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Scricfinia | Finland based Hiking Blog by Scricfinia – Finnish Way Of Hiking - 1w ago
Jouni Laaksonen 11.3.2019

Last week I told about my big passion: hiking in large wilderness, outside any trails or tracks. This week let’s see another great way to enjoy winter landscapes: skiing along maintained ski tracks.

This is by far the easiest way to enjoy skiing. You rent a cabin with modern comforts for a week, or take a hotel room, from a ski resort in Northern Finland, and ski on different ski tracks every day. The scenery is fantastic, the ski tracks are well maintained, and there are plenty of campfire sites, lean-tos and huts along the ski tracks.

Here’s a selection of pics where our family is spending various skiing holidays in different ski resorts in Lapland.

Pallastunturi is one of the great skiing areas in Lapland. This beautiful collection of fells is situated in Pallas-Yllästunturi NP. On left another pic showing Pallastunturit fells from a new angle. This ski track takes you to Särkitunturi fell. On right a pic from ski tracks in Ylläs area, which is situated in the same NP, but more to south than Pallas.

The ski track network, as well as the wilderness café network in Ylläs is phenomenal. This pic is from Kukastunturi fell.

Kiilopää–Saariselkä area is another great destination for a cross-country skier. This ski track takes you from Kiilopää fell centre to Urho Kekkonen NP and Luulampi wildernes café. On left my daughters are skiing along a ski track near Kiilopää. On right a ski track in Pyhä-Luosto NP.

Sallatunturi is a smaller ski resort, but the ski tracks and sceneries were a positive surprise to me. This view is from Ruuhitunturi ski track.

There are lean-tos, Lapp huts, wilderness huts and day huts along the ski tracks, and it’s wonderful to stop for a lenghty lunch break prepared on a fire, or on a wood oven. Here we have already eaten our lunch and now it’s dessert time: marshmallows!

* * *

I’m afraid I won’t have time to write a post for next week, but I’ll be back the next week at the latest.

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Scricfinia | Finland based Hiking Blog by Scricfinia – Finnish Way Of Hiking - 2w ago
Jouni Laaksonen 25.2.2019

I’m fond of navigating the good old way, that is, with a map and compass. However, there’s no denying that modern technology helps a lot with navigating, if you wish so.

Are you familiar with GPX tracks? A year ago I wasn’t, but now I know something about them. Simply put, a GPX track is a set of coordinates that defines a specific route. If you download a GPX track of a hiking trail, your satellite navigator, or GPS wristwatch or smartphone shows you how the trail goes, and whether you are on the trail or if you have walked astray. Very handy!

Using GPX tracks in smartphone

As I told earlier, my guidebook Hiking in Finland – Day trips and Backpacking Expeditions will be published in April 2019. In the book I present the Finnish way of hiking, our nature, seasons, the wilderness skills and gear needed and so on, and also I describe the very best hiking destinations in Finland. There are good topographic maps and ton of photos in the book, and also waypoint lists, but it’s not possible to fit all the trails and hiking suggestions on maps with book page dimensions. I have created a GPX track for over 130 trails or hiking suggestions, and I will publish those GPS tracks here on my blog as soon as the book is out. You’ll find a new subpage “GPX tracks” then on the header bar.

How to use the GPX tracks? You can download the GPX file to your GPS navigator, smartphone map application or wristwatch GPS and use it while hiking. If you use a GPS navigator or a wristwatch with GPS, you probably know how your own device works, and I’m not an expert on every device. No, I’ll concentrate here on smartphones and to be more precise, on Android. If your system is different, I believe you’ll still get the idea of how handy GPX tracks can be, and you can find out how to make them work in your device.

There are many map applications for smartphones into which you can import GPX tracks. See, for example, Locus Maps, GPX Viewer or Oruxmaps, in your application store. More on Map apps on my earlier blog post.

I’ll post here two examples of the GPX tracks I’ve created for my book. Varkaankuru Velhopolku is a short well marked nature trail in Pallas-Yllästunturi NP, very suitable for day hiking. Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit on the other hand is a six to seven days backpacking tour in Urho Kekkonen NP, outside marked trails.

Varkaankuru Velhopolku

Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit

If you read this blog entry with your smartphone and touch Varkaankuru Velhopolku link above, your smartphone downloads the GPX file of that trail. If you have previously installed one of the applications I mention above, or some other application that understands GPX files, opening the downloaded GPX file with your smartphone should show you on a topographic map how this 4 km trail goes.

