Kungsleden is a stunning hiking trail in the north of Sweden. It is around 440km long in its entirety, but many people, like we did, choose a section of it to hike. Kungsleden runs from Abisko at the northern end, to Hemavan at the southern end. During the winter months it becomes a ski trail, impassable in walking boots. I was up here in the winter for my dog sledding adventure, and I was keen to see the area in a different season. I had fallen in love with its raw beauty, the wildness and ruggedness, how pristine and unspoilt its nature was. The other beauty of Kungsleden is that it can be walked in various ways, depending on ability, experience, or time available. The Svenska Turistföreningen (STF) have basic cabins along the route. This means you can walk cabin to cabin, just with a backpack of basic supplies and a sleeping bag, and use their cabins and facilities en route. Don’t expect running tap water or flushing toilets, but nevertheless you can use their gas supplied kitchens, have access to fresh drinking water from nearby natural sources, and a loo that’s half way between one totally in nature and one that flushes!! In these cabins you can also dry out, make friends, and swap tales. I recommend being a member of the STF if you want to do this to reduce costs. Or you can use the cabins as a guide for your own route, wild camping along the way. You can camp and still use their facilities (which is slightly cheaper than staying in the cabin), or you can walk through and wild camp beyond the cabin perimeter free of charge. Our aim for our week on Kungsleden was to be totally self sufficient and wild camp. We were therefore carrying all our equipment, all our food, and our tent. We were members of the STF though in case anything went wrong so we had an emergency back up plan, and it did come in handy on a few occassions (read on!!). We hiked around 110km from Abisko in the north down to Singi, where we actually left Kungsleden for the last 2 days of our walking, and headed east to Kebnekaise, before finishing at Nikkaluokta.
This adventure to Kungsleden was a trip just for Dadda and I, the children were in the very capable hands of their grandparents who had flown in from the UK to take care of them. We were also doing it right towards the end of the hiking season up there, due to waiting until the children were back in school after the summer holidays. That way the grandparents would get a few hours each day to recover from the joys of looking after twin 7 year old boys and our 11 year old little lady!!! With regards to the weather, this could either mean fantastic Indian summer weather, or doing it in the first snowfalls after summer. As the time approached, the weather forecasts looked like it would be the latter, to our horror!! Dadda and I were very excited, but also nervous. It was over 11 years and three children later, since either of us had put our bodies through the stresses and strains of hiking in the mountains with a loaded backpack (they ended up weighing in at just under 20kg each at the start!!). We were hoping our bodies would cope. To add to the anxiety, I was carrying an ankle injury already and Dadda has an autoimmune disorder that affects many of his joints giving him lots of pain just through a normal day, so this was going to be a huge test for both of us.
Day 1 Kungsleden: Abisko to Abiskojaure 15km
Day 1 on Kungsleden was also a travel day. Due to the time available to us, we not only needed to hike on the day we were flying up there, but we also needed to join 2 days distances together further along the route in order to be able to complete it before we flew home. We took our first flight from the south of Sweden to Stockholm, and then the second from Stockholm to Kiruna. Fingers crossed our backpacks would follow us all the way too. There was little time in the plans for delays as once we landed after our second flight, we had about 40 minutes before we would catch the bus that would take us to Abisko. This was the number 91 from the airport which travels all the way to Narvik in Norway. However, everything went without a hitch and we had no problems and were soon boarding our bus. We admired the landscape en route and enjoyed our last walk-free part of the adventure. Once we arrived at Abisko mountain station we needed to be underway fast. We had 15km to cover, and 4 hours of daylight. We didn’t want to be tackling the tent and supper in the dark on our first night if we could help it. First of all it was a mad dash into the mountain station to purchase gas for our stove and lighters (cannot fly with them), and a final proper toilet stop. Then we were underway. For these four hours we were expecting heavy rain, but were so lucky in that we just had a few spots and did not get the promised soaking.
The terrain was fairly easy going with good firm ground through birch forest. This is brown bear, lynx, wolf, elk, wolverine, and reindeer territory…some we hoped to see, others we were not so enthusiastic about meeting! Throughout the whole stage we were walking parallel to a river, and the views were just stunning. Autumn was so much more advanced up here than down in the south. The leaves on the trees were yellow and gold, whereas in the south the landscape was still green. Plus there were lingon berries everywhere. It was so special to be setting out on this adventure with my soul mate too, and I couldn’t quite believe that after all the planning and preparation we were finally here and on our way together.
