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A Classic Polar Reunion

By Phil on 2014.08.29 In Fjällräven Classic

Three weeks ago I returned to the Swedish wilderness to take part in the Fjällräven Classic with 5 of my Fjällräven Polar team mates who I met in April. Alex (US), Hana (Sweden), Manon (Netherlands), Greg (US) and Johan (Sweden). A few days before leaving for the Classic I received an email from Andrea (Norway) who was part of last year’s Fjällräven Polar and fellow Outdrr blogger, asking about our Polar team doing the Classic. After a few emails, Andrea was delighted to join our Polar Classic team. We were now the magnificent seven! Yeah ha!

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I had arranged to meet Johan and Andrea at the bar in Arlanda airport in Stockholm before our flight to Kiruna in Northern Sweden. It was great to meet Johan again and share a few beers and laughs as we looked out for Andrea arriving from Oslo. The others were arriving from their respective destinations earlier in the day and even the day before in Greg’s case.

After arriving in Kiruna we were shown to the Fjällräven coach waiting to take us to Camp Ripan, as were just about every other person on our flight, all dressed in Fjällräven clothing and carrying rucksacks. After a short bus journey, we arrived at Camp Ripan to be reunited with the rest of our team of Alex, Hana, Manon and Greg. The team was now complete!

The guys showed us where to go to register and get out first stash of freeze dried food for the trek. Ahhhh Real Turmat. Oh how I have missed you since the polar! Real Turmat really is one of the best outdoor meals I have tasted, I only wish we could buy it here in the UK. At least this time I could choose my food and not have Phil Parkes giving me Chilli Con Carne and Chicken Curry for breakfasts like he did on the Polar because he didn’t see all the breakfast meals we had in our box until our final day! I will never let him forget that. Sorry Phil. Haha

Greg then showed us to where we would pitch our tents before starting the trek the following day. I had agreed that Andrea (or Rudo if using her African name following here recent working assignment in Zimbabwe) could share my tent providing she didn’t snore or talk in her sleep. She promised me she did neither.

Once tents were up we headed into town for pizza along with three Swedish brothers Johannes, Sebastian and Jonathan who Manon had picked up on her train journey from Netherlands. Luckily they were also doing the Classic and not some strangers like Manon usually picks up on her train journeys.

After sleeping badly for two nights and a very long day travelling, I left the rest of the guys enjoying a few beers and headed back to our tent. About two hours later Andrea returned to the tent trying to be very quiet as not to wake me. As I was still awake I said to her: “What time do you call this!” in an irate angry husband kind of way. Our laughing probably woke everyone else around us up. At least we shared same humour. Haha

Day 1: Kebtastic

The next morning we all assembled to see if Alex’s luggage had finally arrived yet, as her rucksack had been sitting in Arlanda airport in Stockholm. Unfortunately it still hadn’t arrived, which postponed our planned 9:00am start group. After some help from our friend Andreas from Fjällräven, Alex managed to assemble a borrowed rucksack and required clothing and camping equipment she would need during trek and we were on our way for the 13:00 start group.

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Another coach took us from Camp Ripan to the starting point in Nikkaluokta. It was a great atmosphere as we mingled with the hundreds of others from our starting group. As we waited, Andrea showed us how she tapes her feet for long treks to help protect against blisters and other foot issues. As I often get issues with my feet I thought it was worth giving it a go and taped each of my toes individually as well as the balls of my feet. Places I always have issues with.

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It was a beautiful sunny day as we started our first leg of the trek. Our pace wasn’t that quick at the start as we kept stopping for numerous group selfies and other photo opportunities. Plus it wasn’t a race, we were there to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the whole Classic experience.

After about 5.5km we came to one of the best bits of the hike, Lap Danalds! A wooden hut selling freshly made reindeer burgers and beer by a stunning lake. It came just at the right time. It was so good that we stayed for about an hour as we relaxed in the sun.

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It was great to be able to have longer chats with my fellow Polarists during the trek, as this was not always possible during the Polar due to the long demanding days we had. As I walked along chatting to Alex, she asked me about my motivation for all my outdoor adventures, and laughed and agreed 100% at her comments that how the food and drink you have after completing a challenge is always the best food and the best drink ever!

