Kungsleden 2016: Day 5

10th August 2016
16km + 8km off route

Being above the tree line meant that the sunrise caught the tent nice and early. I popped my snood over my head to cover my eyes and shield out the light. When I finally woke and took off the snood the brightness took me by surprise. Sunlight was streaming out of a clear blue sky directly across the valley and into my tent. A beautiful sight and a great start to the day.

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Striking camp – with packing routine coming along nicely!

The trek today was only around 13km. Most of that traced the contours around the mountain and dropped through the forest to the edge of a lake. The walking felt easy and I kept up a steady pace.

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Just wow!

 

There were many more people on the trail today. As I head further north this is a theme I expect to continue. I exchanged the customary “Hey” with most walkers and mentioned about the stream crossing they would need to tackle at the end of the day. A pair of girls said they were actually going the same way as me. It turned out they had stayed at the cabin in the woods and had been just ahead of me for the latter part of the previous day.

I enquired of them how they intended to cross lake Laitaure which we were approaching. The motor boat only runs at 9:15am and 5:15pm at a cost of 200SEK per adult. I didn’t fancy lounging about for the afternoon and felt the need to save the pennies where I could.
The other option is to row the 4km across the lake. In theory there is supposed to be at least one boat on each side of the lake at any time. I had heard from other hikers that there were 3 boats on our side which meant someone had not been honest with their boating ventures! The two girls, who I later found were called Jenny and Anna, were up for rowing. Arriving at the lake first I set about cooking some couscous and chicken from John and Janna which I had left soaking for 30-mins or so. It was delicious – although I suspect the chicken would benefit from a good overnight soak!

There were indeed three boats by the lake. Jenny and Anna arrived and the consensus was not to take two across so we hopped in and set off. We had chosen a boat where two people could row and Jenny and I took the first leg. The scenery was outstanding. The sun shone out of a brilliant blue sky. The water was calm and a beautiful pale green which I suspect is a result of glacial melt water. Half way across we were making good time and Anna took the oars to give Jenny a break. Arriving at the distant shore I instantly felt guilty that we had not taken a second boat in tow as there were 6 people with bags waiting to cross. They left a few bags and set off to do the three journeys.

Up at the Aktse STF lodge I celebrated my 200 SEK boat saving with a can of coca-cola and a packet of Gott & Blandat sweets. They tasted for the most part like wine gums apart from one which started off tasting like liquorice and end up tasting like salted fish. I’m fairly adventurous with trying new foods but had to pick these out, ditch them and chalk this one up to experience!

The next decision was where to camp. After much deliberation I decided to press on to the top of the woods, have some tea and decide then based on how I feel. Having done so I chatted with a couple of people and discovered it was due to rain tomorrow. I was really keen to make it to the top of Skierfe which looks down over the Rappadallan valley delta.
One guy thought if it was going to rain tomorrow it was definitely worth making it up there this evening. I decided this was a good plan – it was not.

The journey to the top of Skierfe is around 5km and has maybe 350m of ascent. At a fast pace I reckon it should take 1hr 15mins each way. Putting around 30mins of the trail under my belt I ditched the rucksack under a large obvious rock, prepared myself with with hat, gloves, sustenance and camera, and set off towards the top at a brisk pace. I had been watching rain fall in the valley behind the Rappadallen and it seemed to be exiting the western end and heading north.

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The tip of the Rapaladen delta with Laitaure lake and growing rain clouds passing behind the opposite ridge.

The wind in my face was however coming from the north. If the rain continued moving in that direction then I would be fine. I looked behind me and two valleys away another wall of rain was edging its way closer. I made a mental note of the time and nervously pressed on upward. If either of the rain clouds moved any closer I’d have to abort my bid for the top. Cresting the penultimate rise I suddenly felt a pang of fear as I saw where the trail dropped a little, turned a corner and headed up to the viewpoint. The ridge seemed to be the only barrier between myself and the rain. All the distant mountains with their glaciers were shrouded in grey streaks of falling rain. I hoped to have been closer but this was going to be at least another 30 mins to get there, let alone the time to get back.

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Threatening rain clouds moving away … False hopes of a dry blitz to the top!

It was clear that if the rain nudged this way slightly I would be cut off. So here I was maybe 30-45mins from my bag, alone except for a couple of distant tents, and suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable. I pulled out my map, knowing what I had to do but not wanting to accept defeat. Two drops of rain fell on the map. There we go that’s the answer I need, and off I headed back for my bag.

