Kungsleden 2016: Heading Home

20th & 21st August 2016

It’s an odd mixture of feelings this morning as I pack down my tent. I’m definitely excited to be heading home and seeing the family. I’ve always known that I like my own company and being ‘on my tod’ for these two weeks has been great. But yes I’m definitely excited to see the family.
On the other hand this has been such an enjoyable adventure that after two weeks on the road, my legs feel great and I feel like I could walk for days and days.

Packing down for the last time ... on this trip at least!
Packing down for the last time … on this trip at least!

Packing away is slow. I’m once again packing for ‘flight mode’ with poles and non-cabin items in the main pack and a dry bag for hand luggage. I’m also making sure that everything is bone dry so that the damp doesn’t fester and so it doesn’t weigh too much on the flight. Tent and sleeping bags draped over the trees. Coffee brewing. I’m in no rush.

Once packed away I take a brisk walk down to the local supermarket for gifts and nibbles. I’m surprised that a large supermarket is not really any cheaper than the smaller cabins out on the trail.

Back at the Fjallstation I slip into the restaurant and once again, for 110 SEK indulge in the buffet. I’ve had little breakfast and just have a few snacks for the train this evening so I make the most of the excellent spread. The food is not only plentiful but delicious.

Back in the foyer I bump into John and Janna. It’s good to see them again and we exchange tales of the routes we have taken. They have had a great few days walk although didn’t quite make the full circuit they had planned and took a diversion as an alternative. They also have ‘news’ that they are engaged to be married. Its very exciting and so great to see them enjoying each others company and working so well together. I had wondered whether John might have that little trick up his sleeve. It explains why his rucksack was so heavy … all those diamonds!!!
Congratulations guys … very exciting!

We wait ...
We wait …
And off we go ...
And off we go …

By 2pm I’m heading for the train station and standing on the platform with a gaggle of fellow walkers. The train rolls in on time and I’m soon gliding through the Swedish countryside. I doze on and off before pulling down my bunk and drifting off to the gentle rhythmic rolling of the train.

Gliding through the Swedish countryside in the early hours of the morning.
Gliding through the Swedish countryside in the early hours of the morning.

My alarm awakes me early next morning and I slip down to the buffet car for a coffee and cake. I chat at length with the Dutch family and before long the train pulls in at Stockholm Arlanda. I’ve a few hours to wait so fight my way through the packed departure lounge and slip upstairs onto the observation deck where it is almost deserted. A few chapters of my book later and I’m boarding the Norwegian Air flight. Landing in Gatwick I’m pleased to see my rucksack and head for the exit. My family are there waiting and it’s exciting to see their smiling faces and hear about the adventures they’ve been having.
I’m home!

 

Kungsleden 2016: Day 14

19th August 2016
8:35am – 11:55am 14km

The mosquitos, though present, were not too plentiful this morning. Nonetheless I was eager to get to Abisko so ate breakfast whilst I packed.
Once on the trail the kilometres sped by. The trail was as easy they come.

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After just over an hour I passed a Dutch couple with their daughter whom I had chatted with the previous night. Exchanging a few pleasantries I realised that I had been in my own little world, drifting along, hardly noticing the beauty around me. The soaring mountains. The roaring river. I realised that although this was not as spectacular as some of the sights I had otherwise seen, but it was still a privilege to be here. I began to notice a change in the verdant greenery of the forest. Some of the trees were starting to lose some of their colour and tinges of golden orange were appearing. In only a week or two this place would be entering its autumnal stage. Another good reason to return one day – as if a reason were needed!!

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The end of the trail appeared more quickly than I had imagined. Over the last couple of weeks I had honed my skills at estimating my progress and predicting when I would arrive at a destination. The terrain, my pace and how hard I was walking would give me a good sense of whether I was covering three or maybe four kilometres per hour. On this smooth heavy-trodden mud surface with a slight downhill gradient and plentiful board-walk, even my steady rhythmic plod meant that I had averaged nearly five kilometres per hour.

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It felt great to be at the location where I would tomorrow be whisked off, back to my family. I knew that I would remember this place fondly in weeks and years to come.

Setting up my tent once more for the last time on this trip was, um, ‘less than wonderful’. I’m being diplomatic of course! The pitch was stoney and my tough titanium tent pegs broke up the ground. After the privacy of camping on a mountain side, this felt like a tent metropolis. Still, it’s a bed for the night.

Having learnt about the Swedish menu system I eschewed the showers in favour of some roll-on deodorant and headed straight for the restaurant. As before there were a few options for the evening meal but there was also an afternoon buffet. For a very affordable 110 SEK (£10) I loaded a plate with a delicious fish casserole, new potatoes and salad. Not wanting to be rude I enquired whether a second helping was ‘the done thing’. I was reassured that, yes, that’s the idea of the buffet. Great! Up I went for a second helping! With hot drinks being part of the deal I washed it all down with three mugs of coffee. Delicious!

The afternoon soon drifted by with the necessities of organising my tent, having a sauna and shower, and checking clothes which were drying in the “Torkrum”. After the outstanding lunch I did not feel too hungry so nibbled some Krosnobrod and cheese for tea. I’ve not felt any particular cravings over the last two weeks but suddenly had an overwhelming desire for fruit so grabbed a banana and a berry smoothie.
Tomorrow the plan is relaxed. Pack up. Wander in to Abisko town for a few essentials. Another buffet lunch to fill up for the journey home and then catch the night train.

