Introduction

Finland currently has thirty national parks, ranging from four (Rokua national park, between Oulu and Kajaani) to 2.855 square kilometres (Lemmenjoki national park, south-west of Inari).

The Uhro Kekkonen national park ranges 2.500 square kilometres and was established in 1983. It is Finland’s second largest and covers an area from Raututunturit-Saariselkä in the northwest to the large forested areas of Savukoski and Nuorttijoki in the southeast.

The northern part consist of a barren wilderness area of fells, ravines and steep slopes, with comparatively few plant species and plenty of treeless tundra. Forest wilderness with isolated fells, Scots pine stands, spruce forests blanketed with moss and extensive open bog areas make up the southern part of the park.

The park shows evidence of human habitation in the form of pit traps for wild reindeer, round-up fences for domesticated reindeer, cabins and restored Sami settlements. Reindeer herding is nowadays the most important occupation in the park and will remain its special status here.

Friday 11th of September 1998:

Niilanpää porokämppä

On arrival at Kiilopää, we hurried for the visitor’s centre. The initial cold had urged Merja to add a few layers of clothing. This centre is rather expensive in its food and supplies, good thing that we had not forgotten anything!

We decided to take a last cup of tea and a sandwich before setting off into the cold wilderness towards our first goal, Rautulampi. There are two routes to this cabin, an ‘eastern’ and a ‘southern’ one, either way is twelve kilometres. Since we had arrived rather late (17.10) we agreed on taking the southern route, because this would pass along a reindeer round-up camp where we might be able to stay overnight, after just four kilometres of hiking. The eastern route does not offer any shelter until one reaches Rautulampi itself after twelve kilometres.

Just outside the visitor’s centre is a scale where eager hikers can weigh their equipment. My backpack weighed seventeen and a half kilos on the spot. Merja’s was estimated at seven kilos. For a while we toyed with the idea of staying at the Sami style cabin some thirty metres from the visitor’s centre. Although the smouldering fire and the reindeer skins were inviting we headed for the trail and were on our way.

The road looked too broad for a hiking trail, in my opinion anyway. If the road was going to be like this for the days to come, I just might loose interest in the whole trip.

Autumn colours and scattered fungi on both sides of the road took that feeling away soon enough though. To our left we could see lichen and other small vegetation, including various edible berries like lingon- and blueberry, creeping up the slopes of Kiilopää hill (546 m) until growth was no longer possible due to height. The right side showed trees in the distance, but these were clouded in mist.

After about thirty minutes, a sign made it clear that we had walked two kilometres so far. Thus, we were doing four kilometres per hour. Not so bad, considering that we were on a leisure trip, rather than focused on breaking speed records.

Although speed and time were unknown factors to us, I anxiously looked around for the reindeer round-up camp after an hour of walking. I had taken a watch with me so that we would not miss the bus from Raja-Jooseppi to Ivalo, which only goes once a weekday. Foolishly, I was wearing it on my wrist. Nevertheless, the camp was an hours walk from where we started. One could simply pass it and not notice it because it appeared to have been burned down some time ago. Behind the surviving fences to the right I saw a small cabin and figured that this might be the place where we could stay overnight.

By this time Merja was maybe as much as five hundred metres behind me and I knew for a fact that she had not seen me leave the road for the cabin, so I had to be sure to go back for her in time. As I came closer to the cabin I could see a glow of light through the window and assumed others to be there as well. Once I had entered, I noticed two rooms. From the one right in front of me, I heard the unwelcome notification that that room was full. So much for hospitality and friendship towards your fellow tired hiker! The room to the left had a more inviting atmosphere with two elderly Finns and some foreign students. After the initial ‘hellos’ I placed my backpack on the floor, drank some fresh water, and went out to find Merja.

Merja was greeted with the same ‘welcome’ from the first room, which she had tiredly entered, but the cosy, warm second room made her warm up as well.

All the bunks were occupied so we would have to sleep on the floor and could only hope that our mattresses would be comfortable enough. Time was closing in on 19.30 and we were longing for something warm. Some tea and fire-heated sausages would do wonders. The cabin did not have any running water and because the bucket of fresh water was seemingly empty, there was no alternative but to walk four hundred metres to a creek and walk back again. The temperature outside had dropped to about 1 degree Celsius, without the wind-chill factor taken into consideration. Two hundred metres along the path I had visions of hikers being pursued by brown bears and I had left my hunting-knife at the cabin, so I was quite defenceless in case of an encounter of any kind. Not that it would have helped much anyway!

It was not clear in which direction I had to go. There was water to my left, but I had not walked four hundred metres yet. I tried my luck and found running water. However, the stream was not deep enough for the bucket to fill with clear, fresh water. There was however, an old enclosed fireplace. Dry inside and wood available for a nice warming fire. If we could not stay at the cabin, we could always go here. I continued my way and found a deeper place to take water. On my return to the cabin, Merja had some sausages ready and I gorged on them as she prepared tea.

As I walked back I had seen a couple pitching a tent outside the cabin, so I told Merja about this, and we decided to quickly lay out our mattresses before someone else might fill up the room. The only place left for us, without risking being trembled over by anyone during the night, was halfway under the only table. We placed our mattresses and sleeping bags in a V-formation and prepared ourselves for an early retirement. People seem to start sleeping rather early in these cabins. Maybe due to tiredness, but most likely because of lack of light. Merja tried in vain to read some magazine by the fading light of the burning wood in the open fireplace. Soft snoring sounds made me drift off towards sleep in no time.

