Kungsleden Part 6: All good things must come to an end
At the start of the year, I wrote a To Do list of things I wanted to achieve this year. Already ticked off include ‘Graduating’ and ‘Read more books’, and it looks like I can now tick off ‘Walk the Kungsleden’. That’s right: my final week on this sensational route has come to an end! Including my various detours along the way, I have covered some 485km over 32 days.
My aim to make the remaining 80km last as long as possible didn’t quite go to plan... The weather gods finally sorted their acts out and I spent most of my time walking under a cloudless blue sky – I couldn’t have asked for better conditions for the final leg of this journey. In such beautiful weather it is so easy to just keep on walking late into the afternoon, soaking up the skin-warming rays and admiring the many breath-taking views. Consequently, I ended up covering more ground each day than I had intended. I completed the remaining distance in five days, including taking a detour from the Kungsleden in order to summit a 1768m mountain, a 17kg Rucky in tow! But more on that later...
The first day ticked all the boxes: birch and pine forests, rivers and waterfalls, wide valleys and high mountains. With the bar consistently set so high throughout the day, I knew it wouldn’t be hard to find a spectacular site to set up my tent that evening. Sure enough, after spending the afternoon climbing up to the second highest point of the Kungsleden, I crossed a ridge and was met by a view that literally made my jaw drop. From my current position, a steep descent led down the mountain to a wide, flat plain, dotted with lakes that sparkled as they reflected the late afternoon sun. Along the horizon, the peaks of an impressive mountain range were just distinguishable through the haze. I immediately knew that this was the view I wanted out of my tent. I quickly found somewhere to pitch my tent, sheltered from the icy wind.
I had been sitting in my tent for a short while, enjoying a hot drink and the stunning view in front of me, when I heard what sounded like footsteps. Unsure of what exactly was making this sound, I slowly leaned forward out of my tent and stuck my head out. I was greeted by the quizzical face of a reindeer who was probably wondering what on earth this stationary red contraption was. Aware that the reindeer wasn’t likely to stick around, I quickly and quietly took a few photos. I didn’t need to worry though: following this first chap was a herd of several hundred reindeer who spent the next half hour gradually making their way past my tent. They didn’t appear to be particularly bothered by my presence – several dozen reindeer came within a few metres of where I was and even had a curious glance into my humble abode... I think their main concern about my tent and I was that we interrupted their grazing route!
Safe to say that first day and evening were going to be hard to beat. Somehow though, the next day managed to wow me in equal measure, the afternoon in particular. The sun was so warm I ended up peeling off my layers until I was down to my t-shirt, for the first time in weeks! I spent a blissful few hours walking lake-to-lake and over rolling hills, the mountain range from the previous day a consistent backdrop. Once again, I managed to find a beautiful spot to pitch my tent, overlooking the now familiar peaks.
The next morning, as I sipped my morning coffee and looked towards the mountainous horizon, a thought struck me: I wanted to climb to the top of the tallest mountain in that range. A quick scan of the maps showed I was heading for it so I spent the day power walking, determined to cover as much distance as possible so I’d have less to walk to reach the mountain the next day. It was overcast, constantly threatening to rain, and the path followed the shore of a lake for over 10km - ideal easy terrain to navigate quickly. The day ended fairly abruptly when the heavens finally opened and I was forced to set up camp on the side of the mountain in less than ideal conditions!
The next day, things were looking brighter so I wasted no time in breaking camp and setting off. The proper mountain ascent started promptly and I spent the next few hours picking my way up through scree and boulders. Approaching from the side I was, I had to cross two lower summits before finally reaching my target. This wasn’t an issue though as I was feeling strong and determined. The views that accompanied me were spectacular; there was snow, glaciers, waterfalls, and Norway in the distance! As is to be expected, the higher I climbed the colder it got, and when I eventually reached the summit cairn at 1768m, I was having to tread carefully over icy and frosty rocks. I didn’t linger at the summit as it was so cold, just long enough to take some photos before starting the descent down the other side.
I’d been so focused on making it up the mountain that I hadn’t put much thought into coming down again, and this transpired to be far more challenging... I descended over 850m in less than 2km - no mean feat with a 17kg rucksack strapped to your back – and some sections were so steep I began to wonder why nobody had recommend I bring a parachute or wingsuit... Upon reaching moderately level ground I would have sprinted in order to put some distance between myself and the descent, unfortunately I wasn’t convinced I’d manage it without my legs giving way beneath me.
A good night’s sleep in my beloved tent was all it took to get me feeling right-as-rain again. On my final morning, I awoke to a layer of frost over my tent. Watching the sun rise over the valley with a bowlful of lumpy porridge and an instant coffee, I felt an unbelievable sense of wellbeing and happiness.
My final day of walking flashed by in a blur of blue sky and mountains. Before I knew what was happening, the many ski lifts of my destination resort town were appearing and the sounds of cars were filtering through the trees, an alien sound after so many weeks of wilderness and distance from civilisation. I can honestly say that this has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done, regardless of the soggy socks, collapsing tent, and all the other physical and emotional challenges I’ve faced along the way... I’m more than a little bit heartbroken to have finished, but all good things must ultimately come to an end!