Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 19


This post covers Stage 19, Vaktarekullen-Lunden, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Section 20.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.


*  If the section before this (stage 20) was a trail of many bridges, this section is a trail of many planks--some good, some bad, and some that are somewhat dangerous, as I will explain more about shortly.  This is also another stage that pretty much guarantees you will be hiking with wet or soaked shoes and feet, as water is once again a central feature.  

In this stage rather than crossing rivers and lakes, it is mostly crossing marshes and streams.  There is a variety in the nature here that should surprise even veteran hikers, as I was pleasantly surprised by some of the beautiful wetland landscape that is a contrast to the hills and cliffs of other sections.  There are also some unique landmarks on the trail that, in addition to the natural beauty, make for quite a memorable hike.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 20


This post covers Stage 20, Holmen-Vaktarekullen, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Stage 21.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.

Make sure you are well rested and ready for a long and beautiful section of trail that has many changes in elevation along the way, ending on top of a small mountain.  In addition to the many climbs up and down, a central feature of this area is water and bridges.  I lost count of the number of bridges I crossed, and each seemed to have its own unique flair.

I will have to respectfully disagree with the official guide in classifying this section as "easy" regarding the degree of difficulty.  I am not entirely sure how they measure how difficult a section of trail is, but I would consider this stretch moderately difficult because of three factors.  One is that it is a fairly long section of 17.5km, and another is that as mentioned there are lots of changes in elevation that have you hiking up and down on many occasions.  And last is the fact that many parts of this section are either wet or prone to be wet/flood, which means a nearly certain chance that hiking through here will leave you with soaked feet.  

The section is well marked and there are not really any overt hazards, which is why I think it is considered "easy," but for someone doing a thru or section hike, completing this section I'd say is more than an easy challenge.

Because this happens to be one of my favorite sections of the trail, I took more pictures than usual, so let's get down to them :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 21


This post covers Stage 21, Daletjärnen-Holmen, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Stage 22.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, 
you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.


**Update 10/08/2016: Recently I went on a hiking/packrafting trip through a few sections of this trail again, and noticed that some trail markers and even whole shelters were missing.  Then I saw the following sign:

So make sure to plan accordingly.  A shame the landowner is messing things up a bit for us backpackers--but then again maybe they had a good reason, who knows?  There are shelters both to the north and south of this stage anyhow, plus some good spots to pitch shelter near the scenic rivers and lakes.

**So note that the shelters pictured below are no longer there, but I will keep the pictures up for historical purposes I guess.  End of update! 

*  I completed this section with my buddy Chris and his dog Chico back in April.  We did a loop of the area going off trail the first day, and the next day went northbound on the trail.  It is a somewhat short section at about 10km, but you will get a good work out from the elevation, as a lot of this section of trail is up on ridges of hills and cliffs.  Makes for some great views, and your feet should probably stay dry with normal conditions.

Even though we went northbound, I will write from a southbound perspective in order to keep the continuity from the previous sections.  Also big thanks to Chris for taking many of the pictures below and uploading them for me! :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 22


This post covers Stage 22, Nornäs-Daletjärnen, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Stage 23.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, 
you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.

Update 17/04/2017: If you are interested in doing a loop that connects with Bohusleden at Nornäs that goes into two national parks and the small town of Ed (good for resupply), please check out my guide on The Ed Loop here.  I came up with the loop myself, and I think it's a great hike!

*  At only around 9km, and with mostly easier terrain for hiking, Stage 22 goes by pretty quickly.  It only took me two hours to hike the whole thing, but for the record it was in the evening as the sun was low, so I was going at a steady medium pace with no breaks.  Things start off nice and easy next to the big lake Mellan Kornsjön, and as I also mentioned on my report on Stage 23, there is an unmarked and good shelter on the northern tip of the lake right next to the trail.

After leaving a gravel road and going back into woods trail there are a few more smaller lakes, which makes this stage yet another section where you don't have to worry much about water.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 23


This post covers Stage 23, Vassbotten-Nornäs, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Stage 24.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, 
you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.

Update 17/04/2017: If you are interested in doing a loop that connects with Bohusleden at Nornäs that goes into two national parks and the small town of Ed (good for resupply), please check out my guide on The Ed Loop here.  I came up with the loop myself, and I think it's a great hike!

