Backpacking the Fjallraven Classic USA

For me, backpacking has always been about two things: solitude and the ability to see off-the-beaten path beauty that may be hard to reach otherwise. So when Will and I were originally planning a weekend of backpacking in August, the Fjallraven Classic USA was not on the short list. In fact, I didn’t even know it existed.

The original Fjallraven Classic takes places every year in Sweden. In a nutshell, it’s a massive week-long celebration of backpacking. Participants tackle the 110 kilometer trek through Swedish Lapland and everyone enjoys themselves: adults, kids, and dogs alike! I heard from a friend that Classic participants begin the trek in waves in order to accommodate the huge amount of people that travel to this backpacking event. That in itself is flabbergasting to me: starting a backpacking trek in waves?! I barely can get 10 friends together at one time who want to join me on the trail!

Fajllraven Classic USA

PC: Will Rochfort

But the Classic *is* a big deal. Backpacking itself is a huge deal in Europe so I guess it should come as no surprise to me that swarms of people head to the north to backpack together. Because of its success in Europe, Fjallraven came up with a new idea for 2016: an American event. And so it was done: August, 2016 became the time for the Fjallraven Classic USA, and the location was Colorado.

How convenient, right? When you have such a monumental event taking place in your home state, how can you NOT check it out?! Will and I scrapped our other backpacking plans and opted in for the inaugural Fjallraven Classic USA. The event was a two-night, three-day tour that wound through 20 miles of Northern Colorado. In fact, the trails circumnavigated their way through the Never Summer Wilderness, an area we frequent regularly every winter for backcountry skiing. I was eager to see it filled with wildflowers and flowing streams rather than snowdrifts and icicles!

Fajllraven Classic USA

Hiking up one of the climbs with Kim, the Fjallraven rep

Turns out, our familiarity with the area was also our downfall. In fact, we could aptly title this post “That Time a Search Party Was Sent For Us” and I wouldn’t be lying. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

As a brand, Fjallraven is dedicated to conservation and reducing their impact as much as possible {They have a new line of tents that completely did away with the caustic chemicals used in waterproofing and fireproofing. While it means they cannot sell the tents in multiple states due to regulation laws, they accepted that in lieu of using potentially-harmful chemicals. I featured one of these tents in last year’s Gear Guide for Backpacker. Additionally, they are one of the first brands to acknowledge the important issue of ethical down.} As a result, it was no surprise that the Classic USA set up an elaborate carpool system. Multiple buses scooped registrants up from set pickup points scattered throughout Boulder and Denver. Not only did this mean fewer cars driving up to the trailhead, but less of a crowd in the parking lot, too.

Fajllraven Classic USA

Huge thanks to Toyota for the loaner Rav4! So shiny. So new. So promptly covered in mud.

Unfortunately, Will and I couldn’t tag along in the carpool situation since I needed to be at work Friday morning. I spoke with the rep and told her we could find our way up on our own Friday evening after we got out of work. “We spend a lot of time in that area,” I promised. “We will be able to find you guys at Camp #1 without any problems.”

Famous last words.

Of course, work was crazy that day and we ended up leaving Denver around dinnertime. Will and I accepted that we would likely be hiking in the dark, but that was okay. We had headlamps! We analyzed the map, excited when we found the location for Camp #1: we knew of another parking area that we could use, dropping us three miles closer the the first night’s camp. We would still have a couple miles to trek in the dark, but that wasn’t terrible.

Fajllraven Classic USA

It truly was a beautiful sunset as we began hiking.

We reached the trailhead just as the sun was setting, and began our hike up the trail. We were deep in amicable conversation, admiring the ridiculous sunset behind a massive bull moose {seriously!}, when we saw a dirt bike zipping down the road towards us. We had yet to turn on our headlamps since we were enjoying the moonlight, so we stepped to the side to make sure we were out of his way. Fortunately, the biker slowed as he made out our silhouettes. Then we heard his voice float through the air:

“Are you guys #101 and #109?”

Will and I looked at each other, unsure how to respond. What was this guy talking about? Our awkward confusion gave the biker a few seconds to ponder the situation before asking again:

“Are you guys #101 and #109? Are you with Fjallraven?”

Fajllraven Classic USA

One of the many check points.

Hey! That was a term we understood! We clarified that yes, we were hiking the Fjallraven Classic USA and we had just begun about 15 minutes ago. From there, it was like a curtain had been lifted and the whole story came spilling out of this nice man’s mouth. Turns out, Jeff was one of the main guys behind the event production company that was hosting the Classic USA. And, it turns out, someone had accidentally checked us in at the mid-morning aide station. When we *didn’t* show up at the mid-afternoon aide station, everyone went into panic mode….and launched a full-scale search-and-rescue operation to find us.

Oy.

You see, there were well over 100 participants at this inaugural event. In an effort to keep things organized, the event had multiple check points along the trail every day. You arrived at the check point on your own schedule, signed in so they knew where you were, ate some snacks, and carried on to the next check point. Unfortunately, our names had inadvertently been marked as “present” in the morning which led to chaos when we weren’t accounted for in the afternoon. The few people who knew our intended schedule weren’t in the area at the time, so there was no one to tell everybody that we were intentionally not present. As a result, staff scattered to the winds searching for us. Jeff even ran 16 miles roundtrip in his hiking boots up to the top of Saturday’s hike, in case we had continued on without everyone. Of course, we weren’t there: we were still at work in the city, blissfully unaware.

