WHERE: Stage 3: Jäckvik to Kvikkjokk – Kungsleden, Sweden
WHEN: August 13-16, 2016
WHO: Karma & Helena
OBJECTIVE: Thru-hike, #rebootatforty
DISTANCE: 86,5 km (completed: 253 km in total)

According to the guidebook this is the least popular stage of Kungsleden, but also perhaps the most underestimated. I actually agree. Again, this is another stretch without any SFT huts and there are parts you have to pay for boat transport, but compared to the previous stage I think this one was alright. Objectively it was a rather beautiful wilderness trail for the most part. So if that is what you are seeking, by all means… I crave more alpine mountain terrain with expansive views and massive peaks, so this feels a  bit closed in. Still, I just had to reprogram my brain a little bit to give it a chance to enjoy it more. Worked better than expected. The trail is similar to the previous stage in most aspects, with the ups and downs between river valleys and highland plateaus, but the last two days before arriving in Kvikkjokk was more alpine and downright breathtaking at times. I truly enjoyed that section. Weather was a lot better too, that helps.


Kungsleden thru-hike + Sarek travel diary

Jäckvik -Tjidtjakválle ridge
Distance: 14 km
Date: 13 August, 2016
Camped: 66.470807° N, 17.088828° E

Peaceful morning at the hostel and we actually hit the trail by 9 as planned. Sent off a few postcards along the way. I feel the extra weight of the full pack in my knees today. They better hold all the way, I refuse to let them hold me back anymore!! I am pretty stubborn (pannben as we say in Swedish) and I am counting on this to save me… and then focus on some more targeted rehab when I get home.

The first part of the trail out of Jäckvik was in beautiful forests along a series of lakes. After a while the trail turned more hilly, rolling through dramatic blueberry and pine forests. Still, I long for the open views above the tree line and we finally made it there in the afternoon just as a light drizzle began to fall. The lakes we had planned to set up camp at that evening soon came into view. We saw a suitable spot right away and took it. Good thing too, the minute we were all settled in the skies really opened and it is going strong still close to two hours later. Nice when the weather gods are on your side for once, timing wise I mean.

We did our first rowing stint on this leg. There are rowing boats where required at some points along the trail for the summer hiking season. There are usually three boats per crossing and the deal is to always make sure there is at least one boat left at each end. So if there is only one boat there you first have to row over and tow one more back and leave it before crossing a final time – so you are rowing the distance three times. When we got to the crossing today this was just what an Austrian hiker was doing. Us coming worked out for him though. Since we could tag along I rowed the final stretch so he did not have to. Everybody wins.

I am tucked in my sleeping bag now to read for a few hours. It is so nice to have a good book! The tent is really too small to do much else aside from sleeping. On the plus side I have worked out the logistics of it by now and the size really does not bother me. Works fine, you just have to be organized and work out a good routine.

It is not as cold as it has been tonight, but the humidity is a bigger problem for me. I am venting the tent as much as I can. The roof vent in the outer tent is opened as far as possible under the rain cover. I am also putting large rocks along the sides to simulate catenary curves along the bottom edges of the outer tent to provide better air flow throughout. I am sleeping with the inner door completely open, only with the bug net closed. A bit cold mind you, but better cold than wet. I even hung my microfiber towel from the ceiling in an attempt to suck up excess moisture. All of this works somewhat sometimes, but not perfectly and not always. I think the volume of this small tent is the issue… darn.

Tjidtjakválle ridge – Gásaklanko
Distance: 20,5 km (5,3 km by boat)
Date: 14 August 2016
Camped: 66.596756° N, 17.281134° E

Woke to the sound of rain and heavy wind. It had been storming all night, but by the time I crawled out of the tent after breakfast it had nearly stopped raining at least. Also woke to a ton of condensation in the tent, despite all the precautions, and this of course meant a soaking wet sleeping bag – not god! This really sucks! You work so hard on keeping things dry or getting them dry, then the shelter lets you down. I need to call Hilleberg and ask for advice.

We had a short hike down to the boat landing this morning. The crossing of lake Ribnes is a 5,3 km boat path and there are no rowing boats for this stretch. We called for a pickup by the local Sami woman running a letting business at the opposite end. She also let me rent her drying cabinet for an hour to dry out my sleeping bag, really nice! We sat on the floor of the small utility room while the drying cabinet was working having an early lunch. As an added bonus the rain stopped while we waited.