Collapsing into a Fjallstation armchair I delved into my book and sipped my way through a splendid Sigtuna organic beer. At £7 a bottle it’ll just be the one tonight! Outside the rain clouds are gathering. Dark, menacing and a little apocalyptic. The wind herds the rain around the other side of the lake and off into the distance. The open fire crackles in the corner. What a great way to finish my last night on the trail!

The end of the trail.
The end of the trail. A great place to finish with a great many memories.

Kungsleden 2016: Day 13

18th August 2016
8:30am – 3:30pm 21km

On account of the mosquitoes and midges I decamped, packed up and left without breakfast. Half an hour down the trail I pulled off and spent twenty minutes finishing off the last of my cereal. The only food remaining in my pack now was Heinz Baked Beans, Bullens and the last of a few snacks. The Bullens had been de-canned and double bagged in zip-locks. The beans were still in the can and whether responsible or not, took the blame for what felt like a heavier pack weight. Nevertheless, lunch today was going to be epic!

What's that I spy? A can of Bullens!!
What’s that I spy? A can of Bullens!!
Hitting the multi-lane trail early before rush hour.
Hitting the multi-lane trail early before rush hour.

I set my goal on reaching a Reindeer fence by noon. The path was clear, fairly flat and relatively unhindered by rocks and debris. In comparison with other paths, this felt like I had jumped on a motorway. As the kilometres sped by the scenery, though still beautiful in the morning sun, was fairly consistent for the day. It was nice to plod steadily along, knowing I could make good time and finish early enough to spend some time relaxing. The ‘pressure’ of the last couple of days to get the miles under my belt has eased. It’s hardly any ‘pressure’ mind!!!

Mountains on the other side of the lake slowly creeping by.
Mountains on the other side of the lake slowly creeping by.
Azure lakes gleaming under a virtually cloudless blue sky...
Azure lakes gleaming under a virtually cloudless blue sky…

On account of the monotony, which I refer to in the most relative of ways, there was not the need to keep track of time or indeed of where I was on the map. As noon drew close it was not apparent which segment of lake I was passing. I had not been walking as swiftly as other days and couldn’t believe that I was close to the Reindeer fence. Nonetheless the winding mesh barrier complete with stile appeared. I had expected the traditional slatted barrier where each rung is slide aside and replaced once you pass through. This one had a set of steps which one ascended and descended. This is no doubt a much more reliable Reindeer barrier given the quantity of traffic that passes this way and the chance for gates to be left open.

Reindeer fence with a unique stile.
Reindeer fence with a unique stile.

Having set this as my goal for a lunch break I decided that the next river I were to come across would be my chosen resting spot. On the map there appeared to be two rivers within the next few kilometres. A stiff fifteen minutes more walking would be fine to wait for my Bullens n’ Beans.
Thirty minutes passed, then forty five without sign of the rivers. It dawned on me that an earlier measly trickle of water under a set of boardwalks was probably the river I had been looking for.

Vast beauty wherever you look.
Vast beauty wherever you look.

At this point there was no telling how long it would be until another river appeared. I plodded on with the feeling of hunger starting to grow. A bag of nuts came out and kept me running as time and the kilometres ticked by. Clearly the size of hill we were passing did not hold enough water at this time of year to keep a stream running.
Eventually I realised that the main bridge, by which was a number of official camp places, was going to be the place for lunch. At twenty past one I arrived at the bridge and found a spot where I could dip my feet in the water and heat up my Bullens and Beans. I could have stopped earlier but would have had nowhere to wash up. An hour spent in the shade, eating, drinking coffee and cooling off with the roar of the mountain river felt amazing. This was more than perfect.

Bullens n' beans. An epic lunch!
Bullens n’ beans. An epic lunch!
Mountain river lunch stop.
Mountain river lunch stop.
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Boots off! Beware of numb toes!
Refreshing but freezing ... beware of numb toes!
Refreshing but freezing … beware of numb toes!
Even Lego matey had a dip!
Even Lego matey had a dip!
Behind my lunch spot was a drop in the river ... you can imagine the roar!
Behind my lunch spot was a drop in the river … you can imagine the roar!

The last three kilometres were taken at a somewhat more leisurely pace. I notice a couple of my toes are feeling quite painful. Whilst paddling in the shallows I’d bent them back on the rocks but at the time had felt nothing on account of the numbness that comes with paddling in freezing water. I’d been warned about this by Andreas. I can see why people take Crocs for back-country river crossings. The steepness of the drop and the knowledge that I was close to my final destination meant that there was on need to rush. I could feel in my knees and feet a stiffness that is no doubt the result of a few consistent days of hard walking. In any case twenty one kilometres in under six hours is good going.

Back in the birch forest following the red bands.
Back in the birch forest following the red bands.
Approaching the Abiskojaure cabins.
Approaching the Abiskojaure cabins.

The Abiskojaure cabins were basic and rustic as expected, and indeed as others had been. Arriving at 3:30pm gave me time to do a little laundry. Hopefully this would give my fellow train passengers a more fragrant ride home.

