, , ,

How to pack light for long-distance hikes and avoid being a donkey

Enjoying the sun on Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden.

Enjoying the sun on Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden.

 

One of the best things about my recent move to Germany and a change of lifestyle, is that I can travel the way I like. Being able to spend days, even weeks in one area makes me appreciate places more and allows me to learn a little bit more about them. Well, of course I also need to work but I’m trying to raise to a challenge and combine the two aspects together.

 

Kungsleden Autumn 2015 Dream Team

The Kungsleden is one of these longer-term projects which have been on my mind for quite a few years. I hiked a northern part of the Royal Trail in 2012, and I attempted to ski tour it in 2014, with no luck. And finally, in less than a month I’m going to walk the entire trail together with Cody – my favourite photographer, Theo – the filmmaker and his partner Bee – the writer. What a team!

 

Kickstarter campaign

This time we have an ambitious project in mind, to photograph and film the entire trail experience. We will start in the north in Abisko and finish (weather and other conditions allowing) in a month in Hemavan. Rare access to electricity means extra weight (all this camera gear and batteries we need to carry without being able to charge them as often as needed). Theo and Bee created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds towards pre and post production costs. It has been doing really well.

 

 

Packing

Talking about weight, when hiking, especially long-distance, proper packing is a paramount. It is not easy to find a happy medium – to balance what you need with what you can actually carry on your back. In general I am a pretty slow hiker and adding extra weight slows me down even more, which is not good when planning 440km hike. Below is the list of things I’m going to take.

 

Packing list:

Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links. If you click on the link and buy an item, I earn a small commission with no extra cost for you.

 

Clothing and footwear:

– Grassbow Sport Mid GTX Merrell boots – very light and 100% vegan boots. (Although I’m not vegan, I know that some people are looking for this type of footwear – wait for my review after the hike). I typically prefer trail runners, but nobody knows what the weather brings and I want something mid height, lightweight and waterproof. I’m planning to do some hiking in the boots beforehand as it is not very good to start a hike with the new footwear (#blisters).
Merrell Grassbow Mid Sport Gore-Tex®, Women’s Trekking and Hiking Boots, J48334, Black, 8 UK

– Norrona Svalbard Flex1 soft shell trousers – (previous version). Very comfortable and flexible, enough pockets to keep necessary stuff easily accessible. And they fit me really well which is not easy to achieve with my “short and square” figure.
Norrona Women’s Svalbard Flex 1 Pant –

 

Enjoying Lofoten in Norrona trousers, Mountain Hardwearr jacket and Osprey backpack.

Enjoying Lofoten in Norrona trousers, Mountain Hardwearr jacket and Osprey backpack.

 

– Marmot minimalist shell trousers – very lightweight and waterproof, already tested on Kungsleden in 2012. When it’s raining and the temperature is low, I often wear long underwear as well to keep my legs separated from the cool feeling of a hard shell.
Marmot Women’s Minimalist Waterproof Shell Pants – Black, Medium

 

Wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Marmot minimalist pants kept me dry.

Wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Marmot minimalist pants kept me dry.

 

– Norrona Narvik fleece with hood – warm but lightweight (and love the red colour).
Norrona Women’s Narvik Warm2 Stretch Zip Hood –

 

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. My favourite Norrona fleece.

 

– Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer jacket – extremely lightweight jacket (about 180g) which gives just enough insulation for cooler days.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Ski Jacket Steam Womens Sz L

 

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

Midnight at Nonstind mountain peak, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Ghost Whisperer jacket kept me warm.

 

Mountain Hardwear Seraction shell jacket – lightweight waterproof jacket which should also give me wind protection.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

Winter dawn on way to Ryten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. Mountain Hardwear jacket.

– 3 x synthetic T-shirts – breathable and lightweight
– 2 x long underwear bottom and top – 1 set combination of merino wool and synthetic for cold days/nights. 1 set lighter synthetic for cooler temperatures and often used to sleep in when camping.
– 5 x underwear
– 5 x hiking socks
– beanie
– gloves
– knee and ankle brace – just in case

 

Gear:
– REI sleeping bag sub kilo -7°C – weighs around 1 kg and hopefully will give me enough warmth.

