Northern Lights In Northern Sweden


The Gateway of Lapland

OVERVIEW

Date: March 22nd-March 28th, 2018

Locations: Abisko Östra, Abiskojaure Stugorna, Abisko Turiststation, Overnight train back to Stockholm

Abiskojaure hut at sunrise

Map:

(Note that, as of this writing, Google incorrectly labels Abisko and Abisko Östra. If you search on Google, go by the train station locations (which are correct), not the labels on the map.)

Abisko Östra

Abisko.net Hostel

Abisko.net reception entrance Abisko.net reception entrance
Abisko.net Winterday hostel from the outside Abisko.net Winterday hostel from the outside
Intrepid adventurers! Intrepid adventurers!

The abisko.net Winterday hostel was great. The location is excellent: a ~15-minute walk from the 91 bus stop, a ~10-minute walk from the Abisko Östra train station, and a ~12-minute walk from the grocery store. We rented cross-country skis, boots, poles, and ski goggles for a flat rate of 175SEK/person for almost our entire visit.

Abisko.net hostel cross-country ski storage Abisko.net hostel cross-country ski storage
Abisko.net kitchen, looking out over the train tracks and the lake. Abisko.net kitchen, looking out over the train tracks and the lake.
Dining at the Abisko.net Winterday hostel w friends and colleagues Dining at the Abisko.net Winterday hostel w friends and colleagues

You can also rent snowshoes, and join various tours (we did dog-sledding which was excellent, see below). The mattresses are a little old, but the bunk-bed frames are sturdy and comfortable. The kitchen was great to use: plenty of pots, pans, silverware, and plates, with very friendly travelers sharing stories and meals :) Plenty of room to store your groceries and a nice clean fridge. There’s also a wonderful sauna w/ provided towels, and a friendly host who will teach you how to properly use it (see tips below).

Sauna

The sauna at Abiskojaure The sauna at Abiskojaure Water from the lake is brought in to wash w/ at Abiskojaure

Grocery store + other food

We found a lot of conflicting information online about the availability of food in Abisko Östra. There is a great grocery store there, about a 10-minute walk down the hill from the Abisko.net hostel. Lots of fresh veggies, fresh fruit, milk, meat, cereal, bread, and TONS of candy. The extensive candy collection is because Norway has a high tax on sugar, so a lot of Norwegians make the drive to Abisko to purchase cheap candy and soda. There’s also a little food-trailer that sold reindeer in various forms as well as Mooseburgers. It was only ok, and tough to eat since it was too cold to stand there while chewing.

Abisko grocery store extensive candy selection Abisko grocery store extensive candy selection
Abisko grocery store veggies and fruit Abisko grocery store veggies and fruit
Abisko food trailer Teeny, only ok.

Abiskojaure STF Fjällstation

Abiskojaure hut at sunrise

8 miles / 14km from Abisko Östra, this was hands down my favourite part of our trip. The Kungsleden is almost completely flat for this section, with a few fairly gentle hills.

Early on in the trip. Early on in the trip
The biggest hill along the trail, just past the tree. The biggest hill along the trail, a few miles past the tree. (Yes, there's only one tree)
Stopping for a quick snack at the tree: Apelsintallen Stopping for a quick snack at the tree: Apelsintallen

We took a friend on her first ever cross-country ski trip and it was tough but doable for her. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this place, it was an absolute joy.

Lunch along the trail to Abiskojaure Eating butter, rich nutty bread, meat pate, salami, nuts, dried fruit, and lots of water along the trail. We sat on our skis to keep from sinking into the deep snow. Could only eat for a few minutes, then had to put hands back into gloves and jump around to warm up.
Skiing past Mount Giron Skiing past Mount Giron.
Group pic from the middle of the lake in front of Mount Giron Group pic from the middle of the lake in front of Mount Giron.