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After 19km we reached our first checkpoint at Kebnekaise and a few of us rewarded ourselves with a nice cold can of beer. We then walked on a further 1.5km to find camp for the night. Andrea and myself tried to find the best spot for our tent by testing out the ground by lying down on numerous spots to find the place with the least slope, not realising we had been lying on top of blueberry bushes which had covered our UN Blue gaiter trousers in blueberry stains.

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By the time we had all pitched our tents, it was around 10pm before we sat down for dinner, to which Alex turned to me saying “This is the best meal ever!” as she tucked in to her Real Turmat meal.

Day 2: Singi in the Rain and What a Glorious Sauna!

I woke around 7:30am after the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time. Just like when sleeping in tent during the Polar. I’m not sure if this was down to previous three nights’ of bad sleep or that I’m destined to sleep in the great outdoors in a tent. Whatever the reason I felt great, fresh and ready to go.

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For breakfast I finally got a chance to have my first Real Turmat breakfast meal, despite Alex asking if I was having my usual Chilli for breakfast. I have to say I was well impressed and very similar to the Adventure Food breakfasts you can buy in the UK. If only Phil had not hidden them from me when on Polar.

The day started off cloudy with short rain showers as we headed to our next checkpoint at Singi. We arrived at Singi and were given surprise snack of reindeer meat wrapped in pitta bread with lingonberry jam. While at Singi we also met Carl-John from Sweden who was also part of Andrea’s Polar team in 2013. I also met a girl from Germany called Johanna who was doing the trek with her mother and wanted to know more about the Polar and asked for advice on how to win a place next year, which I was happy to oblige. I also met a woman from Newcastle who was doing it with her two young sons and husband, which was nice to hear a familiar accent amongst the many nationalities taking part.

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Alex started telling me about an event called “Mappy Hour” which they have in New York where she lives. Where you take a map and a 6 pack of beer along to a meeting place to share info on trips as well as speaking to people who have done trips you are interested in. I thought this was a pretty good idea, especially the 6 pack of beer part and wondered if something similar could take off here in the UK, though with my relationship with maps and my track record of getting lost on hikes, I may not be the best person to take part in such an event, but who knows.

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As we headed towards our next checkpoint at Salka, Johan noticed my jumbo gorilla pod for my camera sticking out of the side of my rucksack, which at first glance he thought was some kind of sex toy, until I explained. So I decided to put inside my rucksack in case any other trekkers thought the same thing.

I don’t know if it’s a Scandinavian thing, but it wasn’t long before my Sunderland Mackem accent had started rubbing off on my trekking wife (a.k.a. Mrs UN Blue) Andrea and Johan as they were both often heard using the word “me” instead of “my” as I heard them both say “me face” a few times during the day. Just as Madeline and Jostein from Norway had done during the Polar. Or maybe the Mackem accent is the common language of adventurers. It certainly seems like it.

We finally arrived at Salka where there was also a cabin with a sauna inside down by a stream. This was a great opportunity to have a wash. Despite it being very busy, Alex, Andrea, Johan and myself decided to give it a go. It may have been the quickest sauna ever, but it certainly felt like the best.

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Later that night we met a friend of Andrea’s from Natur Kompaniet and 7 of his friends who were about to start walking to the next checkpoint during the night. I think this crazy idea of theirs was due to the amount of alcohol they had been drinking, as they shared their Whiskey and Jalloviina with us before setting off. The alcohol seemed to go straight to Johan’s head as he kept us entertained back at our camp as we had dinner.

It had been a very long hard day’s trekking and I had forgot how hard going multi day trekking is on your feet when carrying a full rucksack. I sometimes wonder why I do this trekking, when feet are in so much pain, but then things like sauna, beer and a great laugh with some amazing friends from around the world makes the pain and hard work worthwhile.

Day 3: Snow Ass Mountain

After another good night’s sleep, we woke to a lovely sunny morning, which seemed to make people want to sing, as Alex and Andrea started singing Spice Girls songs as we set off for the day. Though the rest of us couldn’t actually tell they were Spice Girls songs, but they convinced us they were genuine songs.

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It wasn’t long before Johan and myself joined in on the singing as we constructed our own version of George Michael’s Faith song and called it Tape. “As you gotta have tape, tape, tape…” As it seems the strapping of my feet and toes at the start of the trek had done the trick, as I had not experienced the usual scraping of toes or as much pain on the soles of my feet as I usually do. Johan had become my Swedish version of my trekking mate Joe here in the UK, as he has a canny good singing voice on him as does Joe. I can just imagine the harmonies they could do if they ever trekked together.