– Thermarest Neo Air sleeping pad – light and small when packed.
Thermarest NeoAir XLite Mattress – Regular

– MSR Hubba Hubba tent
MSR Hubba Hubba NX –

– MSR Wind Boiler Stove – boils water with the lightning speed.
MSR WindBurner Camping Stove System

– Osprey Talon 44 backpack – my favourite backpack ever. Doesn’t hurt my shoulders even with more heavy loads.
OSPREY Talon 44 Backpack, Black, M/L

 

Hiking over rocky terrain in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Nothing beats my Osprey backpack!

Hiking over rocky terrain in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden. Nothing beats my Osprey backpack!

 

– Black Diamond Ultra Distance hiking poles – love them, very lightweight and fold so easily.

– Toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, shampoo, hairbrush, camp soap, face cream sunblock. All if possible in mini/sample sizes.

– Lifeventure camp towel
Lifeventure Soft Fibre Medium Trek Towel – Blue

– Spork (knife, spoon and fork in one)
Light My Fire Spork, various colors (Colour: black) cutlery

Plus weekly amount of food for no-hut sections. Mostly:
– nuts, chocolate, BF bars, salami, instant asian noodles, cous cous, instant mash, instant soups.

 

Still thinking about:
– Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket – for this extra insulation as winter is coming… But it also adds 590kg of extra weight (as I wouldn’t hike in it, it would be just for sitting at campsites, waiting through storms, etc.)
Rab Women’s Neutrino Endurance Jacket

 

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Helpful info:
Cody Duncan Photography
STF – Info about the huts on the Kungsleden http://www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/en/
Save Kungsleden

 

All photos © Cody Duncan

, , , , ,

Enchanted by the King’s Trail – Kungsleden in Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Hiking north on Kungsleden trail with snow covered Keron + Giron (1543m) mountain peak in distance, Lappland, Sweden

 

My first experience with Swedish Lapland was on the Kungsleden (King’s or Royal Trail) in 2012. Cody talked me into hiking the northern part of the trail, which is the most popular section consisting of 100+ kilometres of wilderness between Abisko and Nikkaluokta.

 

When to go

Although accessible from mid June to mid September, we chose to hike the Kungsleden in September, mostly to experience colourful autumn. And to avoid midges swarming around any living beings in the summer. Still, the trail has the most visitors in July and first half of August, as the weather is usually better (although you can never predict what’s going to happen in the Arctic) and obviously because it’s a holiday time.

 

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Small river flows south into Tjäktjavagge, near Sälka mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

 

Preparations

I decided to combine the hike with raising money for the charity I worked for, to give myself this extra motivation boost. Although for the most part the hike is suitable for different fitness levels, some kind of training beforehand is highly recommended. Unless you have plenty of time to spare and take breaks, you must be prepared for 7-10 daily walks of about 10-20km each. Saying that, we met a couple of Swedish guys who skipped every other hut and hiked for 4 days covering between 30 to 40km each day.

My training for the Kungsleden started really well, in July I climbed a few fourteeners in Colorado (14k feet – 4k+ meter mountains). In August I was regularly spotted in Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains hiking my socks off with a heavy backpack. Everything was going well and then, boom, came the Bank Holiday Monday, August 27…

 

Walking along wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Walking along wooden planks in Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Sprained ankle

I was on the top of Hay Bluff, which is more of a hill than a mountain, striding ahead and suddenly I stepped on a grass mount causing my foot to bend awkwardly. Needless to say, I sprained my ankle. I still remember the pain which almost made me faint, and my hobbling down the mountain (luckily I always use hiking poles so had something to lean on). Painful driving away, doing shopping and building a pile of blankets to keep my foot up at home. It’s strange how certain situations become more ingrained in your memory, I remember that day like it happened yesterday.

To cut the long story short, barely 3 weeks after I was getting off the bus in Nikkaluokta to begin my journey to Abisko. Why did I choose to go ahead? There were many people who had told me that it was a bad idea and I should have just stayed at home and recovered. But the trail was so tempting to me and I just had to at least try. Especially that we were to attend a medieval music festival in Germany first. All the plane tickets were already paid for and non-refundable so we decided to go. I always had an option to turn around in case getting to the first stop – Kebnekaise mountain station – would be too painful.

