Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Day 7: More Reindeer, More Rain....

August 22: We woke to a beautiful, clear morning! The weather forecast wasn't looking good for the rest of the day, however, with rain expected by noon and continuing the rest of the day and overnight, so Karolina and I decided to hit the trail early and get in as much hiking as we could before the rain started.

Sunrise was gorgeous without a cloud in the sky!

The clear skies didn't last long, however, and even before we left camp at 7:00am, there wasn't a blue patch left in the sky. And it was cold! There wasn't any wind, but temperatures seemed to plummet throughout the morning after the sun came up. That's never a good sign for weather!

The trail passed over a long, mostly-flat plateau so the hiking was quick and easy. It was also prime habitat for reindeer which could be seen near and far--and we saw a lot of reindeer over the next few hours. We joked that it was another sign that the rain this afternoon would be brutal. So far, our theory that reindeer = rain has held true every day of our hike.

After a couple of hours, the trail descended off the plateau into a river valley where we reached the next hut, the Raufallsstugan, on the trail at 10:30, and given the dire weather forecasts for the rest of the afternoon, we talked about the possibility of spending a night in the shelter. We were surprised, however, when we arrived at the hut and discovered that there wasn't a caretaker and that all of the rooms were locked with a key. Apparently, to reserve a bed, one was supposed pay for it and pick up the key in town and drop it off at the next town.

But we didn't realize that and the idea of staying in the hut for the night was a last-minute decision so that wasn't really an option at this point.

However... one room was unlocked so hikers could get out of the elements which included a small kitchen, a few tables and chairs and two beds. So maybe we could stay there after all?

When we arrived, the German guy with the yellow coat we had first met a few days earlier--the one who helped the woman who ultimately was airlifted to a hospital for her injuries--was still there having spent the night there. We were surprised to see him figuring he'd want to take advantage of the lack of rain in the morning like we did. It was as if he were waiting until the rain started before continuing for the day! I think he just liked to sleep in very late, though, because we've caught up with him several times late in the morning still in his camp although we had already been hiking for hours.

He was packing up to hit the trail, though, and would leave about 10 minutes after we arrived. We wished him luck and good weather, but we all knew he was going to get miserably wet.

Arriving at the Raufallsstugan Hut

The rain hadn't started yet, however, so Karolina decided to go outside and pick blueberries and hike a short trail along the nearby river while I watched some Netflix shows on my smartphone. The hut didn't have any electricity, but our devices were fully charged after leaving Ammarnas and I had a solar panel charger with a little extra juice, so I could watch at least a few hours of stuff without any problems.

Having quit for the day at 10:30, we had lots of time to kill, and after watching a couple of shows on Netflix, I pulled out my laptop and started doing some work on Walking 4 Fun. I couldn't get online, obviously, but I could upload my work later when I did get an Internet connection. At best, I'd only have a couple of hours before running the laptop battery down so I didn't want to get too deep into anything complicated and wound up working on videos for the website.

If you don't use the website, it allows people to virtually walk trails. And, in fact, I was taking hundreds of photos each day so that after I finished the Kungsleden, I could add that trail as well. But a couple of months earlier, I updated the site to support videos as well as photos! So when you reach a certain point along the trail, you can watch a short video of that section of the trail.

I had hundreds of videos I needed to process. Deciding which ones to use, which ones not to use, adding closed captions, then figuring out exactly where on the given trail the video is supposed to show up. I didn't process them all before launching the new feature--I'll just work on a few here and there as time permits and eventually, someday, I'll finish them all.

Our home for the night!

So with the couple of hours that I knew the battery would last, that seemed like the perfect task to work on. Process as many videos as I could then upload them at the next trail town. And that's what I did. I wound up processing 7 new videos that I took on the John Muir Trail that I'd later upload in a trail town. When the battery level fell to 5%, I shut the laptop down and stopped working. My work was done for the day.

A little after noon, the expected rain started falling and it continued almost nonstop for the rest of the day and evening. Another hiker soon appeared, hiking in from the other direction, and decided to call it quits for the day as well. Inexplicably, I didn't write anything about him down in my journal so I remember absolutely nothing about him--not his name or even his country of origin. He didn't talk much in any case.

