lauantai 11. helmikuuta 2017

Sauna trek to Anterinmukka with the Mules of Lapland from 3rd September to 9th September 2016 in Saariselkä backwoods, Lapland, Finland

I first joined the Mules of Lapland on a trek a year ago. That trip took us to the rocky terrains of the Halti fell. The trek was success apart from my flimsy hiking boots giving me constant trouble. The stony ground in the wilderness of north-western Lapland grated and tore my soft-soled Meindl Vakuum Hiker boots in such a bad shape that after a trip to Portugal in March I very nearly turned them into flowerpots. Then I received some great advice from a shoe-repairer and patched-up the worst of the surface damage with Casco LiquiSole rubber glue. The shoes were once again more or less waterproof, and in June I was able to walk one more leg of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in them. However, I would not wear them to Lapland anymore.

Meindl Dovre Extreme
In the beginning of August, I spend a lot of time walking back and forth in the outdoor gear store Partioaitta. I was wearing similar hiking boots by two different manufacturers. In the end, I chose the Meindl Dovre Extreme. They felt better on my feet. The shoe extends quite high above the ankle, which makes is easier to wade through brooks. The sole is relatively rigid (B/C), and the rubber rand protects the shoe from wear and tear. The ’tongue’ of the shoe, or the part pressing against the shin, felt nice and soft. After coming home, I waxed my new hiking boots with care. Waxing makes the leather more flexible and pliable and also enhances durability. In August, I broke the shoes in by walking altogether about hundred kilometres in them, mostly to and from the grocery store or work. The extra insoles I purchased just before heading for Lapland made the shoes fit even better.

1st day of the trek. Saturday 3rd September 2016. From Kiilopää to Suomunruoktu. The sky above Rovaniemi was cloudy, and the morning was chilly. Carrying my full rucksack on my bag I walked to the gas station yard. A woollen hat and some gloves would have felt nice and warm, but they were somewhere in the depths of my rucksack. I was lugging the backpack that I would leave in the car on a hand hook. Inside it was the clean outfit that would be waiting for my return to the civilization at the end of the trek. I was keeping my eye on the intersection and soon enough the car of the Mules of Lapland turned to the yard. Hidi was at the wheel, and Tapsa was riding shotgun. I crammed the rucksack and the backpack to the trunk of the car and climbed to the backseat next to Kake. The group was the same as a year ago. We gulped our morning coffees down at Shell Napapiiri.


We purchased the last supplies needed in Sodankylä. We munched on the huge, delicious kebab rolls Hidi had made in the parking lot of the Tankavaara Gold Museum. The Tankavaara Visitor Centre was closed, so we headed for Saariselkä next. We got the keys to the rental wilderness huts from the service point Kiehinen of the State Forest Enterprise. We were told that there were a lot of hikers about. According to the weather forecast, at least Saturday and Sunday would be dry. We left the car in the parking lot at Kiilopää. It took us some time to get our gear ready. We did not make it to the trail until after 2 p.m.

Our goal for the first day was to reach Suomunruoktu which was situated more than 13 kilometres from the starting point. The trail would take us towards south-southeast. A couple of hundred meters at the beginning of the path was covered by broad duckboards. Walking sticks slipped easily through the cracks between the boards. Soon, the trail changed into a wide path and then into a narrow sand-based forest road. I marvelled at how easy it was to trek. After the rocky grounds of Halti this terrain felt criminally easy. Inadvertently, I increased my speed and soon realized I was walking far ahead of the others. There were pines and scrubby birches growing alongside the path. It was seldom that I was met by other trekkers. Four older ladies were also on their way to the hut in Suomunruoktu. The path became narrower. I walked past a large, red death cap mushroom. We rested for a while by a brook. Hidi whittled us slices from an air-dried veal sirloin for a snack.

Suomunruoktu unlocked/rental wilderness hut
The Suomunruoktu unlocked/rental wilderness hut is situated on the eastern bank of the river Suomujoki, which has only a small amount of water running in it. So I thought I would be able to test the abilities of my new hiking boots in wading through the river. However, the water level was so low that I would have managed it even wearing my old boots. There were a couple of grand deadwood trees near the hut. A reindeer skull greeted us with its empty eyes from the wall of the hut. A Czech couple was sitting at the campfire site. Kake went and made a fire. The foreigners obviously didn’t appreciate this nice gesture and went their own way. They wanted to be alone. The old mules took an evening bath in the river Suomujoki. An inquisitive Siberian Jay was walking around the campfire site.



As the night became darker, Tapsa kept admiringly fiddling his waterproof, non-tear map made of a new kind of material (see www.Calazo.fi). The manufacturer guarantees that the map will endure to be folded 20,000 times. For our evening meal, we cooked Mexican stew with some kebab meat. After dinner, I prepared myself for my upcoming role as a dishwasher by watching Hidi’s model performance. After washing the dishes, Hidi was contemplating his fork. For eight years it had followed him on these treks, but it had never been needed. Now it was time for this useless burden to stay behind and become part of the amenities in the Suomunruoktu hut.

Dinner by the campfire of Suomunruoktu
On the hut’s terrace, the mushroom picker among the four ladies was cleaning a huge batch of golden chanterelles. According to her, there was some butter and salt to fry them but no pepper. The four ladies had reserved half of the lower bunk from the wide bunkbed in the rental hut. The three old mules seized the rest of the sleeping spaces in the lower bunk. This was fine by me. As the youngest, it was easy for me to scramble to the upper bunk. Also, before the trip, my wife had warned me about the temptresses roaming around in Lapland. I kept suspiciously glancing at the elderly women bustling around in the hut. Sure enough, one of the old ladies was smiling in a very tempting way and offering chanterelles fried in butter for the Mules of Lapland to taste. I climbed to safety on the upper bunk. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to sleep in my hiking trousers. The day’s trek on the map.




2nd day of the trek. Sunday 4th September, 2016. From Suomunruoktu to Tuiskukuru to Luiro. Up at 5.30 a.m. As per usual Kake had made us our morning coffees. I munched on some chocolate biscuits while sipping the coffee. The night had been cold. There was frost on the rain cover of my rucksack. There was only enough power in the old camera battery to take a couple of pictures. I shoved the battery in my trouser pocket to warm it up. Tapsa was out in the yard trying out his new tortuous tripod that could be wrapped, for example, around a tree branch. The weather forecast for the afternoon promised rain, so I willingly put on my rain pants already in the morning. They would also keep me somewhat warm. I also decided to leave a thin, long-sleeved shirt under my coat at least for the first leg of the day’s trek.

