Millennium hike, part 1: Vätsäri (continuing)

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions
Jouni Laaksonen 9.11.2018

In the previous post I told about the very first day of our two month backpacking expedition. That was in a way a day full of enthusiasm, but also a day of disasters…

In the evening we were so tired we decided not to set our alarm clocks to seven o’clock. It’s wise to rise early at this time of year as the daylight time is short, but sometimes it is wiser still to give the body the rest it needs. We slept soundly 12 hours and continued walking only at 10.30.

After three kilometers we came to the wilderness hut we had planned to spend the first night, Kessijärvi. We heated the cabin up, dried our equipment, made new planning, ate lunch. We stayed at the hut for three hours, and for all these delays we only covered seven kilometers today before it got too dark.

We pitched our tarp, ate a good dinner, and went to sleep before seven o’clock. Guess our bodies had some adjusting to do with the ultra heavy load we were carrying…


We find the rhythm

After those two difficult days going started slowly to get a bit easier. Vätsäri Wilderness Area is the rockiest area in Finland, and a thin snow blanket made the boulders slippery. Wading across river Surnujoki was tricky, but finally we found a safe enough spot. There were a couple of sunny days, but mostly the scenery was black and white. Black of boulders and trees, white or light grey of snow and cloudy sky. However, we enjoyed the views of pine forests, boulder fields and multitude of lakes that were just starting to get thin ice cover.

Our daily schedule started to be like this:

  • Alarm clock woke us around 6 o’clock. Or if we had stayed the night in a wilderness hut, one of us got up at that time, ignited a fire on the wood stove and started to prepare porridge. The other one got to sleep another half an hour and get up to a warm cabin. The next hut morning turns were reversed.
  • We tried to start walking around 7.30. That’s when there is just about enough daylight to walk safely in a boulderous terrain without headlamp. Although daylight time diminished steadily, and later we had to start our day march with help of headlamps. From the end of November until beginning of January the sun does not rise above the horizon at all in northernmost Lapland. That does not mean it is dark through the day. There is four to six hours of enough daylight to move on freely, and for example to read the map without a lamp.
  • We walked, rested, walked, rested etc. until lunch, which was every day noodles. We had boiled hot water to our thermos bottle in the morning, and in lunch time we poured hot water on noodles, and got to eat warm food in a couple of minutes. Eating noodles every day was very much okay for the first two months, but during the very last week of our trek it was difficult to get them eaten. And after the expedition it took months until I could next time touch noodles.
  • After lunch we walked as long as there was daylight, until around 4 pm in the beginning of November. This way we covered most often about 12 km in a day. Not fast going, not at all. All the time resting and panting with the heavy load.
  • We got to sleep around seven or eight, and slept very soundly.
  • If I navigated today, Markus navigated tomorrow. We only used map and compass. Markus had a GPS navigator, too (without a map), and he inserted the coordinates of future days wilderness huts to the device every now and then. It was a backup we used only once, and also then it was not necessary. We found this every other day rhythm very good. If I navigated today, I got the nice puzzling out which way to go, and tomorrow I got to rest totally from the light stress of navigating our way.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Me fetching drinking water at Piilola wilderness hut, where we spent our third night.

Hiking was exhausting, but we were so full of enthusiasm that small obstacles did not matter. We were fulfilling a big dream!


“Light” equipment

I told in the earlier post our backpacks weighed 35 kg, and in addition we had to carry our skis and ski poles, about 5 kg. Of that 35 kg over 15 kg was food. In addition to food, also candles, fuel for our stove, and toilet paper were items that got lighter bit by bit every day.

This is a time of year you need warm clothes against very cold temperatures, but also rainproof clothes as you cannot know whether the rain comes as water droplets or snowflakes. Warm sleeping bag is a must, together with good sleeping pad. However, we tried to lighten our packs as we could. We chose a lightweight tarp in stead of tent now that we had to carry everything.

We posted to Karigasniemi town pulkas. because we would be pulling our stuff after that, we posted to Karigasniemi a tent that replaced our tarp, thinner sleeping bags to be combined with the thick ones when the night is something like -30°C, second mattresses, and down jackets.


Glimpse on our rest day

We had planned to have one rest day each week. Every rest day was planned to a be held at a wilderness hut, and we very much kept to that plan.

The first rest day we held in Sollomusjärvi wilderness hut, on the northern corner of Vätsäri Wilderness Area, on 8th November. Translation from my diary:

“Wow, it’s so sweet when the alarm clock is not demanding you to get up! However, we got up at eight, twelve hours of sleep was enough.

Yesterday some snow had fallen, but now the temperature is above zero, so the ground is going to be black again. Looks grey and dreary. Good to stay inside today.

So far today I have washed my hair, done some laundry, measured coordinates of future huts, taken some photos and lied on the sleeping platform with a bag of liquorice and a book. Still today I should lighten my backpack with tortellini, pop corn, thin pancakes and bread. Resting is a hard job! :)”

Washing yourself means you first fetch bucketful of water from the lake, then heat as much water you have kettles or other containers to use on the wood stove of the hut, and then you go and stand naked outside in the cold and start to wash yourself.

On the rest days we always had special food. No noodles, and preferably thin pancakes or some other special dessert.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Week one and wilderness number one is now behind us.

* * *

Next week we’ll continue to our second week, and to Kaldoaivi Wilderness Area.



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