Hiking the Padjelanta Trail

When I hiked the King’s Trail last year, I asked almost everyone I met what their favorite trail is. Among the Swedish hikers, especially the more experienced ones, one trail kept popping up: the Padjelanta Trail. They described beautiful views, days of hiking on arctic tundra above the tree line, and fewer people than on the King’s Trail. I was sold.

The Padjelanta Trail is 160 kilometers long. It starts in either Kvikkjokk to the south or Ritsem to the north and takes you through Padjelanta national park – the largest national park in Sweden. Along the way, you have stunning views over the snow capped peaks of Sarek to the east and Sulitelma to the southwest, and the trail also takes you to Virihávrre and Vástenjávrre: two of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Sweden.

There are manned cabins on the trail, some run by the Swedish Tourist Association and some by the indigenous Sámi, but me and my girlfriend Rebecka planned on staying in our tent during our nine days in Padjelanta. Of those nine days, we had planned seven days for the trail itself, and two days for climbing the mountain Àhkkà (2011 meters). Our careful planning quickly went out the window once we hit the trail, but we still had a wonderful adventure.

During the hike, I wrote daily updates for my Instagram account and published them once we got back to civilization. This blog post is based on those updates. If you’re curious about our gear on the hike, you can find my Lighterpack list here and Rebecka’s list here. There’s more information about the Padjelanta Trail on the Swedish Tourist Association website.

August 9 (29 km)

Airplane, taxi, train, bus, boat. Me and Rebecka managed to tick off almost every mode of transportation save helicopter and hot air balloon on the road to Kvikkjokk, where we arrived 28 hours after we left Rebecka’s apartment in Stockholm.

Our destination is the Padjelanta Trail, which starts in Kvikkjokk and draws a half circle around the western side of Sarek national park before ending at the mountain Áhkká (2011 m) after 160 kilometers. Our plan is to hike the trail in seven days, with an extra two days for climbing Áhkká, weather permitting. The forecast doesn’t look promising.

The adventure started with a 3 km boat ride to the trail head, with a lovely tour through the Darraeädno river delta. First order of business after that: lunch. The mosquitoes had the same plan – I counted around 30 of them on my (thankfully thick) socks while I was enjoying my freeze dried pulled pork.

In the afternoon, we continued deeper into the Tarradalen valley until we reached the Njunjes STF cabin, where we stopped for a chat with the cabin host. I also picked up a cabin patch. I collected them on the King’s Trail last year, and I’ll try to get all of them on the Padjelanta Trail as well. We hadn’t planned to go any further than Njunjes, but the weather was nice and the forecast for tomorrow promises much worse. We decided to continue a bit further before calling it a day.

We’d only had small hints of the fjäll up to that point, so when we reached the top of the hill just west of Njunjes, the view over the Tarradalen valley surrounded by mountain peaks and moors took us by surprise. This was what we came here for. Our excitement (and lollipops) gave us energy to continue 2 kilometers past the Tarrekaise STF cabins (another chat, another patch) before pitching our tent.

August 10 (24.8 km)

A long day 1 without much sleep resulted in day 2 starting with us sleeping in, and then taking down the tent in the rain. Never fun, but at least it cleared up as we got closer to the Såmmarlappa STF cabin. Unfortunately, this part of the trail was a bit of a slog. Lots of mud, lots of tall vegetation, and lots of wet wooden walking planks. The latter resulted in two slips for Rebecka, but thankfully without injuries.

We paid for a day pass at the Såmmarlappa cabin to eat our late lunch out of the rain, which had picked up quite a bit soon after we entered. We talked with the other hikers and the cabin hosts about the trail, and – always – the weather. Said weather soon resulted in lots of hikers showing up to stay the night, and the 16 bed cabin filled up to capacity within an hour of us arriving. We had already planned to hike a bit further, but the crowded cabin led to us making an early exit. Unfortunately, I forgot most of our supply of instant coffee in the hurry. It almost made me call for a helicopter back to civilization.

When left, the rain took a break and we even had some blue sky as we hiked the final four kilometers to the edge of Padjelanta National Park. Entering the park that gave the trail its name felt like the real start to the adventure, and we asked a hiker who had set up his tent next to the trail to document our excitement.

As we continued into the park, we had blue sky overhead but could sense the rain clouds following us into the valley. The downpour started just as we reached a plateau five kilometers from the Darreluoppal cabins. We found a flat spot where we could pitch our tent aligned with the wind, and by the time it was properly pitched, we were both properly wet. The wind soon picked up as well, and we had dinner, tea and whisky while heavy rain and gusts of 15–20 m/s tested the mettle of our Hilleberg Helags. Thank the mountains gods for strong tents.

