This is the third and last blog about my hike on the Kungsleden Trail in Swedish Lappland last August. I posted a blog about ‘Planning a hike on the Kungsleden’ on 3 March 2015, so if you’re after practical information that’s the one to read.
DAY 5: Singi to Kebnekaise – 8 miles
We set off about 9.45am to walk 8 miles to Kebnekaise Mountain Station. Ian had marked this as an easy day on the itinerary so I expected we’d be there in time for lunch … I later discovered he had marked the wrong day!
We walked across familiar terrain, through another valley with a river running through it and tall mountains either side, but for the first time we had to climb hills and cross rivers. The weather was cold, wet and windy and we could hardly see the mountains for mist. On top of that, I was feeling tired and hiking just seemed like hard work.
The weather cleared about three quarters of an hour before we arrived at Kebnakaise at 2.45pm. Kebnakaise is a massive place but gets very busy. As well as accommodating hikers on the Kungsleden, nearby Mt Kebnakaise attracts climbers who often helicopter in. By the time we arrived all the smaller rooms were booked so we ended up in a 22 bed dormitory, which cost 460SEK (£40) a bed. We also booked dinner and breakfast, which altogether cost 986SEK (about £85) for two. This is definitely not a budget hike!
We had our first shower for five days then went down for dinner, which was a posh affair. The menu was almost entirely fish –rollmops, salmon and smoked salmon for starters and mackerel and potatoes for main course. We sat next to two Swedish guys who had come to climb Mt Kebnakaise but hadn’t managed it because of the weather. They told us that the Sami (the indigenous inhabitants of Sweden) own most of the land in the north and run the helicopter and boat businesses.
Later in the bar, we caught up with some of the UK hiking group. They had climbed Mt Kebnakaise today, but the visibility was very poor and only a couple of people had made it to the top. We saw photos, taken in the few minutes the weather had cleared, and it looked amazing.
DAY 6: Kebnakaise to Nikkaluokta – 12 miles
We got up at 7am for a massive buffet breakfast in readiness for our final day of hiking. Just before we set off at 8.30am we ran into George (the Scot). He was about to catch a helicopter to Nikkaluokta because of blisters … so maybe putting talc on your feet and wearing ‘1,000 mile’ socks is not a good recommendation!
We had 12 miles to walk to Nikkaluokta where we were catching the 4.20pm bus to Kiruna. The hiking on this section was not very scenic, mainly through scrubby bushland and along boardwalks, and the only wild life we saw was a lemming and a few small birds.
There is a boat service some of the way, but it drops passengers 5.6km from Nikkaluokta. A French couple we met at a Sami café near the boat terminal were very disappointed when they realised they still had to walk that distance. The café sold reindeer burgers but we had a salmon open sandwich instead.
As we neared Nikkaluokta we met Lee and Jonathon, the two British guys, walking in the other direction. They had reached the end of the trail, dropped off their packs and were hiking back to the Sami restaurant for a reindeer burger. Jonathon was still wearing his trusty moccasins and work socks and hadn’t developed any blisters.
We arrived at Nikkaluokta at 2pm so spent a couple of hours devouring tea and cake and looking at the art in a small Sami-run café / art gallery near the bus stop. Lee and Jonathon easily made it back in time for the bus despite walking an extra 11.2 km.
The bus dropped us off in Kiruna and we followed the big British group to the youth hostel. By the time they had checked in, all the hostel beds were taken, but it worked in our favour because we got ‘hotel beds’ which turned out to be much better value. A double room with our own ensuite and breakfast included cost 850SEK (£63), while the others were paying 300SEK (£22) each for a dorm and shared bathroom with no breakfast.
That night we went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant. A massive pizza and a big glass of wine seemed like a fitting way to celebrate the end of our hike on the Kungsleden.
This is the second part of the blog about my hike on the Kungsleden Trail in Swedish Lappland last August. I posted a blog about ‘Planning a hike on the Kungsleden’ on 3 March 2015, so if you’re after practical information that’s the one to read.
DAY 3: Alesjaure to Salka – 15 miles
We left Alesjaure at 9am after watching a helicopter land and take off behind the reception hut. Our goal today was Salka hut 15 miles away, but we planned to stop for lunch at Tjaka hut after 8 miles.