 

Snow covered mountains and autumn colors in southern end of Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Snow covered mountains and autumn colors in southern end of Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Hiking the Kungsleden

Armed with two hiking poles, an ankle brace and elastic bandage I was treading my way through the trail. Anything flat was fine, but I wasn’t too keen on all the stones and pebbles which were forcing my sprained foot to twist. Surprisingly though, walking was more comfortable than I thought it would be, so we just kept on moving. And once you make a commitment to hike the trail, venturing deeper into the wilderness, after 3-4 days you don’t have much choice but to carry on, as turning back would take you the same amount of time as getting to the end of the section.

I didn’t regret my choice (unless you count some occasional curses in my head). We walked through the amazing landscapes, from Moon-like flats, grassy and boggy sections, through green and fiercely orange slopes, snowy mountain passes to colourful autumn trees. We have encountered sun, rain, snow and wind. We got frozen, wet and caught a cold. We enjoyed the sun on our faces and blue skies with puffy clouds. Quite a few times I wished my boyfriend had not been a photographer and we could just go faster and without all this hassle of stopping and going, and smiling (which is not easy when you’re cold and tired)…

But it was one of the most beautiful trips of my life. Watching the video we made from the trip reminds me of how extraordinary our journey was.

 

The northern section (Nikkaluokta-Abisko / Abisko-Nikkaluokta)

You can hike the Kungsleden in both directions, the choice depends mostly on your personal preferences. The steepness of ascents and descents is comparable both ways. You might take into account the sun position, I would also advise to check the bus schedules and when the huts open/close (especially if you’re planning to do the trail at either beginning or end of the season).

The section between Nikkaluokta and Singi does not actually belong to the trail. It is a detour for those who don’t walk the whole trail or fancy climbing the highest mountain in Sweden – Kebnekaise. There is an option of taking a boat on the Nikkaluokta-Kebenekaise section which saves about 7km of walking (out of 19km). Affluent visitors and groups can take a helicopter taxi to/from Kebnekaise and avoid the whole stretch altogether.

 

Bridge in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni - Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

Bridge in Ladtjovagge with Tolpagorni – Duolbagorni mountain in distance, Lappland, Sweden

 

Huts

The northern section of the trail allows you to plan your daily hikes from hut to hut without needing a tent which can in turn save some weight, one of the most important factors to consider before embarking on a long-distance hiking trip. Check out here how to pack light. We had a tent but we ended up camping only once. Most of the huts have shops where you can buy some basic camping food which again can lighten your backpack quite a bit. All the hut beds come with the bedding but I would suggest bringing either a sleeping bag or a sleeping sheet for better hygiene. More about packing here.

Most of the huts on the trail are run by STF. There is no electricity or phone signal for the most parts of the trail (except for the mountain stations, like Kebnekaise), no running water and basic bunk beds. You can pay with cash, prepay online or in the mountain stations. Don’t count on using the credit card on the trail, at least for now! You need to chop the wood for the fire, get the water from the nearby rivers and clean after yourself. But in return you get gas stoves for cooking, saunas in some of the huts (yes, saunas, it’s not autocorrect) and most importantly: the stunning views. And by the views, I don’t just mean naked guys jumping into the lakes or rivers after steamy sauna sessions…

The huts are in a need of repair to be prepared for future generations and STF is running a campaign to raise money to do all the necessary work in the huts and on the trail. Don’t forget that you are in the wilderness and someone needs to make it more accessible by building bridges, pathways in especially boggy sections and providing signposts so we don’t get lost. All this work also helps the conservation of the trail.

