The departure day has finally come. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the 60 dogs that have been our best friends for all the summer, to Christophe and all the people at the hotel whith whom we spent so great time this past year.
Christophe drives us to Inari. We have thought long time about where we should start this hiking trip and altought Ivalo would have been better place, we didn’t really find any trails there. That is why it is from the SIIDA museum that we begin this trip. We arrive there at the beginning of the afternoon. We say goodbyes and hit the trail. Marie will be with me for the first leg of the trip, she will hike about 400 km until Kautokeino. Then I will continue alone for a few days and join Piia in Kilpisjärvi.
We are excited to be here and a bit scared as well, indeed the arctic part of Europe can be pretty hard to hike. There is supposed to be a trail there but we never really know for sure. In order to save weight we just bring some really general maps with 1:500 000 scale. This map shows us about where to go in case of an emergency (closest road) and the main relief.
Our backpacks are pretty heavy since we have 10 days of food in them but we don’t have any idea about how hard the trail is gonna be.
We walk beside Inarijoki for a while. I like this strong river, full of rapids. The trail is easy to follow and leads us to the first hill, Otsamo which offers us a really nice view. We can see a big part of the gigantic Inari Lake, the weather is perfect and allows us to take our first pictures.
Then we go down and head to the north, our direction for about 10 days until Karigasniemi. Our first night is located beside a river, where we fish for a while and try to find the right organization in order to save time and energy when we stop for the night.
There are still some houses along the trail today. That isn’t convenient for us, indeed we usually arrive by the back of the house. And usuallythey don’t have fences but dogs. It is pretty hard to know if you are actually walking on a hiking trail or a private trail which leads to a house. The area is full of reindeer herders who usually have big fences where they keep the reindeer to sort them and we have to cross many of them and are a bit scared to get shot. We navigate mostly with a compass. There is no real trail, only tracks that go a bit everywhere. I have still the detailed map printed in my head and that helps a lot in order to avoid some big lakes.
Our plan is to take an old trail crossing into the wild until Karigasniemi. It isn’t actually a trail but a direction that take few outdoor people to reach the rivers. It is really hard to know if we are in the good direction or not and sometimes we walk on a gravel road knowing it could end in a private property with big dogs.
We finally find an ATV track that goes in the good direction. It is really muddy and wet but that doesn’t really matter.
After a few kilometers we are following a really old track in the grass but there is nothing to follow when you reach a swamp. We have a small map of the area which helps us to be sure that our direction is good. The mosquitoes are crazy especially in swamps that this area is full of. We see many lakes as well, it’s beautiful. We are glad that we took mosquitoe nets and are able to sit on the ground for a rest and the mosquitoes can’t bite us. It is really important for me to be able to rest peacefully, it’s hard to imagine how those billions of mosquitoes can make you crazy. We wear mosquitoe proof pants, head nets and waterproof jackets. It is pretty hot and I regret not to have purchased a mosquitoe proof t-shirt.
At the end of the day we arrive close to a nice river and a lake and we set up the tent and fish. I catch a nice small fish that Marie enjoys, grilled on the fire. We didn’t really train for this hiking trip so both Marie and me are a bit tired, but we are in the good direction and we have walked some nice distance already.
Today we leave the flat area that we have walked through since Inari and now there are some hills in front of us. Since we are far in the north the treeline is pretty low and most of the summits are without any vegetation. It reminds me a bit of the north of Scotland, at the difference that for the moment, we have sunny weather. We didn’t expect that kind of landscape. The view gets better and better as we go up the first hill. We can see Otsamo, our first summit really far on the horizon. That is a really good feeling. Once arrived at the first pass, we drop the bags and hike the summit on our left. The view is pretty amazing from up there and we see really far to the south. In the north we can see some hills with their deep valleys. The mosquitoes are not bothering so much anymore, that is great news. For the moment our speed is pretty good and altought we are both a bit tired the trail was easy the first a few days so our bodies are getting used to this slowly.
