After struggling just a little (mainly with my morale) on the previous leg from Jäkkvik, the stretch of path between Kvikkjokk and Saltoluokta has been an absolute treat.
It’s like a giant assault course – you wind through a flooded wood, clamber over a mountainside, cross a lake, then more or less repeat two or three times. It’s been real fun, and to add an extra element of children’s TV mayhem to the proceedings, on one of the forest paths coming down towards the lake south of Aktse you have to avoid a devilish waist-deep mud trap. A wooden walkway leads straight into it, but fortunately I skirted round the edge, suspicious of the half-submerged planks. Others have not been so lucky, and I have met two separate victims, while hearing of many more from the staff at the STF cabins along the way.
There’s been loads of variation to keep life on the trail interesting, the terrain is often easy walking, and even when it isn’t, it somehow never crosses that invisible line between challenging and tough. The birch forest is a little more airy than elsewhere, the mosquitoes are a little less numerous and ravenous, and the ascents are often short, sharp affairs that offer quick rewards for your efforts. And of course you get plenty of tantalising glimpses across into the wild vastness of Sarek national park. There are adventures aplenty for other years lurking in there.
My pace has suffered just a bit, mainly on account of the lake crossings and one slightly early finish so as to camp above the treeline (it seemed absurd to sacrifice clear, mosquito-free air and mountain views for a few extra kilometres at the end of the day), but I’m not worrying about it. When the walking’s this good you don’t want to be rushing it, and Gustav and I put in some long marches further south so I can afford to come up a little short for a couple of days if needs be.
It’s still raining most of the time, of course, but I live in hope. Each morning I say to myself ‘it can’t rain every day’, and then it does, but at least it’s been more spray and showers than the tropical downpours of last week.
Last night I stayed in the famous old fjällstation at Saltoluokta, where I dried my wet gear (yet again) and enjoyed a delicious dinner of arctic char in the company of three bold Swedes on their way home from a 250km jaunt in the mountains. I’m justifying it on the grounds that I needed to get some calories and decent protein down me (I had to put another notch in the belt the other day), but in truth a little luxury is a grand thing once in a while.
This morning I crossed on the ferry to Kebnats, then began my day with a brisk 31km road walk towards the STF cabin at Vakkotavare, into light rain and a stiff headwind. There, as I sat refuelling with a cup of hot, sweet milk, I was delighted to bump into Svan, an acquaintance from a couple of days earlier (and a veteran of the mud pit). His walking companion had decided to pack it in at Saltoluokta, but Diesel, his black miniature poodle, still trotted faithfully at his heels in a little red rain jacket. Together they’d taken the bus from Kebnats (as pretty much everyone does when they’re not constrained by the rules of the Green Ribbon), and planned to set out for Abisko the next morning. I do hope they make it all the way, partly because Svan is such a likeable chap, but also because I shouldn’t think there are all that many hiking miniature poodles who’ve conquered Sweden’s royal trail.
As evening drew in I said my goodbyes and climbed up away from the road into the thick cloud, pottering a few kilometres further on the misty plateau before camping up for the night.
This promises to be one of the most spectacular stretches of my trip, so perhaps I will wake to clear skies in the morning. It can’t rain every day, after all.