I really had no ideas for this year concerning the annual Lapland ski trip on the last days of the year. It has become almost a no-brainer to put one together – finding like-minded people was more difficult. I wasn`t keen on joining any strangers, but when I was informed that another member from last year was putting together an event then I immediately joined the list and after some thinking joined in the group also.
Start of December means I begin planning for spending the last days of 2013 in Lapland where there should be plenty of snow and quiet and no Christmas songs.
I had the core of it in place pretty quickly. Urho Kaleva Kekkonen National park would be a new place for me , but all the rest was fairly simple. Although it took some work to get the gang together we were ready to go a day after Christmas. As the heat wave hit Finland as well as Estonia I was checking the snow-chart and weather forecast at least once a day. It didn`t look that good.
When I decided at some point in 2011 that in the end of the year I will go skiing in Finnish Lapland I didn’t have to think long to choose the neighborhood of Halti as a destination. (more…)
A ski trip to Lapland in the end of last year. We spent four days skiing through one of the Finnish northernmost national park following roughly the Hetta-Pallas trail. Overall conditions were great: –15 C, very-very-very much of powder snow. Too bad the sky was mostly overcast, but we got some clear nights. No northern lights though.
A panorama of pictures taken near the first hut using long exposure. I managed to step outside during the few minutes the sky wasn’t cloudy and to take advantage of the situation
The first day starts actually on the previous night when we board a ship in Tallinn and start driving towards Hetta at about 9pm. We arrive at about 11am. The worst thing about Lapland is probably that it’s so damn far away. Anyhow I slept through most of the trip. At Hetta we grab a quick snack and tea and prepare skis and change for the day. We start near a silver jewelers shop. The owner also organizes our bus to the end of the trail. When testing skis I had no problems, but the instant I put on my skis for the actual trip one of the braces breaks. Fortunately I had a spare one. To reach the trailhead we have to cross a lake and off we go. We’re instantly knee deep in powder and some people fall. Daily legs are about 15 km long each, which might not seem such a long distance, but that’s not definitely you usual cross-country skiing. On a good trail and downhill it is possible to go 5-7 km/h, but when you have no trail or it hasn’t been used for some time then you can expect 2-3 km/h. So for the first 6 km we followed a path and reach first checkpoint before it got dark at about 1530 or so. Had some tea and warmed near a fireplace. There are a lot of huts in Finnish national parks where people can warm up, spend the night, cook some food or just take a break. Most of the are free but that means you have to be there before the others, ‘cause they are free for all and you can’t leave those coming late outside. These huts are called autiotupa, which means free room. To be sure that you get a place for your own you can also book a room for some fee – these are varaustupa. There might be a sauna nearby also. The huts are mostly for 8-16 people with bunk beds, a wood stove and gas stove. Gas and firewood is prepared by the park rangers. There are also toilets and garbage bins so you don’t have to cut down living trees or carry your garbage around. The wood stove provides enough heat so you don’t have to carry a winter sleeping bag. Basically you can manage with a sleeping mat and a blanket. It became to hot to sleep in a sleeping bag in most nights, but it might get chilly when the fire goes out. Back to the trip. We started again in the dark with headlamps, but it soon became clear that it is near to impossible to follow the planned route ‘cause we couldn’t find the markings in the dark. So we decided to go over the hill instead following the valley. But we had to find the right track first. We had a GPS unit and that showed the hiking trail we wanted to reach. To get to it we had to spent quite some time to go uphill through knee deep powder, which was quite fun actually although somewhat tiring. I took point and after some time unsuccessfully fiddling with the GPS I tried to get directions figured out with the map and compass. By that time someone had found the trail post. Or was it like that I found a post then lost it, tried with the compass, but someone found the markings again. Anyhow then we decided to follow the trail posts, which wasn’t that easy also ‘cause it started to snow and you had to really look for the markings. Occasionally they were almost covered with snow with just a little bump visible. We ascended about 300m and reached the 711m high hilltop called Pyhäkero. From that point onward we only had to descend to the first hut, where we were to spent the night. Descending was actually more difficult ‘cause the snow was blowing right to my face and it was even harder to see the markings and you were going downhill. Often you had to guess the direction and then change direction while speeding downhill. The slope wasn’t steep but it was difficult to turn with those skis. I managed to land on my face quite a few times. But in daylight conditions and different skis both the slopes we went up and down would have been great for off-piste. We arrived at the Sioskuru hut at about 8pm with another guy who had taken the point at halfway down and the others arrived about 45 minutes later. Ate and chatted a bit to get to know each other better and crashed at around 11pm
Our first sleeping hut. Autiotupa on the right and varaustupa on the left. Long exposure again
Started off in dark around 9am. A small ascent and then about 10 km over an even landscape. My first experience in a whiteout. Although it was day and plenty of light it occasionally got totally white around you. Almost like in fog. Again you could barely see from one post to another so the visibility was around 40 meters. Very cool though. Last part was between a low forested area with the path twisting and turning. Like in a winter wonderland. And soon we were near the lake in our next hut – Hannukuru, where we spent the night. Again being the first to arrive we started the fire and got some snow to be melted for water. After the dinner most people grew silent and some took a nap. We played Tower for an hour or so when one of us agitated us to check out the sauna nearby. Four of us still not sleeping went out ‘cause it was and idea worth to check out and the night still being young we had nothing better to do anyway. Turned out to be the best idea of the day. The sauna was in excellent condition and we quickly decided to heat it up. Opened up and ice hole so we wouldn’t have to waste time melting the snow. After an hour it was hot enough and it played out to be a great sauna evening. So great that I even broke a promise of mine not to drink beer from a plastic bottle. One of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. Everyone slept great that night.
