Archive for June, 2007

Kebnekaise – 2111m

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Executive Summary: Since this is a long post I will give you the quick and dirty here for those who don’t want to read it all (though I do recommend it obviously!) Skip it if you want the suspenseful version! Once again bit off more than I can chew hiking. Walked about 60 km in 48 hours: 20km hike to base camp (after a horrible night’s sleep on train), sleep with the sun in eyes all night, take 5.5 hours to ascend 1850m to summit, take another 5.5 hours to come back, sleep with sun in eyes again, hike 20km home. This was done before the mountain was officially opened and there was still too much snow, so summiting was done half with snowshoes. I wasn’t sure if the effort was worth it after doing it all, but after a few days I got over it and was glad I did it. Rest of Sweden was wonderful, people are great and the weather worked out, definitely a place I recommend visiting in the summer. See pictures below (click on them for more pics)!

End Executive Summary

After I scaled the UK’s tallest peak (see previous post), I thought to myself, “Why not scale the tallest peaks in other countries as well? I am after all from Canada, have done a bunch of hiking there, and we got some big mountains. So these should be no problem!”

With that attitude I went to Sweden and first thing I did on my 10-day stay was to go to Kiruna (where the sun always shines during this time of year, home to the Ice Hotel in the winter). From there it’s possible to summit Sweden’s tallest peak, Kebnekaise, at 2111m (if you count the glacier that sits on top of the rocky peak). I took nothing lightly though, the base mountain station is at 670m or so elevation, so a good 1400m climb is involved, which is no picnic (but it’s only a little more elevation gain than I had done on UK’s tallest mountain, that took 2h20m).

I was however unprepared for some other things. I had read about the fact that the mountain station can only be reached by hiking (think of it as a sort of base camp), but I had completely forgot. Another thing is that on arriving and asking how I can get to the mountain, they told me it doesn’t open for two weeks so I can’t go up top. All this led to a whole bunch of confusion, and after straightening everything out I had to do the following:

I had about one hour to go buy all my food for the next three days, knowing I will have to carry it all on my back for 20km to the mountain station. Take too little and go hungry, take too much and my shoulders would cry.

Catch the last bus of the week (no buses for next two days) to village, hike 20km with food on back to the mountain station. I had to hurry to make it to bed at a reasonable time, and the fact that the previous night I had spent drinking beer with the locals and sleeping only 5 hours on a night train didn’t help.

Finally I arrived at the mountain station, my home for the next two nights, glad to have all the confusion behind me. At the station I found some nice German guys who had attempted the summit that day. They were walking around stiff-legged and in some discomfort, and they told me they had spent 12 hours (round trip) making an unsuccessful attempt at the summit. They had to turn back because the snow was waist-deep, and they had big heavy backpacks that made them sink very easily. They were climbing the mountain alpine style so that they could camp on the other side after summiting, and all that weight and no snow shoes kept them from the top. Luckily I managed to track down some of the people that were preparing the mountain station for opening and got them to rent me snowshoes from their shop, hoping to make it myself.

That night was my first night sleeping in a place where the sun shines 24 hours. I must say it totally messes with your internal clock. The day just flies by, and the night is tough unless the room has no windows. It was not the best sleep I had by a long shot.

Next day I set out to summit while the German guys were taking a day of rest. I told myself I would do like them and turn back if I didn’t get up the mountain in 6 hours. Actually I was hoping to make it in 5 or less, but after 5 hours I still had a ways to go so I just kept pushing. It was the most exhausting hike ever. About half of the elevation gain had to be covered in snowshoes as there was still a lot of snow on the mountain. This was the toughest part, as going up in snowshoes means every step you take you sink, then when pulling your back foot out of the snow your front foot sinks even more. Place back foot in front, sink. Wash, rinse, repeat. Just taking step after step was difficult. I thought of stories I had heard about people climbing Everest, how every step is a huge mental effort, and I felt much the same way (though obviously I had nothing on Everest). I eventually made it to the top in 5h30m, ready to die.

The GPS I had said I had ascended 1850m and descended 360m on my way up. That’s a lot more than the 1400m I was expecting, because the way there actually goes up and down over a slightly smaller peak. That also means that the 360m I descended I have to climb back up on the way home. All those numbers add up to a very long day and a very tired Wiktor. Anyways, after spending about 30 minutes on the peak taking panoramic photos, I went back with no significant events, other than the usual tiredness of snowshoeing up the smaller peak. I think my trip was just shy of 12 hours (luckily the sun shines all the time so there’s no chance of being left in the dark!) Back at the mountain station I had a dinner that seemed very small compared to my appetite after that climb (I guess I erred on the side of going hungry in choosing how much food to bring).

After another bad night of sleeping with daylight in my eyes, I hiked the 20km back to town with the German guys. It was good to hear some of their other stories they had about climbing in the alps, and I felt a little bad for them because they certainly came well prepared and knew what they were doing, had crampons ready for ice, but just couldn’t get past the deep snow.

For some more commentary and pictures click on any of the pictures above. And to make a long story even longer, the rest of the trip in Sweden was great. The country is probably the most similar to Canada of all the European countries. The people are really nice, I met a few and stayed at one of their houses for a night. Stockholm is a great city, parts of it remind me of Zurich (which is a good thing!) and a great place to party all night when the sun barely sets for a couple hours, and dawn comes well before people consider calling it a night (and that was on a Tuesday).

That’s about all there is to write for this trip, now I’m spending my time in rainy Aberdeen. I feel like I’m living a two-part life, one very different from the other, completely unrelated and uncoupled.

Ben Nevis – 1344m

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

A quick post about what I was up to a couple weeks back: hiking up the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis. While the size of the mountain may make it seem like not much of an achievement (1344m), the start is at about sea level, so it’s a decent climb. That, and I bit off a little more than I could chew by deciding to climb it with another Canadian I met in the hostel; he is a park ranger manager in BC and climbs mountains for a living. So, for the first bit I could keep his pace, but eventually I had to tell him to slow it down a little or leave me behind! He has kids my age, yet I felt like the old man and developed a hip problem going up. But by having his pace to keep up to, I think I set a personal best for getting my ass up a mountain!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see from the top; the peak is clouded over about 70% of days. It also rains over 7 times as much there as it does in ‘sunny’ London. The picture at the bottom shows us two Canadians on the top with snow on the ground and cloud all around (click here for more pictures).

Next on the list for me: go to Sweden and climb their tallest mountain. For some reason that’s what I feel like doing, climbing mountains, rather than just going to a place to say I’ve been there. That and of course partying it up with local Swedish girls!

Ben Nevis - 1344m and cloudy