An icy expedition with Outdoor Vagabond
Winter adventures in Sweden
Tearing across frozen lakes on snowmobiles. Walking with expedition skis to the tops of the Scandinavian Mountains. Building snow caves and sleeping in them. We Joined a winter expedition in Grövelsjön, Sweden with Outdoor Vagabond. “It’s incredible how serene it is in the snow cave, while outside a blizzard rages.”
Gusts of snowflakes are whisked across the icy ground by a strong force 11 wind. It’s as if they are playing with each other. Racing. Playing tag. Bouncing and bouncing. My expedition skis sink and crackle in the freshly fallen snow. The air is fresh and clean. A pale sun throws rays of light through a breaking, milky white sky and turns the sloping mountain a little further down into shining silver. The healthy outdoors or friluftsliv, as the Swedes call it, feels like gold.
Gold? Cold, I hear you think. Well, it’s not that bad. It is minus ten Celsius, and with this wind the wind chill is almost minus forty. Not too bad? Yes, it is. Because you can dress for the cold. With a good base layer of merino wool, a mid layer, windbreaker, jacket, good gloves and a hat you really have nothing to worry about. Even better. I regularly feel stupidly warm when we are moving slowly on our backcountry skis through the tranquil icy landscape of the Scandinavian Mountains near Grövelsjön, in the northernmost part of the province of Dalarna in central Sweden.
The Scandinavian Mountains are an ancient massif. In ancient times, before the supercontinent Pangea fell apart, it formed one land mass with the Scottish Highlands, Ireland, Newfoundland and the north-eastern Appalachians. For thousands of years this part of the world was covered by huge glaciers that slowly scoured the landscape. They crushed the stones and wore the landscape down to rolling hills. There are no trees here, despite the fact that we are at an altitude of only a thousand metres. The tree line is seven hundred metres here. By the way, we are a stone’s throw from the Norwegian border. The border is determined by the run-off of water. Where it flows west, Norway begins. If it flows east, you are in Sweden.
“This is how Roald Amundsen beat Scott to it in the race to the South Pole”
A word about backcountry skis. There are quite a few misunderstandings about them. They are certainly not alpine skis, but they are not cross-country skis either. “Cross-country skis are narrower,” knows Adam Lindgren, our guide and owner of Outdoor Vagabond. “backcountry skis are a bit wider. We use them to ‘hike’ through areas with lots of snow. Without them, you sink deep into the powder snow. This is how Roald Amundsen beat Scott to it in the race to the South Pole.”
Not heavy duty ski boots, but more like regular mountain boots. The only difference is that there is an opening under the sole that you click into the ski. When you have finished skiing, you can walk with them. Ski-touring is dead easy. It takes a little getting used to, but within an hour you don’t know any better. At first, I made the mistake of thinking that you can also ski with it. But that is exactly what you should not do, although it is possible, but it takes practice. When you go up or down, you stick a sheet with fine hairs, called ‘skins’, under your ski. That way you have more grip and do not slip. Backcountry skiing is the perfect way to quietly explore this winter wonderland. Especially in combination with a snowmobile.
I whizz through the blizzard on a frozen lake. The odometer reads fifty, but I have the feeling I’m going much faster. With my thumb, I push the throttle a bit harder. The snowmobile reacts as if we are one. The wild snow pelts a small part of my cheeks that came uncovered. The only part of my body that isn’t thickly packed and covered. The grips on the growling scooter are heated, so keeping my hands cosy is no problem at all. In Sweden, you can drive a snowmobile with your regular driving licence, provided you are accompanied by a Swedish guide. Adam rides next to me, so that’s okay. There are snowmobile trails everywhere. Once in a while, we pass hikers on backcountry skis. Friendly hands waive when we slow down and pass them at a snail’s pace. It’s safe and friendly.
The door is unlocked and the cast-iron stove smiles at us
We stop the snowmobiles at a lone wooden mountain hut. The door is unlocked and the cast-iron stove smiles at us. Stacked in the corner is some dry wood and an axe. Benches line the walls around the fireplace. A cupboard filled with emergency supplies is mounted on the wall, for when you get lost or in an emergency situation. It contains matches, beans, bandages and other handy things, plus a Bible. Perfectly organised, like everything else in Sweden. A friendly note asks you to phone in if something is missing, then it can be replenished. Within minutes, a cosy fire crackles in the fireplace.
ULTIMATE PEACE AND QUIET
Adam sits in the chair and tells us what he loves so much about the friluftsliv. “Because I grew up in Sweden, I had no idea that I was in love with nature. Or rather. It was just very natural. Growing up in Sweden, as a child, I played in the woods. We picked mushrooms, built snow huts. I was constantly in nature. When I got older, I discovered that there were people who hardly ever went into the wilderness, who lived in cities. The love of nature is so ingrained in me. In the wilderness I recharge my battery, but in the forests and mountains, I also burn up my energy. Nature is where I find the ultimate peace and adventure.”
