Three weeks on Nordkalottleden

Abisko – Ritsem – Ny-Sulitjelma – Vaimok – Kvikkjokk

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Day 1- 15km/ 4 hours

After a quick morning flight to Kiruna, we arrive in Abisko around noon. I buy a bottle of gas and off we go for the first stage. Kungsleden trail is in a sad state, with tracks from 4×4 vehicles all over the place. I understand that this is a workplace for the Sámi, but in the end it still is a national park and nature doesn’t care who destroys it. After some hours we arrive at the Abiskojaure huts and decide to camp there, since it’s Jens’ first day of hiking in Scandinavia and we’re looking forward to use the sauna and the kitchen.

There is a kitchen building especially for campers and it’s completely overloaded. Hardly any space to sit down and hardly any time to lounge around after eating. In the evening in my tent in using my earplugs to get some silence- this place is louder than a camping. There’s no feeling of being in the mountains.

Day 2- 20km/ 6 hours

We continue towards Alesjaure. First, I was considering Unna Allakas but the hut warden had no information about the route and the huts over there had just opened the day before. Since I made enough experiences with snow in the years before, I decide to walk on the road most traveled. I’m not a big fan of this stretch on Kungsleden: it’s dull, too long and rather boring. For some reason I have always found the valley after Tjäktjapasset much more appealing.

It takes us about 6 hours, including two shorter breaks and a lunch break to arrive at the huts. Since we learned from yesterday’s mistakes we only buy something to drink and head a little bit further, in order to avoid the crowds.

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Day 3- 17km/ 5 hours

The weather continues grey and we walk higher up, past Tjäktja huts, to the highest point of Kungsleden. Here we set up our tents and have dinner in the rest shelter. There is a Swiss guy who has started in Kvikkjokk, crossed Sarek, walked to Ritsem and further up here in little more than a week. Amazing to have so much energy!

A lot of people on the trail, sometimes groups with more than 10 persons. One guy, who walked past us, lost first one glove from the outside of his backpack, some kilometers later another one and in the end even a flip-flop. As we caught up with him I told him I found his clothes and that I placed them by the Tjäktja huts, but he didn´t even care. He wore jeans and had two backpacks on- maybe one just for clothes to replace what he loses?

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Day 4- 16km/ 5 hours

Now the sun is finally starting to shine and we begin our hike in best weather. Around noon we pass by Sälka huts and ask about the trail towards Hukejaure and Sitasjaure. There’s a lot of doubt left if there are any suitable camping spots on the 25km towards Hukejaure and the hut warden recommends to continue towards Vakkotavarre instead. STF is really not doing a good job to promote any of their less visited huts.

After lunch next to Sälka we decide to change our plans and actually walk over Vakkotavarre. So we continue southbound and hike another 8km till we set up camp next to another small rest shelter.

My right foot hurts a bit but I can´t complain to anyone, since I´m wearing trail running shoes. If I had rubber boots up to my knees or huge leather boots, everyone would feel bad for me if I had pain or blisters. Most swedish hikers have no sympathy for hikers with smaller shoes. I say this obviously as a joke, but there´s a bit of truth in it.

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Day 5- 18km/ 6 hours

Another day with brightest sunshine is waiting and it almost feels to warm to be out hiking. I wake up at 6.30 am cause the tent is warm as a sauna. I have quite a lot of inflammated mosquito bites and they itch as hell when I sweat. As we start walking, I’m grateful for my airy trail running shoes and my not too heavy backpack. At around 10 am we stop for a second breakfast in Singi huts- nice to rest for a bit without being exposed to the sun and the mosquitos.

We continue south and the trail gets finally more solitary, as most visitors turn east towards Kebnekaise after Singi. The trail passes a beautiful valley and walking is fast and easy. We have lunch next to a big bridge, only an hour before Kaitumjaure. Once we arrive at the huts the heat is almost unbearable and we pitch our tents to seek some shelter in the cool, shady buildings.

As we arrived, we saw a moose with her calf close to us in the forest and some more moose grazing down by the river. They continued to be around the hut, for as long as we stayed there!

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Day 6- 22km/ 7 hours

The hike to the next huts, Teusajaure, is only 9km away and we arrive there after only little more than two hours. Again the sun is burning hut and another afternoon is spend indoors, having lunch and chatting to some people. At 6 pm we take the boat over the lake and continue to walk. The first two hours are mainly uphill and it’s still too warm, but once the sun sinks lower and the views over the peaks of Sarek appear, hiking is just awesome. We walk like flying and make almost the whole stage towards Vakkotavarre without a single break. Hiking is so easy and everything around is stunningly beautiful. We have to stop ourselves and set up camp before we arrive at the road.