As I had left my bag I had looked back to memorise exactly where it was. Three clear stones were my markers. In my haste to get up however I had not done the same with my route. This is a well trodden way, but does not have the red painted markers of the Kungsleden. Instead are small cairns which people have built for you to follow. I followed the path until it reached a rock field and headed to what I thought was a cairn. It wasn’t. Cresting the ridge I raced down across the Boulder field in what I believe was the right direction. Once more feeling vulnerable and alone I looked at the map and worked out I had gone too high in the boulder field so dropped some height and eventually stumbled across the path.
Another 20-mins later I was back at my bag breathing a sigh of relief. That was one stupid decision I had made. I knew things can change quickly in the mountain but had thought I could second guess where the weather was heading. At least I had the guts to make the decision to turn back when I did.

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Skierfe – next time my friend!

I shouldered my pack but could not face climbing to higher ground so I wandered back down the trail until I found a patch of heather just about large enough to fit my tent.
Tent up. Clothes changed. In to my sleeping bag.
As if on cue it then starts raining.

Lying in my sleeping bag I can feel it’s much colder tonight at this altitude. I will wait and see what the weather does tomorrow. If I do head up in the morning, it’ll be with my full pack this time.

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Kungsleden 2016: Day 4

9th August 2016
11am – 7:30pm (x2 15min breaks) 23km

Awaking a few times in the night I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped.
At 7:00am I started packing my bag but my room companion was still sleeping.
7:30am came and I headed out to the breakfast hall where I consumed a hearty breakfast of cereal, a double continental breakfast, a boiled egg, orange juice and two coffees. That should keep me going for a bit!

Out in the lobby I took a moment to phone home. JoJo and Tilly are chatty and easy to talk to. Noah has obviously got more on his mind and says little. I do miss them. They’ll be alright though.

Back in my room, the other guys is still asleep so I quietly pack away my bag.
As I check out and leave, Janna mentions that they have too much food in their parcel. Their generosity is truly touching as they offer me a number of meals and snack bars which are surplus to requirements. In one sense I found it difficult to accept their generosity. But the thought crossed my mind that maybe this is a chance to accept help from others which I would otherwise readily give. I’m truly grateful.

DSC02966.JPGI don’t hit the trail until 11am but my legs feel good and I trot along at a decent pace. The weather is overcast and grey but warm enough to walk in just a t-shirt. The trail is however very rocky, muddy, wet and at times the boardwalks are sunken below a torrent of water. They are certainly in the worst state I have seen. It must be a mammoth task keeping the trail in good condition. With less passing foot-traffic I guess I will have benefitted from better quality trail in the last few days.

As I pass the end of a lake I overtake a number of older men and women carrying lightweight day sacks. They will no doubt be doing a hut-to-hut trek without all the gear that is needed for wild camping. It’s good to see such diversity on the trail.

At Pårte the keeper comes out. We chat about the trail, facilities, river crossings and the area in general. I’m looking to press on to high ground but his advice suggests that the options of camping higher up, out of the forest, are few and you have to have the right equipment. Well the latter I’m happy with and I estimate its only another 12km-ish so I press on. If I don’t carry on it’ll feel like a short and somewhat lazy day.

200-meters down the trail there is a knee deep river which one is expected to wade across. I had been forewarned about this and stood for a moment contemplating the best route. Spotting some footprints leading into the bushes I trace the barest of a path to a set of logs that have been haphazardly lain across the river. It’s sketchy but I make it by carefully edge along a log and making an accurately placed foot-plant and leap for the bank.
The remaining walkers I pass are duly informed of the alternative river crossing. It feels good to offer a small token of help to others. I reflect on this as I walk. It’s something that is part of my character to want to help and I’m glad to see that it’s present here on the trail and not just a product of being cocooned in a modern western lifestyle.

dsc02979On I climb through the forest. The ground underfoot becomes more rocky and strewn with boulders. You have to continually watch where each foot is going and be ready for the other one to slip on the wet rocks. It’s easy to get absorbed in your footwork and miss the passing scenery. I stop at a mountain stream, empty the contents of a dehydrated meal into my 1-litre bottle and top up with water. The quantity is a guess but it turns out that topping to the 700ml line was abut right.

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A glimpse of the ridge (to right) where I hope to pitch my camp for the night.

After some time I look up and through the trees I can see the ridge where I had hoped I could pitch my tent for the night. The thought spurs me on and I surge upwards ever watchful of my footing lest I slip and bring and end to this trip with a broken knee.
The path has kicked-up sharply and I stop to take a breath. As I turn my head I let out an involuntary “wow”. The view behind is stupendous and stretches out across multiple valley floors as far as the eye can see. Even the grey overcast weather does nothing to distract from the vastness and beauty of the landscape.

