Having been in Rovaniemi for the time we had, meant leaving it for a few days again. The town’s ugliness was getting on our nerves and the time of year was such that this would be one of the last opportunities to go out into nature for a few days. Night temperatures drop to freezing point and nature’s colours are changing from a lively green to an enchanting red-brown these days.
It is supposed to be the best time of year to be in Lapland. Even though the foreign tourist season is over, until Christmas when they all drop in again, Lapland is full of people, full of Fins aware of Lapland’s beauty.
Merja had taken a few days off from work and we decided to go to the Pyhätunturi National Park, some 130 kilometres from Rovaniemi. We had visited this park the previous year but only on a day trip with my visiting parents, now we had planned on staying a few days.
Since the park doesn’t have so much wilderness huts like for instance the Uhro Kekkonen National Park, we were obliged to take the tent along just in case we would not be able to sleep anywhere inside.
We woke early in order to be on the 08.40 hours bus from Rovaniemi to Pyhätunturi. Laden with backpacks we cycled to the bus-station and left our bicycles at the opposite post-office. Within 15 minutes the bus seemed to have some difficulties. Something was wrong with the wheels or something. Whatever it was, the bus-driver thought it a good idea to change buses and we thus had to wait somewhere for a working one to catch up. It came fast enough and after the exchanging of luggage and people we were on our way again.
Where I had expected the bus to turn right towards Kemijärvi, it went strait onwards. At first I thought that the driver was tired from changing busses and had made a mistake, but as it turned out he just took another road. The bus went to Luotso first and then to Pyhätunturi.
Just past 11.00 hours the bus drove on to the Pyhätunturi holiday-centre car park and let us off in front of Hotel Pyhä. We dumped our packs in the lobby and made our way to the toilets, this would be our last visit to normal toilets for a few days, so we took advantage of the opportunity. I also filled my water bag with fresh cold water. The park does have lakes with drinkable water but one never can be to sure in such a case and what if we would want to make a cup of coffee somewhere where water was not readily available? It did add about 4 kilo’s to my burden though.
As Merja was still in the toilets I walked into the hotel’s restaurant for a look at the view from the tables at the windows. The view was acceptable, not dashing, just acceptable and nothing more than that. Perhaps due to the weather; the sun hadn’t shown its rays for even a minute whole day long. Walking back to the entrance I passed a counter on which I couldn’t help but notice a box of Montechristo cigars (Cuba’s finest –in my humble opinion– at an affordable price, but alas not in Finland). Since no one was around I thought I should have a peek inside. Unfortunately the box was empty; the faint aroma of waiting cigars filled my nose anyway. There were to be no cigars on this trip then.
Our next stop was the park’s information centre to get some last minute news and perhaps a good free map. The map we had brought was good but only a black and white photocopy. Unfortunately the local library doesn’t have the funds for a colour photocopier. The only free maps available were of the A4 sized incomplete, inaccurate tourist maps kind.
The information centre had a small exhibition on the park. It showed the park’s flora and fauna, a scale model of the park and some stuffed local animals, including a young brown bear. After Merja had changed some clothes it was time to go out into the wilderness in search of our peace and quiet, away from Rovaniemi.
I still had a good recollection of the stones scattered around in the gorge en route towards the waterfall from our last year’s trip. So we knew what to expect as we entered the park’s boundaries. From the information centre straight on past the ski lift and onwards to the park’s entrance, which is about a 2 kilometres hike. One descends about 180 stairs down to the bottom of the valley. There one has two choices: left or right. Since most were going right, we choose to turn left towards Oravalampi or Squirrel’s pond. An old man with a cane followed our initiative but was left far behind in no time, even though Merja made a stop to change clothes again.
The road was so littered with rocks that we were constantly looking downward to make sure that we planted our feet securely. In doing so one hardly notices the beautiful, dramatic nature. But luckily we noticed it once in a while anyway. Consequently I also tripped a few times.
