We started the trip on Friday the 13th
of August, and for no reason in
particular I decided to have a really bad day. I had planned to get up
early, get packed, and arrive at school early in the morning to prepare
for a small presentation I was supposed to give. Instead, my alarm
never went off and I woke up in time to shower, grab about half of my
equipment and dash to the physics building to be late for my
presentation, which was awful. Frozen like a deer in the headlights,
maybe the worst presentation I've ever given. Maybe zero preparation
and anxiety about all the equipment I'd left behind had me rattled, I
don't know. Now things go from bad to worse as the presentations run
longer than planned and I'm trapped in this lecture hall when I'm
supposed to be catching a train to the jump-off point in Gothenburg
When they finally break for lunch I've got 15 minutes to make it to the
train station on foot with an 80lb pack. I change my running shoes for
hiking boots and hit the road. En route, I realize I've left my wallet
and cellphone in my room at home, and my keys back on my desk in the
physics building. Nice combo, eh? Anyway, as I'm pondering
scenarios involving hi-jacked taxis and breaking windows in my own
apartment, I make it to the train station, just in time to step on
the doors close. Ok. No problem. Rikard should have $$, right? And
who needs an ID, membership card, etc? Not me.
As it turns out, Rikard has zeroed his bank account paying for the trip
and buying bits of his equipment, so we're officially broke
worse, we have tickets that get us to the mountain and back to
Gothenburg, not Lund. Which is three hours south by train ... a bit
longer than I want to walk. Nice. And, just for icing, its 6pm and I
haven't had anything to eat yet.
Its funny, but situations like this make you appreciate things sometimes
... like the ironies of modern finance ... Rikard called his parents
Gothenburg and they said they'd put some $$ in his account, but since
its a friday, it won't show up until tuesday.
So we get settled on the train. We've got places in a sleeper car, so
that's a bonus. There are five of us there to start until some guy
named Dennis gets on maybe halfway to Boden. There's a couple in
their 40's and an older lady making a 60-day trip to Kiruna with some
kind of tour group... They were all nice, and very friendly for swedish
people ... I halfway figured they'd all sit there inches away from each
other pretending they couldn't see one another.
After watching the scenery roll by awhile and a little nap things were
looking up a bit. I searched my pack and found a little $$ that I had
my small backpack which I'd tied on at the last minute. Rikard
managed to find a little cash as well and we set out to explore the
a bit and find the restaurant car.
This particular train, the Connex line in northern sweden, bills itself
the "swedish orient express." I've never been on the orient express,
but its got to be something like the dimly lit, swaying line of cars
Connex has careening through the arctic night. Walking in a straight
line is accomplished by a concerted effort of mind and spirit coupled
with intense concentration ... or a fifth of gin
, whichever is easier to
come by. The sleeper cars were at the end of the train, so the path to
the restaurant was a interesting one. We had one smoker car, two
theater cars, a lounge car, and the restaurant car, all scattered among
various and sundry passenger cars filled with characters from all the
dime store novels you've ever read.
Something about trains full of strangers at night ... sort of makes you
want to play murder on the orient express. You automatically start
looking around for suspects. Or I do, anyway. So I had an amusing
time drinking coffee all night in the restaurant car postulating the
methods my fellow passengers would employ in their dark plots and
what fatal slip-ups would give them away.
Morning found us in colorful marshlands full of scattered lakes and
streams, and in better spirits. The rumors of a breakfast buffet proved
to be well-founded
, and Rikard and I set out to punish them for their
" insolence. I didn't make much progress with the
herring, but the cereal and ham and eggs felt my wrath.
---- intermission ----
---- part, the second ----
Changing trains in Boden, one could feel something had changed. The
air a little colder, the light a shade more pale, and an inordinate
stick to pedestrian ratio. We had regular places on the second train,
and didn't do much wandering. The train was about 3/4 full, and we
procured a couple of window seats next to the cleanest window we
could find to wait the day out. The Boden-Kiruna line was uneventful,
unless you count my tic-tac-toe
victories and origami
which weren't half bad really ... but I digress. Five or ten starts and
stops later we find ourselves in Kiruna. One two hour bus ride later we
find ourselves at the end of the roads and the head of the trail, so to
After rearranging a bit of equipment and fending off the first wave of
the fabled Norrland Mosquito Attacks, we hit the trail. The travel for
this trip was a packaged deal arranged by the swedish tourist
organization. I only point this out to let you know we had these
geniuses to thank for dropping us off 14 miles from our destination 3
1/2 hours before nightfall. This left us with the interesting proposition
of hiking in the dark for awhile and arriving at the ranger station after
they close for the night, or making seriously good time on the hike in.
The original plan was to call ahead to the ranger station to arrange for
a place to stay, but I sort of nixed that deal when I left my cellphone
back in Lund. So the consensus was for option B ... walking fast.
The trail to the station from Nikkouloukta runs through the woods and
marshes of a river valley formed from the runoff of Kebnekaise and its
assorted partners in crime. This terrain is a bit like what you find on
some of the rocky 14ner's up near the treeline, only the trees and
flowers here prefer swedish. The most striking difference is the
abundance of picture-postcard caliber waterfalls. As soon as we
stepped on the trail we started hearing a low muffled roar, and after a
mile we could see silvery bits of the light from the first cascade across
the valley. Just when one waterfall would fade into the distance, an
even more picturesque scene would emerge through the next line of
trees, or over the next hill. We had sunshine and a little breeze the
whole day, which I'm willing to say was excellent planning on my part.
