Friday, 12 August 2011

Gautelisehytte to Abisko: Along the Kungsleden

The weather continued to be windy, cool with occasional light showers when I left Gautelisehytte. I was thankful for the DNT markers and appreciated the artist flair on this marker.

The trail headed east towards the Swedish border and ultimately to the Kungsleden. I continued through open moorland with occasional bridges, rocky paths and swampy sections. By now I had decided that my boots would probably hold together, and I with only 5 days of walking left my pack was also noticeably smaller.

Having crossed the border I headed along what I thought was the trail, but it appeared that at some point I wandered off on one of the many reindeer tracks, a look at the map indicated to me that if I continued  I would ultimately cross the trail again. However, after awhile I began to realise that not only was I not on the trail but the trail did not appear to be in the same location as shown on the map. A close look at the map indicated a summer bridge about 2 km away, so I decided to head across country to the bridge which entailed a 300 metre climb crossing a plateau and descending to the river. It was still cold and windy and the isolation of the plateau with some views to the valley below made for an eerie walk. I finally began to descended to the bridge, and as I sidled down and around a small peak I came across the bright orange coloured cairns marking the trail. They appeared to come from a different direction to the one I had expected, and thus I decided that the trail had been rerouted since the map was drawn. Feeling happier because I was now back on the trail I descended to the river and sought a sheltered spot for a late lunch.

It was cool and while it was not raining the strong westerly wind ensured that I was wearing my windshirt and my possum fur beanie.

After lunch I finally joined the trail from Hukejaurestugan this trail continues to Ritsem and is often used by walkers wanting to miss the Norwegian section of the Nordkalottleden. However, my advice to anyone heading north or south along the Nordkalottleden is do not miss the Norwegian section, it is in my view the best section of the trail.

I met a solo hiker from Finland heading south to Hukejaurestugan and we chatted for a while, though as the air temperatures were dropping and with the wind strengthening we both headed on our separate ways. I followed the trail east  before crossing the river and climbing to a sheltered spot to set up camp for the night.

I was able to achieve a tight pitch and while I did not need the innernet I used it reduce the draft, as well ensuring there was a dry area in which to keep my sleeping gear. During the night I heard a herd of reindeer wander past the tent and continued on to graze further along the valley. In the morning it was still windy and cold and I set off towards the Kungsleden. Again I was having trouble locating the trail with cairns seemingly located on 3 different trails and the occasional boardwalk located high up above the river. However, not to worry there was always a chair to relax in if needed.

Navigation though is not difficult as you are following the river valley to a large suspension bridge across the Tjäktjajåkka. As I approached the Kungsleden groups of walkers could be seen heading south, I decided to have a break beside the Tjäktjajåkka before joining the Kungsleden. Once on the Kungsleden I came to one of the several Meditation Places along the trail, with a cold wind blowing it was difficult to stay for long without getting cold.

I headed towards Sälka Stuga which was about an hours walk away and in that time I passed more walkers than I had seen for the past week and possibly for the whole trip.

Stopping at Sälka Stuga I spent some time talking about lightweight gear with one of the hut hosts, he was using a GoLite pack and a GoLite quilt, we discussed why people were carrying big packs when they were going hut to hut. My answer is "I have no answer" but I guess part of the answer relates to a lack of experience (there were many who seemed very new to hiking along the Kungsleden), others were influenced by a belief that they needed to carry what they normally used at home (including the kitchen sink) others were influenced by staff in outdoor stores  and others by some other view. Suffice to say most people I met on the Kungsleden fitted into these categories with quotes such as

"Do they sell coffee here?"
"Can you hold my pack while I take my jacket off?"
"Its okay, the hut has a drying room"
"We gave her a waterproof jacket as she did not have one"
"Last year because he (a 7 y.o) did not want to go any further we got a helicopter to take us back to Abisko."

and visions such as

Male carrying large pack, female carrying small pack.
Man carrying small pack on front large pack on rear while female partner walks ahead without pack.
Hiker wearing poncho which is being blown sideways so most of clothing is exposed.
Jeans, I saw many pairs of jeans being worn in wind blown rain with temperatures just above zero.

There was of course many others who seemed well prepared and happily wandered along the trail, the most common brand of tent seen was a Hilleberg.

