Kungsleden Ski Tour
A 200 km Easter Arctic ski tour from valley to valley, hut to hut, completing half the famous Scandinavian Kungsleden trail, carrying only a day pack.
This trail is one of the wildest and most remote in Europe. The trail starts at Abisko 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. Abisko is on the rail line from Stockholm to the Norwegian city of Narvik. The trail ends 425 kilometres further south at Hemavan and in it's northern section passes Sweden's highest mountain Kebnekaise (2117m). The Kungsleden was created by Senza Turistföreningen (STF) at the end of the 19th century, in order to allow more people to experience the beauty of Lapland. The trail is a famous walking trail in summer and ski trail in winter. They have built a number of mountain stations which are like quality back packer accommodation with huts in between the stations about one days walk apart for most of the trail, and additional shelters between the huts. In some sections the huts are half a day apart for a good skier. The northern half of the trail is the most popular ,and that is where the huts are best spaced. This is cross country touring with terrain like you get in Australia on the Bogong High Plains or the Main Range. The trail is undulating rather than mountainous. However there is more possibility for colder temperatures than Australia especially if you go too early in Spring.
There are a variety of ways to ski the Kungsleden. At one end of the scale you can go fully independent, carrying your own food stove and tent. At the other end of the scale there are fully supported trips often geared to novice or beginner skiers using dog sled teams to carry food, clothing, sleeping bags etc and with minimum distances per day overnighting at basically every hut, costing about AUD2,500 for a 90km trip over 7 days (This is the skiing only component only and does not include flights or train from Stockholm to Abisko). Our plan is to use the most popular format which is something in between those extremes in both format and cost. I estimate cost of about AUD1,000 for the 200km trip over two weeks. We will travel unsupported, but as light as possible making maximum use of the available huts and provisioning along the way. Keep this in mind when reading reports of other trips. Most of the reports available on the internet do not describe the common format that we will be undertaking. Participants will make their own way to Abisko Mountain Station prior to the commencement of the tour and we will have a rest day or free day at Kebnekaise mountain station which some may wish to use to ski up Sweden's highest mountain and another rest day at Saltoluokta mountain station. We will not stay at Vakkotavare hut but we will catch a bus from there which leaves at 16:40 to Kebnats, and from there it is a short ski across lake Langas to Saltoluokta mountain station. We will finish the tour after about 209km at Kvikkjokk mountain station. From Kvikkjokk transport will have been arranged to catch the train to Stockholm.
Where is it?
Sweden Lapland & Full Trail Our Tour
The start of the trail has is it's own railway station, "Abisko
Turist". You can also fly to Kiruna (near the ice hotel) and catch a public bus
the 100km to Abisko taking approximately one and a half hours. The train trip
takes about 19 hours and is reported to be a spectacular trip. The train
operator is changing so we do not have 2009 prices yet, but I expect that if you
book the flight early, it will be cheaper than the train. Based on 2008 prices
expect to get a flight for about 1000 SEK and the train to cost about 2000SEK. Personally I am likely
to fly to Kiruna and only do the return journey by train, giving me an extra day
to do other things in Sweden.
I have timed the tour well into the northern hemisphere spring so we can expect to avoid severe weather and enjoy longer daylight. Easter is a special time in Scandinavia, especially Easter Saturday night dinner. So I have scheduled the trip to arrive at Kebnekaise mountain on Easter Saturday followed by a free day on Easter Sunday. We will ski off on the tour from Abisko mountain station early on the morning of Tuesday April 7, 2009. So you will need to arrive before April 7, if you want to ski with the group. One of the disadvantages of skiing later into the season is that it reduces our chances of seeing the Northern Lights at Abisko. We will need to be lucky to see then at this time. The detailed itinerary is below.
Looking at climate averages and the weather fro April 2008, we should expect to start off with daytime maximums of around zero plus or minus a few degrees and minimums could go down to minus 12 . As we progress through the two weeks skiing south then we can expect the weather to get slightly warmer and the days grow longer fairly rapidly.
Below is a link to the 2008 forecast and details of some climate averages. If you get some messages about browser errors just click "NO" until the page fully opens.
