I got home from my last backpacking trip less than 15 minutes ago. I sit here, dirty, sunburnt and nursing a blister on my foot, but smiling ear to ear. As worn out as I am, I would pack up and head back out without a second thought if that was an option. The First Annual North American FjällClassic brought nearly 200 people together for a 20+ mile backpacking trip through one of the most remote sections of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. An American interpretation of one of the most extraordinary outdoor events on the planet, it walked a delicate balance between gritty backcountry camping and plush corporate partying in a way that immediately cemented it into my calendar for next year.
The original Fjällräven Classic is held in Sweden, and features over 2,000 people from 30 countries on a 100km trek through the Scandinavian wilderness. It’s a celebration of life outside, and the joy that comes with it. Day after day of grueling hikes are celebrated with a warm meal and drinks around the fire, and lasting friendships are inevitably forged. Over the last decade the Swedish event has become such a massive hit that Fjällräven decided to host a trek in North America; and I was lucky enough to be invited as a local photographer. After 3 days of Swedish Fish and Lingonberry Juice (I’m completely serious) I figured I should write up a trip report.
"I got home from my last backpacking trip less than 15 minutes ago. I sit here, dirty, sunburnt and nursing a blister on my foot, but smiling ear to ear. As worn out as I am, I would pack up and head back out without a second thought if that was an option."
Pickup on Friday was set for 6 a.m. at the Fjällräven retail outlet in Boulder, Colorado. After some free coffee and light snacks around 75 of us loaded onto an enormous bus and headed out to our undisclosed launch point. The drive was considerably longer than expected, but after about 4 hours we arrived at State Forest State Park. The arrival scene was unreal; an enormous tent setup housed tons of free goodies for all of the nearly 200 participants, and a local celebrity chef was preparing fresh, hot breakfast to help us start the hike off well nourished. We all stuffed our faces and our bags, and then proceeded to the start line.
The most decisive difference between the Fjällclassic and a standard hike is the amount of assistance and refreshment on trail. Every 4-5 miles was a “checkpoint” featuring trail mix, Swedish fish, and various other treats ranging from hot soup to shots of whiskey. The first day was very much alpine autumn, so after 4 miles of hiking in rain, hail and temps in the 40’s taking a quick break for a crockpot of soup felt like a miracle.
The hike was long and damp. Eight miles of straight uphill towards our first night’s camp on the banks of a timberline lake known as Ruby Jewel. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many tents pitched in an alpine meadow, but after such an exhausting day the atmosphere was a little less “party” and a little more “survival.” We all boiled some water, ate a nice hot meal and watched as the clouds floating down valley faded from brilliant golds into deep velvety purples. We were treated to a spectacular sunset, and everyone passed out shortly thereafter.