…Okay, the word ‘adventure’ is relative. What we did was nothing extraordinary but I have to set one foot in front of the other and this was my most advanced winter trip so far. It was the first time we went without a group and the first time we took the pulka (sled) with us.
The plan was to start in Kvikkjokk, which is a little village in northern Sweden. Kvikkjokk is located at the end of a 112 km long cul-de-sac road, so it’s not exactly easy to get there. Starting from the town of Kiruna it took us seven hours.
Day 1 Kvikkjokk – Pårte / 16 km
I wake up quite early and we pack up to leave. I have walked, skied and gone on snowshoes on Kungsleden several times but I don’t know this stretch yet. Getting to know a trail in wintertime is always exciting. The landscape is unrecognizable from it’s unfrozen state and whatever we walk on and over is hidden by the snow. Maybe it’s a swamp, a river, huge lakes or rocky terrain. Only the trees and mountains are still visible.
The trail from Kvikkjokk to the north starts with a several kilometers long uphill in the pine tree forest. This should usually not be a problem but with our pulk it feel like dragging a dead body over the ground, no elevation gain comes easy. After some slow hours I’m already losing my confidence in our plans: with this speed we need to camp instead of sleeping in the 16 km distant cabin.
But once we make it up the hill things get easier and we gain some speed. The first seven kilometers from our starting point lead through an old, dense forest. After that we cross over the lakes Unna Dáhta and Stuor Dáhta. Unna and Stuor mean little and big in Sámi. I translated some words that one can often see on the hiking maps and it really helps to understand the landscape.
After about four kilometers on the lakes we cross a fence for reindeer herding and enter the forest once more. I walk very silently and a bit ahead of Gustav in the hope to spot some animals. But neither a mosse, a lynx or even a fox or a rabbit show themselves to me.
Soon we reach the last lake, Sjabttjakjávrre. The cabin Pårte is located on the northern end. Another bit of walking on the ice, that is covered with knee deep snow and I can finally open the hut, light a fire and melt some snow for water. Normally these cabins do have a hut warden but today we are all alone because the season hasn’t started yet.
We have freeze dried food for dinner and soon it’s dark outside (and inside, because we have no candles). The northern lights start showing up. Like green curtains they move slowly over the sky and we stand outside in the silent landscape and watch.
Day 2 Pårte – Aktse / 24 km
At 8 am we already have the skies on our feet and off we go. The weather improved a lot and now the skies are mostly blue. We follow the river Rittakjåkkå downstream , through what in summer would be a mosquito infested swamp. We cross over the lake Rittak and soon reach the enourmous lake Tjaktjajaure, which the company Vattenfall uses for a hydroelectric power plant. For about an hour we ski along the southern shore and realize that there’s is almost no water inside this lake. It’s like looking down a crater, full with rocks and broken ice flakes. Knowing that we have to cross this moon like landscape is a bit scary. Several signs alert about the risk of cracks in the ice and that crossing is potentially dangerous.
The crossing takes about one hour and this is the first time I walk on a body of water that has hills and valleys. Once we make it to the other side it’s time for lunch. After more than five hours of walking a welcome break. The water in the thermos bottle is hardly hot anymore but I’m so hungry that even a lukewarm stew still tastes good.
Next we need to enter the forest again and climb a little hill. By now we are both quite tired and things are going slow. On higher ground there is even mobile phone reception and I check up on the weather and my mail. It’s only two hours till it gets dark and we still have a stretch ahead of us.
It takes us a while to get down to the little shelter by the shore of Laitaure lake and then anouther hour to cross also this lake. From here the views into the famous Rapadalen and Sarek Nationalpark are incredible. Sharp cliffs and snow covered alpine peaks. An ice cold wind blows out of the valley and I speed up as I start to freeze. I’m exhausted sice I’ve been skiing for eight hours. The cabin feels in reach but the trail still winds through the forest until I finally spot the smoking chimneys of Aktse cabin.
This hut was recently renovated and we play with the thought of staying another night – that way we would have the chance to take a daytrip into Sarek.
Day 3 Aktse – Sitojaure / 14 km
In the morning we stil haven’t decided what to do but a more in depth view of the map shows that walking deeper into Rapadalen and to the freestanding mountains Nammatj is farther than I thought. A nice round trip of about 20 km through the densely vegetated valley, without any trails would certainly be a little bit too much as a daytrip. So instead we decide to start walking to Sitojaure, the next cabin to the north. The trail starts with a 400 m uphill section. Despite the temperatures being around -15ºC I get quickly so warm that I walk without gloves and in a thin longsleeve. I put my skis on top of the pulka bacause walking is just easier. For about an hour the trail is like walking up stairs – with a heavy sled trying to pull me back down.
