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Hiking Kungsleden, Arctic Sweden – Part One

After hiking in Turkey we were looking for another trail that was slightly different, fewer steep climbs but with scenery that matched the Mediteranean coast. After a bit of back and forth on various websites and blogs we settled on a seemingly well known trail North of the Arctic Circle. Armed with a new MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent picked up in New York we set about packing.

Day Zero – Kiruna

We flew in on Norwegian airlines from London with a short stopover in Stockholm, booking a connecting flight saved on baggage fees and if Sweden is as expensive as the rumours suggest we will need all of our dollars/Krones. Landing in Kiruna we had to walk from the plane to the terminal, wearing shorts and t-shirt in the rain at 9 Celsius! Is this the weather for the whole trip?

It was certainly wet in Kiruna, from the hostel we hiked to the stores to ship a bag to Stockholm and collect some last minutes supplies, candy, camping gas and a last minute decision to get a tarp. Back at the hostel we repacked and watched our last TV shows before leaving for Abisko in the morning. Surprisingly no anxiety from either of us, we both seem confident in our equipment, supplies and physical abilities.

Day One – Abisko to Abiskojaure 14.8km. Total distance 14.8km.

The first day was going to be an easy, short hike. It didn’t disappoint, although we were late getting to the start. Kiruna has a large mine that is leading to the town sinking, the train station has been relocated and there is a free bus. Wanting to ensure we didn’t miss our train we took an early bus, then waiting at the station the train was delayed! Luckily for us being a couple hundred kilometers north of the Arctic Circle means it is guaranteed to be light until 11pm.

The weather had improved from the previous days, much like Ireland the grey clouds race over the blue sky with layers of white cloud and rays of sunlight shining onto the green and blue landscape. Once we disembarked from the train we went to take a look at the Fjallstation to see if we could get a coffee and some final treats as we have no idea what food will be available throughout the hike. Sweden is expensive, Fjallstations are more expensive, almost double Swedish prices!

Setting off under the Kungsleden sign we soon got into our stride, removing the layers and passing hikers going North, as this is an easy access point the days trail is busy with people who have hiked from our southern destination, others who have hiked in for a few days of exploring and the day hikers who have very small backpacks. We are probably carry 12+kg’s each. After a fairly leisurely, uneventful hike we got to our nights destination, for the first night we were limited to staying at the STF as thats the information we have from the book, and in the National Park you are not allowed to camp in the wild. It turns out that without STF membership you will pay twice as much, for this price I am expecting the best tent pitch ever.

After paying $70 I was sorely disappointed, the kitchen was too busy so we cooked at our site and that was pretty lumpy – I have had worse but they didn’t cost me an arm and a leg. The fees didn’t prevent the mosquito invasion or the rain, we even had to put up with snoring from the tent behind us. Lesson learned, always hike past the Fjallstations and find “wild” sites.

Day Two – Abiskojaure to Alesjaure 21.5km. Total distance 36.3km.

The overnight rain was not too bad, it helped drown out some of the snoring. The night turned to morning around 4am, luckily we brought eye covers so we can sleep a little later. We also brought enough oats and sugar for breakfast for 12 days allowing us to start the day with a hot breakfast and a hot coffee, simple things for a simple life. The first day or two of hiking involves getting used to pitching and packing the tent, the structure of the chores, who sets up, who cooks etc. After Turkey most of the task allocation is naturally in motion but with the new tent we have to figure out the best methods of pitching and packing.

The cloud is fairly constant for the morning but clears in the afternoon and we managed to get a prime spot above a river and away from the crowds – no snoring unless its our own! The hiking is very scenic, its a much easier trail than the Lycian Way and I think our biggest concern will be any change in the weather. The trail in places runs along wooden planks that have been placed to keep hikers from sinking in the wet, boggy ground, definitely makes things a little easier.

A few of the Fjallstations have saunas, unfortunately for us we will find our budget too restrictive to utilise them.

Day Three – Alesjaure to Sälka 22km. Total distance 58.3km.

I have a nice -9 celsius sleeping bag, unfortunately MJ gets to use it – well its fortunate for her, I get a +5 celsius bag (debatable rating) with a liner, this would be fine if I did not wake up to frost in the morning. The coldest part of the night seems to be just as the sun comes up, from 4am to 6am its a disturbed sleep trying to keep various parts of my body warm. Its no worse than the John Muir Trail but its not going to be fun if it gets any colder.

We pulled the top of the tent off to dry in the sun as we made breakfast, as soon as the sun peaks over the mountain tops everything warms up, the coldest camping I had was in Ketchum when the tent poles had ice on them, the temperature here is not as cold as that. The hot coffee and oats help, we packed 12 days of breakfast and around six days worth of other food, everyday we are saving over $20 in food costs!

