A short hiking tour to the gorgeous wild mountains of Fulufjället National Park, among vast plateaus, wetlands, mighty waterfalls, amazing wildlife and some rain. An unforgettable hiking experience.
Long time no see ... life often gets in the way of our intentions.
The awful weather got me also a little stuck. We had such an unprecedented hot June without a single drop of rain that totally drained my energies and a catastrophic rainy July and August making quite hard to hang around with the equipment. It hasn't actually stopped raining yet.
To make up for it, here his a new post with something hopefully very interesting that I like to share with you.
In fact, against all odds, we have managed to arrange a four days trip up on the mountains of North Dalarna. A very short one, considering the time spent travelling, but this was an opportunity to start scouting and putting red pins for possible camping locations on the map of a vast mountain region that we'd like to explore in the future months, until winter allows it and beyond if possible. We have started with Fulufjället National Park (Särna) and Nipfjället/Tröllvägen (Idre).
The next trip is scheduled for September.
This has been a dream of mine for a long time. I am a mountain child, born and raised near the Alps in the north of Italy, and I have missed them a lot since I have been living abroad.
We have left home mid of July, under the rain of course. We did not expect to find any good weather, but on the mountains the situation was better than here. There hasn't been a day without some rain, but still we have been blessed with some clearings and even some sunlight, that allowed us to hike and reach our destinations without ending up totally soaked.
As a matter of fact, as a nature photographer with a penchant for moody atmospheres, I enjoyed the weather a lot. It was constantly changing. I'd rather have an overcast sky with unexpected sunlight magically appearing and warming up the landscape, than a dull, never changing blue, sunny sky.
Although short, this trip resulted in an amazing experience packed with discoveries and different natural scenarios. Actually, we managed to capture so much contents in such a short time span that I had to divide the story in two episodes so that you could take a break from reading. This first part is dedicate to Fulufjället National Park.
Back to us ...
After almost 5 hours drive, we arrived at our bed & breakfast in Särna in the evening. It is located on top of a hill with a gorgeous view on the landscape.
Blooming lupine flowers covering dark green fields, descending to a winding road running along red wooden houses and a wild river surrounded by the dark mountains … What a splendor! The evening sky above was amazingly painted with dramatic clouds bearing the promise of rain. Such an intense, powerful first impression.
It was definitely getting dark, yet I couldn't help but standing there, looking in the distance at the mighty mountains and that red house on the road that had kind of casted a spell on me, keeping my eye glued to the viewfinder of my camera. My heart was filled up with joy, great expectations and a feeling of finally being home again.
Once it was too dark to stay outside, I returned to my room. Although tired, I couldn't wait to start the new book that I bought during the journey, as per my habit of bringing a new story with me when travelling. I like the idea of somehow integrating the book in my story, its characters being like companions of my adventures to come, like the people you get to know on vacation and then return to be strangers once back home. Books also serve to set the mood of my journey, keeping me inspired, helping out my narrative. That's probably why I often read "deckare" a word that has no exact translation in English and refers more or less to a kind of noir Scandinavian fiction genre, often set in the wilderness or in remote locations. They fit perfectly with my journeys.
The morning after, the adventure finally started.
Once loaded our heavy backpacks on the car, we headed towards Fulufjället national park, named of course after the Fulufjället mountain (1,044 m). Not a very high one compared to the peaks I was used to on the Alps, but it didn't really matter. I knew that what I was about to live in Sweden was a totally different mountain experience that rendered any comparison based on the height of the mountains pointless.
The national park is huge, and it's located in the the southernmost part of the Scandes, that's to say the Scandinavian mountains range in Sweden. Of course, we knew that having just one day for that location at our disposal, we would see just a very tiny part of it, and that surely gave me a bit of anxiousness, being in such a mighty place on the mountains with not enough time to take landscape, nature and more intimate pictures of it far and wide, to be on the location at the right time, with the right weather, as a photographic journey was meant to be. Hence, I've mostly used my GoPro to shoot some video while hiking, rather than taking hasty photos.
The geography of the park is amazing and varied. Down in the valley, where we started our hiking journey, you find yourself walking on wooden paths through dense old-growth forests flanked by rivers turning into little rapids, than the forest gradually disperse once you start climbing up towards the top of the mountains.
One of these paths on the way up leads you to what is probably the most famous attraction of the park, the Njupeskär waterfall, 90 m high, 70 m free fall.
