Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hello People,

Will, Robin and I went on a hike in Northern Sweden. The hike was 108 km long. We had a good time and we are all home safe - what else is there to say? Actually I have a whole to say.

First, a bit of background to this hike. During the last two summers our troop in Hanover has gone on a "Long Trail Hike", in 2005 it was 42 miles, in 2006 it was about 30 miles. I enjoyed these, and this year still wanted to do something. So we decide to hike in the mountains of Sweden. Also, a good friend of Will's (Markus) and his brother (Gustav) come to Sweden from Hanover every summer. So we invited them to join us. Their father (Per-Oskar) lives just north of Stockholm in Uppsala, and has hiked and camped throughout Sweden. When he asked me what sort of place we were looking for I told him a place, "which doesn't look like the tree covered mountains of Vermont or New Hampshire". He suggested the "Kungleden" - "The King's Trail".

DAY 1 - Friday, July 20, 2007
Stockholm-Kiruna-Abisko-River Camp (9 km)

We started the day by shouldering our pack in our apartment in Stockholm and hiking across Haga parken to the airport bus. At the check-in counter we met the Lithells (Per-Oskar, Markus and Gustav) and boarded a flight to Kiruna, about 1000 km north of Stockholm. There we soon found a bus (#91) to Abisko Tourist Station, which was our trailhead. We bought fuel for the stoves (you can not carry it on an airplane) and a last ice cream and stepped out on trail at 5:00 pm.

Will and Markus have been friends since we moved to Hanover and there are both going into 11th grade. Robin and Gustav have know each other, but they are in different grades (entering 8th and 9th, respectively). But they are both soccer enthuses and actually act very similar. They are the 'Tiggers' of the crew, with a lot of bounce and energy. Per-Oskar is soft spoken and a good companion for a long hike. I often saw him smiling as he watched our boys. I think it was a good crew and we traveled well together.

The trail was easy at the start, and we ticked off 9 kilometers following the Abiskojåkka (river) which is lined with willow. Farther from the water the trees are almost all birch. We made camp near the water, and cooked our supper. In the evening I climbed a rocky ledge and watched a hawk circling over the river.

Our hike is at 68.5 degrees north latitude - above the Arctic circle. This does mean that the winters are hard, but now in the summer it remind me of the landscape above the treeline in Colorado or Montana. I think the strongest Arctic attribute which we say was the amount of light. We started hiking at 5:00 and did not worry about dark - because it never got dark. It is true the sun sets (they had their first sunset in about two months a week before we arrived), but the sun is just below the horizon and it was never dark. This meant that we could have long evening walks, but it also made it hard to sleep at night.

DAY 2 - Saturday, July 21, 2007
River Camp - Abiskojauestugorna - Lake Camp (21 km)

It was cold overnight and I slept with my fleece on. I was stiff in the morning, and so went for a walk before getting everyone else up. Oatmeal will be our breakfast for the whole week. We didn't get on trail until 10:45 - but with all the daylight we could want this made little difference.

We hiked past a lake and stopped at Abiskojauestugorna just to set what it was like. "Stuga" is a hut or cabin. Along the major trails these are really support stations, like the huts in the White Mountains.

We now turned away from the lake and climbed into our first pass. Actually I think it may be more of a gap, since a single stream flows through it. The valley and stream are called Gárddenvaggi and the hill next to it Gárddenvarri. The boys say that this hill, bare and rocky, reminded them of "Weathertop" from Lord of the Rings. We have left the trees behind and will not see any more for a few days.

It has started to rain a little, a cold drizzle, and the entire landscape is damp. We drink straight out of the streams here, and the Swedes in our crew do not even carry water bottles because there are so many streams everywhere.

After the gap we came out into a valley which has a lake 20 km. long. Actually, according to my map it is a chain of half a dozen lakes. We also see a Sami summer village used when herding reindeer. Later, in the distance we see some reindeer. Evidence of the deer is everywhere, hoof prints in the mud and snow, and droppings.

After about 20 km. of hiking we had hoped to find a willow thicket to camp in because of the rain and wind. But there are none. So we found a place where a bank gave us some shelter from the wind and we pitched our tents.

After dinner it was not raining, although there are still mountains next to this lake I have not seen the tops of because of clouds. We climbed a hill behind our campsite and reached the top at about 9:00 pm. Our tents are tiny yellow specks 1-2 km below us.

The Sami are the native people of this region. There are the people who have often been called "Lapps". The word Lapp is apparently Finnish and may mean "people living on the edge, or outsiders". Recently it is sometimes used in a derogatory way - much like the word "hick".