The hiking is fairly easy although there are some loose rocks around that make your feet twist around in the shoes, leading to pressure points in differing places to other hikes, nothing too bad so far. The weather is also perfect for hiking, not too hot, not too cold and no rain. Long may it last. Today we have the highest pass on the trail, as the weather is so good we want to push on through and hike two days worth of the trail. Mountain weather can change rapidly and having an extra day in the bag could come in useful.

By the end of the day we were definitely ready to call it quits for the day. Really we wanted to stay higher up the valley but we found a sweet spot near a lake with late day sun, no other people and glimpses of reindeer. This valley has amazing views and the peace and quiet from the lack of human activity is something I always enjoy.

Day Four – Sälka to Singi 14.8km. Total distance 73.1km.

Waking up this morning was a little easier as the frost never set in. The nice thing with camping here is the lack of the threat of bears, it does lead to bad habits with food storage but I don’t think the reindeer are too worried. The sun from yesterday afternoon is back again, bluebird sky with a relatively easy hike in t-shirt and shorts.

The hiking is not quite as easy as we thought, lots of rocks laying in the trail so you have to keep your head down a little which is hard with the valley opening up in front and behind, you just want to keep looking around while hiking until you trip again 🙂

Always a challenge on these hikes is the shower situation, so far the weather has been a little cool for a dip but today could be the day, if we find somewhere suitable, I may just have a swim! The site we picked was only a couple kilometers away from the huts so we were able to stop to use the washroom and purchase a nice sugary drink and to get the answer to probably the most common question the rangers get…..Whats the weather forecast? It sounds like we picked a good week with a high ridge in place for a few more days, I can work on my tan that I lost when I was in the UK.

We had decided to look for a spot before the huts and we found a nice ledge above the Sami village. There were a few mosquitos around as there was a creek running behind the tent. It was discreet enough for us to clean up a bit and the suns warm dried off all of our laundry. The night spent here was warm and dry.

Day Five – Singi to Kaitumjaure 15.9km. Total distance 89.0km.

Today is supposed to be an easy hike, the only downside seems to be having to hike past the Fjallstation to find some campsites, we have studied the map so are confident we can find something. It will be hard to beat the last two nights camping spots.

The weather is, again, perfect, warm enough to hike and to dip in the creek but not too hot. We managed to find a nice dipping pool just off the trail and had a good thirty minutes there without seeing anyone else pass. The hiking has been nice and pleasant aside from the initial descent from the ten to the huts. Quite a few people turn off for other trails at the Singi huts so after purchasing our treats we watched out for a few of the people we had seen in the last couple of days, the majority seemed to turn off so hopefully we will see even fewer people on the next stretch.

The hiking at the end of the day was a little undulating and after having such an amazing valley in the last couple of days the scenery seems a little less stunning, but its still stunning! We had to hunt around for a camping spot as there was only one good spot and a German guy was pitched there. After setting up and cleaning off in the fast flowing river we sat around in the sun, its the hottest day of the hike and the sun lasts a long time, almost to the point where we had too much. As soon as the sun dips over the peaks the temperatures drop but its a nice comfortable evening with the sound of the whitewater in the background.

Day Six – Kaitumjaure to Teasojaure 12.9km. Total distance 101.9km.

Time is flying by, day six, no issues so far, we have been eating well, resting and our feet are not too bad – a few blisters/sore spots but nothing crazy. Today we hike down to a lake that we have to cross via rowboat, or pay around 200SEK each for a motor boat ride. If we get to the boat dock and there is only one boat we have to cross to the other side and bring another boat back across before returning again to the other side to carry on with the hike.

We had a fairly leisurely morning as we knew the hike was short and our plan was to just make it over the water and find a camp site. The descent to the lake was the steepest terrain we have covered, luckily it was only a kilometer or two. At the lake we saw the whitecaps had started to come up with the wind blowing through the valley, in the distance the white cloud was building and turning grey. The weather is slowly changing and our days of hot sun may be over.

At the boat launch there were no boats! However we could see two people paddling across from the other side. We figured we would just paddle them back so they could continue the hike. Luckily for us one of the paddlers wanted to paddle us over, so we let him, that saved some energy. On the crossing the weather deteriorated a little more and it was pretty evident that we just managed to cross the lake in time. After the crossing we had some lunch, rice cakes, cream cheese and salami before we hiked to a camping spot above a bathing spot.

As we passed through the top of the birch trees we had no sign of our potential camping site. The cloud was coming in thicker and the wind was stiffly blowing up over the Fell. We wanted a sheltered spot with access to water, this could turn into one of those non-stop days! At the previous Fjallstation we gained some local knowledge on an river crossing that would save us 1km of hiking, as luck would have it we found a nice ledge above the river where we could sleep comfortably with cover from the wind, the rain never really came aside from the odd time we had to seek cover in the tent, the mosquitos caused more problems than the rain.

Tomorrow we have a short hike before catching a bus, unfortunately the Swedish government flooded a huge area to create a massive reservoir, even though the area was already declared a National Park – there is no end to humans destruction! The only alternative to the bus is to hike 30km along asphalt with trucks passing by. We will take the bus.

 

 

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