Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Northern Europe: The worst section of the E1

Hiking in swamp
 I took the train back to Storlien and went shopping in the supermarket there because Sweden is so much cheaper than Norway. By the time I had stuffed all the food into my backpack and the supermarket closed it had started to rain ... I only had to walk five kilometres back to the border but it felt like endless. And in the morning weather had not improved - it was windy and rainy - and the ground boggy as hell. There was no trail but at least some markers. I immediately started to dislike hiking in Norway - after the well maintained trails on the Swedish Kungsleden this was a nightmare. I trudged on very grumpily when I saw another hiker in the distance.

Stine showing off her knife
The hiker passed me soon and turned out to be Stine, a young Norwegian woman. She was hiking "Norge pa langs", the "length of Norway" in sections over several summers. We agreed to meet at the next hut and stay there overnight. When I arrived one hour after Stine she had already fired up the stove and made tea. It felt like coming home! Like many Scandinavian hikers she carried a big knife and explained to me what she uses it for: it is great for making peanut butter sandwiches ... We talked until 11 pm and I decided not to camp and stay in the hut as well. I was just drifting into sleep at midnight when I heard voices outside ....

Stine tending to her feet
I could not believe my eyes but five minutes later four young Norwegian guys entered the hut. They had left home after worked and had hiked straight to the hut to spend the week end fishing here. When I saw the amount of beer cans in their backpacks I immediately realised that this would not be a quiet night. Therefore I just grabbed all my stuff and went outside to camp ... When I came back in the morning to say good bye to Stine they were all still fast asleep.
Stine and I were hiking together the next couple of days - or hiking around each other would be the better expression. She was hiking faster than me but we would meet for lunch and camping. One day we even met another E1 hiker in the middle of nowhere who told us horror stories about the upcoming stretch ... Between the Southern and Northern Kungsleden the E1 traverses very swampy terrain where there is no trail. In the beginning there are still some trail markers but soon we would have to hike in unmarked trail-less swamp - and we were both not looking forward to that. Already now we could only make 20 to 25 kilometres per day because looking for trail markers and the constant swamp slowed us down tremendously!

Most bizarre DNT hut
At least the huts were nice and having company even better! The most bizarre hut was this old summer house that the DNT had converted into a shelter for hikers leaving all the old tacky furniture intact. There even was a picture with bugling elks and a CD player with Wencke Myrrhe CDs. We listenend to that for breakfast .... But soon our time together came to an end. Stine's parents were coming for a visit and she would stay with them while I was hiking on alone. And I was becoming more and more doubtful about how to continue ... My birthday was coming up, I was running low on food because hiking was much slower than expected and the very worst stretch with no trail markings was still ahead.

Although I had enjoyed Stine's company I had not enjoyed the hiking lately! I had had constantly wet feet for several days because of all the bog. Because of the hot summer weather I was constantly surrounded by dozens of aggressive horse flies which made breaks almost impossible. DEET did not help against them and their bites were extremely painful. But what worried me the most was the upcoming stretch: no trail, no trail marking, no gpx track and not even a trail description. I also had to cross a lake but the scheduled boat was not running that early in the season. This meant I would have to spend 100 EUR for an on demand boat trip or hike an entire day around the lake - of course through swamp ....

Norway's geographical centre
I reached Norway's geographical centre which is marked by a small monument in the middle of a swamp. Right next to it is a shovel for winter visitors ... Now it was decision time: This was the last opportunity to hike out to a road. Or should I continue on the E1? I was so fed up with the E1 in Norway that I decided to hike out and continue mostly on roads until Abisko and the start of the Northern Kungsleden. This stretch and the next two weeks were the definite low point of this entire hike. And to make it worse: I expected that the rest of the hike would be like that ....