After nearly 15 weeks in the mountain ranges along the west coast of Scandinavia, I am about to make a dramatic turn towards the east and plunge into the vast expanses of Finnmark. The next few days towards Kilpisjävri will be my last in the mountains. After that there is ‘just’ the 500km run towards the icy waters of the Barents Sea left.
After a cold, crisp clear night along the river near the tiny town in Holt, it has become overcast when I wake up the following morning. I take it easy as I have to go shopping in the local Joker supermarket, which only opens at 9.30 on Monday. I buy food for only 3 days, which should be enough to reach Kilpis, plus some good stuff for this evening to celebrate the 100 days on the trail.
The walk of today itself must be the most uninteresting of the last few weeks. I follow asphalt and gravel roads through the Rostadalen for 26 kilometers until I reach the trailhead of the DNT-path towards Rostahytta late in the afternoon. The southeasterly wind forces me to skip the paddling section on the Rostavatn. Luckily there are plenty of blueberries and even raspberries to cheer me up.
I cross the Rostaelva river on a long summer bridge and start hiking upstream along the thundering river through birch forest on a good trail. Despite the slight rain I fully enjoy this section, with splendid autumn colours and snow on the surrounding summits, and I soon reach the nice Rostahytta, which is located around the treeline on a place where the valley opens up. 3 hunters occupy the main building, so I decide to sleep in the small cabin and prepare my royal diner I have bought in the morning. After the cold weather of the last few days it is clearly becoming a bit warmer and I heat some water to have a full wash outside the hut.
The following day starts promising with a few bright spells. I hike up towards the Isdalen on a good trail with splendid retrospective views through the rubiginous Rostadalen. By pure chance, I take the most ridiculous video shot of my life when a small flock or reindeer passes by while filming myself on pretty section of the trail on the approach of a waterfall in the head of the valley. I had not even noticed them while doing my camera setup!
When I reach the higher bits of the Isdalen, it gets overcast again with some regular drizzle. The cloudbase lowers to the level of the valley floor, and I find myself engulfed by fog most of the time. What a pity for the views of the small glaciers and dramatic cirque landscapes this valley should offer! The terrain remains rocky when I walk into Sweden, and cross the border into Norway again a few kilometers later. I don’t take too many breaks and it is only 1 o’clock in the afternoon when I reach the Gappohytta cabin, where a waymark tells me I have already covered 20km. That went smooth!
I take a break in the porch of the cabin to seek for shelter for the cold wind and the rain. When a group of 3 Norwegian women arrives one hour later I decide to give it a go again on the trail towards Goldahytta. I walk just below the cloudbase all of the time, and can clearly tell that the fjords further northwest enjoy some nice sunny spells. This stretch could offer views all the way to the jagged peaks of the Lyngen Alps, but no such luck today. Also the autumn colours, which are about to reach their absolute climax, seem pale in this very dull atmosphere. I feel strong enough to cover another 12km all the way towards the next cabin. Sami on large quads are doing maintenance of the fences around the Goldajávvri lake. I have mobile phone coverage near the hut. The weather forecasts are not too promising, with a lot of rain for tomorrow. I decide to sleep inside and hike early tomorrow in order to try to reach Kilpisjärvi, which is still an approximate 16km away, in dry weather.
I start hiking at 6.30am in the same dull weather. I skirt along the northern shore of the Goldajavvri lake and soon reach the “Treriksroset”, the 3-country point Norway-Sweden-Finland. After a brief stop I climb up the southern slopes of the Finnish Iso-Malla hill on a very rocky section of the Nordkalottleden through the birch forest. Once above the treeline I start traversing the slope. I have climbed into the clouds and continue hiking with in my cocoon with no views onto the large Kilpisjavri lake. After crossing a pass I descend below the cloudbase again a bit before reaching the small Mallajávri lake. In the meantime it has started to rain slightly. Knowing all too well that is only the start of the downpour, I try to fasten my pace on the descent towards the road. The heavy rain starts just as I hit the asphalt. Scourged by lashing rain and a horrible 5 beaufort headwind, I run the last 2km along the road towards the Kilpis hotel, where I arrive soaked to the skin anyway. My 5-year old GTX ProShell is not what it used to be, a troubling though with nearly 3 weeks left.
