Across snowy plains and frozen lakes from Finland's northernmost village Nuorgam to Sevettijärvi with cross-country skis and pulks.
A long way to the north
It's February, it's freezing cold, but it’s not cold enough. It's expedition time. I'm joining the Arctic Circle expedition and I'm looking forward to see the lights and reindeer. I get backcountry skis and warm boots. I am about to spend more than a week in a warm cap and double gloves. We will pull everything we need behind us in a sled and spend the night mainly in small wilderness huts. Of course we have tents and proper sleeping bags with us. We are a group of seven friends.
We spend the night at the airport in Helsinki finally deciding for the "variant North", i.e. from Nuorgam to Sevettijärvi. The second option was Urho Kekkonen National Park, but some of us have already been there. In the morning we fly over to Ivalo. It is about half an hour drive to Saariselka, where we have arranged a pulk sled rental. Four pieces are enough for our group of seven. We spend the day refilling our supplies including petrol for the cooking stove and waiting for the evening bus to the north. We are the only passengers for the four-hour journey. Darkness is falling on the white flat landscape and the temperature is getting lower and lower.
Freezing cold start
The village of Nuorgam is located three kilometers from the northernmost point of Finland. It has only about 200 inhabitants and the northernmost liquor store in the EU. We can't see much from it, but we manage to ask the bus driver to take us a little further up the hill. It saves us a few meters of climbing with a fully loaded sled and gives us a few more minutes in the heated bus. The comfortable journey mercilessly ends and we stand in the middle of the freezing wilderness. We quickly change our clothes and head out on the snowmobile path with our headlamps.
We get the most beautiful welcome. The clear frosty night prepared a green-purple dance performance of the aurora borealis. That's why we came here. After a few kilometers I can say it's worthy. The goal is to reach at least Lake Pulmankijärvi, where we pitch our tents next to an open shelter with a fireplace.
In the morning we continue along the frozen surface of the long lake. The day is short and by the time we cross kilometers of rough ice, it's coming to an end. The sunset here lasts for several hours and basically starts soon after the sunrise ends. Going up from the lake warms us up. In the steeper sections, we have to take off our skis and pull the sled in boots only. Fortunately, the snow is hard enough.
We have to walk in the dark anyway. When Adam says that we have to overcome another fifty meters ascent before the Tsaarajärvi cabin, it sounds ridiculous. Such a a terrain wave in deep snow and with a fully loaded sled can take a lot of work. Regardless of the temperature, I put on several layers. Finally we are in the cabin, we make a fire in the stove and dry the frozen clothes. We warm ourselves up with dinner and observe the aurora borealis through a small window lying in a sleeping bag.
Calm days in the north
We don't have a long hike ahead of us today, so there is no hurry. Melting snow for tea water takes a lot of time. Moreover, the first reparations are here. During the night, Štěpánka’s frozen binding melted and needs to be fixed. She had to get out of the boot outside yesterday. We have glue and spare parts so it doesn’t take much time to have her skis ready.
We are slowly moving further south. A thin layer of fog hangs over the flat landscape, turning the soft light into a daydream. The slanting rays of the sun penetrate the precipitating moisture and color the black and white landscape into pink. Frost on the twigs of low birches forms a fragile lace.
In the afternoon, more and more of the blue sky shines through, and the light turns into a few hours of "golden hour" before sunset. We descend to the next large lake to the Tsaarajärvi cabin. The sky over the lake turns pink and red. It takes a long time for the sun to set below the flat horizon and even longer to get dark.
Suffering in powder
It snowed a little overnight and is still falling. Brushing away the small flakes from my sledge I appreciate how comfortable it is to pack under the blue sky... and what if a blizzard comes... We leave the cabin and get back to the lake. The snowmobile track is still visible and a hard surface is comfortable.
In the middle of a wide open landscape, we are surprised to see a fence. The line of frozen mesh stretches as far as we can see. We pass through a crumbling gate, beyond which the tracks turn sharply to the left. But we don't want to go there. From now on, we break our own trail in an azimuth to the next cabin.
Basically straight to the southeast, trying avoid the slightest unevenness in the terrain. In some places it is easy to walk on the windblown crust, elsewhere we sink into fluffy soft snow.
Last kilometers to the cabin pass very slowly. We are descending into a shallow valley and the snow is becoming softer and softer. A small hill with leafless birch trees and beautifully fluffy snow is a nighttmare us. Knee-deep in snow, we are struggling for centimeters.
For the last few meters we reach a hard road. As the afternoon gets late, we arrive at the Huikimajoki cabin. "Just for a while to warm up, tea and a snack" we sit inside. I kind of suspect the result, follows. It is decided. We are staying here. We will reduce the kilometers for next days, add light trips and spend the nights in cabins without another bivouac.
We plan an easy trip for today. By the time we are ready in front of the hut with our skis on, it's almost lunch time. We go to Roussajarvi, 6 km away. The fairytale landscape resembles a blossoming orchard. Frost on the twigs of low trees glistens in the low midday sun. There is soft evening light most of the day.
We move faster without the heavy sled. We cross the ridge just before the next cabin. A few tens of meters in height already scare us for tomorrow's journey with all the equipment. But we are halfway through the trip, the food supply is lighter and the snow is quite hard.
Due to the fatigue and the short daytime, we shorten the trip and have some fun “offroad”: We return to the platform with wonderful views. The sun is starting to color the landscape pink. To avoid several potholes, we return to the snowmobile path and soon we get to the hut.
Viewpoints and hills
We set out for a short hike along the route we already know from yesterday. The whole way is good and even the hill can take less time than I expected. From the crest we descend to the next lake and the Roussajarvi cabin. We arrived early, so we leave the pulks in front of the cabin and head up the hill. Three kilometers away and a hundred meters above us rises a 340 meter high hill.
We make our way through frozen lakes to the start of the climb. We continue breaking our way up in the fluffy snow. Wider cross-country skis are priceless. The illusion of an orchard in full bloom is perfect. We climb up onto a flat ridge, after which we reach the vast summit. We take pictures at the stone cairn marking the highest point.
The hollows of the lakes have filled with mist, and a red sunset glows above it. Our shadows are infinite. We ride down with a view of the sea of fog and pretty frozen smiles. The thermometer says -23°C and it's still a daylight.
The next day we move to the Lisakijarvi cabin. Before sunset, we take a short trip again. We get to the hill just in time for an incredibly beautiful sunset.
Reindeers, beers and the way back
One day left until Sevettijarvi. It’s getting warmer. We don't stop that often for snacks, so I don't freeze that much. We cross the lake and stop at the burned-out Opukasjarvi cabin. It caught fire a few days before our departure.
More lakes and forests between them. They are denser and piney. The landscape is changing. In the distance, a transmitter towers above the forest. At the next break, we meet some Czechs who have just started. They carry a guitar on their sled. I missed seeing a reindeer the whole way. They sticks around people. In the bumpy wood just before Sevettijearvi, their tracks are everywhere. And soon a few of them pass before us.
We arrive at a football playground. We walk along the road for a while, then cross it and go straight to the local pub. It is the only center of Sevettijärvi. We sit in a warm restaurant with beer and ice cream.