August 11 (28.8 km)

We were woken up at 8 by a reindeer who wanted to join us in the tent. He dragged his hoof against the tent cloth and nudged it with his mule, but when we started to move around, he scampered off. That’s a first for me.

The wind was still strong when we broke camp, making packing the tent a bit of a challenge. I had secured it to my backpack in case the wind got hold of it, which was fortunate, because it did. The gust pulled my backpack a half meter before we got hold of the tent. Lightweight backpacking has its drawbacks.

As we made our way to the Darreluoppal cabin, a rainbow appeared over the lake that shares its name with the cabin and put us in good spirits. So did meeting Gerd, the cabin host. She didn’t know the exact wind speeds, but she told us that her cabin, which is anchored to bedrock with steel wires, also had been shaking that night.

She also told us that the next part of the trail would take us to its highest point, from where we would be able to see a wide range of peaks in Sarek. The weather had other plans. The peaks were shrouded in clouds, and the winds on the plateau between Darreluopal and Duottar – the next cabin – were fierce. Sleet was coming at us horizontally and waves with white tipped crests were pushed across lakes the size of swimming pools. The gusts must have been approaching 25 m/s.

When we arrived at the Duottar cabins, we were wet, cold, and tired. We decided to pay for a cabin day pass, and we spent the next hour and a half having lunch and getting warm and dry. The thermometer told us it was six degrees outside. We were thrilled about being indoors.

The cabin host told us that we had another day of strong winds ahead of us, so we decided to find a sheltered spot for the night. We found it eleven kilometers towards Staloluokta, halfway through another windy but very pretty section of the trail. Our little plot of grass close to the Bållàvrjåkhå river doesn’t make for dramatic photos, but we’ve had enough drama for one day.

August 12 (28.6 km)

On every hike, you have a day when everything seems to fall in place and you find your hiking groove. For us, this was that day. We’ve gotten used to the bad weather, the kilometers came fast and easy, and getting packed up and ready to go in the morning was done with military efficiency.

Once we were ready to go, we set our sights on Staloluokta – the biggest Sami village on the trail, and the one that offers the most services for hikers. Many Padjelanta visitors take a helicopter to Staloluokta and hike to Ritsem from there, skipping the part of the trail we’d spent the past three days hiking. I get why they want to skip the fjäll jungle in the Tarradalen valley, but they also miss a lot of beautiful scenery – especially the sections between Darreluoppal and Staloluokta.

Staloluokta is on the southeastern shore of Virihávrre, the largest lake in Padjelanta national park and one that we’d seen a glimpse of the previous day. When we got to the top of the hill Biedjovárátja and saw Virihávrre properly for the first time, the view took our breath away. The water is colored torquise by glacier melt water, and on the far shore 20 kilometers away, we could see snow capped peaks by and beyond the Norwegian border.

We didn’t come to Staloluokta for the views, though – we came here to SHOP! More specifically, from Parfas kiosk, a miniature hiker shop with a large reputation. We picked up a few more freeze dried meals, mjukost and gas. Rebecka got to pet a very friendly dog while the guy managing the shop echoed our estimates that the gusts from the previous night had reached 25 meters per second.

The rest of the day contained very little blog post worthy hiker drama, but lots of pretty views as we followed the shore from Staloluokta to Árasluokta, and then across the bridge over Miellädno where we made camp next to the river. Tomorrow starts with 300 meters of elevation gain to the Pårka pass. We’d better get some sleep.

August 13 (32.4 km)

One week ago today, me and Rebecka were at a wedding party dressed in smoking and gown, sipping champagne and eating hors d’œuvres. Today, Rebecka had our mud caked rain pants mounted on her backpack while I dried my washed underwear on mine, and we ate freeze dried pasta and beef stew for lunch. It’s nice to have contrasts.

The reason for why we could have our rain pants on Rebecka’s backpack instead of on us, is that we finally had a good weather day. For the first time since the hike started, we could see the peaks that have surrounded us. The timing was pretty good, since we began the day by hiking up into the 900 meter Pårka pass, where we had views over both the peaks we had passed to the south, by lake Virihávrre, and the peaks of Sarek to the east. We also had our first real sighting of Áhkká, the holy Sami mountain which marks the end (or beginning) of the Padjelanta trail.

On the other side of the pass were the Låddejåhkå BLT cabins, where we had planned to spend five minutes tops. Instead, over an hour went by – entirely thanks to the incredibly friendly cabin host, Edna. By the end of our conversation, she’d convinced to us to reroute the next stage of our hike to follow the old path of the Padjelanta trail, up on Loadásjvagge and over the peak Njierek. She promised we would have a stunning view of Áhkká. She also helped us come to a decision about something we’ve been grappling with for a while: not climbing Áhkká.