This was probably the best day. We started off searching for the path, didn’t find it and ended up doubling back for a while and then climbing up a very steep slope ending up on a flat hilltop with great views. Tried to find the path and we were close or over it a couple of times, but couldn’t find any markings. But we carried on among the trees in total stillness. No wind, no animals the only sound being the snow under our skies. Simply awesome. Somehow I managed to find some stray track and we decided to follow it because it went to a general right direction and there was no point in trying to climb the hilltop without a track. Soon our path led out to the real ski track and our speed increased. We had a lunch break near a reindeer-gate just before the final push uphill towards our hut. This ascent was probably the best part of the trip. After an hour the trees grew sparse and the slope eased a bit as we reached the saddle. There a cold wind started blowing and stopping became a bad idea. And it was just 1,5km to go before the Nammalakuru. In the hut we found a group of 9 Hungarians, but they didn’t plan to spend the night and left after an hour as we began our preparations for the New Years Eve celebrations. The best part was that they had already warmed up the hut. Blood sausages and bacon, mashed potatoes, peppercakes, Tosca cake and strawberry liquor. At some point a Finnish couple arrived and we chatted with them a bit. They had came from the opposite direction of us and therefore we knew that we would have a good track the next day and they could use ours. Later in the morning we had and argument with the woman ‘cause she thought that we were overheating the hut. Felt kinda bad because of it later. Waiting for the midnight we played some Tower again and talked about mountains and where everybody had been and so on. The midnight was as usual – outside, shaking hands, listening for the distant fireworks.
The sky was again partly overcast but had some clear windows for picture taking
The valley of Miracles as our guide had named it
The final leg started with a gentle descent through some trees and we covered 5km in one hour. Could have been even quicker, but there wasn’t much room to pass. Besides it’s not a competition. During the trip I often found myself in the front putting distance between myself and the others. Not because I wouldn’t have enjoyed their company, but I find it difficult to go slow and stay behind someone. And being in front allows one to get a glimpse of some vary animals. Not that I saw any at all, but still the odds are greater. After a tea-break in the junction we had a decent uphill section onto a plateau, which we followed for about 7 km. A final lunch break and a 3km push to the end at the Pallas Nature Centre. It got pretty clear and cold in the end. Our bus was already waiting for us so we sat down for a moment while the bus warmed up a bit. Tried to help some Latvians to get their bus going, got into a potentially dangerous situation and had push our own bus up the hill ‘cause it was pretty icy. We got going finally towards our cottage or mökki as they are called in Finland. Pancakes and sauna and TV. And we managed to get some overpriced light beer from the reception. Everybody slept very- very good on soft mattresses.
The last day was planned in the Levi ski-resort. Unfortunately I couldn’t go so after breakfast when others were gone I slept some more. Like 5 hours or so and spent the rest of the day watching TV and prepared dinner for the others. Started driving back at 4am Sunday and landed in Tallinn at 1030pm.
It was a great trip and gave me plenty of ideas for the future. Skiing in Lapland is pure pleasure although it might be dark and you’re getting tired but you still go on ‘cause you know that there is great place waiting for you in the end. And thanks to Raki and Tanner and Andro and Priit and Taavi and Birgit and Jaan for being such a great company.