*  If you enjoy a challenging hike though terrain that is more raw and isolated, then this is the stage for you.  There are long parts of very swampy trail, and it is pretty certain that your feet will be soaked--there is even a good chance you will be ankle or shin deep in water/bog/mud. Of course with swampy terrain during certain parts of the year (i.e. summer), also comes bugs... lots of bugs.  Bugs of many different varieties, several of which will try (and often succeed) to bite and sting you; such as horseflies, mosquitoes, midges, flying ants, wasps, etc.  If you are there during bug season, break out the head net and/or bug spray/oil.

The rewards of going through this stage perhaps not everyone can appreciate or feel are worth it.  So if you don't like long walks through swampy and/or rough terrain, you might want to consider skipping this stage.  You can walk around using roads, or perhaps hitchhike--though be careful doing either for obvious reasons.

But if you are like me, that likes to take on a project head on, and does not like to skip much of the trail, you will soldier on.  And there are unique rewards to those that endure these kinds of hikes.  There are moments of eerie beauty in this stage that made it worth it for me.  For example, climbing to the top of a rocky cliff in the middle of the swamp overlooking a small, still lake.  It was a lonely, alien, oddly stunning view with water lilies and tufts of swamp cotton and silence that will stick with me forever.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 24


This post covers Stage 24, Håvedalen-Vassbotten, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Stage 25.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, 
you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.


* This is a longer section of the trail at 18km, and has a lot to see and many interesting options to complete the hike and get to a very nice goal--the nice campgrounds and lake in the village of Vassbotten.  You can cross over into Norway at several good spots and then rejoin the trail, which can be either short or long crossings depending on how/where you choose to hike.  There is a longer marked side-trail into Norway that is actually considered a part of Bohusleden, but I craved a more challenging off-trail side trip into Norway, and was very happy with how things went.  More on this soon, first the beginning of the stage, where you will soon find a shelter:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 25


This post covers Stage 25, Krokstrand-Håvedalen, of the official guide to the trail.

You can also check out my report on the section before this one (going southbound), Stage 26.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, 
you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.


* The fjord that divides Sweden from Norway takes center stage as you begin this very quaint part of the trail, and there will be many views of the fjord, which is good for both beauty/photos and to orientate yourself once you are back in the woods.

On the docks looking south.

On a hill looking north, the docks from above can be seen to the left.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 26


This post covers Stage 26, Högstad to Krokstrand, of the official guide to the trail.

If you want to check out the section before this one (going southbound), check out my report on stage 27 here.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.


* The first things that comes to mind when I think about the beginning of this section are two animals that I ran into.  One animal was nice to see, the other one not so nice.  The nice animal was the deer I saw gracefully crossing a field at the beginning of this section.  I was lucky/quick enough to pull out my camera:

The other animal came as a surprise to me, and came in great numbers as well: flying ants.  They sting, and their stings leave bites bigger and more unpleasant than mosquito bites--something to keep in mind if you are hiking here in the summer.  This was one of the few times, crossing the farmland fields at the beginning of this section, that I wore my head bug net on my 5 day trip covering the northern third of the trail.  After the fields come woods once again, these woods having more pine and being a bit darker and spooky, which I happen to enjoy.  After exiting the woods literally into someone's backyard (with a big collection of cars in the driveway, oddly), and then the trail follows a dirt road for a while.

Shortly after getting onto the dirt road (the map has this area marked Motorbana), to the right and off the trail is one of the very best water sources I have ever had the pleasure of drinking from.  I almost missed it too, but while passing it, I heard some trickling of water coming from behind some grass, and backtracked to a tiny stream with cold, crystal clear, delicious water.  Seriously good water!  I hope it stays that way.

There is a turn in the dirt road shortly after (close to where the map has marked Gärdet), and an important detail to note about the official map of the area.  If you go to the right (east), you continue on the trail.  If you go straight (north), according to the official map, there is a shelter in the area marked Utangen.  Going straight you will pass two summer houses and get to a field.  I did a very thorough search of the area for this marked shelter, and could not find any shelter--plus the marked extension of the trail is a dead end that doesn't really have anything spectacular to offer.  

What is in this area is an abandoned barn, so I guess if you are desperate for shelter, you could sleep there.  Perhaps the official map is saying that the barn is the shelter?  Regardless, the barn is not in very good condition, but there was a ladder up to the hay loft, and there is a lake (Lången) close by to the north for water.  I was also told by a local farmer that this lake has good swimming, but I did not have time to check it out myself.