We had trouble with our credit card here for the first (and last) time the whole trip, but the patient and dedicated women who worked there found a solution. The sauna is phenomenal, and the chores you have to do (chopping wood or refilling water from the lake) are fun and satisfying. There’s a large store with plenty of food options for reasonable prices there. We bought pasta and canned Swedish meatballs.

The Abiskojaure huts nestled in the mountains The Abiskojaure huts nestled in the mountains.
The view across the lake from inside the sauna The view across the lake from inside the sauna.
I did the 'gather water' chore by scooping water from this hole into a huge bucket My chore was to scoop water from this hole into a huge bucket. The temperature was below 30deg. The hole kept freezing closed as I scoooped.

When you ski up, someone pops their head out of the first hut and invites you in. The first thing they do is give you a cup of hot non-alcoholic cider. By this point we were all pretty exhausted, so drinking something hot and flavorful was absolutely perfect. Then you get a tour where they tell you about the chores, you buy and cook dinner, partake of the sauna (see above for sauna tips) and then wait for the Northern Lights.

Fireplace inside our hut at Abiskojaure Fireplace inside our hut.
Lots of beds at Abiskojaure Lots of beds at Abiskojaure.
Gas stoves at Abiskojaure Gas stoves at in the small kitchen.

This was truly a highlight of an amazing trip, and I’d encourage anyone with even a single outdoorsy bone in their body to do it!

Abiskojaure hut at sunrise

Putting on skis outside Abiskojaure hut Putting on skis outside Abiskojaure hut.
Water hole chopped in thick ice in the lake Checking out the ice hole.
The sauna at Abiskojaure Heading back across the lake to Abisko.
Skiing across the frozen lake near Abisko surrounded by a white-out blizzard. Skiing across the frozen lake near Abisko surrounded by a white-out blizzard.
Closeup of the frozen lake, uncovered by intense wind. Closeup of the frozen lake, uncovered by intense wind.
Skiing atop the large island in the middle of the lake, Abisko in the background. Skiing atop the large island in the middle of the lake, Abisko in the background.

Dogsledding

We did the 2-hour dogsledding trip provided by abisko.net and it was phenomenal. 1600SEK/person. You help load the dogs onto the sleds, and they take you along a beautiful path with an incredible view of the mountains. You get to spend a lot of time cuddling with the dogs, and a lot of time riding the sledges. They stop twice, so if you want to swap who is sitting in front you have two chances. The stops are in areas that are fairly photogenic (what in Abisko isn’t?) but not the absolute best views. (I went out later on my own to get more pictures the next day).

Abisko dog-sled doggie Abisko dogsled dog smooches Abisko dogsled dogs Abisko and Abba

Northern Lights

We got extraordinarily lucky and saw the Northern Lights 3 nights while we were up in Abisko. The area is known for good weather: it’s one of the driest parts of Sweden, and the lake creates a little microclimate that keeps the sky clear. We had nearly perfect weather while we were up there, and even got pictures of the Northern Lights on an iPhone! We used an app called “Nightcap” on Star settings, with no other changes and got the images you see below.

Abisko Northern Lights We used an iPhone app called "Nightcap" on the Star setting to get these pictures.
Abisko Northern Lights with our hostel in the foreground Abisko Northern Lights with our hostel in the foreground
Abisko Northern Lights usually look much more dim to the human eye Abisko Northern Lights usually look much more dim to the human eye, but these were spectacular!

Some tips about the Northern Lights:

vs Abisko Turiststation

We didn’t spend much time in TuristStation, so take this with a grain of salt, but it felt much “fancier” and more organized than Östra (hence, we preferred Östra). There also didn’t seem to be a grocery store (though the restaurant at the STF hostel was better and more affordable than the restaurants we found in Östra). Access to the lake was better in Östra - in TuristStation it was down a much longer steeper hill. Access to the train station was equally good in both.