Old mules at Suomunruoktu
Kake was packing his rucksack on the side of the hut and said ‘Oi-oi’. Interested, I pricked up my ears. Already during our previous trip I had noticed the strange sounds made by the Mules of Lapland. In my mind I had christened it the ‘wailing of a Mule of Lapland’. A skilled ear can distinguish the Mules from each other based entirely on their wailing noise. When Hidi makes the sound, the wailing of the Mules of Lapland sounds like this: ‘Ui-ui-ui-ui’. The stress is always on the first vowel. The number of syllables indicates the strength of emotion behind the wailing. For example, the ‘Oi-oi’ uttered laconically by Kake communicated that everything was alright and this Mule of Lapland was feeling peaceful. All in all, I interpreted Kake’s wailing to mean more or less the same as: ‘Oh, how my limbs ache after last night. But the coffee was good. All the gear seems to still be here. It is quite a chilly morning. My new glasses are chafing the bridge of my nose in an unpleasant way.’

After about two kilometres on foot, we stopped to have breakfast at the campfire site in Aitaoja. The old mules were making porridge and poured some berry soup on top of it, except for Hidi who put of pat of butter on his porridge. Before this trip, I had prepared portion bags which were half sweet Rainbow with raisins and half grainy Finax Sunt&Gott Original muesli. In this way, my breakfast wouldn’t become too sugary sweet even after adding the berry soup. Tapsa was showing me how to use the gas cooker, because I intended to go on one more trek later in the autumn. The bushes next to the campfire site were red with berries that somewhat resembled lingonberries. However, their colour was more brightly red, and the leaves were bigger. I did the dishes. We sat around the campfire for a little while longer.

During the next three kilometres, the path would climb about 150 metres higher as we swerved to the south-side of the Vintilätunturi fell via the west. For the rest of the day we would be walking towards the east. As we were wading through a sparse pine forest, I bumped into something odd. A solitary pine needle was floating in air just before my eyes. A closer look revealed that the pine needle was hanging from a tree branch at the end of an enormously long spider’s web. I proceeded to try and capture the needle with my camera. Even the lightest breeze made the needle sway back and forth and spin around. After a couple of tries I was able to snap a picture although focusing was a bit blurry. Later, when I showed the photo to the Mules of Lapland, none of them were able to recognize the object in the middle of it.



I started to sweat during the long ascent to the Vintilätunturi fell, and when I made it to the top I took off the long-sleeved shirt I was wearing. A bear had done its business on the path. We descended via the southward hillside. Then we crossed a small open swamp and stopped to rest and eat some snacks at the edge of it. I wondered aloud which animal had left its faeces in the brush. ‘Fucking elk shit’, answered Kake. I took a couple of steps away from the pile of droppings and placed my rucksack on the ground. I lay down. It was nice to recline on a bed of moss. I watched the clouds moving slowly on the blue sky. There was no sign of rain.

Hidi dug out a new delicacy from his rucksack; a lump of Italian Pecorino cheese made from ewe’s milk. I took a sip of my steaming cocoa. It was good, but what the cheese really needed to be paired with was a splash of red wine. Nearby a tree trunk was sprawling next to its stump. It was in 2008 that the Mules of Lapland had last walked past this place. At that time, the tree had been lying on the ground only for a couple of days. A thunderbolt had severed the tree almost from its root. Then, the thunderbolt had continued its way along the ground blowing up a many metres long and still easily visible trench away from the rootstalk.



After the break, the path stayed easy to walk along. We scurried through a bare forest landscape. Pines were sparsely scattered around. Here and there we saw deadwood, some of them fallen to the ground and some still leaning on other trees. After walking for about four kilometres we reached the Tuiskukuru hut. Kake immediately took off his hiking boots. Both the shoes and the socks were new, and his legs were badly chafed. I took my shoes off as well and placed them on the sunny terrace to dry. Two young men from Espoo soon appeared in the Tuiskukuru hut yard. The same blokes had spent the previous night in the unlocked side of the Suomunruoktu hut, even though they had paid for a place in the rental hut. For lunch, we prepared some minestrone soup, which we laced with a bag of noodles. ‘The fork would have come in handy now’, Hidi mused after a while as he was trying to catch the long, slippery noodles from the soup using a spoon. Next time we would remember to crumble the noodles into smaller pieces.

Tuiskukuru hut


After the previous night, the Tuiskukuru hut still felt warmer than the outside air. I lay down for a while on a mattress and must have dozed off. I did the dishes. Then we continued our way through the bare forest landscape. In one spot there were tree trunks lying higgledy-piggledy on top of each other. The trees had been severed at the middle, not from the roots like pines usually were. Kake thought that this was due to a violent downburst. After hiking for a couple of hours, the river Luirojoki was rushing before us. The water looked so deep that I willingly took off my hiking boots and hung them behind my rucksack. The others made the same decision. I left my thin socks on to wash away the sweat as I waded through the stream. My sandals protected my feet from the rocks on the bottom of the river, but not from the coldness of the water. The unlocked/rental wilderness hut at the river Luirojoki was only a stone’s throw away, so there was no point in putting the hiking boots back on.


Light My Fire
Grandpas Fire Fork
An actual small village has been built on the eastern bank of the river Luirojoki over time. There are three wilderness accommodations in the area: the Kuusela hut, the river Luirojoki unlocked/rental hut, and the Raja hut. There is also a sauna, which made the old mules giddy with excitement. I was more interested in the campfire site, which would make it possible to grill some sausages. I searched the surroundings for a suitably thick and long stick, and started to chip away trying to shape it with my Leatherman Wave multi-tool. It felt almost too lightweight a tool for these conditions. For my next hiking trip, I would bring a real sheath-knife. Finally, I was able to secure the attachment of my handy Light My Fire Grandpas Fire Fork roasting stick on to the shaped wooden stick. There was already a company of four bustling about the campfire site. A local teacher, a reindeer herdswoman from Norway, and a woman and a man from Southern Finland near the Puuhamaa amusement park were cooking smashed potatoes and sautéed game meat. Someone fished a small bottle of red wine from their backpack. My hunger grew as I watched the foursome in their tasks.

