Sunday 9 October 2016

Hoga Kusten Leden (High Coast Trail) 129 km, Central Sweden's East Coast.

3 weeks in Scandinavia, September 2016- this was the timeframe of the solo mission I was on in an area of our planet I have been hankering to visit and get all sweaty and muddy... and hopefully be blown away by the scenery and wild places I had heard so much about.
Firstly, I flew into Oslo, got my bearings for a few days with some nice IPA's and easy hiking and ran the Black River Run 100 mile Ultramarathon in Vasteras, Sweden.  Rockin good fun!
A bit of sleep, quite a few Max hamburgers and a gentle train ride past rolling farmland and tightly packed spruce and pine forests up to Harnosand on the East Coast lead to the start of my thru hike of the High Coast Trail.
I spent the night at Villa Sedin B&B near the centre of Harnosand.
 Harnosand is a small town with good facilities such as the information centre where I purchased my trail booklet and a couple of supermarkets to stock up on supplies.  Really no need to linger.  Next day the weather forecast promised grey skies, no rain and a kindly 15 degrees Celsius.  I was rested and ready to get a taste of the much lauded High Coast Trail that has a Southern Terminus (start point) at the North end of the Hoga Kusten Bridge that spans the mouth of the Angermanalven River.  It is a big ass bridge, 1.8km long and visible by sight & sound for the first few kilometres of the walk.  I was aware that this journey wasn't going to be a bewitching wilderness romp full of speccy mountain scenery and that there was a fair bit of plucky road bashing involved.  That was all good and welcome, I wanted an authentic 'rural Swedish' experience and was just keen to do something other than the Kungsleden Trail up in the North that the majority of tourists to Sweden seem to make a run for.

I try to hike lightweight American style with minimal kit and like to be able to resupply frequently and cruise at a trot rather than sloth along with a rotten back breaking weight, if possible.  After thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2009 I am still using some of the same bits and pieces such as my Western Mountaineering bag and MSR Pocket Rocket cooker which shows that if you look after your stuff and have a bit of luck and are a complete tightarse with your money you can get a fair bit of longevity out of an initial pricey investment.

I loaded up my ULA Catalyst backpack full of goodies and what felt like too many books and probably was and grabbed a taxi to the Hoga Kusten Hotel near Hornoberget where the trail starts.  Disclaimer; the local bus is far cheaper and runs either very early or quite late in the day- I just wanted to utilise my time and get on the trail and get moving.  I wouldn't recommend spending 400 kroner on a cab ($60 AUD) but that I did and I was whisked away and delivered to the hotel grounds in less than 25 minutes, hassle free.  I can be an impatient bugger at times...

The trail is very well signed.  Wahoo! These metallic blue pointers are constantly spotted showing the correct way down doubtful paths and choosing directions when there are often an intersection of single track or country roads.  Orange dots and dashes on the trees also blaze the trail so you are never in doubt.
Even a bumbling idiot from Australia found it difficult to lose his way.

Every kilometre, the entire way along the trail, is a newish sturdy marker pole such as the one above showing the distance you are currently up to.  This may bother some people being constantly reminded about their distance tally, although I actually quite liked the ticking off of k's and occasional surprise when a milestone such as 20 or 50 or whatever appeared unexpectedly.  Your call! 
Regarding trail distance accuracy- it is quoted as 129 km long. I didn't bother with GPS geekery as I was there to walk and get pumped about moving through a foreign landscape, and who walks with a GPS on a marked trail anyway?.. so I don't know or care really if the length is 129 km's or not.  But it's close.  I think.  It has to be.  Doesn't it? Who cares.  Anyway.

The trail winds around picturesque bays sprinkled with holiday shacks and rural homes and along forestry plantation roads and quiet gravel lanes.  I noticed how well looked after the Swedish homes and letterboxes were- names displaying proud owners, wood sheds full and ubiquitous Volvos and Saabs parked in driveways.  Maybe I'm overstating it and it is just the by product of a wealthy, developed nation but it seemed there is thoughtful and caring spirit about how the people seem to treat their homes and the surrounding bushland.  Then again, I guess they can afford to do so.  
There are quite a few idyllic spots along the coast and on hilltops furnished with rustic 'wind shelters' as they call them, and a fire pit and usually a mini shed stocked full of cut firewood.  These random lean-to's were tempting to stop and have a breather and a bit of a break and I found myself sitting and filming and taking many photos.  And finding it tricky to get moving again.
I came across very little rubbish on the trails and roads unlike the usual industrial produced beer cans, energy drink containers and macca's wrappers I spy elsewhere around the world.   Loads of fungi and twittering birdlife was seen in the first day and the scent of pine and spruce and the fallen yellowing leaves of the white birch trees lead me to my first night's campsite after 20km of walking, a free multi cabin campsite on a serene lake; Fjardbotten.

Fjardbotten was about 20km from the bridge and only one other hiker had dropped their pack for the evening; Jessie from Belgium.  Jessie was on her first multi day walk, and had no cooker or tent and so was depending entirely on the hut system and the power of dry wood and fire for heating food and purifying water, old school style.  I grabbed a newish cabin near the path to the spring and got a fire going outside.  Great nights sleep and off as the sun rose pale and weak.

The trail chased it's way along singletrack and forestry road, passing a few abandoned caravans and led up to a really cool cabin; Lidenipan smack dab on a hill, after a couple of hours.  This public facility is situated in a fantastic location and was a great spot for a quick cuppa, the view took in a multitude of bays and hills and always a corresponding meld of blue and green as the landscape and water blur in the distance.  It was up and down and up and down after this and along dirt roads back down to the coast near Garvik. From time to time other hikers passed by heading the other way (the wrong way I say?!), otherwise I was very much alone and unmolested as I padded on Northwards towards Ornskoldsvik.  