About 20mm of rain falls over the next 4 hours, and I stay inside to enjoy a relatively cheap warm meal (welcome to Finland!) and a shower while drying my stuff. In the early afternoon it becomes dry again. Only minutes later the sun breaks through and by the time I am ready to leave again it has become a splendid, warm autumn afternoon. I walk 4 more kilometers along the road until I reach the Kilpisjävri village, where I buy my supplies for the next 115km towards Kautokeino. It is one of the typical Scandinavian border supermarkets again, with dozens of Norwegians (mostly of the ‘wrong’ type) stuffing their cars full of Tabaco and alcohol.
I climb away from the village and towards the Cahkaljavri lake on tundra and boulders. Saaná (1029m), the holy mountain of the Sami people (but now unfortunately with a huge telecommunication antenna on the summit), dominates the village and the Kilpisjavri lake, which is surrounded by golden birch forest. It is a fantastic walk, and one I have been longing for badly.
Once I have reached the eastern tip of the lake, it is clear I have reached the point where most daytrippers have already turned back. It is very hard to track the trail towards Termisjävri, and I soon end up searching my own way through boulderfields and tundra, often connecting bits and pieces of the many Sami quad tracks which seem to crosscut the area in an absolutely random way. The landscape transforms at an incredible speed. I call it a day a bit before reaching the Baikkasjavri lake. It is clear I have reached the edge of the mountain ranges along the west coast, and will soon enter the vast expanses and wastelands of the endless Finnmarksvidda. While the skyline to the west shows the rugged area west of Kilpisjavri, the rounded summit of Dierpmesvárri (1024m) appears to be the last hill in the east. Behind that: only hardcore nothingless.
After a night with some faint northern lights, I continue hiking east on tundra terrain until I reach the western tip of the Termisjávri lake. I inflate my packraft, and propelled by a slight tailwind easily raft the length of the lake, which is squeezed between the steep slopes of Jollánoaivi (1027m) and Dierpmesvárri (1024m). Two people are having breakfast on the terrace of the open wilderness cabin along the northern shore of the lake. I put out again and start hiking on a quad track along the winter markings of the Arctic Trail, a snowscooter route connecting Kilpisjavri with Hetta, 195km away towards the southeast. After a while I encounter a Sami man on one of these mega-quads, cruising the tundra to count his reindeer, which graze the vast expanses of the Rommaene watershed in small flocks.
After an overcast start, the weather starts to improve as I progress southeast on the quad track. My initial plan was to descend towards the Rommaeno river and packraft large stretches towards the confluence with the Latasëno. But I have changed my mind. With my experiences of the last few weeks, I now estimate there will be to little water to navigate through the endless rock gardens on the lower stretch of this river, which has a gradient of up to 6m/km. I will probably have to bushwhack many kilometers along the river. Instead, I will try to stay on higher (tundra) ground and more or less follow the winter route of the Arctic trail towards the confluence of Rommaeno and Lätaseno. The latter river should have enough water to allow 15km of packrafting.
I now walk out of the hills and into the desolate plain. The weather clears and it becomes a mostly sunny September afternoon with views extending for dozens of kilometers into Finnmark. Unexpectedly, this section quickly turns into one of the most memorable of the entire trip. The feeling of being all alone in this remote, endless wilderness starts to dawn on me in a very powerful and meaningful way. This is as solo as solo-hiking can become. I cross boulderfields, chase flocks of reindeer, ford rivers seemingly coming from nowhere and going nowhere, see ponds, bogs and rusty hillsides glister in the evening sun many miles away. I keep going for hours and hours with a distant skyline which never seems to change. I look at my map and try to grab that what I see composes only a small corner of it. I cook dinner at my tarp near an old, forgotten Sami cabin and ponder the meaning of this all.
High cirrus clouds coming from the west flood the sky the next morning. A warm front is approaching from the west. I continue with my hike to eternity for a few more hours, but finally a belt of golden birch forest approaches in the east. I have reached the Latasëno valley. I descend towards the treeline near the Munnijärvi lake, and the dry tundra terrain soon makes way for some of the most horrible peat bogs with deep gullies, tussock sections and bushwhacking (or a combination of these types) of the entire trip. The next 2km take me nearly 2 hours. I batter on until I reach the Ahkajohka river, where I luckily find a quad trail again which guides me through a series of splendid sandy moraines towards the Sami hamlet of Munnikurkkio.