I finished off the day with an amazing sauna. I’ve had the hot sauna a couple of times but this was the full Swedish experience. After soaking in the warmth I stepped out into the lake and doused myself with a washing up bowl full of cold water. The feeling of cold water on your hot skin feels so refreshing and invigorating. I had expected it to leave me feeling cold but the warmth that has soaked deep within your muscles keeps you from feeling internally cold. I can see the appeal. Three times I flitted between sauna and lake. Amazing!
In between the dips I chatted with the other gentlemen. One Swede, two Germans and one Dutch who had worked with Huskies in Finland. I asked what the benefits of the sauna were? Was it for the skin, muscular or both? “Everything” was the reply! Including your social life and mental well-being. Apparently the sauna is a great venue for spending time with your mates, much the same as a pub in the UK. We discussed the differences of language, cultural and politics. It was all in all a very enjoyable manly couple of hours.

Last day of walking tomorrow. Just fifteen kilometres which if I start at 8 should bring me in to Abisko between noon and 1pm. I’ve mixed feeling of wanting to see the family but enjoying the walking and scenery. Both are great!

Kungsleden 2016: Day 12

17th August 2016
9:30am-8:15pm 26km

The morning light gleamed low over the glassy lake. The surrounding mountains were mirrored in its surface with barely a ripple of wind to disturb its stillness. From my tent door the lake looked like a luxurious infinity pool. Idyllic!

Another "Wow" moment!
Another “Wow” moment!

Once again, a slow start to the day with a double coffee, breakfast, packing away and many many photos.
The weather today is perfect. Warm but with a gentle cool breeze.
The difficulty here is deciding which photos to post … let’s go with … lots!

Snow capped mountains remind you that this is the Artic.
Snow capped mountains remind you that this is the Artic.
Taking in the view.
Taking in the view.
Water, fresh from a mountain stream.
Water, fresh from a mountain stream.

Leaving at 09:30am I wandered over to the rise from where the trail would drop steeply to the valley floor. Heading down the other side I was ‘off-piste’. Taking markers from the opposite valley I placed my position on the map and worked out that I needed to head further west to pick up the official trail. The terrain got steeper and steeper. Still my position indicated I should be heading further west. I got to the point where the terrain was too steep, where a tumble could result in a sprained ankle or worse. Still here was no sign of any cairns or worn turf that mark the way. Clearly I had descended too quickly and nervously I decided to track back up a few meters to find the path. Following the same height I figured if I were to just trace a contour round the mountain I should hit the path sooner or later. As I edged round three ridges appeared running straight down the mountain. These seemed to coincide with three ridges on the map which should be directly opposite a bridge on the other side of the valley. If this were correct I could follow the ridges down, head through the woods on the same trajectory and meet a bridge that would cross the river.

Off-piste navigation.
Off-piste navigation.

As I climbed onto the first ridge to my relief there was a cairn, a second and a third cairn led me down through the woods. Marvellous! I had spent too long descending steeply and checking the map. Now I could just follow the path and pick up a little more speed.

Wild blueberries are so much juicer off the beaten track.
Wild blueberries are so much juicer off the beaten track.

Arriving at the bridge the view was stupendous. A roaring mountain river thundered underneath.
The water was crystal clear allowing you to easily see to the bottom. It looked inviting. Having lost time descending and knowing I had a big day ahead I decided that a dip was not to be. In any case the fast flowing water was ‘glacial’ and probably less than advisable to go dipping alone in such a remote location.

Crystal clear and so inviting!
Crystal clear and so inviting!
Following the riverside path to Vistasstugan.
Following the riverside path to Vistasstugan.

Munching through a snickers bar I powered my way up through the winding, muddy, rocky forest and reached the Vistasstugan STF cabins in a little over an hour. I was pleased with my time but realised I could not keep this pace up all day.
The cabins were nestled in a forest grove and looked to be beautifully kept. I had assumed that these back-country cabins would have little use but the wardens assured me that they had been full for the last couple of nights. I could see why with these views.

Vistasstugan STF hut. One of the finest settings Ive seen.
Vistasstugan STF hut. One of the finest settings Ive seen.

The next leg of my journey would take me eighteen kilometers up to the Alesjaurestugorna cabins. If I kept a good pace this would take six to eight hours.
I wasn’t sure if I had the legs to do this. Certainly my knees were sore after the descent from Kebnekaise, the ‘moon’ walk yesterday and the last few days of hard walking. I decided that as long as I completed more than thirteen kilometers then I would just have two days of twenty kilometers each.
As I headed off into the valley the sun shone and I swung the peak of my cap round to protect my neck. I must have looked an odd sight to the few people who passed, with my cap on back-to-front, looking like an eighties rap star.

Elk feeding along the edge of the marsh.
Elk feeding along the edge of the marsh.

The terrain and view constantly changed from woods, to sheer rocky cliffs to marshy wetlands. At two points along a large area of wetland there were moose (or elk) wallowing in the reeds. They looked up as they heard me across the valley and scarpered to hide in the scrub. In one area of woods just thirty yards from me a tree moved and thundered away. I only caught a brief glimpse but am fairly sure that too was a moose. Reindeer don’t tend to hang around on their own.

A good stiff ridge, acting as a dam wall to a couple of lakes behind.
A good stiff ridge, acting as a dam wall to a couple of lakes behind.

A good stiff walk took me through to 5:15pm by which time my feet and legs were sore and my stomach was telling me to refuel. Sitting on the edge of a river between two lakes I cooked the last meal from my pack. A good old full English breakfast. As I was eating two ladies wandered by and suggested that there was less than four kilometres to go. I had thought more than six but it appears the old derelict ruins of a traditional Sami hut I had passed were what I thought was going to be a cabin. Winner!