 

Candlelight illumintes room Singi mountain hut at night, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Candlelight illumintes room Singi mountain hut at night, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Cuting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Cuting firewood at mountain hut, Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

 

Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden

Singi hut, Kungsleden trail, Lapland, Sweden

 

Helpful info

Cody Duncan Photography – More detailed info and guide about the northern section.
STF – Info about the huts on the Kungsleden
Save Kungsleden

 

All photos © Cody Duncan

, ,

Kebnekaise in Winter

Continuing from Stuck in Swedish snow

Trying to plough through the deep snow. Skiing Kunsgleden trail in winter

Trying to plough through the deep snow. Skiing Kunsgleden trail in winter

Kebnekaise fjällstation, Swedish Lapland, February, Saturday morning. The weather was far from ideal for my first ski touring trip. Fresh, deep snow had just covered the area around us with the forecast of snow storm in two days. So the question for us was, if we still felt confident to start our ski touring trip to Abisko. After some time of weighing pros and cons, Cody and I stayed optimistic and decided to give it a go. In the worst case scenario we would turn around to the safety of the Kebenekaise hut. My adventure began.
First time for me on Nordic skis, and here I was, ski touring towards Abisko. I hiked the route from Nikkaluokta to Abisko in Autumn 2012 and was looking forward to stunning views, but with a more winterly look this time. The huts on the trail would welcome us with their fire places and I would start hating roasted vegetable flavoured cous cous again.
As we had taken a snowmobile to Kebenekaise, the route was a bit shorter than last time, with less than 100km of skiing ahead of us. While still in Wales, worried if I could make it (being an inexperienced skier), I was told by my boyfriend that the route was mostly flat and ideal for beginners like me. Then, when we met up in Kiruna, his prediction shifted somehow to 50% chance of finishing the route.

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better...

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better…

With good spirits, I was doing my best to keep Cody within sight as he broke trail through the deep snow. Over hills, down hills, around corners, I was moving my skis as fast as I could to keep up. Snowy mountain landscapes filled me with energy to keep going. Well, not fast enough (or should I be honest and say it was a snail pace?), as when after about an hour of what was a huge effort to me, I looked back just to see that we moved less than a kilometre from the hut. Cody was very kind, trying to hide his frustration as I was trying to push through the deep snow in a far from graceful way. Not seeing my skis under the deep snow didn’t help much either, despite having Cody’s tracks to follow. My skis seemed to have their own ideas where they wanted to go, which was often not in the same direction. Cody had fatter skis with skins on, and he was able to make a kind of a track for me, but it was still too deep and uneven for my skills. Hence a few moments of getting stuck or falling which made me aware how vulnerable a turtle can feel lying on its shell (see my last post for more detail). Then he asked me, trying to keep a casual “you’re-not-annoying-me” face, which was unsuccessful, if I could go a bit faster… There was no point in lying that I could, so we decided to turn around.

Deep snow, skiing Kunsgleden trail near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Deep snow, skiing Kunsgleden trail near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Going back felt like a failure and I was disappointed with myself, but I knew that it was the right decision. There was no chance of me skiing to the next hut, not even to mention finishing the trail in that snail speed. I really wanted to do it; being away from civilisation and exploring the wilds of Lapland, seeing the mountains and the Kungsleden trail all covered in snow would be so awesome. We played a bit with an idea of trying the following day if other people or snowmobiles would cut through to make better track. But thinking about trying again was definitely not an option when I woke up on Sunday morning with a sore throat and not feeling well. I was glad that I was not in the middle of a skiing trip as my physical fitness came close to zero. We decided to stay in the Kebnekaise fjällstation (more about this awesome hut in my next post).
I recently went to a talk by the British climber Andy Kirkpatrick. He talked a lot about failure, that it was often more important than success, as the failure leaves us with a desire to try again; the goal still seems attractive and motivating. And when we succeed, it might often be less exciting than what we had imagined before. While listening to his words, I was thinking that my ski touring dream would have to wait for another year or two, but it was not the end of it. And even more, I now have a challenge that I’m looking forward to facing.  Before I got on the airplane in February, the Kungsleden in winter just seemed like some exciting adventure. Now it is a goal, something I will need to train and prepare for, you can’t be so arrogant and try to ski the Kunglseden trail without having Nordic skis on before, and be less of a wuss. It might not be next year, or the year after that. But one day, I will definitely be back, with skis on my feet, heading into those wild mountains.

Snowy mountains near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

Snowy mountains near Kebnekaise Fjällstation

, , ,

Stuck in Swedish snow

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better...

