This trail has to be a favourite on anyone's bucket list, but for me, specifically the northern arctic circle section. Although remote, it is the most common section of the trail hiked by visitors. The section I wanted to hike was from Vakkotavare to Abisko (113km). Traditionally people walk south from Abisko and either go east at Singi junction to Nikkaluokta or go from Abisko south all the way to the end Hemavan (440km). However walking south means you have the sun in your eyes all the time, so I wanted to walk north to put the sun behind me.
Over the years people tend to hike the sections which have start end end points that are reasonably easy to get to and from. Most parts of the trail in between are very remote and the only option for access is helicopter. In the winter of course snow mobile is an option. The northern part of the trail is not an easy one due to its very rocky nature, in some places pure boulder hopping. Couple this with a heavy backpack, some photography gear, a drone, 21 batteries and some extra body weight I am packing, I didn't expect it to be easy. But I was surprised how hard the trail was on my body and gear. For those who think it is easy with much of it boarded or dirt trail you cannot be further from the truth.
Like all my trips I planned it with military precision with full travel itinerary and gear lists. I won't concentrate on gear too much here as I will do a separate blog post on the gear I took. But I normally travel with a camera bag as carry on luggage and a kit bag with a mostly packed rucksack inside it together with my first days hiking clothes and a clean set of clothes for the return travel.
I set off for Heathrow very early 3am on a Saturday morning to catch a flight to Arlanda airport, Stockholm. After landing at Arlanda I changed clothes in the toilets and got my rucksack out the kit bag and spent a while transferring camera gear and batteries from my carry on luggage into the rucksack. I checked my list to make sure I had transferred everything and then put the kit bag and camera bag in a locker in the airport. Arlanda airport has lockers in most terminals, they cost about £5 a day but allow you to leave things for up to 30 days, unlike the train station which is only max 24 hrs.
I was surprised by the excellent transport to Stockholm central, an array of bus or train options. I took the fast Arlanda Express train which went straight into the Stockholm Central train station. Due to timing of the planes and trains I knew I would have 6 hrs or so in Stockholm before the train so I set off with rucksack on back to have a little hike round Stockholm. I had a couple of bits to buy such as gas for the stove which obviously you cant take on board a plane, but generally I just chilled, grabbed some lunch and then went back for the Arctic Circle Night Train to Abisko leaving at 18:10.
I have to admit I wasn't impressed by the SJE trains, certainly the night train is a bit old and tatty and in need of some refurbishment, but I got a sleeper cabin to myself so that I could chill in peace and grab some good rest before the hike. At 08:12 I arrived at Gällivare station. There isn't much there, just the station and a little tourist information next to the bus stop. The plan was to grab the number 94 bus to Vakkotavare which left at 08:50, so I relaxed for 30 minutes and chilled with about 10 other hikers all waiting for the same bus, but most not for my stop.
The true international spirit of the trail started to dawn on me whilst talking to hikers, german, french, english and swedish all on the same bus. The bus stops one before Vakkotavare for a drink and some lunch if you want it, but then you are soon at the first STF hut.
The Swedish Tourist board run huts along the trail to offer beds to those who don't want to camp in tents. Some also have shops making it easy to stock up on food on the way. I was planning just to carry 2 or 3 days food at a time and restock a couple of times on the way. I say shops but basically they are small garden sheds with very basic supplies. But beware most of the huts have no roads so supplies are got in by snowmobile in winter and helicopter in summer. So they aren't cheap. Expect to pay about £3 for a Coke and £5 for a beer. I didn't take any pictures of the huts as they are just brown sheds, but if you need more info on them you can find it at Swedish Tourist Association. If you are going to sleep at them or even camp in their grounds and use the services (some have saunas) then it is worth buying the STF membership at £30 as you get discounted rates on the services and some boat crossings.
The original plan was to camp by this beautiful lake by the first hut, relax and then head off first thing, but after seeing the size of the first mountain I decided to split the following days 15km across the 2 days rather than do it all tomorrow. This was a decision I wasn't going to regret.
