WHERE: Stage 1: Hemavan to Ammarnäs – Kungsleden, Sweden
WHEN: August 1-6, 2016
OBJECTIVE: Thru-hike, #rebootatforty
DISTANCE: 79 km (completed: 79 km in total)

Most people tend to walk this trail southbound thus ending with this stage, but since I chose to walk northbound this is my starting point. The stage is a beautiful introduction to the Swedish fell region cutting a path through the majestic Vindelfjällen, one of the largest protected areas in Europe. It presents a varied landscape of everything from primary spruce forests to expansive moors and wetlands to highland plateaus and alpine peaks. The most stunning feature of the stage is most definitely Syterskalet, an amazing glacial trough (u-shaped valley with steep, straight sides and a flat bottom) that took better part of the day to walk through. A basecamp here could easily entertain several days of exploring the area… an idea for another time perhaps.

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Kungsleden thru-hike + Sarek travel diary

DAY 1
Hemavan – Viterskalsstugan
Distance: 12 km
Date: 1 August, 2016
Camped: 65.882827° N, 15.153786° E

My friend and I left Gothenburg yesterday afternoon by train and connected with the night train north in Stockholm. We shared a compartment consisting of three bunks and the super tiny space was noisy and rocking precariously. I did not sleep much. We arrived in a beautifully sunny Umeå soon after seven where we were to catch a local bus to Hemavan. Despite booking ahead the bus was full so we ended up hitching a ride with a chartered bus carrying a youth swim team out on summer camp. A bus full of adolescent kids being, well, kids… is generally noisy non-stop for 5 hours! My kingdom for some earplugs! Several hours later, twenty some odd hours since leaving home, we finally arrived in a cold and rainy Hemavan. We went to the STF (Swedish Tourism Association) hostel to regroup and make some lunch before hitting the trail.

The start was really testing our resolve – and we passed. We walked up, up and up in the rain for a couple of hours before finally reaching kalfjället (the alpine region above the tree line – I cannot find a good English word for it, so for this account so you will learn the Swedish one). By this time the weather had cleared up and we were actually treated to a beautifully sunny afternoon. What a difference! We only walked for about 6 hours today, but due to the late start we did not pull into camp until after eight. We pitched our tents on a slight elevation right before Viterskalsstugan (STF mountain hut). Not an ideal spot but it will have to do since it is too late to be choosy. There is a vigorous river just below so it sounds a little bit like we’re sleeping next to a freeway and it is not entirely flat so I am bound to be sliding all night, but I’ll manage. It will take a little getting used this tiny tent before I settle in a routine I reckon. Everything, except lying down, is kind of complicated…

Tip: There are a lot of great tent spots just north of Viterskalsstugan, on the opposite side of the river from the summer trail as you enter Syterskalet. We should have walked on for a few more minutes last night. Oh well. 

I had song stuck in my head all day. It is one I have listened to a lot while preparing for this hike for some reason. I am not quite sure why, it is a very movie-theme-grandios-like tune and it just fits… Blackheart by Thomas Bergersen.

DAY 2
Viterskalsstugan – Syterskalsstugan
Distance: 12 km
Date: 2 August, 2016
Camped: 65.9911° N, 15.4882° E

We woke to pouring rain… really sucks packing up a wet tent but there was nothing to do about it. I had slept like a rock though, save for a pee break at two. The larger sleeping pad I had splurged on for this hike really makes a difference (Therm-A-Rest Neoair XLite Large). I am a side sleeper so I tend to hang off the sides on a regular size pad, this is about 10 cm longer as well as wider! A few extra grams and takes up pretty much the whole tent but it is worth it!

Thankfully the weather soon cleared and by late lunch we could finally peel off the rain gear. We found a warm and sunny lunch spot along the trail for a break and to dry some of the gear. We chatted with a German solo hiker heading in the opposite direction while we watched a helicopter pick up a group of hikers heading down to Hemavan by air. Most of the day was spent hiking through Syterskalet, an impressive u-valley glacial trough flanked by the Syter summits, the North peak rising to an imposing 1767 meters. Later in the day we came up on the barren and rocky tundra and you could see for miles! No thoughts bouncing back at you – just what I had been longing for!

We stayed dry for the rest of the day. Nice! In the afternoon we came down from the high alpine elevation and tonight we are camped just passed Syterstugan at an altitude of 700 meters. We made much better time than yesterday and got into camp around six. Our campsite boasts a stunning view of the partially snow-covered peaks we just left behind. Beautiful. Midges and mosquitoes are out in force though, so we tucked in early to read a bit before sleep. Peaceful.

