Sweden, Kebnekaise - 2106m/6910ft
Sweden's highest point Kebnekaise lies in the very north of the country inside the Arctic circle. During the summer months the sun doesn't go down leading to 24 hours of daylight. During the winter months the sun doesn't rise meaning 24 hours of darkness.
It was mid August when I decided to go due to the higher chance of stable weather which would be useful as it's a long approach just to get to the foot of the mountain before the climb starts.
I flew from London to Kiruna via a tight one hour layover in Stockholm, I could ill afford any delays. My flight from London was on time when I boarded but it became delayed before take off for 20 minutes as we waited on the apron. Not good I thought, as I knew it would now be a rush for my connecting flight. Upon arriving in Stockholm we were now running 40 minutes late and to make things worse only the front doors of the airplane were being used and I was on the back row. The connecting flight was due to take off to Kiruna in 20 minutes and boarding closed in five. I saw two guys also pushing forward looking as desperate as I must have looked trying to disembark. After catching up with them while shuffling past people still on the plane it turned out they were also heading to Kiruna on the same flight.
As soon as we made it off the plane we ran down the corridors following signs to the other terminal (All my gear is in my hand luggage on my back.. Tarp, Sleeping bag, Clothes.. the lot). Not ideal when running to be honest, but run we had to. After making it to the front of the passport control queue and then sprinting between terminals we had already lost another 10 minutes. The flight would now be on the runway ready to take off. We found the correct gate but before we could reach it there was a security check point with scanners and everything.. Shit! We all looked at each other took our belts and boots off and as quickly as possible got through. With no time to put our stuff away or boots back on we ran to the boarding gate. It displayed the next flight but the lady on the desk gesticulated and said quick, scanned our tickets and ushered us down the air bridge and onto a full flight with all eyes glaring at the three of us who by now are sweating, out of breath and not wearing any shoes. Quite a bizarre but fantastic feeling which ultimately meant game on!
The usual cost cutting measures were in place, Four cheap low cost one way flights with a price reduction trick used on each one along with only taking hand luggage. This unfortunately meant that taking a tent would not be possible due to the restrictions in place on tent poles and tent pegs, So I decided to go with plastic pegs and a simple tarp sheet to circumvent this problem.
After arriving in Kiruna I waited for bus 92 which would take me to Nikkaloukta where the trail to the foot of the mountain starts. From there it would be a 19km walk to Kebnekaise Fjallstation where I would camp for the evening before starting the climb to Kebnekaise the following day. Then returning to camp in the same place before walking the 19km back to Nikkaloukta and the bus back to Kiruna the following day.
It was 17.00 and drizzly by the time I arrived in Nikkaloukta but with no actual sunset time in August I wasn't in too much of a rush but I knew a few hours sleep before the climb tomorrow would be vitally important. Nikkaloukta is a small place built with the sole purpose of accommodating people climbing Kebnekaise and mountains in the surrounding area. So the only buildings there were for sleeping and a restaurant.
Quite a few of the people who alighted the bus with myself set of along the well marked track past the buildings and before long reached a wooden triangular arch with Kebnekaise wrote overhead. Just to the right of it I saw a pair of boots and a walking pole hanging next to the sign. Humm.. That's different! I waited to see if they belonged to anyone.. They didn't and knowing I would be in need of a stick to prop up my tarp later on I knew that the walking pole would be perfect. I can only assume that they had been left by people after their climb who no longer needed them. Perfect!
The drizzle continued as I pushed on, The terrain was still quite flat at this point which caused quite a lot of puddles that obscured the path and meant I had to go around many into the undergrowth. There were many long wooden planks and sections that had been built where the track was prone to flooding which although being unsightly kept my feet dry and proved very effective. After over taking several groups off the bus, I came to a steel cabled bridge. It was quite a shaky one but fun nonetheless. Even more so I would imagine if you were in a group.
The route became more rocky and there were many boulders to weave around but the going was still fine. By this point I had seen a few signs with a picture of a boat on which had been counting down in Kilometers. During my research I had seen that due to the start of the route being quite flat you were able to cut off several Kilometers by catching a boat. I had dismissed this idea and hadn't given it any more thought. Having overtaken most of the bus group there were now only a few ahead left to overtake and I used that as a good incentive to push on. But just ahead of me I saw them all turning left and taking the trail towards the boats. I just stopped and shook my head.. The trail was well marked it was still light and the sun doesn't set. Maybe it's me but I was here to walk. There is also the bizarre option of taking a helicopter the 19km right to the Fjallstation which you could hear passing every now and then overhead.
