Hike Finlandia, part 3: Lapland

Article by Onni Kojo

After Karhunkierros I continued my way north. The forgotten UKK route continues at the north end of Karhunkierros. This trail was almost non-existing, but it was fairly easy to find the markings on the trees. Very quiet, after meeting other hikers every day. I was not talking to other people that much. Finns are just so bad at small talk! But also because in these popular hiking routes, people tend to have own groups in which they travel.

I didn’t mind. I enjoyed walking alone as much as I enjoyed company. 

Beautiful old growth forests covered the fells that opened up in front of me. I was now in the region of Salla. Their slogan is – Salla – In the Middle of nowhere. I like that! It did feel like being in the middle of nowhere. The beauty of Lapland is very much in the sense of open space. 

When you get to Lapland, the nature starts to change around you. More old trees, different kinds of plants, more barren, but beautiful still. The Lapp huts along the way have remained even though the trail seems to be rarely used. I found myself in this hut between two fells, next to a small lake. Fireplace inside, pure drinkable water right next to it and still few berries to be eaten. This was perfection. It was now officially fall. My favorite season.

The nature roasted in to a golden-yellow glow. The forests of Salla were absolutely stunning! This season was a perfect timing for admiring them. I stopped often to wonder the different shades of orange and red while I was walking. Dead silent everywhere. I would meet a pack of reindeer or willow grouse every now and then. 

It was necessary to take more breaks as the ascents began to be longer and the fells higher. At one stop I startled. There was a dog behind me! For how long it had followed me, I didn’t know. It had a collar with antenna. It was some hunter’s dog. But where was the hunter?

Day was beautiful and not too cold. I admired the vast view of forests that continued beyond sight. The dog was still with me while I was sitting on this rock. We continued the journey together. Still no sight of the hunter. I tried to look a phone number on the collar, but the number was wrong. Well, maybe the antenna worked and we would meet the owner soon.

I stopped for lunch at this lean-to shelter. Not knowing what the dog could eat, I didn’t give any food. As a protest, I was barked at.

Soon we hit a dirt road. I knew that if the antenna worked, they would see from the gps and drive there shortly. After 2 minutes, a land cruiser raced next to me.

He was a bear hunter and he had seen from the gps where his dog was and told me that he knew from the movement that there were humans around. The guy had driven 40 km from the other side of the forest to that spot. He also said that it was a good thing that I didn’t give the dog any food, because otherwise they would learn to go after the hikers to give them food!

In the village of Salla I got more supplies and ate a huge, well-deserved pizza. Hanging around at the main street of the village was like from a movie. Guys drinking beer at a bench next to the grocery store, hitchhikers from Germany at the bus stop, grannies cycling along the street. It was a nice and sunny autumn evening. A lovely little town it was. I continued my way towards west now.

4 days I hiked these gravel roads to a place called Pyhä. For me, it was a familiar place as I had been working there the previous winter. Here, I would also have couple days off from the hike and I actually worked as a guide on these break days! I was welcomed with the Lappish hospitality from my dear manager at work. It was unreal to be indoors and have a bed after weeks of hiking!

I experienced this Lappish hospitality on those 4 days of gravel road hiking, too. This guy drove next to me with a transporter. He was a hunter. He was amazed. Why the hell I was walking here by myself! After we shared a laugh, he offered me his cottage to stay! He just said that I could go there and sleep! I didn’t get there that night before the dark. Anyways, people in northern Finland can be extremely hospitable. I had many other encounters like this in Lapland.

Pyhä is an old holy mountain of the forest Sami people that used to live on these lands. The word ‘Pyhä’ in Finnish, means ‘Holy’. This place is unique. You’ll find remarkably unique landscapes, old growth forests and silence from here. There is a national park that covers most of the area. Finland’s biggest gorge is here between the fells and one of the most beautiful waterfalls I know. Right next to the national park there is also skiing slopes, a small village and lots of activities packed in one small place. A perfect combination for everyone! It’s like Lapland in a nutshell.

Pyhä-Luosto national park’s logo features a Siberian jay. You see these birds here every day. These curious and pretty birds sure are fun creatures!

After hiking amongst many other visitors, who had come to see the fall colours, I headed to the town of Sodankylä. I walked by the driveway and from there took another 4 day gravel road hike to the west towards Ylläs.

Those days were one of the most boring ones of my life. There were just vast areas of semi natural forests and not much to see. One stop near Kittilä was nice though. This big lake you could see from the shore overlooking the landscape of fells.

My plans had worked quite well so far. I had stayed pretty much on that path that I had thought. There was just one problem – the winter was coming. 

There was already some wet snow pouring when I started hiking through yet another national park: Pallas–Ylläs. This national park is one of the oldest and most known in Finland. No doubt, the scenery is breathtaking. Here I met many other hikers and made new friends. After a few days of rain and wet snow, the weather turned beautiful. Crisp cold mornings and bright blue days. I enjoy those kinds of days.

Herds of reindeer would pass by every day. They start their mating time around this time of the year so it is good to be little bit cautious with them. At least with the stags.

These herds can be hundreds of individuals, sometimes running around the fells. One morning I got woken up by this huge herd as some of them have bells around their necks like sheep. They are a semi-domesticated species and all of them are always owned by someone even when they go around the wild every now and then. There are a lot of domesticated reindeer as well in the farms all around Lapland. 

They say that a white reindeer is for good luck. I saw one every day! From a distance though. I heard a story about how furious the stags can get during mating season. I was having lunch at this Lapp hut with few other hikers when this older guy told us a story that involved a reindeer antler, a carotid artery and lots of blood. I kept my distance.

