Most dangerous situation of my hiking career

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions
Jouni Laaksonen 29.10.2018

Last week I mentioned briefly that crossing river Lätäseno was life threatening, and that I was more stupid than ever in my life before or after. This is what happened:

We were hiking long day marches, and as crossing rivers like Rommaeno and Toriseno had gone without problems, our, or at least my confidence had boosted too high. According to the map there is a path that crosses river Lätäseno at Mukkakoski. The river looked wide and fast, but stubbornly I refused to see it was way too big a river to wade across.

We started to wade across the river, me on the lead. When the water level of the rapids reached my waist, the river swiftly lifted my feet off the river bottom! I was floating, and I was scared! No way, this should never have happened! What do I do now? Am I going to drown?

I started to swim, and noted that my lightweight backpack helped me to float. Everything inside the pack was packed watertight. It was a rainy day and I had my waterproof jacket and pants on. Of course the cold river water immediately flooded inside my garments, but still the waterproof clothes were a vital help. The water next to my skin was mostly the same water all the time. The cooling effect of flowing water is many, many times greater than that of still water.

I am not a great swimmer, but slowly I succeeded in swimming over the river. Probably I was already closer to the other shore, for that’s where I headed.

I immediately took off all my clothes and dressed dry ones from my backpack. I spread out my sleeping pad, and crawled inside my dry sleeping bag. It was a normal October day, air temperature something like +5°C, and water temperature not much more.

If my clothes and sleeping bag had not been packed watertight, I don’t know would I be writing this post. Making a fire shaking like I was would not have been easy. There is no pine or spruce offering dry deadwood that far north, only fresh birch. It was drizzling lightly, though luckily not much just now.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

This is me. I’m inside two sleeping bags, mine and Maskus’. Photo: Markus Rask.

Markus had been wading behind me. He was horrified to see me taken by the river. He waded back to the shore we had started from. He found a raft (why did we not search for one in the first place??), and rowed across the river. He added his sleeping bag over me and started to make warm food and drink with our propane gas stove. He hanged my wet clothes to drip on the branches.

Markus found a rowing boat hidden on this side of the river. He rowed across the river, towing the raft behind him. He returned the raft where it was found, and then returned the boat where it was found.

Meanwhile eating and drinking made me warmer, and I was not shaking uncontrollably any more. We packed up and started to walk briskly. Walking soon returned my normal body temperature. We walked to Puussasvaara wilderness hut, and during the next night I got my clothes and boots dry.

We talked the dangerous situation through, and it did not leave any traumas. The next day we continued our hike as planned.

I learned a lot about foolhardiness, thoughtlessness and the power of a big river. There was no sense in what I did. Why did I not stop and think? Trying to wade across 50 meters wide river that is deep and fast-flowing! Since then I’ve been a lot more cautious wader.

* * *

Next week I’ll start a long tale about a long hike: over two months long Millennium backpacking expedition across Finnish Lapland.


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