Walking the Royal Trail (Kungsleden)

2005-07-30 — 2005-08-17

Text and photos by Peter Andrén

peter.andren (at) gmail.com

This is a very quick and dirty translation from the corresponding Swedish page (Kungsleden), mainly to test certain multi-language capabilities in my HTML publishing system. It should, I hope, be better than Google Translate, and maybe even useful for some daring individuals. I think I sometimes have retained the Swedish way of constructing sentences, so try reading it with a "Scandinavian" accent for better fluency.

This travelogue is written more that two years after the trek itself. Due to my sometimes faltering memory certain factual errors may be present. As I have forgotten lots of details about this trek, you don't have to read what I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and there'll be very little about the weather, which otherwise is quite common in travelogues from the mountains.

I had just started with the outdoor recreation, and I wanted to go to the "fjällen" (this Swedish word has no good translation, but it roughly means "northern mountains"). Before going there I had tested my equipment on a few weekend tours around my home-town of Linköping, and a couple of longer treks on the very even Skåneleden. I had the feeling I was strong enough, and my boots were adequately broken in for a longer trek. So, with the aim of walking the entire Kungsleden I went to Hemavan.

2005-07-30--09-28-24.00.jpg When I started to plan my trek I knew next to nothing about the "fjällen", but I did know that Kungsleden is what you normally begin with. After a bit of research I noticed that this did not apply to all of Kungsleden, and especially not all of Kungsleden at once. But I still thought this would be a good introduction, and it wouldn't be any problem to break the trek in Ammarnäs or Kvikkjokk if necessary.

I took the easy way and decided to stay in huts as that would be very comfortable, and my tenting experience was still very limited. The fact that there are no huts operated by the Swedish Tourist Society (STF) did not discourage me. With data from maps to my GPS I made height profiles for my planned day's treks. The longest one was all of 49 km, but I though that would be okay. A few week before I had tried to walk the 56 km John Bauer trek between Huskvarna and Gränna (in Sweden obviously), with success. Well, my feet were sore, but I had made the mistake to walk in trainers rather that the more suitable boots.

I had my GPS activated all the time. It went completely berserk once, but you can see an edited route in Google Maps. It still strikes me as very long when I see it on a map like this. But it didn't feel long — just on foot in front of the other, and so on  . . .

I walked from Hemavan in the south to Abisko in the north. One reason to the choice of direction (the other was is probably the more common one) was that it would feel better to walk with the sun on the back than in the eyes. Also, I thought it would be nicer to arrive at Abisko Mountain Station that to the Hemavan youth hostel. I think I made the right decision, even if I didn't have that much sun, and my "reception" in Abisko was sort of cool.

The Kungsleden is really worth to walk in it's entirety, but you don't necessarily have to do it all in one go. The part between Abisko and Vakkotavare receives, in my opinion, a too large share of the attention. The Vindelfjällen are at least as nice to walk in, and the "forgotten" path between Ammarnäs and Kvikkjokk will give you many experiences you don't get on the more used parts further north.

Hemavan to Ammarnäs

During the trek I kept a low profile about my intentions to walk the entire Kungsleden. Or, rather, in the beginning I told people so, but this often turned into a discussion. When I stopped at the first mountain hut the host asked me the almost compulsory question "So, where are you going?". I answered that I wanted to go to Abisko, to which she said "Okay, will you there and back again?". I though, wow is that what people do, and said "well, no, just the one way  . . .". But then she said "hey, hold on, you said Ammarnäs, right — you can't walk to Abisko. But why do you want to do that?" She was friendly and supportive, but that was the general attitude. So I started saying that I was walking a bit more north, and would see how I felt then. (Later, I was told that the host in Viterskalet apparently thought it was a good idea. Jenni, who arrived there only six hours after me was told that "you have just missed another solo-walker heading to Abisko — but he looked rather fit, so that shouldn't be any problems.")

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However, when I arrived at Abisko I do wanted to brag a little about having walked all of Kungsleden. So I asked some leading questions to the receptionist in the Abisko Mountain Station, and finally I got her to understand that I had started in Hemavan nineteen days before. "I see, yes, well, this is the end." As if I didn't knew that.

2005-07-30--16-27-29.00.jpg 2005-07-30--16-59-02.00.jpg Some people got angry when I told them I usually walked two day's marched every day. "But you haven't got time to see things in that tempo." My arguments that the views in "fjällen" don't change that quickly, and that if I walk a lot I would see a lot, were just waved off. In the "fjällen" you should just sit on a stone, drink coffee, and just look at the grass and so. That I truly enjoyed to walk long distances and arrive late at the next site was the cause of lots of scepticism among my fellow walkers. The fact that I did walk and not performed some more adrenaline-loaded outdoor activity was noted by very few.