Nice lunch discussions and encounters continued along the way. I remember this one dad who was hiking with her 5-year-old daughter. They were on a one-night hike and we had a chat at this yet another Lapp hut shelter. I told him about my journey. By now I had walked about 2000 km. He told me word to word ‘I doubt your mental health’. I laughed. But he was right as well. I might have gone mad by now, walking by myself for months. There were a few things that kept me sane. One was social media – (staying connected is almost too easy nowadays; I did also have days when I didn’t use it), the other was just staying on the course, so perseverance. I would meet new people all the time so I wasn’t really lonely. There were only a few times I felt loneliness, but I think that is good. In this hyper social world of ours we easily forget to self-reflect. It is very important to just be happy with yourself. The modern world easily distracts us to use our time on just looking on what other people do.

But yeah, to walk over 2000 km you have to be a bit crazy. In a good way!

To be honest, at the moment while I’m writing this in a studio apartment in Helsinki, I feel lonelier than when I was hiking alone. I would meet so many fantastic people along the way. The wilderness cabins would usually be full of people, sharing their adventures. People would gather around a fireplace and share their stories. Would that happen in a city? Just random people at a park for example just meeting and sharing stories about their days? 

There is something really familiar to us, when we meet new people while hiking in national parks or in the wilderness. We are so close to the things that humans are made for. Surviving in the wilderness and staying together as a tribe. 

I shared a wonderful evening with people all over Finland on the last day of the Ylläs – Hetta hike. To hear everyone’s craziest adventures was so much fun. You also learn so much from others while you share stories. We even saw pretty good northern lights that night.

That is one exceptional aspect about the open wilderness cabin culture. There is always another side of the coin, though. This culture is based on respecting the place and other visitors. That includes cleaning up after yourself and giving space to people who need the shelter most. This age-old rule is easily forgotten nowadays. Always respect the nature and others around you, always! We can still keep this culture alive and have these places, so we can share stories by the fire. It would be sad to see this go and have private cabins all around instead of the open ones, if we do not adhere to common rules!

In general though, during my journey, I met great people and almost every shelter and cabin that I visited was in good condition! Way to go Finland!

I heard news that there was already snowfall in the very north western part of the country. That’s where I was heading. I based my plan to the fact that last winter the snowfall was so late and that people had hiked up to Halti even at the beginning of October. It started to seem that it might be impossible. I didn’t change my plans. The snow might have melted.

I walked along the driveway towards Kilpisjärvi for days. I headed to the wilderness after three days. There was this dirt road leading to the wilderness area of Käsivarsi – ‘Käsivarren erämaa-alue’. From there I was to hike to Kilpisjärvi through the wilderness. After about 10 km walking the dirt road it was obvious that there was a lot of snow. The snow limit was in about 600 metres above sea level. I still continued, I didn’t want to quit. Mainly because my other option was pretty lame. To walk the along the road all the way to Kilpisjärvi, another 70 km or so.

I went to the first cabin at the end of the dirt road. I was a little depressed. I couldn’t hike up to Halti. The October gloom got more intense day by day. Nevertheless, I had an amazing adventure in the wilderness! The soft snow made it super hard to go through even with skis. At times the snow was down to my knees. At the first cabin I found some hard plastic and iron wire so I decided to make my own snowshoes. Surprisingly, after testing them, they worked!

I walked with my snowshoes about 7 km to the next hut. I was the most exhausted I have ever been. It was so heavy to walk in the snow. I had lunch and a cup coffee and decided to head back and plan another ending for my journey. There was no way I could walk in these conditions even if there would be melted ground after the next fell. I was beaten, but still so happy that I tried. It sure was an instructive and fun adventure!

A boring couple of days of walking by the road followed. I would just camp where ever I could find a spot. There were a lot of campfire places along the road and rivers. Fishermen use this road and these rivers during summertime and make campfires everywhere. It started snowing and the temperatures dropped even more. It was now officially winter here.

When I finally saw the Saana fell and the village of Kilpisjärvi, I jumped out of joy. This would be the last village before heading to Norway. I decided that I’d climb to Saana and then walk to Norway and to the Arctic sea. It was only 50 kilometres away!

This was the only area that is geologically considered to be a part of a mountain range in Finland. After hiking up to Saana I had visited almost all the different habitats found in this country. From the shores of the Baltic sea, through the fields and villages of the south, across the lake land and boreal forests, over the endless swamps and up the fells of Lapland, I had walked across the whole country! 2300 kilometres by now, to be exact. 

I wanted to finish the trip by going to Norway. I hadn’t swam or seen the sea for months, so I would end this at the mighty fjords of Norway. 

The very last day I walked from close to the Finnish border down to the fjord beach. It was one of those clear sunny days when the blue sky just opens and the universe just feels so vast. I felt good!

The feeling was also a bit melancholic, I would end my journey now. During that one day, the scenery changed from the arctic tundra into almost like the southern type of nature! Even the leaves were still orange and yellow, even though 30 km inland in Finland there were no leaves on the trees anymore. I was close to the sea though. The snowy cap mountains and sheep welcomed me to the village at the beach. Why is there sheep everywhere in Norway?

I have nothing greater to say after all this. Finland is a wonderful country and we must continue to care for it and its magnificent nature. Whoever reads this, remember, be sure to take some time off for yourself in life. Losing the track of time is the best way of charging your energies! Even a small amount of time is enough, you don’t have to hike 2000 km. Through this self-reflection, one also learns to be a better person to others and the nature around us.

You can follow my adventures on Instagram @onnimarkus

Blog in Finnish: onnitravels.blogspot.com

Read more:

Hike Finlandia: a hike from Finland’s southernmost tip to the Arctic sea. Part 1

Hike Finlandia, part 2: Eastern Finland

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