lördag 6 november 2010

Divčibare - Daytripping in Serbia

In the middle of September the whole family went on holiday to Serbia to visit family and friends and to have some needed rest at Hotel Maljen in Divčibare west of Belgrade. This time no serious trekking activities were planned as our youngest was now only 6 months old and would accompany us on all walks. Nevertheless we had an excellent time and it was nice to spend a lot of time all together outdoors in a pleasant climate. The temperature during the day was around 20C and quite optimal for leisurely walks up to the mountains ridges of the mountain Maljen ( around 1100m above Sea level).

Divćibare is an old mountain resort that has seen better days, but my impression is that the small village is now slowly recovering from the economic crisis and many hotels and villas have been renovated in the last 5 years since I was there the last time. The natural beauties of the location are still very well preserved and there are well marked footpaths to nice vistas of the Serbian countryside.

F and S safely escorted by "čika Milan" (uncle Milan) on his trusty horses Klara and Sara

To me, the traditional agricultural landscape and society are among the things that attracts me the most in Serbia. It may not be the most efficient, but free-ranging sheep and cattle as well as manually mowed meadows sure create beautiful scenery.

Each day during the week we went on shorter walks for about 1-2 hours. The hiking was very easy with only about 130m climbs which suited us fine since we were also carrying our baby in a BabyBjörn-carrier. The Baby-Björn works, but I must say that it's quite uncomfortable for my back. My wife however seems to be better trained after all the time spent with the baby and doesn't complain at all. The advantage of short day-trips is also that you really do not need to carry anything more than your rain clothes and some snacks and water. 

S was able to carry all our gear with ease

The kids really enjoyed the walks and it was nice to not worry about bad weather and wet clothes. I don't know if it is just my imagination, but my impression is that the children really start to enjoy a nice scenic view as well.

The view east from Crni Vrh (Black ridge)

Look! He's barefoot and it's only 25C. He will catch pneumonia in no-time!

Having lots of practice by now we don't see any difficulties in bringing babies for a walk. Diapers can be changed virtually everywhere and it's even easier to find a nice secluded place for nursing outdoors. A tree works well as a back support. With our first child we used to bring a dedicated nursing chair! If there is a chance of rain the children can also sleep under my Gatewood Cape.

Little M slept comfortably on the Gossamer Gear Nightlight torso-length

F finds the perfect spot to take in the scenery in peace alone

Oh no, here comes little brother and disturbs

Look a lizard! It's not so bad with company after all

Not so easy to catch a good picture of this beauty

Not all days brought good weather, but the fog has it's charm too.

The Gossamer Gear Murmur pack traveled to Serbia as cabin baggage and still shows no signs of wear

Back in Belgrade to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the bohemian quarter Skadarlija

All in all we really enjoyed our holiday in Divćibare and we will most probably return again. Serbia and especially the capital Belgrade, is starting to become a tourist destination and if you are an outdoor enthusiast it is nice to know that only about 1-2 hours from the capital you also have nice hiking areas. If you go further away south there are also other really interesting areas, such as Zlatibor, Kopaonik, Mokra Gora and Stara Planina.

söndag 10 oktober 2010

Kids on the mountain - The gear

When I was about to hike with my kids I felt a bit insecure as to what to pack. Consequently prior to leaving I solicited some good advice from fellow family outdoorsmen in Sweden on the Utsidan Internet-forum. They gave me the following good gear list which I more or less followed:

  1. Sleeping bag or Winter overall
  2. Windproof fast-drying pants
  3. Rain clothes
  4. Insulated jacket or fleece
  5. Rubber boots or sneakers
  6. 2-3 pairs of socks
  7. Base layers 
  8. Plastic bags for carrying soiled clothes
  9. Windproof jacket
  10. Baseball Cap
  11. Warm cap
  12. Mosquito repellent and headnet
  13. Mittens
  14. Good food with deserts
  15. Huge amounts of sweets and nuts
  16. Extra pairs of underwear
  17. Backpack
The kids clothes