I did not take any pictures of this area because I was in a hurry to establish camp for the night.  It was getting late and there was not much sunlight, so after looking around for a shelter and finding nothing--and not wanting to sleep in an old, run down barn--I went back to the main trail.  A few kilometers later, just as it was getting dark out, I found a nice spot to pitch my tent near a lovely little stream/waterfall.  Very beautiful area, especially in the morning when I could see everything around me.  I really enjoyed camping here.  Be warned, however, that I was woken up just before dawn by a boar grunting and stiffing around for food (my food was hanging in a tree, as always).  I even yelled at the boar to go away, and it didn't seem to care at all, so I just went back to sleep and it was gone when I woke up a few hours later.

After a very scenic woodsy trail, the terrain changes to a rocky one, and then changes again to a swamp.  The swamp trail in this area is well maintained with bridges and boards, however, and I did not get my feet wet at all.

The swamp trail ends on a paved road, which takes you to the Björnerödpiggen trail (which is part of Bohusleden) that goes to the top of the mountain.  Amazing views!  And there is a nice shelter there too, grill, along with a two-story tower, but water is not very close by.  The official guide has more info about the mountain and an intersecting trail that meets near the shelter, which goes into Norway.

The hike down the mountain is also quite lovely, but a word of advice for when you get into the outskirts of the village at the end of this section.  There is a house with a sign on a water hose that says something like "Dricksvatten" which means drinking water.  I suggest you do not drink from this hose!  The water came out green, and tasted horrible--very bitter and muddy!  I even let the water run for a while to try and see if the water would get better, and it did not.  Try and get water from someplace else in the village, or just wait until the next section of the trail, where there are several lakes and streams with good water.  Or ask a local for some water in the village, if any are around.

This is one of the best sections I have hiked on Bohusleden--lots of variety of terrain, and all of it beautiful if you ask me, so I would recommend not to skip over any of the trail here.  I hiked this section in two parts over two days, and it took about nine hours total, including breaks for water and food, but not including making and breaking camp.

Next is Section 25, from Krokstrand to Håvedalen.

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Stage 27


This post covers Stage 27, Strömstad to Högstad, of the official guide to the trail, from the trailhead in Strömstad to Högstad, and is my starting point and first report of my trail guide.

If you have not already read the introduction to this trail guide, you can check it out by clicking here.  It has a list of reports on other sections I have hiked plus other important/useful background information in general--so please read the introduction first before reading my reports.


* Stage 27 marks the beginning of Bohusleden adventure for many backpackers because of the convenient starting location in the town of Strömstad.  Travelers often want to visit both Norway and Sweden while backpacking and the town is near the border, or are perhaps coming south from Norway--plus the town has many buses that come in from various places, including the big city to the south (Sweden's 2nd largest city) of Göteborg.  Yet the official guide marks this stage as the last one for whatever reason, (in fairness there is an afterthought that it could potentially be the first one), and says little about Strömstad itself.

I began a 5 day section hike of the northern part of the trail in Strömstad on August 13th, 2012.  I took the 871 bus from Göteborg, which takes about two hours, and cost 165 SEK.  The bus stop in Strömstad is close to the harbor, and there are several cafes and kebab/pizza shops around the harbor.  But be careful--kebab is notorious for being of questionable quality.  I ate a pork kebab for lunch just before finding the trailhead, and later that night got an upset stomach that I am sure could have only been caused by the kebab :(

But dodgy kebab aside, it's a nice little town, and the trailhead is easy enough to find if you make sure to check a map beforehand.  There are several ways to walk to the trailhead from the city center, and it's about 2km.  I was excited to hit the trail, and took a more direct route following Karlsgatan east to a bridge, then north on Ringvägen until it curves west to Mellbyvägen where there is a sign for Bohusleden.

At least the beer was good.

The harbor of Strömstad.

A view from the Ringvägen bridge on the way to the trailhead.

The sign pointing out the trailhead, which is up the road to the right, and past a small group of houses.

The beginning of the trail, facing the trailhead.

It is a nice way to start the trail, is a pretty easy hike all the way through the to the next section, and plenty of natural beauty which includes a big but not very deep cave.  You can fill up on water in town, of course, but there are also a few streams along the way.  

Important to note on this section is that there is a nice shelter on this section that is not marked or mentioned on the official map/website.  Going southbound, the shelter is after you pass the E6 highway and go back into the woods.  On the map I am pretty sure it is on in an area marked Hillern.  There is a sign that points you towards the shelter on a short, marked trail.  It is on top of a hill with a nice view, and has a wood grill.  It is not very close to any water, however.

