I guess it was inevitable that the temperature would drop to near freezing just as I reached the most challenging part of the journey…the climb over the ridgeback of the Norwegian border
A few weeks ago the track was still covered in snow and indeed there is a fresh dusting on the mountain tops this morning.
So after a great night of hospitality at Tannforsen lodge (Sweden’s highest waterfall) in the company of the brilliant host Niklas I set off towards Norway with a degree of trepidation.
And if you think I’m worrying unecessarily let me point you towards the nightmarish catastrophe that took place near these mountains almost exactly 300 years
It’s become knnown as the Carolean Death March – a military blunder of such staggering incompetence that it sends a shiver down the spine as I write this.
The Swedish king Charles XII , for no better reason than he’d recently been duffed up by Russian forces in the East, decided to attack Norway in the West in the hope of pinching land from his Scandinavian neighbour in any subsequent peace negotiations.
One of the generals he used to carry out this master plan was the hapless Carl Gustav Armfeldt who – judging by modern day representations – looked not unlike Queen guitarist Brian May in his 1970s pomp.
In August 1718 Armfeldt’s army set out from Duved (where I began the latest stage of my journey) and headed towards Trondheim. The campaign which the King had confidently predicted would last six weeks inevitably dragged on. Armfeldt’s men were plagued by mosquitoes and midges in the mountains. Just a foretaste of the horrors to come
The King was killed as he led his forces at the siege of Fredericksten further south – some accounts say by enemy fire although others suggest a disgruntled Swedish soldier fired the fatal shot that blew out whatever brains the King actually possessed.
Upon his death all Swedish forces were ordered to withdraw back home and Gen Armfeldt decided to take the shortest route back through the mountains.
Big mistake. The withdrawal took place as 1718 turned into 1719. And whatever else the troops were thinking you can bet it wasn’t Happy New Year.
The men should have been just a two day march from safety but a blizzard blew in, visibility was reduced and temperatures plummeted
It wasn’t long before the retreat degenerated into a chaotic shambles with the army lost in the mountains and constantly harried by well equipped Norwegian skirmishers
After months of campaigning the Swedish troops were conversely poorly equipped – their uniforms in tatters
They were reduced to burning their own rifle buts in an attempt to keep warm.
They began to freeze to death. A Norwegian guide who followed them reported scenes from hell
Bodies of men and horses everywhere. Wagon drivers frozen stiff, still clutching the reins with fixed expressions in their dead eyes
More than 3000 men died in the mountains. And it didn’t end there. For years farmers around the town of Are would dig up the remains of men so badly injured on the march they would die on the way home
It’s said that for a long time the hunting in the hills was the best in Sweden cos the local wildlife had all the meat they could eat….
There’s a University in Norway that historically has organized orienteering competitions. In a move to blow a big raspberry to the military pretentions of its neighbour the first competitor on the sheet is always one CG Armfeldt..whom they made lifelong patron of the orienteering society
Talk about adding insult to injury