So the three of us settled in the for night. The rest of the afternoon we spent writing in our journals, cooking dinner, comparing notes about what to expect ahead on the trail and reading our Kindles. Looking out the windows to the cold, wet rain, it felt very cozy inside. =)

Lots of reindeer on the trail today! Which, of course, means a lot of rain....
Reindeer tracks!

If you notice the snowmobile markers along the trail, they look old, worn and faded.

But clearly, they were planning to replace those markers soon!
We would pass by piles of new snowmobile markers maybe every five or ten minutes along this section of the trail.
So many great suspension bridges along this trail! This one went over the river next to the hut.

Karolina took this while out picking blueberries before the rain started.
She was very proud of her haul! =) Also, she let me have half of them which I'd eat with breakfast tomorrow. Thanks, Karolina! =D
Karolina cooks dinner. As you can probably guess from all the warm clothes that she's wearing, the inside of the hut wasn't heated. We might have been dry, but it was still a little cold! Actually, there might have been a small, wood-burning stove for heat. All of the huts and shelters seemed to have them, but we didn't use it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Day 6: Shipping Pains

August 21: Night passed over Ammarnäs without anything noteworthy happening. I'd periodically look out the window when I woke up and once again, it never seemed to get really dark, but I couldn't tell if that was because of our location so far north or due to the small amount of light pollution the town put out.

We slept in late--with plans so only do a half-day of hiking, we had time to relax. The morning was clear and gorgeous, and I was a little disappointed that we didn't have a full day of hiking with such great weather to our backs. Why?! Almost every day the weather has been less than stellar, and almost immediately upon reaching town yesterday, it clears up beautiful! Why does nature hate me?!

Karolina and I both took one last shower before checking out of the hotel/hostel and walking down to the grocery store where we planned to resupply.

Actually, the first thing we tried was to hit up the tourist office for suggestions about where to find lodging in Jakkvik which we figured would take us five days to reach, but they literally put out their closed sign just as we walked up. So we left to get groceries and hoped they'd be open again before we left town.

Packing up our packages! Little did I know when this photo was taken the problems that lay ahead....

Karolina stood outside the grocery store watching our gear while I went in first to buy 5 days worth of food. While being checked out, I asked about shipping--there were long portions of the Kungsleden that didn't have any grocery stores and the small shops in the hut, we had read, had rather expensive food since the food usually had to be transported there by helicopters or (in the winter) snowmobiles and our guidebook suggested that shipping food--especially the kind of stuff not found in the huts--could be competitive. But I wasn't sure how to ship stuff ahead (our guidebook was lacking such details!) The guy checking me out assured me that it wouldn't be a problem--he'd be glad to help.

Awesome. But first, I'd pack the food that I planned to carry for the next 5 days which was my first concern.

I exited the store, then Karolina took her turn shopping while I stood outside watching our gear and packing my newly acquired supplies.

When Karolina returned, I re-entered the store and soon bought another 10 days worth of food. I planned to send 5 days of food to two separate locations along the trail. The guy working at the store grabbed three boxes for us from the back of the store--old shipping boxes that they no longer needed.

I wanted to send three packages in total, but only two of them would include food. The last box would include my duffel bag which I used to check my gear when I fly and some extra Ziplocks, bags, clothes and toiletries to fill up the empty spaces. Stuff that I wouldn't need until I reached the end of the trail and needed them to fly home.

Karolina and I filled the two food boxes, but the boxes weren't quite big enough and we both had to take out a few days worth of food. About 7 days of our 10 days worth of food could fit. The other 3 days we decided just to carry. Which meant that I now carried 8 days of food on the trail. Ugh!

With the three boxes packed up and ready to go, I re-entered the grocery store to ship them.

The packages are ready for shipping!

At first a woman took me into the back--the area were customers usually aren't meant to go given me a behind-the-scenes view of the supermarket--into a small office where she got onto a computer and started searching for the specific addresses where the boxes needed to be mailed. But she had trouble finding the information online (the websites were all in Swedish so I was of absolutely zero help!) and eventually the man who first helped me took over the job and the woman went back to handle the registers again.

