Jouni Laaksonen 25.6.2018
Last week I told about a test we made in June 2005: Can we walk 127 km from Ylläs to Hetta without sleeping? We means me and my friend Markus Rask.
Human limits are FAR
This was not our first time to test our limits by hiking. The very first time was in 1998, when we planned to walk 50 km one day and 40 km the next. 50 km would have doubled our longest day march until then. We were dubious about this goal, but during the evening it turned out we were eager to just go on and go on. We walked all the distance, 90 km, without stopping.
It was an astonishing experience. We had never thought we could do anything like that. Between 1998 and 2005 we tested our limits now and then in different ways. Sometimes our goal was to walk long distances in consequtive days. For example once we tried to walk 70 km day marches, but after two of those we were too tired on the third day, and only managed 50 km. We found our limit there.
Or, on other occasions we have found we can walk 35 to 45 km every day deep in the wilderness, outside any trails and paths. Carrying a lightweight backpack containing tent, sleeping gear, food for about four days etc. Though we do like to have a complete rest day once a week.
Still, the vast majority of our hikes have always been “normal”, meaning day marches something like 12 to 25 km.
I want to remind that we were and are no athletes. There is a ultra running competition from Ylläs to Hetta, about 130 km, nowadays every year, and last year the winner’s time was 15 and half hours. Huh!
100 km / 24 hours
After Ylläs-Hetta hike in 2005 we started to muse. So, we did not manage to walk all the 127 km without sleeping. But we did manage to walk 100 km. It took 29 hours to walk that 100 km. Our only goal had been to try to walk all of the trail without sleeping, time was of no consequence. Could we walk 100 km in 24 hours if we tried?
We tried that the next summer, in Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area.
My wife left us at Kalmankaltio, on the eastern end of the wilderness area. There is an unmarked, but clear route through Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area to the western side, Näkkälä village. The route is 93 km long, through a roadless and uninhabited fell area.
Our plan was to walk all the way to Näkkälä, and proceed another seven kilometers along the road that comes to the village from west. My wife would pick us up and take us to Markus’ home.
After walking just a couple of hundreds of meters we met two frontier guards, Markus is talking with one of them. They naturally asked us where are we heading. We told our plan was to walk to Näkkälä. They didn’t believe us on first try…
Again, we carried not only food, spare clothing etc., but also sleeping gear. It was very much possible we would not succeed in our goal and would have to sleep along the route.
Arriving to Kalkujärvi reindeer herding site in the middle of Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area. About 50 km behind, 50 km ahead.
Again we had very good time, though this time we had to concentrate even more to walk fast and keep rest stops short and far apart. Of course we prepared lunches and dinners regularly with our stove, for body needs a lot of energy to keep going.
The feeling to walk through the night at the end of June is fascinating. The sun does not set, but it does descend and descend. Around midnight your shadow is very long, and the light is extraordinary from a photographer’s point of view.
The light of summer night is something unique (not on these pics taken with an old camera, but believe me). If you walk through the night, your shadow grows longer and longer…
In the beginning of June there usually are no mosquitoes in Lapland yet. Like last year when we walked from Ylläs to Hetta in the middle of June: there were no mosquitoes. Now we were walking at the very end of June, and the mosquitoes had just arrived. While walking fast the insects were no bother, but when resting, eating, taking care of our feet, long sleeves and mosquito headnet were necessary.
Yes, this time we succeeded. We reached Näkkälä village after about 22 hours of walking and called my wife to come and fetch us in two hours. We walked those two hours leisurely and reached the 100 km mark in time.
The need for sleep was overwhelming, but it was easily cured: 18 hours of sleep and we were sound again. 🙂
One peculiarity of Pöyrisjärvi area are sand dunes and sandy patches decorated by juniper bushes.
Important things for a long distance walker:
- Your feet. You have to know beforehand the solution that works for you. How do you avoid blisters and other feet problems? We use lightweight trail running shoes, vaseline and two layers of socks. And we always lift our feet up when we rest. (On normal hikes I rarely bother with lifting my feet up, and I do not use vaseline, but waterproof footwear.)
- Ultra light pack. Do pay attention to pack weight. Just a small backpack, like 30…35 liters, and nothing extra. However, if you head to wilderness, plan for sleeping just in case. Also first aid kit always has to be packed in, even if you usually do not need it. Remember blister prevention and caring tools.
- Food is your fuel. Take lightweight, but energy rich food. Lots of carbohydrates. And make sure you like the food. You have to be able to eat a lot when you walk fast and long.
- Of course remember to drink enough. In Finnish Lapland just a small water bottle, like 0,5 liters or 0,75 liters, is enough. There are clear streams or other clean water sources along the trail often enough.
We spread vaseline all over our feet, both before starting the ultralong hike, and several times during the hike. Trail running shoes do not keep the feet dry if it rains, and when you need to cross bogs and streams. You better count on having wet feet for longish stretches. Vaseline, and two layers of socks, help our feet to avoid blisters. Well, when walking 100 km you probably cannot avoid blisters totally, but you can avoid too serious ones.
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Next week I’ll ponder why on earth should anyone walk 100, or 30 km a day? Can you see any views, birds, butterflies, flowers with such a goal? Or do you see more as you cover more ground? And let’s see an example on hiking in July in my home county, Kainuu.