This area is mainly wild, a few fishermen and hunters come here to enjoy some lonely time but that’s it. There are a lot of swamps and some creeks, never too hard to cross and actually pretty nice to cool our feet caught in our big heavy hiking shoes.
I know that there is a cabin 7 km from the trail so we try to find it but we experience a without-ending-day feeling that will happen often during this trip. Finally we arrive at the cabin which is full of mosquitoes as they usually are. Marie will remember this access trail which felt like being 15 km long when we thought it was really close.
We leave the cabin early in the morning after a pretty bad night. We hike a few kilometers without a trail in order to join the path that we left yesterday. We learnt a lesson last night and we will remember that except if it is raining a lot, the tent is usually more confortable than a cabin.
We have to cover about 20 km before our first resupply, we are two days early and are able to allow ourself some chocolate treats. We go over a few hills that are never really high or steep, what makes them pretty nice to climb. We finally arrive at the last one and after that the trail heads down to a pine forest for a couple of kilometers and then joins the road. From here we have to follow the road for about two days which could be the worst part of this trip. We don’t want to use any motor vehicles so we have to walk on the road.
We have only 5 km to go before the store in Karigasniemi. Once the shopping is done we cross the boundary of Sweden for the first time and we have 20 kilometers more to do on the road before Karasjok. As we are walking beside the river, Marie has the great idea to play with a puppy. He was cute for sure but… when we come back to the road he is still following us and is close to create some accidents. I have to take it back and end up walking four more kilometers that day (not a lot but when you are ready to rest for the night it’s four too much), believe me I won’t forget this one for a long time. When I come back to Marie we find a spot beside the river and far enough from the road and enjoy our evening under a light rain. We have to rest well since tomorrow will be pretty long and all the way on the road.
When we wake up, it’s seriously raining. That is the first time that we have real rain. We don’t have plan yet for such situation. After deciding who does what and what the priorities are, we begin to pack. We are wearing our poncho and waterproof pants and I wear my river shoes which are more flexible and more comfortable on the road. They allow me to walk a bit faster as well which is always nice when you have at least 15 km of road to cover. I really don’t like walking on the road especially when it’s raining and we both have our eyes pointing to our shoes, trying to get as much possible protection under our poncho.
We arrive in Karasjok three hours later and we are totally soaked. First we stop in a store to buy some treats and warm up a bit. The rain is getting heavier when we leave the store. We take the direction of the tourist center where we stay for the lunch and a big part of the afternoon. We found a spot in front of a glassmaker and the heat from his stove literraly dries our bones. That is a pretty nice feeling. We know we have to cover 15 km on the road today and apparently again under the rain. That is not a nice feeling.
We finally decide to go for our 15 km leg which ends up being one of my worst hiking memories, being soaked and walking on a boring and busy road. But I really like the idea of leaving the Lapland area whitout using any motor vehicles so we have to keep going. Marie doesn’t say a word but I know that she hates this part as well.
After three hours of fight against the road we arrive at what we believe is the beginning of our trail. Well we don’t really know for sure so that is actually more like a guess. Our map says that we should be around there but at this scale it’s pretty hard to be sure. Anyway we will take care of that tomorrow. For the moment we enjoy a small hut that is really helpful for cooking with our wood stove. After a good dinner (pasta and soup) we come back to our tent hoping that the rain will stop.
When we wake up, the sky is blue. The spot where we set up the tent is pretty moist so everything is still wet. This morning promises to be interesting, indeed we went to bed without any idea if there is a trail or where exactly is the start. There are many tractor trails around so once everything is packed we try to find our way in this maze. We finally find a path which goes up and north on the plateau. Up there there is no vegetation at all, just grass and clouds. After a few hours the rain begins to fall again and we are really exposed on this part of the trail. And the wind is blowing hard as well. Most of the creeks, lakes and swamps are flooding what makes it difficult to go on. We should be walking through those plateaus during the next few days and I keep thinking that if everything is so wet this part won’t be easy.
