Rakas lukija (dear reader),

I am glad that you found the way to my blog. Over the next months I will use this media to share some of my experiences in Finland. This time I will start with a rather crazy one.

Roughly one week ago I arrived safely in Helsinki. Hopefully I will blog more about this beautiful city, however for now you just have to believe me that it is truly gorgeous.

Day 0: The journey to Urho Kekkonen

0.1 How it started

The last weeks were quite complicated for myself. I was in a “¼ relationship” with a girl that was literally living in her past. While maybe our love was mutual (or “too perfect” according to her), she had a destructive behaviour that transcended any rational explanation many times.

If you see love as war: have you ever seen a commander mining the land of his own ally? She terminated our “relationship” innumerable times which was somewhat explainable due to the complicated circumstances of our love and the fact that she - as a young and inexperienced girl - tried to find the “simplest” way.

Nonetheless after all these painful love wars on the same day at which she promised me to stop her oblivion strategy, to be my soul mate and master all obstacles jointly, she showed me that she is still a radiant diamond. Even now I can’t yet believe that I was willing to sacrifice almost anything for her.

Eventually she decided to stay with her ex.

This was my first relationship that wasn’t based on a physical but a mental foundation, so the realization of its end was naturally quite emotional. During my first day in Helsinki that was originally planned to be about the start of a new life my mind was only focussed on the life that has ended. Nevertheless instead of killing myself for lovesickness, I decided to fight against it by utilizing adventures and physical exertion. This is how I discovered the Urho Kekkonen National Park.

0.2 Urho Kekkonen

Shelter

Urho Kekkonen with its 2550 km² is Finland’s second largest National Park. In case you get lost within my trail descriptions: it is a northern taiga forest. The south-western part features extensive open bogs whereas the northern part is rugged wilderness. The best known inhabitants are the brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolves (Canis lupes) and the elk (Alces alces). Apart from its magnificent nature it is very popular because it has many open wilderness huts (autiotupa) and lean-to shelters (laavu).

0.3 The journey begins …

Quickly I booked a flight to Rovaniemi and four hours later I was on the plane to Rovaniemi where I was greeted by the friendly “Santa-Claus” sign:

Shelter Santa Claus Airport

Its location within endless forests reminded me of my trip to the Yellowstone National Park.

I managed to catch the last bus towards Ivalo and during my journey I could observe a good example of the friendliness of the Lapps. At some point we came by a car accident (a person hit a reindeer with his motorcycle) and our bus driver immediately stopped to get out and see whether help is needed even though two other cars have already parked. Funnily in Finland more people die from reindeer car accidents than from bears.

220km and three and a half hours later I arrived shortly after midnight in Tankavaara. Left alone I realized one of my bigger mistakes. Due to the spontaneous decision and my undersized 38L backpack, I left a heavy jeans in Helsinki (proper trousers were still on the ship journey to my new country) in favor of more food. Well obviously it was utterly cold and I managed to partly deal with by utilizing a towel as trousers.

In the twilight (it is so far north that one can still see clearly after the late sunset) I walked the first half of the Geologinen trail to the lean-to shelter Koiranjuomalampi. After ten minutes I had to cross the first stream with the help of a stub of a tree and I already realized that this adventure would become completely different to my normal urban life.

Day 1: Koiranjuomalampi - Tankavaara - Kuukkeli - Sompiojärvi - Orponen (42 km)

On the next morning I had one of the happiest moments. While preparing my first “typical” Maggi noodle breakfast, I found a thin (but long!) sport pants inside of my cooking pots. I still put on a combination of 2x underpants, thin short sport pants, thin long sport pants, underpants and 3x short sport pants. Luckily I only had to wear this interesting combination during the nights.

Lake
Shelter Huts

When my adventure spirit was charged enough by the marvelous, pastoral lake I hiked the other part of the Geologinen trail to the Tankavaara visitor centre. It is always horrifying to realize that no matter how far and apart from civilization one goes, German history always catches one. In the secluded fenlands of Tankavaara one can still see remains of the German Schutzwall against the Soviet and Fins. Even in 1944 (when the Fins signed a peace treaty with the Allies) there were around 200,00 German troops in Finnish Lapland which had to be immediately evacuated to Germany via Norway.