The track to Tjaka was good and made for relatively easy walking. On the way, we saw several herds of reindeer, more lemmings and some seagulls, and we chatted to members from the big group of British hikers. One, a Scot called George, told us he prevents blisters by putting talc on his feet and only wearing quality ‘1,000 mile’ hiking socks. Another, told us about a great hike in Iceland he’d done. He rated it higher than the Kungsleden, and we both agreed that many hikes in the UK were more scenic than what we’d seen so far of the Kungsleden.
Just before we reached Tjaka about 12.30pm, we had to make a decision. There was a river between the trail and Tjaka with a bridge further up. We took the longer route via the bridge but most people took a short cut across the river. All but one person fell in and we later discovered that a doctor had fallen in the previous day, cut his head open and had to be airlifted to hospital.
Tjaka is a small hut with no store or sauna. There is a day fee to use the facilities so, as the weather was dry and even sunny for brief periods, we prepared and ate lunch outside. The warden was very friendly – I think she was pleased to have someone to talk to as the place seemed very quiet. She told us she was caretaking the hut during her holidays and had been there a month. She only had a week to go and seemed to be looking forward to the end of her assignment. “It’s a very windy place,” she told us.
Just after we left Tjaka, the track turned into a jumble of rocks and we had concentrate on negotiating them for the rest of the day. It was rockier than yesterday and, the seven miles to Salka took us nearly five hours (including a couple of breaks).
By the time we got to Salka at around 6pm we were exhausted. We shared a four-bed dorm with a Swedish couple, who were on a nine day hiking and camping trip but had decided to have a reprieve from the cold for a night and give their tent chance to dry out.
DAY 4: Salka to Singi – 7 miles
I woke early to a stunning morning and a herd of reindeer close to the hut. But, as we only had to walk seven miles today, I went back to bed until about 9.30am. By that time everyone except us and the couple in our room had left, so we ate our breakfast in peace.
When we left Salka at 11am it was quite bright, but the weather deteriorated as the day progressed. We stopped a little over half way and had lunch in a small ski hut which was packed with people doing the same as us. The scenery was much the same as yesterday – rivers and mountains, reindeer and rocks – though, thankfully, the trail wasn’t as rocky as yesterday.
We met a couple of Swedish bird watchers taking photos of an arctic tern. They told us that the seagulls come from Norway, which is apparently quite close. We also chatted to a couple of British guys, Lee and Jonathon, who we hadn’t met in the huts because they were camping to save money. I was fascinated with Jonathon’s footwear; he was walking in moccasins and ordinary socks as if he were going for a stroll in the park. The moccasins looked a little worse for wear but he hadn’t had a problem with blisters.
Singi is another small hut with no store or sauna. By the time we got there at 3pm it was cold and wet, and people kept arriving throughout the afternoon (many were campers escaping the weather). No one is ever turned away so, by evening, our ten-bed dorm was full plus there were a few extra mattresses on the floor. It was very cosy … until you had to go outside to the loo and battle the gale force winds and horizontal rain. Ahh, summer in Sweden!
My next few blogs will be an account of my hike on the Kungsleden Trail in Swedish Lappland last August. I posted a blog about ‘Planning a hike on the Kungsleden’ on 3 March 2015, so if you’re after practical information that’s the one to read.
DAY 1: Abisko to Abiskojaure – 9 miles
By the time we reached the start of the Kungsleden it was 4.45pm, the sky was looking ominous and we had to walk nine miles to get to the first hut. Worried that we might not make it before it turned dark or started to rain, I set off at a cracking pace.
Our hike had started in a rather muddled fashion. We got off the bus from Kiruna at the store in Abisko, rather than at the tourist station about 2km further on, then tried to take a short cut across country to the start of the hike with the help of a German couple we met. However, there were no tracks and the terrain was too boggy so we ended up having to walk there by road anyway.
There was no missing the Kungsleden, it was an obvious rocky path or board walks where the trail crossed boggy areas. We saw lots of other hikers, many were camped alongside the trail, which is understandable given the number of people hiking and the cost of the huts. Thankfully, we just missed a massive annual event with 2,000 hikers that finished the day we started.
That first evening, we walked beside water the whole way, first beside a river, then a stream and finally a lake. The only animals we saw were a herd of reindeer (wearing cow bells) and some little critters that looked like fat brown, orange and white mice scuttling around the boggy areas under the boardwalks. We later discovered that these were lemmings. We also saw a flock of grouse near the hut.
We got to Abiskojaure hut about 8.15pm and bought some supplies for dinner, which consisted of a can of fishballs (these were free from the on-site shop and, after trying them, I realised why they couldn’t sell them!), some crispbreads and two beers.