And if you travel to Finland and decide to explore Pallas-Yllästunturi NP, you can follow this nature trail with your smartphone and this GPX file. (Well, this is so well marked a trail you don’t need a smartphone to follow it, but it might be interesting to see how each trail exactly goes when you are planning your journey.)

Or, if you download Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit, you’ll see how this unmarked but popular loop into the heart of Urho Kekkonen NP goes along forests paths, over treeless fells, beside lake shores and across the rivers. (When I’ll open the page “GPX tracks” you’ll get also all the wilderness huts and other interesting points along the route, but here’s just the track for testing.)

Here’s three screenshots from my smartphone. 1. I click the link Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit here on this blog post, and a second later at the bottom of the page the phone tells me that file U_KiilopaaLuirojarviCircuit.gpx was downloaded. When I click Avaa (=Open), my smartphone asks which application I want to open the file with. 2. and 3. In the two pics above the application is GPX Viewer, which is a handy and free tool. The maps are surprisingly good, but not perfect… …and I like more Locus Map, or Oruxmaps, with the topographic map data of National Land Survey of Finland. See more on my blog post about Map apps.

Using GPX tracks on computer

Note, however, that the GPX files are also handy with your computer, to see exactly where each trail is situated. In my guidebook there will be good maps of many of the trails described, but there’s no room for a map of every one of the over hundred trails. Also there cannot possibly be room for a map of a week long route in a book.

This is where GPX tracks also come handy: When you read the book and you are interested in how exactly this Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit goes, you can open a topographic map on your computer, upload the GPX file provided there, and then follow the route description on just the map zoom level you wish to use.

There are many ways in which you can use GPX data on a computer. If you have a GPS receiver, you will probably have PC software such as Garmin Basecamp, too. You can import the GPX file using that.

One way to see the trails on proper topographic maps is to use www.paikkatietoikkuna.fi. You need to log in (it’s free), and then use the icon Import your own datasets. Beforehand you have to make a zipped file of your GPX file.

It may take some learning, but the result is great. Here below is how Paikkatietoikkuna shows Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit on two zoom levels. Naturally you can zoom in or out just as you wish.

Google Maps does not provide topographic outdoor maps, but the satellite image is sometimes handy. You can upload selected GPX files there, too. Sign in to My Maps, create a new map and then import the GPX file.

My Google Maps is in Finnish, but I try to translate the terms to English. First you have to be signed in. It’s free. Then click the three lines on upper left corner and find My places. Under that you choose Maps (“Kartat” in my screenshot), and then Create a map (“Luo kartta” in my screenshot).

A box opens and tells you to select a GPX file from your computer. If you select the GPX track for Kiilopää–Luirojärvi circuit, you’ll get these:

If you zoom out, as I did above, you nicely see in what part of the country the..

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Scricfinia | Finland based Hiking Blog by Scricfinia – Finnish Way Of Hiking - 1M ago
Jouni Laaksonen 11.2.2019

There has been quite cold temperatures in many places around the world this winter. Here in Northern Finland this winter has been quite normal. The coldest temperatures never arrived this winter, but still we had a two-week spell of around –25 to –30°C in January.

So, let’s talk about what you wear on your hands when it’s cold. Especially when you spend all day outside, and possibly also evening and night, it is very important to have properly warm mittens.

This gear post is not about outdoor equipment brands. I like to buy my handwear from hardware stores.

Here we are on a midwinter expedition with my wife in Käsivarsi Wilderness Area. It’s –25°C, but my hands are so warm that I can take the thivk and roomy brown mittens off every now and then for a while to take some pics. I don’t take off my Powerstretch next-to-skin gloves, though.

If your fingers are all the time freezing, or even you feel they are constantly just on the edge of freezing, you

  • don’t enjoy your time in the great winter outdoors
  • are afraid to take off your thick handwear, for example to adjust your ski binding or camera
  • you end up taking no pictures
  • may even drift into a dangerous situation, as your fingers don’t work properly to pull a zipper closed, or to push a tent pole into the proper tunnel, or something similar

It’s not only a question of handwear. Naturally your level of activity is crucial, and also your clothing in general is important.