Just before midnight, Merja woke me up. The howling wind and gushing rain had kept her from going to the toilet, some 50 metres from the cabin, but now she could not fence the calls of nature off any further. The darkness, wind, rain, and possible abduction by alien life forms could not be concurred by my mini-flashlight alone. I had to come along. In my state of half-sleep I told her to go alone or piss just outside the cabin. She finally hung herself halfway out of the front door and got the job done.

Saturday 12th of September 1998:

Rautulampi

Consequently to an early sleep is an early rise. Most people leave these cabins between 08.00 and 09.00 in the early morning. It had been a long while since we had risen so early, but the smell of porridge and tea could not keep us asleep much longer.

The weather had been quite bad during the night but by now, it had stopped raining and the wind had dropped as well. The temperature however was a mere 4 degrees Celsius. As I stood outside enjoying the fresh morning cold, one of the shivering foreign students started to chat with me. They were a group of nine who had just recently arrived in Helsinki on an Erasmus student-exchange program. Due to some schedule problems they had some extra time on their hands and used it for a hiking trip. If I remember correctly they were 2 Italians, 2 Spaniards, 2 French, 1 Portuguese, 1 German, and 1 Taiwanese. They had been hiking for four days now and were leaving for Helsinki later today. In my opinion they were rather poorly prepared and perhaps run out of food, since they hardly ate and shared one big cup of tea among three or four of them.

Merja missed her morning porridge and –naturally– complained about it. The couple in the tent was on the end of their trip and gladly donated the last of their porridge to Merja, so that she would have some for the days to come.

By 09.15 all had left and Merja and I had time to explore the cabin. She found some leftover macaroni and bouillon-blocks and thought it a good idea to take some of it along. Although she had complained the night before that “this is the first and the last time” she would sleep in a cabin, she apparently wanted to continue.

Our next goal was a cabin named ‘Rautulampi’ on the northern shore of a lake with the same name. This would be an approximate 8 kilometres hike, but I had seen a shorter way in a straight line across the hills. That would be our road for the day.

This shorter road was not difficult to find. We had merely walked 500 metres as I noticed the road going up the hill to the left of us. Small forms of vegetation grew along the slopes, but the line of rocks distinguished the road from its surroundings. Weak sporting shoes were of no use here. It pleased me to know that we had bought Merja sturdy hiking shoes not so long before. She might have preferred the softer and lighter sporting shoes on some of the roads, but not on this one. Balancing my way up I neared the summit, or so I thought. Sure, I had checked the map but after thinking to see the top, another one revealed itself. We were not even halfway! According to the map we should pass and cross a small stream. I never found it. A dried-out bedding was probably what the map had indicated as such.

Two different people, two different speeds. I was a few hundred metres ahead of Merja and looked behind me occasionally to see if she was still on the path and ok. Sometimes I had to wait long enough until I saw her figure emerge on the last top behind me. Of course, she was able to follow the path, but it is a good idea to look back once in a while and see if she had not hurt herself or something.

A group of three people came in sight in front of me. Ah, we had to be on the right track, or at least on one others use as well. Two of them left the path to the right, left for me, presumably on their way to Kiilopää. The third one followed the path. He was a middle-aged man, Finn obvious by his outfit, who greeted me on the fly-by. After this encounter, I had finally passed the final top and it was downhill all the way. In front of me to the right, I could see what would be the southern part of the lake Rautulampi. On the hill to my right, I could see the original road, the one we would have taken had we not opted for the shortcut. After the rocks, the sight of trees was a welcome change. It looked a lot warmer than the cold, windy and barren tops we had just past.

Merja was quite far behind me, so I waited until I could see her before pushing on. The shortcut road ended upon the popular day-trippers trail between the Rautulampi and Luulampi cabins. I had to cross a running stream though, but that was no great effort. I could not see Merja and since I had our only map with me, I left a sign for her so that she would understand to follow the path to the right. This of course was not necessary, but one cannot be careful enough.

Smoke was rising from the cabin’s chimney, a tent stood to its right on the banks of the lake, so it was inhabited or at least being used. I was the only one inside, but the tent-dwellers came in soon enough to prepare their meal. Figuring that Merja might be quite hungry, a nice meal of macaroni and cheese would do just fine, and I had it ready by the time she came in.

After our meal, we rested a while and Merja actually laid out her sleeping bag in order to get some ‘shut-eye’. The cabin was quiet and desolate and I lost myself in James. A. Michener’s “The Covenant”. After a while however others disturbed us, some older people who had hiked from ‘Lankojärvi’, a good 7-km to the east. Where I had planned on staying overnight. By the time Merja woke up and was addressable again, she wanted more coffee and maybe some more bread. Now Merja is a chatter and started to talk to anyone who just happened to be around. At this time, they were just two independent hikers who had appeared during her nap: a rather overweight girl and a young man who seemed to have carried all his worldly possessions along on his back. This was the first time we encountered him. While he was preparing his food, with the help of all kinds of kitchen utensils that nobody would even think of of carrying along, Merja learned that he had started in Raja-Jooseppi, our final destination, or so I still hoped. According to him, all the cabins along the route were rather over-crowded. This was the second time –since last night– that Merja was discouraged in continuing.