View from the hill at the unmarked shelter.

The shelter itself, facing south-ish I think.

Happy about the view and the nice weather, though it doesn't look like it.

This section ends in some farmland, and took me about five hours walking at a pretty normal pace and taking a few breaks.

For a report on the next section, check out Section 26, Högstad-Krokstrand.

Cesar's Guide to Bohusleden: Introduction

*** Update 16/02/2020: 

My guide to Bohuslenden is now dated, but I still think it can be a useful complement to hiking the trail, so I will keep it online.

I had planned to re-hike the entire Bohusleden a few years ago, but got invested in another, bigger hiking project, which was/is establishing a new, alternate Swedish E1 trail.  I have hiked some of my favorite sections of Bohusleden multiple times, and will try to update this guide when I can.  I have put a few updates here and there over the years.

Here's a link to the new and improved official trail guide to Bohusleden.

But now on to my original introduction below.  I hope it will still be helpful for some hikers.  Over the years I have received a fair amount of positive feedback on my guide, which I am of course happy about.  Feel free to email me with any questions or feedback, and if I have time I will get back to you.  My email can be found on my Blogger profile.

Greetings and welcome to my companion guide to Sweden's (and small parts of Norway's) Bohusleden!  If you are just looking for all the links to the trip reports themselves, scroll down--they are at the bottom of this post.  If you have never been backpacking in Sweden before, you might want to read my article on general tips and information on nature, backpacking, and camping in Sweden.

Bohusleden is a hiking trail in Sweden that runs 370km from just outside of southern Göteborg in the small town of Lindome, to the cozy coastal town Strömstad near the Norwegian boarder.  I completed the trail on 9 section hikes, hiking 347km total and skipping 23km (Stages 18 and 17); the two stages I skipped follow roads entirely, but I still drove down these sections for the sake of reporting on them.  In total my guide contains 632 pictures for you to enjoy.

By my count, the trail passes right by or very close to 111 lakes or large ponds (big enough to swim in).  This makes this trail ideal for summer trips for swimming, and if you do your research on getting the proper permits, it's also good for fishing.

I followed the format the official guide provided by breaking down the trail into 27 different stages.  The older official guide was written from the perspective of going generally northbound (i.e. from Lindome to Strömstad), but I have nearly always hiked the other way around, going generally southbound, so I wrote from this perspective.  I tried not to repeat anything to be found in the official guide, but will add details, give feedback, highlight things missing from the official guide, offer tips, explain off-trail alternatives/options, etc.  In short: try and prepare backpackers even more for this trail adventure should they stumble upon my guide.  

I give estimates on how long it took me to hike a given section, but please keep in mind that everyone is different, and how long it takes depends on a lot of variables.

I was generally very impressed with the trail and the experience of hiking it, and strongly encourage anyone interested in backpacking/camping/hiking to check it out.  I have hiked on many different trails spanning several nations on three different continents, and Bohusleden is definitely one of my favorite trails.

Thanks for reading, and hope this is helpful and/or enjoyable to read! :)


Trip reports:

Stage 27, Strömstad-Högstad

Stage 26, Högstad-Krokstrand

Stage 25, Krokstrand-Håvedalen

Stage 24, Håvedalen-Vassbotten

Stage 23, Vassbotten-Nornäs

Stage 22, Nornäs-Daletjärnen

*Stages 27-22 were completed on a section hike in August 2012.

Stage 21, Daletjärnen-Holmen  

*Stage 21 completed on overnight trip April 2012. 

Stage 20, Holmen-Vaktarekullen

Stage 19, Vaktarekullen-Lunden

*Stages 20 and 19 were completed on a section hike in October 2012. 

Stages 18 and 17 double report, Lunden-Harska

Stage 16, Harska-Kaserna

Stage 15, Kaserna-Metsjö

Stage 14, Metsjö-Bovik

Stage 13, Bovik-Glimmingen

*Stages 18-13 were completed on a section hike in May 2013. 

Stage 12, Glimmingen-Vassbovik

Stage 11, Vassbovik-Hasteröd

*Stages 12-11 were completed on a section hike in July 2013. 

