• Sweden edition
 
Exploring Sweden
Kebnekaise: How I tamed Sweden's highest peak
Sitting on top of Sweden.

Kebnekaise: How I tamed Sweden's highest peak

Published: 06 Aug 2014 14:03 GMT+02:00
Updated: 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
National
Stockholm bomb investigation to cease
The suicide bombing took place in 2010. Photo: TT

Stockholm bomb investigation to cease

Sweden’s Security Service (SAPO), is expected to announce that it will stop its core investigation into a suicide bombing in Stockholm four years ago. READ  

National
Chainsaw man destroys house in family feud
The man used a chainsaw to destroy most of the Lidköping home. Photo: Shutterstock

Chainsaw man destroys house in family feud

A man in central Sweden has gone on a rampage with a chainsaw after a family housing dispute took an unexpected turn. READ  

National
Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer
The beggar was detained for almost 24 hours after the accusation. Photo: TT

Man frames beggar with stolen tablet computer

A man in southern Sweden has landed in hot water after he stole a tablet computer, gave it to a beggar, then reported her to the police. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Military seeks 'patience' in sub search
The Swedish Armed Forces have sent out 200 troops. Photo: TT

Military seeks 'patience' in sub search

Sweden's military says it has no plans to downsize the search for a possible foreign submarine and is prepared to force any suspect weapon to the surface of the sea, "with weapons if necessary". READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'
Former navy officer Bosse Linden in Vaxholm. Photo: Maddy Savage

Sub hunt: 'There is something out there'

Stockholm's archipelago is the focus of the biggest military operation in Sweden since the Cold War. The Local is in the region's capital, Vaxholm, to see what residents make of the drama. READ  

Presented by CurrencyFair
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
CurrencyFair co-founder Brett Meyers

CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers

Tired of losing money when you send cash back home? Join other expats in Sweden who avoid bank fees and hidden charges by sending money internationally with CurrencyFair, an online marketplace where secure transactions are faster and cheaper. READ  

European Union
Extremist saves Sweden Democrats' EU group
Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson. Photo: TT

Extremist saves Sweden Democrats' EU group

The EU group that bound several Eurosceptic parties including the Sweden Democrats has been saved by an MEP from a far-right Polish group, just a week after it appeared to have crumbled, according to a UK press report. READ  

Stockholm 'submarine' hunt
Timeline: Mystery 'submarine' in Stockholm
Sweden's Armed Forces are out in force after reports of a foreign vessel in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: TT

Timeline: Mystery 'submarine' in Stockholm

The world has had its periscope on Sweden since the Swedish military launched an extensive hunt for what is rumoured to be a damaged Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago. Here is the timeline of events so far. READ  

Business & Money
Profit leap for Swedbank
A branch of Swedbank in Malmö. Photo. TT

Profit leap for Swedbank

Swedbank has seen its profits rise higher than expected. READ  

New coalition
Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition
Stefan Löfven has changed his strategy on sick pay. Photo: TT

Sick pay U-turn from Sweden's new coalition

Small businesses won't face rising sick pay costs, following a policy reversal from Sweden's new coalition government. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
National
Sweden deploys troops over underwater threat
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Blog updates

21 October

Denna & den här (The Swedish Teacher) »

"?Denna? or ?den hr?? Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially..." READ »

 

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 
 
 
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
National
A Touch of Scandinavia: Reindeer in the kitchen
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Lifestyle
Sweden's The Bridge to become 'more Danish'
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
National
What's on in Sweden
National
Sweden rethinks Afghan translators' protection
Society
Interview with Geena Davis: 'I want to be in a Swedish movie'
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
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

992
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
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:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN