More history along hiking trails

Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 3.9.2019

Last week I wrote a little bit about the intriguing history there can sometimes be seen along hiking trails, or even in the middle of a pathless wilderness. I’ll continue on the same subject. This is a large theme and a couple of blog posts can only scratch a little on the surface. If you are interested in reading more, you can start with my book Hiking in Finland.

I find it extremely interesting to walk or ski along a route I know our ancestors traveled hundreds of years ago. There are many famous pilgrimage routes around the world. Is part of their attraction based on this?

This time I’m not talking about pilgrimage, however, but about one old route through roadless wilderness. The road system was established in Finnish Lapland only during 20th century. Before that, if you wanted to travel from southern Lapland (like Rovaniemi) to Inari, or to the Arctic Ocean and Norway, you traveled by skis or reindeer sleighs during winter, or by your own feet, and occasionally by a rowing boat during summer.

An especially interesting old route is Ruijan keino. Ruija is what we Finns used to call Norway’s northern coast. There was a need to travel to Ruija every now and then, and especially during the famine years in the end of 19th century, many people skied to Ruija, even for something like 500 kilometers. Why? Because there was food and employment in the sea fishery.

So, the history of this route is fascinating, but also it is interesting that many sections or waypoints of the old route can even today be found, and many of them are even in active use by hikers.

Let’s see a map. I used an old map from 1950’s as the base map and added my own texts and symbols in green.

Hiking in Finland

At the bottom you see Sodankylä, which was and is the next larger city north from Rovaniemi. The pale brown/red line from Sodankylä to Ivalo and Inari towns is a road, which was built in the beginning of 20th century. During the famine years there was no road whatsoever north of Sodankylä.

So, how did one travel north? Along the green dotted lines. My drawing ends at Sompiojärvi and Korvanen, because the routes have vanished south from there –  because there is a large artificial lake nowadays between Vuotso and Lokka villages.

The green dotted line from lake Sompiojärvi via Laanila was the summer route. That is, a footpath marked with axe marks on pines (see pic below), or with boulders if it winded through treeless area.

Hiking in Finland

The green dotted line from Korvanen via Luirojärvi and Maantiekuru is the winter route.

Hiking in Finland

Here’s part of the Saariselkä fell range. Right in the middle of the pic you see a small valley, where the white of the treeless fells disconnects for a while. The dark of the forest behind the fell range can be seen. That valley is called Maantiekuru, which translates as ‘Highway ravine’. There has never been a highway or any kind of a road here, but this was the lowest and therefore the easiest way to cross this fell range.

I took this picture on a sunny day in April. In late winter temperatures are mild and there’s plenty of light during the day. In December or January the situation is completely different. The temperature can be below -30°C, and there’s only a few hours of daylight time. On harsh conditions you really appreciate the shelter of forest, and you want to avoid treeless expanses.

About one fourth from left you can see a white surface between dark-colored forests. That is lake Luirojärvi. It is known that there has been a wilderness hut on the shore of this lake at least from 18th century on.

Hiking in Finland

Today, lake Luirojärvi (pic above) is a popular destination for hikers. There are two wilderness huts, plenty of room for pitching your tent, campfire sites, and an open sauna. And the scenery is awesome.

After Maantiekuru and Laanila the summer and winter routes both reached lake Inarijärvi. This large lake (almost one hundred kilometers across) was crossed by a boat or on the ice. There were several wilderness huts on the islands of lake Inarijärvi, and on the northeastern corner, Suolistaipale. Most of these wilderness huts serve even today us hikers, fishermen and canoeists. Here’s Suolistaipale wilderness hut, still in good condition and in use:

Hiking in Finland

From Suolistaipale there is still one smaller lake to cross before entering mainland again at Järvenpää. See the map above, and here’s a link to today’s map.

In summer or autumn the wayfarers returning from Norway to Finland often had to wait for a longish time for a boat. To help with that the Finnish state decided to build an inn at Järvenpää at the end of 19th century.

The main building and many outhouses were destroyed during World War II, but in 2002 there was still one building and one ruin left:

Hiking in Finland

Today also these buildings are gone, but the foundations of old buildings, as you can see on the lower part of the pic, will be visible for decades or centuries still. This clearing in the middle of pine forest is about 100 x 150 meters. Reindeer take care that new trees cannot cover the clearing, for they eat all the saplings.

Every time I’ve visited Järvenpää I’ve fallen into deep thoughts. How extraordinary must life here have been! To be the inn-keeper here, a hundred kilometers from nearest road or town, literally in the middle of nowhere.

From Järvenpää the summer wayfarer continued by walking to Jankkila forest ranger’s croft. The path, marked by axe marks, is still visible in Vätsäri Wilderness Area, though the path is so faded that one will lose it from time to time, only to find it again later.

Hiking in Finland

This is me arriving to Jankkila. Today it’s no more a forest ranger’s croft, but a rental cabin. Any hiker can rent it for his/her group. For some reason the rental hut isn’t called Jankkila but Pakanajoki, which is the river I’m wading across in the pic. The buildings are the original ones from 19th century, though.

From Jankkila it’s only a couple of kilometers to Norway, and only a couple of day marches to the shore of Arctic Ocean.

Ruijan keino is only one of the many interesting old ways, but it’s my personal favourite. I’ve tracked it in many places, and it’s always a delight to find out that there is still a path after all the decades when the road network made these old wilderness footpaths useless. Or, no, they are not useless, but the users are different. Today we hikers sometimes use them, not anyone any more traveling from Sodankylä or Rovaniemi to Norway.

* * *

I will continue on the interesting history some day. For example sacred seita rocks and rock paintings are on my list. Some week soon let’s talk about them.

By the way, if you like my ponderings, I’d be happy if you share them via social media! 🙂


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