Jokkmokk and Muddus

Monday 3rd of February 2015

I’m lying on a bunk bed, on a night train, headed north. My final destination is the town of Jokkmokk in Northern Sweden, Sápmi. It’s morning now. Listening to Eddie Vedder, and as always, the sound of his voice has me longing for the wild. I’m lying on the top bunk closest to the ceiling – if I try to sit up I’ll hit my head almost immediately. Better to lie down. A group of old ladies are sitting down below, gossiping.

“Is the girl up there still asleep, do you think?”

The ladies down below are curious about me. I hopped onto the train sometime in the middle of the night when they had already fallen asleep. Since then I’ve been up here in my bunk bed, falling in and out of sleep. So far, all they really know about me is that I look to be dressed for the outdoors. Travelling with large hiking backpacks, handmade wooden skis, dressed in wool from top to toe – me and my classmates make for an unusual sight. We are studying a one-year full-time course in wilderness and bushcraft skills at a school in Sweden called Sjöviks Folkhögskola. 

In the town of Gällevare we get off the train and switch to a bus which will take us to our final stop – Jokkmokk.

I’ve never seen so much snow before! Lining the sides of the road are mammoth mounds of snow. A couple of reindeer run across the road, right in front of the bus. We are in the north.

The Jokkmokk Market opens on Thursday and has a more than 400 year unbroken history. Thousands of people from all over the globe gather in the little town of Jokkmokk for concerts, exhibitions and trade. We are staying just outside of town, about a 30 minute walk into the town centre.

Our plan is to stay six nights in Jokkmokk and then – on Monday next week – set out on a skiing trip for 5 days in Muddus National Park. After that, one more night in Jokkmokk before leaving on the 14th of February.

6th of February

Walking home in the evening I look up at the starry sky and wonder what northern lights really look like. Hey Sky, can’t you show me some?

Sky answers me.

Great spirals of light swirl across the sky right above me, moving like a flowing river of light. The beauty put me under a spell, and I stood there watching for who knows how long. Is there some magician sitting up there in the sky putting on a show?

Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere...

Eddies singing in my ears again, but this time I’m looking up at birch tree branches and blue skies. It’s Wednesday, the 11th of February, and I’m alone at my group’s campsite. I woke up this morning and decided that today was going to be my day. A day just enjoy nature on my own.  

The others left not so long ago for a skiing daytrip. I think I’m going to surprise them with dinner when they come back later in the evening.

Today is our 2nd day in Muddus national park – or to be specific – we’re staying just outside the park by a stream. On Monday, setting out to look for a base camp, we decided to try find a stream to camp close to. Finding a stream in the middle of winter isn’t easy. But luckily we managed to find the stream and can easily fetch water. Much easier than melting snow and it tastes better too.

I really needed some alone time. Last week in Jokkmokk was a lot of fun but intense – and so many people! I hadn’t realized that there would be so many people during the market and from so many different countries. A winter festival.

After running around in Jokkmokk, buying donuts at the market and meeting lots of new people, I was yearning for fresh forest air, blue skies, quiet and the freedom of being far away from civilisation.

Ah… now I am home.

Here life is simple.

Well, kind of simple. One thing I hadn’t really considered beforehand was the amount of snow. I have known snow – yes – but not this much snow! If I hop off my skis I’ll sink about waist-deep into the snow. You can’t do anything without skis out here. We realized early on that paths would make things easier. One path to the stream for fetching water. One path to the number one hole, and one path to the number two hole.

I put my skis on, grab a saw and set off to look for firewood. It’s such a beautiful day. The birds are singing. It almost feels like spring is on its way. Half an hour later I return to camp with a couple of stocks, ready for the axe. While collecting kindling I slip on my skis and fall over flat on my back. The snow is soft to land on. It strikes me that I don’t have to get up. It’s nice just lying here looking up at the tree tops and the blue sky. I picture myself from an outsider’s view – lying there in the middle of the woods, my hands full with kindling – and start to laugh. I must look pretty stupid. But who cares?

Thursday 14th of February

It's funny thinking back at how nervous I was about this trip. Mostly I was afraid of the cold up north, and of course it is important to have respect for nature – especially up here in the north where the winters are extremely cold.

But now I feel calm and happy. It’s amazing how quickly your body grows used to the cold after a while.

Today we skied into Muddus National Park and spent the day in a beautiful forest of ancient pine trees. After skiing all day we were all exhausted. Coming home to base camp, lighting a fire and putting a kettle of coffee on to boil is one of the simple joys of being out here in the wild. I love feeling tired from top to toe. Tired, and so full of life at the same time.

It's colder tonight – around 14 minus degrees. In the evening, after drinking tea, my tea bag freezes into my wooden mug after leaving it for 10 minutes. I sit with my mug over the fire for a while in an attempt to de-freeze it.

Keeping warm is a challenge in this cold. Especially hands and feet. Thankfully I packed three pairs of gloves – I’ve had good use for all of them during this trip.

One of the best things during this adventure has been sitting together around the fire, talking - and especially listening to Tobias reading the book "Super. Naiv" by Erlend Loe. Every night we send the talking stick (or a spoon or whatever's handy) around in the circle and share something with the group.

13th of February

Friday. Back in Jokkmokk and eating pizza at the local pizzeria. I think I am in heaven…

After taking a hot shower, I get a big surprise. A surprise birthday party!! Everyone is singing happy birthday around a table overflowing with candles and ice cream.

Best day ever.

14th of February

Skiing out there in the middle of nowhere was a piece of cake. Something none of us had even considered turned out to be the biggest challenge yet. Getting everyone – with all our backpacks, skis and pulkas full with tents, camp gear and food – from the horse stable to the bus station in Jokkmokk.

We decide to ski into town via a trail in the forest. Unfortunately, after a few days of plus degrees and sunshine, the snow has melted and frozen into a thick layer of ice. It’s extremely slippery. Every few metres someone falls over. Normally it takes about 30 minutes to walk to Jokkmokk. Luckily our bus doesn’t leave until after lunch – because getting to the bus station took us over 2 hours!

After falling over on the hard ice over ten times I start to get really pissed off. I was furious! Pissed off at the stupid ice. Sick of skiing. Every muscle in my body aching. To make matters even better – I fell over while sliding down a slippery hill of ice and landed hard on my tail-bone. The pain hit me like a thousand knives. Have you ever hurt your tail-bone? Don’t. Seriously, it hurts like hell!

When we finally made it to the bus station I was ecstatic. I don’t know if I have ever been so happy to see a bus station! We even had time over to go get a coffee.

15th of February

There is a first time for everything. Today is the first time I have ever woken up on a bunk bed, on a night train, on my birthday.

23 years old! Yippeee!

When we arrive at Uppsala station we eat breakfast in the sunshine. Mattis buys me a birthday breakfast – coffee and a croissant.

Almost home. These past two weeks will be something to remember for a long time.

Thank you to my room-mate Amanda for the photos!


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