Kungsleden – five highlights and ten important lessons learned

Aktse with Skierfe in the background
                         Aktse with Skierfe in the background

July 2013: First time out on a multiday, camping hike: The Northern (and most popular) stretch of the Kungsleden from Abisko to Kvikkjokk – approximately 160 km walked in 10 days.

Highlights:

  1. The wilderness of Laponia in general. Although you are never far away (10 km max) from a staffed hut, there is a true sense of wilderness, which furthermore comes without virtually without a risk of predators.
  2. Aktse. An old, now abandoned, settlement, where the spirit of the settlers remain and a mountain lodge now is established at the old settlers lodge.
  3. The endless forest between Laitaure and Kvikkjokk.
  4. The midnight sun. In July it never really gets dark.
  5. Kebnekaise and around (I climbed Kebnekaise  on another trip in both 2014 and 2016).
Camping close to Sälka
                                   Camping close to Sälka

Lessons learned:

  1. Bring a map. Not only for safety but also to learn about the landmarks on the way.
  2. Do not buy too small hiking boots. It took me two years and 6 lost toe nails to realize this.
  3. Check your sleeping mattress. My sleeping mattress was not insulated as I had bought an air-mattress by mistake.
  4. Hiking in Laponia requires a four-season sleeping bag as snow may be encountered at any time, especially in the higher areas, such as at the Tjäktja pass.
  5. Merino wool, merino wool. Merino wool is unsurpassed for base layer/underwear.
  6. Even though the midnight sun is on, it may not be enough to charge a solar charger.
  7. Bring hiking poles, not only for hiking but also for river crossings.
  8. Do not overdo it in the beginning. The 20 km I did on second day between Abiskojaure and Alesjaure was clearly too much.
  9. Bring a GPS watch – not for navigation but for monitoring distances hiked and ascents done.
  10. The mosquitos are ferocious. The mild Danish mosquito spray does not work up here: Buy the local mosquito repellent.

    Walking on planks through birch forest at the beginning, right after Abisko.
    Walking on planks through birch forest at the beginning,         right after Abisko.

Schedule:
Abisko – Abiskojaure (camping) – Alesjaure (camping) – Tjäktja (hut) – Sälkka (camping) – Singi (camping) – Vakkotavare (camping) – Before Sitasjaure (camping) – Aktse (camping) – before Pårte (camping) – before Kvikkjok (camping).

The complete photogallery of the Kungsleden hike is available on flickr.

With these lessons, I went to the Alps in France, to hike the Tour de Mont Blanc.

The Laugavegurinn trail in ten paragraphs

  1. The volcanic landshapes are unlike anything else in the world, and for this reason alone, this is one of the worlds top hikes and easily the most popular multiday hike on Iceland.
  2. The hike itself is only medium difficulty and thus requires only medium fitness. Furthermore it is both very well marked and well prepared.
  3. Laugavegurinn is traditionally scheduled as a four-day hike from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk, but could be done in two (staying at Álftavatn). I did it in three (doubling the first two stages thus staying in Álftavatn the first night) plus one additional day for the Fimmvörðuháls.

    Between Landmannalaugar and Hraftinnussker
    Between Landmannalaugar and Hraftinnussker
  4. The main challenge is the weather: Four-season gear is needed as snow may fall anytime a year and/or fog may obscure visibility especially on the snowfields.
  5. The 20 km-extension over Fimmvörðuháls next to the Eyjafjallajökull volcano (responsible for the the 2010 ash cloud) and down to Skógar and the Skogafoss waterfall is not to be missed. Though slightly harder than the previous days, the main challenge remains the weather, especially:
  6. The snowfields. One large before Hráftinnusker and one at the Fimmvörðuháls pass (where I got lost).
  7. Even in high-season, the trail was not overcrowded. In addition if one follows a general rule of leaving late (10 am)- arriving late you may find yourself virtually alone on the trail. There are plenty space at the campsite and the sun is out until 10 pm.