Our map shows a cabin further away and we hope it is really there. We are really soaked and a night under a roof could be nice. We finally find it, not in too bad shape and the roof is still in place. The floor is really dirty and Marie spots some rats under the beds which might be full of flea. This is the first day that I use the emergency propaine stove that Marie carries, not that we couldn’t use the wood stove, just that we are too lazy to do it. Since I’m already pretty wet, I decide to take a walk around the lake with my fishing rod. The ambiance is unbelievable; I could touch the clouds since they are so low and so black it gives a weird feeling. The big lake beside the cabin is buried under a thick fog, the coulours are amazing. I really like it. I feel so lucky to be here so far in the north contemplating this beautiful scenery.
I lose a lure in some underwater vegetation. That is what happens when you are fishing as an excuse to be alone outside and I think that the fish are not really in danger with my kind of fisherman. I finally come back to Marie and we fall asleep in this scary cabin.
When we wake up, the sun is back. We take all our gear and put them on some rocks in order to make them dry. I begin to feel some pain under my foot, I guess the insoles of my shoes are too hard and it hurts. This feeling appeared after the second day of walking but it’s now getting worse and worse.
When everything is dried and packed we hit the trail again and head to the west. We find some really nice and sandy trails which allow us to walk bare feet, our feet like that a lot! Sometimes we stay a bit longer in a river that we are crossing just to feel cold water refreshing our feet. Around noon a trail goes to the south and we know that we have to go in this direction but we don’t know exactly when. I’m a bit concerned because we are at a river side and this river seems impossible to cross without swimming. After a few kilometers we cross a group of cabins where some people are working. We asked them about a bridge but apparently they put down the bridge during the winter and put it back in summer. They are nice enough to give us a small boat for reaching the other side and we consider ourselves lucky on this one. We had some troubles crossing the river with the stream and our far-from-perfect paddling skills.
Once at the other side we take a sheep trail which goes to a direction that seems about okay for us. If we continue this direction we should reach the road which goes from Northcap to Kautokeino. We have to go through pretty wide rivers before we reach the road but we begin to be really use to it since there is no day without a river or swamp crossing. However, the last river that we have to cross today is pretty impressive, the water level is knee high and the stream is pretty powerful. After that we are ready for the night, we set up the tent in a nice area close to a river. The mosquitoes are very bad. It’s about midnight when the tent is up but thanks to the midnight sun we can still enjoy fishing time. The river is beautiful and perfect and there is a deep spot beside a stream that feels like full of fish. Indeed after a few minutes a big pike takes my lure. I’m not a good fisherman and the fish I usually catch are small. This arm-long pike is definitely the biggest I have ever caught. This big guy even took a piece of my thumb as I was unhooking it, looks like those fish have pretty sharp teeth!
After that we took advantage of the nice river to take a shower, what a good feeling after almost one week of sweat.
Today we should go through Maze, a small village on the road. Before that we have a long walk downhill. We arrive in Maze in late afternoon and Marie takes advantage of the civilization to call her family. We are eaten alive by the mosquitoes so Marie has to keep walking while on the phone what is pretty funny to watch.
There were a lot of maps in Maze showing the trails around. Unfortunately for us most of them are either for winter use or not going in the right direction. We are supposed to find a gravel road which will lead us to Kautokeino but we just don’t find it. We follow a snowmachine trail for a while which brings us in the middle of a really wet and deep swamp. We continue to walk for a while before admitting that for the first time we are lost. There are worst places to get lost in since the landscape is great and we are a bit higher than the road and have a nice view on the valley. We have really no clue about where we are. There is just an electric line going west that might bring us to a cabin that might be connected to our gravel road. And that is indeed what it was. We are now walking on the road, happy to be on the good direction, and happy to find out that this road actually exists. Otherwise we would have to walk 150 km on the real road which is no fun at all. We set up the tent when we reach the plateau, there are big impressive clouds over us but no rain yet. I wake up many times during the night, the wind is going crazy and our tent makes really irritating and loud noise. It does’t rain so I take all my stuff and go to finish the night under a tree.
