.

Today’s skiing was icy, flat, and monotonous. Ice is not the most comfortable ground to ski on. Most of the group described this as their least favourite kind of skiing; I actually quite liked it. You say monotonous – I say meditative.

For this year’s trip I bought my own equipment. I would have enjoyed last year’s trip a lot more if I hadn’t been struggling with the rented skis. Even though it took me a while to find my “skiing legs” and technique again, I could feel from the very start that these skis will work for me. This year I was not at the tail end of the pack, struggling to keep up. Not the fastest either, but that’s as expected, given the composition of the group. (8 strong men with (ex-)Army physique, 1 lady who goes skiing every weekend near her home in Geneva, and then myself and another “ordinary” lady.) I don’t mind being among the slower ones, I just want the skiing to be enjoyable rather than frustrating.

The clear air and wide vistas made it quite hard to judge distances. Sometime in the afternoon I spotted a thing that looked man-made. A shed belonging to tonight’s hut, I thought – the hut itself is probably behind a spur of the hill, like the place where we stopped for lunch. A few kilometers away perhaps. But after the next hour or so of skiing, the hut looked barely closer – it turned out that the “shed” I saw was in fact the whole hut complex, and quite a bit more than 2 km away.