In September 2015, four friends set out to walk the entire length of Kungsleden, the gruelling 440km-long trail that snakes through some of northern Sweden’s most spectacular scenery.
Despite heavy backpacks, bouts of bad weather and a distinct lack of vegetables, they completed the journey in a total of 30 days – and are now turning their adventure into a feature length documentary. We caught up with conservationist Bee Roper from VDubVanLife to find out more.
What made you decide to trek Kungsleden? And what made you want to do all 440km?
We’d heard about Kungsleden through [photographer] Cody Duncan during a chat around a campfire in the Lofoten Islands in September 2014, and the idea of a long distance hike in Europe excited us. When we were in Germany last summer the topic of hiking the entire Kungsleden came up again, and we decided there and then to join Cody on his trip that autumn. We liked the challenge!
Had you travelled much in Sweden before?
A small amount. In the autumn of 2014 we travelled down through Sweden from northern Norway where we’d spent the summer in our campervan. It was snowing heavily so our time in northern Sweden was cut short, but we did have some time exploring Skuleskogen National Park and a couple of days in Stockholm. We always wanted to go back to see more of the country so this trek was the ideal opportunity.
Tell us about life along the trail… is it tough?
Life along the trail could be tough. For the first few days your body is becoming accustomed to the distance, and to the weight of your pack. The weather can be nasty and some days you won’t have a break for the entire day. Our daily routine consisted of repacking our bags before hitting the trail towards our next destination – either a cabin or a spot to camp. Dinner would be the biggest meal of the day as we’d have time to sit down and cook a bowl of couscous or noodles. Packet food really numbs your taste buds, and after a couple of days you find yourself fantasising about fresh vegetables and other things you have no hope of finding nearby!
How did you prepare for the trip? Did you have to put in a lot of hours of trekking?
We didn’t have too long to prepare for the trip as we planned it around three months before hitting the trail. Me and Theo [the other half of the VDubVanLife team] spent the summer in Scotland, which made preparing physically a lot easier. We’d aim to cover at least 10km per day with our packs on in an attempt to recreate what we’d be doing… but nothing could really compare to the real thing.
What were the most difficult parts of the trek? Was the weather a big challenge?
Injury was the most difficult part of the trail, and a lack of painkillers added to it. Theo succumbed to a cold in the first few days, which later morphed into an ear infection – he pretty much lost his hearing and really suffered between Kvikkjokk and Ammarnäs. I had an old case of tendonitis resurface five days into the trail, which caused me to slow down a lot after around 5km of walking. We ran out of painkillers within the first few days and couldn’t get our hands on any more until two weeks in.
Did you meet many other tourists from outside Sweden?
Plenty! There was a large amount of German tourists along the trail, but we also met people from Finland, Korea, Holland, and one person from the UK.
Not everyone has 30 days to cover the whole route – is there a particularly beautiful section that you’d recommend for those who only have a few days?
This is hard to answer as the whole trail is beautiful in my opinion. The northern section between Abisko and Saltoluokta or Nikkaluokta is the most popular part of the trail to hike in a week as it has impressive views. But, if you want to see a less-trodden section and only have a week or less then the southern section would be ideal; it’s less gruelling than the north and has a variety of landscapes to admire.
You’re a conservationist. Did you see much wildlife during the trek?
Wildlife along the trail was outstanding. I’d been hoping to spot the elusive [brown] bear but only came close enough to a massive pile of scat slap bang in the middle of the path. It had eaten a fairly large amount of blueberries! Our closest encounter came with a 4,000-strong herd of reindeer between Sitojaure and Akste; we’d been fortunate enough to hike the section of the trail on the day the Sami would be herding the reindeer down to lower ground for the winter. To witness such a large gathering of silent and majestic animals was an amazing experience.
Is the environment as pristine as you imagined?
Definitely. We didn’t spot one piece of litter on the ground, and the rivers are so pristine and clear that you can drink from any flowing water source.
What advice would you give to travellers who are thinking about hiking Kungsleden? Apart from good hiking boots.
Be prepared for rain! We were fortunate enough for almost two weeks of summery weather on the first half of the hike, only donning our waterproof gear for a day or two at a time. The rest was done in t-shirts. Leaving Kvikkjokk we were pretty much under a deluge of rain for the rest of the trail. Without adequate waterproof gear you’re in for a soggy time. It’s also worth noting – whether you’re hiking a portion of the trail, or the whole thing – that there are seven boat crossings, some of which you can row across for free and others which you have to pay for. The boats are pulled out of the lakes towards the end of September so you really don’t want to miss them or else you’ve got a long way round to the other side!
You filmed your experience of hiking Kungsleden for a new documentary called Distant North. What are you hoping it will achieve?
We’re hoping to get others inspired to visit Kungsleden as well, as it’s such an awesome place and there didn’t seem to be much in the way of videos covering the trail (other than the popular northern section between Abisko and Nikkaluokta).
What role did sponsors like Visit Sweden play in producing the film? Were they happy for you to show the difficult parts of the trek, as well as the nice sunny shots?
Our sponsors were fantastic and each played an important role in bringing the documentary together, and will be sharing the final product when it’s released. Our aim is to share every single aspect of the trail – the good and the bad.
Do you have any plans to visit Sweden again? Is there somewhere else on your wish list?
Sweden is such a large country that there’s still loads to discover and we will make our way over there again someday. Kungsleden briefly skirts the wildest part of Sweden, Sarek National Park, which we have hopes of visiting in more detail someday, as well as the Padjelanta trail [Padjelantaleden].
Thanks for chatting with us, Bee!
Distant North is scheduled for release in March 2016 – subscribe to the VDubVanLife YouTube channel for updates.
Hiking Kungsleden: what you need to know
Total length: 440km
Northernmost point: Abisko
Southernmost point: Hemavan
Time required for whole trek: 25–35 days
Best season for hiking: mid-June–September
More info: svenskaturistforeningen.se