Hiking Sweden Alone and Lost in Abisko National Park
Story and photos by Madelaine Triebe

After encountering a huge crowd all going in the same direction, a solo traveler back in her birthplace of Sweden takes the wrong path less traveled.

Sweden travel story

I'm standing at a crossroad looking to my left and then looking to my right, realizing I have no idea of where I am. At this point exactly, on my first ever hike above the Arctic Circle, in the very north of Sweden, I'm certain I'm lost.

My feet and socks are wet and so are my dark blue fake Levi's Jeans from Bangkok rolled up to my shins. The northern Swedish sky is dense with clouds in shades of grey and it can't be more than 57 Fahrenheit on this early afternoon in the beginning of September in the Swedish mountain valley. I am in Abisko National Park and I have never been this far north before; the landscape is completely new to me and so is going on a solo three-day hike.

Having spent most of my summer months in a quiet and tedious Stockholm when everyone else was holidaying for weeks in the archipelago, a longing to explore the north of my birth country evolved. I wasn't sure what to expect except for wide landscapes and plenty of space to roam Once in Abisko—a small village beautifully situated at the shore of Lake Torneatrask and with plenty of great hiking opportunities close by—I was not disappointed. Surrounded by mountain birch with bright yellow leaves and mountain bearberries in flaming red, I had chosen the right time to visit.

hiking in Abisko, Sweden

On my first hiking day—after a five-hour walk with plenty of breaks and thanks to higher powers for the absence of mosquitoes—I'd arrived at the mountain hut of Abiskojaure, an immensely popular stop for people traversing Sweden's famous hiking trail Kungsleden. Having spent my first night sharing a cabin with 40 other people, I had quickly decided to go off the beaten track to avoid the crowds. Most of the men and women I shared the space with at Abiskojaure were either heading to Abisko or continuing to Alesjaure, the next cabin on Kungsleden.

Based on those two facts my choice was easy; I was going to Unna Allakas, a mountain hut in another direction, right on the border to Norway and about a six-hour hike from Abiskojaure. During the Second World War the mountain hut worked as a base for the Norwegian resistance movement against the Germans but today its main purpose was hosting overnight guests like me.

A Simple Six-hour Hike Toward Norway...

At the T junction I am staring at an array of mountain birch that are about the same height as a mid-sized shrub. The leaves are still bright yellow, but right now I am not as mesmerized by them as when I first arrived to Abisko. I feel the panic hitting me. I have no idea of where I am and as I am looking around, everything is erringly unfamiliar to me. I have traveled alone through South America, roamed around unfamiliar neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, hiked in Patagonia without sufficient food supplies, and taken late-night buses in Southeast Asia in my early 20s as a young and novice backpacker. But never have I felt as afraid and lost as I do now. I have no cellphone reception and I have no one else to rely on.

young reindeer grazing in Sweden

Before I allow the panic to wash over me completely, I decide I have to pee and I walk in among the trees. I am not sure why I go through the effort to find myself a secluded spot to go about my business. I have not met a single person since I started my hike at 8 a.m., but that's a detail I don't seem to bother with as I squat and empty my bladder whilst pondering my next move. I have walked through creeks and passed grazing reindeer on a track that is boggy, muddy and completely free from people. Ironically, Abisko National Park is one of Norbotten's most visited parks, but right now where I am, there's not a single soul in sight.

I fold out the map of the national park that Emma—a blonde local woman with a kind smile, round cheeks and blue eyes in her late thirties—has given me. Two days prior to standing at this T junction with a worrying desire to give up, she had been kind enough to host me and give me supplies that I would be forever thankful for on my hike. In addition to the map, she has also lent me the backpack, the woolen white and turquoise hat I am wearing, a compass, some mittens, a seat pad, and a plastic guksi: a Sami drinking cup usually carved out of wood. To say that I arrived in Abisko unprepared seems like an understatement considering the number of items I had to borrow.

Deciphering the Trails of Abisko National Park

Sweden winter trail signStaring at the map I have in front of me I try to find a point of reference, something to pin down. I am in nature so there are no buildings and no sites that I have walked past that I can recognize on the large piece of paper folded out in front of me. Acutely aware I'm lost and that I have no option than to rely on myself to find my bearings, I thank Emma in my mind and realize I would have been screwed without her and without the map I'm staring into right now. Trying to pin down where on the map I am, I look around to see if there's anything that's unique to where I am standing. I can't really say there is. The birch trees in front of me look the same as all the other ones along the way and not even the track I am standing on seems to be a rarity.

