Hiking In Abisko

Abisko national park is in the mountains of extreme northern Sweden, Sámi country, reindeer country, where half of the year is lit by constant sun and the other half is frigid darkness and aurorae.

Getting there takes 17½ hours by train from Stockholm Central. There's a sleeper train with no changes, so if you only count time when you're conscious, the trip takes 10 hours. You can fly to Arlanda airport and get right onto this train without making the detour into Stockholm. And the trail head is next to the platform when you get off.

Some friends and I went up hiking over the Mid-summer weekend 22–27 June, spending three nights in Abisko and two on the train. There are many huts and hostels in the area, so none of us brought a tent or a sleeping bag. Only Mårten brought a portable stove – to make espresso.

You don't actually even need to bring a water bottle. There's clean water in every stream. We arrived right at the start of the area's hectic summer, with meltwater rivulets everywhere, innumerable flowers and a bewildering variety of bird calls. Very few mosquitoes bothered us. The treeline is near, so the landscape varies dramatically as your path lifts and dips. With a GPS or map and compass, of course, you needn't even follow paths. The King's Trail suffers from erosion, so the less people use it the better.

Check out the Swedish Tourist Association's mountain hiking site.

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I have never been up there, but I know people who have: some of the people who work in my building do field research in the Abisko area during the summer. Their interest is in the effects of climate change on the landscape.

I think one of the students in my group has done a cross country ski excursion up there as well. That was completely on his own (we aren't the group that does field research there). He has a photo from that trip as the background picture on his laptop, and I think it may even be somewhere on the King's Trial (the sign in the photo includes a word that begins with "Kung").

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 08 Jul 2017 #permalink

You have the same photo twice. Or was that a test to see if we are paying attention?

Yeah, erosion of park trails is a big problem. Here, the relevant government department goes in and paves them with concrete, which is really not a good solution.

By John Massey (not verified) on 09 Jul 2017 #permalink

Meh, dark, oppressive-looking terrain only bears can love.
It looks like that all over. I associate the terrain with water-soaked mud on top of permafrost, so you sink down a lot.
Except in winter, when you are caught by a snowstorm and die.
Smart organisms in the area live underground and only come up to feed. I am biased, because the mosquitos and gnats have tried to kill me every time I go there.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 10 Jul 2017 #permalink

dark, oppressive-looking terrain only bears can love

We didn't meet any hirsute, tubby gay fellows, but we did chat with a couple of fit and cheerful German dykes, if I'm not over-interpreting the prominently worn rainbow ribbon.

A Chinese in Massachusetts: Researchers develop tumor-targeting MRI contrast based on human protein https://phys.org/print418650179.html
-- -- --
The mosquitos and gnats must have interpreted the bright rainbow colors as "poison signalling" (like hornets and various snakes), allowing you to walk the path without getting drained of blood.
You would think I would get used to the airborne alpine fauna, but every time I go there I am reminded of why I hate it.
-Also, after Chernobyl, it is a matter of time before the lemmings develop group intelligence and take over Lapland. If the reindeer don't get there first.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 10 Jul 2017 #permalink

@Birger: Perhaps you have heard the jokes about the mosquito being Alaska's state bird.

It is lovely terrain, but quite fragile, so usually it is best to stick to the marked trails. That's the advice they give visitors to alpine tundra in the US. That's the only kind of tundra I have visited--I have been to Fairbanks and some places a bit to the north, but I haven't been north of treeline.

In that climate, paving (even with asphalt, let alone concrete) is out of the question. If you take either of the two roads going north from Fairbanks, you find that the pavement ends after 80 km or so, and it's gravel the rest of the way. The short explanation for that is that because of frost heaves, paved roads don't stay paved. It's much cheaper and easier to throw down some fresh gravel and run the road grader (which doubles as a snowplow in winter) over it.

My town tried an interesting solution to the erosion problem on one trail near me this spring: they laid down a bunch of wood chips. It hasn't worked perfectly--mountain bikes can be quite destructive, which is one reason I don't like them using foot trails--but it has kept the erosion and mudpool development to a minimum.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Jul 2017 #permalink

Wood chips were the standard cover on municipal jogging trails when I was a kid. But they seem to have given up on that.

Birger@7 - Yep, complete replacement means what it sounds like: all of the previous inhabitants were killed or driven off.

When people of the Bell Beaker culture, which we now know originated in Iberia, migrated up the Atlantic coast and into Britain and Ireland, they replaced over 90% of the previous population of Britain and Ireland - that it so high it suggests something even more devastating than total warfare; maybe disease. So British people are not descended from the builders of Stonehenge.

