The prior year we trekked on the Troms Border Trail in Norway and enjoyed it so much we thought we'd try something similar in Sweden, adding a peak-bagging adventure. We did 2 treks on different parts of the Kungsleden, broken up by a return to Kiruna to stock up on supplies. The Kungsleden was a lot more crowded than the Troms Border Trail, and for that reason we were slightly disappointed. However, we lucked out on the weather on peak-bagging day and summited the highest point in Sweden!
First of all, a few tips from our experience:
BD10 Sareks nationalpark (Feb 2009, purchased on internet)
FK12 Abisko-Kebnekaise (purchased in Sweden - more detailed than the BD series)
Day 1 - Kiruna to Saltoluokta
The bus stop was a 5 minute walk from our hotel in Kiruna so we caught bus #10 at 07:10 to Gallivare, where we transferred to line 93 to Kebnats. The 11:20 boat was still running despite the online schedule stating otherwise, so we took it over to Saltoluokta and booked dinner and a room. Dinner was excellent - they were able to accommodate our gluten-free diet, and since I am not a fish eater, served me a most delicious reindeer filet. My husband tried the Arctic char which he reported as just OK. We checked out the store, which seemed to carry mostly snack food, so didn’t purchase much.
Our room was somewhat cramped but private and we retired early, still adjusting to the time change.
Day 2 - Saltoluokta to Sitojaure
An early start for a long day of 20 km. When we arrived at Sitojaure, the hut hostess was picking blueberries along the trail and walked with us to assign beds for the night. Although this hut didn't sell food, the Sami family next door did, so we purchased some supplies and booked a motorboat ride to cross the lake the next morning.
Day 3 - Sitojaure to Aktse
This was to be a short 13 km trek and was actually less because of the 3 km boat ride. All seemed to go well until we were about to descend to the valley with the hut. The view was outstanding so I reached for my camera, but it was no longer hanging on my hip belt. Ditching the big pack, I dashed uphill where 3 Swedish guys asked if I was missing something. They had picked up my camera about 1 km up the trail. What a relief! We met at the hut and I gave them a bag of gourmet jellybeans as thanks.
Olle and his wife were perfect hosts. They had coke and beer chilling in a tub of cold water. This was their 3rd summer season at Aktse and they had made quite a few improvements. There was an outdoor hand-held shower, but Olle jokingly informed us that they were all out of hot water for the season. There was also a washbasin with spigot outside of the toilets. The store was well stocked with canned fish, beef and vegetables, including some dehydrated food.
We shared a cabin with 2 nice German women who had climbed up to a scenic viewpoint that day. We enjoyed a great dinner with VEGETABLES followed by a sound sleep.
Day 4 - Aktse to Parte
Captain Olle made 2 boat trips that morning as nobody wanted to take the time to row. The lake crossing reduced a 24 km day to about 20 km. Although much of it was in the woods, the scenery was lovely. Right before we arrived at the hut we met 2 confused souls who had missed it while coming from the other direction. There were plenty of signs for the hut. Had they sampled some of the abundant mushrooms along the way?
The Parte host family had 2 children plus visiting parents who were picked up by helicopter shortly after we arrived. We were allowed to select our own beds since we were first to arrive. Our German hut companions showed up later with about 5 times as many blueberries as we had picked that day, but my husband won the prize for blueberry stains on his butt. It was nearly impossible to sit down anywhere without smashing a few berries! In the evening a herd of reindeer entertained us by grazing on the property.
Day 5 - Parte to Kvikkjokk
More good scenery with larger trees and lovely weather. Kvikkjokk is a mountain station along a road. There was 1 private room left and we took it and a shower, then did some laundry. Kvikkjokk has a washing machine that is rented in hourly periods, and a great drying room that dried all our clothes in about an hour.
Dinner at Kvikkjokk was good but not at the same level as Saltoluokta. Instead of one set meal, there were several choices including some local specialties. After eating we folded clothing and called it quits for the night since the morning bus was scheduled for 5:30 a.m.
Day 6 - Kvikkjokk to Kiruna
The first bus took us to Jokkmokk, where the 5 hour connection allowed us time for an outstanding breakfast buffet at the Asgard Hotel, a STF property. While there we looked at maps and planned the remainder of the trip. The wireless service was good so we set about securing a room at Kebnekaise. Surprise! No rooms for another week. We booked a room for 2 nights, giving us only 1 shot at climbing the peak.
The next bus took us to Gallivare. At the grocery store we bought cooked chicken and a pork chop for lunch, plus some cheese, crackers and pesto for the next trek.
Our 3rd bus delivered us to Kiruna where we enjoyed a big salad at our hotel.
Our next destination was Abisko. The STF lodge was booked so we called the Abisko Mountain Lodge and got the last room.
Day 7 - Kiruna to Abisko
This time we took a taxi to the train station, then took the Narvik train and got off at Abisko ostra (east) per directions from the lodge staff. It was easy to find the Abisko Mountain Lodge, then we lunched at the Aurora Cafe and walked to the STF Abisko station to look around. Later we dined back at the Abisko Mountain Lodge - food was pricey and nothing special.
Day 8 - Abisko to Abiskojuare
We started on the winter ski trail behind the Abisko Mountain Lodge and helipad. Compared to our first trek the trail was a superhighway so it was a shock to arrive at a difficult water crossing. We followed an ATV track upstream but it didn't improve, so we went for it, stepping on rocks under the water. Fortunately the day was sunny and the damp socks didn’t take long to dry.