Up until now I had simply continued reading and agreed to everything that was said, but now the young man started to eat. He had the ability to breathe, eat, and swallow at the same time! The sounds he made during his lunch were so disgusting that it genuinely takes away one’s appetite. Everyone present seemed to look the other way as if preoccupied with something else and not hearing this person enjoying his meal.

The cabin itself was very basic: a gas stove, a fireplace and some hard bunks with one on a higher level and a big table in the middle. The fact that there was a wilderness telephone, only to be used in case of an emergency, made it modern in a way. Traditional with these places is the outside toilet: a wooden shed with a hole in the middle of a plateau and – traditionally– no toilet paper (we always bring our own). Situated at the shore of a small lake and a fast running stream to the north, fresh water in abundance.

The weather was so inviting to go out that I could not resist it any longer; I had to take a hike. When I arrived I saw a hill to the north of the lake and wanted to climb it from that moment on. Merja had definitely decided to stay overnight at this cabin, so I told her I would just go out for a little hike up that hill.

I ascended the hill as the soft vegetation gave way under my weight. Moss, various lichen and numerous edible berries were at my feet and I bent down at regular intervals to pick some. At some parts, the route I made was steep enough to pick berries by simply stretching my arms out in front of me.

Foolishly, I had forgotten the lesson I had leaned earlier this day about the top of hills being further away than the eye can see from the bottom. The same thing happened here as well. After I had left the vegetable parts behind me and thought that I had reached the top, another slope revealed itself to me. This one was dry, outstretched, and carpeted towards a few ‘tops’ in three different directions. I choose the highest as my next waypoint.

As I reached the next top, I had a magnificent view of the valleys and other tops around me. Are not such views always ‘magnificent’? ‘Why?’ I asked myself. Perhaps because of the fact that one has to go far out of one’s normal way in order to get there and view them? Or is it because it takes a hell of a lot of effort to reach them, like climbing all the way up without the general direction of a path?

To my right was a pool filled with water, probably leftover snow. On closer examination, the pool became the hollow top of a large rock. Who knows how many times it has been filled with water, melted snow? Perhaps a thousand times perhaps tens of thousands of times. I guess a lot anyway. I took my cup from my jacket-pocket and filled it with the clear fresh snow-water. It was bitterly cold, but pleasantly refreshing.

From the boulder on which I sat enjoying the water and the view, I could see a cabin on the slopes of another hilltop rising to the right of me. I wished to go there and explore. It did not seem to be along a regular route or so, maybe it was deserted. Man, I would want to stay overnight there then.

As I neared the end of the small plateau I was on I saw that in order to reach the cabin I would have to climb down from where I was standing, cross a valley and climb the next mountain up towards the cabin. No doubt in my mind that I could have made it, but I had already been gone for quite some time now. I decided to keep the view of the cabin as an image to treasure and nothing more than that.

From my viewpoint, I could see a small river, or at least its bedding, run through the valley in the general direction I would follow back to the cabin where Merja was waiting for me. I climbed down towards it and realised that it was indeed more bedding than a river. Water ran through the bedding, cold and drinkable, but it was nothing more than just a small stream. I followed it in the direction I thought I had to go. Walking through the bedding took away all points of orientation and so I had to rely on intuition. I had never been here before, so there was no road, tree, or bush to recognise. From the mountaintop, I could see the mountains surrounding the cabin, but now I could not see any of these. I continued anyway, I could always backtrack my route if that became necessary.

The river seemed to end in a pool and so it forced me to climb through bushes and slightly uphill to my right. Not that I had found a track or something there, but I continued onwards. From my higher viewpoint, I saw that I was, or should be, in a second valley and according to me; this was the one leading to the Rautulampi-lake and thus back to the cabin. A fast-gushing stream was flowing in the direction I had placed the lake. A muddy track ran alongside it and I decided to follow it. I still had not spotted the cabin though! At one point I had to cross the stream and in order not to get my hiking-shoes soaking wet –I could have taken them off and waded through– I balanced my way over several rocks just below the surface and a partly overhanging trunk. I made it to the other side dry, but the risk of falling in the stream was worth the kick. On this side the track continued and it was not until I was as close as fifty metres that I saw the cabin again. I guess my intuition and orientation-techniques were quite accurate after all!

As night fell the other trekkers from the gathered tents outside began to drop in to make their dinners. A group of four elderly Fins from the Raahe area were quite talkative and were very proud of their laavu-like tent. It was nothing more than a lean-to-shelter with aluminium poles and extremely lightweight. However, since it was custom designed and made, I supposed rather expensive as well.

I could not help overhearing a young couple quietly speaking in Flemish and when they asked if anyone could speak English I replied in Flemish that that was indeed the case. After the preliminary chitchat, they told me that this was their first night out in the wilderness, which I had already concluded. The question “Can anyone use this gas-stove?,” was a dead give-away. They had forgotten to take fuel for their MSR-stove along with them. I offered them some of my lamp oil –our stoves could use the same fuel–, but they feared that they would run out of it along the trip, so they planned on walking back to Kiilopää tomorrow and try to get a sufficient supply of fuel; amateurs.

By now Merja had steadfastly set her mind on no longer walking to Raja-Jooseppi. Luulampi as the next cabin was a better choice according to her and closer by. We would see in the morning. Merja had laid her mattress on the higher bunk and mine was right underneath. After the candles had died out and their mysterious glows were now longer visible, the pitch-darkness brought swift sleep to the cabin and its surroundings.

