Jouni Laaksonen 19.11.2018
(This is a long story about a two month ski backpacking expedition. The series started here.)
We continued from Vaisjoen kammi on a sunny day. It was now –20°C, and the views were great. We skied first to Skalluvaara reindeer corral, and then glided downhill along a snowy road to highway 4 which winds along River Utsjoki. We crossed this big river safely along a highway bridge, and then skied a bit off from the road. Now it was already evening and time to pitch our tarp. The northernmost pine forest in Finland offered us a sheltered place.
Translation from my diary:
“There’s not much sense in skiing in the dark, but once again we found ourselves doing this. We had already our last (out of three) batteries in our headlamps, so we could not afford to use the lamps very much. However, all went well and we arrived to the bank of River Cársejohka. The sound of the river was much louder than we would have thought. It should be just a smallish tributary, eh?
Both of us knew exactly what to do. We added some clothes, then one pitched the tarp, the other fetched and started to boil water, and at the same time we had already poured soy flakes and some dried foodstuff to soak. When the tarp was ready, we threw our sleeping pads inside and went to sit on them, and soon it was dinner time.
It sure would be handy if I was able to eat a bit more quickly, so that the food would not grow cold before I’m finished…”
Navigating in a snow storm
In the morning we had a difficult river to cross once again. River Cársejohka was flowing fast and wide and it was nowhere near to be frozen. We searched for a place to wade across the river for a long time before we finally found one that was not too dangerous… Well, more on all the river crossings in some other post.
Snowflakes started to drift from the sky, and soon it snowed properly. By the time we had climbed up from the steep river valley and reached treeless fells the visibility was poor. There aren’t many landmarks here to begin with, and now we could not see even those few. We took a precise compass bearing, and started to ski towards Madjoki wilderness hut.
We skied almost without any breaks for 4,5 hours. A wristwatch is an important tool in navigating, for as we by now knew our average speed, kilometres per hour, quite well, we could easily calculate the distance covered. There would be a crosswise ravine about 11 km from the place where we took compass bearing. It was Markus’ turn to navigate today, and he was very good. We came to the ravine a tad to north from the hut, and found it nicely.
This is quite a special wilderness hut. It is situated inside Kevo Strict Nature Reserve, and walking inside the reserve is forbidden in summertime other than along marked hiking trails. There is no trail to this hut. However, in winter you may ski freely, and thus we were not breaking any rules.
We had our second rest day at Madjoki hut. Our backpacks were greatly lighter now than in the beginning, for… Let’s see what my diary says:
“We optimized our day according to daylight time. We slept until the day somewhat lighted up, then eating, washing ourselves, laundry, some skiing near the hut, reading the guest book of the hut, repairing my boots, and writing the diary. And as you can see from my handwriting (larger letters, not straight lines), there isn’t much light any more. We have spent nearly all our candles, and we have to save the headlamp batteries to more urgent situations.
We did an inventory of our foodstuff. We had taken one day’s worth of extra food, and as we were now in schedule, and there’s be only a couple of day marches to Karigasniemi town, we decided we can eat the extra day’s food now. In addition to today’s normal ratio, of course. So, two lunches, two dinners, and thin pancakes and pop corns as well. And naturally a lot of chocolate and sweet biscuits.”
I’ve never eaten so much in my life as I did on this hike. But on the other hand I did not gain or lose any weight during the hike.
We were not short of food in general, but Markus had eaten almost all of the bread he had packed for these three weeks. His sandwiches now consisted mostly on butter and salami…
Food orgy in poor visibility
One of the most spectacular sights in Finland is Kevo canyon, the heart of this reserve. This time we had not planned to visit the canyon, and that was a good thing. For the visibility was even poorer the next day than it had been the day we arrived to Madjoki.
We were young and confident, or is the word I mean reckless? 😉 Well, we were not foolhardy, but I’d say we did not think it through. Skiing in a total whiteout is not wise. Far better idea is to stay put, in a hut or tent, and wait for the weather to clear. That’s what I try to do nowadays if facing whiteout in treeless fells.
This pic is not manipulated in any way; this is what it was to ski in a total whiteout. Sky and land are the same white.
