I don’t know if I should cry or laugh I just got the message (two days before departure) that our planned expedition to climb the high Tatras (in Poland, Slovakia and Checz) is impossible due to an enormous avalanche (1, 5 km wide and 20 m deep) and they have closed down all the climbing for at least 2 weeks, I had already taken my vacation fort this period and couldn’t change the time frame.
I looked over the different last minutes tickets around the world but there was not a lot to choose between that felt good and I was also focused on alpine mountain climbing, What to do???
The main physical preparation for this adventure was that I started to walk 5 km per day one month before departure.
Road Rat 1
Helsingborg-Älvkarleby (750 km)
Start 10:00 from Helsingborg with a quick stop in Jönköping, what the f**k, there is a police car behind us flashing the red light, It was a very humorous cop she asked me to blow, and I almost got my chewing gum in her apparatus, she told me ”take your time a I have a monthly salary” and then she asked us to at least put the number plate in the back window, then we were good to go.
The next stop was to pick up a GPS navigator in Stockholm at a friend’s house, but he wasn’t home so he had put the apartments keys under a pot in the staircase, we found the keys but they didn’t work, what the f**k? But then we found out that there was another key in the same pot, I guess it was a ”secret” place for several apartments/;)
Then we made another stop in Uppsala to buy sleeping mattress and to have a delicious meal at IKEA where they offered live singing for their guests. We had planned to use the tent but it was getting dark and we were travelling in the unknown and then we saw ”The Dragons gate” what the f**k is this? It seemed that we were in a frosty China but we were in Sweden???
So we looked around a little bit until we drove further and found ”Älvkarleby Fishing Camp” were we rented a little hut down by the river.
Road Rat 2
Älvkarleby-Piteå (750 km)
Cleaned out the hut then we went on the road again in a marvelous morning sunlight, travelling almost nonstop except for a short rooftop picnic and to measure our car coolers antifreeze level to be prepared for the northern climate, we hoped that -38 would be enough/;) Then we continued to Piteå were met my friend Tommy Hillfiger he showed us the ”Golden Dragon restaurant” were we enjoyed a evening meal unfortunately they had no fortune cookies/L
A little less road
Piteå-Kiruna-Nikkaloukta (500 km)
Woke up a little bit too early but the hospitality couldn’t be better, Tommy got up early and made a great breakfast buffet for us all (hotel style), delicious. We were ready for the roads again.
At a short parking stop I did a playful brake and the car slowly slid down in the snow, it was enough we were stuck, but I didn’t even get the time to shovel the snow away, before a man stopped with his four-wheel drive truck and asked us happily “Is everything ok?” then we took the climbing rope and put it between the cars. And voila, the car was up again “I pulled it up on idle motor” said the friendly Norlander smiling.
Then we burned some more rubber before we arrived at Kiruna the mining city. We had a great stop for a short rooftop picnic again in a snow covered landscape. Then we drove some more miles with a total of 2000 km to Nikkaloukta Fjällstation. The last snow mobile was scheduled to leave at 17:00 but due to some mishap we didn’t get any seats. But the staff was great and offered some coffee and a cake and an extra snow mobile at 18:00. It was a very cool ride in a double sense, feeling the icy winds on my cheeks while looking out on the fantastic winter landscape travelling through birch trees on frozen lakes for 40 min. Then we arrived at Kebnekaise Fjällstation unfortunately the rental shop for the sport equipment was already closed. So we prepared what we could for tomorrows challenge.
Stupidity or Bravery
We went to the rental shop at 7:30 but all “randonee skis” were already booked so we were left with snow shoes, we got a short instruction for them and then the shopkeeper/mountain guide strongly advised us to not take the eastern route because of our lack of knowledge and equipment.
I didn’t say anything since I didn’t know what we were up to yet!
