Kebnekaise was our first objective for our two week climbing trip, outside of Finland. We drove North along the coastline of Finland and crossed the borded into Sweden at Tornio, and then continued driving West towards Kiruna. From Kiruna we turned away from the main road, and continued towards Nikkaluokta, a small Saame village.
After stopping a number of times to take pictures of the beautiful landscape around us, we arrived there after 2 AM. Everything was closed, of course, so we pitched our tents to get a few hours of shut-eye before dawn.
We woke up around 8 AM, ate a quick breakfast and packed our gear. We got to the Kallax Flyg AB
's helicopter pad just before 9 AM, when the morning flights start. There were already a dozen or so people in the line when we got there, and it had started raining.
The helicopters operate starting from 9 AM (and 5 PM) as long as there are customers. We waited for about half an hour for our turn, and the rain continued to pour down harder and harder. While waiting, we had a chat with one of the operators on the ground, and he strongly suggested that we re-consider climbing the mountain in such a weather. Just a few weeks before a climbing had slipped off the peak and fallen to his demise, so going up there when it is slippery after rain is no joke.
Then it was our turn to board the chopper, and fly to Kebnekaise Fjällstation
, the mountain lodge, about 20 kilometers from Nikkaluokta. The flight only took about 10 minutes, and was very comfortable. The price was 700 SEK one-way, including up to 20 kg of gear per customer.
We checked in to the lodge, took a look at the weather forecast, and decided it would be best to take an early start the next morning. We spent a nice evening in and around the lodge, taking pictures of the surroundings, playing chess, having a few beers and enjoying a very nice dinner at the restaurant. And of course, also enjoying the sauna which was a very nice surprise for us!
Up we go
We got up around 4:30 AM and made breakfast in the community kitchen. After packing our gear and making preparations, we finally started walking at 6:30, heading towards West to find the Västra Leden. We had been told that the route is easy enough (considering our lack of experience), but we should reserve five or six hours to go up and four or five to get down. No technical gear should be required, either, and according to the forecast we should have very nice weather at the top, too!
Sign post telling us we were on the right tracks!
We found the trail head easily enough. We did notice, however, that there was only a signpost to Västra Leden, and no sign for Östrä Leden. We figured either the sign had been torn off and lost, or perhaps it was deliberately removed to prevent inexperienced people from wandering to the glaciers? Who knows.
After that point the trail started getting steeper and steeper. There was still plenty of snow on ground and the small river running down from the glacier had cut it's path through the snow. The trail was following the river. After an hour or so we got up to two small lakes in a small valley beneath the Kebnekaise and Vierranvárri peaks. We had a quick bite to eat there.
After the break we continued along the path up towards Vierranvárri, a peak which we would have to go over to reach Kebnekaise. The trail was getting a bit tricky, with a lot of loose boulder and slippery snow here and there. We made steady progress, even though we did have to take a lot of breaks. Getting to the top of Vierranvárri got everyone sweating a lot, and by the time we got there clouds had started to gather around us. It was also getting a bit windy up there, and we took shelter behind some cairns. It is worth noting, that apparently many of the largest cairns have been used as lavatories, so please pay attention to where you lie down...
It was a little bit un-motivational to realize we had to descent at least 100 meters before we could start going up toward the peak of Kebnekaise. There was no choice, however, so after catching our breath we started going downhill. There is a small glacier between Vierranvárri and Kebnekaise with very beautiful, bright blue ice, which offered us at least something to admire while going down the side of the mountain which was quite steep.
We finally got started towards the peak of Kebnekaise around 10 AM, an hour or so behind our original schedule. The route up had been harder than we expected, and our lack of preparations was starting to show. None the less, we started up the mountain, and made slow but steady progress. There was a lot of loose scree on the trail, so we had to choose our steps carefully. After what seemed like ages, we got to the Toppstygan, a hut near the summit.
We had a chat there with someone coming back from the summit, and they told us it would be another 30 to 45 minutes to the summit. Since we were already behind our shcedule, we were not happy to hear that, especially since the weather appeared to be getting worse. We left our packs at the hut, and continued up. The slope was getting easier now, and there was a lot more snow around. After 15 minutes we were walking on almost level snow, and clouds were around us so we had very poor visibility.
Summit of Kebnekaise
After about 25 minutes of walking from the hut there was a small window in the clouds, and we could see our objective. We could only see the summit formation for a few seconds, but it was enough to take a few pictures and more importantly, to lift our moods! We picked up the pace, and soon we were climbing the summit formation!
The summit of very narrow, and we did not have a lot of room since there were 5 of us. The visilibity was terrible, so we could only catch glimpses of the glaciers around us; most of the time everything was just white around us. We knew we had to pay attention, though, since on the other side of the ridge there was a 15 meter drop, and on the other side there would be a 400 meter drop after a 50 meter slippery slope.
We felt happy, regardless of the weather. We took a lot of pictures of each other, shook hands, and after a while started our descent, knowing full well there was no chance we would reach the 5 PM helicopters back to Nikkaluokta. But we didn't care, since for all of us, this was the first ascent which we would call "a mountain"!
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