Trekking in the Far North

Trekking in the Far North

By Sarah Wason

School: Bates College, Class of ’13
Major or concentration: Psychology
Semester abroad: Spring ’12

Swedish Program alum Sarah Wason currently lives in a cozy Vermont town with her fiancé and dog. She works for Fjällräven, the iconic Swedish backpack and hiking brand, and promotes the brand’s Swedish heritage and sustainability mission through engaging community events. Sarah is excited to join the Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the University of Vermont this summer, where she will study business through the lens of environmental and social responsibility.

This time last summer I was loading up my backpack with 4 days worth of gear and going on short training hikes here in Vermont. It seemed unnecessarily grueling to hike straight up a mountain with way more gear than I needed, but each time I lifted my 35lb pack and swung it onto my back I knew I was getting closer to going back to Sweden.

Sarah during her semester abroad in 2012.

Ever since I left Stockholm at the end of my spring semester in 2012, I’ve been eager to return. For a long time I had to make do with baking my own kanelbullar and practicing Swedish with Duolingo. But I also got to enjoy Scandinavian culture vicariously through my work at Fjällräven, the Swedish outdoor clothing and equipment company.
I first learned about Fjällräven while studying abroad in Stockholm in 2012. It seemed everyone in Stockholm had either a Fjällräven parka or a Kånken. I remember admiring their outerwear at Naturkompaniet, and the thrill of getting my own Kånken and Greenland Jacket in the mail.

Since arriving in North America in 2012, Fjällräven has opened over 30 stores throughout the US and Canada, which also serve as Swedish cultural centers. We host Midsummer and St Lucia celebrations, and serve fika whenever we can. I really enjoy sharing my favorite parts of Swedish culture with visitors and seeing their reactions, such as “a holiday all about eating waffles!?” and “wow I want to have fika everyday!” – reactions that I remember well from my semester in Stockholm.

Trekking through the Sälka mountain range.

Although it took seven years, I finally returned to Sweden last August to participate in the Fjällräven Classic Sweden. Since 2005 Fjällräven has hosted an annual trekking event in Northern Sweden. The route covers 110km of Swedish Lapland, far north of the Arctic Circle, from Nikkaluokta to Abisko. Trekkers hike at their own pace, carrying all they need for the 3-6 day expedition and setting up tents wherever they choose. Needless to say, this trip took a lot of preparation; from combing over every ounce of my packing list, to breaking in my boots with as many training hikes as possible.

We flew into Arlanda with only a day and a half to spend in Stockholm, but it was long enough to walk through Östermalm and Gamla Stan. We visited the Vasa Museum (which I had missed in 2012), saw the Lena Anderson exhibit at the Millesgården art gallery, and enjoyed a nostalgic home-cooked meal with my host family who welcomed me back like a long-lost daughter. That evening we boarded a night train and headed far into the north to start our trek.

Boarding the night train to Abisko.

I’ve been hiking my whole life, but this was different. These trails weren’t steep and scrambly like New England trails, but they were long and rugged. Some days we only walked on wooden planks and bridges. This part of Sweden is snow-covered for the majority of the year and the Kungsleden is a popular ski-touring and dogsledding route. There are no trees to block the views, and the only wildlife was reindeer, birds, and mosquitos. The sun barely even set at night, though I had no trouble sleeping after trekking 17-miles each day.

Kebnekaise is Sweden’s hightest mountain.

Arriving in Abisko we refueled on a delicious lunch buffet at the turist station (I ate a LOT of knäckebröd and butter) and enjoyed the Trekker’s Inn festivities. Early the next morning we continued our journey (by bus, not on foot!) across the border to Norway, with a few days in Tromsø before flying home.

Looking back at my second wonderful experience in Sweden, I am amazed by how much Sweden feels like a second home. I still felt immediately comfortable in Stockholm – a feeling I remember well from my first week in the Swedish Program. And especially with travel at a stand-still right now, I’m grateful I took the opportunity to visit last year and hope that I won’t have to wait long until my next trip to Sweden. I’ve got my eye on the High Coast trail for our next Nordic adventure!