• Sweden's news in English
 

Kebnekaise: How I tamed Sweden's highest peak

Published: 06 Aug 2014 14:03 GMT+02:00

I was 150 kilometres north of the Arctic circle and the mosquitoes wanted me dead. I was already itchy just minutes after leaving Nikkaluokta - a tiny dot on the map that marked the end of the road and the start of the trip.
 
Thwack, thwack, thwack.
 
I was armed with a backpack (including tent, sleeping bag, food, clothes, water, and insect repellent), my girlfriend, and a 19-kilometre trek to the base camp of Kebnekaise. 
 
Halfway along at a lakeside pit stop, an exhausted Serb heading the other way got talking to me, scratching his festering ankles as he spoke.
 
"I'll give you one word of warning, my friend" he said, thwacking a mosquito on his arm, revealing a small pool of blood. 
 
"If you make it to the top, don't look over the edge. I did. It's certain death off both sides. I got a serious dose of vertigo and no one needs that in their lives." 
 
Lucky I'm not afraid of heights, I thought foolishly. And oh, how wrong I was.
 
The scene of the lakeside pit stop
 
Five hours of walking and we were at the base camp, setting up our tent. I was already struggling after lugging the gear, but glad I didn't have to take the cheapest mattress space at the lodge for 520 kronor ($75). 
 
The trek was a little tough on my ankles (I was wearing sneakers), and I eyed up the rack of hiking boots available for rent.
 
The man behind the desk laughed when I asked if the mountain would be much tougher than the hike that day. 
 
"That first bit was a walk in the park. I could do it in flip flops. If you want to tame Kebnekaise, you're going to need hiking boots," he said with a smile. 
 
These turned out to be the wisest words I'd hear. I rented the boots for 200 kronor (If you want my advice, bring sturdy boots - read my top five tips here) and we planned to set off at sunrise the next day.
 
 
The ascent
 
I learned quickly that there's no such thing as sunrise in far northern Sweden during the summer. In fact, there's no sunset either. Just sun, 24 hours a day. So we set off at 8.30 as a fair compromise. 
 
I'd say there were around 50 people doing the climb that day, spaced far apart. Many of them gave up. Most, perhaps. You see, it's a steep ten kilometres from base camp to the peak, followed by another ten on the way down. And the average hike time is around 13 hours. And on this day, the sun was pounding down. 
 
The climb winds slowly into the mountains, and it's several hours before you can even see the peak. Red painted dots mark the track every now and again, and it's recommended you take a compass in case visibility is too low to see them. 
 
 
See the picture above for a rough idea of the climb. First, you have to veer left, scale the lower peak (to the top left), then descend 200 metres in that big dip (oh cruel, cruel world), before hiking up the other side to the summit (far right).
 
And this takes hours. About seven for us. The ascent gets steeper, the rocks get looser, the running water from the melting glaciers gets scarcer, until it's just you against the mountain. Man versus nature. 
 
 
At times, you have to cross streams, scale glaciers, and dodge tumbling rocks. You have to avoid the people turning back on the path who've given up, and who have defeat written all over their face. 
 
"We've seen the view from here, how much better can it get," they say. But you can see it in their eyes. Kebnekaise has claimed their souls. 
 
But we persevered. And after about seven hours, we stumbled over a rocky ledge and saw the peak up close for the first time. Snow-capped, magnificent, and manageable.
 
We stopped for water, took our sweaters out of our bag and started the final ascent through the snow. 
 
Eventually we couldn't climb any higher. We were on the top of Sweden. We'd done it. 
 
 
They say you can see ten percent of Sweden from the top of Kebnekaise and I'd believe it. But I was too numb, cold, and tired to think about percentages. Unfortunately, I was also too tired to remember the wise words of the Serb as I looked over the edge.
 
"Wow, look how steep it is," I said to my girlfriend, and then immediately froze. I sat down. Off both sides of the peak, there was a sheer drop. 
 
