Kebnekaise is the highest mountain in Sweden, thus being is the natural high point in the northern mountain region of Sweden, ranging from Abisko to Sarek. The summit is a glacier, thus the height will vary dependent on the map and the year. The height 2114m is derived from the detailed Kebnekaise map.
Two tourist trails lead up to the summit - Østra and Vastra leden (east and west route). The western trail is the public trail - no difficulties besides the length, while the eastern trail requires some degree of climbing, but the route is much shorter. The east route is guided from Kebnekaise fjellstation every morning, if weather permits. The route description below will cover both routes. Vierramvare is part of the west route and is the only uphill you will encounter when going down the west route. Tuolpagorni is an option for those hungry for more great views, lying next to Vierramvare on the west route.
Although Kebnekaise kan be reached on several trails around the region, the normal approach is to drive from Kiruna to Nikkaluokta, and hike the 19Km to Kebnekaise fjellstation. A ferry might save you 6km if you choose to catch a ride.
More information about Kebnekaise is found here.
Two trails are described below. Both begin at Kebnekaise fjellstation.
From Kiruna, drive towards Nikkaluokta (63km) and find parking there.
Getting to Kebnekaise Fjellstation
From Kiruna, drive towards Nikkaluokta (63km) and find parking there. Next to the visitor centre, you will see the "Kebnekaise 19km" sign. Follow this trail approx 6km to lake Laddjujavre. On the way to the lake, you can refill water when crossing a river approx. 3,5km after Nikkaluokta. If you want to save a 6km hike along the lake, you can catch a ferry ride (currently 150 SEK one way, 180 SEK round-trip). The ferry routes are listed both in Nikkaluokta and at the lake. At the lake, one can also buy some food and drinks (when the boats are running). On the other side of the lake, hike the remaining 7km to Kebnekaise fjellstation. The trail is obvious, easy to walk without any major ups and downs. The total hike (no ferry) from Nikkaluokta is estimated to 6 hours.
If you plan to find a bed at Kebnekaise fjellstation, you'd better book in advance. Use www.kebnekaise.nu as a resource. The complex offers a range of services, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, a store, guided tours, special tours, courses, equipment rental, and so on. There types of rooms vary in comfort. If you end up on one of the large rooms, earplugs are mandatory. You can buy Kebnekaise maps in the store, and you can pay for your stay with creditcards.
Kebnekaise up Østra leden (eastern route) (summer/autumn)
If weather permits, this trail is a guided trip that departs from Kebnekaise fjellstation in the morning. The part from Bjørlings glacier to the hut below the summit (Gamla Toppstugan) requires climbing. Scrambling is a more descriptive word, as it never gets very difficult. If you have a fear of heights, this trail is perhaps not something you should go for.
At first the trail heads towards Kitteldalen valley, on the same trail as the west route. After a while, the trail forks, and Østra leden runs up to your right, towards the first valley you see. The trail runs on the right hand side of the stream and this hill is the most strenuous part of the entire trail. Higher up, the stream turns into two streams, and you need to decide how to get on the other side, towards an obvious ridge that runs up the left hand side of the glacier above you. You can also hike high and cross the streams across snow bridges, as long as you make sure they are safe. Once across, follow the ridge the long way up to Bjørlings glacier.
At the glacier, locate a triangular shaped snowfield on the other side of the glacier (on the left hand side of the massif). All glaciers carry a potential risk, but normally one can cross safely here, as the few crevasses are minor. If you plan to do this route without guides, make sure you ask about the glacier conditions before you set off.
Once across the glacier, hike up the snowfield to the beginning of a ledge that takes you to the nearest couloir. From here, you will find fixed ropes most of the way up to the hut, above the couloir. If you are in a guided group, you will need to wear a harness and clip onto the ropes. This regulation was introduced the summer of 2002, after a fatal accident. The ledge is easy to traverse, but might be a little tricky to get onto. But holding onto the ropes makes it all easier. There is scree on the ledge, so make sure you don't slip and fall down towards the glacier.
Across the ledge, the scrambling/climbing section begins. One can hike most of the way up without much handhold, but there is considerable exposure, so avoid stumbling at all cost. Fixed ropes along the ascent will make this climb easy. Near the top, a short move could be a little tricky, and the rope should be used here. The move is a class 4 (US rating), but there might be other options. However, follow the rope to maintain security. Soon, you're at the hut (Gamla Toppstugan) and can begin the final hike up to the summit.
Before the hike, you must ask about the summit conditions. If the summit is icy, crampons and axe is required. You may rent this equipment at fjellstationen. If the summit is said to have some snow, seek towards the right hand side of the summit and hike up there. The icy cornice has significant exposure, and a fall will most likely be fatal. The safest approach is head on, assuming you can get up there. If you have axe/crampons, or if there is snow, the ascent is easy. The summit is very small, so focus on every step. If there is huge "traffic", don't stay on the summit very long. Make room for others.
Kebnekaise up Vastra leden (western route) (summer/autumn)
At first, the western route follows the same route as the eastern route. At Kittelsbacken stream, the eastern route runs up the mountain, while the western route continues into and upwards Kitteldalen valley. The trail up Kitteldalen is cut into the side facing the river, and at places, one should avoid stumbling.
Crossing the two rivers gets more tricky during the day during hot days. Once across the last river, the trail runs up towards the saddle between Tuolpagorni and Vierramvare. A hike up to Tuolpagorni is highly recommended, but you should perhaps save this ascent until you return. The Kebnekaise hike should be challenging enough by itself. Once in the saddle, continue the steep ascent to Vierramvare. The summit is located further on your left hand side, outside the main track.
