Posts tagged ‘The Arctic Circle’

April 2, 2018

The Arctic Trail – Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi pt4 (mountains and waterfalls)

by backpackingbongos

The Arctic trail starts at Kautokeino in the far north of Norway and heads south for approximately 800 kilometres. It crosses into Finland and Sweden, finishing either in Kvikkjokk (Sweden) or Sulitjelma (Norway). To confuse things the trail has a different name in each of the countries through which it passes. In Norway it is called the Nordkalottruta, in Finland the Kalottireitti, and in Sweden the Nordkalottleden. In English it is simply called the Arctic Trail as the entire 800 kilometres are above of the Arctic Circle. Not to be confused with the Arctic Circle Trail, which is in Greenland!

Part one can be read here.

Part two can be read here.

Part three can be read here.

It was a blessed relief at dawn to escape the claustrophobic confines of the hut. It had been a painful and uncomfortable night, the room hot and stuffy. The rain of the previous day had blown through and it was good to watch the hut recede into the distance.

The Norwegian / Finnish border was a relaxed affair, a large cairn painted yellow and adorned with a reindeer antler. I had no goods to declare so was able to cross unhindered.

A couple of kilometres past the border and the trail passes the wilderness hut at Kopmajoki. In Finland they have a network of wilderness huts which are free to use, more information can be found here.

The hut was extremely homely and I immediately started wishing that I had stayed there the previous night. It had bunks for six people, a gas stove and utensils for cooking, plus a wood burning stove. Outside was a wood store that was filled to the brim with chopped birch wood, and an enclosed privy nearby. The log book indicated that no one had stayed the previous night. The hut itself was absolutely spotless with not a scrap of litter or even any dust on the floor.

I was soon joined by Thomas with whom I had shared the hut the previous night. As the trail that day would go over a 930 metres pass we decided that we would team up to cross it.

The main difference between hiking the Arctic Trail in Norway and Finland are the trail markers. In Norway I was always on the lookout for a painted red T either on rocks or a cairn. In Finland the trail is marked by a short wooden post about thirty centimetres high with a yellow top. I found the Finnish version less visually obtrusive, which really translates as harder to spot!

As we started the long climb up the pass our conversation turned to pack weight, as Thomas was clearly struggling with his. It turned out that he had started his trek with it weighing about 40kg, a weight that I would struggle to lift let alone carry across rough terrain. Much of that weight appeared to be camera gear, including several lenses. My pack at the start had been around 20kg, probably at my limit these days and relatively light considering I had supplies for twelve days.

The trail crossed the wide Goapmajohka and I did a really stupid thing. I focused on keeping my feet dry instead of just wading across. Whilst boulder hopping I lost my footing and fell forwards, straight into the river. Thankfully I went down onto my knees so I remained dry above the waist, however I was soaked from my undies downwards. Thomas was ahead so I avoided the humiliation of my lack of grace being witnessed. I removed my waterproof trousers in the hope that I would slowly drip-dry, even though there was a fine drizzle.

The path was soon lost in a tangle of boulders and the mist came down as we approached the top of the pass. One of us would stand still whilst the other looked for the next marker, this was repeated for what felt like hours. If we weren’t crossing slippery boulders we were standing ankle-deep in water. It was a relief to cross the highest point and squelch down to the next wilderness hut located next to the large lake called Pihtsusjarvi.

The verandah was full of huge rucksacks but there was no one in the hut itself. I peeled off my sopping wet boots and socks and set about making a hot drink and cooked noodles for lunch. It was good to air my feet, even though I knew I would have to put the same soaking items back on again.

As we were about to set off, the owners of some of the rucksacks appeared. They had been up to the summit of Halti, the highest point in Finland, a goal for many Finnish people. The highest point in Finland is at 1,324 metres whilst the actual summit is a kilometre to the north in Norway at 1,365 metres. There had been talk a couple of years ago about Norway gifting the summit to Finland, however it never came to pass. Due to the popularity of the hike the previously empty trail soon became much busier on the way to Kilpisjärvi.

A river flows wide and strong from the lake, becoming an impressive waterfall at Pihtsusköngäs. The power and noise was incredible and we stood mesmerised at the top for a while, becoming soaked by the spray. It’s worth taking a small detour from the main path to get a proper look.

The cloud was slowly lifting again, giving us a good view of the surrounding mountains. This part of Finland is surprisingly rugged.

With much more foot traffic on the trail it became easier to follow, although still exceptionally rough and bouldery. The cumulative effect on my boots was that they looked like the top layer of leather had been sandpapered away.

