I’m currently sitting, blissfully clean, fed and warm, looking out at the rain from a cabin at Gäddede Camping, in Northern Jämtland. The second leg of my journey is complete.
It’s fair to say there have been some tough days getting through Jämtland, physically but also perhaps psychologically. Together with my indefatigable trail companion, Gustav, I’ve been taking advantage of an almost unavoidable stretch of road walking to put a fair bit of ground at my heels, chaining together 30km days along close, humid forest roads. The end result is that the odds of my making it to Treriksröset by my deadline at the end of August are a little shorter than they were ten days ago, but the going has been hard at times.
The repetitive clip of road walking hammers your feet and Achilles’ tendons, and it isn’t easy to maintain a sense of progress when you spend your days trudging a spooling treadmill of interminable Tarmac, with deep, airless forest pressing on either side and little in the way of views to distract you. Away from the roads, the swampy woodland trails in this relatively un-hiked part of the country frequently differ from what appears on the map, and morale-sapping clouds of mosquitoes, sandflies and midges harry you relentlessly at each step, hacking at your face, neckline, knuckles – anything you haven’t covered or doused in repellent. As you fall asleep at night the forest thrums around you with the beating of a million tiny wings.
Lest I should sound a bit negative, there have been lots of rather wonderful things along the way too. Southern Jämtland does a remarkable line in gorgeous lakeside camping opportunities, with warm, apricot skies on the sunny evenings, and haunting mist hanging on the water when it’s rainy. With a little fire smoking on the rocky foreshore, the mossies stay well away, and the aches of the day are soon forgotten as you sip hot coffee in the late night light, feeling soothed and content.
It’s a land of elk hunters and wilderness fishermen; of secluded summer cabins with turf-roofed saunas by the water; of friendly, hardy people making their livings in remote, well-kept little hamlets, sometimes an hour’s drive or more from the nearest shop or petrol station; of snowmobiles under tarpaulins; of huskies and deep-voiced Jämtlands hunting dogs sunning themselves outside the barns. There’s a feeling of pioneer spirit about the place.
In such a quiet part of the country, the wild animals do well too. Elk tracks are everywhere, and beavers wreak their glorious havoc at the roadside, the cartoonish whittling of their teeth round the ends of the heaped, tangled tree trunks. The mountain trails, when you get to them, are so untrodden that we came upon clutches of wild birds’ eggs in the middle of the path.
We spent a day walking a very old reindeer causeway across high scrubland to the Sami summer village at Lobbersjön lake, finally getting the clear air and mountain views we’d been craving for over a week, before descending to Europe’s largest water-filled canyon at Hällingsåfallet, where tonnes of water each second rocket from the cliff top, crashing 43 metres to the valley floor with such force that clouds of spray rise high above the viewing platforms by the waterfall. Awesome in the true sense of the word.
So it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. A real sense of off-the-track adventure, which after all is what I came for, hard days and all. The next stage will take us up to Hemavan, and the start of the famous Kungsleden, our highway to the far north. Somewhere between here and there I’ll turn 32 years old, and I’m already looking forward to a mountain birthday.