With the rain increasing and the wind in my face I continued northward from Sälka Stugen with a plan to camp own the valley towards Tjäktapasset, as the wind was increasing in strength I decided to camp on the southern side of the pass, hopefully out of the wind. Arriving at what I had considered to be a suitable area, which was not as protected from the wind as I would have preferred but given the deteriorating weather I chose a flat spot and set up camp. For an hour or so the was several thumps as the sides of the SL2 flapped, but at no time did the shelter look or feel like it was about to collapse. I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and I was soon asleep and by morning the wind had abated, and better, was now coming from the south ensuring that the wind was behind me, not in front. A quick look at the thermometer confirmed what I suspected it was about 3C and with windchill was probably below zero, it was evident that there was fresh snow on the peaks and I was glad I would be walking with the wind at my back.

I saw many walkers that morning, walking into the wind driven rain as they headed south, I felt sorry for them as I knew it would be a miserable experience, and for many this was their first taste of walking in Lapland and their desire was to get to Kebnekaise and be able to see something. Hopefully they were successful.

Having crossed over Tjäktapasset the remainder of the trip was generally downhill, I spent some time sheltering from the wind and rain at Tjäktastugan and putting on my BPL Cocoon vest which I wore for the rest of the day, this was the only day that I really had to rug up from the cold and damp.

The Kungsleden is a well used trail and as a result it tends to be wide, as people try to avoid the mud, the rocks etc. and as a result I found it harder walking than all of the trails I had covered previously. But the good point is that no navigation is required, just follow the trail so it is easy to wander along thinking about anything else and if the weather is poor then you tend to wander along with your coat hood and the ground in front of you forming a tunnel. Sadly I tended to adopt this approach as well, possibly because I was approaching the end of the trip and with the views being restricted I was happy to walk keeping warm and to get to the end. However, there are always surprises, after passing Alesjaure Stugan I noticed in the distance a lot of activity and as I got closer I could hear a loud thundering sound. I soon realised the sound was from the hooves of many reindeer as they were carolled and the sami were "marking" the young reindeer (scroll down). The picture below does not give a sense of the enormity of the endeavour nor the sound thousands of hooves hitting the ground.

I was fascinated to watch the sami lasso and then mark the ears of the young reindeer before letting them go to rejoin their mothers.

After a while I decided it was time to continue on and with the wind still blowing, but without the rain I found a somewhat sheltered spot to set up camp for the night.

I was up earlish the next morning and continued my journey north, I soon passed 4 tents and there was not a sound or evidence of any movement as I passed.  The trail continued to descend towards Abiskojaure stugen and as I got closer I passed many walkers who had stayed at the stugen the previous night. They were from many different countries including Australia and New Zealand and were happy as the weather was improving.

Soon I was crossing the suspension bridge towards Abiskojaure and I noted the unusual object spinning in the water, I later found out it was a water pump used by the stugen to pump water to the communal area. I found this to be fascinating and disappointing at the same time as it appeared to me that the hosts were trying to replicate what was found at a normal hotel.

Interestingly one of the hosts noted that as they were the first stugen on the Kungsleden when heading south they had to teach the uninitiated what was expected when using the huts.

I continued on, wanting to spend one more night in the bush before returning to civilization. Fortunately about 4 km before the end of the trail there is a national park campsite which is where I chose to stop. By now the sun had appeared and it was pleasantly warm meaning that the mosquitos had become active, but not to worry it was the last night and I intended to appreciate and reflect upon what I had achieved.

I had a restful night and with no rush in the morning I finally left camp to walk to Abisko, the end of the trip. Along the way I met several walkers looking fresh and clean and in one groups case I was left with the lasting aroma of perfume.

So here I was at the end of the trail, cars whizzing by on the highway, iron ore trains heading to Narvik, I had returned to reality after 19 wonderful days on the trail.

Whilst also recognizing the input and work from many others who have gone before.

  • this was the longest trip I have ever done, in both time and distance
  • hut hosts have an important role in providing information and support
  • the variety of scenery is awesome
  • thanks to those who mark the trails
  • if your going, take a tent as it allows you more flexibility along the trail
  • if you are new to the area take a look at the Padjelantaleden and take a tent
  • I want to return
  • I have reached epiphany regarding my gear