The Kungsleden (King’s Trail) in Northern Sweden is 460km in length and is the best known trail in that country. Over its length it traverses high mountains, open fell, forest and also crosses a number of lakes. It was to the most northerly section, 250km within the Arctic Circle that 3RWELSH Ex DRAGON LAPONE headed at the end of June 2018 for two weeks remote and unsupported trekking. Such an undertaking is suited to an infantry role as it requires individuals to be both self-reliant but work as a team, carry heavy loads, be disciplined and builds physical robustness over rough and open terrain.
Fourteen members took part in all with bags weighing in at approx. 25kg to start. Once in Stockholm the adventure began, with a 17-hour overnight sleeper train to Abisko in the far north of Sweden. Here the group disembarked and set off on the trail, heading southwards into the Lapone Mountains. The trail is well marked and also furnished with manned huts or fjállstuga every so often. Fjállstuga offer limited shops, rubbish disposal, toilets and best of all, muscle relaxing sauna. Some nights were spent camped close to the fjállstuga in order to allow sauna but mostly the expedition wild camped just off the trail where ever flat and dry ground could be found near to a water source.
The rucksacks felt extremely heavy at first but one soon adapts and gets accustomed to the load so that it is hardly noticed; they were also getting slowly lighter as the food and stove fuel were consumed. Individuals had been given guidance only on buying 10 days trekking food and it was interesting to see the differing approaches everyone had taken; all got it right but in their own creative way and no one went hungry.
Overall the weather was kind although two days did see persistent rain which was a good reminder for all to pay attention to kit husbandry and keeping vital items waterproofed and dry. Highlights were the Tjäktjavagge Valley whose 30km length was impressive and majestic, the rowed crossing at Teusajaure Lake and the sighting of white-tailed eagles, soaring round and round overhead, “Do you think they’re hungry?” Fus Steven Hill was heard to ask!! If they’re circling…they’re hungry!! Most reindeer had migrated for the summer to the higher grounds to the west on the Norwegian border but some stragglers were seen close to one of the wild camp spots.
One of the stated aims was to summit Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise (2098m). Unfortunately, the day of the ascent saw some appalling wind and rain but more critically, a large snowfield remained across which the path cut. Although it probably would have been alright, there was no means of guaranteeing the group’s safety crossing the snow and, with other weather factors, it was decided to abandon the attempt. Some compensation was to be had however as it was also the day of the England v Sweden World Cup Quarter Final. The match was watched on the mobile phone screens of some friendly Swedes who were generous and humorous, even in defeat.
After 10 days trekking the rucksacks were far lighter, physiques much trimmer and individuals much the wiser and experienced. As a grand finale, the Sarek Mountains hove into view just before the final descent into Vakkotavare and the road head. Sweden had proved itself to be a colourful and beautiful backdrop for some invaluable training; all were more confident and mature as individuals, fitter and stronger for all the carrying and, left with a sense of reward for effort expended.
Everyone has their own reasons for joining the Army Reserve but all seek one common thing, opportunity beyond that found in their everyday lives as highlighted by Lt Ollie Burgess,
“This trip has certainly been one of the best experiences I’ve had in my short time in the reserves.”
Ex DRAGON LAPONE and the opportunity to visit Northern Sweden will do much to bolster unit retention and recruiting and send a strong message that service, loyalty and commitment do not go unrecognised within the unit. Thank you again to the Ulysses Trust for their generous and unwavering support to training.