So we started to walk with our snow shoes about 8:30 the sky was crystal clear. It was easy to use the snow shoes but we went a little bit too far until we saw the real trail so we got another extra exercise up and down again (we probably lost one hour). We continued upward in a steady pace with just one short break (hot coffee and nut/fruit mix, watching all the other skiers walking upwards). Then the slope leveled out and one of our team mates was totally exhausted, what to do? We gave him some hot coffee and some food, while melting snow for our last walk/climb (it took a very long time because the fire went out several times). I started to get a little bit worried because the clock was ticking. But our team mate recovered so we continued with our glacier walk with harness and rope while watching the mountain peak. Will this even be possible? The “wall” looked really scary. We stopped a while and I asked all the other team members if we really should do this? We all agreed to continue and give it a try. I could see that all the other people already had left the mountain and the sun was on its way down, it was getting cooler, not good.
After a few brief instructions we started to climb the wall I was the last one and I was the only one with a backpack since we left all unnecessary stuff behind. I used the ice axe extensively and my crampons, together with the carabineer on the fixed rope. Looking down was a nightmare since I have a fear of heights. At the end point of the climb I was so exhausted mentally and physically (my fear of heights + my legs were aching because of lactic acid) Why the f**k did I chose this challenge, is this adventurous or just plain stupidity??? Finally up, we rested a little bit at the old top cabin and took the last water with some cookies (fortune?) But we still couldn’t see the actual top; we had to walk another hour to the real top. It was not time to give up. Finally at the top (18:30) with shaky legs I didn’t dare to stand up since it was steep on both sides. The scenery was great with the surrounding mountain caps and the sundown. But I felt that climbing down the wall would be my biggest challenge, before I could relax fully.
I decided do climb down first, it was scary but it also felt different this time almost as I had got a little bit used to the heights and looking down. Of course I still held a steady grip on the rope while using my ice axe extensively working my way down quickly, great! The other team members got down well. Then we walked back very fast while the sun went down and the coldness came quickly. It was time to put on all my clothes. I tried crampons, snow shoes and even tried to use the down math to slide down the slopes but it didn’t work. The best thing was to use my boots, thank god for my gaiters and the moon lighting up the snow.
Of course I also had my head light with me but there was no need for that. It was no problem to walk in the dark but I was a little bit concerned that the rental guy would get worried since the shop closed 19:00 and we were still walking in the ”outback” we didn’t arrive until 22:30 which meant that it took us 14 hours in total. I think it was quite ok since we walked with crampons, snow shoes and took a wrong turn.
I also realized that it was many new things for me this day, I had never walked with snow shoes or crampons and I had never climbed a mountain with rope before. But I will say this, I will never recommend this adventure for anyone that is inexperienced in this area, I will not even recommend it for myself, ok maybe in summertime.
If you want a real physical challenge, have the equipment, have alpine climbing experience and have sunscreen factor 30 to 60, Why not?
I had 1.5 l water but I should have taken with me 2.5 l for optimum performance.
What can I say now? I am really tired and a little bit lost in my head/J
Nikkaloukta-Karesuando (241 km)
Woke up to early and I got the confirmation that the guide was worried about us and told us that they never climb the top after 15.30 hmm, and then they turn back.
But he was happy that we were back. We had a very quick breakfast before we had to leave with the snow mobile to Nikkaloukta I got the opportunity to sit behind the driver which was a different experience then to sit in the sledge.
It felt a little bit strange to go in to the Nikkaloukta Fjällstation with full alpine equipment while a crowd of conference members looked at us like we were some kind of ”Delta force from the outback” (my personal interpretation, maybe it had something to do with my ”cash retrieval hood” some call it for balaclava/J). We also spoke a little bit with the owner of the station Erik Sarri and then we found out that one of our relatives was buried at the Nikkalukta chapel (he was also the founder of the chapel). Then we got the car running again with a quick break at the Tourist information centre for information and some food. I tried the local dish ”Souvas” which is made of reindeer meat, it was ok. I also asked about the phenomena ”Aurelia Borealis” if we could see it?
Then I presented my other latent dreams for the team which was to visit the Ice Hotel http://www.icehotel.com/ and to visit Esrange http://www.ssc.se/ the space station. The Ice Hotel was a real treat it was well worth the 140 SEK fee, it was a wonderful mix of creativity and playfulness. I looked for the ice princess but I couldn’t see her, but I saw a lot of her sculptures.