TRAVEL

To and from Arlanda airport

From Kiruna Airport

Teeny tiny Kiruna airport. Lots of available seats and plugs inside. Teeny tiny Kiruna airport. Lots of available seats and plugs inside.
The 91 bus dumps you off unceremoniously on the side of the road, and you turn back and walk into town. The 91 bus dumps you off unceremoniously on the side of the road, and you turn back and walk into town.
Walk under the train station and up the hill to get to Abisko.net hostel. Walk under the train station and up the hill to get to Abisko.net hostel.

As of this writing, there is only one bus from Kiruna airport to Abisko. It is the 91, and it departs Kiruna Airport at 2:15pm daily (the airport is the end of the line, and the first stop). Tickets from Kiruna Airport to Abisko Östra are 200SEK/person (payable by credit card). The first stop after the airport is the Kiruna Bus Station, which is where you may be able to transfer to the SJ train to Abisko but we did not do this. You can also take a taxi all the way to Abisko for ~1800SEK. Buying a ticket in advance is no guarantee that you will get on the bus - it’s first-come-first-serve. In March, there were a total of 8 people on a bus designed to carry at lest 50, so it wasn’t a problem (but you may want to wait outside in the line if you arrive in summer). (If the bus had been full, our back-up plan was to take a 15-minute taxi ride to the Kiruna Bus Station and catch the SJ train to Abisko, but I’m not 100% certain it would have worked since we didn’t purchase a ticket in advance). There is room in the bottom of the bus to store your luggage, and a bathroom onboard.

There are also shuttle services, for about 450SEK/person. The advantage of these is that they leave earlier than the 91, so you don’t need to spend 4 hours in the Kiruna airport.

Train

We rode the 18-hour train back to Stockholm. Logistically, taking the train down is easier because you don’t need to coordinate your flight from Kiruna with the bus back to Kiruna, or hire an expensive taxi (~1800SEK). Instead, it’s a leisurely walk to the train station in either Abisko Östra or Abisko Turistation. Since we were staying in Abisko Östra, we took a walk across the frozen lake to get back. It was windy and cold, but we eventually made it to the Abisko Turiststation STF accommodations, which offer an excellent buffet for 125SEK/person. We also spent about an hour of time in the wonderful nature museum. There were a bunch of excellent documentaries in English, and some lovely displays about the surrounding area.

Eensy weensy 3-person train car. The board above the bottom bunk folds out to hold a 3rd person. Eensy weensy 3-person train car. The board above the bottom bunk folds out to hold a 3rd person.
Roomy for 3. The backrest of the seat folds up into a middle bed on both sides. Roomy for 3. The backrest of the seat folds up into a middle bed on both sides.
Instead of hauling the doors open using your entire body weight (like we did), press the little white bar on the right, labelled 'Tryck' and it'll open automatically. Instead of hauling the doors open using your entire body weight (like we did), press the little white bar on the right, labelled "Tryck" and it'll open automatically.

The overnight train from Abisko to Stockholm is run by a company called “SJ”.

Clothing

Being from Colorado, I’m relatively experienced with cold weather. Having said that, this was by far the coldest weather I’ve ever been in, especially while camping. The day we skied from Abisko was about 18 degrees Fahrenheit. I couldn’t keep my hands out of my gloves for more than about 30 seconds before they got too cold. I was up at around 5am for camp chores, and the little temperature gauge showed -30 degrees Celsius -22 Fahrenheit. I thought it was broken, but I dipped my glove in some water as I was doing the chores and it froze again instantly. It was definitely the coldest I’ve ever been.Here’s what I wore on a daily basis while in Sweden:

On bottom:

On top:

While cross-country skiing, I usually took off the puffy down jacket and opened the vents on my windproof pants to avoid sweating too much (if you sweat when it’s super cold out, you can get chilled and it’s quite uncomfortable). The most important thing was ski goggles to protect my eyes against the bright sun (and snow-reflected sun) and also to protect most of my face against the wind.

Itinerary

© 2019 / Molly Jane Nicholas / email