Before you read, here’s some pictures of the days that are described below. They don’t do the terrain, conditions or beauty of the place justice but I don’t think anything other than the real thing ever would.
Leaving Abisko felt good. I couldn’t wait to get the tent setup, get in bed and sleep without anyone snoring or coughing or farting. Obviously, I may do all these in my sleep but I’ve never woken myself up.
The trail was easy to follow and I already knew what to expect and that’s probably why it went by so quickly. Before I knew t I was sat at AbiskoJaure, having a handful of walnuts and a drink of Tailwind. A couple decided to check themselves out and preformed the odd ritual of straightening hats or headwear, checking make up and general preening behaviour, but what was odd is the fact that they did so over my head! The girl, false eyelashes coated in a layer of mascara declare ‘looking goooooood’ and they both wandered off!
This was my signal to move on. The trail to Unna Allakas strated well and became less and less used. At one point I wanders through a deserted collection of huts and for some reason I felt the need to sneak my way through. The trail climbed and the birch trees became more and more stunted until replaced by the dwarf variety and finally by grasses. I had climbed above the tree line and I could see the incredible landscape around me. All was coated in yellow, orange or red with the odd section of light green. This land looks great with its autumn coat on.
I sat and ate some more walnuts with a small herd or reindeer close by. I hadn’t been fuelling properly. I’d just plodded on, running, walking and forgetting that I need the calories. Unna Allakas was the meal point but the hut was locked and I don’t have a key, so a meal here wasn’t going to happen. I left, heading to the next cabin at Cunojavri. The 5km passed real quick, and with the group of 40 noisy school kids there I ate a meal and moved on. A nice flat spot of moss next to a stream, a view of mountain with an amazing glacier flowing down from its peaks, another quick meal and then sleep.
6pm and my alarm went off. Time to find a tent spot and it wasn’t long before I did. Next to a river on a path of soft moss. A brief glimpse of the sun, a few moments staring in awe at the glacier flowing out of the mountain to the east, another meal and straight into bed.
Oddly, despite the good weather and being warm, I kept waking up every few hours. I think this is the poor fuelling and pushing to almost 50km. This made day 43 hard to begin with. The section to Canhavagihytta was hard going. The fact that it was almost entirely uphill and arrived at roughly 900m didn’t help but the tired legs from day 42 made the climbs painfully slow.
Once I got there, I stopped, ate breakfast, the butter, which is actually a block of coconut oil, a meal and some nuts, dried and warmed my feet and I debated whether I should stay. The weather wasn’t great but it was turning very wet and to accompany the wet, very windy. At 1pm I left. The next section was non stop scramble and boulder hoping, and you never knew whether the rock you stepped on was in place solidly or you would end up teetering back wards and forward or from side to side. More climbing, up passed 1000m and the terrain levelled out. Huge craggy peaks and ridges on either side and the rain pouring diagnose into my face, assisted by the wind.
The descent took me to a collection of round rocks. Rocks that resembled bubbles that had grown from the ground but never burst before they solidified. On top of them, a myriad of other smaller rocks, all doing impossible balancing acts. The trail dropped lower and I crossed a small concrete dam, then a bridge that was exposed on both sides but quite sturdy and finally I reach a rocky dirt track. I follow it and it becomes the to of a huge rocky dam, climbs, descends and then climbs again before I find the trail, heading south towards the Swedish boarder. Surprisingly the trail went higher.
As it passed 1000m I was in the clouds, following a trail with the painted stacks of rock when I could only see 3-4m ahead. This was more luck and guess work than any kind of skill. The climb seemed to go on forever, but then it reached a rocky plateau, meandered and then dropped out of the clouds. Skoaddajavrihytta wasn’t far, but I didn’t dare hope it was close by. I convinced my self the trail climbed over a hill and dropped to the big lake in the sitance but then suddenly…
A set of cabins appear ahead. The sense of relief is immense. At the heights the point, in the rain, wind and clouds, I realised that this wasn’t gonna get any better. I’m heading into the most mountainous section of the route and I’m doing it at what is the end of autumn and the start of winter. Thankfully, I have access to a fire so I can dry all my kit, since it’s soaked. I’ve eaten some food, more than on any of the other days when moving from place to place and now I’m ready to sleep.
