Lemmenjoki National Park is the largest national park of Finland. With 2,860 km², it’s just ahead of Urho Kekkonen National Park (where we saw Kuukeli for the first time!) and its 2,550 km². The third one, Pallas-Yllästunturi, is far behind, with 1020 km².
More than its size, though, what strikes the traveller when he arrives in Lemmenjoki is the remoteness of the place. From Inari, we took a road to the south… and suddenly, we were alone. OK, sometimes you see a Hotel sign pointing straight into the forest, or some houses. We stopped before the park to meet Jouni. This was not a period of tremendous activity, but he tried to show us some birds. We saw a Black-throated diver (Gavia arctica) on the lake, and a pair of Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus), but the best was the Siberian tit (Poecile cinctus), a tough cousin to the Great tit (Parus major) so common further south, but inhabiting only northern forests. It stayed high in the pines, but it showed well, and my two friends managed to see it correctly.
After this, we drove to the edge of the national park, where we had booked two nights at the hostel. To be more precise, we had booked a tiny three-bedded cabin (3 meters x 2 meters of pure happiness), but at 30€ the night (for 3 persons!), we were not going to complain.
After settling there, we took the car and wandered along forest roads leading nowhere; I assumed they were used for forestry activities. This was the best idea of the trip: we found lovely places and were surrounded by vibrant colors all the time. Oh, and I forgot to mention it: it was not raining anymore!
We dreamt of a bear appearing on the edge of the wet meadows, but it obviously did not happen. Next time maybe?
The day after, we made our “big” hike. We climbed atop Joenkielinen and went down, for some 18 km of walking. It was a cloudy day but it barely rained at all, and the colors in the forest were splendid! Every time we passed by a bog (and there were many), our eyes were drawn to deep reds and oranges.
We started our ascent, on the eastern side, by a slow climb through the forest. We had lunch in a hut, which brough a pleasant shelter from the wind. It was not really windy per se, but after walking for a few kilometers, we would have quickly felt cold sitting in the open.
To get there, we had to extract ourselves from a maze of water and mud – not that the path was hidden, but streams seemed to mistake walking paths for river beds, forcing us to wander a bit not to soak our feet. These conditions were not unlike those of our hike in Pallas, a year before, making me wonder whether this wasn’t simply normal hiking conditions in Lapland.
After the pit stop, the ascent became a bit steeper, and little by little trees gave way to boulders. “That place”, I told my friends, “is a good place for ptarmigans”.
But we reached the top without seeing any of those elusive birds. Still, the view was stunning. Bare fells rolled about everywhere, sometimes displaying scattered patches of snow. After making the obligatory pano pics (I won’t show any, because the light was dull and the colors faded, and, after all, the landscape was still pretty flat and uninspiring. But it’s Finland <3), we went down on the western side.
That’s when I realized that the best idea of the trip was this hike, for we finally saw a long-expected bird: the Rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), finally! I had grown tired of the wide-angle lens, so I had taken the telelens instead, to have a different perspective on the scenery. I was trailing behind my friends, when I heard some muffled sounds to my right: “whoop, whoop”. I turned, and there they were, no further than five meters! A pair of ptarmigans, in their cryptic camouflage that makes them so difficult to see.
I snapped a few pictures, but before Sylvain arrived, they had gone behind the ridge. He readied his own telelens, and we climbed after the chickens, slowly, taking another route not to frighten them. We managed to get close again, but they didn’t wait for us and kept moving up. We let them go, elated by the encounter. It was my first time with this species!
We still had a long way down to go, but soon we found ourselves back in the forest, where colors were brighter than on the barren hilltops.
“Samuel, there’s a bird on that tree there. A woodpecker.” Sure it was, and a new species! Three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), the one with the yellow crown, again a long-expected bird for me. This is a blurred documentary shot, I was not ready for it and it flew away too quickly.
Now that I think about it, it’s quite ironic that a man from the Alps had to go to the heart of Lapland, to such a remote place, to see two species that are actually visible in his homeland. Life…
This was definitely a good trip, and we arrived in our cabin weary but contented. On the morrow, we would move south, for our last day before the flight back to Helsinki.
Previously in my Lapland series
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