After the boat people had veered off I was now leading the way. As it was quite late in the day there was nobody to be seen ahead and nobody behind until I would inevitably end up behind the boat people in a few hours time. The rain had picked up and the terrain for the next hour was waterlogged with even the wooden boarding failing to cope with the saturated ground.
I pushed on over and around many large boulders, along wooden boards and topped up my water supply often as streams were plentiful. Finally the rain stopped and the clouds slightly lifted giving me my first glimpse of the snow covered surrounding mountains. After another hour or so it was starting to get a little darker but I knew I was only several Km from the Fjallstation due to signs along the route. I crossed another large bridge and saw a nice flat piece of grassy land which would be ideal to set up my tarp as there was nobody else nearby which was important as the front of the tarp would be wide open. It didn't take long to set up the tarp and I was soon sheltered for the evening ready for the climb the following day.
It certainly dropped cold during the night made worse as not having a front on my shelter, but my Marmot sleeping bag was more than up to the test. The following morning was clear and I could already feel the warm sun penetrating the tarp. The surrounding mountains that were obscured the day before looked majestic. I packed my sleeping bag away and decided that I would gamble by collapsing the tarp spreading it on the ground and leaving it there along with everything else I didn't need to take on the climb as I would be returning that evening.
I set off, topped up my water bottles and soon passed the Fjallstation after 1km. There were quite a few huts and a people camping in the area. I continued contouring along the valley until turning right and following the Vastra Leden route quite steeply along side a water course. The sun was out and the sky was blue and albeit within the Arctic Circle I soon took my coat off and continued in just a technical T-shirt. There were more big rocks to cross ahead and upon reaching the top of the valley I saw the snow covered Kebnekaise for the first time. My route would then take me over a babbling water course where I topped up with water and changed my socks.
There was another metal bridge to cross which would lead away from Kebnekaise and up towards another mountain called Vierranvarre (1706m). There was a stone man made path for the first few hundred meters but this was still under construction. I continued up, It wasn't difficult but there were several sections where you needed to boulder hop using your hands. I still had the walking pole with me as I thought it might become useful if icy or in deep snow on the top, but at this point it was just a hindrance. After turning right the path zigzagged most of the way to the summit of Vierranvarre. The summit was covered with cairns.. absolutely 100's of them, quite impressive. from here I could see the 180m I needed to descend before the ascent of Kebnekaise and the aim of the trip could be started. It was a little steep but I wound down the route quickly knowing I would need to reascend the same route later. with every step the 580m ascent up to Kebnekaise rose higher and higher.
Upon reaching the valley I continued and started the ascent. I took several breaks before finally seeing a hut which I simply bypassed and continued to the right towards a second hut. I pushed on feeling good and before long in the distance I could see the white summit of Kebnekaise. It stood out so much on the horizon against the boulders and rocky foreground. I continued and after crossing a few snowfields I found myself at the edge of the Sydtoppen glacier which is there all year round. I put my coat on and kicked my way into the snow towards the summit. The final section was steeper but the snow was fine. I could see the lower nordtoppen with it's stunning ridge appear over the horizon and soon found myself standing on the highest point in Sweden.
The view was fantastic, Many snow covered mountains all around with deep valleys. I took the customary photos and videos and peered over the edge. It was steep and a slip here would be it. The walking pole certainly proved useful here as I didn't have crampons with me (hand luggage restrictions). I knew the descent would be slippery on the icy snow but there was a channel to the right that people had sat and slid down for a few hundred meters. I decided that would be the way down, It was fast, fun and made me want to reascend to go again. I then retraced my steps the same way as I had climbed. Back down to the valley and up to the summit of Vierranvarre taking in the actual summit a few hundred meters away before continuing back down towards the Fjallstation. Hoping that my tarp and sleeping bag were still there to use that evening. It had been a long day and I was pleased when I finally got back to see the tarp and my stuff was indeed still there and within a few minutes had utilised the walking pole as a door prop and was ready for a nice sleep before the 19km walk back to the bus in the morning.
The rain woke me up a few times during that night but I was warm and dry, the tarp had been a success! It was going to be a long walk back and I knew I was against the clock as I had a specific bus to catch. With that in mind I woke up early an set off on the 5hr walk to Nikkaloukta. The rain held off and I made it with 30 minutes to spare before the bus left. Success!
I was soon back in Kiruna and on my flight to Stockholm where I treated myself to a much needed big mac meal before my connecting flight to London. It was a long but great trip which thankfully due to the plane being held for me on the way might not have even happened!