Explore Swedish Lapland’s Kings Trail on Snowshoes: A Unique Winter Experience
April 2023, by Markus Nyman
In March and April of 2023, I led a team of people from Wales and Scotland on the King’s Trail in Swedish Lappland. This was the second year I guided this trip on behalf of my friend Matt Larsson-Clifford and Andy Smith from Sweden Outdoors Coaching. Once again, it was a pleasure working with both of them. Matt did the same route the day after us and stayed in contact with us through satellite communications. At the same time, Andy and I led our team of 17 participants.
The participants on this trip join us on a challenge and fundraise for the Velindre Cancer Center in Wales.
The 7-day trip goes along the King’s Trail from Abisko in the north to Nikkaluokta, about 110 km to the southeast. On the last day, the trail passes by Kebnekaise Mountain Station, located at the foot of the highest summit in Sweden, Kebnekaise.
Here is a brief trip report of my experience leading the team.
Conditions where you prefer not to get lost.
I arrived at Abisko Mountain Station at midnight before we would start the trip. My 18-hour train trip from Åre had instead become a 32-hour one, with the last 6 hours on a bumpy bus ride. Not the perfect start to say the least. I had planned to be there well before the participants arrived. Matt and I sat in the restaurant on the train, drinking coffee just an hour from his house, while the train stood in the exact location for over 10 hours.
During the train ride, I also discovered my boots had a hole by the toes. It was about the size of a fingernail, and now three weeks later, I am happy to say that the tape is still holding the boot together and dry. When the spring is over, I will have to go over to Lundhags, the shoemaker, and have them repair them for me. That should make them last another season or two.
However, the focus lay on the trip ahead. As a leader, you always think of the group and what challenges will come, not so much about your discomfort. I would experience this during the trip as I got a cold midway through.
To help the team, Simon was with us, organizing the fundraising and the whole expedition. He has made this exact trip more often than anyone of us and runs trips into the desert and biking trips in the UK, to mention a few. Simon is the one who joins any evacuated persons as we get them out for various reasons. Last year it was due to a broken wrist.
Day 1: Abisko to Abiskojaure
I took a quick nap, and then in the morning, my colleagues Andy and Matt quickly covered for my less-than-ideal night. Before breakfast, I got the chance to meet the team and introduce myself. Andy and I started instructing on the equipment and had everyone take a test walk. Renting equipment like we did this time means you have to check the kit in detail, as most repairs are only done enough to get the job done. Still, sometimes they could be less efficient than having a fully functioning snowshoe.
After several runs into the rental shop with the malfunctioning gear, we thought we had it all sorted. Andy and I headed for breakfast and those last bits of things to sort out before heading out.
By 11 o’clock, we were all set and headed off. You could feel that the group was excited about what lay ahead of them. With good weather and some fresh snow, there were plenty of tracks to be seen, mainly from foxes, hares, and ptarmigans. Upon seeing some fresh moose droppings, I saw some moose watching us – a great start for me to show Abisko National Park its beauty. It is always nice to start working and produce results immediately, even if wildlife is hard to guarantee. Last year we walked past a Capricallie on the first day and spotted mooses on the last.
Walking over the ice towards the first cabin of the trip, we could smell the burning birch wood from the cabins. A pleasant smell and even more satisfying when you are starting to become a bit tired and hungry. Luckily my food had survived the long train journey. I started off with some traditional Swedish cheesecake with whipped cream for dinner.
Arriving at the Abiskojaure cabins.
Day 2: Abiskojaure to Alesjaure
The trip between Abiskojaure and Alesjaure is the longest distance on the trip. This is also where we leave the forest only to see it again on the last day. Andy and I were, therefore, eager to get going to allow us an extended window to sort out any problems that may arise during the day.
Heading to the toilet in the morning, I check my thermometer, which reads -26,5*C. That is cold and visible each time someone opens the door as the moist air instantly freezes, similar to how it looks when you breathe in cold weather. To our surprise, the team is quick and efficient in the morning, and it does not take long before we head off. Soon we are greeted by the sunlight, and the temperature becomes much more friendly shortly after that. People were taking off layers, and the snow smoke was gone. I estimate the temperature to be only -10*C which is quite the difference in just an hour and 3 km.
The day progresses smoothly and at a steady pace. We could find an open river to refill our water bottles on the plateaus, which was pleasant given that the sun was baking us. During winter, I always see it as a welcome gift when you find an unlimited water resource like this – pure luxury and means you can drink as much as you like. The only problem can sometimes be finding a safe place to refill your bottles without falling in. You do not want to soak your boots and gloves in the water, even if it is shallow.
Andy and I had discussed that if the weather permitted, we would walk on the lake to save our feet from the ups and downs of the snow-covered shoreline. A good choice because we would get a dose of traversing two days from now, but walking on ice can often give you an illusion that you are almost there – but you are still two hours out. Mentally tough for some team members, they were all happy to arrive in Alesjaure, where Cornelius, the hut warden, greeted us and gave us a place to stay.
Mid-winter cold morning has now become a splendid spring afternoon in the sun.