We once spent a night in Vuontisjärvi wilderness hut in Pallas-Yllästunturi NP. It was –35°C in the morning, and a fisherman came to check his fish nets that were trying to catch fish under the ice of Lake Vuontisjärvi. We looked how he pulled the nets out of the water. He had very thick leather mittens, but when he loosened the whitefish that had been caught, and he did it with bare hands.

He then came to chat for a while in the hut with us, and I asked yow on earth can he manage to be for a while without handwear, and even with wet hands. He laughed and said something like this: “When there’s enough warmth on your shoulders, you can manage. And the water is much warmer than the air temperature.”

And that’s true. When your body is warm, there’s warm blood to circulate to your hands and feet, too.

My choices

Naturally there are many kinds of good gloves and mittens available, but here’s a rule of thumb for what I wear:

When the winter weather is very mild, like around zero or a few minus degrees Celsius, thin leather gloves is all I need for skiing. Of course if I plan to do something more passive, I wear thicker handwear.

When it’s around –10°C, I ski with thicker gloves. Some fluffy insulation can be seen from the inside of those gloves.

When it’s –15 to –25, the black-and-white mittens are great. Mittens are much warmer than gloves, and these mittens are a bit thinner and thus more manouverable than the brown ones.

However, I never carry this many gloves/mittens on my backpacking tours. During the years I have built a strong relationship with the pair of mittens farthest to right. They are thick, and they are roomy! With them I have skied comfortably numerous times in –30 to –40°C. And the predecessors of these served me very well in conditions of under –50°C.

So, usually I end up taking the warmer pair of gloves and the warmer pair of mittens. If it’s very late in the winter, like April, I might choose the lighter ones. But I never leave for a multi-day expedition in winter without proper mittens.

Let’s see what’s inside these two pairs of mittens:

On left there is a glove-like inner mitten. The material is insulating and rather thick, but as the fingers are apart, it’s not as warm as the dark green inner mitten on right. Also there is insulation inside the brown leather mitten itself.

I really like leather gloves and leather mittens. They are not waterproof as gore-tex mittens would be, but I often make a campfire, and leather is a good material to touch hot kettles, add firewood etc.

And in addition to those shown above, I always carry a thin pair of Powerstretch gloves. If not needed, they are in my jacket pocket, ready to be dressed whenever needed.

Next to skin: Powertretch gloves, so light, thin and in no way restricting. Also thin woollen gloves are good. If not needed they pack into a small space in my jacket pocket.

One more important thing: It’s crucial to try to avoid your gloves/mittens from getting wet. When it’s really cold, the snow is not wet, and your hands do not easily sweat. When it’s close to zero, the snow is wet, so you need to avoid touching snow very much. (If you are planning to dig a snow cave, you better bring a waterproof pair of mittens for just this purpose.)

And your hands may be so warm they almost sweat. Avoid this by changing to lighter handwear early enough. Sometimes in late winter I even ski with bare hands for a while, to cool my hands. A hiker needs to actively open/close zippers, add/subtract handwear and headwear, and so on. That’s her/his air conditioning.

* * *

I’m rather busy with several writing projects right now, but I’ll try to have time to write a post about GPX tracks for next week. If not, then the week after next.

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Scricfinia | Finland based Hiking Blog by Scricfinia – Finnish Way Of Hiking - 1M ago
Jouni Laaksonen 4.2.2019

I’m not a veteran on using smartphone map applications. There are certainly many great apps I have never even heard of. However, I want to introduce two good map applications and a way to obtain free offline topographic maps for it. This advice is for Finland, and for Android.

Online maps

The easiest way to use smartphone for navigating is to use online maps. Maps used in web browser, such as www.excursionmap.fi or www.mapsite.fi are great. Both of these free services you can use both in Finnish and in English, and they give you great topographic maps, and they show your own location.

Excursionmap.fi shows your exact position as long as you allow it to use your smartphone GPS. And your mobile phone has to have coverage. Same applies to MapSite.fi.

You cannot download a GPX track and see it on these web browser maps, however.

There are many map applications for smartphones that allow GPX tracks, waypoints and many other features. When I bought a smartphone, one of the very first things I did was to install Locus Map from Google Play. There is a free version with ads, and a non-ads version that costed about 7 euros in 2018.

(Sorry, I don’t know how to make links to Application Store. With your smartphone go to Google Play and search with the names mentioned in this post if you are interested.)

