Monday, 14 June 2010

Glaskogen National Park, Sweden

In May 2008, my Danish brother in law and I decided we'd spend 4 days hiking in Glaskogen National Park, near Arvika in Sweden. It was a cold May and there had recently been, and was to be more, quite a bit of snow. Temperatures were ranging from just above freezing to just below. Rain, as is so often the case in Sweden, was falling heavily. Poring over a map of Glaskogen, we decided to hike all the way around the circumference of the Stora Gla (literally translated into Big Lake, as I recall) and stay, apart from one night in Norway en route, in small open wooden shelters with the capacity for open fire. I met him at Gardermoen (Oslo Airport) and off we drove.

We arrived at Arvika and secured a (comedy) map of the area we'd be hiking in. It's not particularly difficult to navigate in Swedish National Parks, or at least the one we were in, as the trees by the path have an orange painted line on them to delineate the path much like major trails in the Alps. We parked our car within the boundary of the park, locked it and headed off knowing it would be some days before we'd be back. I half wondered if it would still be there, but I think that's the mistrustful Londoner in me.

The first day was intriguing for me. Normally a hillwalker, the route was predominantly through tall, ancient evergreen forest, punctuated by heathland, and areas where controlled forest fires had been set. The altitude rarely peaked above 300m. We sporadically glimpsed the mysterious and spellbinding Stora Gla through the densely packed trees and, although we periodically we peaked sufficiently to sneak outside the woodland's caress and gaze longingly over the forest-veiled landscape, it was the bush trekking that fascinated me. It felt murky, enigmatic and otherworldly, as if we were trespassing on some ancient land, guarded by steely sentinels - eyeing us warily. Snow still adorned the heath-covered ground in places and we treaded lightly.






The weather, that first day, was not too bad at all - a frigid chill clung to to the air but the rain was pleasingly absent. Had we known what was to come, we might have sped back to the car and locked the doors. The first night, we found a shelter which was surprisingly unoccupied. We carried a tent with us, just in case the shelters were occupied - as it was, not once did we see anyone else throughout the four days. We did encounter a moose, but he simply eyed us with disdain before bounding off into the forest. Beside the shelter, some yards away, under protective sanctuary of a huge tarp, were thick blocks of wood for the fire. We grabbed some and shoved them into the corner of the shelter. Once inside, we dispersed our kit, laying gratefully on our Thermarests and sliding into the comforting warmth of our bags. We powered up the stove, enjoying its vicarious heat and voraciously devoured dinner. Still cold, even after a good feed, we made ourselves a fire watching the flames dance, casting a rosy hue across the shelter in the pale blue moonlight. The vista across the Stora Gla from our shelter was ethereal and peaceful. We sat, warmed by food and our bags, and chatted well into the night before drifting off to a tranquil sleep.



The second day dawned and brought with it a change in the weather and, in turn, the milieu which became dark and foreboding. It had rained during the night - not that we'd noticed tucked up in the shelter - but the ground became slippery underfoot and boggy in places and we carefully threaded our way through the woodland as the walking became more technically challenging. The rain began to fall heavily and we were soon feeling the effects. We stopped for lunch under the cover of some heavily laden pines and silently gave thanks for the sylvan canopy providing respite from the lashing rain. Frequently, throughout the day, as we climbed above of the forest roof, we were treated to what would have been spectacular views were it not for the cloud and mist permeating the air, but even in that weather, it was a magical, arcane place to be.



We eventually located our next shelter and settled down, glad to be out of the insistent precipitation. The map we had, the sort of thing you would see on a low-budget pirate flick, with detail distinctly lacking, showed roughly where all the of the various shelters were - there were a multitude of them placed within reasonable walking distance of each other - usually around 15-20km apart. It was therefore easy to plan a route around the Stora Gla which permitted varied overnight stops at different shelters - there was not one single route circumnavigating the lake.





Sparking up the stove again, we were ecstatic to get ourselves warm and a little more dry and began again hungrily gorging ourselves. Overnight temperatures dropped and there seemed to be more snow on the ground as we made our way through the forest. It was grimly portentous.




In fact, the snow was indeed to come. As it got colder we realised we were in for a horror of a night as it was clear temperatures were going to drop rapidly. As we climbed again, beset by sleet and snow, we happened upon the most amazing thing - a moose, initially startled by our approach, regarded us with contempt, before bounding away through the forest but not before we'd had a chance to observe it, perhaps only 30m away, for more than a few seconds. As mist puffed from it's nostrils, and the sleet beaded on its thick hair and dripped to the forest floor, it was clear here was a fellow far more suited to the inclement Swedish weather to come than we were!

We arrived at our final camp, tired from the rain, snow and wind and realised, that, if the fire was to keep us warm, we'd need to protect it from the weather as much as possible. We cut down fern branches and used longer branches, already on the ground, lashed together with cord we were carrying, to create a shelter to protect the fire from the rain. We hung our wet gear to dry and snuggled into our sleeping bags. The temperature dropped to -3C (according to the Suunto Vector I had with me) that night and it took quite a few layers to keep warm. The fire, thankfully, continued, unabashed by the weather, and I suspect the temperature outside the shelter was even lower. We checked the internet a few days later and it was allegedly -7C. Food was getting low and we were glad it was the last day. Tired from the wind and the rain, and from constantly keeping warm, we slept well that night.




It was a long, wet walk to the car the next day and by this point we were enervated after a long, hard hike. All in all, it had been extremely challenging and immensely rewarding, despite the rain, and even though I did not bring waterproof trousers with me, I was wearing Montane Terra pants which, even soaked such that I had to wring them out on that last night to dry them before pulling them on and getting into my bag, they kept the wind at bay. Anyone who wants a gear list can email me and I'll let you know what I took. It's a magical, mysterious and recondite place, the forests surrounding the Stora Gla, and I would recommend it to anyone.

7 comments:

  1. It's a fascinating area. I have done a couple of 2-week canoe treks in Varmland in 2008 & 2009. Crossing Stora Gla at it's widest point directly into the teeth of a force 5-6 blizzard was a memorable day.

    How welcome those shelters and fire-pits are after a hard day!

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  2. We really enjoyed our time there - fantastic despite the weather. The shelters were great and I love the fact we could get a fire going. That was true cosiness. Blizzard in a canoe? Reminds me of white-water kayaking in North Wales at -12C in a Dagger Mamba - hairy...

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  3. Maz - Great hike through Glaskogen. Looking forward to more of that kind of fun. I will work on improving my gear for next time to avoid the jeans and Musto waterproof sailing pants. I have a feeling it will not be good for snow and low tempretures in Lake District. Boots was great though...

    Nothing is better than getting warmed by a fire and dry the gear out after a long days walk.

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  4. It was an excellent trek Sofus although I think that the Lakes in January 2011 will be an entirely different proposition! Next time the Hardangervidda...

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  5. i was there last summer... really lovely place, i recomended all the people in my city (Granada, spain) to visit the park... the windshelter in sweden is a god idea. Greetings from Spain.
    pictures here: https://picasaweb.google.com/Gatofotos75

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  6. i was there last summer... really lovely place, i recomended all the people in my city (Granada, spain) to visit the park... the windshelter in sweden is a god idea. Greetings from Spain.
    pictures here: https://picasaweb.google.com/Gatofotos75

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's a fascinating area. I have done a couple of 2-week canoe treks in Varmland in 2008 & 2009. Crossing Stora Gla at it's widest point directly into the teeth of a force 5-6 blizzard was a memorable day.

    How welcome those shelters and fire-pits are after a hard day!

    ReplyDelete