A 17 day solo hike along Kungsleden (the King’s Trail) in northern Sweden. Some of Sweden’s best trekking!
Destination: Lapland, Northern Sweden
When: July 2009
Route: Nikkaluokta to Ammarnäs along Kungsleden (the King’s Trail).
Duration: 17 days
Distance: 317 km
Kungsleden is Sweden’s most famous hiking trail stretching approximately 440 km from Abisko to Hemavan. It is stunningly beautiful – especially the northern parts – well marked and has huts/cabins along most of the way. I had been dreaming of doing a longer solo trek for quite some time and finally decided to do it in summer 2009. Initially, my plan was to do almost all of the 440 kilometers, but I only had 20 days at my disposal so I decided to cut it short in the beginning (I walked north to south) by starting in Nikkaluokta rather than Abisko. In the end, I decided to skip the last leg (between Ammarnäs and Hemavan) as well. But more about that later.
Almost four years have passed since I did this trek. At the time I didn’t write this blog and sadly I didn’t keep a diary either so some details have simply been forgotten. The camera I brougth along with me was a simple copmpact camera which shows in the pictures.
Trekking in Northern Sweden
First of all a few words on what northern Sweden has to offer when it comes to trekking. I have been traveling around the globe for many years and have visited many magical places. But I still rate the mountains of northern Sweden right up there with the other spectacular nature experiences I have had. Very few places in the world are so unspoiled by humans as the wilderness found in northern Sweden. The views and the pure stillness I find when trekking in northern Sweden is unbeatable. There are many different places you can go to from remote to totally off-the-grid. But if you want relatively easy access to a truly life changing nature experience, Kungsleden is a great option. It is not as remote as for example Sarek National Park. You will meet other people during high season (mid July to mid August), but I am talking about meeting a handful or two other trekkers a day – not hundreds. I would definitely rank Sweden’s trekking up there amoung the best trekking destinations world wide.
A few words about my gear and food – a brilliant example of bringing too much…
I’m not going to list each part of equipment I brought on this solo trip, but my backpack weighed in around 29 kg when I started. At the time, I belonged to the proud group of hikers who believe that ultralight seekers and gram hunters are all a bit silly. I don’t anymore. Although I may not be completely laser focused on going light, nowadays I try (hard) to keep the weight down because I do believe that it adds to the enjoyment if you carry less.
On this particular Kungsleden hike, I used my Bergans Alpinist 110 liter backpack which I truly love – even if it is on the heavy side. It weighs almost 4,5 kg in itself. I still love it and use it a lot on longer hikes without supply opportunities. My shelter was a Hilleberg Nallo 2 tent (approximately 2,5 kg) which is very spacious for one person (it is actually made for two) but still pretty lightweight. Sleeping bag: here I used a very old synthetic bag from Haglöfs called Blacklite II which worked ok but has since been replaced, thrown away and hopefully recycled into something new. For sleeping pad I used one of the first Exped inflatable mattresses (which I don’t remember the name of).
A few notes on food. I do not like to be hungry and I strongly believe that eating well is one of the most important factors for enjoying the outdoors. On this trip I decided to try out the freeze dried portions from Real Turmat who had been getting rave reviews – and they are good. Now, in my opinion freeze dried food is actually quite enjoyable the first days (or even the first week), but then I grow a bit tired of it. My hard principle when it comes to food is: three cooked meals a day, and I stuck with that principle for all 17 days on the trail. That meant bringing out the cooking gear every morning, lunch and evening. For me, this is important. In addition to the freeze dried rations, I consumed 5 chocolate bars (mainly Snickers) a day to keep the calories coming. My stove was a Primus gas stove that is still in use.
Nikkaluokta to Kungsleden (days 1 and 2)
Nikkaluokta is one of the classic entry point to the Swedish mountains and is easily reached by public transport (bus) from Kiruna. One reason for its popularity as entry point is the closeness to Sweden’s highest mountain – Kebnekaise which is only a day hike away. Kungsleden doesn’t actually pass Nikkaluokta, but there is a well kept (and well travelled) trail between Nikkaluokta and Singi where the trail joins Kungsleden. The trail between Nikkaluokta and Kebnekaise mountain station is probably the most visited trail in Northern Sweden and this is a part of the hike that will NOT give you any sense of solitude whatsoever.
