When my friend Michelle told me that she and her housemates were beginning a two year project to climb every peak in all of the countries on the European continent I thought it was a brilliant way to see more of Europe, and so asked if I could come along.
The project, named '48 peaks later' takes serious time, planning and finances for each mountain. Transport, accommodation, flights, equipment and guides all have a significant costs. There is also the personal commitment to such an enormous project spanning over two years, such as annual leave from work and juggling other commitments such as relationships and other projects. It is no small undertaking but, as I found out this week the rewards are more than compensating!
My love for the arctic is well known after walking the length of Finland last summer and having spent 2 months in Norway and Svalbard already this year. I was not going to miss this trip to climb the highest peaks in arctic Finland and Sweden with friends.
First up was Halti in Finland. Not a good start, we only made it to the base of the mountain! Our hire car from the ominous ‘rent a wreck’ got stuck in the snow on the drive to the base of the mountain. We spent 2 hours literally lying in the snow, trying to free the underneath of the car with our hands and laughing at our stupidity. In the end we walked from the car to the base of the mountain and back, a 6 hour hike with dramatic ice covered scenery, to assess the condition of the road and feasibility of passing through. We saw that there were 5 patches of snow covering road that the car would not be able to pass. This extra 6 hours of walking, on top of the 10-12 expected to summit the mountain meant that we simply did not have the time or food supplies to continue on that day. So, as a team we decided to head back to the car and come back at the end of the week with shovels to clear the road for the car. We had to move on as we had huts already booked for our second mountain in Sweden. Still, we had a great day easing our bodies into walking with heavy backpacks and managed to collect an impressive collection of reindeer antlers. A caravan on skis was a sight that baffled us all.
We drove on to our accommodation in Finland which was half way towards our next mountain, Kebnekaise, in Sweden. Sleeping in 24 hour day light again was going to take some getting used to.
After losing a day to the snow and digging out the car, the next day was another comical disaster. 2 hours into our drive to Kebnekaise base camp in Sweden, our hire car from ‘rent a wreck’ unsurprisingly broke down, a 4 hour drive away from where we picked it up in Norway. 12 hours later than planned we arrived at our destination in Sweden with a new vehicle. I’d also hitch hiked for the first time. All day during our long wait for a replacement car we couldn't stop laughing at our ‘rent a wreck’ break down scenario in the wrong country!
Finally, on day 4 we had started the 3 day trek to the summit of Kebnekaise, we didn’t care about the constant rain and mosquitos, we were just happy to not be in, or rescuing a car! Our success didn’t last long however, as our planned summit day had to be delayed by a day due to gale force winds on the mountain. Instead, we enjoyed a chill out day and made the most of a lie in by staying up late playing cards and drinking whisky.
The following day made up for all mechanical and weather related dramas we’d had so far. The climb to the Kebnekaise summit was simply awe-inspiring. The view down on the valley we’d trekked through and winding river looked simply stunning and the weather was perfect. At times we had to wear crampons on the icy snow and we all got stuck sinking into the snow many times, but it was so much fun! We raced each other bum-sledding down the mountain, had slightly aggressive snow ball fights, 4 person snow bundles and laughed all day long. At the summit we had a spectacular view overlooking the other mighty, snow capped mountains of Sweden. We’d finally had a successful day and no ‘hiccups’ on the trip! Upon our return to the hut we celebrated with a traditional Swedish meal of reindeer and played cards and drank whisky late into the night.
The following day was a long drive back to Norway. We were ecstatic to find that he road to the base camp of Halti had been cleared, paving the way for our summit attempt the next day. It was a slow start for me with heavy legs and tough, ankle breaking terrain of mostly boulders but also deep snow. We approached the summit of Halti from the Norwegian side. Halti is the highest peak in Finland at 1,324m above sea level. The Finnish peak is not actually the peak of the mountain. This is because the border between Norway and Finland straddles the mountain. The summit of Halti, at 1,365m is actually in Norway. This peak is located about 1 kilometre north of the border with Finland.
In 2015 group of Norwegians launched a campaign to shift their country's border by 200m to bring the peak of the Halti mountain into Finnish territory as a gift to their mountain-deprived neighbour for the 100th anniversary of its independence. Moving the border between Norway and Finland just 150m to the north and 200m to the east would bring Finland a new highest peak while losing Norway just 0.015 square kilometres. At 1,365m, Halti does not even make the list of Norway’s highest 200 peaks. Isn’t that a lovely gesture?! Having walked the whole length of Finland and now climbed its highest mountain, I think I can safely say that i’ve ‘done’ Finland! That doesn't mean I won’t be back!
It was great to observe the qualities and benefits of good team work from the 48 peaks later team. They were especially good at communicating, listening and supporting each other. With these qualities, together, the team thrived and made good decisions when it could have easily gone wrong or moods turned sour. Their goal is to ultimately have fun and that was certainly achieved. They are now 10 mountains down with 38 to go! I will certainly be joining them on more mountains! We said our goodbyes at the airport as they flew back to London and I headed back to the Kingdom of the polar, Svalbard for another adventure.
Twitter: @48peaks later