Unexpected Treats & The Trail Angel Phenomenon!
If you’re not familiar with the term, ‘trail angels’ are the people out on the trail who take pride in helping others. Sometimes when you’re feeling down on a long-distance backpacking trip because of lack of food, water, morale, companionship, or sunshine, something unexpected comes along and makes all your troubles disappear. This is known as ‘trail magic’, and is where a trail angel keeps you on the path, keeps you going on that long-distance journey that you set out to do, just by some small kindness, an unexpected treat or act of generosity. Often it can be a simple act such as giving you some left-over food. But just by doing this, a trail angel can take away the pain of a difficult day; their act of kindness can support and encourage a hiker right at that point when they most feel like giving up.
It is the interactions with trail angels that are some of the most memorable parts of many thru-hikes. We discovered trail angels in abundance whilst thru-hiking the JMT in the USA in 2014. Similarly, on our most recent long distance hiking adventure in Sweden, we found ‘trail magic’ just as widespread on the Kungsleden, hence our own efforts to ‘pay it forward’ and provide some hikers running low on supplies with a little trail magic of their own. It’s amazing the transformation you can see in someone just after an engaging conversation and a handful of biscuits! Here’s a round-up of Day 12 heading north on the King’s Trail…
Trail magic comes in many different forms… But Digestive biscuits work wonders for boosting morale!
Day 12 – Kvikkjokk Mountain Station to Wild Camp (Pårte +4km) (12.2 miles/ 19.7 km, 8 & half hours) – Wednesday 24th August, 2016 – ‘Beginning The Northern Section’
Today, we were over halfway on our Kungsleden journey and about to embark on the more popular northern section of the King’s Trail. It proved to be a fairly easy day as we were hiking just 19km to our planned wild camp spot, having decided on breaking the next 3 days into 4 to allow us time to make a detour off the Kungsleden to the Skierfe look-out point. But before we set off, we made the most of the mountain station facilities, getting up at 6am to have another shower and be ready for the start of breakfast at 7am! You never know with all these hungry hikers how quickly food will go, so we wanted first pick of the best selection. And what a selection it was! After soup and bread finger rolls for breakfast the last few days and a simple hot chocolate yesterday, it was like a feast! We both certainly devoured our 95 krones worth! Eating at a leisurely pace, grazing on as much as we could stuff ourselves with, we then had the laborious task of re-packing our rucksacks with our freshly washed clothes and most recent supply of food rations.
The pleasant dining area at the Kvikkjokk Mountain Station.
Just for starters… Our first plate of goodies as we enjoyed the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet for 95 SEK each!
Then it was time to brace ourselves to find out our actual pack weights, making use of the weighing scales located just outside the entrance to the Fjällstation. I was pleasantly surprised that even with 4 days of food rations, my pack only weighed 15kg – at least 3kg less than what I was expecting. Wayne’s weighed in at a hefty 20kg, but he too was pleased as he thought it was more! (It felt like it anyway as I couldn’t even lift his pack more than a foot off the ground!) He considered 20kg to be a very respectable pack weight since his photography gear, including drone and batteries, was around 6kg. So off we went, rejoining the Kungsleden trail around 9:30am, both feeling a little lighter and happier at what the scales told us!
Even laden with a fresh resupply of food, my pack only weighed in at 15kg! (Something I was both surprised but pleased about!)
Ready to leave the home comforts of the mountain station and rejoin the Kungsleden… Carrying a full pack but feeling lighter after confirmation on the scales!
The trail passes right by the mountain station, so we were soon back on the King’s Trail with a spring in our step heading for the STF mountain hut at Pårte.
Signage told us the Pårte hut was 17km away.
It was all uphill out of Kvikkjokk, but after a couple of days of better weather the ground was finally drying and the muddy sections were a lot easier to navigate. With all of the boggy ground and slippery, sludgy earth we’ve had to traverse lately, Wayne has classified 3 types of mud on this trail – ‘bog mud’, ‘bad mud’ and ‘good mud’ – each very distinctive in how far you sink in, whether you can stay upright or not, and what annoyance it does to your boots! (This is the kind of trail conversation that surfaces after several days of hiking together and all other topics of conversation have been covered at least twice!)
Blue skies and boardwalks – two very much appreciated elements on this particular trail!
The trail became a little rockier, but it was much easier to traverse now the ground was drying out and less muddy – of the ‘bad mud’ variety!
We were still on the look out for signs of autumn. There’s nothing better than a trail alive with colour.
Using the flora to try out some bokeh effects.
We had a couple of water breaks and rested our feet, not really because we were tired, but more for the fact there were wooden planks on stones serving as makeshift benches right next to the streams we had to cross, so we thought that we’d make the most of them! It’s unbelievable how much you miss a proper seat when you have to sit on the floor or on a rock for several days on end!