I arrived in Nikkaluokta in the afternoon, started walking right away and reached Kebnekaise mountain station around 9 pm. Kebnekaise mountain station is a busy place and I was pretty keen to get away from it. Don’t misunderstand me – sometimes a crowd can be fun, but this time I was seriously looking for some solo time and for that reason it was not my kind of place just this particular trip. Anyway, I pitched my tent about a kilometer west (towards Kungsleden) of the mountain station and fell asleep like a log in the rain after a very late dinner.
The second day took me, through both rain and sunshine, on to Kungsleden at the Singi huts and then a further four kilometers south to a beautiful spot by the white water of Ceakcajohka below the mountain Stuor Jierta. I always find that the second day is the hardest when I haven’t been trekking for a while and I remember suffering through this day. My body had not yet gotten used to the heavy load and I was quite exhausted when I crawled into my tent that night.
On to Saltoluokta (days 3 and 4)
After a long good night’s sleep I felt a lot stronger on day three. I continued south, leaving the more alpine parts of northern Kungsleden, and arrived at the Kaitumjaure huts just in time for lunch. After Kaitumjaure, the landscape opens up and I passed the highland plain of Muorki before the rather steep descent to the Teusajaure huts. Now, Teusajaure is one of my favourite spots along Kungsleden. The cabins are right by the lake and there is a sauna. The views of the Teusa Valley (Teusadalen) are spectacular.
I decided to stay in one of the cabins that night and take the speedboat over the lake the next morning (it is possible to row if you want). It was great to relax a full afternoon by the lake!
The following morning I took the early boat over the lake and continued towards Vakkotavare. This leg is not that long (15 km) but pretty steep with an altitude gain of 400 m to begin with and then a very steep descent with an altitude drop of 480 m. I had lunch at the top of the pass, where you can see the snow clad Sarek mountains in the south on a good day, and arrived early afternoon at Vakkotavare. Between Vakkotavare and Saltoluokta you take a public bus (I guess you can walk along the highway, but it would be a long boring walk).
Saltoluokta is probably my favourite mountain station in northern Sweden. It has a very nice and comfortable feel and the three course dinner is always great and cozy. At this time they even offered massages and I managed to get a one hour treat before dinner which was simply heavenly!
Saltoluokta to Kvikkjokk (days 5 to 8)
The first leg from Saltoluokta is a rather long (20 km) walk to Sitojaure. After the initial ascent, it is a rather fast flat trail over a high plain. The Sitojaure hut is beautifully located by the lake (Sitojaure) but the views are not as dramatical as at Teusajaure. I once again (lazy I know…) decided to stay in the cabin.
The crossing of the lake the next morning is possible to do by rowing boats (just like in Teusajaure), but it is a long row. I opted to pay for a crossing by speedboat. On the other side of the lake the trail passes through a birch forest for a couple of kilometers before a steep ascent up the mountain Doaresoajvve begins as you head towards Aktse, which was my next stop. After passing the high point of the trail, a steep descent towards the Aktse huts begins. Just before the tree line, a path takes off west (to the right if you come from north) towards the view point Skierffe. I HIGHLY recommend everyone to make the return trip to Skierffe since the view is truly a life changer. Leave your heavy pack at the crossroads and bring only a small pack of water and some snacks. The view from Skierffe of the Laitaure delta and lower Rapa Valley (Rapadalen) is simply awsome. Don’t miss it!
Skierffe is right at the outskirts of Sarek National Park and standing atop the cliff watching in to the deep wilderness of Sarek, I just felt: I need to go there one day (which I did – more about that in a later post).
After spending the night at Aktse, I again chose to go with the speedboat transfer over Laitaure before continuing towards the Pårte huts 20 kilometers away. This leg is rather demanding with a lot of ups and downs and a rocky trail at times. The views from the trail are stunning over the valley to the south. The trail ends with a long (but stony) descent down into a pine forest. Apart from some pines at Aktse, this was the first pine forest I had been walking through so far, and from now on, pines rather than birch would dominate the forests as I got further and further south.
The Pårte cabin lies beautifully by a small lake in the middle of the forest. No spectacular views from here, but a very calming surrounding. Coming from the more alpine parts, it was refreshing with a new style of surroundings. I took a swim (or rather a very fast plunge) in the lake and went to bed early.
