Darrell Hartman hikes 70 miles along Sweden’s historic trails in the annual Fjällräven Classic.
One of the great joys of hiking is the fresh alpine air. But here I am in the mountains of Swedish Lapland, and it stinks. It stinks of feet.
I’m at the most pungent junction of the annual Fjällräven Classic, a 70-mile trek along the King’s Trail, a historic mountain route famous for its sweeping glacial plains and snowy peaks, where reindeer graze against a backdrop of burbling streams and waterfalls. Each year, more than 2,000 hikers sign up. At this particular moment, about a hundred of them have deposited their reeking footwear in the same little room at the first checkpoint.
I pull off my boots at the door and pad into the century-old main lodge at Kebnekaise station. Sweat-stained hikers are lounging in armchairs and drinking beers on the balcony. One building over, you can have a sauna and cook dinner in the shared kitchen–or, for a little extra, have it served to you in the lodge. Not bad.
Admittedly, Kebnekaise feels more like a backcountry resort than the other rest stations along the King’s Trail. But this group hike isn’t exactly all about the solitary contemplation of nature, and that’s part of its charm.
The next morning, hikers breakfast on fresh rolls and oatmeal with raisins and dried apricots in the dining room.
Outside, the mountains are wreathed in mist. But 20 miles along, on the other side of Tjäktja Pass, the sun is out, making the long lake at Alesjaure glitter like tin foil. On the far shore sits a jumble of little red houses: a settlement belonging to the indigenous Sami people, who migrate through the mountains with their reindeer herds–another layer of the hike’s shared experience.
From here, the progress is mostly downhill, much of it through boggy terrain on two-plank boardwalk. Making it to the Kieron checkpoint, 55 miles in, is for many hikers the last big push, which is why Fjällräven (the Swedish outerwear company that sponsors the event) has assigned two young ladies to dish out pancakes with berry jam and whipped cream.
Meanwhile, friendly medics attend to a German hiker’s bandaged knee.
I pitch a tent on a pillowy hummock. The next day, I walk the last ten miles. The lower altitude brings mosquitoes, but also purple wildflowers, buttercups, and clumps of slender trees the Swedes call “saxophone birches” for their curvy trunks. When I reach the finish at Abisko station, exhausted hikers put down their beers and start clapping: it’s the custom.
I join the newly finished in peeling the socks and shoes off my aching feet. This time, the air’s full of the sweet smell of success.
Getting There: The nearest airport and train station to Nikkaluokta, the start of the hike, is in Kiruna. Applications for next year’s classic are available online on September 1st. Registration fees (about $220 per person) include three freeze-dried meals per day, transportation to the start line, luggage transfer, and propane gas for cooking.
Photos: Courtesy of The Fjällräven Classic