As default you can find a rough topographic map of Finland in Locus, but you don’t have to rely only on that. I recommend rather use the MapSite map material. In Locus Map you do it like this:
-touch three lines in upper left corner
-select Maps
-select Online, and from there find Kapsi.fi/Finland and Peruskartta

Mostly you will be hiking in areas where there is roaming, and then this method works fine. However, if you head out to really remote corners of Finland, you need an offline map.

Offline topo maps for Finland

National Land Survey of Finland (the institution behind MapSite.fi) opened it’s map data in 2012. That was a huge leap: from there on it has been free for anyone to use their accurate topographic maps in magazine articles, blogs, books, smartphone applications and so on.

Mr Teemu Peltonen edited this open data in such a format you can download topographic maps of all Finland to Garmin GPS devices and Android smartphones. Teemu Peltonen’s site is at kartat.hylly.org.

That page is only in Finnish, but with these tips it should be possible to download the map data also for someone who does not understand Finnish. For Android Teemu Peltonen has converted the map data to formats for two well-known international map apps, Locus Map and Oruxmaps.

This is what I did: I had first installed Locus Map. Then I went to kartat.hylly.org with my smartphone browser and scrolled down until I saw “mtk_suomi.map” I didn’t click that, but “Asenna kartta Locukseen” (=’Install map to Locus’) next to it.

This is a huge file, over 3 gigabytes. Make sure you have wifi and are not dependent on cellular phone net connection while you download it. And you need that much free space in your phone.

After the download is finished return to kartat.hylly.org and click “Asenna tyylimäärittelyt Locukseen” (=’Install style specifications for Locus’) beside text peruskartta_v3.zip.

When you have successfully downloaded MTK Suomi map and style specifications, open Locus Map. Press three lines in upper left corner. You find Maps. Choose Offline, and Mtk Suomi should be in the list, probably under MAPSVECTOR. Choose it.

Return to Locus front page and click the blue box in lower left corner. Choose Map theme and from there choose Peruskartta.

If all went as it should, you now have an offline topographic map of all Finland that works even when there is no mobile coverage whatsoever.

Another app

Another much used map app is Oruxmaps. You find Oruxmaps Donate from Google Play, it costs about three euros. However, at www.oruxmaps.com you can download the free version (.apk file) and transfer it to your mobile phone. This is handy if you want to check first if you can make the app to work and do you like it. If you do like, why not donate the small sum for the developer?

There is a file at kartat.hylly.org for Oruxmaps the same way as for Locus, but for some reason I could not make that work. However, I did this:

I downloaded “mtk_suomi.img” with my smartphone. Then I moved it to folder /oruxmaps/mapfiles. Then I started Oruxmaps and chose the map symbol from upper right corner -> Change map -> Offline -> mtk_suomi (IMG). And now I have the offline map for all of Finland also in Oruxmaps.

Saving cellphone battery

When you are on a multi-day backpacking tour in remote wilderness it’s important to save your cellphone battery (and carry a power bank). Make sure you understand the energy saving options of your own phone and use them.

You can even switch your phone to fly mode, so that it doesn’t try to find mobile coverage in vain when you are out of roaming zone. That saves power as well. You can use Locus Map or Oruxmap with offline map also in fly mode.

GPX tracks and recording your own route

My guidebook Hiking in Finland – Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions will be published in March 2019. One section of the book introduces the very best hiking destinations and trails in Finland. Naturally I describe the destinations by words and photos, but in addition to that I have also created a GPX track of each trail mentioned.

There will be a QR code in the book that takes you to a web page containing the GPX track files. These tracks can be used in many ways, and one interesting way is to download them to your smartphone, and use them with Locus Map, Oruxmaps or similar.

I’ll write another post concentrating on GPX tracks in the near future.

Following a downloaded GPX track with a map application and offline topo map in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. Oruxmaps on left, Locus Map on right. Both are very good map applications.

These map apps have many handy features. One of them is recording your own track. This uses cellphone battery, so you probably won’t want to use it on multi-day treks, but on day hikes recording your route is great.

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Scricfinia | Finland based Hiking Blog by Scricfinia – Finnish Way Of Hiking - 1M ago
Jouni Laaksonen 21.1.2019

All you need to know about hiking in Finland in one book!

I started this blog in December 2017 both 1) to promote hiking in Finland in general, for Finland is a fantastic country for hiking, trekking, backpacking, and 2) to promote my guidebook-to-be on this very subject. Back then (see Why a blog) I thought the name of the book would be The Hiker’s Guide to Finland or something like that.

