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Classic Hikes of the World: Kungsleden

An excerpt from Peter Potterfield's new book on the world's best hiking routes
By Peter Potterfield - September 2nd, 2005

  • Kungsleden
  • Arctic Sweden
  • 70 miles, 5-7 days, moderate


In the extreme north of Sweden, well inside the Arctic Circle, hides the last genuine wilderness in Western Europe. This is Lapland, and through it runs Kungsleden, a 275-mile-long route that cuts through the heart of this expansive landscape of big Arctic valleys, birch forests, hidden glaciers, powerful rivers, and the highest mountains in Sweden. The sheer scale of Kungsleden is astonishing, the Arctic landscape so big and open I felt I could walk for days and not run out of room.

Kungsleden, the "King of Trails," runs through four national parks and a nature reserve, a total area larger than some European countries. The trail begins at Abisko, in the north, and continues south to Hemavan. Hiking the entire route takes a month, or more, but the northern-most section I recommended covers the highlights of Kunglseden in just 70 miles (86 kilometers) and a week on the trail. This section starts at Abisko Mountain Station, the northern terminus of Kungsleden, and finishes at the Sami (these are the ethnic Laplanders) settlement of Nikkaluokta.

Besides the most majestic valley in Lapland, the Tjaktjavagge, this week-long route takes in Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest peak at 6,932 feet, and the highest point of the entire Kungsleden, Tjaktjapasset, a pass at 3,750 feet. In contrast to the wildness of the Arctic terrain, there's a civility to the hike that reflects the Swedish sensibility. Sturdy suspension bridges span the more dangerous rivers, and comfortable huts, are strategically placed a day's hike apart.

This section of Kungsleden has the advantage of being relatively easy to get to, thanks to the small mining city of Kiruna, home to one of the largest iron ore mines in the world, as well as the tony Ice Hotel. Tiny Kiruna has good air connections to Stockholm, and bus transportation to both ends of this hiking route, making this wild adventure surprisingly easy to organize.

The hike works in either direction, but virtually everybody does it from north to south That puts the sun on your face as you travel, no small consideration in the Arctic. Fit hikers could do the route in four or five days, but most take a more leisurely six or seven. The typical itinerary starts from Abisko mountain station and goes to Abiskojaure, Alesjaure, and finally over the the Tjaktjapasset, the highest point on the route, and down to Salka. From Salka, the route follows the impressive Tjaktjavagge valley south to Singi in just 7 miles, or takes the short cut over the ridge to the elaborate Kebnekaise mountain station in another long day of 17 miles. Take a day to climb Kebnekaise, and from there it's another 12-miles under the power lines out to Nikkaluokta.

For more, visit: www.classichikes.com


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