I recently spent some time in one of Sweden’s finest old-growth forests, Pärlälven Fjällurskog, in the far north of the country to the west of the town of Jokkmokk. “This is a fairytale forest” reads the battered sign at the entrance to the seldom-visited reserve that stretches tens of kilometres towards the border with Norway. Healthy populations of moose, lynx, wolverine, and bear all live in the reserve. Lower down, around the lake Karats which forms the centre-piece of the reserve, the area is dominated by pine, before giving way to spruce, aspen, and birch the higher up you go. Some specimens are hundreds of years old and bear signs of forest fires that have swept through the area – part of the natural regeneration cycle of the forest. All manner of lichens, mushrooms, and fungi are testament to the natural value of the forest.
While Sweden is covered 60 percent by forest, much of it is managed plantation forest that bears the scars of intensive forestry. There is so little old-growth forest left, especially in the south of the country. It feels a privilege to tramp through relatively untouched forests such as Pärlälven – a feeling akin to passing through some deserted, cobbled medieval city centre compared to a city that has been razed and populated by uniform office blocks. Flowing out of the reserve, the Pärlälven river is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the area. Packrafting sections of it, I found it in high water after weeks of rain.