Want to go for a walk? No, seriously. Do you really want to go for a walk? Because if you do, you might want to consider a stage/section hike: a long-term walking project that can be divided into sections and conquered over a period of months or even years.
There do exist legendary hikes, like New Zealand’s Tongariro Crossing that can be tackled in one trip. But many of the really great trails are just too long. (See below for some more examples.) If you want to hike a meaningful portion of the Adirondack Trail, for instance, you’ll need to walk a section, note where you left off, then return later.
The advantages of breaking up a trip this way are many. First of all, most people don’t have several months off every year to go hiking. This means that for hikers to spend real time on name brand trails, they have to bookmark-and-return. Beyond the pragmatic, a section hike also offers additional charms. For example: you can explore the same area in different seasons like a woodsy Claude Monet; or you can walk the same trail, but with a different companion—it’ll help you see familiar terrain in a new light.
The last and most important distinguishing feature of a project hike is the enhanced sense of pride one feels in accomplishing long-term goals. Every hike is great in some way, but the feeling of crossing the finish line after months, or years, is great in the greatest way. This series will look at walks fit for a king, so where better to start than on the King’s Trail in Sweden?
The King’s Trail, Sweden
Abisco to Nikkaluokta
Remember how I said above that most people don’t have months off to go hiking? Well, the Swedes do. This may be why they’re so fond of the King’s Trail, a bewitching and biodiverse Arctic landscape comprised of open tundra and glaciers, as well as the summit of Sweden’s highest peak, Kebnekaise. The King’s Trail is one of those places hikers visit again and again and is an ideal setting for a series of hikes.
If you’re looking to develop a relationship with the King’s Trail, it’s best to start at the beginning. The northernmost section of the trail is the most popular and stretches about 100km. The King’s Trail is wonderful any time of year, but between June and July the midnight sun in the north makes it possible to hike in full daylight conditions for almost 24 hours. Abisko, a small village north of the Arctic Circle, is the classic starting line for people embarking on the trail and setting your endpoint at Nikkaluokta should take most hikers about a week.
Accommodation on the Kungsleden is provided in communal mountain huts operated by the tourism authority. Hikers share cooking and cleaning duties and certain huts contain resupply points so one need never carry more than two days’ provisions. These warm, welcoming places are located about 10 miles apart and each one generally represents a day’s trail travel. (Courageous folks and people with tents can leapfrog cabins.) The hut system means the King’s Trail is user-friendly and makes its uplifting views available to individuals at a variety of fitness levels.
Don’t forget: Your best eco-friendly wear. The Scandinavians have eco gear game that puts most of the world to shame. Wearing fabrics made from the scraps of other fabrics will establish your trail cred.
Not feeling Sweden? Here are a couple other places you can start a project hike of your own:
The Appalachian Trail
I know several people who have through-hiked the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other without stopping. I know one woman who hiked it one way, stayed the night on my roommate’s couch, then hiked back. Books, like Bill Bryson’s A Walk in in the Woods, have been written about the trail and the impression all these sources have left on me is that the Appalachian National Scenic Trail — which runs between Maine and Georgia — can be completely life changing. For people who don’t have weeks to devote to the hike though, the Appalachian Trail is best experienced in manageable doses.
Section one, established by trail creator Benton Mackaye? Yes please. A trip in the fall to stand under the great trees as they shed their shimmering leaves? Don’t mind if I do! The AT crosses parts of 14 states and offers terrain ranging from spiny rock ridges to low-lying wetlands. Peruse a detailed description of the AT’s enchantments on the National Park Service site, or target one of a dozen easy section hikes.
Don’t forget: Your warmest wool blend. You know the feeling of snuggling up with your family around a campfire? The Appalachian Trail is made of that.
The Inca Trail
Unlike the two trails above, the Inca Trail can realistically be completed in a single visit — although not in a single day. The most celebrated hike in South America is about 26 miles long and culminates at Machu Picchu, an utterly stunning Incan citadel set high in the Andes. The classic hike to Machu Picchu is four days long, and starts 82 kilometers along the rail line from Cusco.
Hikers climb around 4,200 meters during the trek, so those arriving from sea level usually spend some time at altitude prior to departure. There are plenty of faster and slower itineraries, and we’ve even tried our hand at this legendary hike.
Don’t Forget: Performance flannels. You don’t truly understand how quickly a body can go from hot to cold to hot to cold until you’ve climbed and lost altitude in the Andes.