The brisk pace we needed coupled with the fact it was our first day with our fully loaded backpacks, did mean we were shattered when we’d done what felt like a four hour sprint and had finally reached our destination of Abiskojaure. Abisko national park has some fairly strict rules about camping, and we knew we needed to be putting our tent up in the vicinity of the cabins here, and therefore we would have to pay the tent fee, but our STF membership meant this was reduced. The staff were so welcoming and helpful as we collapsed into the area, but with the light fading fast, we concentrated on getting our tent up and some well needed supper into our stomachs. We would be eating three cooked dehydrated meals a day on this Kungsleden hike, plus snacks of chocolate and trail bars. Our kit then seemed to explode everywhere to sort out our living space as we got used to living out of the backpacks for the week. Luckily there was no rain around which made the whole job a lot easier. Once sorted it did not take us long to fall asleep. It had been a long day, but a happy one, finally being on the trail and in the mountains 🙂
Day 2 Kungsleden: Abiskojaure to Alesjaure 22km
We woke and started our morning routine around 0700. We had a fairly comfortable first night with a few light rain showers, but it was now dry and set to be a sunny day. We had already however got a few physical niggles after our brisk yomp the previous day, but they did all seem to loosen up while bumbling around camp. We cooked our breakfasts and hot drinks before packing up, and then set off around 0930. It was going to take us around 2.5 hours from waking to be ready for our day’s hiking, which was handy to know. Today was going to be a long one. We started with a fairly instant steep climb as well. My backpack was new this trip due to my old one being broken, and I was struggling to get comfortable in it. My head was being pushed forward the whole time which was straining my neck (and I was spending most of the time admiring my boots instead of the Kungsleden view), and the hip belt was really bruising my hips. I am quite small and I just couldn’t get the waist belt small enough in order to get some lift on the pack. Dadda was being very patient as it was really slowing me down it was that bad. We also got a bit lost, which used up some valuable energy and time. The climb first thing took us up above the tree line and out onto a plateau surrounded by beautiful snowy capped peaks. The views were amazing. However, by the time we stopped for lunch I was feeling a little bit broken and seriously doubting my ability to complete this. Not only was my backpack now seriously annoying me and being very uncomfortable, but I had started to get blisters under where I should have arches on my feet. My feet are VERY flat, so one of the joys of hiking on rocky terrain is that the rub factor is increased a lot more whatever support I use.
While I sorted my feet out and started to tape and strap them, Dadda set about making our food. I also had a good old faff with my backpack, repacking and readjusting straps. Once we set off after the warm food I was a totally different hiker from the period before our lunch stop. I could stand up properly without being hunched over all the time looking at my boots, I’d relieved the pressure on my hips from the belt, and it felt loads better. Consequently we managed to do a fair bit of distance in a good time. We were still pooped when we finished but I was now thinking I could do this! We found a beautiful spot to camp with our tent. On today’s route, during peak summer season, there was a boat you could take that would reduce your hike for the day by 6km. We didn’t have the option though as the boat only ran during peak season, but feeling as fine as we were, I do not think we would have used it even if we had had the choice. But it is worth finding out the boat running dates, if you consider hiking the Kungsleden, if you think you might benefit from something like that. By the end of the day I found I was exhausted, and after our hot meal I snuggled into my sleeping bag at 2030 with Dadda not far behind! Early nights all round. At about midnight, Dadda suddenly woke me up. He’d stirred in his sleep, and realising it was a clear night had looked out the tent door, and to his delight the northern lights were dancing. I had never seen them before and was so happy and could not believe it. Despite practising night photography for this opportunity I had left my “proper” camera at home due to the weight, and in a rather confused sleepy state tried to get a photo with my phone. It is not a great one, but seeing the lights and the memory I have of them is what matters 🙂
Day 3 Kungsleden: Alesjaure to Tjäkta to Sälka 25km