As he poked around, looking through one website after another trying to find the addresses, I learned that his name was Patrick. After what seemed like a half hour, he had come up empty. Well, not completely empty--he found some phone numbers of the places where I wanted the packages sent so he tried calling them, but the first ones he tried didn't answer their phones at all, and then he was on hold for what seemed like an eternity.

I was starting to get worried that we wouldn't be able to send these packages at all. Why is it so difficult?!

Patrick got a message on her personal phone that his kid needed to be picked up from school or something so he had to run off and do that, but it would only take about 10 or 15 minutes and he'd be right back.

I went outside to give Karolina an update--and ate a couple of snacks from my pack because it was lunch time and I was getting hungry. Karolina said that she was getting very bored sitting outside, not that I could blame her. She'd been sitting there for over an hour while I was inside trying to send these stupid packages.

Karolina took this photo through the window of the grocery store, and the woman next to me was the one who first started helping me before handing me off to Patrick after 15 minutes or so. (Sorry, it appears that Karolina took no photos of Patrick, but she wants everyone to know he was a very good-looking man.)
To be productive and give her something to do, I suggested that Karolina wander over to the tourist office again and see if she could locate lodging for us ahead in Jakkvik while I watched our gear until Patrick returned. Karolina returned maybe 10 minutes later saying that the "closed" sign on the tourist office was no longer there, but that the door was locked. That didn't make any sense, but I didn't want to leave in case Patrick returned.

We chatted for another half hour and I was beginning to wonder what happened to Patrick when he poked his head out the front door and called me back saying that he had been back for some time and had managed to get through to two of the three phone numbers to confirm the address where the packages needed to be sent. Yes! Finally!

He tried calling the last number but was once again had trouble getting through for the better part of a half hour. I was impressed with the patience of Patrick. He'd been helping me for close to two hours now and didn't seem at all bothered by the inconvenience. I felt a little bad for the trouble I caused. I thought it would be an easy thing to look up the addresses and mail the packages off within a few minutes. I certainly didn't expect this to take hours!

But finally he got through to the last phone number and after a brief conversation in Swedish of which I could understand absolutely nothing, he hung up the phone and told me the good news--he had verified the correct address to mail the package! Yeah! =)

He filled out the necessary forms online, printed the labels, put them on the boxes and gave me the receipts which I then took up to the register to pay for. We were done! It took over two hours to mail those packages, and we'd probably been at the grocery store for closer to three hours in total.

When I exited the store for the last time--free!--Karolina was chatting with another hiker who had arrived in town but was headed in the opposite direction on the trail. She told him that we were shipping food up ahead on the trail.

"You don't really need to do that," he said. "The huts have little stores with food already available."

Yeah, but they were (allegedly) expensive and had limited options. And we were only sending two boxes of food ahead along the longer stretches between grocery stores like Kvikkjokk.

"Oh, well that's a good place to send one," the hiker replied. "The selection there is very limited."

Glad we had his approval, but the boxes were already in the mail. Or rather, the bus. The bus service would actually be carrying our packages to their final destinations because the post office either wouldn't deliver to them or is more expensive or something. I didn't really understand that, but the bus, Patrick assured me, was the way to ship. At least to these particular destinations. (Our guidebook also suggested the bus as well.)

The hiker left and Karolina and I headed back to the tourist office to find out about lodging in Jakkvik, where I figured out why Karolina had trouble getting into the building--it was an emergency exit and she hadn't been at the front door at all! Oops. =)

We got a good laugh out of that, then entered the tourist office where a friendly woman told us about the hostel in Jakkvik which had room for 80 beds and said at this time of year, there should be plenty of space available. Really? Eighty beds?! Holy cow! She dialed the number on her phone and handed it over to me, and I made a reservation for the two of us for five days out.

Mission accomplished! At this point, I was ready to hit the trail. It was well into the afternoon by now and due to the shipping fiasco, we were hours behind schedule! But Karolina really wanted to see Potato Hill before we left town.

I kind of wanted to see it too but I was ready to write it off, anxious to finally leave town, but off we headed to the edge of town where Potato Hill was located.

