Hut life on the Kungsleden
10 minute read
Mountain stations (fjällstationer) and mountain huts (fjällstugor) are encountered on three of the five sections that make up the Kungsleden, Sweden’s premier long-distance trail, and can prove to be an unexpected joy for walkers.
The fjällstationer and fjällstugor are isolated facilities that offer a surprisingly varied experience for the walker and, by their very presence, allow access to remote landscapes for those with limited experience or those wanting to travel light. They are operated by the Swedish Tourist Association (STF) and are manned by volunteer wardens on the first three sections. Unmanned and sporadically spaced STF and local council huts are encountered on the remaining two sections, while small and basic emergency shelters are encountered throughout the Kungsleden’s 460km length.
Fjällstationer are large and almost hotel like. They are found only at the ends of sections in Abisko, Saltoluokta, Kvikkjokk, Ammarnäs and Hemavan; there is also a fjällstation mid-trail at Kebnekaise for those on the Abisko-Nikkaluokta Circuit. Fjällstation amenities are comprehensive and generally include running hot water and ablutions, electricity, a large shop (butik), restaurant, wi-fi, parcel holding, a range of room types, bastu (sauna) and access to public transport.
Fjällstugor are to be found out on the trail itself where accommodation is limited to bunk rooms only. The services are more limited as they do not have electricity, hot water, wi-fi, access to public transport (save in some instances, scheduled helicopter services) or parcel holding; some do not have a shop or sauna. All, be it fjällstation or fjällstuga, have washing, cooking, dining, toilet and rubbish disposal facilities, as well as accommodation for those walking with dogs; all offer camping on site, with full access to the facilities.
Anyone can stop by in the daytime and make use of the facilities as a day visitor, a very popular service when it’s raining!
If you are going to make regular use of the fjällstations and fjällstugor then an STF membership is highly recommended as prices are heavily discounted; YHA members receive reciprocal rights.
So those are the basic facts and each facility will differ slightly and have its own unique character and history. The STF website maintains comprehensive information on all fjällstationer and fjällstugor, not just on the Kungsleden but throughout the whole of Sweden. It is far from safe to assume that all have a shop providing food and stove fuel and a sauna for weary legs to be eased; the majority do but a significant number don’t. A great feature of the fjällstugor is that they never turn anyone away, whether you have pre-booked or not; a mattress and a space will always be found for you, on the floor if need be. It is worth noting that pre-booking a fjällstuga does not guarantee a bunk as spaces are issued on a daily first come basis; a booking is in reality just a pre-payment voucher.
On arrival at a fjällstugor expect a warm welcome from the warden and the offer of a soft drink or coffee. The wardens are all volunteers and their tenure is normally between five and six weeks; at larger fjällstugor they can bring their family along as well. All receive specific training prior to the season’s start before packing a box of the food and belongings they will need for their tenancy. These boxes are sledged out with the firewood that is stockpiled at the fjällstugor in the hiatus between the winter and summer seasons.
Fjällstationer and fjällstugor with a shop always sell some brand of trekking food, screw canister gas and meths, often white spirit as well. Other foods are also available such as chocolates, biscuits, cold drinks, beer, tins, rice, pasta, muesli, tube pate and cheese, powdered milk and also basic toiletries, batteries (limited) and maps. If you like meatballs and hot dogs you’re in the right place! Cards are accepted virtually everywhere out on the trail so little cash needs be carried.
Fjällstugor consist of a collection of homely wooden cabins, one of which will normally house the warden, office and, if there is one, a shop; fjällstugor size and capacity ranges from 18 bunks (Vakkotavare and Sitojaure) to a whopping 80 bunks (Alesjaure). All cabins consist of a communal cooking and dining area at one end with bunks and maybe a drying room occupying the remaining space. The cooking areas are equipped with gas stoves and a full range of utensils. All communal areas have wood burning stoves and many bunk rooms are similarly equipped. Campers will share the communal facilities or in some cases, they will have a dedicated service area (tältservicestuga) all to themselves. Those walking with dogs will either have their own dedicated cabin or have a dedicated area set aside in a shared cabin. Outlying buildings will accommodate a wood store, a rubbish store, dry toilets and the sauna if there is one; Teusajaure has two! Those sleeping in bunks are recommended to travel with a liner.