We woke up to a frozen landscape (and tent!). The temperatures had dipped below freezing overnight. However, the sun was shining so we knew the tent would defrost as we went about our morning routine and we felt refreshed after a good night’s sleep, even though we’d awoken to watch nature’s show of the northern lights. Our original plan for today had been to try and hike 2 legs of the recommended hiking route for this part of Kungsleden. However, after being so shattered after our 22km leg the day before, we decided we might just take half of the second leg today, and tag the second half onto the start of the following day’s route, thus evening things up a little distance wise. The route suggests you take 7 days to hike it, but with grandparents looking after children and our return flights booked, we had only 6 days to compete the whole route. Hence the need to tag one leg onto another. So off we set into the sunshine admiring the beautiful scenery. The going was very good and we were managing 4km/hour which was fantastic. Towards the end of the first leg, we had a steep climb ahead of us. 160m in just under 2km. The sun was now hiding behind clouds, and the hut that marked the end of this stage (which we would be hiking past) seemed to be in quite a bleak location. The wind was whistling around, and the ground was very rocky and bouldery underfoot. We finally reached the hut’s location and our reward was a lunch stop. I was really not feeling so good after my backpack was removed, so we took advantage of our STF membership (which meant we could use the hut’s facilities for free during the day) and hunkered down out of the elements and cooked in the hut’s kitchen. This also enabled us to rest properly too. We looked at the map, and our (more mine) physical state, and decided to aim for another 6km into the next leg before trying to find a good camping spot. Then off we set again.
The afternoon’s section was the toughest by far so far, and I think would remain our toughest in our memories. The weather was now rather bleak, the terrain was extremely bouldery (I was looking at my feet the whole time concentrating hard where to put them down on the ground), we were at the highest point on Kungsleden, and going was very slow. Not long into this leg we had another steep and hard climb….I was gritting my teeth to get up there (whilst still looking at my boots and concentrating very hard on the rocks). When I finally raised my head though at the end of the climb, by breath was taken away. The view was like nothing I had ever seen. It was stunningly beautiful. We could see for miles down a long valley ahead, and also back down the valley from where had come. But now it was time to finally descend a little after a lot of climbing. Any relief we had that we were now going to be going downhill was very short lived! The rock fields were just not letting up and I could feel it was starting to take its toll on my feet (blisters), ankles, and knees. Dadda was also starting to struggle with a knee niggling him too. We had a wonderful view of the whole valley, and consequently knew roughly where we would be aiming for with the next hut, even though it was still not our plan to reach it. We were both struggling a little and decided to try and look for suitable tent spots. However, it was all rather rocky, and if not rocky, quite boggy! We were getting closer and closer to Sälka (the end of the second leg) the whole time and actually completing the whole 2 day distance. So, we decided we might as well aim for it now that we had come so far. Dadda was being super patient with my ever decreasing walking speed, and about 3km from the end of the stage I hit a massive wall of pain and tiredness. This was the first low point for either of us. I even shed a few tears. After a cuddle from Dadda, and being treated to watching some reindeer over the creek, we hobbled on. By the time the hut appeared (which it took a long time doing and then suddenly appearing with around 300m left) which was our marker for where we’d be camping, we’d walked on very tough terrain for 10 hours covering 25km!!! No mean feat. The tiredness for both of us was very real, and somehow we managed to get the tent up. Dadda cooked the evening meal while I assessed the damage to my feet. A few small blisters but a huge blood blister on my left foot where my feet are flat. I drained that and patched myself up, before we ate food, and crawled into our sleeping bags at around 2200. Shattered did not even describe how we felt.
Day 4 Kungsleden: Sälka to Singi 12km + 3km beyond.
The previous night it was so good to get to sleep, and we both felt a little better this morning, even if we were hobbling and waddling. We took our time this morning over our get up/pack up routine as we knew we had a much shorter distance to cover today, although we were toying with the idea of adding a little from the next day’s leg onto today’s hike as well. The idea behind this was gradually to eat into day 6’s distance, as at the end of that leg we had the added pressure of making it in time to catch the final bus of the day. So we felt anything we could do to alleviate that pressure would be good. The sun was out and we were treated to amazing views, plus the difficulty of the terrain eased a bit as well, making the going a lot easier. We quickly clocked up half our route mileage for the day, so chose our best lunch spot yet on the Kungsleden. We were sat by a babbling stream (for water access), in really warm sunshine, not feeling too ropey for a change, in the midst of a plentiful wild blueberry supply :-). Life was looking good. I picked blueberries while Dadda got on with chefing. On the subject of food, we were on dehydrated packs, that whilst are very yummy, I was struggling to get them into me. They are so calorie dense that after about half the pack I found them too sickly and could not force any more in. Which then meant a few hours back on the trail and I was starving again. Consequently eating was taking longer as I was having to have a massive break midway through, and even then I sometimes didn’t manage to complete the whole packet.
