In planning the backpacking trip between Nikkaluokta and Abisko there were a number of possibilities for day hikes or places to camp that might be far from the main trail. Easily the one hike that captured my imagination immediately was the trip to Tarfala. Just looking at the map you see a really rugged alpine region surrounded by glaciers with a lake and river from the meltwater. I always like to discover what locals have to say when visiting a new area. Without a doubt, the greatest expert on hiking and photographing the Swedish Arctic would have to be Claes Grundsten. Would not have been inspired to take 3 backpacking trips without his photography and would not attempt to hike the region without having read one of his many guide books. He is THE MAN! His quote struck me immediately..."Just over 1km beyond the station is the STF hut by Darfalajavri, set in on of the grandest alpine environments in the Swedish mountains, with glaciers and high summits surrounding the lake. " That was all I needed to read. I was all in after that.
So the trip to the wild and beautiful Tarfala would actually come on day one of our Kungsleden backpacking trip. Maybe not ideal but I did not want to miss Tarfala unless the weather became apocalyptic. As it turned out our weather on day one was glorious, just ideal. We managed to get to the bridge leading to Kebnekaise around 3:30 in the afternoon or so. At that point we had hiked around 14K but we all felt pretty good. I said a short good bye to my most awesome backpacking buddies, Gunnar and Simona, and headed up the valley to Tarfala, not really knowing what might be around the corner.
The hike to Tarfala from the bridge at Kebnekaise is only 6K and looking at the map there did not seem to be too much elevation gain, around 1000 feet or. So, the hike did not look too tough. But, I'd already put in 14K with a 20kg pack so I wasn't exactly sprinting up the valley! There were a few day hikers coming down the valley and I stopped to chat with a few of them. All had seemed to have a blast but also were looking pretty wiped out. Easy to see why as you get further up the trail. Although the trail is not steep at any one point, it does climb steadily and the last 2-3K were nothing but rocks. Rocky hiking is not necessarily strenuous as it is just plain hard. Hard on your feet that is. But the scenery was just incredible, well worth a little pain and suffering. I stopped to photograph at several spots along the valley. There were wildflowers still in bloom and waterfalls even before arriving at the glaciers up high. Just so much to enjoy, so much to take in. And the trail did have some exposure to it in some stretches, so you really have to watch your step or it could easily be your last step...!
After taking my time and photographing along the way, I arrived at the STF huts around 7:30 pm with just a little light left, but not much. I immediately went down to the lake to photograph the glacier sweeping down the mountain and forming an emerald green alpine oasis in the midst of a gray rocky world. And that was about all I could manage before crashing for the night. You can sleep in the huts or camp nearby but make sure you pitch your tent in one of the designated areas that is protected by a stone wall. Very windy and a bit chilly up there!
The next day I got up before sunrise and was super excited to take in the valley at a more leisurely pace since I would be going downhill. The sunrise light just made the clouds glow and I just stood and took it all in. I wondered if I would return some day and if I do, I would camp there for several nights and hike around the glaciers a bit. Such dramatic forces of nature and uniquely beautiful. Made it back to Kebnekaise around 10am to meet Gunnar and Simona for our mid morning departure to Singi. This would be the first day of many that we would encounter a key element of the Sami livelihood, the reindeer.