Sunday 13th of September 1998:

Taajostupa

What I hate most about these cabins is the lack of privacy. Before you wake up someone might come in and start making their breakfast while you still have to get in your clothes! But then again, how do they like it to start eating in other people’s morning-smells?

Merja took her time –as usual– and by the time we were ready to leave and had finally decided on our route, fresh day-trippers were already coming in. We set out along the route backtracking part of what we had walked the day before. As I mentioned before there is a popular route between the Luulampi and Rautulampi cabins, we simply followed it towards Luulampi and from there we would see where to go on. According to my guidebook, this Luulampi cabin is a popular one and by no means did I plan to stay overnight there.

Halfway along the route was a fireplace; at least that is what the map indicated. However, by the time we came to it, we both agreed that ‘fireplace’ was rather an overstatement. After about two more kilometres, the valley through which we were walking spread its rich blanket of fresh berries out in front of us. While I waited for Merja, I collected some of them and had a nice freshly picked supply ready for her by the time she caught up.

A fast running river was our next obstacle. It would not be much of an obstacle, were it not for the bad state of its bridge across. I had to steady myself in the water with my hiking-poles. After this, we came upon a car-road from Kiilopää to Luulampi. Not that there are cars allowed in this area, but I guess that the forestry organisation uses it for maintenance purposes. The last few metres to the cabin gave us our first glance of reindeer husbandry, we had to go through a fence in order to get there. The fences keep the reindeer inside their own zone, so that they do not go wandering about everywhere. I guess that the reindeer herders trust the tourists enough to close the fences after their passing. Or maybe not, because this one was made out of a few hanging pieces of plastic so that those who pass do not have to do anything to the fence. The others that we went through later were gates made out of long poles of birch wood that had to be replaced after passing through. We always placed them back and never found an open gate. The reindeer herders must trust the serious hikers then.

The Luulampi cabin was all that the guidebook said it would be, busy, noisy, big and full of day-trippers. The toilet was overfull and reeked of previous usage, somehow all the day-trippers wanted to have their own log-fires going and so there were no free places anymore. We used the fireplace inside the largest of the cabins –the main one– and ate some sausages. We definitely did not want to stay here any longer than was needed for a short rest. Our next destination would be the Taajostupa, some four kilometres to the east.

The road from Luulampi to Taajostupa was of the kind I like the most. Steep slopes with water gushing through the ravines. Small scarcely walk-able paths, where rocks and fallen trees constantly block your way.

The path wrinkled along over rocks and trees. Some of which were rotten enough to fall into the river beneath. According to the map, on both boulders of the river should be a path, but I never saw the one on the other side.

A group of three women came walking into my direction. All said their ‘Terves’ and we all went our own ways again. Looking towards the other side, I noticed a small cave about three metres above the surface of the river. I would not mind climbing down there and camp out. Meditating on the sounds of the river, no ‘Om’ necessary.

Ever since leaving Luulampi, one thing had been bothering me from time to time. Now it came over me again and I toyed with the idea of giving in. But the idea of dropping my pants, emptying my bowels and continuing did not appeal to me knowing that Merja and probably others as well were on the trail. I would not be able to relax. I did have a book with me though. I decided to keep it all in and savour the idea of relief until the Taajostupa cabin. It should not be too far away. Luckily I was right.

I saw the cabin evolve through the trees at a distance of about fifty metres. A big log cabin with various smaller buildings shattered around. My bowels were at ease now so that I did not immediately have to run to the toilet. I entered the cabin and had a nice log-fire going by the time Merja finally stepped in.

A warm cosy smouldering fire from the fireplace gave the cabin a heartily atmosphere. No sounds other than from the birds outside and the running river penetrated the cabin. Since no-one but Merja was around I explored what the cabin had to offer. The gas-stove was in perfect working order and there was a generous supply of kitchen-utensils. We had our own though, but the fact that they were there for anyone to use made me feel at home. Fresh cold water came from the river, which we also used to wash ourselves in.

The thing I noticed though was that the cabin appeared very dark. The windows were small and the high trees surrounding it, did not give much way to the rays of the blasting sun. However, our moments of freedom did not last very long. The food-crunching young man had found his way here and intended on spending the night as well. Well, another few disgusting meals to look forward to!

While Merja was having a nap on the top-beds, I tried to make conversation with our new friend. Unfortunately he did not speak much English. In the guest-book a group of four Italians had noted that they had seen a wolf close to the cabin, just a few days before. I told him about this and he agreed that it could be possible. Good thing Merja was asleep; she would not have gone outside alone anymore! Just as we were discussing the possibility of a wolf-encounter we heard voices outside and the first thing we saw was a St. Bernhard with its own backpack. The dog was hiking with its owners and it carried its own food on its back. In the wilderness it is every man, and dog for himself.

Later in the evening we again heard voices, but these were foreign and finally we saw two tired and anxious looking men in full hiking gear wearing heavy backpacks. They entered and asked if they could stay the night as well. Of course! They took the second room, which doubled as a form of buffer between the main entrance and the room where Merja and I were. They had their own stove in that room as well and in no-time did they heat it up till sauna-like temperatures.