The 15 km went quickly and we arrived and were assigned bunks in a 10-bed room. Abiskojaure had a new unadvertised credit card machine. If successful, the STF plans to install more of these in the future. In an effort to reduce some food inventory there was a special of 2 beers plus chips for $50 SEK. In most places a can of beer cost $35 SEK so this was truly a bargain. We checked out the store - no vegetables. This was to be the case for all the remaining STF properties on our trip.
In the early afternoon we watched a large local owl feast on the mice and other critters in the area!
Day 9 - Abiskojaure to Alesjaure
Another lovely day for a long 20 km hike. There was a bench near the boat dock just in time for lunch; however the boat service had already been discontinued for the year. When we arrived at the huts, the hosts were on break but there was a large indoor area with tables and chairs, where tea, coffee, hot chocolate and chocolates were sold. We got our own room, 2 lower bunks.
There was a lot of helicopter activity, including a police copter. Later we learned that a hiker had purposefully separated from his group and then gotten lost, spending a night outside.
Day 10 - Alesjuare to Tjaktja
The good weather spell broke and the easy 13 km trek was made more difficult by clothing changes, wind and rain. Across from the hut was a scary suspension bridge with a warning - one at a time, due to sections that were starting to deteriorate. On our arrival at the hut the hostess served us lingonberry juice, then assigned us our beds for the night.
Day 11 - Tjaktja to Nallo
We had an extra day in the schedule so rather than sit around a hut for 2 days we decided to leave the Kungsleden for a night and get off the beaten track. Were we in for a surprise! There was no trail and the cairns were not always easy to find in the fog, especially near the top. The day was rainy, windy and cold, and the wet, lichen and moss-covered rocks were slippery and unstable. It took over 5 hours to go about 6 miles. When we arrived, the hut host seemed very impressed that we had taken that route. Ignorance is bliss I suppose.
We had expected to get away from the Kungsleden crowds, and apparently everyone else had the same idea. The hut was almost full and we shared our room with a German couple who were traveling for about 15 days with huge packs laden with “adventure food". We found out that the husband was celebrating his 60th Birthday that day so in the absence of cake, I offered him some of the fancy-flavored Jelly Belly's.
Day 12 - Nallo to Salka
Another cold, rainy day, but easy walking again, and we reached the next hut without any trouble. We were welcomed again with a glass of lingonberry juice, then assigned beds and ended up having our own room for the night. We met a very friendly Swedish couple who had been in the area several times prior. They went out to pick blueberries and got enough for her to make a pie - a challenge in the small wood-burning stove.
Day 13 - Salka to Singi
Throughout the day the weather cleared and I was able to have the camera within reach again. At scenic Singi we were joined later by the Swedish couple and a German man who had also been at the last hut.
A perfect day with an abundance of photography opportunities. This area had some of the prettiest landscapes on our entire trip and we took plenty of photos. We arrived early, just after noon, and were told that check-in time wasn’t until 2 pm and they were still working on the rooms. Lunch was being served with 4 different salads, bread, and a hot entree. After 6 days without vegetables we devoured those salads!
When we finally entered our room there was dirt on the floor. So what did “working on the rooms” mean? Especially since you were expected to clean the room for the next guest before checking out.
Kebnekaise had also advertised “laundry facilities”. This was a do-it-yourself sink in the not-so-dry drying room. We washed a minimum of clothing and hung it to dry. After dinner we returned to collect our still-damp clothes. In the meantime, someone placed something (boots?) in the drying room that smelled like a week-old corpse. The odor had permeated all of our freshly-cleaned laundry. We took the stinky clothing and hung them in the drying room in our building.
The next day was our chance to climb the mountain so we went to see about renting crampons and were told to come back after dinner when the guided tour was scheduled to return. We did that, found out that it was icy on top, fitted crampons to our boots and went back to the room to prepare.
Although we had our own room, the walls were paper thin and we could hear every noise in the hall. Unfortunately it was a Saturday night, the lodge was almost full, and people were coming and going all evening.
Day 15 - Kebnekaise summit - Sydtoppen
Departing at 5:30 a.m. we made our way on the western route, following a well-marked trail with bright red paint on rocks. As we ascended we added layers of clothing and took some brief rest stops. At the first emergency hut we took a longer break with refreshments, then continued up to the end of the rocks. At this point visibility was about 10 feet, but every now and then the fog would clear slightly and we could see a little further. We put on the crampons and followed tracks up a ridge, waiting occasionally for a clearing to make sure we didn’t take a wrong step. Finally we were at the top of Sweden!
The descent was slightly quicker, although the rocks on the trail at the top were covered with snow and ice, or just wet and slippery from the fog. We arrived around 5 p.m. (11.5 hours total) in time for dinner, and since it was Sunday evening, were able to get a seating and a hot meal without a reservation.
Day 16 - Kebnekaise to Kiruna
We had decided to take the helicopter out, risking the chance of missing LapDanald’s which is the place that sells reindeer burgers along the way. Some thought it might already be closed anyway. At Nikkoloukta we sat in their cozy dining area sipping hot tea while awaiting the noon bus.
We were joined by a man who had taken the guided tour up Kebnekaise the prior day. The tour goes up the eastern route, which is shorter and includes a glacier walk and a climb on a via ferrata. On the way back, the guides left some of the clients to return on their own. The lodge is easy to find as there is a tall antenna visible for quite a distance, but it did not seem like a smart safe action for a guide. We were grateful we had taken the long, nontechnical, unguided route.