Stage 10, Hasteröd-Lysevatten

Stage 9, Lysevatten-Bottenstugan

**Update 18/10/2015: Trip report on a return to Stage 9 plus hiking around several side trails in the Svartedalen nature reserve.

Stage 8, Bottenstugan-Grandalen

*Stages 10-8 were completed on a section hike in August 2013. 

Stage 7, Grandalen-Fotin

Stage 6, Fotin-Angereds kyrk

Stage 5, Angereds kyrka-Jonsered

*Stages 7-5 were completed on a section hike in September 2013. 

Stages 4 and 3 double report, Jonsered-Skatås

*Stages 4-3 were completed on a section hike in October 2013. 

Stages 2 and 1 double report, Skatås-Blåvattnerna

*Stages 2-1 were completed on various day hikes throughout 2012 and 2013.

An Epilogue 

Includes final thoughts, reflections, food planning, and how I'd like to hike the trail next time knowing what I know now.


Friday, July 20, 2012

My First XUL Trip Part 2: The Report

*Part two of my first XUL adventure--you can check out part one here.*

First a disclaimer before we move on to the fun stuff like pictures and the actual trip report--which is mostly for the gram obsessed backpackers that read this and are probably in the minority--but worth mention. I got a few emails and questions in person from people about the specifics of XUL, so I will answer a few of these questions and give a little more background on XUL and going to the extreme of the lightweight backpacking world:

* As I wrote about in part one, there is much debate on semantics, but I simply picked the definition that appealed to me the most. I first found out about XUL on Backpacking Light's forum, and the thread in question can be found here. Keep in mind that these definitions and numbers--along with UL/SUL as well--are entirely arbitrary. They were invented out of thin air by backpackers as guidelines for their systems of gear. If they are helpful, I suggest that one ought to accept them; and conversely if one deems them to be of no benefit, then reject them. Ultimately, it's your backpack, gear, and clothing--bring whatever you want with you, and do whatever you want with your gear.  Just be safe and have fun, those are really the only two guidelines you need, if you ask me.

* I am by no means advocating what many backpackers call "stupid light," as the trip report that follows will soon attest to by some slight modifications based on the conditions at hand. I would never go backpacking, or traveling of any sort really, without having the proper gear for the conditions to be safe and relatively comfortable--yet remember that while "safe" is more objective perhaps, "comfortable" is of course subjective, and you will have to take one at their word when they claim to have achieved comfort. For more perspectives on the whole idea of "stupid light" I recommend these two well written and insightful articles, each having valid points: here is a more informative and general view by Andrew Skurka, and more skeptical and specific view by John Abela. If you go back and read part one and examine my gear, I am confident that most if not nearly all experienced backpackers will agree that my "essential" gear choices (e.g. compass, map, knife, flashlight, first aid kit, etc.) provide me with enough safety given the conditions.

Now on to the report. First of all, as I noted earlier there were some minor modifications to my gear list. This summer has been a much cooler summer than average, and it just so happened that the night/early morning of this overnight trip had a cold sap predicted of temperatures going down as low as 8C (46F). I had already modified my gear list once due to this summer having a higher than average amount of rain, and I am very glad I did, as I will soon elaborate on. Well I am also glad I modified my clothing to suit the uncommon conditions I would face, because it did get quite cool, but I was quite comfy and warm and able to sleep well (my friends even commented on how deep asleep I was, calling my name and me not waking--along with teasing me about my snoring :P).

In part one I stated that my base weight plus my clothing total would be 4.99lbs / 2264g. However after keeping a close eye on weather reports (as always) and seeing the cold sap, I re-evaluated my clothing choices. Had the weather been warmer, I would have taken exactly what I described in part one, and as such I will keep the gear list and geargrams report up as a reference.

In the end though, I ditched my t-shirt (-122g) and used my long sleeve base layer shirt as my primary top layer, and added a synthetic vest (190g) into my base weight as sleeping/morning clothing. I also added a synthetic beanie (50g) to go with the vest, and after coming home and looking at the pictures of the trip, I realized I forgot to add one small thing to the list, my glasses (18g), in case any hardcore gram geeks should notice I figured I ought to include them as well. This brings the grand total of gear plus clothing to and even 2400g or 5.28lbs. Feel free to call the XUL police on me ;). I don't regret it one bit! It was well needed to keep warm at night, get a good night's sleep, and stay warm in the morning.

