A couple of months before leaving Finland for Minneapolis, I got the chance to squeeze in a three-day, October hiking trip in Urho Kekkonen National Park, just before the snows came back.
It's a strange time of year. Lapland weather can be unpredictable a the best of times - I've woken up to a snow-covered tent in September before - but there is something spectacular in the arctic light when the sun stays low on the horizon all day long.
Urho Kekkonen is a very popular park, but once you get into the shoulder seasons, you pretty much have it all to yourself without even needing to head into the wilderness zones.
I left Rovaniemi early, and drove the three hours up to the Kilopää Visitor Center and the trail head. It was kind of grey and cold: pleasant walking weather.
After a few kilometers skirting around the base of Niilanpää fell, the scenery opened up as I emerged above the treeline.
Once on top of the fells, the wind picked up pretty strong. I'd planned to camp out in the Akto, even though I was sure the wilderness hut would be empty. It had obviously been snowing recently, so I could expect a cold night.
The trail takes a pleasant, meandering route around and over the fells, descending suddenly to Rautulampi. The wind was howling straight down the saddle between two fells, across the cold lake, and directly into the camping area. Lovely.
Soon after I arrived, I saw another couple heading down the hill toward the hut - the only two people I'd see the rest of the trip. After I'd warmed myself by the stove, I decided to put the Akto up and sleep outside. I didn't want to cramp their romantic hike, so I left them to it in the cozy, warm hut.
It was the first time I'd used the Akto, and it was a breeze (pun intended) to put up in the high wind. I was pleased at how sturdy it seemed. I crawled inside, wrapped myself up, and listened to the wind getting stronger.
As I tried to sleep, I began to worry. The wind was ripping down the valley and the Akto's walls were flapping very loudly. It got to the point that I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep - yet I knew the tent was probably going to be fine. The guys were taut, it just sounded like hell.
Irritated, I gave in. The candle in the window of the cabin was too tempting. I took the Akto down and retreated into the warm safety of the hut. Sorry guys.
Next day I made an early start, and left the love birds for Suomunruotku.
Most of the trails in that section of the park are very well trodden, and I wanted to get more of a wilderness feel. I also didn't want to go back on the same trail I'd walked, so I checked the map and found a couple of minor paths which would cut across country. The wind had dropped and I was on my way.
Somewhere around this massive cairn (a testament to the amount of visitors the park receives in autumn) there should have been a little path heading roughly in the right direction, but I couldn't find it. Rather then heading off anyway and ending up in a swamp, I carried on and found another path intersecting the main trail.
There. That's more like it. The path less travelled. I followed the stream down the fell, thinking about the origins of paths and trails - something which I'll write more about in the next trip report from the Badlands.
I stopped at a convenient laavu for lunch, topped up my supply with hopefully pristine Lapland water, and hoped I wasn't interrupting any bears from eating the the bloody stump of leg that lay nearby.
It was only another five or six kilometers to my Suomunruotku - a nice easy stroll.
After crossing the shallow river I was there, well ahead of schedule.
The Finnish wilderness hut system is really fantastic. Free accommodation should you want it scattered throughout the parks and wilderness areas. Suomenruotku hut is in a really lovely location, with a little river running nearby. There are plenty of campsites - perhaps too many - although all were empty at this time of year.
I'd just finished writing a script, and this trip was my reward. What a perfect place to relax with a ritual whisky and cigar, while inexplicably wearing only my thermal underwear (Haglöfs, if you must know!). Well, no-one else was around...
I wandered around (wearing hiking trousers) enjoying the silence, and the fresh Lapland air, which has a particular crispiness at that time of year.
It was so relaxing, and the hut was so cozy, I didn't even bother pretending I'd put up the tent that night. The hut would do fine. I lit a fire in the stove, put my feet up, tucked into some delicious food... and realised I had company.
A mouse had made the hut its home, and it appeared to be very protective. Perhaps even predatory. As darkness fell, it became quite brave, scampering across the rafters, dropping onto the bunk above me, and attempting to get at my food.
Banging on the ceiling to frighten it didn't seem to have much effect, so I resigned myself to a sleepless night fending off the savage beast. I tend to get unnecessarily annoyed with harmless animals that disturb my sleep, but it appears hard to avoid them. I have a big problem with mosquitoes, which is unfortunate as there are only slightly less mosquitoes in Finland than there are atoms in the entire universe. I know that's impossible, but so is their ability to teleport themselves inside fully protective netting. I rest my case.
The next morning, with food mostly intact, I hit the trail again, heading back to Kilopää.
The sun again had that icy light that presages the onset of winter.
But at the same time, offers a clear view over the low fells of Lapland.
I saw very little in the way of wildlife on this trip (aside from the mouse). Usually you see plenty of reindeer, but I was surprised that the only ones I saw were on the way out. Perhaps the farmers had gathered them all in for the separation. Nevertheless, the group I passed posed very nicely for me.
It was a very pleasant few days in Urho Kekkonen. There was no ultra-lightery involved as you can see from my fleece and heavy boots. It was easy hiking, for sure - maybe only 30km - but I wanted to get out there one more time before the drudgery of packing and moving to the States for two years. So in that sense, it was the right trip. It was what was needed at that particular time, and that, perhaps, is the most important thing. I look back on it and yearn to be walking over those hills again.
But until that time comes again, the American West has something offer in the way of outdoor adventures...