As it became darker and darker, they came into our room as well, to make their dinner and have some coffee with the rest of us. They had started on this very day and had arrived by train in Rovaniemi from Helsinki somewhere early this morning, directly boarded a bus north and here they were. They were still at home in the Czech Republic just the day before. By the glowing light of the log-fire we told each other hiking-stories and exchanged information on the tracks. After smoking a cigar with one of them outside on the porch it was time to get a night’s rest.

Monday 14th of September 1998:

Kivipää

After a peaceful night we woke early. Sounds invaded our room from the adjoining Czechs’ room. Food-munching’s snoring had stopped and coffee was boiling on the stove.

We had not really figured out where to go from here. I wanted to go onwards to a cabin called ‘Kivipää’, but Merja said that it would be closed, since the map indicated it as a rental cabin during the winter. Some cabins are rented –i.e. closed– in wintertime, but open during the summer months. After the muncher had convinced Merja that it would be open, we made our plan accordingly. The map showed no direct route from Taajostupa to Kivipää, so we would have to make our own –my way– until we reached one that was indicated as such, somewhere far to the east. The river we were at now flowed in that direction, we had only to follow it to a valley on the north between two hills leading to the cabin. Even though Merja was still not too convinced about my abilities to find our way without a direct road and road-signs, we were soon ‘en route’.

The fast-flowing river next to Taajostupa we had to cross and in doing so we had our first negative experience of the day that would come and go in the hours that followed many times over: wet shoes.

Soft, wet moss beneath our feet, high trees all around us. Everything was fresh and green. Hilltops to our left and, across the river, to our right. One could easily get lost here; navigation was difficult again. The tall trees made it difficult to see which hilltop was which, but the river was a great and comforting help.

We saw evidence of wild –or domesticated– reindeer in dropped antlers. A nice small one stands proudly on top of my printer now. We could have taken more, but one was enough to add to our burden.

A swampy area, or at least a very wet area, made us change our route towards the north earlier than we had planned. We climbed through the reindeer-fence and in doing so tried to find our way to higher and presumably dryer ground.

Sounds in front of us made us aware that we were not alone. Three reindeer with rather light furs stood grazing at a distance of about fifty metres. We could hear their bells and breathing. But they ran of as soon as they were aware of our presence.

Even though we were advancing up to higher ground, the forest-floor was far from being dry. We were walking away from the river and so we became increasingly aware of the sounds of the forest. Woodpeckers stood at the top of natures concert-hall, they dominated all.

Walking up this hill my mind wandered of towards lost aeroplanes. Perhaps I would hike upon some evidence of the Second World War. A plane had been found in eastern Finland not so long ago, with the pilot’s skeleton still inside.

Merja was not too far behind me as I stumbled upon the top. It was time for a little picnic. We still had some apples left and our water bottles were filled with fresh, cold river water. The refreshments were badly needed.

From the top I was able to see –at least I thought so– the hills surrounding the Kivipää-cabin. The map indicated a road towards it on the northern side of the hill to my right. If I could find the stream close to it –by simply crossing the valley between me and the hill– I could find the road.

We started downhill towards the stream. After a short while I found a nearby dry river bedding. Thinking it to be the searched after stream we crossed it, only to stumble upon the real one which happened to be too wide to cross and too deep to wade through. We discussed this problem a little and decided to follow the river bedding. Next to the cabin was a lake; we figured the bedding to flow into that direction. We were quite right, but we were still not exactly on dry ground.

The bedding ended in a sort of swampy area –again–, which we crossed towards the eastern slope of the hill to our left by actually following a track. Small, but still a track, maybe just a reindeer track, but a track indeed towards dry ground. Our feet were soaked to the bone by now and Merja had already changed socks several times. As we followed the track and entered the thick forest to where it led we again had problems keeping our bearings. Once in a while I would wander of to the east and saw the hills and supposed lakes that were indicated on the map and was thus able to direct our direction further. In front of us was a small boulder from upon which I had our first glance of the lake next to the cabin. It was surrounded by thick forest and a misty cloud made it impossible to see the tops of the hills. Continuing further I hoped for a small track on the southern shore of the lake where we would be able to cross since we were still on the wrong side of the valley.

By now I could see the cabin and this made us both anxious to get there, We were quite wet and getting a little cold. There was no road –of course not–, so we tried our luck through the swampy areas and streams. Tough luck, no dry places there either, so we simply waded through and after a few bold steps we were finally on the other side and on dry land at last.

Smoke was rising through the chimney and a backpack was hanging outside next to the cabin, we would not be alone here either. One man was sitting inside who was rather surprised that we had found the cabin at all and rather annoyed that we had!

The cabin was a one-room affair with a small entrance. A table and two benches, a gas-stove and a wooden-stove for warmth, the bunks were as wide as the cabin –about 4 metres– and two above each other. About ten people would be able to stay overnight here. Who cares if the black-aura’d guy was there, we had just as much right as him to be here, I hoped for him that a large group of –preferably– German or Italian tourists would show up, just to irritate him!

The Germans or Italians never came; three Finnish women joined us and luckily changed the dark, negative atmosphere. After they had started making their dinner we did just the same, the peering eyes of Mr. Negative-attitude no longer kept us from doing so.

I enjoyed walking bare-foot around here, inside as well as outside. I did the dishes standing bare-foot in the –rather cold– lake. Splashing its cold fresh water over my face was an exhilarating experience that I repeated many times over that and the following day.

After dinner Merja had a talk with the women about the way they had come to the cabin. They had come by the way we were to go tomorrow. Maps were drawn, my lamps batteries were drained, and compasses were consulted. We would surely find our way tomorrow.