Kunsgleden trail in winter. Wish could ski better…

I could hardly move in the thigh deep snow even though I was following the tracks made by my boyfriend (who still struggled to plough through but was at least moving ahead). There were no other tracks to follow because of the fresh snow and the season having just started; we were the first on the trail. Once, I got really stuck not able to move for a few minutes as one of my skis decided to check out what was hidden underneath all that snow. As my other ski tried to explore the opposite side, I was left in a “turtle on its shell” (a shell being a backpack in my case) position not even able to take one ski off. It took quite a few complicated but subtle movements of my legs for me to go back to an upright position. But it also left me with less motivation to carry on. So when I finally caught up with Cody, or, more accurately, him having skinned back up the mountain to see what had happened to me, we decided to turn around…

Skiing a part of the Kungsleden trail in Sweden was one of my ambitious goals for February. I hoped I would be able to push myself and experience cross-country skiing for the first time. Snow, long nights filled with northern lights when you hide away in a hut in front of the fire – it was all on my mind when I was planning this trip to northern Sweden. The Kunglseden trail is not very difficult in theory, mostly kind of flat, so it seemed like a good choice for someone with close to zero skiing experience.  Perhaps I was being a little optimistic!
Even when traveling from the UK (especially when adding the long drive to London from Wales, a country seemingly absent of proper motorways), it always seems like a long journey to northern Sweden. Adding in some mandatory plane delays in Stockholm, I finally arrived at the airport in Kiruna late on a Thursday afternoon. Taking the bus to the city centre it was apparent that I had arrived in winter as snow filled my vision for as far as I could see while the city sat in a cold, frozen silence.  After meeting up with Cody, we went to the outdoor shop to get some skis for me. The idea was that it would be cheaper to buy skis in Sweden, rather than it would have been to buy in the UK or rent them for the length of my travels. It seemed also apparent that I should have bigger choice and better advice in the country where it actually snows. I chose the nice looking Nordic skis with metal edges, lightweight but with extra support for turns. Then the boots, bindings, poles and googles. I was ready for a skiing trip! (So I thought…)

Ready for the ride! Nikkaluokta snow mobile, Kungsleden trail

Ready for the ride! Nikkaluokta snow mobile, Kungsleden trail

After spending a night at the hostel in Kiruna, filled to the brim with two bus loads of university Erasmus students on winter holiday, we took a morning bus to Nikkaluokta (first bus of the season). It was just us and two other people on the bus. Normally in Sweden, one pays while getting on the bus, but oddly the driver didn’t seem too concerned as we hopped on. After an hour or so we finally pulled into the tiny village of Nikkaluokta, deep in the Swedish mountains. Cody asked about payment in a broken combination of Swedish and Norwegian (having picked up a bit after nearly 20 trips to the Scandinavian arctic), but was informed that the driver had forgotten his change purse. So we perhaps received the only free bus ride in Sweden.

Nikkaluokta snow mobile. Kungsleden trail

Nikkaluokta snowmobile. Kungsleden trail

On arrival to Nikkaluokta we were presented with an option of taking a snowmobile rather than skiing to the Kebnekaise fjällstation. The snowmobile ride cost 300 SEK (about £30) but as we didn’t pay for the bus, we thought it would not be a bad idea to be lazy. Having hiked the section before in Autumn 2012, I also knew it was one of the least interesting parts of the trail and it could save us 19km of skiing… So the decision was made: snowmobile! I would really recommend it, it was so much fun to move quickly and swiftly on the snow and ice covered trail and lake!

Nikkaluokta snow mobile - excited! Kungsleden trail in winter

Nikkaluokta snowmobile – excited! Kungsleden trail in winter

Eager to try on my new skis, I quickly checked in at the Kebenekaise fjällstation and got ready to practise skiing a bit. It was my first time on Nordic skis and I could feel it… Having only had a few ski lessons before, being on a real snow was quite a challenge for me. I felt like I could fall down at any time, which I did quite a few times, especially attempting anything even slightly down hill on those long, skinny skis. The snow was still falling as the late afternoon sky grew dark when I finally returned to the warmth of the hut.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation covered in snow.

Kebnekaise Fjällstation covered in snow.