This article was written by Jamie Hughins, a Design | Media Arts major at UCLA who lived in Lund, Sweden and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown
Traveling to the north of a California-sized country sounds less daunting than the actual journey when one is ignorant of the fact that the distance from the very southern tip of Sweden to the very north of Sweden is 1600 kilometers - approximately the same distance from London to Naples or Seattle to Los Angeles. Considering this distance now, I would never have attempted to cover this much ground (without a plane) in a few days.
It looks like a hop, skip, and a train ride away from the obviously true-to-scale map of our illustrated language workbook, and flipping past the atlas sketch (after much deliberation, sketch is the proper word in this case) of På Svenksa! every day for six weeks shortened this distance even further to a mere domestic train ride in my mind. So when I heard a couple classmates planned to make it all the way up to Norrland, to climb the tallest mountain in Sweden, it seemed like a nice vacation and a fun hike. After all, the main character in our Swedish grammar book climbed Kebnekaise, and we only learned the verbs gå (to walk) and campa (to camp) during that chapter. How difficult could it be? Daniel seemed pretty wimpy any way, as he complained about the myggen (mosquitoes) for several pages…
Starting our trek from Lund to Stockholm we rode the X2000, which cuts the usual eight-hour train ride down to a pleasant four. Speeding by wheat fields, lakes, forests, and the chance town, we managed to grasp the landscapes of Skåne and Småland without any effort on our part. As our main goal was to tackle Sweden’s highest peak, we only stayed a quick two days in the capital, managing a ferry ride around the fourteen islands that encompass the city by day and observing the impeccably dressed young Stockholmers saunter by at night. If we hadn’t been so bent on reaching the Artic Circle within a few days, touring the huvudstad (capital city) longer would have been quite nice.
Stopping in Uppsala next, the other established university town besides Lund, allowed us to view the largest domkyrkan (cathedral) in Sweden and a whimsical statue by Bror Hjorth of a man with the largest male member in Sweden (hopefully no translation is necessary but for information on the artist, visit http://www.brorhjorthshus.com/eng. htm). Another brief halt on our northbound journey took us to Härnäsand, a pleasant little town on the east coast with a coved beach boasting clear, warm water, white sand, and millions of naked blond children running around. Really though, the beach was amazing. Set facing south, pine trees leaned in from both sides of the shore but stopped just before a grappling of large smooth rocks met the sea, which were perfect for a short nap and a sunbathe.
Fortunately those several restful days helped the thirteen hour night train to Kiruna a little more bearable. We booked our seats last minute and so sat in the ‘dogs- allowed’ section of the car, next to the smoking section and the toilet. Complaining aside, it was a good deal. We purchased our SkanRail Pass in Denmark a day before our trip, as the ticket is good for 21 consecutive days of travel within Scandinavia but only allow three days of travel within the country that the pass is purchased. The train station in Copenhagen, Denmark is 45 minutes from Lund, Sweden, so it is quite easy to visit a neighboring Scandinavian country and bypass this restriction.
Getting off the train in Kiruna we then boarded the bus to Nikkaluokta and sat for an hour among the other happy backpackers who apparently had the same idea as us. We’d been told that there would be supplies and food available at the fjäll station (fell station/restaurant/souvenieir shop), so we hadn’t brought any snacks besides a package of cookies. Upon arrival we realized our backpacks were pretty heavy without any supplies and if we were planning on hiking 19km just to the base of the mountain, we’d better figure something out before setting off into the wilderness with copious amounts of shampoo, reading material, and several outfit options for that one night in Stockholm when we went out. Luckily there were lockers for packrats like ourselves, and for a mere 35 kronor we could ditch our stuff for the several days we’d be hiking and pick it up on our way out. Taking out everything except for my tennis shoes and my toothbrush, I deposited everything into a couple shopping bags and said goodbye. We started off within the hour, our legs fresh and our waterbottles filled.
The lady at the Tourist Office told us to expect a four to five hour hike to the fjäll station at the base of Kebnekaise. We made it in exactly five (I approximated 3.75) and were surprisingly tired from the flat, rocky path that twisted through the low grasses and marshy forests beneath the largest mountain in Sweden. We approached the fjäll station and were greeted by a bustling metropolis of wood and stone buildings, with brightly- colored tents along the outskirts and the traffic of cheerful-looking hikers going to and from the (gasp) showers and sauna. It was quite shocking to find this here, as there were no roads that reached here but only the very footpath we’d taken ourselves.
We learned that dinner was served at 18:00 and for 145 kronor ($15) we could fill our plates with the daily special and come back for more if we had the energy. So we lined up behind the freshly- scrubbed hikers feeling quite stinky and dirty in our same clothes and then dug into Wednesday’s treat of elk stew with lingonberries and enbär (a small dark berry that looked suspiciously like the ones growing outside the building). The food was nice and filling but made me even more tired than I already was. The complimentary coffee didn’t even affect me as I drifted off nestled into my sleeping bag and pretended it was night as there was still a glare from the sun at 9pm.
The next day, the long- awaited Day of our trip that we’d committed hours and hours of sitting on trains and busses for, we headed west towards the mountain at eight AM, slightly worn from yesterday’s walk but anxious nonetheless for the views that awaited us at the top of the tallest mountain in Sweden. After about an hour I was completely exhausted and being caffeine-deprived didn’t help a bit. We passed a couple older hikers who greeted us and wished us lika till! (good luck!). I looked back and couldn’t see our camp any more and looked ahead and saw the overbearing presence of Kebnekaise. Forward seemed to be the only option. After another hour we reached the base of a huge pile of rocks that looked about a 70% grade. There was a huge snow bank along the side and no marked path except for a few splashes of red paint every now and then. Squinting upwards we spotted a man scaling the rocks without any equipment or anything, so it had to be the correct route…
NOTE: To protect the reader from an exhausting and tedious read I will refrain from any further details of the ten hours that comprised of this hike. Basically we went up to the top of the tallest mountain in Sweden and were very pleased with the 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. We were also very pleased to be on semi-flat ground without the fear of slipping to an icy death on a loose rock. During this nice rest between the Up portion of the hike and the Down, we took in as much scenery as we could before using our eyes solely for the purpose of looking where to place our next step. Kebnekaise is misappropriated as the tallest mountain; it is actually the largest pile of rocks. I can proudly say now that I have climbed it. It is highly unlikely that I will climb it again but the memory of my swollen feet and aching limbs could fade perhaps and I might reconsider. I would recommend this hike to anyone with a bit of a masochistic streak in them, or for those who can appreciate natural beauty in all it's massive glory.
Click here for the Urban Lowdown website.
Published: Thursday, August 25, 2005