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I try to snap a picture but a single shot doesn’t adequately capture the expanse like a panoramic.

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Wow!

As I crest the apex of the path I start to look for a place to pitch my tent. As a fellow walker said, it won’t be easy with the rocks and I can see his point. I’m starting to get quite hungry and in need of some food. About a kilometre down the path, the tree line emerges and I pick a spot off the path. There were a few other options before but for some reason I got it into my head that my pitch should be away from a potential rock fall from the cliffs above. Given the freezing weather this place sees in winter its a tad irrational to think that a blustery summer eve would dislodge any rocks, but once the thought crosses your mind you’ve just got to run with it.

I find a pitch on the heather and cook up the now re-hydrated meal of noodles, veg and chickpeas. As the light dims, the sun casts long shadows through the valley and over the lake below. This will no doubt be a pitch to remember. With my tent facing east I look forward to the sunrise. Not that I’m intending to be awake around 3:53am!

A spectacular pitch!
A spectacular pitch!
View from my roll mat.
Even from my roll mat …
The sun breaks below the cloud cover and streams across the lake,
The sun breaks below the cloud cover and streams across the lake.
The sun sets!
The sun sets – or as much as it’s going to for the night!

Kungsleden 2016: Day 3

8th August 2016
8:15am-11:45am (no stops) 12.5km

I awake to the sound of heavy persistent rain. 10 more minutes in bed I think. An hour later I wake again. The rain has died off a little and I pack my gear away and make breakfast in the tent. It’s not the ideal way, but it’ll do in the circumstances!

The rain has thankfully eased and I head off into the fog. The rhythmic swish swoosh of my waterproof trousers sounds so loud and when I stop all is silent. I press on walking fast, longing to rid myself of these damp, smelly clothes that I have been wearing for a few days. I’m heading for Kvikkjokk where there is the option of a bed, shower and a chance to dry my clothes.

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A damp start.

Due to the weather I have little to report of, apart from lots of dense forest, a few ups and down and one decidedly sketchy river crossing.

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A brief view through the trees.

Descending steeply as I neared  Kvikkjokk the trail crossed a river which was in full spate. The options were an assortment of haphazardly lain tree trunks or a couple of logs between some slippery rocks. I opted for the latter. Placing my foot on an already submerged log I was prepared for the possibility it might move a little. Instantly my leg disappeared into the water well over my calf. I recoiled backwards and was surprised to find I was completely dry. I can only assume my waterproof trousers must have sealed themselves around my boot with the pressure of the water. Making a secondand more cautious attempt I gingerly crept across and made my way down to the lake.

Inside a wooden cabin by the lake there was a solitary mobile phone. Following the instructions I made a quick call to a Bjorn and headed out onto a jetty to await my ‘taxi’.

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Note the distinct lack of treking poles!

I was soon speeding across the lake towards Kvikkjokk. Scrambling out onto the bank to my horror I realised my trekking poles were still in the cabin. I mentioned about the couple following and Bjorn promised graciously to return my poles when he picked them up. I was extremely grateful when he turned up later with them. Phew!

There was an option of using a cheaper Turistation at 200SEK for a night. I was however swayed by the STF  Fjallstation which for 345SEK also had a restaurant, bar and drying room. The thought of a hot meal and a cold pint were a powerful incentive! I did however feel guilty at choosing the latter when I’m always trying to save money at home.  I’m also conscious that trying to keep cost down is going to be difficult once I’ve used up my UK food supplies as food here is so expensive.

I indulge in a shower, drying of clothes and a quick wash of a couple of items of clothing. As I do so the rain hammers down outside. My arrival here was certainly well timed.

The afternoon disappears surprisingly quickly. It I nice to be able to send messages home and chat with Ida and Andreas, and John and Janna.
The options for the evening meal are fewer than I had expected. I had noticed John and Janna had devoured an amazing looking burger each and I was initially disappointed to find that this is only on the “afternoon menu”. So it fish, vegetarian or Elk. I opt for the latter and choose to forgo a beer due to the cost. Once the meal appeared my disappointment disappeared in an instant. The Elk burger was beautifully presented on nicely cooked wedge style potatoes, with cranberries and parsnips. The Elk was delicious and really succulent. A little like beef but with a good hint of ‘game’. The sweetness of the roast parsnips and the dry bitterness of the cranberries matched the dish perfectly. Here was something I had not unexpected . Compliments to the chef indeed!

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Elk for dinner. Delicious!

After dinner I phoned Nat. It was lovely to here her voice and hear how supportive she was of me being here. I could tell however that the children were not behaving as best they can – but she wouldn’t admit as much.

