Jouni Laaksonen 5.11.2018
On the first of November 1999 we stepped out of a bus in Nellim, small village near the Russian border. There was no snow on the ground and it was raining slightly. We walked along the road towards Vätsäri Wilderness Area. Just before the bridge of Paatsjoki river we met a car.
A pair of frontier guards were patrolling. The frontier guards are a nosey bunch, in a friendly way. It’s part of their job to be curious. They always stop and ask who is going, and where, and so on. Not only to gather information for frontier guard kind of purposes, but also to make sure all is well with the hiker, and to gather info just in case this traveler gets into trouble later and needs rescuing.
One of the men opened the window and said: “I had to look twice. There’s no one moving about at this time of year. And carrying long skis! Are you going far?”
Markus answered: “Well, yes, we are going to Kilpisjärvi.”
The frontier guards exclaimed: “Where!?” Of course they knew where Kilpisjärvi is situated, but they couldn’t believe what they heard.
We told we have two months to get there.
We assured we believe we know what kind of a task we have taken. Or at least we think we know well enough.
We chatted for a while longer and then the frontier guards started to continue their patrol. They predicted that there will be enough snow for skiing only in December.
Our planned route. There is a marked hiking trail only for a couple of short stretches in Kaldoaivi, near Hetta and in Käsivarsi, otherwise it is trail-less wilderness. Which is just what we wanted.
Approximately five weeks later we again met human beings. We were skiing back to Jorpavaara wilderness hut (not an open hut any more) from a leisurely rest day skiing trip when a pair of frontier guards caught us with their snowmobiles. Yesterday we had admired the golden red horizon near the border cairn of Finnish municipalities Inari and Enontekiö, and Norway, and in the dark we had visited inadvertently also the Norwegian side. The frontier guards had seen our ski tracks and they gave us a friendly warning about the occasion. (Nowadays it is allowed to cross Norwegian border, but that was not the case back then. Though crossing this border was no big deal. Crossing Russian border would be totally different matter, both then and now.)
On the 30th of December we were spending the night in Halti wilderness hut which is situated on the toes of Halti fell. A frontier guard drove to the hut with his snowmobile and asked, with a twinkle in his eyes: “I assume I’ll get help from you for carrying water to the sauna?” We naturally helped with water and got a lift to the other side of the valley, to the locked frontier guards’ patrol cabin (which is nowadays an open wilderness hut, without a sauna). No one could have offered us anything better. It had been two weeks since our last sauna, and it sure felt good to wash oneself clean!
After the wonderful sauna we spent the evening with the pair of frontier guards and a local fisherman, acquaintance of the guards. We heard stories of whitefish size of a football.
We, on our part, told that yesterday we met the first fellow hikers during our expedition.
1. Markus walking in Vätsäri, 2. Markus skiing near the Inari-Enontekiö-Norway cairn, 3. Me standing on top of Halti fell.
* * *
I can feel there’s a lot of text flowing out of my keyboard on this subject. No wonder, for this was a hike that changed my life.
I’ll divide this story to several parts. I’ll end today’s prologue here, and we’ll continue day after tomorrow from Paatsjoki river on, to Vätsäri Wilderness Area.
I have written about this Millennium expedition in several Finnish magazines (in year 2000), and also in my books Vaeltajan opas (Edita 2008) and Erämaat (Edita 2010). Also there was a weekly update on my web page www.iki.fi/jel/pp/pp.htm during the hike. All this is in Finnish language.
When I started this blog in December 2017, it was clear to me that I will tell about this hike. However, I did not want to start the brand new blog with a two months long tale in the hardest weather we have in Finland, and about an extra long hike. Rather I wanted to start the blog with tales about more normal hikes and nicer temperatures.
I’ve done all that for a year, though I’ve mentioned this Millennium hike briefly several times (at least here, here and here). Now I want to reminisce properly this expedition that steered me into the career of outdoors journalist and author.