Vaattunkilampi Overnighter

It's 12:04pm when I get the call. I quickly make arrangements to escape and get out hiking on the trail. I've been waiting three days, postponing my decision to leave until I finally receive the good news: my new Laufbursche huckePACK has arrived at my friend's apartment in Finland.

Except it hasn't. The postman has apparently had some difficulty placing the small, pliable package through the large letterbox. He's taken it back to the post office and left a note telling me I can pick it up at 4:00pm. That's great, but the sun sets at 3:52pm, and it's a 20 minute drive to the trailhead.

My friend tries to pick the pack up from the post office at 3:00pm, without luck. She offers me the use of her old-school pack, and I'm torn between waiting to get the huckePACK and hiking in the dark, or making the most of what little light there is left. It's 3:30pm.

I swallow my pride and stuff my gear into her old Halti. I don't know how much it weighs, but the word "watermelon" comes to mind. Still, it's padded and it fits me well. I pile into her car with the dogs. She's kindly agreed to drive me to the trail head and pick me up again tomorrow.

I don't know why, but I'm a little nervous. It's heading quickly towards twilight, and I'm not a big fan of walking in the dark. I think about bears and remember that they are crepuscular. I know that they are all probably asleep by now - it's early November. I still think about bears. I blame America's bear paranoia for making me think about bears. Then, as we arrive at Vikaköngäs rapids, I think about bears some more.

Maria will join me on the first couple of kilometers, taking the opportunity to exercise her two crazy Labradors. I pull on the backpack - it's light, my cut down gear adding only a little to the initial weight of the pack. I've brought half my gear with me from the States (sleeping bag, bivy, clothes), collected half from my storage in Rovaniemi (boots, cooking pot, sleeping mat), and picked up a small gas stove (Edelrid Kiro ST) and a balaclava. It's a mix of tried and untested, ultra-light and ultra-heavy. But it's only one night, so who cares? The most important thing is getting out there. If only I'd remembered to take my liner gloves. It's getting cold.

I leave Maria behind, and head up to the top of Vaaranlaki, the only fell I'll be climbing on the hike. The trees spread the light even thinner in the forest.

Some of the rocks are slippery from the previous days' snowfall which has melted and re-frozen. I watch out for tree roots as I climb.

At the top of the hill there is a lookout tower with spectacular views south across the low fells of Rovaniemi. But today I have no time for views. I watch the last rays of the sun disappearing behind the tower.

I check the trail signs. I only have three kilometers to my camp, but I'm worried. I know it's going to get dark very soon, and I don't like stumbling around. I know the trail, and it's clearly marked, but I'm concerned I'll trip and fall. I consider climbing the tower, and bedding down for the night there instead. But there are two problems; there's no water here, and I won't be able to make a fire up there to keep warm. It's only -6C.

I waver about continuing. I could turn back and give up. But that would be a shame, and I know that my fear of hiking in the dark is a cover for the still lingering thoughts of bears, which I'm (almost) certain are not there. I decide to continue. At most, I'll have 30 minutes of night hiking.

The trail descends on the other side of the hill, down through increasingly boggy forest. After about 1.5km I start to trip and stumble on roots and rocks, so I take out my headlamp. It helps, but has the effect of closing the landscape in to a narrow beam of light.

As I get to the bottom of the hill, the path enters the swamp – or, more accurately, mire - and the trail becomes duck-boarded. It's a blessing and a curse. The first duckboards are at an angle, and my old Meindl boots cannot grip their wet and icy surface. I slip-slide downwards, unable to stop myself. I jump off, trying to avert a fall in which my head might come into contact with hard and/or sharp rocks or tree stumps. I take a deep breath, and start again, slowly.

It's hard to discern the strength of the duckboards. They don't get repaired often, and the wet land rots them fast. I tentatively step along the more springy ones, hoping for the best. I round a corner, and Lapland delivers one of it's fine sunsets.

But I'm running out of patience. I want to get to the laavu (lean-to) and set up camp. Enough of this stumbling. I'm also hungry, having forgotten to eat lunch.

It can't be much farther. Maybe 1km. The duckboards lead me high over a stream. I cross carefully, not wanting to slip and fall in. And all of a sudden I spot the woodshed, and am relieved to see it well stocked.

I waste no time in getting a fire going for warmth and to fend off any insomniac bears that might be wandering around.

I'm surprised to find a strong, cold wind blowing off the river, fanning the flames and making them roar. The temperature is now at -8, but the wind chill makes it feel more like -20. Fortunately, my shelter for the night - one of Lapland's many laavus - is facing sideways to the water, and once inside it's sturdy pine walls shield me completely from the wind.

It's pitch black now. And only 5:30pm. I have a long night ahead of me, even if I retire early.

I decide to collect water from the lake now, and tip-toe down to the jetty. The river is frozen already, but the day's sun has melted the surface a little, and I'm able to scoop up a liter into my platy-bottle, and some more in my pot. It's enough for the night.

I stand for a moment in the cold wind, looking out across the wide river. The stars are bright, but no aurora tonight. A pity. It's too cold to linger, and there is a Real Turmat Chicken Curry with my name on it.

