Over the weeks I’ve blogged about my borderline obsession for wilderness walks. I’ve written of a gentle meander with the family that saw me cast away my preconceptions that young children limit outdoor life. A high mountain walk across the roof of Norway that took me face to face with the pre-historic musk ox and tested my tolerance for cold and wet in a landscape shaped by the elements and myth. Canada’s Yukon Territory challenged my emotional resilience as I moved completely alone through the rawest of landscapes, anxiety high as I hiked the last stronghold of the Grizzly Bear.
Next summer sees me undertake my longest continuous trip yet and also a return to the landscape that saw me fall in love with backpacking in northern wildernesses. Some years ago I marched across 200 kilometres of prime sub-arctic wilderness setting out from the northern portal of Sweden’s famous Kungsleden Trail on a bearing south. Seven days later I limped into the half-way point of Kvikkjokk with torn feet, exhausted to the point of mild delirium and raw from mosquito bites.
Despite walking too fast, eating too little and carrying too much I was smitten. The total immersion in the vast landscape of mountains, lakes and forests, as I walked and camped, profoundly changed me.
I’ll be back there again this summer. I aim to be the first from outside Sweden to complete the coveted ‘Gronabandet’ or ‘Green Band’. The principles of it are simple, you live and move unsupported through almost 1000 miles of sub-arctic mountains, tundra and forest. The challenger starts with his hand on the door of the mountain station of Grovelsjon and completes the journey with a hand again on the remote border post of Treriksroset, a large cairn marking where Norway, Sweden and Finland meet many miles north of the Arctic Circle. The ‘in between’ requires nearly 1000 miles of walking through the spine of Scandinavia’s mountains, totally self-powered and wholly self-sufficient. I’ll be out for two months, living and moving through Europe’s last wilderness. It’s a landscape more populated by reindeer, wolverine and bear than man, I’ll pass through it in one continuous sub-arctic ‘day’ enjoying total daylight for the entirety of the trip.
It has a winter equivalent, the ‘Vitabandet’ or ‘White Band’. Travel by dog team, ski or snow shoe, it’s your choice. The first challengers are setting off now in a winter of record snow fall and extreme low temperatures. You’ve got the advantage over summer challengers by being able to carry more gear (dragged behind you in a sledge) and passing straight over the numerous frozen lakes and rivers that create such formidable obstacles in the ‘Gronabandet’. Naturally, there are none of the fearsome mosquitoes that will plague my summer trek! The downside is crawling out of the warmth of your sleeping bag in a morning of minus 20 degrees centigrade.
It’ll be tough at times, certainly, but totally life affirming: two whole months ‘out on the hill’! I’ll have to downgrade my expectation of comfort, make do with a nutritious but limited diet and to yield to sun, wind, rain and biting insects. I’ve the example of Scandinavia’s indigenous people, the Sami, to learn from. They have carved a living in this harsh landscape through the herding of reindeer. To them such a journey is part of their culture and tradition. The annual ‘rajd’ sees Samis travel with their reindeer herds through the tundra, taiga and mountain to reach their summer pasture. To them a long distance mountain journey is the most natural thing in the world.
Others though ask me why I might do such a thing? Why surrender ‘ease’ and ‘comfort’? For me it’s what I like best, backpacking, simply living and moving through wilderness or wild land. There’ll be frustration and despair at times as things don’t go to plan, limited diet, exhaustion and fatigue too. Ultimately there will the simple joy of the journey itself. The answer is further underscored in a poet whose work I devoured before backpacking in the grizzly rich mountains of the Yukon Territory. I’ll call upon Robert Service, Bard of the North, if I ask myself the question ‘why’ after days of freezing rain, incessant mosquitoes or broken gear. His poem ‘The Call of the Wild’ quite simply provides the ‘because’.
“Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on, Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore, Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon, Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it, Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost? Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.”
Mark Waring will be back with Berghaus, posting as an ‘Expert Blogger’ in the spring, and sharing some tips and techniques as to the art of solo backpacking.
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