To Row Or Not To Row?
If you’ve been following along with our journey so far, you will know that in just a week on the trail we’ve already had a fair amount of rain and today was no exception. On the Kungsleden, each part of summer has its own characteristics, but as the Arctic is so unpredictable, the trail can always be susceptible to rain and severe mountain weather, whichever month you choose. Being from England, we are most used to wet weather whenever we go hiking, so it did not come as a surprise or seem out of the ordinary to us. But what is an unusual element to the Kungsleden, and something we had not previously encountered much before on long distance hikes, is that this one involves several lake crossings by boat which are incorporated into the total distance of the trail.
Certainly our previous hikes have involved many lakes, but the norm is to hike around them on a given trail, as opposed to traversing them from one side to another! But as the metaphor goes, ‘The shortest distance between two points is a straight line’, right? In this northern region of Sweden, crossing the long, narrow lakes that form part of the Kungsleden can be particularly scenic, but they can also be hard work, especially if you find yourself in a situation where there happens to be just a single boat left on your side of the lake, which means effectively you would have to row across the lake 3 times. The rule is simple: If you use the rowing boats provided at any lake crossing along the Kungsleden trail, you must leave at least one boat on each side of the lake. This means that if there is only one boat on your side, then you must row across the lake then back again with two boats, leave one, and return, thereby crossing the lake three times (sometimes an arduous and time-consuming journey!).
There are 7 lake crossings in total over the course of the entire King’s Trail, whereby it is possible to row 4 of them and save yourself some money. It is the Swedish Tourist Association (STF) that in the main provides the system of rowing boats to get across the various lakes. However for 6 out of the 7 lakes, which vary in crossing distances of between 1 and 6 kilometres, it is also possible to pay a fee and take a motor boat from one side to the other, saving you both considerable time and effort, which is significant if you are on a tight time schedule.
Row boats are usually in place by late June/early July, but similarly, lake crossings can be hampered by severe weather. If you are planning on hiking the entire trail, make sure you leave yourself enough time to cross the last lakes before the row boats are removed for winter. This generally means completing the trail by mid-September, but the closing dates differ slightly from year to year. (Check the STF website for exact dates.)
During our Kungsleden journey south to north, we chose to row just the two shortest lake crossing distances of 500 metres and 1 kilometre respectively, and today was our first encounter with the row boat system. Here is a round-up of Day 8, which included a successful first rowing mission across Lake Tjårvekallegiehtje!
Wayne rows across Tjårvekallegiehtje Lake – our first lake crossing on the Kungsleden.
Day 8 – Jäkkvik to Wild Camp next to Bartek River (Vuonatjviken +2.5km) (16.7 miles/ 26.8 km, 10 & 1/2 hours) – Saturday 20th August, 2016 – ‘Mud, Mud, Mud!’
Opting to make the most of the hostel facilities this morning meant we didn’t leave Jäkkvik until 10am, which was a late-ish hiking start considering we had 2 boat crossings to contend with today. However, it was only 17km to reach the paid for boat crossing over Lake Riebnes to Vuonatjviken, so we knew it wasn’t going to be such a long day. Wayne resumed his role as ‘camp chef’ and cooked a hearty breakfast of omelettes with cheese, tomato and onion to set us up for the day. We had a fresh coffee pot on the go, and with proper cups too it was all very civilised. Without a doubt, we must be the best fed hikers on the Kungsleden!
Omelettes for breakfast! Hiker rations at their best!
Aussie Mike came in to say ‘cheerio’. He too was filming parts of the Kungsleden and blogging along the way, but Mike was travelling south in the opposite direction to us, much like everyone else. So far, we only know of one other hiker going northbound – the English guy, James, who camped with us at Adolfström. His choice to go at a much slower pace, as he explained to us that his trip “…Was all about the journey, and not the destination”, means he is now well behind us and we doubt our paths will cross again.