And it was truly frightening. It was vertigo-inducing. It was horrible. I couldn't tell if my legs were shaking because of climbing 2,106 metres in seven hours or because my life had just flashed before my eyes and I wasn't very impressed by it. 
 
But either way, after my peek off the peak I was keen to head down. No one ever needs to be cornered by two cliff peaks. 
 
The descent
 
The next five hours were mostly auto-pilot. One foot after the other. The more and more frequent stops for a rest or a drink of water. The mechanical thwack, thwack, thwack of mosquito patrol. 
 
The scenery, however, was truly stunning. It's more enjoyable on the way down because you're not focused on your goal of reaching the top. And the fatigue means more stopping for photo opportunities.
 
 
After almost exactly 12 hours, we reached the base camp again and collapsed. We joined the rest of the zombies limping around, taking a sauna, drinking soup. Asking others we'd passed along the way how they'd fared.
 
And as I sat outside the lodge in the evening air with my heavy hiking boots by my side, I felt overcome by a very primitive sense of achievement. 
 
Man verse mountain. Achieved. Unlocked. Done. Now to get some sleep before tomorrow's 19-kilometre hike to the bus stop, I thought. 
 
Thwack. 
 
Click here for more pictures from the trip, and here for Oliver's top five tips for climbing the mountain (with more pics too). 
 

For more stories about Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Oliver Gee (oliver.gee@thelocal.se)

Today's headlines
Spotify chief unveils Sweden innovation bash

Spotify chief unveils Sweden innovation bash

Spotify founder Daniel Ek and Avicii's manager Ash Pournouri are set to launch a major new tech and music event to reflect Stockholm's status as a lucrative hive of start-up activity, Billboard reports. READ  

The Local List
The ultimate guide to Sweden's party leaders
The outgoing leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats, Göran Hägglund, with the new leader, Ebba Busch Thor. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

The ultimate guide to Sweden's party leaders

Two are pregnant, four are under 40 and nearly half are women. As the Christian Democrats elected their first female party head on Saturday, The Local's beginners' guide to Swedish political leaders reveals who has clung on to power and whose heads have rolled in the months since Sweden's general election in September 2014. READ  

Sweden Democrats boot seven in extremism row
From left, Sweden Democrat youth leaders Gustav Kasselstrand and William Hahne on Monday. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Sweden Democrats boot seven in extremism row

Seven people have been expelled from the Sweden Democrats - including the two heads of the nationalist party's youth wing - in a row over far-right extremism, the party announced on Monday afternoon. READ  

Swedish arms giant one of Europe's 'cleanest'
An Air Force pilot uses a simulator to fly a Saab Gripen fighter aircraft at the LAAD Defense and Security International Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, April 14th 2015. Photo: AP/TT

Swedish arms giant one of Europe's 'cleanest'

Swedish defence giant Saab does more than most other European arms companies to tackle corruption but should give staff better access to whistleblowing channels, according to a Transparency International report released on Monday. READ  

Taxman: Cosmetic surgery is not deductible
Winners of the Miss Plastic Hungary beauty pageant. If they lived in Sweden they would not be able to make deductions for breast implants, nose jobs or face lifts. Photo: AP/TT

Taxman: Cosmetic surgery is not deductible

With next Monday the deadline for filing tax returns, Swedes will try to get the taxman to cover the cost of everything from milk to plastic surgery, explains a tax agency worker who has seen it all. READ  

My Swedish Career
Building my Swedish lego dream brick by brick
James Gill in his lego shop. Photo: The Local/Bobbie Carlson

Building my Swedish lego dream brick by brick

James Gill was working as a chef in the UK when he one day decided to combine his two passions in life: Sweden and Lego. The Local's reporter Bobbie Carlson visited his shop in Stockholm - and discovered that there is far more to the famous children's toy than meets the eye. READ  

Head rolls in Sweden’s private jets scandal
Anders Nyrén attends SCA's annual general meeting in Stockholm on April 15th 2015. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT.