After lunch we set off at a more sedate pace, and by now Dadda’s knees were causing him some serious discomfort. If we stopped even for a quick photo, one would go painfully stiff and he’d struggle to get going again. We arrived at the hut in Singi in good time though, and after a pause to chat to the warden about whether there were good spots to camp further on, we set off, aiming to walk another hour and around 3km extra for the day (we would still end up doing a whole 10km less than the previous day!!). This was also the point at which we left Kungsleden and started following a different trail. It was all up, up, and more up. We knuckled down and got on with it and we were rewarded richly. It was by far our best camping spot of the whole trip. We were surround by majestic peaks, and lakes, and I just cannot find the right words to describe the view, the peace, and the drama of the landscape. We weren’t alone either. A little family of reindeer trotted through giving us a lovely spectacle of nature to watch. We enjoyed a leisurely meal with more fresh blackberries picked from right outside the tent. I think this was also the first night either of us managed to read our books (that we’d been carrying the whole time!) in our sleeping bags before conking out. We’d had a lovely day’s hiking and were just crossing our fingers that Dadda’s knee was a little better after a night’s sleep.
Day 5: Just beyond Singi to just beyond Kebnekaise Mountain Station 19km.
When I got up to visit nature’s loo this morning, I was treated to the most amazing golden sunlight shining off autumn’s beautiful colours, with the sun shining through between 2 mountain peaks. I have never been to the loo and enjoyed such a vista!!
The aim of today was to reach the Kebnekaise Mountain Station (Kebnekaise is the highest mountain in Sweden), and then hike another 3-5km beyond, thus eating out a significant chunk of the final day’s leg. This would give us 15-16km to do today, so not too bad. We were underway by 0830 and the scenery could only be described as dramatic. From our camp the previous night, we descended into a valley, flanked by high peaks and ridges on both sides. The terrain was not the easiest, but nevertheless we made good progress. However, it wasn’t long before Dadda’s knee started playing up again. He’d been lulled into a false sense of security by it feeling OK when we’d set off. At one point Dadda took his phone out of his pocket to take a photo, and suddenly noticed a heap of missed messages come through. After 5 days of no phone reception (utter bliss) we’d suddenly regained it. It was good in one way as we were now able to communicate with the grandparents and discover all was well with both them and our children, and the relief of knowing that was huge. However, we had not missed our phones at all. I think the surprise phone connection shocked us and we were stunned that we were suddenly connected to the world again. We were unprepared for it mentally, and also rather unwilling to relinquish our being out of contact and disconnected from the wider world. It was definitely a double edged experience getting the reception back. It felt like a very unwelcome intrusion into our simple and uncomplicated trail life that we’d been enjoying for 5 days. We completed our morning’s distance in four hours and decided to stay at the mountain station for our lunch in order to wait for the children to get home from school so that we could talk to them for the first time since we had left home.
Once again our STF membership came in handy. The mountain station is a big affair!! Consequently it has a restaurant….and just while we were pondering how on earth it gets everything up here, a helicopter did a supply drop right in front of us!! So, ditching today’s dehydrated packet meal in favour of freshly cooked vegetable cannoli we filled ourselves up on yummy normal food, and at a reduced price due to our membership. Such a morale boost but all rather surreal, as until we’d set foot on the station’s perimeter, we’d felt very much isolated from everything and everyone. We needed a big break too for Dadda’s knee which was now rather hot and swollen as well. After speaking to the children and grandparents we made a move to hike on. I do not think either of us was sad to leave the hustle and bustle of the mountain station behind, despite the fabulous food and our aches and pains. It had all happened rather suddenly and unexpectedly (we were not prepared for the sheer size and scale of operations there), and quite overwhelming after nearly a week in the sanctuary of nature’s calm.
