Jouni Laaksonen 31.12.2019
(This is post number nine out of nine, a long story about a long backpacking expedition. The story starts here.)
Last week I told about our skiing half way of area 8 (Käsivarsi Wilderness Area), and now we continue to Halti fell and to the end of this Millennium hike.
I mentioned last week that the wise thing to do if you are in white-out in treeless fell area is to stay put. We were a little ahead of our schedule and now we decided to follow that wise rule. We spent another night in Kopmajoki Wilderness hut. During the day we practiced pitching a tent in hard wind, and building a snow shelter.
The next day we continued skiing and the weather was a bit better than for two previous days. The day was only partly cloudy, and that meant we had more light, and also some shadows to help our eyes to interpret the whiteness. The cold spell was over now and it had been only around –10°C for the last days. Today there wasn’t even any wind. This comparable warmness and brightness made this skiing day fantastic.
Skiing from Kopmajoki to Pitsusjärvi. It’s wonderful to see the shape of the snow – especially when you have not seen for three days.
We enjoyed the magnificent fell scenery and made our way to Pitsusjärvi wilderness hut. This was our 59th day on the hike, and now we saw first time other hikers! A group of young men were skiing from Kilpisjärvi to Halti and back. We had a lot to talk during the evening.
The highest point of Finland is on Halti fell. Actually the summit of Halti is on the Norwegian side, at 1361 meters above sea level, but the highest point of Finland is the border post 303B, which is situated at 1324 meters above sea level.
On the morning of 30th December we skied the short distance to Halti wilderness hut. (There are nowadays two Halti wilderness huts, older and newer. This was the old one.) In the afternoon we climbed to the top of Kiedditsohkka, which seems to be named Etu-Halti on today’s maps. This is a 1200 meters high fell summit, one of the highest in Finland, but the weather was so cloudy we didn’t see far.
In the evening a frontier guard invited us to sauna! (The hut that is nowadays the new Halti wilderness hut was a locked cabin of frontier guards at that time. The sauna was removed when the hut was turned to an open wilderness hut. This is very understandable, for sauna requires a lot of firewood, and there is no firewood around for dozens of kilometers.) It was a week since last washing, and two weeks since our last washing in any warmth. We could not have been offered anything better. I tell more about this surprise here.
On 31st December we skied to Halti. We started in the morning darkness, and when we approached the summit we started to be hopeful. On the south-eastern horizon there was a red line. Maybe it isn’t all-cloudy today…
And the morning turned out to be perfect! It was about –10°C, no wind, and the sky was mostly cloudless. The sun of course did not climb above horizon, but it still coloured the sky first to very deep red, then through a beautiful scale of reds and oranges and different shades of yellow towards blue. We stayed on the top for hours.
That’s me standing on top of border post 303B, the highest point of Finland, in 31th December 1999. The south-eastern sky has just turned from deepest red to deep reddish-orangish. Photo: Markus Rask.
First we just stood, admired and photographed the views, but then we started working. Our plan was to sleep the next night, the night from year 1999 to 2000, here, on the highest point of Finland. It was windless now, but the wind might rise before evening, and so we built a sheltered place for our tent.
Left: building snow walls in the morning. Right: In the evening we climbed to the top again, this time with our pulkas, and pitched our tent inside our snow walls.
When we were finished with the snow walls, we rather reluctantly started downwards. It was so wonderful to admire the views. How can we be so lucky? The weather has been all cloudy for many days now, but today, on the day we climb to Halti, it’s blue sky!
In fact we didn’t glide all the way down to Halti hut yet, but we descended only about 200 meters, and then ascended again, to Ritnicohkka. This 1317 meters high fell is the highest fell top in Finland, and it offered as great views as Halti.
We spent all the daylight time up on the fells. When we in the afternoon skied down, the sun was just setting behind Kiedditsohkka, or Etu-Halti, and the red sky and black silhouette of the fell was a powerful combination.
At the Halti hut we met five ski backpackers, who had just come back down from Halti. They were on a week long hike from Kilpisjärvi to Halti and back. All in all we saw about 20 hikers between Halti and Kilpisjärvi.
In the evening we climbed to Halti again, this time with all our gear. We pitched our tent inside the snow walls we had built in the morning. At 11 pm the sky was still clear and there were auroras, but at midnight it was cloudy.