Luiron autio- ja varaustupa
My socks were drying in my sandals as the sausages sizzled on the embers. During the night new people turned up in Luiro every now and then. Some of them planned on sleeping in a tent. I counted altogether three dogs. The rain started just as I had taken the sausages to shelter from the wind. Meanwhile, the old Mules of Lapland had gone to the sauna. Just before the mule gang, an elderly couple had bustled about in the sauna. They had let the fire go out from under the sauna stove. They hadn’t brought more water to the hot water cauldron, even though there were many people still waiting for their turn in the sauna. Kake gave the couple a stern talking to about the customs and traditions connected to going to the sauna in the wilderness. The old gentleman was clearly not used to receiving constructive criticism and tried his best at explaining the couples’ ‘sauna behaviour’.


The three ladies who had dined at the campfire site took over half of the lower bunk in the rental hut and the old mules took over the other half. It was nice to sit by candlelight in the hut. Ulla, the teacher, was able to tell us that the berries resembling lingonberries were actually bunchberries. The berries are not poisonous, but not that delicious either. Fowl are eager to eat them, and they spread the plant to new places. I was getting sleepy. Once again, I remembered my wife’s warning about the temptresses roaming in Lapland. I climbed to the upper bunk and curled up next to the wall. The day’s trek on the map.

First snow in Luiro
3rd day of the trek. Monday 5th September, 2016. From Luiro to Muorravaarakka. It had snowed during the night. I brushed my teeth and replaced the battery in my camera with a new one. I had bought three cheap batteries and was hoping to make it through the trek using them. A sturdy man was packing his rucksack on the terrace. According to him, it was more pleasant to hike alone than with someone who didn’t know what they were doing. At the age of 78, his walking speed had become slower, but he was still steady on his feet. The old man compared himself to an old-timey agricultural motor, the kind that were used in the early 1900s for example to power threshing machines, shingle machines, and grain mills. A single-cylinder agricultural motor chugs along at its own pace, dependably and for a long time. I felt a kinship toward the old man with an agricultural motor soul.

Luiro in the morning
My throat was feeling scratchy. The ventilation window near the spot where I’d slept had been left open for the night. Maybe the Lappish night winds had been blowing cold air through it while I was sleeping. It was then that I remembered washing my socks by wading through the river and the subsequent drying project that had taken the whole evening. A person generates heat at a rate of 130 watts when sitting. I had used some of that energy to dry my socks. However, my feet had been cold the whole time. The morning coffee warmed me up nicely. Some ginger tea spiced with honey would have worked wonders for my sore throat, but none was available right now.

Mules of Lapland in Luiro
We threw the rucksacks on our backs and continued the trek. The pine forest was somewhat denser now. During the first part of our journey we headed straight toward the low shining sun. In front of us was a quagmiry swamp, and the duckboards running over it were made slippery by the frost. I took the first step and was immediately about to fall down. I made my way forward carefully. The duckboards kept getting more and more deteriorated the further I got. Some of the rotted boards were broken and had sunk halfway in the swamp. Right then a brittle board gave away under my foot. I span quickly about my axis and leant on my walking stick to stay upright. However, the stick went swooshing through the soft peat, so that only a span of the stem was left visible. I trashed and flailed furiously to keep my balance. Miraculously I was able to keep myself upright.



Tapsa by Raappana kammi
We passed some more tree stumps. There was a bridge welded from rebar leading over a brook. It did its job nicely, but was hardly suited to the landscape. After a while we arrived at the Raappana kammi peat shelter. The door came off its hinges when you tried to open it. There were some useful things in the dilapidated shelter, such as a bucket, a kettle, and a ladle. You could also set fire to a fireplace made of big stones. It is still possible to use the Raappana kammi peat shelter to spend the night, or at least in emergencies, even though it would not be as pleasant as the proper wilderness huts. We kept moving forward. I ate some ripe lingonberries from alongside the path. There was a deadwood that had twisted more than once around itself laying on the ground. It was quite an unusual sight. It looked as if a giant had grabbed both the treetop and the stem and then twisted them slowly in different directions. This kind of twisting of the trunks happens slowly as the tree grows, but only becomes visible when the tree dries standing up and the bark comes loose. This twisting of pine trees is the most drastic in dry habitats like in Lapland.


Aamupala autiokylässä
We stopped to have breakfast in a hut village left vacated by reindeer herders. We made our kitchen on the steps of the reindeer herders’ hut. Kake fished out a portable radio from his rucksack wanting to listen to the news. I wasn’t in the mood for news of the world so I tiptoed somewhat further away. A large part of the allure for the hiking trips is cutting yourself away from the news flow, status updates, and all kinds of nonsense. However, I was still interested in the weather forecast, so I took out my phone. I switched it on. The phone flared alive – and spontaneously died straight away. I tried to revive it a couple more times. The end result was the same. Damn! It was exactly for these kinds of wilderness treks that I had bought a both water and dustproof phone that was more expensive than usual. The phone had been left in the rucksack for the night, and it had been exposed to the cold. Maybe that explained the odd behaviour the phone was exhibiting.


Northern firmoss
After breakfast we faced a steep climb over the Apujoukkojenvaara hill. Trees grew smaller and smaller the higher we got. Pine trees turned into dwarf birches, and then even those got more and more sparse until they disappeared completely. Halfway through the climb, Tapsa attached his camera to a dwarf birch, set the timer, and ran to join the rest of us. In the background of our group shot you can see the highest mountain fell of Eastern Lapland, the 718 metres high Sokosti. It’s also one of the top attractions in the Urho Kekkonen National Park. On top of the Apujoukkojenvaara hill we stopped to catch our breath and admire the view. Lingonberry sprigs and northern firmoss with its fascinating colours grew here and there on a flat bed of lichen. Suddenly, it started to sleet heavily. We set the rain covers on our rucksacks and started the descent towards the origin of Pälkkimäoja brook in the valley between the hills of Skoaltoaivi and Riitelmäpää. At the same time we could see that there were a couple of hikers descending the southern slope of Skoatoaivi.

