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How to use the open wilderness huts in Finland? Exploring the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park

One day can be a good example of how unpredictable and quickly changing the weather can be in the Lappish fells. In an instant it can change from a freezing rainy fog to bright sunshine, and forenoon and afternoon can be totally different.

I started my day in an early forenoon of October as I climbed up the hillside in a rainy fog. I could only see a few meters onward and the freezing drizzle made me cold in no time. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in the silence and taking some pictures. As I reached the wilderness hut I got inside to warm up and get dry.

In Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park there is a 60 km route from the village of Hetta to the nature center in Pallas fell. The trail is quite popular especially during the summer and early autumn. It is also possible to reach the trail and the fells of the national park as a day trip. I made this trip starting from Vuontisjärvi and climbed up to the fell and to the wilderness hut called Montellin Maja.

The wilderness hut Montellin Maja looming ahead. The route from Vuontisjärvi up to the cabin is not long but it is really steep so it will challenge your strength.

Open wilderness huts are for hikers and skiers to have a rest or one overnight stay. They are usually located in roadless backwoods of Northern and Eastern Finland.

Open wilderness huts are free to use for shelter and for 1-2 night stays, when you are hiking in the wilderness. Just remember a few important rules and you too can enjoy them!

Open wilderness huts are free to use, but you can not reserve one for yourself. So keep in mind that you can not plan a hike thinking that you will only use these open cabins. In case there are other hikers arriving after you, you must let them in and make room for them. This can mean that you have to sleep outdoors. This is why you must always have an alternative shelter (for example a tent) with you. This, of course, is also a safety issue – you might get lost or be too tired to walk to the next hut, so it is good to have some kind of shelter with you.

Remember also:

  • Always leave the hut in same or better condition than it was when you arrived.
  • In general, keep everything tidy and be mindful for others.
  • Before you leave, make some fire wood ready for the next hiker.

Read more about the Finnish wilderness huts here. You can also find there information about every open wilderness hut in Finland, where they are and how they are equipped!

There is also a possibility to reserve specific reservable or rental huts. These can be found in some hiking areas and national parks, and there is usually some kind of a fee. Also about this you will find information from the link above.

After my break in Montellin Maja, the weather started to clear up. It was supposed to be clear the whole day according to the weather cast, but you’ll never know. Anyway, I was glad to finally see what the surroundings actually looked like!

The trail from Montellin Maja to Pallas is about 15 km long and will pass the highest point of Pallas-Yllästunturi Nationalpark in Taivaskero. On the afternoon the sky got clear and I got to enjoy the sunshine!

For the evening I headed up to the Punaisen Hiekan Autiotupa which is another wilderness hut, located by the lake Pallasjärvi. The name literally means “hut of the red sand”: the sand of the beach really has a rusty red color. This place also has the perfect view towards the fells of Pallastunturi. I can imagine how spectacular the view would look during a northern light storm in winter! Actually I was curious if I’d see some auroras that night, but then the sky went cloudy again.

 

Skiing in the Arctic Night

In midwinter there is light for only a couple of hours a day in Lapland. We decided to go for a two day skiing trip in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, to get a proper feel of the darkness during the shortest days of the year in December.

The route was marked on the map, starting from Koivarova parking lot, and went around Keimiötunturi and Sammaltunturi fells in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. The plan was to stay the night in one of the three open huts on the route, depending on how quickly we could move in the snow with sledges.

Packing in the parking lot. Me and my friends Pipsa and Salla had long skis, forest skis, special for deep snow. Our sleeping bags and food was packed in two sledges, inside waterproof bags.

The weather was not on our side

It was just above zero degrees of Celsius, around +2 C, when we started the journey. This is bad news for skiing. Snowflakes melt too much under the ski and there is absolutely no traction whatsoever. The skis glide very well, but without traction there is literally no way you can pull a sledge behind you.

We added some grip wax on all skis after the first 20 meters but the effect was minimal. I wished I had hairy skins to put under my skis. They would have worked.

So the first couple of hours our journey proceeded very slowly. It was nearly one meter ahead and two backwards, if there was even the tiniest hill. Our spirits were still high, but we started thinking maybe we have to stay the night at the first open hut only 4 kilometres away at lake Keimiöjärvi. At least there was a lovely sunset to enjoy, and the great Keimiö fell on our left side kept us company.

Me pulling the sledge. Luckily the track was visible, it was cleared by snowmobile. In deep powder snow we would have been exhausted in no time.