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Day 7- 3km/ 1 hour

In the morning it’s only a short walk left to arrive at the road. In a hiking guide the descend was described as the most difficult one on Kungsleden. We walk downhill, waiting for the steep, hard part and suddenly we are at the parking I  Vakkotavarre. Apparently that stretch wasn’t quite that steep after all.

We take the bus to Ritsem, where we check in for two nights. Amazing to eat some pizza, take a shower and wash some clothes. It hasn’t been many days in nature, but a week still does feel like a while, at least for me, who is not so used to be out for this long.

Day 8- rest day

The only thing we do walking wise today is to check out the beginning of Gränsleden, a 60km long trail that stretches from Ritsem to a Norwegian Fjord. There are no huts on the way, only some open wind shelters. Seems like an interesting project for another year!

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Day 9- 3km/ 1 hour

Here comes the part where we cheat a little bit: because the planning seems a little tight, we skip 3 days on Padjelantaleden (which I have walked in 2015) in order to have time to walk into Norway. Fortunately, there is a scheduled helicopter traffic to Staloluokta with a fixed price. 1000kr is not little but not outrageously much either.

The weather is horrendous and there is no way of seeing any mountains while we’re on the chopper. Once we arrive in Staloluokta, we walk another hour towards Tuottar, to camp by a lake that had previously proven to be perfect for trout fishing. Just as last year, there are plenty of fish around but they are not as easy to catch as I would wish. Some follow my lure and look at it, as I can see through the crystal clear water, but no fish takes the bait. The weather really closes in and I end up going to bed before 8 pm. Just nothing to do outside anymore. On evenings like this it is hard to not miss civilization and just sitting on the sofa, no matter the weather. Even saying goodbye phone connection is hard after the days in Ritsem.

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Day 10- 18km/ 6 hours

First thing in the morning, we walk back from Padjelantaleden to Nordkalottleden. From here we walk west towards Staddajåkkå huts. The walking on Nordkalottleden is often said to be difficult, but right here it is literally a walk in the park. At lunchtime we take a break close to Staddajåkkå and continue another 6km to Sårjåsjaure huts. Once we come up on the higher plateau, the wind turns into a real storm, making it hard to even talk. The hut lies beautifully by the edge of the lake and everything around us so exposed to the gusts that we decide to sleep indoors.

The view from the hut is the nicest I can imagine. Directly outside the window there´s the beach of a big lake that stretches several kilometers into Norway. Alongside the lake there is a row of steep mountains, most of them with shimmering, blue glaciers on their peaks. When we arrived at the hut there was only the warden and another swedish woman here, so we had a pleasant afternoon talking and drinking tea. Around 8 pm a french family arrived, that had walked all the way from the village of Sulitjelma, so about 10 hours of hiking. According to this stunning accomplishment, the father proceeded to faint on the doorstep and fell heavily on the rocky ground. Fortunately he doesn´t seem to have any injuries. The french are planning to hike within ten days over Norway to Abisko, despite having no previous hiking experience. I guess for some people not even losing your conscience due to fatigue is a wake-up call. I really wonder what became of them…

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Day 11 – 12km/ 3 hours

Now it´s 9 pm and I´m in a warm and cozy bed in Sorjushytta. The hut is big and feels like a proper home, with a sofa, radio, a small library and a warm fireplace. The way here was incredibly windy, rainy and cold (about 5 degrees), with headwinds that made every step a struggle. We walked the whole stretch without any bigger breaks cause our only aim was to arrive at the huts and to get out of the storm. The most annoying thing was a bridge, right behind the norwegian border: it was built in Himalayan style, with only one steel rope to secure yourself on each side. Dangeling over a five meter high canyon. As I crossed, I held so hard onto the steel that I actually cut my hands on the metal. I´m no good with heights.

Another tough situation was a quite steep snowfield, right over a deeper shore of the lake, that we had to cross. It took a long time to kick little stairs into the ice before making the next step, but it went allright, without anyone slipping and falling into the ice cold water.

Next to this hut there is an old, not locked one, where a swedish guy lives. Apparently he tells everyone another story about where he comes from and where he´s going. He has a huge backpack, which he says is 45kg and he carries an axe, that he will use in Sarek Nationalpark… We assume that he is actually living here, since he has been around for several days, as we heard from hikers we met on the way. Now he has become some kind of mysterious big-foot of Sulitjelma.

