Hiking Kungsleden / The Royal Trail – summiting Kebnekaise!

As they say, better late than never? The final installment of my hiking trip! (from my hiking trip during July 2010)

Day 9, July 24, 2010, Summiting Kebnekaise. I packed sandwiches and 4L of water because there is not much water when hiking to the top of Kebnekaise, and what little water is present isn’t very good for you. I estimated that summiting Kebnekaise would take me 14 hours round trip, given that I’m not so fit. I had to check out of my creaky cot room of 26 and into the new dorm room for 4; the fjällstation reception opens at 7 in the morning and closes at 10 PM, meaning I would have to be at reception right when it opened, and then haul ass for the hike.

The day before, I had been nervous that the girl had not done the reservation for me properly, and my suspicions were confirmed… They morning staff couldn’t find the new reservation, and they said they would check with the afternoon staff what happened. In worst case they would hold a cot for me – as long as I returned before 10 PM. I tried to emphasize my concern that I might not make it back before 10 and she just shrugged her shoulders. Wasn’t her problem. Customer service in Sweden sucks asssssssssssss!!!!!!!!! It was unbelievable that they screwed up the booking, and offered no advice on who to contact if I didn’t return in time. I’m sure there have been people who couldn’t make it back in time – and don’t they have arrangements for registering for search parties if solo hikers do not return?? It is a mountain!

The whole debacle at reception took 30 minutes, and wasn’t even properly resolved. I was stressed because now I had lost 30 minutes of hiking time. I tried to set a quick pace during the easy, flat start of the hiking path. The uphills were so brutally difficult for me.  I can walk quite fast on the easy terrain, but uphill was a slow slog with lots of breaks (every few seconds I had to pause to catch my breath). Families with kids blasted by me, only to pause frequently for snack breaks, where I passed them again, like a neck and neck race. A man in his 60’s(?) with a long grey beard, crazy hair, and long sinewy legs, passed by me effortlessly. I dubbed him “mountain man” because I would have believed it if someone told me he had been living out in the mountains for several years without contact with civilization.  I saw him again on his way quickly back down far before I was barely to the top.

1Starting out the hike on easy terrain and gorgeous weather, 5 C

2Beyond the easy first section, the hike to the top is hours of pure torture on your instep with stones, stone and more stones

3Halfway to the top, at 1700m (1200m gain from Kebnekaise fjällstation). But, there is an elevation drop down to 1500m (200 m loss to be regained) before reaching the top of Kebnekaise, 2100m. Total elevation gain 1800m + total loss 1800m.

4At 1700m. Kebnekaise’s peak in the distance. But first I would need to drop and regain 200m in elevation.

I was almost crawling the last 200m up. But so worth it. Perfect day. Perfect view. Couldn’t ask for more.

5I made it! Just beside the peak. (And of course I HAD to blink the in one of the few photos of me.)

6The peak, not for acrophobes… The top is about 1 m wide and 5 m long with a steep, narrow ridge on one side. There are only 2 directions you could safely slip off, to where I’m standing, or down the narrow ridge.

I was too scared to take any photos from the true peak, knowing that people have fallen off and died. I tried to take some photographs but it was really difficult to capture how truly breathtaking it is. So instead, tried to be in the moment and enjoy the view, spending about an hour near the top.

The way down was pure pain at every step. Knee crunching descent/hell, and about 14 hours after I started, I was back down at Kebnekaise fjällstation.

When I returned 15 minutes prior to reception closing, the girl from the morning was there as promised. However, she said she talked to all the afternoon staff, and none of them recalled booking anything for an Asian girl the day before! Unbelievable! I was the only Asian female in the whole station, yet the flighty girl from the day before apparently didn’t remember me… I tried asking in many different ways as I could just in case it was just misplaced! I resigned myself to another horrible night in cot.  But after having stalled and talked for so long, and maybe because she felt quite sorry for me, somehow it occurred to the girl, “Wait, do you have an STF membership?”