When finally reaching the first hut, Keimiöjärvi autiotupa, it was lunch time. We went to sit inside. There was everything one needs for perfect camping: firewood, a stove, some buckets to fetch snow in and pans so you can melt the snow for drinking or food. Sleeping places for 3 people, more if you squeeze. A dry toilet outside. Someone had left many candles on the big table which made me very happy.

Across the frozen lake and into the darkness

After lunch break it was only 2 pm, so we decided to keep going. It was always possible to return to this hut if the journey wouldn’t proceed at all due to non-existent grip. The second hut, Mustakero, we had to forget as it was situated on top of hill. No way we could climb up in this snow.

It was getting dark already so we wanted to cross the lake as soon as possible. You never know with frozen lakes, if there is a current or underwater spring that prevents the ice from properly freezing over.

This route was marked though and I felt pretty trusting there wouldn’t be any soft spots in the ice. Still, there was nervousness in the air. We had forgotten to bring ice claws. You should never cross unfamiliar waters without them, ice claws literally save your life if you fall in. You smash them on the ice and pull yourself up.

Crossing the lake, leaving the Keimiöjärvi open hut behind.

After crossing the lake with no casualties (phew), our path continued in the dark. The funny thing about darkness is, it never really is pitch black when there is snow on the ground. I didn’t even want to turn my headlamp on. I could see shades and trees, the fells around me. And I could see the amazing sky with a zillion stars!

What you don’t see, is depth. Downhills on our way were not steep, but all three of us managed to fall many times! Luckily snow was soft and there was a lot of it. The sledge is funny when coming downhill: first you have to pull it for the initial glide. Then gravity takes over and you feel a push on your back, as the sledge gives you extra speed! I wouldn’t dare to slide down a steep big hill, the speed would accelerate so fast I wouldn’t be able to do anything but yell.

Mustavaara hut

After the last rays of light were gone by 2.30 pm, the temperature dropped below zero, just enough to get some grip back. Our expedition managed to actually ski ahead now! Before no time we had travelled 5 km from the first hut to Mustavaara, an old reindeer herders’ hut. It has been estimated that this hut was built in the end of 1800’s, making it the oldest hut in the whole Pallas-Ylläs National Park.

Melting snow for drinking water.

In summer time there is drinking water practically everywhere. The waters in Lapland are so pure. In winter, you melt it from snow. But snow takes quite a while longer to bring to boil than liquid water, as you might recall from chemistry lessons. Still, it took surprisingly long, I thought.

For dinner we made avocado pasta, not the most traditional of Finnish dishes, but very quick to prepare and absolutely yummy!

The cute and old hut Mustavaara. Imagine this too is complete free for everyone to enjoy! Many thanks to Metsähallitus, the Finnish Administration of Forests, for the maintenance and firewood.

The next day

Our expedition team didn’t sleep too well as there were mice rattling (don’t leave food laying around) and wind howling in a snow blizzard. But we were more than happy to have experienced this old hut. After breakfast it was time to get going as daylight would last, again, for only a couple of hours.

Today it was about -2 C, just enough to get a decent grip of the snow. The way back around the fells was 15 km so it was going to be a long way – or not, depending on the path. The first 7 km were in great shape with hard path made by snowmobile. There were even proper ski tracks all the way from Mustavaara hut to hotel Jeris, 7 km leg. Our forest skis were too wide to fit the tracks though, they were meant for normal cross-country skis.

Skiing in deep snow

The last 7 km leg was something else. This part of the route hadn’t been opened, I don’t know why. Or perhaps it had snowed so much the track had been covered. It was quite a struggle as we had to cram in unbroken snow, in the dark. The benefit of tall, wide skis is that they glide better on top of snow. That is, IF the snow is hard enough to carry your weight. This snow was powder fresh fluff and we sank right through. We took turns in opening the route.

Also the terrain changed to very hilly. It was ever-changing uphill – downhill for at least 3 km. The last leg goes next to a reindeer fence so you can’t get lost. You just need to find the gate where you started off.

Obviously it’s hard to take good pictures when it is dark, but most of the time our skiing trip looked liked this.

It was fine with a good headlamp, but my friends had very dim headlamps and couldn’t see where they were skiing. Imagine skiing down at high speed in complete darkness without knowing where you will end up! They took it well though, and by that I mean, they landed softly when falling in the snow – with head first, butt first, sideways, you name it. I fell too, even though I had a good lamp and thus, no excuses…

Finally we recognised the gate in the fence and yelled out of excitement. It was a fun, challenging trip, I learned a lot about skiing in snow that keeps changing its form.

Starting point on the map

coordinates: lat:67° 55′ 18,488″ lon: 24° 9′ 35,108″