These huts along Kungsleden are very well equipped, with
cooking utensils, porcelain etcetera, and liquid-gas stoves, so you don’t have
to carry those kind of things. At about every other hut you can also buy food,
even though it is of course expensive in places not reachable by roads. The food
is delivered in the winter by snow scooters, or in the summer by helicopter.
Expect the trail to be undulating with moderate climbs and downhills suitable for cross country skiing, the trails will be marked with twig poles and some signage. I do not believe that the trail goes above 1100 metres. There maybe the opportunity to climb the glacier-capped Mt Kebnekaise the highest mountain in Sweden at 2117 metres on Easter Sunday, some mountains near Abisko prior to the tour starting, and perhaps some small optional climbing side trips along the way. Skins may be useful for some of these optional climbs but I certainly would not recommend you going out and buying them. You could probably rent them at Abisko and Kebnekaise mountain stations if you needed them, but should book in advance if you want to be assured at Easter time.
You will need a set of metal edged patterned (Waxless) back country ,cross country skis, and a pair of well worn in boots. A backpack of at least 40 litres with a waist harness system would be required. If you are going to do any optional mountain climbs then telescopic poles may be useful and if you have them, and maybe you want to bring a set of skins which fit your skis. If you do not have a set of heavy touring or XCD skis then a set of telemark or alpine touring skis with skins maybe an alternative, but you would need to be very proficient at getting the skins on and off quickly and frequently on this sort of terrain or you will soon get left well behind the group. If you are looking to change any of your equipment prior to the Kungsleden tour, the beginning of the 2008 Australian ski season is the time, so you get plenty of kilometres of familiarisation and wearing in, before two weeks of intensive use.
You will not need to carry much more weight than if going out on a long day tour in Australia prepared for a bad weather change. At the time of year we are going, we should not be getting too much bad weather, but you should be prepared for a couple of bad days. All your under layers should be quick drying so you can dry overnight or at least during the mountain station rest days. You will need jacket and over pants a couple of extra layers which you can add if it gets extra cold and double for hut wear. You will also need something like light weight fleece pants for hut wear or a second set of ski pants for hut wear. Also a spare pair of socks, light weight hut slippers, basic toiletries, a light weight chamois or micro fibre travel towel, couple of pairs of quick drying underwear, silk sleeping sheet and if it does not have a pillow flap, a light weight pillow ship and torch. Each person should carry one day's emergency rations for dinner, breakfast and lunch. Since this will probably stay in the bottom of your pack for 12 days, keep it below 700g. Your pack, water and all your spare gear and clothing except what you will be wearing on a sunny day should weigh less than 8 to 9kg. If it does not, you have either packed too much clothing, unnecessary items or too heavy items. In addition you will need to carry a share of group emergency items including one camping stove, minimum fuel for one day for the group, an emergency shelter, an emergency ski tip, spare pole, and some repair items etc. A sleeping bag is optional, but it will need to be light (below 1kg) if you are going to carry it for two weeks just in case. I did not carry a sleeping bag on a similar ski tour using huts in Norway and was never cold.
Some participants may organise to arrive in Abisko a few days earlier than the tour start. I plan to do so to take a day return train trip to Narvik in Norway (reputed to be spectacular), to do some skiing and sightseeing around Abisko and increase my chances of seeing the northern lights. This means that I will bring more items to Abisko than the minimum needed for the trip. The morning we are setting off from Abisko along the Kungsleden we can dispatch our excess items by bus to our end point at Kvikkjokk. Along the trail there are huts and mountain stations with wardens and provisions and some huts without provisions and additional shelters along the way. I have planned the trip so to the extent possible we only stay in huts with provisions and skip the huts without provisions. However i have planned that on two nights we will need to stay at huts without provisions. At Sitojaure hut we will bring a days food from Saltoluokta mountain station that morning. On our last night on the trail we will be at Pårte hut also without provisions. We will consume our emergency rations here, supplemented by additional items brought from Aktse hut that morning.
We will depart each hut and get onto the trail early each day, to ensure we have time to enjoy the trail with opportunities to take in any slight diversions that we may wish, and arrive at the destination hut with plenty of time to have the choice of accommodation, food and ample time to relax and enjoy the environment. How we will ski and meet up along the trail each day will depend on the weather, group size, differences in individual pace and the dynamics of the group, which can only be decided when we are on the Kungsleden and may change from day to day.
