An Arctic shakedown and photos

by backpackingbongos

Yesterday morning winter put in a brief appearance in the town of Kiruna.  Flakes of snow were mixed in with the persistent rain which was falling out of a leaden sky.  The taxi driver that took me to the airport said that the temperature was only 1.5 celcius when he had started work.  He thought that the mountains which I had spent a week walking through would now be under a mantle of white.

I think I was exceptionally lucky with the weather, the first three days being almost too hot for walking with a heavy pack.  The weather changes fast and on the fifth day I woke to wet snow falling on my high level camp.  The day spent walking through swirling mists unfortunately hiding the grandeur above.

I set out to walk the first week of the Kungsleden trail but after the first day and a half found it too busy for my liking.  I did a fairly risky river crossing and set off for three days along a series of much quieter side trails, meeting just a handful of people along the way.  As I rejoined the Kungsleden later in the week I found the crowds even more of a shock.

Crowds or not, it was the scenery that totally blew me away, a huge variety in such a short distance.  From the damp humid birch forests I climbed into a landscape that resembled the Cairngorms on steroids.  A day later and I had the music from Lord of the rings going through my head.  Jagged peaks punctured the clouds above one of the most beautiful primeval valleys I have visited.  There is something rather special about wild camping when the nearest road is nearly three days walk away.

What did surprise me was just how difficult it was to find a decent wild camping spot as compared to the British hills.  Space is not an issue, there is plenty of that.  It’s what is under foot which is the issue.  The ground is carpeted in thick wooded shrubs which I think may include Arctic willow.  Definitely not something that you want to pitch a tent on if you value your ground sheet.  Otherwise the ground is either solid rock, boulders or gravel.  It often took a bit of searching to find somewhere suitable to pitch my tent.

Anyway I will do a proper write-up soon.  In the meantime here are a few photos giving a flavour of my 120 kilometer trek.

The Abiskojakka river though the Abisko national park was my companion for much of the first day.

A Sami hut near Abeskojavri.

My first wild camp with the mighty cliffs of Njuikkostakbakti (1370 m) rising above.

The view from my first wild camp.  It reminded me of the Scottish Highlands yet the scale was simply vast.

Visttasvarri (1299 m) rising above the rough landscape.

Looking across the length of Alisjavri from the south shore.  The path disappeared after this point for a few kilometres.

Crossing a low pass on the way to the sublime valley of Visttasvaggi.

Visttasvaggi took my breath away.

The satellite peaks of Passustjakka (1935 m) towering above my camp.  I had a real feeling of being alone that night, the nearest road at the end of the valley being at least 40km away.

Lord of the rings country as I enter Stuor Reaiddavaggi.

The mighty peak of Nallu (1585 m) possibly the most impressive bit of rock I have ever seen.

My highest camp above the Nallo hut, I awoke the following morning and it was snowing.

The highest point of the trip at 1056 m, the mountains hidden in mist.

Descending towards the huts at Salka.

When I spotted an actual patch of grass I could not resist pitching my tent on it!

A peak just off my map filled the sky with a huge wall of rock.

Looking up towards Duolbagorni (1662 m), a satellite of the huge Kebnekaise, the highest peak in Sweden.

Seemingly endless birch forest on the way to the road head at Nikkaluokta.

Fancy a big lap?

55 Responses to “An Arctic shakedown and photos”

  1. Woooooooooooooooooooow!!!!! Looks fantastic. They’ve done a good job of keeping their mountains quiet those canny Swedes… Lovely pics, JB.

    • Hey Pete. Until I started doing research on the Kungsleden I did not even realise that Sweden had mountains, thought it was all forest up there. It turns out that they do have mountains which are out of this world!

  2. Fantastic,utterly fantastic, amazing photos and mind blowing scenery. Beautiful.

    • Thanks for the kind words Dawn. It was pretty easy to just randomly point a camera out there, the scenery was stunning.

  3. Awe inspiring! Quite fabulous!
    Can’t wait to read more about it, James.

  4. Looks totally brilliant. Can’t wait to see more.

  5. Excellent. Will look forward to the trip report mate. Love the last few pics 🙂

  6. just back from a week on the Isle of Skye. Those highland mountains now looking rather small compared to your Scandinavian extravaganza ^-^

    • Some of the mountains of Sweden do have a bit of a Scottish flavour to them, its just the scale of the place that is different. The Isle of Skye is still a mighty fine place though.

  7. yeah, that’s awereet that ;p

  8. Looks like you picked a goodun there James, looks like an amazing place.

  9. Well done James, we envy the remoteness of your trip – just a bit difficult for us at present due to Sue’s inability to carry a rucksack. Looking forward to reading more in due course. Hope you are coping with ‘back to reality’!

