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I want to go hiking in Sweden this summer with a few friends (forming a group of about 5-7 people) for one or two weeks. The goals we targeted were mainly Kungsleden and Sarek. While a hike on Kungsleden should be safe through STF-huts, some websites and users reported that Kungsleden can get crowded in summer. On the other hand, Sarek is described as something which only "experienced hikers" should visit, although containing extraordinary beauty. But really, apart from steep hills and harsh weather conditions, what could possibly go wrong?

About us: We are relatively inexperienced hikers (many of us hiked for a few days, but not recently and probably not with a heavy backpack). However, we are willing to train ourselves (by doing exercises and "test runs" in a nearby forest). And we do not want to risk our lives: We would like to rent a satellite phone, have a first aid kit, and redundancy wherever possible.

  • Has anyone in your group hiked in Sarek? – Ken Graham Feb 4 '17 at 23:04
  • No, not yet. That's why I ask - we simply can't imagine how it's like. – sammex Feb 4 '17 at 23:20
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    There are plenty of alternatives less crowded than Kungsleden and less demanding than Sarek. Topic for a separate question, perhaps? – Guran Feb 6 '17 at 11:43
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    @Guran: Nordkalottleden and Padjelantaleden come to mind. They basically run in parallel to Kungsleden for long distances, so the terrain is fairly similar. – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 6 '17 at 16:43
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    Just to let you know "What could possibly go wrong?" is usually rhetorical and a joke. It typically means "Ha ha, it's going to be a terrible disaster!" – Martin F Nov 26 '18 at 22:35
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I have hiked the entirety of the Kungsleden, did an 11 day Sarek crossing and have also been on parts of the Nordkalottleden and the Padjelantaleden - so you could say I am fairly experienced with northern Scandinavian mountain treks.

Kungsleden

I did Kungsleden in 2006 - 'crowded' meant for us that we maybe saw some 5 groups of people per day, sharing camp grounds around the huts with maybe some 5 parties each night. That was on the northernmost section (Abisko southwards), which is also the most popular one.

In 2018 I was again hiking parts of the northernmost Kungsleden sections again, we met maybe 10-20 parties per day, with some avg. of maybe 10-30 people camping at the huts.

If you go towards the south, i.e. Kvikkjok/Ammernäs, it gets far less crowded, most days we maybe met some 1-2 groups of hikers.

But: Kungsleden remains very very beautiful, it is easy to reach and with all the huts if something goes wrong help is never too far (i.e. maybe half a days walk). Also, while expensive, you can resupply at the huts and mountain stations, meaning that you don't need to carry as much food if you don't want to (food is heavy :P).

Sarek

Sarek on the other hand is quite another experience!

  • There are no marked trails, in some areas there are no trails what so ever. There are no bridges, so expect to do all your river-crossings (of which there can be many) the hard-core way by fording/wading through. Most importantly, except for the one emergency phone cabin in the center of Sarek, it is completely empty.

  • You will have to bring food for the entire trek, which will take you at least a week, potentially a lot longer (we attempted to cross Sarek on an 11 day route).

    Note that you will have to bring plenty of reserves too, as the weather can make short work of your nicely laid out plans: when our group attempted a crossing, a sudden thunderstorm let the rivers swell high enough to cut of some valleys which forced us to completely change our route.

  • If something goes wrong, the nearest place to call for help might be a 3 day hike from where you are, depending on your location. You must be aware of this fact and plan for it: if somebody is injured at least one person must stay with the injured one, while someone (better even two) go and fetch help.

What can go wrong?

In terms of what can actually happen I'd say the dangers are pretty similar on Kungsleden vs. Sarek - with some added risks due to all the river crossings you'll have to do in Sarek (Kungsleden has bridges).

  • Anything from twisted ankles to broken legs or worse
  • Hypothermia b/c of a combination of bad weather/bad preparation/bad decision making
  • Getting sick midway
  • River crossing by wading (if you do not know the dangers don't even think about Sarek)
  • ...

--> Sarek is not per se more dangerous (except for river crossings), but it is a lot more remote. If something happens, getting help will thus be a lot harder than on the Kungsleden. Just imagine having to sit and wait for 2 or 3 days with a broken leg until your friend hopefully made it far enough to alert emergency responders...

Bottom line...

