The drive would've been over in half the time where it not for having to do it nearly twice. Fortunately the rucksack, filled with essentials, was still where we'd abandoned it in the airport car park. It was long gone 1AM when we'd woken the warden at Storlien. We'd got the better end of the deal. She was definitely nicer to look at than us and seemed to take it really well. A long since accepted occupational hazard no doubt.
After a lazy breakfast we'd stocked up on gas and driven the last few kilometers to Storulvan through bright sunshine. After two laps of the car park we'd finally found a space, paid for parking and got ourselves kitted up. As we leave the queue for the Fjell express is forming.
As seems to be the way with these things the first 50m of track is steep down. I avoid it by looping off to the right over the bridge but still end up on my ass. My own occupational hazard.
As tradition dictates we had still been uncertain about the route at breakfast. Wed decided, in the last exchange, to stay low today and head out along the relative flat of the river bank towards Tjallingen and to see how far we get. A little practice to find our rythm and get a feel for the area.Given the conditions, not too cold, wind still and sunny, stopping early to make a good camp would seem to be on the cards.
The route is gentle. Just a little up and down. First through the the trees then back to the river and then into the trees once more. Nothing too tricky but tricky enough to see me on my arse once more before lunch. Wrapped in down, sat on my rucksack chewing on a lump of smoked sausage and strapping up my already blistering feet I realise I'm back in the North. I'm smiling broadly when the fast moving older couple kick past and say something in Swedish. Met with blank stares and apologies they tell us to enjoy our meal in broken English. I promise to do my best.
Only later in the afternoon do the big red crosses of the Swedish Touring Association start to make sense. Conditions are still clear but as we gain a little height and move away from the river it begins to feel a little wilder, a little further from the civilized world. I begin to see that under some conditions a handrail might be welcome.
We leave the track in search of a home. We climb a little, through sparse birch and uneven ground, and after a few zig-zags settle for a flat stretch of deep snow. Roughly on the tree line with a grand-stand view of the Southern end of the Bunnersfjallen it looks to be a fine bivouac. I stand and gorp at the scenery for a few moments before turning round and getting on with the busines of setting up camp.
The boys pitch the tent while I fire up the burner and start the perpetual task of melting snow. I'm running low. Surprisingly low after a relatively gentle day. Cold stacks the odds. When I shove cups of hot soup into welcome hands the shelter is pitched and the dunny is dug. Soup consumed we down up, dig a bench and kitchen and put our feet up.
In front of me lies a massive sheet of white bounded by the bulk of Veastra Bunnerstoeten to the North, Tjallingklumpem to the South and studded with stands of bare, spindly birch. To the uninitiated barren empty wilderness. To my eye full of, albeit subtle, detail and interest. Shadow and light dance cheek to cheek. The low light making relief where none should be; ravines from shallow wind-blown ruts, glistening mountains from sugary lumps. Further off dense blue air hangs in the notch between the high ground to North and South. It occurs to me that through that notch, just a day or so to the east, lies Valadalen. Seperated from the spiritual home of Nordic Lightpacking by 30km distance and a two and a half years in time I watch the sky slowly change colour and reach for my camera.
Blue becomes deeper blue, then purple. First imperceptibly purple. Later overwhelmingly in-your-face purple. As I move around shooting photo after photo the sun slowly sinks sucking the last of the day lit air with it as it goes. Going from wind still to decidedly windy inside the count of ten adds another dimension to the evenings dynamic. These things cant be got from behind a layer of glass and brick.
We eat our hot meal after sundown. The others then head off to their bags but I stay a little longer. As long as the cold permits. There's not a lot of this to be had and my share is not very generous. I got my last slice on the thrid day in Oyer. I take a last few photos. These of the tent under a clear milk-strewn sky. just as the cold starts getting the better of my fingers and toes I pack up my camera wondering if Ill wake up dry this time.