On the road to Esrange we had the opportunity to see a lot of Reindeers close to the road, maybe Santa is around??? But Esrange had a closed gate with surveillance camera and black glass and a lot of ”No photography signs”. I knew that they had guided tours but today was not the day for that.
I can’t help myself to wonder what kind of secret programs, underground facilities or NASA cooperation exists here in this space station (yes I know some people may think I have big imagination). But I have read that Virgin Galactic http://www.virgingalactic.com/ have plans to use this spaceport for space tourism and that the first space tourist is scheduled for 2012 in Kiruna.
Then it was time to continue to Karesuando were we stopped at Karesuando hostel which was a great example of northern hospitality even though we only rented one room we had access to an entire house, this hostel had everything we could imagine except a warm floor/;)
We celebrated our achievement with a great dinner with red wine and a drink called “Koskenkorva Cranberry” which was a great taste surprise, I think I have got a new favorite drink/;)
Road Rat 3
Karesuando-Skaidi (528 km)
Had a great breakfast, drove over the Finish border, great straight roads and beautiful scenery along the border road to Kilpisjärvi. Our new plan was to drive to North Cape but we were not sure about the distance one road sign said 330 km from the border and another one said 430 km and Google map said something totally different???
We made a quick stop at Kilpisjärvi Tourist information and I asked them if we could go with snow mobile to Halti or if we could take a dog sledge there? Then the girl at the reception said ”Do you have your dogs with you?” I thought it was so funny, Did I really look like I was a hard core ”Sami” with my own dog span totally prepared for the wilderness???
We got the information that we could rent snow mobiles and a guide from “Hannu” at Kilpissafarit to take us to Halti on Thursday or Friday for a total cost of 380 euro, he told us that he couldn’t speak Swedish although he seemed to understand everything we spoke in Swedish/;)
We booked the trip then we refueled the car at the gas station. We told the shopkeeper that we drive our cars on”booze” (ethanol) in Sweden. But he looked at us as if we were telling him a Swedish/Finnish joke. We also bought the world famous ”Smurfi” and ”Mumin” soft drink.
Then we continued to Norway driving along the coastline and the Fjords with dwindling roads and breathtaking scenery, but the roads started to get very icy, not good for us since we didn’t have ice dubs on our wheels. The Norwegian drivers seemed to drive like “kamikaze” drivers despite the road conditions. The trip took a lot more time then we expected and we realized that it was no use pushing us to drive the entire night. After Alta the road conditions changed again with strong winds pulling snow over the road but the moon helped us with the light. It was a very strange feeling driving in this extreme winter landscape, it felt like a different planet an Ice Planet or something out of a Star Wars movie.
When we came to Skaidi we decided to check up the budget rooms if there were any open (the season hadn’t started yet) we found the cheapest room or at least I want to think so, for only 880 NOK. The motel was already closed but a nice man in the restaurant opened for us and gave us a room. The helpful man asked us if we wanted to stay another day. I told him that we were from Sweden and that we couldn’t stay it would ruin our budget/;) It was nice to stop driving at 21:00 and get an ”early” night.
Skaidi-Nord Kap-Karasjok (418 km)
Woke up to a sunny day, bought some breakfast bread, cheese and orange juice it was a good start of the day. Then we started to drive towards North Cape it was incredible beautiful, icy, snowy, windy and with some very long tunnels. But it was also very challenging to drive in these conditions because it looks like a snow mist covers the road when the wind blows which makes it almost impossible to see the road conditions clearly. We stopped for many ”Kodak moments” taking pictures.
When we were very close to North Cape we found out that the last part of the road was closed for cars, only buses were allowed to enter. I couldn’t believe it after driving all this way, we couldn’t give up. Luckily the only bus for that day would arrive in 20 min (14:00 and back 15:30) Of course we took that bus, but the bad thing was that it actually was a guide bus that came from Alta which meant that we had to pay 700 NOK for each person for this extremely short trip (13 km). But I will say this, it was well worth it, we ran around the icy compound and documented the “Children of the world “ monument, according to the guide it was only -4 degrees but the wind was about 15-18 m/s (It’s the same as -14 to -15 according to the wind chill factor) I guess we were the only one there with proper clothing. Most other tourists just went out for a quick ”I have been here snapshot” then it was time for the North Cape movie, wonderful, it looked really different in the summertime. We also learned that the word ”Sami” means children of the sun and that they were as old as the Indians but that the Sami’s split up and went north. They also had some kind of place here for communicating with the Gods. Then it was time to leave this amazing place first with bus then with our car, for one moment we had both car doors opened, that was enough for the map to blow out through the window, bye, bye. But there were not so many roads to choose between so it wasn’t any big deal.
