Losing Count – Speed Hiking In The Arctic Circle
Unzipping the tent, our yellow walled capsule filled with the cool, moisture-rich air of the mountains. Uncertain of the time I slithered out of the warmth of my sleeping bag to the eternal glow of the Arctic’ sun. I have grown accustomed to the concept of time fading away in the mountains but now, in the Arctic Circle, not even daylight was a metric of constraint. Our boundaries were simple: the limits of our legs, our predictions for weather, and the confines of our imagination.
With a week of time to play, myself and two Swedish friends, Isak Sandling and Simon Rantappa, had set out to explore the speed hiking potential in Sarek National Park. Though the three of us have wound our way across the world’s mountains, it was clear to all of us that Sarek is a special place. This is one of Europe’s oldest national parks and its interior is one of the least developed. Here you’ll find few trails, fewer bridges, and other than reindeer paths hardly a trace of marked routes. Sarek’s interior feels virtually unmapped.
The three of us had set out on a hybrid trip into its interior from the south, trekking to set up base camps and then aiming to speed hike the ridgelines and peaks that serrate its glacially carved valleys.
“Did you hear the rocks on that last section of the ridge? Running over the flat stones was like tapping the keys on a piano with my feet,” Isak exclaimed as the three of us gathered just below the summit of Bårddetjåhkkå (2005m) one of the areas 6, 2000-meter summits.
This was only the second day of our adventure and the melody of the rocks was merely one element fueling our imaginations. Having started in the marshy lowlands where we set up our first camp some 25 kilometers from the trailhead, the picturesque Lapland meadows merged into striking alpine terrain. As we speed hiked up the eastern edge of the Pårte massif we found ourselves grateful for the protective soles of our shoes, as the rocks underfoot pierced up like sharp arrows forcing us onwards with urgency. Cresting the massif though rewarded us with a long ridge of flat stones, offering a perfect pathway to move with speed. As we navigated the linked summits, the view taunted us with knife-edged ridgelines and sheer granite walls that plunged into blue glaciers before melding into the alpine delta of the Rappa River. Needless to say, this was an inspiring introduction to our playground for the week.
Topping the high point of the day, I glanced down at my watch to confirm what the golden glow of the sun hinted - it was nearly dinnertime. Taking note of the hour was a habit I quickly learned to forego over the coming days though, as the time become obsolete. We regularly waited out morning rain over a second pot of coffee, taking the time to evolve our daily route and enjoying the contrast to limitations often imposed by darkness.
It wasn’t until hiking out the final day, as we discussed the kilometers traveled, the height meters ascended, and the peaks topped that the reward of our unbound constraints were truly felt. Just as the importance of time had faded away so too had the importance of these metrics. When you're limited solely by the boundaries of your imagination, the only count that actually matters is the experience itself; with tired legs and full spirits, our experience had been successfully tallied.