Further up the mountain, we finally leave the forest and it gets noticeably colder and windier. The snow isn’t as soft and fluffy anymore but only a thin sheet of ice, shaped by the wind. It’s always exciting to be up high above the tree line but i never seem to be able to find any rest there. It just seems icy, inhospitable and potentially exposed to the weather. Luckily, soon we glide downhill again and after some interesting high speed descends we reach the lake Gåbddåjávrre. Down here, in the forest, it’s calm and sunny and we sit down for lunch.
Now it’s just the way across the lake that divides us from Sitojaure cabin. The weather is still calm and sunny and being outside is a pleasure. As soon as the sun disappears the thermometer drops and coming into the warm cabin is always a great feeling.
Day 4 Sitojaure – Saltoluokta / 20 km
Today’s hike will take us again above the tree line and for 20 kilometers we will basically follow the same valley, until descending to lake Akkajaure and Saltoluokta mountain station. In the morning my thermometer shows -27ºC (and it’s located right by the exhaust of the gas heating). I regret not wearing gloves as I pack the pulka and freeze to every piece of equipment that is made from metal.
As the first stretch goes uphill, warmth comes back quickly. The weather is brilliant again and not a single cloud spoils the view as we go north. During the whole hike we only meet one group with their sled dogs, as the huskies overtake us and disappear in the distance after only a few minutes. The last kilometers are only downhill and we reach the birch forest earlier than expected. Skiing downhill with a sled behind me is not very easy but somehow still fun and challenging. I make it pretty fast and without falling but the pulka tips over several times.
Down in Saltoluokta we get our own room in a very old building and can finally shower and relax in the sauna. The evening gets even better as we buy some beers and the northern lights start dancing in green, lila and red. Unfortunately I don’t have a camera or a tripod to capture the lights properly.
Day 5 Saltoluokta – Ritsem
This is our first rest day. We take a snow scooter transport over Akkajaure, to the national road. The lake is not safe at all, many spots of open water prove that. As we reach the shore the bus is already waiting and we hop on to a two hour long trip west on a very scenic road. Once arrived in Ritsem we check-in and have a pizza for lunch.
Ritsem is a rather small and cozy hostel, 180 km from the next supermarket, so having an oven and a deep frozen pizza is an incredible luxury. The rest of the day is spent relaxing and talking to the staff and other guests. At night we get to enjoy another northern lights show.
Day 6 Ritsem – Kutjaure / 10 km
Our plan is to do a little trip on Nordkalottleden and Padjelantaleden. First we thought we wanted to continue all the way to Abisko but it seems like Kungsleden is quite crowded, even in winter and I’m keen on seeing something I don’t know yet. Before reaching the trail we first need to cross Akkajaure (again), which at this spot is 11 km wide. Also here Vattenfall has a power plant, which is proven by a huge, smoking hole in the ice, in the size of a football field.
We organize a snowscooter transport with a local and he brings us safe and very fast to the other side. Instead of spending three hours on the uneven and windswept ice, we race effortly over it. Once in the Sámi village Vaisaluokta, we are invited for a coffee in his house. There are no roads, no electricity and no tap water, but the hut is incredibly warm and cozy.
The only people being allowed to build houses and live here are Sámi and our driver sure got lucky to marry a woman that owns a house in this location. After a coffee and a bit of conversation we get back on the ski-doo and he gives us a lift up the mountain. His two grandsons, both under 10 years old, follow us on their own snowscooter. To be honest, I’m a bit jealous to have such a cool grandpa.
His lift saves us a whole 400 m of climb and as he drops us off we are already high above the lake and the birch forest. Call it cheating, today I don’t care.
It’s supposed to be the last day of spotless sunshine and up in this valley, without any trail, good visibility feels quite important. That’s why I don’t yet take a trip to Sarek, I just don’t feel easy without any trail markers. I would not want to be here with strong winds and poor visibility. After some hours we descend towards Kutjaure cabin, where we meet some other skiers on their journeys on Nordkalottleden.
Day 7 Kutjaure
Another day in Kutjaure to enjoy the surroundings in Padjelanta Nationalpark.
Day 8 Kutjaure – Akkajaure / 16 km
The first view of the sky in the morning indicates bad weather. There is a huge halo around the sun and hazy clouds cover the mountains. I prepare myself for a hike in wind and snow but against all odds the sky clears up!
