Reasons for wilderness huts 4/12: gold digging

Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 9.12.2019

This is the third part of a twelve post series. And where is the promised post 3/12, about reindeer herding? I have such a lovely story about spending Christmas in a reindeer herders’ hut that I’ll save that post until later. So, today the topic is gold digging.

There has been two significant gold rushes in Finland. The first took place in 1870 in the area of river Ivalojoki, and the second in 1940s in what is nowadays known as Lemmenjoki National Park.

Gold rush to river Ivalojoki

In 1868 a governmental expedition found a tiny amount of gold from lower reaches of river Ivalojoki. The amount was milligrams, less than one gram, but still this was a better result than in any other river the expedition had researched during the three months long tour.

The next year three men hiked to this remote corner of Lapland. There were no roads anywhere nearby. You had to row and pull your wooden boat for hundreds of kilometers uprivers, then pull it over a stretch of bog, and then you still had to navigate dozens of rapids along river Ivalojoki to reach the gold area.

The three men found over two kilograms of gold from an area that has since then been known as Kultala (‘kulta’ = gold). That was a huge amount of gold, and the next summer there were hundreds of men digging gold near Kultala.

To help with the long boat journey government built a wilderness hut in 1870 to Korsalompolo, next to the bog you had to pull your boat over to reach river Ivalojoki. A pic, map link and some text about Korsatupa hut is here.

In 1870 Finnish government also built a large timber building to this Kultala of river Ivalojoki, Ivalojoen Kultala in Finnish, to accommodate state officials. This was where the gold diggers had to bring the gold they had found, to be measured and taxed. Also there was a policeman needed in Kultala, and he had an office in this Kruunun Stationi building. In the same yard there was also a large accommodation house for the officials, a huge bakery, cellar, sauna, storage sheds and so on.

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Two hikers approaching Kruunun Stationi, the main building at Ivalojoen Kultala. The low structure is cellar.

The gold diggers built their own huts. They had to bring in their boats all the tools they needed for building their cabins as well as for digging gold, and all the food they needed for the entire summer. It was not an easy journey.

What is this Ivalojoen Kultala like today? It’s a fantastic hiking destination! The original Kruunun Stationi building is still there. The doors are open and you may walk in and feell the old athmosphere. The ovens have been shut and all kinds of fire is prohibited in the bulding. The original bakery building, cellar and accommodation house have been destroyed, but they have been built anew, just as they were.

You may not sleep in this museum building Kruunun Stationi, but there is a more modern wilderness hut less than 100 meters away. To visit Ivalojoen Kultala you walk about 12 kilometers along a marked trail. In the end you cross river Ivalojoki along a suspension bridge. On the bridge look upriver. That’s where the gold diggers came, after weeks of journeying, and trying to keep all their tools and foodstuff within the boat while the rapids threatened to make the boat capsize.

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There’s a great viewpoint on the other side of river Ivalojoki, both to this river valley and to Ivalojoen Kultala. The buildings are, from right to left: Open wilderness hut, an old storage shed, Kruunun Stationi, cellar, bakery, the old accommodation building that has been built anew. Near the shore is the old sauna, nowadays locked.

There are also several examples of the gold diggers cabins in the river Ivalojoki area. Moberginoja and Pahaoja are cabins built by gold diggers and they are museums nowadays. Also Liljeqvist, Ritakoski and Louhioja are old gold diggers’ cabins, but they serve today as open wilderness huts.

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Moberginoja hut was built in the beginning of 20th century.

Hiking in Finland

There are two rooms in Pahaoja hut. The older is probably from the beginning of 20th century, and the other from 1920s. There was a bigger company trying its luck at Pahaoja, with lots of workmen. The luck wasn’t that good… Note the bell that was used to call the workmen to come and eat at mealtimes.


Gold rush to Lemmenjoki area

There had been rumours about gold in Lemmenjoki area for centuries, but no one had found any significant amount there. Then after World War II, in 1945 three brothers decided to try their gold luck in Lemmenjoki even though it was already late autumn.

They found gold! In a couple of days they panned about 30 grams of gold, but had to retreat to Inari village because of the approaching winter and snow. They returned the next summer, and next, and slowly people started to realize there really was gold in this area. In 1948 there were hundreds of gold diggers searching for their luck!

The central place in Lemmenjoki gold digging area is Morgamojan Kultala. The original cabin was built in 1949. It has been removed, but a new cabin was built to the exactly same place in 1975. This cabin has two rooms, and one of them serves as an open wilderness hut and the other as a rental hut.

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Morgamojan Kultala. This side of the cabin is open wilderness hut, the other side is locked, rental hut. You should always store your backpack outside the wilderness hut, to not use up the rather small space there is inside.

This Morgamoja is a small creek that flows to river Lemmenjoki. The three brothers found gold at the lower reaches of the creek, but later the main gold digging area was more to the upriver, where Morgamojan Kultala is situated.

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This is Morgamoja, and you can see an abandoned gold diggers’ chute. In earlier times the tools gold diggers had were spade, pick and pan, and chute. During the last centuries there has been this kind of gold digging in Lemmenjoki, but also gold digging with excavator machines. Excavators are prohibited inside the national park from summer 2020 on, but digging the old way is okay.

Near the point where Morgamoja creek joins river Lemmenjoki there is a place called Kultasatama. ‘Kulta’ is gold and ‘satama’ is harbour. Indeed, this was the harbour of the gold diggers. This was the farthest place you could arrive with a boat. Until here you could get your heavy tools, foodstuff and so on rather easily, but from here up to Morgamojan Kultala and other gold creeks up in the fells you had to carry everything along a steep path.

There is a gold diggers’ cabin at Kultasatama. Even today this cabin is owned by the association of gold diggers, but nowadays it is an open wilderness hut that hikers can use.

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Kultasatama open wilderness hut is owned by an association of gold diggers but maintained by Metsähallitus, who takes care of the Lemmenjoki National Park.

In the beginning of 1950s the gold diggers founded two “airports” to the Lemmenjoki area. For some years part of the food and other stuff needed in the mining area was transported by airplanes, along with the good old boat transportation. Jäkäläpää and Martiniiskonpalo are flat topped treeless fells that were suitable for small aircrafts to land and take off. The gold diggers only marked runways with white markers, and built a small hut to serve as an airport building.

Both of these airport buildings serve today as open wilderness libraries. They both are full of books, and a hiker, or a gold digger, may enter and read as much as he/she wishes.

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Jäkäläpää fell is so flat and even that is could be used as an airstrip. Farther ahead you can see the airport building that is nowadays the most remote library in Finland. The airstrip has not been in use for some time.

Gold digging is rather a special activity in the wildernesses of Lapland, and it has left many very interesting monuments behind! Or, not only behind, for there are still some active gold diggers both in river Ivalojoki area and in Lemmenjoki area.

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