Potato Hill is a small, natural hill that looks oddly out-of-place and, upon seeing it, I assumed it must have been made-man. It's not, but it looks man-made. And on the sunny southern slopes, the townspeople use it to grow potatoes. It's a funny little place, with a funny little name, and we followed a small road that climbed the back of the hill to the top with wonderful views.

I stopped to eat some snacks at the top--it was a nice place for a break with benches and even grills! Although I didn't cook anything on the grill, I made use of the benches.

We walked by an old, wooden church and some old, historical cabins and finally got out of town.... at 4:00 in the afternoon. I never imagined we'd be leaving town so late in the afternoon! We were so far behind schedule it wasn't even funny.

We followed the road out of town where it intersected with the Kungsleden and were finally back on track again. At least we thought we were on the right track, but after a few junctions without any signs pointing which direction was the Kungsleden, our confidence was falling. Did we somehow miss a turn? I kept a particularly close eye on our topo maps, comparing the ground we were hiking with the slopes and details on the map and--as far as I could tell--we were going in the right direction. But it bugged me that none of the junctions we were approaching had the Kungsleden listed. Why not?

We only hiked a few hours before setting up camp near another emergency shelter. It was the first day it didn't rain on us at all! (And, coincidence...? It was also the first day that we saw absolutely no reindeer!) The weather, in fact, had been quite nice all day. Sunny and warm. A little windy when we got above tree line, but overall, a beautiful day for hiking.

But I was still grumbling over the fact that we wasted so much of the day in the grocery store trying to mail those packages. It seemed so unfair that our first day of good weather, we didn't start hiking until 4:00 in the afternoon!

There's a postscript to this post.... Like I mentioned before, Karolina got very bored waiting outside of the grocery store for me and later, after we finished the trail and I flew home, going through my photos, I found some... unexpected photos of Karolina on my camera. She had taken a few silly selfies to entertain herself, for me to discover about a month later! Very funny, Karolina....

This was the silly selfie I found on my camera--about a month after Karolina took it!
Potato Hill--where all the locals grow potatoes on the sun-facing side of the hill.
The view from the top of Potato Hill was quite nice!
It's also a nice place to take a snack break because I was starving at this point! We missed lunch!
What a beautiful, wooden church!
Karolina checks out one of the historic cabins.
And finally back on the trail again!
This ski lift was one of the landmarks on my topo map that had me convinced we were still heading in the correct direction--even though the last few trail intersections had nothing pointing to the Kungsleden.
This wind shelter was another important landmark that confirmed we were still heading in the right direction.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Day 5: Helicopter rescue on the trail!

August 20: Karolina and I woke up to another overcast, dreary day. The winds continued to howl, pushing us off the trail as we wandered like drunks along the trail. We passed quite a number of people on our way to the Aigert Hut--far more than we had been seeing and wondered where all of the people suddenly came from. It was Monday today--maybe they arrived in Ammarnäs during the weekend (Saturday, specifically), hiked to the first hut southbound (Aigert) on Sunday, and now were passing us as a massive group on Monday morning?

At the hut, we took a short snack break on the downwind side of the hut allowing the hut to break the wind and rest in a relatively calm area. The caretaker of the hut found us over there eating and wandered over to say hi and, upon learning that we were hiking northbound, asked if we had seen anyone.

"Uhh... yeah... Lots of people," we answered. "Did you have someone in particular in mind?"

And he did--the injured woman we had passed the previous afternoon. Apparently, she hobbled along the trail to the next shelter, not arriving until 11:00 at night and had been helicoptered out this morning and taken to a hospital. Which was all news to us! This caretaker knew more about the woman's situation than we did! But we knew who he was talking about since we had passed her maybe a half hour after she injured herself.

Karolina and I were surprised for a couple of reasons, though. First, if she had been injured so badly that she needed to be rescued by a helicopter, why didn't she stop at the next emergency shelter? We saw her approaching it not more than an hour or so after we passed her. It had a radio that--assuming it worked--she could have used to call for help. But even if it didn't work, she could have rested there until another hiker passed by who could have called for help further up the trail.

This was the caretaker of the Aigert Hut--whose name I never wrote down and have now forgotten. Sorry about that!

