Millennium hike, part 8: Käsivarsi

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions
Jouni Laaksonen 24.12.2018

Merry Christmas to everyone!

I want to thank all of you who have read my blog during this first year! It’s been fun to write, and I’m super thankful for every like and visit.

Let’s continue on the same old topic I’ve been writing about soon for two months: our Millennium hike. This journey through eight wilderness areas started in the beginning of November, here.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Last week I told how we skied across area 7, Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area. We had just resupplied in Hetta town (between 6 and 7), and out pulkas were full of food, and also Christmas stuff. Now we continue through area 8, Käsivarsi Wilderness Area, north towards Halti fell, but this week we will not quite reach Halti yet.

22th December 1999 we continued from Pingiskoski hut towards Hirvasvuopio wilderness hut. We hoped and presumed the hut would be empty, as we hadn’t seen any hikers during these 51 days so far. In that case we would stay in the hut for two or three days and celebrate Christmas there.

We skied along River Lätäseno and arrived early to Hirvasvuopio. But no, the hut was not empty. There evidently were reindeer herders staying here. They weren’t present when we arrived, but we could see from their various equipment that they would be returning before evening.

Indeed, two Sámi men and one woman arrived with their snowmobiles in the afternoon. After greetings and some small talk the reindeer herders mostly spoke Sámi and we Finnish, so we were two separate groups.

These herders were a mixture of new and old. The new: They travelled by snowmobile, though they had skis as a backup. They had a big gas cooker of their own, and they had even brought an electric lamp and an aggregate to produce electricity. One of them switched the aggregate on, and the bright light of an electric lamp filled the hut – and made the atmosphere something else than the normal wilderness hut feeling. They had similar mobile phones as Markus, and that connected us for a while. We talked about where can you find roaming and so on.

The old: These herders patrolled along their reindeer herd for weeks deep in the wilderness. This isn’t common any more. They had a clothing that was a mix of old and new itself. Alongside modern overalls they had hat, middle layer longjohns and shoes made of reindeer skin.

We spoke more after the cell phone incident. We learned about herding reindeer far away from roads and they asked about our journey. When everyone got to bed our respect rose to a new level. When the herders took off their reindeer skin shoes (‘nutukkaat’), there were no socks inside. Just a bare foot and lots of dry hay in the old style!


Christmas in a wilderness hut

In the morning we decided we’ll let the herders have their own peace in Hirvasvuopio hut and we’ll try to ski a long day march to Tenomuotka wilderness hut and celebrate our Christmas there.

Skiing along River Lätäseno was easy, for there wasn’t a deep layer of snow there. However, skiing on ice, even after a long spell of –30°C was unnerving, for sometimes there were darker patches on the all-white ice, and that meant there was some water between ice and snow. This wasn’t a safety hazard in itself, but if you skied over a patch like this, you got wet ski bottoms, and that meant icy and not gliding ski bottoms. You had to stop and scrape all the ice away.

And one of the herders had warned us about a place where the river is unfrozen through the winter, at the junction of rivers Lätäseno and Rommaeno. There indeed was an area of open water, and we were able to fill our water bottles. This made us even more vary about skiing on ice, but as the alternative, skiing in deep snow and thick downy birch forest did not appeal either, we continued cautiously on ice.

After all it was safe enough to ski during the daylight time, but as our day march was 25 km, we could not reach Tenomuotka hut before dark. As I’m reminiscing this last leg now, I must say it wasn’t totally safe going. Even during daylight time we sometimes skied accidentally to a wet patch, and now, skiing with our headlamps, we did this even more often. What if the ice had been much thinner in one of these patches?

Anyway, we arrived to Tenomuotka hut in the evening, and there hadn’t been anyone here for months. Four willow grouses flew off from the shore of River Lätäseno at Tenomuotka. We decided immediately that we will sleep here three nights and rest properly.

The next day was Christmas Eve. In Finland we have many traditional Christmas dishes, and we tried to prepare many of them even here far from civilization. We started our day with rice porridge, and already yesterday evening we had taken a two kilogram ham from our pulkas into the hut to unfreeze.

After morning porridge we did a short ski tour in the nearhood. We saw beautiful, colorful nacreous clouds and a broad 360° view from the nearby fell Karravaara. We found roaming from the top and called briefly to both homes. It was nice to hear the voices of my Mom, Dad, little brother and little sister. (We were both single men at this time, and that naturally was an essential thing. As a married man, and with own children I couldn’t now be this long away from home, not nearly.)