Passing a pre-existing campsite just before the river. We love camp spots with seating!
The river here was fast-flowing, so we were glad of the bridge enabling us to cross it safely.
It was the first time we had seen this style of wooden bridge on the Kungsleden.
Wayne leaves the bridge, ready to continue making good progress along the trail. Today’s 17km section seemed very easy going in comparison to what we’d contended with on previous days.
Typical signage in national park areas indicating your current location.
Heading through some woodland, the trail became a little more cumbersome with rocks and roots ensuring we paid attention to our footing.
Enjoying a breather as we passed by a lake. We were taking every opportunity for a sit down today!
Following the trail to the STF Pårte hut, which is located on a peninsular by a lake. The area is beautiful, but if you want to camp in the vicinity you will be charged the STF camp fee as indicated by the sign.
We made short work of the 17km between Kvikkjokk and the STF Pårte hut, reaching it around 2:30pm. Day use at the huts is typically 11-3pm, so we made it in time to use the gas and sit inside at a table with chairs! The warden at the hut was very welcoming and added a few extra touches, such as providing a jug of lemonade on the front porch with a sign saying ‘Rest your feet and help yourself!’ It’s always the kindness of strangers and unexpected treats on the trail that give you an extra morale boost and a spring in your step! On our way into the hut, two young Danish guys in their early twenties heard us tell the warden that we had walked all the way from Hemavan, so they wanted to pick our brains about the price of the boat crossings and availability of food/shops on the southern section of the Kungsleden. They had not budgeted for how expensive the boat crossings would be, so they were cutting back on showers and food to save money. We had a laugh about how expensive the beers in Sweden are and claimed that we were all going teetotal until the end of the hike! I gave them some of our Digestive biscuits (kind of ‘paying it forward’ in the trail angel stakes) and explained that there were plenty of blueberries to pick in the south, but they said that’s what they had already been living on the past few days! So they were more than grateful for the biscuits! By the time we came out of the hut the lads had gone, so we hoped that they’d be successful in completing their trip, and after all their efforts to make it this far, that they wouldn’t run out of money before reaching the end of the trail.
We arrived at the STF Pårte hut around 2:30pm, just in time to still make use of the day facilities for free with our ‘Hostelling International’ discount card.
Day use is typically 11am until 3pm at the majority of STF huts, which is free if you are an STF member or have a ‘Hostelling International’ card.
We were thrilled to be welcomed with a glass of lemonade! It’s the little things in life…
Inside the hut – the layout and set-up is standard to other STF huts we have visited.
Guests have a communal responsibility in maintaining good working order of the huts.
After giving away some of our McVities Digestives, in typical English style, we enjoyed a cup of tea and a biscuit during our mid-afternoon rest-break!
Drinking water along the trail and at STF huts is taken from natural, flowing sources, such as streams, rivers and lakes. The water in Sweden is so clean and pure, there is no need to filter it. We found this a wonderful, time-saving aspect of the trail!
We set off again around 4pm, intending on hiking just 3km further before looking for a suitable camp spot. We’ve learnt now that wherever the trail crosses a larger stream or river it is almost certain that there will be an established campsite (often with a makeshift fire pit). Along the way, the trail was getting busier with hikers all aiming to get to Pårte – and as usual, we were the only two hiking in the direction of north! It was a bit wet and muddy by the first bridge we came to, so we pushed on to the second bridge and found several camp spots located on both sides of the trail, on either side of the stream. After examining the options, we picked the flattest area of the lot, quickly pitched the tent, then started gathering fallen twigs to get a camp fire going. It’s always great when we get to camp early enough to get our chores out of the way before dinner, as it leaves us with much more time afterwards to simply stretch out our legs and just relax – very much what your body needs during long distance hiking.
From Pårte the distance is 24km to Aktse, the next STF hut. We found information and distances about the northern section of the Kungsleden much more readily available as it is the most popular section to walk.
Around 4km after Pårte we set up camp on a pre-used site not far from the river.
Dinner tonight was our standard camp fare of instant noodles mixed with a spicy tomato cupa soup for extra flavour and calories! We also added some re-hydrated vegetables.
That being said, we are definitely in the swing of things now. We are hiking further, faster, getting to camp earlier, and have established a proper routine for setting up and packing away. Wayne always cooks our camp meals, whilst I set up the sleep mats and organise the tent, and I get the job of washing up afterwards – but that suits us both!
Tomorrow we’ll be putting all of these skills to good use as we divert off the Kungsleden and into the backcountry to make a side trip to Skierfe. Fingers crossed for good weather as this is considered one of the ‘must-see’ experiences when hiking the northern Kungsleden… Indeed, we captured some of our best photos from the entire trip over the next couple of days! Day 13 on the Kungsleden, coming soon…