I decided to be sneaky and take a deviation off the trail and hit the ICA supermarket at Nordingra. The usual Roma woman was sitting propped up outside shaking a plastic cup at me and barking into her mobile phone.  I saw this form of passive begging often throughout my travels in Sweden and always at an ICA supermarket. I'm not meaning to be judgemental or critical, I just do not really understand why a woman with a cup outside a shop is so prevalent.  Hopefully someone can explain the complexities of poverty in a socialist welfare state to me one day.  
Anyway,  I found free Wifi and reminded myself why the internet saps our lives of meaningful moments when we could instead be buzzed about being in an amazing place.  Nuff said!  A cookup on the table outside 'hikertrash' style in the warm afternoon sun and a bit of a chat with some locals set me in a great mood and I bounced along the road out of town back to the trail.  

As I've said previously, the path is very well marked, perhaps too well marked...that didn't stop me from taking a wrong turn not long out of Nordingra though and accidently finding a kick ass campsite where I briefly debated the merits of continuing walking with a pack full of newly acquired groceries and increasing the daily tally of 28 kilometres.  Laziness and a blissful lakeside setting won of course so out came the tent and sit down time begun.

Day three was all about kicking on to Skuleskogens National Park, the 'highlight' I spose, of the trek. My backpack turned into a little elephant.  For some reason I was even more hungrier than the normal very hungry and I hit every ICA supermarket on the way (the trail passes through a number of small villages in this mid section) and scooped up a crazy amount of food.  Insane.  What was I thinking?  And I didn't buy beer or anything.  Sober & straight.  Just in a weird food-hoarding state of mind.  Anyway, the rain stayed away and I did not see any other hikers all day. 

It was great fun crossing the ridgelines, dropping into bays, poking through small habitations and soaking up the varied landscape.  The 'Naturum Hoga Kusten'; a large interactive museum is on a highway North of Docksta on the E4 highway before the National Park.  There is a cafe, loads of educational displays relating to the geography of the local area and most importantly a convenient place to ditch some rubbish, use the toilet and check out the great views of Skuleberget- a whooping huge rock face behind the building.

I hammered on to the South entrance (Entre Syd) to Skuleskogens National Park and raced down a few kilometres of pretty boardwalk with a couple of other hikers that arrived by car in the failing light to waterside Bodviken campsite and a sandy pitch under a tree on the high tide mark.  There were quite a few other people camping as well, mostly couples smooching around scattered beach fires, but we were all well spread out.  Thankfully!  I couldn't locate the water supply after asking around numerous times so I crawled into my tent and passed out.  40km down and a deep, deep sleep.

Next morning, after pulling my tent down and packing my kit, I headed back onto the main track through the park and stopped by a footbridge over a trickling stream that spilled over shiny rocks in a sparkling cascade to cook up some scoff and suck in the forest environment.  It was definitely a rung up the ladder in terms of scenery inside Skulekogen's.  The Hoga Kusten only dribbles along for about 9 km but it packs a sexy punch in the way of special flora and probable campsites.  The official guide lists the "greatest attraction is Slattdalsskrevan: a 200 metre long, 40 metre deep and 7 metre wide crevice.  Beautiful and spectacular."  Agreed.

I had the whole place to myself, probably from getting up crazy early and needing to find water but at least I beat the love birds at the camping site.  I headed up top to get a look at the lay of the land and was rewarded with a view typical of this hiking trail:

A winding downhill romp led across rock strewn, tree clad lakesides and into the locality of Kopmanholmen.

 I was feeling a bit low at one point,  fatigued and perhaps pushing myself a bit hard so I had an extended break in another community funded, awesome freebie cabin and brewed up a few cuppa's, cleaned myself up, ate my way to a lighter food bag and had a little dance.  A complete change of mood, I had my mojo back baby.  O yeah! I felt fantastic, epic and fearless as I plugged in the Ipod and rocked along the road to a Lord Huron album on my way out of Kopmanholmen.  I was too pumped to notice the guy on the tractor laughing at me.  Or maybe I wasn't, but I pushed on to the best wind shelter on the track yet at Nassjobacken.

A bit of a dull road bash characterized the afternoon and a few cars plied the dirt and gravel.  Being Friday I guessed many were owners or guests of the plentiful holiday homes I spied lining the peaceful bays through the thickly wooded valleys.  I plowed on aiming for a quiet campsite....somewhere.  Made it up onto the hill where the last hut on the trail was situated.  Collected water, made some dinner in the darkness on a picnic table outside and thought, 'ah, stuff it, might keep going'.  Headlamp on, down, down, into more thick trees and the distant roar of traffic and artificial man made noise growing louder. It was 9pm and I had had a massive day and I couldn't suss out anywhere to pop the tent up and doss down, all around was wet and mossy or full of sharp brambles, nothing gave.  Eventually I was spat out on the edges of suburbia where a large grassy field and some helpful silver birch trees provided a strategic cover for a comfy camp.  5 kilometres from the end and  I pity the animals attempting to sleep near my snoring that night.

So I took my time and wandered quite slowly into Ornskoldsviks the next morning on Day 4.  Runners and walkers were pounding the well kept nature reserve the Hoga Kusten passes through and too quickly I was at the end of my journey at the railway station.  
Game over and a worthy introduction to walking in Sweden and it's Eastern coastline.