The day started as always with an alarm. I looked out the window and all was shrouded in mist! ‘Crap! How the hell am I gonna nav in that?’
Then I touched the window and it turned out I couldn’t see because of the condensation on the window. I laughed but the reality wasn’t that much better. It still rained and visibility was still poor.
I needed to sleep so I did. I stayed in bed till 7, then slowly got everything ready. About an hour or so later I stepped outside. The weather was clearing, the views spectacular and I knew I had some climbing to get done. The scramble of yesterday seemed easy in comparison. Big boulders make for straight forward foot and hand placement, but today, the strange rounded rocks that I marvelled at yesterday, were the route. Up I climbed, following an invisible line marked periodically by red dots on rocks. This is the highest I’d passed through the mountains and the cold wind reminded me that winter is coming, and it’s coming fast. Wet feet, cold hands and still I moved on. I was going to have a shorter day today and get my head in gear. I needed information if I was going to change route and just run the continent. The descent was crazy! No trail to follow, steep and a mixture of jagged loose boulders and smooth round rocks, the scale of which has to be seen to be believed.
I drop down off the mountain and begin to follow a road. Ahead I spot a telephone mast on top of one of the many giant peaks. I message Peter and explain my thoughts.
‘I hate to say it but maybe you should get on a road and head south to get ahead of winter’
I agree with him and feel a sense of relief. I know that I’m likely to be criticised for the decision, but really, to cover the route at the pace I needed to stay ahead of the weather and certain things need to be done different (‘all in the learning’ I hear the voice of Tom, the running hobo) This is another point that I came to terms with over the last two days…
This is a decision that has been difficult to accept as I open myself up to criticism, but the point is I know it’s the right decision. Earlier decisions have led to this point and the need to make this difficult decision, but that’s why we do these things… To learn from mistakes, to allow ourselves to accept failure and to use t as a spring bored, to evolve and become something new. The point of this adventure or the main purpose was to run the length of Europe. The more I followed the E1 and saw what is defined as a trail in these parts, the more I understood that the idea of following a set route between two points is just for racing or setting an FKT. I’m doing neither. I’m travelling, as minimalist as I can and as fast as conditions and terrain allow.
I may attempt the E1 another time, but for now, I’m content with running the length of Europe.
I have no idea if it’s been done before or not, I don’t know my route and I find this kind of exciting. So I’m sat filled with a mix
Disappointment from having to stop following the E1 and the potential of having let people down.
Relief from being released from having to follow it, since I know that within 100km I have no way of continuing to follow it without adding 100s of km skirting around lakes (ferries no longer run between some points on the trail) and with no chance of food without huge detours.
Excitement! I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know the place names or the route I’m going to follow, but I do know that as I head to southern Sweden, I’ll be rejoining the E1 trail.
I’ve stood in front of 100s of pupils and said ‘if what you’re trying isn’t working, try something else!’ So now I think it’s time to listen to my own advice.
To anyone disappointed in my decision I can only offer a shared sense of disappointment, since I’m know it’s the right decision, and I’ve made it at a point where I can change route. My shoulders are sore but I think I’m ready to take the criticism of early choices and decisions made. I did say, adventure for adventures sake, and chasing after a route like the E1 was unintentional marinaded in ego. The mountains deserve more than an ego driven activity. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand Tom J’s hashtag at a whole new level…
So my plan is simple…
Step one, head back to Gautelishytta.
Step two, head to a place called Ritsem.
Step three, head to the furthest southern point of Europe.
Today I met Bert. He was staying in one of the cabins and wandered in. A quick chat and it appeared he was heading towards Paurohytta, my original route and he also told me there’s a trail from Roys Vatn to Ritsem. So, my plan changed. I decided to follow the trail to Paurohytta, an unknown route which is longer, as apposed to going back on trails I’d been on. He set off before me, and since I had a bit of a damp and cold night I stayed in the cabin, ate one ration pack, drank 2 coffees and waited for my sleeping bag to dry. I caught him after about an hour of wandering along the trail. We chatted for a while along the trail and I stayed with him till we reached a hut at the half way point. A quick meal, some soup made of veg stock, a tea and it was time to move on again. I kept my own pace and arrived at Paurohytta by 3pm. It was great to run and the mountains ahead look incredible! Huge glaciers covers one of the mountains across the lake. The boat is there, although only one of them (we wandered over to check they were there and all that remains of the second boat is an oar).