Day 3: Alesjaure to Tjäktja
On the morning of day 3, the blisters of two of the participants have not healed, and Simon calls for the snowmobiles to evacuate them in the afternoon. A wise decision as these were some nasty blisters, and the further we would continue, the harder it would be to get a snowmobile out. We were also expecting worse weather to come in the following days, which would decrease the chance of a ride out.
Still, the rest of the team is eager to head off, and once again, we are putting one foot in front of the other, although a bit further apart. Day three means that the team has understood the task ahead and knows the motion, but this is where people also start to get tired in the muscles not used to walking in the snow.
The team is pulling two sleds for the safety equipment, which also takes some teamwork when going up and down. Now that I am done with the trip, I want to commend the people helping with the pulks. Usually, I would use a pulk with stiff tracers instead of rope, giving the person pulling the sled more flexibility and ease of handling. However, having a team work together is also suitable.
When we reached the cabin, the two hut wardens greeted us, and you could tell they had only been there two weeks – still eager to meet everyone who had arrived. True enthusiasts. Last year fetching the water was quite the adventure. The team knows the drill by now, and everyone helps get 4 big cans of water filled.
When we have gotten everyone inside for some hot lemonade, I also take the time to talk a little about the area and the reindeer living up here. To everyone’s surprise, I also offer some smoked reindeer hearts to complement the storytelling.
The Tjäktja cabins.
Day 4: Tjäktja to Sälka
Lesser visibility, some snow coming down, and a bit of wind. Still manageable and a relatively short day, we head off in the morning towards the day’s first goal, the Tjäktjapass. This is a saddle at the end of a long valley where a wind shelter is located. Unfortunately, the visibility is too bad to enjoy the grand views of walking through the valley. Instead, the team has to handle a slight angle in each step. Something which eventually starts to pose a real danger for some of the members.
In the evening we get reports that Matt’s team will probably stay in Tjäktja due to the bad weather. We contemplate as well but head to bed, thinking,’ Let’s see what we have tomorrow.’
Heading up towards the Tjäktja Pass, hoods up and not much talking.
Day 5: Sälka to Singi
The morning is windy, but visibility is okay. What is worse is that there has been a cold going around in the group, and now it has struck me – I am feeling okay, but my voice is gone. By now, I am used to losing my voice at least once every winter due to bad weather, and each time is very frustrating. I love talking, guiding, instructing, and sometimes engaging in everyday conversation. So having to whisper my thoughts to Andy and let him pull the part of using a strong voice does not suit me, but I am still glad to have the option.
Checking the forecast it says 18 meters per second with gusts up to 25. That equals 90 km/h or 56 miles/h. When I checked with my Kestrel wind meter, it gave me about 33% less, and so after evaluating it for a bit, we decided to go.
Setting out despite a bad weather forecast is not the perfect thing to do, and making the decision is not the easiest. If something were to happen it is easy to look in the rearview mirror and question your decision when you had clear indications you should not go. If you have a good indicator, you should stay but still venture off; it puts you in a vulnerable spot.
A bit later, we get a message from Matt that he also walked, and the weather continues to be much better than anticipated. A good decision because otherwise, we would have had to hike the double stretch the day after.
Warmth in the cabins comes from wood. Luckily we only have to chop it and carry it inside.
Day 6: Singi to Kebnekaise
Still sick. This will not heal while not having the best of sleep, too much exercise each day, and not having the right temperature. At least tonight, we will sleep in a better location, and I look forward to a hot shower. Snowfall, a bit colder weather, and still lousy visibility. Sometimes the trail disappears, but eventually, we get into the valley of Láddjubahta. Halfway through, the weather improves with a clear sky and warmer temperature. We also start to see many more people, and the general feeling of civilization is beginning to show.
The last stretch to the mountain station goes smoothly, and a happy but worn team rests outside on the lobby’s sofas. Running hot water, electricity, and a cold beer feels excellent! Despite this, it becomes an early evening as the alarm is set for 04:00 in the morning.
View from the kitchen window in Singi.
Arriving in Kebnekaise Mountain Station in stellar weather.
Day 7: Kebnekaise to Nikkaluokta
At 5:15, we are starting to move. That is 15 minutes later than we had hoped, but everyone is still moving. The bus in Nikkaluokta, 19 km away, runs at 12:00, giving us 6 hours of walking at a steady pace and 45 minutes buffer. During those 45 minutes, I also know that we have to pack all the snowshoes and send them off with the postal service, so I know that we have to keep our schedule if we want to make it. Therefore the pace is high – I would much rather be able to slow down in the end than try to get everyone into a jog the last two hours. Along the way, one of the snowshoes broke, and two stops for reparation later, we seem to have found a proper fix.
The plan worked out great, and eventually, we had about 2 hours in Nikkaluokta to celebrate and chat in the café – everyone except me, who still could not speak properly. Simon and the two evacuated participants join us in Nikkaluokta and go on the bus to Kiruna. The team celebrates having completed 110 km of snowshoeing above the arctic circle while raising money for the Velindre Cancer Centre.
Will you join us next year?
It is always good when the sun rises above the horizon at an early start—worn after 7 days in and crossing the 100 km mark.
Hey! I'm Markus 👋
In the last decade, I have had the chance to lead a number of trips in the Scandinavian wilderness almost every week. Now I want to take the opportunity to invite you to join.
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Guide & Founder, Deep Wild Scandinavia