Posts tagged ‘Kungsleden’

September 4, 2015

Mountains, Marshes and Mosquitoes – Arctic Sarek 2015 (part 1)

by backpackingbongos

Day 0 – 21st August

I couldn’t fully relax until our luggage emerged on the carrousel at Luleå airport. Being on a tight schedule we couldn’t afford for it to go missing. Luleå is the capital of Norrbotten County, the northernmost county in Sweden and our jumping off point for Sarek National Park.

The passengers on the fully booked flight from Stockholm soon went their various ways in cars and taxis, leaving Chrissie and myself waiting half an hour for the airport bus. It was after 9pm and the sun had just set, however the sky would remain light for another couple of hours. The bus itself is a bargain for Sweden at around £1.50 for the thirty minute ride into town.

At 10pm on a Friday night Luleå is about as far removed as it is possible to be from the UK. The streets were eerily quite and lacking gangs of identically dressed young men going through mating rituals or out looking for a fight.

The Comfort Hotel Arctic is handily placed opposite the train station and booked in advance was a bargain at £49 for a single room each. We went to our separate rooms where I spent an hour repacking my rucksack, double checking that I had everything I needed. I have to admit that I find the whole packing process a little stressful, my main fear being of leaving something important behind. I spent a restless night worrying about the logistics of purchasing gas and getting to the trailhead the following day.

 

Day 1 – 22nd August

It was a beautifully crisp morning, banks of fog drifting under a crystal clear blue sky. The breakfast at the hotel was typically Swedish. Freshly baked bread, cheese, cold cuts, eggs, salad and various jars of herring. Plenty of strong coffee on tap.

The first job of the day was to find the supermarket and buy a few provisions for lunch. At 9am on a Saturday morning the city centre was even more deserted than the night before. It looked like the human race had vanished, soon after giving the place a good clean. Luleå is spotless, even the windows were gleaming under the late summer sun.

A Swedish supermarket is always worth a baffling browse, I am always amazed at the sheer number of products that come in large squeezy tubes. Thankfully bread, cheese and biscuits are easily recognisable.

The main thing that I had been worrying about before leaving home was the purchasing of gas for our stoves. I had emailed the Luleå Naturkompaniet store six months before, asking if it would be possible to purchase gas in advance and have it delivered to our hotel a short walk away. This was agreed and the hotel said that they would keep it at the reception for us. This would have enabled us to catch the 08.30 train, connecting with a bus to get us to the trailhead in time to get a few kilometres under our belt that day. When I emailed two weeks before the trip I just hit a wall of silence from the store, whilst their head office said that it would not be possible. This sadly meant that we had to catch the 10.47 train instead, the connecting bus not being scheduled to arrive until nearly 17.00.

I was therefore waiting outside the outdoor shop when it opened at 10.00 and was pleased to see a large pile of Primus gas canisters near the till. Chrissie had been left with our packs at the station and I got back to our platform with plenty of time to spare.

We caught a train that was travelling all the way to Narvik in Norway, our station being in the small village of Murjek a couple of hours away from Luleå. The train was initially virtually empty until we reached Boden where it filled to bursting point with hikers and their huge rucksacks. It must have been one of the highest concentration of backpackers in the world! I began to worry that they would all be getting off at Murjek and the bus would not be able to fit everyone on. As it turned out only a handful got off with us, everyone else must have been heading to Abisko and the northern terminus of the Kungsleden trail.

The Murjek to Kvikkjokk bus must be one of the slowest and most leisurely in the world. It only travels about 160 kilometres yet takes nearly four hours. The scenery gets progressively more spectacular the nearer you get to Kvikkjokk, the last part being along a series of huge lakes with a backdrop of mountains. It’s just a shame that it does not stop at the large sign showing that you are crossing the Arctic Circle.

We finally arrived at the church in Kvikkjokk, a short distance from the STF hostel where we had arranged to leave a bag so as to lighten our loads. It was 17.00 yet still baking hot, the sun hammering down from one of the deepest blue skies that I have seen. This meant that clouds of mosquitoes were buzzing and biting due to my failure to bring along any repellant. They should have died off at this time of year. Sadly the hostels tiny little shop had sold out (along with gas canisters so I was glad we had not relied on them to get any) so I spent the rest of the week begging the odd spray from Chrissie.

It was with a bit of excitement that we finally shouldered our packs and headed north under the large Kungsleden sign.

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Even though the shadows were lengthening it was hot and humid in the forest, especially felt on the long and steady climb. The trees mean that the view is restricted, but the forest itself is beautiful, a mix of pine and birch with the ground being covered in bilberry, juniper and dwarf willow.

The path alternated between wide and rocky with numerous tree roots to navigate, to marsh with long sections of duckboards to protect the fragile ground.

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Finally we came to a clearing and voices indicated the first suitable area to camp since leaving Kvikkjokk. Places to pitch a tent can be few and far between in the forests, the ground being a thick tangle of vegetation or bog. Sadly there are not many nice grassy meadows.

The clearing was full of long shadows and early autumn colours under the setting sun, clouds of mosquitoes hanging in the air.

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Between the two bridges marked on the map there are a few places suitable for pitching a tent. The popularity of the Kungsleden means that you have to pitch on bare earth, areas with vegetation left being far too stony. I was glad that I had brought a tyvek groundsheet to keep my tent floor clean.

It remained very warm all evening and I ended up sitting cooking outdoors with my windproof on to stop the mosquitoes biting through my merino base layer. I had to resort to a head net at one point, the buzzing and biting getting too much.

We both felt a bit daft sitting there fully protected against the insects when a giant of a man passed dressed in only shorts and t-shirt. Five minutes later he came back carrying a large tree under one arm. He said something that translated roughly as, “Me man, me make fire”. I had visions of him snapping the tree into logs over his knee.