But, we skied in the all white. Navigating is not easy in a white-out, I can tell you. In an open fell area there are no landmarks. Streams and lakes are filled with snow, and you cannot notice where they are, compared to bogs and fells. We learned that only compass bearing, clock and to some extent contour lines were useful.
Of course GPS would be useful, too, in finding the next hut or some other fixed site. That was our backup, but our plan was to navigate without electronic aid. And a GPS unit, let alone one of that era, without any kind of a map, does not tell you if there is a two meter high cliff just five meters ahead of you in the downhill you are gliding.
The old Akukammi turf hut had no wooden floor, and it was was nowhere near as cozy and neat as Vaisjoen kammi turf hut, but still it was warmer place to sleep than under our tarp. (This old turf hut is not in use any more, but a new, neater one has been built next to it.)
Our navigating went wonderfully and we slept one night in Akukammi turf hut, and next one in Njavgoaivi wilderness hut. The latter distance is so short that we were in Njavgoaivi already before lunch.
Normal evening in a wilderness hut. We have arrived not so long ago, for the butter package is still up near the roof (because it was frozen solid during the skiing), also the water bucket, filled with snow, is high up, because there the snow will slowly melt to water. Naturally we also melt snow on our kettles above the wood stove. Also our boots and felt linens, and mittens are hanging from the roof, because that’s the warmest place in the hut, and thus the best place to dry gear.
I don’t remember that we would have been hungry, but now that I’m reading my diaries, I see I’ve been writing about food and eating a lot. Guess we needed much food, but luckily we had planned the amount right, and we could eat as much as we needed.
The rest of the day was almost constant eating, for tomorrow we would ski near Karigasniemi town so we could eat now almost all we had left. We started woth salmon soup, almost one liter per person, made from dried salmon, dried potatoes, dried carrots, dried onion etc. Right after that Markus asked me: “Which will we eat next, ham risotto or thin pancakes?” I was surprised and asked: “You mean now?” Markus answered with a completely straight face: “Yeah, sure, now.”
We prepared the ham risotto, another 8 desiliters of hot meal per person.
After this second course we concentrated for a while in producing water. There’s no source of running water near Njavgoaivi even in summer, let alone in winter. We melted snow in all the kettles we had. We also did a short skiing tour near the hut, but the ravine we saw was not very imposing in this cloudy weather.
Then we continued eating: 3 liters of pop corns, and half a slab of chocolate.
For our dinner we fried big pile of thin pancakes.
Later in the evening I ate some sandwiches. Markus did not have bread any more, but he had plenty of breadcrumbs in the bottoms of various plastic bags, and he had plenty of butter. He invented a new dish: You melt butter in a kettle and then add breadcrumbs. Surprisingly good! (Or is it just that we were a bit hungry?)
In this post we are skiing across area 3.
Arriving to a town
When we continued from Njavgoaivi towards Karigasniemi, the weather had cleared completely. It was windless and cloudless, and there was something like –10°C. Perfect day for hiking.
Near Biesjávrrit we saw a lot of reindeer tracks. Reindeer herders with their snowmobiles had driven the animals towards Ailigas corral. We were going the same way, and at Ailigas corral we saw first humans in weeks.
We had thought to prepare our lunch there, and now we stood there a bit bewildered in the middle of hubbub. A reindeer herder walked to us and asked where we are coming and where we are going. After a short chat he invited us to eat our lunch in their cabin.
It was super interesting to talk with them. The old man had been a reindeer herder already in the era before snowmobiles, meaning in the era of skis. He also told his opinions about reindeer pasture research, advised us in pronouncing Sami place names, and gave good advice for the next leg of our journey, through Muotkatunturit Wilderness Area.
Then the men were leaving, going to Karigasniemi. They offered a ride for us, and there was no polite way to decline. And this way we arrived to Karigasniemi town with post office and grocery store one day earlier than by skiing, so we were just happy.
* * *
Next week we’ll continue to Muotkatunturit Wilderness Area, with a pulka, tent and more sleeping gear. And more bread per day than on this leg. Though I might tell a little bit of our town day on a separate post before that.