Now it’s time to relax. Tomorrow, we’ll cross the lake in the boat and I’m so relieved I don’t have to swim!! After I reach Roys Vatn I’ll decide whether to keep going to Ritsem (around 60km in total) or stop and do the 40km trail to Ritsem the day after. I can’t really carry on the trail since the ferries, even the one at Ritsem that would take me across the lake, are closed for the winter season. It’ll be a blast on the roads, travelling from food source to food source and then rejoining the trail further south. Norway will be an adventure of the future, since there is an end to end challenge here. Something that’s going to become a bit of a hobby.
Bert was kind enough to share some of his food and in return I paid for the food he provided. We sat, chatted, discussed route options and whether there would be good or not. So now, I know where I’ll be in two days time but after that, it all depends on where the food is. I’ll hang on to my rations for a little longer instead of eating them. 8 ration packs left and around 250g of coconut oil at the moment. They would get me from here to the first major town along the road or with a little addition of some extra calories, get me from saltoluokta to kvikjokk, sticking to a trail that head due south. All is in the hands of the adventure gods.
Another morning and a clear sky. The moon hung low over the glacier, high on top of be mountain, it’s light reflected in the lake we would have to cross today. We woke and avert made a huge breakfast of muesli, fruit and nuts, which I had some of too. Then it was a quick clean up and one to leave. We headed out along the shore of the lake, along the top of the rocks leading to the shortest gap between the two shores and arrived at the boat. In the water it went, I got in, I got out quickly.
There was a hole at the front and water was rushing in at a rate that would mean the slightest delay in crossing and we would be sunk. ‘Jesus tape’ sprung out of my mouth and the out of my pack. The underside of the the boat dried and gaffatape placed all over the crack in the hull. The boat returned to the water and the flow of water was far less. We both got in, aimed into the wind and Beet starts rowing. We reached be other shore fairly quickly and Bert decided he’d head back to collect the packs. He struggled with the oars, the part of the boat he insisted on calling the rows. I watched completely helpless, recording his passage across the small gap and he arrived at the other shore, put our packs into the boat and headed back. This bit was worrying. The front of the boat was loaded and it pointed downwards. If the boat filed with water, everything I needed to survive would be lost to the lake. Bert would also be wet and need help, but all this was pointless worry. He made good time and was at the shore in the blink of an eye. We then walked together, no rush to arrive at the hut and each doing his own thing. The views were amazing beneath a warm blue sky as we passed mountains and lakes. A quick break here and there, a stop for a speedy lunch and I decided to head on alone. The first 10km passed quickly but then the already poor trail markings became worse. It was like trying to spot a needle in a needle stack. Finding the route was more guess work and the trail seemed to be completely unused. More a product of people just making their own way through the damp miss covered rock fields than from lack of use, if truth be told. Eventually, with 2km to go there was a steep, rocky climb. It was more like a slab climbing session than walking or running. Trail marking non existent and I somehow managed to arrive at the lake. Across it, on the opposite shore I spot the hut!?
‘How the hell have I ended up on the wrong side of the lake?!’
Baffled and annoyed I have to decide… Left round the lake or right round the lake?
I head right, judging it to be the shortest distance and head off. Swear words start to trickle from my lips, falling on the moss covered ground as annoyance at the poorly marked trail, tiredness and the need to stop take hold. I look ahead and see more climbing to be done and suddenly there it is…
The cabin I was looking for!?
I was too far south, my view blocked by glacial shaped rock mounds and that why I didn’t see it. I ran to the cabin, the normal routine of hunt for food, fire and boil water kicked in and I could see a trail marking I should have followed. I wandered if Bert would have the same problems navigating…
14 years he’s hiked in Norway and has the experience of the land I lack. If he finds the hut easy then I have some learning to do.
An hour later, he arrives, annoyed and tired. He had the same problems as I did.
This place (RoysVatn) has a sauna!?!
