Thursday, 11 October 2018

Northern Europe: Conclusion

On the Northern Kungleden
At the end of each long hike I always answer two questions for my readers: Did I like this hike? and Would I recommend it to a friend? In this case the answers need a lot of explanation ...

Did I like this hike? Yes, despite some definite lowlights overall I had a good time - but I don't think I'll go back to Scandinavia for hiking in the near future. Of all the four parts of my big European hiking project (West, East, North, South), I liked the Northern part the least. My favourite part was Eastern Europe, followed by Western und Southern Europe (France and Spain).

Forest in Central Sweden
Would I recommend it to a friend? No, definitely not - except if he/she has a personal preference for Scandinavia.
These answers probably surprise you because they are totally opposed to the general image of Scandinavia as an outdoor destination. Norway and Sweden are every European hiker's dream. German outdoor forums are full of Scandinavian trip reports and in no other European country have I met so many other hikers.
My evaluation of a hiking destination is the result of balancing two reasons: What does this destination offer me - and how much effort do I have to put into hiking there.

It is apparent what Scandinavia has to offer: It is one of the last wildernesses in Europa with lots of wild open spaces and very often spectacular scenery. There is no doubt about that and very often nature took my breath away because it was so beautiful! But as wild as it is - after several weeks it felt a bit monotonous. In Central Sweden I liked the forest at first, but after hiking through endless thin fir trees for weeks I got bored. And even the wide expanses of Northern Scandinavia started to feel monotonous after a while. But I can definitely understand why so many hikers are drawn to Scandinavia - although you can find wilderness and spectacular scenery elsewhere in Europe, too.

Food store in a Swedish Mountain Station
The problem is the effort you have to put into hiking in Scandinavia - and here I mean "effort" in various aspects. Most apparent is the financial effort: Norway is one of the most expensive countries in Europe for tourists. I don't want to discuss the reasons for that and if it is justified or not - but you just cannot dismiss that hiking in Norway is outrageously expensive! Sweden is a lot cheaper but still you'll spend far more here than in most other European countries. This might not matter for someone on a two-week-holiday but as a long-distance hiker this is a fact to definitely take into consideration. Norwegian prices blew my normal monthly budget and I had to transfer more money onto my credit card regularily. I ate a lot more crappy food than usual because I could not afford the good stuff. I had far less rest days than on other trips because of the high hotel prices. But there was one positive side effect to this: Because chocolate and food in general was so expensive I lost a lot of weight on this trip ....

Hiking in swamp
But more inportant is the physical effort you have to put into this hike! The terrain in Scandinavia is extremely demanding. Most problematic for me was the swamp. To hike through boggy terrain for days and weeks does not only result in slow hiking but is also very bad for the feet. Then there are the boulder fields with a high injury risk. Constant rain makes all this even more demanding. Then add to all this millions of mosquitoes, horse flies and hornets who are all out there to bite you. If you are too early in the season you'll be postholing through snowfields. And did I mention the river crossings? I was very lucky going northbound in this record summer year but I heard all the horror stories of early southbound hikers about waist high ice cold water in rushing streams ....

Watching the storm moving in on Nordkalottleden
 Of course you can have bad luck with the weather or a sprained ankle in any country, but what is a minor nuisance in Southern Europe can become life threating here in Scandinavia. Here you have a much higher chance of rain and cold temperatures and because of the exposed terrain it will affect you much more than anywhere else! You are often so remote that you will not be able to get out of an emergency situation by yourself. In cheaper countries it is no problem to sit out bad weather or let your blisters heal in a town in civilisation but here it will blow your budget. To sum it up: In Scandinavia you face higher risks and emergencies will affect you much more than in less remote places and more moderate climates.

Wooden church in Central Sweden
For me personally the financial and physical effort I had to put into this hike was not compensated enough by what I got out of it. And although the weather was exceptionally good, the chance of a bad weather turn always hung over me like a sword of Damocles.
And I personally felt another fact quite frustrating: Although I have hiked four months through Sweden and Norway I have learnt very little about these countries. I saw a lot of trees and fjell and wonderful landscape but almost nothing about their culture, history and how people are ticking here. In all other countries I have hiked through in Europe I constantly came across waycrosses, chapels and monuments along the trail - but here cultural experiences were limited to my short town stays. And because everything was so expensive I rarely went to a restaurant or a museum and therefore missed out on regional food or sightseeing.

Hut on Kungsleden
But even if this does not bother you because you want to come to Scandinavia for wilderness and solitude - don't get your hopes up too high! A popular trail like Kungsleden felt as crowded as the Caminos in Spain! And you'll probably see more Germans here than Swedes ....
Don't get me wrong: If you like Norway and Sweden go there and enjoy it! Despite all these negative points even I had a good time on this hike. But don't think that Scandinavia is generally the best place for an outdoor adventure in Europe for everyone. Because it is the most popular outdoor destination in Europe does not mean it is the best for you ...

9 comments:

Robert said...

Naja, es gibt aber einen sehr guten Grund, doch zumindest in Schweden zu wandern: Marabou Appelsin Krokant! :-)

Jay said...

First of all Christine, congratulations on competing your hike! Really interesting about your Scandinavian experience, and a really honest account. Maybe in time you'll reflect that even though you didn't learn much about the countries you passed through, you've reinforced the knowledge of your ability to 'stick it out' and challenge yourself yet again? I'm looking forward to reading more about your trip. What next? (a rest I presume? ; ). But anyway, its great you've achieved your goal!

German Tourist said...

Yes, for now I am resting - but not very long. I'll depart on my next big hike in December. I'll post here in time what the destination is ...

Jay said...

Hmm.. I'm curious about your next trip Christine! Resting, planning, then carrying out those plans. Its good isn't it?

Jay

@jayaways on Instagram

Amy L said...

Christine, Thanks again for writing such excellent summaries. Your reports serve as role models for the rest of us to emulate. Amy & James

Ant said...

I am goimg to guess you are maybe heading to New Zealand in December? If not then I am surprised you have not planned on doing the TA?

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