We retired to our 10-bed dorm about 10pm. The huts don’t have electricity or running water and the bed was just a wooden board with a thin mattress, pillow and duvet, but it was cosy and peaceful. It was difficult to believe we’d been in the bustling metropolis of Stockholm that morning.
DAY 2: Abiskojaure to Alesjaure – 12 miles
The next day we had a leisurely start and set off at 10am to walk the 12 miles to Alesjaure hut. The track was rocky, which made walking tiring as we needed to concentrate on where we put our feet, and there were more board walks in varying states of repair. I assume the board walks are all checked and fixed at the start of the season, but must soon suffer from wear and tear given the number of people walking over them. It was a very cold day and when we stopped for lunch after about three hours, we huddled among some rocks so we could light our stove and make a cup of soup to warm us up.
The terrain was spectacular but pretty bleak – mainly mountains with snow on the top and scrubby trees and lakes. There’s a ferry that cuts about 7km off the hike but it costs 300 SEK (about £22) and we weren’t feeling too tired at that stage so carried on. The last few miles to Alesjaure hut were muddy with a couple of small rivers to ford and a persistent drizzle, that later turned to heavy rain.
We reached the hut about 4.45pm and got a 4 bed dorm to ourselves in one of the huts. We didn’t stay there long though because a big group of rowdy kids arrived so we moved to another hut. Later we had our first Swedish sauna. This was busy as a large hiking group from the UK had just arrived. They’d hiked 21 miles from Abisko so had earnt their sauna!
Once you’ve bought or borrowed everything necessary to hike the Bibbulmun Track, the next thing is to plan your walk. I created a spreadsheet which recorded, for each date, the starting and finishing points and the number of kilometres between them. This is useful for working out how much food you will need for each section and for arranging to meet other people. I tried to allow at least one rest day in each town to stock up on supplies, do my washing, shower, eat and, most importantly, rest.
If you’re walking the whole Track in one go, transport is not an issue – you can catch a bus from Perth to the northern terminus of the Track in Kalamunda, and get a bus back from Albany when you arrive at the southern terminus a month or two later (or vice versa if you’re walking from south to north).
If you’re only walking a section of the Track, planning a walk can be trickier as vehicular access points and public transport are limited. Most of the towns on the Bibbulmun Track are serviced by buses, but they are infrequent and may need to be booked in advance. This isn’t a problem on the outward journey, but on the way back it may be difficult to predict what time (or even what day) you’ll reach a town on foot. If you have a car, you can drive to an accessible place on the Track, walk to a certain point then retrace your steps back to the car. If you’re not walking alone and have two cars at your disposal, a good strategy is to park a car at each end of the section. There are also taxi services and tour operators who can help you to co-ordinate your walk, and some B&Bs near the Track offer drop-off and pick-up services. More information can be found in an accommodation and services guide for walkers published by the Friends of the Bibbulmun Track.
Staying on track
The Bibbulmun Track passes through some remote areas of Western Australia, so once you’re on the Track you need to know how to stay on it. Distinctive yellow triangles displaying a waugal symbol (a rainbow serpent spirit-being from the Aboriginal Dreaming) are nailed to trees along the way to mark the Track. It is important to keep an eye out for these waugals, as you can easily stray off track if you’re daydreaming. I speak from experience – many times I’ve wearily had to retrace my steps to look for a waugal. As a rough guide, there should be five waugals per kilometre in forest areas, and two per kilometre in more open areas. On long walks, maps are essential and a compass comes in handy. If you’re more tech-savvy than me, a GPS could also be invaluable, though you’ll need to take a solar charger too as there are no power points between towns.
The camp sites
As I mentioned in the last blog, there are 48 campsites on the Bibbulmun Track. Besides a 5,000-litre rain water tank, each campsite has a sturdy three-sided timber hut with a tin roof, a bush toilet, tent sites, and a picnic table. Many campsites also have a fireplace, but between October and May fires are banned or restricted. Each hut can accommodate between eight and 15 people (depending on the design) sleeping on wooden boards. There is no charge for accommodation and it can’t be pre-booked, so if you’re hiking for a long time or overnighting during a busy period (e.g. a long weekend) it’s best to take a tent with you.
