The Exchange VIII. Skuleskogen

When my longtime friend Mathilda told me she was going to visit me in Sweden I scrambled around finding something I could do for a week with her. After all, Uppsala is quite a small town when it comes down to it. Luckily through some odd twists of fate a Kiwi guy I had met in Uppsala called Josh met Mathilda while she was on Erasmus in Vienna. He had messaged me a couple of days prior asking if I was going hiking any time soon. I had been wanting to go to Skuleskogen for some time so this all fitted very nicely together. The addition of Christian from the ski trip made us a party of four in total.

So that was how I found myself standing on a train platform at 4am with Josh and Mathilda. Christian had booked late and had secured cheap tickets on a reasonable hour. Mathilda and I had only had an hour or so of sleep as she had got in late to Uppsala the night before. To add insult to injury we had to walk/run/bike from Flogsta. But no matter, we caught the train and had a rather drowsy couple of hours watching the sun rise before we made it to Sundsvall where we had to wait an hour for a transfer. After a quick stretch of the legs we were onto Örnsköldsvik which was our last stop on the train. We had a little explore including checking out the local Max before meeting up with Christian at the train station. We managed to find the right bus alright to take us South toward the national park. We were amazed to find as students this only cost 36kr. The driver let us out at the nature centre next to the beginning of the road to southern entry of the park.

Boots donned, packs on and we were off down the road. Now I seemed to remember vaguely that the walk was about 3km, not so bad.The reality of the matter is that as we plodded the road seemed to get longer and longer in such a fashion that we had to wonder if we’d taken a wrong turn.

More predictably it was my guestimation that was at fault. The trek up the road ended up being 8km, not that that was a problem as the company wasn’t half bad! Once we entered the park proper there was a bit of snow on the ground, but nothing above the ankle. The only person it bothered was Mathilda, who had to make do in her sneakers. The track descended from the southern entrance down to a camping spot on the shores of the Baltic. There was a cold nip in the air but the views really were fantastic.

Then the track continued along the coast, undulating up and down with the terrain. As we made our way down the coastline we passed by the first cabin, which sat cosily on the shore nestled in the shadows. It was tempting after our road march to stop there, but we soldiered on. Our path led us across several sets of iron age burial mounds, a bit different to little old NZ eh? When we did finally reach the turn off to the cabin, we had to contend with a rather icy descent to where a sandpit connects the mainland to the pair of ‘islands’ that housed our destination for the day. There was actually a pair of cabins on the island, we choose the second one because I’d heard good things about it (plus it was still in the sun), but both were of a rather good quality.

We were quite happy to be at our accommodation for the night, the days’ traveling had really taken it out of us. We did a team effort collecting firewood, before Josh and I were assigned to freshwater duty. This involved the 1km round trip with two 10 litre water containers each. It was not such a simple task, considering we had to actually find the stream on the mainland, before navigating the ice back to the cabin burdened with all that water weight. Nevertheless we were up for the task, and soon we were back panting at the cabin with enough water for a paddling pool. The sun had began to set, in the beautiful way it always does in Scandinavia. Rather than get coped up in the cabin Josh and I valiantly left Christian and Mathilda on dinner duty whilst we went for an evening stroll. This became a rather long stroll along most of the length of the island, but we made it back just in time to see the others give up hope of our return and tuck into dinner. We rounded the night off with some chocie and cards.

After making way too much porridge in the morning, forcing everyone to eat double portions and having to eat what was left in the pot we rolled (literally) out of camp. We climbed back up the steep icy slope that we had descended the day before and rejoined the main track. This led us up into a rocky canyon that ascended upwards, with trees hanging at angles over us and snow covering the ground.

Following this natural cutting upward we crossed over a deep ravine and found ourselves high above the cabin we had spent the night in. The views were truly spectacular. So spectacular in fact that Christian couldn’t help but take a few cheeky drone shots. Coming over the crest of the hill it was a few hundred metres before we stumbled into a little red cabin sitting by a frozen lake. Two Danish men were chilling by the hut and we said our salutations, unworried as surely this was not the hut we were looking for. However an examination of their map proved the opposite, this was in fact supposed to be our shelter for the night. I awkwardly laughed this navigational faff off as we put our packs down for lunch. The others weren’t too keen on my tube of cheese, what a fussy lot. After lunch we left our packs at the cabin and made our way towards one of the major attractions of the park, Slåttdalsberget, a impressive canyon cutting through one of the highest features in the surrounds. The canyon was full of the remnants of ice towers that had collapsed into it as a result of the spring sun. We weren’t too keen to hang around in the shadow of those remaining!

