Kungsleden (The King’s Trail) is a 400-kilometre-long hiking trail in Northern Sweden. When I was googling for Europe’s best hiking trails, Kungsleden was included in almost every Top 10 list I could find. In August, Chef and I set out to see how well-deserved all the hype was. However, 400+ km might have been a bit rough for two hiking novices, so we only did the most popular bit from Nikkaluokta to Abisko. 108 kilometres in a week = just a little over 15 km per day. Can do!
The trail can be hiked in both directions, though most choose to start in Abisko and finish in Nikkaluokta. We only did the opposite because it was easier for us logistically. The most convenient way to reach this bit of the trail is to fly directly to Kiruna and catch a bus to Abisko or Nikkaluokta. We chose to travel by bus all the way from Turku, Finland, because that was the most budget-friendly option for us. Fortunately, we were able to make a couple of pit stops on the way in Jyväskylä and Oulu, while visiting friends and family.
Upon reaching Kiruna bus station, we ran into a lone German lady huffing and puffing under a pile of ancient gear that made her resemble a member of a 20th century arctic expedition. She had just finished a rough hike: she had broken her tent, missed her return flight and spent all her money. As logically follows, based on her bad experience she declared our plan equally doomed. Chef apparently had ze wrong kind of poor shoes which would be his downfall once we reached the deadly muddy bits of the trail. There would be nothing but rain, wind, cold and misery awaiting us, and of course only uphill in every direction, as far as the eye can see. In addition, all accommodation in Kiruna was deemed subpar and overpriced by her. So, us kids had better turn around on our heels and go back to where we came from. We thanked her for the kind warning, which only fuelled her fire. We finally managed to bid her farewell and went out to eat.
Arctic Thai & Grill seemed like a promising eatery, but boy did we screw up with our orders. The waitress asked us to pick between Mild, Medium and “Thai hot”. Obviously, Chef couldn’t help but brag about his past travels to Thailand and boasted he could handle Thai hot, no problem. I opted for Medium. “Are you sure?” asked the waitress with a hint of a devilish smile in the corner of her mouth. Yuh-uh, yup yup, we were sure, we were confident. Once our meals came, it soon became abundantly clear that “Thai hot” was not just empty marketing jargon this time. Instead, it felt like third-degree burns in the digestive system. Chef, with his watering eyes, bravely destroyed several forkfuls before having to call it quits. I tasted a teeny-tiny one-centimetre bit of a noodle from his plate and felt like spontaneously combusting right there and then. A little tip for anyone travelling to Kiruna: they sure don’t shy away from chili at Arctic Thai & Grill!
We spent the night at Camp Ripan, which was neither subpar nor overpriced (Chef & Sloth 1 – 0 German Lady). 250 Swedish krona bought us a spot for our tent, and access to warm showers and sauna for two, with the added bonus of access to a comfortable bar at the reception. The next morning, packing up was such a hassle that we nearly missed our bus to Nikkaluokta. What better way to start a day than running 1.5 km to the bus station while carrying a backpack stuffed to the brim. We made the bus, barely, and an hour later, we were finally in Nikkaluokta at the starting point of our hike.
We did some last-minute shopping at the tiny store and came out with a hiking map and a brand new Mora knife, a pretty little impulse buy. Bursting with energy and determination, we were finally ready to hit the trail. We found out that the yearly Fjällräven Classic hiking event had just ended before our arrival. It had once again brought over two thousand hikers to the very same trail, which sounds like a complete nightmare considering our main goal was to seek some peace and quiet in nature. So, we got pretty lucky with our timing and never had to join the herd. I hadn’t even heard about the whole event before that.
The first leg from Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise is 19 km long. There is also the possibility to pay 350 SEK (~35€) for a boat ride across the Láddjujávri lake, which cuts 6 km from the hike. At that point, only 5 km in, we were way too energetic to even consider such frivolities. We had a little snack break by the lake, which accidentally ended up taking us over an hour, and continued on foot.
This delightful Lap Dånalds establishment serves reindeer burgers, but we were too well-fed to be tempted by that offer, either. We strolled happily through birch forests and past open areas, taking in the magnificent mountain views. Tiredness only crept over us after 11-12 kilometres.
We knew there would be small shops along the way, but we didn’t want to rely on their supplies. That is why we were carrying extra food, just in case. Our backpacks weighed a ton, and I was sweating like an animal despite the cool weather. The last four kilometres were spent counting down steps to our destination. Oh, the joy of finally gazing upon the glorious Kebnekaise mountain station!
We had quick drinks at the bar and set up camp nearby, but not near enough to have to pay a camping fee. The station is very pretty and fancy, but the prices were a bit high for my taste. At Kebnekaise fjällstation, it isn’t possible to only pay to use the sauna. Instead, anyone wanting to go to sauna after a long day of hiking has to pay 300 SEK (~30€) for the full service package, which also includes the use of their other facilities: showers, indoor toilets, and kitchen. Too luxurious for the occasion, if you ask me, but to each their own. Had we been hiking in the other direction, it might have felt like a sweeter deal after 5-6 days of sweating.