For some reason it was absolutely impossible to find fast-drying pants the week before I left. Everything was sold out during the summer sale. I was forced to pack the thinnest cotton pants I could find instead. This worked since we had fairly nice weather with no rain, but I would definetely not recommend it since the pants took a long time to dry and I needed to pack several pairs of pants. In the worst case however, they could always have hiked in their merino long-johns and rain clothes. 
Rain clothes by the way is probably the most important piece of kit. I found very light jackets at Decathlon in France. We had such good weather however that they were not put to the test on this trip. As pants we used the kids normal rubberized pants. More so than the jackets, the pants really get a beating, so I'm a bit hesitant to try light pants. The concept of hard wearing shell pants could perhaps be interesting, but they can be a bit pricey and in addition to that I'm afraid the kids will sweat too much in them if they would wear them all the time. I know I do.

Drying lousy cotton clothes while getting some precious rest

The sleeping bags

A part from finding good pants I found that the biggest problem was finding good sleeping bags. Most children sleeping bags are not made for temperatures as cold as around zero degrees. There are expensive alternatives for sure, but since the kids are growing fast I find it a bit waste of money. In the end I opted to use their normal toy +5-10C bags and complement with another +10C bag on top of them. A big problem with this approach however was the bulk and to a lesser extent weight. Keeping the third bag on top of the kids was also a major problem. Although this system kept us warm and alive I'm not satisfied. Next time I will probably try the winter overall system and/or make/buy proper warm sleeping bags for the kids.

The backpacks

One thing you quickly notice when you pack for any trip with small children is that you need a lot of space. They cannot carry all their belongings, so you will have to pack most of the kids stuff. The Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus really is very handy for this purpose since it is very voluminous without much of a weight penalty. The outside mesh pockets are also very handy for drying clothing and quickly stuffing items (it seems you are always busy packing and unpacking stuff for the kids.).

Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus fully stuffed with three sleeping bags, tent and cooking gear

The kids can however carry some things themselves. Of course, out of principle, I wanted them to have ultralight backpacks. The market for kids UL-packs is however small, not to say non-existant. Luckily I found a good and cheap solution in France: The Decathlon Diosaz Ultralight runners packs in size 10L and 5L. For around 20-25€ these are good light packs that also come with hydration bladders (They weigh around 250g without bladders.). I'm not very fond of hydration bladders myself, but the kids quite like them. As an added bonus I can use the packs myself for running (It has only happened twice, but it is nice to know the possibility exists.). The shoulder straps are too wide for the kids, but this was easily solved using a carabiner to bring the straps closer together.
Simon is happy with his brand new Quechua Diosaz 5L ultralight pack

Observe the carabiner attached to the hydration-tube holder straps. It is needed to make a good fit for the shoulder straps

In the small 5L pack you could just about fit the rain clothes and a fleece jacket. In the 10L pack you could almost fit a sleeping bag (but no fleece-jacket). In hindsight, Filip the 5-year old could have had a larger 15-20L pack.
Filip with his sleeping bag protruding from the too small 10L Quechua pack

The footwear question
Few questions elicit soo much debate in the lightweight-backpacking area as the question of wet feet. Of course I don't want my children to have wet feet if I can avoid it, but the fact is, you mostly can't. Even with completely waterproof footwear such as rubber boots, the likelihood of water finding it's way in is very large, even close to a certainty. By the way, the same goes for all the kids clothes.

Hazardous activity

In the end we tried both rubber boots and sneakers and both worked. Simon had to switch to his new sneakers since his rubber boots turned out to be too small (It would have been a good idea to try them at him first ; ). Filip is older and it seems already more set in his ways and did not want to try the wet feet concept. I have heard of other parents kids who hike in sneakers. One advantage of doing this is that it can reduce the likelihood of blisters. I would not use normal boots in Scandinavia since they will most certainly get wet the first day and then stay wet the rest of the trip. With bigger kids normal boots might work.

