Summiting Kebnekaise with boys in winter

 

What an awesome trip – and how grateful I am to be able to experience such fantastic adventures with my kids. Travelling back from North Sweden where I and my boys Ludvig (18) and Gustaf (15) just summited the roof of Sweden Kebnekaise. This is no easy challenge, even in summertime in good weather. After a hard day we finally succeeded, but it was never ever clear that we would make it. Gustaf had no experience and only 15 years, The Mountain kabin was closed, We (I) navigated wrongly, and Ludvig was severely exhausted the last several hours before summiting. Did I mention the weather forecast was -18 degrees Celcius and 15 m/s winds?

 

The reward may seem to have been the summit, but my reward is the gratefulness and joy I get from sharing the experience with my boys.

But the journey started long before – in fact when a friend of mine (lets call him Fredrik H – inventer of a flattering hashtag) trigged me to a solo trip during winter to Kebnekaise summit. I ordered super light and super expensive equipment from Sportcondrad, as I was planning to do it all in one fast push, from Nikkaloukta station to Keb station, the summit and back. I was hoping for doing it one set of skis, but the route from Nikka to Keb is 19 k flat, and a nightmare on rando skies. On the other hand, you want proper skies on the summit push, which will be about 2000 height meters (2200 for us see below).

Things and Corona came in between and my plans were scrapped. I did check the weather forecast almost every weekend. Finally I had a free weekend and the forecast looked (at that time) reasonable. I had reconsidered the solo-idea, but none of my great adventure friends could make it this weekend. I was super close to booking for myself alone, when I realized I could check with my son who was in home school from his last year. He had been with me on a mountain trip on Hardangervidda during New Year for several days and was still talking to me every now and then.

No hesitation – “of course I wanna join” (or in my vocabulary “sounds like a terrible idea, what time” was his immediate response. We leave tomorrow I said. Moments later I broke the news to little bro Gustaf who became so disappointed that he couldn’t join. After thinking a few hours, I decided to take him with me – even though I thought that it would drop the chances of summiting, the value of experiencing the trip with him greatly outweighed the balance.
I spent many hours packing all the gear – it was a mountain of shit with 6 pairs of skis, 12 boots (one set of skis for walking into the mountain and one set each rando skis on the mountain, big tent, winter sleeping bags, food, stove, 5 sleeping pads, crampons, ice ax, rope down gear, sunglasses and goggles (remember that!) you name it. All was packed in a sled, 3 back packs and big bags. We took the night train up but it was a nightmare to get it all on board.

Day after started with final preparations and we boarded the train to Kiruna. After a long trip we arrived in the afternoon with high expectations. Weather was great. We took a car rental to Nikkaloukta, and after some mending of the sled (we were missing some parts, we started the walk to Kebnekaise mountain station. Around 1800 in the evening. The light is fantastic this time of the year, and the conditions were good. Hard snow, but a really heavy sled. Only the rando/skimo equipment weighed a ton – two of the sets were normal slalom/downhill equipment with walk mode boots and bindings, and one set was a racing skimo set. The walk was nice, and the sun wasn’t setting until 22.00. We were walking on mountain skis, and cross country skis, but I had a hard evening with the sled. Fantastic scenery, and all in all we spotted about 15-16 mooses, they gather in the area and grow totally big in this area of the wilderness. It is truly a wilderness, and totally deserted this time of the year. When approaching the station, I realized something was not right with Gustaf – he kept it inside him but he was very very tired. I thought it was as he feared tomorrow when the walk TO the mountain was more than enough.

Anyway a learning point.

We soon arrived to Keb station, totally empty at 22.00 after 4:40 of walking on skis. Still light. At the same time, a small group actually came down from the mountain, having summiting that day.

We had brought the big Keron 4GT tent, but this night we actually took refuge in the safety room, as we had to prepare for tomorrow summit day and maximize chances. Super small, and we had barely room to sleep on the floor but we ate and prepared ourselves for tomorrow.
I woke up at 05:40 and melted water for breakfast and soup for lunch on the go. We started climbing around 7 in high moods – weather was great, a bit chilly, but really no winds. We didn’t even need Goretex jackets. We didn’t need sunglasses or googles either, we thought… Gustaf had my pro-equipment but I and Ludvig had our heavy all mountain gear. My pack was heavy, but that’s OK.

 

I take it seriously when walking in the mountain, so I carry all safety equipment including rope, shovel, wind bag and things. Map and a preloaded course in my Garmin 6XPlus is a must. Thus, following the marked route should be easy for a child, as my Garmin indicated how far we were from track. Despite this, we took the completely wrong route up the mountain. That problem was doubled as we did really good progress uphill. We were fast. Gradually, I understood something was not right. We followed some ski tracks, but we were NOT on the West route, but instead on the East route to the summit. That was NOT the plan and that route was no option with insufficient gear, experience and guide. We were high up the mountain, at about 1200 meters when I finally took the decision to traverse over to the West route. That meant meaning climbing up to 1400 meters and then just keeping the elevation over to the other route. “It sounded like a good idea at the time”.

