Kungsleden in autumn: From Tjaktja to Abisko
The last of my week long hike in Swedish Lapland, and the second part of my adventure on the Kungsleden. Amazing panoramas, stunning lakes and reindeer herds in late summer/ early autumn.
My week long adventure in Swedish Lapland began with a Kebnekaise summit attempt and a trip to the glaciers at Tarfala. Starting on the Kungsleden 2 days back, I was looking forward to a less eventful trek, to be able to leave more energy to enjoy the raw beauty of nature up here in the Arctic Circle. Fortunately, the hike from Kebnekaise mountain station was way less terrifying than my time at Kebnekaise or Tarfala, and that brings me to Tjaktja, where I continue my adventure on the Kungsleden.
September 10th, 2016
I woke up to a thick shroud of fog still surrounding Tjaktja, and decided to hold out for awhile. After all, the cabin was clean and welcoming, a nice contrast to my previous day at Singi, which had gotten a little too crowded. I planned to have an easy day, making it towards Alesjaure (13km), after 2 slightly more intense days of over 20km each.
Kungsleden: Tjaktja to Alesjaure (Day 3)
I took my time preparing for the day ahead. Just before I left, the cabin manager called out to me and shared about something he found just a few days back: an small ice cave not too far from the cabin. It wasn’t marked on the map, but he gave rough directions on finding it, a short distance from the main trail. Having more time for the planned distance that day, I decided to try to look for it.
Back on the Kungsleden!
I continued on the trail, which dropped quickly from the cabin into the valley. Soon, I reached where a stream joined from the left. I was to follow it to get to the ice cave. I felt a little apprehensive. Getting lost or injured, while unlikely, didn’t seem like a nice prospect, given that this was off trail and unlikely that many or any will pass it. Anyway, I decided to throw caution in the wind. Left my backpack on a seemingly secure place slightly off the trail on a huge dry rock, and followed the water upstream.
I didn’t have much trouble getting to the first ice slabs, slighly visible from the trail. The cabin manager did mentioned that there was some ice slabs just a little off the trail, a small collapsed cave. But I could not see the larger, still standing one he had talked about, or any clear, viable path up, and deliberated for awhile.
I didn’t expect being able to see such fantastic works of nature this close to the Kungsleden, and sure am glad I did.
Further up, a few hundred meters away, was the second ice cave. Melting water from the mountain tops carved a path through the ice, and a little bit of the overhanging portion still hung on.
After some minutes of taking photos and feeling all awe-inspired, it was time to get back to the Kungsleden again.
Alesjaure mountain cabin looked the freshest among the other cabins. It also seemed like one of the larger ones around, and was served by a shop selling various supplies, as well as a wood-fired sauna that operated for a few hours each day. I bought some food from the shop (a little expensive, expectedly), not because I was running out of food, but because I was getting sick of those I had brought, after a week of near similar stuff. While settling down for lunch in the fully equipped kitchen (standard in all cabins), I spoke to other hikers. Some of them intended to base themselves at Alesjaure, which was a great starting point for short nearby hikes. That seemed like a good idea, given the excellent conditions, relative accessibility and surrounding scenery at Alesjaure mountain cabin.
After lunch, I managed to catch up on some rest before the sauna (batsu), opened for the gents’ session. As it was a small space, there was a ladies session, a gents session, then a mixed session. Each session is an hour and a half every day.
I was a little early. There was a large tub of hot water, another of cold water, for people to shower before entering. At that moment, nothing felt better than a hot shower after a week in the cold, occasionally wet Kungsleden without showering.
Kungsleden: Alesjaure to Abiskojaure (Day 4)
After skipping huts 2 days back, and doing consecutive days of over 20km, I was back on schedule by Tjaktja. I had earlier slipped behind schedule (to finish Lapland and explore Kiruna before my flight back to Stockholm) after experiencing crazy weather at Tarfala. Thus for the last 3 legs (starting fro Tjaktja to Alesjaure), I knew I could afford to take it easy.