The Sami language has named most of the geographic features around here. My map often has two names, such as "Kebnekaise" and "Giebmegáisi", the first is the Swedish spelling, the second the Sami. I can not type in this email all the alphabet of the Sami, they use some Cyrillic letters - but I'll do my best. Also when I look at place names like "Gárddenvaggi" and "Gárddenvarri", I expect that the ending is telling me "river" or "mountain". So I'll try to avoid the mistake of adding English endings and writing "Rio Grande River", by instead writing "Rio Grande (river)", with river not part of its name - but rather just an indicator of what it is.

The Sami heard Reindeer, and I am told use very modern techniques because reindeer meat is becoming trendy. They stretch fences across valleys and use ATV and even helicopter to heard them. The main thing we saw were the fences and the occasional summer village of tiny huts.

DAY 3 - Sunday, July 22, 2007
Lake Camp - Alesjaurestugorna - Meadow Camp (15 km)

The morning was still cold and windy and we made our breakfast huddled against the bank which gave us a wind break. Markus is feeling ill this morning and we had long discussion as what to do. But time is on our side. We have an extra day in our schedule and we have made such good time that we can just hang out this morning and see how he feels.

At noon we shoulder our packs and head towards the south end of the lakes. By the time we reach Alesjaurestugorna, the "hut" at the south end of the lake, Markus is back to normal. At Alesjaurestugorna there are half a dozen buildings including a small store. I am delighted to see that the prices are not too expensive and that they take credit cards! We buy tea, hot chocolate, crisp bread and dried soup. We also sat inside, out of the wind, for our lunch.

Our trail now continues south along the Aliseatnu (river). This is open country. Kilometer upon kilometer of tundra. By the way, the word "Tundra" is Sami.

That evening we set up camp in an area where the terrain is rolling. We tried to find a place where we are out of the main blast of the wind, but nor so sheltered that there would be clouds of mosquitoes. Just as we finish supper it starts to rain and we all crowd into the Lithell's tent. They have a four-man tent, with a large vestibule. It is cozy for the six of us. Actually it is nice to be warm.

DAY 4 - Monday, July 23, 2007
Meadow Camp - Tjäktjapasset - Sälkastuorna - Mosquito Camp (17 km)

I woke up to a bit of mountain paradise! The sun was shinning, the air was warm and there was hardly a mosquito to be seen! I set my stuff outside of the tent to air out and ran around barefoot for awhile.

Once on trail we hiked up past Tjäktjastugan (hut) and on to Tjäktjapasset (pass). The last four kilometers of this was over broken stone, and was not easy. But from the top of the pass -- what a view! We are high up above the head of the next valley.

We had our lunch just below the pass, and one of the resupply helicopters buzzed overhead. This valley is a classic glacial U-shaped valley. In fact just about everything I have ever heard about glacial geography is on display here. Moraines, hanging valley, and so forth.

We stopped at Sälkastugorna for more food, and then established what I have named "Mosquito Camp". Actually the mosquitoes swarmed, but didn't bit as much as I would have expected. In the evening Will, Markus, Per-Oskar and I walk across the tundra to the east following the Gashkkasjohka (stream), until we climbed a moraine which separated the side valley from the main one. The stream has cut a sharp V-valley through the moraine - just as the text books say it should.

Will found a good place near the stream and sat quietly carving long into the evening.

I had been warned about the mosquitoes in northern Sweden. Actually I think that they are no worst then in the woods of New England or many other places. In fact I meet a number of swarms which flew about you, but didn't actually land! I am use to the idea that mosquitoes are worst at about sunset, and I tried to look for this pattern, but with a questionable "sunset", I never really found a pattern.

DAY 5 - Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Mosquito Camp - Eagle's Nest (14 km)

The weather was clear when I got up, but there are lots of mosquitoes. I slipped a cup of tea to the boys to help get them up. Soon we have had our oatmeal and are on our way.

We crossed a stream which was almost milky in color. I asked the boys why they thought it was colored. Gustav eventually figured it out. This is what is called "Glacial Milk", and comes from streams which drain from active glaciers. The whiteness is actually powered stone, ground between the mountain and rocks frozen in the bottom of the glacier.

Our original plan was to hike to Kebnekaise fjällstation (mountain station) today, and then climb Kebnekaise as a side trip tomorrow. This makes today a short and simple hike. Instead we turn off of Kungsleden - the main trail - and head cross country up the Sinnijohka (stream). Actually our map show this as an "unmarked trail". In fact there are cairns marching across the tundra. The main point of the "unmarked trail", I think, is that it indicates that the route is passable, there are no 5 meter cliff which might not show up on the map, but would mean you might not be able to cross.