If, as you say, your group is rather inexperienced, I strongly suggest you stick to Kungsleden. Once you have a couple of weeks experience in Scandinavian mountain treks behind your belt Sarek can be a wonderful and challenging adventure - but this is not something for beginners.

8

I am not sure, I would take this hike if I were inexperienced. At a minimum, please talk over your plans with an experienced local guide. Personally I would take a guide.

The attraction of Sarek is that it is wholly untamed - no marked paths exist to guide you through its breathtaking landscape of mountains and valleys.

Sarek is a wild and challenging environment, but you do not need to be an expert adventurer to participate. Distances covered daily are manageable, but if you would like to take part in this experience, you should be fit, have some experience of mountain hikes with tent and be comfortable carrying a pack weight of around 18-20kg with tent over rough terrain. You should bear in mind that you will need to count on adding another 6-8kg to your personal pack weight to allow for food, tent, kitchen equipment and fuel.

A little about the Kungsleden-Sarek trail:

Kungsleden is Sweden’s longest and most famous trail. It has become increasingly popular with international hikers in recent years in part due to a National Geographic article listing it among the “World’s Best Hikes“. Although that reviewer did not cover much of the trail’s actually distance, but that is beside the point. Kungsleden is a beautiful 440 km trek through the Scandinavian mountain range between Hemavan in the south and Abisko in the north. Trailing across majestic mountains, river valleys and highland plateaus it is a truly breathtaking experience! Early in the season you can enjoy the midnight sun and later the northern lights. Weather can be unreliable all season though, including late or early snow. We experienced snow already early September this year.

Whatever you do, please take a guide with you. This is rough terrain.

Sarek National Park is mainly a high-alpine area with almost no accommodation for tourists.

Hiking trails

The Kungsleden hiking trail passes through the eastern part of the park, from Saltoluokta to Kvikkjokk. There are no cabins within the park, the Pårte, Aktse and Sitojaure cabins are just outside the park and they are accessible from both Saltoluokta and Kvikkjokk.

Hazards

Due to the lack of shelters combined with rapidly shifting weather and rough terrain, it is recommended that hikers are well prepared and experienced before setting out on the trails of the park.

Fording streams

There are few bridges in the park, and crossing streams (Sami: jokk) and rivers (Sami: ätno) can be dangerous for ill equipped or inexperienced hikers. Warm weather increases the melting of the glaciers causing water levels to rise, therefore wading is often easier and safer early in the morning.

The only ford across the Rapa River south of the Smaila Moot, is at Tielmaskaite. The ford is long and can only be used when water levels are low. Inexperienced hikers are recommended not to cross without a guide.

The glacier jokk from Pårtejekna, Kåtokjåhkå, has no fords. There is a bridge at the southernmost part if the stream (67°09′25.9″N 17°51′20.9″E). Hikers can also follow he streams up to the glacier and cross there, although this requires knowledge about glacier crossing. - Sarek National Park (Wikipedia)

  • IMHO 18-20kg is really on the lower end for a Sarek crossing. Depending on the route you'll likely carry some 8-10 days/kg of food, and going ultralight (while doable) is a challenge with the Scandinavian weather. – fgysin reinstate Monica Feb 6 '17 at 12:45
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I've been to Sarek twice and hiked other parts of the swedish and norwegian mountain range (some "wilder" than sarek) more than a dozen times. Here is my view:

Sarek is wild, beautiful, but far from deserted during the peak hiking season. If you choose one of the more common paths, you will certainly meet other hikers. There are marked paths with huts that see less traffic than the main valleys of Sarek. That being said, in the middle of Sarek, You are on you own. Outside help is not to be counted on if something goes wrong. Cell phone coverage is almost zero. A sat phone works of course, but see it as a back up, not something you rely on.

So to your question, what can go wrong? First we have the general hazards of hiking in the mountains. You might get sick. You might hurt yourself, sprain an ankle or break a leg. You might run into bad weather (Freezing temeratures possible even in summer)

Those things might just as well happen on Kungsleden (or at home), but the consequences in Sarek are more serious since you're off-trail two days hike from help.

So take that boy scout motto to heart: be prepared. Make sure to have some extra rations and days so you can stay put if the weather turns foul, or if you need to rest.