It could have been a great plan – if there had been more snow, but soon we saw only rocks. We had to take the skis on the back and walk on the very very steep rock field, where we fell several times, and sometimes got completely stuck with our heavy boots. It was a nightmare, but I had to keep my spirits up to not let my serious doubts spill over on the boys. I thought we would never mentally recover from the setback. Gustaf was the one keeping the spirit best, and both boys said my mis-navigation was OK. I carried my skis and Gustafs on my back. (Look at the image below for the route we took, and some images displaying the rock fields….)

Finally finally we came to the West route after an eternity of detour. I decided that we would never abandon the route with more than meters now. This section (from the steel bridge) was super well marked so there was no chance we would fail again. We took energy bars and soup, and continued up the mountain. Some sections were steep, both boys had climbing skins and crampons on the skis, but I had only skins. Gustafs (my) skis were solid and appeared so easy to walk with – lightweight , great moveability and fast. Ludvig did a hard job, but had to take of his skis on the steepest sections. On the mountain climb up to the 1700 meter peak before Kaffedalen he was super low and I had to administer several Maurten Gels, but they just didn’t seen to bite. Due to little snow, we also had to walk down to Kaffedalen. We had all sorts of wether, sun, snow, cold, warm and sometimes very windy. Now, we “only” had 600 meters climbing to the summit. Hard job, hard conditions, but bit by bit. Ludvig was actually in worse and worse conditions, but the part goal was the summit hut around 1850 meters. He was fully dedicated, but fell several times. Gustaf, who wasn’t even supposed to come on the trip was flying. Note to self: Do not ever give that guy the lightest equipment, but keep them for yourself instead.

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We arrived to Old mountain hut after some confusion (the map we had MUST indicate the new cabin wrongly). But it was a relief to pause for a while with more gels, soup and almost sleep for Ludvig. Super tired, but completely dedicated to push the final 220 meters. I assessed that it was still safe – conditions good, all safety equipment, shelter, energy was all there.
We got ourself together and pushed the last bits. Visibility came and went, but generally complete whiteout near the summit, so we could not really see how far it was to go. A couple of false summits, but finally my Garmin said 25 meters to go to summit.

 

WE MADE IT! 16:46, after almost 10 hours including extra sight seeing we summited. Ludvig was OK now, and we were just happy to experience this hardship together. Boys were so proud, and I just felt full of the experience together with them.

 

 

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Skins off and now it was time for reward.

We started skiing down and even if the legs were burned, it was great to make the longest ski run in Sweden. We could actually ski all sections down. Snow conditions were a mix between super hard windpacked snow, to new fresh powder and several fantastic turns. Sun broke through the clouds and the massive mountains opened up here and there. Just awesome.
Soon we were down in Kaffedalen and had to take off the skis for walking up those 200 meters. Mix of new deep snow and rock was killing the quads. One step forward and two steps back. Quads burning. I was tired, Ludvig was tired, but it was only to climb meter by meter. Eventually we came to the 1700 top again, and could mount the skis for the last 1100 meters of skiing down – and what a decent. Low hanging sun over the mountain range – we could see the whole valley below, but knew there were no one but us the mooses and reindeer there. Just before Keb station we also saw a flock of reindeer…

After almost 13 hours we came back to the empty station. Tired, but happy, we put up the tent and I melted water for dinner, tea and had some candy. We slept great that night in our sleeping bags!

 

Early wake up call also the final day for getting ourselfes back to Nikkaloukta and transport back to civilization. Initially it was easy downhill back, but it was snowing. We stopped by a stream of water where the boys wanted to drink and it was great. The greatness was more about sharing the experience than the fantastic water itself.
Halfway to Nikka we stopped for a short break. Now it was heavy to pull the sled. It was a few degrees Celsius and I had a ton of snow under my skis. The sled felt like pulling a truck – with the breaks on. Final 8 k was a countdown.
The Snowing had changed to a nice sunshine!

Arriving in Nikka was surreal – joy to the max of sharing such days with those two. I couldn’t resist asking if they would join again, and they lied and said yes… (actually I think they would join again!).

In the car back to Kiruna, we started feeling the heat in our faces more and more. I had prepared with sunglasses and goggles, but to no gain, as I never took them out of the pack. Only Gustaf and Ludvig used the goggles on the last day. We were all red in our eyes and swollen in the faces. The day after I should get severe pain in my eyes meaning snow blindness – which I cannot even wish for my enemies…

We did some sightseeing to Ice hotel – closed for Corona, and finished our super short trip to North Sweden with a visit to cult streed food corner Stejk with a reindeer souvas in a sami-lookalike tent. Great experience and a great ending to an epic trip!

(Last film: how to dry gear including Keron 4 GT in a hotel room… )

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