Ever since coming to Stockholm, I’ve longed to visit the very northernmost tip of Sweden, often referred to as the most beautiful national park in Sweden called Abisko. I had a loose plan that it could happen this summer, but when I came across Fjällräven Classic’s web page in October 2015, the plan became fixed faster than expected. Despite the event taking place ten months later, the 2000 tickets were selling like hot cakes.
The event was actually sold out when I first learnt about it four days after the registration started, but somehow two weeks later I found out that some spots were reopened for registration. We hesitated for a moment, unsure about signing up for something taking place ten months later, but it was too tempting.
What is Fjällräven Classic?
It’s a 110 km long hike in the mountains of northern Sweden, organized by the famous Swedish brand Fjällräven, which provides transportation to the starting point, food and gas at two checkpoints along the trail, as well as medical care and small treats like coffee, pancakes and reindeer suovas.
Here’s a small teaser:
One of the reasons I wanted to go on Fjällräven Classic was that I believed a well-functioning company like Fjällräven should be pretty good at organizing stuff. And I sincerely don’t remember anything to complain about in that regard.
The organizing team asked us to send our travel information in advance, so a bus was already waiting for us at the Kiruna Airport, ready to take us to the city. It took us directly to a place where we could check in to the race, collect a hiking pass, map, trash bag, and dried food for the first few days. There was also a Naturkompaniet shop with outdoor equipment for the forgetful ones.
We decided to spend the night before the start in a hotel, so that we don’t have to unpack the tent, although I’ve heard good references about Camp Ripan right next to the registration site. Ours was the Bishop’s Arms Hotel located in a small shopping mall in the city center. The room was super nice, with a big, comfy bed and modern bathroom. It was really convenient to just walk down the stairs and appear in the Bishop’s Arms Restaurant & Pub where we could refuel and chill out before the upcoming adventure.
The starting point was at the Nikkaluokta Mountain Lodge, some 70 km from Kiruna and again the transport was included in the registration fee. Despite the worrying weather forecasts, predicting rain for almost all of the race period between 5th and 12th August, it was sunny when we arrived to Nikkaluokta. We had some spare time, so we could even enjoy a cup of coffee and a cake before leaving to the wilderness.
The clock stroke 4 pm and the sixth starting group with more than 280 participants set off. One of my main concerns about the Fjällräven Classic was the number of participants. Although being split into 8 starting groups spread over three days, it’s still a lot of people walking the same path. It was a bit busy the first six kilometers until we reached LapDånalds, a small stand selling reindeer burgers. I wasn’t sure if we actually deserve such a treat only after 6 kilometers, but it felt so well! After that, it felt less crowded, people were taking it at different pace, some having breaks more often than others. Basically, for the rest of the race there was always somebody in sight, it was a little bit troublesome to pass and let other pass every now and then, but it wasn’t too frequent.
The first day was quite short since we were in the last group starting at 4pm and it’s difficult in the beginning to get used to the weight of the backpack. We had to avoid loads of mud and puddles on the trail that accumulated after the previous rainy days and hundreds of our forerunners. Our aim was to reach close to the first checkpoint and camp under Kebnekaise, the highest mountain of Sweden, so we were quite happy when we found a nice camping spot about 1.5 km before the Kebnekaise checkpoint.
We woke up to a rainy morning, so we were postponing getting out of the tent, hoping for the rain to stop. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Peeking outside, we could see that all the other tents have disappeared and we knew we couldn’t delay leaving anymore. We covered the distance to the Kebnekaise Mountain station and got our first stamp into the Hiking Pass. It was a pleasant surprise that there was some cinnamon buns served for the participants and also some other stuff available for purchase. However, we’ve just had breakfast so we didn’t stop for long.
Luckily, the rain didn’t last long and it turned out to be a rather nice day. The tops of the mountains were still hiding in the clouds though. We passed through a beautiful valley, surrounded by steep mountains and waterfalls. The terrain was not very easy to walk in, very rocky, muddy and wet. In numerous places, there are footbridges, but having high, waterproof boots was definitely a requirement to survive with dry feet.
