in the High North Coast (Docksta)
My friend Sarah has a love for all things Swedish, for years she has gone on organised summer and winter hiking trips, most of which I’d never heard of before. Back in November 2022 she put a post on instagram saying she was going on a snowshoeing trip which is four days long. She asked if anyone would like to join, after looking at the link and feeling a bit fed up with the British November weather I booked. I’ll be honest, I didn’t look closely at the details at this point, I just thought it looked cool and it was something slightly different.
What is the trip
The High North Coast is a winter snowshoeing and camping trip right in the north of Sweden about 5 hours away from Stockholm. It’s over 3 days, with two nights of winter camping. It’s based in a UNESCO World heritage site, called The High North Coast, it’s the highest coastline in the world. The trip is organised by Jerry Engström who runs FriluftsByn and the High Coast Winter Hike.
The website does give good information about the trip, once you've found it and translated it (unless you can read Swedish).
Some of the finer details of this trip I wasn’t massively aware of but I managed to get the main details from the website (after some navigating - it could do with an update). Once you’ve booked there’s no email follow up with the information on so be sure to bookmark the website.
There are many options for the three days, options of longer harder days (carrying all your kit) or more scenic and sociable ones with daybags. Two nights of camping in the snow, fires, seven meals are provided (four dehydrated and three cooked for you). You can borrow snowshoes if you need them, you get a screw cap winter gas canister, a free hat (which I love) and lots of smiles and friendly tips. Oh and not forgetting some tips and tricks about winter camping and keeping yourself safe in these freezing environments.
There is the option of paying for accommodation in one of the cabins (which I highly recommend) otherwise you are camping before and after the 3 day expedition too (totally four days winter camping). Some of the information was a surprise, and didn’t know before arriving. I was really thankful Sarah had been before as there were quite a few unknowns for me about how it all worked, but perhaps I didn't look through the information on the website properly (likely). I think if I was heading there by myself I would have emailed ahead to find out what I needed to know.
We had an early start to get down to Manchester airport, as always planning to get to the airport a few hours before so we could enjoy a brew and chill.
It didn't work out like that, everything seemed to be on a go slow but we needed to be on a go quicker. Stuck in traffic, a broken down lorry and then rush hour traffic meant that we got to check our bags just in time and rushed through security to line up and board the plane just on time. We got to the gate as they announced final boarding .
We arrived in Stockholm and got the bus to the city centre, we had to stay overnight in Stockholm as there were no flights to Sweden the following day (which we would have preferred). We got a private room at City Backpackers, which was perfect for what we needed. We had a lovely wander around Stockholm, had some Fika (coffee and cake), a bit of a refresh, then went out for dinner. The next day we headed to the train station to get to one of the suburbs where we met Sarah's friend who kindly gave us a lift all the way up to The High North Coast, a mere five hours away. The journey was filled with picturesque scenes of snow, frozen sea and a lot of trees. As well as being surrounded by our luggage, it was a bit of a hilarious squeeze. Once we arrived it really felt like proper winter, white sparkling snow, candles subtly lighting up the buildings and walkways. We were warmly welcomed, got settled in our cabin and made our way back to the bar to find out some information about the next few days. At 7pm we were welcomed by our host and organiser Jerry who told us some details of what to expect but the night was mainly socialising and chilling.
FriluftsByn (Docksta) to Tärnättavttnen
The morning kicked off at 9am with a great introduction to the next three days. Jerry who runs FriluftsByn is energetic and charismatic and it's very easy for that enthusiasm to be rubbed off on you. There were people from all over Europe and further afield that came for this weekend.
Jerry gave us loads of information about the 3 days we learnt that there are 3 levels of difficulty.
‘Explorers’ where you can get dropped off with your kit, set up camp (same location for two nights) and then go for a short day hike before coming back to camp (where everyone else would camp on night two). ‘Expedition’ group requires you to carry all your camping stuff with you, and there were two options of route length, short and long. As well as this, there are lots of folks on the trails and volunteers to help you out with decisions and directions.
We also learnt loads of tips and tricks about managing yourself in these cold conditions, great advice for people who are new to cold climates and great reminders for people that are used to it. There was also a sign up for the infamous ‘Woolpower dip’ a dip into the icy cold water in return for some free Woolpower items (thermal top bottom and socks). Well worth the few seconds of being cold as apparently they're aaaaa-mazing, super warm and worth a sweet fortune.
At 10: 30 the explorers group got the bus out to their camp, set up their tents and got some help from the volunteers - if they needed it. Camping in deep snow is different to summer camping in many ways.
You need different pegs, snow pegs and have to stamp down the snow in order to put your tent down. You also spend a lot of time melting snow for water.
The rest of us (expedition group) got the rest of the kit that's provided (snowshoes and gas) and made some last minute packing and bag adjustments. We had a gorgeous lunch (potato and sausage - veggie option available) and made sure our bellies were full before heading off. At noon we piled on to two coaches and headed 30 minutes away to the start of our expedition.