Next day would bring me to another mountain station – Kvikkjokk – and I fantasized about the three course dinner I was going to have that evening. Hoping it would be of the same standard as in Saltoluokta. The trail winded through the pine forest the whole day. My left foot was aching after a bad step over the rocks the day before so I had to take it gently. Kvikkjokk mountain station is not as nice as Saltoluokta – far from. It does not have the same cozy old fashioned feel and the food is not as good. As a contrast to my freeze dried diet, it was great though!
Kvikkjokk to Jäkkvik (days 9 to 12)
The long stretch between Kivikkjokk and Ammarnäs is the least travelled portion of Kungsleden. I heard somewhere that 40.000 people walk between Abisko and Nikkaluokta each summer, but only 40 (yes – four zero) between Kvikkjokk and Jäkkvik… No idea if the numbers are correct, but I did not see many other hikers between Kvikkjokk and Jäkkvik. Actually I only saw two – two English guys who planned to do the whole Kungsleden and started off together with me from Kvikkjokk. Along the way I met a few tourists fishing (especially at Vuonatjviken), but otherwise I was completely alone for four days. On reason for this is surely that there are no huts along the trail on this part of Kungsleden so you need to bring a tent.
After Kvikkjokk, I decided to try to increase my daily milage. The first leg brought me 33 km from Kvikkjokk, along the side of the mountain Goabddabakte down to the small lake of Gistojavratj. I felt strong and the weather was beautiful! I also got this wonderful feeling of complete solitude once I had left the two English guys behind me. My campsite at the southern side of Gistojavratj was one of the most memorable sites during this trip and I can still recall the feeling I had watching Goabddabakte mirror itself in the lake in the setting sun.
The following day I did not meet one person! I walked some 23 km to the river Bartek that runs out into lake Riebnes. The trail crosses Pite River (Piteälven) and then climbs up Barturtte before descending towards Riebnes. Another beautiful day. Great views and complete solitude. My camp site was along a small stream and I hade a bath (actually managed to stay submerged for a minute or so) before dinner.
The next day I only walked for an hour or so before artriving at Vuonatjviken – a fishing camp situated on the north shore of Riebnes. I had to wait a couple of hours before the camp personel could transport me over Rienbnes to continue the trek. It started to rain slowly. After the crossing, there is a steep ascent up to Tjidjakvalle and now the rain got harder. I decided to make a push for Jäkkvik and had dinner basically standing up in the rain. The trail had a new stretch and was poorly marked so I lost the trail a couple of times. When the rain picked up even more I decided to make camp and go for Jäkkvik the day after instead.
The last bit to Jäkkvik was maybe the most boring part so far since a long part of the trail actually runs along a highway.
After shopping supplies at the gas station in Jäkkvik I continued southwest through a moist birch forest and made camp just above the tree line to avoid the mosquitoes.
Jäkkvik to Ammarnäs (days 13 to 17)
Exhausted after four long days and wet – my mood was low. According to the weather report I heard in Jäkkvik, it was now going to rain a lot for the next week. I was also quite tired of the freeze dried food and starting to feel a bit homesick. I think this was the day that I decided to finish in Ammarnäs rather than continue to Hemavan.
Nothing much to say about this day – it rained, visibility was poor and I was just dragging me on until I pitched my tent a few kilometers north of Adolfsström.
The following days passed much the same and the rain didn’t stop. I actually do not have very much to share about this last leg of my trip, since I only concentrated on walking, eating and trying to stay as dry as possible. On the bright side: sometimes it is good to experience how trekking can be when you do not have the weather with you. It makes you appreciate good weather even more!
Along Kungsleden between Jäkkvik and Ammarnäs you pass the small village of Adolfström, a fishing camp called Bäverholmen and an unmanned cabin called Rävfallsstugan (you can rent a key in Adolfström or at Bäverholmen). The last leg – between Rävfallet and Ammarnäs is quite beautiful but due to the hard rain I did not have the opportunity to enjoy it very much.
All-in-all this was a great trip! Very varied terrain and beautiful landscapes. The northern parts of Kungsleden are ideal if you are new to trekking in the mountains. You can stay in the huts along the way and feel pretty secure on your own since you will always pass a handful of people each day. You still get solitude if you want it, but if solitude is the one thing you are seeking, the parts between Kvikkjokk and Ammarnäs is it if you don’t feel like doing a more serious hike into Sarek National Park.