Ever since an amazing trip to the Canadian Rockies a summer ago, I knew I wanted to go out and explore again soon. After stumbling upon a link on Facebook called “Europe’s 10 most epic hiking trails” by chance, I discovered the Kungsleden (meaning King’s Trail) in Sweden. I’m not 100% sure why out of all those ‘epic’ hikes, this particular one got my attention, but I’m glad it did. Sweden has always been high on my to-travel-list, and now it’s even higher.
The Kungsleden is a trail going from Abisko way up north in Swedish lapland, to Hemavan, about 450km to the south. The trail is divided into 4 1-week (approximately) sections. I hiked the most northern part, going from Abisko to Singi and left the trail to go east to Nikkaluokta. This is the most popular part, and from what I’ve read also the most beautiful and diverse part of the whole trail. This section of the trail also has huts every 15-20 km (so about 1 day’s walk) where for a fee you can cook, spend the night, and in some of them go shopping (only essentials like toothpaste, bandaids or sour cream and onion pringles) or enjoy the sauna. The path is marked with red painted cairns, which makes the trail easy to follow, even in snowy or misty conditions. It’s also pretty easy to hike, with no real big elevations. Because of the huts, the easy difficulty and the fact that I’d be hiking in Sweden AND above the arctic circle (hello northern lights!) I knew this was a perfect trail to do my first solo hike.
Map of the entire Kungsleden
Day 0 and 1
I arrived at Abisko at about 4pm, after 10 hours of travel. Since the turiststation is in a National Park, you’re not allowed to camp there. Sweden has the right of public access (Allemansrät), which means you can camp (ski, walk, cycle, …) almost anywhere as long as you use some common sense and respect a few rules. This law does not apply to National Parks though, so I booked a bed in the station, went to the room to drop off my stuff and had a little lie-down. I woke up about 6 hours later in the dark, confused and wondering why I’m still wearing my coat and 1 shoe. I got a bit more comfortable and quickly fell asleep for another 8 hours or so.
The next morning I got up pretty late, considering I had slept for about 14 hours. I got ready, packed my backpack and headed for breakfast. The only hotel/hostel-kind of breakfasts I’d had up until that point consisted out of eggs, beans, fried stuff, sausages and more eggs. This one however, was very different. It had several kinds of yoghurt, and about 20 kinds of berries, cereal, and other stuff you could add to your yoghurt of choice. Also a wide selection of cheese and meat to put on your rather hard and sour bread (the bread was the only thing I didn’t like of the whole buffet). I ate as much as I could because I figured it would need the energy (and even more because it was so damn delicious.)
As I leave the Turiststation to head out for the trail I see Matthew. A German guy I had met shortly the day before at Kiruna airport, he was also waiting for the bus to Abisko. He left for the trail the evening before, but figured out it was too late to be able to get out of the park (so he wouldn’t be able to camp) and decided to turn back that same evening and start again the next day. So we started the trail at the same time and ended up hiking together.
I had gotten a good sleep and a good breakfast, so was feeling very good and ready to go. Though it soon became clear that I had overpacked, I could already feel the shoulderstraps of my pack doing some damage. I didn’t weigh my pack with my full waterbottle and camera attached, but I’m guessing it was about 20kg, which is a bit too much for me, I now know. Despite the heavy load on my back, I enjoy the walk. The surroundings are beautiful, every now and then we see a waterfall through the fall-coloured forest.
Not a bad start!
My pace is a bit slow, mainly because of the combination of the pack and the little elevations. Around 4 we arrive at the first hut, the Abiskojaure hut. I take the opportunity to take off my pack for a bit, and check out the ‘store’. It’s just a little room with some food, candy, medical supplies and stuff like toothpaste and shampoo. Since I can’t bear the thought of adding even one extra gram to my pack I quickly leave the minishop again.
We ended up chatting to the hutkeeper a bit, who was telling us about how last weekend 75 people slept in the huts even though there is room for only 53 people. These huts have a guarantee that if you want, you will have a place to sleep in the hut. It might be on a mattress on the floor, or on a bench, but you will not be refused entry. If we wanted to camp there though, we had to pay a fee (since we were still in the park). We said we’d rather keep going and then camp, so the hutkeeper told us about a little foresty area on the trail about 3km outside of the park, where lots of people end up camping. It sounded like a good spot so we head out on the trail again. On our way we came across some Sami huts. No Sami people though. While talking to the hutkeeper we found out that they had left just a few days earlier. They only live in these villages during reindeer migration season. It was very cool to see nonetheless.