We crossed the arctic circle today. Pretty cool! We knew because of a weathered hand carved sign hanging from a tree attached with a piece of guyline… pretty funny.

We passed up a few perfectly fine campsites in the forested delta in favor of the highlands. Well worth it too, because now we are camped at a gorgeous spot by a lake up on the plateau at the base of Båråktjåhkkå mountain. Wind finally died down and it is perfectly quiet. According to the boat lady, and the Norwegian weather service, the next few days should be stable, no rain. Fingers crossed. It sure would be a nice change. Sooo sleeeeepy… no reading tonight.

Gásaklanko – Piteälven
Distance: 16, 5 km
Date: 15 August 2016
Camped: 66.723526° N, 17.359897° E

Woke to perfect calm… no wind and no rain. It feels like a long time since that happened, and oh what a nice change! Sun even came out for a little while, long enough to dry my sleeping bag… While breaking camp we were visited by a huge herd or reindeer, it must have been close to a hundred animals at close range. Felt very special to be privy to such an encounter! Beautiful animals!

We walked across a gorgeous high plateau all morning before starting our descent right after lunch. The blueberry bushes have started to turn color already making for stunning display on the moors, a stark contrast to the blue mountains in the distance. We also walked through a very special section of terrain scarred long ago by the last ice age. A rock forest with enormous stone blocks and small ones with really neat water features throughout. Sum total – an almost a spiritual experience. I really needed this day! The past few days have been a little low in motivation department, this was more like it! Oh, I really love this! A fill-up for the soul!

After lunch we came down the mountain, another rather steep descent. A bit rough on the left knee developing a stabbing pain in the front under the kneecap that progressively got worse leaving me with a constant ache for the last hour of the day. Screw it. I don’t care!! Pressing on… by this rate we will get to Kvikkjokk a day early…

We had almost given up hope on finding a decent camp spot and we had seriously started thinking about settling for anything when we met another sobo thru-hiker on the trail. He said there was a nice flat beach on the banks of Piteälven just up ahead. He was right, and just as we stepped out on the beach the sun came out! Obviously this was meant to be! We enjoyed a lovely dinner as the sun was setting, more of this please!

Reflections on the trail was all about integrity today…

Piteälven – Suonergårsså highland plateau
Distance: 14, 5 km
Date: 16 Augusti 2016
Camped: 66.808066° N, 17.544118° E

Woke to the roar of Piteälven and clear blue skies, awesome! A wet tent though, not so awesome! I had the Kent song “Idioter” playing in my head when I woke up “…för rädslan den går över men den där oron stannar kvar…” (while the fear passes the nagging concern remains) It means I lay fretting over it at night now. Truth be told, I am worried about going into Sarek with a piece of gear I cannot trust.

The day started with a hike through seemingly endless wetlands then through a really nice conifer forest, more reminiscent of North America than northern Sweden we thought. Then a climb up a stunning moraine ridge with a vigorous stream flowing right below. We followed the ridge for a while past lunch. It was a truly magical place and we seriously contemplated cutting the day short and camping there. After weighing our options we decided to move on though, mostly due to the really unnerving flies active there. They just-would-not-let-up! Too bad.

So instead we dug into the fairly strenuous climb up to the foot of the impressive peak we’ve had in our sights all day, Goabbddàbakte 1456 meters. A truly awe-inspiring mountain with a 300 m drop off on one side. We lingered a long time just taking it all in and taking photos. I felt strangely drawn to it, like it was alive, breathing, had a pulse. A very powerful experience! We still see the silhouette of it now in the distance from our campsite on the grassy highland moor. This is one of the nicest camp spots we’ve had so far. We do have a type, my friend and I, as far as campsites go that is. We are never happier than when we are up on kalfjället above the tree line by a stream or lake with a view. Tonight there is even a perfect full moon! My knees held up all day, maybe the stretching and liniment regimen is finally working. Sweeeeeeet! Beautiful end to a perfect day. Feeling re-charged again!

Suonergårsså highland plateau – Kvikkjokk
Distance: 14, 5 km
Date: 18 Augusti 2016
Mountain Station: 66.953935° N, 17.721358° E

Woke to a beautiful sunrise on the highland plateau so my sleeping bag had a chance to dry on top of the tent while we were getting ready. Really need to talk to Hilleberg once I have cell phone reception again!

