Swedish Mountains – Helags Massif & glacier

The holy mountain Helags is the highest peak among the Swedish mountains south of the Arctic Circle and offers a lot more than just hiking. Helags is home to: Sweden’s southernmost glacier, 600m long and 50m deep, adorable Arctic foxes and some of the most breath-taking views of the panoramic mountainside.  It’s an easy day trip to the Helags Mountain Station and you don’t need more than a good set of hiking apparel, since the station holds a restaurant and rooms for the night. The hike is one of the World´s best according to the National Geographic. 

Helags – vandring vid fäbodar | Foto: Erika Willners
Området kring Helags bjuder på fjällvandring vid Sveriges sydligaste glaciär, möten med fjällrävar och renar och milsvida vyer över majestätiska fjäll.

Helags – a Gem Among the Swedish Mountains

Hiking in the Swedish mountains has the ability to quieten the soul, it’s like stepping into another world and finding an inner harmony. Every cell in the body simultaneously calms down, yet awakens at the same time. Helags mountain range is no different yet offers an added bonus; this region of the Swedish mountains offers the chance to see Sweden’s only arctic predator – the Arctic Fox.

Leaving the parking lot, a light breeze rustles the leaves of the birch trees and carries the faint scent of the seasonal flowers in their bloom. Summer arrives late in these mountainous regions of Sweden and the pathways up the mountain are framed with a bouquet of various plants, some even suitable for medicinal treatments.

The surrounding forests shields us from whatever direction the wind blows and after a short walk we arrive at a sandy beach near a lake called Kesusjön. From this vantage point we get the first glimpses of the frozen giant ahead of us, the gem among Swedish mountains; Helags. The enormous expanse with the characteristic horse shoe, blue coloured glacier. The glacier is the southernmost glacier in Sweden, but in the last 65 years has shrunk by a third in its size. It still remains imposing as ever as it looms like a postcard in front of us. Before continuing, it’s worth enjoying the break in the wild gardens at Kesudalen, together with the chance to tuck into waffles, soups and other local delicacies over the summer peak season.

STF Helags Fjällstation | Foto: Erika Willners

A Traditional Swedish Mountain Station

The paths winds itself out of the forests into the thinning line region as we climb higher. The climb is no match for the path that has over hundreds of years, ground its way under people’s feet. Before then it was the reindeers that forged the pathways that even today still are the nomads in the Swedish mountains. A handful of the hikers we meet break the typical image of hardened outdoors folk; grandparents taking their four year old grandchild on a day trip, a family with young boys who prefer running around the slopes, bearing reindeer horns like discovered treasures they found littered along the mountain.

At 1000 meters above sea level, on the plateau, lies the Helags mountain station, first built in 1897 and later expanded with additional cabins. It was intended to serve as a base for climbers before heading up to the top of Sylarna and Helags. These days the station bustles with life with all sorts of visitors, from those on an Arctic fox safari or winter alpinists hunting the quintessential Swedish mountain top.

Summiting the Helags Mountain

The summit of Helags provides the essence of what the whole area and the Swedish mountains is about. It’s easy enough to climb, yet provides enough of a challenge that makes the view from the top so worth it. The summit proudly towers over the smaller surrounding peaks, deceptively easier to reach despite its height or profile. Leaving the base at 1000 meters above sea level, the climb around the top of 1,796 metres takes around 4 hours over rocky terrain, while never being too steep. So there is no need for proper climbing gear.

National Geographic has placed the Swedish mountain Helags on its list of the 10 Best Artic Touring Peaks, stating the diversity of its nature and culture as the key attraction. The area has been used by the Sami and as traditional reindeer grazing for eons and the chance of bumping into a reindeer on a hike or while skiing in these terrains is almost guaranteed. It makes for picturesque photography, catching the silhouette of a mother and her calf against the stark blue skyline. Be mindful not to disturb them, after all you are visiting in their mountain territory.

Fjällräv | Foto: Tomas Meijer
Arctic Fox | Photo: Tomas Meijer

Wildlife in the Swedish Mountains – Arctic Foxes

The best is kept till last. A tour to the arctic foxes secret den, pointed out by the wilderness guide. “Look there” he points towards a drowsy looking pup who clumsily scratches his ear with his hindquarters. Our hearts melt as are enthralled by the sight of two more foxes, adults, who bound their way over the flowering mountainside to join the pup.

The name “Helags” stems from the old Nordic word meaning “holy”. It’s not hard to imagine how the name came to be. Regardless if you are religious or not the Swedish mountain Helags touches the soul deeply.

HERE’S THE SKINNY

ACTIVITIES

Hiking, XC-biking, Trail Running

SEASON

Summer, Autumn (Nordic skiing in winter)

SKILL LEVEL

Kläppen – Helags: Easy
Summiting Helags: Some amount of fitness required

DISTANCE

Kläppen – Helags 12 km

ELEVATION GAIN

Kläppen – Helags: 250 m
The Helags Summit: 796 m

START

Kläppen, Ljungdalen. Water for refreshments available, changing room and ablutions.

GETTING HERE

By car – parking at Kläppen.
Flights to Åre/Östersund or Sveg or travel by train to Östersund or Åsarna via Inlandsbanan – travel onwards via coach to Ljungdalen, taxi or hike seven kilometers to Kläppen.

MAP

Lantmäteriets Mountain maps Z56 and Z8 or Calazos Härjedalsfjällen or Jämtlandsfjällen.

ACCOMMODATION

Helags mountain station, or if you like, you can bring a tent.

ARCTIC FOX SAFARI

Helags mountain station offers as self-catering or half board. Booking required in advance.

OTHER HIKES

Helags lies along the crossroads between the summer paths that start or end at Storulvån, Rammundberget, Ljungdalen (Kläppen), Vålådalen, or in the Norwegian  Nedalshytta and Storerikvollen.

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The First Summit Hike to Helags – 1868

For thousands of years, people have lived and traversed between the Ljungdals and Funäsfjällen regions. Relics, dating back from the Stone-Age can be found scattered in the area. The area is also home to reindeer farming and an active Sami population, which refers to Helags by its Sami name; Maajåelkie. The area was frequented by pilgrims in the Middle Ages, travelling to St Olovs grave in Trondheim and in the 1700’s the first prospectors scoured the region. In the 1800’s the area was first mapped, studied by botanists and finally tourists, with the first documented ascent of the Swedish mountain Helags in 1868, done by Edvard Erdman and Jon Olofsson Back from Uppsala, together with a local.

Vandrare på väg till Helags | Foto: Erika Willners

The Best of the Swedish Mountain Helags

  1. Arctic Touring on the southernmost glacier in the Swedish mountains.
  2. Arctic Fox Safari to the wild animals secret den.
  3. Three course dinner and breakfast buffet at the mountain station.
  4. A tour around the Helags Mountain.
  5. Luxurious wood fired sauna at the mountain station.
  6. Stocking up in the boutique at the mountain station.
  7. The cosiest accommodation at the “Östan” cabin.