My plan was to put in into the Lätaseno river here, but a 6 beaufort headwind from the south thwarts my paddling plans once again. After a break, I continue downstream on the right bank on a good quad trail, crossing the powerful Toriseno river on the way via a long metal bridge. It starts to rain slightly, and with my leaking jacket in mind I fasten my pace until I reach the Hirvasvuopio cabin in the early afternoon. There are 2 cabins, the second one being occupied by a 2 hunters. Some more friends of them arrive later in the afternoon with an aquaplane landing and taking off on the river. It keeps raining for the rest of the afternoon and the evening and I soon decide to spend the night inside the cozy cabin.
After more rain during the night it finally becomes dry and calm again the next morning. I put in my packraft and paddle 2km downstream, with one easy PR2 rapid on the way, until I reach the outflow of the Hirvasvuopio lake. I put out on the other side and start hiking east. I am about to start one of the sections I have been most afraid of before my trip. Only a faint trail is indicated on the map, and it won’t be easy to find my way east towards the Sami farm of Goahteluoppal, 12km away across the Norwegian border, through an absolutely flat labyrinth of birch forest, peat bogs and numerous ponds in case these trails do not exist in reality.
To my relief, I find some kind of a rectilinear passage through the birch forest which seems to correspond with the trail on my map, and reach the Finnish/Norwegian border without difficulties. It gets a bit more complex at the Norwegian side, but making use of my map and compass I manage to remain on course. The terrain is horrible at times with deep swamps. After a few hours I finally reach the Guovdageaineatnu river, which I have to cross to reach the quad track towards Kautokeino starting near the Goahteluoppal farm. But there is another way towards Kautokeino: just floating the river for about 30km all the way to the town. After the rain of the last few days I decide to give it a try. But at the very first rock garden I find myself bumping from boulder to boulder, ruining the bottom of my raft, and walking more through the icy river than actually packrafting. I immediately decide to give up, put out, and start walking the muddy track.
After the dull morning, the weather clears again in the afternoon. Walking through bogs and birch forest, the autumn colors are just phenomenal. I keep walking until a bit before sunset, camp on a sandy plateau just before crossing the Beatnajohka river, and enjoy some northern lights during the first part of the night before more clouds rush in again.
Under a grey sky, I continue following the track through the birch forest the next morning along the Junkajávri and Baktejávri lakes. A few kilometers further, before reaching the farms of Aksomuotki, I leave the trodden paths and descend towards the Guovdageaineatnu river again. A few tributaries like the Roggejohka have joined the river at this point, and I hope water levels will be high enough to make it to Kautokeino. I put in near the Ravdojarinnjarga and with a series of PR2 rapids and along nice bends carving deeply through the sandy glacial outwash plateaus I quickly reach the bridge across the river near Aksomuotki.
The river gets slower after this with a few lakes like the Uhkkojávri and the Vannasjávri. Just like during the previous days, the weather gets nice and sunny during the afternoon, with temperatures even reaching 13 degrees, the warmest since Sulitjelma many weeks ago. After a few more hours of paddling I reach Kautokeino, where I stay at a camping, eat my obligatory hamburger, and enjoy the evening with Tom, a 19-year-old German guy biking all the way from Berlin to Nordkapp, where he should arrive in just 3 days. For me it is another 500km and two weeks, but prospects are not bad at all: The Kautokeinoelva, Karasjohka en Tana rivers will now be my highway towards the Barents Sea.
10/09/2012: Holt – Rostahytta (29km, +450/-70, 6h20)
11/09/2012: Rostahytta – Goldahytta (32km, +810/-750, 8h00)
12/09/2012: Goldahytta – Paihkasjavri (27km, +440/-320, 6h55)
13/09/2012: Paikasjavri – Buoiddesjohka (30km, +160/-210, 7h30)
14/09/2012: Buoiddesjohka – Hirvasvuopio (24km, +100/-260, 5h50)
15/09/2012: Hirvasvuopio – Beatnajohka (25km, +140/-180, 6h10)
16/09/2012: Beatnajohka – Kautokeino (24km, +50/-140, 4h55)