The road got worse and worse. From the foot of the valley towards Oravalampi was a distance of only 2,5 kilometres but it was taking us like ages over all those rocks. When we finally did reach Oravalampi, 100 metres before which Merja wanted to take a rest, a group of about eight was just leaving and left the fire burning unattended. We warmed up and were eating the last of our sausages within half an hour of arrival. I knew we should have taken more with us.
Oravalampi is along a popular day-trippers route so one can expect people to arrive from both sides of the trail. A group of about ten mostly middle-aged arrived from the direction on which we were to proceed. One of them had taken a fall and damaged his nose; it was bandaged. The rocks were the cause they said. They were definitely day-trippers because they did not have any cooking-gear with them and their sandwiches were ready-made, probably by one of the local hotels.
As I had done as well, feeding the birds seemed to be everyone’s favourite pastime. The birds here must be used to people and feeding upon them, since they came pretty close to eating from one’s hand. The group left and we were getting ready to leave as well.
Just behind Oravalampi the road went up. We heard some voices and saw three women coming down the slope in what seemed to be a difficult manner. When we had reached them, and mind you it was difficult going up as well, Merja asked them about the road ahead and how long the rocks would continue. This was apparently the easy part! There was yet more to come. The further we continued the steeper the slope. By the time we had reached the tree line we could finally see what all the fuss was about: the slope continued upward to who knows where and was completely decorated with rocks, rocks and rocks. Normally orange stripes on trees or dots on rocks indicate the roads, but they were hard to spot now and it was extremely difficult to follow the road. Presumably avalanches had displaced the dotted rocks, but the railroad-crossing-like motor-sledge road-signs for winter were a great help. As I balanced my way further up hoping to see the top, Merja got further and further behind. I waited for her once in a while and gorged upon blueberries, which are significantly larger over here and seem to taste sweeter as well. They were reached through sweat though; perhaps that is why they tasted all the sweeter.
Over barren rock and through the thickening mist, voices travel far. I heard two but couldn’t yet see any people no matter how much I strained my eyes. Fast enough though the two came in sight and passed me at quite an astonishing speed. Of course they weren’t exactly burdened by heavy packs.
The silence was finally broken by cursing from Merja, who had also reached the end of the difficult rock section and who was now setting foot on a stretch of relatively normal walk-able road. The berries were a welcome treat. She inquired if I had seen two men pass and after I acknowledged this she said that they had actually offered to carry her pack up to the top for her, but she had declined.
As said we were on a stretch of relatively normal walk-able road seemingly in between two sections of rocks, rich in edible berries. We rested for a short while and gazed into the far, far distance, into the unknown. The spell broke quick enough as we realised that the top was still somewhere ahead of us. Onwards we went onto yet another rocky section. As it luckily turned out we weren’t far from the top after all.
A signpost and some form of bench marked the top of this 540 metres high Noitatunturi. No one in sight and no one to be heard. Merja wanted to rest again and we sat down on the bench. The top didn’t have much of a view to offer due to the mist and most of the surrounding areas being lower anyway.
Much to our surprise a group had reached the top and immediately continued their way downwards into the direction we were to go. We decided that our rest was over, mainly because the temperature wasn’t exactly comforting.
After just a mere 500 metres, Merja stated that she was too tired to continue without first having a rest besides a bush of some sort. She wanted to stretch out onto the ground and possibly have a nap. More and more people were passing by so that the nap never came.
Looking out over the valley, I distinguished a fireplace. On the map I had marked the Annikinlampi fireplace and regarded it as our next destination. It still was a long way down though. About 1,5 kilometres as the crow flies from where I stood, but probably three or more via the track.
Small rocks and the descending slope made walking a tricky business. On more than one occasion we saw some of the others slip and fall. No deep ravines or crevasses nearby, but now I understood why this route is marked as difficult and dangerous. Reason enough to be careful and not try to break any records.