Eight snowmobiles drove up to Halti, too. Mostly reindeer herders, I understood. They shot some fireworks, and we all wrote our names to the guestbook of Halti fell. This guestbook is numbered, and we were visitors number 59513 and 59514. By the way, the first guestbook was brought here in 1933 by three Finnish women, true pioneers of wilderness hiking.
Soon we went to our tent that was one minute down from the border post 303B. There we had a private celebration: we both posed in front of our tent with a sparkler in hand and wide smile on face. This had been our goal for two months, or if we count the preparations, for almost a year. We did it!
Indeed the wind had picked up, and it was a good thing we had snow walls around our tent. Our celebration was brief: soon we crawled into our sleeping bags.
The last days
Translation from my diary:
“In a way it’s hard to understand that this hike is almost over now. I’m wondering that have we really been skiing for two months now, constantly in wilderness, without seeing other people? Time has flown!
In a way I feel like this hike has a lot common with more typical hikes. It’s great to plan a hike, I really enjoy being on a hike, and it’s also nice to return home. After the first week, when we crossed the small Sevettijärvi road we both thought about the homegoing syndrome. I mean, when you are on a week long hike, and you are walking or skiing the last day out of the wilderness and towards a town, you start to feel it’s time to go home. You start to miss modern comforts. Beforehand I had thought this might be the case after the first week, but no, I didn’t get that kind of a feeling at any point during this hike – until now.
When we packed our sleeping gear and tent to our pulkas in the morning of 1st January 2000, on Halti fell, I started to get that feeling. Although our goal was to ski from Nellim village to Kilpisjärvi village, and visit the three-border cairn, being on top of Halti at the turn of millennia had in fact turned to be the more important goal.“
During the next three days we constantly wondered how lucky we were on Halti. For now we were again skiing in white-out all the time.
It was constant white-out between Halti and Saarijärvi hut.
We skied a long day from Halti to Lossujärvi wilderness hut. The next day was just as cloudy and windy, when we climbed from Lossujärvi to Saarijärvi wilderness hut. On 3th January we skied to Kilpisjärvi village. After a brief stop in the grocery store we continued over Lake Kilpisjärvi to Kuohkimajärvi wilderness hut. It sure was nice not to eat something dried, but recently bought sausages that we grilled on the wood oven.
On 4th January we visited the three-country cairn (below, right), and then skied to Kilpisjärvi. The next morning we took the bus to Rovaniemi, and continue by train home from there.
If someone had asked me two weeks ago, would I like to sit in a bus travelling home, I would have answered immediately: No! But now, the days after Halti had adjusted me from wilderness mood into civilization mood, and it felt good to be heading home, towards family and friends, and modern comforts.
Left: Markus climbing a hill in white-out between Lossujärvi and Saarijärvi huts. Right: Markus standing beside the three-country-cairn. When you circle around that yellow monument, you visit Finland, Sweden and Norway.
What did I learn?
First of all I want to say: It’s important to have dreams and enthusiasm in your life! And it certainly is a good idea to try to mold your dream to a goal, and then try to achieve that goal.
We were so full of enthusiasm through all these nine weeks! Be it a great day, or a day with many problems, we were all the time in good mood, for we were fulfilling our shared dream. A companion was both an essential way to increase safety, and an invaluable friend with whom to share the good and hard moments. And it was super important that we both had a same high level of motivation.
We were rather experienced winter hikers before this expedition. A proof of this is that we had planned a realistic timetable, chosen reliable clothes and equipment, and the right amount of food. We didn’t lose or gain any weight during these two months. One rest day per week was perfect for us in these hard conditions.
Naturally we learned a lot more about winter conditions, and got much more experienced during this hike. We learned loads of winter hiking skills, which have been invaluable since then.
I wrote several articles to Finnish magazines and newspapers about this expedition, about the hazards in winter hiking, about the different wilderness areas of Lapland and so on, and this guided me to the career of outdoors freelance journalist and author of hiking guidebooks. So, in fact this expedition gave me my dream job.
Also I learned that it is entirely possible to eat basic instant noodles for lunch six days per week for two months. (We always ate something completely different for lunch on our rest days.) But that was the limit for me. During the last week I had difficulties in eating noodles, and after the expedition I couldn’t touch noodles at home for months. 🙂
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Thank you for following our journey across Lapland. I think I’ll not post anything next week, but after that I’ll continue on some “more normal” outdoors topic. 🙂
I Wish You a Very Good Hiking Year 2019!