I arrived at Kilpisjarvi and was happy to see my shrunk, tired hiker with long hair and beard. And with big smile when I dag out carrot cake from my bag. We did some small shopping in Kilpishalli but soon headed out. We found our camping place along the trail and set up the tent under rain, talking and talking about what had happened in past couple of weeks. It was great to be together.
My first morning was nice and slow. We wanted to take some time to figure out who does what when we camp and also discuss about the pace we wanted to hike with. Our goal was to go slowly at first, since we couldn’t really say we were at our best condition. I had twisted my ankle a month before starting the hike so I knew I shouldn’t push it too much. Julien was still a bit tired of his amazing race to Kilpisjärvi and had also developed a fatigue fracture of a toe that was very painful at times. We didn’t let these issues to prevent our adventure though, so off we went.
First we hiked around the Kilpisjärvi Lake and then started climbing to the mountains. We had our lunch somewhere at the top, with my first amazing landscape and I was just wondering how many of those I would see. Later we reached the cabin we first planned to stay the night, but since it was only early afternoon we decided to continue. Later we had a huge cloud moving towards us so we rushed ahead. Eventually we kept most of the storm behind us and set up the tent in a valley next to a mountain hut Pältsa. We ended up doing about 30km on my first day. Pretty good for a “slow” hike.
We started to head towards south along a path that was sometimes visible, sometimes not. We didn’t have an appropriate map so we orientated reading the landscape, something that Julien is just supreme at. Wide valleys with lakes are excellent land marks that help you to show your direction. We crossed some big streams with big foams. Luckily there were bridges there, though some of them were as shaky as the deep water under you.
I started to have some troubles with my knee, probably because of not being able to use my ankle in a right way. Occasionally going down was just a nightmare for me, but I made it, hill by hill, and managed to enjoy as well.
Today most of our hike took place on a plateau in sunny weather, devoid of vegetation. It was easy to walk in beautiful scenery. And we set up our tent on a valley, next to a hut called Daertahytta, with an amazing view in front of us.
This day was sunny again, we considered ourselves extremely lucky with the weather. We were making reasonable progress considering we had our foot, ankle and knee issues still with us. The trail went from landscape to another still following huge valleys, pattern that we were expected to follow for the next days. Sometimes we crossed areas full of big rocks on our way, sometimes it was river streams that needed extra attention when passing over.
Later in afternoon we dove into a forest as we were making our way up along a canyon. We crossed some wetlands where fortunately the trail was covered with double planks. In the evening the Finnish guts stepped in. I was really tired but feeling guilty and frustrated about the fact that my knee was slowing us down. I wasn’t going to rest until Julien felt happy with the progress we had done, meaning not in thousand years I would say “let’s stop”. That’s why Julien had to watch me stumbling my way ahead and I was lucky he was bigger person to give up for me. So we set up the tent on a hill surrounded by trees and listened the water rushing down in the canyon. Very beautiful.
Today the trail lead us along a beautiful valley surrounded by high mountains and the path was sometimes covered by snow. We followed a rocky plateau and passed dozens of lakes. The area felt endless. You looked at the landscape, looked down the trail for a while, and then glanced again the unchanged landscape. It seemed taking forever to pass some parts.
We started the day with sunshine but then lost the warmth behind clouds. In late afternoon we walked into a forest that followed a long lake. In a short distance we saw an area without a dense vegetation and decided to camp out there. In real, the forest was never ending. We kept walking forever in dense birch bushes with millions of mosquitos. “A short distance” ended up being a 2-hour-long hike that was finally completed as we arrived to a low vegetation area. Finally the sun came out again and illuminated the mountain peaks around us. We enjoyed our dinner by the fire, with extra protein boost provided by suicidal mosquitoes willing to be in my soup.
After last night we realized, without any devices, we still had music with us. Our tent made of silnylon made lots of tapping and flapping noises in strong wind. But we still managed to sleep and woke up again under a beautiful blue sky. The sunshine lightened the summits around us and we set off in good mood. Like our direction, my mood soon went to south, since it felt like instead of knees I had knives in my legs. It really hurt to walk. After Julien’s pep talk I felt better and we went on, toward a road that was my first opportunity to finish the hike and go home. Since Abisko, our pit stop, was just a couple of days away and I knew I would feel terrible giving up the adventure, I decided to continue. I hoped that my knees would follow me, eventually.
This area was busier than we had used to. There is a village of reindeer herders located a little further up on the mountain that attracts many hikers in summer. We also followed an ATV trail for a while that apparently was heavily used and was meandering through rocky formations. We decided to take a little rest that day to enjoy the sun and the pretty streams that flowed across our trail. We chose a big flat rock formation, took a bath in the water and bathed also in sun for a while. The location didn’t offer much privacy and we might have scared a few hikers. But it’s all nature out there!