I had a great time on the hike to our base camp, but Rikard didn't fare
quite so well. Turns out his feet and his boots had been having an
argument for most of our walk, and they'd gotten a little physical. I'm
sure the feet put up a decent fight, but they were pretty battered by the
time we covered the last miles to the ranger station. We arrived just in
time to secure sleeping arrangements, and just before a nice evening
rainstorm. Not too shabby for a day's work, really. I thought it was
quite relaxing to sit there on the porch of the ranger station with a nice
little camp stove and a warm drink, watching the rain and waiting for
my dinner to warm up.
We took our time stowing our gear and getting settled at the station,
and by the time we got to bed it was halfway to morning. This, coupled
with the fact that the beds were quite cozy, meant we weren't exactly
early risers the next day. In fact, owing to the fact that Rikard's feet
weren't up to much more punishment, we took it pretty easy the whole
day. I tried to get a little information on the routes up the mountain,
I only succeeded in getting a lot of double talk from the ranger
personnel. They told us we definitely should have a guide to attempt
the west trail, and there was a trip leaving in the morning around 0830
hours. We had other plans.
We got up around 0500 hours, and grabbed a quick breakfast. The
base camp was covered in fog but the forecast the day before said it
ought to be fine by midday, so we set off for the peak. I'd traded my
heavy pack for a light backpack full of food, clothes, and a couple liters
of water, and the walk was pretty pleasant. The path wound around
the rocks of the valley's north slope for awhile before jogging north to
the East-West trail split. The signs posted for the West trail were a bit
like the warnings in the Labyrinth
when you're on the right track:
DON'T GO ON.
GO BACK WHILE YOU STILL CAN.
THIS IS NOT THE WAY.
TAKE HEED, AND GO NO FURTHER.
SOON IT WILL BE TOO LATE ...
Sounds like good fun, we thought, and what better place for a picture?
From here the "West" trail continued north for a couple hundred meters
before veering sharply west, unbeknownst to us. We followed the
rocky slope further north following the course of the icy runoff from the
glacier above us. Between the 10 and 20 foot waterfalls interrupting
the elusive trail, the swirling shrouds of mist, and the steadily falling
snow, the scenery was some sort of surreal dreamscape from a
flashback. The rocks gave way to broken talus as we
neared the lower edge of the glacier, and rock slides littered the slopes
all around us.
Standing under the foot of the glacier it looked as if a small river was
pouring out of a system of low tunnels and caves of ice. The edges of
the glacier reached out in 10 or 12 foot arches ending close but not
quite on the talus we were scrambling across. This meant to get on
the glacier proper, you had to trust your weight to the edge of one of
these precarious-looking ice-bridges. This didn't sound like a winning
idea to me, so we climbed higher across the talus until we hit a ravine
with an outcrop on the far side that bridged out to the glacier in a less
treacherous fashion. By this time we're nearly a third of the way up the
glacier by the time we step foot on its icy surface.
So the next trick is to walk across the glacier to the ridges above.
Doesn't sound so interesting, maybe--just a little stroll on the ice,
Well, maybe, if it were level ... but as it happens, the face the we're
crossing is steep enough to be Halls Alley
, only its made of ice and
hidden in an inch of powder. This first glacier crossing proved to be
one of the more exciting parts of the hike. It would have been a bit
safer with some crampons and ice-axes, but we managed the slope
without any major mishaps.
From there we crested a ridge to a gentle slope of small rock which led
us into a boulder field. Its still snowing as hard as ever, and by this
time my gloves are soaked and the temperature has dropped a bit, so
we stop for a minute to avail ourselves of the extra clothes in my pack
and check the compass. We continue for a bit and start running into
rock cairns and tracks (back on the real trail now).
The boulder field ends at the edge of another glacier, which is a bit
confusing, since according to the map, you only cross one glacier to
reach the top of Kebnekaise. After some deliberation we decide to
continue west by northwest across the glacier. This sheet of ice is
running over rough terrain and its criss-crossed by large cracks and
gaps half covered in snow. Most of these run about 30 meters deep,
according to the researchers that study these things. I'd conveniently
forgotten my tape measure, so I didn't bother jumping down to double
check that figure.
We had a sort of minor adventure on crossing the center of the second
glacier. We had been walking along a sort of ridge where the slope
was almost level, but the crevasses were a little wider here. Its still
snowing of course and the powder on the ground is a few inches thick
... sort of hiding little cracks and whatnot. Anyway, I start out across
this wide section in between two gaps with Rikard following at a
discreet distance when the ice under me starts to crack and sink. I hop
back immediately to the edge of the last crack (where I'm pretty sure
there's solid ice underfoot) and watch a few bits of snow-tracked ice
tumble down the crevasse. I decided to rethink our crossing strategy
here, and we creep down the edge of this crack to the rougher ground
below. From this vantage you can look up the length of the gaps in the
terrain we were just on and see all the empty space I was standing
above trying to cross that little stretch.
We finished the level stretch and started up a steep incline at the far
side of the glacier. Nothing scary here, just a very steep snowy slope
above a mostly level plateau, but the going was a little slow. The
incline was about 60 degrees, and if it had been ice, we never would
have been able to climb it without equipment. When the snow turned
to rock we stopped to rest a bit and survey our progress. You could
see the outlines of the terrain below, the glaciers, the valley to the
and several other peaks, but everything was wrapped in its own cloak
of fog and snow, so the details were hard to make out. The route
above us continued to a short climb through a coullier and then along a
ridge to meet the East trail. From there its a short walk to the top.
We took the West trail back; staying on the trail this time, which led us
in a winding fashion around the first glacier we met on the way up and
down to the ford that we missed the first time. Back at the station, we
cleaned up and relaxed in the sauna for awhile and spent the rest of
the time basking in the glow of a nice little fire in the ranger
We spent one more day wandering about the region, and caught an
early start the next morning to hike back out to Nikkoloukta. One bus
and four trains later we landed in Lund
to crash at our respective
---- End ----