As the afternoon wore on finding a decent pitch began to look increasingly unlikely. The ground was either solid rock or prickly tent killing vegetation. In the end we found a spot above the river and got the tents up whilst it was still dry. I wandered around for a while waiting for it to air as it was still soaked from being flooded out a couple of days before. It really was a cracking location, especially with the autumn colours which had burst into life.

It rained all night, leaving a residue of low cloud and drizzle the following morning. There was a softness to the light that somehow accentuated the colours of the vegetation and the lichen on the rocks. Everything was slick under foot and we had to shuffle across areas of board walks over marshy areas and impenetrable boulder fields.

The verandah of the locked wilderness hut at Meekonjarvi provided some shelter from the weather whilst we snacked. We could not be bothered with the half mile detour to the open hut. Often the Finnish wilderness huts have an open section and a locked reservable section. In busy areas if you want to be sure of a bed you can reserve in advance for a small fee and pick up the key. Apart from that the facilities look to be the same.

Once again we climbed towards another high pass, this time through a wide valley. To start with there were excellent views but we soon found ourselves swallowed by the mist.

The wilderness hut at Kuonjarjoki loomed out of the clouds just in time for lunch. A pleasant half hour was spent there in the company of some young Finnish men, who patiently answered all my questions about their country. How they managed to remain so clean and well presented after a few days in the mountains amazed me. I was filthy by this stage and was very aware of my unwashed clothes and body in the warmth of the hut.

Thomas decided that he had had enough for the day and wanted to stay in the hut. I was keen to press on so that I could reach the luxury of my booked accommodation as early as possible the following afternoon.

Sadly there were no views from the 950 metre high pass, just more boulders looming out of the mist. It was whilst descending that my mobile suddenly pinged into life, informing me that I had unknowingly been involved in a spot of drama the previous couple of days.

Apparently the two messages I had sent from the hut after injuring my arm had not gone through. My wife, and friends Chrissie and Geoff had been tracking me on Social Hiking via my Spot3 device. When I had reached that hut in Norway at 10.30am I sent two messages and then did not move until early the next day. Because those messages were never received all they knew was that I had stopped moving for some unknown reason. By early evening they started to properly worry and decided to call the Police. Interpol and the Norwegian Police were informed after my wife had lots of fun and games being passed on the phone between various people who were unsure what to do. She informed the Police the following day that I had started moving again, but it appears that no action had been taken anyway!

The moral of the story is that you really should not rely on tracker devices to keep you safe. They are simply an additional tool. Funnily enough the time when I was being reported as missing was when I was in pure agony with my arm. I really would have welcomed a rescue at that point!

I pitched that night just off the trail on the shores of a high lake. The temperature really dropped and there was a damp chill in the air. Mist covered the surrounding hills, sometimes drifting just a few metres above the water. It was an atmospheric place to spend the last night on the trail. A few people passed me during the evening heading for the wilderness hut at Saarijärvi.

The trail the following day continued to be tricky underfoot, constant boulders meant that it was hard to really stride out. As I once again crossed the border into Norway and then back into Finland I could almost smell civilisation. I passed a few day hikers, the first I had seen on the entire trip, their scent of soap and detergent strong after so many days in the wilds.

As the trail descended I was once again in the birch forests which were ablaze with colour. Part of me really wanted to spend time and savour the last few kilometres, whilst the other part was keen for a shower, fresh food and a comfy bed.

I had splashed out in advance and booked an apartment in kilpisjärvi for a couple of nights. I apologised for my smell when I entered the homely reception area. The owner said that it was normal for people in the area to smell like ‘nature’. I was soon sat on the balcony with a pizza and cold beer, both pleased and relieved to have completed one of my toughest treks yet. In a couple of years I plan to return and continue on down the Arctic Trail.

The paper map that I used on this segment is the 1:50,000 Halti / Kilpisjärvi by Karttakeskus. It’s an excellent map and nearly as good as Ordnance Survey in detail. A step up from the Norwegian maps used on previous segments.

Whilst hiking I shared my route live on Social Hiking. That route can be found here and viewable on Google maps.

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October 10, 2017

The Arctic Trail – Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi pt2 (gorges and waterfalls)

by backpackingbongos

The Arctic trail starts at Kautokeino in the far north of Norway and heads south for approximately 800 kilometres. It crosses into Finland and Sweden, finishing either in Kvikkjokk (Sweden) or Sulitjelma (Norway). To confuse things the trail has a different name in each of the countries through which it passes. In Norway it is called the Nordkalottruta, in Finland the Kalottireitti, and in Sweden the Nordkalottleden. In English it is simply called the Arctic Trail as the entire 800 kilometres are above of the Arctic Circle. Not to be confused with the Arctic Circle Trail, which is in Greenland!

