Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park: A Family Outing

It's been an odd winter. I've had plans to go backpacking, albeit only for a night or two, but every time I got the backpack or pulk out, something threw a spanner in the works. When Enni started at day care it brought both an increase in free time and an increase in the amount of colds, flus, and other unpleasant bugs to promptly take that free time away. Such is life.

With time slipping by without much happening, and as a means of giving everyone a break from the litany of lurgies, we decided a family holiday was long overdue. As neither Enni nor Minna would really appreciate the joys of a night in a single-walled shelter at -20ºC, we looked for other options suitable for a tight budget. Eventually we found a special offer for few nights at Yllas, a ski resort about 200km north of Rovaniemi.

Ylläs is the southernmost fell in the series that make up Pallas Yllästunturi National Park, which adroit readers might remember I visited last year for a hike to Aakenustunturi.

So while Ylläs itself was not a particularly attractive destination, being covered as it is in downhill ski slopes and everything that brings with it, it does make it a good location for accessing the more interesting, less frequented, and considerably more charming areas of backcountry. I was keen to explore some places I didn't get to see in spring last year, and perhaps see some of the places I was familiar with covered in an unfamiliar coating of deep snow.

The hills of Ylläs often experience temperature inversions: it can be a balmy -3ºC on the hilltops, and -30ºC on the vast Lapland arctic plains surrounding them. For our visit, the temperatures hovered pleasantly around -4ºC up top and down below, but as the guidebook in the chalet said, "the wind plays its tricks".  Its trick this weekend was storm to hurricane force winds on the fell tops, putting paid to any plans I might have had to climb up to the top of one.

So instead we went to the

animal park


The animals were a mix of your typical Lapland fare:

Horses, sheep, reindeer...

Cow things, camels...

An ostrich...

It was okay – until out of nowhere some guy appeared and started taking our photographs without our permission. I had no idea what he was doing, so I asked him to stop and told him I have a camera and can take photos myself. "Ah," he said, "But you don't have


 photos." I found this a little worrying, to be honest. I have no idea if he was working for the zoo, or just a guy trying to get photos for some other purpose. The fact that he didn't explain anything was very unprofessional, and quite disturbing. The photos he was taking would have been quite bad, as I'm pretty sure both Minna and I looked shocked and confused. It was a very odd experience, and in retrospect I wish I'd made more of a complaint, but I was so bewildered and flustered I wasn't thinking straight.

Not wanting to let one bad experience ruin a holiday, I decided I wouldn't let bit of wind deter me from getting somewhere high, and looked at the map for a reasonable hike with Rufus up to a small peak on the flank of Yllästunturi. I hoped it would afford a few nice views and allow us to stretch our collective legs.

The trail was marked as a snowshoe route, but there was no need for them - it had been compacted down plenty by previous hikers, and was easily walkable with a pair of microspikes. I did strap my

MSR Lighting

's to my pack though, as I suspected they might be needed above treeline.

Through the trees we went, up and up. These hills are around 700m high, which is nothing in the scale of mountain ranges worldwide, but quite high compared to Rovaniemi's towering 240m hills. As we ascended towards treeline, the wind began to howl through the branches. Limbs cracked and snow was picked up and hurled around. As the trees thinned, the trail disappeared, and I stopped to strap on the snow shoes.

Stomp stomp. Puff puff. And then, there were were. The view opened up and the wind whipped my face with snow. I pulled out my down puffy, and fought to get it on before the wind could rip it away and send it sailing into the air.

The higher ridge at the summit of Ylläs was blurry with blizzarded snow. It was windy where I was – I doubt I could have stood up top. I snapped a few photos – it's hard to capture wind in a still shot, and I had not intention of sticking around to try and get video.

It was a short walk, but it felt good to be fighting with the elements.

In the afternoon I loaded Enni into the child carrier, and the three of us went for what I hoped would be a reasonably short walk around Kellostapuli, a short hill connected to Ylläs. I saw a snowshoe trail on the map that appeared to lead through an open area on the hillside that I hoped would give a very nice view across Kesänkijärvi lake to Kesänki fell. After two and a half kilometers of up and down through forest, it was clear that the trail and the map were at odds. The tree line was always 70 meters above us on a steep slope, and the trail showed no signs of going to meet it. With Enni getting hungry and miserable we decided to turn around and head back. As we walked I vented my frustration at inaccurate maps while Enni screamed in my ears.

Fortunately the next day brought calmer winds, which meant the gondola to the top of Ylläs was running, offering all three of us a chance to enjoy some hilltop views.

From the summit you can see for miles – one of the benefits of the strange, isolated fells of central Lapland. To the north, I could see the tops of the hills I had walked on the trip to Aakenus.

From the top of the ravine, the snow-covered fells of Kesänki and Lainio looked tempting for my afternoon hike, but with limited time – I'd agreed around three hours with MInna so she could get some skiing in too – I knew they were not on the cards. Also, I didn't fancy climbing up Pirunkuru, the steep ravine on Kesänki which I'd huffed and puffed my way up last year.

With the sunny, warm(ish) afternoons producing unpredictable snow, and a south-facing slope of at least 45º, it hit all the right angles for avalanche risk.

Instead, I decided to take a safer, shorter sojourn up to Kukas fell. There's a snowshoe trail leading along the west flank which just reaches tree-line. From there it was just a short stretch up over the bald top to the top, and some vast panoramas of the surrounding fell tops.

I wandered around on the top for a while, my snow shoes crunching over the consolidated snow. I could see the valley I had walked along in summer, and was able to mentally re-trace my route, and make plans for another summer visit to explore some off-trail areas.

From the west, snow brushed in across the landscape, a grey veil obscuring one view, highlighting another.

A couple of XC skiers had braved the climb up to the top – a "demanding" black route over the top of Kukas, the kind of route I wouldn't have the guts to try. I chatted with one of the women who seemed equally nervous about the downhill section before she took a deep breath and ploughed her way downhill.

I took in the silence for a moment; stillness; snowflakes; wind; a 360º panorama. I craved more time, and wanted to be off with a pack on my back, but alas, not today. Still, this was better. I was happy to have made it up to the top in much better time than I had anticipated. And the rewards were enough in themselves.