In Sweden's far north, north of the Polarzirkel, north of everything known in Sweden, lies Kebnekaise, the highest peak in the country. 2097 meters high, the two peaks of Kebnekaise rise above the Tarfala valley and the surrounding mountains and high plateaus. Even if it lacks some grace and conciseness compared to the Alps or other European mountains, it is one of my absolute favorites. That's why I've already set out twice to conquer this mountain.
As already mentioned, the Kebnekaise has two peaks. The southern summit had to surrender last year the title of the highest mountain in Sweden to the north summit. The thick layer of ice that covered the southern summit for a long time, melted so much by the global warming, that now the rocky north summit is considered the highest point in Sweden.
The journey to the region around the Kebnekaise
If you want to visit this remote region in the north of Sweden, you should start planning early. If you arrive by public transport, you will fly via Stockholm to Lulea and from there take the train to Kiruna. From Kiruna we continue by bus to Nikkaluokta, the second last post of civilization in front of the mountain region around Kebnekaise.
The bus is full of other hikers. Perfect, because you can talk about many trekking tours and thus more adventure opportunities in the region. The mountainous regions in the north are very popular with the Swedes. Many locals like to spend their summer weekends in the Kebnekaise region, to disconnect from everyday life and relax while hiking.
Arrived in Nikkaluokta, it will continue on foot from now on. Although it is also possible to shorten the first few kilometers of the route by boat. However, I have not tested this variant so far and can therefore make no recommendation.
After about 4 to 5 hours on foot you finally arrive at the actual last station before the actual hiking routes. It is advisable to increase your provisions here for the last time. Of course, for the necessary change and at correspondingly higher prices, since all products are flown in by helicopter. The mountain station is also the meeting place if you have booked a guide for your tour. Likewise, in the mountain station you have the possibility to rent the necessary climbing equipment if you do not have your own equipment.
From the mountain station, the exciting part of the hike begins. In the previous 5 hours from Nikkaluokta to the mountain station, we were already able to catch a glimpse of the mountains ahead. But now it is finally high. For the complete hike, so the round trip, you should definitely plan 8 to 12 hours. Due to the northern location, you can still approach the hike in the summer in peace, because the sun does not even set at this time.
Regarding the travel time definitely recommend the summer months of June, July and August. While July usually has the highest temperatures, you also have to expect almost twice as much precipitation. In my opinion, the June is therefore recommended and you can connect his trip with a midsummer festival in late June.
There are two official routes on the Kebnekaise that offer different challenges. Before the start of the hike you should get more information about these different possibilities and prepare the appropriate equipment. The West Route is the "family friendly" tour compared to the East Route as you can do without a harness and crampons.
You will meet many other hikers on the West Route and you will also see families with children of elementary age who master this tour excellently. The distance to be covered is a bit longer here, but you have less steep passages. On the map (see picture below) you can follow the route nicely. You can see that the path leads in an arc around the steep passages, before finally reaching the southern summit of Kebnekaise.
In the first segment, narrow, well-trodden paths lead past high bushes until finally reaching the foot of the Toulpagorni. From here you start to get the first real altitude difference behind you. A little later, you reach a stream of meltwater that has to be crossed. These can be - depending on the previous temperatures - either with a few small jumps to cross or it's guaranteed wet feet ...
If you have overcome the shrub border, you walk exclusively on rocks and boulders. Now you reach a small plateau, from which you can either continue towards Kebnekaise or climb to the Toulpagorni. I recommend to climb the Kebnekaise first, as this track is quite challenging. Those who still have strength and desire after the exhausting Kebnekaise ascent may still be able to conquer the Toulpagorni on the way back.
If you continue towards Kebnekaise, now comes the first really exhausting segment. Large boulders and loose boulders on a steep slope require caution and require sturdy shoes. Red dots along the slightly beaten path help a lot in orientation. It is advisable to stick to this route so as not to expose yourself to unnecessary hazards. Once at the top, you will find a plateau, which is decorated with thousands of small stone piles. At this time you have already left the most altitude and is already almost on par with the Kebnekaise. However, one notices now that one must descend once again in a valley, before reaching the summit.
Once you have reached the bottom of the valley, it's time to head up the other side of the valley. The path winds its way relatively smoothly along boulders and boulders until you finally reach the foot of the snow-capped summit. On the last hundred meters you can already imagine the spectacular panoramic view.
At the top, on the southern summit, you can finally enjoy the breathtaking view. We made it and climbed the highest peak in Sweden. What an exciting tour ... That this tour is very popular, we notice at the latest here at the top. So it may take a moment for the obligatory evidence from the summit to be made. The elongated summit offers only about two meters of space in width and has almost vertical walls on both sides.
Since no security was built to the sides, you should be very careful. It is also important to leave each other enough space and time.
From a technical perspective, the West Route is actually less challenging. In any case, a must have weatherproof hiking boots, enough provisions, enough water and weatherproof clothing. With proper training, this route is also suitable for families (with children of school age). For people with fear of heights, the summit in particular poses a potential challenge.
However, if you are looking for a challenge and like roped in a rock face, you should try the East Route. Here you scramble over the ice with crampons and ax. It not only saves time and distance, it is also the perfect way to get used to this professional equipment as a beginner. Once you have mastered this tour, there are many more exciting climbing tours to choose from. However, you should always be informed in advance exactly how demanding these routes are.
Just as with the West Route, you start from the mountain station towards Toulpagorni, but turn right relatively early and walk up a wide and relatively flat rising mountain wall. From a certain height, all rocks are covered by a thick layer of ice and it is recommended to fasten the crampons. These can be borrowed comfortably in the mountain station, if you do not have your own iron. After crossing a sprawling high plateau in the direction of the Kebnekaise summit and standing in the middle of the Björling glacier, one should slowly aim at the steel cables of the upcoming rock face.
Tip: To climb the climbing passage, you should already put on your hip belt on the plateau. There is very little space right on the rock face.
The rock face is relatively easy to master, but you should not be too reckless about it. The correct sequence of steps when strapping the carabiner should be learned beforehand, so that you are protected at all times.
After a few minutes you reach the foot of the Kebnekaise summit, which has already been described in the West Route. You can save a lot of time on this route (compared to the West Route). In addition, you can refresh your climbing skills or gain initial experience with the equipment. While the West Route is also feasible for hikers without a guide, you should not go alone on the East Route without appropriate knowledge and experience. Especially if this is the first glacier or steep wall experience. It is better to join a hiking group in this case or to book a guide.
In addition to these two fantastic hiking trails, there are many other things to do in the area around the mountain station. My personal favorite here is exploring a natural ice cave, which breaks up around July each year.
The cave is located in the middle of a steep and icy glacier tongue, which can only be reached with suitable crampons and ice climbing equipment. This tour is therefore not suitable for beginners. Even finding the right glacier tongue is not easy, as you can not see the cave entrance from the valley. Exact information and all prerequisites for this climb should be requested at the local tourist office.
In the valley around the mountain station, the ice ages and the former glaciers have left many boulders of different sizes. These have burst due to the frost and are today an excellent playground for bouldering.
In addition to the Kebnekaise there are other impressive peaks, which I unfortunately could not find official names. From the mountain station, however, one can estimate relatively well which of the surrounding mountains is worth a summit tour. On our two hikes to Kebnekaise, we have climbed at least one other, the surrounding mountains. These tours as well as the views from the respective summits have definitely been worthwhile.