The Fjallraven Classic
A European Tradition Goes West
For years European trekkers have looked forward to the annual Fjallraven Classic, a three-day, fully outfitted backpacking experience that brings together friends, food, incredible views, and awesome gear. This year Fjallraven brought the event to Colorado and invited several Backcountry Gearheads along, including Gearhead Koly Swistak:
The Fjallraven Classic was invented by Fjallraven founder Ake Nordin in 2005 and hosted in the Swedish mountainside. He wanted to share his experiences across these cherished landscapes and the feeling of freedom that came with them. The trek has since expanded to Denmark and Hong Kong, and, starting last year, the US. The Swedish event had 2055 trekkers in 2016! Even though the event is huge, the organizers make sure to preserve the feeling of remoteness by staggering the trekkers’ start times.
The folks at Fjallraven present the event as such: “You carry all your gear—tent, sleeping bag, clothes and snacks—and we deal with the rest. So we arrange transport to and from the start and finish; we provide food for the journey; we offer first-aid support; we mark the route and designate camping areas.”
The Fjallraven Classic USA, in its second year this summer, drew around 250 trekkers from all over the world. The goal of the trek isn’t to break a land speed record or get to each checkpoint first, it’s to connect with other hikers and the wilderness that surrounds you. I was lucky enough to get an invite from Fjallraven to participate in this year’s trek. Spanning 42 miles over 3 days with 8,000 feet of elevation gain, it was definitely one of the tougher backpacking trips I’ve been on. Our highest point was 12,500 feet.
The night before the trip began, we all gathered at Trekkers Inn, situated at the base of Copper Mountain, to pick up supplies and learn about our route and the adventure ahead. There were lectures from Summit County Search and Rescue and Swedish mountain guide Magnus Lindor Strand, among others. They covered various topics, including how to organize your pack, what to do when faced with a trail emergency, and hiking and camping in accordance with Leave No Trace standards. We picked up our Mountain House meals for day one on the trail, drank a few too many beers, and went to bed.
Bright and early the next day, we made our way to the bus that would drop us off in Montezuma, CO, the starting point of our trek. The day’s route took us 14 miles into the Colorado backcountry, ending at the Swan River campground. The trail never felt crowded due to a staggered start and the varying pace of other trekkers. The highest point brought our group to Wise Mountain, where we could see the pass we would be crossing on our third day. At the first checkpoint, we were greeted with warm soup and water refills, and we all sat around to rest and marvel at the wilderness surrounding us on all sides.
We made loads of friends relaxing around camp the first night. About half our team had brought along Helinox chairs, and now their camp chair is at the top of my wishlist. Why sit on rocks when you can add 16 ounces of luxury to your setup?
Day two took us all the way past Breckenridge to a high alpine camp with a gradual, meandering pitch over 16 miles. This was our first day on the Colorado Trail. This section also happened to be part of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Over the miles we met hikers doing the CDT and CT, some trekkers who traveled all the way from Sweden to take part in the Classic, and I got to know some of my coworkers a bit better. I decided to take this day in my Chacos because, yet again, I had waited to break my shoes in on a big trip. If you’re thinking about getting a new pair of hiking or water shoes, I highly recommend Chacos, particularly those with the cloud footbed. They are SO comfortable, even over miles of up-and-down hiking.
A bit about the history of the trails we traveled on: The Colorado Trail was conceived in 1973 by Bill Lucas, a local forest ranger, and was officially developed in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. It spans 486 miles of trail between Denver and Durango. The Continental Divide trail wasn’t officially designated until 1995 but the idea come about after the National Trail Systems Act was passed in 1968, the same act that officially designated the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. Nowadays around 150 people a year complete Colorado Trail and another 150 or so complete the CDT.
Day three was by far our hardest day on the trail. I shared some Swedish Fish along the way with a Colorado Trail hiker. When I told him we were on day three, he said it’s always the hardest day because your body hasn’t had time to start recovering yet. Awesome. The first three miles were mellow enough, but then we started to rise out of the forest and into the high mountains. Snow still covered many parts of the trail and I was grateful to have my trekking poles to keep myself upright.
The night before, we’d gotten a safety briefing from the medical team and they said something I will not forget: “The best decision a hiker or climber can make is the one to turn around and come home safe.” I made some friends who had to call it quits because their dog wasn’t quite fit enough to make it another 15 miles. They were able to hop on the shuttle provided by the organizers just a few miles from the day 2 camp.
Our group decided we were all in as long as we were in together. I’m so proud to work with so many strong and incredible folks! As Trevor Gilham, Fjallraven’s Field Marketing Manager, puts it, “There was so much camaraderie on the trail it was hard to get discouraged by its length or difficulty.”
After a quick celebration at the peak, we hustled downhill to Copper Mountain where dinner, beer, and the rest of our friends were waiting for us. Next year’s Classic is already on my to-do list. The dates and location haven’t been listed yet—they’ll be changing it every year here in the US to make every trek something new for returning folks. There will only be 250 spots available, so if you’re interested, keep an eye on the Classic’s site and sign up quickly!
Wondering what to bring on a trek like this? Check out the official packing list.