Millennium hike, part 4: Muotkatunturit

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions


Jouni Laaksonen 26.11.2018

(This is a two months long story about a two months long trek. First part is here.)

After resting and packing a day in Karigasniemi town we continued on 23rd November 1999 towards Muotkatunturit Wilderness Area. We had asked for advice on how to cross River Karigasjoki, and the locals in Karigasniemi told that we should cross the river along the road bridge. It was dull to ski beside the gravel road, but when, after four kilometers, we stood on the bridge and saw River Karigasjoki, we were happy we had asked for advice. The river was running swiftly, without any signs of freezing solid.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

In today’s post we cross area number 4.

After the bridge we stepped out of the road, and it was straight into a steep and long uphill. We tried to ski and pull our very heavy pulkas, but soon we found out walking is much easier. We packed our skis to our pulkas, and ploughed through the thin snow cover, using ski poles as good help. Translation from my diary:

“During a long expedition you need to have good patience. This uphill was good test ground to see if our nerves were okay. Markus tested his patience on a twenty metres long stretch thoroughly: His pulka fell down five times. Every time he needed to open his hip belt, walk back to his pulka, straighten it, refasten his hip belt, and try to advance once more. (I couldn’t straighten his pulka as I was going in front of him.)”

The uphill took long time and lots of sweat (it’s not possible to avoid sweating always), but finally we reached the top of the steepest part. Uphill continued, but now we could at least continue by skiing.

The pulkas were heavier than ever before or after in my hiking career, and the uphill was steeper than ever with a pulka. Not an easy day, but on the other hand navigating was great. Every stream and pond came just when I was starting to anticipate it, and in the evening we reached the simple hut we had planned for.


Strong dreams

I don’t usually remember my dreams in the morning, but during this expedition we both noticed that we saw a lot of dreams, and we often remembered much of them in the morning. We told each other best parts of our nightly movies while eating breakfast.

Today we had a shorter distance to cover, and in easier terrain, so we arrived to Stuorraäytsi wilderness hut early. Speaking of sleeping…

In addition to a great energy consumption, our need for sleep was quite phenomenal. In the beginning of the expedition we both slept 11 or 12 hours per night, if possible. At the later stages Markus started to wake up earlier, but I continued to sleep long.

At Stuorraäytsi hut we prepared our lunch on the wood stove, which warmed the hut up quickly. There is a lot of variation between huts and stoves in this aspect. After lunch we decided we could lie down just for a short while… After 2,5 hours we woke up and felt hungry. Is this what you call a power nap? 🙂

It was too warm outside, around zero. We were worried about the snow conditions tomorrow and tried to listen to radio. No luck. Oh, we found three radio channels, but one spoke Sámi language and two spoke Norwegian. We could not find Finnish weather forecast.

It was warm in the morning. We skied straight to east, towards another open hut. Snow was wet and our skis did not glide well, but still we could manage to advance for many hours.  We saw more reindeer than during the three previous weeks altogether.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Mostly rivers, lakes and streams were frozen by now, but this stream we had to wade across. You can glimpse Stuorraäytsi ravine in the background. Cloudy weather did not allow to enjoy canyon views today.

After lunch the situation got much worse. Snow began to stick to the bottoms of our skis. We were familiar with this phenomenon – but only from late winter, like April.

The best thing to do is to prevent this situation by coating the ski bottoms thoroughly with paraffin wax. We had not thought of this, for we had not thought to encounter this kind of weather in the beginning of winter.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

This is called takkala in Finnish. Markus has cleaned the left ski, but the right one is still intact. You can imagine what it is to “ski” with these kinds of skis: it’s not gliding, it’s walking on high heels. Not good for ankles, or equipment, or nerves.

What you can do, we did:

  1. First we tried to glide our skis as much as possible, although they tried to stick to the snow. Then we stopped to scratch one ski bottom along the edge of the other ski. This allowed some dozens of meters of skiing until the procedure had to be repeated.
  2. When this became too cumbersome, we stopped. We scratched all snow out of the ski bottoms, carefully with the long sides of our compasses. Then we rubbed vigorously a candle on the ski bottom, and thus got kind of a paraffin wax coating. This helped for a kilometer or two, until the procedure had to be repeated.
  3. Skiing in this kind of snow is extremely slow and burdensome. As we were a day ahead of our schedule, we decided to ski to the hut we had planned and stop there for an extra day, in hope that there would be even one or two degrees below zero the morning we continued.

The ice cover on River Kielajoki was not very thick yet, but we crossed it as safely as we could. We searched as good a place as we could find, we used a safety rope, and we skied across the river without equipment, pulling our pulkas over with the rope. On the other shore we felt we handled this river rather well.