    Crossing the deepest river on the Laugavegurinn
    Crossing the deepest river on the Laugavegurinn
  8. Camping gas, maps, basic food supplies may be bought in Landmannalaugar.
  9. It is well worth it to spend at least half a day at Landmannalaugar, hiking or bathing in the natural hot springs. Right next to the hot springs the water source is so hot that one may cook dinner/boil eggs there.
  10. Hráftinnusker is a very cold and windy place. Therefore, and especially for those camping, it makes sense to double the first stage and camp at Àlftavatn.

    Close to Landmannalaugar
    Close to Landmannalaugar

The coplete photogallery of the Laugavegurinn trail is posted on flickr.

General information and trip reports: FrugalfrolickerWall Street Journal. Beautiful photogallery from Northern Adventures.

Landmannalaugar, start of the Laugavegurinn Trail

Landmannalaugar Campsite
                             Landmannalaugar Campsite

What is it: Location in Iceland, the Northernmost and usual starting point for the Laugavegurinn Trail.

How to get there: Bus from Reykjavik, app 4-5 hours. Several companies, such as Trex (leaves from Adalstræti, outside the Tourist office) or Reykjavik Excursions(leaves from the Reykjavik Bus Station).  Both companies accept online bookings and have several departures daily in summer. Landmannalaugar is accessible roughly from end of June to September, and only  by 4WD (the last 40 km). Even with a 4WD skills the road is not straightforward to drive.

Facilities: Camping, toilets, shop selling maps of Laugavegurinn trek as well as gas (screw) canisters. Credit cards accepted. Hut accomodation also available (advance booking needed).

Around Landmannalaugar
                               Around Landmannalaugar

Activities: 1. Plenty of day/half-day hikes to do. Maps available in the small service shop. 2. Natural hot springs. The landshape formations around Landmannalaugar are quite exceptional (see photos below).

I was there: On July 17th, 2016 traveling by bus (Trex) from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, departing Reykjavik at 8 am, arriving at Landmannalaugar at 1 pm. I did a half-day hike and spend the night camping before commencing the Laugavegurinn hike.

Map and other info: On the Landmannalaugar info site.

Notes: Landmannalaugar is not a city, rather it is a camp-ground and parking space in the middle of nowhere.

The complete photogallery of the Laugavegurinn hike is available on flickr.

Hot Springs, Landmannalaugar
                     Hot Springs, Landmannalaugar

10 tips hiking the Torres del Paine circuit

Torres del Paine Circuit
Torres del Paine Circuit between Puesto Serrón and Lago Dickson

The 10 tips:

1. The Torres del Paine Circuit trail itself only moderately difficult, the most challenging section being the John Gardner pass. There are no issues with route finding and even moderately experienced hikers will have no issues hiking the full circuit without a guide.

2. Hiking times are estimated very conservatively in most online/printed sources. For even moderately experienced/fit hikers the Circuit may easily be hiked in 6-7 days and the W in 3 days.

3. Pack for four seasons as snow may be encountered at all times even in summer,  and use lightweight gear. A full backpack including four-season gear, food and camping equipment, need not weigh more than 10 kg. Unfortunately high-quality lightweight gear is not cheap.

Grey Glacier
View over the Grey Glacier

4. No need to carry food for the full eight days as food (both meals as well as supplies) may be bought at all the refuges. It can be difficult to get food into Argentina from Chile, thus the safer option to stock up in Puerto Natales. I had no problem with my freeze-dried meals at the land border, however.

5. Use sunscreen even in cloudy weather. The sun is very strong.

6. No need to carry more than 1 liter of water as water sources are abundant and clean.

7. Lonely Planet Hiking in Patagonia (from 2009) is very outdated as well as out of print. The Cicerone Torres del Paine guidebook may be preferred. The National Park provides up to date maps.

8. The biggest challenge for hikers in the park is the wind. Tighten your backpack. Even backpack cover may blow away in the Patagonian wind.

Gardner Pass descent
The descent from the Gardner Pass

9. The main challenge of the Circuit is crossing the John Gardner Pass. On the other hand it is the greatest day out of the entire circuit: Technically it is straight-forward, however snow and strong winds may be encountered at all times. In brief: 1. During the ascent you can see the pass high up. If you loose the markers, just walk in this direction. If the pass is obscured by snow or fog: Wait it out! 2. The winds on top of the pass may be ferocious. 3. The descent may be slippery, however ropes are provided.

ladders Torres del Paine
Climbing the ladders on the descent from the Gardner pass

10. Two sets of vertical ladders have to be climbed crossing two ravines a couple of hours before Refugio Grey. The most difficult moment on the hike, in my opinion, and the only moment with exposure on the entire trek.

