Trekking the Fjallraven Classic
In September 2019, Laura-Lee took on the legendary Fjallraven Classic. Here, she tells us all about it.
The Fjallraven Classic Sweden is the original: where Fjallraven themselves and the Classic began. A 110km trail through Nordic wilderness, passing Sweden's highest peaks and hidden gems, awaits those who face the challenge.
"I was asked to take part in the Fjallraven Classic Sweden back in March of this year. I immediately said yes, without having any idea of what was ahead of me. After the excited phone call, I jumped on my laptop to start my research. A 110 km walk across the Nordic wilderness, carrying everything you need on your back and hitting 8 checkpoints along the way. How hard could this be?
Early on August 9th, I set off from Dublin to head into the Arctic Circle - farther north than I had ever been before. My compass has always pointed me south to the heat and warm seas. Once in Stockholm, I could easily pick out my fellow participants as they were donning the Fjallraven outdoor uniform and running to reach the gate for Kiruna for the final leg of our journey. Once we landed, I met up with Will and stood watching the vast number of 65L rucksacks until I spotted mine. Relief and nerves had finally kicked in. I am in the Arctic Circle, about to walk into the wilderness with strangers and, for the first time in my adult life, have no contact with life back home."
"The meeting point and registration for the Classic was at the school in Kiruna. I was greeted warmly by Karl and Johanna from Fjallraven who shared stories about the area and settled my nerves. The school was also where you collected your trash bag, fuel, and food map and picked up any last-minute kit from the pop-up shop, as well as a tent workshop before you set off. Our start time was Sunday at 6:30 am so we had a day to enjoy Kiruna. That evening we met Rich, the last guy to join our small group. After introductions we all packed, repacked our bags, and said goodnight.
The morning arrived and we all nervously ate our takeaway hotel breakfast and rode the bus to the start point in Nikkaluokta, watching the reindeer crossing the roads. Civilisation seemed to disappear and the landscape started to grow taller and mightier around us. The start was a quiet hum of people checking their packs and chatting as a musician played folk music in the background. One thing we noticed quickly was the lack of bravado which usually precedes a big outdoor event. It was a real mix of ages, gender, race and dogs like I had never seen before: people came from all over the world to simply spend time in the outdoors. In fact, 47 nations were represented at this year's event. After getting a pic at the start line, we set off on our 5-day journey to Abisko."
"On the first day, we followed the forest track to Lake Ladtjojaure and along to our first checkpoint at Kebnekaise. In just a few hours we had already completed 18km, and my Garmin told me we were doing between 6/7km per hour. With 18kg on my back, I knew this was faster that I could sustain, and at that continued speed we would be at the finish more than 24 hours faster that we had intended. We discussed slowing down. We were not doing this as a race; we were doing this to escape. Why were we running so quickly towards phone signal and people?
With the pace down to 5km/hour we walked on for another 3 hours and found a camp spot by a small lake, nestled at the mouth of the mountains. Singitjåkka (1704 meters) and Skrtaåive (1761 meters) loomed above us, darkened by clouds. As the rain came to an end, the cloud rolled down to the valley floor and sat on the craggy outcrops all around us. We set up camp and settled in for the night, feet very tired from a long first day traveling. I fell asleep easily, excited and ready for the next day. Being in the Arctic Circle, sunset was around 10 pm and sunrise 4 am. This being said, the light overnight only dimmed slightly and when I woke up during the night it still seemed as bright as day. "
"On the third day, we knew we had a push to get over the highest point of the walk. The pass was the first real steep section of walking on the route, after a short but sharp climb we found ourselves on the top and stopped by a mountain hut as people gathered to rest and refuel. We were now over halfway on the walk and this was a real pivotal moment for me. I stood tired, but very proud that I had made it this far. The moment was also tinged with sadness as I realised I was now walking home. Every step we took brought us closer to real life. I didn’t expect myself not wanting to finish.
After having a moment, we started to descend the pass and chat turned to where we should camp. The landscape turned into a vast boulder field and wooden boards offered a safe passage over the tricky terrain below. Moving fast over the first three days, we contemplated our options for finishing early with a long day tomorrow. The three of us were on the same page, and very quickly decided to slow our pace and take another day to finish as we initially planned. Why rush through some of the most incredible landscape in the world to sit around in Abisko for an extra day? After this conversation my mood rose and my mind relaxed, and we decided to treat ourselves to a longer lunch break than usual. Sitting in the sun, we took our boots off and lay on our bags watching as walkers reached the checkpoint just before the Alesjaure Sami village. I tended to a small blister and enjoyed a long coffee.
Gathering ourselves up, we followed the turquoise river along to the huts and found a camping spot overlooking the lake. We even had an actual toilet a walk away from the tents and a small shop by the huts sold Swedish beer and fruit. Feeling happy with myself, I had a swim/wash in the river followed by a beer with Will and Rich. We talked, reminisced, drank, ate and watched as other walkers arrived and set up camp around the huts. How had I only known these two men for 3 days? "
"The plan for our last full day was to get to Kieron. This was an easy 20km which would follow the lake then drop down into the Abisko National Park and back into the Swedish forests. We followed the lakeshore and battled with mosquitos as the air grew still and warm. Smidge was my saving grace. When the wind picked up, we found a great lunch spot where I fought fatigue and relaxed for an hour. The afternoon turned wet but conversations and debates about music, film and Desert Island Discs made the time fly and in no time, we had descended between the mountains in the forest of the Abisko park. At the penultimate check point, Kieron, the heavens opened and we sat soaked but elated on the ground as we were handed strong coffee and warm pancakes with jam and cream. Rejuvenated we continued along to our camp spot at the lake and set up camp as the rain rolled in. After four days on the trail, the lake, even in the rain and cloud was calling our names. Swimming in a lake in the Arctic circle is memory that will stay with me forever. We slowly edged into the cold water and returned to camp feeling like brand new. As the afterglow set in, we cooked food and chatted to other walkers before our final night in tents before the last day tomorrow."
"On the final day, the realisation of the end started to set in. We packed up very quietly and followed the track through the forest, eventually meeting up with the river as it formed waterfalls. Huge torrents of water cascading through the gorge and finally we saw the first signs of a road in the distance. Will suggested that we sat at the gorge and compose ourselves before the finish. Our phones started to receive messages from the outside world, and we knew the game was over. Slowly we walked up to the finish line to be greeted by applause and cheering, something every participant received as walkers all gathered at the finish line to share stories, photos and of course enjoy a well-earned drink. I was met by customers from my shop and handed a beer. The event was a real celebration of the outdoors in its simplest form. This event brought me back to my roots. It let me fully escape and enjoy the simple things in life. The Fjallraven Cassic was an experience I will never forget. To get outside, share the experience with others and be part of a world which welcomes and promotes these things. As Fjallraven says, “Nature is waiting for you” all we have to do is get out there and experience it. I did and I am so grateful."
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