Passing through traditional reindeer herding land used by the Sami, the indigenous people of northern Europe, is one unique element of this trail, but there are several others. Witnessing either the midnight sun, or the amazing phenomenon of the northern lights, nature’s own light show, dancing up above on a clear night is sure to be high on people’s list of expectations. As we finished hiking at the start of September we weren’t lucky enough to see the aurora blazing across the Arctic sky. Yet deep into Swedish Lapland, towards the later stages of our hike, we did get spectacular changing shades of scarlet, orange and red as the entire sky seemed to light up and intensify right above our tent. After some particularly dreadful weather at the start of our trip, where we spent several nights cocooned in our sleeping bags listening to the pelting rain, it was magical to sit outside the tent and soak up the special atmosphere. It also felt quite strange to see the sun set for the first time, as at the start of our hike back in August we never seemed to experience darkness at all.
But by far one of our favourite aspects of the Kungsleden trail was Sweden’s Allemansr at ten the right to roam. This meant we had a fantastic choice of wild camp spots with incredible views, without the worry of being moved on or having to pitch late and leave early. One of our favourites was on a side trail above Aktse, overlooking the magnificent Rapadalen valley, when we decided to take a detour to the lookout a top Skierffe. We couldn’t believe our luck at finding a pre used site with a ready made fire pit that provided us with wonderful 360 degree views, and apart from sharing this space with a family of reindeer we had it all to ourselves. In fact, we didn’t see another soul for an entire day which is quite unusual for this well-trodden trail, but maybe an advantage of hiking northbound.
In contradiction to the norm, hiking the Kungsleden south to north was more appealing to us for several reasons. First, the sun would be on our backs and not in our faces, which is both better for photography and for charging batteries with solar panels. Further reasoning was that our bodies would have time to get accustomed to the rhythms of the trail by the time we reached what are considered the tougher sections in the north, making us fitter and stronger to handle them. The scenery is also regarded as more spectacular in the north, so we would be saving the best till last. Most importantly, by starting in the south we avoided being part of the caravan of walkers on the Kebnekaise Circuit (the northernmost part of the trail is the most popular as hikers take a detour to summit Sweden’s highest mountain, the 2,106m high Kebnekaise). We would also bypass the hordes of hikers taking part in the annual Fjâllrâven Classic event.
With a population of nine million in a country around twice the size of the UK, days can be spent exploring the wilds un disturbed, but the sense of solitude is never more apparent than when the Kungsleden leads into the inhospitable Sarek National Park. Its sheer vast ness and remoteness can be over whelming, the trail taking you to what feels like the end of the world. The most dramatic and grandiose of all of Sweden’s national parks, Sarek cannot be accessed by road. It is very much still a wild frontier, and the Swedes want to keep it this way. Like at the start, our final week on the trail was a mixture of low cloud and steady rain, but it did not hamper our progress as by now we were trail fit and looking forward to a celebratory meal and beer in Abisko. The thought of a final sauna at the Alesjaure Mountain Hut to refresh us before the last 35km stretch was good motivation too, and we were confident we’d finish the whole trail within our timescale.
Although our intention was to camp throughout, we did take respite from the rain and stay in accommodation for three nights out of 21, mainly as we wanted to use the laundry facilities and drying room, and recharge batteries for our camera gear. We passed several hikers at main entry points along the route who were laden with huge packs, despite only hiking sections of the trail, all of them in agreement that they’d brought way too much gear. We too had learned several lessons on bringing unnecessary ‘stuff;’ long distance hiking in new destinations a continual learning process. With the Kungsleden’s sheer beauty but simplicity, we’ll go with the mantra that less is more.
Compared to other long distance trails we have completed, we found that the Kungsleden is not just about the immense scenery or the changing terrain. It’s about witnessing the unique sights that are only found when crossing into the Arctic Circle, while being accessible. We came away with fantastic memories of a place that we had always considered to be out of our comfort zone. But you don’t have to be a serious trekker or hardened wild-camper to access this trail, such are the excellent facilities provided by the mountain hut system. Whether on foot or by boat, the Kungsleden is a special and distinctive journey. You just can’t be averse to a little rain.