Journey to the land of the midnight sun
Due to the axial tilt of the Earth, the land north of the Arctic Circle experiences a phenomenon known as the “midnight sun” during summer, when the sun stays above the horizon throughout the day at least once a year. The northernmost areas of 8 countries form part of the Arctic Circle, and Sweden is one of them. Since I had the opportunity to attend a two-week summer course at Stockholm University in July, I decided to head to the north to hike at Arctic Lapland, which is one of the last few wilderness areas on our planet. My aim was to do a multi-day hike from Nikkaluokta, a Sami village at the end of the road from Kiruna, to the peak of Kebnekaise and back.
My journey to the Arctic Circle was as follows:
- Flight from Singapore to Stockholm Arlanda via Doha (16 hours);
- Bus from Stockholm Arlanda to Stockholm City (1 hour);
- Arctic Circle Train from Stockholm City to Kiruna (16 hours);
- Bus from Kiruna to Nikkaluokta (1 hour).
I flew to Stockholm (Arlanda) on Qatar Airways via Doha. Qatar operates the brand-new A350-900 XWBs for the Singapore-Doha leg, and 787 Dreamliners for the Doha – Stockholm leg, which are arguably the most technologically advanced aircraft types in operation at the moment! Even if you know nuts about aviation, you’ll still marvel at the sophisticated elegance of the aircraft interiors. Oh, and the amazing cabin lighting that changes colour throughout the flight. As for flight experience, I would say the Qatar A350 product is among the best you can find – efficient service, comfortable seats and good entertainment. The 787, on the other hand, feels slightly cramped in comparison.
Train ride to Kiruna
There are two ways to get to Kiruna from Stockholm – flight or train. The flight option is operated by SAS and takes 2 hours while the train is operated by SJ and takes about 16 hours. While the price difference between the two options is marginal, the train covers your accommodation at night and allows you to admire the landscape of Sweden as it winds through the countryside! A seat on the train costs about 80-100 SGD and paying an additional 20 SGD gets you a sleeper berth on the train, an option well worth taking. The overall ride was comfortable enough and I had only one complaint – each person was only entitled to a tiny packet of drinking water, which was barely enough for an ultra long-haul ride!
Bus ride from Kiruna to Nikkaluokta
Upon arriving at Kiruna, you have to take a local bus to Nikkaluokta which is also the start of the trail leading to the Kebnekaise. The bus timing is closely synchronised with the train schedule, which means you would not have to wait long for the bus.
Upon arriving at Nikkaluokta, you can choose to stay overnight to rest, or commence the hike immediately.
I chose to trek in a self-sufficient manner to save cost and truly experience the Arctic wilderness. This meant that I had to lug the following equipment (not the complete list) for this journey:
- Shelter – Quechua Arpenaz 2 tent; Quechua Ultralight sleeping bag; Quechua sleeping bag liner
- Ground Insulation – Decathlon hiking plaid rug; Decathlon fleece blankets
- Bag – Quechua Forclaz 40 Air + Quechua rain cover
- Signalling light – Nathan HyperBrite Strobe
- Cooking equipment – Alocs stove; Decathlon cooking set; alcohol fuel
- Communication – Telia sim card; 16,000 mAh power bank; spare phone
- Waterproofing equipment – rain coat and rain pants
- Shoes – The North Face medium-cut waterproof hiking boots
- Medicine, first-aid and purification tablets; Swedish mosquito repellant
- Trekking poles with ice tips – Quechua Forclaz 100
- Eye masks (it hardly gets dark in summer)
Given how far you will be from actual civilisation, it is certainly wise to trek with sufficient equipment and supplies to last for 3-4 days in the wilderness. The Arctic conditions should NOT be underestimated and it is always better to over-prepare. While you get 24 hours of daylight, which means there would be no rush to get to places before dusk, the temperature fluctuates over a wide range (5-20 degrees Celcius). You also get lots of rain and pretty strong winds. During an Arctic storm, visibility drops to less than 10 metres and the ground becomes very soft and swampy. At higher elevations, snow may cover the trail and make it impossible to find the path. The BIGGEST problem, however, would be the Arctic mosquitoes. Trust me on this – they’re monumental beasts that threaten to suck the life out of you and give you hell. They descend in massive swarms and they pierce through two layers of clothes like a knife through butter. It’s wise to cover yourself completely and apply special Swedish mosquito repellent (can be purchased at Nikkaluokta) on any exposed skin.
This concludes the overview of the Kebnekaise hike. Stay tuned for the next post which will be a detailed account of the hike.