I’d got it ready and I spend about 5minutes in there before feeling like I was about to explode and ran out, to the river and a icy dip and wash! I amused myself sitting in the toilet that was purposefully aimed at the view scored the lake and then after eating went to sleep. A day that took more from me than I realised, having an unquenchable thirst and falling asleep at 7pm?!
I woke early, the sun was beginning to paint the sky as it headed upwards and it was time to get up. Bert ate the same large muesli breakfast and shared some pumpernickel bread with me. I stashed some away for later. I have around 200km to run before a guaranteed food source and only 5 ration packs left. Ritsem should have food but the hut may be shut. I’ll find out in 45km if there is food and if not, there will be some serious road running to be done before I reach food. Glad I know I can cover the distance on only 700cal per day!?
Turns out that the flat route was actually rather hilly and tough! Felt great running down out of the mountains, meandering through the birch forest and reaching the 20km point. ‘This is the flat section. Should be easy’ were my thoughts based on what Bert had described the route as.
It was big and marshy to start and then began the hills. Nothing too big but repeatedly going up 50-100m and then descending again into marshy rejoins. At 30km I could feel the lack of calories. I tried to use music to get me to sip Tailwind regularly but the amount of concentration needed to follow the trail meant that I still ended up not having as many calories as I should. I sat at a shelter, head down, eyes closed and wandered how the hell I was going to get 200km from here!?
If there was no food at Ristem then I would have a grad total of 600cals per day. The Kungsleaden would also be a definite no go because of the lack of information. So I moved on, slower than I think I’ve moved so far, each step down or up hill feeling like they’re were on the steepest hill possible. I would walk… I would crawl, since the pace I was keeping was no more than a crawl, until around 7, when the light would be fading and find a spot to camp on.
The views where incredible as always and I could see rain heading my way across the lake. It had arrived earlier, but the fatigue meant it didn’t really register until now. Movement in the valley below!!
Elk! 3 of them. One large one and two smaller ones and they’ve heard my grumblings, because they were moving away. Just 10m away too!! They were bigger than I expected and amongst the dwarf birch they looked like Giants.
I decided it was time to stop. Stop on a positive note having finally seen the elk, I set up camp, ate sparingly (roughly 25g of coconut oil and one ration pack) and went to sleep. I was less than 5km from Ritsem, but the light was fading fast and I was tiring more with every step.
I woke early as always and stayed in bed till 7. A bite of coconut oil and I got out, packed away everything and some time after 8, I left, heading for Ritsem. The trail was no different but luckily is covered all of the major climbs, which meant an easier start to the day. Then I saw it in the distance. A collection of caravans, a telephone mast and a hand full of wooden cabins. I ran down, hoping that the STF hut, where I’d find the shop, was still open. If starved myself the previous day just in case it wasn’t. I ran off the trail and onto the road, then made a turn up a hill to the STF fjallstation. A dog!!
‘There’s people here so I can ask about food.’
The dog began to bark and the owner, a young lad, pops out, apologises about the young dog and tells me the shop is officially closed but I can get some food if I need and stay the night. Result!
I buy a meal, a sit and eat it, chatting with him about his trip along the length of Sweden last year, he asks about my timing.
‘The snow will arrive soon and even Germany can be very cold in the winter’
I explain that originally my plan was to be further with at this point and I will just have to make do and get extra as I need it. Then I buy more food for the next section. A long section of road.
The Kungsleaden would be a risk. The boats that are used to cross the 2 big lakes may not be there. There’s no exact date when they will be moved away for storage, but it is any time now so I can take the risk of not being able to continue on the trail, create more delay by making my own route up on a landscape that makes it almost impossible in places to pass, or I could take a route guaranteed to be open…
But I have food for the next 200km, know that the going will be easier, food along the route more likely and that I can continue south. The rest of today, I’ll be eating, sleeping and drying my kit, ready to begin my assault of the roads. I’ve covered 205km in one week, taking the total distance travelled to 940km. I’m conscious that I need to get my weekly average closer to 350km, and hopefully, the predictable surface of the road will allow the break in my foot pad to heal. I’ve carried that injury from before Nedrefoss, so it would be good to have it heal and stay healed. The trails can wait for a while.