I hinted at rain earlier, it came down in buckets for the better part of 5 hours in the morning, from about 5:30 to 10:30. I spent most of that time cozy and warm under my Zpacks Hexamid tarp, either fast asleep, or while awake and resting/waiting out the rain I marveled at how well designed the shelter is and the awesomeness of Cuben fiber. I literally didn't get a single drop of rain on me while I was in my shelter. There was only some spray on both ends of my trash bag ground cover, but none of it made it to me or my sleeping bag. I must add that location also played a part in this, as we camped on a small plateau on a hill under some big pine trees.  I was impressed that I was kept pretty dry by my MontBell Tachyon Anorak windbreaker.  It's not meant to be used as a rain jacket, but to my surprise did the job pretty well while I broke camp and then took a short hike in the rain.  It actually did better than some cheap-o rain jackets I have bought in the past, and very comfy to boot.

Because of all the rain my friends and I did not feel inclined to take any pictures. It was still raining when we packed up our gear, after all. Lucky for us we found an abandoned cottage close to our campsite, and ate breakfast and dried off there for a bit until the rain finally broke. We also were not in the mood to take any pictures when we made camp because we were pretty tired after hiking through 20km / 12.4miles of terrain full of hills and elevation, plus we also went swimming in a lake just before making camp. So we got busy with making camp, building a nice fire, eating dinner, and getting some much needed rest soon after. But we did manage to get a few nice pictures along the way the first day. Special thanks to Mehrdad for offering to act as photographer (most of the time) and carry the camera. :)

Nico and Mehrdad towards the beginning of our trek. I love it when flowers sprawl out directly on trails like this--nature's occupy civilization movement :P

Lunch break in the middle of nowhere, on top of a hill with a great view. Note my tiny pack :) 

Another side of our lunchtime view. We had great weather during the day, around 20C / 68F and lots of sun.

Further along the trail on a ridge we found the first of a pretty good harvest of chanterelle wild mushrooms, along with plenty of wild strawberries and some blueberries. I love wild edibles. 

One of the many beautiful lakes we passed along the way. Nico and I seal our deal to buy communist chicken for lunch the next day. 

Mehrdad and I on an old stone bridge that the trail goes right over. We are also very happy about finding even more mushrooms, which we would divide up on the bus back home the next day to eat at home. 

Another view of the stone bridge and trail. 

Another great view after climbing up a big hill next to a larger lake. Some of the most scenic vistas and woods I've ever hiked through! I have hiked around this particular area (SW Sweden) quite a bit, but only recently discovered the isolated and less-traveled trail that goes through and then ends at these hills/cliffs. We would have to do some off-trail hiking and minor bushwhacking shortly after this before jumping onto another trail where we would take a dip in yet another lake and then make camp.

Much like my first (intentional) SUL trip, I put quite a lot of planning and thought into my first (nearly) XUL trip. And just like the SUL trip, this one really went great. Both trips put nearly all of my gear choices to the test, especially considering each trip had rain--though this time it was much heavier. Location and a bit of bushcraft also played a part in the success and overall comfort of this wonderful adventure with such a light load. I made good use of my knife to make grill sticks, and to trim down a sturdy stick I found for my shelter. I also slept on a nice bed of moss, to which I also added some pine boughs for added comfort and insulation, as well as a nice pillow too. 

Bugs were an issue, but only when we first stopped to make camp. As soon as we had a fire going, the bugs cleared out, and by the time we went to sleep around 11pm they were pretty much gone. While I slept I was fully covered except for my face, and I pulled my beanie down over about half of my face. Thus I only had my nose, cheeks, and chin to worry about really--and I didn't get any bites there. Maybe because of my breathing and/or snoring? I only got a few bites on my ankles and hands from setting up the shelter as the sun was going down, which is high time for bugs.

As far as the cold goes, I did wake up at around 5am from some minor chills after the temperature dropped, but all I had to do was make some minor adjustments and I was soon able to doze off again. I re-centered my torso sleeping pad, zipped up my windbreaker and sleeping bag, tightened the hood of my sleeping bag, and put my hands in my pockets. It was a good thing I added the vest, without it I would have really been cold. The rain woke me up soon after, but I promptly went back to sleep. Rain has such a nice soothing nature, provided you are not soaked by it. Soon the sun was up behind the rain clouds, and it got much warmer--when I woke up again around 9am I noticed I had loosened the hood of my sleeping bag and cracked the zipper in my sleep, and I was toasty warm.