“Because I grew up in Sweden, I had no idea that I was in love with nature. Or rather. It was just very natural”
That adventure is in good hands with Adam as a guide. He knows the best spots, has the best advice and is full of life hacks. He teaches us, for example, that you can start a crackling fire in the open air within half a minute with the help of some shavings of white bark from the birch tree. “The bark is full of oil and only needs a spark to ignite. They are the kindling of Mother Earth in these parts.”
Adam knows what he is talking about. He has made this burning love of nature his profession. As an outdoor specialist he has accompanied expeditions all over the world. Kilimanjaro, Himalayas. Do you want to go on an expedition? Where ever? Adam is your man. With Outdoor Vagabond, he offers a range of outdoor adventures. From Nordic back-country ski expeditions via learning how to survive in nature in winter to full-blown expeditions for the advanced. Great fun and super informative.
The cherry on the cake is the steaming hot sauna at Lövåsgården
“Today, we’re going winter camping,” Adam laughs. Scandinavian-style, that is. We drive up the mountain on our snowmobiles. Adam stops and we follow his example. Behind one of the snowmobiles, we have a sledge to carry our luggage. Backpacks with extra clothes, extra gloves, provisions, shovels, avalanche probes, burners. Everything we need to sleep outside tonight. On snowshoes and skis, we hike over the hill until we reach a small valley. “This looks like an excellent place to dig a snow cave,” says Adam. He unfolds his 3 metre long avalanche probe, and starts probing the snow to test its depth. The stick slides all the way in. “When you’re caught out in the winter cold by storms, the main thing is to keep warm and sheltered for the night,” Adam explains. “A snow cave is a good and simple way. Just grab a shovel.”
Adam explains that first we have to dig straight into the mountain, the entrance. When we have dug a hole of one and a half metres deep, Adam indicates that we should start digging to the right. The snow that we dig out, we throw on a tarp. When it is full, we drag the tarp out of the cave and empty it. Yes, and then we continue. “Make sure the ceiling has a dome shape,” Adam explains. The snow above our snow cave creates pressure. When you apply force to a dome from above, it only gets stronger. That’s how you make a snow dome that won’t collapse.
I feel like a snow architect. When we have dug the platform for our bed, we create a niche for our bags, and some for candles, and with the probe we punch a hole to the top so that there is always fresh air in the cave. It is incredible how serene it is in the cave. And how warm, compared to outside where another blizzard is battering the mountains. “Snow insulates. That’s why you can stand outside shouting at whoever is inside, but chances are they won’t hear it,” laughs Adam, clearly in his element. “No matter how cold it is outside, in the cave it always stays just around freezing point.”
When the snow cave is ready, we inflate the sleeping mats (because we want to be comfortable) and roll out the sleeping bags. Lights on and, damn, what a cosy little home. By the way, never forget to keep a shovel inside,” says Adam, “when it snows hard at night, the entrance might get covered with snow, then the shovel is useful to dig yourself out again,” explains Adam, while in the meantime he has dug out a real outdoor kitchen and started cooking the meal on burners.
Adam’s sister has just started a business in home-dried meals and we get to test them. Indian is on the menu. Fried naan bread with an excellent curry and rice. There are restaurants where you eat worse. Wow. Delicious. With full bellies, we crawl back into our snow cave to dream of more winter adventures. Outside, the wind is howling and gusts of snowflakes are flying horizontally past the entrance. Who would have thought that you could sleep comfortably in a hole in the snow? What an adventure.
“When it snows hard at night, the entrance might get covered with snow, then the shovel is useful to dig yourself out again”
The Sami people are the only original and indigenous people known in Europe. The land of the Sami, called Sápmi in their own language, spans the northern part of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The southernmost Sami are found in Dalarna, where we are now.
Adam introduces us to Peter Anderson, a Sami leader. “We Sami know our own language, culture and customs. Sápmi is the land we live in. The land I love. A land of snow-capped mountains, wild rivers, pristine lakes and streams, tundra and forests. We, the Sami, have lived here since time immemorial, and our ancestors were hunters and fishermen, gathering wild plants and berries. Our culture is intertwined with reindeer. Reindeer and nature are everything to us.”
The Sami are a living legacy from the days of hunting and gathering, when Sami herders followed the reindeer on their ancient migration routes and seasonal foraging grounds, from winter to spring, summer to autumn. Of course, their lives have changed, but the Sami try to preserve their culture as much as possible.
Explore the Swedish Wilderness
If you want something really different, Adam’s Outdoor Vagabond is the place to be. Nordic back-country ski expeditions, winter camping, winter survival, winter hut trips, snowmobile safaris. It is all possible. Not only here in central Sweden, but also to the Sarek nature reserve further north. Adam prefers to make adventures to measure. So check out his website or contact him, you won’t regret it.