Skär means "cut" in Swedish, and that's exactly the first impression I had of the waterfall, a cut in the rocky wall of the mountain, a wound from which water was pouring violently.
We walked on a wooden pathway running along the bed of the river and leading right to the feet of the waterfall. Once there, the impression was so powerful that took my breathe away. I remember thinking "That's were the giants bathe"...
I sat on a rock and lingered there for a long while, bathing in the mist arising from those mighty masses of waters crushing on the ground. The sound was astounding, almost deafening, and yet if you listened carefully, you could hear thousands of different voices coming from inside the water … were those the voices of the brave people who faced the waterfall over the years? Or was it "Fossegrim", the lord of the waterfall, playing his violin trying to lure me inside? Places like that cannot but awake my over abundant imagination!
I loved that magical place so much that having to leave it was really a torture, but it was getting late, dawn had long since passed and we still had a long way ahead if we wanted to follow our ambitious plan for the day. By the way, the waterfall attracts many tourists during the summer season, so I recommend you to go there either very early in the morning or very late in the evening, because any time in between is really busy. The above does not apply to any other season, and to the rest of the park, in fact the main part of the crowd disperses immediately after the waterfall, you'll rarely meet anybody while climbing to the plateau.
We said goodbye to the mighty waterfall and moved further up.
After an hour walking, the path got steeper and steeper, and the scenario started changing. Aspen and birch trees were replacing the old gnarly pines and the spruces, while the remaining ones were shrinking in size.
The wooden pathway we were walking on at one point disappeared, it had turned now in a kind of natural staircase whose steps were high and crowded with rocks. The climb was starting to feel strenuous, the humid, hot air wasn't helping, and I realized that both Patrick and I were gasping. I kept looking ahead in search of signs that we were at destination, but as it usually happens when you are on the mountains, the moment you think you have reached the top, another peak arises in the distance. We definitely need some more training!
We were already high up though and the view was changing again. Now, we could see the blue mountains of the opposite massif in all their glory, getting blurred in the distance one layer after another. There were less obstacles getting in the way. Aspen and birches had now been replaced with bushes and scattered dwarf trees. The sun was shining white, the air was getting cooler and I could finally breathe again. I was going home, up on the top, were my mind and my body feel at their best, where my low blood pressure rises, my energies multiply and my brain can focus better than ever. Where the more the day progresses the less tired I feel, no matter how long I walked for.
Finally, 3 hours later, we reached the plateau and although the long climb allowed me to get gradually used to the amazing view, I was totally overwhelmed by the peculiar beauty of the place.
It was so different from anything I had seen before. A highland wider than the eyes can see, populated by green bushes and very old, tiny, gnarly trees, so close to the sky that they could almost touch it. Narrow paths endlessly branching in all directions.
It felt like freedom and magic. Everything I could see around me was nourishment of my imagination, thousands of different scenes and compositions, wide view, intimate views, details, a whole photographic book ready to be printed, and again, for a moment, I felt that unpleasant, anxious feeling of being in a hurry, the artistic tension fighting with my rational brain.
I could have easily spent a whole week in that place and still have some photographic idea left to develop. Instead, I had to capture as much as I could in what was left of that day.
As we advanced along the plateau, new elements started adding to the scenario. Pink rocks covered in lichen where sprouting on the now red soil of the narrow paths and here and there small and bigger ponds were spotting the landscape. We were on the high wetlands!
The first pond we met was small and beautifully framed by the plane vastitude and little trees. We could hear a bird singing a sweet melody and soon after we saw it sitting on a rock emerging from the pond. It soon flew away but kept returning over and over again.
We stopped in awe, I got low on the ground and tip toed towards a spot where I could hide and take my camera out. The park is a notable location for several species of birds, so my long lens was ready. I had wished to spot some wildlife, but given the hurry I thought I had zero hope to be able to capture any. I did it instead. It was a beautiful, elegant "wood sandpiper", a water bird with mid-sized long legs, that breeds in the sub-artic wetlands.
It deserved a longer stop and some pictures. It was at ease and undisturbed by our discreet presence, which is rule number one for me in wildlife photography: never, ever stress an animal just for the sake of a picture!
Time for lunch was long due, so we looked for a suitable spot to use our camping stove.
We found it in a place of magic, just behind white fields of cotton grass swinging in the wind by the water.
