It was that time of the year, again. Temperatures going down, trees turning yellow, orange, red.
We didn’t have so many plans for this corona-year, so fortunately not much got canceled, but after 2 weeks in Vivien’s family in Hungary in August, we felt like we could do something inside Finland. Vivien had never been to Lapland, so we decided it would be our next destination.
Now, if you remember, I have visited the northern reaches of Europe several times, in all seasons. In September 2017, I toured eastern Lapland with two friends from France. In spite of the almost-continuous bleak weather, our minds were blown by the ruska colours, when the forest and the tundra prepare for winter by closing access to their leaves and not replacing their chlorophyll there. Yellow and orange colours are revealed, red is synthesized, and visitors flock to the wilderness to enjoy the show. In this year of restricted international tourism, more Finns visited their own country than ever, probably, and that showed in the places we visited up north this autumn.
Our first stopped was Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, one of the two first created in Finland, in 1938. We spent a couple of days around Pallas, in the center of the park, then a couple more in Ylläs, to the south, with 3 days in the Kilpisjärvi area in between (more on that in another article, stay tuned!). For me, Pallas was quite a trip down memory lane. Indeed, in August 2016, I hiked the 55km from Hetta to Pallas with my friend Vincent, one of the most popular hikes in Finland, along the ranges of fells (tunturi, in Finnish) characteristic of the national park.
This time, the walking was a bit more relaxed. We still climbed to Taivaskero, the highest summit in the region (809m), but from the Pallas Visitor Center. The 4km climb was the occasion to enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the region, while Rough-legged buzzards (Buteo lagopus) soared in the sky and Meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis) chirped around us. After reaching the pass, we turned left and the vegetation disappeared, leaving only rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere. I was glad to be back.
During our trip, we visited many visitor centers and read about the regions we travelled through. Thus, we learnt how winter forges the fells: water seeps into cracks in the rock, and then comes the cold and the water freezes, enlarging the cracks. The story repeated itself times and again through centuries, creating the immense boulder fields that now cover the hilltops.
On our second day in Pallas, it rained a bit, but after a lazy morning, we decided it would be silly not to go out just because there was rain on the forecast. Therefore, we took the car and went to Pyhäjoki Nature Trail, a 3.5-km walk in the forest.
There, we particularly enjoyed the variety of habitats, from lush herb-rich forest by the river to drier rocky pine heath at the furthest point. Because there were not so many birds around, we learnt a lot about vegetation during those 2 weeks. One of the best tools we had for that was the Seek app, from citizen science platform iNaturalist: just point your phone at a plant, or a mushroom, and it will automatically tell you what it is. It’s surprisingly powerful, though sometimes it can’t find the exact species you show it. It felt a bit like Pokemon Go, but for plants. Gotta catch’em all!
We returned to Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park a few days later, in Ylläs. We walked two short trails in the area: the Varkaankuru trail, along a sheltered gorge where we saw a Hazel grouse (Tetrastes bonasia) peacefully munching close to the path, and the boardwalk trail along Ylläslompolo, where we had stunning views of the forest and the fells behind.
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