Kungsleden Part 4: Wretched rocks and soggy socks
Well, I'm not going to sugarcoat it: the last 5 days have been tough. For starters, I left Kvikkjokk Mountain Station with a heavier load than I've had to carry so far; I needed 5-6 days worth of food compared to previously only needing enough for 2-3 days. This meant I was carrying about 18kg to begin with, a weight that obviously decreased as I made my way through my rations (as if I needed extra incentive to eat...). Add into the mix some difficult terrain to navigate through - it felt like I was constantly trekking from one water-logged forest, up and over a mountain plateau, then back down to the next water-logged forest... I just about slept through the coldest night so far, shivering away in my tent despite top quality merino wool thermals and a sleeping bag that claims to be ideally suited to -8.5°C. I endured the most physically and mentally challenging day of any trek I have done so far, continuing despite the constant threat of a cold/wind/rain/hunger/tiredness-related breakdown. I even managed to fall twice in one day courtesy of some "wretched rocks", doing enough damage to my knee that it now aches most of the time, especially in the cold (yes, I have apparently aged several decades in the last few days).
I seem to have been persistently surrounded by water (in the forms of rivers, lakes, rain and bogs). In fact, the constant flow of muddy water permeating my boots and socks has me wondering whether trench foot may become a reality for me one of these days... Do you know what it's like trying to dry saturated socks while living out of a tent in a cold climate? Quick answer: impossible.
So, yeah... Not exactly the easiest conditions to be dealing with. However, the most important thing to me is that I persevered despite all this, and despite my own rapidly deteriorating mental state. I can feel proud and satisfied knowing that I didn't give up (not that that was really an option as I really was miles and miles away from anything).
Alongside the hardship and adversity, there were a few wonderful moments this week that reminded me why I find myself in these situations and, ultimately, why I love it. Towards the end of one of the days I came across a beautiful camp spot - soft, level ground, trees providing shelter from the wind, a lake to fetch water from. There were already two tents pitched nearby which I didn't think too much about, until I heard the inhabitants return; I could hear several male voices, beers being opened... Maybe I've watched one two many Scandi noir TV series and tiredness was kicking in, but all I could think was that I was a girl in my early 20s, travelling solo through the wilderness, camping alone in some woods with only a few thin layers of tent wall separating me from these unknown men. I felt a bit vulnerable. I decided to confront my fear head-on, so unzipped my tent and stuck my head out... To be greeted by four very gentle and kind-looking grey-haired men all looking slightly surprised by my sudden appearance! Turns out my apprehension was unsurprisingly misguided and I ended up spending the evening sitting around a campfire with my friends, discussing life and accepting their food offerings (gravadlax and a cold beer? Tack så mycket!)
I also had an empowering and peaceful night camping alone on the side of a mountain in the most remote and isolated location so far. As I pitched my tent, the expansive views of mountains and lakes slowly disappeared as thick cloud rolled in, until I could barely see 10m around. That night, the only sound I heard was the occasional gentle chime of a bell on the collar of a reindeer, letting me know I had some four-legged companions nearby.
Another highlight was the hilarity of trying to row across a lake with a 70 year old Austrian man who had never rowed before! That, the slight language barrier and the fact that we had to make the trip three times to ensure there was at least one boat on each side, meant that a supposedly simple task ended up being a fairly time-consuming mini mission!
Wildest section of the Kungsleden completed, I'm now treating myself to a night in a station, a hot shower (first in seven days) and washing my clothes in an actual washing machine with actual detergent (first time in three weeks). Luxury!