For lunch and dinner I relied on tried and true staples for overnighters: sandwiches, chips, nuts, and sausages. For breakfast the next day, I brought a few granola bars that were excellent. I am surprised that I have not heard or read about these bars from any backpackers, I stumbled upon them at random at the supermarket. At 100g and around 400-450 calories (depending on what flavor), great taste, all natural ingredients, some are vegan (I am not vegan, but worth noting), and actually cheaper than many of the other granola bars I saw next to them at the store, I had to try them out. I am glad I did--a super-easy (doesn't get any easier than non-cook food), tasty, and filling breakfast solution. They are called Flapjacks, and are made by Wholebake. I tried the pistachio and pecan flavors, and both were great.

There was one downside to the trip and I will endeavor to find a solution for, because it is rather annoying, though not anything that serious. I recently bought a pair of Merrell lightweight sneakers and I love them... except for one problem: they stink. Like, really stink. I don't really have stinky feet, and none of my other shoes have a stink problem, at least not like these do. My friends on the trip commented on the smell many times on the trip, and said it was something to do with the synthetic fabrics and such. They preformed great, but wow what a smell they seem to create.

That wraps up another trip report and another very successful trial of an even more close to the limit style of backpacking. In about a month or so I will be going on a 5 day section hike of a longer trail here in Sweden, the Bohusleden. I will be sure to write up a pre and post report of this trip, really looking forward to it. I will probably go standard UL or perhaps SUL depending on how things shape up, i.e. what friends come with me (share gear), weather, my mood, etc.

I hope you enjoyed this very wordy two part report on going (nearly) XUL. I would definitely go XUL again, especially if the weather is warmer. Not sure if I can fit in another XUL trip this summer--with the big section hike coming up eating up all my free time--but there is always next year.

Take care and good luck on your own pursuits towards whatever limits you strive for.

*Note: I am not paid, sponsored, or given any free products from anyone or any company. I bought everything I wrote about with my own money.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reaching out to The Limit: My First XUL Trip, Part 1

The limit, as some say, cannot ever be reached.  The quest to feel and understand the limit is what defines and enriches what lay before and beyond the limit.  And so I challenge myself again.

Semantics, of course, must be dealt with.  If Ultralight is backpacking under ten pounds (4.5kg) of base weight, and Super-Ultralight is backpacking under five pounds (2.27kg) of base weight, then the next (last?) step for the dedicated backpacker is Extreme Ultralight, or XUL.  The few people that dabble in these realms of traveling through the great outdoors sometimes squabble over what constitutes XUL.  I have read several different definitions, but the one I found the most logically appealing to follow UL and SUL is that XUL is under five pounds with base weight of your backpack plus any items carried or clothing worn--meaning that literally everything you take with you minus consumables (food, water, fuel).

I have found that most times of the year I go UL, but for an extended season from late spring to early fall go SUL, and for the past few years now I never go above UL standards and have not felt the need or inclination to either.  You can read about my first (intentional) SUL trip here, in case you are curious to see what brought me down this path which perhaps some backpackers might call insanity.  In this part, I will go over the gear, planning, and rational behind my trip, which is scheduled for next week.  After the trip I will have a full report with obligatory pictures, the pictures kindly taken by some friends going along with me on the trip (though I am the only one going XUL).

Before I explain why I am about to embark on such an extreme, you are probably curious just what items would make up my XUL gear list.  You can examine the nifty geargrams list I recently put the finishing touches on (4.99lbs / 2264g total, excluding food and water) to see it on paper, but I took some pictures as well:

Above is my backpack with the gear and clothing I will be taking with me, with a few small exceptions that I forgot to add.  Not included are a map (15g), and some pocket items like my bus card (12g).  

(EDIT: I noticed the weight on the scale and the weight listed slightly don't match, with a difference of 8g.  This was an error on my part by not removing a spare pair of socks that I was thinking about taking when I weighed everything.)  

But you get the picture.  A lot of traditional backpackers have sleeping bags and kitchens that weigh more than my entire set of gear and clothing.  Now on to some more detail...

Here is the packed backpack (Zpacks Zero xsmall cuben fiber pack) and the clothing.  Nothing too special about the clothing, really--boxers, t-shirt, running pants, lightweight sneakers, socks.  I will only have one water bottle for drinking, a recycled half-liter plastic bottle that fits nicely in the shoulder strap pocket of the pack.