We made a lunch stop at Honningsvåg, I was really surprised when I could read Whale stew on the menu (it tastes like beef with a tint of liver according to some people). Then our plan was to head into Finland to lower our expenses. But we only made it to Karasjok were we stayed at Annes overnattning (Sapmis Motel) which was a pleasant place for 200 NOK per person.
Too bad that we forgot our passports otherwise we could have taken a little deviation to visit Murmansk and watch the fluorescent submarines/;)
Karasjok-Karesuando (274 km)
Today I found out that the best place to se Northern Light is in Jukasjärvi , so maybe I still have a chance to see it?
We continued our road trip back to Karesuando, not much to tell really, a lot of snow and frosty trees not many houses. We made a quick stop to buy some more Finish food (one was Karel pirogue, not so tasty, more like survival food) before we entered the border. Where we returned to our former Karesuando hostel that had a wireless network/:)
For the first time on this intense road trip we had an early arrival and I could relax, take a power nap and check out my videos. The ”top” video from Kebnekaise summit was incredibly good.
But we also had Norwegian neighbors this time that was in a party mode and kept me awake for awhile, driving snow mobile around the corner during the night.
Karesuando-Kilpisjärvi-Piteå (722 km)
Up early to drive to Finland again, to our booked adventure at Kilpissafarit http://www.kilpissafarit.fi/index_eng.html 10:00 Finish time. We got a young guide called “Jussi” that had one snowmobile and we had one so we could change driver between us, the entire trip was about 110 km totally and that’s a lot if you haven’t tried to drive a snow mobile before. The funny thing was that we were stopped by the Finish snow mobile police and the driver had to blow the Alco meter. This was the first time for all of us to drive snow mobile 40 km/h were fast, 60 km/h felt scary and 80 km/h was insane. The weather was cloudy so we could hardly see anything of the tracks which made it more difficult to drive, the heaven was white and the snow was white, not much of a difference. I did a rollover to the right side, I am not sure if it was because of me or my sleeping co driver. The thing is that we soon learned that the person behind has to be very active in the driving process moving the body weight. It didn’t take long before we went up to Halti (1328 meter) with the snow mobile. Many may think that it wasn’t any challenge, but the thing is that the snow mobile driving was the challenge it demanded 100% attention. Halti was more like a mountain you just walk up to during summer time. But we could see the humor in it and took some top pictures before we left for a quick cabin stop. Were we enjoyed coffee and donut in traditional cups made of wood.
Then it was time to hit the road again, this was the first time I felt a little bit adventure hangover, so much input in such a short period of time. During the drive I woke up from the backset because the driver shouted. It was a third degree encounter with a reindeer. Luckily it got away unharmed from the car and we could avoid a road kill. The plan was to stay at Tommy Hillfigers apartment in Piteå were we arrived about 22:30 tired and hungry were we made oven pancakes.
Looking for the needle
Piteå-Utanede 1-Utanede 2-Sundsvall (682 km)
Did some early morning shopping at COOP, then we made some pancake in the oven, it was a lazy morning and a late departure about 11:30, the goal was to drive down south and to find the famous Thai Pavilion in “Ragunda kommun”. We did a search on Google maps for Utanede and set the course. But it wasn’t that simple, we soon found out that there were two Utanede, the other one 10 miles away so we had to drive some more miles to find the right Utanede. We made a quick coffee break down at Indalsälven watching the sundown. Finally we found the temple it was beautiful, but strange to see it covered in snow, not as in Thailand; I guess a lot of Thai people come here in the summertime.