Sokosti fell in the background

On top of Apujoukkojenvaara fell
Hidi’s knees were hurting from all the descents of the previous day. He had no problems on flat ground or climbing uphill, but descending the fell slopes was painful for him. At our rest-stop at the upper reaches of the Pälkkimäoja brook we tried to ease the situation with painkillers, Pecorino cheese and roast veal. The sleet stopped. We still had a vigorous climb over the southern saddle of the Lumipää hill as well as the descent to Muorravaarakka ahead of us. The treeless and flat terrain made walking easy. Somewhat lower down the path kept following the Lumikuronoja brook. We splashed trough the river Muorravaarankanjoki in our sandals. Since the sore throat I had early in the morning had gotten better during the day, I again left my socks on to wash them while wading through the water. However, this time I had enough sense to wring any extra water from the socks before slowly drying them with my body heat.


The rental hut already had an occupant who got up from the lower bunk as the Mules of Lapland made their noisy entrance. Seppo was enjoying a day off, while his hiking companions were visiting Anterinmukka. As per usual, the old mules seized the bed places on the lower bunk. Seppo promised us to snore loudly during the night, so the upper bunk seemed once again to be the better option for sleeping. The base boards and mattresses in the bed are excellent at muffling the nightly sounds that sleepers might make. Tapsa made us some grub. As we were dining, we watched how a man and a woman waded slowly and carefully through the river Muorravaarakkajoki. Neither of them had walking sticks to help them in this task. The couple made it through the river without any mishaps, but both were really hungry. I washed the kettle that the Mules of Lapland had used, returned it to the hut for Greta and Markku to use, and only then continued to do the rest of the dishes.

Muorravaarakka
The window to the hut doubled as a TV. There weren’t many programmes to choose from, but the one we had was exciting. What happened next was that three more people appeared on the opposite bank of the river. The man and the woman made it through the river without any problems. Both had walking sticks to help them on their way. Then it was the turn for their twenty-something daughter with no walking sticks to cross the river. Her rucksack kept swaying from side to side on her back as she was walking. It seemed altogether too big for such a slender woman to carry. Her foot slipped. For a little while it looked like there was nothing to stop her from falling, but then the German damsel managed to get everything under control again. Everyone watching this thriller from the hut window breathed a shared sigh of relief.

Stefan, Sylvie and Johanna were from Halle in Central Germany. Stefan told us, that the name of the city comes from salt. ‘Halen’ is the old Celtic word for salt that was mined from a valley near the city. The German ladies’ knees were aching so Kake went to get some magnesium gel from his rucksack. When you rub it on the skin after exercising, it relieves the aches and pains. The Germans were more social than the Czechs we had encountered on our first night. Stefan even promised us to be our guide in the alpine landscapes of Germany and Austria should we ever find ourselves in that area. I delighted the Germans by studiously reciting the only German sentence that I can remember by rote; ‘Helsinki ist die Haupstadt von Finnland.’ You can find the family’s notes about their hike here. The day’s trek on the map.

4th day of the trek. Tuesday 6th September, 2016. Sauna trip to Anterinmukka. I woke up at 7 a.m. to the smell of coffee made in a pot. From those who had woken before me, I heard that a grey little mouse had been sneaking around the table in the cottage. It had been on the lookout for breadcrumbs and sniffing things. Kake rolled his shoulders and mused that his body felt stiff since it was so brand new. I scrambled outside to brush my teeth. The sky was partly cloudy, and it felt nice and cool. The weather seemed promising for our walk. We enjoyed our breakfasts in the hut, for a change. The only goal for the day was to go to the sauna in Anterinmukka. The trip would be about 10 km in both directions. We moved our rucksacks in the rental hut as soon as the previous occupants had made themselves scarce. We would only take what we needed for bathing as well as enough provisions to have one meal with us to Anterinmukka. The rental hut was a new experience to this Longdistance Walker. The rental hut or Muorravaarakanruoktu was built in 1953 by people from Imatra visiting Lapland. The hut that has a turf roof and is built partly into the ground is only big enough for four sleepers.

We were on our way a little after 10 a.m. First, the path would take us along the southern edge of the Tiuhtelmakuru gorge. Then, we would pass along the northern side of the top of the Muorravaarakka hill called Purnuvaara and would continue following the Kaarreoja brook until, finally, we would arrive at river Anterinjoki by which Anterinmukka is situated. In less than an hour, we would climb about two hundred meters higher. We were sweating profusely. We took a small break halfway through the climb. The view from the hillside towards where we had come from was magnificent. In the west, we could see the Lumipää hill, the southern side of which we had walked past yesterday. On the northern side of the Lumipää stood the Ukselmapää hill, which is cleaved in half by Pirunportti (Devil’s Gate), as if someone had taken a huge axe to the mountain fell. The next day we would start out way back west and the path would take us through the Pirunportti (Devil’s Gate).

Purnuvaarakka of Muorravaarakka
The old mules got more and more excited the higher we climbed. We were approaching the mules’ treasure cache. Had it stayed untouched? Or had some animal dug out all the riches and scattered them around. Had a thief pounced upon the treasure? ‘Ok, here it is, at five metre radius’. Hidi was encouraging me, the Longdistance Walker, to hunt the treasure. I walked around in the short heath. I kept my eye on any landmarks that had been revealed to me a couple of times. There! We moved away the rocks and from underneath them a strong-box was revealed. Tapsa opened its latches and prised the lid open. Although I’d heard stories about the cache and its contents, I could not believe my eyes. Coins were glinting in the sun. Banknotes were rustling in the wind. Following the example of the old mules I too got my wallet out. Each of us added to the cache what we thought was an appropriate amount.

Black crowberry
The sun was shining brightly through the clouds, as we continued the trek. I picked some black crowberries form the side of the path and ate them. Then something prodded my forehead rather painfully. I took a couple of steps back to see what was happening. A branch from a curled birch tree was sticking out in the middle of the path. It had snapped so that its sharp tip was pointing straight to my face. Luckily the cloth of my cap had protected my scalp. The branch would wreak havoc if it hit an eye. I twisted and turned the branch off its stem so it wouldn’t be a threat to anyone’s health and safety anymore. After walking almost five kilometres from Muorravaarakka we were approximately halfway to our destination and stopped for a break by the river Kaarrejoki. Roast veal and dried fruit made for a tasty snack. I scooped up some water from the brook to wash the food down.