We added two extra days to our hike so we would have time for the climb, but with the weather being as unsteady as it is, it started to look less and less like a good idea. Our long days had also resulted in us having not two extra days, but three – meaning we were looking for something that would take more time. Edna helped us decide on doing Treparksmötet instead. It’s a 60 kilometer hiking trail that starts and ends in Akkastugorna, and it passes through three national parks on the way. That’s what we’ll set out to do after we reach Akkastugorna and complete the Padjelanta Trail tomorrow.

On the subject of changing plans: originally, we had planned on refilling our food stocks for the rest of the trip in Staloluokta, at Parfas kiosk. When we got there, we had a brain fart and decided that instead of buying food from his large selection of freeze dried food bags, we would refill at BLT (Badjelánnda Laponia Turism) cabins along the way. That plan misfired badly when we reached the Gisuris cabin late in the evening today and discovered what food they have left.

After careful consideration, we picked up the following for the remaining four days of the hike:

  • Eight servings of instant mashed potatoe powder
  • Two cans of meatballs in cream sauce
  • Two cans of Bullens pilsnerkorv sausage (ask your Swedish friends)
  • One package of Ballerina cookies
  • One can of Coca Cola Zero

On the bright side, tonight we’re tenting inside Sarek National Park (on the very, very far northern edge). So there’s that.

August 14 (17.9 km)

Today, after six days and 160 kilometers, we reached the Akka cabins and finished the Padjelanta trail. And then we immediately started on another trail.

We began the day north of the Gisuris cabins, just a stone’s throw away from Treparksmötet – the point where the borders of three national parks meet: Padjelanta, Stora sjöfallet, and Sarek. Despite having only 13 kilometers to the Akka cabins and the end of the trail, we took it very slow. We stopped multiple times to pick cloudberries and admire the view towards the mountain Áhkká which got closer and closer during the day, and we got in touch with the people back home when we got in range of cell towers again.

It was 14:30 by the time we reached the Akka cabins and finished the trail. We talked with the cabin host for a bit before having lunch – Bullens sausage with mashed potatoes – while admiring the snowy peaks of Áhkká on the other side of the river Voujatädno. The sun was out, and the view clear in all directions. It was a nice moment.

We had already decided to spend our three extra days doing the Treparksmötet trail, which starts in the Akka cabins and runs in a 60 km loop, so after a while, we said see you later to the cabin host and continued towards Vaisaluokta on the shore of Akkajaure. We wanted to do a semi rest day, so we didn’t plan on going far. After four kilometers, we found a perfect spot close to the water.

We had worked up a sweat in the afternoon sun, and the surface of Akkajaure was perfectly still in the sunlight. It sure wasn’t warm though.

August 15 (27.7 km)

After one week in Padjelanta, we started our second trail of the trip: Treparksmötet. We both felt pretty fresh after the swim on day 6, and the weather kept us in good spirits as day 7 started. For the first time on this trip, we could pack down our tent in the morning and have breakfast in the sunshine. A real hiking advertisement photo shoot moment.

They say that the weather in the Swedish fjäll can change quickly. After a quick visit to STF Vaisaluokta for a cabin patch (and a nice chat with a local in the Vaisaluokta Sami village), we got to experience that for ourselves. As we started the 200 meter climb from Vaisaluokta to the valley leading to STF Kutjaure, it began to rain. Barely enough to require a rain jacket at first, but then, out of nowhere, torrents of huge rain drops started falling. I put on my rain pants in a frenzy, but not before the rain completely soaked us and turned the the trail into a stream. And then, minutes later, it was over. Not two hours after we had enjoyed our breakfast in the sun. After another 15 minutes, we could watch the rain clouds continue our over Akkajaure.

Once we had finished the climb up to the valley and the rain and sweat had dried up, we sat down for lunch. We were in poor spirits about our canned goods shopping at the Gisuris cabins a couple of days ago, but we’ve gotten over it now. The meatballs in cream sauce with instant mashed potatoes tasted alright with some seasoning, and more importantly, we’re now down to two cans. Only one kilogram of canned goods left to carry.

The planned distance for today was pretty short, so we set our sights on a detour. We left our backpacks at our lunch spot three kilometers from Vaisaluokta, and then we started on the four kilometer hike to the peak on the mountain Boalnotjåhkkå. It sits opposite Áhkká in the valley, separated by the Voujatädno river, and the view from the humble 1099 meter peak was stunning. We could see into the heart of Áhkká with its glaciers, into Padjelanta all the way to Vastenjaure, and we had a 180 degree view over almost all of Akkajaure. Definitely worth the eight kilometer round trip if you’re hiking Treparksmötet.