Thanks to our driving misnomer we stumbled on ”Santa’s Claus workshop” (Tomteverkstad) it was an incredible discovery, when all people believe he stays at the North Pole he had his secret hideout here. But I promised him to not tell any other people were he stays off season and he also gave me the exact coordinates for the Thai Memorial.
Then it was time to find a sleeping place for the night, we drove along Indalsälven and a very misty road. Not many hostels seemed to be open this time of the year, at last we found ”Dingersjö Värdshus” Hotell & Vandrarhem” were got a spacious six bedroom with a frigging cold floor, but at least we had a place to sleep at/J
Road Rat 4
Sundsvall-Västerås-Vadstena-Ödeshög (616 km)
Took a late morning and went down to the river, were the fishing men were already fishing 11:30/:) It was very relaxing and I almost immediately got in a meditative state by looking at the water currents.
Then we made another stop at Sala silver mine unfortunately we missed the last guided tour down the mines, too bad, they closed at 16:00.
Then it was pizza time in the ghetto in Västerås were our chef looked almost like the chef in the Disney movie ”The lady and tramp”, sorry I didn’t catch him on camera, I wishh I did.
Then it was time to find ”Hotell Hackspetten” (Woodpecker hotel) it was quite easy to find, we just had to look up in the trees. But it seemed that it was already booked for the night, so we had to continue our search for a creative living place.
One was to live in a stump (Norrqvarn) and another was tree house hotel (Falköping) but they were also above our budget. So our other options narrowed down to ”Bachelor Inn” (Jönköping) or ”Ödeshög vandrarhem” (Ödeshög). We made a quick stop at Vadstena castle at the sundown before we chose to stay at the hostel in Ödeshög just in time before closing 21:00. The ironic thing was that this hostel was the cheapest one (160 SEK person) but also the nicest and most comfortable.
Ödeshög-Omberg-Jönköping-Helsingborg (348 km)
Made a pasta tuna breakfast, it was time to minimize our food storage. Then we went back to Omberg to walk along the “lake shore” then we conquered Ombergs highest point called “Hjässan” (263 meter). There were a lot of people up there having picnics in the grass.
Then we tried to plan our next adventures, we were thinking about the John Bauer museum (Trolls) but unfortunately they were closed on Mondays only/L
In Jönköping we made a short stop at the viewpoint for a snapshot before we made a quick stop at Bachelors Inn for a hasty “take all you can get lunch” before we continued the last road trip to Helsingborg. It felt a little bit strange to travel from winter to spring and almost summer in just 24 hours. We arrived safely in Helsingborg after a total of 5980 km/:)
I found out that there is an association that is called IDA (Dark-Sky Association) http://www.darksky.org/mc/page.do that has an interesting perspective on “light pollution” and how it can affect our health in a negative way, some studies suggests that exposure to light at night can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a cancer-protective agent whose production is severely diminished in people exposed to light at night.
In hindsight I can say that two drivers is too little for a trip like this (one of us had no drivers license) but on the other hand our car was so small that we only had space for three people.
The interesting thing is that all the people above Gävle have been very friendly, is it the cold? I don’t know, maybe people know that they depend on each other there?
It seems that people in the far north needs a lot of stuff to survive, one house, one tipi, one igloo, one four wheel car, one wagon, one snow mobile, a dog sledge, 12 dogs and 10.000 reindeers or a fishing boat/;)
It was a great help to have a laptop with wireless connection with us during the trip, to find maps and information about different things (places, motels, attractions, costs)
It seemed that we had an incredible flow in this trip, great timing even though we never booked anything in advance we always found great solutions and saw new opportunities, like North Cape which never was in the original plan…
Once home I felt like I was timeless, space less and homeless (always on the move).
It was time to center myself melt, integrate, rest and ground myself after this very intense adventure, but I didn’t regret any of it and I realize that I fulfilled several latent dreams.
I have to save dog sledding to another adventure, but it’ still on my to do list/J
Totally 10466 SEK (food 1775, petrol 1735, living 2436, adventure 2963 extra 1557)
If you want to see the entire travel journal go here:
If you want to see a short video version look here: