Kungsleden Part 5: Alone in the wilderness
The theme of the last four days has been fog, rain and wet ground - not dissimilar to the section I wrote about in my last blog! I've mainly been covering low mountain terrain, made up of now very familiar birch forests, giving way to open plateaux once I've climbed above the treeline (a daily occurence).
These last few days have certainly been challenging. In addition to Rucky being extra heavy again (I got overexcited in my first non-cabin shop, small as it was), the ground has continued to be horrendously boggy and a lot of sections have been flooded. Not so much fun in boots as tattered as mine are. Three new holes have appeared so my feet have been constantly soaked. Drying my boots and socks each day has proved unsuccessful, though this hasn't stopped me trying! I've ended up taking a rest day today in order to get my boots dry enough to do some repair works...
There has also been a sudden reduction in the route markings that, until now, I've relied upon fully. In particular, the last two days have left me thinking that map and compass skills are essential to completing this stretch, skills I thankfully brushed up on before starting. I have been surrounded by thick fog for almost all of the last 50km and a lot of the time I wasn't able to see further than 80 metres ahead. This total lack of visibility is quite magical though and has the power to completely remove all sense of time and distance travelled. On several occasions I have been surprised by how many - or few - kilometres I've managed to cover.
I did my best to still enjoy myself and to see the beauty in my surroundings despite the weather and disconcerting squelch of every step. One such moment was finding a beautiful spot to pitch my tent, at a slight distance from the path (not that I was worried about being disturbed; in three days I met only two people and didn't have anyone nearby for all three nights). What made this site so wonderful was the view I was treated to through my tent door: a large lake, low forest-clad hills, a mountain rising up above it all, and not a single sign of civilisation or human impact... Not even a vapour trail.
On one of these people-less days, one of my only reminders that civilisation was out there somewhere was a single helicopter flying back and forth overhead. On every other journey, a dead reindeer was suspended below it... I guess hunting season has started! The next day, an abandoned ski lift suddenly came looming out of the thick cloud - turns out I'm not the only person up here after all!
It isn't just the transformation in the leaves that draws my attention to the changing seasons. It's now too cold and often wet to stop walking for long, so unless I pass a suitable cabin or wind shelter, I only break for as long as it takes to wolf down some nuts and raisins before continuing. It's strange to think that when I started walking a few weeks ago I was often in just a t-shirt, even on cloudy days, and stopping to enjoy long breaks in the sunshine. Now it's all about layering up and keeping moving!
I now only have 80km left and I'm determined to drag it out - I'm definitely not ready to finish, regardless of bad weather, wet feet and cold nights!