Whereas Bell Beaker culture spread from Iberia into central Europe by cultural diffusion, not invasion and population replacement.

By the way, I understand Pontus Skoglund will soon move from Harvard to the Crick Institute.

Wood chips would not work on park trails here - the rainfall would just wash them all downhill. The rain, and resulting surface run-off are so strong, that they would also quickly erode gravel.

I haven't looked seriously into the problem (because no one has paid me to), but I'm wondering whether some kind of compacted fibre-reinforced soil might be the answer.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Jul 2017 #permalink

Compacted, fibre-reinforced, cement-stabilised soil - should do it, and it would be more 'sympathetic' to the natural surroundings than the visually and physically jarring bare concrete pathways and staircases that we get here, courtesy of the 'nanny state' mentality about making the 'nature trails' 'safe', when the Country Parks can be inherently hazardous places to go wandering around in unprepared (getting lost, heat stroke, thirst, fast moving hill fires, falling over cliffs, etc.).

There's nothing 'safe' about falling down a long, steep flight of rough-cast concrete stairs that are not wide enough to put your feet on, unless you are an ancient Roman.

By John Massey (not verified) on 10 Jul 2017 #permalink

There's DNA evidence to suggest that the Corded Ware people brought bubonic plague from the steppe, and that they were immune.

Martin, yes. And as typically happened with smallpox and other epidemic diseases in the Americas and Australia, the disease might have preceded the main waves of migration, so that in effect the major migrations of Corded Ware people might have been into a landscape that had already been depopulated by high plague mortality.

The 'reservoir animal' for Yersinia pestis is the Marmot, which thrives in the steppe country of Central Asia.

By John Massey (not verified) on 11 Jul 2017 #permalink

My personal theory is that the lemmings have already developed group intelligence, and that they keep hurling themselves off cliffs because they have foreseen the new Dark Age that is rapidly approaching to envelop us all. In the case of America, I assume all of the chipmunks and prairie dogs have already all self-immolated.

By John Massey (not verified) on 11 Jul 2017 #permalink

Beautiful mountain and valley...

Hiking trails, like any other bit of infrastructure, will need periodic maintenance no matter what you do. Hong Kong's combination of steep terrain and regular intense rainfall is close to a worst-case scenario, but even with an arid climate and level terrain, things will have to be done.

In the US, boardwalks are commonly used when the trail crosses frequently muddy or ecologically sensitive terrain. But most installations that I have seen are on level or gently sloping terrain, with an occasional staircase for getting over something like beach dunes. In steep terrain, you would need well-anchored foundations for any and all support poles. And it would only be worth doing on some of the most heavily used trails.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 11 Jul 2017 #permalink

In the Swedish mountains, eroded hiking trails often turn into little stream beds. Narrow wooden footbridges are a common remedy.

John Massey @15: But people think chipmunks are cute! And if they stay they can sneak into the cities and suburbs at night and spread the plague they carry, eliminating the human threat to world domination by rodents. :)

By JustaTech (not verified) on 11 Jul 2017 #permalink

JT@19 - It's interesting to observe which rodents humans think are cute, and which they don't. I mean, rats are definitely not cute, right? I don't know anyone who thinks rats are cute - not black or brown rats, anyway. But squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks and marmots would all qualify for being considered cute.

(I digress, but on one of our projects at work, which involves putting a large sewage treatment works into underground man-made caverns, an excellent idea which the whole community loves, they decided to adopt as the logo for the project a cartoon character which they called 'Mr Marmot', with an appropriately cute drawing of this cartoon marmot wearing a safety helmet - because marmots are burrowing animals, and they're Asian, you see, so... - and I'm in the background whispering urgently "Um, people - they're one of the main carriers of Yersinia pestis!" No one listened - I don't think any of them understood what Y. pestis is, or what it has done to various populations in history.)

Are capybaras cute? Baby ones, maybe. Domestic cats can get, and transmit, Y. pestis, and they definitely qualify as cute for a lot of people - they are the only animal I have read about that is susceptible to infection, despite not being a rodent. There's something about dogs, but it seems indecisive - maybe in the category of 'possible, but no known evidence for'.

And yes, I did watch endless "Pinky and the Brain" cartoons when my daughter was small - "Tomorrow, Pinky, we take over the world!"

By John Massey (not verified) on 12 Jul 2017 #permalink