We were aiming to manage 3-5km (maybe 2 hours) of hiking before setting up camp somewhere. I was becoming more and more out of sorts. First the phone reception, then the bustling mountain station, and now suddenly the mountains were disappearing and we were descending into thick birch forests as our landscape started to change. Obviously this was all going to happen at some point as I cannot stay out in the mountains for forever, but I was definitely not ready mentally for how abruptly all this was happening. On what is recommended as the last day’s hiking for this route, there is a boat service run by a Sami family that goes down 6km of the river. We had already decided we would hike the bit before (as were now doing), take the boat 6km, and then hike the rest. From the mountain station it was 8km to the boat’s jetty, but could we find anywhere suitable to pitch our tent along that route before 5km??? Could we heck!! So we ended up doing a further unplanned 8km that afternoon. We were in a bit of a state physically by the time we finished, but it did leave us with only 6km on a boat and 5.6km yomp remaining for the next day…..finally a very easy day!!!
Plus we were rewarded for our distance in the form of a cabin…not a lovely cosy one, but a shell with 2 benches in. Dadda was straight in there and that is where we spent our night. He was so chuffed with the find. Me less so. I had suddenly developed a fear of a brown bear visit. Dadda was quite quick to point out the door (although it did not shut properly and we had to use bungees on the inside) would probably give us more protection than a tent with a zip. I think I was just very tired by this point and coming back into the forests had spooked me a little. It hadn’t helped that a reindeer had suddenly jumped out in front of us from the trees, and we’d had no idea it was in there at all. I had my worst night’s sleep of the trip and Dadda had his best…well apart from when I kept waking him to tell him I’d heard a noise!!
Day 6: Beyond Kebnekaise to Nikkaluokta 6km by boat and 5.6km hike.
I woke early with my nerves finally given out and there was no point trying to get any more sleep. It was the last day and tonight we would be in a proper bed. When Dadda finally woke up he looked like we’d had a fist fight during the night, and I had won! His poor face was so swollen. We have no idea what caused it, an allergic reaction to something probably, and it went down again slowly over the next 48 hours….most odd. His knee was incredibly painful still so we were rather relieved the end was in sight. We leisurely got up, cooked on our stove for the last time, and packed our kit for its final stage. We didn’t need to be ready until 0945 for the boat. When a few people started emerging from the trail to catch the boat as well, we were thoroughly unimpressed with the intrusion into our quite and calm. It did not bode well for reintegration back into normal life!! The Sami arrived with his boat and we shuffled on board feeling rather broken. We sat back and enjoyed the views and resting our aching legs and feet.
Once we disembarked we had 1 hour 45 minutes to crack 5.6kmin order to make it in time for the bus we needed to catch. Maybe on fresh legs we would have had no problems but we were really struggling. Luckily for us the track was wide with very few rocks, and really quite flat. So easy terrain for once. We gritted our teeth and went for it. We made the bus with plenty of time to spare, and our adventure had come to an end.
I really hope you have enjoyed our account of our Kungsleden hike, and our photos. I am very relieved there is no way of smelling us through the screen yet, as after 6 days of no showers we were a little fruity!!
I feel so lucky to have been able to share this amazing Kungsleden adventure with Dadda, with a big thank you to the efforts and courage of the grandparents flying to a foreign country where they do not know the language to take care of our three children. Who also behaved impeccably the whole time we were gone (the kids….and also the grandparents). I returned home leaving another chunk of my heart up in the Arctic to join the piece I left up there back in April. It is such an amazing place and the nature is so stunning. Dadda and I spent time “just being” together without the stresses and strains of modern family life, and we did not even argue once despite pain and tiredness being very very real at times. Whilst our children were not particularly interested in our Kungsleden adventure photos and tales once we returned (but very happy to see us), I am hoping we have inspired them to take their own adventures in the future wherever they may be. I am also hoping, that being a mother with three children following her dreams and making this hike happen, has set an example to our little lady for her future years when she is older. It may not be the easiest thing to plan logistically to head out on an adventure when you are a mamma of three children, but it is still most definitely doable, and this is my second meaty adventure this year. It was blooming tough but has shown us that we still have what it takes to hike, backpack, and wild camp (just!!). I would not hesitate to do it all over again. The raw beauty of the arctic mountains, the wilderness, and being so immersed in nature is something I will never ever forget.