Everyone was very excited when we arrived at the North entrance to the Skuleskogen National Park. Everyone spent some time sorting out snowshoes, layers and cameras. As we started walking we were all quite close together until quite shortly afterwards we got to the first of many, incredible viewpoints looking out at the frozen sea and islands.
After the obligatory photo stop we carried on, and people on the trail started to disperse a bit. We quickly got to the junction that decides whether you go the longer or shorter route, as it was only half one we decided to do the longer route. We hiked to an island along the way and had another photo stop (with tea) and then started heading gently uphill towards our first camp. This took a little over 1.5 hours and provided all the views and ticked all the boxes. We got into camp just after 4 as the sun was setting.
We picked a spot from our tent that provided us with some solitude and quickly set about stamping the snow down as much as possible. After the tent was up we got in it to try and keep as warm as possible before settling on the task of melting snow for water. This takes longer than you think, and in winter you need more water than you think as you lose a lot just from breathing alone.
An hour later, I managed to boil 3 litres of water and make my dehydrated meal magically rehydrate. To make it a little healthier I'd carried some kale with me that I ripped up and mixed in with some fresh garlic. The next task was rehydration, decaf tea with powdered coconut milk (way more delicious than expecting) and lots of warm water. By this point nearly 3 hours had passed and the temperature had really dropped and the wind had picked up. I decided to get my layers on and get in my sleeping bag, Sarah decided to go and warm up by the fire. An hour later more snow melting was required to make the morning easier (melting snow and storing it in my flask) and then the bathroom and change of clothes. I put boiling water in my nalgene bottle and used that as a hot water bottle and then changed my clothes and socks then got ready to settle into a long night in the tent. it was predicted to be minus one but the clear skies and a small amount of altitude meant that I was definitely colder than that.
Tärnättavttnen to Kälsviken
I woke suddenly in the night as I was too hot, after delayering I quickly fell back to sleep until the weather changed to be very windy, so I found myself awake from 0500 to 0630, somehow I managed to fall back to sleep. It’s pretty normal to be resting in your tent for a long time when camping and I always try to rest as much as possible as often sleep can be interrupted. We woke up a little later than we intended so we had a bit of a casual start but it was so stunning we wanted to enjoy all the views and brews.
We ended up at the top of this hill\mountain, there were a few steep sections but on the whole it was not that steep and totally achievable. The first really cool section was to go through this cliff.
It was worth the climb, as the views really did deliver. It was quite windy and cold so we wrapped up and walked down the ridge taking in the incredible views as we went. We re-entered the woods and came across half frozen waterfalls, tall trees, sparkling snow and sunlight peeking through the forest. As we approached our campsite we saw sea water glistening and this incredible bay opened up in front of us. Once we checked in we ate our lunch (rehydrated goulash) and I made a concerted effort to drink at least 1 litre of water on the beach. We sorted out our tent and went to defrost by the fire.
Dinner was provided for us so at 5pm we lined up to get a wrap with stir fry chicken or veggie options. I loved that you could go up and have seconds and thirds, plus all the wooden plates were put on the fire after to reduce litter.
At 6pm our nighttime entertainment came. Names were selected from the list of who was going to do the ice dip in the sea. In return for this each person received not only a big applause but their Woolpower thermals. By this point I was too cold and my sleeping bag was calling me, plus I needed to melt more snow for water which can take an age so I set about doing that. Three litres of water later and an hour of my time I was snuggled in my sleeping bag, ready to rest and recover for the last day of walking back to our cosy cabin and shower at FriluftsByxor. It's a bit of a longer walk on the third day plus a mountain to climb so keep to start earlier for the final day.
Kälsviken to Skuleberget then back down to FriluftsByn in Docksta
Everyone camped in the same area so the morning's wake up call was people getting up and then as soon as we opened the tent we got this amazing view. We all enjoyed the sunrise, which is the most beautiful one I've seen to date, rising up over the sea. It wasn't the warmest night, I suspect lower than -10, so getting up felt like a bit of a chore. I set about melting and boiling snow (I already had one litre boiled and stored in my thermos from the night before).
It took us about an hour to pack up, and then we were all walking back to FriluftsByxor where it all began. This was to be our longest day yet, I think just over 13km. I was pretty cold so headed off a little before Sarah, sometimes we walked together and sometimes by ourselves. We both knew we wanted some time to experience this wonderland in our own way.
I started walking up the track to hit a road, we had the surprise option of dropping our bag or some of the weight to walk the rest of the way. I was already all packed up and fancied the workout so carried my full rucksack for the rest of the walk. The first section was on the road, for about 3 km which was stunning as all the surroundings were covered in glistening snow with the sun making it twinkle. We then re-entered the undulating forest and meandered through for many kilometres. I had a few mishaps along the way, twice my snow shoe fell off somehow, I also managed to stack it into the snow, twice. Quite pleased no one was around to see me fall over nothing. We arrived at our first stop just before crossing the main road. A cheeky snack stop we were provided with blueberry soup (yep, and it was delicious), some sweets and chocolate treats.