As we gradually came to lower grounds, on and off over large sections of smaller and bigger rocks, vegetation seemed to take the overhand on the route once more. Unfortunately this also made one overeager and less careful in placing one’s feet as I learned firsthand. I tripped and fell quite hard on my right knee. Cut trousers and a bleeding knee made me curse my way further down and yell at Merja to be careful. In doing so she also slowed down and I lost track of her, but since the fireplace was already in sight she knew where to go.
Three men greeted me upon reaching the fireplace. I strapped the pack of my back and placed it next to a tree. From a nearby fresh-water lake I got some ice-cold water and let it take me well. The tinselling effect of clear, clean and cold water running over your face and down your neck and back gives one a refreshed feeling and makes one forget just endured burdens.
While my kettle stood on a plate above the fire, I went for a look around in order to spot Merja; she couldn’t be too far off anymore now. I didn’t see her and just attended the kettle a bit more. Tea would give the warming effect I was in need off.
The three men were warming themselves with a big bottle of brandy and in truly non-Finnish fashion they offered me the bottle for a good swallow. The warming effect I was in search of thus came sooner than expected and it gave me enough strength to go and have a look for Merja again. Still I couldn’t spot her, but when I got back to the fireplace she was already sitting beside it. Since I had walked faster down the path she had sort of lost sight of me and simply walked in a straight line towards the fire.
After another brandy for me the men left to the right towards the Karhunjuomalampi cabin and we were all alone again and not yet sure of where to go. About 2 kilometres to the right or double that distance to the left towards the Huttuloma cabin. The problem however was that we were unfamiliar with the path and had had quite enough of our share of rocks. A young couple arrived from the direction we were considering and assured us that the road was clear of rocks a bit further down the path and that the cabin was empty when they had left it about an hour ago. The decision was rapidly made and we started on our way towards Huttulampi cabin.
The rocks indeed gave way to a normal earthen path somewhat overgrown on both sides. The trees hid the magnificent views from us on both sides and we were only allowed to see these once in a while at open spots. Hilltops on our left and a vast landscape of forests to our right as far as the eyes were permitted to see through the fog. The rays of sunlight that did break through on a few occasions revealed a beautiful sheet of colourful mosses, flowers, berries, and grasses.
Suddenly I heard Merja frantically call out to me and when I was close enough she pointed out to her left and said only one word: “KARHU!” or “BEAR!” I grabbed my hunting-knife, which was strapped to my pack and picked up a log for Merja. Anxiously and yet a bit frightened, since there was no quick place to hide or so, I tried to get a glimpse of the bear. Merja spotted it again and as it turned out, she had mistaken a reindeer’s ass for a dangerous animal. A few nervous laughs and we continued, but the thoughts didn’t leave my mind that bears could be encountered here, that we were quite vulnerable and that the pathetic sight of me and my hunting-knife wouldn’t even scare Whiney the Pooh away.
We must have been on our way for over an hour (and it was getting dark by now) before I smelled the faint welcome fragrance of wood-smoke. That meant two things: good news and bad news. The good news being that the cabin must be near and the bad news was that it was inhabited.
As we came upon a broader path the cabin came in sight and smoke was indeed rising from its chimney. Two women and a dog were inside and intended to stay the night. Merja is a bit allergic to dogs but she didn’t have the heart to say so when the women inquired if we had any objections to its presence inside the cabin.
Darkness had completely engulfed the cabin. Under the shady light of a few candles and my mini-Maglite we made and had our dinner. To make sure we would have a generous supply of fresh water, I took a bucket and went out to the well. Barefoot I found my way to the planks stretched out over the high grass forming a path to the well. Another bucket attached to a wooden pole served as a means to reach the water. I took advantage of the cold water and washed my face and feet as well. Less than 50 metres away from the cabin I stood and I could hardly see it through the darkness.
Berths were made and we positioned ourselves on the top-shelves, away from the dog.
While Merja was still asleep I lay awake waiting for the women and their dog to leave. My bladder was close to exploding when I saw the last of them going along the path we had come from, passing the last visible tree along the way. The side of the cabin seemed to be the nearest toilet. The smell of fresh pine needles and morning dew filled my nostrils and my feelings were of sheer joy.