When we were dry enough and all my blisters were covered, the hike continued. We were finally moving a bit faster since were going up on a gentle ascent. We had to pass a wide river, without a bridge of course, and I just heard the blisters screaming help under their new dry bandages. Luckily I had a gentleman with me who carried me over the waters. Normally I would hate to accept that kind of help. But I was out of bandages. And desperate.
Once we passed the herder village, we were alone again. On the other side of the mountains the scenery was totally different. We saw glaciers and empty valleys traversed by beautiful rivers. After a while we began to descent and crossed another river. This time we both got our feet wet, and cold. Luckily the feeling didn’t last long if you just kept going. Although I had to come down backwards because of my knees I enjoyed the view spreading to the Abisko valley and its lakes. Breathtaking, especially since I could already taste the chocolate that we could buy in the store tomorrow! We set up our tent next to Lappjord hut and waited for the next day and our pit stop.
We woke up with a beautiful view, everyone should see the Abisko Lake at sunrise! Today we would double our supplies and the weight of our backpacks.
We wanted to speed up, we were still going down and the day was sunny. After descending from the mountain the trail until Abisko went beside a road and forest was full of hungry mosquitoes. Time to speed up some more.
We had a pause at the Abisko Tourist Station which is the start of the Kungsleden trail and is very busy and full of hikers. So we did just the compulsory tasks: used the toilet, checked that Julien was accepted to the University of Toulouse to do his master’s degree and sent a message to people that we were okay. Then we headed to the store that was located a few kilometers further.
The day had been longer that we expected and at that point we were exhausted. Which isn’t the best concept when shopping your supplies for the next couple of weeks. You can’t make mistakes when getting the nutrition for a hiking trip. And you have to think what to get since you can’t carry too much food. We purchased about 10 kg of food each. It requires planning and not a tired brain. Julien needed to increase his daily energy input up to 5000 kcal and I just wanted chocolate. At the end we managed to get everything we needed, and more, meaning a proper dinner like bread, cheese and gnocchi.
Our bags were beyond full and heavy and it took us a long time on the trail to find a perfect place with a water source for the perfect night. Finally we found it and then, we enjoyed the feast and life was beautiful!
This morning we were woken up by voices from the trail, definitely a new experience. We named Kungsleden “the Highway” since it was full of hikers. Luckily Julien knew the area well so we were able to avoid the big crowds the first part of the day. We just enjoyed the beautiful valley, with big lakes and rivers crossing the trail. One of Julien’s favorite places in the world.
After we joined the main trail and started climbing. The sun was just roasting us. And we totally underestimated both the magnitude of the uphill and the weight of our resupplied backpacks. The ascent was endless as was the line of people.
Finally we saw a long lake and at the distance a hut village where we wanted to camp that night. We hiked by the lake passing dozens of tents and hikers ready to call it a night and enjoy their dinner. We kept thinking the hut village can’t be that far, no point to stop now. And we kept walking. But the village didn’t seem to get any closer. We got tired, to the point we didn’t understand each other’s words anymore. Julien saw a boat close to the lake and wanted to take a pause there and I kept asking what he meant by both pause and what else? So I learned when you are too tired to talk, just don’t.
But we kept walking and finally arrived at the village, only to find out it costs us to camp there. There was no way we would pay anything for a toilet and a noisy campground. Well, they had also sauna with hot shower and also a store, but since we don’t do hiking with luxuries, we chose to camp a bit further from the village. It was a quiet spot next to a river where we enjoyed our cold but free bath.
Before going to bed a guy passed us and told that he hiked during the nights and slept during the days to avoid the big crowds. We thought that wasn’t bad idea at all.
We woke up early and hit the trail before the crowds filled the landscape. We made fast progress since hiking on Kungsleden means crossing rivers along bridges and passing snowfields on planks. The scenery was incredible, we were surrounded by mountains with huge glacier modified valleys and rivers following them. We could see why this trail is so popular. Our plan was to leave Kungsleden that day but a big thunderstorm forced us to set the tent in afternoon. So we decided to sleep and wake up early next morning and head to a less used trail.
So what does “early” mean? It means waking up at 2 am. Since there’s light throughout the night you can continue hiking whenever it suits you. We couldn’t wait to reach Nordkalottleden, the trail we have actually been following. We went down to a huge valley and then the trail divided into two. We chose the one heading west and back to the mountains, without being sure that was the right trail. And that would remain the main concern for the next few days, since this was the part where the trail wasn’t perfectly marked and only few people hike it.
