On this day...
5 years ago: Seventy-two months

It’s Adrian’s birthday tomorrow. The presents are waiting for him, when he wakes up tomorrow morning, first of us all.

School has started. Ingrid looked forward to it, but after about a week she was kind of tired of it already. Homework, sitting still in a classroom, listening to boring lessons… Luckily there’s sports class to look forward to, and music, art, and crafts.

School has also already had their “personal development meetings” where the kids think about what they need or want to focus on this term. Ingrid wanted to work on expanding her vocabulary in Swedish and English. She’s borrowed The Hunger Games from the school library, in English – because she wants to read it and not because it will help grow her vocabulary, but it should certainly do that as well.

After school, there’s scouting and dancing. She’s dropped street dance (it wasn’t her style at all) and focused her ambitions on disco. She continues with the disco class she’s been doing for some while now, and to that she added “preparatory competitive dance” at the same dance studio.

We sorted through her wardrobe and then went shopping for clothes because she had outgrown almost everything, and most of the (few) things that fit had too much colour or patterns or decorations. The clothes we bought were almost all plain skinny jeans and plain tops in discreet colours. Plus, interestingly, one or two tops in what I think of as “US sports sweater style”: a word or two, and some large digits.

  • Favourite songs: Symphony (by Clean Bandit w. Zara Larsson), Instructions (by Jax Jones), Look What You Made Me Do (Taylor Swift)
  • Favourite book series: Harry Potter and Warriors
  • Favourite snack: peanut butter, straight out of the jar
  • Other favourite things, according to herself: Overwatch (the game – which she has tried at a friend’s place and now has at the top of her birthday wish list) and sushi
  • A recent interest: IQ tests

Adrian and I played Yatzy. I think he enjoyed the maths practice of adding up the points for each round as much as the game itself. It didn’t take him long to realize that a 1-2-3-4-5 straight always gives the same score.

Most years, I plant a fuchsia in a hanging basket just outside the front door. I like fuchsias: they combine cool flowers, strong colours, and attractive shape.

In Cornwall this summer we saw fuchsias as large bushes. In our climate, fuchsias don’t survive the winter, so I have to plant a new one every year. By the end of the year, it’s always still pretty small.

Somehow he still fits into the BiBaBath foldable tub.

Sylarna to Storulvån.

Today’s hike overlaps with one leg of the Jämtland triangle, the most marketed and publicised part of the network of hiking trails in Jämtland. I was so disappointed – and so glad that I had been walking elsewhere the other days. Had I only seen the triangle, I would have gone home wondering what the big deal was, why would anyone want to go hiking here?

It barely felt like being in the mountains. In part I guess I was spoilt by the magnificent views of the last two days. Here the landscape was bland in comparison – less hilly, less varied, less colourful, less wild. But in part the trail was simply destroyed by the sheer amount of people there.

It wasn’t so much due to the number of people I actually met on the trail. They were many – around eighty, which is about ten times as many I saw on any of the other days! – but not so many that I was constantly surrounded by people. But the near-constant presence of hundreds of people on the trail had worn it down until I was walking not on a path but a wide rocky field of mud.

Alpine flora is tough in a way, but it cannot survive being trampled by thousands and thousands of feet. Because of this, information boards remind hikers to stay on the trail, but I only saw one or two such signs at the mountain stations, so most hikers probably never noticed them. They see the muddy, rocky trail and it is no fun to walk on – and it really isn’t – so they decide to walk just a little to the side. And the next person does the same, and the next hundred do the same, and the ground “just a little to the side” becomes a part of the muddy, rocky field. Even worse: biking was allowed on these trails. I don’t understand how anyone can think this is a good idea. Wherever the bikers decided to leave the path (and I can understand their decision, biking over rocks the size of half my head seems nearly impossible) they left destruction behind them. In some areas the path had multiplied into five or six paths; in others it was literally a single 6-metre-wide “path”. Almost worse than walking on a road, except for the lack of cars.

So today was almost zero nature experience, just plenty of exercise in fresh air. Which isn’t a bad way to spend a day. It was all downhill as well, so (with my poles to help me) my pace was about twice as fast as the previous days. For the record, I normally reckon with 3 km/h (including all breaks) when I hike the Sörmlandsleden trail. Here my pace was under 2.5 km/h on average, except for today. Today I ended up taking a long lunch break shortly before the end of the hike, because otherwise I don’t know what I’d have done with the rest of this day.

But – there was nothing photo-worthy to this hike. So instead I’m cheating a bit and posting a selection of macro photos from the past three days.

What I learned from this hike:
(The scrum master/software developer in me cannot “close” a project without holding a retrospective.)

  • 20 km is the maximum for a day in mountainous terrain, and 2.5 km/h is reasonable to plan around.
  • Avoid any trail that seems really popular.
  • Keep the pack at 15 kg or less.
  • Start each day’s hike early in the morning. If there is a large group staying in the same hut, and they might be going in the same direction as me, make particularly sure to leave a good while before them.

It’s easy to say that I should aim for a lighter pack, but not so easy to achieve… There wasn’t much in my pack that I could have done without, or would have wanted to be without. Each extra that I start considering comes with a “but”.

The one thing I might leave behind next time is the water bottle. I don’t get very thirsty when I hike, except on the very hottest days, and I could have managed easily with just the thermos flask.

The heaviest extra was my big camera. But even though it’s heavy, I would still pack it again if I were to re-do this trip. The macro photography took this trip to another level for me – it makes me stop and see things that I otherwise wouldn’t even notice. However next time I will only bring the macro lens, leave the “normal” lens at home and only use my compact camera for any non-macro shots. Or perhaps look for lighter-weight macro kit.

