Not For Fair Weather Hikers…
In the warmth and comfort of your home, it’s easy to look out of the window and stay put indoors at the sight of dark clouds and drizzle. But if we only ever hiked on days when there was zero percent chance of rain, then ultimately we wouldn’t get to do much hiking. Wherever you are in the world, whatever hiking trail you’re on, bad weather can happen. Fact.
When we first started hiking, one of the things we had to get used to, especially being from England, was the certainty that at some point we were going to get wet! And on the Kungsleden this was no exception!
Forget fancy gear: when you have to walk in pouring rain for a few hours on a day hike, or for several days on a long distance trail, even the best waterproof, breathable rain jacket and trousers won’t keep you dry, nor will your waterproof trail shoes or hiking boots. You just have to take the bad with the good and muster up that positive mental attitude to keep on going. It was inevitable that at some point we would get soaked through by rain on the Kungsleden, and worse than anything we had experienced so far on our journey north into the wilds of Sweden, today was that day!
After such a wonderful sunset and relaxing evening, we were completely clueless as to what the next morning would bring!
Day 15 – Wild Camp (Sitojaure +5km) to Saltoluokta Mountain Station (9.2 miles/ 14.8 km, 6 hours, 9 mins) – Saturday 27th August, 2016 – ‘Wet & Wild’
What a challenging day! After such a wonderful evening, the morning brought with it the most dreadful weather since we had started hiking the Kungsleden. We awoke at 6am to driving rain and strong winds battering the tent, so we quickly packed everything away and decided to get going and power it to the Áutsutjvágge emergency shelter – 6km further along the trail. With a cold, biting wind lashing our faces, and heavy rain pouring down continuously, we were quickly drenched through despite our waterproof gear working hard to keep us dry.
The trail continued across the top of the plateau for what seemed like an endless amount of time, with no letting up from the wind or rain, not even for a brief interlude. The trail was awash with run-off as the ground had become so saturated, so it felt like we were wading up a stream for quite some way. It was a gruelling couple of hours. All we could focus on was getting to the hut in the quickest time possible – with our hoods up and heads down, and just a little slit to glimpse the red painted trail markers winding their way ahead. Looking to the west in good weather we should have been met with a grand mountain view as here the Kungsleden runs through the Áutsutjvágge valley, below the imposing peaks of Sjäksjos (1250m) and the steep-sided Njalásjbákte (1091m). But today in such dreadful weather we could barely see a foot in front of us! It was that bad we didn’t even take any photos with the GoPro. There really would have been nothing to see, plus it was far too cold to even stop moving for a second!
Just when I was feeling really miserable about the whole experience and wishing I was anywhere but here, we smelt smoke in the air and knew the hut must be close, and even more welcoming was the fact that somebody was already inside it and they’d lit a fire! Then as if by magic, just off in the distance the hut seemed to reveal itself through the white-out, so we instantly quickened our pace some more.
We reached the Áutsutjvágge emergency hut, sopping wet through, where a Swedish guy and Dutch lady were already comfortably inside drying out. The guy had actually spent the night in the hut with a bad ankle after hiking for 5 days in Sarek National Park – but despite his ailments, he was extremely chatty as he said he’d not spoken to anyone else in all that time. The lady was cycling part of the Kungsleden so had a mountain bike with her. What a challenge that must be with rocks and roots, bog and boardwalks to contend with! We de-layered, grateful of the wood burning stove and hung our wet gear up to dry. Wayne went off to chop some more wood for the fire, whilst I boiled a pan of milk (made with milk powder and water) to warm us through with hot chocolates and hot muesli. We arrived at the hut around 9:30am and stayed for an hour or so enabling our gear to almost dry out. It also meant we were now nicely warmed up ready for ‘Round 2’! Whether we felt like it or not, we needed to muster up some motivation in order to rejoin the trail and get going, as by now other people were arriving at the hut for their own little bit of respite from today’s turbulent weather.
We set off again hoping the bad weather had abated somewhat – but with no such luck. We were wet again within minutes, but unlike first thing this morning after taking down the wet tent and feeling the cold, we were nicely warmed up and flying down the trail knowing we’d only have to suffer it for a maximum of 3 hours, as it was approximately 9km further to Saltoluokta, where we’d agreed that we’d get a room again to recharge, shower and dry out our stuff once more! After several kilometres walking in the rain, it doesn’t take much to convince us of the merits of a heated room with a bed!
The trail continued over the plateau for another 5km along which we started seeing several wet and battered people on their journey south to Sitojaure. We reassured them that the hut was not far if they wanted some respite along the way. A few people were trying to take shelter behind a large rock, but they’d eventually have to move on and continue up the trail or they’d suffer from the cold.
A wild and wet day! After leaving the Áutsutjvágge emergency shelter we got a couple of shots with the GoPro, however these do not get across how truly awful it was before we had dried out and warmed up in the hut. People taking shelter behind a rock can be seen in the right of the picture.
Continuing over the plateau in the hope of reaching Saltoluokta very soon…
The trail then veered off downhill where the wind seemed to subside somewhat and the rain became more of a drizzle instead of pelting bullets. We saw a sign informing us that Saltoluokta was only 3km away so we had a renewed energy and motivation to get down the mountain as fast as we could. The trail was a mixture of rocks, sand and mud, and gushing water, so we still had to watch our footing, but we seemed to make it to Saltoluokta in no time.