Foot care is top of mind at all times. We change socks at lunch and unless it is pouring down we leave the boots off while we eat to let the feet air out a little. At night they get some love as well. The plan is to establish a good evening routine of foot and body care. No blisters yet, but my knees are a bit sore after the long descent down the mountain so I will put some liniment on for the night. No great surprise there. My knees are my biggest worry. They are kind of dodgy after a horse riding accident in the 90’s and I am trying to get into the habit of stretching them out regularly, but it is not easy to do in a tent. A few other minor aches and pains here and there, but I think that will work itself out along the way as time goes on.

I had the song Kevlarsjäl from Kent stuck in my head all day. “Stack ett hål i min kevlar själ…” I feel like it is my soul trying to break free up there in the highlands. You can see for miles and no thoughts are bouncing back! Awesome!

We really need to figure out a better morning routine, we take way too long to get going. Trying for an earlier start tomorrow.

DAY 3
Syterskalsstugan – Tärnasjöstugorna
Distance: 14 km
Date: 3 August, 2016
Camped: 65.991049° N, 15.488186° E

We left Vindelfjällen behind us today and the hike down the mountain in the morning was pretty uneventful. Feeling good! I kick ass on the flats and do great uphill but my knees slow me down somewhat going down. At least the rest of the stage promised to be flat. A stretch of this was across a quite remarkable lake with a bunch of tiny rocky islands connected with a network of precarious suspension bridges. That part was really cool, but the rest of the stage was an anticlimactic lowland haul after the stunning alpine landscape we had just left behind. Spoiled I guess.

I really hate walking in rain pants… We took a chance this morning and started walking without rain gear despite of dark clouds looming overhead. Bad idea! Still, we opted to change back into our wet hiking pants (feel free to read between the lines here) again when reaching the warm and clammy wetlands after the bridges, but it wasn’t long before we were caught in another sudden shower. Soaking wet – again. There just is no practical way to change into rain pants at a moments notice unless they are full zip. Mine are not, so they require boots off which sucks! Now I know why some hikers love rain skirts, fast on and breezy. I think I will try to make one at our next supply stop. We ate lunch in the pouring rain standing up.

We both slipped and fell on the slippery footbridges on this stage too. Ironically this happened more or less at the same time, while walking a few kilometers apart. Mentally connected? Both of us thankfully made it without major injury, but I’ve got another bruise for the collection and one hiking pole is bent.

We found a fantastic location to set up camp about half a kilometer past Tärnasjöstugorna out on a nice little peninsula in lake Tärnasjön. A beautiful spot, almost spiritual! We prefer to camp away from the huts because if you camp on-site you have to pay a day fee, and we don’ really ever feel the need. Plus we prefer to find something more secluded. Sun was shining when we pulled in but the minute the tents were up the skies opened – again. Schizophrenic weather today! Good timing though. Nice with a little time to rest and read before dinner. Rain stopped just as I had food ready so I sat outside eating watching the sunlight play across the lake. Nice.

It is too late in the season for midnight sun but the the light still does not begin to fade until around ten. Unfortunately as soon as the wind died down an army of midges and mosquitoes came out. So now I am laying in my tent behind the bug screen reading – which is pretty nice too.

Another Kent song stuck in my head today, Kräm. Not entirely sure what that means yet though, but it could have something to do with attachment issues… “så nära får ingen gå…”

DAY 4
Tärnasjöstugorna – Servestugan (+ 2km)
Distance: 16 km
Date: 4 Augusti, 2016
Camped: 65.965705° N, 15.797155° E

Woke to heavy fog. I could barely see anything at all at first, but by the time we had packed up the fog had lifted and revealed a gorgeous sunny morning and the weather actually held for most of the day. A quick shower just now as I lay here journaling, though the sun is still out and slowly setting. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first part of the day was a long climb up the mountain through birch forests… Hard work, but once we got up above the tree line again it was all worth it. Rolling highland moor with endless views for a better part of the day with the majestic Vindelfjällen in the rear view. Life is good!

Getting better at the morning routine we hit the trail by 9:30. Tomorrows stage would have been a rather long stage (19 km), but since Servestugan (the recommended stage goal for today) was located in the middle of wetlands and birch forests, a rather dull place to camp, we hiked an extra 2 km to find something better and to gain on the distance for tomorrow. We found a pretty nice spot just past the bridge over Servvejuhka. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a majestic view!

Unfortunately the midges were out in full force even here. Bloody vampires! So after dinner down by the river, we tucked into our tents. I don’t mind too much, the door of my tent has see-through mosquito netting and I am facing a spectacular view. Knees are holding up but I am a little bit sore between the shoulder blades today, my body getting used to carrying a the pack I suppose. It ought to go away in the next few days.