Tuesday 15th of September 1998:

Valvontatupa Lutto

Morning broke differently than usual; the sun was missing. A great mist hung over the lake and it was impossible to see the other side. Navigation would be very difficult indeed. It looked like perfect GPS-weather today; unfortunately I was without.

Mr. Dark-aura had left first, without a word of course. The three women left shortly after and as usual Merja and I were to leave last and have the cabin to ourselves for a while. I re-started the fire and we enjoyed an early brunch under its warmth. There was some leftover food in this cabin as well, but we left it for those who might need it, since we still had enough with us. After I had replaced the wood we had used for our morning-fire we were ready to go as well. One replaces the wood one uses; at least it is good practise. One of the most annoying things is to find no freshly cut dry wood when one arrives cold and tired in a cabin and have to take care of this immediately, because some selfish bastard deprived you off it.

According to the map we would have to climb a hill about three kilometres to the north, the so-called ‘Paskatunturi’ or ‘Shit-hill’ in clear English. Turn left at the top, between shit-hill and ‘Kivipää’ (stone-hill) and follow that direction until we found a river running between the slopes of two other hills and cross it, or something as simple as that.

The road we had tried to find the previous day continued behind the cabin to the north, in our direction. It was a small track that followed the slopes of the hill to our right. The area we walked through was densely filled with vegetation on both sides. Berries in abundance again!

Gradually the track ended and no longer was there an easy path to follow. The way we continued was going up the slope in front of us, this had to be the one we had to climb and turn left on at the top. The vegetation grew more scarcely as I ascended. Merja was getting far behind now but I was confident that she would be able to see my orange coat and follow. As I neared the top I saw evidence of attacks by meat-eaters and munching by lazy scavengers. This place was scattered with animal-bones: reindeer (I found antlers here as well) and others, mainly smaller game. I saw spoor, but was not sure whether wolf, lynx, bear, or all had filled their tummies here. I thought that it would not be a good idea for Merja to see this. Then again the bones were sun-bleached, so it was not like this had happened yesterday and I was standing there being watched. She hardly noticed them when she finally arrived were I stood.

Here we stood high upon a hilltop without being sure in which direction we had to go. According to the map we had to go to the west, but since there was so much mist hanging around we were not sure if we had placed it correctly. We followed the compass to the west and traversed a wet area with hardly more vegetation than some near-dead trees and small bushes. Rocks were everywhere though! This area was like a plateau between two hilltops. According to the map this was where we should be. The river, or better: mountain-stream, should be somewhere in front of us, not too far away.

I thought I heard water running, we both tried to figure out from which direction it came. Convinced about the direction we walked towards a lonely tree that stood at the end of a cliff. Gazing over the edge we saw no water, just wet grasslands, and mist. Maybe we had only heard rain or perhaps our minds were playing tricks. Westwards again.

To our left we were nearing two hilltops, so it was certainly possible that our river would be running between them. We walked upon a cliff down which indeed the river was running. We had found it; now the only thing left was to cross it. This meant hiking down the slope, crossing the river –actually nothing more than a stream– and hike up the cliff on the other side. This was exactly what we did, but it involved some breath-taking balancing on slippery rocks. Once we had crossed –luckily without getting our feet soaked–, we simply followed a little track up the other slope. The other side did not differ much from the plateau we had walked upon just moments earlier: barren rocks and mist.

The biggest problem was now to figure out where to go. We had indeed crossed the stream, but were still far from our next destination: the ‘Vellinsärpimä päivätupa’, a day-cabin where we would probably be able to stay overnight. Continuing to the west we came upon a swampy area which looked like nothing we saw on the map. Crossing the swamp and climbing the hills behind it, did not appeal to us. Besides the rain was not exactly greeted with enthusiasm. We had to backtrack a little and find another way. We figured that we would be all right if we would follow another plateau and go down the slope of another hill, the one to the south of where we stood. We aimed at another lonely tree in front of us only to be forced to do the same again once we had reached it. Finally we reached the end of the plateau, where it started to go downhill. West here meant following the slope down into a valley densely filled with trees. Which we did and at the bottom we were able to cross onto a lower area where we had finally left the barren, slippery rocks, rain and mist behind us. But where we had to suffer the ordeal of the previous day over again: wet feet.

Still we were not clear on where the hell we were. There was absolutely no hill in sight to focus our direction on and certainly not any tracks either. The only thing we could do is continue walking westward, since the cabin once lay to the west.

Somehow we stumbled onto a logging area. A large amount of felled trees and thus some evidence that man has once been here. Though a long time ago, a very long time ago given the overgrowth on the old tracks, that consequently led to nowhere. We took the time to rest a little and contemplate on the idea that we somehow might be lost and would probably have to camp out in the wild, since backtracking our way back to the Kivipää-cabin was out of the question, we would not be able to find it so easily as we came here. According to the map a hiking track from the Taajostupa to the Vellinsärpimä day-cabin should be to the west, if we would just blindly walk westward we would at some point cross it and be able to find our way from there. This we did, we started walking, compass at hand and steered ourselves to the west.

