What do you do when your 7-year-old son (Felix) wants to accompany you on a hiking trip in Sweden because he wants to see reindeer? When you're Eberhard Leutz you choose the Padjelantaleden – the easiest and most beautiful long-distance path in Lapland.
Padjelantaleden is a long-distance hiking path in the Swedish part of Lapland, an area that is often considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe. It is about 140km long and connects the village of Kvikkjokk in the south with Ritsem Fjällstation (mountain lodge) on Akkajaure in the north. It runs through Tarradalen and Padjelanta National Park, which is the biggest national park in Sweden, covering an area of almost 2000km².
There is no permanent village en route but the Staloloukta mountain station offers the possibility to return to the starting points by helicopter. It is a wonderful opportunity to discover the amazing nature north of the Arctic Circle. You can experience enchanted birch forests, enjoy magnificent views of lakes and mountains, and watch reindeer and moose in a land still largely unspoilt by human activity.
Taking the night train
After some days in southern Sweden, we are in Stockholm. We could have flown to Kiruna with either SAS or Norwegian (tickets from about 1300 SEK return, check www.flysas.com/en or www.norwegian.com), but environmentally friendly men take the night train (prices from about 600 SEK for a seat on a lucky day, tickets and timetables on www.sj.se).
Has anyone ever told you that Swedish trains are punctual? Forget it. There is no money to be made on the Lapland line and so there is a lack of maintenance. The train is supposed to leave at 4pm. In the end it leaves at 11pm. Anyway, we get a free breakfast and the ticket price is refunded. The real highlight is some half an hour before Murjek when we meet Jan, a youngster doing his first trip to Sweden via interrail. He will stay with us for the next two weeks.
We hop off the train in Murjek and the weather is fantastic; sunny and warm, which means around 15 degrees up here. The travel company SJ has organised a bus, which takes us to Kvikkjokk. Normally you need to change busses in Jokkmokk, but this one is an extra tour and runs straight to Kvikkjokk in about 4 hours. It costs around 300 SEK one way (https://ltnbd.se/ for timetables, tickets, etc).
We arrive in Kvikkjokk late in the evening. To start Padjelantaleden in Kvikkjokk, you need to cross Tarraälven by boat, which leave 2–3 times a day – in 2019 the last one was at 4pm. If you want to get across at other times check www.battrafikikvikkjokk.se/, or contact the boatman (Björn Sarstad, phone 0971-210 12 or 070-205 31 93). We decide to camp behind the fjäll (station). This is one of my favourite places in Lapland. We sit and just listen to the water.
The queen of Nordic summer
There are no annoying moose today. I remember how some years ago on the way back to my tent, a young stag reduced his level of hormones and frustration by attacking me. Maybe I smelled like a hind after some weeks out here. I have never heard about anyone being seriously injured or killed by moose but the mere sight of an animal with 2 metre-plus antlers galloping towards you is rather unpleasant, believe me.
But no mammals tonight, only the queen of Nordic summer welcoming us: the mighty mosquito.
Kvikkjokk and Tarradalen are among the best places to watch and feed mosquitoes. So tonight, we are sitting outside our tents with rain jackets, trousers and mosquito head nets on. Personally, I do not like mosquito repellent. We could get the Swedish Djungleolja (Jungle Oil) or Mygga here at the station yet, looking at the ingredients, I am not sure that I want to rub that stuff into my or my son’s face.
We have lunch, and I hear the first quiet complaint of my little one about my qualifications as a chef. Some chocolate restores the peace.
After a first relaxing night among the trees on soft ground, we wake up and get across the river.
For the next 3 days we walk up Tarradalen, always on the left bank of the river. From Kvikkjokk it is 16km easy walking to the first hut, Njunjes – Stugorna (stugan = hut, the smaller places; stugorna = huts, the bigger ones). Here in Tarradalen, outside Padjelanta National Park, and therefore not part of Laponia UNESCO World Heritage Site, the huts are administrated by the STF (Svenska Turist Föreningen), the Swedish Touring Club.