A perfect spot for an evening meal.
A perfect spot for an evening meal.

Having washed up and packed away I decided to carry on a little closer. Every step closer being a step less tomorrow. I sauntered on, hands in pockets, in a nonchalant fashion that surely portrayed the sense of a good days work well done. In no time at all I stumbled upon the Alesjaure lake where a modern day Sami village resides. On the waters edge there are a quaint mix of traditional red and white wooden buildings and ‘teepee’ style tents. This did not seem to be a respectful place to pitch my tent so I pressed on a little further.

Sami village.
Sami village.
Spot my little friend ...
Spot my little friend …

The next couple of kilometres consisted of scrubland and wet streams with very little choice of camping spots. I soon found myself at the end of a swing bridge which would take me to the STF cabin.
I tracked back up the hill where a gaggle of tents were pitched and found myself a suitably remote pitch. Unfortunately the whole area was over-run by mosquitoes. Far and wide I could see tent occupants wrapped in layers of clothing with minimal skin showing, making blind swatting actions into the air as they munched their evening meal.
Pitching my tent as swiftly as possible I headed up to the cabin to restock on food for tomorrow. I was pleasantly surprised to see Bullens (hot dogs) at only thirty crowns and bought a tin along with some Heinz baked beans. Tomorrow’s lunch will be epic!

I’d hoped to grab a beer but unfortunately only the canned variety was available. I should try it but can’t bring myself to do so! It dawns on me that I have become an ale snob – no bad thing mind! I grabbed some snacks to munch and settled to use my iPad from the comfort of a table.

So that was another full day today with some of the most outstanding scenery I’ve seen.
I’m hugely grateful to John and Janna for that detour tip.

Tomorrow is my penultimate waking day with just an easy twenty-one clicks. It feels like I’m on the home stretch – still enjoying it but I’ll be glad to see the family in a few days.

Oh go on then … one more piccy …

Another image firmly wedged in my memory bank ...
Another image firmly wedged in my memory bank …

Kungsleden 2016: Day 11

16th August 2016
9:00am – 5:00pm 19km

I awoke with the early sun and dozed for a while. Stretching out, I discover my legs actually feel OK. Maybe the knees are a little sore, but that’s to be expected as the pace I took the descent from Kebnekaise yesterday was a little brutal on the joints. They may have lasted almost forty years but if I put them through that too often they won’t last another forty. As I lay there I could here the sound of walkers on the nearby path heading up Kebnekaise. It’s an odd feeling knowing what they have in store for the day and feeling chuffed that I did that yesterday.

Spot on!
Spot on!

Today is the first day where I do not have the luxury of being ahead of schedule. There are four days left with somewhere approaching 80km to go, so I will need to stick to a minimum of 20km a day as I head up to Abisko. There are two routes of nominally equal distance and similar amounts of climb. I had the choice of trudging back through the valley towards Singi and heading up the walkers ‘motorway’, or taking a scenic route over a high pass, through Vistasvaggi and joining the masses further up. The latter would require navigation away from any defined path and would be a lot more remote. That sounded like a much more appealing prospect.

Blues skies, a cool breeze, perfect!
Blue skies, a cool breeze, perfect!

Breakfast and packing up took a lengthy hour-and-a-half on account of making a double mug of “gott kaffe”, enjoying the views and generally being a little lackadaisical.
Heading down to the Fjallstation I stocked up on two fresh bread rolls, a bag of “motivational pick-n-mix” (picking a good number of orange Skittles of course) and some route advice. A last pit-stop at the ‘facilities’ and I was heading off at 9am.

Off we go!
Off we go!

The first two kilometres were through the Fjallstation grounds where tents were dotted here and there. It reminded me of images you see of a post-Glastonbury field. I’m sure these weren’t abandoned though! At the bridge over the gorge I took a left signed for Tarfala, a scientific research center. A sign on a post reads “Remember kids, the difference between screwing around and science, is writing it down”. I’m reminded of the office … In a good way of course!!

An awesome place to work! Not that I have any cause to complain!
An awesome place to work! Not that I have any cause to complain!

Now starts the up hill climb. Six kilometres has typically been taking me ninety minutes. Add to that five hundred feet of climbing with a 20kg load and I’m expecting it to take over two hours. Feeling strong I marched on up the valley arriving at 11:30am. Looking up at the ridge I take half an hour to demolish the two fresh rolls filled with Reindeer cheese. It made a change from the heavy malty Krosnobrod.

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Tarfala mountain station - monitoring climate change from a fantastic location.
Tarfala mountain station – monitoring climate change from a fantastic location.
My route up the ridge. it looks steep from here, but just wait till you're up there!
My route up the ridge. It looks steep from here, but just wait till you’re up there!

The next ascent is where I leave any kind of formal trail and head off on a path that the map describes as “Trail; poorly marked”.
No joking! The ‘path’ consists of a couple of posts and the odd cairn. Essentially you can see a col between two peaks and you blatt up the rocks and shale until you reach the top. The next hour finds me scrabbling nervously on loose rocks in a bid to minimise the amount of rockery I send downhill. I reach the top at 1pm. My bag of motivational pick-n-mix has taken a big hit.

Finally at the top of the shale.
Finally at the top of the shale.

By 3:30pm I’ve clambered over another six kilometres of what I would call “moon”. Basically rocks ranging from pebbles to boulders that you jump from one to another. I find it easier to stash the walking poles as they keep getting stuck between the rocks and throw you off balance.