We had many Christmas delicacies to prepare and unpack from our pulkas, and we had some gifts, and many Christmas cards to open. But guess what was the most important thing today?

It was washing oneself. We had had a sauna and shower over a week ago in Hetta town, and we definitively smelled bad! Also my scalp was itching fiercely. We melted and heated a lot of water on the wood stove, and then one at a time washed ourselves outside, standing on the snow. The small everyday things like being clean, healthy, not hungry and so on are wonderful miracles when you’ve been missing one of them for a while. We also washed some laundry and used only clean clothes now.

While melting and heating water we also started to prepare the traditional Finnish surypy mashed potato casserole (translation is certainly off, but something like that; in Finnish ‘imelletty perunalaatikko’). We didn’t have the normal ingredients, like normal potatoes, but we used mashed potato powder, milk powder, water, and cooking on mild heat for many hours. It was good, and surprisingly near the real thing!

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Markus is slicing off the first piece of ham. In the black pot is our surypy mashed potato casserole, and on the right side of the ham are the carrot casserole and turnip casserole. The yellow tube behind them is mustard. The empty metallic pots are our plates. I didn’t carry a mug at all, I drank always from my water bottle. Markus used the thermos bottle mug. Also lots of biscuits and chocolate on the table, and don’t miss the Christmas cards, and our juniper Christmas tree (the traditional Christmas tree in Finland is spruce, but the nearest spruces are over a hundred kilometers south from here).

In a Finnish Christmas dinner table there is typically also casserole made of carrots, and another made of turnips. When we left our accommodation at Hetta, Holiday Village Paavontalo, the hostess had made a surprise for us. Without saying a word to us she had smuggled a casserole of carrots and a casserole of turnips to our pulkas! We only found out this several days later, and we were very delighted and touched. These casseroles were frozen for these eight days in our pulkas and now it was time to heat them up.

These casseroles, and the two kilo ham, and other Christmas stuff meant our pulkas were quite heavy. Now it was time to make them lighter, and that we did. We ate all evening, after dinner continuing with biscuits and chocolate confectionaries. And we ate all of the next day, too.

We had been hiking for nearly two months, and what did we do on our rest day? You might think we were fed up with hiking, but we were more enthusiastic about long hikes than ever. We opened up our small-scale backup maps and started to plan a long summer/autumn hike on the opposite direction: from Kilpisjärvi to Nellim. And indeed we carried out exactly this plan the next October (see here).


Approaching Halti

We only continued on 26th December. Skiing on River Lätäseno was easy, but soon we ascended to treeless fell area. The wind was rather high here, and clouds were hanging low. Sky and land were all the same grayish white.

In white-out navigating is very difficult, and the wind howling in your ears makes it even harder, mentally. We had good hoods and we were not skiing against the wind, so our faces were not freezing, but still a high wind makes you nervous. What if some kind of an accident happens and you have to camp right here?

It certainly is advisable not to advance in treeless terrain on a day like this, but we were too enthusiastic to stay put for another day after two full rest days to wait. Not a wise move, but on the other hand all went well.

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

Skiing in white-out…

Hiking in Finland - Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions

…and lunch break in white-out.

Markus was navigating today, and he did perfect job. Had we arrived some 50 meters to left or right from the Taabmajärvi wilderness hut we would not have seen it.

The white-out continued the next day. I had an easier time in navigating, for most part, for we followed the reindeer fence that runs near the Finnish-Norwegian border. Skiing was not easy, on one hand for the hard wind, and on the other hand for the lack of shadows, which means it’s difficult to fathom whether you have even ground, or a bump of 20 cm, or a hollow of 30 cm just ahead of you.

Navigating along the fence was easy until the junction of Lake Somasjärvi and River Somasjoki. I had thought we would be able to follow the river upstream to Kopmajoki wilderness hut, but it turned out to be impossible. The snow had filled the river totally, and we could not see which was river and which was dry ground. Sounds unbelievable, but in fact this is not unusual in treeless fell terrain in winter white-out.

I took a very precise compass bearing from this known location and I looked at the compass really often during this last kilometer. Which was good, for we arrived precisely to the hut.

* * *

Next week I’ll tell about hiking up to Halti fell. Did we manage to camp on top of Halti at the exact turn of millennia? And what about our last week from Halti to the three-country border point (FIN-SWE-NOR), and how was our return to civilization? But for now, Merry Christmas to everyone!








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