Although walking is a relatively safe pastime, there are hazards associated with the bush. If you’re walking alone, make sure someone knows your itinerary and sign the registers found in each hut. People also record their experiences in these registers so, as well as being a safety precaution, they are a useful source of Track intelligence about such things as: missing markers; the condition of the Track; the state of the water supply at the next campsite; big hills en route; flora and fauna to look out for; or the school party that took over the campsite the day before. For example, I discovered from the registers that the Track markers on the Monadnocks (a series of exposed rocky hills) were piles of rocks instead of the usual waugals. This saved me a lot of stress wondering whether I was on the right track in the absence of waugals.
Just do it!
Whether you want to walk for a couple of hours or a couple of months, the Bibbulmun Track provides the means to get away from it all and to experience the peace and beauty of south-west Australia. But be warned, this is not a stroll in the park. The Bibbulmun Track can be tough so, go on … take a walk on the wild side!
The next thing I needed to do in preparation for hiking the Bibbulmun Track (see my previous blog for the background to this crazy idea!) was to work out what to take with me. As with all long distance hiking, the lighter your pack the better your journey will be.
The most important item on any hike is a pair of comfortable, well worn-in boots. On my first attempt at hiking the Bibbulmun Track end to end, I was thwarted by very nasty blisters, caused by my boots being slightly too loose and rubbing on my heels. In my defence, I find it difficult to get well-fitting boots because my second toes are longer than my big toes. Therefore, if my boots fit well at the heels, my second toes end up getting battered on hikes and eventually, the nails turn black and drop off. I have met a lot of people with the same foot conformation so, if this applies to you, you may need to choose between sore toes or blisters on your heels.
I have since found a fabulous tape called fixumol, which I put on my heels and toes at the start of a hike as a preventative measure and add more of as ‘hot-spots’ begin to develop. Since I started using this I haven’t had a blister. It doesn’t do much to help the toe nail situation though!
The next most important consideration for a long distance hike is your pack. If you are doing more than a day walk on the Track, you will need to take a lot of equipment: sleeping gear, cooking equipment and food, a change of clothing, basic toiletries, a first aid kit and maybe a tent. My basic gear, not including food and water, weighed about 13 kilograms (see the list at the end of this blog). It’s important to ensure your pack fits comfortably and has a good hip belt to keep the weight on your hips rather than on your shoulders. When buying a backpack, try on as many packs as you can before making a decision, and ask the shop assistant to add weight to them and adjust the straps to fit your body so you can assess how the pack distributes the weight.
How much food you need to take will depend on your metabolism, how long you are walking for, and which section of the track you are doing. A practice walk of three or more days should give a good indication of how much food you need, otherwise allow about one kilogram of food per day. The towns on the Bibbulmun Track are pretty spread out, with the greatest distance between two towns being 202 kilometres. This occurs on the first stretch (on a north to south hike) between Kalamunda and Dwellingup and involves walking for at least 10 days with no opportunities to resupply. This creates a logistical nightmare.
Unless you can talk friends into bringing supplies to you, which could be difficult to coordinate, you’ll need to do a food drop before you go. It may be several weeks before you arrive there on foot, so make sure your food parcel is water- and vermin-proof by packing the food in plastic bags, inside plastic boxes, inside another large plastic bag. Then bury it. It’s a good idea to split your food into two parcels and bury them in different places to reduce the chances of losing everything. Make a note of where you’ve buried the food in your journal because you’ll be desperate for it when you eventually get there!
How much water you’ll need to take will depend upon the time of year. Water is available from tanks at each of the 48 campsites along the
Track so, if you walk in the spring when water is plentiful and temperatures are not too high, you could get away with carrying about two litres of water. You’ll need more if you walk when the water supply is less reliable. The tank water is potable but if you get water from natural sources along the way it’s a good idea to treat it. I took water purification tablets on my first hike, but the treated water tasted so foul I couldn’t drink it! Nowadays, I use an ultraviolet wand which doesn’t affect the taste of the water.
The following list is what I take on multi-day hikes on the Bibbulmun Track.
Silk sleeping bag liner
Socks x 2
T-shirts x 2
Polar fleece jacket
Knickers x 3
Matches / lighter
Plate / dish
Swiss army knife
Water bottle holster
Anti-inflammatory cream & pills
Guidebook (with maps)
Mobile phone (doubles as camera/clock)
Mobile phone charger
Notebook and pen
Book to read
You can add to this if you like, but remember you will have to carry whatever you take!
My partner’s paternal grandfather was Swedish so we planned to go to Sweden to visit some of his second cousins. We both love hiking and while he was researching our trip he came across the Kungsleden (or King’s Trail). This is a 270 miles (440 km) hiking trail in Swedish Lappland, between Abisko in the north and Hemavan in the south. Billed as one of the world’s best hikes, it passes through one of Europe’s largest remaining wilderness areas.