No ankles twisted. Everything intact. I start to head down the final descent to the “Sommarbro”. It looks rather permanent to be a “summer bridge” and I pause to wonder whether it’s only put up for the summer or whether it’s only ever used in the summer. Both have feasible reasoning but I shall have to ask someone.

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"Moon"! Or what I would imagine the moon to be like.
“Moon”! Or what I would imagine the moon to be like.

As I pause for breath I notice a shadow is moving around by the bridge. I assume it’s a dog and walk on. After a few moments it dawns that there is no owner present. This is clearly a wild animal. Without my contact lenses in I run through the options. It’s certainly not a reindeer or moose. They would be taller, would be grazing and if startled would move quickly with chin up and head back in the comical fashion that I have seen elsewhere. It’s not a bear. It would be “stumpier”, more rounded and would be walking with a lolloping gait. It’s not a member of the cat family. It would have a more graceful prowl with the shoulders rolling up and down whilst it’s body glides forwards.

This is definitely a member of the dog family. It’s body is a darker brown with a lighter under-belly. As it walks around I can see it’s gait is ‘bouncy’. It is moving its head to and fro, as though it were tracking the scent of something. It is very long but not that tall. I consider its size relative to the bridge. If it were on the walk-way I guesstimate that it could poke it’s nose out of one side, whilst it tail was half out the other. That would put it around the size of an Alsatian! Goodness! As I descend further to get a clearer look it gradually winds its way up he hillside and disappears into the rockery. Wolf? Wolverine? I’ll have to wait for some help from Google. On subsequent days I quiz a few other walkers. Looks like this was a wolf after all. And quite a rare sight they are too. Cool!

"Summer bridge". The Wolf had gone by this point.
“Summer bridge”. The Wolf had gone by this point.

I cross the bridge and take the path that tracks gradually up the hillside. The river follows its course downstream. I bump into the first hiker of today. He is carrying a massive traditional looking Haglofs pack with fishing rods and every item of bushcraft camping paraphernalia you can imagine. I utter my usual “Jag prater into svenska. Jag är en engelsman.” It’s what I hope is a polite way of saying “I don’t speak Swedish and although I’m English I’ve at least made some effort”. We get chatting and it turns out he has been touring the area for around three weeks. He mentions that he has not fished the lakes which are coming up. Looks like he is just living off the land as he goes. We exchange camping advice and I mention about the animal. He is very excited but can’t offer any suggestions.

Further up the valley I bump into a father, daughter and son trio. The father is shocked and alarmed that there could be a wolf. I notice a twinkle in his eye and realises he is winding his daughter up. They too have fishing rods and are surprised that I don’t carry a knife. I’m not sure if that is also a wind up – it probably is.

As I crest the final ascent a mountain lake appears of the deepest darkest blue. It looks inviting. Throwing up my tent I strip down to my swimming trunks and step into the lake. It’s cold, as I expected. What I wasn’t expecting was how the rocks were covered in algae and make any kind of upright progress treacherously dangerous. I splash a little water over me to cool down and clamber out to dry off.

Stunning mountain lake. One of my most memorable camp spots.
Stunning mountain lake. One of my most memorable camp spots.

Having finished off the motivational pick-n-mix on the last climb I need something substantial. Dinner tonight is a pasta carbonara which you just add water too. It’s easy and tasty. I wash this down with a cup of earl grey tea. Very British.

As I type these notes outside the tent the sun drops and is obscured by the mountain behind me. Up at one thousand meters in the shadows it suddenly grows very cold and I start to shiver. Forecast for Kebnekaise Fjallstation was down to minus four tonight. It’s likely to be a less up here. Off to bed then to warm up. It’s been a physically tough day but mentally stimulating. One day closer to home too! Looking forward to that as well.

Kungsleden 2016: Day 10

15th August 2016
Walk in 6:30am-7:30am 4km
Kebnekaise 17km, 1700m, 10-hours!

Awaking in the Kebnekaise valley. Today I'm going up!
Awaking in the Kebnekaise valley. Today I’m going up!

An early 5:30am start meant I was packed away by 6:30am and had covered the 4km to the Kebnekaise STF Fjallstation for 7:30am.
A quick pitch later and I’m lobbing my sleeping bag, blown roll-mat, stove, main meals and spare clothes in to the tent.
Ditching what I didn’t need to take up Kebnekaise has dropped my rucksack weight well into single figures. It feels light and I hit the trail with gusto.

By the time I set off at 8am it felt like I was the last person to embark on the trail. In reality I wasn’t, but practically speaking most people were far ahead. I guess they must have started as early as 6am.
Within the first couple of hours I caught up a number of people who in all honesty looked unlikely to make it. Shortly after I was hitting the back of the determined strugglers. You could see through sheer determination that they were going to make it, eventually. I passed a few more on the way up the first peak and a few more again as I descended into the col around halfway.

Its surprising how quickly you gain height!
Its surprising how quickly you gain height!

The col is one of those unfortunate obstacles so often found on hill climbs. Having cleared the same height as Ben Nevis it felt a little demoralising to be dropping so much height so quickly. Nonetheless it was an obstacle to be grappled with. Onwards and upwards and all that! I kept my motivation up with the remainder of a packet of Singoalla , not dissimilar to Jammy Dodgers.

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Following the red dots through the grey.