However, my publisher, Karttakeskus (see their catalogue for 2019, though this is only in Finnish, my book is on page 16) said that’s too long and cumbersome a name. They wanted the name to be simply Hiking in Finland. I first argued against this, for there has been a blog on that name for several years, hikinginfinland.com, but the publisher argued back that this is such a general expression that no one can own it.

And, well, when I checked around a bit, I noticed that for example the horn of plenty for a hiker in Finland, nationalparks.fi, has a subpage named Hiking in Finland as well. Also sites introducing tourism in Finland use that very title word to word.

In the end I consented, on one condition: I wanted to add a subtitle. And so the book became Hiking in Finland – Day Trips and Backpacking Expeditions.

This is the cover of my guidebook Hiking in Finland. The book will be published in March 2019.

Contents of the book

The book has three major parts:

  1. Hiking skills in Finland
  2. Nature and history
  3. Hiking destinations.

1) The first part includes everything from peculiarities in Finnish hiking culture (like Everyman’s Rights, clean drinking water, thousands of campfire sites and hundreds of open wilderness huts, and how we Finns tend to hike), to seasons, and what’s different in maps and coordinates and navigating in Finland, and what’s important about clothes and gear here up north, and so on.

Day hiking is the most popular way of hiking in Finland, as in every part of the world, I believe. Walking along a marked trail, surrounded by beautiful scenery, is just so easy, and so much fun. A very Finnish way of hiking is to enjoy the lunch by campfire. Finland is a land of forests and there are thousands of campfire sites where the state of Finland provides firewood. However, also these pics are essential to Finnish hiking culture. Everyman’s Right guarantees you can walk (or ski) almost wherever you want. You don’t have to stick to trails – though in popular areas it sure is recommended to stick to trails, to not cause erosion. On the pic left we are on a seven day backpacking tour in Hammastunturi Wilderness Area. We saw other hikers only on one wilderness hut, no one anywhere else. I’m trying to say that there are vast wilderness areas in Lapland where there are not many people around, if any. There you can choose your own route with a clear conscience. We carried everything we needed during the week in our backpacks – except water. In Lapland it is customary to fill your water bottle from springs, streams, rivers and even lakes.

Main focus is in walking, but also canoeing and to smaller degree bicycle tours are discussed. Winter hiking (read skiing) is thoroughly discussed. Also Hiking with children is a long chapter.

Finland is a land of lakes: there are 188 000 lakes in Finland (yep, they have been counted). Paddling is a great way to explore the lakes and rivers. Here we are canoeing in Kolovesi NP. Finland has four distinctive seasons. Summer is hot (well, maybe not by your standards…), autumn is colourful, winter is snowy and spring is full of life and green. Hiking does not stop with the first snowfalls of the winter. On the contrary, winter is very good time for hiking, if you know how to ski. Skiing along maintained ski tracks is easy (pic from Kiilopää, Urho Kekkonen NP), but when you head out to large wilderness areas, outside any tracks, you truly feel you are on your own (pic from Muotkatunturi Wilderness Area). Hiking with children is fun. They often note different things than adults, and they know how to be there right from the beginning. Hiking with kids is also a question of continuing your beloved hobby when you get own kids. And it’s also a question of raising your children to respect and love nature.

2) In the second part I describe how the Ice Age formed Finnish bedrock, esker systems, giant’s kettles and so on. Also I tell what common animals and plants you can expect to see, and I try to give advice how to see rarer flowers, birds etc.

Eskers, or maybe you call them ridges, are one type of formations the Ice Age created. When the ice masses were finally melting away, the sand that was locked into the ice, started to run along the melting water rivers, and sank to the bottom of the river. When a melting water river ran through a tunnel under the ice sheet, the formation of sand became steep.

A very interesting chapter (in my humble opinion) is called Interesting history along the trails. Even if you are hiking in a remote wilderness area that looks like no one has ever set his/her foot here, you will find evidence our forefathers lived or moved about also there. You may encounter many millennia old deer hunting potholes or rock paintings, or sacred seita rocks, or you may see a hollow depression which in fact is a former tar burning pit. Or you may see a very old ax mark on the bark of an ancient pine, and another one, too, and then you realize you are walking on a path that was formed already hundreds of years ago. And so on.

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Scricfinia | Finland based Hiking Blog by Scricfinia – Finnish Way Of Hiking - 2M ago
Jouni Laaksonen 24.12.2018

Merry Christmas to everyone!