Through the trees we heard birds singing and an occasional sunray shone upon our faces. Merja though she heard something else as well. She said she had heard bells, like reindeer bells. Was she getting delirious or something, I had not heard it? She heard it again, and this time I had to admit that I had heard the same. Were we both getting delirious? A big massive male stood looking at us and some darting females stood sullenly behind him. According to Merja they had come to direct us back to civilisation, they were here guardian angels. I had my doubts about that, but agreed on the direction that Merja wanted to take, since it was the one I would have taken anyway it leading to the west. After another three hundred metres I came upon a boulder and from the top of it I could see a marking, used in directing hiking paths through the wilderness. I waited anxiously for Merja to catch up, because I had seen something else as well. I showed her the coloured clothing of about four people sitting in front of an outside fireplace. We were back in civilisation. As it happened we had stumbled right onto the Vellinsärpimä day-cabin, just were we had to go. According to Merja we had made it due to her guardian angels, according to me to my navigation techniques.

The cabin was a small day-cabin with really just the bare essentials, a gas-stove for food and a wood-stove for warmth. We crashed down and stripped our wet clothes off and hung them out to dry. I prepared food and coffee and we did not bother yet to think about what to do from here. Day-trippers came and went, they made coffee inside and baked sausages outside. Merja took a nap and I dove into my novel.

Another backpacker came in and from the looks of it; he intended to stay. He had been around these cabins many times before and presumably new most of them. He told us about a cabin not too far from here which would be much cleaner and quieter than where we were now. We inquired about the right directions and made the decision in going there, since Merja was already fed up with the many times she had woken up due to people entering and leaving.

After we had dried up, or at least we were not soaked anymore, we set out again for the cabin. Just across the river was a big log-fire for reasons we will probably never know, but drying our soaked shoes and other garments would have been better over here. The heat was rather unendurable up close.

From here, it was just a matter of following signs along well-maintained paths towards this Lutto cabin. I was determined however to keep as dry as possible and stay well clear of wet areas. Unfortunately, some parts of the road disagreed with me and although we detoured through grasslands in order to stay clear of muddy parts, our feet sank in ankle-deep at some parts anyway. About four hundred metres in front of us I spotted a red coat. Apparently others used this road as well; we had to be on a used track. The red coat was part of a couple without heavy backpacks. In other words, they were day-trippers and according to the map, they should have past our next destination. I did not ask them though.

River to our right; trees to our left and in front of us. Where was the road? There was a small trail to our left, but I was sort of afraid to take it, because who knows were it would lead to and I wanted to get to the cabin as soon as possible. We took it anyway and I need not have worried. After a mere fifty metres a road broad enough for two cars to pass each other, led us to the cabin.

The door would not open! Had we walked here for nothing? Did we have to go back to the uninviting day-cabin? After pulling a few times more, I gave up and pushed. Three beds, a table, bench, and an old style stove welcomed us. Hope no one else would show up.

The sounds of the river running next to the cabin gave it a peaceful and warm atmosphere. However, the temperature inside chilled that feeling down the moment we stepped in. It was no warmer than 12 degrees Celsius, warmer than outside though, but not enough to even think of being comfortable. Well, I just had to get the stove going and we would warm up soon enough. The available wood however let that easy thought fade away as fast as it came to me. It was all damp, even the wood that was stored inside.

Splitting logs with my hunting knife gave the necessary kindling and some reasonable pieces of wood. Next to the outside toilet was a small storage shed with an axe and some logs. Rather big logs in my opinion. I had never really done any serious wood chopping, but I figured it out soon enough and after a short while I had enough to last us through the night.

Now there was just one problem left to get the fire started. It took a lot of effort to get the kindling burning, but that was not the main problem. The rest of the wood was so damp that the kindling fires all died out underneath the bigger pieces. This rather pissed me off. Then a thought occurred to me. The fuel from my Sigg-firejet stove might just help. I drowned the wood that was already in the stove with lamp oil and threw in a match. Oh yes! This was the answer all right. In no time, I had burned half of the wood I had chopped and lost more than half of the lamp oil from my fuel bottle.

The stove blasted its heat into the cabin and in less than an hour the temperature had risen as high as 43 degrees Celsius. We had to stand outside occasionally to cool off, because it was like a sauna inside.

Night fell; we were warm and comfortable. I used the last of the remaining rays of daylight to read a few more pages of Mr. Michener’s Covenant. Merja had to empty her bowels, but the fear of an alien abduction overtook her once again. In other words, I had to lay the book aside and accompany her to the toilet. Unfortunately, this was so full of shit that she had to squat nearby and relieve herself in the beam of my flashlight, under my disgusted eyes.

Later yet in the evening, the amount of water and tea drunk also got to her, but –again– going outside was out of the question. A plastic bowl, used by others for cleaning dishes, came to her rescue.

We fell asleep and the peaceful sounds of the river and joyful birds awoke us to a beautiful Wednesday morning.

Wednesday 16th of September 1998:

Kaunispää

The sun shone in through the window facing the riverside. Its mystical morning rays freshly shone upon my hunting-knife, which lay besides me, just in case I would need it in an instant. Merja told me that she had not slept so deeply in a long time. The quality of the bed, the temperature, yesterday’s hike and the relaxing location, were obviously responsible for this.

My Sigg-firejet had troubled me quite a bit yesterday. Somehow the bottom sealing kept catching fire and I had eventually stopped pursuing my goal –boiling water– any further. It was probably dirty or something, how should I know? However, it was not too much of a problem then, since we had a fire going in the old stove. Today however, we did not have enough wood and effort left to start another stove-fire. I tried the Sigg-firejet again and succeeded in boiling water for tea.