While enjoying some freshly brewed coffee and Mrs. Auel’s The Mammoth Hunters, plans were made up. I sort of gathered that Merja wasn’t too keen on walking a long distance today and that she would rather stay another night, very well then.
According to the map a lakeside cafeteria would be just outside the park’s border less than 2 kilometres away. It would be our goal today.
Voices reached us and a fearful feeling overcame me; we were not alone here and the day-trippers would no doubt start harassing us with their sorry attempts to being nice and their pathetic stories on how they had come here and how beautiful and quiet it all was and so on.
A couple, presumably in their late twenties or beginning thirties arrived. Given their packs and utilities these were no day-trippers. They weren’t and intended on staying the night. They had come from the Kapusta (Russian for ‘Cabbage’) day cabin, about 6 kilometres from here and kept telling us how close by and how nice it was. We both felt that they wanted us to go there so that they would have this Huttuloma cabin for themselves: selfish bastards! Luckily –as in spoiling their peace– groups of day-trippers started coming in and destroying the peacefulness and quiet even more.
We decided to go and have a look at this nearby lake and waterfront cafeteria. The map indicated that there was a so-called Varauskota as well, or in other words that there was a cabin for rent next to the cafeteria. We stashed our stuff on “our” sleeping-platform and went on our way.
It irritated me to see that the cabin we had just left had been near a road! Not that I saw any cars or so, but the road was so broad that if people would want to ride it, they could. It was no more than 3 kilometres from the main-road, what a bummer! It was also disastrous to see that just outside the boundaries of the national park the landscape was devastatingly ugly. No trees, just rocks; a few bushes on barren ground. Spare the bushes this must be the closest I would ever come to the Mars landscape! Well my day was already spoiled anyway and this wasn’t going to make it any worse.
The bushes however turned out to be blue- and lingonberry, so picking a meal on the go we made it to the cafeteria only to find it closed.
A path of wooden planks snaked towards the waterfront where I sat down on a bench on a small wooden pier overlooking the lake. All sides –except ours– showed forest. The wind was totally absent and the only sound strong enough to hear was the sound of water lazily swaying against the pier. Merja came over to join me and we decided to pick some more berries, enough to make us a healthy side-dish next to the macaroni-stuff.
As we scavenged the empty, unkempt –like a storm and fire raged through but forgot to blacken everything– area we wondered over and over again how it came to be that the berries here were so extraordinary big. Picking was easy; we had about a litre of berries in no time. Back in Rovaniemi this would have taken us nearly an hour, but here we were finished in less than 20 minutes. The idea of having these for a meal had made the both of us hungry enough to head back to the cabin.
The smell of sausages blackening over an open fire and the sounds of far too many people reached us while we were still outside the premises of the national park and unable to see the cabin. On reaching it, it was like a hiker’s worst nightmare come true. The place was jam-packed with day-trippers and a number of tents were scattered around the area. All the benches and the complete porch were occupied by people eating, drinking and –worse– talking and thus disturbing the peace—mainly mine. Ok, I shouldn’t sound like I own the place or something, but this was ridiculous. It was still early though, so there was enough time for all of them to hike on out of here.
As the day progressed, and Merja probably had spoken to just about everyone, the crowd thinned into the die-hards that intended to stay the night. The tents stayed up and a few groups would sleep there. The cabin seemed to be left for Merja, the young couple, and me. But –of course– another group arrived. Two adults and –I think– four teenagers, three boys, and a girl. Most of the teenagers fell onto the sleeping-platform utterly exhausted, while the two adults arranged most of their stuff. As it turned out they were kids from disturbed families or so from Tornio on a field trip away from home.
