In the STF hut, I saw among the books in their library that there is a book on Kungsleden written in Swedish and translated into English! I skimmed the book to get an idea of what to expect for the walk from Tjäktja to Sälka. The altitude profile in the book showed a 100 m gain over the first 2 km, followed by a steep 300 m downhill. It also rated the difficulty as “strenuous”, though by its standards it rated the walk from Alesjaure to Tjäktja as a level below, and I thought it was relatively easy.
Leaving Tjäktja for Sälka, the 100 m gain involved walking over a lot of stones before reaching the highest point of Kungsleden, where there is a wind shelter. It was another another windy and rainy day, so I was glad to use the outhouse and stop in the shelter for a short coffee break. I was a bit wary for the steep downhill, but it was actually quite gentle and easy with a lot of switchbacks and no tricky footing.
Five and a half hours after I started, I arrived into Sälka with a very light 10 kg backpack! Knowing I walked the most strenuous leg of Kungsleden and found it quite easy made me feel a little bit good. Though my feet, particularly the instep, hurt a little from stepping on stones all day. I think I could easily do this trip again with a tent, at least physically I feel strong enough. Doing this trip in a tent could be mentally taxing. The weather could have been a little (or a lot) better, as I usually walked relatively quickly to the huts so I could get inside to enjoy my lunch and hide from the rain. But apparently it has been a really cold summer in the north this year. Usually there are some days of good weather along with the days of not-so-good weather.
Photos taken at Sälka:
Sälka Glacier Day Walk
The next day, I was lucky since the sun was shining for the first time in days, and I decided to stay an extra day at Sälka as originally planned to do a day hike up to Sälka glacier. If the weather was anything like what I had during the past few days, there would have been no point as rain clouds would have completely obscured any views. The trip is 12 km round trip from the huts, with a 700 m elevation gain, and requires fording a river.
The route: Starting from Sälkastugorna (Sälka huts), cross the north Bro (bridge), walk downstream and cross where marked. Then followed the top (going north) red route up along the waterfall/stream to the lake. Then up onto a ridge to reach the glaciers. I stopped short of climbing in between the glaciers before returning the same way. (It’s possible to walk in a loop up and between the glaciers, and down another way returning via the south red route, but as you can see it’s much longer, as well as tricky to walk between the glaciers.)
(Sorry for the bad photo quality.)
From the Sälka STF huts, looking west. The route is up between this pass, following the south side of the waterfall stream up to a small lake.
The route is simple in theory… But the trail is not marked, and it was a mentally and physically exhausting walk for a relative newbie like me, starting 9 AM finishing at 5 PM. Lots of lessons and experience gained that day…
My first river fording experience… I told the STF hut host of my plans to walk up to Sälka glacier and he mentioned that I should cross one (or a few?) footbridges back towards Tjäktja, then downstream, crossing the main stream before all the streams joined up together, crossing directly to “the big rock” on the other side of the river.
Found the spot, and tried to spy a line of stones that stuck up out of the water that I could cross up onto. Took off my boots and socks, and then stepped into the freezing cold water towards a first stone 1 m away. Knee deep in icy cold water, I barely made it up onto the first stone, my leg muscles shaking so violently from the cold water I could barely stand. I can’t do it!
I jumped back to the river bank. Paced back and forth on the river bank barefoot for well over half an hour. What should I do? I didn’t want to show my face back to the hut hosts so soon, admitting defeat. Was there a better place to cross? I looked across to the big rock, and a seagull perched on the rock watched me, taunting me. Then I noticed an orange plastic stake about 1 m high stuck into the ground on my side of the river – probably this was where I was supposed to cross! The water here did look a little more shallow. My feet got a little more used to the sensation of walking on rocks with my pacing. Okay, I’m going to try again! With some yoga breaths and repeating to myself with each step “THIS DOESN’T HURT!!” I made it across! Some parts were knee deep, but for much of the way the water was only a few inches deep.
Lesson #1: Cold moving water is more painful than you expect and potentially dangerous.
Then I saw reindeer!
I saw some snow ahead of me. Attempted to go above the snow, not following the way drawn with a sharpie on my map, until the steepness would force me to boulder around the mountain. Cut my finger, and then stopped and realized the foolishness of trying to boulder around a steep slippery mountain, particularly being there all alone… So ended up dropping back down and crossing the snow after all.
Lesson #2: Understanding how to read a map and interpret the surroundings is invaluable.
Lesson #3: Follow the way suggested by others exactly! They have suggested it for a reason. (#2 is required in order to complete #3.)
Lesson #4: Sometimes crossing snow is necessary.
Lesson #5: Wear gloves.
Trying to find my way up onto the ridge… Due to my poor map comprehension skills, I learned the hard way again how not to attempt to go up a mountain, before finding a better way.
Lesson #6: See lessons 2 & 3.
Finally, I made it to Sälka glacier!
I could see in the distance a few grey rain clouds would be headed my way in a few hours, so after a short break I headed back down to the STF huts in time for a well deserved sauna with beer and sausage (Canadians read: Hot rod).
Despite the day’s difficulties, I was proud of the fact I did it! I also felt that I didn’t take any stupid risks, and I was able to put trust in myself, stopping to think and evaluate the situation in front of me. So many times during the day I wished Per was there to help guide me. But I wouldn’t have learned as much – I needed to learn them the hard way. It was absolutely wind still and quiet on the top, and really wonderful being up there alone (with the reassurance that others weren’t too far away).
Often I questioned myself during this trip, “Why am I doing this?” During the walk to Sälka glacier, I realized the answer: “Why not?”
To be continued…