We walk over lake Kutjaure and then along the river Vuojatädno, towards the cabin of Akka. The route is very pleasant and views of Gisuris, Nijak and Áhkká are amazing. We have another lunch in the sunshine, leaned against the pulka and with a full mountain panorama. Soon after lunch we already reach the cabin, as this is a fairly easy stage. Now it’s time to warm up the room and fire up the sauna!
Day 9 and 10 Akkastugorna – Ritsem – Kiruna
After our three day round in Laponia we decide to take a last trip departing from Abisko. We cross Akkajure for the third and last time, spend another night in Ritsem, go for a run in the snow, take the bus to Kiruna and get ready for another journey out to the mountains.
Day 11 Kiruna – Abisko – Abiskojaure / 14 km
We start off early from our terrible, noisy hostel and while Gustav takes our equipment to the bus terminal I try to do some express shopping. The supermarket opens 20 minutes before the bus leaves, so I have to race through the isles. After 10 days of freeze dried food (and one pizza) the supermarket is like heaven. My five minute shopping results in: minced meat, taco shells, seasoning and sauce, bread, butter, cheese, salami, eggs, fresh pasta, sausages, yoghurt and some sweets. The days of potato mash and instant soups are over!
Once in Abisko we directly start skiing from the train station. I’ve winter hiked this stage before but now it feels so much easier… it’s incredible. Feels good to get the option to compare my skiing and general fitness skills now and two years ago. The uphills feel shorter and less steep, the downhills lost their intimidating character and the distance feels so short, I’m not bothered at all.
On my first winter trip Kungsleden really challenged me and showed me my limits. Now I can definitely handle it easier. A realization that makes me content. And still there is so much more to learn, especially comparing myself to all the adventurers that cross Sarek or go off trail and away from the huts.
Day 12 Abiskojaure / 10 km
We spend another day in Abiskojaure, camping and taking a day hike without equipment in the direction of Unna Allakas.
Day 13 Abiskojaure – Abisko – Kiruna / 14 km
This is the last day of this trip and we feel happy after spending two relaxed nights in Abiskojaure. The weather is not as cold and clear anymore but still quite good. And of course we met a lot of nice people and ate all of our delicious food.
The 14 km back to Abisko take us no more than three hours, northern Kungsleden really has short stages. We ski right into the train station and look forward to showering and changing into fresh clothes, once we come home.
I really enjoyed this trip and the weather was way better than I could have imagined. A possible downside of the perpetual blue skies is that we didn’t make any progress in handling bad weather. Last year I attended a course to learn digging a hole in the snow and sleeping in there and we bring all the safety equipment… but I still don’t know how I will feel and react when the shit hits the fan.
Take going into Sarek for instance. There are no huts and (almost) no forests to seek shelter. There is no phone reception to look at the weather forecast. Getting through Sarek takes at least a week. So being able to cope with the weather is a top priority – and Sarek is not exactly known for being a sunshine paradise…
So while I feel more confident as a skier, in wintertime I still don’t feel comfortable outside of the marked trails and away from the hut network. I don’t know how I would react in a snowstorm and if I would trust my skills setting up the tent in a proper stormproof way. And I don’t think I can learn that without experiencing it?
2 thoughts on “Finally a real winter adventure”
Hello, I´m planning something similar this winter. Therefore I have some questions:
1) Is it better to start in Kvikkjokk going to Abisko or going from north to south?
2) I plan to start 21.3 and finish at 4.4 – besides it will be a challenge to cross it in such a short period do you think we can do it, or later will be better? I prefer a clear sky and cold than the warm and overcastcast sky.
3) How are the crowds on the route? Do we need to pre-book the huts, or we will find a place inside without pre-booking?
I´d appreciate if you give me any tips and details.
This is a great trip report.
I am planning a smaller version of your trip next march as a first experience of arctic winter travel. Many people I meet recommend and say its better than the summer. I have been summer hiking in the same region several times.
This year, in mid March, I plan a short snow shoe, pulk trip, over three or four days crossing the lake from Ritsem and making a loop including the first part of the padjelanta trail, using a pulk, snow shoes. winter tent and very warm sleeping bag. All small distances as its my first time to use such gear, though I have some past mountaineering experience. Maybe the following year I will try something more ambitious like yourself.
I was planning to drive to Ristem and leave my car by the STF hut ( i presume its closed), then hike accross the lake.
Could I ask if you know if the road to Ritsem is normally kept open though March ?
Also I see that you took a skidoo across the lake rather than hiking. Were you able to arrange that on the spot ? I suppose as a fall back, I can just cross on foot.
Welcome suggestions from anyone