Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Nordkalottleden Trail

One year ago, Sparta, Nyx and I were back from our incredible adventure on the Nordkalottleden. Since, it has been a very busy year, first settling back to our "normal" life in Switzerland, then getting busy preparing the movie, giving speeches and eventually resuming training and planning for a new aventure!

After having told our story many times and been asked so many questions about our team, the trail, logistics, etc., I thought it was high time to write a few things on this blog. With "The Last of The Mohicans" soundtrack in the background, here we go and write!


The Nordkalottleden is an absolutely fantastic trail to hike! Very varied, it goes through flat swamps and bogs plains, wide rivers and mountain torrents, hilly and rocky mountain pathes, rock fields, spongy toundra and thick forests. There was not a day that was similar to the previous. The three of us were surprised by the amount of water! Especially on the first 2 days where we spent most of the time "sploshing" our way through the swamps and extremely spongy toundra. Sparta and Nyx had to get used to having the paws in water all day, and so did I! At first I was looking for the end of what I thought was just a difficult section...and then I realised that water will accompany us for the whole journey... so I stopped fighting against it, trying to avoid the wet areas and taking of my shoes off at every single large river. Our way went much smoother from then on, Not less wet, but more fluid and relaxed. And my feet didn't suffered anymore from the humidity.

So expect it to be wet out there! - you can wear knee-level wellies or heavier shoes than mine with gaiters, as many hikers do. I'd personally rather be a bit wet and keep my feet light and fast. And since, I've discovered and tested the Vivobarefoot shoes, that are both minimalist and waterproof! So next time, I won't have to choose between dry feet and staying light J

The terrain conditions evolve and change very quickly depending on the weather, the rainfalls and strong winds. The size of the streams and rivers can easily double overnight, making the path look completely different in the morning. I've talked with people who remained stuck 3 days in Sarek National Park due to floods. They simply couldn't cross one large river anymore without a canoe and had to wait for the level to lower... Others had to wait a couple of days on one side before any boat could come and get them.  Honestly the dogs and I have been really lucky as we didn't get that much rain over the 21-day hike. The snow had also melted in most places, except from a few mountain passes, but nothing serious. I've been told that end of July some had to use snowshoes in the Dividalen part of the trail. On the opposite, when the weather gets sunny and windy, it dries out very quickly. To me, it was as if the toundra was drying from the inside out, exposing lemmings and other tiny animals to a certain death due to the lack of water...
So my strong avice: get the latest local weather forecast before starting on your hike or run! Be aware that the time planned to hike a section can change dramatically depending on the weather conditions.

Water. Water is everywhere. So clear, so pure. Swamps, bogs, stream, rivers, torrents and...lakes! Beautiful lakes in the most incredible places all along the path. We've done some unforgettable overnight bivouacs the dogs and I alone on beautiful lakeshores...with nothing else than the sound of nature, clear sky, clear water and a undescrible quietness.

Bridges. They were like treasures to me! We had to cross some many streams and larger rivers without, that any time there was a bridge I felt so relieved and grateful! A few times it took me some 40 minutes to cross a river as the river flow was too strong to let the dogs cross unattanded. So I was going first with the backpack, then coming back to get Sparta, then once again to cross with Nyx. After such crossings, I can tell you that I always had to rest a while before resuming my walk!! Sometimes the bridges themselves were tricky and dangerous so it was the same story: the pack and one dog then the second. In Finland, I found quite a lot of nice bridges and footbridges. In Sweden as well, but not all in a good state though (which means wet feet anyway!). In Norway, there were very few walkways over the swamps, actually nearly none, except in more "busy" areas. Bridges are mainly built over large torrents that are too dangerous to cross.

As one used to hike and run in the Alps, I cannot say that the path itself is really challenging. Some sections are airy, some very rocky and harder to hike or run, but it is perfectly doable. It is pretty hilly, especially in the mountain areas, and I love that! My favorite part was the Dividalen and I also really enjoyed all the Kilpisjärvi area <3 The atmosphere there is to me so special. Treriksroset is such a magic place...!! We were so blessed to find ourselves completely alone there, when it is one of the most visited spot in the Malla Reserve. Aboslutely Magic! Fantastic!

Mosquitos. Well, sorry to disappoint the readers, but they haven't been a big issue for me. I had mosquito repellent and a hooded jacket to cross the wet zones. In the evening one cannot stay long out of the tent as they get aggressive. But that was no big deal as we were usually going to bed rather early. I was starting the day very early too, around 6 am and mosquitoes left us alone most of the day. I found them a bit more aggressive getting closer to Kvikkjokk though. Apparently mosquitoes were a curse for many hikers I passed by... My only possible explanation: the state of mind. Don't think of the mosquitoes as an issue or a plague; they live here, you are there too, but you don't have to interact :-)

People. When you walk alone with you dogs in the middle of wide open spaces, it is always a pleasure to come across a few people out there. On the first 3 days, we met very few people: a German girl hiking the section to Kilspisjärvi, a Sami herder and his son, a couple of hikers, and three lovely Norwegian on a fishing week-end that offered me tea and biscuits at Nedrefosshytta/NO. I was to meet - completely by chance - one of them, a charming and tough old lady named Jodun, later on my hike at Dividalshytta/NO. She recognised my dogs! she gave me plenty of tips and information on the Norwegian sections of the trail and some left-over Compeeds J. Some sections were busier than others, especially the common ones with the Kungsleden. Right after Abisko, I was nearly shocked by the number of people! But it didn't last long: as soon as I was back on the Kalottireitti, here we were alone again for many hours!

