Stepping Into The Arctic Circle!
There was no fanfare or even a sign marking the exact location, but today was occasion enough as we finally crossed the Arctic Circle, the imaginary line drawn around the earth at roughly 66°N, which links the northernmost points of latitude along which the sun can be seen on the shortest day of the year.
The Swedes call it the Polar Circle – but the actual circle isn’t something that you see, and you won’t notice any difference when you pass it – it is just one of those places you can say you have been – and was yet another unique factor on our Kungsleden journey!
Another glorious morning on the Kungsleden trail as we continue through the wilds of northern Sweden…
Day 11 – Wild Camp (Suonergarssa) to Kvikkjokk Mountain Station (13.7 miles/ 22.1 km, 6 hours) – Tuesday 23rd August, 2016 – ‘Halfway House’
We awoke early and were both firing on all cylinders to get back on the trail. This was in part as there were blue skies ahead and it looked like it was going to be another amazing day weather wise, but also because in terms of distance, we would be reaching Kvikkjokk, the approximate halfway point of the Kungsleden. By our map’s reckoning, today would also be the day that we would officially ‘cross’ into the Arctic Circle – a first for us on our walking adventures!
Wayne took the opportunity of good weather to make an early morning drone flight whilst cooking breakfast. It really was a beautiful wild camp location!
Bright yellow wild flowers, typical along the Kungsleden trail, often attracting bees and wasps.
Dandelions grow alongside the river banks, and were reminiscent of country walks back home in England.
We estimated that we had about 16km of walking to get to Lake Saggat, where we would pay a private operator to take us across the lake by motor boat to reach the tiny village of Kvikkjokk and the STF Fjällstation located there. Here, we intended on overnighting in a private room really for conveniences such as taking a shower and doing some laundry! Kvikkjokk was also going to be our next major resupply point, so we looked forward to a good browse in the shop, followed by some usual binge eating!
We hoped to arrive at Kvikkjokk by mid-afternoon so that we could benefit from the comforts of the mountain station for as long as possible, so we soon packed away our gear and set off down the valley, which to begin with was fairly easy walking as a lot of the muddy patches and boggier sections of trail were drying out, since having had two good days of sunny, dry hiking weather! This inevitably helped us quicken our pace and we soon reached the first emergency hut of the day, Tsielekjåhkå Stugan – covering four kilometres in what felt like no time at all!
Packed up and ready to go, and full of expectation for our 11th day on the trail! Arctic Circle here we come!
Crossing the flowing stream and following its course down the valley.
The trail had somewhat dried out over the last couple of days making for easier walking, especially over flatter ground.
The trail weaves its way to the emergency shelter in the top right of the picture.
View from the pit-toilet looking towards the shelter and the large suspension bridge that crosses the river.
Taking a quick rest break at the Tsielekjåhkå shelter. We were impressed with the large reindeer antlers adorning the building, but rather amused by the toilet set-up!
The hut was equipped with two wooden benches and was very quaint – but that’s all you need to lift your spirits in dreadful weather, which fortunately we were not experiencing thus far today. There is also a telephone at the shelter should you need to make an emergency call. The pit-toilet made us laugh as there were two toilet seats, positioned side by side, inside the one tiny hut. We understand the Swedish psyche of baring all in a wood-fired sauna, but struggled to imagine a time or find a reason why anyone would want to sit right beside someone else in the very same toilet whilst doing their business!
Looking onto the large and fast flowing Tsielekjåhkå river.
A large suspension bridge crosses the Tsielekjåhkå river where the Kungsleden continues through forested landscape.
Not wanting to dwell on such thoughts too much, we quickly headed off over a long metal suspension bridge crossing the river, then through quite a lengthy section of woodland, heading up to a ridge, but the path remained well-trodden and favourable. It was mostly flat without the dreaded bog and cumbersome rocks and roots that had been slowing us down over the past few days and giving our toes and ankles much grief. On such good sections of trail, we can cover the ground much quicker and find ourselves hiking around 4km an hour, even with our heavy packs. We stopped for a chocolate break close to the top of the ridge, then pushed on, aiming to reach the lake by 1pm. We hoped that we’d be able to phone ahead and arrange transportation across the lake on our way down so that we wouldn’t have to wait around for too long.
The trail was alive with colour and showed resilience to the changing temperatures, flowering plants having adapted to the harsher, arctic environment.
Passing the ever familiar silver birch as we headed into forest.
As trees became denser and the vegetation thicker, wooden boardwalks led the way once more…
We found ourselves weaving through birch trees, then pine forest once again, the pine needles providing the trail with perfect ground cover, which was spongy and light, and the smell of which whilst walking through it was just heaven. We startled some reindeer grazing right next to the trail as we powered on with our heads down, which in fact startled us too! We didn’t hear or see them until we were within a foot away, the wind blowing through our ears and our minds wandering away, and neither did they hear us. Yet we were still too late to get a close-up photo as they scattered immediately and bounded off. Frustrated by our inability to capture them on camera, we were also disappointed that having passed into the Arctic Circle, denoted by a line on our map, there was no signage on the trail signifying this (which we would have liked seeing as the USA National Parks have signs for everything!).