Chatting with Mike about our experiences so far, it was interesting that we both commented how little we had come across any wildlife on the trail. To date we’ve seen several reindeer – but always too camera shy and too far away to get any good footage of, some ptarmigans that we startled whilst walking through the moors, a few other smaller birds, and two frogs! But so far not a glimpse of a bear, wolverine or moose – although we did see some scat that we questioned might have been from a bear as it was full of berries! In all likelihood, we know that we won’t see any of the ‘big three’, but we always have that little bit of hope… Especially considering Sweden has a very large moose population, around 250,000, the largest deer animal in the world commonly known to be the King of the Swedish forest.
As we left the hostel, we tried to ring the telephone number given on the noticeboard in the reception area to find out boat crossing times, but there was no answer. We thought we might be lucky with catching a boat ride back across the lake if southbounders travelled over on the 5 o’clock boat that evening. The general consensus when talking to other hikers was that there was a morning boat crossing around 9am and an early evening crossing around 5pm. With leaving Jäkkvik quite late, we didn’t know if we’d get there for 5pm, but as we had generally been hiking 3km in an hour, we agreed with minimal rest breaks we should push on and go for it.
A little outdated, but the contact details remain the same for the proprietors of the Vuonatjviken Holiday Village. Jan & Eva Johansson also operate the private boat service enabling you to cross Riebnes Lake and continue on the Kungsleden. If you are travelling from the south, it is recommended that you phone ahead to confirm departure times.
It was a wet and miserable start as we set off from Jäkkvik.
Our next major resupply point on the Kungsleden would be Kvikkjokk, which entailed 3 days of walking from here.
It was damp and dreary when we first hit the trail. After about 4km we got to Tjårvekallegiehtje Lake which was to be our first row boat crossing on the trail, and by then the sun was just about breaking through. There were 2 boats our side thankfully so that saved us (or rather it saved Wayne) rowing across three times as there’s always got to be one boat left on each side. We had a quick drink in the shelter and decided to bite the bullet and get going, before which we put on the life jackets provided. Both boats had a lot of rain water in the bottom of the hull, so we had a brain wave and used a carrier bag to collect and empty out the water, so as to keep our packs as dry as possible. Wayne managed fine with the oars and did a great job of rowing. My task was simply to do some filming of it! On reaching the other side of the lake, you have to clip the boat on a hook and use a ratchet to pull the boat up out of the water. That was a hard job – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Wayne. The boat safely attached, it was a successful first boat crossing! But we were glad that for our first try it was all of 500 metres!
Looking out across Lake Tjårvekallegiehtje, located at the very north-western end of the expansive Lake Hornavan.
There are strict rules for row boat passage to ensure there is always at least one boat at either side of the lake. If you arrive to find a single boat, you must row across the lake, tether another boat to yours and row back with it, before rowing back across once more – thereby rowing across the lake three times so that no side is left without a boat.
Thankfully there were two row boats available on our side, which meant we didn’t have to row across the lake three times!
We took a quick rest break in the shelter next to the lake before setting off.
Life-jackets are provided on each side of the lake.
Wayne sets off rowing across Lake Tjårvekallegiehtje whilst I was in charge of photography and keeping the boat balanced. As it was our first lake crossing on the Kungsleden, we were both pleased that it was only a short distance of 500 metres!
Enjoying a short break in the cloud and a few moments of dry weather on reaching the other side of the lake.
We were on track to reach the second boat crossing if we kept going. It was 3km uphill, 3km flattish walking across the top of the fell, then a 1km descent to reach the Riebnes Lake. We had already been warned it would be very muddy and slippery going both up and down, and the fact that it was raining again compounded the situation. Effectively we were walking up a flowing stream with all the run-off. The ground was saturated so much, in the end we just had to trudge straight through the boggy sections as there was just no way around – the ground was that waterlogged and the trail so poorly maintained. Our boots had reached saturation point hours ago, so we had wet, soggy socks and feet all day, despite our best efforts at getting everything dry in the hostel the previous night. Wayne had slipped over for a second time, but thankfully again it was nothing serious.
