My Hike Through The Frozen Woods
A sleeping forest waiting for spring
Have you ever taken a hike through a forest during winter? Winter can be one of the best times to venture into the woods. It is a very different experience from a summer walk. One of the first things you notice is the lack of color. Everything is white or grey. The other thing obviously is cold, so you need to wear warm and bulky clothes. The cold and clothes may be a discomfort but it also makes you aware of how vulnerable you are - something that raises your level of attention.
If there is a lot of snow you need to watch your pace because sinking through all the time means you loose momentum, which means you tire easily. If you are far from your car or shelter, growing tired in the cold is not a good idea.
The forest is dead silent during winter with not a single animal sound. But there is magic in the white woodland, if you stop and listen. Wind, ice and the trees themselves make subtle sounds. On rare occasions when it has snowed a lot, a sharp gunshot echoes through the woods; the sound of a stiff branch breaking from the weight of new snow.
Most of the time it is quiet though, with trees and animals dozing in the cold as they wait for spring.
Images by me
The Southern Entrance to Tyresta Forest Park
I live just a bit south-west of Stockholm, Sweden. This is also where you will find Tyresta, which is a National Park and reserve of 47 square kilometers, or 18 sq miles. It isn't big but since no main roads cross Tyresta, it is very easy to become submerged into untouched woods and peaceful surroundings.
The other day I took a short hike up to a lake, entering from the south. The park is well-organized and the first thing you see is a bunch of direction markers indicating the distance to some common destinations.
Rustic But Functional Amenities
In line with the philosophy of minimum impact management, the park has a few semi-kept trails and even fewer buildings or amenities. Those that exist though are in good shape and offer conveniences that are usable also for elders and lightly disabled.
There is only one location in the park where you can have a meal and that is in Tyresta By which also has the information center. That is on the Northern side though. This convenience is on the southern trail where we are now.
A Whole Park for Myself
Even though this is a main entrance point, it is easy to see that not many people come here during winter. The snow on the main trail is flattened by foot marks but many of those are made by regulars like myself.
Not many of us venture too far outside these trails when there is a lot of snow because 1: it is hard going and 2: it is extremely easy to loose your bearings.
The sun is often clouded during winter and most landmarks are simply white, or grey, or whitish/grey. Without nearby roads, there is also no sound to guide you and neither is there any cell reception here so your Google maps do no good.
Personally, I do prefer to get off the main trails though - I like to explore by myself. If I decide to do that in winter conditions I bring a gps tracker which will point me back to base if i make a fool of myself :)
The gps tracker I use
Whenever I decide to go off-trail I bring along my Bushnell Backtracker.
This is a very cheap and simple tool which can only do a couple of things - mainly register the location of your starting point, and indicate how far you have gone and the direction to that start point. It will not record your trail or show any maps.
So why not bring a true gps mapper? Because in the cold, the Backtracker has extremely good battery life compared to a power hungry GPS mapper. It is also very lightweight, and who needs more than just a indicator... your car is 5 miles that way.
Winter Dilemma: The Fast Way or The Safe Way?
The main trail has a couple of boarded walkways and a stair or two leading up to higher points. Breaking a leg on a icy stair is easy though so my suggestion in these situations is to go the safe but slow way by simply climbing the hill.
Even though you will be heading up steep banks, your feet will have better traction since you sink into the snow - rather than balance on top of the icy ridges of the stair steps.
Open Air Shelters
There are a couple of shelters here and there in Tyresta. These are open to one side and intended either as a temporary rest point or as a picnic destination, but not as a camping site. You could of course roll out your sleeping bag and pass the night inside but these sites are not intended for longer stays.
At these sites you will also find lidded boxes with nice dry firewood. Go ahead and make a fire anytime during winter and spring, but be attentive to restrictions during summer and fall when there is a risk of forest fires.
Also, be aware that you may not make a fire directly on rock anywhere in Sweden. Use existing fireplaces, or make your own in the bush on a sandy bank or similar. Never on the glacial rock which may leave irreparable scars
About 10% of the whole park area burned down in 1995. It took firefighters about 2 weeks to get the situation under control. The forest has still not grown back there. The burned area is close to where I took this stroll and if you pass through it during a overcast day, the burned tree stumps and scarred landscape looks just like I always imagined Mordor would look like.
I really like my new boots. The ones I had before these lasted 4 years of almost everyday use. This pair is still being broken in and I expect them to keep my feet in comfort for many years.
Many like full Goretex boots but I prefer leather with a Goretex lining. This type of a boot is built for terrain use and if you know you will mainly be treading on flat ground like gravel roads and paths, you might find them a bit clumsy.
When you walk, run or hike.. you rely on your feet. Poor footwear will lessen your experience and either make you sore, grow tired too soon or make your feet wet and cold.
Cold feet in winter landscapes will put an immediate end to the fun and can lead to health hazards. My advice: wear whatever clothes you like in layers, but don't be cheap about your boots.
This is a superb heavy duty hiking boot with excellent reviews. Genuine leather with Gore-tex lining - just the way I like it.
These types of boots are great for off-trail hiking but not as comfortable for long walks on roads.
Winters in Nordic regions means very short days, contiguous gloom and cold. Even though the forest is still utterly silent, there are small signs that things are turning for the better though.
One such sign is how even a simple cone can reflect and hoard enough heat from the scant sun rays to melt the snow around it. When you start seeing these depression created around all surface objects you know things are turning the right way.
Another sign is when you run across small open patches of running water. This is either melt water that runs under the snow and ice from exposed rock surfaces, or it is a warm spring. When the temp is too cold, even these freeze over so finding one in the open is a good sign ;)
These patches of running water are my favorite spot to take a break on since the water trickle makes small sounds in infinite loops in a otherwise silent environment.
Nature's Art is Free - Look, Touch, Listen
Many people I meet while on my hikes - summer and winter - seem to be outdoors on a schedule and with some important purpose and goal. Some hurry back and forth, shuttling the kids, being pulled along by the dog, texting and arguing with the partner, and in general being loud and stressed
If this is you, if you recognize being uptight and almost not being able to breathe even though you are in the middle of nature... rethink the way you approach the outdoors. Try to stop doing what you always do and cut off distractions, even for a little while (leaving your phone in the car helps). Make a pact to not talk too much and leave your arguments at home.
Stop now and then and simply listen and watch. If you are lucky, you may have landed on a good spot which offers a taste of nature's sounds and patterns for you to experience. If not, trek on to the next point, stop and observe. Rinse and repeat until you can breathe easy again.
On my way back down though, the clouds moved away and the sun popped out. Blue sky, sparkling snow - what a difference!
Even a bird or two made some tentative sounds and all of a sudden, spring was in the air!
Spring is uncommonly late this year but finally, yesterday saw some serious melt and on my walk today you could even find open ground. Since it starts so late, spring will be short this year. It will almost be like going from winter to summer in a couple of weeks.
Where is the Tyresta Park in Sweden?
The Tyresta National Park is located about a 20 minute drive south-west of Stockholm. The marker is placed in the southern area of the park which is close to my home and where I frequently take hikes. All images on this lens are from this region.
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