We had lunch on a boulder field from a landslide, and came across a beautiful meadow and lake. This would be a great place to camp, but we have a lot of the day left and would like to be in a good position to climb Kebnekaise tomorrow if the weather permits.

As we continue to climb the world becomes stonier and we tramp across more broken stones, boulder fields and snow. The snow is a relief to walk on - it is somewhat flat. There are rushing streams under part of the snow fields, so we move with caution - and do not cross the snow above the water.

At about 5:00 pm we start looking for a camping places. We don't want to camp at any higher elevation and rain clouds keep rolling through the pass and up the side valley towards us. But it is hard to find anything but rocks and snow. Finally we spot a nearly level shelf 20-30 meters above the valley floor, just large enough for our tents. It even has a bit of grass and moss on it! Per-Oskar named it the "Eagle's Nest" because of the way is looks out over the valley floor.

After supper Will carved a reindeer horn he found and the other three boys tossed rocks down a cliff face trying to crack them. What is a few more broken rocks among the millions in that valley? It has been raining off and on all evening.

DAY 6 - Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Eagle's Nest - Kebnekaise - Last Camp (14 km)

We are about 3 km to the peak of Kebnekaise. We are camped at about 1400 meters, the peak is 2111 meters. So I have estimated that we should plan on three hours to make this climb. If it is raining in the morning we have time on our side and we can just hang out in camp for a few hours before we have to decide want to do. If the peak is weather bound we can climb back down to that camp site by the meadow, and follow that valley to the Kebnekaise fjällstation.

It has stopped raining at 3:00 am and I was tempted to get the crew up very early, but I also think this would have lead to a revolt. Still, we got up at 7:00 and shouldered our packs at 9:00 - which was early for us.

It took us an hour and a quarter to get to the pass between Kebnekaise and Vierranvárri - the next mountain south. This is only a kilometer horizontally and about 200 meters vertical from our camp at the Eagle's Nest. We still have 2 kilometers and 500-600 meters vertical. So we cache our packs and continued with two light packs containing only rain gear and some food and water.

We switched the pack carrier every 10 minutes. While the second person is carrying we find ourselves level with Vierranvárri, which means we have climbed to over 1700 meters. After the third carrier we pass a pair of hut perched on the side of Kebnekaise. Also it is not so steep as we approach the top.

And then we can see the peak - and it is dumbfounding. We have been tramping across stones for hours now, but the last fifty meters is snow and ice. The peak looks like a miniature model of the Matterhorn, a spike of ice, a crown on top of the peak. A ridiculous design!

The peak is on a knife edge between the Björlings glaciär to the east and the Rabots glaciär to the west. Rabots was the first person to climb Kebnekaise. We crawled up the snow to the peak, which was covered with flags people had left behind. The flag of Sweden, Norway and the Sami flag were on the peak. Will waved the Troop 45 "field flag" (class-B neckerchief) on the peak. We could not really see the Björlings glaciär because the clouds below us in the east, but to the west we can see down hundreds of meters to the Rabots glaciär.

After ten minutes we returned to the rocks and ate chocolate. The decent to our packs was fast, and then we cooked lunch in the rain. After lunch we climbed Vierranvárri. This mountain is nearly as steep as Kebnekaise, but not as tall - which is good since we now have full packs. On the top - in the mist - are hundreds of cairns. It is a bit surreal. The boys add one more to the collection, and then it is time to descend. It is all down hill from here. We can drop the last hundred meters to the valley floor by sliding on a snow field!

Now it is a straight forward decent to Kebnekaise fjällstation. We resupply but leave as soon as we can. This mountain station is very busy with many more people then we have seen this last week and we are happy to escape. Another 2 kilometers and we set up our last camp site.

Kebnekaise is the tallest peak in Sweden. It is also the tallest peak in Europe north of the Arctic circle. The name from Sami Giebmegáisi, means "Cauldron Crest", which I think refers to the cauldron formed by the Björlings glaciär. The ice of this glacier extends even to the peak. Of course classic glacier ice comes from being compressed under a thick layer of snow. I expect that this ice is just clouds colliding with the mountain top.

DAY 7 - Thursday, July 26, 2007
Last Camp - Nikkaluokta - Kiruna (17 km)

It was pouring all night and I thought it might be hard to get our crew up and on trail in the morning. But I think everyone understood that we had 17 kilometers to go and that the bus left the trail head at 5:00 pm. We were on trail by 9:30 and the boys set a very good pace.