Song of the day: Egoist by Kent. “…vi skall leva leva livet…” Yeah… I am living the life!!! Hmm a lot of Kent music accompanying me on this hike. I have a ticket to their farewell tour when returning home, so naturally they are on my mind. But also, reflecting about life while walking it is not that strange this is what I conjure up. This music has been such a huge part of my life growing up. Sooo many good songs, lyrics especially, crashes straight into your heart and soul! Kept me alive through many a rough patch… thanks!

Well I’ll sign off here, I have a date with my book… nite nite!

DAY 5
Servestugan – Aigertstugan (-1 km)
Distance: 16 km
Date: 5 Augusti, 2016
Camped: 65.928163° N, 16.069972° E

It was a cold night. Perhaps because we were perched on the edge of a cliff or the huge river nearby kicking up a lot of cold moisture into the air. Regardless of the reason we both woke with condensation ridden tents and damp sleeping bags. Luckily the sun came out to dry the gear as we were getting ready. Flying vermin (midges mainly) were already out in full force so we were eager to be off.

We hit the trail by 9:20, improving slowly but surely… This was going to be a demanding stage with a lot of climbing to get up to the highlands again. Sunny day today and very sweaty! We finally reached the point above the tree line and the midges disappeared. A nice breeze made for comfortable hiking, a fantastic day! Truly enjoyed the rolling highland plains flanked by scenic peaks here and there. A nice change from the lowland birch forests – of which I am no great fan. We planned to stop for lunch at the reindeer keepers hut at Juovvatjåhkka (at 1099 meters), a demanding climb though a dry section of the trail. We met a few hikers heading down in the opposite direction and all asked about the closest water source, looking rather parched.

The sun was still shining when we reached the top, but we were flanked by storms on three sides. We even heard some thunder fairly close while having our lunch. Great… we are on the tallest peak for miles… Good to have an option to go inside if needed. These huts are very simple, emergency shelters only. An a-frame structure with a cast iron stove and a couple wooden benches to sit/sleep on if caught out in really bad weather. But we did not need to use it and actually stayed dry all day. Nice for a change!

The next section was pretty hardcore block terrain with large stone blocks and generally rough walking as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of an abstract moon landscape. Pretty cool. At one point I felt a very palpable rush of energy, and I wanted to shout out “I am invincible!!” My heart rate picked up and I felt a flush of heat through my body culminating in a sense of euphoria. I turned around to my friend and told her about it, and apparently she had felt the same! It must have been a powerful spot right there… a magnetic field perhaps?

After a very nice day with fantastic weather we made camp on the slope about a kilometer before reaching Aigertstugan. There was a light breeze tonight so midges and mosquitoes stayed away while we enjoyed a nice dinner with gorgeous views and a magical sunset. Incredible how cool it gets as soon as the sun disappears, a reminder that summer is fading. Time to button up the tent! Tomorrow we walk the short stage into Ammarnäs to finish stage 1.

DAY 6
Aigertstugan (+1)- Ammarnäs
Distance: ca 9 km
Date: 7 August, 2016
Hostel: 65.960399° N, 16.212663° E

Woke to the sound of rain. Even though the tent was dry my sleeping bag was damp, from from sweat this time. Lovely. Hard to regulate temperature last night for some reason. I was freezing as soon as I opened the bag but sweating while in it. Not sure why.

It was raining pretty hard so I decided to do all the indoor morning chores before daring the weather. By the time everything was packed and I had breakfast ready it had stopped so I ate breakfast watching the fog slowly rise to reveal beautiful mountain views and a herd of reindeer passing by. Felt very special!

Todays stage down to Ammarnäs was more or less just a haul down through birch forest and mud. Oh well, it had to be done. We entered civilization by noon and had lunch on a bench at the bus stop before walking across the road to the small grocery store. We picked up our first resupply box before checking in at the hostel for the night. Lots to do… shower, dry gear, wash clothes and wax boots. Luckily they had an antique washing machine you could rent which made laundry shores a little easier. Hope the clothes will be dry by morning as we plan to only make a short stop here over night and then move on. We decided to only take half a rest day since we got in so early. We can use the extra day further up the trail instead.

We spent the afternoon doing chores and sorting the new supplies. Then spent the evening updating family on our progress and updating social media. It will no doubt be a rude awakening tomorrow with a fully loaded pack again. Nice with a good nights sleep in a dry bed before then at least. We got the room for ourselves it seems so we should sleep well.