Embarking On The Northern Section…
After a brief encounter with civilisation, it was time to re-join the Kungsleden and head back into the wilderness… We were now on a mission to cover the last 70 miles (111km) of the Kungsleden between Saltoluokta and Abisko in just 6 days.
As the northernmost section of the trail is regarded as the best and most scenic, we had high hopes for even more dramatic views and the chance of further drone shots. But this being the more popular and most frequented part of the route, we also knew we would no longer be alone in the wilderness, so had to be prepare ourselves for the onset of a much busier trail! As we headed deeper into the Arctic Circle, it was also time to wrap up for winter…
Day 16 – Layering up to keep out the cold in the wild, wintry north…
Day 16 – Saltoluokta Mountain Station to Teusajaure STF Mountain Hut (27.9 miles/ 44.9 km, *includes 18.6 miles/ 30 km by bus, 7 hours, 24 mins) – Sunday 28th August, 2016 – ‘Winter’s Coming…’
It was quite an unsettled night for the both of us, even though we had the additional comforts afforded by a proper bed and a heated room. In our tent we don’t mind laying awake listening to the ambient sounds of nature, but instead it was the cacophony of heavy snoring from the other guests in our shared dorm that put paid to a good night’s sleep. (This is one of the reasons why our usual preference is to opt for a private room if we are taking a break from camping. We were just being too tight or frugal to pay for it on this occasion!) Yet despite our tiredness, we stuck to our plan, rising early in readiness for our breakfast feast!
Wearing a freshly washed set of hiking apparel, hence looking and smelling much better than the previous day, we entered the main building around 7am. Even at this early hour, the restaurant at the Saltoluokta Mountain Station was a hive of activity with everyone already busying themselves slicing bread and making sandwiches like they’d not eaten for a week! So we joined the queue, armed with an empty plate and glass, eager to begin filling ourselves up on some fresh, home-cooked fayre as well.
We love a good all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet!
We had also planned on making sandwiches to take with us that day to supplement our hiking rations, but as we had already stuffed ourselves silly on porridge, bread and boiled eggs, we refrained from being ever more indulgent – until we spied apples and bags of mixed fruit and nuts! ‘Hiker hunger’ being a force to reckon with, it was all too much to resist, so we loaded up with more goodies for extra snacks to keep us going over the next couple of days. Having paid 95 SEK (£8) each, we were definitely getting the most out of every kroner!
Thankfully we had time to let our food settle and didn’t have to rush as boat and bus times leaving Saltoluokta restricted us to a late hiking start. The first boat to Kebnats was at 11am, but if we took this option we would then have had to wait an hour for the bus to Vakkotavare, which wasn’t departing until 12:30pm. The second boat departing at 12:15pm however takes you across the lake straight to the waiting bus. So we went for the second option and sat around in the reception area of the main building surfing the internet until it was time to leave. With it being a Sunday, we found that the boat was really busy, whereas the bus was not so much. Hikers continuing on the Kungsleden trail generally got on the bus, whereas ‘the weekenders’ picked up their cars from the parking area after disembarking the boat.
Preparing to leave Saltoluokta (now feeling very full!)
Heading down the track to the lakeside.
Waving good-bye to WiFi and other home comforts for another few days…
With a rainbow at the end of the jetty, we were looking forward to discovering the wonders of the northern section!
The second boat of the day departs for Kebnats at 12:15pm.
Feeling fresh in our clean gear, but out came the winter layers as it felt significantly colder.
More rainbow surprises…
The Kungsleden has a missing section of trail between Kebnats and Vakkotavare. To avoid 30km of road walking, the best option is to take the bus!
A quick point to note: The bus journey to Vakkotavare is only around 30km, but it took us almost two hours to get there by road, as 55 minutes is spent at a tourist shop/restaurant after about ten minutes into your journey. At this point, you have to change busses, taking the 93 (end destination Ritsem) and continue with a new driver. (Boat: 100 SEK (£9) each with STF/Hostelling international card. Bus: 154 SEK (£13) for two persons to Vakkotavare.) If you want to save money, you could simply walk the 30km to Vakkotavare, however as this is a missing section of the Kungsleden trail, you will be faced with a long section of road walking. Therefore to avoid a heavy stint on tarmac, our recommendation is to take the bus!
After what seemed like a long, pointless morning sitting about waiting for transport, (particularly as our schedule had been so tight up until now with no time to spare,) the bus finally dropped us off outside the Vakkotavare STF Mountain Hut just before 2:30pm. We didn’t check out the hut as we intended on hiking up and out of the valley straight away, with a plan of going around 14km along the trail, and camping by a bridge before the STF hut at Teusajaure. We preempted that it would take us around 5 hours of walking to get to camp for around 7:30pm. It felt strange as it was already mid-afternoon and we were really only just beginning our hiking day. But as this meant we would only be walking for half a day – we felt well rested, having had a full 24 hours of non-hiking due to finishing walking early yesterday at 1pm. This feeling of relaxation diminished rapidly however as we had an immediate ascent to contend with. Rising sharply from the valley bottom to the top of a ridge, the Kungsleden continues with quite a gruelling mile-long (2km) steep uphill climb past the Vakkotavare hut, crossing a bridge over a cascading waterfall. From up high you can look back and enjoy the view of Lake Suorvajaure, which allowed us to take a quick rest and catch our breath!
The Kungsleden trail continues from Vakkotavare.
