Kungsleden must be Sweden’s most famous hiking trail and is listed as one of the most beautiful trails in the world. Every summer, flocks of hikers occupy trains, airplanes and busses up north to walk part of this over 300 kilometer long track. The common route is a 120 km stretch from Abisko (the trail’s starting point) to Nikkaluokta, passing by Sweden’s highest mountain: Kebnekaise.
So having heard of this seemingly magical place upon arrival in Sweden, there was only one thing left to do: go there.
Before I came to Sweden I actually didn’t know that I was very enthusiastic about the outdoors. I had always loved to travel but had few experience with outdoors activities such as hiking, paddling, climbing, etc.
Upon planning a trip, every responsible hiker checks weather forecasts. This sort of slipped our minds, just as the fact that the seasons up north might not be synchronized with the seasons in Stockholm. Winter had come very late in 2012 and lasted unusually long, which made the trail look like this in the beginning of June:
We learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Coming from Stockholm in summer we arrived on the trail in late winter, with over a meter of snow still present in certain places. Luckily, before leaving we heard that conditions might be wet and there might still be snow present, so we changed our preparations. But none of us was equipped to walk vast parts of our 120 kilometers through wet snow.
These were the most brutal and some of the nicest 10 days I ever experienced at the same time. After the second and third day we doubted about going back, but continued forward because only the idea of getting stuck in the swamps around Alesjaure again made us choose to carry on. The trail was often flooded as water levels were high due to melt or still covered with snow, so we had to find our way around swamps and snow fields with sometimes knee-deep ice water without the aid of planks.
Was this slightly irresponsible? Probably yes. After 10 days of cold and wet, my nose was covered in blisters and we all lost about 5 kilos. But because the huts have one room open all year around, we could warm up around a stove in the evening and hang our clothes to dry. In this way we would be fit again the next day, full of hope that this day would be easier. We were four people on the trail and formed a tight group that looked after and encouraged each other along the way. Even halfway down the trip, after climbing Tjaktapasset completely covered in snow, the enthusiasm would remain high.
The best part of our bad timing was that we had the trail all for ourselves. Kungsleden is normally a busy trail, also known as the E4 among hiking trails (named after Sweden’s major motorway). We did not see anyone for over a week. It was us, the occasional reindeer, and the mountains shrouded in silence.
This hike taught me to push through on hard moments and to find motivation even though conditions are rough and scary. It made me realize that I very much enjoy getting out in the nature and disappearing into the nowhere. It also taught me three major lessons about long hiking trips: check weather forecasts, carefully select your gear, and always take a map and a compass along the road.