What I did:
Solo-hiked the Torres del Paine circuit including the W hike with full camping gear (10 kg) over Christmas 2014, with the following itinerary:

El Calafate (private bus)-Laguna Amarga-Refugio Las Torres-Puesto Serón-Refugio Lago Dickson-Campamento Los Perros-Refugio Grey-Campamento Italiano – Valle del Francés (return)-Refugio Los Cuernos-Campamento Torres-Torres del Paine Lookout (return)-Refugio Las Torres-Puerto Natales (bus)

The complete photogallery of this trip is available on flickr.

General information on the Torres del Paine Circuit and W:

Adventure Alan provides comprehensive practical information for both the Torres del Paine circuit and W trek.

Besseggen, Norways top hike

Besieged view, Bessvatn and Gjende
On the way up the Besseggen ridge

Start: Memurubu
End: Gjendesheim
Distance (km): 15 km
Ascent/descent: 1100/1100 m

Time used: 8 hours with a 15 kg backpack.

Difficulty (1-5): 4.

Walking season: June-September. Depends on snow levels. Both public transportation to Gjendesheim and the boats on Gjende lake are seasonal and run approximately between late-June and September. Information via DNT.

Transport to/from the hike: To/from Gjendesheim: By car:  Info here on parking. By bus: From Oslo with Valdresekspressen. Additional daily local buses to Lom/Otta and Fagernes.

Besieged classical view
Besseggen – the classic view. The dark blue Bessvatn on the ridge, the light blue lake Gjende on the left.

Accomodation: Huts: At both trail ends Gjendesheim (DNT hut) and Memurubu hut provide accommodation. Several additional accommodation near Gjendesheim. Camping: Wild camping is permitted everywhere. There are several prime spots on the trail as well as close to both trail ends.

Description: Stony trail, however significantly less stony than other trails in Jotunheimen. Very well-marked. On the Besseggen ridge itself, there is a very short (2 min * 2) section of light scrambling. The trail may be walked either from Gjendesheim (thus walking from Gjendesheim and taking the boat back from Memurubu) or from Memurubu (taking the boat from Gjendesheim to Memurubu and walking back). Most people take the boat from Gjendesheim in the morning and walk back. Othes spend the night at Memurubu. In either case, in high season up to 500 people may leave Memurubu at approximately the same time, crossing the ridge between 10-12 am, causing significant traffic jam on the ridge.

Besseggen ridge from below
Besseggen ridge – on the way up

Online ressources including maps: 10 important tips on hiking in Jotunheimen, UT.no (description and maps), Gjende (info on the boats), Besseggen.net (general info), DNT (general info), Gjendesheim hut, Memurubu hut.

Important points: Up to 55.000 walk the Besseggen ridge every year. The Gjende boat may not be booked however boats leave in the morning from Gjendesheim as long as there are people. In high season the traffic jam on the ridge around midday is considerable and the biggest hazard of the hike.

Highlights: Climbing the ridge.

Low points: To be stuck in a crowd on the ridge.

Besseggen, camping at Bessvatn
Camping at “bandet” next to Bessvatn (the dark blue water) right before the Besseggen ridge

Important tips:

  • Avoid the crowds either by a) a very early (7am) start from Gjendesheim, b) spend the previous night in Memurubu and start around 7 am or c) camp on the trail (which I did). At 10 am I was alone on the ridge. At 11 am the ridge was overcrowded.
  • Prepare for all sorts of weather. I encountered a sudden snowstorm 300 meters above Memurubu in mid-August.
  • While the ridge may look narrow and exposed from below, it really is not. 55.000 passes the ridge every year and noone has ever fallen down from it.
  • For those on multi-day hikes, such as myself, it is possible to ship your backpack with the boat between Memurubu and Gjendesheim thus walking with a day-pack only.
Camping Besseggen
Camping 300 meter above Memurubu as I was surprised by a sudden snowstorm

 The complete photo gallery of this trip is available on flickr