We are back to the willows along the water and the birch trees, much like the landscape of our first day. I was concerned about how fast we could hike because I knew that there were a number of blisters in the crew, but that didn't seem to slow down anyone as we started logging 15 minute kilometers. We stopped as noon for a quick snack of cheese, crisp bread and chocolate, and then continued. At one point you can ride in a boat for five kilometers. On foot we made nearly as good a time as people in the motor boat. And finally - Nikkaluokta at 2:00. We walked 17 kilometers in 4 ½ hours! We now had three hours to wait for the bus. We bought and ate soda and ice creams, and then ate everything in our packs (lot of soup, crisp bread, cheese and ost-in-a-tube).

That is the end of the hike - but I think I'll also give a quick account of our return to Stockholm.

The bus (#92) took us to Kiruna where we stayed in the "Hotell Kebne". That night, after lots of showers and soap, we ate at a Boston style sports bars called "O'Leary's".

Friday, July 27, 2007
Kiruna - train to Stockholm

Breakfast of waffles and pickled herring (four types), and the boys finally got their copies of the new "Harry Potter" book. The Lithell's had a 1:30 flight, and we had a 6:40 pm train. The train was fun. We were in a compartment with three other hikers. The seat could be folded into bunks, and came with sheets and blankets.

I read the first chapter of Harry Potter out loud, as is a tradition of ours. Our compartment mates also enjoyed it. One of them was waiting for it to come out in Swedish, he said in about six months. We later had supper in the dinner car. Reindeer stew and mashed potatoes! Robin and Will read late.

Saturday, July 28, 2007
Train #93 - Stockholm

I awoke at 4:00 in the morning to watch Will read the last few pages. He has been waiting ten years for this. He smiled, maybe even a grinned, and said, "It has a really good ending!"

Breakfast in the diner car and Stockholm Station at noon!

In the afternoon Kristina and I went to downtown, to Gamla Stan and Slussen, to see the tall ships .... but that is another story.


Summary of Distances

from start total for day
Abisko 0
River Camp 9 9
Abiskojaurestugorna 15
Lake Camp 30 21
Alesjaurestugorna 35
Meadow Camp 45 15
Tjäktjastugan 48
Tjäktjapasset 52
Sälkastugorna 60
Mosquito Camp 63 18
Eagle's Nest 77 14
Kebnekaise 80
Kebnekaise fjällstation 89
Last Camp 91 14
Nikkaluokta 108 17
Total: 108 kilometers
(67 miles)

Map Page

Lots of detailed trail maps.

DAY 1 - Friday, July 20, 2007
Stockholm-Kiruna-Abisko-River Camp (9 km)

Starting At Home
At The Trail Head

DAY 2 - Saturday, July 21, 2007
River Camp - Abiskojauestugorna - Lake Camp (21 km)

Lithell Tent
Startof Day 2
Water Break
First Pass
Lunch On The Tundra
Lake From Hill Top - Evening Hike
Will & Markus on Hill Top

DAY 3 - Sunday, July 22, 2007
Lake Camp - Alesjaurestugorna - Meadow Camp (15 km)

Morning of Day3
Across The Tundra
Arctic Stream
Alesjaure Hut
Robin On Bridge
Cozy Tent In Rain

DAY 4 - Monday, July 23, 2007
Meadow Camp - Tjäktjapasset - Sälkastugorna - Mosquito Camp (17 km)

Morning Day 4
Meadow Camp
The Whole Crew
Stream Crossing
Rocks To Pass
Snow in Tjaktjapasset
Down Tjaktja
Descent And Helicopter
Looking Back To Tjaktja
Towards Salka
Camp Mosquito
Almost Sunset

DAY 5 - Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Mosquito Camp - Eagle's Nest (14 km)

Markus And Clouds
Headed South
Markus on Boulders
Willin the Prefect Camp
Robin on a Snowfield
Gustav & Will on Snow
Per-Oskar, Rainbow & Snow
Will in the Eagle's Nest
Boys With Rocks

DAY 6 - Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Eagle's Nest - Kebnekaise - Last Camp (14 km)

Eagle's Nest
Robin on a Snowfield
Unpassbale Side Valley
Kebnekaise Peak
Boys On Top
Crew On Top
Rabots Glacier
The Peak
Starting Down
Robin Headed Down
Vierranvarri Cairns
Building A Cairn
A Long Ways Down
Out Of The Mountains

DAY 7 - Thursday, July 26, 2007
Last Camp - Nikkaluokta - Kiruna (17 km)

The Last Camp
The Trail Out
Will At Nikkaluokta

Friday, July 27, 2007
Kiruna - train to Stockholm

On The Train