We decided to walk the top section between Abisko and Nikkaluokta, which covers a distance of 64.5 miles (104 km). This is the most alpine but also the most walked section. Despite this, there didn’t seem to be much information about it on the internet when it came to planning our trip. Luckily, we found an itinerary for an organised tour and adapted it to suit our time frame (see below).
Day 1 Abisko Mountain Station to Abiskojaure hut (9 miles)
Day 2 Abiskojaure to Alesjaure hut (12 miles)
Day 3 Alesjaure to Salka hut (missing out Tjäkja hut – 15 miles)
Day 4 Salka to Singi hut (8 miles)
Day 5 Singi to Kebnakaise Mountain Station (8.5 miles)
Day 6 Kebnakaise to Nikkaluokta village (12 miles).
Getting there and away
The first day also included flying from Stockholm to Kiruna and then catching a bus to Abisko. We flew from Stockholm to Kiruna with Scandinavian Airlines. The plane left at 11.20am and arrived at 12.40pm. Kiruna has a tiny airport and I’ve never seen so many backpacks come off a plane! From there we caught the number 91 bus, which left the airport at 2pm and arrived in Abisko at 3.30pm. This meant we didn’t start walking until around 4pm, but it wasn’t a problem as in the summer there is plenty of daylight and the first section of the walk is fairly flat and easy walking.
On the way back, buses for Kiruna left Nikkaluokta at noon and 4.20pm. As our flight to Stockholm left at 11.55am on day 7 we had to arrive at Nikkaluokta in time for the later bus on day 6.
Mountain huts are located between 10 and 20 km apart along the trail. The huts are fairly basic with no electricity or running water. They consist of dormitories with bedding provided and a kitchen area with gas stoves, crockery, cutlery and pans. There are no showers (although some have saunas) and the toilets are drop toilets located some distance from the huts. Visitors are expected to do chores, such as fetch water from a stream or chop wood for the fire, and everyone has to clear up after themselves. No one is turned away from the huts so they can get quite crowded at times, especially in bad weather.
All but Tjäka and Singi huts on the above stretch sold food supplies. We took some food but bought breakfasts as we went, and some items to supplement our dinners. Some huts also sell beer so we had a well-earned drink on a few nights. As a guide to prices, cereal for two cost 40SEK and dried milk was 20SEK. The price of beer seemed to vary widely, at one hostel we paid 50SEK a can and at another we got two cans for 40SEK!
Staying in the huts is not cheap, the larger ones, with saunas and shops, cost 495SEK (£38) each – about the same amount as staying in a decent B&B in the UK! With a YHA card it is 100SEK cheaper so the savings over six days are quite substantial. We didn’t have YHA memberships but realised on the second day that it made sense, so we joined STF (Svenska Turistföreningen – the Swedish equivalent) at Alesjaure hut. This cost 450SEK (£35) for a couple’s membership.
Mountain stations are like small villages with full facilities and are also expensive. To stay in a 22 bed dormitory at Kebnakaise Mountain Station cost us 460SEK (£36) each with the discount. We also treated ourselves to dinner and dinner, which for two people cost 790SEK (£68) and 196SEK (£17) respectively. Both meals were buffet style, but I wouldn’t recommend booking in for dinner unless you love fish, as the meal consisted mainly of fish (rollmops, salmon, smoked salmon, mackerel).
When to hike
The Kungsleden has a short season – from the end of June to mid-September. We went in mid-August and I wouldn’t have liked to have gone much later as the weather could turn nasty. In fact, even in mid-August, people in tents were flocking to the huts for a reprieve from the cold outside.
What to take
Below is a list of what I took on the Kungsleden hike as a guide:
Hiking trousers (with zip off bottoms)
Long sleeved thermal top and leggings
Long sleeved shirt
2 x T-shirts
Waterproof rain jacket
3 x pairs of hiking socks
3 x pairs of pants
Beanie and gloves
Sleeping bag inner
Kettle and stove
Compass and whistle
Water bottle and bladder
Toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, chap stick, moisturiser, sun block, insect repellent, wet wipes, fixomull tape)
First aid kit
Smart phone, charger and adaptor
Book to read
Back pack to put it all in!
I hope that this post is helpful for those who are inspired by the idea of a hike in Swedish Lappland. In a later post I’ll write about my experience on the trail.