The Wonders of Wild Camping…
The freedom to camp wild is one of the great joys of an outdoor holiday in Sweden. Wild camping – Allemansrätten, or “Every Man’s Right”, is an important part of Swedish cultural heritage, affording a unique freedom of access to Sweden’s countryside and wild places, and is one of the things which makes Sweden such an attractive destination for the outdoor enthusiast. Hence, it was one of the key reasons we chose the 270-mile Kungsleden or King’s Trail as our next long distance hiking adventure.
It can quickly become an addictive past-time, and the real joy of wild camping is that once you get a feel for it, you open up a world of near limitless freedom. The best part of which, that you get to pick the exact little patch of ground that you want to call home for the night.
On the Kungsleden, there’s something magical about pitching your tent, boiling up a stove and sitting with a hot drink, whilst witnessing the first hints of an autumn dusk in a place that just a few weeks previous had almost 24 hours of daylight. Knowing there is no one else for miles around, and unzipping your tent to a magnificent view of snow covered mountains, mesmerising lake reflections and vast expanses of colourful tundra grass – now that’s wild camping inside the Arctic Circle. Then rising early to watch the morning mist clear from the nearby summits, a hot cup of soup warming us through, whilst skittish reindeer forage on the lower slopes, is an irresistible salve for the soul. Reflecting on our incredible journey this far, no wonder we were in a pensive mood knowing we had just two nights left in our tent…
Wild camping along the Alisvággi valley and waking up to a frozen tent in these glorious surroundings!
Day 19 – Wild Camp (Tjäktja STF Hut +1km) to Alesjaure STF Hut (7.9 miles/ 12.7 km, 3 hours, 19 mins) – Wednesday 31st August, 2016 – ‘Half Day Treat’
Waking up this morning signalled not only a change in landscape but also a change in weather as we began to experience some of the harsher aspects of being further north. It was significantly colder along the Alisvággi, and despite our attempt at finding a wild camp spot that we thought was sheltered somewhat, there was ice on the tent signifying temperatures had fallen below zero during the night. We were also feeling the impact of a strong wind gusting through the valley as the tent was repeatedly buffeted back and forth, so we decided to stay put in our sleeping bags a while longer, as today we were in no rush. Having hiked further along the trail last night, we’d left ourselves with a short 12km or so to the Alesjaure STF mountain hut where we intended camping to take advantage of it having the facilities of a shop and a sauna. It would be our last sauna on the trail, so we couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by. Also, we’d heard via trail talk that Alesjaure was arguably the best STF hut on the entire Kungsleden, so we had to stop by to see if it was true.
The river bed close to our wild camp spot. At the time, the water levels were very low at this section.
Breaking camp a little while later… Wrapped up well and making the most of our extra layers in preparation to face the incessant wind
It was a very cold, drizzly walk down the valley, but thankfully we had the wind on our backs as opposed to on our faces, unlike the people we passed hiking southbound whose cheeks looked red raw from the blasting cold. Every time they walked by, with their heads bowed low, they made a concerted effort to look up expectantly and ask how much further to the next hut. They then looked very deflated to find out it was still some distance away.
The Kungsleden heads straight across this rocky riverbed.
Preparing for a rock hop across the river bed. We were both wrapped up well and grateful to be hiking north with the wind on our backs. We felt sorry for the weary hikers who passed us heading south with red raw faces, the wind battering them from the front.
Wayne chooses his route across the rocky river bed, making use of his walking poles for extra support.
Looking towards the barren mountains, the north looks much more desolate and bleak.
The valley bottom was however still thriving with arctic tundra, ablaze in autumnal yellows and greens.
The glacial waters filtering off the mountains was crystal clear.
Ingenious way of keeping the camera out of the rain – hanging a dry bag over it! (Not recommended!)
The north was looking cold and harsh. When would the sunshine and blue skies return?
In full waterproofs and preparing for the worst as dark grey clouds moved in.
Our old friends… Wooden boardwalks lead the way over boggy ground and a rocky section of trail.
The Kungsleden meanders through the Alisvággi for 8 miles (13km) with rolling mountains to the west and alpine landscape towards the south and east.
The trail follows alongside the river, which then has to be crossed in order to access the STF Alesjaure hut.
Having gradually descended around 300 metres, the final stretch to the next STF mountain hut, Alesjaure, is relatively easy walking through grassy moors where we found there were many streams to drink from. It wasn’t long before we were able to see the cabins in the distance perched high on a mountain ridge which overlook Lake Alesjaure on the other side. (You will not have to pay a fee if you decide to camp before crossing the swing bridge over the river, however as Alesjaure is the largest of the STF mountain huts complete with sauna, café and shop, you may wish to pay for camping close to the hut to make use of these extra facilities.) We reached the hut by 1pm, so we had an entire afternoon to relax – quite a novel prospect on this trail with the fast-paced itinerary that we’d been adhering to so far.
If you camp this side of the swing bridge you don’t have to pay the STF camping fee.
Additional signage advertising the facilities available at the largest of the STF mountain huts indicates the popularity of Alesjaure on the northernmost section of the Kungsleden.
