...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some notes from Storulvån

Back from the Cross Country Grund course and reporting!

Day 1, Feb 21, Thursday

The day started waking up in the night train, an hour away from our destination, Enafors. Enafors station is small and unremarkable, almost too easy to miss with its short platform. I remember not being able to tell which side the platform was, in summer. In the snowy February landscape, the platform was next to invisible. Susan and I managed to open the train door to the wrong side and ended up in the middle of the tracks, wondering where the hell out in nowhere we were. “Wrong side!” the conductor shouted from out his window. We scrambled up the train again and through to the platform side. Then the train drove slowly away, leaving us – the only two passengers that had gone down – in an otherwise empty platform. I had to re-check my bus transfer booking and hoped to god that I wasn't too confused to have booked the wrong date. It was the right date, and the bus came to take us to the mountain station, Storulvån.

On the first day of the course, we picked up the tour skis from the rental, and the guide ran through what materials to bring in the backpack. Shovels and windsacks (like a bivy sack) were distributed among the four participants to carry along with us. Then we took a short ski tour around the station, going through different skiing techniques. We also practiced something that we would often do in the next few days: to dig ourselves down in the snow and use the sack over ourselves, to protect against the wind and cold when taking lunch breaks. The windsack is a great simple invention – a lightweight windproof piece of sewn fabric can give you so much warmth.

One "window view" from inside the windsack while lunching: 
skis, poles and pulk in the snow.
Inside, it was rather cramped (and yellowish due to the color of the sack).
Two pairs of legs and two backpacks have to fit.

Day 2, Feb 22, Friday

This course day started with planning our tour on the map, and learning to plan the easiest routes (and an alternative route) to a destination, without wasting so much energy going up and down all the time. Marked winter trails do exist between stations / shelters too, but the freedom of skis – like kayaking in shallow waters where boats can't go – is that you can suddenly take yourself over landscapes hardly accessible by foot in summer months. Swamps and streams become passable and the whole landscape in front of you – at least so it seems – becomes full of choices for so many possible trails.

Lots of trees, lots of trails

We were on skis ca. 10 kilometers, both on the winter trail (easier) and off-trail (harder; you have to create your own track on powdery snow). We tried using ski skins to take us uphill (easier; like walking) and also dragging a pulk behind us, which is a thing you drag behind you with supplies (harder; it feels like someone's trying to push you all the time). We had different orienteering exercises in wind and snow – well-needed practice. It was cloudy and gray, but otherwise it was neither very cold nor very windy.

Snow varies, like a living and changing material, even in a small geographical area. It could be icy, flat and packed by the wind, loose and powdery or wet and sticky. Sometimes, the surface could be flat as a floor, but there are also bulky cornices that hang over mountain sides. One of the things I like about going outdoors is that feeling of awe that comes over me when I think about the powerful forces of nature behind subtleties in the things I see.

We played around with snow before going back to the station, trying our hand at making snow holes while one of the guides made a fire with the firewood we've been lugging around. Brewed coffee was a luxury outdoors. In the station, a warm sauna and good food awaited.

We could have dug all day!
 The snow wasn't deep enough to make a snow hole you could lie down in, but it was big enough to sit down in for a small person like me (just about!): 

Day 3, Feb 23, Saturday

One of the things I didn't mention yet is that I fell downhill a lot of times. First it was because my backpack moved around too much, but after I fixed that, I realized I need to work on my balance and get better at skiing downhill too (which for obvious reasons, I haven't done so much). One good thing about being used to falling though is that I'm pretty used to getting up fast by now.

On this course day, it was a 100-meter or so climb from the mountain station to get above the tree line of Getryggen, a 1328-meter mountain. We rounded this at around 800 meters over sea level (14.5 km around), skiing along a frozen stream and up through a mountain pass before circling the west side. Some ups and downs; falling less but still falling.

Besides the awesome view of the lake Ånn at the horizon, some black rocks peeking through the snow, the weak outline of the two mountains we were passing between and some colorfully-dressed downhill skiers who looked tiny on the side of the tall white slopes, everything was white and wide up there. Not so many pictures from this climb, as it was quite windy in the mountain pass. Pictures wouldn't have done justice though; the landscape was like nothing I've ever imagined. Sometimes the whiteness was also a bit comical, because with the white snow in the foreground and the white mountain in the background, our group sometimes looked like copy-pasted figures on blank paper. 

Lake Ånn in the horizon

That night, I had tired legs and tired knees. The fact that my belly was also acting up wasn't helping, and I lay in my bunk dead tired more than anything else. You know how kids get so exhausted before bedtime that they can cry from tiredness, and all other reasons at once? I was thinking about the day's exalting tour and I began to think about people I longed for, and how it would have been nice if we could experience this and life's other small adventures together. I was satisfied about the day's success, but it made me think about life's bigger challenges waiting at home for me when this vacation was over. Besides, I felt exhausted and a bit annoyed, wishing I could ski better, wondering if I ever would, and when. Like a frustrated child, I cried myself to a long, deep sleep. The next morning, my muscle pain and my worries were gone. The funny belly would last a few more days.

Day 4, Feb 24, Sunday

The last course day, ca. 10 km. We followed the winter trail halfway to Blåhammaren, and went back to the station off-trail. Today was a bit quieter; everybody seemed to be in a reflective mood, just taking one foot ahead of the other in the gentle incline. On the way back, skiing along the side of a hill, we found a fox trail in the snow. The valley with its hills and trees and streams was a very relaxing place to go skiing. I felt that I had a better glide on my skis.

A family making their way up the trail crossing. Taken from Ulvåtjärn.

Grouse tracks around birch twigs

On a windless day, you hear things around you much better. I could hear the skis crunch through the snow, the zzzip sound of skiing with ski skins, or the woomph sound of a snow layer collapsing on itself. Sometimes, we could hear the sounds of grouse, or the bark of dogs at a distance. Someone was hunting grouse.

The course end offered a challenge, because now, if I were to ski, there would not be a guide.

Day 5, Feb 25, Monday

Hanging around with Susan and three snowmen
that some kids made around an activity tent

Our extra day at Storulvån station. My belly was screaming “I'm sick of sandwiches!” – as we've been having sandwiches in our tour lunch package for a total of five days now.

Susan, from day 2, had a heel blister which had turned gradually worse, and by this time, she didn't want to wear any shoes, much less go skiing. I took a shorter tour alone in the morning, wanting to get back up above the tree line. It was good “me-time” after living with group life for days. Skiing by myself, I really felt the freedom of being able to go anywhere I wished, making any trail; but also the responsibility of choosing that trail, of thinking about my own safety and planning my tour to get back on the time I said I would. 

I learned two hard lessons: (1) it's better to use ski skins earlier than later, to avoid working like an ox halfway up the mountain, and (2) I shouldn't overestimate my capacity. I should have zigzagged my way down in small stages as it was hard for me to really tell how steep inclines could be. While skiing down, I kind of landed in a bad way with my left foot stuck in the snow and realized that same half-second that it was dumb to take chances when alone in a place with no mobile phone signal. At the very least, I have a marathon to run in June and I can't afford any injuries. I had to dig my leg out and I took myself down the steep downhill trail with the ski skins on, to feel safe after this lesson learned. Downhill skiing and the like – that has to wait another year. 

I came back home on Tuesday morning after a night's train ride, and I entered my door overcome with a feeling of gratitude that this quiet, well-lit space is a place I call home.


Blogger Alde Cruz said...

wow... ahoy! what an adventure!

3:13 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Yes! And I am happy as a clam! :-)

3:41 PM


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