In the event that some or all of the party cannot make it to the intended destination due to weather, illness etc, we will head for an alternative hut or shelter and use our emergency supplies, which can later be replenished at the next hut.
Group, Travel and Booking
I have no idea what the interest will be at this stage. It will be a unique experience but it may also be expensive to get to Sweden. It would be nice to have a small cohesive group of three or four, but on the other hand I do not want to deny club members the opportunity of once in a lifetime. However there will be an absolute limit of 15. A determining factor for many people, will be the availability of an attractive airfare to Sweden. That will drive our cut-off date for locking in bookings for huts trains etc. It is advisable to book the mountain stations around Easter by the end of November. I expect that airfare deals will come up between September and November and once people have their airfare committed they will want the rest of their trip locked in. People need to make sure I am clear on their interest by the end of August and then I will try and keep everyone in the loop about airfares.
Each person will need to book their own airfares but we will try and share information about what deals are available. Each person will need to make their own way to Abisko, but I can help with information on booking the train if you want to go by train. Up until the yet to be determined cut-off, I will book the huts and mountain stations and transport from our last mountain station at Kvikkjokk to Stockholm by train. Late participants will need to make their own bookings.
Is this for me?
This tour is for ski fit experienced cross county skiers. As I mentioned earlier there are some easier and shorter commercial variations which cater for novice skiers. We will be skiing 10 out of 12 days on the trail. There will be an average of 21 km per day and there will be three days in a row where we will need to cover in excess of 25 km per day. There is also the possibility that trail conditions may require a diversion which may add a few more kilometres to the day. This is a well travelled trail with good huts and facilities, but it is still a remote area above the Artic circle where the weather can change suddenly and dramatically. You need to be able to do this easy on a good day so if things go wrong, you, and the rest of the group are not in serious trouble. If you are not up to the demands due to lacking experience or fitness then depending where we are at the time ,it could be time consuming and expensive to get yourself taxied out by skidoo. If you have done one or two 20 km ski trips and it has laid you up for a few days then you are probably not ready to take this on. Ideally you have done a couple of Kangaroo Hoppets, or a lot of snow camping trips, and will get quite a few ski kilometres under your belt for the 2008 season. If you want to come on the trip I will need to know specifically and honestly what previous and recent ski experience you have had.
David Walsh is obsessed with mountain biking, skiing, road biking, walking, accounting and IT in about that order. He has been a skier for 40 years and a cross country skier for over 25 years. In recent years he has returned to downhill skiing overseas and taken up some alpine ski touring. He has skied in the US, Europe, Canada and Japan. He has done many snow camping trips with Birkebeiner Nordic Ski Club, Melbourne Bushwalking Club and privately on the High Plains and the Main Range. He has done three Kangaroo Hoppets, a number of Rocky Valley rushes and one Hotham to Falls event, and many extended day trips on the Bogong High Plains and all other Victorian ski areas. He did a similar style cross country ski tour in the Jotunheimen National Park in Norway. He has also done alpine touring in the Aosta Valley in Italy and in Japan. He is a past president of the Essendon Mountain Bike Touring Club and has mountain biked extensively across Australia, and in Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, French Alps, French Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux, Atlas mountains in Morocco, Tanzania, Alpencross from Austria to Italy and Lake Garda in Italy.
Leading up to locking in the final arrangements for this trip I will be away a lot. From mid-May to mid-June I will either be mountain biking Everest or the Annapurna circuit, depending on whether the Chinese let us into Tibet. From mid-July to mid-August I will be overseas again in Russia and Germany. After that I will be back in Australia until Christmas finalising this Kungsleden trip. To deal with the fact that I will be away so much during the time, when people will be expressing interest in the trip and sending any questions I have set up a special email for trip correspondence it is email@example.com Please reread all this information and do a bit of research yourself before sending me questions as I will have very limited time between trips and will need to prioritise my time answering.
Further reading and information
A Google search will turn up heaps of information on the Kungsleden. I have given links to four below, not because they are similar to our planned trip but because they are detailed and give some good information and insight. Specific things I did get out of some of the reports were the benefit of being ski fit and experienced with a light pack under 10kg to deal with some adverse weather. Also if you are going to have one shot at it like we are, the advantage of going later into April so less chance of being hut bound by the weather.
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