Scandinavian Nature Trip 8 – 22 June 2022

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A Scandinavian nature trip.

It has been some 20 years since Bee Choo and I last had a holiday together – just the two of us! If you don’t believe me, look above at Hong Kong (Feb 2001) and Andaman Hotel, Langkawi, Malaysia (Jan 2002), the last trip being our de facto honeymoon. After Mark came later in 2002, we either took him along or Bee Choo and I travelled on our own.

As you know, I love Alaska and I still feel I owe Bee Choo a road-trip on the Dalton Highway up to the Arctic Ocean, we cancelled that part of our 2008 Alaska visit because we had limited time and the poxy Rent-a-Wreck I was driving at the time wasn’t quite up to the challenge. But this year we will do something slightly less ambitious: A trip to the North, yes, but to Sweden/Norway this time, a presumably less demanding environment, so I expect. We will start at the Runde, Norway Atlantic bird cliffs and spend some time exploring Sonfjallet in Sweden. This is the planned schedule, there are some details below.

THE GREAT PLAN

Runde and I go back some 51 years!

In fact, I allude to this in the opening chapter of my book The Ethical Investor’s  Handbook (Marshall Cavendish, 2018). Here I use Runde as a case story of the decline in biodiversity, not just in the tropical rainforests and mangroves of the over-populated global South, but right in the heart of civilized, prosperous northern Europe.

In 1971 I visited Runde in late June right after graduating from high school. At that time you had to take a ferry to the island, and there were no restrictions regarding access to the bird cliffs; in fact I didn’t see many other people on the island that year. I have heard that sea bird numbers have come down since then throughout the North Atlantic region, but it will still be fun to see the place today and compare.

The island of Runde.

Runde is just about 2×3 km in size, so 2-3 days there should be enough for Bee Choo and me to see what the island has to offer. Most of the birds will be on the steep west coast, I am not sure how much is open to the public during the breeding season or how crowded it will be. Check out the ‘Bird Cliffs 1971’ chapter for details about my first visit.

Sonfjallet NP, Jamtland, Sweden.

I have been to Sweden a number of times, as you can see in the chapters above (1961-73 and such), but never to the Sonfjallet National Park. The spelling varies from source to source, I will stick with the ‘o’ spelling. The latitude is about 62 degrees North, i.e. equivalent to half-way between Anchorage and Fairbanks in Alaska, in other words: The Boreal Forest belt habitat. The park is about 10×10 km, it is surrounded by roads and has marked trails, so unlike the Brooks Range you cannot get lost (see Alaska 2021 for details!). I picked this place because the hiking looks manageable and there is a good variety of habitats such as lakes, mixed woodlands and some high country. There are mammals like Brown Bear, Moose and Lynx; I couldn’t find a bird list online, Bee Choo and I will make our own!

Itinerary and budget.

We have flights and wheels arranged but didn’t book any accomodation; we will camp and find rooms as we move along. The $272 extra charge is for reserved window seats – that expense is worth it to me! The SEK and NOK are nice and low to the SGD at the moment! The itinerary is flexible, Bee Choo wanted a day sightseeing in Stockholm on the way back. Sorry family (in Norway and Denmark …), we couldn’t fit in a family link, it is enough driving as it is; Bee Choo works full time, we could only be away two weeks. Next time!

Re-cycling my Alaska gear.

My packing list is much like the one I used in the Brooks Range last year. We hope to camp for a few nights in Sonfjallet, weather permitting, but the hiking will be less taxing of course. If you keep walking in one direction you will get out of the park in 1/2 day! This is just a chance for Bee Choo and me to spend some quality time together in Nature!

If my legs perform as I hope they will, I will do a longer hike back in Alaska next year, 2023!?

Wheels arranged!

We have reserved a small family saloon auto for the duration, it should be enough to take us over the Norwegian hills to the Scandinavian west coast and back.

As it turned out, when we got to Arlanda, we didn’t get a Toyota Corolla, but a ‘similar’ model, which turned out to be a Hyundai Hybrid Plug-in of some sort. The car included a bunch of electric cables which I never used; I have no idea how this plug-in nonsense works, and I am not really interested in sucking the Swedish power grid dry. The car performed OK on the trip though, we ended up putting 2,515 km on the clock, and dealing with Budget/Avis was very easy – I love easy!

So that was the plan; below you can see what really happened.

HEY, WE MADE IT!

Sonfjallet, Sweden 17 June 2022, near the summit.

It took a lot of planning, packing and travelling, but we made it: Here we are on Day 10 of our trip. After two days of camping off the trail, we hiked all the way to the peak of Sonfjallet mountain that day and back to rural civilization for a hot shower and a firm bed to sleep on.

AN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF HIGHLIGHTS

Runde island

My main target for the trip was Sonfjallet; but Bee Choo wanted to include a North Atlantic bird cliff island in the itinerary, mainly to see the Atlantic Puffins. Here she is in Runde looking at them. That day, Day 4, 11 June, was one of the best of my life: Seeing her enthusiasm and sheer happiness while watching the puffins and the other sea birds was worth every penny I spent on the trip.

