Hike of 2003

On a bright September morning Tarja, my sister Rei and myself jumped on a bus, a train, a bus again and another bus and found ourselves at the further starting point of Karhunkierros. This starting point was over the municipal border, in Salla. What was laid infront of us, was 80 kilometers of walking with super-packed backpacks. Not one of us had ever made a long hike before. This promised to be good.

Tarja (right) and me posing @ Hautajärvi. The beginning of a journey.

The journey continued over an easy terrain of old meadows and massive marshes, provided with easy access over the dampest parts. It wasn't until after some five kilometers of what was basically a pasture, that we reached the outskirts of the forest.



In the outskirts of the forest we had our first pause. It was a nice place to sit for a while and for me to change from leather boots to sneakers. Yes, sneakers. Intended to wear whilst camping, they turned out to be more comfortable shoes for the actual hiking part.

Tree looming over our first pit-stop.

We had originally thought to cover a roughly 14 kilometer distance before the nightfall. What we didn't consider was the fact that each one of us, in relatively bad physical condition and unfamiliar with long-distance hiking, were carrying a huge load of unnecessary stuff on our backs. The terrain went rather quickly from easy to very hard, at least for a non-experienced hiker. The night began to fall. Everyone was feeling tired and sweaty and down-right miserable. We steered off to a shelter on the banks of the River Oulanka.

Night is falling on the River Oulanka.

The shelter was occupied by German fishermen, so we decided to not try our luck with the weather and our crappy Donald Duck -style tents, but instead soldiered on. We had originally thought to get to the first cabin available for all travelers. It was some 15 kilometers from the starting point, but as the shadows grew bigger and the autumn sun shone its last shimmers, we had to re-think the goal. The terrain was difficult and even dangerous to walk in, especially in the dim light. And the dimness was turning into dark and eventually into pitch black. Eagle owl was hooting somewhere close, on our right, on a fir branch. We decided to try for the next available shelter. Rei turned the only existing torch on, pointed it backwards at my feet and Tarja followed on last place, basically following the shimmer of light reflected from my white sneakers.

The night was absolute terror, none of us got any sleep, because we were freezing our asses of. We didn't think to make a fire in the evening, because we were so tired and worn out. What none of us realized was the fact that it would've been the best thing to do. Getting out of my sleeping bag at roughly seven in the morning was a surreal experience. The river was putting up steam in the air, simply because the air was below zero celsius and the water was warm compared to it. I did some gymnastics in my underwear, with a woolly-hat on. Tarja and Rei got up as well and we lit only a modest fire, because all we wanted was to have a bit of coffee and then haul ass. The walking would get us warm.

Below zero celsius.

Me showing the face of a bad morning.

Tarja is cheering up in anticipation of coffee.

During the day we ventured over the municipal border, county and province line. From Salla, in Lapland to Kuusamo in Pohjanmaa, Oulu province. Cheery moment, and the terrain was rather easy to walk on at that point. Also the blood had started to circulate in our bodies, so everything was looking good.

Me (left) and Rei. Yea, we look kinda dorky.

Rei (left) and Tarja posing.

The next few kilometers brought us to a cliff high above a cabin. From the cliff we had a great view of the long suspension bridge that we were to cross, probably the next day, taking off to the next leg od our tour. Because of the earlier experiences in the shelter, we decided that it was not a bad idea to call it a day early and rest, eat well and sleep indoors, so we headed to the cabin somewhere way below us, on the brinks of a big rapid Taivalköngäs.

View from a cliff.

When racing down the long wooden stairway to get to the cabin, Tarja decided to skip the last few stairs and hopped down from atop of a small rock. The distance couldn't have been much more than 30 centimeters, or a foot, but she had her backpack on. She busted her knee landing. But she didn't think it was much, probably the thump just made it a little sore. And into the cabin we ran, to take of our gear and to get to the loo. The cabin was a nice big, two-floored old thing. And it had a kitchen, so we didn't have to make a fire.

Cabin kitchen. Coffee coming up.

After an early dinner of pasta and a nice warm cup of coffee, we headed out to explore the environment. There was a shorter suspension bridge near by crossing over one of the three river forks. By that time Tarja was limping very badly and complaining that her knee hurt. We thought it had been a marvellous idea to spend the night there, because she would have her knee back in condition after a good night's sleep.

Suspension bridge.

On the next morning the situation with the knee hadn't improved. Tarja was downing pills like they were bread. Contemplating on the situation, she decided that she could and would limp the 8 or 9 kilometers needed to get to a point where we could just hop on the bus and head back to Ruka. So we packed our stuff, waved goodbye to the rest of the track and headed for Ristikallio.

A tree stump marked with orange paint for guidance.

There was a bit of a rough terrain on one of the places, where we had to cross a creek and some rocks. Tarja managed to do fine, even though she had trouble bending the knee.

Bridge over a wee creek.

We made a stop at the Ristikallio cabin, where two guys attempted to make Tarja's knee more comfortable, but were left puzzled as it was a knee and not an ankle she had busted. Rei and I had time to take some pictures while Tarja was downing a handfull of painkillers with sportsdrink. And on we soldiered without her whining a bit.

A view of Ristikallio rock formation.

After a few kilometers we finally made it to the passageway across a big marsh, then a narrow clearing in the woods and down a flight of stairs, across a damp little swamp spot, up a flight of stairs and there we were. On the roadside, where a bus would pick us up.

The end of the line. Tarja is as high as a kite from all the painkillers.

Final destination.

We had a good night's sleep in the hotel, ate (at least Rei and I) a huge breakfast and then headed home. Tarja's knee was pretty badly busted when she headed to the doctor, but it healed actually quite well. Already on the way home, in the bus, even with Tarja basically being drugged out of her mind, we were discussing the next trip. We wanted to make the whole route. And that time we would have more experience on what to take with us, how to do things and the invaluable knowledge on the terrain and its challenges.