 For back support in my pack, and for a minimal torso sleeping mat, I have a trimmed piece of cheap but effective foam padding, which is the green rectangle poking out of the pack.  

I plan on having a campfire in the evening (so long as it is not pouring rain), so having a fixed blade helps a lot to process fuel, not to mention an excellent all around tool.  This is a bit controversial in the lightweight backpacking community, as many opt for tiny folding knifes, razor blades, or no knives at all.  Here in Sweden, however, having a campfire is a more viable option for backpackers, because campfires are allowed in nearly all places (so long as there are not dry conditions).  I also put knives to good use when I camp, like cutting food and making grill sticks for cooking for example, so I usually opt for a good, sturdy blade.

My water purification is a squeeze filter, along with a roughly one liter bladder for raw water, which I can also use as an additional store of water, as well as a pillow when blown up with air and placed under my sleeping bag.  I can have a total of 1.5 liters on me, which is more than enough, especially considering the many good sources of water that we will encounter.

To the right of my knife and water system is my shelter kit, and below in the middle is my first aid kit, ditty bag, and clothing bag.  A detailed list of all the contents of my FAK and ditty bag can be found above on my geargrams list--it covers all the essentials and/or needs.  Below in a cuben stuff sack is my sleeping bag, a wonderful synthetic summer bag.  Again note that my map and a few small pocket items are omitted from the photos but will be included for the trip. 

Here you can see the knife out of the sheath (the string is for hanging around the neck), a long sleeve synthetic base layer shirt for night/sleeping, a windbreaker jacket, and my shelter kit opened up.  My shelter is a Zpacks Hexamid solo tarp, and in a cuben stake bag are 8 titanium stakes.  For a ground cover I will use a garbage bag, which is folded up next to the stakes.

I had originally planned on taking advantage of natural shelters, such as sleeping under a big pine tree (which I have done before), but I made some adjustments after keeping and eye on the weather.  There has been massive amounts of rain this summer, with some areas close to me having issues with outright flooding.  So yeah, there is a chance of very heavy, pounding rain.  Adding the shelter, I decided to remove my bug head net and baseball cap.  I will be careful about what location I make camp in to avoid the bugs.  I went on an overnight trip last week and switched from one location to another in making camp that effectively removed the bug problem, with one location more open to allow for breezes to blow annoying bugs away.  Plus a campfire keeps the bugs at bay too, unless of course it is pouring rain, in which case the rain keeps the bugs away anyhow.

It should be obvious that I will be taking ready-to-eat foods only, such as granola bars, fruit, nuts, chips, etc.  If the weather looks like a low chance of rain, I will bring food I can cook over the fire without any kind of kitchen, like sausage and red bell peppers (nomnomnomnom).

Now why go XUL?  For one, because I can.  I would suggest that XUL (and to a lesser extent SUL) is for experienced backpackers to take advantage of, and in doing so, also opens up some added possibilities.  For one, a very low weight translates into having more energy; and this means you can not only hike longer and on more difficult terrain, but you can also do fun stuff along the way that you otherwise would not want to tax your energy reserves on.  For example, say you pass a nice swimming spot, you can stop and jump in with little concern.  

As such, the trip I have planned has a 18-20km hike the first day, and a 16-18km hike the next day.  This is a more remote trail (along with some off trail fun as well) that is full of wonderful views and beautiful scenery to enjoy and explore.  Also, berry and mushroom season has begun here in Sweden, and I plan on gathering a bit of both along the way.  The more isolated patch of woods you explore, the more bounty there will be to harvest.

Yet this trip is not just about pragmatic elements that justify such a extreme/unique style of backpacking.  As I touched on in the introduction, there is also the quest to challenge both limits and one's own self.  My experience in going UL and SUL has exposed me to an amazing alternative to going out and temporarily living out in nature, one that has really improved my journeys; physically, mentally, and emotionally.  And I was able to break through limits I was not only unaware of, but also did not think possible to achieve.  I hope that by going XUL, I can continue this exploration.  In short, my travels into the woods has brought me much closer to both myself and to nature, and this is simply another means to travel with new limitations but with new potentials.

My thoughts somehow remind me of the words of a man I admire and whose films I take great inspiration from: Werner Herzog.  I cannot say that I understand or agree with everything he says in the monologue he gives below, but much of it resonates with me, especially the last part of it.  So I leave you with Herzog, and look forward to my trip next week and writing about it.

Here is a link to part 2, the actual trip report.