The sound of an approaching car stunned us. Was someone coming? After all this was a cabin used by forestry personnel. We had gotten quite accustomed to the freedom of being alone in this cabin, which evidently showed in the littering of our belongings all over the place. The car drove on and we could continue our routine unhindered.

Washing ourselves was the next step. Standing next to naked in the cold water of the river and splashing the water all over our bodies freshened us up for the last part of our trip. We would be on the bus this afternoon, but there was still the hike to Saariselkä over the top of Kaunispää-hill.

According to the map, today’s hike would be rather easy. After I had convinced Merja that I would find the right route, we set of. It was a mere matter of following the road we had stepped upon yesterday and which the car, that had passed the cabin earlier, had also taken. The track was so easy to follow –off course, since cars use it as well– that I was actually wondering whether it was the right one. According to the map we should come to a point where we would have two choices: straight on, on a direct route to Saariselkä, or turn right to catch the track over the top of Kaunispää-hill. It so happened that this was the point I had chosen to take a leak and wait for Merja.

To the right we went. The fact that the track was going downhill gave me an ill feeling. Visions of wet shoes were on my mind again. My visions proved to be right. We were leaving one track and in order to reach the next one –the one to the top of Kaunispää– we would have to traverse another wet and boggy area. The wooden planks did not prevent our shoes from being sucked into the mud. At one point, my right hiking-pole disappeared so deep into the mud that the handle did not reach further than my knee, or so I thought. It just happened that I had not tightened this telescopic pole well enough, so it just slipped down.

The dry other side was a welcome sight and as soon as we had found our way to the track, via a small ‘rabbit’s-trail’, we saw other people again.

The day-trippers were eagerly enjoying their hikes and they could be heard chatting from far away. How could they enjoy this nature while discussing trivialities and thus not absorbing the beautiful surroundings? I will probably never understand that.

Ticking sounds had me intrigued for a while until I understood that I was not the only one using hiking-poles. Apparently, they are also popular with elderly women. I do remember seeing a program on Finnish television last summer about merely walking with them. But I had never actually seen someone use them without a heavy backpack strapped to their back. I still do not fully understand the benefit of enthusiastically walking with them, without being burdened by at least twenty kilos on your back.

We must have looked rather disgusting to most of the day-trippers, since they hardly gave us an approving glance. Was it the fact that we did not have had a shower in over six days, or was it the intimidating sight of my hunting-knife strapped in front of my chest?

We had only smelled nature for a rather short time –too short for my liking– but we were already over-sensitive to the artificial smells of most of the day-trippers. We raised our noses to their soapy bodies and perfumed faces. Weird though, to go out on a hike wearing make-up and perfume!

The path continued upwards in a snake path-like manner. There was not much to see through the surrounding trees, which made the sight we had as soon as we were above the tree-line all the more majestic. From were we stood we could already see a vast landscape filled with hills; the better the view must be from the top of Kaunispää-hill!

Steadfast I walked on and in doing so I had left Merja far behind me. Consequently to walking upwards along a beaten track is that the climactic evolution of a beautiful view, like the reaching of the sensitive highlight in an aria or a virgin rose unfolding to the first rays of the sun in springtime, is behind you. Turning around regularly allowed me to enrich myself with some of nature’s beauty. So many hills! Off course, I was aware of this as we hiked through some of them, but one can never truly visualise the drawings on a map until the real thing reveals itself. The sky was clear enough to see as far as Sokosti-fell, with its 718 metres the highest peak in the park, as far as forty kilometres away to the southeast. To the east I could see the –in the mind– still forbidden land of Russia, just forty-five kilometres away.

The top of Kaunispää-hill (368 metres) is the usual tourist disaster. Too many parking spots for cars and tour-busses and –consequently– too many tourists with too many facilities. The shivering tourists can spend far too much money in the restaurant and souvenir shops. Two tired hikers however also welcomed the restaurant. A cup of coffee and a bun can do wonders! So can the sheer luxury of a toilet, with toilet paper.

Next to the self-service line of the restaurant, numerous souvenirs were spread around for eager buyers. Since we had not seen any bears during our trip, we were given the opportunity to see a stuffed one standing on guard in front of the souvenirs. The ‘Please don’t touch’-sign is probably too difficult to understand for most people given the poor condition of the bear’s nose. I did not understand it either.

The postcards were rather cheap here, so we decided to send a few. We got lucky here! In turns we picked out a few and wrote them at our table while sipping coffee and eating buns. When we were finished, I took them over to the cashier. I asked her for stamps and she concluded that I had already paid for the postcards together with the refreshments, the normal way I presume. Who was I to contradict her?

The only thing for us left to do here was follow the path downward into Saariselkä and catch the bus back home to Rovaniemi.

It did not struck me then, but as I am writing these words now it does. I miss this place. It was so beautiful, it was so refreshing to wake up and not hear the sounds of people using the elevator in our flat or cars passing by. Sure we have been in many other beautiful nature-reserves in Finland. Unfortunately, most of them tend to be over-crowded, but the further one hikes away from the limits of the day-trippers paths the deeper the self-satisfaction becomes.

Post Scripture:

Thursday the 11th of March 1999, early in the morning, the Taajostupa burned down to the ground. What a loss, it was the nicest cabin I have ever stayed in on all my trips in Finland.