The Kungsleden is not the only long distance trail that passes by Alesjaure. The Nordkalottleden (Nordkalottruta) or Arctic Trail is a marked hiking trail in the Arctic region of the Nordic countries. It has a total length of 800 km (497 miles) and lies along the border of Norway, Sweden and Finland. (It’s maybe one for the future!)
We seemed to be the first hikers of the day to arrive, so we took off our boots and entered the large reception area where we instantly received a very warm welcome from the resident host who invited us to sit down and then presented us with two steaming hot cups of blackcurrant juice to warm us up. It was unexpected, but excellent service with a real personal touch!
The reception has a seating area with several tables and chairs and is organised like a café, with hot drinks and cakes laid out on a small table to purchase. The shop, which was still fairly well-stocked and organised despite it being late in the season, sold the standard fare that we had seen along the way, so we took the opportunity to refuel with more biscuits and snacks and also bought a box of rice for dinner. As well as the seating area, the reception also has a cosy fireplace and a library/games area, which the warden said we were welcome to use.
The modern reception area and shop at Alesjaure.
This cabin has a very homely feel with a cosy fireplace, seating area, and a wonderfully welcoming resident host.
A novel way to make use of an old pair of hiking boots!
Flying the Sámi flag! It was the first time along the Kungsleden trail that we had seen the official flag of the Sámi people, which was adopted in its current form in 1986. Sápmi (commonly known as Lapland) is mostly located within the Arctic Circle, stretching through the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia’s Kola Peninsula and is recognised as the traditional area of Sámi inhabitance. The flag’s colours are intrinsic with the Sámi culture and way of life. The red part of the circle symbolises the sun, the blue part, the moon. The colours red, blue, green and yellow reflect the Sámi national costume. Green symbolises nature, blue – water, red – fire and yellow the sun. The Sámi are referred to as ‘offspring of the sons of the Sun’ in their national anthem.
Books and games to borrow (albeit they are mostly in Swedish!)
Despite it being late in the season, there was still a good selection of snacks of offer.
Key information: the sauna timetable!
There was also information about helicopter flights from Abisko and Nikkaluokta, again emphasising that the northern section of the Kungsleden is not exclusively for thru-hikers, but is used for short vacations and trips to Kebnekaise.
Once we had warmed up and rested our feet for half an hour, we paid the camping fee so that we could use the cooking facilities in one of the sleeping huts and also use the sauna during the evening, as we were now desperate for a proper wash. It had been that cold outside recently that a strip wash with flannel and portable basin was not appealing at all, especially having to wash in freezing cold water!
We were the first campers of the day so we had our pick of camp spots, which were located behind the sleeping huts overlooking Lake Alesjaure. Thankfully, the rain held off long enough for us to get the tent up and get our things inside, which is always a bonus! After pitching, we then spent a long afternoon inside the hut warming up. Wayne went off to the ‘vedbod’ (woodshed) and chopped some firewood, then lit the fire in the kitchen area, which began warming the room through in no time. As is the typical English way, we drank plenty of tea whilst musing over the likely weather for our last couple of days on the trail, all the while clock watching and waiting for when it was feasible to start cooking dinner. We managed to hold out for 6pm, in readiness for the ‘mixed’ sauna time slot which was due to start at 8pm.
Heading behind the hut to where we had pitched our tent overlooking Lake Alesjaure.
Overlooking Lake Alesjaure, as good as any wild camp location, but with the facilities of the STF Alesjaure hut right behind us!
The rain was seemingly holding off for now! But we didn’t like the look of, nor the weather forecast for where we’d be heading the following morning…
After lighting the fire, Wayne gets the kettle on the go. There’s nothing like a good cup of tea whilst procrastinating over the weather.
The Alesjaure huts have undergone some refurbishment work. Facilities are standardised amongst the STF mountain huts, but Alesjaure seems more modern. It houses 100 beds and has the largest cabins, so there is much more space.
An impromptu feast! Rice, rice and more rice! We were so hungry that we ate the whole box!
It might not look much, but we were excited to be having such a full meal with ‘seconds’!
(No pics of the following!…) We made the most of our final sauna on the trail, and spent a good hour enjoying the intense heat and conversing with other hikers who were just a few days into their trip, finding out about their experiences in the north. I was also happy that I got to wash my hair and have a good scrub in the adjoining wash room. I finally felt clean after a few days on the trail without proper washing! We were also thoroughly warmed through, and walking back to the tent, despite it being windy, it was noticeably a few degrees warmer. This made us hopeful that the weather would improve for our penultimate day on the trail, and fingers crossed, that we’d be lucky enough to wake up to a dry tent in the morning.
Early evening, looking out onto Lake Alesjaure and hopeful that tomorrow’s walk alongside it would be in better weather.
We have just 35 kilometres (22 miles) to go to reach Abisko! After today’s ‘half day’ on the trail, affording us a relaxing afternoon doing nothing, and a wonderful, rejuvenating sauna, we feel re-energised and ready to face whatever the penultimate day on the Kungsleden will bring…