If in doubt – climb a mountain, you will either have the answer by the time you come back or the question will no longer matter because you will have exposed yourself to something far greater!
Kebnekeise – the highest peak of Sweden and a magnificent adventure for a city-bound hiker! A “return” trip will take you in the region of 12 to 16 hours, “piece of cake” so I thought… I was wrong, very wrong!
Take a trip to a village called Nikkaluokta which owes its entire existence to Kebnekeise, it is an important transition hub where you can park your car (for free!) for a few days while you’ll be walking to the summit and back. Here you can use a toilet, fill your water flask, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for a 17km sprint to the base camp.
Living in central Europe makes you unaware of things like having to walk 17km, there is always a train, a bus of some sort but not in Northern Sweden and I think it’s great! I do not understand why they have built a train line on top of one of the mountains in Britain, Snowdon, I believe it is. They have destroyed the whole idea of hiking to the highest peak of England and for what? So that a few fat tourists can get their asses up the hill and buy in ice-cream at the top?
Nah, forget about that, you’re going to walk the whole mile here!
You can get a 5km boat ride somewhere half-way but that’s a waste of money, you’d still need to walk another 6km and spending 35Euro on the boat is hardly worth it, it the grand schema of things it’s not going to make you walk less, you’re looking at 50km in 3 days anyway so bite the bullet and keep walking:)
The route takes you the the base camp which is a hectic amalgamation of a commercialised base with cabins, guided tours to the summit and a restaurant.
I really struggled getting my head around living in a tent cooking my own food and yet passing by a restaurant on my way to water springs… there is something not quite right about it. I think it should be one or the other, the restaurant should definitely be there but it’d be nice if it was somewhat away from the base camp. And the “base camp” is basically wherever tents are, they stretch over 5 kilometres, the base camp does not have definitive borders, there are people camping as far as 5 kilometres before the base buildings as well as right by the foot of the mountain.
Spend a night at the base camp and start your ascent. Some people set off at 2am which is no problem in July given it’s the midnight sun time and it never gets dark.
My adventure began at 7am.
I thought it’d be a piece of cake and with me I had a small backpack with a couple pieces of warm clothing, a gas stove and pasta with a tin of salmon for lunch, and and three Mars bars which proved to be life-saving and I massively underestimated how tough of a journey the magnificent Kebnekeise had for me as a gift. In the next two and a half days I realised how high the price of poor mission planning may be. You know how greatest Arctic expeditions failed and people died because of little things that weren’t planned properly? That’s what I fully realised during this trip!
I was dressed in a designer t-shirt, light hiking trousers I bought at Decathlon for 3Euro and a pair of cheap Columbia hiking boots which must have been made for anything BUT hiking! But at the time I thought “they’re cheaper than The North Face-s, I’m sure they can’t be much worse. Ah no – if you wanna do proper activities – buy proper stuff! Anything 1000 miles away from a gay bar and a vegan cafe is likely to be one!
In the beginning things went well, first 5km of walking were tough, I was thinking of years I spent working in an office, I dreamt of that corporate swimming pool with a sauna… and not much else.
We crossed a river and followed a trail up, the first big ascent. My feet were slipping of rocks, the soles were bendy and my feet started to hurt. I was two hours in being overtaken by couples in their 50s and families with 7 year old kids… things were not looking good.
And here came the thought. I was thinking of the choice we can make in regards to our lifestyles, about people who don’t have to go to a corporate gym three times a week and they still won’t die of a heart attack. You know those people… those 50 year olds were fitter than most of my friends in London who think that a 40-minute morning jog is an achievement.
Then were those families with kids and dogs… I mean if I hiked this kind of mountains since I was 5… I probably would have a completely different life! These people are fit and I believe many Swedes are.
Things started to really hurt when we arrived to a local height, it was 4 hours away from the base camp and I knew there were two more before I’d see the summit… but I could not see it. That meant we had to descend three or 400 meters and then go back up… and then more.
That was a place where some people turned back. I took out my first Mars bar. Boom! I’m strong and happy once again! Like pop-eye the sailor!:)
A steep path down and then… do you know what it feel like having to hike back to the very height you’ve just been to… ahhhh. But then there was just as much left…
And then where magic starts to happen. Your brain tunes into a special frequency and starts milling through the problems that you have in life, finding solutions and dismissing the ones which aren’t worth the worry! This is why people climb mountains, this lets you tap into an alternative universe where things follow different laws of physics, different logic. I, for instance finally came up with a name for my company!
And while I was going through years of my thoughts I started to arrive to the top. First thing was an old shelter.
Then another one and another one:) All abandoned, I don’t even know why they keep building them:) I borrowed a hat at a builder’s tent a few hundred meters below the summit, left my backpack, took a deep breath and after scrambling up the icy slope passed guys wearing snow cramp-ons I finally set my foot on the snow of the Kebnekeise’s summit!
What a feeling! Gone are the sores and tiredness, all that exists now is the view of which you can’t get enough! I looked down the North Face and thought that it’d be nice to do it one day, sipped brandy from my little hip flask and thanks the Mountain for letting me climb it.
It was time to embrace the path all the way back. I knew it was going to take at least 5 hours and those SEVEN hours were the worst to come!
Guys, it was so bad I won’t even describe it. It felt like it took ages (and it did), Columbia are great at marketing and not so good in making hiking shoes so I could not walk for almost two days after I was back, my legs were burning, one of the knees hurt as hell, the back still aches… but was it worth it? Absolutely!
I arrived to the base camp, used what was left of my brandy to disinfect my feet which were completely wrecked… and the next day I endured on a 17 kilometre walk back to Nikkaluokta and no, I did not take the boat this time!
Thanks to Kebnekeise that allowed me on its summit and although I can’t say we will meet again, who knows, I hope there will be more summits and I will be more careful and responsible and won’t go unprepared thinking that my glorious city past and courage will deliver me to the peak. These things just don’t work this way.
(Serge Fog, 21-23 July 2016)