Kungsleden 2016: Day 2

7th August 2016
8:15am – 7:45pm. 29km. 

I awoke a few times in the night and each time the tent was as bright as the other.
3am seemed no different to 10pm. It wasn’t too bright to get back to sleep, but just left you wondering what the time was. Although the sun drops below the horizon it never really gets properly dark.

I pack down my camp and hit the trail at 8:15am. Andreas and Ida are just getting up and are planning to leave around 9am. They are pleasant company but it’s nice to have some time alone.

The trail drops quickly off the side of the hill and into the forest. Unlike the first day the forest floor is dry and despite the roots and rocks I manage to get a good pace on. At times the now familiar boardwalks appear and I strut across with my poles outstretched like a confident tight-rope walker.

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The trial is winding its way around back of a lake and I’m in my own world. I’m wondering whether the sound of two feet and two poles could sound like a reindeer. Is there a chance of a being sprung by a bear? At that moment I hear a loud hiss. I jump to one side and there is a long black snake with russet brown triangles running down its flank. Although I’ve never seen one, I’m pretty certain this is an adder. As I snap some photos it continues to hiss at me and slithers its way round and under a rock.

Adder.
Adder.

I carry on picking my way along the path. At the end of lake are two bridges and under both are cascading torrents of water, flowing out into the lake. I stop at both for a while and take in this beautiful and powerful sight.

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The trail steadily rises and the combined levels of sun and exertion slow my progress a little. I stop for water regularly to keep hydrated. The streams are crystal clear and the purity of the water means you can drink freely without having to purify first.

I catch up with a couple (John and Janna) who were camped in the same location last night. They had left at around 7:15am but had made slower progress on account of their larger packs. They are doing the full length of the trail and have freeze dried their own food for each day. It’s impressive to see the way a chicken korma looks without any water. Just add hot water and leave in a thermos for 30mins and you have a meal. This does however mean that they are carrying around 12 days worth of food. At the start, Johns pack weighed a colossal 38kg! It’s a little lighter now but they will refill at Kvikkjokk where they have a pre-posted package waiting.

I take my lunch of BBQ Honey Mackerel in the forest whilst being chased by mosquitos. Dangling my feet in a mountain stream feels so refreshing. I get bitten on each ankle by a mosquito so that little pleasure is short lived.

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Not long after, the trail breaks out of the forest and onto the lower slopes of a mountain. The contours of the map are deceptive and it takes me a while to realise that the trail is going to crest a sharp ridge. I had been walking hard to get to what I thought was the top but as is often the case, the top is further. The last pull up almost wipes me out. It’s not helped by the fact that I had just run out of water. Nevertheless I make it to the top and over to what I can see is a second ridge behind.

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Looking forward … The trail crests the ridge to the right side.
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Looking backward … Exhilarating to see how far you’ve walked (even if the trail is hidden in the trees).

I’m not sure if it’s the altitude, latitude or just a turn in the weather but it suddenly feels a lot colder than earlier. I don a fleece to keep off the chill. It’s the first time I’ve sensed the arctic nature of this wilderness through the temperature. It’s true that temperature does change so rapidly in the mountains.

The trail runs down a gully between the two ridges and I find a bridge which had earlier elude my search. I had considered staying here and this would indeed make a great stop. At 4:15pm it is however a little early to stop and given the next few kilometres are all downhill I decide to mooch on to the next water source and look for a spot there.

As I near a lake with a steam, I can see that being slightly off the trail it looks like it’s surrounded by bog. I meet a Spanish guy and we exchange tips on what the trail is like ahead and possible places to stay. He mentions that the weather forecast is due to get quite wet tonight and in to tomorrow. It’s a no brainier – I have some legs left and it’s all down hill to the next river where there is an STF log cabin.

The trail heads down a gully off the back of the ridge. Half way down I feel hungry so I sling my rucksack down by a burbling mountain stream and heat up a chilli con-carne for my evening meal.

Al fresco dining
Al fresco dining

 

Within the hour I’m back on the trail. It’s a great feeling when your legs feel strong and you’ve completed your allotted mileage for the day. I could have slung my tent down anywhere that took my fancy.

As I plod on I notice that I’m, how should we say, quite ‘windy’. It occurs to be that I’ve not been to ‘the facilities’ for a couple of days. I consider the special lightweight toilet trowel in my backpack and wonder when I will need it and quite how it is best to dig a hole for these ablutions. It was a well timed thought for within a moment I had advanced to the legs-crossed gotta-find-a-loo double quick feeling. I’ll leave the details but everything went to plan – that’s another ‘first’ for me! Back on the trail it feels good to be a little lighter!