I cannot play guitar, and I cannot sing or write songs like Eric Clapton. But if I could, I would write something like:

And then I tell her
As we head back okay
I say, “My darling you were wonderful today”
“Oh, my darling, you were wonderful today”

The star bird of Runde

And here it is, the bird that has captured so many people’s imagination and heart: The Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica. Photo Ng Bee Choo. When I visited Runde the first time, in June 1971, I was the only one on the cliffs for a week. It turned out, that today a regular eco-tourism industry has sprung up on the island and hundreds of visitors walk up every day, mainly to see the Puffins. In the evening, tens of thousands of Puffins come in from the sea, they swerve around and land on the upper parts of the bird cliffs to roost in their burrows.

Another star: The Northern Gannet

As I will cover in more detail later, most of the sea birds in Runde have crashed since the 1970s, numbers have declined dramatically and some have virtually disappeared. But not the Gannet, they are doing fairly well, thank you. Here is Bee Choo’s photo of the core congregation of Gannets on the cliffs, close-up at nest, a sight worth travelling a few thousand miles to see, right?

And the star mammal: A young Moose

It was only Day 2, 9 June, we had just crossed into Norway, when Bee Choo spotted this animal deep down in one of the river valleys. “I think it was just a Moose”, she said. I said: “Just a Moose?!! Do you know I have lived two years in this country, visited countless other times, and I have never seen a Moose here?”. I slammed the brakes and doubled back, Bee Choo took this photo from the road of a young bull feeding on the wet plants. It was the only Alces alces we saw on the trip! Somewhat confusingly called the Eurasian Elk in Europe, while the Red Deer is called Elk in North America!

Hiking across Sonfjallet

Just like I had expected, Sonfjallet National Park was ideal for beginner-to-medium level hiking. All the trails were well marked, there were clear signage at the major trail junctions, you could never get lost, in any weather, and our weather was good (mainly …). Here Bee Choo is on Day 8, 15 June, coming out of the forested zone; we made it to the barren peak in the background by circling around the mountain, two days later.

A local star: The Reindeer

Day 9, 16 June; just as we were about to set up camp, a small herd of Reindeer, Caribou to the Americans, came out on the mountain hill-side; Bee Choo captured this nice bull (I think … Reindeer is the only deer in the world where both sexes grow antlers!). Brown Bear with cubs had been seen off ‘our’ trail the week before, but we didn’t find that one – not for lack of looking around for it though! Some 20 bears roam the park, and they even come into the buffer zones and the villages around it now and then. But we enjoyed seeing the Reindeer, they came out well again the next day. At Sonfjallet, the Reindeer are not domesticated, they have lived here wild since the Ice Age!

Camping off trail

At Sonfjallet you can camp and build a fire anywhere you like. This is our second campsite near a beautiful small stream with the poorest water you can imagine. It rained heavily that night, but my tent is double-layered and well built. At 2.7 kg it is a bit on the heavy side, but when I hike I value a good, comfortable night’s rest! Bee Choo was good at finding accomodation for us from day to day during the whole trip – she even had a nose for soft, level and picturesque campsites!

At the peak!

Trekking for three days around the mountain, we made it to the top 17 June. I put my camera on a rock to take this obligatory selfie with auto-release, the back-drop is looking east across the forested parts of the reserve. The elevation is 1,250 m.a.s.l.; strictly speaking the peak a km or so to the south is 28 m higher, but the view from here is better, so most people go to this one!

My Stockholm favorite!

From Sonfjallet we made our way south, back into more urban parts of Sweden. Since Bee Choo had accompanied me on what I wanted to do: Backpacking 10-12 km per day in sun and rain and across 1,200+ meter elevation rocky mountains, I accepted her suggestion, and so we added an extra day sightseeing in Stockholm before our flight home. Right, the grand parliament and royal buildings were OK, as were the funny narrow streets of the old part of town. But for me, this Great Crested Grebe, excellently captured with a young on is back by Bee Choo, won the prize as the sighting of the day!

Stockholm Day 14, Tuesday 21 June 2022

This was the longest day of the year in Sweden in 2022. We spent the whole day in endless sunshine sightseeing in the city, and at the end of it I was as exhausted as if I had been backpacking on the trails all day! Another guest kindly took this photo of Bee Choo and me having dinner next to a tidal canal, before heading back to our hotel near the airport north of town.

Border crossing Norway/Sweden

This is what it looks like driving from Sweden into Norway, Day 2, 9 June 2022. Near Eda on E2 toward Kongsvinger. Not much of a check-point; but they do watch it, because just as Bee Choo took this photo with her phone, a border cop pulled up and asked us politely what we were doing there!? We played the naive tourists from Asia and avoided getting arrested!

I have been asked if it is right to visit NATO and EU countries in these times, while they are ganging up to destroy Russia in a senseless and unprovoked assault, using poor Ukraine as a proxy. Right, I can sympathize with that view, but personally I believe we should ALL be friends, even with the Scandinavian failed states!

The final itinerary and expenses

As you can see, if you compare this final version of events with the original plan, we pretty much did what we set out to do. Maybe we didn’t camp as many night as I had expected, but staying in those rural cabins with shower and kitchen was OK as well, for both of us.

As it turned out, we were under budget on most items, partly because of the ridiculously low NOK/SEK exchange rate to our base currency, the Singapore Dollar. Rather than take the near-worthless funny-money back, we spent most of our excess cash as we left each country, therefore the ‘supplies & gifts’ item was a bit more than expected!

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