We found a great place to stop for lunch in the sunshine. Even though it was sunny, it still can feel cold once you stop walking, so you tend to put an extra layer on when you stop for a period of time. As usual Manon likes to put a layer on which includes a hood, as Johan pointed out in his newly acquired Mackem accent, “Hood fyass” as she certainly had a face for hoods. She was the only one in our team whole actually looks good in the hood.

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During the day we reached the highest point of the trek, Tjäktapasset at around 1140 metres where there was a large patch of snow further up the mountain away from the path, which is now known as Snow Ass Mountain. So we thought this would be a great stop for some serious snow ass sliding action and help cool us down.

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I have to say it’s a great experience doing a multi-day trek where you chose your camp for night as and when you feel like it and not having to be at a specific location by a specific time like on my previous treks.

We decided to camp 5km short of next checkpoint Alesjaure and would aim for that in the morning and take the opportunity of reindeer kebab and coke as a mid-morning snack instead.

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After dinner Johan came in to our tent vestibule for his usual nightly chats about how the day had gone and thought on the day ahead.

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Day 4: Wet, Wet, Wet!

The next morning we were all up and ready to start by 9am, which was our earliest start of the trek.

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There was more singing along the way as we headed for kebab and coke at Alesjaure checkpoint. This was the last checkpoint of the trek where we could stock up on food and gas for the remainder of the trek.

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While at the checkpoint a few of us discussed the possibility of actually walking the remaining distance and finishing the trek that day. That meant at least another 3-4 hours walking on an already long day ahead.

As we headed to our next checkpoint at Kieron the weather changed quite a bit and started raining quite heavily and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. By the time we arrived at Kieron, everyone was soaked through, but the treat of free hot pancakes soon made you forget about being wet through.

Despite the bad weather and the fact they were already soaked through, Alex and Andrea decided to carry on for another four hours and finish the trek, while the rest of us setup camp in the rain. Alex and Andrea both now work for Fjällräven in the flagship stores in New York and Oslo respectively, so they wanted to get to the end so they could meet up with some of their work colleagues who were already at the end.

I have to say, putting up a tent in the pouring rain isn’t the most pleasant thing to do, but luckily I managed to erect my Abisko Lightweight 2 tent up in no time.

Day 5: Let’s Go Abisko! And Party!!!

As we had setup camp early the night before due to the bad weather, our Swedish friends Johannes, Sebastian and Jonathan suggested we get up really early to set off for the final leg of the trek to Abisko. We all agreed that would be a good idea, though I wasn’t expecting Johannes to come knocking on our tents at 5:30am in the morning to wake us all up!

Luckily the rain had stopped and the staff at the checkpoint had a large fire going so we could dry our clothes off a little as we ate breakfast before setting off on the final leg.

Johan and myself were ready first and set-off before the others at around 7:30am. We started at a fairly fast pace, probably the fastest pace of the whole trek. This was probably due to the thought of a beer and the finish line and a shower. Whatever it was, we arrived at the finish line at around 11:30am and greeted by cheers and applause from those already finished and drinking beer outside the Trekkers Inn beer tent.

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Not long after we were joined at the Trekkers Inn by Hana, Manon, Greg, Johannes, Sebastian and Jonathan for lots of celebratory beers.

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We had been told that there were no rooms available in the Abisko Touristation at the finish line, but Johan and myself thought we would chance it and luckily we managed to get the last available room. The thought of a proper bed, shower and bathroom was such a relief, as I don’t think I could have spent another night in a tent following the soaking we had the day before. So we checked in and had the best beer and sauna ever!

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We had finished the Classic a day ahead than we planned, so Johan thought he would try and re-arrange his flight to the following day. Rather than spend time on the internet with his phone he said: “I think I will ring me brother and get him to do it.” Not realising he was using “me” instead of “my”. He was officially a Swedish-Mackem. His conversion was complete and another Scandinavian converted and fluent in Mackem speak. Andrea and myself couldn’t stop laughing. Me face was aching with laughing.

It was now time to party like rock stars with all our fellow trekkers in the Trekkers Inn, where there was live music, beer and more reindeer kebabs. It was an amazing atmosphere with lots of crazy dancing going on. Especially from Alex’s New York colleague, Emma. I don’t think I have ever seen such a dancer who wasn’t actually on a stage professionally. We later found out she used to be a dancer, which would explain all those “Jazz hands” moves.