I notice Cloudberries are growing off the trail and pause to pick a few. I had learnt from Andreas that the ripe ones are orange in colour and to avoid the red ones. The flavour is quite unique and certainly not as sweet as other berries. A hint of potato would be my closest explanation!

Cloudberries. Ripe when orange.
Cloudberries. Ripe when orange.

I reach the STF hut. It’s a small wooden affair with a single room encompassing two sleeping platforms that might take two at a squeeze, a small table, a log burner and an emergency line to the police. In the corner is a makeshift bin. It is overflowing, despite the instruction that waste is to be carried out. Outside and a few meters away is a ‘long drop’. If I had known this was here I would have waited as I was less than 0.5km away when I had needed the loo. That said I might not have lasted that long anyhow!

A quick scan of all the notices and I see that this hut is 100 SEK for a night for STF members. It seems rather steep for such primitive lodgings and I’ve not yet bought my membership. John and Janna turn up and we agree that it would be more comfortable to camp for the night down by the bridge which we will have to cross tomorrow anyway.

Riverside pitch
Riverside pitch

It’s been a long but good day.
With my tent pitched and contents sorted I’m soon in bed and off to sleep.

Kungsleden 2016: Day 1

6th August 2016
Walking 8:30am – 6pm / 24km

Dozing for a couple of hours I listen at one point to a few drops of rain. Fortunately it doesn’t amount to anything. I’m not opening my tent yet. I’m reluctant to face the mosquitos, and damp boots. On the plus side, having knocked back 15km yesterday I could do just 5 today to meet my minimum, but it makes sense to cover some more ground to account for what I hear will be some heavy rain around Tuesday. Here goes …

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Ready for the off!

Putting damp boots on is never great but this morning they are not too wet and soon warm up. I pack down my tent, eat some breakfast and join the Swedish couple as we make a 30 minute trek down through the woods and out onto a small beach on the side of a lake.
Andreas had phoned ahead to book a boat which was just as well. I hadn’t realised that this was necessary here. in my research the only lakes I had seen have a white bucket on a flag pole. When you hoike the bucket up, they know to come and get you. At this lake the trip across is a good 6km and the landing site is out of view in another bay. As we speed across the lake it feels good and the weather looks hopeful for a great day. The cost for the trip was 300SEK (£25).

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The first few kilometres plunge us back into the forest. Surprisingly the mosquitos are few and far between. The ‘going’ is generally good, and although a little damp under foot it’s rarely a quagmire.  The boots feel great. Shoulders a little sore maybe. On the whole, a modicum of hard work but certainly enjoyable.

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We start to talk about lunch and decide that this should be at the momentous point of crossing the arctic circle. We stumble across a board upon which we can just distinguish the words “Polecirkeln”. That’ll be it then!

The arctic circle. Time for lunch .
The arctic circle. Time for lunch .

This first 80km stretch to Kvikjokk doesn’t pass any civilisation so I have 5 days worth of food to see me through. I don’t intend to carry so much further up the trail as there will be huts with supplies. I pull out a packet of mackerel in a honey and bbq sauce. Food in the outdoors always tastes great but this is even better as it’s again reducing my pack weight and what’s more, this was a bargain at a knock down price of only 58p. I’ve got four more of these for the next few days.

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Spot the lego man and butterfly!

Over lunch a snap a couple of photos the butterfly and lego man which Noah snuck into my bag before I left home. I’ll email these to them later and see if they can find them in the picture.

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We plod on, crossing the occasional river and eventually break out of the forest and make our way up the lower slopes of a hill. We will be climbing from about 440m to 1000m in this next stretch.

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The sun is shining and the wind is a welcome breeze to keep me cool. I fall into a natural rhythm. My legs and feet feel fresh and I pick up pace. Striding along I leave Andreas and Ida behind for a while and make good time to the top.

Andreas and Edda
Andreas and Ida – good company!

The view is ever changing and becoming more scenic as I rise. Gone are the trees where you can only see a few meters in front. This is a view that stretches for miles and miles.
I’m quite aware that in the UK you would look out at such a view in the knowledge that there are houses and transport links dotted through it. Not so here. What you can see is just forest, lakes and mountains. The only thing living in them are animals, the odd reindeer herder and a few hikers.

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Oh and the odd lego man!!

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This is a perfect walk. The weather. The views. Feeling strong. Feet not sore. Arms a little aching but nothing to ‘write home about’. All in all perfect.
Andreas and Ida catch up and as we descend the other side there are Reindeer scattered across the hill. They look at us in a puzzled and slightly skittish way. As soon as we draw closer they dart off.

