Stage 1: Hemavan – Ammarnäs

During and after our hike, we made audio journals. Mostly to not forget all the things we experienced, but also to share with family and friends while on trail before we got the blog up and running. All these audio logs can be found here and we highly recommend them for everyone who know Swedish.

Day 1: Stockholm – Viterskalet

First of many group pictures but boy did we set a high standard from the get go as for as backgrounds go! Martins girlfriend, Louise, joined us for the first stage of the hike.

Fjäll’s Kitchen. A burger joint in “central” Hemavan. Our last taste of civilization consists of falafel in classical Swedish flatbread and a double-stacked cheeseburger. In retrospect, we should have had more soda and chips.

A small, wooden portal symbolizes the start of the trail, to the side of the ski slope and the accompanying hotel. The day begins with a somewhat steep climb up the local ski slope. It twists and turns through ski tunnels and off-season construction changes, but quickly leaves it behind for more “proper” nature. The path crosses over the slope and progresses along the side of the western mountain side. Suddenly, as we turn a corner, the valley opens up – Syterskalet. 

Kungsleden starts half way up the ski slope in Hemavan, this was an unideal way to start our adventure but since Covid had shut down the ski lift for the season, we had no option but to walk.
Short break after walking up the ski slopes, the view from atop the slope can stand proud amongst the other views on Kungsleden. If tenting is a no-go, day-hiking around Hemavan is a good idea.

It’s a long, majestic valley. Sufficiently narrow to make the sharp cliffs and mountain walls to feel like they’re on top of you. As we made our way into its entrance, we found one of the highlights of the day – the first outhouse. A perfectly placed, wooden box next to the river that flows through the valley, with a small window to enjoy the view while conducting your business. 

A nice couple stopped to chat with us for a bit, they had met only one person doing the entire Kungsleden in their week around the area. She had rain 19/21 days. So far, we were 1/1.

One of the more beautiful tent sites during the trail, taken only 200m from the group photo. It was far from the most secluded site, with 6-8 tents around us. We came late in the evening whilst it was raining so we pitched quickly and went to bed.

After a couple of hours we reached the first STF Fjällstuga, i.e. the first series of cabins where you can check-in to sleep in a proper bed, with shared kitchens, hosted by the Swedish tourist organization. We had our aim set at an area across the river, around a kilometer after the cabins, which was supposedly a superb tenting spot. Indeed it was, as around a dozen tents had made camp as we were some of the last to arrive. 

Nevertheless, we made camp and got ready for our first nights of many in Nemo sleeping bags.

Day 2: Viterskalet – Tärnasjöstugan

Beautiful weather in a majestic valley. A brilliant highlight to start our adventure with. Here refilling water next to our camp site before setting off.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous day. Our plan is to hike out of the valley, follow the mountain side down towards Tärnasjö, pass the STF Syterstugan around lunch and by the evening reach STF Tärnasjöstugan. 

Full disclosure: We might have confused Viterskalet and Syterskalet. Syter are the mountain tops at the northern end of the valley, as well as the river flow through the valley. Viter is the southern part of the valley. “Did your plan say that you should end at Syterskalet, but only calculated the distance to Viterskalet, which messed up your plan for day 2?” you might ask. We simply can’t comment.

This is what our morning looked like. Long, flat trails through the valley, with the occasional spotting of reindeer herds. We all felt like we were in Lord of the Rings the entire morning.

Our pre-lunch hike serves as a perfect example of the loveliness of Vindelfjällen, the local mountain area. Comfortable trails with manageable climbs and amazing views. Exiting the valley, we meet a family that was day-hiking around the area.

“Where are you going?”, the father asks.
“Abisko”, Martin answers.
“Oh, are you experienced hikers?”, the father asks.
“Nope, not at all”, Martin answers.
“Oh, okay”.

Equal parts silence and mild laughter, under the observation of our lack of classical Swedish hiking equipment from Fjällräven and Hilleberg. These had instead been supplemented by American brands not found in this country. For more on Martin having a point to prove against the “If you don’t have a Hilleberg you will die” culture, see our preparations page. 

It’s a late lunch once we reach STF Syter. The freeze dried food of the day is complemented by an excellent dip of the feet in the strong current of the Svärtarbäcken. Morale is high, but it is about to fall low. So low. 