But at the very least, we would have expected she'd have stopped at the emergency shelter and rested overnight and see how she felt in the morning before deciding to continue on or call for help. There seemed absolutely no reason to exasperate her injuries by pushing on past the emergency shelter. I could understand if she didn't want to set up camp on the side of the trail if she didn't have the equipment for it--with the huts along the route, it's entirely possible to hike the trail with no more than a day's worth of food, no heavy tent, or stove, or other camping gear. For all we knew, she didn't have the gear to camp away from a hut or shelter, so that was understandable. But we couldn't figure out why she would have kept going past the emergency shelter if her injuries were so serious. That just seemed stupid.

But we were glad to learn that the woman was off the trail and in good hands.

The hut's caretaker also told us that it was late in the season for cloudberries that that we'd see some along the trail just past the hut and that we should try them if we hadn't already. He gave us a description of the edible berry and we found the area where they were still growing not far up the trail. It wasn't a berry I'd ever heard of before.

It's a cloudberry!

They tasted like.... I don't know. Berries! =) There weren't a lot to pick, but in the local grocery stores, you'll sometimes find cloudberry jam and stuff. Apparently, it's difficult to grow requiring just the right type of soil with the right amount of acidity so it's not harvested in large quantities, but you'll find some cloudberry products in Sweden if you ever want to try something local.

After leaving the hut, the trail passed over a small ridge then descended toward a plateau at which point the strong winds finally died off. I'm not sure if the weather finally decided to take a break or our location on the other side of the ridge blocked the strong winds that had been buffeting us before, but the clouds also started clearing and it turned into a pretty wonderful afternoon.

The trail soon descended rapidly towards the small town of Ammarnäs--our first resupply point along the trail. We checked into a hotel/hostel and walked a bit around town checking out the grocery store and getting our bearings.

We ate dinner at the restaurant at the hotel. Karolina ordered the arctic char--which she found somewhat disappointing complaining that it had too many potatoes and not enough fish. And that's a problem.... why? Ha! =) I ordered a hamburger with fries which was excellent.

One of our top priorities was to wash our laundry because our clothes were absolutely disgusting and filthy from the trail, but doing laundry turned out to be something of a fiasco. We couldn't figure out how to open the lid of the washing machine and had to go to the front desk for help, and even after he described how to operate it, we still couldn't figure out the blasted machine and had to go back for help again. This time he went down to the laundry and showed us exactly how to open it--pulling a lever at the button of the machine while popping the top at the same time. I'd never seen anything like it before.

After what seemed like a suitable period of time, we checked up on the laundry again and the machine had stopped, so we popped it open and started pulling out clothes--but they were absolutely drenched. Of course, washers are supposed to get clothes wet, but these were beyond wet. Large rivers of water cascaded off the clothes. It was like the spin cycle hadn't completed--and maybe it hadn't. The machine had seemed finished washing our clothes, but maybe it wasn't?

We decided to put the clothes back in the washer and start it over again, but by this point, we'd created a disturbingly large pool of water on the floor after pulling out our wet clothes. I tried to find a towel or something I could use to soak it up but couldn't find anything and eventually left it to dry. I felt a little bad about that. They really shouldn't let us touch the washing machine here!

We left and came back another hour or two later--giving the washing machine plenty of time to do its thing, and this time when we popped it open and took out our clothes, they were wet--but just a light dampness and suitable for a dryer. Not that we dried our clothes in a dryer--we let them drip dry in our room instead. It's the European way to dry clothes.

For the rest of the night, Karolina enjoyed the sauna while I got online an caught up with email and checked up on my websites. Life was good!

I fill up my water bottle--and almost fall into the creek while doing it!

We've already come 70 kilometers! And just 8 more to our resupply point!
That's Ammarnäs on the shore on our side of the lake--and our first resupply point for the trail!
There weren't a lot of cloudberries to pick, but Karolina went a little crazy picking blueberries which were everywhere!
A video of Karolina's crazy blueberry picking!