As I was the first visitor (at roughly 13:30), the lady from Metsähallitus (the Finnish Forest Service) was very friendly to me and I even filled out a rescue form (probably they would have never found me, but it helped my consciousness to know that someone at least roughly knew where I died).

Warning: I hiked - against all advices and my own rationality - without compass and GPS. Without two super-detailed maps I probably would be able to write this post ;-)

Mum: (before you call me in rash worries) I had a GPS phone with me, but wanted to save my battery for taking pictures (I didn’t bring a battery pack nor solar charger).

So I started my real journey - today towards Orponen. The first highlight of this trip was at Kuukkeli - a hill with a bird watching tower.

Lake Lake

I continued my journey through the Sompio Strict Nature Reserve. In this part of the National Park one is only allowed to walk on the marked trails which was fortunate as Finnish Forest Service went through the effort of marking the trail.

Thankfully to last night I was already used to cross streams, but still the track kept gradually getting trickier (and wetter). Nevertheless I was rewarded many times for efforts - for example I spotted many reindeers on my way. After 15km trough fendland, bogs and forests I arrived at Sompiojärvi - just at the right time to have my dinner under the gorgeous start of sun set.

Lake
Lake Lake
Lake

Even tough I could walk the next kilometres on a gravel road, I felt my muscles for the first time and was super happy when I shortly after midnight saw the lean-to shelter in Orponen and was even so tired that I bivouacked again.

Day 2: Orponen - Karapulju - Luirojärvi - Pälkkimäoja (30km)

On the next day I woke up in the early morning and quickly continued my journey.

The first part until Karapulju (about 12 km) were through true bogs. Whereas I slowly got used to walk in shallow (~20cm) water, it was extremely difficult to find the track as I must have been the first person to walk on this “trail” for (at least) weeks. You probably can’t believe how happy I was after walking a couple of minutes without any trace of a trail to finally find the track again or to walk a non-watery trail for a short time :)

Sometimes I also had to pass rivers like this one:

River pano
River pano River pano River pano River pano

In the forest before Karapulju I was again lucky enough to spot more reindeers. Later on I passed the reindeer fence and though wasn’t seeing them anymore until I passed the fence again on my last day. Reindeer herding is still practiced here in order to restore the pre-Chernobyl population (as nearly the entire reindeer population had to be slaughtered due to the risk of cesium contamination) and it is still a major source of livelihood for the Sámi (indigenous Lapps). Ironically, the cesium levels of some reindeer slaughtered prior to the Chernobyl incident were higher than the post-Chernobyl marketability limit (Soviet atomic bomb testing in Novaya Zemlya in the 1950s and 1960s produced contamination in reindeer that went unregulated).

Reindeer Reindeer

In the late afternoon I approached the lake Luirojärvi - it is one of the most popular spots in Urho Kekkonen, so there were a couple of huts and they even had a sauna hut. Naturally this was the second time (after Sompiojärvi) that I saw people. I didn’t imagine that I would dislike the contact to other humans so much - my initial plan was to stay for the night at this lake. However my desire to be alone motivated me to walk another 8km to Pälkkimäoja - a beautiful shelter directly next to a river (that one obviously has to cross). This was also the first time I pitched my tent:

Tent Tent

Day 3: Pälkkimäoja - Luirojärvi - Sokosti - Luirojärvi - Tuiskukuru - Suomunruoktu - Suomunlavta (40 km)

My major aim was to hike to the highest mountain of Urho Kekkonen - Mt. Sokosti. Even though it is only 718m above sea level, there no vegetation (the vegetation zone stops at 400m) and one has a amazing view over wide areas of the National Park:

Tent

After sending a short “I am still alive” to my parents (there is a solar cellular transmitter on top of the mountain), I headed down to Luirojärvi. In most areas of the NP picking of wild berries is allowed (even gold digging is allowed as long one can carry his equipment). In the area where I grew up, rabies is very common so you get taught not to eat berries from the forests. However the growing exhaustion and hunger loosened my preconceived concerns and I had a delicious “after-lunch” meal (I had only eaten one Powerbar so far at this day).