A short while after leaving our rest-stop, we encountered the four Pirkkos (Pirkko = Finnish female first name). The Mules of Lapland had met the same quartet almost in the same exact place in 2014. Pleasantries were exchanged. The trek continued. Dwarf birches and juniper bushes gave way to pine trees as we moved east. There were many magnificent deadwood trees downstream from the Kaarreoja brook. There were so many of them that I didn’t have the energy to admire the deadness of each deadwood as I had done in the beginning of the trek. Soon I found something completely new to admire. Hanging from a branch of a pine tree there was a funny tuft of tree moss that resembled the beard of a gnome. It was further proof that the air in Saariselkä is exceptionally clean. Tree moss is very sensitive to air pollution, especially to sulphuric oxide. Sulphuric oxide causes the growth of the tree moss to become stunted or the moss to even die completely. Again I fell behind the others as I admired the nature in Lapland and took some pictures. I skittered along the path at my leisure. I kept thinking that the Mules of Lapland had adjusted surprisingly well to my leisurely walking speed. At the same moment I noticed that Hidi was waiting for this lingering little mule.

Anterinmukka
The magnificently situated Anterinmukka is also known by the names of Keskon kämppä (Kesko hut) and Mukkakönkään ruoktu (Mukkaköngäs hut). The hut, which was built in 1966 and repaired in 1984, was originally built and owned by the Kesko Staff Association. Nowadays the hut is looked after by the Urho Kekkonen National Park. This unlocked wilderness hut even has mattresses, which is quite unusual. As we arrived in Anterinmukka, the most titillating situation presented itself. The retired couple who had acted so inexpertly in the sauna at Luiro was yet again having a bath ahead of us. It would be interesting to see whether the etiquette training that Kake gave them had been at all effective. Soon the objects of our interest scrambled from the sauna beach to the terrace of the hut and started cooking lunch with a peculiar cooker.



Since the sauna in Anterinmukka is quite small, I was willing to let the old mules go in before me.  I would join the gang a bit later. I sat in the hut jotting down my notes of the trip so far. Someone was making crêpes in the kitchen. After a while we were greeted by a bearded fellow resembling the Santa Claus. He turned out to be the documentarist Olli Järvenkylä. Part of his job description was lugging a rucksack weighing 30 kilogrammes on his back. The weight was made even greater by all kinds of equipment and spare batteries needed to make a documentary. Olli’s goal was to spend 100 days in the Urho Kekkonen National Park between the months of August and December. You can find additional information about this project in Olli’s blog and admire his excellent photos on Instagram. The documentarist collected some material in Anterinmukka by interviewing couple of people.

I scuttled down to the sauna beach. The old mules had already bathed in the sauna and were now happily cooling off on the porch. The geezers were sipping the beers they had lugged around with them the whole trip just for this particular occasion. To me, the fresh water in the river Anterinjoki tasted better. I heard that the old couple had once again neglected to fill the water pot in the sauna. The mules of Lapland had spent a considerable amount of time carrying water and firewood as well as tinkering with the fire chamber before being able to enjoy the steam in the sauna. At the same time, there were multiple people in the hut still waiting for their turn in the sauna. We kept wondering and pondering on the motive for such a lack of consideration for others. In our conversation we established that from now on the old man would be known as the ‘sauna curmudgeon’.

The Old Mules of Lapland on the porch of Anterinmukka sauna
I climbed to sit on the sauna benches and cast a ladle of water on the stove. Hidi sat next to me. The stove was hissing and crackling in a familiar manner. The heat was melting the stiffness from my muscles. I couldn’t stop myself from asking about the mules’ treasure cache. It had been on my mind for the past couple of hours. Why had the cache been established? How was such a treasure to be used? From what Hidi told me, I understood that the cache was established out of serious and real necessity. I mean, no one can go on these hikes forever. When it’s time, the retired Mules of Lapland can live quite comfortably off the wealth in the cache. Consequently, the mules’ cache is a kind of a fund for old age.

Kake, Tapsa and Hidi had taken a dip in the river Anterinjoki after the steaming sauna. The cold water held no allure for me, so I washed myself in the sauna. It felt nice to put on clean clothes for a change. Our return journey began immediately after having something to eat. After hiking for three hours we arrived back at Muorravaarakka. The mouse had frolicked in the hut while we were gone. The rodent had torn a hole in the plastic bag where I kept my breakfast things. Oatmeal, almond flakes and raisins had poured on the table. The little mouse, who obviously appreciated a balanced diet, had also opened a packet of crispbread. Finally, it had been planning to feast on chocolate biscuits, but that plan had never come to fruition. There was a dotted line of angry bite marks on the edge of the plastic carton covering the biscuits. The steep decline along the Tiuhtelmakuru gorge at the end of our sauna trip had been trying for Hidi. Both of his knees were aching and burning. I suggested a course of ibuprofen for the remainder of the trip. The crêpes we made for dinner were delicious. The day’s trek on the map.

Chocolate biscuits were out of reach of the mouse

5th day of the trek. Wednesday 7th September, 2016. From Muorravaarakka to Sarvioja. Up at 7 a.m. I kept glancing at the map while sipping my morning coffee. The day’s trek would only be about 10 kilometres and the route seemed clear. First, we’d slip through the Pirunportti (Devil’s Gate). Then we’d continue by following the brooks flowing from the Ukselmapää hill until we arrived at the hut in Sarvioja. I was interested to see a couple of daring hikers wading through river Muorravaarakkajoki in their hiking boots. The young men had taped their trouser legs to their boots. I decided to try the same, but without the tape. I wasn’t keen on immersing my sandaled feet in the cold water this early in the morning. On the other hand, I also wanted to test how my new hiking boots would cope with wading through water and, until now, I hadn’t had a chance to do that on this trip. The old mules tried to curb my enthusiasm and started binding their hiking boots on their rucksacks. I rolled my trouser legs over my boots and started slowly and carefully wading through the river. Once again, the walking sticks proved very helpful in maintaining my balance. There were a couple of times when the water came unpleasantly close to the top of my boots. However, I managed to cross the river with dry feet.

