After a long walk the day before we are happy to spend the night inside the Vakkotavare cabin. The weather becomes apocalyptic, with gale force winds howling through the valley and lashing rain battering the wooden roof. We sleep long and wait for change. Late in the morning it finally becomes dry and the wind suddenly drops. Before heading north, however, we need a good wash really badly. We hoped to find a shower in the hut as it is located along the road towards Ritsem, but although there is an electricity line right next to the cabin, the STF constructed this hut like all their other mountain cabins: without power or running water (let alone hot water). We heat a bucket on the stove and go outside to try improve our body odor.
Vakkotavare marks the start of a 110km section on the northern part of the famous Kungsleden trail. This part of the Kungsleden cuts through the hearth of some of the highest mountain ranges in Sweden, and passes the foothills of Kebnekaise (2106m), the highest summit of the country. As this trail is one of the most popular of Scandinavia, we expect easy walking and swift progress right towards the north.
In the early afternoon we finally give it a go and start a steep climb away from the lake. We take multiple short stops to eat buckets of blueberries. Although it mostly remains overcast with a few slight showers, the weather seems to improve, and massive views towards the mighty Ahkka range start to open up when we reach the plateau between the Akkajaure and Teusojeure lakes. We expected hordes of hikers on the Kungsleden, but that clearly was a wrong estimate, as we cross only 5 other people during the entire day. The weather forecast promises a short window with fine weather for tomorrow morning. We therefore decide to make it a short day and camp before the descent towards the Teusojaure lake, with some summits close at hand.
And indeed, the sky is brilliantly blue by dawn. Before packing, we quickly climb the elongated summit of Guolbbantjahkka (1197m). We easily reach the summit and enjoy phenomenal views back towards Sarek. All the main summits in the northern half of the National Park, glaciers draping their north faces, proudly guard the horizon like a phalanx of mountains. We have mixed feelings, what a pity we couldn’t admire these mountains while we were amidst only a few days ago…
We descend back to our shelters, pack, and descend towards the Teusojaure lake. This lake, with a width of about 800m, has to be crossed with one of the rowing boats along the shore. From the summit we have already seen a few people making the crossing early in the morning in calm weather. But a strong southeasterly breeze has picked up in the meantime and ever growing waves sweep across the lake. We find a German girl accompanied by a dog hesitating to try to cross on her own (apparently she had a bad experience on a crossing near Aktse further south) and wait for the daily motorboat service from the Teusojaurestugorna cabin in the evening. Although our rowing skills are horrendous, which leads to some funny moments, we try to be the gentlemen of the day and give her a hitchhike across.
From the Teusojaurestugorna it’s a steep climb (with huge blueberries) again to reach the Muorki plateau, which we then cross towards the next cabin, Kaitumjaurestugorna. The path is, like on many sections of the Kungsleden, very rocky. It is in fact easier to hike the tundra off-trail. The descent towars the Kaitumjakka river is splendid, but the views are somewhat tarnished by the presence of the winter markings. Unlike in Norway, where willow braches are planted in the snow early during the winter season, winter markings in Sweden are permanent, and typically are made up of red crossed mounted on thick stakes.
When we reach the Kaitumjaurestugorna cabin quite some people are enjoying the sunshine on the terrace. As there were very little supplies in the Vakkotavare hut (we have been eating crackers with reindeer paste for 2 days), we buy food for two days in the store before continuing. Our intention is to hike a few kilometers up into the Tjaktjadalen. But we have hardly started the climb when we are tempted to call it a day anyway: the views back onto the turquoise Kaitumjaure lake, fed by the thundering glacial Tjaktjajakka river through a wonderful delta, are just too good to continue. The birch forest clearly give the first hints of the explosion of autumn colors which will soon unfold. And moreover: plenty of blueberries and cloudberries close at hand. Do I need to tell more to explain we have a long and wonderful evening outside?
The weather unfortunately starts to turn for the worst the following day. It is overcast and windy, but dry when we continue our walk north the following morning. At first we still walk through the birch forest, but after crossing the Tjaktjajakka on a massive metal bridge, the long 30km section through the upper Tjaktjadalen starts. It starts to rain just before we reach the Singistugorna cabin, which makes up the western access point towards Kebnekaise. With all the summits deep in the clouds, our plans to climb to northernmost 2000m summit in Scandinavia are long forgotten, and the afternoon becomes a very wet and windy venture towards the next cabin, Salkastugorna. We pitch our tarp near a stream about 100m from the hut, and go to sleep early.
We continue our stroll up the valley the following morning in dull weather and regular slight rain. After nearly two hours we reach the base of the climb up to the Tjaktjapasset (1130m), the highest pass of the entire Kungsleden and the access towards the Alisvággi valley. Despite the weather the ascent offers some splendid retrospective views through the endless Tjaktjadalen. But no way this is the best view in Lapland like most Kungsleden guidebooks will try to make you believe.
As it is cold and windy on the pass we take a break inside a small shelter hut, which easily accommodates 3-4 persons for an overnighter. When the next hikers arrive we start the descent towards the Tjaktjastugan. The terrain is rocky at this altitude, but this is the Kungsleden and miles of planking make the hike easy and quick. We don’t stop at the cabin, but immediately continue down the valley while the weather becomes more changeable with an alternation of bright spells and showers. The tundra clearly transforms into its autumn dress, making for some dramatic views up the Aliseatnu valley.
We continue hiking down the valley for a few more hours until we reach the southern end of the alluvial delta of the Aliseatnu at the tip of the Alisjávri lake. It is a nice evening with some sunshine, and we have an evening walk towards the waterfalls of the river thundering down to the braided section.
