Tony and Tom from our Bristol store recently embarked upon a week of training with the Outdoor Academy of Scandinavia (OAS).
They tackled some of Sweden’s most beautiful yet demanding terrain in order to learn about the latest equipment from outdoor manufacturers including Hilleberg, Silva, Haglöfs, and Optimus.
Have a read of the first of a three part series and see how they got on with the kit and the conditions!
2am. Tony arrives in his wagon at my house to take me from Bristol to Heathrow, not a great start but things were surely going to get better!
We endured 14hrs of agonising anticipation/travel, with all the trimmings of over priced airport food, dry air-conditioned waiting lounges and glaring advertisement boards, from Heathrow to Stockholm and then on to Ostersund.
From here we transferred by coach to the Storulvån Mountain Lodge and things improved immeasurably. The scenery was fantastic and we were given a running commentary about the route we were travelling along as well as advice about how to treat the Swedish Countryside and open lands, which they are privileged to have very open access to.
It is up to everyone to respect it to maintain the access agreement their country adheres to. Something every country could learn from. It takes into account a humans impact on nature and minimising it as far as possible – ‘leave no trace’ as they say over there.
On arrival at the lodge we quickly dropped our luggage in or rooms and were rushed to our tables for a beautiful buffet style meal, but of the very wholesome sort, not the cocktail sausages type.
Having eaten as many platefuls as possible, taking advantage to fuel up for the subsequent days trekking and also as the travel had left me famished, we got ready for the first of the many meetings which took place over the next day.
Stefan and the representatives of the companies that form the Scandinavian Outdoor Group warmly greeted us. Everyone introduced themselves to each other, the trekking groups were organised and the general route we were taking discussed.
A few pieces of kit were handed out by Light my Fire and Silva along with the clothing, boots sleeping bags and rucksacks. Not too bad weighing in at 12kg, surely it’ll come in under 20kg with our personal clothes, food, stoves and tents…or so we thought!
Then it was off to bed at 11.30, phew – a long day and a Tired Tom and Tony.
A nice early start and another massive meal to devour, oh poor us! A full continental breakfast was on the buffet counter from cereal and porridge to waffles, bread, cheese, cold meats, pickles, hard boiled eggs, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, it just went on and on, amazing!
After we became fit to burst, we headed off for the first of our 6 training sessions with each of the brands, where we had a great deal of information about the clothing, cookers, tents boots and bags imparted to us. Each session was taken by a different rep for a different brand to give as specialist a meeting as possible.
We learnt a great deal, even regarding brands outside that of which we sell at Taunton Leisure. This may not seem to be that useful, but actually it is as it helps you really appreciate what our products unique qualities are and how the differ from rival products.
Next we moved on to lunch, another huge meal, with much the same outcome, completely stuffed! We struggled in to our final meetings and received training on navigation and a more detailed trekking brief where we decided our route for that evening, how the Tents would be rotated so that we all used the 4 different tents we were carrying for maximum experience and who were to be the first of the group leaders, which turned out to be lucky old us!
Thankfully in our group of eight, the other six all being German, only one struggled with English, so our typically English lack of linguistic skill (neither of us could string a sentence together in German) was not a problem and us group leaders were taken under the groups wing! Everyone went back to their rooms and packed ready for the start of the Trekking.
We all gathered at the front door and weighed in our bags, so to avoid going over the magic 20kg mark, allowing people to strip out extras where need be. Oh dear! Almost everyone was closer to the 25kg mark, which I was bang on top of! Feeling that short of ditching most of my underwear and some of my food, which you may have gathered I was really quite attached to, I and most others decided that stripping down kit was not worth while and we were going to have to give the bags slightly harsher testing than expected. Not to worry, everyone seemed young and fit I’m sure it will be fine! It cant be that bad, I found I was able to do head stands whilst wearing the rucksack, an interesting way of whiling away the time!
So of we went with our Reps for the first leg of the trip, Carl Tim and Maria, only 2km down a track due south, to the 1st camping spot, just enough to find out if there were any issues before the serious walking, so people could go back if need be, which there wasn’t any apparently.
Tony and I pitched our Hilleberg Tarra tent, an outer pitch first Geodesic Design which was reportedly amongst the strongest on the market. It was a doddle and went up in minutes with loads of space thanks to the porch at either end and added headroom from the dome like central construction.
The group then used our walking poles, 1 each, to set up the Hilleberg Altai communal tent, an urt-style tent, which only needs 1 pole of its own to stand giving standing height in the center and a radius of 1.7m, spacious indeed!
Tony and I then cooked Travel Lunch dehydrated Paella on the supplied Optimus multi-fuel stove, which was very efficient and quick to boil with. It also had a neat feature, whereby it had a built in cleaning needle behind the jet nipple which was forced through by passing a magnet behind it, one comes with the stove on the end of its maintenance tool. We used specially shaped Optimus neoprene pouches to hold the sachets with when they were full of boiling water to stop it being too hot to hold, then had a hot drink and a drop of Schnapps – all were delicious.