Usually I passed 2-3 people a day, sometimes slightly more, sometimes...none. And it was always brief but interesting encounters.
French researchers exploring the Dividalen for six months. A Swedish Nordkalottleden supervisor. A bunch of crazy Germans. Two Norwegian guys hiking the whole country for 7 months. A friendly Swedish couple met at Gaskahytta, a funky Canadian lost in Europe...and a German guy in Inov8 shoes (same than mine!!) who barely escaped from the flood in the Lautajaure Delta and who suffered from various injuries on his hands, feet and legs... Man, keep in mind that one should never EVER camp to close from a river bed..!
Skierfe and Lataujare Delta

This brings me to Navigation. I am not a great fan of sat nav device and prefer to stick to paper maps. I used the Norge-serien in 1:50 000, my favourite ones as you get many useful details, and one Swedish Fjällkartan in 1:100 000. Actually I like it this way because it allows me to have a bigger picture and also gives me freedom to modify the route if need be. I could easily spot most of the wet areas, find drier spots and plan my camping place fairly in advance. The other reason I'd rather use paper maps is the energy cost. I add full autonomy thanks to my solar pannel and external battery, that both revealed very convenient, but a sat-nav would havbe add more battery consumption and I prefer not to rely on a electronic device or on a map dowloaded on my phone to find my way. Also the terrain and pathes are changing very quickly, especially in less-hiked sections. In places, the bridges turned out to be in the middle of nowhere as the river has moved to

the right or to the left! However I had my In-Reach satellite device, for communication and tracking, and I used it a few times to confirm or check my localisation when the track was unclear. Most of the Trail is pretty well indicated - and this is quite surprising according to the distance. The markings change from one country to the other, but are fairly easily
recognisable. It is true that on some sections, I had to use the map all day long as I kept loosing the track, and mainly walked by comparing the map and the actual surroundings. I remember one afternoon walking and waiting to see a lake that I had to cross... and it turned out that there was no lake at all, it was reduced to a mere river. I know that paper maps represent a certain weight and space, but I like it this way! Again, this is up to you to find what suits you best!
And it revealed damn useful to have paper maps when we had to change the route in Ritsem as the dogs were not at all allowed in the Sarek and Padjelanta National Parks. Obviously the information gathered before my departure (gathered form Swedish authorities...) were not accurate. But once I was up there, there was no way I could start complaining, arguing that I was told it was ok on the leash, etc. Up there, it is the Arctic, Sami country. And if it is NO, then it is NO. It was pointless to discuss and waste more time and energy. And actually we were so lucky - once again! - to find all the necessary information and support to find an alternative route to reach Kvikkjokk! Less mileage for sure (100km less...), but at least we could get there and finish our hike in good conditions. It hadn't been easy for me to admit we couldn't take the planned route. My mood was pretty down for one day. But then I went over it: my dogs were still in fantastic shape, and so was I; the weather forecast wasn't good at all in Sarek and Padjelanta for the next few days; so I looked at the bright side of things and decided that it was meant to be, for the best. And it turned out true! We avoided the serious storm on the Padjelanta side of the trail, we found a place to stay overnight when one day the weather was so bad that it was nearly dangerous to stay outdoors, and the dogs were even welcome for free!!

Food. Always a major topic when you are out there, relying only on what you carry on your back. Let's start with Sparta and Nyx. I think I had calculated fairly right the amount of what they needed. Maybe they could have done with a bit more calories at the end. They also snacked on lemmings... I was shocked first! Gosh, girls, don't do that! Poor little things! I had never seen them hunt mice at home before. But let's be fair: it's nature and they knew exactly what they needed under these specific conditions. A Norwegian man told me lemmings were not healthy for dogs...and they had eaten many before I was told that and didn't seem to suffer at all from it. Well,..? I kept on giving them extra portions 2 weeks after the end of our walk and they went back to their normal weight. But you can tell how they built muscles it's beautiful!

On my side, I counted short. I suspected it as it was all pretty heavy for me and didn't want to take extra load. I bought some extra food in the three resupply places, that is Kilspisjärvi, Abisko and Ritsem. In Abisko also I was welcomed by my friend Ziss who treated me with a delicious dinner!! The last week I could feel I had lost a bit too much weight and my backpack felt heavier though it wasn't any heavier at all! maybe it was also that I was getting to the end and felt a bit sad...? Generally speaking, I was happy with the dried-food meals taken: they were all tasty and nourishing. Good choice! But let me tell you that the first glass of red wine in Kvikkjokk where I met my mum, was a true delight J - nearly as unforgettable as the first hot shower!

We reached Kvikkjokk in great shape, fantastic mood and damn proud after 21-day on the trail and 700k. We haven't been able to do the initially planned 800k and it's been a serious frustration. But nothing compare to the joy of getting there the three of us, bonded as ever before, healthy and happy! There is much more to tell, about the nature, the amazing scenary and wildlife. Promise, I'll keep posting, and this time it won't take me a year to the next one :-)