Reindeers
Reindeers!

Our camp site is nestled reasonably high up in a secluded rocky out crop. A tent with a young couple is already there and another young lady arrives whose mother bizarrely lives just outside Cheltenham. The ‘young couple’ turn out to be John and Janna who I later bump in to on a number of occasions.
I erect my tent in double quick time. The control freak in me relishing the order and structure of the unpacking operation. On the menu tonight is chicken tikka masala with extra rice. It’s one of Britains favourite dishes, and right now it tastes a whole lot better than ever up here in the mountains.

What is the collective noun for tents ... A gaggle?
Like minded hikers – not so many on this section of the trail!

Dinner done, I take a wander to capture some photos of the long shadows as the sun descends. With the clear blue skies it may not get as dark tonight, though if I go by last night, I’ll sleep through whatever.

Fresh water!
Fresh water is never far away.

A heritage Sami reindeer herders hut.

A heritage Sami reindeer herders hut.

A shot fit for the Berghaus catalogue!
A shot fit for the Berghaus catalogue!

Kungsleden 2016: Day Minus 1

5th August 2016
3:00pm – 5:30pm / 14.5km

I slept well, waking periodically to listen to the soft whoosh of the wheels on the track. The gentle rhythmic rolling soon lulled me back into sleep. Marcus woke and left, and shortly after I crept out into the corridor to don my boots and head for the buffet car.
I had no need to have worried about over-sleeping. The train was held at the previous stop for around 20 mins and gave me some time to rearrange a few things in my pack.

I’m a little of a control freak! Sshh yes – just a little.
But when it comes to hiking I want everything is in its right place. At the moment everything is packed in ‘flight mode’ with the non-cabin-friendly items like stoves and trekking poles having been disassembled and packed inside my rucksack. I’m resisting the urge to strip everything out and repack. That can happen tonight at my first camp spot.

Being both in-control and out-of-control is some of what this adventure is all about. There are some things that you can control, and others that you can’t. Your pack and contents are your own. You can choose your destination. Make your own way. Eat, rest and sleep when you want. Even mistakes are your own and your own consequence to bear. Anything outside of that is out of your control and seeing as you can do nothing about what you can’t control, there is no stress in letting it ride.
That was a lesson learnt whilst travelling with my wife a few years back, but with the hectic pace of life it’s something I’ve forgotten of late. This is a good reminder.

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Alighting from the train I take a 10 minute stroll into the sleepy village of Jörn. I find myself at the bus station. It’s just before 8am and despite being a week day it appears that nothing gets going until at least 9am here.
There is an impressive bell tower structure with a cross on top which stands outside the church and must be visible from a good distance. It looks like the separation between the two structures should have some relevance but the significance escapes me. (A subsequent search leaves me non-the-wiser).

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I meet a friendly groundsman who is watering the plants. We talk abut the Reindeer I had for dinner last night. I had found it a little chewy but we agree that’s probably the nature of a pre-packed train meal. He reassures me that Reindeer is lovely but Moose meat is so much better! It’s an Easter thing apparently. Hunting for Moose and eating it with the family.

As I wait I’m reminded of the Butterfly and Lego man which I found in my pack. Noah slipped them in there so that I would have company if I were feeling lonely. Sweet.
I take a picture of them hidden in the midst of a dense bunch of red. flowers. I think the children will have fun looking for them.

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Spot the butterfly and the Lego man!

In the bus waiting room an elderly lady starts chatting. She is the first person I’ve met who doesn’t speak impeccable English. Soon she draws a photo book from her bag and starts showing me pictures of what is clearly her 90th birthday party with family members. At 90 she is doing remarkably well and I piece together what I think resembles her family tree. When the bus stops in Arvidsjaur on route I notice she has alighted and is showing a group of ladies the same album. Clearly proud of her family!

The bus journey to Jäckvikk is steady and calm. My stomach however is neither. Pre-match nerves? Something I’ve eaten? Who knows – although it could be that bit of plastic knife that I never found whilst eating my Reindeer stew last night.

The countryside rolls past. Miles upon miles of pine forest with the occasional clump of wooden houses, mostly painted in that traditional Scandinavian red.
At times the bus slows for a Reindeer to get off the road. They seem to be skitty nervous creatures and likely to be unpredictable when driving past. I imagine night time driving needs super caution around here.

