Kungsleden – Into the Great Wide Open

A little bit of sun over the Aliseatnu river.

‘It’s cold up here.’ That was the first thought that came to my mind as I woke up on the night train from Stockholm to Abisko, the starting point of the 400 kilometer long Kungsleden trail. The stifling heat in the sleeping cabin was replaced by a bone deep cold. My second thought was: what did I get myself into?

Even though I’ve got plenty of experience hiking through all manner of terrain, I’ve never been up north. All my previous outings were headed south, either to the Alps, Pyrenees or the isle of Corsica. The climate here, some 200 kilometer North of the Arctic circle, feels distinctly alien to me.

Day one

To help me ease into things, a watery sun greeted me when I got off the train. I knew it wouldn’t endure, but it was a nice way to start the trail. My first kilometers on were shared with a mass of other hikers, some with backpacks big enough to fit a bear. The crowd gradually thinned out as I made my way to Abiskojaure, the first of many huts along the Kungsleden.

Emerging above the treeline past Abiskojaure.

Beyond Abiskojaure the trail climbed above the treeline and I emerged in a wide open highland, or fjäll as the locals call it. It was glorious, and exposed. A cold wind blew across the fjäll and dark rainclouds gathered behind. The interplay between the golden sunlight and the rainclouds was so beautiful that I could only gawk in awe as the weather moved in. Before I knew it was on top of me and I had to pitch my tent in the rain. Whoops!

Gloomy rainclouds over my tent.

Day two

The next morning I woke up to the sound of rain and fresh snow on the mountainsides. I spent some hours reading before finally giving up and packing up. As by magic the rain stopped when I got out of the tent. The remainder of the morning was spent on a lakeside trail to Alesjaure. In between river crossings, deep mud pools and frequent rain showers, it was a particularly tiring part of the trail. After a well deserved break at Alesjaure, the second hut of the day, the sun came out for a bit and I picked my way up the beautiful river delta of the Aliseatnu river.

Day three

On my third day I passed the high point of the trail, the Tjäktja pass (no I did not make this name up). The ascend was uninteresting, cold and rainy but the views on the other side more than made up for it: the Tjäktjajakka river meanders endlessly through a huge U-shaped valley. The gloomy clouds only added to the wild beauty of the place. I camped near an emergency shelter and hung out with a group of two Brits and a Fin. In the evening the sun came out to play. It resulted in lovely views over the Tjäktjajakka delta.

Views while descending from from Tjäktja pass.
Golden light over the Tjäktjajakka valley.

Day four

Day four was a big day. From the emergency shelter I hiked down the Tjäktjajakka valley to it’s conclusion at Kaitumjaure lake. The lower end of the Tjäktjajakka valley felt a lot less wild as the upper part and for the first time since day one I dropped below the treeline. At Kaitumjaure I stopped for lunch at a mountain hut, meeting up again with the Brits and Fin. As we were munching on our lunch, mosquitoes were munching on us. Just as I was grabbing my headnet, the warden of the hut came out for some company. He was a nice, gentle mannered gentleman and had a lot of interesting stories about life in the mountain huts. While talking a dozen of mosquitoes descended on him. He remained perfectly still. In my life have I never seen a more valiant display of stoicism. The old Greeks would have been proud!

Kaitumjaure lake. This photo cost me three mosquito bites!

From Kaitumjaure I made my way to Teusajaure lake. I arrived right on time for the 18:00 ferry across. Together with the Brits and the Fin, we pushed some 5km further to a campsite next to a bridge high on the fjäll.

Day five

After yesterday’s big day, this was a rather short one. The late push set us up perfectly to get the 10:50 bus connecting the northern part of the Kungsleden with the rest of the trail. More importantly, it drops you of right next on the ferry to Saltaluokta fjällstation. Other than regular mountain huts or stugas, a fjällstation is a large hut with creature comforts such as a restaurant, electricity, internet, large kitchen and shop and excellent sauna. The perfect day to relax after four rainy days!

Day six (today)

I took a rest day. Best. Day. Ever! I spent today reading, getting a great breakfast with fresh baked bread, reading, doing laundry, reading, drying my tent, reading, eating, reading, editing photos, reading, relaxing in the sauna, reading, chatting with a fellow hiker, reading, blogging, etc. Pretty exciting stuff. Tomorrow I’ll head back into the great wide open with clean clothes and a full stomach. That’s it for now, stay tuned for part two!