Simon in sneakers and Filip in rubber boots

An advantage with small kids is that they are small in size too. A roomy two-man shelter can funtion well even with two kids and two adults. I had three choices here: My Bergans Kompakt Light 3, The Tarptent Cloudburst 2 and the Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. The Bergans was out of the question mainly because of the bulk. If I had chosen it I would have had to switch to my traditional 80L backpack. That would have been a capitulation. The fact that it weighs 3kg is less of a concern on such a short trip, but the total effect of taking it would have been a weight increase of around 3-4kg (+1,6kg for the tent and approximately 2-3kg for the backpack.). The choice between the Cloudburst and the Lunar Duo was harder. Anyone of them would have worked. The Cloudburst is probably better in high winds and it's surface area is very big when lying down, but the ceiling is lower which makes it more awkward to change clothes inside. On the plus side it's less bulky and ca 300g lighter than the Lunar Duo. In the end I chose the Lunar Duo partly because I wanted to test it and mainly because of the higher ceiling. Another factor was that the Lunar Duo fly can be pinned to the ground and thus reduce draft better. I was quite afraid that the kids would be cold in their simple sleeping bags.

Lunar Duo pitched for siesta
Compiling the ultimate gear list might seem daunting, but in reality the important thing is to get out there and see what works for you. If you stay reasonably close to civilisation you can always turn back if the trip gets unpleasant. Most of the time with the small kids the challenge has nothing to do with gear, it is managing attitudes (your own, as well as the kids) that's important and difficult. It is however comforting to know that with light gear you can get by without being too overburdened. I would guess that my pack for this overnight trip did not weigh much more than 12kg.

fredag 3 september 2010

Kids on the mountain

Having three small boys, aged four months, three- and five years can make it difficult and challenging to get out into the wilderness for longer times. Most probably I will not be able to do any longer trips the next few years. Most parents just give up and wait for better times when the kids are older. This is a pity though, and I did not want to give up so easily. A short trip with two kids should be within reach. Preferably I would have liked to go with the entire family, but even an optimist like myself has to realize there is a time and place for everything. The effort - satisfaction ratio is not favorable when also including a 4-month baby in the equation. Luckily some of my good friends wanted to come along and a trip to Hemavan in Lapland was booked.

In order to make a trip more enjoyable and to judge the kids capacities I thought some training close to home should be useful. Since we got kids I have read about everything I've seen on the topic of hiking with small kids. It seems most people do not hike with kids as young as ours, but those who do seem to say that around 3-5 km is a reasonable distance for a day. Consequently I planned an overnight hike with some friends in order to get a feeling for what was possible and enjoyable.

We bushwacked around 3km to a nice location by a lake close to our summer house. All went very well and everyone seemed to enjoy the outing. 

Simon climbing over a fallen log - walking on unbeaten paths worked well, but it can require a lot of extra time

Filip outside the Cloudburst-tent on a shorter field exercise

Later on during our vacation we also got the opportunity to do some high altitude training in the alps. With the right motivation and in good company of their cousins, the kids actually managed to climb no less than 170m of altitude in less than two hours. It was now quite clear that the kids where certainly physically ready for a hike and that the challenges would be mainly psychological.

Filip looking for marmots in the Parc National de Mercantour, Boréon, France

Route planning
Since I wanted to get up on the mountain as fast as possible and avoid long stretches in the forest it suited us perfectly to take the ski lift up to the start of Kungsleden in Hemavan. This would provide an interesting start of the trip as well. Having gone up the mountain we would then just follow the trail a few kilometers towards Viterskalsstugan and then put up our tent right next to the trail. This way I figured it would be easy to get help should any accident occur.

On start of Kungsleden a few kilometers from the ski lift

Out on the mountain
Finally the big day arrived, the weather report looked favorable and we boarded the lift and enjoyed the scenery as we climbed to just above the treeline of Norra Storfjället. We started to walk along what we then thought was Kungsleden. Soon it became apparent though that something was wrong. The kids were feeling tired and where not in a good mood. With the help of some candy we however managed to climb up to to a nice spot for lunch. I learned an important lesson: Don't postpone food! Not even half an hour! In order to have a nice trip with kids (and to a lesser extent adults as well) everybody needs to be well fed and the mountain gives you a big appetite.

