Tag Archives: Nordkalottleden

What does success look like?

At midday on August 3rd, day 3 of my Arctic Trail Run, I emerged from what felt like an interminable 25 km stretch that alternated between cruising through acres of fjellbjørkeskog — forests of gnarled mountain birch, stumbling through thickets of overgrown willow canes, and feeling the bounce underfoot of sunken bridges crossing bogs nearly without end. All with the steady whine of a posse of mosquitoes always in my wake.

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Leaving the forest on the way back to Norway. Day 3

This less-traveled section of the Nordkalottleden as it diverges from the Kungselden east toward Norway still wore the patchy vestments of the year’s late winter snowpack: a bridge unhinged from its moorings and scattered along a half kilometer of river bank; grasses brown and laid flat by snowfields only just melted away; snow melt coursing down sloping trails leaving traces deep with slick mud; and everywhere painted in a gradient of seasons from leaf to flower to bud to snow.

Here, in the land of the midnight sun, I am surprised by the tenacity of snow, but no longer by the countless unnamed, unmapped streams nor by the sodden ground left in their wake.

Later in the afternoon, I descend into a wide plain of lakes, rivers, heath, and bog. The trail takes me across a bridge over the Suollagajåhkå river and then sweeps across a raised plateau of arctic birch and bog. I had studied this section of trail in satellite photos and maps for hours, looking for a trail junction. I knew it would be hard to find, and under a warming sun, alone in a landscape suddenly bereft of vertical relief, I miss the unsigned, unmarked and seldom trodden turnoff and have to retrace at least 2 km until I finally manage to match the map to my GPS to the terrain before me.

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The trail dissolves. Day 3.

After reversing course, I find myself, finally, fording the broad Valldajåhkå and beelining through an unmarked bog toward the first sign I’d seen in hours — a reassuring reminder that I was still headed the right way. Relieved, I stop for a minute, have a handful of cashews, put the valley behind me, and begin a long, sinuous ascent northward back and forth across the border and towards my first resupply at the end of 200 k.

 

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A sign. Day 3.

I do not yet know that I will face an uncrossable river later that night at 11:00 pm, nor that the tingling in my left shin will evolve into a full-fledged debilitating injury over the next two days.

For the moment, I’m happy to move beyond the valley and back into a landscape of granite and snow and silence and a sun growing lower in the west.

Sometimes, I find success in these moments — traversing a bog, following an unmarked trail, finding a trail marker.

Sometimes, success is an embrace of humility and an acceptance of our limits.

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“The humility of the flower at treeline opens the way up the mountain.” Dag Hammarskjøld. Day 8.

The Resolution of Experience: The 2017 Arctic Trail Run

Under a low gray sky and into a steady soaking rain at 9:30 on the morning of August 1st, I set off from the Den Norske Turistforening / DNT hut at Ny Sulitjelma, planning a run of 50k by day’s end. After climbing the 400 meters to a high pass between Norway and Sweden, I soon realized that I’d be facing not only the weather, but a snowy spring and cold summer had left behind a deep snowpack, buried trail markers, and rivers overwhelmed with meltwater.

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“bridge”

In short order, I rolled up my running pants, forded two rivers of knee-deep meltwater, crossed undermined snowfields, and waded through countless shoe soaking streams.

All in the first 5 kilometers.

Conditions, I learned later, were more typical of June than August.

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typical trail conditions on day 1

Nonetheless, 50 kilometers and many many wet hours later, I was setting up my tent in a slackening rain on a flat section of sodden heath on a Swedish hillside.

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making camp, 11:00 pm, day 3

I knew I had four consecutive 50-65 km days through similar alpine terrain (and its associated lowland bogs), weaving back and forth across the Swedish/Norwegian border before my first resupply, but I knew at the end of that first day that this was going to be a run unlike any I’d attempted before — it was my first extended self-supported stage run, which was itself an added layer, but so many other challenges presented themselves one after another:

  • The trail-less expanses of springy heath, depthless moss and bog;
  • The miles of overgrown willow canes crossing the narrow path;
  • Suffering through 18 hours of GI distress on day two;
  • Waist-deep fords of class II rapids;
  • And, finally, and most severely, a mounting pain and swelling in my left shin that started late on day 4 and grew progressively more acute with every step.

It was this humbling, hobbling, often searing pain that eventually convinced me that 8 days and 360 km were enough when I reached my family in Abisko, Sweden.

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Solitude standing: on the border of Sweden and Norway, day 3

I had set out with the intention of running the whole of the Nordkalottleden over 12-14 days, and when I considered stopping early as I ran the last 70 km along the Kungsleden, I weighed a few things:

  1. Pain was really keeping me from finishing my 50 km days in good style and was distracting me from my focus on the landscape surrounding me.
  2. I had already completed what was arguably the most challenging and beautiful section of the trail along the Norwegian/Swedish border during days 3-6.
  3. I had found what I had come to the Arctic to find. Further mileage would no doubt have added to the adventure, but as it was, the layers of experience and depth of learning were profound and will take time to understand and appreciate.
  4. The past year — and the coming months of writing and sharing stories, pictures, and video — are both as important as the run itself. I’ve already started the work of building conversation across communities, countries, and ideologies. I cannot wait to do dive in fully — this is where the essential work of Climate Run happens.
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Crossing the Sieberjåhkå, day 2

Each day I continue to be more grateful to everyone I met and talked with along this journey and to everyone who has continued to be so supportive. There is so much to share and so many stories to tell. I’ll share some of them here, others in pictures on Facebook or Instagram, and still more in what is quickly becoming a larger writing project that will tie together CR 2016: Iceland, CR 2017: Arctic Trail, and many other experiences in something resembling a book.

More about that later! 🙂

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Midnight sun on the shores of Sijdasjávrre, day 4

 

Announcing — Climate Run 2017: Arctic Trail

At long last, I’m very excited to share my next Climate Run adventure for August 2017 — Climate Run: Arctic Trail.

The Arctic Trail, known as Nordkalottruta (in Swedish), Nordkalottleden (in Norwegian), and Kalottireitti (in Finnish) is an 800 km trail that runs roughly north-south along the Swedish-Norwegian border and across northernmost Finland, crossing international borders more than 20 times in the process.

It is a very different adventure than my 2015 Trans-Icelandic run — the Nordkalottruta is in many places more isolated, with longer stretches between possible resupply, and, well, a whole lot longer!

The trail lies entirely within Sápmi, a vast area of northern Scandinavia and Russia that is both the cultural and geographic home to the Sámi people, who, like many northern cultures, have been among the first to feel the dramatic impacts of climate change firsthand.

The length means a much more significant commitment — to carrying necessary equipment to spend nights in the open, to training in order to sustain effort over 12 days of continuous running, and to learning and sharing the stories cultures and landscapes impacted by climate change over a broad swath of northern Europe. This will no doubt push my limits well beyond what I’ve done before.

I’m excited about every part of this project, and I invite you to follow along as I prepare for the Climate Run: Arctic Trail over the next 10 months.

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