The STF cabins are apparently not part of the normal booking process??… There was one last bed free (the one the flighty girl from the day before was supposed to have booked for me). Yes! A 4 bedded room! With showers in the same building! (As opposed to the communal shower house.)  So I can highly recommend purchasing an STF membership if you will be hiking Kungsleden and/or Kebnekaise.

I treated myself to the overpriced BBQ burger at the cafeteria. I barely had the energy to stay awake to eat, shower, and organize my things for my early morning departure (so that I could get back to Umeå without sleeping in Kiruna). I only slept from 11:30 PM until 5:30 AM, but it was a sound sleep in a luxurious bunk bed in a room with a quietly sleeping Swedish family.

Day 10, July 25, 2010, Kebnekaise to Nikkaluokta. 8 km of flat terrain, followed by a boat (runs twice daily, saving 6 km of walking), and another 5.6 km of flat terrain. A nice, easy recovery walk, especially after hiking up Kebnekaise. Leaving Kebnekaise fjällstation, I saw a few other early morning “hikers”. They were looking for the helicopter pad to leave via helicopter.

7Took the boat for 200 SEK to save 6 km of walking in order to make the bus departing for Kiruna at noon.

8At the Sami village on the other side of the lake, there is a LapDånalds. Unfortunately they weren’t open yet, otherwise I wanted a reindeer burger!

Walking the last section to Nikkaluokta, I passed many hikers who were just starting on their hike in the opposite direction to Kebnekaise (most don’t continue on much farther than Kebnekaise). I was amazed to see a girl with a pack that looked like it weighed at least 25 kg, only steps past the starting post, hunched over and straining. I don’t know if she ended up ditching any of her things on the way, because I couldn’t see her making it very far.

Waiting at the bus stop at Nikkaluokta, I saw the mountain man again (who had also taken the boat). He said he was impressed by how fast I was walking the prior morning, but I said it was only during the flat parts that I could walk that fast, and how difficult and painful the hike was for me. He said it correctly, that it was all “mental strength”, and that for him, it also hurt at every step! I almost rarely have problems with my knees and feet, and every step down Kebnekaise sent pain through my knees. I can’t imagine how much pain someone who didn’t have healthy knees and feet as I do, would feel. I’m envious and aspire to be as fit as the people who breezed up and down the mountain.

The bus that runs from Nikkaluokta to Kiruna only takes cash (no credit cards). I planned to take the train from Kiruna to Umeå, where I had my student flat, to save myself a night of accommodation. In a rush to catch my train, I bought a burger and fries to take away from a northern Swedish “fast-food” chain. I had to wait over 15 minutes for my burger. That’s fast food in northern Sweden for you.

Waiting at the train station, eating my burger and fries on a bench, I felt kind of sick. Almost as though my body was rejecting the unhealthy, greasy food. I felt inspired to continue this healthy way of life I had been doing (at least in that moment :)). Lots of activity. Food as fuel, but really enjoying and savouring fine food, as a special occasion. And the simplicity of having only the things I need on my back, consuming as little as necessary, moving by my own muscles and feet. And a greater appreciation of modern conveniences, such as clean clothing, showers without needing to carry the water I use.

Of course the train was several hours late (surprise, surprise). The whole time I was waiting I had wanted to use the toilet but was afraid the train would come barreling into the station, taking off after stopping for a few seconds. I couldn’t get any information on how much the train was delayed from SJ, because “it’s a different train company”. Nevermind that they are using SJ’s train station.

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5 thoughts on “Hiking Kungsleden / The Royal Trail – summiting Kebnekaise!

  1. Hi! Just wanted to say thanks for posting this as we´re thinking of hiking this summer and was really helpful and also funny at times! (From another Canadian abroad- in Madrid)
    Rebekka

  2. Hello, what a fascinating narration! I will make the Royal Trail in August – and if I have the courage, the Kebnekaise. If I understand you well, I should book a bed in advance at the Kebnekaise fjällstation? Is there a lot of people there in Summer?

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