Backcountry skiing the King’s Trail 2015, Sweden

In 2015 Kristians and I set out to ski part of the King’s Trail in Northern Sweden, above the arctic circle. We arrived in Abisko by train from Narvik in Norway – what a scenic ride that was.

Our path would take us over the hills, plateaus and lakes to Kebnekaise and then on to Nikkaluokta. This stretch is about 125km and as we decided to do the trip in the beginning of April, the weather was a bit unpredictable. We calculated 6 days for the trek.

Day 1

After getting off the train (which was actually delayed by 2 hours) in Abisko Mountain Station, where I had booked skis and a pulka (a sledge for carrying the bags) for us, we got ready and set sail at around 2 pm. As Kristians had never done any cross-country skiing before, the first minutes were quite funny as he tried to ski some downhills with a 30kg sledge behind him.

Even though the first 5 or so kilometers were pretty frustrating for him he quickly learned and adapted. Because of our late starting time (and because it gets dark quite early up in the North) we tried to ski as fast as possible to make it to the first hut. There was a long lake we had to cross before getting to the houses – it could be pretty surreal to ski on a lake for someone who had never done that before but we could see the lights far away and took advantage of the flat, smooth path. In general the whole route is very well marked and even visible in bad weather – but about that later on.

We were welcomed at the hut by the lovely people maintaining the hut throughout the season. We got our beds, some snacks and went to sauna – what a treat after that day. Because of our late arrival we were put in the same room with a Swedish family that all seemed to snore…but it was ok.

Day 2

Day two started with a couple of kilometers flat section and then rose quite steeply pretty high onto a mountain pass. Right off the bat, as we started ascending, we could feel the wind picking up speed. After about three hours we made it to the flat plateau of the mountain pass – the wind was now so strong and cold that our buffs were frozen and the fingers were right on the border between freezing and not freezing.

We pushed through that open section as fast as we could – it ended up descending down to a small hut where we took a well-earned rest. The second half of the day was spent skiing across the Alesjaure lake. We could see the huts already when we stepped onto the lake but it would take hours before we actually reached them. Here on the lake, too, the winds would keep blowing hard, making this quite a mental challenge.

We were both thoroughly wrecked by the time we got to the hut but we ate a big dinner of mashed potatoes and went to the well-earned sauna.

Day 3

Day 3 started with not so good news – the wind was blowing hard and the visibility wasn’t the best either. Nevertheless, we set sail and started to ski towards Tjäktja. The route first ascended quite a bit and as it is a valley, there was nothing to block the winds. The going was horribly slow.

The route then climbed steeply up to the Tjäktja mountain pass, where there is another hut. We entered the hut to have lunch and dry our clothes but we didn’t stop for long.

After the resting stop we continued (quite steeply!) downhill towards the Sälka hut. This section was relatively flat once we got down from the mountain pass so it went quite fast and the winds died down a bit as well. And again – we had sauna in the evening.

Day 4

This day was relatively short as we only needed to get to the Singi hut. On our way we could see multiple Saami villages used for reindeer herding during the summer time. Many travellers also passed us on their dogsledges.

The weather was in our favor and the journey went fast – we got to Singi quite early, rested and dried our clothes. The wind, however, started to pick up in the evening and kept howling throughout the night.

Day 5

Things did not look good when we got up in the morning – the wind was so bad that when you wanted to go to the loo outside you couldn’t even see where it was, you had to guess! I was in fact pretty sure that we both, without words, agreed to not even attempt to go out today.

During breakfast a group of hikers came in – they said they had been caught up in the storm last night and ended up staying in one of the emergency huts on the way. To my surprise, however, Kristians then announced that of course we were going to continue. I think he was also convinced because another couple from the hut had to go that day – they had a booking at Kebnekaise. And so we started…

Or actually couldn’t, really. The visibility was so bad that we couldn’t even see in which direction the route was heading – luckily the hut manager took us 20m further to the first marker. From there we moved inch by inch, looking around for the next marker (they are set about 15-30 meters from each other) and waiting for a lull in the wind so that we could see something.

The hike was slow and often even dangerous – not only because of the freezing temperature and poor visibility! Because the wind was so strong it had blown most of the loose snow off the tracks and what was left was essentially pure ice. Combine the lack of traction with the insane wind pushing you and the danger of falling off a cliff and you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes, just to stop, I would fall on purpose.

We kept inching forward from marker to marker – as we were now four people, we would spread out (in the direction that we thought made most sense) in a line so we could see each other’s backs. When Kristians, who was in the front, finally saw a marker, we would wave to each other to head on to the next marker. Any verbal communication here was useless.

We finally reached the end of the valley where the Kebnekaise Mountain Station is located. But before the final stretch the wind got so bad that we would fall over multiple times and Kristians’ pulka would literally rotate around the harness holding it (i.e. flip around with 30kg on it).

As the phone mast located close to the hut became visible we knew we were not going to die after all (honestly, there had been moments where I wasn’t so sure). When we got to the Station and found our beds I opened my pack – there was about 4 litres of packed snow inside the top lid.

Much sauna was needed that night to lift our moods and help us recover.

Day 6

The winds had nearly died out by the morning and we knew we had only flat trails ahead that day. Before leaving the valley we also saw a big reindeer by the roadside.

The last section of this route goes through some forests and a flat plateau, passing a lake. The amazing views of the Lapland hills stop and you see quite a number of recreational Sunday skiers. You finish at the Nikkaluokta Tourist Hut, where you can have a nice meal and a bus to Kiruna.