Beyond the lake, the trail weaves its way through birch and pine forest, which meant our boots quickly got saturated as the forest floor was wet and damp from the earlier rain showers.
Back in full waterproofs and hoping for a drier afternoon.
Crossing a smaller lake, this time by footbridge.
Lake panorama. We were hoping for the low cloud to lift.
It began brightening up a little as we pushed on towards Lake Riebnes.
Passing an old row boat that has now become part of the scenery.
More lake reflections… Although far less spectacular than what we were treated to the following day…
Almost out in the open and above the tree line. The Kungsleden continues with no shortage of signage.
On reaching the top of a plateau, large stones daubed in red paint signalled the way towards Riebnes Lake.
Here the ground was much drier and the trail far easier going than earlier that morning when we were constantly trudging through sodden undergrowth and slipping on mud.
Wayne persists with his camera to capture the moment…
As the clouds began to clear we could see some wonderful views that we had been missing throughout the day.
We arrived at the lakeside at exactly 5pm. We predicted that if the boat left the other side at 5pm (as other hikers had told us) it would reach our side by around 5:30pm. That time came and went but there was still no sign of a boat. Deciding that we’d give it until 6pm, we moved into the porch of one of the private huts a bit further up the bank as it was sheltered and there was a stool to sit on. I tried the phone number again that we’d got from the hostel earlier that morning. This time someone answered. It was the skipper’s wife and thankfully she spoke some English. She explained that her husband was bringing 4 people across the lake at 6:30pm and would take us back with him. On hearing that news, we were extremely grateful!
Kungsleden sign by Riebnes Lake.
We took off our packs and waited on the veranda of one of the private cabins set back from the lakeside, which provided shelter and wooden stools.
The boat arrived around 6:50pm. The cabin on board was hot and it felt lovely to warm up after being out in the cold drizzle for so long. The journey across Lake Riebnes was short, 20 minutes maximum, but the lake is vast – there’s no way you’d be able to row across this one. The journey across to Vuonatjviken village was about 6km, but it seemed to go on forever! Note: This is the most expensive boat journey on the entire Kungsleden at 300 SEK (£26) per person as it is privately run, unlike most of the other crossings that are operated by the STF and typically cost 200 SEK pp (£17). I had my photo taken with the skipper after he’d moored up and tied off, but then it was my turn to slip and fall over on a large rock as we headed away from the shore. Thankfully, there was no serious harm done, with me escaping with just a bruised knee!
Hooray! The boat finally arrives!
Climbing aboard at last… Grateful to be on our way after what seemed like a long wait in the cold.
Enjoying some warmth inside the heated cabin.
As good as new! We were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be allowed on the boat before cleaning our boots!
A ‘selfie’ with Jan Johansson, the skipper who operates the private boat service across Riebnes Lake.
Wayne enquired about a cabin for the night at the Vuonatjviken Holiday Village so that we could dry out and get warm after all the rain, but the guy said the price for one night was 1050 SEK. Approximately £100 for less than 12 hours is certainly a rip off by anyone’s standards, so we decided against splurging on a cosy, warm cabin, instead opting to hike a further 2 kilometres on more wet, slippery, mud and rock to reach the Bartek River where we had been told would be some good camping spots. We are all about ‘value for money’ so it was to be a night in the tent once more, in agreement with the skipper who understood our predicament and emphasised, ‘In Sweden, camping is free!’
We rushed to make it to the river in the quickest time possible and found a camp spot (in fact the only camp spot for at least another 4km) just off trail in a clearing on higher ground. This was good as we knew it would be dry and we hoped that the sun would be directly on us in the morning. No sooner had we pitched the tent than the rain came down again, so we hurried inside and decided on a quick ‘no cook, no fuss’ dinner, which resulted in good old crisp sandwiches, using up the last of our bread!
It was dusk by the time we set up camp by the Bartek River, but we had saved ourselves a few quid by wild camping instead of bailing out in the holiday village.
Going a bit further today meant we would have less ground to cover tomorrow, so at least there was a brighter side, even if the weather did not match our outlook!