Muorravaarakka rental hut

Close to Pirunportti
I continued my way toward the Pirunportti (Devil’s Gate), while the others stayed behind to dry their feet by the river. Too late, I noticed some mushrooms that I had accidently stepped on. You should not trample on mushrooms since they provide nutritious food for the reindeer in autumn. And as we all know, the reindeer themselves make for a delicious roast. It is more fun to be on top of the food chain. The ground kept getting higher and higher. I stepped off the path to go round a couple of small, soggy swamps. The trail was so quagmiry in places that it was impossible to lean on the walking sticks. The old mules came in sight again before I reached the treeless hilltop. The landscape changed into low-growing brush, then into stone and boulder soil in which you had to keep your wits about you while trekking through it. During a trek of three kilometres we had ascended about 250 metres. I kept an eye on the left-side edge of the Pirunportti (Devil’s Gate). Somewhere over there should be a path that would lead to Paratiisikuru (Paradise gorge). I continued walking slowly forward in the midst of the boulders. Kake followed me a short distance away.

Pirunportti
We heard a muffled cry from higher up to our left. Tapsa and Hidi were waving their hands on the upper slope of the Ukselmapää hill. ‘The path is here!’ I folded the map open and perused it with Kake. We should have turned upwards to the slope on our left-hand side just before the gorge started to veer downwards. From there, we could have caught the path to Paratiisikuru (Paradise gorge). Now the second option would be to continue along the Ukselmakuru gorge and go past the Hattupää hill from the east, and then turn northwest at the south-side of the Ruopimapää hill. Neither one of us was interested in going back, so we continued following the brook flowing at the bottom of the Ukselmakuru gorge. When the Ruopimapää hill was behind us, we once again dove into a pine forest. A small northern red-backed vole scuttled in the brush. For an instant, it froze to listen, but then went back to minding its own business and continued to eat. We waded through a shallow brook. On the opposite side there were three old men sitting side-by-side on a fallen tree trunk. It was Seppo again. And he seemed to have found the hiking companions that had been missing in Muorravaarakka.

Ukselmakuru
In order to reach the hut in Sarvioja, we had to wade through the river Sarvijoki. This time Kake was sloshing through the stream without hesitation. I, on the other hand, had to go back a few times before I found a good enough route. Then I stopped to stand in the middle of the river Sarvijoki. The water was churning and swirling rapidly around me. I felt the pressure of the flow on my feet. I was anxiously waiting to see if my new hiking boots would let any water inside them. After a while I had ascertained that my feet had stayed dry. My Meindl Dovre Extreme hiking boots hadn’t chafed or, in general, caused any problems during the whole trip. In the morning, it has in fact been joyful to slip my feet in these shoes. When I finally got out of the water and started to walk toward the hut in Sarivoja, Kake breezed past me carrying a zinc bucket. The energetic man was already fetching water. It started to drizzle. Tapsa and Hidi made their appearances at the hut in Sarvioja and told us that the Paratiisikuru (Paradise gorge) had been a magnificent place.

Paratiisikuru
I popped into the outhouse. It wasn’t easy to conduct my business there, since the ‘poo chamber’ was getting filled to the brim. On the hut’s yard, there was a fellow bustling about in muddy sandals. He told me he had hiked the whole day in those same shoes. I wondered aloud how his almost unprotected feet had survived that. ‘You just need to carefully monitor where you step’, came the actually quite reasonable answer. ‘It must be so’, I agreed. However, I was not at all interested in hiking in my sandals. Feet are the most important tools a hiker has. They need to be protected from all dangers as well as possible. I dug a packet of sausages from my rucksack and went inside. Tapsa was stirring a kettle of pasta carbonara or ‘coal miner’s pasta’. Hidi was chopping up veal and pecorino to put in the pasta. I put the sausages on a frying pan and set it to sizzle on top of the hearth.

Sarvioja hut

At some point, ‘sauna curmudgeon’ and his wife had made an appearance at the hut. It was easy to distinguish the couples’ delightful vintage rucksacks on the side of the hut from all the other rucksacks. Luckily, ‘sauna curmudgeon’ was sleeping in the unlocked wilderness hut. It was getting duskier. It was starting to look like we would be the only people staying in the rental hut. The old mules were heartily eating their dinner. Smokey tabasco was apparently just the thing that the food needed. I devoured four sausages with loads of mustard and was completely full. Kake pushed the kettle in my direction. There was still a small amount of pasta carbonara left. According to Kake, everybody else was too full to eat the last portion. In my opinion, you shouldn’t waste good food. I heroically emptied the kettle.

We took a look at the guest book found in the rental hut by candlelight. The quartet we met in Luiro, the ones who’d been enjoying the sautéed game meat, had spent the night in the hut just a little while ago. Ulla, in her neat teacher’s handwriting, had written in the notebook that on their trip they had met all kinds of ‘peculiar’ people including the Mules of Lapland. Hidi went to retrieve some firewood, but came back almost immediately to ask Tapsa to join him. Sometime later they returned sweaty. Sawdust fell on the floor from their clothes. The duo told us that they had saved a damsel in distress. In the woodshed, a beginner hiker had tried to cut a metre-long firewood as thick as a thigh by chopping it with an axe. First, Hidi had tried to teach her how to use a bucksaw, but that had not been successful. After that, the Mules of Lapland had demonstrated to her how to use the saw and the axe. Soon, there was enough appropriately-sized firewood. The day’s trek on the map.

Sudenpesä hut
6th day of the trek. Thursday 8th September, 2016. From Sarvioja to Lankojärvi. The rucksack was feeling nice and light as I put it on my back in the morning. A large portion of the food had already been eaten at this point of the trip. Additionally, my body had gotten used to carrying the load. The young lady, who had been studying the use of axe and saw last night, was working expertly in the woodshed. It was drizzling. After walking for little more than a kilometre, we stopped to take a look at the Sudenpesä hut, which was built in 1985. There is enough space in the popular rental hut to sleep 4 to 6 people depending on their size. The thermometer in Sudenpesä measured 5 degrees Celsius. The easy path followed the river Sarvijoki for a bit before we faced a steep climb over the south-reaching ridge of the Kaarnepää hill. Kake was hotfooting it somewhat ahead of me. His walking sticks kept rhythmically clanging the stones on the path. I was marvelling at the walking speed of a man close to 70 years. I had to strain my every nerve to keep up with him.