After crossing the road I again fell in knee deep snow and struggled to get out of it especially with my heavy bag on. After a battle, I got my snowshoes back on and started walking again. After about a kilometre I decided I was dehydrated, so ate and drank and de-layered before the last uphill. Uphill it was, I regretted carrying my bag at some points . The steep climb lasted a kilometre and I couldn’t tell you how long it took, I had many stops and a few swear words. After that, the steepness eased off but was still uphill, but at least the views kept coming. I finally got to the top (slightly the wrong way) to the sound of cowbells cheers and lots of people hanging out at a ski bar with hot food and beer. I was immediately hungry and relieved, so I had some goulash and a rest. Everyone was really happy, welcoming and spent some time relaxing and looking at the views. I started to get cold feet so headed down the piste (not open!) towards the cabin and start point. I was also desperate for a shower and a hot cup of tea that wouldn't cool down in less than 4 minutes.
After what felt like a very long walk down the piste, I arrived back at about 3pm. I had some porridge with protein powder and nut butter with a load of honey and cinnamon and my dreamy tea. I showered and set about sorting out all my kit. I’m quite disciplined about sorting out my kit, after years of expeditions, camping and travelling I'd rather deal with the grim smelling clothes, rubbish and get everything organised. I like to get my dirty clothes bag organised, and make sure my kit gets dried out so it doesn’t sit in my bag for 3 days festering. We were also going to have to leave pretty early the next day to catch our plane. After this I chilled and Sarah went to the bar, I joined her later on to observe the celebrations, dancing and laughter. I was totally shattered so I headed to my bed at 9, which felt late considering the past two nights I had been in my bed from about 6pm.
Sarah organised our lift back to Stockholm airport with the most lovely gentleman, it was his first time at the Winter Hike. We left pretty early to get our afternoon flight, the roads in Sweden quite literally put the UK to shame. Gritted, clear, even (not a pothole in sight) and minimal traffic, none of this leaving an extra 2 hours just incase of traffic. We get into Stockholm airport and it’s again what an airport should be - free refillable water station, places to work from with charging points, lots of them, plus the standard scandi soft, gentle lighting with clean lines everywhere.
The vibe of The Winter Hike is so friendly and welcoming, I'd be happy to head to this alone for sure. There did seem to also be a few groups of friends and couples that headed there on an adventure together. There was an even mix of genders, mix of ages, nationalities. Probably about 50% Swedish and lots of folks winter camping for the first time. Equally plenty of folks that have been two, three, four, five times. As well as this there was this attitude of being a helpful ‘neighbour’ for always offering help before someone needed to ask for it, and not being afraid to ask for help or advice along the way.
This wasn’t in a patronising way, but in a team player way. This was with everyone on the trip but also with the staff who were working and used to these cold conditions and did such a great job of looking after us all.
Would I do it again?
Yes absolutely, I think it’s such a stunning experience and perfect for anyone wanting to experience something like with the support of a great team. There's a bit more freedom to do some walking alone (if that’s your thing) and it's nice to all be camping in one spot.
I think we were exceptionally lucky with the weather, I know that some years there's much less snow and sun and we managed to get both.
I know they also do a summer hike if the cold and winter isn’t your thing.
Costs in detail
I think this is really helpful in knowing how much things cost and what to expect if you were to book on to this trip. These are the costs in detail, but a snapshot of costs can be found below.
The trip itself €250 euro (this is an early bird price) = £221.99 (Feb 2023 exchange rate)
Airport car parking £81.99 (£41 each)
Fuel to and from the airport £30 (£15 each)
Flights with SAS £181 (includes 23kg bag in hold and free tea/coffee on the plane)
Stockholm hostel £48.50 (£24.25 each)
Bus from airport to Stockholm £16.50 each (we accidentally bought returns so should have been half of this!
Food and snacks from supermarket £20.92
Dinner in Stockholm £18.65
Tea in Stockholm £2
Train to suburb £3.07
Tea at service station £2
Cabin £157.95 (slept two people and we had it for four nights) (£78.96 each)
Transport to the High North Coast (there's so many people going and a big facebook group we managed to share a lift - we very kindly weren’t asked to contribute, however fuel prices are about the same as the UK)
Lunch at service station £11
Doggo care £120
Drinks and food at FriluftsByn £42.60
Airport snacks and drinks £13.09
Lastly (and most importantly) food and kit! The food needs its own whole blog so
Kit list - what I took with me (some are not exactly the same as a lot of my kit i’ve had for years):
2 sleeping mats:
First aid kit (small)
Clothes in detail (on the expedition) :
Rab power stretch pro trousers (swear by them)
Belay jacket (super big insulated jacket)
2 x pants
1 set (top and bottom) of Sprayway thermals for sleeping in and as my set of dry clothes (if something went wrong)
1 thick pair of sleeping socks - I have a designated pair for keeping my tootsies warm
A warm hat (we got given a free one at the start which I love)