But on this day, the weather smiles on Henrik Westling as he makes his way up the shoulder of the Templet, the traverse’s first obstacle. Steady on his frontpoints, Henrik, a former pro skier, climbs with a practiced confidence. At 42, he has the lean, compact build of a trail runner and his thirty years of experience in these mountains are evident in his metronomic pace. Two days before, he and Mattias Skantz became the first people to climb and ski every peak in the provinces of Jämtland and Härjedalen. One hundred seventy-eight in all, and few in such good weather.
Looking out from the ridge of the Sylarna Traverse, one can see only the vast, empty and undeveloped land that surrounds, a view that underscores the gravity of Henrik and Mattias’s accomplishment. This corner of central Sweden is a little bit Alaskan in its scale: what appears to be a short walk away often requires several hours’ hard march. Without trees to provide scale or roads to provide access, it’s hard to imagine climbing the many peaks in sight—and many more over the horizon.
“Skiing here is a little bit like football in Europe,” Henrik says of the ski culture in Östersund, the town he grew up in. “When I was little, it was all about the fun, the speed, the feeling of cranking a turn. After a while I also started to like the way you could almost paint the mountain with your tracks; choose nice lines and see how they fit into the mountain.” Skiing, he decided, would be his life.
After completing his mandatory military service at 19, Henrik spent the next winter seasons trying to ski full time from Åre to BC to Alta, Utah. “I didn’t realize how much of a freedom it was,” he says, “until I had this crash. We had been skiing out of bounds all day,” he recalls, “ but the weather was not really good. So we made a quarter pipe in the ski area at Alta and tried to do something that was a little outside my ability.”
Crashing on his side, Henrik landed on a small tree, broken off at the trunk and hidden in the snow. Piercing his chest, it broke several ribs and punctured a lung.
“I ended up in a helicopter, and it was kind of critical for a while. There was a lot of air escaping from my lungs into the rest of my body. I thought that was the end of my ski career.”
Skiing, he decided,
would be his life.
But even before the shop opened its doors, it consumed Henrik’s life. Driven to make the shop a success, he spent more and more time in the shop’s cramped back office, and instead of finding connection with the outdoors, he stared at product catalogs and order spreadsheets.
“It felt as if the walls were creeping up on me,” he remembers. After less than a year, he burned out, suffering panic attacks and unable to sleep through the night. “I just had to change it,” he says. “I couldn’t go on that way.”
The solution, he decided, was a radical change in what it meant to dedicate himself to something. “I decided that we should not work full time at this shop. It’s more important that we live cheap and that we can ski again.” So they worked half time: one week on in the shop, one week off in the mountains. Strangely enough, it worked: Henrik’s health improved and so did the business’s bottom line. “We met all these customers on the mountains,” he says, “and we got a grip on what they wanted, what people were talking about on the slopes or on the rock. We changed the product in the shop. After that it took off.”
The idea to climb and ski every peak in Jämtland and Härjedalen wasn’t originally Henrik’s. Growing up in the Östersund climbing community, Henrik had been mentored by an older climber, Carl Wiström, who had a project of his own: in 2007 Wiström became the first person to climb every one of the peaks, in summer. “After he finished, he told me that someone would have to be the first to do it in winter.”
It had taken Wiström 30 years to do all the peaks; Henrik figured it would take him about as long. All the same, in 2009 he began working out what it would take to complete the project.
“I bought mountain maps of the entire county,” he says, “and I put a nail on every one of these 178 summits.” The most popular summits that he’d already completed—about 25—he marked with a red pin. The rest got green pins.
"I bought mountain maps of the entire county. And I decided, I'm going to try to do them all.”
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“You get used to it after a while,” Henrik says of the long approaches. “You just have to pack up and start walking. If you put one foot in front of the other, you will get there sooner or later. And 16 hours, maybe it sounds like a long time, but there are some people working 16 hours a day, and that’s probably a lot harder than walking. I love the feeling of being on my own, the silence and the time to think.”
And while Henrik climbed many of the peaks alone, for the final peak he brought along all the people who had made the project possible. Having chosen Blåuhammeren—a relatively easy walkup with a well-equipped mountain hut near the summit—he invited family, friends, colleagues and ski partners along for a celebration. Henrik and his partner Matilda took turns pulling a sled with their son Mio bundled up inside. And on the summit, Henrik and Mattias Skantz popped champagne to celebrate.
“The project was about finding new things,” Henrik said the next day. “But you can find yourself in it. I’m another person now than six years ago.”
Words: Alex Hamlin
Photography: Mattias Fredriksson