Lapland. A land of fantasy far far to the north, inhabited by reindeers, covered in snow and lit by Nordic lights. Or a land of neverending days, when summer comes. Or none of this.
Our story starts on Facebook. I’m chatting with my friend Vincent, telling him I’m going to stay in Finland for the month of August. “Hey, I may pay you a visit”, he said. And me: “hey, from France, Helsinki is not so far north, what about we go hiking in Lapland?”. I knew he was keen on hiking in the wild, and I wanted to try something longer than what I was used to. I had high hopes for birds there, although I feared we would be too late in the season.
There started our quest: quest for information on the hike, the weather (tip: never trust the Finnish weather forecast), the facilities, transportation… Quest for equipment also, as I didn’t expect my sleeping bag optimized for 15-10ºC to be warm enough. We settled on the Hetta-Pallas trail, in the (repeat after me) Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park: 55km in the forest and atop the fells (tunturi in Finnish). The highest “summit” in the “mountain” range is 800m high (notice the quotation marks, that’s nothing scary for two people born in the Alps), and we would climb it on our last day.
Backpacks heavily loaded (I left at home the book I had bought especially for this occasion), we set sail on a long and expensive trip accross Finland, to reach Hetta (Enontekiö), our starting point. A lengthy journey that almost never happened: the first bus was late and slow, so we missed the connection that would lead us to the railway station. I am happy I know Helsinki, for I was able to improvise a plan C on the go and get another bus. We arrived on time to take our train… which itself was late, thanks to some work on the tracks. Our connection in Oulu was threatened, but an announcement stated that the train to Rovaniemi would wait for us (and I understood the announcement in Finnish! Yaay!). On the way, I had time to admire small flocks of Common cranes (Grus grus). In Rovaniemi, we visited a shopping center: for the sake of my back, I had got rid of everything unnecessary in my photo bag, and also of something that was much necessary, a spare memory card. Quand on a pas de tête…
The hike felt long, especially carrying so much on our backs. We saw vey few birds, as everything was silent most of the time. We saw very few humans too, which was great, and some reindeers!
More important, though: the sceneries were impressive. Big and empty, it looked a bit like Iceland, albeit flatter. The first day started in the forest, but after lunch we started to climb steadily, with a very Finnish view as a reward: forest and lakes everywhere.
We reached Pyhäkero, and for two days we walked along the Ounastunturi range, either to the top of the fells or only on their slopes.
The first day was rather cloudy, but the sun appeared in the afternoon. Conversely, the sun shone on our second day, but clouds appeared in the evening. They let the sunset through, but not the sunrise: in fact, the third day was horrible, we walked two hours under the rain, and then in the fog, as we climbed the first slopes of the Pallastunturi range. That’s where I understood why there are signposts every 50 meters: we couldn’t really see further than the next one, that day!
In spite of the rain ponchos, our feet and legs were soaked in no time. Even on sunny days, water mistook the trail for a riverbed, so imagine the quagmires we had to cross on a rainy day! I regret not taking more pics on that day, but the only thought in our minds, it seemed, was to walk and reach the shelter as fast as we could. I think I saw a Great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor) perched on a signpost, but my binoculars, hidden under the poncho, were clogged by condensation… by the time it was gone, the bird was gone too.
One word about the infrastructure there: there are shelters available for free, and by shelters I mean wood cabins with benches to sleep and gas stoves for cooking… we almost didn’t use our camping stove, nor our tent. It was really comfortable, especially after our cold, wet day. I must mention that I got answers to the emails I sent to the visitor center in Pallas.
Our delicious meals of bulgur/quinoa, mashed potatoes or soup were always appreciated in the evening, but we had to restrain ourselves from finishing our nuts and sweets before the last day. In the end, I felt very proud of accomplishing this trip: it was the first time I walked for so long, and the first time (I think) I went hiking without my parents! They helped us plan, of course, but still, it felt like an extraordinary accomplishment. We bought many biscuit bundles to celebrate 😀
On the last day, I had planned to drop by the visitor center’s shop, so I wanted to wake up early. At 5, my attempt to go out see some birds aborted when I saw that we were buried in fog. At 6, a departure attempt was hindered all the same, but at 8, the sky was blue and there was no trace of fog nor cloud anywhere. Spirits were high when we left, and I think we walked more quickly than before, the lighter bags undoubtedly playing a role in that matter. We climbed a lot, reaching Taivaskero, sitting at 806m as the highest point of our hike.
That’s where the olympic torch was lit before the Helsinki Games of 1952. From there, we could see Pallas, our goal. We only had to go down a few hundred meters…
The morning of the second day was memorable, and you’ve already seen a few pictures from that day. Here are some more 🙂
When editing the pictures, I felt bored and annoyed by the harsh daylight (even though I enjoyed it when we were there). I tried some different styles, including a very bright “theme”, and a very constrasty black and white one. I hope you like those, don’t hesitate to tell me 😉
Stay tuned, there will be more!
> Flickr gallery, to be updated