The water was freezing and we all spent easily 2 minutes with our feet in the water with at most minor pain from the cold. Even more amazing, they warmed up in seconds.
Probably the last time Martin wasn’t hating his meals. Eating freeze dried for almost all warm meals for 3 weeks was a bad idea.

The trail heads towards the lake of Tärnasjö as the crow flies. Along the mountain side, then heading down into birch forest before reaching a series of bridges. The bridges are at the southern end of the lake, followed by a long stretch along the lake going north. We have one of our best breaks on record on one of the suspension bridges. It’s a hot day and mosquitoes have been in surplus supply descending through the forest. On the bridge we find a comforting and mosquito-protecting wind. 

The one mosquito-free place within 20k was this bridge over Tärnasjön. In the light breeze we took a 20 minute break. If we come back here, we’ll probably set up tent on one of the islands at the lake.

One would think it’s a lovely path along the lake. Nice scenery, access to water and the previously mentioned wind as company. This was not the case. The path heads a couple of hundred meters in from the lake, through marshes. There was not a water source for hours, our previous refill having been at STF Syter. Mosquitoes continued to be abundant. But perhaps most critically, our daily goal was so much further than we expected. So much further.

The source of the Nile! At least we finally found water, but day was quickly turning into night.

Throughout our hike Jonathan used his GPS watch to track our progress. As the day was making way for the evening, our stomachs hungrier and our mouths drier, the STF cabins were supposed to be just around the corner.  “Klockjäveln säger att vi skulle varit där för två kilometer sen!” [read: Jonathan being upset with technology]. It felt like an eternity before we finally saw them. 

The STF host sat casually outside the main cabin. “Are you heading further today?”, she asked. Externally we laughed, internally we cried. 

We went with the host’s suggestion of camping a couple of hundred meters further down, by the lake. The things one does for a view. Just as we start pitching the tent, the rain starts slamming down. Not pouring. Slamming. We were tired and hungry. Now, we were also very wet. We managed to get ourselves inside the tent, removing most of our wet clothes and bringing the air moisture to record levels as our hiking warmth met our drenched clothes and bodies.

We made several bad decisions this day, to no fault but our own. Not making camp at the cabins straight away as we saw the incoming rain. Not putting on rain jackets before pitching the tent. To top it off, we decided to have a swim after the rain subsided. Pro: the body really cooled down, possibly helping with recovery. Con: The mosquitoes were back out. Jonathan probably got more bites in those ten minutes then the next few days combined, as he went out in only underwear. 

Oh well, there is always the next day.

Day 3: Tärnasjöstugan – Vuomatjåhkka

The payoff from fighting rain yesterday to get a good tent spot – a mirror of a lake and yesterday’s mountain range in the distance.

After an enjoyable breakfast and subsequent long-stint at the local outhouses (10/10, check our outhouse ratings), it was time to climb. From STF Tärnasjö, the trail goes steeply upwards – through more birch forest. We continue our 50-10 pacing. 50 minutes hiking, 10 minutes break. After a couple of hours surrounded by birch, we are back on mountain sides, walking along ridges. This is quite characteristic for much of the Kings Trail (except the very northern part). It goes through some birch, climbs a couple of hundred meters, flat along the ridge, then down again through some birch, potentially over some water – repeat. 

We experimented with different timings for pauses. During the first stage, we would walk 1h, then take a 10-15 min break and take off our shoes. Very nice but impossible to stay on schedule.
After the mosquito-infested birch forests, we were ecstatic to be above the tree line with decent wind to keep the mosquitos at bay.
“Always have fun” / “Alltid ha kul”. Words to live by and especially important during long hikes. Jonathan scanning the area from above.

After lunch, on the highest point of the day, it was back into birch and thus mosquito hell. Hikers we’d met had confirmed what we had read, STF Serve had an intense mosquito population. This was a recurring theme amongst hikers we’d meet, the place they had recently been was of course the worst mosquito infestation they had ever seen. This was, however, our first interaction with such a place. 

The branch served as the second line of defense from mosquitoes for Louise who was their main target on our ascent from STF Serve. We thank her for taking the blunt of their assault.

The feeling was palpable. STF Serve was a place of lost hope. Spread on the benches outside the cabins sat hikers who had given up and surrendered their bodies to the mosquitoes. The hike from STF Aigert to STF Serve is notoriously hard and these were the people who had gone the opposite of our direction and done the cabin stage this day. Being who we are, their misery strengthened us, we had energy left to continue.