2005-07-31--08-50-29.00.jpg 2005-07-31--09-14-35.00.jpg But there were exceptions. I specially remember Kalle from Jönköping. We shared a dormitory in Sälka so I had, in other words, not so many days to go to Abisko, and I told him about my trek. He didn't tell me explicitly, but I think he was gladly surprised to meet someone from the "younger generation" who made an effort while walking. I explained that a mountain trek was, to me, apart from the obvious stay in the great outdoors, a way to see what my body can do. I wanted to be tired when I arrived at a hut in the evening, and so on. "Interesting that you say that, because I feel exactly the same way myself", he said several times during our long conversation, which I understood as an expression of sympathy. The people you meet in the mountains is one big reason to walk there.

When I stopped telling people that I would walk to Abisko, they got concerned about my chances to manage the part between Ammarnäs and Kvikkjokk without a tent. I did not mention that I was planning to walk almost 50 km some days, but I just said it shouldn't be a problem. However, the concerned hosts of the mountain huts started to communicate with each other about the "solo-walker without tent". When I was just about to leave Aigert the host Jörg entered the dormitory and wondered if I was married. A strange question perhaps, he said, but the hosts had found a female solo-walker with a tent, walking just half a day behind me. Jörg said that I could sleep in her tent. This sounded very strange, and turned out to be completely false. But I thought that it would be nice with some company and decided to wait for "the tent-girl" in Ammarnäs.

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Ammarnäs to Kvikkjokk

2005-08-05--14-52-27.00.jpg That's how I met Jenni, about whom you can read more on my web pages about Sarek, Nepal and Australien och Nya Zeeland (in Swedish). Jenni had a one-person Akto tent from Hilleberg—The Tentmaker, which I hardly fit into even alone, so there was no talk about sharing the tent. But we walked north together, and as it turned out it was Jenni who started to sleep in huts rather than me in a tent. One very good thing with Jenni was that she had actually prepared for her trek. I just hoped and assumed that things would turn out fine, and with a large amount of luck they did. But you really should reserve huts in advance for this part of Kungsleden, or even better walk with a tent. I was lucky and always got a key to the huts, but that's normally far from certain.

Jenni had already walked Kungsleden from Abisko till Kvikkjokk, and was just doing her last parts. From Kvikkjokk to Saltoluokta two of her cousins would join her.

On the section from Ammarnäs to Kvikkjokk we used the huts in Rävfallsstugan, Sjnjultje, Adolfsström, Jäkkvik, Vuonatjviken, and Västerfjäll. On STF's map of Kungsleden there's nothing between Vuonatjviken and Kvikkjokk, but there you can actually find Västerfjäll. Västerfjäll was a part of Kungsleden to the early nineteen-eighties when "all inhabitants" moved and Kungsleden moved with them (but not to the same place). More about this further down.

Sometimes I'm quite impressed with how cool people are in Norrland (i.e. the most northern part of Sweden). In Jäkkvik Jenni and I was resting on a large bridge foundation when a small girl of about four years of age came up and asked us what we did on the wrong side of the road-barrier. Well, somehow I managed to answer that, and started talking to the girl's bigger sister about living in Jäkkvik. When they were about to cycle away I noticed that the older girl didn't have any pedals on her bike, and I asked her how that worked for her. "I kick to roll" she said and just kicked away. (If this doesn't sound funny something has been lost in my translation, as this was very funny indeed when it happened.)

When I needed to know if there was any room or hut to rent in Vuonatjviken I asked the host at the place we were staying "Can one stay in Vuonatjviken?". In a slow northern accent he said that "Well, Britt and Erik they, yes, they live there, and I think, yes I think their son has moved home again." He had answered my question as if I wanted to know if it was possible, in general, to live there. (This makes more sense in Swedish, which is more ambiguous with the pronouns in this example.) Anyway, I had to ask again "Do you think we can stay there?" to which he just said "Sure, no problems." Just as it turned out to be — no problems. When we stayed in Vuonatjviken we asked if we should just leave the key in the door when we left the other day. "Yes, yes, no one comes here unannounced." That's probably true.

In Jäkkvik they have a proper grocery store which is true bliss to every trekker. Never before has cheese tasted better than in Jäkkvik.

One nice thing about walking over a longer period of time is that you meet the same people many times and you get to know them better and better. In Ammarnäs Jenni and I met two older men from the Swedish towns of Uppsala and Enköping, if I remember correctly. We passed each other many times, and stayed in the same huts. I don't remember how, but they had met a German solitary walker who had planned to walk from Abisko to Åre (about 1000 kilometres). The two men thought it insane, but I think I could understand him better.