The PocketRocket temporarily replaces my Bushbuddy

Luckily, with the help of the efficient MSR PocketRocket canister stove we had hotdogs within just a few minutes. On trips like this with hungry kids my trusty old Bushbuddy simply isn't efficient enough. To have food the kids like is of course also important. It also helps if it is easy to eat.

Simon eating Tortellini - a very practical dish

After the feeding everything seemed easier. We explored a nice snowfield and tobogganed on our rain pants. Quite a nice activity, however the reindeer also like snowfields and later in the tent I discovered a strong smell originating from my rain pants.

The weather was quite OK and we could start to enjoy the walk and there was no rush for anything. At this point we had discovered that we had taken a wrong turn at the trailhead when we got off the lift. The kids and I were really navigating through the wilderness off trail! It felt a bit scary though since I was now completely on my own. If something happened it would be a bit more difficult to get help. The Kungsleden trail was only about two kilometers away however and very easy to find.

After awhile the kids became a bit tired again and we decided to put up the tent for the habitual afternoon siesta. A nice spot with small waterfalls was identified. A perfect place for the kids to explore. It was also a nice place for me to relax while they were sleeping.

Taking a siesta and drying the perfectly lousy cotton pants

Having rested we continued our slow walk towards the trail. The two-three kilometers would in fact take us almost half a day! It was good to know we were sleeping in a tent and there was no big hurry to get anywhere, except reasonably close to the trail.

Filip making his way down to Kungsleden with his sleeping bag protruding from his too small 10L ultralight pack

Waiting for dinner

Finally we arrived at the trail and we were lucky to find a perfect campsite right next to it. It was already time for dinner so wiser from the experience in the morning, we started cooking right away. Two packets of Knorr Spaghetteri Bolognese filled our hungry stomachs. The tent was put up again and I could watch the beautiful play of light when the sun broke through the clouds on the other side of the Syterbäcken ravine. Having done away with dinner and with the tent up there was some time to spare, so I decided to try out using willow as Bushbuddy fuel and prepare some hot drinks. The smaller sticks burned quite well even though they were a bit damp.

All set for sleeping time

But not for the mosquitos!

All now seemed well set for a calm bedtime. This was not to be however. Big-time crying started: "I want muuummyyyy!!" , "I want to go home. Now!". It was a trail for a tired father. In my opinion the children's  complaints were mostly not due to the camping experience, which they are very fond of, but more due to the fact that this was the first time they spent such a long time without mum in an unfamiliar setting. I also believe their longing and bad mood was triggered by their fatigue. Later on during the week when they had got used to the situation they were a lot easier to handle.

Keeping small kids in their sleeping bags is not always easy. Pulling the draw-cord on the hood helped some, but little Houdini Simon managed to crawl out anyway. Some parents therefore use winter overalls instead.

Finally they fell asleep and slept very well until morning. I could not quite say the same for myself. The triple sleeping bag system I had devised seemed to work, but Simon slid out of his sleeping bag a few times and I had to adjust the extra sleeping bag lying on top of both of them several times. It seemed to  me that the kids slept quite warm and the third sleeping bag was not really necessary.

In the morning we had an energizing breakfast consisting of Tortillas and Nutella and set off for the ski lift. The going was a lot easier now that we were on the trail. We saw quite a few families with kids on the trail. However, none of them were hiking alone as I were and none of the kids were as young as Simon. After last night's bedtime experience I wondered to myself if I'm the only one that is crazy enough. 

The small scale of the streams was most appreciated. Small waterfalls were often the main attraction.

Everyones spirits were higher now however and it was not without a certain sense of accomplishment that I arrived at the skilift. It IS possible to hike even with small children and most of the time it is even fun. I'm also convinced that the more you do it, the easier it will become.

