Friday, May 8, 2015

Cesar's Guide to the E1 Trails in Sweden: Smedjebacken/Ludvia to Mockfjärd


The official Swedish E1 information website lists this section as part of both Sméleden and Gagnefs Pasture Paths trail systems, and navigating this roughly 60km from one town to the next is a bit of a complicated affair full of many different alternatives, short cuts, side trails, etc. that can all make things challenging for hikers.  There is one part of this section that I would recommend skipping (more on this soon), but I would definitely not skip ahead too far, as I found much of this stage quite a pleasant hike.  The bigger issue with skipping ahead here is missing the next section of trails that goes from Mockfjärd to Leksand, which is an excellent section that I would strongly suggest not skipping or missing out on.

First let's start with maps.  I strongly suggest that anyone traveling the E1 here to buy a good map of this neck of the woods, such as the Lantmäteriet Terrängkartan 638 for the Borlänge area (Google it and buy it from your book/map shop of choice).  Much like my last report, I was unable to find much information or maps online, and after traveling through this area I can say that having good map and compass skills is essential.  You'll need to rely on a good map and compass both getting through this section, and may at times (like it or not!) need to go off-trail and/or bushwhack.  As I also found out after exploring this area myself, even the good map I had was not entirely accurate.

But please don't get discouraged by all this, and keep in mind the context of the area--while it is a bit isolated, this area does have back roads, villages, and other small havens of civilization around.  The small city of Ludvika, the town of Smedjebacken, and the small town (or large village?) of Mockfjärd at each end of this section of the E1 have useful things for backpackers like restaurants, shops, and such.  Perhaps more importantly is that there are connections to local public transportation in Smedjebacken and Ludvika that can (and in my opinion should) be taken advantage of.

Traveling southbound, the E1 continues on to Björsjö, and you can read my report on that stage here.  Traveling northbound, the trail goes on to the small city of Leksand and/or the Leksand area trail system, and you check out my report on this section here.

If you have not read the introduction to this trail guide yet, you can do so here, and there is also a list of links to other completed reports of the Swedish E1 trails.  Please keep in mind this is still a work in progress.

Now on to the guide!


Where to begin with this one?  This was a very memorable section hike for a number of reasons.  It spanned 4 days and overall was an awesome experience, however there were some challenges I had to deal with on the first day of this trip that had me kinda feeling like this was a doomed voyage with what I had to endure.   Yet at first things were great soon after I got off the train in Ludvika, and went into town to buy dinner while I waited for a bus that would take me north to the trail.  

I chose to go right to Ludvika rather than Smedjebacken after doing some careful planning for my trip, some of which I mention in my last trip report.  I had emailed two different people that are supposed to be in charge or have some kind of oversight on this odd Sméleden trail--which is supposed to go from Björsjö, through Smedjebacken, and end at the Gagnefs Pasture Paths--and never got a reply.  So I checked the official E1 Sweden website yet again and emailed the Gagnefs tourist office as the site suggests, for both a map and more general information on this section of the E1, only to find the email address appears to no longer exist!
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So I poured over the nice maps I bought of the area, and also did some research on the conditions of the trail using Google Maps as well--such as zooming into street view in and around Smedjebacken.  It appears that not only is Sméleden for all intents and purposes an abandoned trail, it also follows almost entirely paved and gravel roads before connecting to the Gagnefs Pasture Paths.  No thanks!  So I would just skip this bit and take a bus up north and connect to the trail close to the big lake Rämen, where the trail follows the road on its eastern shores.  

If you are interested in doing this, there are several different buses that go up towards this lake.  A few will take you directly to the east side of the lake at the bus stop Rämshyttan, like the 296 bus from the central station in Ludvika, and it only takes about 25 minutes.  However buses going to Rämshyttan run less regularly than buses that follow the 50 highway north connecting with Borlänge.  There are a few different places you can get off on the 50 highway to connect to the trail, such as the Svarthyttan bus stop about 5km south of the lake.

However while I was buying a sandwich to have for dinner later on while out on the trail, I noticed a man and a woman having lunch that looked friendly.  So I asked them if they were familiar with the trail or the national parks that the trail goes through, and lucky for me they were.  We looked at the map together and discussed different areas, they gave me some tips, and expressed that it was a beautiful forest where I would be traveling through.  All this was encouraging, but then to my surprise they offered to give me a ride up closer to the trail rather than having to take the bus.  I gratefully accepted this kind offer, and soon enough I got a ride from them to their home so they could drop some things off before giving me my ride.