We were on trail by 9:20 and soon met a guy hiking southbound on Gröna Bandet. Cool. I had actually considered doing this hike before settling for Kungsleden, mainly because I did not think I would have the time for the longer hike. But most Gröna Bandet hikers follow Kungsleden through this part though so we are bound to meet more of them on the way. I do feel a touch of envy that their hike is much longer than ours though, 1300 km tracing the entire length of our Scandinavian mountain range from Grövelsjön in the south to Treriksröset in the north.

The hike today was a nice one. Through the highlands for most of the day before we started down again. A lot of this for the past two stages, up on the highlands briefly and then down into the next valley. Rinse and repeat. Today we walked trough a pretty nice birch forest when first staring downward. This eventually transitioned into conifers and then spruce. Felt like the spruce forest went on forever before we reached the boat landing. Never ending forest, is that a movie? Called for a boat pickup and a very friendly local came and picked up us and another German hiker – there are sooo many Germans on the trail! Outnumber Swedes 5 to 1. The crossing over to Kvikkjokk took a while, but it was a scenic ride and the driver was a fountain of local knowledge and truly loved his job so it was kind of educational. Nice!

There was not as much infrastructure in Kvikkjokk as I had thought. A few houses, a really old wooden church and the mountain station. That was pretty much it. The only store in town was the tiny closet at the mountain station, stocked with nothing but the very bare minimum basics. I am really glad we sent up resupply boxes!

Knees are still under control today, I just need to take it easy on the downhill. Feeling hopeful! My mouse-arm (lateral epicondylitis) is actually much better too. It would appear that working out with trekking poles is doing wonders, who would have thought?

Nice to be showered and warm again. We sat in the lobby using the free wifi to update social media while sharing a bottle of wine before bedtime. Tomorrow we take a full rest day so we are staying here for two nights. Nice with some time for reflection too, not just chores. Walked here one day ahead of schedule, whoop! Damn, I feel good doing this!

Rest day – Kvikkjokk
Distance: 0 km
Date: 18 Augusti 2016
Mountain Station: 66.953935° N, 17.721358° E

Woke at 10:00! In a warm dry bed. Luxury! We had the room all to ourselves last night, but tonight we are not so lucky. The place is fully booked and we will have to squeeze in 3 more people, even sleeping one on the couch. Oh well. I cannot believe we are about half way already! Mixed feelings about that… if we did not have the massive Sarek undertaking still to come I think I would be even more stressed about this. I don’t want it to be over!

I mostly lazed about all day. Not doing much felt kind of nice for once, even though it was a bit strange at first. This seem to happen every time we get off trail though. You feel a bit lost at first, not quite knowing what to do when the walking routine is interrupted. Still, there were some chores to be done, so I started there. Did laundry, sorted and packed new supplies, cleaned and waxed boots.

I also called Hilleberg and talked to them about my condensation issues . Though very helpful, they more or less just confirmed that I had tried pretty much everything there is to do already. How much water you expel (breath, sweat etc.) during the night is very individual, and apparently you can expel as much as 1L of moisture by breath alone in one night! Wow. I must be tipping that scale nowadays, and the smaller the space the harder it is to control, especially this time of the year. So it looks as if the solution for me is to invest in a bigger tent with better ventilation options. Tunnel designs are generally easier to ventilate, but I really like the flexibility of completely free standing dome tents, so I went for Soulo’s big brother Allak. Pretty much the same as the Soulo, but larger, designed for two people. It provides a lot more volume and more interior space so my sleeping bag won’t hug the sides wicking condensation off the walls anymore, but most importantly it provides better ventilation options with two roof vents compared to one. The weight penalty of +900 g will hurt a bit though… Another reason for choosing Allak is that I have actually been looking at this tent for a while anyway to bring when not hiking solo. So it is not a frivolous purchase by any means, I just never planned to have to carry it alone… hope I won’t regret it now. Props to customer service at Hilleberg who will send it ahead to my next stop in Saltoluokta free of charge and even gave me 10% off, thanks a lot! Hilleberg tents have really good resale value so I am sure I can sell the Soulo when I get back home to recoup some of the expense.

We walked down to the mailbox to send off a few postcards before settling in for the evening. Now enjoying a glass of wine while journalling in the common area before bedtime. Tomorrow we are off towards Saltoluokta.