Reaching Saltoluokta at last!
As we hurried down to the huts, we had high expectations of Saltoluokta, predicting that the Fjällstation would be similar to the Kvikkjokk Mountain Station – but overall we were quite disappointed with the standard of facilities provided at premium prices. We wanted a private room, but even with our STF discount it was 1,300+ SEK (£112) so instead of an impulsive and unnecessary splurge, we opted for a shared 4 bed dorm, just on principle. We only wanted the room for one night!
The original STF accommodation was built here in 1912, with further cabins added to provide for increased visitor numbers. The current Fjällstation resembles an up-market mountain lodge.
The cosy reception area inside the main building with an open log fire.
We saw this description of Saltoluokta in a Swedish magazine. In our opinion it doesn’t quite live up to its reputation as ‘the crown jewel of mountain lodges’ especially in comparison to those in the USA at Yosemite, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon National Parks!
The shared room was located in a hut across from the main building. It was modestly furnished with a table, chairs, kitchenette area with sideboard and cupboards, drying rack and radiator. There were also two bunk beds positioned end to end. As the two bottom bunks were already taken, Wayne and I acquired the top bunks by default. There was also a dog in the room, whom they neglected to tell us about at Reception. Below me was an older lady who had hurt her ankle on the trail and had to be rescued by helicopter! She had planned on resting at Saltoluokta for a few days until her friends arrived whom had been continuing on the trail. She spoke excellent English and was lovely about us spreading out our stuff and trying to get all of our gear dry.
This cabin houses a 6 bed dorm room and the 4 bed dorm room that we stayed in, which was on the right-hand-side.
Small but comfortable. We soon emptied our gear out on the top bunks and sorted out our laundry.
We managed to hang up both of our backpacks and waterproof gear in the hope it would all dry out by morning. Thankfully there was a heater in the room to help speed things along.
We found that at Saltoluokta the amenities block is fairly small. There is a good kitchen/dining area for self-catering, but a very small drying room that is quite insufficient to cope with the amount of guests. After planning on this being a much needed laundry stop, we also found that there is no washing machine! This meant that we had to hand wash some essentials in the sink that we found in the caretakers little cleaning cupboard, as it was the only place with a hot water tap. Cabin rooms do have a compact kitchenette with a two burner gas stove, but no running water – just a large water container to fill up with fresh supplies, and a bucket for sluice (slask in Swedish). As the drying room was full we had to hang our wet stuff in our room, which wasn’t that practical with four people sharing. Thankfully there was a heater in the room with a wooden rack above it suitable for laying out socks etc. We just hoped that everything would be dry by the morning. Our other gripe was that for the amount of people staying there e.g. day trippers, weekenders, holistic groups on retreat (not just hikers passing by who were walking the Kungsleden), there were only two showers and two toilets for males and females housed in the amenities block, plus two separate WCs on the first floor above the reception in the main building – hence there was always a queue.
Making use of the self-catering kitchen in the amenities block.
Wayne cooked up what we considered a feast! A whole bag of pasta with pesto and tuna and we ate every last bit!
Despite our few grumbles about facilities, or lack of them, Saltoluokta has an excellent reputation along the trail for amazing food – everyone we came across hiking southbound recommended to us that we should have the 3-course evening dinner – but at 360 SEK (£31) per person, which was equivalent to the cost of a bed for the night, we refrained and booked the buffet breakfast for the morning instead. Saltoluokta is also well-known for its sauna with an incredible mountain view. Indeed, the window looks straight out onto the lake and distant mountains, but also anyone camping as well. This too means that anyone walking past from the campsite can also look in! Anyway, no longer as modest as we once were, we had to try out the sauna seeing as we’d paid to stay the night. It certainly was an incredible view! (Unfortunately we don’t have photos!)
Once all of our housekeeping duties were complete, we made our way back to the main building to peruse what was on offer at the general store. The shop at Saltoluokta during our visit had the usual food stuffs expected for hiking as well as a small selection of gear items, although we felt that the goods available at Aktse in their little, metal cupboard offered just as a good a selection! When resupplying, especially on empty stomachs, it’s easy to spend 500 SEK (£43) on only a few items, so we chose our food rations carefully! For dinner that night, the best value meal was a 500g bag of pasta, a jar of green pesto and tin of tuna – totalling 70 krones (£6.50). We were so ravenous that we ate the entire bag!
Re-supplying from the Saltoluokta store.
Sitting in the reception area of the main building so we could make use of the free WiFi.
After our home-cooked dinner, we made use of the Wi-Fi in the reception area before heading back to our room around 10pm. It was all quiet, with our other two room-mates in bed and fast asleep already. Having paid for a bed for the night, we were grateful that it wouldn’t be a rush in the morning. From Saltoluokta heading north, you can take off your walking boots and relax a while as continuing on the Kungsleden requires a boat ride and bus journey before you hit the trail again. That meant we didn’t have to leave until 11am the following morning so we could do all the dawdling we wanted! (Note that Saltoluokta makes a good entry/exit point if you are considering tackling only a section of the Kungsleden as there are public transport connections to Gällivare and Kiruna.)
So for now we could relax a while, especially knowing we were two thirds through our journey and about to start on the much anticipated northern section. But would it live up to its reputation as the most scenic part of the Kungsleden trail?