The snacks and dinner extras were heavy. The snacks lasted me almost exactly to the end of my trip, so the quantity was not excessive in any way. Maybe I could have brought less and bought more in the huts every day, but the range of goods they had in stock this close to the end of the season was very variable, and I’m not sure I’d want to rely so much on shopping there. One of the huts had run out of pasta as well as rice; another sold me their last half cup of lentils; none of them had any eggs left.

The spare clothes were an extra. I packed one extra of everything, and never needed the spare trousers or fleece jacket. Which was expected: I packed them just in case. I forded that one river without falling, but one of the ladies I met in the huts had fallen into the water while crossing a river and came out soaked. That could have been me.

A heavy pack feels even heavier if it doesn’t sit well. Which I knew, of course, but noticed extra clearly this time. In fact this may be part of the reason why the pack felt so heavy the first day. I was experimenting with various ways of attaching my big camera to the shoulder straps, on the front of the pack, so I could reach it easily without having to take the pack off my back every time I wanted to take a photo. Day two, I put the camera away because of the rain – and noticed that my pack felt lighter this way. I tried hanging it off one of the straps, or two, further up, lower down – but whichever way I tried, it felt heavier than having it inside the rucksack. So that’s where I ended up having it. It was somewhat inconvenient, so then I didn’t use it for landscape photos, but for macro photos I normally took a bit of a break anyway and put my pack down, so then it made less of a difference.

Gåsen to Sylarna.

Today was a repeat yesterday, in the best of ways. Beautiful and wild. (And just as windy as yesterday, and with clouds so low I was walking through them. I almost ended up skipping lunch because the wind was so strong, but then I finally found one large, lonely boulder in the otherwise open grassland and huddled in its lee.)

A new experience for me today was fording a river. I crossed one yesterday as well, but that one had enough rocks in it that I could get across with a few agile hops, keeping my feet dry. A group of runners came along just as I got to today’s river, and some of them managed to get across by jumping between rocks, with their light packs and long legs. But with my pack, the risk of losing my balance was too great, so I had to wade through a part of it. The water was shallow – up to mid-calf maybe – but ice cold of course. I’m glad I only had to take a few steps in it.

I wonder if the word vad, which means “calf” in Swedish, is related to vada which means “wade”.

I was also very grateful for my walking poles. I hesitated when packing them, but decided to bring them after all, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t use them much on Thursday, but on yesterday’s and today’s rocky, uneven paths they were great to have. Not that it was difficult to walk without them – but with them, I could walk without thinking so much about the actual walking.

Most hikers seem to use poles the same way as when skiing: the arms swing back and forth in the same rhythm as the legs, and the poles help propel you forward. At least on uneven ground, like here, I plant a pole once every two steps, roughly, but in fact I’m not even sure my arms and legs really move in sync. I use the poles less as extra motors and more like feelers or tentacles. They provide extra contact with the ground, so I have two or three points of contact almost all the time, which means I can be somewhat sloppy about where and how my feet land. They allow me to “flow” forward over the ground, if that makes sense.

Vålåstugorna to Gåsen.

This! This is what I came here for. Wide open views of rolling rocky hills, grassland and shrubland in autumn colours.

A narrow thread of a path cuts through the shrub. Lots of little streams cross the path or run parallel with it (or in some cases, on the path).

Because the path is so narrow, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist. There is just enough of it so I can put my feet down on somewhat level ground and don’t have to watch every step – but no more. The vegetation comes right up to me, so I can see all the lovely tiny plants, and really feel that I am right in the middle of them.

I thought waterfalls would be beautiful, but I loved the little streams best. Waterfalls are noisy, whereas the trickle of a stream over rocks was truly like music to my ears. I made a point of pausing for a moment to listen and enjoy each one.

Apart from the streams, the only thing I could hear was myself. I saw and heard a very few little birds, but apart from that, no one.

The day was overcast and drizzly and windy, so there was no avoiding the waterproof jacket or its hood, which rustles, unfortunately. Luckily I had the wind at my back – I rather pitied the few hikers I met going in the other direction.

The start of a four-day hike in Jämtland.

I started in Vålådalen today, and my planned route is Vålådalen – Vålåstugorna – Gåsen – Sylarna – Storulvån. (Here’s a map of the mountain trails in Jämtland.)

Why this route? I chose endpoints that I could easily get to using train and bus. To keep my pack relatively light, I’m staying in STF accommodation rather than a tent. I’m sure there are people out there who would tell me to just buy ultra lightweight stuff, but I haven’t invested in that, and I quite like having an actual bed, and a stove to cook on, and a loo.

I also chose to mostly stay away from the “Jämtland triangle” between Sylarna, Storulvån and Blåhammaren. Lots of people walk it and love it, and it’s kind of the obvious choice for hiking in Jämtland – but even though I’ve never been there, I get strong vibes of “not my thing” about it. Those three STF facilities are basically hotels, not mountain huts, so I expect them and the trails between them to be crowded, and the whole experience to be focused on convenience and “hiking lite” rather than a real nature experience. Prejudiced, perhaps, but that’s what I chose.

Today I walked from Vålådalen to Vålåstugorna.

It was a tiring day.

At 20 km, today is the longest of the four days. Plus my pack was at its heaviest since I haven’t started eating into it yet. Plus I slept like crap on the sleeper train so I started out really, really tired. Plus half of the day was uphill (and the rest was not downhill to compensate, but flat).

The last few hours I didn’t enjoy much at all, and mostly spent looking forward to arriving at the hut.

My surroundings during the first half of the day were quite forested – pine and spruce at lower altitudes and mountain birch later on. At times the forest opened up into a boggy meadow. Of the mountains themselves, I only got occasional glimpses here and there.

Later in the afternoon the landscape started looking more like what I had been expecting and looking forward to – beautiful wide views of open grassland and shrub, with little lakes and streams here and there.