Reaching the top of the ridge we decided to have a rest break and take the packs off.
A very much needed chocolate and water break after covering a lot of ground and powering it up the ridge!
Reaching the water’s edge of the beautiful and clear Lake Saggat.
Soon after, it was an easy rock hop to cross the river, followed by a steep descent to reach the lakeside. The flatter sections along the valley bottom had wooden boards in the wetter sections which we were grateful of now that our feet and boots were finally dry. We could see the hut from afar, which spurred us on all the more. Arriving just after 1pm, we didn’t know it, but we were extremely lucky to have arrived at that time as Helena, the boat crossing lady, was already waiting at the hut to take someone across Lake Saggat. She told us that a storm had knocked out the power at Kvikkjokk so the phone lines were down, so it was impossible to phone for the boat. She was leaving a note to say that she would come back across the lake and collect anyone waiting at 5pm. Thankfully we arrived before she left and crossed straight away. She also gave a gentleman a ride across the lake who had been holidaying in a hut our side. He explained that he thought there had been a small brown bear close to his hut – he hadn’t seen it, but there was bear scat and scratches on a nearby tree leading him to think that a bear had been in the vicinity!
At the end of the jetty, the boat ready and waiting for expectant passengers.
The boat was filled with quirky wooden seats that you might expect to find in an old classroom!
Life jackets on, heading across the lake. (It was actually much colder than it looked and we regretted not wearing long sleeves!)
After a scenic boat crossing, Helena showed us the way to the Kvikkjokk Mountain Station and we arrived around 2pm. Thankfully the power was back on otherwise we’d have had to change our plans and we were really desperate to do some laundry. We had zero clean clothes left and we were more than ready for a shower! The price of a private room for 2 persons, even with STF discount is over 900 SEK (£80). I was really reluctant to pay that much, but as we had a lot of expensive camera gear in our packs Wayne did not want to share a room, which would have been slightly cheaper. (We are always hesitant about possible theft after having our camera stolen in Quito, Ecuador, during our South America trip. Aussie Mike, whom we met in Jäkkvik had also told us that some good waterproof trousers of his had been taken from a drying room on the northern part of the trail, so after hearing this we preferred to err on the side of caution.) So we treated ourselves to a proper room for the night (2 single beds, sink, wardrobe, table & chairs. Shared shower & toilets) and pre-booked breakfast for the following morning. At 95 SEK (£8) each, we decided that we’d have it and totally fill up on everything! We also paid 50 SEK (£4) to use the washing machine to try and get virtually all of our gear clean – but there wasn’t a lot of space left in the drying room, so we had to put up a line in our bedroom and hope to get the rest of our stuff dry by morning.
Arriving at Kvikkjokk Mountain Station.
The Fjällstations are operated by the STF – Swedish Tourist Association, and function like a hotel/ hostel.
Our bedroom and wash facilities were in the building opposite the main lodge.
Our twin room for the night. It was basic in all respects but had more conveniences than the tent!
Unpacking and very quickly spreading out and making use of the extra space.
Our makeshift wash line to help dry out our freshly washed gear as the common drying room was already full!
The only shop in Kvikkjokk is at the Mountain Station – everything is around double what you’d pay in a normal supermarket, but there is more choice than at a mountain hut. Having a bit more choice, we restocked with biscuits, muesli, crisps, sweets and chocolate, plus spaghetti and a tin of goulash for dinner, resulting in a bill just short of 500 SEK! (£43) On a more positive note, we are eating more chocolate and highly calorific treats than ever before, but both still losing weight! There are weighing scales in the hostel lounge, which we utilised to find out just how much – Wayne had lost half a stone so far and I had lost 5lb – we could both tell in our clothing and changing belly shape (!) – but it’s always nice to have it confirmed on the scales! We also made use of the Wi-Fi to update family and friends on social media of our progress. We even got our Kindles out to read – non-essential items we’ve carried this far, but not yet had the time or energy to use! Our new mantra must be if we’re not going to use it every day – then don’t bring it. We really need to learn how to long distance hike with less weight!
The well-stocked shop located in the main building next to the reception/ lounge area.
The lounge area where we could use WiFi.
The kitchen area to cook your own food if you did not dine in the restaurant.
A hearty dinner straight from a tin, with a full box of spaghetti! We were ravenous!
Enjoying a very large bowl of goulash to help keep the hiker hunger at bay!
The worst bit about today was that Wayne somehow managed to snap his hiking pole. Ingenious as ever, he managed to fix it though with a good idea and bit of perseverance. I love hiking with a proper Bear Grills!
Wayne fixed his walking pole with a little muscle and ingenuity!
The weather forecast is now fairly good until Sunday, so hopefully our side trip to Skierfe will be successful. We can’t wait to hike up to the look-out point atop the mountain as the view overlooking the Rapa valley is reputed as being one of the best views in Sweden…