When we later met Kai, as he was named, he explained his long trek with "I like to walk and I like the Swedish mountains, so  . . ." I understand this explanation perfectly. The more you walk the more you will see. I don't think it's possible to walk so fast that you miss something (except maybe rest).

Due to bad weather we started from Vuonatjviken far to late to make it to Kvikkjokk in just one day. It was raining slowly, which make stones and roots very slippery, so we felt it would be an unnecessary risk to walk while tired. On the map we saw a place called Västerfjäll not far from the path. Maybe we could find some place to sleep there.

Said and done, we walked to Västerfjäll, and it was almost dark when we got there. The church was open, so we could sleep there if we couldn't find anything else. But we unloaded our backpacks and walked around in the village. One house seemed to be occupied, but no one answered the door. When we reached the last house in the village a dog came towards us. We knocked at the door which was promptly opened by a woman. We asked if we could stay anywhere in the village. "Wait and I'll see", she said and closed the door, only to open it twenty second later and say that we could enter. We could sleep in the room of "Uncle Oscar" on the upper floor.

The couple living in the house (summer-house) were named Elsie and Isak. Isak immediately started to take down framed pictures and paintings from to wall, and fixed strings on which we could dry our wet clothes. By a fantastic coincidence the chimney-sweeper had been there the day before and fixed a little stove in the room. It turned out that uncle Oscar hadn't lived in the room since 1982, the year of the village exodus. When I earlier had read about "all inhabitants" moving I had visualized a caravan with oxcarts and people moving away slowly. But apparently "all inhabitants" were Oscar and another old man — no one else had lived there for a long time.

I wish there were more places like Västerfjäll, and more people like Elsie and Isak.

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Kvikkjokk to Abisko

Now, I just walked on. As you mainly walk in valleys this is not the best part of Kungsleden, if you ask me. Admittedly, the valleys are very big, and the difference isn't that bid compared with the more southern parts. More to the point was probably that I started to feel quite pleased (here as a euphemism for tired, worn-out, etc.) The last days I pushed on just to get to Abisko. But I still enjoyed the walk — and I enjoyed the feeling of getting closer to the end.

One very good thing with the STF's huts is the cupboard where people can leave stuff for others to take. Here you can see how peoples' big ambitions with gruel for breakfast have come to nothing. I often searched these cupboards to find something to add to my own meager food. But you have to pay attention to what you find. Sugar was something I was always looking for, and which you often can find. You only had to make sure it wasn't salt, which is about as common (some people bring ridiculous amounts of salt on their treks). I think it was in Teusajaure where I found a promising bad, wet my finger and tasted. Hmmm, neither sugar nor salt, I thought before the horrible taste of some powder detergent quickly spread in my mouth. The lack of faucets was suddenly a problem, and it turned out to be hard to get it all out with the help of a ladle and a bucket. I still shiver when I think about it.

At the end I had eaten all my food and relied completely on the food you can buy in some huts. And that's fine as long as the hosts are there to sell the food. On my last leg between Alesjaure and Abisko had nothing more than three pieces of hard bread and a few cubes of sugar left. But that was all right as you should be able to buy food in Abiskojaure, at about halfway. But the host was out and had pinned a note "Back at 18:00" or something like that. The only food I could find in the left-over cupboards was ketchup. I was used to eating at least four helpings of meat stew with vegetables. Now I had to sit with a bottle of water and soak the hard bread with a cube of sugar in the mouth, and just try to make this seem filling. I wasn't completely satisfied when I walked the last section up to Abisko.

During the last ten kilometres I probably started to relax, and then the pains came. My feet felt wholly unelastic, and when I walked about in my room in the particularly uncharming Abisko Mountain Station if was as if I walked directly on the skeleton. All the walking with walking-poles had screwed up some muscle in my back, and I started to feel just very tired. This part of the trek is really very beautiful, but I couldn't appreciate that.

When I arrived at Abisko I had a strong feeling of satisfaction. I would like to have seen a small brass band welcoming me, and the mountain supervisor Putte Eby meeting me with a book I could sign — as Everest climbers sign the book at Rum Doodle. But as I wrote above I got a very cool reception. To be honest, the girl in the reception didn't look like an outdoorsy kind of girl, or perhaps she just wasn't impressed.

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I'm very happy with my long trek. Next time I'll take more time and bring a tent. But I now feel that long treks is something for the future.


Copyright © 2007,2010 Peter Andrén