If you want to sleep in the huts it is wise to book in advance (check www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/). We sleep near the huts because my son feels safer here. If you want to camp at the huts and use the facilities, you need to pay a fee, but there are plenty of free spots some metres away: the Swedish Allemansrätten (right of public use) allows you to camp anywhere on public ground (see www.naturvardsverket.se/allemansratten for details).
We carry tents. OK, Jan carries his gear, I carry the tent for me and my son, two sleeping bags, two mattresses, food, and feel like a Sherpa. The real hero is Felix, though. It takes us six hours to do the 16km, but the boy enjoys it. Since I was here last, seven years ago, the food they stock at the hut has improved enormously. You can get the ‘wonderful’ Swedish light beer, pasta – even gluten free versions – as well as cartridges, mosquito nets, etc. (check www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/ or http://padjelanta.com/stugor/ for lists of food available). Stupid me is carrying too much! This availability of food has altered the character of the path. Years ago, walking Padjelantaleden meant carrying food and fuel for 80km of the path; there had always been a shop at Staloluokta. Nowadays, you can walk with a lighter backpack. This has made the trail much more popular.
The next day brings more sun and dry weather, and a look at the map – Lantmäteriets Fjällkarta BD 10, available everywhere, even at huts, on paper or as digital map – tells us that it is only 8km to the next hut, Tarrekaise – Stugan. However, I do not believe it. It takes us five hours on a rocky path, and it feels like 10km. Rumour has it that distances here are measured in winter using snow scooters, and therefore the on-the-ground summer distances are normally at least 10 per cent longer than stated on maps and way markers. I can believe that.
Our reward is that we see something that looks like a bear track some 200 metres from the hut. Jan and I decide not to tell Felix. Chances to meet bears and wolves are very rare. They are around, you see their tracks, but the animals themselves are extremely shy, maybe because about 10 per cent of Sweden’s bear population is hunted down every year.
We have another quiet evening.
Stage three is another one in the magical birch forest. I love these forests, very light with lots of moss. Today’s walking is easy again and all muddy sections are crossed on planks (which can be damn slippery when wet…)
The next day we reach Såmmarlappa – Stugan; easy walking, except some roots. The path is extremely dry this summer, which is unusual. In over 25 years up here I have never seen it like this. Normally you expect anything between snow, frost and 20 degrees centigrade. We are west of the crest of the Scandinavian Mountains (in Sweden simply called Fjäll = mountain[s]), the mountain range between Norway and Sweden. Winds predominantly come from the west, and hence in Norway it is usually wetter than on the Swedish side. This area is the exception: the crest – the Sarek – is on the Swedish side, and since Padjelantaleden is west of it, it gets much more rain than areas further east like Kungsleden. However, not this year: it is late July now, the summer month that usually gets most rain, and just like in 2018 there is a week-long period without any. Some streams have even dried out.
Felix has carved a walking pole for himself out of a big birch branch. He keeps himself and Jan and me busy talking. It is our third day without mobile coverage. Sweden is the only country in Scandinavia with almost zero mobile coverage in the mountains. Here on Padjelantaleden there are emergency phones at all huts, but not much else.
About halfway between Såmmarlappa – Stugan and Tarrarluoppal – Stugorna (11km in total) we enter Padjelanta National Park. The path leaves the forest and reaches high Fjäll. We enjoy the incredible views of the mountains of Sarek. Within the next week we are going to walk around them. Finally, the number of mosquitoes decreases, yet they stay with us even in high Fjäll sections. Anecdotal evidence has it that because of climate change and drier weather, they reach ever higher regions.
Tarrarluoppal – Stugorna is the first hut in Padjelanta National Park. Here the huts are administrated by the co-operative of the regional Sami (http://padjelanta.com/stugor/). There is not much difference to the earlier ones except for the Sami flag on top.
Another day starts after a cold night – you really need a down sleeping bag up here. We are above the tree line for the next three days. We hike up to about 900m and are rewarded with magnificent views of the lakes Virihaure and Vastenjaure. Felix enjoys some chocolate for lunch, Jan joins me in contemplation, and everybody is happy.