Next time in Sarek?

torsdag 22 juli 2010

Gossamer Gear Murmur pack - initial impressions

I've always liked Gossamer Gear packs. There motto "Innovative. Ultralight. Affordable." resonates with my frugal engineering mind. I've used my Mariposa Plus with satisfaction for several years now and I also got a G6 Whisper on sale because I simply had to (Who can resist to buy a 100g 35l pack for just 40$?). It was thus with enthusiasm I received the relatively new Murmur Hyperlight backpack for trial just in time for the SBM 2010.

A fully stuffed Gossamer Gear Murmur

The Murmur is a Super UltraLight (SUL) pack weighing only 224g. It is not intended for general use, but it is targeted towards those who have already reduced their base weight to around 5-6kg or so. When you are designing a SUL-pack you necessarily have to make some compromises. In the case of the Murmur the following can be noted:
  • Lightweight, less durable 1.3oz Sil-Nylon material
  • No padded hipbelt
  • No stiff backpanel or stays (It is replaced by a sleeping pad pocket)
  • Simple roll-top closure
The interesting question is now whether these compromises will make the pack usable for a say a 3-day trip trip in the Scandinavian mountains. Will it be comfortable enough for the loads involved? Will it be durable enough? How practical is the pack in use? I will try to answer these questions in four sections: Load carrying comfort, Durability, Practical comfort. Please keep in mind that these are my initial findings and a long-term report will also follow.

Load carrying comfort
Many people will immediately dismiss ultralight packs thinking that the load carrying system is inadequate for normal loads. That might be true for traditional loads of 10-20kg, but when you have reduced the pack weight below 10kg, you don´t really need an advanced system. In fact, the UK hiker Colin Ibbotson frequently carries his light pack slung over just one shoulder! That being said the Murmur actually includes quite a few features to improve comfort. The shoulder straps are wide, there is a small webbing hip-belt and the sleeping pad pocket makes it easy to  create a reasonably stiff backpanel.

I found the pack to be quite good at carrying loads around 8-9kg. However, although the shoulder straps are wide, I found them to be a little too stiff and I found they could be a bit more comfortable. Some other hikers testing the pack also reported having an issue with the straps. My Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus pack has the same kind of shoulder straps and I find these to be more comfortable. Probably because the padding has softened a bit through use. A unique feature of Gossamer Gear packs is that the padding can be replaced, by for example socks, and a few grams can thus be saved. I´m not really interested in shaving grams that way, but this also allows experimentation with other padding materials. I´m going to try and use a softer foam pad. The pack also has a removable sternum strap and it works well.

My first thought when seeing the simple unpadded hip-belt of the Murmur was that its main function was just to stabilize the pack, but in practice I found it to work very well in shifting pressure from the shoulders to the hips. It also allows to carry the pack a bit further from your back which can be nice in hot weather.

Minimalist hip-belt works well with light loads (Photo from Gossamer Gear)

I used my Gossamer Gear NightLight torso length in the pad pocket and I found this to work perfectly. It gives the back-panel all the stability you need for these loads. The NightLight is also perfect to pull out during rest stops.

Overall I´ve found the Murmur comfortable for  the loads it is designed for. Especially when using the hip-belt. Apart from softer more contoured shoulder straps I see no need to add any more carrying system features.

I´m reluctant to say much about durability after such a short test-period, but I find that compared to the Murmurs predecessor the G6 Whisper, it is a lot more durable. Apart from being careful when picking the pack up, I´ve made no efforts to baby the pack. The pack has already bushwacked a lot through pine- and spruce forest and still it shows no signs of wear. Switching to 1.3oz Sil-Nylon was a good choice. Spinnaker really is too sensitive to abrasion. I was worried that my camera tripod would tear holes in the fabric, but that fear has so far been ungrounded.

The seams have also been thoroughly tested since I overstuffed the sack quite a bit. It really has been stuffed like a sausage. Consequently I think that so far the Murmur is durable enough for a SUL-pack.