It's funny to note that, the Swedish translation of cotton grass is "ängsull" which means "wool meadow", as to emphasize the fact that the fluffy cotton fibers of these grass that grows in the wetlands of the north hemisphere, serve to protect the seeds from the cold before they are dispersed in the wind when the time comes to let them go. In the past, they were also used by poor people to fill pillows and make kind of duvets, as a cheap alternative to feathers.
I call them "flowers of the north". They are not afraid of the cold and they don't need the sun to shine as their whiteness radiates its own light. They are definitely one of my favourite plants.
But it wasn't only the ängsull that made that place so special. Below the high grass, clusters of cloudberries were growing in abundance on the mossy ground, their beautiful red color contrasting that ocean of whiteness. They are called "Hjortron" in Sweden, and they are mostly used to make a delicious and nowadays little expensive "sylt", a sort of marmelade, less sugary and of a more fluid consistency. You can make sylt with different kind of fruit, but the taste of "hjortronsylt" is exquisite and unique.
It felt so precious to know that such a tasty and nutrient berry can grow and prosper even on a rocky and poor soil like the one of the high wetlands. Nature has always a way to surprise me.
By the time we finished our lunch, we were already well halfway into the afternoon.
Our original, hopeful and little utopic plan, was to descend from another side of the mountain and then climb up again in order to visit old Tjikko, another very famous attraction of the park. Tjikko is a 9,550 year-old spruce, considered to be the "world's oldest tree", although, specifically, it is more a clonal tree that has regenerated new trunks, branches and roots over millennia rather than an individual tree of great age. Still, it must be something to be near to such an old creature that has grown and survived for so many hear on a harsh, rocky ground up on the mountains. It says a lot about resilience!
We stopped once more to enjoy the vastitude of the plateau. It was time to decide what to do next, time was running out. Could we still stick to the original plan? We were just discussing that, when we spotted another pond. It was much bigger than the others, resembling more to a lake, and it somehow attracted so much our attention that we ended up straying from the main path again, delaying in fact our decision one more time.
Once we got there, we were welcomed by an expanse of giant rocks covered in yellow and pink lichens that kept unfolding seamlessly. Far away in the distance, that flow of rocks was just temporarily interrupted by the lake and then resumed in the endless amplitude of the mountains. Such an amazing scenario, it felt like being in a kind of a psychedelic dream, whose colours were just toned down a little by the dark sky that was becoming more and more menacing.
Further than being a wonder, it was also the first place we have encountered that was perfectly suitable for camping and it was immediately pinned on our map.
We spent some time taking pictures there, we knew we had to hurry but still, neither of us really wanted to leave that place. Unfortunately, a storm was definitely on its way as the weatherman had foreseen. I could hear a distant voice urging me “We should hurry down, it might get too slippery on the steep rocky slopes”. A voice that I didn’t want to hear as it was trying to wake me up from a dream I’d never wanted to wake up from. That voice had a point though ... it was time to go.
Back on the main path, we where at a crossroad, that was our last chance to chose what we wanted to do. Either we would take the shorter way down the mountain, or the longer one taking us halfway down and then up again to Tjikko. It was almost 18:00, and although in July the sun still doesn't go down before 10:00 it was definitely a bit late to start a new journey down and then up the mountain again. We hadn't any tent or sleeping bags, so there was no way we could have spent the night there if anything had delayed us. The sky was getting daker and darker and rain was surely on its way. It was a no-brainer decision, any sensible hiker would have started going down, and that's exactly what we did.
We said farewell to Old Tjikko, promised we would get there next time, and walked downwards.
On our way down the mountain, it was definitely confirmed that we had made the right decision. The descent was going to be difficult. We were walking on a steep slope crowded by big rocks, a very dangerous combination under rain, especially with heavy backpacks like the ones we were carrying. We could have easily slipped and fell off the mountains. The view on the landscape was amazing but we couldn't linger. The storm came eventually, and we were forced to stop shooting, too busy avoiding falling.
It took almost three hours to get down, but we made it safely. It was around 21:30 when we eventually reached the car. We took our boots off and sat for a while watching back at the entrance of the park with some mixed feelings. Happy for the experience we had, still enraptured by the beauty of the places we had seen, a little sad for the ones we were forced to miss and so much tired ... no surprise! We later realized that we had walked 13 km that day.
Fulufjället national park is a varied, magical and exciting experience, is definitely worth a visit.
You can find more practical info here.
Hope you have enjoyed the climb! Stay tune for the next episode ...
I will take you to Nipfjället and Tröllvagen that's to Trollway ...
In the meantime, take good care of you.