After we got back to our bags, we continued southwest towards STF Kutjaure. The U-shaped valley reminded us of Lapporten in Abisko, and the lakes in its center and the large rocks dotting the landscape made for pretty views while we walked. Still, we were pretty tired at this point, so we started to look for a home for the night quickly. The winds were strong over the lakes, but we found it in a sheltered and pretty cozy spot on a hill between Gårssåjávrre and Guossjájávrre.

August 16 (32.9 km)

Or really Treparksmötet day 2. Our sheltered and cozy tent spot turned out to be less sheltered than we thought, as the strong winds in the valley between Vaisaluokta and Kutjaure woke us up multiple times during the night. The morning weather made up for it though, with sunshine and a gentle breeze. Our second outdoor breakfast of this trip. Pure hiker bliss.

The rest of the walk to the STF Kutjaure cabins was pretty and mostly easy, excluding an off trail detour we took to the Sami village on the western shore of Kutjaure. We ended up descending about 200 meters through dense birch forests and willow bushes next to a large river canyon. Not quite worth the detour.

By the time we reached the STF Kutjaure cabins, the sunshine had been replaced by heavy rain. We cooked our can of Bullens sausage and instant mashed potatoes beneath the roofed entrance to the main cabin, and chatted a bit with the cabin host who pointed out a rough-legged buzzard (fjällvråk) flying overhead. I picked up the STF Kutjaure cabin patch, which means I have completed my collection of patches from the STF cabins on the Padjelanta trail and Treparksmötet. I’m starting to realize that I’m going to have to get all of them eventually. About halfway there.

The cabin host at STF Kutjaure also shared the weather forecast with us, and it led to a change of plans. Originally, we were going to tent for two more nights, and then take the boat from STF Akka to Ritsem and immediately take the bus to Gällivare. The rain is looking absolutely terrible on day 9, though, so we’ve decided to take the boat to Ritsem a day early. That will allow us to stay a night at a hostel in Ritsem before taking the bus to Gällivare the next morning. Nine days without fresh water will make you keen for a shower.

The bad forecast for tomorrow also made us want to shorten it as much as possible, so we decided to get beyond the Gisuris cabins today. That meant an afternoon hike of about 20 kilometers in the pouring rain. Thankfully, the fuel from Bullens sausage in our stomach put a spring in our step and we made quick work of it. We sadly didn’t enjoy the raised snake ridges (rullstensåsar) next to Voujatädno much due to the heavy rain, nor the view towards the mountains Áhkká or Gisuris since they were completely obscured by the rain. The sudden downpour made us glad that we hadn’t followed our original plan and tried to climb Áhkká.

And then, out of nowhere, the sun hanging low on the horizon above lake Sallohaure reached below the clouds and lit the whole valley up. The rain clouds quickly surrendered and gave way to blue skies. The amazing weather stayed with us after we put up our tent just a stones throw away from the point where the Sarek, Stora sjöfallet and Padjelanta national parks meet. A beautiful morning and a beautiful evening. We’ll try to forget about the rest of the day as soon as possible.

August 17 (17.9 km)

We were promised rain, and boy did we get it. From the moment we woke up, to the moment we broke camp, to the moment we reached Akkastugorna and completed the Treparksmötet trail, it rained almost without pause. When we crossed the bridge over Sjnjuvtjudisjåhkå – “Jåkkjåkken” – the water that had been the pale green of glaciers the previous evening had risen much higher and was colored mud brown.

This was the second time we walked between the Gisuris cabins and the STF Akka cabins, so we’d decided to listen to audiobooks as we finished the final 14 kilometers of the second trail of the trip. The rain had flooded large sections of the trail and turned streams into rivers, almost putting some of the wooden bridges underwater in the process. We were relieved when we reached the Akka cabins early in the afternoon. We had now hiked both the Padjelanta trail and Treparksmötet, and we were ready to start the long journey back to Stockholm. We gladly paid for a day pass so we could have lunch indoors and dry ourselves and our clothes while we waited for the evening boat to Ritsem.

Before we left for Kvikkjokk to start our adventure, the weather forecast for the next ten days said we would have rain at the start, rain at the end, and a small pocket of sunshine in the middle. That turned out to be almost exactly what we got. Despite the weather, I’m really glad me and Rebecka went on this trip together. Padjelanta is beautiful, especially on the few clear days when we could see the snow capped peaks surrounding us, and the wind and rain is so much easier to take when you have someone to laugh about it with.

I hope I’ll have better luck with the weather next year, when I pass through Padjelanta again on Gröna bandet.