When Marie wakes up in the morning, the tent is empty. She thinks that I left her alone and went on. I’m in fact under a tree trying to save some hours of sleep.
We come back on the trail and catch a nice view, there are big mountains in the south side. The wide gravel road allows us to walk side by side, for once we can actually talk without yelling. The day goes really fast and the kilometers as well as we are getting closer to our next resupply. We should be there in a few days.
We are getting closer to Kautokeino and at noon we cross the main road. It’s the end of the gravel road and also the end of our plan since I didn’t find any trails which connect this point to Kautokeino. One possibility is to follow the road but that might be long and boring so we try to go without a trail. Unfortunately that was a bad idea and we find ourselfves blocked by a huge river impossible to cross. We have to go back a few kilometers in a deep vegetation bothered by many mosquitoes. We finally find a spot for the tent beside the river and since the water level is low enough we take a shower. The mosquitoes are really bad and there are also really small flies flying around and going through our bug nets and hurting a lot.
We spend the night fishing and eating the extra piece of chocolate that we have earned by being faster than expected. I really feel the hungriness now and that is actually a pretty nice feeling. In our every day life we are never really hungry since we are use to eat before being humgry. In such a hiking trip your body usually tells you pretty strongly what it needs. The simple image of a chocolate bar makes your brain crazy.
I get use to the pain under my feet and I try not to think too much about it even though it’s a bit swollen. Other than that Marie and me are in a pretty good shape.
We are now close to Kautokeino and close to our resupply. After a few hours of walk we arrive in the town and try to find a store and a map if possible. The first part of the Nordkallotleden seems to be pretty hard to follow so I would like to find a general map since for the moment we have nothing. We do our shopping, the store doesn’t have everything that we need but we find enough food for the few days between Kautokeino and Kilpisjärvi. Marie still doesn’t know if she will follow me until Kilpisjärvi or if she stops here. She will probably do the next day with me and decide then.
We walk around the small town and gave up for the map. We will figure out a way and it’s now time to hit the trail again. We tried to ask people where the trail is starting but nobody had even heard about Nordkallotleden.
After we spent half an hour walking beside a road without any clue where the trail could be, we find a guy who seems to know where the start is. He explains to us how to get there and follows us with a quad to be sure that we don’t get lost.
We follow this trail for a few hours and it goes in the right direction, what is pretty good news. We climb a small hill and then the trail stops, at the summit. We walk all around the summit trying to find a trace or something but no, there is nothing there. Hoping to find the trail again we go down the hill still heading west and find a huge swamp. And of course we don’t have the choice, we have to cross.
The swamp is deep and pretty long, useless to say that it is pretty wet. We try to find the best path among the high herbs and the deep and wet spots. We finally find a trail but unfortunately it goes in the wrong direction. I then decide to follow it in order to get closer to the road and then to walk on the road until we see the trail which is supposed to be easy to find there. We finally see the road but the problem is that there is a big area of brush and swamp between the road and us. And we are very tired and I feel that Marie gave away all her energy already.
But we have to cross since I think it’s better to camp out somewhere that provides us an easy morning. There is no way we will cross that swamp tomorrow morning, so we have to cross it now. Aand then we can set up the camp for the night.
The crossing is awful, for the first time I hear Marie yelling and swearing. Her backpack is heavy and we have to walk through about 6 km of wet area. Our legs sink deep at each step, way higher than our knees, it is exhausting.
We finally reach the road and I kind of feel at this moment that Marie wouldn’t continue with me. The fact is that we will have to go a bit harder the next days and today was really hard for her. We walk a few kilometers more on the road in order to find the trail back as well as a good spot for camping. We spend some time talking about tomorrow but I feel that Marie decided already.
Suprisingly we fall asleep pretty fast this night.