Kungsleden Part 1: An introduction to the wilderness
Abisko Fjällstation - Abiskojaure (13km) - Alesjaure (22km) - Sälkastugan (27km) - Kebnekaise Fjällstation (26km)
I am writing this blog post from a sunny spot outside my tent, tea in hand and a panoramic view of imposing mountains - including Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain and a vast, barren valley. Surreally, I've just watched a reindeer trotting past... Safe to say, life is good.
I have now completed my first four days and 88km of the Kungsleden, and what an incredible four days they've been. I've walked through peaceful birch forests, bright sunlight filtering down through the leaves and branches; trekked the lengths of steep valleys lined with imposing mountains and cliffs; crossed precarious bridges suspended above powerful rapids flowing from the mountains; paused to replenish my water from the same crystal clear water and watched a reindeer swim across a river, antlers elegantly suspended above the water... All in a mere four days!
While I get to grips with the wild environment and tent-life, I've been opting to camp in the vicinity of the huts along the route. There have been several perks to this approach, including getting access to a kitchen and sauna. The latter of these has been quite an unusual experience and worth a quick description of... The saunas are, as expected, small wooden buildings, usually situated close to the river or lake for a post-sauna dip. One room is for undressing and drying off in. One is the 'wet room', which has great vats of both cold water and hot water, as well as buckets and scoops to mix your own water in for washing yourself. Finally is the main room of the sauna, complete with terraced wooden seating and a wood burner. As none of the huts have running water, a daily sauna is the only way to keep clean (unless you fancy plunging into the icy river or lake. I'll stick to the sauna).
As with my previous long walks, I've been appreciating the peace and solitude of early mornings. My enjoyment has been heightened by the fact that the first three days brought with them absolutely sensational weather, certainly not what I was anticipating!
I wasn't quite so lucky with the weather on day four as dark, ominous clouds rolled in, making for quite a dramatic mountain pass crossing - I was quite relieved to have found some company for this day so I wasn't alone up in the mountains. While the rain held off until my tent was set up and I was safely tucked up inside, when the heavens did open later that evening I discovered that my tent is not entirely watertight! It is nothing serious, but certainly not ideal. My walking boots are also starting to show signs of what I've put them through over the last year as they are starting to split. Thankfully, somewhat of a guardian angel turned up bearing superglue so a crisis has been averted!
Bar those minor hiccups, which are to be expected, I'm having the most incredible time and cannot wait for what the next few weeks brings. I've learned two things so far: firstly, a headtorch is 100% unnecessary this far north where, though the sun does technically set, it never gets fully dark. Secondly, nothing really beats waking up and unzipping the tent door to breathtaking views of mountains, rivers and sprawling valleys...