We descended close to the Sotavaaranoja brook. The ground was wet and soggy in places. Brooks were carrying water from the slopes of the Kaarnepää hill via the Sotavaaranoja brook into the river Suomujoki, which connects to the river Luttojoki near the Raja-Jooseppi border guard station. On the Russian side of the border the water continues its way via the Ylä-Tuuloma reservoir and the river Tuulomajoki into the Barents Sea. It was exhilarating to see so much flowing water in the terrain. During the hike it had gotten more and more usual for me to drink water straight from the mountain fell brooks. There was something irresistible in that. Now, on the second to last walking day, this craving had gotten so bad, that I scooped a handful of water from almost every brook that came my way. We reached the campfire site. Two elderly men from Savo scrambled out of the shelter and started a conversation with us. I sat down on a dried deadwood to munch on my sandwich. Tapsa boiled some water and soon we had mugs full of steaming cocoa. The men from Savo were drying their hiking boots in the heat of the dying fire. There were wind-fell trees lying on the slope.

Break by Sotavaaranoja
The path continued through a pine forest. We climbed on top of a low ridge. The alga growing on the bottom of the Sotavaaranoja brook made the whole watercourse glow bright green. At noon we arrived by some rocky rapids. We sat down for some snacks and admired the spectacular view. Water was churning and foaming through a couple of metres wide ravine between vertical rock-faces. There was a rickety bridge leading over the rapids. Actually, one could hardly call that construction a bridge. It consisted only of a couple of rotted logs laid side-by-side. One crooked deadwood had broken in half and was lying lower than the others. I stepped carefully on the deck of the ‘bridge’. My hiking boot loosened some brown, rotted wood from the bridge, and it scattered into the foams of the rapids. I opened the hip-belt of my rucksack. If I fell into the water, I would easily get rid of its weight. I took a stumble. The thin logs were shaking under my weight. The walking sticks would not be helpful in trying to maintain my balance. There was nothing to lean the sticks on. Step by step, I shuffled along to the other side of the canyon. It felt like the thin, rotted logs could give away at any moment. After I had successfully made it to the other side of the ravine, I decided to lose some weight before the next hike in Lapland. The old mules skittered over the pretend bridge as surely and easily as…well as old mules.

Bridge over Sotavaaranoja

We would continue hiking on the western side of the Sotavaaranoja brook for a little while longer. Then we would take a shortcut over the northernmost ridge of the Peurapää hill to the river Suomujoki. Tapsa was still in charge of navigating. It made me break out in cold sweat to think that maybe on one of these hiking trips, I would be the one in charge of the map and compass. We would be lost at that precise moment. However, I did sometimes go orienteering in the evenings when I was a youngster. So, at least in principle, navigating would be a familiar task for me. On the other hand, all that happened decades ago. And then we were using maps at a scale of 1:15,000 where you could see even the smallest details in the landscape. Instead, the map of Saariselkä was at a scale of 1:50,000 meaning that a centimetre on the map corresponded to half a kilometre on the ground. In practice, a small scale means that it wasn’t possible to fit all the characteristics in the landscape on the map sheet. Some minor features have been completely left out, rocks that are close to each other have been combined and some turns in the route have been straightened, and so on. You can navigate using this kind of map only if you’re able to read the main features in the landscape.

Porttikosken silta
A real bridge had been built over the Porttikoski rapids in the river Suomujoki. It was a joy to scuttle along it over the churning rapids. There was a campfire site on the rocky opposite side. An elderly couple was just finishing their meal. And what do you know, they were old acquaintances of the Mules of Lapland from three years ago in the Tahvon tupa hut. Horrified, I marvelled at the size of their rucksacks. At the beginning of the hike the elderly gentleman had been carrying 26 kilogrammes and the lady no less than 23 kilogrammes. They had packed enough food to last for two weeks. The senior hikers were wearing hiking rubber boots. Apparently, they were excellent for sloshing over brooks, since they went all the way to the knees. The soles of the sturdy rubber boots seemed just as robust as the soles of my own hiking boots. It would be interesting to test these hiking rubber boots sometime. The couple told us that, that already for 30 years, they have spent their Christmas holidays in the wilderness huts in Saariselkä. Tapsa dug out the gas cooker and started cooking. I was starting to get hungry. We enjoyed the most exquisite scenery of the whole trek at the edge of the Porttikoski rapids.

Porttikoski
We continued our way along the edge of the river Suomujoki. A frog was crouching on the path, then leaped to the shelter of a fallen tree trunk and froze. The creature was relying heavily on its protective colouring. After walking a little while longer, we saw the Porttikoski wilderness hut on the opposite side of the river. Tapsa and Hidi recalled that two people had drowned here a couple of years ago. They had tried to wade through the river to reach the hut when the water was high. After a while we met Oiva and his friend Pasi on the path. Four years ago, Hidi and his son had arrived late in the evening to the Luiro hut. Oiva had at once understood what the situation called for and had heated the sauna for the weary travellers. Oiva told us that during this summer and autumn he was going to hike in the wilderness for seven whole weeks.



The path took us now straight towards south. After a while, we found another charming rest stop on top of a waterfront ridge. Someone had lugged a couple of dry deadwood to sit on around the stone circle surrounding the campfire site. However, I was unable to enjoy this scenic spot. My stomach had started to gurgle in an unpleasant way. I wanted to hurry onwards. On the map, the way to the river Lankojärvi hut seemed easy enough. All I needed to do was to follow the path travelling on the western side of the river Suomujoki. I couldn’t get lost even if I missed the path. On the left side there was the river, and on the right side the hillsides of Karunaslaavu. I just needed to stay between the river and the hillsides. The old mules stayed and sat by the campfire as I continued my way.

Hidi and Kake
Half an hour later I found myself in a brushy swamp. I was aware of the general direction I needed to go, but had lost the path. My stomach was gurgling louder and louder. I made it over a small pond balancing on a tree trunk. Then I proceeded carefully from hummock to hummock. One of my legs sank into the swamp. I prised myself out using a birch trunk for support. A frog was croaking somewhere nearby. I glanced around. Suddenly, I understood that the grumbling sound I heard was in fact coming from my stomach. Then I also distinguished a muffled ‘Ohoi’ sound. I stared at my stomach incredulously. My insides must be really jumbled. Soon the ‘Ohoi’ was heard again. “Come this way. The path is here!” I stopped my navel-gazing. The Mules of Lapland were marching in a queue about 150 metres to the right from me. I had wandered too close to the banks of the river Suomujoki. I started trudging my way back to the path. After hiking for a couple of kilometres, we arrived at the river Lankojärvi hut. I immediately darted to the outhouse. Luckily there was no queue.


