When talking about my trip (and mountain hiking in general) people often ask me if I ever feel unsafe or if I ever encountered a dangerous situation. I mostly have to disappoint them by answering that I feel way safer hiking through mountains and wilderness than when biking through my own city. But during this trip something happened that could have ended much worse – I was only a few seconds from the point where I would never have written this story.
When I arrive in the small cabin near the shores of the Skurdalssjön lake I hesitate a bit to get the stove going. Due to extensive rust there are a few holes in the combustion unit. Smoke could spread through the cabin and I am also aware of the risk of carbon monoxide intoxication. Because it is not even 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the pouring rain keeps me inside, I eventually lit it anyway – but I do not close the cabin door entirely (I give it a few centimeters) so there is sufficient ventilation. Because it is also pretty windy outside the chimney does a good job and no smoke leaves the stove through the holes. It soon gets comfortable inside.
During the long afternoon and evening hours I spend a lot of time reading and studying the maps for the next 6-day stretch up to Snasa. Then at around 8 o’clock I decide to narrate my daily diary with the microphone function of my mobile phone. If you will listen to the fragment below, you will not only realize the diary of someone on a long solo hike incredibly boring, but you will also realize something is going very wrong. Now over half a year later this fragment still scares the hell out of me.
I faint in the doorway and the fresh air and rain lashing my face quickly get me to the living again. I can only conclude carbon monoxide intoxication struck me anyway, despite the door which I left a bit open throughout my stay. I had not felt this coming at all. No headache, no cheerful feeling, none of any of the other typical intoxication symptoms. Only while narrating my dairy I started to feel my thoughts were very slow and unstructured (as you can clearly hear during the fragment). It is a very sobering thought that if I had not – by incredible chance – started with my dairy at that very moment, I would probably have fainted inside. And that would have been the end of it.
Let it be a lesson for all of us: never use one of these many suspicious-looking stoves in mountain cabins. Even with some ventilation you are not safe, and some dry clothes or warm temperatures are not worth the risk. Carbon monoxide really is a silent killer.