Continue steep down into the saddle between Vierramvare and Kebnekaise and follow the track up to the Gamla and Nya Toppstugan huts. From here on, refer to the eastern route description above.
Bring plenty of water on both routes. Last water on western route is the river in Kitteldalen valley, and last water on eastern route is when you cross the river just below the first glacier. This area is well known for mosquitos. Bring mosquito protection!
Aug 6 2002, I drove the 500km from Bergen to Oslo and joined my hiking buddy Bjørn Gillholm, before we took a flight from Oslo to Bardufoss (1,5 hours). We spent the night near Bardufoss airport and picked up a rental car the next morning. Then we drove south towards Narvik before we headed SE towards Kiruna and Nikkaluokta.
We hiked in a very quick pace, and after 6km, we decided to save 6km by taking the ferry across the lake. When we arrived Kebnekaise fjellstation at about 17:00PM, we had hiked 3 hours since Nikkaluokta. To my surprise, the reserved 4-bed room was just a 4-bed section in a much larger room - 16 beds, I believe. The first night wasn't too bad. I found the bivouac sack to be quite sufficient and didn't regret that I had skipped the sleeping bag. The weather was ok, although the summit was hidden in clouds. The forecast for the next day wasn't good at all. Dark clouds.
Up the eastern trail
The weather forecast was bogus. The sun was shining when we woke up and 7:45AM we were on our way to the mountain. We had decided to hike up Østra leden, as a Swedish couple had provided us with sufficient information the night before. We made sure we took off well before the guided group, which left 08:30AM. The first climb up towards Bjørlings glacier was strenuous, and the hot sun didn't make it easier. We took our first break when we arrived the glacier. The route from the glacier to the top didn't look all bad from where we sat, and I looked forward to getting on with it.
Crossing the glacier was easy. The crevasses were tiny and visible. We hiked up the snowfield and considered the ledge along side the massif. I was determined to hike up without touching the ropes, but this plan was abandoned early on, as I found it cumbersome to get down on the ledge with my large backpack. Large backpacks are a "no no" on this route, but I bring my "winter emergency gear" wherever I go. Bjørn was joking about my glasses used for alpine skiing. These came in very handy when I realized that I forgot my sunglasses in the car. OK, so I held on to the rope while getting on to the ledge. We traversed the ledge quickly and came to the bottom of the couloir. By now, the distance down to the glacier was significant, and we reminded ourselves not to stumble. The climb/scramble was fun, but the exposure is always there to remind you that falling is to be avoided. High up in the couloir, we had to use the ropes again to ascend a V-shaped crack. Without ropes, I would seriously had thought twice about this move. Especially with my backpack on. Then, two young girls with large backpacks came down this route. We were quite impressed. Not because they were young girls, but by just going down there with large backpacks, even if they were clipping onto the ropes. They had been camping below the summit, and witnessed a fantastic sunset, as the clouds disappeared late the evening before. Then the climbing section was over, and we could hike up towards the summit, 3 hours after leaving fjellstationen.
As we entered the summit plateau, a helicopter just left and we saw three people on the glacier summit. Cheaters. We approached the summit head on, but found the short summit ascent to be very tricky. There was no snow left, and I wondered what the guide I talked to meant by "sufficient snow on the summit". With fingers and hard will, we were able to drag ourself up to the summit, only to discover a route with snow just a little further away.
The views were astounding, and reminded me much of Jotunheimen in Norway. I had a secret wish to climb over to the northern peak - Nordtoppen - but abandoned the idea when I saw the icy sharp ridge. It would have been a fun hike, though. With the proper gear. Just north we saw the famous Drakryggen ridge, which is a much more challenging ridgewalk. We followed the snowfield back down, but focused on every step. Loosing the grip would be fatal.
Down the western trail
A new break at Nya Toppstugan hut, and I was out of water. I was becoming real thirsty, and looked forward to locating a stream. Real soon. We took a shortcut down to the saddle over to Vierramvare. The regular trail is steep. The shortcut was steeper... I was aching of thirst up the Vierramvare slope and headache set in. The hot sun was a killer. Having a "modest" interest in new peaks, I talked Bjørn into joining me on a visit to Tuolpagorni. He didn't see the real need, but accepted to come along. On Tuolpagorni I was almost dying of thirst, and we turned around after a few pictures and some filming. With help of a steep snowfield, we were down in Kitteldalen in record time and could satisfy the thirst. Crossing the river was far from easy, and I was wondering hard how we could cross it. Bjørn found the solution. Crazy as always. He suddenly accelerated, hit a sharp, small rock with superb precision and jumped across the worst part. Me, being a much shorter guy, would have to set a new jump record. More disturbing, was the need to hit the tiny sharp rock with 100% precision. One slip, and I would be in trouble. But good fortune often comes when needed, and I landed safely on the other side. Further down, towards fjellstationen, the jump was repeated as we had to cross another river. We arrived fjellstationen 7 hours after leaving it.
We treated ourselves with dinner and a few beers before creeping into bed. We would have to start early the next day, as we were going far north in Norway. We had new roommates, two older Swedish men, and by the looks we could immediately tell that the night would be violent. Bjørn was fortunate to have earplugs. I didn't and had to evacuate downstairs and bivouac on a bench in the main living room. $#$!% Lennart! 7.45AM the next morning we took off, caught a ride with the ferry which was loaded beyond comprehension, and reached Nikkaluokta 11:00AM.
Next stop - Halti, highest in Finland.
Move cursor to read notes, and click on the images to see full version.
Some of the thumbnails may have been cropped to fit the format
Some shots are out of focus, as I dropped my camera on a recent hike