A month ago, the mountain’s southern peak held the title, soaring to 2,101 meters, or 6,893 feet, above sea level.
On Tuesday, after weeks of high temperatures, it was 2,097 meters high — only 20 centimeters, or about six inches, taller than the north peak, said Prof. Gunhild Rosqvist, head of the Tarfala Research Station near the mountain.
By Wednesday, enough had melted to take it below the critical height, she said, handing the northern peak the crown.
“We can estimate the melt rate based on temperature measurements. We know that it has melted because it is very hot,” she said. “We are going to measure again later this summer when the melting stops. In a month, we’ll know how bad it is.”
The shrinking peak is symbolic of climate change that also brought marked shifts for animals and vegetation, she said, and badly affected the region’s reindeer herders.
“The snow is disappearing so that not even the reindeer can find a place to get relief from the sun,” Professor Rosqvist told the Swedish newspaper Norrlandska Socialdemokraten.
July was the hottest on record in many parts of Sweden, with severe drought and some of the worst forest fires the country has seen.
Even if the northern peak is higher when the mountain is measured at summer’s end, the southern tip is likely to grow again in winter. The peaks could take turns as Sweden’s highest point over the next few years.
The southern peak was first measured in 1880, when it stood at 2,123 meters. Its height has varied from year to year, growing in colder years and shrinking in warmer ones. But since 1995, it has shrunk almost a meter a year, with few exceptions, the newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported.
Located in far northern Sweden, Kebnekaise is a popular tourist destination. Last year, about 10,000 people reached the summit of the southern peak, a trip that usually takes 10 to 15 hours. But once the northern peak officially becomes the highest mountain, that could change as climbers seek to summit the new highest peak.
“It could have that effect, yes,” said Stefan Kallstrom, head of the Swedish Mountain Rescue Service. “From a safety aspect, the north peak is much harder to climb than the south. It has a different topography.”
Anders Bergwall, an Arctic guide and alpine rescue worker who covers the Kebnekaise area, also said he expected more people to set their sights on the north summit.
“I think everybody wants to go to the highest point, of course,” he said of the south peak. “It’s super beautiful, but they will want to go another 700 meters to go to the highest point.”
There has been a dramatic increase in visitors to Kebnekaise in recent years, he said, adding, “It’s popular even among people without a mountaineering background.”
The trek to the north peak is more dangerous. It requires climbing to the southern tip, then a harrowing, 700-meter journey “along a cold and steep snow and ice ridge,” Mr. Bergwall said.
But Marit Sarri, manager of the Kebnekaise Mountain Station, said few climbers were likely to change their ambitions.
“We do not see that this will greatly affect the large proportion of our guests and visitors who want to climb Kebnekaise,” she said. “The southern peak will still be the natural peak for many visitors, because the northern peak requires completely different skills and equipment.”
New York Times
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