As darkness started to engulf everything in its light-less blanket, all groups seemed to take their dinners in turns. What surprised me most was the richness in food that the kids were to consume. Big pieces of nice –and hungry making– cheese on dark bread, the most expensive coffee that one can buy in Finland and above all salmon-soup. Their packs seemed to contain nothing more than sleeping bags and food, lots of food. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe this was better food than they get at home. Perhaps a belly full of decent food and a peaceful night’s rest will help them forget the troubles at home. Noodles and coffee for us.
After some time with Mrs. Auel’s novel sleep came early again. The soft snoring didn’t bother me and I didn’t complain when Merja woke me later to accompany her to the toilets. Her imaginative possible alien abduction was a good excuse to make the visit myself as well.
I woke at the first sounds from the plateau beneath us and was happy to see that both groups were making preparations for an early leave.
The rich smell of tasty porridge and freshly brewed coffee was tempting but I kept to myself and didn’t rise until the last person had left the building. Merja had woken by now and one of the first things she did was search for what the others had left behind in foodstuffs. We were to have a little porridge with the rest of our yesterday’s picked supply of berries!
While browsing the cabin the day before I had found some thin black gloves with rubber knobs on the palm side. They were still above the wood-stove and found their way into the pockets of my coat in an instance. I didn’t take them for keeping my hands warm but mainly for keeping them clean when handling firewood.
After our breakfast and while Merja was tending to herself and I enjoyed Ayla’s slightly erotic adventures of about 40.000 years ago over yet another cup of coffee, the first visitors dropped by to place their names in the guest book. As usually, mostly elderly and a few middle aged day-trippers. Scattered groups came and went as the minutes past until the loud –preacher like– voice of one man seemed to overshadow every other sound in the vicinity. He had religion written all over him, the typical simple and arrogant look and smile as if knowing everything about man’s existence and place in the universe these people seem to have. How wrong they are! He led a group of I reckon at least twenty elderly. Each of which sat down outside, visited the inside asked the same questions: have you stayed the night here? Are you from far? Do you like Lapland? Etc. etc. etc. Merja took care of these conversations and I just smiled and nodded once in a while. They all signed and went out again, back to their fruit-juice, yoghurts, sandwiches or whatever. One thing though, all of them excused themselves on entering and hoped that they were not disturbing us. “No, no” I answered (in Finnish that is), but my mind screamed, “Yes, yes”! Ayla and Jondolar were alone again in some part of the Mammoth hunters’ cave. Loudly they all left as the next group appeared on the scene.
It was time for us to take our leave from this cabin that has given us warmth and shelter for 2 nights. My pack was all packed and standing outside next to the porch table. Like me it was waiting for Merja.
We left the cabin behind and started out towards where we had come from. Our plan was to go to the Karhunjuomalampi cabin and stay the night there. This cabin is a 2 kilometres hike from the Annikinlampi fireplace, which is where I had enjoyed the brandy so well 3 days earlier, from which we were only 4 kilometres away.
The track we had followed 2 days ago doesn’t go over hilltops neither through the bottom of a valley, but sort of runs in between. When we were on it the hilltops were to our left and the valley to our right; not really a valley though, more like where the hills reach bottom or simply ‘ground level’.
Today we followed the path we were already on and which would –according to the map– lead us close to the tops of Peurakero (504m) and Laakakero (520m), and so towards the Annikinlampi fireplace. The path went up.
Amazingly it didn’t take long at all before we encountered the first of some of the groups that had visited us earlier. Again they were occupied with eating. Many cups of yoghurt are travelling through this national park! Most of the people we saw sitting and resting were elderly and perhaps they were just tired.
I was afraid that we would become part of a group walking along the paths in our direction so my speed was quite high in order to try and avoid that at all costs, no matter how it might tire me. Unfortunately Merja had her own speed and I had to wait for her once in a while to catch up. The scenery made up for too many people along the way and the obligatory nods and “hellos.”
The rocks of our first day were still fresh in my memory and I hoped that we had seen the last of them. Luckily this was quite the case. The path was obviously a popular one since there were hardly any rocks of mention-able size. No bandaged day-trippers to be spotted. Bushes, grasses, some plants, and mosses couldn’t keep anyone from enjoying the magnificent views of the surroundings. A clear day so that one could look for many kilometres in the far away distance.