Starting up the climb which would lead to Kebnekaise summit I quickly found an older gentleman who was walking at the same pace as I. It was helpful to settle into the same pace and rhythm, just around 15m behind. Whenever he stopped I would catch up and exchange pleasantries – a very gentlemanly climb.

Running out of biscuits I stopped further up the climb to have some lunch. Renost and malted bread again. As I set off I could tell that my lunch was going to provide good slow burn energy but I was lacking the instant energy hit. I needed a boost but had no more sugary snacks. I broke out the emergency “power chews”.
I have had these before when mountain biking. They are very much like jelly cubes and give you a good kick when your lacking energy. Over the remainder of the climb I popped five of the things. The other three disappeared on the way down. I was glad for the boost and the pomegranate flavour tasted great.

A hint of a grey view through the grey clouds ... onwards and upwards ...
A hint of a grey view through the grey clouds … onwards and upwards …

As I walked it was difficult to gauge what to wear. I was sweating profusely from the exertion and for most of the walk there was no wind. A thin fleece top was sufficient to keep off the chill from the altitude. The col and the climb out of the col were very windy and needed a jacket to keep off the wind chill. Overall I was very lucky with the weather.

A splash of colour in the grey!
A splash of colour in the grey!

The last pull up to the top was over a thin crust of snow, peppered with stones poking their heads through like little icebergs.
Reaching the top of the rise revealed a final small pinnacle completely covered in snow. The summit was at the top of the pinnacle.
Gingerly I crept up the last patch of snow and perched myself on the top of Sweden.
The cloud had lifted and you could see for miles in all directions. The views were stupendous.

Kebnekaise summit.
Kebnekaise summit.
The cloud cover added to the sensation of height - as though you could touch the ceiling
The cloud cover added to the sensation of height – as though you could touch the ceiling

Nervously I manoeuvred around taking a few photos. The drops on both sides were icy and beyond the slopes were vertical drops of hundreds of metres. Having satisfied my sense of achievement I descended with caution.

On top of Sweden
On top of Sweden
Steep drops on both sides require genuine care!
Steep drops on both sides require genuine care!
On the way back down
On the way back down
Chocolate brownies anyone!
Chocolate brownies anyone!
A peak of the valley floor - somewhere near last nights cap spot.
A peak of the valley floor – somewhere near last nights cap spot.
With the cloud lifted the views on the way down were ... vast!!
With the cloud lifted the views on the way down were … vast!!

The descent was steep and demanded your 100% attention as you stepped over rocks and down onto slippery areas of snow or loose gravel. I paused periodically to catch my breath and marvel at the view. As with the ascent, the climb from the col back up to the false summit felt like a poor use of my energies. Still it was all part of the experience. The last part of the descent tracked around the base of a neighbouring hill. It felt like an eternity as it dropped gradually.
Getting to the top had taken five-and-a-half hours of the suggested ten to fourteen hour round trip. On the descent I made good time and returned to my tent within ten hours from leaving it. Get in!! Arriving at my tent felt like coming home. I guess it has been my home for the last 10 days. Even my bulging camping mat will be welcome tonight.

I made a quick call to Nat and headed for a shower and sauna at the Fjallstation. Part of me is looking forward to getting home. The next few days are set to be to be a blast though – just need some careful planing of my route up to Abisko.

Kungsleden 2016: Day 9

14th August 2016
8:30am – 8:30pm 32km

Today I feel like a man! Yesterday was more of a girls blouse day!
The weather has been great, my legs feel good, the views stupendous and I’m warm and dry.
Being in such a good frame of mind I stop to take lots of photos, as evident by the high words-to-photos-ratio!

A great start to the day ... Teusajaure in the distance.
A great start to the day … Teusajaure in the distance.

The first four kilometres dropped me down to the Teusajaure lake where there was one rowing boat waiting for me. Fortunately I could see another heading over so I waited and helped to pull them up the shore. Donning a buoyancy aid I set off across the lake. Including a stop to take photographs it took me a brisk 17 mins and I was on my way again.

Teusajaure
Teusajaure
A brief selfie ...
A brief selfie …
Arctic cotton
Arctic cotton

The climb from Teusajaurestugorna was steep and took a good bit of puff but I was soon on my way and making good progress. Having a lunch stop around noon by a roaring river was a particular highlight.

Mountain river lunch stop
Mountain river lunch stop

At the Kaitumjaure hut I bumped in to John and Janna once again. John was having a bad day. Janna had hers yesterday. Looks like it happens to us all. I had a craving for Coca-Cola so downed a beautifully cold can. A second soon followed as we saidaiin the sunshine admiring the view. In the bushes by the lake an elk and its calf moved around. It was very exciting to see such a graceful animal albeit slightly comical when it steps into the marsh and its legs disappear from view.eddI set off with John and Janna and walked with them for a bit, chatting as we went. Amongst other things we talked about up coming routes. I liked the sound of climbing Kebnekaise, Swedens highest mountain. Having missed the Skierfe viewpoint this was my other potential detour which I had considered. I would however need to get a wiggle on to make it to the bottom tonight if I was going to do it tomorrow.

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I cut off up a small path leading away from Singi and towards Kebnekaise. It was a long pull up over a small-ish ridge but it took me a lot longer than I had planned.  At the top of a rise was a beautifully blue mountain lake. Temping and inviting as it was, to stop here would have left too many kilometres for tomorrow. I press on.