Part one can be read here.

It took ages for the sun to reach the frozen tent, birch trees casting shadows over my pitch. It had been cold enough over night to turn water bottles and boots to ice. I dragged everything into the sun to allow the condensation to dry whilst I ate breakfast. The frost had finished off the insects of the previous evening, so it was nice to sit outside unmolested.

The trail that day was much easier to follow, first through birch trees and then climbing across low fells. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, cool and breezy and the bluest of blue skies.

The surrounding hills rose to around 600 metres and the landscape for a while reminded me of parts of the Grampians in Scotland. Once above the trees the path became firmer and for the first time it was actually possible to see it snaking off into the distance.

Sitting against a boulder, boots off and enjoying the sun I spotted a lone figure far down the trail. Initially I thought that it was a reindeer until I realised it was a biped with a long wooden pole. It looked strange at first as I had not seen another person hiking in the five days since leaving civilisation. As a self-confessed misanthropic hill walker I was surprised to find myself looking forward to having a brief conversation. It turned out to be a German guy who had walked the entire Nordkalottleden trail from Sulitjelma. With a tiny canvas backpack, checked shirt, Lundhags boots and wooden staff he looked like he had stepped straight out of the eighteenth century. He had walked the Nordkalottleden before and I was glad when he confirmed that the worst bit of the trail was behind me.

I asked if the DNT hut at Nedrefosshytta was locked and he confirmed that it was, a shame as I didn’t have the DNT key. He said that another German guy was a couple of kilometres ahead of me and was heading to the hut. He recommended staying the night as it was very comfortable and even had a sauna! He also let me know that there was a free hut before the DNT one that was meant to be good.

The trail began to descend back into the birch forest, with tantalising glimpses of the Reisadalen gorge and the mountains on its western side.

The map indicated the small hut just off the trail and close to the Luvddijdjohka river. I walked to the spot where it should have been and found nothing, even using my GPS to confirm my position. I walked in ever-widening circles and was just about to give up when I spotted a small structure at the bottom of a steep loose bank. I left my pack and went down to investigate. My nose confirmed what I thought it would be, I had found the privy, now just to find the hut.

Close to the river the vegetation was thick and jungle like. I walked towards the river and spotted a chimney poking out of what looked like a dense patch of trees, shrubs and grass.

I was expecting it to perhaps be a disused and overgrown Sami hut but when I walked round to the front I had a very pleasant surprise. It was like I had died and gone to hut heaven!

A stack of seasoned wood was in the open porch along with a new and sharp axe. The door was unlocked and the interior was both rustic and pristine. I was worried that I had entered someones private cabin, but a log book confirmed that it was available to anyone that can find it.

I set about unpacking and then lighting the stove which had been set by the previous occupants. It was a great opportunity to wash in hot water and wash and dry my trail stained and stinking clothes. The tiny hut was soon an explosion of kit, a mini sauna of dripping laundry.

Later as the sun was setting I climbed back up the steep bank to watch its descent behind the mountains. I stood for a while marvelling at the beauty and silence, my breath rising in the quickly cooling air.

I spent a while splitting wood after dinner, making sure that I replaced what I had used. I had to let the stove go out after going to bed as it was too efficient for the small cabin. I’m sure that it would be hugely appreciated when the temperatures drop to minus thirty in winter.

The lively river outside provided a noisy symphony to fall asleep to and I felt a bit restless wondering if someone would join me for the night. I woke and went outside after midnight for the loo and was treated to a small display of the northern lights.

It was great to put on clean clothes and pack dry kit the following morning. I made sure that the cabin was as I found it and walked back to the trail.

As I descended towards the Reisadalen the scenery became more dramatic, the trail beginning its long descent to the floor of the gorge. In the space of a few kilometres I went from sparse open forest and heath to being hemmed in by rock walls and thick vegetation. All the time I could hear the main river getting louder and louder.

There was a section where the trail is forced up above the river to traverse a loose and crumbling cliff face. Thankfully there were sections of wire bolted into the cliffs to give a handrail of sorts. With a large pack I found the going a bit hairy in places and didn’t dare let go and risk a photo. The trail then traversed some large scree slopes with big drops to the river below. None of this was particularly difficult but I did realise that I was on my own and a very long way from civilisation.

I was glad to see the wooden suspension bridge that would allow me to cross from the east to west side of the valley.