Berries

Next I continued my journey to Tuiskukuru and after 10km and some rivers I arrived in the evening:

Tent Tent Tent

Subsequently after having had my first meal, I resumed my trip. You can’t believe how happy I got whenever I saw a destination panel and when I finally arrived in Suomunlarvi (5km after Suomunruoktu).

Tent Tent

Day 4: Suomunlavta - Niilanpää - Kiiliopää - Sivakkaoja - Kopsusjörventie - Sompiojärvi - Pyhä-Nattanen (47 km)

In opposition to the experienced trips my biggest journey hasn’t started yet. On Day 4 I wanted to walk the Ruijanpolku (part of the ancient Ruijanreitti route which was mentioned for the first time in the 16th century).

Tent

Therefore I set off to Kiiliopää (10 km), a small tourist village. The entrance to the Ruijanpolku was 3km away and very hard to find.

Somehow I managed to find it, but after Sivakkaoja I completely lost it so that I ended up outside of the NP.

Fortunately I saved enough battery, so I could find my back with the help of GPS and in Kopsusjärventie I was so hungry that I started to eat 400g of my “emergency” noodles (without sauce) as breakfast. By the time I arrived in Kopsusjärventie it was already evening and I had a long way (12-16 km) to go to Tervärä-Nattanen (a mountain on which I wanted to watch the sunset), so I jogged for the next 7-9 kilometres. This was probably the most joyful and pleasant experience during my entire trip. The trail I passed featured bogs and taiga forests, aggravated by many fallen trees, rugged parts and small hills - hence it was completely different to what I was used to jog on.

Ruijanpolku trail Ruijanpolku trail Ruijanpolku trail Ruijanpolku trail Ruijanpolku trail Ruijanpolku trail

Unfortunately I missed the junction to Tervärä-Nattanen and the last kilometres of the Ruijanpolku were immensely painful, but somehow I arrived in Sompiojärvi and even made the next 5 kilometres to the mountain Pyhä-Nattanen. My ascent was about midnight and I mostly staggered my way up using the last energy reserves I had. When I opened my shoes I saw the reason for my pains: there were deep furrows in my feets.

Tent Tent

Day 5: Pyhä-Nattanen - Vuotso -> Rovaniemi Keskus - Rovaniemi Lentoasema (20 km)

It is impressing how fast my feet healed, but on my last day in the NP I still had to walk about 13km to Vuotso. On this way I dreamed about all the possible delicious food items I could eat there. However on arrival my imagination was confronted with the reality. There was no grocery store at all - even the fuel station (that I have seen on my map) has been given up. During the endless time (about three hours) I waited for the bus, I even ate my last raw noodles.

In the bus to Rovaniemi I turned on my internet and once again realized how ineffable relaxing time without your smartphone is.

After arriving in Rovaniemi I appeased my hunger by directly eating a loaf of bread (leipä), 6 curd cheese turnovers and 250g of Salami (meetvursti). In the further course of the evening I walked from the city centre (keskus) of Rovaniemi to the airport (lentoasema). Within this evening I ate another loaf of bread (with peanut butter, määpähkinävoi), a pack of chocolate cookies and 5 cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti). As the “Santa-Clause” airport is very small they close at 10pm, so I pitched my tent on a very close-by hill.

Näkemiin (Goodbye)

I absolutely enjoyed walking in the loneliness (in the entire five days and over the 180 kilometres I only met one family on my path). While Urho Kekkonen is not so spectacular like Yellowstone National Park or other places it has its own special charm and it has found a special place in my heart.

Altough this adventures ended now, I am starting a new one - my Erasmus semester here in Helsinki. In fact I just moved in yesterday :)

Kiitos (Thanks to)

  • Eva and Robert for giving me a diary (my best friend in Urho Kekkonen)
  • The girl that innumerable destroyed my heart and “indirect theoretical” gave me motivation to commence on this amazing adventure
  • All the other people that worried about me during my love wars and my time in the Lapland