At the Singi checkpoint, suovas with reindeer meat was served, which was a nice surprise. The sky has cleared and even sun appeared, so we decided to walk a bit further and cut some of the distance to the next checkpoint in Sälka. After climbing a smaller hill, the trek led through a plain. We’ve got about halfway to Sälka, when we decided to make our camp and call it for the night.
We woke up not only to a rainy morning, but almost to a storm. The wind and rain were beating our tent. The tent poles were bending so much that we had to hold them, afraid that they might break. We didn’t seek a well-protected place the night before, because we were fooled by the calm, sunny weather. After half an hour, there was no improvement, so we quickly packed and went on.
At the Sälka Mountain Hut, we could refill the dry food supplies and buy more stuff at the shop if needed. Some people choose to camp around the hut, because it also provides a sauna. We continued on an even more rocky terrain, in an annoying drizzling rain. The highlight of the day was reaching the highest point of the whole trek at the Tjäktja Pass. It was steep and foggy up there, so no really much reward for climbing so high, but I can imagine that the view can be pretty amazing.
Then we started a neverending descent. It felt like we might never reach the Tjäktja checkpoint. Eventually, we did and were rewarded with a cup of coffee and a carrot cake. It has never felt so good.
The sky cleared again in the late afternoon and we though that we might walk a bit further, towards the Alesjaurse checkpoint. Shortly after the Tjäktja checkpoint, there were plenty of beautiful camping sites, but as we walked on, the terrain was too inclined, without streams to camp by, so we just continued. We even reached the valley where we could see the Alesjaure Mountain Hut in the distance. Only after leaving the hill behind did we find a nice flat, dry, and well-protected place to camp.
After arriving to Alesjaure, we took more packages of dried food and even had coffee and a cinnamon bun in the cafe/shop. The next leg between Alesjaure and Kieron turned out to be the most difficult one because it was raining constantly. Also the streams were full of water and for the first time even my beloved shoes didn’t manage to keep me dry during one of the stream crossings.
In the rain and in the wetlands, we were not very inclined to stopping for lunch, so we were just eating nuts and chocolate on the go. The rain paused for a little bit and we quickly boiled water for lunch. Even during this short time, I started freezing because of the wet shoes and I bet it was then that I caught a cold I’m struggling with now.
By crossing one last overflowing creek, we left the wetlands behind. At first, walking at the slopes of Kartinvare Mountain seemed like an easy finish of the day, but it turned out rather exhausting. The narrow, rocky path followed the mountain all the way around and again, it felt neverending. At least, the mountain is beautiful and it was bathing in sunlight that surprisingly appeared as soon as we left the wetlands.
Reaching the Kieron checkpoint, we figured out that most of the other people in the area decided to spend the night there. The camping site felt a bit like at a music festival with so many tents next to each other. One of the best moments of the hike was that at the checkpoint not only we received a stamp to the Hiking Pass, but also a full plate of freshly prepared pancakes! Suddenly, it was all worth the struggle to get there.
The last day was quite short, it was only 17 km through lowlands, mostly following the Abiskojåkka River. The path was pretty well kept of, there were plenty of footbridges, likely because it was within the famous Abisko National Park area. The rainclouds stayed in the mountains and we had a sunny day.
And 95 hours and 52 minutes we crossed the finish line!
The organizers really thought it through. As people who have finished earlier are hanging around, they start cheering every time next participants are approaching the finish line, so every one of the participants feels welcome and proud. Also, they gave us something to drink and put the final time into our Hiking Pass.
There is a scale to weigh the luggage and I was pretty happy that I didn’t know that I’m carrying 20 kg beforehand. And there’s also lots of other things to do – you can have your boots cleaned by the guys from Hanwag, try a tent from Fjällräven, buy a Fjällräven Classic T-Shirt or other Fjällräven equipment, have a shower at the tourist station, and most importantly, have a cild beer and something to eat at the Trekkers Inn, or book a table for a fancy dinner at the Kungsleden Restaurant, which is listed on the White Guide of Sweden’s best restaurants.