It was surprisingly bouncy and felt a long way above a particularly deep and dark section of river. I kept my eyes straight ahead and did not look down!

The DNT hut of Nedrefosshytta was firmly locked so I sat in the porch and had a snack after peering through all of the windows. It did look particularly plush inside and at around £15 a night looked to be very good value. When I return to Norway I’ll make sure that I join the DNT and obtain a key.

Just as I was leaving I met a French guy walking in the opposite direction. He was completing the trail in one go and gave me a few tips for the route ahead. He was travelling with a small pack and trailshoes and was quick to point out the trouble he had with snow earlier on in his hike. He said that his trailshoes had made crossing deep and steep snow difficult.

The highlight of a visit to Reisadalen is the Mollisfossen waterfall. This has a total drop of  269 metres (883 feet) and plunges over the cliffs of the canyon. I heard it long before I could see it as initially it is hidden by cliffs.

Sadly it is located on the other side of the river which is far too deep and strong to even attempt to cross. I had to be content to view it from a distance. Even so it was pretty impressive.

I had read of the difficulty of walking through Reisadalen due to the vegetation and possibility of the river flooding the path. I can imagine that this vegetation obscures the path early in the summer and it would be a tough bush whack to get through. However by September lots of feet had bashed a path through the tall ferns and it was mostly easy to follow. Thankfully it was dry as you would otherwise get absolutely soaked!

Easy walking was punctuated with sections of boulders that require careful footwork. These were slow and tiring and as the day progressed I was always on the look out for somewhere to sit.

Being a Friday there were a few boats going up and down the river, shuttling hikers (and dogs) up to Nedrefosshytta. An excellent way to travel deep into the National Park. With the river being low it looked like the boatmen were having difficulty in picking a route. They were travelling in long motorised canoes with plastic garden chairs for the passengers.

I had planned to stop and pitch at Sieimma with its locked hut, fireplaces and picnic area. However the area was a mess and full of rubbish so I decided to push on. Being Friday evening there was also the risk of folks coming later by boat.

I did wonder if I would regret carrying on as the path turned rocky again. After spotting a tent sized patch of flattened vegetation I did not hesitate to pitch. It was a beautiful spot underneath a big old pine tree, cliffs to the rear and the river in front.

A couple of boats passed after dark and later on there were a couple of what sounded like gun shots echoing down the valley. Apart from that it was a comfortable night, insect free and with the door of the tent left open.

Being close to a river and surrounded by vegetation I was expecting everything to be soaked by condensation in the morning. Strangely it was the driest morning of the whole trip, even the flysheet was bone dry. I got up knowing that the weather was forecast to break later that evening. The plan was to get as far as possible to shorten a high and exposed section the following day. I cooked and ate breakfast outside, not knowing that it would be the last time I would be able to do so on this trip. The weather was soon going to be a major factor, both in terms of safety and enjoyment.

I walked the final 10 kilometres to the dirt road at Saraelv, which my map marked as a settlement. My hope would be that there was a small cafe or somewhere to buy a coffee and some snacks. There was nothing! I had enough food but my appetite had increased and I wanted a little extra to satisfy the permanent hunger. It’s not easy carrying 12 days food and ensuring a full belly.

The trail follows the dirt road for a short distance before a sign points the way back into the mountains. Having dropped down to only 100 metres above sea level I knew that it would be an upwards slog. I stopped for a while at a very impressive waterfall and nervously crept to the edge of a terrifying drop to the river far below.

As I climbed higher pine made way for birch once more, yellow in their autumn glory. The landscape that I was in reminded me of the Scottish Highlands, but with the addition of trees on the lower slopes. With both countries having a similar climate (with Norway being even harsher) there is definite scope for re-wilding in Scotland. Instead we seem hell bent on destroying that landscape, the feeling of wildness disappearing at an alarming rate.

Above 500 metres the last of the trees were left behind and I plodded upwards under an increasingly leaden sky. Finding a place to pitch became increasingly difficult, the vegetation short but spiky.  A patch of relatively flat bilberry between two streams was adequate in the end, rocks being used to secure guy lines in the strengthening wind. I got my gear in the tent and went to fetch water just as the first spots of rain began to fall. The good weather on this trip was now behind me.

The paper maps that I used on this segment are the red covered Norge-serien 10165 Guovdageaidnu and 10154 Reisadalen.

Whilst hiking I shared my route live on Social Hiking. That route can be found here and viewable on Google maps.

If you’re interested in following this route on an electronic topo map they are in order below. You can click to view them full size.