I was desperate to return to the mountains of northern Sweden for another long multi-day hike. It is so beautiful up there, and my favourite time is early September. The temperatures have cooled, the mosquitos have disappeared, and the short lived arctic autumn is underway in all its glorious colours. The last time I hiked up here I was with my hubby, and we walked a more well known route on Kungsleden. This time I was supposed to be going solo due to lack of child care for our three children. I wanted a route that was slightly different, so I would see new parts of northern Sweden, but I had to think about the start/finish point being in the same place making things easier with where to leave the hire car, and travelling with a dog. So with that in mind I was going to start and finish where we ended the last time I was up hiking in northern Sweden. The last part of the route would be the same as the last part of our previous hike.
As I mentioned before, this trip to northern Sweden was supposed to be solo due to childcare circumstances, but accompanied by our lovely retired sled dog, Baileys, an Alaskan Husky. However, totally by chance, I ended up with a hiking buddy and making a new friend for life! The Friday before I left on the Monday for northern Sweden, one of our twins was playing at a classmate’s house. I went to collect him and I got chatting with the mum about the mountains. I told her I was headed there after the weekend and that there was a space in the car. As luck would have it she was now on two weeks’ leave from work, and this proposition looked very attractive to her, but she would just need to run it by her husband. He was trying to fix a roof onto their home for the next two weeks and would be left with the children. It was the same situation for my husband, but he’d known about my plans for a few months, and was also not trying to re-roof a house. He said yes it was a great idea (he’s an outdoorsy chap too) and that is how I ended up with company doing this amazing, tough, immensely rewarding, and beautiful hike with company, and (we shall call her T) T ended up doing her first ever big multi-day hiking/camping trip……I just crossed everything that by the end I would have helped show her how rewarding this kind of trip was, not got us hideously lost, and that she would not hate it (or me!!). As we barely knew each other it could have gone either way.
DAY 1: Nikkaluokta To Vistas 22km
We were using Nikkaluokta in northern Sweden as a base to leave our car, and our starting and finishing point. This day was to be our longest day of hiking with the most kilometres. With a backpack weighing in at around 24kg, I was more than slightly nervous about my ability. The reason my backpack was so heavy was that I was also carrying all the dog food for my husky. T and I were also not sharing a tent due to the fact I had a large, and potentially wet and dirty dog in mine, so we each had our own tents to carry. The day started with the most beautiful boat trip through the Vistas Valley. We had arranged this through the lovely people at Nikkaluokta before we had left home. Depending on the river levels, it can take you a maximum of 12km up the trail, leaving the 22km to hike to the first hut. It is however possible to hike those first 12km as well. When I was planning my trip solo though, I had aimed to be in the vicinity of a mountain hut every night so that I had a point of contact if anything went wrong. I also knew that I could not hike 34km in one day with all the weight I was carrying. So we took the boat up to our entry point for the trail, and the views from the river were well worth the boat trip too. The weather for the day was cold, mainly cloudy, a little damp, and as the day progressed more and more windy. Once we disembarked from the boat, we set off through birch forests. There was not much elevation gained on this first day and we stayed within the tree line. There were a lot of water crossings to be done on this first day, and I was a little anxious about Baileys….she absolutely hates getting a paw wet and will not go near water, let alone moving water. The first few times she stopped and was hesitant, but it was like she knew that she just had to get on with it, and unlike being at the beach in the summer, there was no choice. So after the first few times, she just ploughed on with the rest of the crossings. She has since avoided all water again on returning back home, so it never changed her opinion about it!
However, after about 2km we now had wet feet. It was not to be until the penultimate day that we would be able to enjoy dry feet and boots either. As the day went on, so did the trail, and although we had one morning stop (lunch), our stops later on in the day started to become more frequent, even if it was just a little break sat on a rock. We reached our first hanging bridge of the yomp over very loud and gushing water. Baileys was frightened of this underneath her, but she was a total star. She trusted me asking her to go up and cross the bridge, and did it despite her fear. I knew our adopted husky was an amazing girl, but I was learning more and more just how tough and strong she was.
Once we had made it over the last hanging bridge for the day which was swaying wildly in the by now strong winds, we set up our first camp in the mountains. We had some amazing views, but due to tiredness and the weather we didn’t hang around for long to admire them. We retreated to our sleeping bags to recover and recharge from our first day in the mountains of northern Sweden and to try and get some sleep.
