8. September 2013

Akka from Kebnekaise

A wonderful journey through Sweden. Great weather conditions. Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain called. A story both with pictures and with words.

Formerly, I knew the word Kebnekaise only from Nils Holgersson, a Swedish book about a boy who is shrunk to small size as a punishment for mischief and travels through Sweden together with wild geese led by Akka from Kebnekaise.

Kebnekaise is located close to Kiruna. Both the city and the mountain are around 150 kilometers north of the polar circle which together with other factors make climate and vegetation much different from what I am used to in the Alps. A friend with whom I travelled in through the mountain landscape (called fjällen) in Sweden, Finland, and Norway recommended me to hike to Kebnekaise but unfortunately had to part earlier in Kiruna.

My party having left, I checked the weather forecast and was delighted to have excellent weather predicted for the next day. It paid off that I had not booked my return ticket in advance. This way, I could buy my return ticket according to the weather forecast. Under such friendly conditions, the trip from Kiruna to Kebnekaise and back to Kiruna can be done by trained hikers in three days: one day to get to the base of the mountain, the other day to get up and down the mountain, and the last day to return to Kiruna.

The nearest bus stop to Kebnekaise is Nikkaluokta, which is still 19 km away from the base of the mountain. I was quite happy about that distance as it promised to scare a lot of people away from making the same trip. A shuttle service by boat on a lake along the path could have shortened the walk in the rain by a couple of kilometers but would also have had a significant impact on my wallet and to some extent also my pride.

Let’s say a few more words about the weather, which indeed plays an important role. I saw a bridge which was impassable due to rainfall in the previous day. However, the very same bridge was passable less than two days later.

While a nearby suspension bridge helped me out in this case, it should soon become clear that water can easily become one of the main obstacles in this landscape. Exactly as my friend told me. Water was everywhere. The upside of this is that it makes it superfluous to carry large amounts of water as there is free refill all along the way.

Arriving in the evening at Kebnekaise fjällstation, I figured quickly that I had been totally wrong to assume to meet not too many other people. The mountain station itself was crammed full. The downside was that the guided tour, which leads over the eastern flank up Kebnekaise, was fully booked. The tour required STF membership and I would have needed to arrive sooner that day anyway in order to sign up. On the other hand, the truckloads of people guarantee traffic on the western path up the mountain. This was crucial, as I would have had to give up my ambitions if there was no one else to join. Quite tired after 19 km, I set up my tent such that the sun woke me next morning. Well, I also set my alarm clock, hell, we’re in the 21th century.

In the end, it was the sun that woke me up. The weather forecast was right: not a single cloud on the sky. This was one of the most impressive panoramas I have ever witnessed. Note that I had not even started to climb the mountain. These are the moments when you wonder how you earned to be so lucky.

However, I quickly ran into the first obstacle – water. This time no bridge in sight, so with some balancing and by taking off my shoes, I overcame this obstacle. I was glad that I brought a waterproof bag for storing some extra clothes.

The path continued along small waters in a trough up the mountain. The path was occasionally difficult to follow because of run-down marks but a good map, good sight, and other people helped a lot. A pocket compass was also useful to occasionally calibrate one’s own compass’ readings in case fog was about to show up. The panorama was fantastic, especially because one could see very far in almost every direction.

The clouds came and reached the southern summit before I did. Crampons are highly recommended on the last few meters up to the snow top and keeping orientation on the top is absolutely necessary. Despite the clouds, a few KTH students (small world) and I were lucky again to get one of the legendary glimpses on the summit. A panoramic view like Akka from Kebnekaise had it.