Arriving in Arjeplog I’m unsure about the connection as the arrival of bus 26 from Jörn coincides exactly with the departure of bus 104 to Jäckvikk . Prior to heading out a helpful email from Länstrafiken Norrbotten reassured me that if you buy a through ticket they will ensure that the bus does not leave without you. The driver seems nonchalantly unconcerned so I take this as a good sign. The driver duly drops me and two other hikers at a bus stop, points across the road to another, and says that this is not the main bus station but the 104 will come past here anyway. Sure enough it does and we are soon in Jäckvikk being dropped at a well stocked garage at the start of the Kungsleden trail.
One thing you do not need to worry about in Sweden is being understood. They all speak impeccable English, and everyone I have met has been helpful and friendly.

I buy gas for my stove and step out with a decision to make. Today is not a walking day per se but anything I can get under my belt is a bonus. I can see from the map that once I head out, the terrain is likely to turn quite marshy and finding a place to camp may be difficult and potentially mosquito ridden. That doesn’t fill me with glee.
About 10km in there is hill with a rise above the tree line that should be relatively mosquito free and an awesome place to camp. I predict that’s a stiff 4 hour hike and I’m not sure I’m up for that straight off the bat.

As I deliberate the two hikers who came on the same bus appear. One lady is heading south and disappears across the road. The other is waiting for her boyfriend before heading north. There is a lake within a few kilometres with boats provided for rowing. I’m hopeful that doing the trail in the less popular northerly direction will mean there might be 2 boats on my side and therefore only 1 row needed. But if I get there first that would leave these guys to do the obligatory 3 journeys.

Within moments Ida’s boyfriend, Andreas strides round the corner. He carries with him an aura that clearly announces that he is a seasoned hiker and some not fresh faced newbie off a bus. It turns out he has been walking for a number of weeks covering over 1000km. He started south of the trail in June and is walking up to Abisko and beyond.
I’m suitably impressed.

And so we hit the trail together. Here goes!

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A lone cloud drifts over and deposits a smattering of rain drops. I should have taken this as a warning. We head off under idyllic blue skies. The trail is well marked and the forest floor soft and easy to walk on. The views through the birch trees across the lake are superb. I’m in my element and if it carries on like this for two weeks it will be blissful!

Step forward about 2 minutes. The sky turns grey and rain starts to fall. Hmmm, trust a Brit to bring the weather with him!!
I’ve realised that I’m wearing an old pair of socks and under-crackers that I had intended travelling in and then ditching. I had meant to change at Jäckvikk but completely forgot and I can feel that these are going to ruck up and rub. I switch my socks at the rowing shelter and feel instantly more comfortable in the foot department.

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Arriving at the boats there is just one on our side. Never mind. Andreas and I take the oars and we row across to the other side where we deposit our bags. Ida has grabbed a boat and with Andreas they take two across, leave one and bring the other back which we pull up out of the water. I feel slightly guilty that I didn’t take the oars on the way back but it’s just the way it worked out. I also feel a little uncomfortable that they have not seen each other for over a month and are sharing the first leg of their journey with a stranger. They seem happy enough though and when I mention such, they are quick to dismiss the thought. Whilst I waited the rain started to fall a little heavier and I cover our packs with rain-covers and jackets.

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The decision is now whether to don the rain jacket and accept the sweaty consequence, or brave the rain. Either way I’m getting wet. We don our jackets, and as the rain picks up I’m glad to have made the right choice.

The ‘walking’ has now turned into a ‘tramp’ along a marshy, swampy, muddy trail. A couple of times my boot goes right in and I’m aware that my socks are getting damp. We plod on with the trail twisting and turning through the forest, through the mud, over some bridges and forded places where the trail had turned into a small stream.

The mosquitoes join us as we walk. This is not like the swarms of annoying midges that I’ve experienced in Scotland. These come in their few, but are big blighters, focused in their predatory hunt to drain you of your most precious resource.
I wipe my lip and notice a smear of blood on my hand. Instantly half of my lip feels a little numb and a swelling appears. I’ve been hit!! I’ve been hit!! The swelling rises but is gone by the next morning.

As we walked through the forest I can feel the lack of a good meal taking its toll. A packet of sugary sour sweets perks me up for a bit but soon wears off as the trail relentlessly winds through the birch and pine trees. We hit the bottom slopes of the hill on top of which I had previously considered there to be a perfect camping spot. I was running on fumes. Our pace slowed and we trudged upwards. It’s a good reminder to keep your eyes up, as when the going gets tough you can spend so long staring at your boots and not at the view around you.

Breaking out of the tree line our spirits lifted at the thought of a camp spot, dinner and a little breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Pitching my tent at a spot between two lakes it was indeed absolutely beautiful. There was no breeze to speak of but the jungle spray seemed to do its trick.