DAY 2: Vistas To Nallo 9.5km
Today’s distance might have been shorter than yesterday’s, but the terrain more than made up for the shorter day! After an ok night in the tents, we set off…upwards. The first 5km were just up and up, and when we turned round after about 1.5km the stuga was just a tiny blob on the landscape. We were now above the treeline and heading for the bigger peaks. We were doing well and making good time, but the weather was not so kind. We had very strong winds, cold, and snow. It seems the weather in northern Sweden was taking the fast track to winter. The views of Nallo in the distance though were beautiful. We had just finished climbing when we had our first water crossing of the day. I tried to take the same route as Baileys chose and ended up wobbling and sitting down in the river…bbrrrrr. That was now one wet backside as well as wet feet. As we progressed through the route the trail turned into one big massive boulder field. This went on for the rest of the day over many, many kilometres. Baileys was hopping over them very easily, except she was tethered to me, and I was wobbling behind with my massive backpack. I was worried she would take a leap, and I wouldn’t have been close enough to her so she had enough slack on the lead, and it would lead to her injuring herself. I had to really focus and concentrate, not only on my footing, but what she was doing so she did not miss her target due to me not keeping up. We had a rhythm going of wobbling over a few, then I’d yell “stop” and she’d halt while I caught up and I reeled her lead in to give her enough slack to continue. Poor T was having her peace broken by my dog commands but we all got safely through the boulder field and finally saw the stuga. However, we were on one side of a very wide river, and the stuga was on the other side. The stugavård (cabin warden) had set up a sign with a recommended crossing point which meant around 1 km extra and more wet feet. We arrived to be greeted by him in a very bedraggled state physically, but mentally we were doing ok, but needed a little TLC. I explained we were camping but we had STF membership (you can read more about what that is by clicking the link) and could we possibly come in. We wanted to dry off some kit by the fire and wait the snow storm out to see if it calmed before we tried to set up tents in snow blowing sideways. He was so kind, he let us all in, and Baileys laid down happy in her day’s work by the fire while we piled socks, trousers, and boots on top and beside it. He made us a hot squash with the kettle on the fire and slowly we began to feel a little more human. We chatted for a while and gained some valuable tips and information from his wealth of knowledge before the snow storm let off a bit and we headed out to set up our tents for the night. It was still a little early for supper and feeling a little more than weather beaten and tired after our exertions, we crawled into our sleeping bags for a nap. We appeared briefly to cook in the lee of our tents a while later as the weather was still horrendous before scurrying back in and trying to get some sleep for the night.
DAY 3: Nallo To Salka 11km
The night had been horrendous! The wind was howling and ice and snow had noisily battered our tents, relentlessly, all night long. For a few hours I had even been propping up the tent as the strong winds endeavoured to blow it flat. With all that going on outside the tent, it was VERY noisy inside the tent, and Baileys was very unsettled, pacing up and down…at least, as much as a big dog can pace inside a 2 man tent. Eventually I got her to settle by putting her head into my sleeping bag and we both eventually dozed off.
After packing up our tents and a very fast breakfast (it was too cold to hang around), we set off…upwards again. The morning went well initially but soon was deteriorating into scree that had come down the mountain side. Baileys had four booties on to protect her paws (much to her disgust, despite wearing them all her sledding life), and these were shredded by the end of the day so they did their job. The weather was yet more snow and wind.
After a brief lunch the sun did come out intermittently mixed with the gales and the snow, and we were treated to some beautiful views.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful and we arrived at our next camping spot for the night. We set up camp, before heading to the stuga to resupply our lunch rations for our remaining days. It is at this point I need to highlight that my backpack was not getting much lighter despite being three days in and in theory six dog meals eaten. Our husky had decided that she didn’t fancy breakfast this week, and so had only eaten half the amount she should have by this stage in the hike, and I was still lugging the extra amount around. That evening, even though it was still windy and snowing on and off, we were able to actually sit up a while and talk. I had a few blisters and I was tired at the end of every day, but I was managing so much better than I had thought I would, and woken up every day ready to go again. The route cards had also been spot on much to my relief. T seemed to be taking it all in her stride as well. She was having a baptism of fire for her first experience of hiking in the mountains, and was enjoying it and physically still in good nick for this point in the adventure as well. We were both feeling very positive, and thoroughly enjoying our time in the mountains of northern Sweden.
DAY 4: Salka To Singi 12km
The weather was much less violent now, so we were able to have a more relaxed get up enjoying each other’s company and a chat over breakfast. The sun was out on and off and we even got to eat lunch in it, even though it was still very chilly. As I mentioned earlier in the post, we had encountered a few hanging bridges on this hike. So far Baileys had managed the awkward steep steps up, but today we hit a bit of a snag. The steps were so steep that when she tried to go up a step, her head ended up going underneath the step above her, making it impossible. A rethink was required. I dumped my backpack and wobbled my way up the steep stairs carrying her. We then walked over and I tied her up on the other side. T then came over to look after her while I headed back over to retrieve my backpack. It was on my way back over I saw a man ascending the other side with his own backpack on and mine on his front! He had been watching from a distance as he’d approached the obstacle, and had very kindly decided to help us by lugging my backpack as well as his across the bridge! What a kind chap.