We were constantly looking for clues to know where to go, with a very general map that had a scale of the whole Lapland area. It was actually quite amusing. New area, new terrain and new kind of landscape seemed to give us wings. We did double distance comparing to the previous days and didn’t feel particularly tired, even though the weather was hot. We saw reindeer herd and no one else, until in the evening when we arrived to a hut. The two hut keepers, who were so impressed of our progress, offered us a beer. So we had a small break there and then continued a few kilometers, climbing steep rocky steps up and found one of our nicest camping places. It was surrounded by lakes and grassy hills, a breathtaking view with late evening sun. We took our picture there, to show our hiking style, which didn’t leave much to explain. We have been out for a while.
This day was important one for Julien, since he was supposed to receive a confirmation for his master program acceptance from Toulouse. Too bad the cell phone showed no network. We walked a lot on a gravel road, the clouds were low and covered the surrounding summits and lakes, and sometimes also us. Occasionally we saw glances of turquoise color water and blue glaciers in fog.
After this day we could expect the trail to become way more difficult to follow. Ahead of us was the maze of Swedish mountains and lakes where few people go.
Wind increased and temperature decreased, it was hard to imagine previous day when we were sweating in sunshine with just a t-shirt on. We felt the touch of Arctic.
We camped next to the road, beside a hut that provided us some cover from the wind. Our wood stove took some time to agree with the weather conditions. But we ate eventually.
Today the trail conditions were difficult. There was no trail to follow and many rivers to cross. The bridges hadn’t been maintained for a long time, so every crossing left us with shaky legs and a fast beating heart. The Nordkalottleden is a trail project dating from 1990 but was soon abandoned because of lack of money. Which is a shame, it has a huge potential to be an amazing hiking route.
Today we saw huge reindeer herds again and made detours to avoid disturbing them. The weather remained cloudy, cold and rainy. It was close to freezing degrees. We hiked on huge rocky formations and Julien did his navigation mostly by instinct, since so few trail markers were in place. We passed huge lakes and had quick lunch beside one, under a rock, wearing the warmest clothes we could find. It was really hard to take your insulated jacket off and keep going after eating. But it was better to keep walking to stay warm.
It’s cold and icy rain made us freeze. There was no trail to follow and we still didn’t have a map from this area to help us. The bridges and boats to cross bigger and deeper waters were the only signs to show us we were on the right tracks. Finally we found a beautiful beach beside a lake and slept there. Even the sun came out and tried to dry our gear.
This day was a bit complicated, since we didn’t know for sure where we were. Again by instinct Julien decided to follow one of the valleys in front of us. Then we climbed and reached the clouds, it was windy and finally it snowed and hailed to our face. Fog made our travel harder and compass was our only chance to navigate. The ground was covered with big rocks that were icy and wet. We went forward with zero visibility, until we reached a beginning of a downhill. Or at least we assumed it was a downhill, since we didn’t see anything, just emptiness. We started to go down on the big rocks on which water was running and forming ice occasionally. The slope was so steep that sometimes you couldn’t see the next step just because it was under you. And of course the fog didn’t help. Realizing that even one slip would be too much we took our time and carefully studied all the steps ahead.
After an hour of ascending the slope eased and the fog diminished a bit and we reached gravel ground. What a relief! Praying all the hiking gods that we wouldn’t have to do that again we went on again and the trail kept following rocky grounds.
After a few hours we smelled smoke and curiously followed it in fog. We entered to a warm cabin where a Norwegian hiker was drying his gear after falling in a river nearby. He said the streams are in scary conditions at that point and strongly recommended us to wait until the rain stops and water level lowers. In his words rivers were impassable. We had seen some streams before and didn’t think we couldn’t manage even bigger ones so we kept going and felt the hiker’s eyes on our back when we left.
We reached the first river in late afternoon. We just stood at the bank and watched the amazing speed and listened to the frightening roar of the water. We knew we had to pass the river at some point, but it wouldn’t be this spot for sure. We followed the river for a while to find a better place for crossing. The stream was strong everywhere but we found more peaceful spot and after studying it carefully we got ready for crossing. We took off our shoes and built up courage to go over. The water was ice cold and up until our mid-thigh, always a bad thing since the power of the stream could knock you over if you lost your balance. It was difficult to walk on the rough bottom of the river, trying to avoid rocks. The currents kept dancing around us and soon enough our feet were numb. The crossing was fortunately only 15 meters wide so we eventually got to the other side. We set the camp near the river and tried to get our feet warm. During the dinner the sky appeared and we saw a huge valley and wide lakes in front of us, the landscape of tomorrow’s hike.
The first thing crossed my mind this morning was the next river we would have to go over. Luckily it was sunnier weather when we started hiking. It was windy though. We reached the river quickly, found a spot safe enough for crossing, and went for it. Water was again close to freezing and the rocks at the bottom pretty sharp. But we got to the other side pretty fast and didn’t know whether to thank luck or experience for the safe passes. Maybe both. After descending from the mountain we were relieved: the hardest part was over at this point. Now we only needed to walk some more. It was a nice feeling, and when you thought about it afterwards, an amazing experience as well!
