Up at 0530 on a grey drizzly British morning I was looking forward to my trip to one of my favourite places in the Sweden. At Stansted airport I met up with my travel companion and friend of many years Steve.
Before boarding the plane we managed to "squeeze" in a full cooked ........... which was nice!
Arrived at a snowy Stockholm Vasteras at 16.15 where the temperature was a chilly -4c. The airport bus "whisked" us to Stockholm central where we met up with the third member of our party Roger, a south African living in Sweden.
Rog took us back to his place as we had time between buses and his wife cooked us a wonderful pasta and chicken dinner - later that evening, fortified, we boarded the Stockholm underground and began our trip! The sense of adventure was tangible and we all, rucksack laden as we were, couldn't wait to reach our destination and begin.
0500hrs -10c we arrived at Arjang Varmland and before beginning our first 15km hike decided to have a coffee. Swedes drink coffee like we Brits drink Tea and although none of us were really Swedes 'when in Rome'.
While we enjoyed the fresh air, the warm coffee and mentally prepared ourselves for the coming hike a car, a dark shadow, cruised towards us. Head lights blazing the vehicle suddenly flashed us with a spot light, Roger cursed, "If that's the local Police ,..........." but lo and behold it wasn't the police. Totally out of the blue my old friend Preben had decided to come collect us and save us the long dark hike to Risviken where we would be starting our adventure! On top of this unexpected surprise the crafty of old fox had also prepared a welcome for us and when we arrived we found reindeers skins, flasks of hot water and coffee, a lantern, fire wood and even a trout! What a great welcome and a good start to the week!
0930 -10c after a few hours sleep we all woke, packed our rucksacks and headed off into the Swedish country side. The plan was to hike cross country to a near by lake known as Jarnsjorn or the Iron lake. The hike out went without incident, well apart from a hilarious fall of two on icy patches en-route and we soon reached the wilderness shelter located on the lake which was to be our first nights camp. These shelters "DANO's" are dotted all over Varmland and set up with established campfires and supplied with firewood - to use them you need to pay for a nature card the funds of which go towards the up keep of the shelters.
Although the three of us haven't travelled together before I was impressed by the efficient manor in which we jelled - like a well oiled machine we went straight into camp routine, Steve set about lighting the fire, I gathered spruce tips to lay as a 'carpet' insulating us/ our feet from the frozen ground while we relaxed around camp and then myself and Roger set off to gather more fire wood.
As darkness closed around us, our camp established and well provisioned we relaxed with a dram of Jagermeister and a hearty meal of pasta and meatballs - spiced with a liberal dose of Tabasco sauce.
One thing about 3 people sleeping in a DANO is you don't get a good nights sleep as every movement, fart or snore is amplified! There is a thin rocky strip which reaches into the lake here and one thing we found was that the ice and snow covered these - these rocks are usually about a meter above the water level but when I walked across to them I went through the ice and calf deep in water - the weight of the ice on the lake must have caused the water level to rise!
Next morning we awoke to a light snow, Lynx tracks passed hither and dither around us - breakfasted on fried bacon and polar bread fried in the bacon fat which tasted fantastic! Before saddling up and starting on our second hike this time down to a place we all (anyone who has done WEISS training) know as 'the island'.
Before we reached the lake the snow had grown heavy, temperatures were down to -6c and the wind chill well below this so we took shelter (and lunch) in a wildlife observation hut before crossing the ice of the lake for our final destination.
Thus far on the trip I had been wearing a polyester zip necked base layer and a Swanndri Bushshirt, while my companions were dressed in more modern clothing - the first major difference we started to notice was that while I was warm in my clothing I never overheated or sweated whilst the other two did - this was a pleasant surprise to me and the start of a learning curve.
Crossing the ice we arrived at our new campsite with about 2 hours of daylight left - I suggested we 'quickly' set up our shelters then concentrate our efforts at gathering firewood. A sound plan however little did I know that whilst my own shelter (laavu) was erected in about 30 minutes the other two would take much longer, indeed it was only later I discovered that Roger didn't even have a shelter with him and was planning to build a lean too ............. with only a hour of daylight left and the cold creeping in I felt the pressing need to motivate the other two, and with a sudden buzz of activity we collected fire wood and hacked a hole through the ice to ensure we had a good water supply (we covered the hole with spruce bows to stop it refreezing but also to warn anyone crossing the ice the hole was there!)