No signs of wear yet despite a lot of bushwacking

Practical comfort
The Murmur almost has the same amount of features as my Mariposa Plus. Grabbing your water bottle with your pack on is possible. It is also possible to stuff your wet small shelter in the mesh pocket. Personally I would have preferred a bigger more expandable pocket though, since I also like to stuff my raingear in this pocket.

The side-straps were useful for fixing my tripod and could also allow me to carry my Tarptent Cloudburst on the side. I haven´t really tested how well they work for compression yet.
The Murmur has nice features like a mesh-pocket, angled side-pockets and a sleeping pad holder
Although the Murmur doesn´t officially support the Gossamer Gear hip-belt pockets, I used them with the pack with success. The little loop at side of the pockets can be used to attach them to the pack where the waist-belt is attached.

The pack also has lashing loops which can be used with bungee cord to attach light items. I found these useful to attach my light Jysk foam pad.

Concluding thoughts
To conclude I would say that the Murmur is a pack that works well for a three-day trip in the mountains in summer. Apart from the shoulder-straps there is very little to complain about. And this complaint may well be a personal opinion. The pack also adds a lot of features that the Whisper G6 lacked and which I missed, such as water bottle pockets, pad holder and a mesh pocket. The penalty of 120g  extra is well worth paying in my view. It still remains to be seen, but for a SUL-pack I also think it will be durable enough.

torsdag 1 juli 2010

Scandinavian Blogger Meetup 2010 trip report

It's bit difficult to say how it all started, but the Bushbuddy wood-burning stove was clearly involved. Searching the web for information on Bushbuddy fuels I landed on Hendriks blog. A few comments later this blog was born and sometime later Hendrik started the discussion and all of the sudden I was involved in the Scandinavian outdoor Bloggers Meetup. It all sounded a bit too improbable, but here I was walking briskly into the Vålådalen wilderness with a bunch of merry lightpackers. That's the positive power of Internet and Social media for you.

The first kilometer I often feel a bit excited and a bit nervous, did I bring everything? are we on the right track?  Jörgen seemed to know this area like his own pocket and I soon calmed down and started taking in the early spring landscape.

Spring - the end of the beginning. In general very few flowers were in bloom.
Tibast (Daphne mezereum ? A poisonous plant.)

Our intended route did not really involve any difficult navigation though. In brief we would just cross Vålån south over the bridge, pass Blanktjärnarna, and then follow Vålån right up to the trail between Vålåstugorna and Lunndörrsstugorna. Then we would follow the trail past the Pyramids and Issjödalen (The ice lake valley). The last part would be through the forest past Grönvallen and end in Vallbo, a village near east Vålådalen where the sauna would await our arrival. One big obstacle worried me however, this path would require us to ford Lunndörrsån which promised to be full of water since it had been raining almost constantly the last few weeks.

Prepare for fording!

At first sight the stream really looked daunting, but looking closer you could see that it was not more than knee deep in any place. The current wasn't too strong either, but it sure was cold! A common dangerous beginners mistake is to try to ford at the narrowest point. A friend of mine did this on Kebnekaise and was swept away several meters and hurt himself quite badly on the rocks. It was not a pleasant experience. With patience and good judgment as to when to turn back there is seldom much to worry about. Having two trekking poles is also really great. I would never ford without at least one stick in faster water.

Hendrik feeding his Bushbuddy Ultra

After the ford we continued through the forest to the Blanktjärnarna tarns where we had lunch. Although I'm normally quite happy being the eccentric guy with the wood-burning stove, it was very nice to share experiences and the air was soon thick with smoke from no less then three wood-burners!

When it comes to food I had almost achieved my goal of not bringing any commercial freeze-dried food (I brought one bag of Knorr Spaghetteria which costs less than 2€ and I quite like it.). For the first lunch I had Ramen noodles and some gourmet Italian salami. It tasted great and was easy to prepare. Add enough salami and you should get plenty of calories too.