We descend on an easy path into Staloluokta. Staloluokta is a relatively big Sameviste inhabited by about 150 people. If you are really exhausted you can catch a helicopter to either Kvikkjokk or Ritsem (in 2019 either way was 1450 SEK, www.fiskflyg.se/). We stock up at the tiny shop and have some smoked fish and Sami bread for dinner.
The next morning we say goodbye to Staloluokta and continue on the clear path north. The path is now above the tree line and we enjoy an easy day (12km) to Araslulokta (Sameviste and huts). Felix is happy to have köttbullar (meatballs) again. We stay awake late; the sun is up until around 11pm.
The end of June would be another good time to come here, with 24 hours of daylight, but there can still be snow on the paths. Now, early August, is the time of summer holidays in Sweden and Padjelantaleden is quite popular up here, I guess there are about 40 people in or camping around the hut tonight.
The next two days take us over a little pass – some 900m above sea level – and it’s not difficult today as the weather is sunny, although it could be different in rain. First, we go down to Låddejåhkå – Stugorna. About halfway between Låddejåhkå – Stugorna and Kisuris – Stugan the path forks (clearly signposted) and we need to decide if we want to end our tour at Vaisaluokta further west on Akkjaure or at Akka – Stugorna further east. Both paths are roughly the same distance (about 30km).
We stay right because in two days this path goes by Akka Mountain, one of the most impressive mountains in Sweden, which can be climbed from Akka – Stugorna.
On the way between Låddejåhkå and Kisuris, Felix not only sees his second reindeer herd, but we find a reindeer skull, complete with antlers. Walking makes children happy, especially when the breaks are equipped with jelly bears.
We spend the evening camping near Kisuris – Stugan where the little path out of Sarek National Park joins Padjelantaleden. If you want to hike in Sarek it is advisable to take a satellite phone or an emergency rescue system with you: there are no huts and there is no mobile coverage there.
A few kilometres further, Padjelantaleden descends into the wonderful birch forest again. Easy walking, slightly descending, we wear light gloves to protect our hands from the mosquitoes. After 14km we reach Akka – Stugorna. If you sleep in/at the hut, note that it is another 2km to the boat bridge at Änonjalme, where we are camping tonight. We find a local fisherman who sells smoked trout, which Jan and I find delicious. Felix insists that it is disgusting. The next morning is somewhat windy and I am slightly worried that we are not going to get across, but the Sturlule boat from Ritsem arrives on time a few minutes before 8am (see www.svenskaturistforeningen.se/boende/stf-ritsem/battider/)
The boat is small and has been the same for decades. The crossing of is rather shaky and the boys feel better than I do after the 20 minutes on the river.
Boat traffic on Akkajaure ends around 10 September. Around that date the huts are closed and tourism in Padjelanta gives way to another Swedish obsession: moose hunting.
At Ritsem there is a not only a wonderful sauna but a connecting bus to civilisation/Gällivare (https://ltnbd.se/). If you have not had enough walking, you can continue west to Norway from Ritsem, or north to Kungsleden or Nikkaluokta via Sitasjaure and Hukejaure or you could hop off the Gällivare bus at Vakkotavare and go north on Kungsleden or you get off the bus at Kebnats, catch a boat to Saltoluokta (not to be mistaken with Staloluokta) – Fjällstation and walk south on Kungsleden back to Kvikkjokk or even further. For Kungsleden look at Mike Laings’s Trekking the Kungsleden book (Cicerone).
By unanimous decision the boys decide to walk for four more days. Felix’s only worry is the quality of food. We have another four wonderful days, but this time including some rain.
On the train back to Stockholm – punctual this time – next to my sleeping son (Jan has stayed in Lapland to do some more hiking) I remember that some years ago the Swedish Tourist Association STF advertised a hiking tour with the slogan Det glömmer du aldrig! (You are never going to forget this!) I guess they are right.