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Day 12 – 12km/ 4 hours

We start rather late from Sorjushytta and start hiking steep up into the norwegian mountains. It´s still quite wet after the rain yesterday and there are many smaller rivers to cross. Norway is really different from Sweden when it comes to hiking! The weather is better than yesterday but there is still no chance to see the surrounding glaciers. After little more than three hours of walking we arrive at Ny-Sulitjelma fjellstue and get lucky enough to catch a ride down into the village to go shopping. The friendly local who took us down even brings us up again! So lucky we are! This would have otherwise taken us several hours, since the hut is several kilometers and many height meters away.

In the evening we enjoy ourselves with tacos, chips, a fresh salad and some internet.

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Day 13 – 16km/ 5 hours

We start the day along the gravel road that belongs to Vattenfall´s power plant in lake Lomivatnet. It has turned really warm again and I´m sweating loads as we walk uphill- also the mosquitos have come out again. It really seems like you can only chose between getting stung by mosquitos or standing in rain and storm.

After five kilometers the gravel road stops and we continue on a marked trail along the shore of Lomivatnet and later Muorkivatnet. The hut finally comes in sight and it´s one of the most beautiful places I have been to. The water is crystal clear, the hut is cozy and in good condition and the views over the glacier are incredible. I could stay here forever!

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Day 14 – 11km/ 4 hours

After sleeping in again we continue our journey back over the Swedish border. The border is not marked, and so is the trail on the Swedish side. Although this is Nordkalottleden, there are apparently very few people walking here. Sometimes I spot a little red dot on a rock here or there but the trail itself is not existent. Finding the way is not so easy but we know in which direction to walk. Stumbeling around in the high grass, between bushes, head high flowers and small forests, the few kilometers we have to walk today, take their time. Closer to Pieskehaure huts the trail appears again and now it´s only the countless mosquitos and the burning sun that make this stage a bit tedious.

Pieskehaure huts are very big and feel a bit odd, cause almost nobody stays here in summertime. Apparently the place is a big hit in winter, as all the snowscooter drivers pass by here to chill in the sauna and drink beer.

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Day 15- 19km/6 hours

Now it´s 10.30 pm and I´m lying in my tent next to Vaimok hut. The huts location is marvelous, next to one of Sweden´s clearest lakes (they say you can look 17m deep). This already feel like a place I will want to return to. The warden told me that we are the first people coming past here in four days and that there haven´t been more than ten people so far this summer. Incredible that almost everyone is trampeling up and down Kungsleden and jewels like this exist with hardly anyone around.

The hike here was rather strenuous ands long, mostly upphill. The terrain is not so distinct but there are smaller rocky hills all over the place. I definitely would not want to walk here in fog, it would be so easy to get lost! The last stretch before arriving at the huts is a real challenge: up and over a smaller mountain, about 300 height meters.

In the morning I didn´t feel like hiking it all, like somebody pulled on my backpack. I just felt like resting somewhere in the shadow and not being out in the sun all day. But after we had done more than half of the distance and sat down for a nice lunch, my motivation came back.

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Day 16 – 10km/ 3 hours

Today we decided to stay at the hut to escape the worst heat. We did some fishing and caught quite a lot of small trouts. Most of them to tiny to keep them. I guess the big ones are not so easy to trick and also stay deeper in the lake with these temperatues. The water is so clear that I could see the lure all the time and all the fish following it.

In the afternoon we continued towards Tarrekaise and Padjelantaleden and walked to a rest shelter named Kurajaure, about halfways. Again, incredibly many mosquitos.

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Day 17 – 20 km/ 5 hours

The way down into the valley of Tarradalen was very easy and downhill for many kilometers. I was looking forward to get onto Padjelantaleden, which really feels like a highway, compared to where we had walked for the last days. Tarradalen is what I would like to describe as a ´green hell´- bushes and plants have overgrown everything, the trail feels like it´s located in the djungle instead of the arctic.

After arriving on Padjelantaleden trail we walked to Tarrekaise hut, where we had lunch and continued another 6km to Njunjes, the southernmost hut on the trail. On the way I stepped on a snake, which was hidden under the thick vegetation and lying right on the path. As I heard later, it is even venemous, but fortunately it wasn´t interested in biting me.

Day 18 – 13km/ 3 hours

Now the last day of this trip has come! Since the last three kilometers to Kvikkjokk are done by boat, we had to adapt to the boat schedule and walked further south in Tarradalen quite early in the morning. The walking was easy but the warm air, the dense vegetation and the mosquitos were suffocating me. I´m happy that most of our hike was spent over the treeline.

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A well deserved fresh meal after days and days of freeze dried food and plain water! 🙂

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