    • Back to work today was a bit of a shock Martin! I love to get as remote as possible when backpacking, that’s what I get a real buzz from. Although Sue cannot carry a rucksack she does manage to get the miles in. I hope that she will be able to carry a rucksack soon.

  10. Amazing looking scenery there! Looking forward to reading more…

    • Thanks Chrissie. I’m sure that I will have much less to write about that your 5 weeks in Scandinavia! You back this weekend then?

      • I don’t know about that james, your backpack will probably be more focused than our trip really. Been great though. The first post is already written i just can’t seem to publish it from over here. It’s called ‘the labrador and the seagull’…
        Back on saturday – dixie’s not very keen on the ferries she says!

      • Look forward to your posts Chrissie, ‘the labrador and the seagul’ sounds interesting! I bet you can’t wait to go back to work after 5 weeks away!!

  11. Excellent photos from a wonderful area, yep I know about he folks on the Kungsleden, there are plenty. But a little way from the trail you have the grandeur of the mountains to yourself. I expect I will have many more visits to the area. Looking forward to more photos and comments.

    • Cheers Roger. There were some sights on the Kungsleden, lots of people walking in jeans through a cold drizzle stood out! Also some of the packs people were carrying were amazing. I’m no UL backpacker but my pack looked like a day sack in comparison!

  12. It looks like a wonderful place to spend time exploring James. I am looking forward to the write up… and more pics of course.

    • A week really was not long enough David, only really got to touch the surface a little bit. Nearly 400 photos to sift through this weekend.

  13. Wow. Those are stunning mountains. I am envies. Very envies. Nice one James.

    • The mountains were very different from my usual moorland stomping ground Martin. Very wild and rocky and with glaciers which are new to me!

  14. Fantastic looking trip there James. What were the mosquitoes like?

    • The mosquitos were about half a centimeter long with six legs and a wicked bite……………

      Joking aside it really varied, when it was cold there were none but as soon as the sun came out they suddenly appeared, especially at lower elevations. I think I got away lightly but they have a pretty nasty bite.

  15. Magnificent stuff, just what wild remote backpacking should be.

  16. I’m glad you got away form the crowds and had a great trip. Unfortunately the Kungsleden is… rather popular 🙂 The scenery looks fantastic in the photos, and all-in-all pretty good weather.

    It is surprising more people don’t know about the mountains in Sweden (and Lapland by extension). It’s a fantastic area, and just off the trail is the place to be.

    I take it with the cold you weren’t bothered by mosquitoes then? They seem to be slowly dying off here in Finland anyway.

    • Hi Mark. The Kungsleden deserves to be popular, it is pretty spectacular. It was a good move leaving the trail for a few day. Once off the main trail the crowds simply melted away. The mountains of Sweden and lapland do seem to be very unkown, possibly due to the fact that there is very little written in English? Even with a popular walk like the Kungsleden I only found one English language guidebook and a couple of blogs.

      I had a couple of bad mozzie days when they hitched a ride on my merinio baselayer without me noticing. My back and shoulders were pretty sore and itchy for a few days afterwards. No need for a headnet etc though and I soon found out they cant bite through my windshirt!

  17. Great photos from a great trip! I’d say next time you could stay off Kungsleden (almost) all the way: Abisko-Ballinvaggi-Siellavaggi-the Mårma pass-Unna Reidavaggi-Tarfala-Kebnekaise mountain station-Laddjuvaggi-Nikkaluokta. That’s the trip we would like to do in a year or two or three…

    • I just looked at that route on my map and it looks rather excellent. I have heard that the Marma pass can be rather tough though.

  18. Breathtaking. Looks to have been quite a trip!

  19. Wow now that is what you call wild! Excellent!

  20. Awesome. Echoing the rest of the “I didn’t know Sweden had mountains” comments although I had guessed that industrial sized mozzies were a plague of the northern forests. I remember watching some nature program or other when the presenter stripped off to his pants to see how many bites he could accummulate in a minute – answer, LOTS 🙂

    Looking forward to the write ups of the adventures….

    • Some of the mozzies that I saw were pretty big, one day I managed to get bitten all over my back and shoulders. It was agony a few days later when they all swelled up. The mountains are obviously a well kept secret on this side of the North Sea, I did not meet any other Brits whilst over there.

  21. Fantasic landscape. Kinda reminds me of home, but just a bit different!

  22. Wow, now I’ve seen somewhere else I have to get to before I die! Cracking photos and a big surprise size wise of the mountains. Would love to do a trip like yours looks awe-inspiring!

    • Hi James. Although I knew how big the mountains would be, the scale of them took me by suprise. A brilliant place to explore.

  23. hiya i’m looking into doing this hike and wondered what time of year you went?? hannah 🙂

    • Hi Hannah, I did this hike in the middle to end of August. I think that if I went again I would go either the last week of Aug or first week of Sept.


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