Karolina was impressed with both the size of the mushrooms on the trail and the sheer numbers of them. I thought they were pretty normal, but then... I live in the Pacific Northwest. =)

Entering the small village of Ammarnäs
The Ammarnäs tourist office
I brush some dirt off my shoes. I think these brushes are meant more for getting snow off ones shoes in the winter time, but they work for dirt too!
Dinner! I got the hamburger. Karolina got the arctic char.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Day 4: Swedish Weather is Brutal!

August 19: After setting up my tarp the previous evening, initially my sleep went well despite the strong winds and light rain, but soon after darkness settled in--or at least what counted as darkness in this land--the rain picked up and turned into a heavy downpour and the wind shifted blowing into the open end of my tarp.

I moved my umbrella to block the hole, and the larger tarp size paid off handsomely giving me more space to to set up the umbrella and stop the rain before it reached my groundsheet. But more worrisome, for me, at least, was that the strong winds picked up and became even stronger--strong enough that I began to fear it might start pulling out stakes and cause my tarp to flap around uselessly.

Before the rain became too heavy, I got out of my sleeping bag and tarp to make some adjustments, lowering the profile of the tarp and tightening the lines holding it town. I was glad for the adjustments as the wind speeds and rain both continued to increase, but I worried for hours that maybe it wouldn't be enough.

I had to hold the umbrella in place so the wind gusts didn't blow it out of place, but around 12:30 in the morning, I both the rain and wind had stopped rather suddenly. Did we enter the eye of the storm and it would pick up again? Was this the end of the storm? It wasn't clear.

But I had lowered the roof of my tarp so low that it didn't give me much room to sit up, so I got out of my sleeping once again and raised the roof a bit. Not as much as I would have liked on a calm day.

But an hour later, the wind and rain returned. It was a long, miserable night!

Rainbow over the trail!

The wind and rain continued through to the morning, and I packed up camp under the protective cover of my tarp. The last of the rain finally ended about 10 minutes before we left camp at 9:00am. Karolina, strangely, seemed unbothered with all of the weather the night before.

The wind would continue all day long, and light sprinkles would occur on and off throughout the day. It was brutal weather to hike in, but a caretaker at the Serve Hut told us to be sure to take advantage of the two emergency shelters along the route further ahead--which was a pleasant surprise since we didn't know that they were up the trail.

At the first of the emergency shelters, we went in for a snack break, happy to escape the brutal weather outside. There we met a fellow from Germany named Philip. He also got out of the weather for a long break, cooking himself a warm meal before hitting the trail again.

We caught up to him again a half hour further down the trail after he had stopped to help a woman who had fallen and hurt herself. We saw them from a distance with reindeer wandering nearby and at first thought they had stopped to admire them or take photos, but when we got closer we realized it was due to the woman injuring herself. Apparently she had twisted an ankle pretty badly and he had given her some aspirin and wrapped her foot. She seemed like she was in pain, but she was standing and everything seemed under control so Karolina and I continued onward.

After passing them, we could look behind us and see them both in the distance. The German wore a bright yellow raincoat that we could see for miles, following behind us closing in. Woman wore a bright, pink jacket and was equally visible for miles, slowly heading away from us in the opposite direction. Given her injury and how late in the day it was, we figured she'd probably stop for the night at the emergency shelter and continue on in the morning.

As for us, we eventually reached the next shelter where we stopped for another rest. We planned to camp somewhere in the area, but when rain started bearing down on us, we decided to quit for the day and spend the night in the shelter. We had hoped to find a good spot, hidden behind a large boulder to break the wind, but after one miserable night of high winds and rain in an unprotected location, we decided to use the emergency shelter instead.

And that was our day. Mostly just battling the brutal weather that Sweden was throwing at us. Was the weather ever nice in this country?!

Taking a break from the wind and rain on the front porch of the Serve Hut.

The first of two emergency shelters that we'd pass for the day. (That's an outhouse on the right.)
Phillip, our new German friend, cooks a dinner in the shelter while I'm enjoying a snack break.

That's Phillip, catching up to us again on the trail.
This was the second shelter of the day which, after it started raining again, we decided to call it quits rather than face another night of high winds in rain on an exposed plateau.
In other news, Karolina's trekking pole broke and wouldn't stay in place, so we duct taped the crap out of it and it would keep her trekking pole together for the rest of the trail. =)