Fajllraven Classic USA

Some of the swag that comes with your registration: homemade trail snacks and liquor.

Eventually, Jeff realized that Will and I had the same last name and assumed we “were off in the woods doing married people stuff” and quit searching for us. So imagine his surprise when he stumbled upon us hiking up the road, chit chatting about sunrise and Panera sugar cookies!

Eventually, it was all sorted and he radioed to Camp #1 that he had found the missing #101 and #109 {which continued to be our names for the rest of the weekend!} He told us where the first camp was before heading back out for his work. Embarrassed but happy knowing that we had righted the situation, Will and I continued hiking….

….for what seemed like a really, really long time. Shouldn’t we have found Camp #1 by now? Please, PLEASE let’s not be the couple that causes another scene!

Fajllraven Classic USA

By now, it was completely dark outside and route finding was getting trickier. Jeff had mentioned that Camp #1 was off the main trail and we had to keep our eyes peeled for yellow flags marking the trail. Unfortunately, in that light, nothing and everything looked yellow so Will and I spent a lot of time wandering down random game trails, guessing that we had finally found the *right* path. We knew camp was around mile 5, but according to my GPS, we were looking at 6.5 miles. Then, just when we started to question it, we passed another mile marker on the trail: Mile 8. What in the world?!

At that point, Will and I made a decision and pulled a bookmark from Backcountry Survival 101. Rather than continuing to walk in a circle trying to find the group camp, we opted to stop moving and set up our own personal camp for the evening. We had everything we needed in regards to gear– tents, sleeping bags, and pad– so we were plenty warm. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our meals since a kind LNT volunteer had packed our food up to Camp #1 so that it would be waiting for us. But, we knew were on the correct trail thanks to the recently-discovered trail marker, so waiting till morning was definitely the best option…even if our stomachs growled just a bit!

Fajllraven Classic USA Fajllraven Classic USA

The after-party was crazy! Local chefs were cooking huge slabs of meat with beer and wine galore!

Sure enough, the world made sense at sunrise on Saturday morning! We awoke to pleasant conversation as groups of two and three hiked by our tent. We crawled out of our impromptu campsite and quickly learned that we had missed the turn to camp, knocking off an addition 1-2 miles of the overall trek {which also explained why the mileage had so dramatically jumped.} We waited there long enough to once again find Jeff, ensuring him we were fine. We also tracked down our PR friend who was carrying our food, along with the other Backpacker editor who was on the trip. Everyone had wondered where we were the night before, but the dominating belief was that we “were off in the woods doing married people stuff.” Sheesh.

Fajllraven Classic USA

Fajllraven Classic USA

Backpacker’s Senior Editor, Casey Lyons, double fisting beers from the last aide station. Well done, sir.

Fajllraven Classic USA

A volunteer serving pancakes at a check point.

The rest of the Classic USA passed uneventfully. We checked in at the various check points on Saturday before enjoying a group campsite on Saturday evening. In honor of the last night of the Classic, a few Fjallraven employees schlepped up their instruments and regaled us to guitar music under a starry sky. It was an interesting experience, really. Would I always want to trade in solitary camping for the festive atmosphere and group campsites? Absolutely not. But it was a nice change of pace. I’d totally do it again.

Fajllraven Classic USA

********************

 

12 Comments

  • Reply WinterWomen October 24, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    What an adventure! Glad it all turned out ok. Any word on if it will continue again in The U.S. next year and where?

    • Reply Heather October 24, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      You know, I haven’t heard! I would guess so since it seemed popular the first time around. If I hear, I’ll be sure to post!

  • Reply SamanthaIrene October 24, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    This sounds awesome! Heading out with a group sounds like a blast and a good way to get more comfortable, especially for a novice like me.

    • Reply Heather October 24, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      You know, that’s exactly what I thought while hiking. It would be such a good one for someone just learning to gradually ease into the sport!

  • Reply Whitney Vestal October 24, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    This sounds like a blast! I’ll definitely have to check that our with my boyfriend for the next one!

  • Reply Art October 25, 2016 at 6:21 am

    It seems like a nice way to meet people who have similar interests with you. “Oh, you like backpacking too? Go figure!” I, like you, sometimes find it hard to find people to do fun stuff with me. I’d probably hope to find a few new adventure buddies if I went! (And, if it happens again next year, perhaps an excuse to go to Colorado? Does one need an excuse?)

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog October 25, 2016 at 6:40 am

    This made me laugh so hard! I hope they do this again next year, because I definitely want to go.

  • Reply Sandra Laflamme October 25, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Wow! what a neat event and what adventures you all had right from the beginning! This trek must have been simply gorgeous!

  • Reply Anne October 27, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    Ha this is a great story! Alternate title, “That Time We Were Not Doing Married People Things In the Woods”

    • Reply Heather October 30, 2016 at 5:27 pm

      Hahahaha YES.

  • Reply Efo October 28, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    This is freaking awesome. Well, minus the getting lost part and potential stress but the trek and folks sounded like a blast. Great photos too of course 🙂 You know I love your outdoorsy photos!

  • Reply Patrice October 29, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Pretty neat that the event crossed international borders and ended up in beautiful Colorado! I hope they continue that, because it seems like a great opportunity for like-minded people to meet up. Thanks for sharing the experience and pictures!!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.