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 before 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. What's 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 from 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 in 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 train a bit and find the restaurant car.

This particular train, the Connex line in northern sweden, bills itself as 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 that 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 "all-you-can-eat" 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 walking 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 inventions ... 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 speak.

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, but 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:

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 Highlander 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, right? 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 east 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 station.

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 domiciles.

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