The pleasant surprises didn't end there.  The man said he would take me up to the woods on his ATV, which was a lot of fun.  We also got to talking, and turns out this guy was Jonas Österberg, ex-guitar player for several heavy metal bands, such as Epitaph and Hypocrisy.  He was a very nice guy, and I happen to like a lot of metal (especially old Thrash and crossover Hardcore punk/metal), so it was nice to chat about both outdoor life and music.  I'd never listened to his work before, but I have jammed to some of it now, and it's pretty good if you are into this kind of music.  Thanks again Jonas!  You shred dude!  Both on an ATV and a guitar!

So I was taken to the woods on the western side of lake Rämen after an exciting ATV ride on dirt roads, said my goodbyes to Jonas, and was happy as could be in starting my hike.  I never thought by the end of the day my mood would be completely different, but at least for some time all was well on this first day of my section hike.  I followed back roads as well as did some bushwhacking up north until I eventually got on the trail... well, what was marked on my map as a trail.  By the time I found the trail, a steady, heavy rain had set in--no big deal, I had my rain gear on and am very used to hiking in the rain--and I noticed that much like before, it was poorly marked if marked at all.

I ran into another local on my way up there who said that the cabin marked on my map was nice and even had a stove, so I made that my goal--especially considering the nasty weather that set in.  The cabin is marked as a "raststuga" on my map that is in the area called Prästbodarna, which is in the nature reserve of the same name.  I didn't take many pictures due to the weather, which only got worse as the sun went down.  But because there was a shelter waiting for me at the goal I chose, it gave me the motivation to slog through the rain and very poorly marked trail to sleep in a nice, cozy cabin.  

I was picturing a cabin similar to others I had stayed at, and this drove me on even when I got lost in the middle of the woods after the trail disappeared.  And when the rain turned into snow, the wind picked up, and it got dark out, I just put my headlamp on and pressed on.  So my first day/night out I didn't take that many pictures due to these conditions, sorry about that.

When I finally arrived at the shelter, I was pretty disappointed by what awaited me.  It's not really a cabin as it is a run down old shack.  Consider yourself warned!  

The inside it was pretty filthy, all covered with sawdust and rotted wood.  Plus the floor boards were all messed up, some broken, most of them uneven.  It took me a solid half hour to clean a spot for myself to sleep on inside, but this would have been easier than going back into the wind and wet snow to set up my tent.  At least the roof was not leaky, and inside I did stay dry and out of the wind.  Needless to say, there was no stove, nor were there any other shelters around--I made sure to look around the next day in case I had missed something.  Why did that local guy tell me it was a nice shelter and I could have a fire inside on a stove!?

In retrospect I wish I would have headed to the center of Gyllbergen's nature reserve, where on my map it claims there are two trail shelters.  I am guessing they are probably of better quality than the weird, dirty, old shack I slept in.

The next morning I headed towards Mockfjärd, and once again found the trail markings to be at times missing, at times not clear, or old and faded and hard to see/follow.  I stopped for lunch at the trail shelter at Backbordarna, which while fine for lunch or a break, is not meant to be slept in.  I really wish there were two different symbols on maps for trail shelters: one for a shelter that is serviceable to sleep in, and one for a shelter that is more intended for breaks and sitting around.

Moving on, a few times other trails seemed to merge with the E1, but on at least one occasion this ended up making it difficult to follow the main trail towards Mockfjärd.  I noticed the trail forked ahead, without any signs, only for it to seem to merge with itself again.  So make sure to pay close attention while hiking, and have your map and compass handy.  You will also notice there are several different trails that go to/through Mockfjärd, as well as back roads, so how you get there is up to you.  I tried my best to stick to what I thought was the E1 most of the time.

Now all this being said, about 5km south of Mockfjärd the conditions on the trail improved.  The trail itself got nicer to hike on, plus there were better markers (though coming into Mockfjärd the markers could be improved, though).  I ate an early dinner at the restaurant Jerusalem that the trail passes by in Mockfjärd (just off the E16 highway), and it was one of the best felafels I've ever had.  And not only was it delicious, but huge too!

Past Mockfjärd things further improve, and closer to the small city of Leksand, the trails become quite nice all the way around.