Everyone staying at the fjällstugor, be they camping or in bunks, is expected to assist with the routine chores. Generally, this will be log sawing and chopping, emptying waste bins, collecting water or disposing of the slask (waste water) from the communal area. The burden of these tasks is low, and the reality is that very little time need be devoted during your stay.
Saunas are one of the great joys of the Kungsleden and apart from the tvättrum (washroom) at Viterskals, it is the only fjällstuga washing facility that provides hot water for washing yourself, so make the most of it! Rumours abound as to how a sauna is taken; clothed or naked. The reality is that it can be either and no one really cares either way; body conscious Anglophiles needn’t fret or worry; it is all very casual and relaxed. Many people take a sauna naked; many take it in shorts or knickers and bra. If you are going to take a sauna naked then it is considered polite to sit on a towel.
Saunas are lit in the evening and although timings vary slightly, are generally arranged 1700–1830 for females, 1830–2000 for males and 2000–2130 for mixed. The procedure is to enter and strip off in the entrance room. In the middle room there are bowls that can be filled with hot water from the flue tank and it is expected that everyone will wash themselves here before entering the inner room for some serious heat! The sauna is informal and a place where people go to wash, unwind and chat. It is not uncommon to enjoy a beer while sat in the sauna! When the heat grows intolerable, you dash out and dive into the nearby lake or river to cool off. Shivering now after the plunge, you quickly return to the sauna’s inner room for a second session. It is finally exited for a final wash in the middle room before dressing and departing; invigorated, clean and fresh.
On Section 4 between Jäkkvik and Ammarnäs it is possible to collect keys (on passing through Jäkkvik, Adolfsström or Ammarnäs) for the Pieljekaise and the Rävfalls fjällstugor. Both are operated by the local council and are unmanned. Although limited access is possible, the sleeping areas and bunks can only be accessed with the keys. Both are fully equipped and in the case of Rävfalls, also has a self-service sauna. Pieljekaise is limited to a single dorm with four bunks, while Rävfalls is very spacious and has capacity for 14 sleeping.
At some fjällstugor the original prisma building is still on site and in use. These are distinctively small with roofs that reach almost to the ground to create an overall triangle profile. Prisma tend not to be for general walkers’ use anymore and instead are given over to overflow space, storage or warden use. All fjällstugor have a security room which is kept unlocked for emergency use out of season. These rooms are equipped with a couple of bunks, wood burner and fuel, emergency food and an emergency telephone. Although the fjällstugor do not have wi-fi or telephone for general use, they do in fact have a phone line that is used by the wardens and enables the use of the emergency telephone; the limited bandwidth means that its use is restricted. It does enable weather forecasts and nearly all fjällstugor will have the forecast posted in their office or you can ask the warden in person.
All STF fjällstationer and fjällstugor have a unique emblem. These can be purchased as cloth badges in the shop and have a green border for summer and a blue border for winter. Wardens also have an ink stamp of the emblem that can be used to decorate guidebooks or maps and serve as a record of a journey along the trail.
While all fjällstugor and fjällstationer are located in stunning locations, some really are superlative. Tjäktja is the highest fjällstuga on the trail, at 1015m, and is set at the foot of dark cliffs and consequently the site has a very Alpine feel to it. Tjäktja offers good opportunities for observing wildlife; wolverine, arctic fox and reindeer are frequent visitors, especially at dawn and dusk. The chances of sightings are undoubtedly bolstered by the presence nearby of a natural feeding station used by arctic fox. A few stages later and back at lower levels, the walker is treated to expansive views across pristine Teusajaure lake and the first of seven mandatory lake crossings on the Kungsleden. At Aktse settlers first arrived in the 1830s and through hard work and determination, cut and cleared trees to produce the hay meadows that are still present to this day. The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen), who have a cabin on the meadows, keep the haymaking tradition alive at Aktse by organising an annual harvest weekend every July. Aktse makes a great location to spend a few days enjoying the blue colours of the Lájtávrre delta and ascending the nearby Skierffe, whose chiselled profile dominates the entire area.
The Kungsleden holds many delights and wonders for the walker and while the fjällstationer and fjällstugor may not be what you came for, they certainly enhance the overall experience and are an unexpected joy out on the trail. Some walkers eschew the huts preferring instead to enjoy an unfettered remote camping and trekking experience. Even this group cannot avoid hut life entirely as the fjällstugor are located immediately on the trail; it’s a hard heart that can walk the 460km and not stop once to make a purchase, enjoy the sauna, dispose of their rubbish or enjoy the company and knowledge of other walkers.