Water in a frozen world is as equally important as anywhere else - so if you can secure a supply it makes life easier - melting snow is a labours task as it takes a lot of snow to produce a small amount of fluid which usually tastes burned, melting ice is better but as we later found you can have a pot of water boiling around the edges while there is still a block of ice slowly melting in the centre!
-4c today and Preben came out to do a little ice fishing with us. We augered holes in the ice and set up rods baited with prawn. Preben demo'd alternative methods of ice fishing for the guys while we waited.
Apparently 0830 to 1030 is the time the fish are biting here and almost on queue I had my first bite ........several time we had fish take our bait but no strikes and then just when we least expected it I caught our first - a nice big Trout! Several more bait thefts later and then came our/my second catch of the day! Happy as larry we called it a day as two fish were more than enough for us!
Cold weather conditions make some people become very self obsessed and overly concerned about their personal comfort or perceived safety and this became evident amongst us too. While drying his wet goretex lined boots (I wore Lundhags and had no problems) Steve even managed to burn holes in his socks!
That evening for dinner we had chorizo and rice and Ponassed Trout, a veritable feast!
Today again -4c but the wind chill was down making it feel much colder especially on the exposed lake ice. Today we started our survival exercise and I will write a review of this separately but for now it will suffice for me to say we would only be using 'honest' emergency packs (by honest I mean we all avoided the temptation to add other extra's aka comforts we wouldn't usually carry) the temperature would drop to -10c and our scenario was that we were ice fishermen who had run out of day light and been forced into a over night camp.
Morale amongst us was very high, it was a long, felt even longer, chilly night even though the temperature within our shelters was a constant 0c and the following morning we had a visit from a journalist from one of the local newspapers.
Lunch time we called it a day and broke camp - recovered our rucksacks which we had secured away from camp in case of emergencies and headed off across the ice back to Risviken.
Back in Risviken we feasted on digestive biscuits, squeezy cheese and MRE apple jelly before going off with Preben to look at some wolf tracks which had been found skirting the edges of the adjacent lakes to his.
Early to bed tonight - with last light being at 1725 we all slept soundly as tomorrow we had a long 5 hour bus trip back to Stockholm to look forward too. While I lay there in my sleeping bag I reflected on the trip and what I had learnt, what kit worked and what never, and these are the pertinent points I will share with you at this time.
- Any food with a liquid content - eggs or squeezy cheese - will freeze so better to go for other alternatives like pasta, cup-a-soups and salami sausage etc.
- The M95 sissipuuko is a fantastic tool and while on my summer solo hike I bemoaned it saying I only seemed to use a pocket knife in the frozen world where I found myself it was worth its weight in gold.
- Swanndri bushshirt - original NZ made - was a eye opener and a fantastic garment. The price of these is ridiculously high these days but if you can pick one up on ebay for a more reasonable price I'd recommend you do as mine was warm through the trip, so much so I never needed any other additional insulation, it breathed whilst hiking so I avoided over heating and the dreaded sweat and was safe around the fire. I have to say I am a convert to these garments.
- Matches - I lit every fire we had with matches. I have heard people including "guru" types dissing matches as being less reliable and yet this is not my experience - indeed I would say that someone who has trouble lighting a fire with matches shouldn't be blaming the matches but pondering their own skills and fire prep.
- Socks - wear one pair for hiking and two pairs when relaxing in camp - but ensure your boots are big enough as squashed socks aren't warm in which case you'd be better off with less pairs.
- Work gloves are always handy - thick leather gardening gloves - especially around the fire and also saves getting hands dirty or cut while doing standard camp chores etc.
Overall a great week with two good friends, we tested ourselves, we enjoyed ourselves and we hoarded more wonderful memories.
My Bushcrafty granddad - Preben
The breakfast of kings
Roger and Steve half way through day 1's hike
My boots and gaiters encrusted in snow and ice - my LK70 in the back ground too
Roger and Steve half way through the second days hiking
Our water hole
Moi in full hiking mode
Ice fishing set up
Mr Trout number 1
Roger during the survival exercise looking like some downed bush pilot
Steve looking very grubby
Our survival shelters - a bit of space blanket and a spruce bed - lovely
Well folks I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and I hope this has inspired you to get out there and enjoy the nature!