I want to thank all of you who have read my blog during this first year! It’s been fun to write, and I’m super thankful for every like and visit.

Let’s continue on the same old topic I’ve been writing about soon for two months: our Millennium hike. This journey through eight wilderness areas started in the beginning of November, here.

Last week I told how we skied across area 7, Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area. We had just resupplied in Hetta town (between 6 and 7), and out pulkas were full of food, and also Christmas stuff. Now we continue through area 8, Käsivarsi Wilderness Area, north towards Halti fell, but this week we will not quite reach Halti yet.

22th December 1999 we continued from Pingiskoski hut towards Hirvasvuopio wilderness hut. We hoped and presumed the hut would be empty, as we hadn’t seen any hikers during these 51 days so far. In that case we would stay in the hut for two or three days and celebrate Christmas there.

We skied along River Lätäseno and arrived early to Hirvasvuopio. But no, the hut was not empty. There evidently were reindeer herders staying here. They weren’t present when we arrived, but we could see from their various equipment that they would be returning before evening.

Indeed, two Sámi men and one woman arrived with their snowmobiles in the afternoon. After greetings and some small talk the reindeer herders mostly spoke Sámi and we Finnish, so we were two separate groups.

These herders were a mixture of new and old. The new: They travelled by snowmobile, though they had skis as a backup. They had a big gas cooker of their own, and they had even brought an electric lamp and an aggregate to produce electricity. One of them switched the aggregate on, and the bright light of an electric lamp filled the hut – and made the atmosphere something else than the normal wilderness hut feeling. They had similar mobile phones as Markus, and that connected us for a while. We talked about where can you find roaming and so on.

The old: These herders patrolled along their reindeer herd for weeks deep in the wilderness. This isn’t common any more. They had a clothing that was a mix of old and new itself. Alongside modern overalls they had hat, middle layer longjohns and shoes made of reindeer skin.

We spoke more after the cell phone incident. We learned about herding reindeer far away from roads and they asked about our journey. When everyone got to bed our respect rose to a new level. When the herders took off their reindeer skin shoes (‘nutukkaat’), there were no socks inside. Just a bare foot and lots of dry hay in the old style!

Christmas in a wilderness hut

In the morning we decided we’ll let the herders have their own peace in Hirvasvuopio hut and we’ll try to ski a long day march to Tenomuotka wilderness hut and celebrate our Christmas there.

Skiing along River Lätäseno was easy, for there wasn’t a deep layer of snow there. However, skiing on ice, even after a long spell of –30°C was unnerving, for sometimes there were darker patches on the all-white ice, and that meant there was some water between ice and snow. This wasn’t a safety hazard in itself, but if you skied over a patch like this, you got wet ski bottoms, and that meant icy and not gliding ski bottoms. You had to stop and scrape all the ice away.

And one of the herders had warned us about a place where the river is unfrozen through the winter, at the junction of rivers Lätäseno and Rommaeno. There indeed was an area of open water, and we were able to fill our water bottles. This made us even more vary about skiing on ice, but as the alternative, skiing in deep snow and thick downy birch forest did not appeal either, we continued cautiously on ice.

After all it was safe enough to ski during the daylight time, but as our day march was 25 km, we could not reach Tenomuotka hut before dark. As I’m reminiscing this last leg now, I must say it wasn’t totally safe going. Even during daylight time we sometimes skied accidentally to a wet patch, and now, skiing with our headlamps, we did this even more often. What if the ice had been much thinner in one of these patches?

Anyway, we arrived to Tenomuotka hut in the evening, and there hadn’t been anyone here for months. Four willow grouses flew off from the shore of River Lätäseno at Tenomuotka. We decided immediately that we will sleep here three nights and rest properly.

The next day was Christmas Eve. In Finland we have many traditional Christmas dishes, and we tried to prepare many of them even here far from civilization. We started our day with rice porridge, and already yesterday evening we had taken a two kilogram ham from our pulkas into the hut to unfreeze.

After morning porridge we did a short ski tour in the nearhood. We saw beautiful, colorful nacreous clouds and a broad 360° view from the nearby fell Karravaara. We found roaming from the top and called briefly to both homes. It was nice to hear the voices of my Mom, Dad, little brother and little sister. (We were both single men at this time, and that naturally was an essential thing. As a married man, and with own children I couldn’t now be this long away from home, not nearly.)