A guiding star

At Kiellaroaivi wilderness hut we rested and waited for the weather to turn better. It did not change much, but we got a good rest, and although advancing was not easy the next day, we managed to scrape together some kind of a day march.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Here’s one more thing we had as extra compared to the first three week leg: books. We both had now a book, so we both had two books to read on rest days. Kiellaroaivi hut.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

When not staying in a hut, everything is more simple and quick. You prepare your dinner and eat it quickly while the food is still somewhat warm, and then you exercise a bit, if needed, to be warm before entering your sleeping bag. And – that’s that: you start to sleep.

Then we slept our first night in our tent, and the next day the snow thankfully was not so sticky any more. By now the daylight time was so short that our routine was to start skiing in dark, continue through the daylight hours, and continue an hour or two in dark.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

It’s my turn to navigate today. We had headlamps switched off and skied in the morning dark, for that way you see much more. If the lamp is on, you see precisely what is on the beam, but nothing outside it. Of course you have to switch the lamp on if there’s a downhill, or stream crossing, or if you need to read the map.

This morning we learned to use stars in navigating. We did not know exactly where our tent had been pitched, and it did not matter. We knew our whereabouts with the precision of a kilometer or so. We had been skiing in the general direction that eventually would lead us to large Lake Peltojärvi, and now in the morning we continued skiing in that direction.

We had the direction in our compasses, and we pointed our skis according to compass. But then one of us happened to glimpse on the cloudless morning sky, and chose a guiding star from that very direction. Then we followed that star, though of course sometimes checking the direction from compass.

When it’s dark and you cannot see a faraway tree or hillshape to be used as a landmark, this star-system meant we did not have to check our compasses so often.

Nothing special about this, of course. Sun, shadows and steady wind can also be used in this way, but I had’t thought of using a star before. A guiding star helped us on many dark early mornings along our expedition.

Luckily the sticky weather did not return, and we could ski in normal early winter snow conditions. We got to see a great colorful sunrise, crossed cautiously Lake Peltojärvi by following the shoreline, slept another night in our tent, woke up early again, enjoyed another golden red sunrise, and reached the small road from Inari to Angeli as planned.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Lake Peltojärvi was beautiful, but also a bit scary. There was a thin sheet of ice, only one centimetre thick, then a thin layer of water, and below it a bit thicker layer of ice. We skied, or rather glided, over the ice, and it was fast going. But we kept very near to the shore. Sometimes our ski poles went through the top layer of ice, but no further. In the pic two reindeer have walked across the lake on the previous day when there still was a little bit of snow on top of ice. Now the snow has melted, and the tracks are embossed.



I note that I’ve been telling mostly about our daily routines, weather etc., forgetting how we felt. We were filled by the same immense enthusiasm I told about during our first days in Vätsäri. There were some obstacles, yes, but we were living and fulfilling our dream.

As I’m reading my diary now I found a piece of information i had forgotten. During these Muotkatunturit days I had written:

“The upland between rivers Kielajoki and Ylempi Honkavuoma looked beautiful and interesting. We should plan our route this way when we are walking across Lapland in summertime.”

I hadn’t remembered we had started planning another long hike between the same start and end points already now! I thought it was only a month later, at Christmas in Tenomuotka hut, that we came up with the idea. Seems we got the idea much earlier, and only shaped the idea to a precise plan in Tenomuotka. We also executed this plan: see  the story.

This tells how excited and happy we were: we wanted more of this.

Every wilderness had proven distinct. Vätsäri consists mostly of rocks, lakes and pine forests, and Kaldoaivi consists of treeless gently sloping fells and numerous old turf huts built by willow grouse hunters. A dominant feature in Paistunturit and Kevo are deep and steep gorges, and Muotkatunturit area offers charming versatility: dozens of distinct fell tops, and pine growing river valleys in between.

In addition to getting to know Lapland way better, we also learned very much about hiking skills needed in harsh winter conditions.

The weather, snow and ice(lessness) created sometimes problems, but nothing much more serious than we had been able to imagine. We knew this time of year is no sunshine and had rather realistic expectations. And when the sky was clear, the views were all the more majestic. Also our planned daymarches proved to be realistic.

Afterwards many people asked us: Did we quarrel a lot? As we did not see any other people for weeks on. No, we did not, not at all. We have a similar kind of sense of humour, and we were both equally excited about our expedition. It also helped that we were both as fit and had similarly good navigating skills.

* * *

Next week we’ll continue to week 5, to Lemmenjoki National Park.





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