In my opinion, the people that are hiking Kungsleden can be roughly subdivided in 4 big categories.
The ‘lone rangers’, like me, are people that are hiking by themselves, although quite a few haul a dog along for company. They are mostly friendly, adventurous and open-minded people that do their own thing but are also open to conversation and often form temporary small groups of 2 or 3 people whenever they feel like having some company. Even when keeping to themselves many of us have more or less the same pace and thus keep running into each other along the trail, which creates some sort of wordless bond that manifests itself by a nod of the head while passing someone you’ve seen before. Many of them share lunch / dinner / a beer together when the opportunity presents itself, or even make camp in the same place to tell stories around a bonfire when there’s wood to be found. Most of the people that are walking the entire Kungsleden are lone rangers.
A second category of people are the ‘pensioners’. Pensioners are mostly active couples of 60+ years old that hike one stage every day and spend all of their nights in the mountain huts. The obvious lack of camping stuff makes them easily the lightest travellers out there. Compared to the rest of us loaded mules pensioners almost seem to carry day bags, only containing clothes, a little food and water and a towel to accommodate their sauna custom at the end of a long day’s hike. Because of their dependency on the mountain huts they are probably the slowest hikers of the pack. And the least smelly.
A third group of hikers are the ‘newbies’. They’re the kind of people that are on their first multi-day trek, either underestimating the physical difficulty of the terrain or overestimating the amount of gear necessary to complete the 110, 190, 360 or 440 km trail. They’re the people you see hauling with backpacks bigger than themselves while arguing with their comrades because they are struggling to find a common pace that suits the entire group. Frustration is the key word to describe the newbies, although the steep learning curve makes sure the moaning diminishes after the first few days. Nevertheless the newbies are also characterised by the biggest exclamations of excitement whenever a mountain hut comes into view.
Finally there are the ‘power couples’. They consist of either two guys or a couple hiking together. They are the easiest recognisable category because of their new and impeccable hiking gear, carefully counted daily calories, tight schedules and permanent tormented look on their face. They’re the kind of people who cut their toothbrush in half to save weight and probably sport that millimetred head to be more aerodynamic. More than once I was roughly pushed aside off the often narrow track by a power couple in their hurry to make pace.
Once an overly annoying power couple even considered it necessary to give me a condescending speech about how my loud singing interrupted their concentration. They stressed the severity of this crime by hitting me with one of their Nordic walking sticks before resuming their fast-paced march. Perplexed I watched them disappear in the distance. The next day, when I saw their unattended backpacks lying around the next mountain hut, I decided to tip the karma scales by putting a big stone in either pack before quickly hurrying along. Revenge is a dish best served cold!
I arrived in Vakkotavare during the afternoon of day five since leaving Abisko, after the steepest descent of the entire trail. I stumbled into the hut, greeted the host and almost finished the entire bottle of home-made lemonade she offered me. It had been a hot day with tough, rocky terrain and my knees were hurting from the descent. I sat down at one of the sun-drenched picnic tables where I enjoyed my first Internet connection of the week while a sporadic car drove past. The Vakkotavare hut is located next to a small road, the first one since Abisko.
The next day all hikers that continued Kungsleden were picked up by an early morning bus that took everyone 30 km along the coastal road to the ferry across lake Akkajaure. At the price of 20€ for a five minute trip the captain seemed in the fast lane for an early retirement. He dropped us off at the other side and we collectively walked into the Saltaluokta fjällstation camp. Fjällstations are bigger and better equipped huts accessible by road and with electricity, showers and a restaurant. I granted myself a comfortable night in the hut for once, washed my clothes, restocked my food supplies and enjoyed a steamy sauna and dito shower before turning in early. The rest day made sure I was totally ready for the next four stages and 73 km to Kvikkjokk, my endpoint, where I would be more or less halfway the 440 km long Kungsleden trail.
The first stage of part II, 20 km from Saltaluokta to Sitojaure, was easy but also the first time I got wet. A short but powerful storm painted the sky black and soaked me in a matter of minutes. Cold, wet and tormented by the mosquitoes that suddenly decided they wanted my blood for dinner I felt disheartened and alone for the first time during the trip. In a mood of self pity I decided to spend another day in a hut to dry my stuff, cook a warm meal and get my spirits up again. Rereading ‘the alchemist’, one of my favourite books, next to the fireplace cleared my mind and my misery slowly subsided along with the cold in my bones.
The next day entailed an early and unavoidable speedboat transfer across the next lake, the steepest climb until that point and a voluntary five hour detour to the top of Skierfe. This mountain stands high above the Rapa river and Laitaure delta, with an astonishing 700m vertical drop into the marshes. To reach the top I floundered through muddy sidetracks for an hour and a half after which the landscape changed into a desolate rocky dessert. Jumping from rock to rock for an additional hour I lost track of the path several times but eventually I found myself on top of the world. And boy was it worth every drop of sweat. The lunar landscape behind me, a deadly 700m fall in front, howling winds all around and a view that still has to meet its equal. Definitely one of the highlights of my entire journey.
After descending the same way back to the Kungsleden track, passing the Aktse hut and crossing another lake I spent the night in an emergency shelter with a French dude and a German guy who couldn’t stop talking about the burgers that were supposedly available in the Kvikkjokk fjällstation. On the 9th day after leaving Abisko I passed the Parte hut, and completed the last 16km stretch to make it home for dinner in Kvikkjokk, where the burgers were unfortunately sold out but heaps of reindeer meat awaited.