We had many Christmas delicacies to prepare and unpack from our pulkas, and we had some gifts, and many Christmas cards to open. But guess what was the most important thing today?

It was washing oneself. We had had a sauna and shower over a week ago in Hetta town, and we definitively smelled bad! Also my scalp was itching fiercely. We melted and heated a lot of water on the wood stove, and then one at a time washed ourselves outside, standing on the snow. The small everyday things like being clean, healthy, not hungry and so on are wonderful miracles when you’ve been missing one of them for a while. We also washed some laundry and used only clean clothes now.

While melting and heating water we also started to prepare the traditional Finnish surypy mashed potato casserole (translation is certainly off, but something like that; in Finnish ‘imelletty perunalaatikko’). We didn’t have the normal ingredients, like normal potatoes, but we used mashed potato powder, milk powder, water, and cooking on mild heat for many hours. It was good, and surprisingly near the real thing!

Markus is slicing off the first piece of ham. In the black pot is our surypy mashed potato casserole, and on the right side of the ham are the carrot casserole and turnip casserole. The yellow tube behind them is mustard. The empty metallic pots are our plates. I didn’t carry a mug at all, I drank always from my water bottle. Markus used the thermos bottle mug. Also lots of biscuits and chocolate on the table, and don’t miss the Christmas cards, and our juniper Christmas tree (the traditional Christmas tree in Finland is spruce, but the nearest spruces are over a hundred kilometers south from here).

In a Finnish Christmas dinner table there is typically also casserole made of carrots, and another made of turnips. When we left our accommodation at Hetta, Holiday Village Paavontalo, the hostess had made a surprise for us. Without saying a word to us she had smuggled a casserole of carrots and a casserole of turnips to our pulkas! We only found out this several days later, and we were very delighted and touched. These casseroles were frozen for these eight days in our pulkas and now it was time to heat them up.

These casseroles, and the two kilo ham, and other Christmas stuff meant our pulkas were quite heavy. Now it was time to make them lighter, and that we did. We ate all evening, after dinner continuing with biscuits and chocolate confectionaries. And we ate all of the next day, too.

We had been hiking for nearly two months, and what did we do on our rest day? You might think we were fed up with hiking, but we were more enthusiastic about long hikes than ever. We opened up our small-scale backup maps and started to plan a long summer/autumn hike on the opposite direction: from Kilpisjärvi to Nellim. And indeed we carried out exactly this plan the next October (see here).

Approaching Halti

We only continued on 26th December. Skiing on River Lätäseno was easy, but soon we ascended to treeless fell area. The wind was rather high here, and clouds were hanging low. Sky and land were all the same grayish white.

In white-out navigating is very difficult, and the wind howling in your ears makes it even harder, mentally. We had good hoods and we were not skiing against the wind, so our faces were not freezing, but still a high wind makes you nervous. What if some kind of an accident happens and you have to camp right here?

It certainly is advisable not to advance in treeless terrain on a day like this, but we were too enthusiastic to stay put for another day after two full rest days to wait. Not a wise move, but on the other hand all went well.

Skiing in white-out…

…and lunch break in white-out.

Markus was navigating today, and he did perfect job. Had we arrived some 50 meters to left or right from the Taabmajärvi wilderness hut we would not have seen it.

The white-out continued the next day. I had an easier time in navigating, for most part, for we followed the reindeer fence that runs near the Finnish-Norwegian border. Skiing was not easy, on one hand for the hard wind, and on the other hand for the lack of shadows, which means it’s difficult to fathom whether you have even ground, or a bump of 20 cm, or a hollow of 30 cm just ahead of you.

Navigating along the fence was easy until the junction of Lake Somasjärvi and River Somasjoki. I had thought we would be able to follow the river upstream to Kopmajoki wilderness hut, but it turned out to be impossible. The snow had filled the river totally, and we could not see which was river and which was dry ground. Sounds unbelievable, but in fact this is not unusual in treeless fell terrain in winter white-out.

I took a very precise compass bearing from this known location and I looked at the compass really often during this last kilometer. Which was good, for we arrived precisely to the hut.

* * *

Next week I’ll tell about hiking up to Halti fell. Did we manage to camp on top of Halti at the exact turn of millennia? And what about our last week from Halti to the three-country border point (FIN-SWE-NOR), and how was our return to civilization? But for now, Merry Christmas to everyone!

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