I popped off to chat to a member of one of the other groups who had bought an ultra light fishing rod with him and was river fishing by moon light near a foot bridge next to our chosen spot. Rivers are easy to find in Sweden, and we drank straight from them with no need for Purification, very handy. This makes dehydrated food very easy to use over there.
We tucked in for the night in our Down Haglofs and klättermusen down bags in our Tarra, ready for the first day of proper trekking.
Everyone rose at the nice hour of 7 o’clock. It was freezing cold but dry so we put on our down jackets instead of our waterproofs whilst we cooked our breakfast; I had some oats with hot re-hydrated milk whilst Tony had granola, and we both had hot drinks. This was to be a routine meal from here on.
The multi-fuel stove appeared to work just as well at low temperatures as it had the night before when it had been fairly mild. The gas stove that others used didn’t boil nearly as quick.
We pitched down our Tarra and Packed up the Altai, which as we were leading was to be carried by Tony and I along with the first aid kit and team paperwork. We waited for everyone to be ready as a group and set off.
We had decided to take a slightly more challenging route to the next camping spot as everyone was in high spirits and up for a challenge.
Instead of following the track for 6km along the side of the river, we opted to veer off at a crossing point with a stream. We would then follow the stream all the way up to the base of a peak, Laptentjahke, which we would not go to the summit of, but circumnavigate around over a col. This would take us to a lake with a breathtaking view over a nature reserve, which had a river sprouting off it that would lead us back down to the next camping spot.
Maybe this was a little too adventurous in hindsight, but everyone had been keen and it just goes to show you should never underestimate the weather and how quickly it can change! Forecasts are great, but the signs around you are more reliable!
As we reached the bottom edge of the peak, it was drizzling and we noticed it was snow capped as was the col and some of the lower ground we were to cover, a sign we should probably have taken as a warning and a little more seriously, but hey it was only the start of September, it couldn’t be too bad right?
Our pace had been slower than expected due to one of the female members of the group, Steph, having sore feet, but we were still in good time and were happy to press on. So on we went into the snow. It was shallow at first but as we noticed it was starting to fall around us it soon got deeper. We were walking through some dips that had collected enough to go past your knees.
We still had good visibility and we were now at a point near the col where it would be just as far to turn back, so we pitched the Altai, which was very easy even in snowy, blustery conditions, below the col on a flat patch of heath land, and had our lunch. Out came the stoves and we had another surprisingly delicious dehydrated Travel Lunch and a hot drink. As we set off it was apparent that having a communal tent, which gives easy shelter, is a great idea when in the wilderness to allow you to recoup some energy over lunch and heat up a little. If in smaller numbers a storm shelter would work in the same way.
As we set off the visibility was far worse but walking on an accurate bearing, taken with our Silva viewing compasses, we set off to pass over the col.
When we arrived we couldn’t even make out the lake on the other side as it was ‘whiting out’ so badly in what was now a snowstorm. I had been opting to be as ‘bouncy’ as possible as one of the higher energy members of the group and tried my best to keep everyone in high spirits. Steph was struggling on but really not having the best time by this point and her feet were getting worse.
As the visibility had deteriorated terribly, Carl the Haglofs Representative, who trained there regularly as a mountain instructor, took over the navigation to speed us up a little. This was great, however after an hour or so we discovered that even then we had managed to get disorientated and doubled back on ourselves, having crossed a few more streams than we realised, having put this down to lack of detail on the 1:50000 map we were using and arrived back at the lake, but on the other side.
It was now getting late and we had covered and extra 4km or so and really needed to get cracking. At this point came a low point. As we crossed another stream but now firmly heading in the correct direction, a female member of the group, Michaela, slipped backwards, despite the use of her walking poles, and ended up on her back in the river. Luckily she had followed correct procedure and undone her waist and chest strap on her rucksack to reduce the risk of drowning, and was able to stand up easily, however she was dripping wet. We had all kept our belongings in dry bags so she quickly de-layered and changed into her spare dry change of clothes.
We then split the group in 2, the faster members heading off as fast as possible to send back a support party from the other groups who we were meeting up with and set up the Altai and get hot drinks on as quickly as possible for the whole team.
Whilst getting back with the faster party another of the group had water ingress over the top of his boots but he was not in the mood for stopping as we were so close to the camp and we pressed on. When we arrived, we set up the Altai using all our poles and set about heating the water for the slower group when they arrived. Unfortunately, we quickly realised that by chance all the fuel was with the slower party, but fortunately the other teams came to our aid and heated some up for us.
Soon everyone was safely back and, having set up our smaller tents for sleeping, were happily warming themselves up in the Altai, with all the vents open for the roaring stoves to exhaust through.
We realised many of us and the other teams were wet through from the extremes of the weather that day so as a result the plans needed to change. After another Travel Lunch, some chocolate and plenty of hot fluids, exhausted we hit the sack.
Time to change the Team Leaders, the tents and also the route!
Tom and Tony’s Swedish adventure continues in part 2.