We reached Singi in the time we expected, the sun went back behind the clouds, and we watched reindeers pottering around while we relaxed and cooked our evening meal.
Day 5: Singi To Kebenkaise 14km
Today we would be leaving the last of the true wilderness of this trail in northern Sweden behind as we were headed to Kebnekaise Mountain Station where there are a lot of people, hustle, bustle, and general busyness. One reason I love being in the mountains is because I enjoy the peace and the solitude. The mountain station is a vital hub for those (like us) accessing the mountains in northern Sweden, and it is also a common starting point to climb the highest peak in Sweden, Kebnekaise. However, it is a bit of a culture shock arriving there after days of feeling almost alone amongst the mountains, hardly seeing another soul. We had a good few hours though before we got there to enjoy the peace of the trail.
When we stopped for lunch T had phone reception for the first time since lunchtime on day 1 as we were coming into range of the 4G mast at the mountain station. She was able to make contact with her family and have a lovely chat about how it was all going and to catch up on their news. I did not have enough reception yet (I was not too worried as previous experience had showed me it would only be a few hours more at the most), but what I did have was a lot of lovely messages and photos from my tribe, which boosted morale. After lunch we decided on our afternoon fika point and that I would try and contact my family at that point, so with that carrot dangling we set off again. I took quite a big stumble just before we reached that point and I thought it was game over as pain shot through my left knee cap that I had struck on a rock. I needed to just lie there for a minute to recover and then I hobbled off again. We reached our fika point, and hooray I got contact with my gang! It was so lovely to hear their voices and I was nearly crying with the sheer relief that I was actually going to manage this, and the realisation that came with contact with the outside world that the toughest part was behind us. We arrived at the mountain station to find it every bit as busy as we expected. We had promised ourselves a beer and a treat, so after setting up camp we headed off into the mountain station to find one. Baileys was not allowed in here, and we were not allowed to take alcohol from the bar outside, so we opted for a weaker beer from the shop and a huuuugggge packet of crisps, and went and sat outside with our beautiful husky to enjoy them. We had also needed to restock on cooking gas. With the temperature being so cold we had used more gas than estimated to cook, and were short of just two meals worth. However, with the season coming to an end…the mountain station had run out! So we cobbled together something from the shop for supper and breakfast, and then headed off to bed.
DAY 6: Kebnekaise to Nikkaluokta 14km + boat trip
Today we had a boat to catch about 9km down the trail. So we set off in bright sunshine and we were even down to our t-shirts it felt so warm, but we had to stop regularly so Baileys could have a drink. This was more the weather I had envisioned walking in for the whole trip! We slowly descended into the tree line and thickening birch forests until we got to the place where we would meet the boat. This boat service is run by a Sami family and the boat trip gives you the most amazing views from the river back the way you have just hiked, and of the majestic mountains you have just left. They have many other enterprises as well which you can read about by clicking on the link.
Once you disembark from the boat it is a just over 5km plod down a wide flattish track back to Nikkaluokta. Our adventure in northern Sweden had come to an end. We set up camp for the last time before heading to the restaurant, that serves hungry hikers, for a decent home cooked meal and a big glass of red wine….all outside of course so we could sit with the third furry member of our team. The trip had been everything I had hoped for and more. It is a strange thing to say, but despite being a little battered and shattered I felt strong. The route had pushed and challenged us, as had the weight of my backpack, but we had done it! I was super excited to be heading back home to hubby and our three children but I knew I would miss the mountains, as I always do. We would have been happy to stay longer but the body was ready to stop. We had truly enjoyed the solitude, rugged wilderness, and beautiful scenery, despite the constant presence of wet feet and hideous weather conditions. My last minute hiking buddy, T, had worked out so well, and we had shared an intense but amazing time. We went from barely knowing each other to becoming good friends. My backpack was far too heavy for my ability, but I would not swap it for the world having got to share this adventure with our beautiful husky, Baileys 🙂 So it was goodbye to northern Sweden, as we would spend the next two days driving the length of the country (it is very long!) back to our homes right down on the south coast of Sweden.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and it may even prompt you to consider a hike in the beautiful mountains of northern Sweden. You can read more about my more recent adventures on the blog under the Mamma outdoor adventure tab or clicking that link. You can also follow our adventures on Instagram and see more “video stories” under the reels tab or from one of my many story highlights tabs. If you like the photography you have seen here, hop over to http://www.soniacavephotography.com and take a peek as I sell my images on canvas.
Thankyou for reading!