Then there two specific dangers that makes Sarek more serious than Kungsleden:

1) Navigation. Though Sarek is quite easy to navigate in good visibility (simply follow the valleys) it is another matter if it gets foggy. And though the certainly are paths to follow, they are not marked. Be confident with map and compass.

2) Fording. On a marked trail like Kungsleden, there are bridges over the streams. With a bit of luck with the weather you'll even keep your feet dry. In Sarek, there are only a few bridges. You won't be able to cross it or get into the central parts without fording minor and major streams. Don't take this lightly. Loosing footing in a rapid stream is really bad news. Read up on the route you're plannning so you don't end up on the wrong side of a stream you cannot cross...

Apart from those two, more alpine hazards face you if you fancy climbing the summits, but peaks and glaciers are an option on a sarek trip, not a necessity.

Naturally You also need to be fit and motivated enough for a ten day unsupported hike.

5

As background, I've hiked the Kungsleden in 2014 (my second hike, and first self-organized), as well as both marked trails and cross country in Norway and Iceland. To add to the risks already mentioned:

Do not underestimate the general, less obvious hazards in tough terrain. For example, both in Iceland and slightly off trail in Kungsleden I encountered overgrown streams. What looks like a mossy path between thick bushes (and easier to walk) might turn out to be hollowed-out gound, and stepping on it can end half a meter lower than it should have. That's something you can't really prepare for just by reading online articles, you learn from experience.

If someone gets injured by something like that, a remote area without marked trails could become a serious problem - even if you have a satellite phone, describing the position while inexperienced with navigation could be hard. On a marked trail, that's a lot easier, mentioning the previous and next hut/waypoint makes you easy to find.

Advantages of a marked and maintained trail:

  • no (or easy) fording (less risks, no fording shoes necessary)
  • hazardous terrain is mostly laid out with planks, eliminating a lot of less obvious risks
  • navigation (even with basic map/compass skills) is easy, as well as communicating your position in case of emergency
  • others will be around to help out if necessary - both hikers you meet on the road, and hut staff
  • in case of bad weather (which can happen often and quickly) there are some huts to take shelter and dry your things. Hiking in wet boots for a week is not really pleasant.

As you are inexperienced and have a lot of things on your mind - save yourself a lot of trouble and risks, take a marked and maintained trail for the first hike. You have less to prepare for, less that could go wrong, and there are others around who could help out. The Kungsleden is still very beautiful, there's a reason it's famous.

As for how crowded the Kungsleden is (or was 2014): Make sure you don't go there when Fjäll Raven Classics happens. That's hordes of good-weather tourists going from Kebnekaise to Abisko in a short while, definitely not enjoyable. Besides that time, it's not that frequent you meet someone. We went from Abisko to Vakottavaare, and after we got south of the Kebnekaise, it got a lot quieter. Might be useful for you - someone around for the first days, in case something went wrong, then less company when you've got a hang of it. Even if that's still too crowded, take another trail, there are more choices in the region, like Padjelantaleden. But going off trail for the first hike seems reckless to me. Once you got the basics covered, you can aim for the more remote areas.

As side notes: Even on Kungsleden, there was no cell phone coverage except for the Kebnekaise basecamp area. Satellite phone might be nice to make calls, but for emergencies, a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) might be better. I'd say it's overkill for the Kungsleden (see navigation), but off-trail it should be essential. For the training hikes, include some steep ascends. By my experience, that's where boots fail first. Do it every two weeks with full weight, and your body gets used to it, that makes it a lot easier on the hike.

3

I've been to Kungsleden and hiked a few days in Sarek until we had to turn back.

My main hiking experience is with hiking in Israel, so Sweden and especially Sarek is a whole different game for me. It really overwhelms oneself to experience wild nature like that, and it can be physically and mentally challenging. I would say that the mental part is something that is really hard to practice.

We had to go back after we had a few "strikes". My friend got sick, we had to cross a stream while it was raining and got soaked and I was really worried we won't arrive in time to the exit location. This led me to cancel the whole thing and turn back.

If you ever plan to hike Sarek, start with a part of the Kungsleden first, just so you know what you're dealing with. You don't nessecarily need a guide, but at least have a friend you can trust. And please, get a satellite messenger. The garmin inreach mini is a perfect choice.

And to answer your main question, someone drowned this year in one of Sarek's streams.

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