For Wilhelmina Schedin, her old and worn Greenland jacket from 1976 is more than just a garment. With it, she remembers long days in the forest and the mountains. In rain, fog and sunshine, and a special encounter with a real arctic fox.
The wind rustling the mountain birches. Bubbling streams. Water that tastes fresh and cold straight from the source, and the bare mountains rising against an ever-changing sky. When Wilhelmina Schedin, now 78, goes through her pictures, the memories come alive. Memories of the mountains and forests, and a life where the love of the trail has endured.
“This was in the Ammarnäs mountains in 1977. It was a long-awaited hike,” says Wilhelmina.
It was the first summer with the Greenland jacket she had received as a Christmas present from her husband, Ove, the year before. A Christmas present that promised more trekking in the mountains they were just beginning to discover. Wilhelmina in her green Greenland jacket and Ove in beige. Both with a Fjällräven backpack with a steel frame, the type that Åke Nordin had developed for the hikers of the time.
“We had been inspired by some friends who were trekking. But hiking wasn’t as popular back then. In particular, there weren't as many women hiking,” Wilhelmina notes, as she reflects back at her and Ove's home in Umeå in northern Sweden.
She grew up in the Netherlands, where she used to take her bicycle and ride along the meadows or walk in the parks. She hadn’t seen the wilderness until Ove came into her life. And it was only after moving to Sweden that her interest in getting out into nature was really awakened.
Wilhelmina and Ove’s first treks were along hiking trails in the mountains of Västerbotten, both between shelters and in tents. But in the summer of 1978, they wanted to try something new. They decided to leave the beaten path and do some backcountry hiking in the Ammarnäs mountains.
It was quite early in the summer, the Vindel River was wild and roaring, and the first day’s trek offered beautiful weather.
“There were several others out trekking. But after that day, we didn’t see a single person for four days,” recalls Wilhelmina.
She and Ove set off into the wilderness, towards the mountain peak of Sulåive with its characteristic jagged spine. They made their way through a valley with dense brush and waded across a stream. Then came the thunderstorm.
“Then we were at the foot of Sulåive, next to the mountain wall. It was wonderful to see the thunderstorm rolling in,” says Wilhelmina.
They waited out the storm and then went up to Stubebakte, where they pitched their tent and made camp. But the surprises were not over. Now it was the fog that came to visit, thick and disorienting. In order to manage the walk to fetch water, they secured a rope.
“We went one at a time and kept whistles with us, so we could whistle to each other. I still have my diary from that trek. I spent a lot of time in the tent thinking and writing down my thoughts. It was a bit scary to be stuck in the fog,” recalls Wilhelmina.
They stayed two nights in the fog before moving on. They descended from the mountain when visibility allowed - which, unfortunately, did not coincide with the best terrain. After an arduous descent, they ended up in a snowdrift, where Wilhelmina fell and sprained her left wrist. But the weather slowly improved. And soon a curious visitor would make the trek even more memorable.
“We had pitched our tent and gone to bed when we heard strange noises, like the birds were upset. We opened the tent and saw an arctic fox just a few metres from our tent! It’s light all day at that time of year, so we saw it clearly, but when we opened the tent it got startled and ran away.”
The next day, they spotted the fox running on the other side of the hill, yelping. Too far away for the basic camera lenses Wilhelmina and Ove were carrying. But close enough to live on in their memory.
There were a few more treks in the mountains, before the birth of their son, Lennart, in 1979, and then their adventures changed character. The little family went out into the nearby forests, looking for orienteering control points or simply to unwind in nature, breathe in the fresh air and enjoy an outdoor meal. The whole family in Greenland jackets, including little Lennart.
“He loved that jacket. He was beaming!” says Wilhelmina, laughing at the memory.
She still has her old jacket, the one from 1976. Patched and mended, with traces of adventures big and small in every seam. Like that women’s hike in Kittelfjäll, which she went on when Lennart was a child (he got to stay home with Ove). She remembers the enormous block of cheese they brought along, and the cookies that were so hard they had to keep them in the oversized pack. She remembers the mountain hike with the children from the school’s recreation department, which she and Lennart went on together. And, of course, the day trips around the lake and a visit to a Sami hut.
But her memories are also filled with everything else that everyday life has to offer. The natural world just outside her door has been her refuge all of her life. And even though she bought a new Greenland jacket in 2011, she kept the old one - like a treasure from the past. A cherished memento.
“I’ve had so many good times in that jacket. It withstood the wind and above all, it was mosquito proof. And I’m allergic to mosquitoes,” says Wilhelmina.
Today, trekking is no longer about venturing into the backcountry and wading across streams and rivers. But the feeling is much the same, even though her balance is poorer, and hiking poles, and sometimes even a walking frame, are required to stay safe.
“Trekking has meant a lot to me. Moving, enjoying nature. Seeing birds, trees, insects, flowers. But also meeting people,” says Wilhelmina.
She has her “forest friends”, as she calls them. They only meet outside. It started when the pandemic was at its worst, but has continued in the same way. They walk and talk, and try to get outside whatever the weather. Over the years, Wilhelmina has added a Keb Eco-Shell and a Fjällräven Kodiak Parka to her wardrobe, to be ready for anything. After all, local nature is still there, and she wants to enjoy it as long as she can. Without getting cold and wet.
“I need to get out. It’s psychological medicine that gives me peace of mind when I’m anxious or stressed. But it’s also physical medicine. I have mild diabetes, but if I make sure I move around, I can manage without medication.” -