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Stunning …

At 8:30pm with around 4-5km to go till Kebnekaise I decided to call it a day. Having put in 12 hours, the last few kilometres can be done in the morning.
I’m tired, happy, got sore feet and in need of some rest.
What a great day!

Kungsleden 2016: Day 8

13th August 2016
2:30pm – 5:30pm 9km

It has rained all night and it appears that my seam taping and hole patching from yesterday has paid off. Not a drip in the tent. There are a few drips resting on the roof of the inner, but they have not come through. It does suggest that the general proofing of the outer is somewhat lacking, but as long as it dries out today it’ll hold up for this trip certainly.
I do however have to clear a whole load of flies from the porch which is not pleasant.

I dine at the breakfast buffet in the lodge. It’s a great continental breakfast with some lovely smoked ham, cheese, salad and plenty of coffee.
Breakfast over I accept that the forecast of rain to continue all morning is looking perfectly feasible. I cut my losses and pack down the tent. The outer is soaked and the inner damp. I’m praying for a good breeze when I set up tonight to dry it off.
Throughout the morning I take my items that are dry from the drying room. It’s proving very ineffectual but most items eventually get there. Just my socks remain a little damp.

Unfortunately I had lost track of the days when I arrived and failed to equate that this is the stop where you get a bus up to the other end of the lake. If I had twigged I would have jumped on the 4pm bus yesterday. As it is the bus won’t arrive in Vakkotavare until 14:20 this afternoon. I wanted to spend yesterday afternoon here but this will mean that I lose most of today as well.
I’m hoping I have the energy to put in a dozen or so kilometres this afternoon so that I’m pretty much back onto the plus-one day schedule. In any case these are the eventualities that being ahead of schedule can allow you.

Maybe the tone of my writing will show through, but after talking to the family yesterday I’m feeling quite homesick today.

A short boat ride across the lake and I board bus 93 which brings me up to the other end of lake where the trail restarts. There was a stoppage en-route at a rather smart cafe in the middle of nowhere. The whole experience reminded me of the Thailand Songthaew journeys where you get taken to a shop en-route to entice you to spend your ‘hard earned’.

Vakkotavare car park ... onwards and most definitely upwards
Vakkotavare car park … onwards and most definitely upwards

Stepping out the bus I’m headed up a steep climb of some 240 meters over the first kilometre. As I break my legs back in the heavens open and once again I’m soaked. Even between rain showers the view is of distant mountains with their own personal rain cloud. I’m not a happy bunny.

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At the top of the climb I find a small lake and whip out the map to take stock of where I am. I had earlier taken off my watch as it is not waterproof and as I put the map back I realise the watch is not there. I look around but don’t see it. I recall taking the map out previously when I broke out the treeline. The watch could be anywhere. I retrace my steps back over the last 150 meters but with no joy. Working back and forth I now have my phone on Bluetooth looking for a connection. After some 30-45mins I’ve given up and am back to the lake where I discovered its loss. There in the shrubbery it is.
I’m surprised, overjoyed and emotionally wrecked.

I walk on. Another 2km and I’m hungry. I’ve been dehydrating curried noodles and chickpeas in my bottle for the past few hours so I stop, heat them up, slurp em down and I’m off again with gusto. Another delish meal! By the time I’ve done 9km it’s 7pm and I’m ready to stop. Physically I could carry on, but emotionally I’ve had enough of today. There is only another half hour before dropping through the woods to the lake and I don’t fancy camping with mosquitoes or attempting a night row of the lake. To stop now gives the tent chance to dry off a little as well.

Tent pitch ahead ...
Tent pitch ahead …

Tent up and organised. Into my sleeping bag. I’m ready to write some diary notes and have a read before nodding off.
I reflect on the day and how tough it has been, not so much physically, but emotionally and mentally. The hanging around, cold, wet, homesick … certainly not a day to post in the memory banks.

Despite the weather I’m warm and dry in my sleeping bag and ready to “hit the hay”. Suddenly … Pop! I can feel that there is something pressing into my chest from below. Rolling gingerly off my mat a bulge the size of a watermelon is revealed. The remainder of an internal baffle peels away down its length. It is now conjoined into one long bulge. Aaaaargh. Surely nothing else can go wrong today!

Kungsleden 2016: Day 7

12th August 2016
13km

Waking this morning I pull off my snood and am once again am surprised at how bright it is. Finishing off the chia seed pudding from last night I pack up and head off.
The run down to Saltoluokta today is just 13km and the thought of showers, drying rooms, hot meals and log fires means I’m not thinking of pressing on beyond. I walk briskly and solidly to arrive just before midday. As I drop down the last descent I can see rain passing the opposite valley. There is a good chance it could come this way but I’m hopeful that it won’t be too heavy.

Board walks placed strategically over boggy areas.
Board walks placed strategically over boggy areas.
Stunning views everywhere you look...
Stunning views everywhere you look…

Arriving at the STF cabin I find there are no rooms at the inn so the decision is made. Tent it will be.
After a quick session of laundry I grab a makeshift lunch consisting of coffee, cookie, some biscuits and an IPA, or “eepah” as I was offered. I’m very pleased to be able to log the IPA in Untappd as a fine ale and slightly surprised that not only is it already listed, but the Saltoluokta STF venue is too.
The next couple of hours are spent catching up on emails and patching holes in the tent outer. I find a few minor holes which look suspiciously ‘cat like’ (if such a look exists) and tape these up accordingly. Throwing my tent up in the woods I feel more confident about its water tightness. I guess I will see tonight.