In horizon we saw the path we needed to reach. Soon we should be joining the Padjalanteleden where we knew to have a trail and to meet people. Before that we still had to cross some easy rivers. And cope with more rain and cold weather. Our shoes and feet were soaking at this point. The trail changed into a muddy path and made the walk a bit more miserable. Late that night I saw something at the distance, could that be a cabin? Julien had seen it the map earlier and wanted to surprise me with a dry night. Felt like five star luxury!
The apparent comfort of the cabin proved to be misleading, fleas and mosquitoes kept us awake most of the night. We left as the sun appeared in the sky. I was in extreme chocolate fever, I had some amount for each day but today it didn’t seem to be enough at all. Since we didn’t have money I knew I couldn’t get more before the end. And I spent most of the morning energy to think about that.
We hiked in sun and at lunch time arrived at Ritsem, the start of the Padjalanteleden and had our meal at the shelter. It’s was an official cabin so I went in and asked if someone had any chocolate for sale and if it was okay to pay with a credit card. We were in middle of nowhere, so of course not. But a woman there saw my misery and offered me half of her chocolate bar and I had tears of happiness in my eyes. I couldn’t imagine anything bringing me down after that.
After the shelter we followed an actual trail that wasn’t fortunately too crowded. The landscape was in seen for a change, and very beautiful. It’s totally different comparing to earlier sceneries. Valleys with green grass, blue lakes and in distance snowfields and ice. The weather was warmer than in days. For us, everything was perfect. It was like a resting day after the hard part, we moved quickly and without major problems. We crossed a huge bridge and camped just next to it. And had a well-deserved shower in the river.
Today weather was beautiful and the trail was easy. We saw a few isolated fishing villages, but very few people. After careful calculations we noticed we were three or four days ahead of our original hiking schedule. That meant we could double our snacks which couldn’t come at better time. We were just talking about food. What we would eat when we got home, what were our favorite treats, what would we eat right now if we could choose anything. It went on and on for hours.
We set the tent after a rather effortless day. Felt almost too easy. Usually we tried to camp out a few kilometers away from a hut that we saw from our general map. Today we found a beautiful spot on a rocky ground, between two lakes and middle of small hills. While we ate our dinner, a moose cow and two calves ran beside our camp. Another night to remember.
This morning I woke up and realized my hiking was soon coming to an end. The realization came with sad emotions. No matter how tired or hungry or dirty I was, I still didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t believe we were already near the end of my part. I was still very proud of myself for making it that far. So I was still happy.
Today the weather was sunny and landscape around us very beautiful. We crossed beautiful hut villages. In one hut that was on top of a hill a guy offered us coffee, a treat for him, not so much for us. Villages were full of people and we kept crossing hikers all the day. After the hill we started descending to the valley where Kvikjokk, my end point was located.
This time our camping place wasn’t a beautiful one. It took us long time to find a proper spot, since we were in middle of forest. We had to cook sitting on the trail, only place we didn’t get wet. We didn’t talk a lot, just dealt with compulsory tasks and went to bed.
Today’s trail wasn’t an interesting one. We walked through forests and at some point it started to rain. And it kept raining until the very end. One good thing was that my knee didn’t magically hurt anymore. Maybe it knew it would get some rest soon.
In afternoon we arrived at the river where we took a ferry to Kvikjokk. It was raining heavily but the driver of the boat wanted to give us a tour along the river. All we wanted to do was to get to Kvikjokk. When we got there, we checked the store for Julien’s resupply. Unfortunately the prices were exorbitant, but in hiking you can’t really choose where you shop. We stayed a long time in the hotel lobby, trying to dry our gear and get warm. Our mood was totally down, no other way to describe it.
The rain didn’t stop but got heavier during the night and we were miserable. We set up the tent in the yard and ate our last meal in silence and for once, without appetite.
This morning we woke up while it was still raining. We had a quick breakfast and organized our stuff before going on our separate ways. I gave Julien all my food since I knew I would be eating something else soon. And then it was time to rush to the bus.
I didn’t want to leave Julien alone, under the rain, but I knew I didn’t have a choice. The trip had been a dream come true for me, which could sound weird since it was full of pain, sweat and tears. But that is what makes it worth it. After you feel you have accomplished something. For me it was something huge. And after seeing all those beautiful mountains, turquoise lakes, white glaciers and done something you didn’t think you could do, there’s no feeling like it. And when I walked to the bus that would take me home, I was tired but happier than ever. And I knew Julien would take care of himself and enjoy his time alone. Like he took care of me the past days and enjoyed sharing this experience with me.