As soon as the temperature became bearable we escaped the insects for the sanctuary of our tents. It was far too warm so late in the evening, especially considering that we were in the Arctic. It would be days before I wore more than a baselayer, even at night.

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There was a fair bit of nocturnal rodent rustling in the night, the patter of little feet on the tyvek groundsheet in the porch. Luckily nothing was eaten or chewed. I fell asleep with the thought in my head that the trip would start properly the following morning. We would leave the busy Kungsleden and cross the boundary into Sarek.

August 28, 2012

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?

June 24, 2012

Fjallkartan – BD6 Abisko – Kebnekaise – Narvik

by backpackingbongos

For me one of the best things about planning a trip is spreading out a map and virtually walking my route.  I trace the line that I will walk, envisioning the landscape that I will be passing through.  The printed page becomes 3D with the folds of valleys, crashing streams and towering peaks.

I recently received a map for the section of the Kungsleden trail that I will be walking later in the summer.  Opening it up is like learning to read all over again, completely different from the Ordnance Survey maps which have become so familiar.  The scale will take some getting used to, you can’t cram a huge amount of detail in at 1:100,000 and the contours are every 20 metres.  There are new map features to learn, although thankfully the legend also includes English.

The last time that I attempted to navigate via a foreign map was whilst doing the Helambu trek in Nepal several years ago.  It was still early in the season and we were close to reaching a lodge on the highest part of the trek.  Without warning an electrical snow storm blew in and within minutes our path was covered in inches of the white stuff.  Out came the map but it soon became evident that it would be impossible to navigate using 100 metre contour lines!  With darkness fast approaching and thunder and lightning booming and crashing all around us, it was not the best time to be stranded on an isolated mountain ridge.  It was decision time, attempt to retrace our steps for four hours back through the forest, or continue onwards to try to locate our lodge for the night.  We decided to continue onwards for 10 minutes, just in case, before turning back.  I’m not embarrassed to say we both shed a tear of relief when we spotted a light in the darkness a few hundred metres away.

Thankfully the Swedish maps are much better, and to be honest to actually walk this section of the Kungsleden they may not be totally necessary.  The trail is heavily used and well signposted.  However I have plans to make a couple of diversions off the main path for a quiet wild camp or to climb an easy peak, weather permitting.  I look forward to sitting with map on lap and guide book in hand, planning these diversions.

The Kungsleden has now changed from a dream into reality.  My flights are booked along with a sleeper train and a hotel for the night in Stockholm.  Whenever I think of the trek my feelings could best be summed up as ‘nervous excitement’!

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May 14, 2012

Kungsleden – I’m trekking above the arctic circle in August

by backpackingbongos

A few months ago I wrote of my plans to hike the Arctic Circle trail in Greenland.  I have to say that I wish that I had done my research on travelling there before mentioning my intentions.  The cost of the flights are prohibitively expensive and difficult to justify for a trekking holiday.  I also have to admit that I started to get the heebie-jeebies about walking solo for 10 days across the arctic tundra.  Only around 300 people complete the trail each year and you really are on your own out there from start to finish……….

I then started to research other routes which would still take me above the arctic circle, but be cheaper and less daunting.  I finally settled on the Kungsleden in Sweden.  As much as I would love to do the full 440 kilometres, I only have a weeks holiday available this year.  I have settled for the northern section, a total of 105 to 121 kilometres in seven days.  I plan to start in Abisko and finish in Nikkaluokta, both accessible from the city of Kiruna.

I have to say that for a popular trail it has been difficult doing research on the practicalities as there is not a huge amount written in English.  The guidebook is excellent for the trail itself but gives no indication of how to get to the various trailheads.  Gathering information from various sources I worked out travel arrangements and today took the plunge and booked my tickets.

I fly to Stockholm where I will spend the night.  The following evening I have booked a sleeper train, a 17 hour journey which will drop me off right at the trail head.  I have treated myself to a private cabin, which although not cheap is better value than the sleeper to Scotland.  The journey home is much quicker with a flight from Kiruna to Stockholm, a short wait and then onwards to Manchester.

So, why Kungsleden?  For a start the scenery looks out of this world and the trail passes through one of the largest wilderness areas in Europe.  The trail is easy to follow and there is little risk of getting lost.  There is a good network of huts spaced a days walk apart, giving me options for accommodation.  If the weather is bad I can stay in a nice warm hut, dry my clothes and even have a sauna in some places!  For a small fee you can pitch outside and use the facilities, a good half way option.  The most preferable for me will be to wild camp in the middle of nowhere, perhaps detouring to a remote spot.  For example I like this description in the guidebook:

The lake in the side valley opposite the huts can be a pleasant excursion.  The stream from the lake forms attractive waterfalls, as it drops towards the main valley.  The lake itself is a hidden pearl, set in a beautiful hollow surrounded by high peaks.  If you wish to spend the night in solitude, it is worth finding a tent pitch in this unforgettable landscape.

Sold!  There are also several peaks that sound like they could make worthy side trips from the main trail if energy and enthusiasm is high.

The only downside of this section of the Kungsleden is its popularity.  Hopefully starting in mid August I should avoid the main peak season and I will be going after the school holidays.  The mosquitos may still be a problem though.

Anyway, enough waffling as the trip is still 3 months away.  A couple of questions for you.  Has anyone stayed in Stockholm?  I am looking for a cheap and half decent hotel which is within walking distance of the train station.  Less than £50 for a single room and I will be a very happy man.  Also suggestions for what to do for a day whilst I wait for the train?

Here is the best video that I could find of the Kungsleden, with the exception of the music it really makes me want to be there now.  It is also the section of the trail that I am going to do but in reverse.

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