I chat with Nat, Jonas, and Tilly for a very pleasant hour. Noah is at a sleep over. I am pleasantly surprised at how chatty Jonas is. He clearly takes after his mother! It does make me miss them all but I’m also having such a great time that there is hardly the space to think of home. Apart from the tough stretches in the cold rain that is.

Unfortunately the evening meal is fully booked due to a wedding party being on site. So tonight I feast on a can of Bullens, two soft boiled eggs and the last of a packet of Krasnobrod. Bullens have been ‘bigged up’ by a few people – they are a slightly darker version of the good old frankfurter or hotdog that we all love. Yummy.

After my meal I consider visiting the sauna but being a British newbie I am unaware of any etiquette. I walk in wearing my swimming trunks to find a gentleman in there completely ‘starkers’. That’s fine, but I think I need to get the low down from someone. A question for another day!

Kungsleden 2016: Day 6

11th August 2016
12km + 2km off route

I awake to the sound of persistent rain. Looking nervously round the tent I find it is on the whole dry, except for a few drips that have come through the air mesh near my feet. The last time I used the tent was with Jonas in the garden and Milo, the cat, had jumped up on the tent. There were no visible holes and I thought I had got away lightly. Last night however I had discovered two very small pricks near the apex of the main pole. I had taped these over and they appeared to be nicely sealed. I now wonder whether there are more but will need the tent to be fully dry out before I can check. In any case, given the tent is around 20 years old its doing well.

A decidedly damp start.
A decidedly damp start.

Given the ‘bracing dampness’ in the air I roll over, doze for a bit, and get my nose into a good book. “Cold” by Sir Ranulph Fiennes is maybe not the right choice for this trip. It makes my feeble worries about a little rain seem trivial. I turn page after page, favouring the tales of Norwegian glacier mapping over the reality of the cold wind and rain outside. In the back of my mind is a hope that the rain will die out and I can at least walk in the dry. The pitter patter on the tent canvas remains as consistent and solid as ever. I decide that the time has come to brave the elements and by the time I’ve packed away and had breakfast I’m not setting off until 11am.

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Skierfe in the cloud.

As I step out of my tent the summit of Skierfe is barely visible through the cloud. It is obvious that if I make it to the top, the view will not be clear. Still I’m torn between going or staying. This was to be one of the planned trip highlights. If I do attempt the peak, today will require a total of 6 or 7 hours of trudging in the rain. If not, its just 2 or 3. Being wet and cold for that long could turn a highlight into a definite low light. I make the final decision. I’ll leave it. I’m disappointed that I will miss what is supposed to be one of the worlds most beautiful views in the world. The view is unlikely to be there so it’s the right choice.

Trudging up over the mountain the wind and rain remain persistent. The cold turns the rain in parts to sleet and I can feel my base and mid layer clothes gradually getting damp. The wind chills the dampness and I walk harder to warm up. My boots thankfully stay dry and warm. The trail is pleasant enough but a little monotonous as the view is obliterated by the thick cloud covering the countryside. Dropping into the woods feels good as the lack of wind chill allows the underlying dampness to turn back into warmth.

As I approach lake Sitojaure I contemplate whether to row the 4km across. This distance only took around 30-mins yesterday and even with wind and on my own should be feasible in around an hour or so. If there is someone else to join me I could consider it to be an option. However being already cold and wet, it would be foolhardy to attempt on my own. Arriving at the lakeside there is the scheduled motor boat waiting to leave. The pilot says that nobody is rowing today as the lake is choppy. Once again I feel a sense of disappointment as I step into the boat. I know for safety and comfort it’s the right thing. By the time we land on the other side the lack of movement and high wind chill mean that I am frozen to the core.

The warmth of the STF cabin is welcome and I cook up a hearty plate of food. The drying rooms are so full that nothing appears to be drying too quickly. Still, warm and wet is better than cold and wet. If the weather does indeed clear up I’ll head off once I’m warm, dry and fed. This is the benefit of being ahead of schedule.

Three hours later to my amazement the sun has broken through and the clouds have dissipated to reveal patches of blue sky. The grey world I had trudged through earlier has emerged colourful and bright.

The rain clears!
The rain clears!

Looking to the west of the trail are a series of mountains. Each has a snow covered top which was not there yesterday.

I’m packed up, warm, still a little damp and most importantly ready to head out. My goal is to clear the tree line and from there to potter on until I feel tired. As I head out I’m optimistic that my body warmth combined with a good stiff breeze will dry my clothes quicker than the still air of the hut drying room. I am not disappointed and an hour in to my trek I am whipping off my waterproofs which are largely dry.

Evidence of glacial erosion - on a grand scale.
Evidence of glacial erosion – on a grand scale.

I put around 6km under my belt and jump into a small depression in the valley that contains a small pool. Throwing up my tent I hold it aloft as the breeze and the setting sun dry the fabric.

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A cool, bright evening. The wet, coldness of the day just a memory.

Draping my sleeping bag and roll mat out over the tent it feels good to be pitching camp. Despite the cool arctic air drifting over the neighbouring mountains I feel warm and dry, or at least on-the-way-to-dry.

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Having had my main meal at lunch time I cook up some of John and Janna’s chia seed fruit mix for supper. As John said, it’s a little slimy and the berries are a delicious diversion. In true British fashion I round supper off with a nice cup of earl grey tea.

Wot-Ho chaps!!