The highest point was reached in no time. It seemed that this route was shorter than the one we had taken before. As Merja caught up, the road descended onto the rocks leading to the Annikinlampi fireplace.
The kids from Tornio were having their lunch here and so was the preacher we had heard earlier this morning. The preacher and his group were very interested to hear where we were from and Amsterdam appealed to all. Even more so since I replied in Finnish and was able to maintain some form of conversation in this so difficult language. They all bade their goodbyes and good lucks and were on their way again. We drank some more tea, ate some more crackers, and hoped above all that the next cabin would be empty.
It was an easy road to the Karhunjuomalampi cabin. We had been here the previous year with my family who visited us in Rovaniemi. One is not allowed to spend the night in this cabin and we just lingered until all visitors were gone. Merja spend the better part of the afternoon picking berries while I read. Later on while Merja slept and I was reading by the low flickering light of a candle, two hikers from Helsinki arrived. They too were aware that one couldn’t spend the night here, but set up their tent anyway. While Merja chatted with them I went out for a short walk in the darkness and to splash my face with the fresh cold water from the nearby lake.
We rearranged the hard wooden benches to form some sort of platform on top of which we placed our sleeping-mats. Merja slept there, but I preferred the floor, that somehow didn’t seem as hard.
Early the next morning the first day-trippers arrived, too early for our tastes. Quickly we had rearranged our stuff to let it appear that we were just early hikers. After our washing, breakfast and coffee we left for the information centre again. When we had hiked here with my family we had wanted to walk a certain route back to the information centre around the ski-sloped mountain Kultakero. Unfortunately we had taken a wrong route from the cabin and ended up walking about 5 kilometres extra. Now we took the right road or so we thought. It was not our intention to walk around this Kultakero, but straight on towards the information centre, which was a long enough trip. We had entered the road we should have taken with my family and were on our way around the ski mountain. I noticed this as we saw the ravine we were supposed to be in far away to our right. After checking the map we decided to cross the stretch of vegetation a little while back, hike up the slope and find the road we were supposed to be on.
It all proved well that we had chosen the wrong road. Hiking up the slope we were amazed at the abundance of blueberries. They were about twice the size of the ones we pick at home and there were certainly more than thrice as much. Behaving as if we had all the time in the world, we started picking and filled a bottle and our food-pan. With about 4 litres of blueberries we entered the right path and continued onwards to the information centre.
From the top of the ravine long, steep stairs descend down along the rocky slope. At the bottom the road leads to the right in front of a small near dry pond. Less than 100 metres further a waterfall thrusts its contents into the small Pyhänkasteenlampi Lake. This “Lake of Holy Baptism” is where according to a legend in the 17th century the Apostle of Finland, E.M. Fellman, forcibly baptised Sami to convert them to Christianity. The cool clean water was a welcome relief.
The road through the gorge leads over wooden planks protectively laid over the large rocks. At a fireplace just before the stairs leading up out of the gorge, a large group of elderly people were eating sausages and singing –apparently– religious songs. We quickly passed them and fled up the stairs only to find another group of mentally handicapped picking berries. We fled on and reached the information centre and Hotel Pyhä after a short walk. At the hotel we inquired about busses for Rovaniemi, but found that the next one wasn’t due until the next day. It would be possible to catch a bus from Sodankylä to Rovaniemi, but that would be from the main road about 15 kilometres away. We got a ride there within 15 minutes and started waiting for the bus and hitching at the same time.
We got a lucky ride from a man on his way to Rovaniemi and he dropped us of exactly where we had left our bicycles. We now had some extra money left that we hadn’t spent on the bus, so we bought about all we could carry from the nearby food-shop.
The snow would start falling soon now, so we knew that this would be our last camping-trip for the season. The long wait until next year and next year’s thaw had already started.