Head rolls in Sweden’s private jets scandal

A major corporate scandal involving the “excessive” use of private jets claimed a fresh victim on Monday as the main owners of investment giant Industrivärden blocked the under-fire CEO Anders Nyrén from taking over as chairman. READ  

US rap mogul Jay Z defends Tidal venture
Jay Z's got 99 problems but Tidal ain't one. Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

US rap mogul Jay Z defends Tidal venture

Rapper Jay Z has defended his Tidal streaming service as viable and a boon to artists after a much-criticized start to the revamped company has given its main Swedish rivals at Spotify little cause for concern. READ  

Nepal earthquake
Swedes join earthquake rescue efforts in Nepal
Residents rescue items from the debris of a house damaged in Saturday's earthquake in Nepal. Photo: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue

Swedes join earthquake rescue efforts in Nepal

An expert team from Sweden is set to travel to Nepal on Monday to help with a search and rescue operation following a devastating earthquake which is believed to have claimed 3,200 lives so far. READ  

Rush-hour chaos for Swedish rail commuters
It's not the first time train delays cause headaches for Swedish commuters. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Rush-hour chaos for Swedish rail commuters

A faulty railway switch in Stockholm was expected to cause rush-hour headaches for travellers across Sweden on Monday morning after several trains were cancelled and others diverted. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Leonore meets Pope Francis
VIDEO: How did these Swedish cops become New York heroes?
Business & Money
Five crucial things you need to know before you move to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: April 25th
National
What's on in Sweden: April 23rd - 30th
Blog updates

24 April

Editor’s blog, April 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Spring has well and truly arrived, as evidenced by the start of strawberry season. The..." READ »

 

15 April

Gång, timme, tid & dags (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! In this article I will talk about “gång”, “timmar”, “dags” and “tid”, because they all translate..." READ »

 
 
 
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
How the Stockholm School of Economics changes expat lives
National
Brits in Sweden face NHS black hole
Swedish Hasbeens
Sponsored Article
Is the world wrong to connect Sweden with sex?
Business & Money
The Swedish regions where you're least likely to stay jobless
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd
Sport
Sweden's Eriksson joins row over foreign England player quotas
National
MEP says ignoring migrant crisis like 'Sweden's Holocaust appeasement'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Swedish mining town that's being moved
National
How much would you pay for first Swedish strawberries of 2015?
Gallery
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Want to study in Sweden? Read why Stockholm is the best choice
Photo: TT
National
Get set for a sunny week in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Does far-north Sweden have to punch above its weight?
National
Refugees in Sweden fear for families lost at sea
National
Syria claims ‘most dangerous’ Isis leaders are Scandinavian
Gallery
People-watching: April 18th
National
Swedish researchers pore over link between coffee and cancer
Features
What you can buy in Sweden for the price of a London shed
National
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Swedes launch first donut into space
Politics
Is Sweden returning to 1990s social democratic welfare politics?
National
Mamma Mia! Abba entertainment venue set to open in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: April 15th
National
Why Sweden is top place in the world for expats to raise children
National
Swedish 'submarine' was civilian boat
National
Why has a US town got pulled into a Swedish spelling row?
Gallery
Property of the week: Hovås, Gothenburg
National
What does Zlatan think of his ban?
National
Swedish teenagers help rebuild Breivik massacre island
National
Would you live in a steel box?
National
How an act of kindness by one Syrian immigrant went viral
Gallery
People-watching: April 8th
National
Swedish bids for Billboard fame
National
Swedish monkeys denied Saudi visas
National
Sunny spring weather predicted
Sponsored Article
'Impossible' to run Skanska without Bromma Airport
National
Half of Swedes want begging ban
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
National
Why are expats less likely to settle down with Swedes?
Sport
What does Sweden think of Zlatan's recent outburst?
Society
Get to grips with Sweden's most bizarre Easter traditions
Gallery
People-watching: April 1st
National
The Local's best April Fools' gags
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

3,338
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se
?>