After a night with a few northern light checks, it has become overcast again by the following morning. While Fre starts to continue on the Kungsleden trail towards the Alesjaurestugorna cabin, which is only 3km away, I walk back towards the waterfalls and put in with my packraft. It soon starts to rain again while I navigate through a series of deep, turquoise-coloured channels towards the lake. When I reach the bridge near the cabin, with a nice PR2-3 rapid about 50m further downstream, Fre is already in position for some pictures. I enter the lake and continue along its eastern shore, passing the Sami village of Alisjávri on the way. But in the meantime a strong easterly wind, funneled by the Tjatjavággi valley, has picked up, and I have to paddle hard to keep close to the shore and out of the breaking waves which sweep across the lake. The paddling becomes too dangerous. I continue for another kilometer until I reach a distinct peninsula nearly cutting the lake in two. I turn 90° to the left and, driven by the wind, race west across the lake at about 8km/h while trying to travel just as fast as the waves. I soon reach the western shore of the lake and put out. Fre, who already was getting a bit anxious, reaches me a few minutes later.
We continue on the Kungsleden along the western shore of the lake. Weird enough, the wind drops again and the lake looks calm only minutes later. Apparently the wind was a very local phenomena caused by the specific topography (with a broad pass) of the mountains east of the Alisjávri village. After a dry spell, the rain intensifies again as we approach the Rádunjarga shelter. We go inside for a break. A group of 4 Fins, two guys and two girls, has stayed inside for the night and is just about to leave. They have walked 3 days from Abisko, and will continue south towards Nikkakuokta. Apparently they had splendid weather yesterday while climbing out of the Abisko valley.
We continue north across a vast plateau. The Gardenvarri (1154m), an isolated peak which I expect to offer a splendid panorama through the Abiskodalen, is covered in clouds. Yet another summit to omit from the plan. We traverse its eastern slopes and descend below the treeline while it starts to rain more heavily. We are soaked by the time we approach the Abiskojaurestugorna cabin. We don’t spend a lot of time searching for a bivouac spot and pitch our stuff in the birch forest next to the trail. It continues raining heavily until sunset, but then the weather suddenly clears from the south while the barometer continues its steep dive towards 980hPa.
During the night it soon starts to freeze, and all our soaked equipment becomes hard as bone. When I have yet another routine aurora check around midnight, I perceive a faint whitish haze right in the zenith. Not having seen northern lights before, I hesitate at first whether I am staring at a cirrus cloud or northern lights. I don’t see any green of red lights either. The haze slowly moves across the sky, and I now know it is indeed the aurora. I have to admit my first reaction is one of disenchantment. But then suddenly one tip of the ‘cloud’ contracts to a curtain and starts to dance rapidly through the moon-lit sky. I immediately put on my clothes and wake up Fre. Bewildered, we stare at dancing curtains of white light, quickly traversing the sky from east to west, for two hours. I am surprised by the white color. I try to take a few pictures, on which the aurora is pale green. All pictures of aurora I have seen immediately feel like ‘falsifications’ of the true views of the northern lights, but later on this trip I will learn that the light can also have a color visually. At around 2 o’clock the activity starts to abate while more clouds rush in again, and we go to sleep again.
By the next morning, the grey weather has kicked in again with banks of fog sliding along the foothills. Only a short, 13km walk through birch forest and peat bogs remains towards the town of Abisko, the northern end of the Kungsleden. After having skirted along the the Abiskojaure lake, we continue downstream along the Abiskojákka river, which thunders down towards the Torneträsk lake through a series of ravines. A few kilometers before reaching the lake, we leave the official Kungsleden trail (which heads for the enormous Abisko Fjällstation outside the town) and hike directly towards Abisko, where we decide to spend the night is a relatively cheap hostel near the train station and the supermarket (= 1kg of meatballs each).
The Kungsleden section has come to an end. In the end, this section did not disappoint me. The Kungsleden surely does not show the wildest en most remote corners of Lapland, but it is a beautiful trail with splendid sections which, because of the many back-up cabins on the way, must be a perfect destination for less experienced hikers wanting to make a long trek in Scandinavia. In early September the trails are already pretty empty. When I visit this area again in the future, I will probably stay east of the Kungsleden trajectory, where there are endless possibilities in top-class mountain ranges and excellent packrafting rivers like the Visttasjohka and the Laddjujohka.
Fre travels home the next day, which means I will continue north solo. It is 5 september and I have to cover another 800km towards Nordkinn, meaning I will have to average over 30km/day during the final weeks of my journey. The next 50km stretch compose one of the last real breaking points of my route: I have to cross the vast Torneträsk and Altevatnet lakes by packraft to get access to the Dividalen area. The following day a 5 to 6 beaufort wind rages through the valley, with waves of over a meter on the lake. We go to the Fjällstation, where I finally post a new blog update, and then have diner together in the restaurant next to the gasoline station. Late in the afternoon Fre hikes back to the Fjällstation to catch his train, and I start walking east along the road towards the narrowest point to cross the lake as soon as the wind drops. I see his train passing by just before starting my next off-trail section through birch forest full of bear shit towards the Roggenjàrga point. The long, final push towards Nordkinn has begun.
31/08/2012: Vakkotavare – Gappojahka (11km, +580/-230, 3h05)
01/09/2012: Gappojahka – Kaitumjaure (17km, +840/-920, 5h00)
02/09/2012: Kaitumjaure – Sälkastugorna (25km, +270/-70, 5h50)
03/09/2012: Sälkastugorna – Alisjavri delta (25km, +360/-400, 5h30)
04/09/2012: Alisjavri delta – Abiskojaure (24km, +100/-390, 5h15)
05/09/2012: Abiskojaure – Abisko (14km, +40/-150, 3h20)
06/09/2012: Abisko – Roggenjárga (13km, +40/-80, 2h50)