Hiking Day 1 - Vakkotavare to an unknown spot (8km)
The hiking was tough up the first mountain and it was 25C, the hottest days they had had in the Arctic so far that year, almost unheard of and I was hiking a mountain in it with a 21kg backpack on. Lucky me, but the views were amazing looking back over the lake. I had no goal for the day I just wanted to knock a few kilometres off so I didnt have 15km to do the next day.
I took my time walking through a huge boulder field, stopped for lunch and a quick soak of the feet in an ice cold pool. Feet maintenance is key on multi day trips and getting blisters early on spoils a trip, not to mention the pain.
I had packed Ben Fogles Accidental Adventurer book with me for those long evenings and peaceful moments. What an eclectic life he has lead, I thought he just went from an unknown on the Island to a TV presenter. Who would have thought he has so many skills and experiences including worm charming. But it served me well on the trip, the sun never set for the 8 days I was there, so a little reading material is always good.
I pitched the tent next to a river so I had plenty of water.
The water on the Kungsleden is abundant, you really don't have to carry any, maybe half a litre, it is every kilometre or so. So I relaxed into a first evening, I was about 8km in, so just have 7km and a short boat ride to get to the next hut tomorrow. The scale is huge of these mountains, I have circled me and the tent in red below, this was a drone shot taken the following morning.
Hiking Day 2 - unknown spot to TeusaJaure (8km)
So I didn't have a lot to do thanks to yesterdays hike so I took my time, flew the drone in the morning and leisurely packed up. I only had a couple of kilometres to get to the high point and then it was all downhill to the lake, a bridge and a hot sticky forest. The weather was still hot so I was in for a sweaty hike. At this point I was surprised how quiet the trail was. I met a family on the way up the hill and pair of guys going the other way but that was it. Today proved to be similar just running into 2 guys for a quick chat before hitting the lake.
The boat ride was nice, but I got caught up in the moment and like so much of the trail forgot to film it, but that's not a bad thing. I pitched up in front of the lake in the camp grounds of the hut so I had to pay for this one, but I wanted to use the shop and the sauna. I have never had a proper sauna in my 50 years on this planet, I know, never, so I was looking forward to it after 2 days of hot hiking. I had one of the biggest fridges in front of me, full of cold water so I bought a beer from the shop (well shed) and waited for 8pm for the gents time in the sauna (basically another shed). I enjoyed the evening chatting with hikers and slept like a baby.
Hiking Day 3 - TeusaJaure to unknown spot (14km)
First task of the day was to get up at 3am to take a photo of the lake, with the sun never setting and finally the heat wave finished a small amount of cloud and coloured light started to come in.
Then back to sleep for a few hours !! I had another steep climb up the mountain pass from the lake but the views were spectacular from the top.
The next target was KaitumJaure hut 9km away, the trail wasn't too bad, but the wilderness opened up into a desolate, baron place.
The rain started just as I reached the KaitumJaure hut so I took shelter and used the hut facilities to make a coffee, rest and chat with other hikers as they all came in from the rain. We had Scottish, English, Norwegian, Swedish and German all in the kitchen drinking coffee. My plan was to go as far as I could towards the next hut at Singi, which was another 15km away once the rain stopped. About 6pm it cleared up and I set off again.
The trail was pretty easy from KaitumJaure, it followed the river until once again crossing over a bridge into a huge open valley. It was here I decided to stop and setup camp. I had walked about 5km in towards Singi, but there was 9km still to go, but I was too tired and needed some rest and a hot meal. The batteries for my CPAP machine were doing OK, I was keeping a log of battery use so that I didn't over use them. I only had 3 batteries for 7 nights so had to ration the use, but I was topping up with solar for a few hours each day.
I had a big day tomorrow, the goal was to do the 9km left to Singi and then walk another 13km to Sälki.
That's the first part of my trip, I'll continue the story later in part two.