There are so many reasons why (if you like trekking) you should have a go at the Fjällräven Classic. In no particular order, here are five of them.
- How many people can say they’ve trekked in the Arctic? On the list of cool destinations, it’s pretty much guaranteed to give you hero status. And nobody will know (unless you tell them) that it’s not quite as extreme as trekking to the North Pole. And while you probably won’t see any polar bears, you might spot some reindeer.
- It’s incredibly well-organised. The Swedes – and Fjällräven in particular – really know how to make an event work. Granted, they’ve had more than 10 years of practice, and have fine-tuned it over the years, but with frequent checkpoints (including shops where you can stock up on snacks and critical items, medics to check you out, and even saunas at some of them), excellent signage, all food provided, buses to and from the start/finish, and advice coming out of their eyeballs, all you really have to worry about it is putting one foot in front of the other for hours on end. Which is just as well, as this requires intense concentration given the assault course of rocks, river crossings, slippery mud and narrow boardwalks you have to negotiate. It’s as much a mental challenge as a physical one, but there’s masses of support along the way, from the practical (a little man sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere brewing up coffee and offering to fix your gear) to the moral (Fjällräven reps popping up on the trail handing out sweets and encouragement, and strategically placed meditation spots to remind you that there’s more to the trek than pain).
- There’s nothing like being out in the wilderness for a few days to restore your soul. So much so that I wrote a whole separate post about this. On my return after describing the trip to a work colleague, his reaction was “You might as well spend a week tied to a tree being beaten with a stick.” I tried to explain that the pain was only a minor part of it, and that there were so many worthwhile reasons for going, despite the state of my feet on my return, but he just didn’t get it. Ah well, each to their own. But a sense of accomplishment does wonders for your mental health and general wellbeing.
- New scenery, new culture. Admittedly, my grasp of Swedish pronunciation isn’t that much better than before I went, but I can at least pronounce Fjällräven more or less correctly now (thanks to the patience of the one Swedish speaker in our group). For the record, it’s supposed to sound pretty much like you have a mouthful of rubber bands. And the scenery is fantastic, even if the weather might be a bit on the drizzly side (which can at least make for some good old-fashioned moody photos).
- You’ll make new friends and have some odd experiences. The beauty of this event is that with 2000 people entering every year, you’re bound to meet some new people. And it’s worth getting to know them. The plane between Stockholm and Kiruna is guaranteed to be almost exclusively full of trekkers during the week of the event, and it’s pretty easy to strike up a conversation. I sat next to two lovely Korean gentlemen on the way out, and a member of the Dutch police force on the way back, and had some fascinating conversations with them. The Dutchman in particular was full of interesting stories and information about the event, since it was already his second time doing it. It turned out that he was also a high-functioning autistic, though I’d never have guessed. Furthermore, on the trek itself you can’t help but chat to fellow trekkers. A German surgeon told me in the loo queue at a checkpoint one morning about how he’d found a young girl who’d fallen on the rocks the previous day and had dislocated her shoulder, and how he was able to put it back in place for her so she could continue the trip. (Other accident sufferers were not so lucky and had to be airlifted out by helicopter). A Hungarian man offered me some of his homemade firewater from a hipflask on a particularly cold and wet afternoon as we huddled round an open fire at one of the checkpoints. I wouldn’t normally accept unknown alcoholic drinks from a stranger’s pocket, but I was incredibly grateful as I’d been cold right through to the core after several unrelenting hours in the rain, and it really hit the spot for the next few hours of walking! More bizarrely, a Dutch trekker got out his electric razor and started having a shave while we were huddled around the campfire. Admittedly, I had just mentioned that I wasn’t interested in men with more than 1/4 of stubble, so perhaps he had ulterior motives, but unfortunately I never saw him again.
I’ve returned from the trip stronger, wiser and more knowledgeable, and with a new-found love of Sweden and the Arctic, not to mention some great memories and new friends. They say that the reason you forget about pain is because otherwise no one would ever undergo childbirth more than once. It wasn’t quite that bad, but I’m already looking forward to doing the Classic again some time.