The legendary ‘Meänteinen’ lived in Lankojärvi in the 1950s and 60s. Originally, Meänteinen came to Saariselkä as a lumberjack when he was just a lad of fifteen. Later on he built a turf hut, a statue trove and some other necessary things at the Lake Lankojärvi without permission. The remnants of Meänteinen’s living area are still visible in a southern islet of the Lake Lankojärvi (N68°18ʹ26.9ʺ E27°48ʹ51.5ʺ). It is said, that the hermit man had harassed hikers and stolen their food. By pleading guilty to these crimes, Meänteinen was able to spend some time among civilization enjoying the warmth and food in prison. Living in the future national park was not looked kindly upon and finally the authorities forced him to leave his home. Nowadays Meänteinen lives in Taivalkoski.

Two swans in Lankojärvi
There were two swans swimming on the Lake Lankojärvi. A German couple was making dinner outside the hut. The Germans were not satisfied by regular hiking food, but instead were cooking meat and potatoes. I got a bucket of water from a nearby brook. In honour of our last night, I was given a chance to cook dinner for the Mules of Lapland. Other people that made an appearance at Lake Lankojärvi were a solo hiker from Turku and, naturally, the sauna curmudgeon and his wife. When it was already getting dark, an exhausted Spanish couple managed to stagger to the hut. The Spanish lady seemed annoyed about something, but fortunately she seemed to calm down as the evening went on. There were six different language happily mixed together at the campfire: English, German, Spanish, Italian, Catalan, and Finnish. The day’s trek on the map.


Lankojärvi hut
7th day of the trek. Friday 9th September, 2016. From Lankojärvi to Rautulampi to Kiilopää. On the last morning of our trip I was only able to sleep until 6 a.m. For a while I contemplated how my stomach was doing, and then climbed out of the sleeping bag. My stomach seemed to have returned to normal operation. After brushing our teeth and eating a quick breakfast, we were on the path a little after 7 a.m. The Spaniards were still sleeping in the rental hut. The weather was cloudy, but dry. Out last day of trekking would be divided into two parts. First, we would follow the Rautuoja brook for eight kilometres until we reached the Rautulampi pond. Then, there would be a final spurt of about 12 kilometres to the parking lot at Kiilopää. We would be ascending slightly almost the whole day. We would then descend the last couple of kilometres along the western side of the Kiilopää hill.



The rucksack didn’t weigh on my shoulders anymore. My body had gotten used to trekking every day. I was beginning to think, that a hiking trip lasting two weeks would be an interesting experience. I had so much leftover food from this trip that I could have managed at least another three days of trekking with it. All the grub needed for two weeks would fit easily into the rucksacks. We crossed some brooks. There was a mighty pine tree next to the path. During a break we ate the last raisins and nuts. We cooked the last meal of the trip at the Rautulampi hut. We threw all the butter, cheese, and meat left into the pasta. There was a warning about a thieving fox on the wall of a shed.


As I was the slowest walker, I started the last part of the journey before the rest of the group. The route was easy enough. After about five kilometres there would be a crossroads, where you needed to take the left in order to make it to the Kiilopää hill. After the Rautulampi pond, the path became flatter and wider. In fact, there were several paths side by side. There were a lot of people about. Many of them only had supplies for a day’s trip. We were obviously returning to civilization. Tapsa, Hidi, and Kake raced past me before the paths crossed. I didn’t need to worry about staying on the right course anymore. All I had to do was keep the brisk trio of mules in my sights. It was about 12.30 p.m. when the mules arrived at the parking lot in Kiilopää. Tapsa and Hidi were already planning the route for the next trip. The day’s trek on the map.

Some final thoughts.  During our seven trekking days we walked altogether 127 kilometres according to the GPS. In reality, the route was somewhat shorter. For example, during the breaks the Suunto Ambit GPS had misconstrued our movement and had interpreted it as us walking back and forth in a small area. 20 kilometres per day carrying a rucksack weighing 20 kilogrammes is a reasonable goal in the easily trekked terrains of Saariselkä. Except if it’s raining heavily. Or if you get sick. Or get lost. In reality, it was nice that on some days the trek wasn’t that demanding.

During this trek the weather was excellent. It never once rained so much that we would have had to hike in wet clothes. A couple of showers and some sporadic drizzles didn’t bother us. The temperature was also perfect when it came to preserving our food. During the trek we ran into many old friends of the Mules of Lapland. We didn’t see any reindeer or grouse. An interesting change to the situation we had a couple of years before, was that there were now a lot more foreign hikers about. Hiking in Lapland seems to appeal especially to young couples from Central Europe. Maybe it has something to do with testing the stability of your relationship in the harsh conditions, kind of like ‘If we are still together after this trek, then we are really meant to be.’ Or as Arja Saijonmaa sings:

“How to recognise who is a true friend,
If they are the right one for you,
Let the mountain hills determine,
Who will always stand by your side,
When everyone else is so far away,
And there are no more duckboards to walk on,
The one who just whimpers by your side,
Can go back to where they came from.”

Inspired by the stomach problems I had on the 6th day of the trek, I skimmed through some literature on the cleanliness of the water in hill brooks. In a study by Ari Hörman (2005), 41% of the samples taken from the surface waters in Finland contained at least one pathogen. Of course, the situation could be different for the brooks in Lapland compared to the rest of the country. Animal faeces and dead animals are important sources for microbes. Stomach problems can be caused e.g. by norovirus, campylobacteria and salmonella bacteria as well as protozoans. A stomach bug caused by the protozoans can last as long as two weeks. Heavy rain washes the pathogens from the ground to the bodies of water. During hot summers the quality of surface water is often worse than during other seasons. Metals, such as iron and manganese, that come separated from the soil do not pose a danger to health on a trek lasting a week or two. The safest way to clean the water is to boil it for a couple of minutes.

Translated by Anna-Kaisa Tolonen from the original travelogue.

2 kommenttia:

  1. Heti kun näin että käännös oli ilmestynyt, niin aloin pohtimaan, että miten ihmeessä sauna änkyrä kääntyy englanniksi. Opin nyt siis uuden sanan: curmudgeon. Kiitos!

    Olisin varmaan amatöörinä sortunut helppoon versioon "Sauna git" :)

    VastaaPoista
    Vastaukset
    1. Käännöksen tekikin ammattilainen, ällistyttävän nopeasti ja tarkasti vieläpä. Itselläni urakkaan olisi kulunut varmaan vuoden päivät.

      Poista

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