Our goal was clear. Splash-and-dash at the outhouses and then speed hike through the birch forests, make the first climb and then make camp around the wind shelter at Vuomatjåhkka. It was a good plan. Besides the, to us unknown, fact that there was a storm warning. 

As we started climbing out of the forest, we met elderly hikers who were nearing their goal of Serve after a long day. Around them, we noted swarms of flies and mosquitos. As soon as we stopped, we noted the same around us as well. This would inspire one of our new forest strategies – don’t stop. 

With the climb behind us and dark clouds in the sky, we did not wish to have a replay of yesterday’s end and looked for a campsite quick-like. We reasoned that we wanted something a little windy to keep the mosquitos away, thus opting for flat and windy rather than flat and sheltered. What a bunch of geniuses. We did escape the rain, as the wind gained. The rain stopped, the wind did not. 

Putting up the tent preparing for rain, unprepared for a storm.

We did not sleep well that night. Throughout the night, storm winds attacked our tent and made it sound like a machine gun. We didn’t know at the time, but the average windspeed was 10m/s with god knows how strong gusts (vindbyar). To be perfectly honest, Jonathan slept half-decently for at least the first half of the night. Martin lay restless, concerned with the integrity of the tent.

Taken minutes after the rain hits, the video doesn’t do the storm justice. The wind was so hard it pushed the tent sides hard enough for Martin and Jonathan to wake up from the pressure. The sound of rain hitting the tent was so loud we couldn’t converse without yelling.

Day 4: Vuomatjåhkka – Ammarnäs

In the face of stormy winds (quite literally), Louise held the tent down while Martin and Jonathan packed components.

As the wind did not subside and no rest was to be found, we headed for the wind shelter early in the morning to eat breakfast. Our original plan was to sleep near STF Serve (to many mosquitoes) and on day 4 reach STF Aigert, but since it’s only 8 kilometers from Aigert to the village of Ammarnäs and we had gained a couple of kilometers the day before – we aimed for Ammarnäs and some proper beds by the end of the day. 

Finally on the move after possibly one of our longest breakfast on the entire hike.

Tired and with another harsh day ahead of us, we continued the climb and soon enough found ourselves on one of the highest points this side of Kungsleden – Juovatvaretje some 1100 meters above sea level. Beyond that point was the landscape of a moon. Sharp, large rock fields as far as the eye can see. Progressing at a higher pace than usual, it increased further as we saw dark clouds on the horizon – we were already quite tired of rain and storms. 

Juovatvaretje, complete with a (quite necessary) wind shelter and outhouse .

STF Aigert can be seen from far away, a couple of kilometers, as one starts the descent. By this point we hadn’t even had lunch and were eager to arrive. As we were nearing, a reindeer herd blocked our way. They had decided that the path was a great place to stop for a rest. Our approach quickly caught their eye however and they slowly started to move. But when you’re tired and hungry, seconds matter. 

Martin greeted the STF host at Aigert and had his heart on his sleeve. She brought him juice and cookies. Nevertheless, STF had a Corona-policy in place and unless we paid the fee we could not hide from the wind in their kitchen. We were not that interested to pay 200 kronor per person, the typical tenting fee, just for the sake of eating in their empty kitchen and relocated to a bench outside. 

8 kilometers of decline through birch forests left. We got help from the STF host to call down to a hostel and book ourselves a room. Tomorrow morning, we’d be able to go to the local store and pick up our food package sent with Bussgods. We’d be able to buy soda, chips, Red Bull, candy and all that the soul desired. The reset was in sight. 

We looked fine, we felt terrible. The waterfall was by far the most majestic and awe-inspiring on the trail. Side note: One of the top 10 most interesting aspects of this hike is Jonathan’s transformation from an adult to a 12-year-old, because of his post-hike shave, and progressively retransforming back again under the next few weeks.

In summary: There was some rain. There was a lot of fast decline. There were some nice waterfalls and bridges. But most importantly – we got our beds and opportunity to wash and dry clothes. We concluded the day by visiting the restaurant of the local tour guides, pushing down burgers faster than they could make them.

Hunger is the best spice, but nothing could save Martin’s burger. A relic from a lost era, the frozen industrial patty is still a reality in Ammarnäs. The vegan burger was delicious though.