I’ve been home for a week now and my backpack, tent and assorted gear are back in their storage. With temps in the high 20’s and the sun shining in through the windows it feels as if the Kungsleden is already long in the past. So lest I forget, here is the story of the final 150 kilometers of my Kungsleden thru-hike.
It all started in Adolfström where I had taken a rest day. It was hard leaving the comfort of my tiny log cabin while it was so gloomy outside. The rain had stopped but heavy clouds still blocked the sun. Much of the path had turned into a river and mud was often shin deep. After some 1.5 hours I came upon the remains of a destroyed bridge, swept away in yesterdays deluge. Its remnants allowed me to cross the deepest part but they also functioned as a dam, causing the river to overflow onto the banks. Sigh. I had spent the last day drying my boots and now, so soon after leaving, they were soaked again.
The remainder of the day I gradually sloshed my way up to the open fjäll, its open views a welcome change after the long stretches of forest of the middle part of the Kungsleden. On the way up I met an Israeli couple who gave me some of their noodles. Of course, I immediately liked them! They told me they were not just out hiking the Kungsleden, but rather the entirety of Sweden. Damn, that puts the 440-ish kilometers of the Kungsleden into a rather overwhelming perspective!
As the day wore on, the sun came out to play. Was this the turning of the tide? Finally some sunny weather? No, was the answer. As soon as I gained the open fjäll, dark rainclouds swept away my hopes and I spent the rest of the day taking my rainclothes on and off again as rain and sun battled for supremacy. Together with the inundated path, this was a particularly tiring part of the Kungsleden.
Getting beaten up
The next morning I took my sweet time to convince myself to put my warm and dry feet in cold, wet socks and shoes. Just as I came out of the tent, a dark menacing cloud swept over the mountains forcing me back inside with heavy hail and wind howling around me. Even though the hail subsided, the wind never did. I pushed my way up and over a high and exposed plateau, the sky above me torn between rainstorms and patches of sunshine. If I wasn’t so tired I would have appreciated the views more, I think. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure this day represented my mental low.
Mid afternoon I came upon Rävfallstugan, an unmanned hut next to an impressive waterfall. ‘Sod the trail’, I thought. ‘I’ll just stay here.’ Inside it was nice, warm and spacious. After cleaning the cabin I spent the remainder of the day eating and reading as other hikers came in as well. The Israeli couple also came in, much later in the day. They were really battered after the rain and wind up on the plateau and went to sleep quite early in the evening.
Then finally, the weather changed. I had some 22 kilometers to go to Ammarnäs, the largest settlement along the Kungsleden, with most of the day was on open fjäll. It was cold and windy when I started out, but soon the sun came out and the wind died. Before I knew, I was hiking in my shorts as I cruised down the now (mostly) dry trail. It felt good to be in the sun again!
Ammarnäs was awesome. The small town has it’s own mini supermarket and a fishing tour agency pulls double duty as a burger bar. Accompanied by other hikers who drifted in from the south, I sat on their sunny terrace while munching on a reindeer burger. When I paid my compliments for the excellent burger the restaurant owner pointed out that ‘reindeer are cute and quite tasty.’ Classic Swedish humor.
Out on my own terms
From Ammarnäs there’s still some 85 kilometers to go before the Kungsleden drops down to Hemavan at its southern terminus and what an 85 kilometers it was! I started out slow and it was already 11:30 before I hiked out Ammarnäs. With the sun out and a mostly easy trail ahead of me, I just didn’t feel like rushing. The day went by in a rush of forest, waterfalls and golden autumn colours on the high open fjäll. Before I knew, the sun hung low in the sky, my shadow a tall ghost following me around. With the weather being super mild, I camped up high on fjäll with epic views in all directions.
The next day brought more of the same. Again, I just didn’t feel like rushing as I slowly meandered to the end of the Kungsleden. The weather forecast brought me back down to earth, however. Just one sunny day remaining before the rain would return. ‘Aw hell nope’, I thought to myself. After all the rain, wet shoes and fogged up views I wasn’t going to let yet more clouds spoil my final day! Instead, I would double the final two stages, making for a 40 kilometer day. Long perhaps, but at least I’d be able to enjoy the views. I was going out on my own terms.
To celebrate my last evening on trail I splurged 200 Swedish Krone to camp next to a manned mountain hut at the lovely Tärnasjön lake. With it comes free use of all the facilities on offer, including a beautiful wood-fired sauna. I spent most of the evening either melting away in the sauna or freezing in the lake. Simply simply lovely!
For the last day I paired up with Daniel, a super fast Swedish hiker. He had hiked the 220 kilometer stretch from Kvikkjokk to Tärnasjön in just 6 days. He liked the prospect of hiking together as no one had been able to keep up so far.
A fitting end
We started out early and what a day it was! It felt as if the entire Kungsleden was condensed into those last 40 kilometers. There was forest, lakeside views, high fjäll, snow capped mountains and fast-flowing rivers. Combined with the last of the good weather it felt almost to good to be true. Before I knew I was staring downhill at the final descent of the hike. With Hemavan just around the corner it was tempting to just rush down and finish the whole damn thing. Instead, I took a long break to take it all in. Because of the abysmal weather this summer it had been a difficult hike and I felt beat up beyond the 440-ish kilometers I had covered. Still, I had pulled through and there’s just something incredibly satisfying about that.
As I sat there, the Kungsleden treated me to its final spectacle. On the horizon, dark clouds moved in over the mountains. In between, the last rays of sunshine shone down to the forest and lakes below. I spent over an hour just sitting there, gawking at the spectacle as sun and clouds battled for supremacy one final time. Of course, in the end, the clouds won out and then it was time to make my way off the mountain and down to civilisation. A fitting end to what was a beautiful adventure.