Alesjaure to Abiskojaure, the next leg, was the longest stretch between huts, at 21km. From Abiskojaure, however, it was just another 14km back to civilisation at Abisko. Running water, electricity, and of course, Wi-Fi was calling out to the city boy in me. I decided to start early to see if I could make it to Abiskojaure with enough time to spare to Abisko. If I did succeed, it would be my longest distance in a single day of my entire hike in Lapland, and also THE last day.
Felt like eternity, but I arrived at Abiskojaure cabin eventually, with sky still threatening.
Kungsleden: Abiskojaure to Abisko (Day 4)
I decided to have lunch first before deciding whether to complete the final bit to Abisko that day, and put my STF membership to good use again. (free use of kitchens at the cabins for members) It felt like enough time, about 4 or 5 hours before nightfall to complete 14km. However, there’ll be leave little room for missteps or errors in estimations. For example if there was to be another steep uphill, I might get stuck in the woods for the night. If rain came, my pace would most probably be affected too. I had shared my plans with an ex-mountain guide the previous night, and she warned to ensure there was enough time before making a move from Abiskojaure.
Decision making abilities can be impaired by an empty stomach, so I filled it first. Interestingly, lots of food was left behind at Abiskojaure by past hikers. At the other cabins, there was always some food people would leave behind, but nothing like what I had seen at Abiskojaure. There were all sorts of supplies and equipment. Might had to do with being the final cabin before the end of the trail, where none of these would be needed. On the other hand, Kebnekaise, although the final cabin at another popular exit to hiking at Lapland, didn’t have that much leftovers. Anyway, I helped myself to adding some variety to my lunch with stuff like milk tea and instant noodles.
Lunch felt good, with the luxury of variety. Familiar faces turned up at Abiskojaure just as I was finishing lunch-a Swiss couple in the same direction. They were taking a more leisurely pace, camping out in their tent, and were staying the night at Abiskojaure. I first met them back at Tjaktja. The beautiful thing about the Kungsleden is that once you’ve found people going in your direction, you’re likely to meet them again somewhere later, even if you don’t trek together. With my stomach happy and spirits high, I decided to make a final 14km dash with my 15kg backpack for hot showers, electricity, and Wi-Fi. Not much of a dash as it turned out.
In the past week, I had the privilege of experiencing the warmth of strangers with whom I’ve never met. Many passing hikers would greet each other enthusiastically as they passed, occasionally accompanied by a sincere question or two. It was one of those things which came from going hours without seeing anyone. I’d never get that in the city, and will definitely be one of the things I miss most about hiking in the Lapland.
Here though, between Abiskojaure and Abisko, it felt different. Perhaps those from Abisko had not had that experience yet, having just left civilisation. Many seem bewildered at me, a stranger, greeting them. I guess I was probably like that too, bewildered by strangers’ greetings, on my first day out here. It hit me that I was about to leave the wilderness soon, back to a very different world called civilisation, and should treasure every moment left of this incredible journey. Kinda felt emotional.
Somewhere after that, I came across a group of Chinese tourists who were vacationing at Abisko, not far away. They seemed excited at seeing someone coming out from the far end of the woods, and started asking questions, taking photos and videos. I thought it was amusing, but glad to have met them. The light hearted exchange lifted my spirits, slowly draining away from the exhaustion and apprehension of the darkening woods. And of course, it meant that the end of the Kungsleden had to be near.
Thus concluding an unforgettable solo hiking trip across Lapland, across snow-capped mountains, frozen glaciers, crystal clear lakes, endless lush valleys and pristine Arctic forests in late summer. More than the scenery, and the raw emotions of fear, awe, hope and elation, the warmth and friendliness of the people I had personally interacted with along the way will forever remain in my mind. And of course, the Northern Lights at Kebnekaise.
Next, a much less physically demanding exploration of Abisko and Kiruna.