Joe "Thunder in the night" enjoying his new super light Evernew Titanium stove - The smile faded somewhat when the substantially longer boil times of the stove became apparent

After lunch we soon reached the banks of Vålån again. I must say I had some doubts as to the scenic qualities of our mostly forest bound route, but Vålån proved to be every bit as magical as Jörgen had portrayed it when we were planning the trip. Waterfalls, rapids, old growth forest and a nice backdrop of snow covered mountains created a great feeling of wilderness. Several times I thought to myself that this scenery reminded my of pictures from Alaska. No need to long for far and distant places, world-class wilderness was right here, right now, only a nights train ride from home. Even the persistent rain that continued throughout the day couldn't wash away those happy thoughts.

Alaska? No, Vålådalen!


Hendrik trying out the Gossamer Gear Murmur pack

Bushwacking through the forest off-trail can be hard on ultralight gear. I can admit I was slightly worried that the Sil-Nylon Murmur pack Gossamer Gear lent us for the trip would be damaged when brushing against spruce boughs and pushing through willows. Luckily I didn't find any obvious signs of wear after the trip even though I made no effort to baby the pack. Switching from the Spinnaker fabric used for the previous Whisper G6 pack to 1.3oz. Sil-Nylon was a good choice I think, even though it makes the Murmur twice as heavy! I suppose most people can live with a 36l pack weighing 224g.

When it was approaching dinner time we started to look around for a good campsite. There were plenty of alternatives around and we soon found a nice spot next to some rapids which provided a nice noise curtain which would later lull us to sleep.

The dining room - Conveniently located close to water and with a nice moss and heather "chaise longue" for Jörgen

Cooking with a mini cheese-grate borrowed from my children (photo courtesy of Jörgen Johansson, fjaderlatt.se)

For dinner I decided to prepare my most advanced meal - Barilla cheese tortellinis with grated Parmesan cheese and a delicious piece of heavy-weight bell pepper generously donated by Martin. It tasted great, but the cheese made it hell to clean the pot afterwards. Large amounts of earth and heavy scrubbing with moss was needed. After dinner there was much fun and rejoicing around the campfire and I suspect my good sleep was not only due to the rapids, but some destilled beverages might also have been involved. Hendriks Minttu and chocolate combo was especially appreciated.

Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape hung from a tree branch - I really like to pitch it this way as it makes for a huge living area since the center pole is not in the way

I went to sleep happy and content with the day under my Gatewood Cape. The air was very humid and I felt a bit cold in the middle of the night and had to put on my down sweater. At some point I was also awoken by the sound of Ptarmigans passing through our camp. After that I slept like a baby.

Still raining

The next day started with some hope of the rain receding, but alas that was not to be. The campfire made for a nice, albeit slow, morning start and after awhile we were on our way again along the bank of the stream. After an hour or so we started to gain altitude as we left Vålån to our west and made our way towards the trail to Lunndörrsstugan.

Hendrik posing in front of the Jokk (stream)

It was nice to change views for the more open spaces above the treeline, but I must say that in bad weather the forest definitely has it's advantages. The rain had picked up again and the clouds obscured the views. When planning the trip I had a wild idea to run ahead of everybody else and do a 5km detour into the Lunndörren U-valley. In this weather it didn't seem very tempting since the cloud base was lower than the valley anyway. So we just plodded on and forded a couple of cold streams. 

Up into the clouds 

For lunch we decided to use the facilities of the Lunndörrsstugan hut so that we could be sheltered from the rain and wind for awhile. This is possible to do even off-season when the huts are not attended and you pay later by bank transfer (The price was around 5€ I think.).