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We also had another excuse to party, as it was Jonathan’s birthday. As if we needed another excuse, as we were last to leave the tent at 2:00am with Johan doing belting out Oasis classics “Your me Wonderwaaaaaaalll”. It was also great waking up the following morning with a hangover in nice warm bed rather than a wet tent, as we had a lie in till 9:30am.

As the weather wasn’t great and Johan couldn’t re-arrange his flights, it meant a day of chilling and drinking in the Trekkers Inn, with more live music as well as catching up with some of our Fjällräven friends from the Polar like Johan Skullman and others. We also met Heini from Finland who was also on last year’s Polar with Andrea and Carl-Johan as she was volunteering at the Trekkers Inn.

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It was a great atmosphere through the day with a steady stream of other trekkers crossing the finishing line as we all joined in cheering and clapping them as they cross.

It was also great to meet other trekkers from around the world and share stories of past adventures as well as passing on advice for future adventures. Like the Dutch couple Danielle and Frank and two other guys. One guy, Pontus from Sweden who had done Mont Blanc in the past, was telling me all about his ascent, which I still think is a bit way off for me yet. They were all keen to know about the Fjällräven Polar, which Johan and myself were happy to talk about.

I was hoping to meet up with Nils who runs Outdrr blogging network as well as fellow bloggers Angeliqa, Jonna and Johan, however they had started and finished before us and had already left Abisko, apart from Angeliqa who had stayed on to volunteer at the Trekkers Inn, so at least I got to meet her for a chat, before our final night of partying!

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My whole Fjällräven Classic experience was an amazing one. It was great to share this with some of my fellow Polarists and get to know them even more. We had such a laugh together throughout the trek. Although I have done longer and more challenging treks in the past in terms of distance and ascent/descent, the Classic was harder than I was expecting. I think this was due to having the carry the extra weight of tent, sleeping bag, food and cooking equipment as opposed to my previous treks as well as sleeping in a tent every night rather than a bed in a refuge or other accommodation. I think all of these combined make it harder than you think. As mentioned before, this was my first multi-day trek where I had to camp and it certainly won’t be my last. I would recommend doing such treks to anyone and in particular the Fjällräven Classic. It is an awesome trek and very well organised from start to finish and can’t wait to do it again next year. I know already that more of my fellow Polarists are keen to do it next year as well as people from previous Fjällräven Polars, so who know how big the Fjällräven Classic Polar team will be next year…

We used a high-tech map designed by our chief navigator Johan Saari, as shown below:

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At the start of the trek I was asked to test and review the Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch, which I used to record our trek and compared it with the iPhone app Walkmeter which I often use for tracking my hikes. You can read my full review of the Suunto Ambit2 GPS here

You can also view the recorded route and output of the trek from the watch here

2 Responses to "A Classic Polar Reunion"

    Comments (2)

  1. The whole hike sounds awesome. It is also interesting to read your blogpost about it compared to Angeliqas. For instance I watched the fjällräven video where they said that they just had a coke, and I was like what? in the middle of nowhere? I mean I did bring a couple of beers with me for me and my boyfriend when we went hiking in Yellowstone but still. But you gave me the answer to that. And in some way I feel like you write more about the happy things. Great blog post either way and congratulations on the finish!

    • Phil wrote:

      Thanks for your comment and kind words. Laughing at your coke comment. :) Was also great meeting up with fellow Outdrr blogger Angeliqa and follow her posts also. Us bloggers stick together. ;)

  2. Leave a comment

Welcome

Welcome to my blog about hiking, trekking, Fjällräven Polar 2014, in fact anything where you require boots and the outdoors.

My name is Phil, and following my outdoor epiphany which started in the summer of 2012 I’m now hooked on everything outdoors. So far my biggest treks have included the 250km Cathar Way, the 170km Tour du Mont Blanc and best of all, winning 1st place to take part in the Fjällräven Polar in April 2014.

I plan to use this blog to write about all my adventures, which will include my personal goal of becoming a Munroist (completing all 282 Scottish Munro mountains), summer treks, weekends in the Lakes and many more.

I like to try and make my blog posts humorous so I hope you enjoy reading and that I can put a smile on people’s faces while showing you some amazing places.

If you have any questions about the blog or the places I'm writing about, don't hesitate to contact me on: phil@philyourboots.com

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