I'm excited to try the meal, and my new stove. I screw it on and get squirted with liquid gas. The valve is open a little. I close it and burn off any residual fuel so I don't get a nasty surprise when I light it. I try again, and note that my old butane super-lighter is no longer super, and after a few more attempts, ceases to be a lighter as well. The flint still works, and after a few clicks the stove is lit.

The meal tastes great - better than any dehydrated meal I've had before or in America. But then again, for €9.90, it wanted to be pretty spectacular.

I sit around for an hour or two, staring at the fire, mulling over life. It's relaxing, and I don't notice time passing. I've had a stressful couple of days, and I'm glad I found time to come out, even if it was only for a night.

I wonder about my irrational bear fears. It often takes a few nights to get used to being outside, so I put it down to that. Nevertheless, I decide to keep the fire going as long as I can during the night. After collecting and chopping plenty of logs, I lay out my bed. An old McKinley sleeping pad will keep me off the cold laavu floor. My Bristlecone Bivy will protect me from any change in wind direction, and give a few degrees extra warmth to my Western Mountaineering Antelope. Best of all, my new Exped air pillow will hopefully give me a good night's sleep.

I zip myself in, and spend a while faffing around, trying to get everything working together in harmony. It's not long before I'm way too hot, which suits me. I don't like wearing so much in the bag. I strip down to just my First Ascent hoody and Haglöfs long johns.  That's much better. The only problem is the pillow, which still slips around. I should have taken some shock cord as Roger suggested. Next time...

Before I know it, I've drifted off. I wake up every now and again to put a couple of logs on the fire and watch the falling snow, but by 2am I'm fast asleep.

I wake in the morning to a fine dusting, but know I can't hang around. I other art-related things to do today, so I need to get to the trailhead by 9:30am. The wind has dropped, but I notice there are still some embers glowing in the fire pit. I smile to myself as I exercise my inner Les Stroud and get a small fire going to warm up.

I fire up the stove again, and take a walk down to the jetty to see what was invisible last night.

The surface water from last night has frozen solid this morning. The jetty also has a very solid feel to it - no longer floating, but squeezed in tight between sheets of ice.

I return to the laavu and a pot of boiling water. Having got used to my BushBuddy, I've forgotten how fast gas stoves are.

Time for breakfast. Porridge, Nordic-style.

I find the porridge to be too fine-grained for my liking. I force it down, but I wish I'd brought the lovely, chunky cinnamon and apple oatmeal from my local co-op. Still, it fills a hole.

Considering I threw everything together at the last minute, I'm quite happy with my gear choices. I wish I'd had the huckePACK, but you can't win them all. I don't bother to wash up, and stuff everything back in the pack. I'll be home soon so there's no need to be neat and tidy.

As I'm packing I find my liner gloves, which makes me happy. They are perfect for keeping the chill off my fingers without being too overkill.

I shoulder the pack, and head off on the trail. It's a beautiful, crisp and cold Lapland dawn. The duckboards are lightly coated with snow, which makes walking on them much easier.

I've never walked on this section of trail before, but I know from the map and experience it'll be mostly flat, with some open mire.

I take great pleasure in being able to see much more compared to last night. The trail is clear, meandering through clumps of low-lying forest.

A dusting of fine snowflakes frost the crowberry and lingonberry bushes.

The sun rises over another fell, its light filtering through the trees.

The trail opens out, and I cross one of the many mires that lie between the hills.

It's an expansive, oddly pleasant feeling to emerge into such an open space out of the forest. The sun casts my shadow long over the frozen bog.

As I watch the sun rise, I almost stumble on one of the rotted duckboards. The mire is a peculiar place; silent, mysterious, unpredictable. One minute you can be on solid ground, the next, floating, and then up to your waist (or worse) in alkaline goop. I'm glad it's all frozen.

I wish I'd been able to go for a longer hike, but I'm enjoying the morning stroll. These five kilometers are short, but the landscape is pretty, and I regret that I don't currently live here. I make a resolution to get out and enjoy the landscape around Rovaniemi and Lapland more when we move back.

Soon, I arrive at a split in path, where another trail loops through the mire, and also heads off to Olkkajärvi - a trail I had considered for this trip, but rejected because of time and because the trail was likely to be very wet at this time of year.

I always get itchy feet at other trailheads, and this was no exception. I wonder what lies along that path; where it leads. Maria will often laugh at me when I spot and head over to signposts or maps. I just can't resist a good sign.

Now I enter the last leg of the trail, another familiar section through the Vaattunkiköngäs rapids and tributaries. It's a pretty little area, popular with locals because of the plentiful laavus.

I stop to peer into a freshly frozen pond. Under the rippled ice, a pine cone will remain trapped until spring time.

I sit for a moment by on of the tributaries, watching the water cascade over rocks. Soon this will all be covered in ice and layers of heavy snow.

As usual, after just one night, I feel more relaxed and at ease. A calmness settles over me, and I feel ready to face the next few days which I know will be busy. But it doesn't matter, because here, and now... this is enough.