Looking at a myriad options of trails and roads, I try to desperately figure out where I am, taking deep and long breaths. Having realized too late what the signs with two red wooden pieces shaped as an X meant (that's how the winter track is marked) and that I was on the wrong trail, it's too late to return to where I started. Neither is there room for regrets nor to go through what I should and should not have done on this hiking trip so far. The number of trails and marked routes on the map is overwhelming but not letting that put me down I start by trying to locate Abiskojaure, the mountain hut where I had stayed the night before. Finally, I manage.

From there I try to work out what trail I've been following and somehow, I find a T junction that resembles the one I have in front of me. The worrying sensation of not being able to find my way I have shoved to the back of my head. I know that if I don't figure out where I am on the map it could leave me sleeping outside in the cold, then having another day of being lost to look forward to. The last thing I want to do is be stuck mid-hike all by myself without a roof over my head. "But at least," I think, comforting myself, "I have time on my side." Looking at my cellphone, I can see it won't get dark until many hours later.

Eventually, on the map I find the mountain hut Unna Allakas, where I am heading, and a place marked sameviste, a Sami settlement used during certain times of the year to carry out reindeer husbandry. Fairly confident I have managed to find the way to the right trail I turn right at the T junction. After having walked for an hour or so, I see what looks like a simple cabin built out of birch wood, with two small windows, and a chimney sticking out of it. My heart jumps; "It must be the Sami settlement" I think to myself.

Arriving to the settlement I feel an immense relief of what can only be described as the feeling of having saved myself. I put down my backpack, pull out my seat pad and sit down. I draw deep sighs of relief and can't recall whenever I have felt so grateful before.

Inching Toward a Place to Spend the Night

From there I continue to walk and although I have hours left until I arrive at Unna Allakas and there's a light drizzle, nothing can drag my mood down. Having walked through the barren mountain region with the view of narrow waterfalls running down the mountain walls in the distance, I meet a woman jogging with two huskies. She is wearing tights and long-sleeved Spandex and she is the only one I have met in two days who doesn't have a backpack. I ask her how far I am from Unna Allakas and in Norwegian she tells me it's a couple of hours away. I'm baffled by the fact that she is running, she seems experienced and considering her "hiking" pace I take her time estimate with and pinch of salt, but at least she has given me the comfort to know I am not too far off.

hiking travel story Sweden

When I arrive to Unna Allakas four hours later, I think it's the most beautiful mountain hut I have ever seen. Situated on a hill at the foot of a mountain, looking out over a small lake surrounded by a field of red and orange vegetation, it oozes tranquility and I feel utterly at peace knowing I wouldn't want to stay in any other place.

When I walk inside the small mountain hut there's the Norwegian woman with the dogs tending to the fire stove, drying her clothes and having a look at the food available to buy in a plastic box placed on the floor. She looks up from the food supplies with a Findus tin can in her hand and looks at me; "Hi, you made it I can see."

Unna Asallakas Sweden

I give her a big smile and put down my 20 kg backpack and take off my wet shoes. I look around the wooden walls and the clothes drying in front of the stove. "Yes, yes I did," I reply without being able to remove the smile from my face.

I take a seat at one of the wooden tables by the windows and look out over the mountains, thinking to myself that the scene is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Madelaine TriebeWhile dividing her time between Latin America (mainly Argentina, Brazil and Mexico) and Sweden, Madelaine Triebe works as a freelance travel journalist. She has a passion for horses, South America and wild places. She is a contributing author to The Rough Guide to South America on a Budget (2019) and The Rough Guide to Argentina . She is also the author of The Rough Guide to Brazil. Follow her on Twitter (@mymaddytravel) or read more on her blog: mymaddytravel.com.

Related Features:
The Darker and Wetter Side of Bergen, Norway - David Nikel
Sweden in the Summer by the Seashore on the Kattegattleden - Tim Leffel
Footsteps of Frost: The Poet's Path in England - Megan Eaves
A Horseback Trek in the Andes with the Argentine Men of the Mountains - Madelaine Triebe

See other Europe travel stories in the archives

Read this article online at: https://perceptivetravel.com/issues/0221/sweden.html

Copyright © Perceptive Travel 2021. All rights reserved.

Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

Buy The Rough Guide to Brazil at your local bookstore, or get it online here:

Buy The Rough Guide to Argentina at your local bookstore, or get it online here:

Sign Up