The hut was a bit too cosy I thought and I decided to try to prepare my lunch outside in the rain just to get some realistic training with the Bushbuddy. All the vegetation was really soaking wet, so it was a real challenge. With liberal use of birch bark, some dwarf birch branches and a dead mountain birch branch split into smaller shavings the fire actually caught on. Splitting the branch was really key in this situation. It was precisely for this case that I had brought my full size Mora knife. The water actually reached the boiling point just before my clumsy cold hands tripped everything over and the precious warm water was spilled on the ground. Clearly more training is needed. I had planned for a triumphant entry with hot food, but this time the warm hut and pleasant company was too tempting and I made a tactical retreat inside. My Ramen noodles and salami were prepared inside on the hut stove. 

The hut was as nice and comfy as only a welcomed warm shelter in bad weather can be. Our hardened hiker souls were exposed to the temptation of staying inside also for the night, but luckily we persevered and continued the hike towards Issjödalen. The weather stayed miserable and we had to posthole a bit across the snowfields that still blocked the trail, but nevertheless morale was high.

  Hendrik smiles under his borrowed umbrella. Maybe because he seemed to float on the snow when Joe was postholing

Above treeline between Lunndörrsstugan and Issjödalen (Photo courtesy of Joe Newton)

Wet cold feet (Photo courtesy of Joe Newton)

For the first time since I started hiking with wet feet my feet actually got cold even sometime after the fording. I suspect this has to do with several factors, one being the bad weather and relatively low temperature, but also that we postponed eating dinner and I was running out of energy (despite my Runekakor snacks.). I have also been told that if your feet and hands are cold it is often because your torso is cold. Maybe I should have put on my Ullfrotté shirt which I bring exactly for this purpose. After awhile I put on my Gator fleece wet socks and then my feet got warm again pretty soon.

Having passed the Pyramids we soon reached Issjödalen and the Kings hunting lodge. We considered putting up camp next to the lean-to in the valley, but it was still full of snow! After some deliberation we decided to continue walking and find some more sheltered spot in the forest. We lost the good views, but gained warmth as the forest sheltered us from the wind. Jörgen shared an old sentence that seemed apt for the situation: "The forest is the poor mans coat". For sure we could have stayed higher, but I doubt that dinner conversation would have been as long and happy as it was below the spruce branches. After all, chatting in front of the campfire was a goal in itself on this trip. It seemed there was not a single hiking topic you could not get an expert opinion on and there was hardly any piece of gear that had not been tested by at least one in the gang. Especially Roger of Nielsen Brown Outdoor fame was extremely well informed about all the cottage manufacturers and could provide good advice on almost all gear topics.

Joe watching bush-TV while drying his socks

After dinner I again retired to my Gatewood Cape castle under a large spruce. A woodcock bid as good night as it flew over with it's characteristic "phee-phee --- knorrrp knorrrp". I had a good nights sleep, although a bit hot and clammy in the morning since I chose to put on all my insulating clothing.

Pitching from a tree again - A bit awkward to creep in, but very comfy inside

The next morning we didn't have too many kilometers left and could walk with ease towards our finishing point in Östra Vålådalen. Near Grönvallen the path was completely flooded though so our feet got wet again right away. Soon the weather started improving and you could actually feel spring in the air for the first time during the trip. Around lunchtime the sun even started to make an appearance now and then. It was almost a surreal experience when you've had nothing but grey skies for the last two days. Resting in the sunshine after lunch was pure pleasure. Mindfulness is all the rage these days, no need to read books or take expensive courses, just go out in nature and feel the elements and you get loads of it.

Bushbuddy cooking the last lunch - the smoke is included for free (Photo courtesy of Joe Newton)

As we walked the last kilometers the weather improved even more and it was even warm. It felt a bit stupid that the nice weather would come just at the end, but better late than never.


Farmhouses in Vallbo and Ottfjället in the background

View from the bar - Anarisfjällen

Finally we reached our goal, Vålågårdens camping. A bit too soon really as I wished the trip would not end already. The owners provided excellent service even though the camping wasn't really open yet. The sauna was warm, beer and snacks were waiting and all our stored gear was still there. The shower and sauna after the long hike was a pure pleasure. More than one beer was consumed, and sitting chatting on the porch in the sunshine was a perfect ending for a superb trip. I haven't had so much fun in years.