Our second hiking day started with the sounds of Germany: it’s a bit tough to sleep in while the German group camping next to you starts stomping around like a bewildered herd of elephants at 6 am. (What exactly is your beef with us, Germany, anyway?) We continued to get fragmented sleep until half past nine. One lazy breakfast and slow pack-up session later, we were back on the trail at around noon.
The trail is supposed to be idiot-proof, but somehow we managed to get lost almost immediately. We had accidentally turned to the marked trail leading up to the Kebnekaise summit, when we of course should have turned to the unmarked trail winding down to the valley. We only noticed our mistake after a solid 45-minute climb. At that point, smart people would have swallowed up their anger and turned back – we decided to sink our feet into wet hummocks and take a shortcut straight downhill. Despite all our stumbling, we finally got back on the right trail with all our limbs intact.
On the trail, there are many bridges like the one pictured above: squeaky and bouncy with delightfully terrifying views over the drop below. Fortunately, the fear of heights is not a problem for either one of us, but it was entirely different for some of the other hikers’ four-legged companions. We watched as a terrified dog was being persuaded to cross the bridge for a long time. The poor thing tried to turn back even when there was only a metre left to get to the other side. So, patience will be needed if your furry friend also happens to be too big to carry across.
According to the guidebook we used, this 15-kilometre leg from Kebnekaise to Singi should only take about 4-6 hours. The trail is generally quite easy to walk, but also rocky at times. This leg felt a lot longer than 15 km, which was probably due to exhaustion from carrying our heavy backpacks. Balancing on rocks was also taking a toll on my joints: towards the end of the day, I started getting scary little twinges of pain in my right knee. Being quite tired, we scrapped our original plan to reach the Singi huts before dusk. The decision was made easier when we spotted the perfect camping spot by a tiny lake, approximately 2 km before Singi. Or how do you feel about the private beach pictured below?
I set up camp while Chef scraped up enough twigs for a campfire. Sauna was not in the cards for the evening, but we were starting to get chilly after a whole day of sweating. Chef kept bugging me to go skinny dipping with him in the lake until I finally caved just to get him off my back. The water in the lake comes from melting ice, which is probably enough of a hint of how the temperature was. I had to muster up all my willpower to take a dip, but it did make me feel pleasantly clean and tingly afterwards. I don’t think there are too many better ways to spend the final moments of any day than watching the sun disappear behind snowy peaks. I crawled into the warm caress of my sleeping bag, just hoping that my knee would make a speedy recovery overnight.
Day 3: (Almost) Singi – Sälka
On the third morning, we woke up to changed scenery. Mist had swept over to cradle us, stopping any rogue sunrays from warming our skins. Perhaps thanks to the chilly temperature, we managed to stuff breakfast down our pieholes, pack up camp, and get going much faster than the previous days.
As we continued toward Singi, the fog soon cleared up and made way for the sun. Upon reaching the Singi huts, we also took our first steps on the actual Kungsleden; the Nikkaluokta-Singi leg is officially part of the Dag Hammarskjöldsleden trail, which then overlaps with Kungsleden between Singi and Abisko. However, since Kungsleden is internationally the better-known trail of the two, it made sense to refer to our whole hike as “Kungsleden” here on the blog.
Right after passing by the huts, we suddenly got roadblocked: a large group of Swedes was squatting on and beside the trail, oohing and aahing over the various kinds of plants growing around them. Or in Chef’s words, Hemulens had found their way to the valley. :D At this point, my knee began to hurt again, but I sucked it up and kept walking with a bit of a limp.
Many of the other hikers we had met had told us that the Singi-Sälka leg would be the easiest and most enjoyable one of the entire hike: not rocky at all with fantastic views over the valley and the mountains surrounding it. However, enjoyment was far from my brain when every step was pure pain. As the pain kept intensifying, I had a couple of breakdowns on the way. I was convinced I would have to quit the hike and hop on an extremely expensive helicopter to ever make it out of the wilderness. Cue: self-pity and tears. If only I had been smart enough to bring a proper knee support with me!
The route from our camping spot to Sälka was only 2+12 km, but I was really slowing us down. Now that I think about it, it’s incredible how Chef managed to stay so patient and calm with such a whiney, mopey sloth in tow. #Relationshipgoals? Hands down the longest 14 km of my life! When the Sälka huts finally appeared in the horizon, we both let out a spontaneous squeal from sheer joy.
There is a surprisingly well-stocked shop by the huts. I bought a can of coke, and let me tell you: the elixir of life, as my brother used to call it, has never tasted better than it did right there and then. The extortionate prices at the Kebnekaise fjällstation also stayed at Kebnekaise: in Sälka, it was possible to only buy access to the sauna, and it cost a very reasonable 50 SEK (~5€) per person. Very reasonable. There were three 1.5-hour sauna shifts: first the ladies, then the gents, and finally a mixed sauna that turned into a mini party when almost 20 naked, tipsy* people sat side-by-sweaty-side, sharing drinks and hiking stories. Most took a lightning quick dip in the freezing river by the sauna, but Chef just plopped himself down and sat in the stream for ages, possibly mistaking it for a jacuzzi.
*Beer was also available in the shop, a.k.a. our little oasis in the wilderness
We met the greatest people of the whole hike in this sauna. For example, a Swedish nurse showed me how to tape up my knee and gave me hope for the remainder of our trip, two Swedish brothers claimed they thought I was barely over 20, and a charming Englishman, D, invited us to his birthday party which would be held in Abisko upon completing the hike. I had originally planned to go straight to sleep after the ladies’ sauna, but I’m really glad I stayed until the end. A relaxing evening in excellent company was just what we both needed after such a long and troublesome day. Eventually, the hut owner had to chase us out and into our tents, or else the sauna party might have gone on forever.