Little Sami hut
Just outside the National Park, on our way to the campsite
We arrive at the camping area, where a few people had already set up camp. I think there must’ve been 5 or 6 tents in total. I’m glad I get to remove the litteral weight of my shoulders and quickly set up my tent. This was obviously a popular camping spot, since there were still leftovers from a fire. We decide to get a fire started, because it was getting pretty cold pretty fast after the sun set behind the mountains.
End of day 1
I have never camped without being cold and this time was no different. I was glad when the sun hit my tent, and after it heated up a bit I quickly put on some warm clothes and started breakfast. No yoghurt and berries this time, just instant oatmeal flavoured with a bit of cocoapowder I forgot I had. Not an award-winning meal by all means, but after a day of hiking and a night of being cold in my tent, this hot meal tasted more than ok.
After breakfast we got ready to go. I filled up my waterbottle at the nearby river and off we went. The first 2 hours or so were all uphill, YAY. I had given away some wraps and my jar of peanut butter to the hutkeeper the day before in a weak attempt to make my pack lighter. Theoretically it worked, but I didn’t feel much of it in practise.
Photobombed by a mosquito.
Fortunately soon the views distracted me enough to not care about the little elephant that obviously had sneaked into my backpack. Once we were up the hill we saw snowy mountains in the distance, and a lake with a Sami village in the nearer distance.
Nice view of a Sami village (on the right)
And as if that wasn’t pretty enough, very shortly after that we saw a herd of reindeer passing by. We stopped and sat down to look at them for a few minutes, until they disappeared behind the horizon.
One of the reindeer strolling by
And the views only got better from there on out. I still can’t believe how lucky we were with this perfect weather. Sun, no clouds, and just enough wind to cool down a bit. I am also glad I decided to hike from north to south, which meant I would be facing the sun most of the way there. If I wasn’t forced to keep an eye on the trail to not trip and possibly break some bones, I would definitely have closed my eyes and just soak up the sun (though my red nose soon had proven that I had soaked up more than enough sun already).
These valleys and hills are quite a sight to see, and because of the vastness it was very hard to get a sense of distance. From very early on we could see the huts, which were our goal for the day. But it still took several hours to reach them. (Which after a while started getting frustrating, seeing your goal in front of you but seemingly not getting any closer.)
View of the huts in the distance
They’re so fluffy!
It’s actually quite a miracle I didn’t get distracted by the view and trip over rocks more than I did.
Around the same time as the day before we reached the huts. No running stream nearby, so we filled up our bottles in the big watertank the huts had. We quickly found a spot a bit further up the trail. Again I had a hard time wearing the pack, but I think my body was starting to get used to it. That and the view kept me sufficiently occupied.
Another Sami village near the huts
I was so tired from the hike that after dinner I fell asleep almost rightaway. I had planned to set my alarm in the night, since the skies looked like the would be clear and we were in a great position to see the northern lights. I forgot to actually set the alarm, but fortunately my trusty enemy, coldness, woke me up. Not even thinking about the lights, I open up the zippers of my tent a bit to check out the starry sky (not a lot of light pollution going on here). I immediately see this cloud-like thing dancing in the sky. Without even looking away I grab my camera and quickly set it up somewhere for some shots. I can’t take my eyes of the sky, it was so hypnotizing.
My first aurora!
I put on a warm sweater and face the outside of my tent, which is even colder. I go to Matthew’s tent to wake him up and show him the sky. Knocking on a tent is not as effective as I’d hoped, so I quietly shout at him to check this out. The colder I get the louder I yell and fortunately he wakes up pretty fast. I’ve done my duty so I quickly go back to my shelter and enjoy the spectacle from inside my sleeping bag and think about the person who I would’ve loved to share this moment with. Just as the lights start to fade a bit, I start feeling really sleepy. I happily close the tent and lie down. This was a perfect ending to a great start of an already amazing trip.
To be continued…