We hauled ourselves (literally due to the ice) out the other side of the canyon and investigated the viewpoint that was nestled up there around the corner. Happy with our excursion we tramped back to the hut and had to think about what we would do for the rest of the day. We decided on a swim, which was harder than it sounds given the entire lake was frozen over solid. And so began an hour or two of hacking at the ice using a shovel to try and make a hole big enough to take a dip in. In the end we couldn’t break through the ice even after making a hole a foot deep, so we just formed what we had into a bath tub shape and settled with that. As I made myself ready for my bath I heard some voices in the distance and lo and behold it was some friends from Flogsta: Liv, Jaz, Moll and Paul. They came just in time to witness my icy baptism. Sadly due to our Danish friends there wasn’t enough room in the hut so they passed on through. The rest of the evening we spent chilling outside by the campfire and eating, can never do to much of that. We rounded it all off with a few shots which got the two other lads far too giggly and some rounds of cards.

I made far too much porridge again the next morning. We set off around 10am for a cabin known as Lillruten. The Danes had told us ominous stories of waist deep snow so we really had no idea what to expect. Our path took us back through the canyon to another attraction of the park, a large boulder stuck fast between the walls of a smaller canyon further down. Of course, Josh and Christian insisted on photos.

Passed this obstacle we carried on downward on an icy slope before cutting across the valley. This is when we found the SLUSH. Wet slush, deep slush, yellow slush, frozen slush, slushy slush. This was imperfect given Mathilda was wearing sneakers but she marched on like a trooper, up to her knees in snow. We had lunch around 12, enjoying some classic PB wraps. After lunch we continued plowing through the slush for some hours until we caught side of some other people in a clearing that once housed a cabin until it burnt down a year ago. They too warned of deep snow, so we proceeded with caution. Now the plod through the snow was wearying but nothing special compared to what we had walked through so I don’t know what all these people were on about (unless they had found all the holes for us!). When Lillruten finally came into view we were quite pleased. This newfound cheeriness was tested when we struggled to open the door, making us consider sleeping in the woodshed. Luckily Josh used some of his 3rd XV skills on it and it finally came open.

We lounged around for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying a nap or two (despite Josh’s snoring). Several cups of tea later we set about making pesto feta pasta for dinner over the fire. We ate dinner and finished the leftover alcohol over the table, spinning some big yarns. As the light faded the conversations got more ‘interesting’, we really got to know each other on a certain level!

We were in no real rush to get out of the bush the next day, although we were uncertain as to our travel arrangements, knowing just what time our train left that night. On our way out we made a detour to a view point which turned into a sink or swim adventure across the snow. To add insult to injury the view was nothing out of what had become ordinary to us!

The main path soon became a boardwalk and then before long we were on a gravel road with the sound of the highway in the distance. It was roughly 3km before we finally reached the E4 highway. The bus timetable was cryptic and by our interpretations we wouldn’t be in Örnsköldsvik till about Christmas which didn’t work with our train schedule. Instead we tried the luck of our thumb on the road, Mathilda and I anyway. It took about 20 minutes for a lady to pull over to offer a ride. I let Christian take that one as his train was earlier and instead stuck my thumb out again, this time with Josh and his so called ‘magic smile’. It seemed to work because two cars later an old bloke picked us up, we were so quick in fact that we bet the others to the burger joint Max in Örnsköldsvik.

Given it was around Easter most of the town was shut, not so helpful when you have a billion hours to kill before your train. We parted with Christian at the docks, cursing his early train. We wandered down to the Fjällräven Centre to investigate. With classic Kiwi pluck Josh walked straight in the door and asked the serious looking people wearing lanyards if we could look around. They predictably said no so we began walking out when a lady hailed us. Turned out that she worked for the tourism department and invited us to come inside chillax and asked if we wanted tickets to the U18 Icehockey worldcup game that was on that night (it was an icehockey arena!). So instead of being bums in train station we enjoyed some top notch icehockey provided by Sweden and Latvia. This ended just in time for us to get to the station and find our train. On the train I had time to reflect on how special the High Coast of Sweden really is.



Tramper with something to say about tramps (of the walking variety).

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Sam Harrison

Tramper with something to say about tramps (of the walking variety).