We began our hiking day with a gruelling mile-long, steep, climb from the valley bottom directly uphill to the top of a ridge.
Don’t forget to turn around and take in the vast expanse of Lake Suorvajaure (whilst taking a breather!)
Ominous looking clouds began gathering overhead as we continued uphill…
On reaching the top we were happy to see that the ground levelled out, a vast plateau stretching in front of us as far as the eye could see. Above the tree line, we were now also gazing upon several towering snow-capped peaks within the Stora Sjöfallet National Park. Being higher in elevation, we instantly felt the difference in temperature. There were lots of bulbous, ripe blueberries ready for picking – but we didn’t linger too long as there was a biting wind and cold chill running through our veins. Putting on some extra layers, we realised that it was the first time on the trail that we’d hiked with full hat, gloves and warm mid layer under our waterproof jackets. Like in sync, we both uttered the words of dread ‘Winter is coming’… in reference to the wild ‘North’ in The Game of Thrones!
We had a quick burst of energy from indulging in a handful of juicy, ripe blueberries along the trail!
The national park areas have clear rules and regulations posted at several points along the Kungsleden trail.
The ominous looking clouds above that threatened rain actually pelted down hail stones instead, but after just a few minutes they were gone – and it was back to blue skies, intermittent sunshine and a crisp chill in the air, keeping our cheeks and lips chapped cold, but giving us a rosy glow. After the initial strenuous uphill climb, we were pleased to be walking on a well-trodden track weaving its way through the arctic scrub. Here, the route is very clear, even if visibility is low, as large cairns are positioned at either side of the track at regular intervals.
Already looking more rugged, our first views of the arctic tundra in the crisp, wild north.
Looking across to the towering snow-capped peaks within the Stora Sjöfallet National Park.
Encountering intermittent sunshine, clouds and the odd hail shower, we power up the trail hoping to make camp for around 7:30pm.
Waterproofs on, waterproofs off! It could be worse…
Thoroughly enjoying this section of flat trail!
Along this section of the Kungsleden there are several streams that bisect the trail which do not have wooden planks or bridges to support you with crossing. However, the water channels are littered with stones and boulders so you can negotiate each crossing with a careful rock hop.
Whatever the weather! A very different scene from an hour earlier when we we shrouded in mist and getting pelted with hail stones!
Even the hood comes into play! Wayne wraps up warm to keep out the biting cold.
Extra large cairns mark the way!
Bold and beautiful…
And things just keep getting bigger!
Our first foot into the northern section of the Kungsleden and we could already see why people consider it the best!
Taking a rock hop across the river bed.
Early evening light filters through the clouds making the trail feel aglow.
Having adapted to the harsh conditions, striking wild flowers stand tall in the arctic tundra that remains teeming with life.
What a view… And worth every step!
As we continued north, we spotted several reindeer foraging along the grassy slopes before we headed downhill towards the lake.
We stopped for a break after about 6km, the wind dying down enough for us to sit for a while, have a snack and enjoy the view. It was a really stunning valley with rough peaks on both sides, many of the summits covered in a dusting of snow. As it was getting so cold, we had decided that we’d set up camp this side if the lake to be near the emergency shelter, should we need to cook and get warm inside it. In doing so, this would mean leaving the lake crossing until morning when Wayne would be much fresher for rowing! However, as it turned out, three Brits were just disembarking from one row boat as we got to the lake on the south side. There was another boat already tethered here, and a third boat was just making its way into shore. The final couple of hikers to arrive on our side would have had to row back and forth across the lake three times in order that the other side should not be left without a boat, if like we had planned, we were going to set up camp here and not cross the lake until morning. It felt mean telling them that we were camping this side, so the people were very grateful at our offer to continue hiking and row over the lake tonight. Thankfully Wayne agreed with our mutual decision, even though I’d technically volunteered him for the task!
Continuing on the final segment of trail leading to the southern edge of Lake Teusajaure.
Preparing for the off! As it’s only a short distance of around a kilometre, crossing Lake Teusajaure is a relatively easy row if you want to save money.
As it happened, the sun was just peeking through the west side of the valley as we began to row across the lake, so we captured some lovely photos of the changing light and the sun casting its rays low across the water. As the early evening light was so captivating and it looked a nice STF hut located right next to the jetty, we decided that we’d camp at the Teusajaure Mountain Hut and make the most of the location and facilities, which included a sauna! That was an experience in itself! As it was already 7:30pm, we left our packs where we wanted to pitch the tent and headed straight for the steam room. Seeing several naked guys run out into the lake, plus a naked woman washing outside, we decided to be brave and do it the Swedish way – and go in naked ourselves!
The sun spreads its magnificent rays of light rippling across Lake Teusajaure.
Our impromptu camp spot next to Lake Teusajaure, located in the vicinity of the STF Teusajaure Mountain Hut.
Admiring a painted sky of pink in the last threads of lingering daylight. What a wonderful place to settle down for the night.
We stayed in there for as long as we could manage – the heat was so intense – then after freshening up, we pitched the tent close to the lakeside and went inside the hut to cook dinner. It was almost dark inside so people had candles burning at their tables – a phenomenon we were yet to experience in Sweden as up until the last few nights it had still been light in the tent when we were settling down to sleep. In 16 days though there has been so much change – the nights are drawing in and the evenings are much cooler. It is a very short summer season in Sweden anyway, but it definitely feels like winter is on its way! But what an exceptional hiking day and wonderful welcome to the north!