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We’ve done 15km. Not at all bad for a non-walking day.
Bag unpacked. Tent erected. I’m starting to feel a little more in control and all the better for it. I get some food on the go and am grateful not only to be filling my stomach but to be lightening my pack. Food is by far the heaviest thing I’m carrying.

I soon “hit the hay”. Although it’s still fairly light we are pitched in the lee of big hill and it will be dark enough to sleep. I have with me a snood to pull over my eyes but I’m feeling tired and a little too warm in my sleeping bag so I opt to leave it off.

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It’s 10pm (9pm UK time) and I attempt to put pen to paper and but on account of feeling pretty shattered, I set my iPad to one side and instantly drop off to sleep. Next thing I know it’s 5am. 7 hours straight – I’ll take that.

 

Kungsleden 2016: Day Minus 2

4th August 2016

Well this is a thoroughly British start to my adventure. The morning kicked off with a bacon sandwich and a 45 minute train delay. The latter was a most tense affair whilst Nat and I tried to calculate whether a speedy drive to Reading or Bristol would enable me to make my Reading connection. Either looked highly unlikely.

As I boarded the train the heightened level of stress was topped off with a wrench of sadness and guilt as I watch my teary family wave goodbye. Nevertheless I remained hopeful that I might make an alternative connection in time to catch my flight.

At Reading station there was just enough time to make a straight forward change and catch another train. Running an hour late was less than desirable but I was hopeful of a quick blitz through check-in. The train slipped in to Gatwick a few minutes late in a final attempt to detain me from my flight and I ran for the check-in desks.So much for ditching the coach in favour of a more reliable train journey! My first plan had been to take the much cheaper Megabus, but the 2am start and a sense that ‘you get what you pay for’ put me off.

Check-in greeted me with long snaking queue that looked like it was ‘digesting’ passengers at an alarmingly slow rate. Nonetheless keeping my ‘chin up’ I considered that sometimes looks can be deceptive and having printed my baggage label I enquired politely of an attendant as to how long it might take. Noticing my flight number she promptly passed me to another attendant for what I assume was meant to be fast track processing. A few odd questions later I was promptly sent to the back of the queue like a dejected rodent to await the digestion of the snaking behemoth.
Fortunately I caught the first attendants eye again and queried her initial intention. With that classic British roll of the eyes she whisked me over to the oversized baggage portal where I snuck an extra book into the luggage to make the most of my 15kg allowance.
A quick passport check and my bag disappeared though the plastic curtain leaving me wondering, “Would I see it again?” Well of course I did!

Dashing for the departure lounge there was no time to stop for food, and only the briefest of moments to grab some duty free whiskey. Well you have to get your priorities straight! Within minutes of getting to the gate I was boarding the rear of a Norwegian Air Boing 737. Now what is my seat number? 2F! Great! So now I have to fight my way down a packed plane to get to my seat. Still, I’m here. Patience is a virtue and all that!

After an uneventful flight I landed in Stockholm and attempted to withdraw cash but without success. So I resorted to an exchange booth and accepted that it would probably sting me for more than I wished. I reckon I’m less than a tenner down though so no great shakes.

I now had a few minutes to meander through the luxurious Sky City mall and find the train platform. Unfortunately I had developed a cracking headache so didn’t feel in the slightest bit inclined to have any food. Despite only having had some juice and an apple on the train I was surprisingly un-hungry. Nonetheless I thought it would be wise to eat before boarding he night train so grabbed a pastry and coffee. Yes you knew cake would feature swiftly in this little diary entry!

The night train is one of those rugged old fashioned Canadian style trains with a gangway down one side of he carriages and 6-berth cabins leading off. Finding my seat I was relieved and having some water my headache starts to dissipate. I’m sharing with three guys around my age and two slightly older women who are surreptitiously finishing off a bottle of Carling. I suspect it is not their first as its clearly lubricating their giggle muscles! It brings a smile to my face – at last I’m on my way!

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An engineering triumph. Still going strong!

The train glides through the countryside. I’m acutely aware of how smooth it is.
I’m excited.

Once the train sorts a fault with its payment machine the buffet opens and I let the queues dissipate before tucking in to a meal of stewed Reindeer and potato purée. Really yummy! A small incident with the plastic knife left me wondering where the tip went. Just hope it doesn’t hurt passing through!

Then it’s to bed in my top bunk. I’d recommend top bunk as there is a little more feeling of privacy – albeit I will have to climb down at 5am when the others are all sleeping.
I’ve set an alarm but Marcus, the gentleman opposite me, is getting off at the stop before me so I shouldn’t miss Jörn. Hmmm. Famous last words …. Night night!

Top bunk!
Top bunk!