4th part : Kvikjokk - Arctic Circle

19/07/2011

Piia leaves quickly to take her bus and  she almost ends up missing it. The morning was so fast I have hard time realizing that she is not here anymore.

I pack all my gear and take the boat back to the trail (I almost missed it as well). The river doesn’t look like yesterday at all, the level is incredibly higher because of yesterday night’s storm.

Once on the trail I notice that every single creek is ten times stronger and wider comparing to yesterday and I cross some people with crazy stories about how they were in danger during the night because of the flooding. The trail is much more complicated now since every creek is challenging to cross. The flooding area begins usually 2 to 30 m before the actual creek and it makes the navigation pretty complicated.

It is pretty funny to imagine that yesterday we barely noticed those torrents and today they are almost impossible to cross. I counted about 20 challenging crossing in about 5 km. I cross many people who turned back to Kvikkjok but for the moment the crossings are ok for me and I hope it will stay that way. I’m anxious to go back in the mountains.  And as a matter of fact I carry a letter that one of the cabin people asked me to bring to a remote cabin a few days ahead of me, that is a pretty good motivation to go on.

Then it’s time to turn left and head to the actual valley. I’m hoping that a bridge is crossing the huge river down the valley, because if not, I might be blocked. As I go down I find more than a challenging creek, I really can’t cross it. The stream is so strong that I can’t even try to touch the bottom with my poles. The creek is about 3 m wide and the vegetation around is so dense that I can’t walk back and try to find another way.
I sit for a few minutes in order to solve this problem. I spot a branch in the water which seems strong enough to hold me. I could build a mini bridge until this branch and climb a standing tree that is not so far. It’s still challenging and the jump from a branch with the backpack might be dangerous but I have to try it.

That was definitely challenging but I did it and afterwards I think damn I should have recorded that. Definitely the most challenging and funniest way of crossing that I’ve ever done.

In the evening I spot a small cabin beside a nice lake and I give it a try but someone is already in. I’m not really social usually but today I thought that I could use some company. In the cabin was actually a French guy with whom we had a lot in common. We prepared our trips with help of the same website and used the same kind of material. So we spent a big part of the night talking about light backpacking, gear and so on….

20/07/2011

After a talkative night it seems that the weather is against us and the clouds promise us a lot of rain soon. It is actually pretty hard to leave this nice and dry cabin. I hit the trail around noon and luckily the path is easy to follow and I know pretty well where I have to go so it is an easy walk. The only issue is the rain which begins to fall really hard.

There are some river crossings on my way but nothing too hard. I’m lost in my thoughts and don’t really pay attention. I cross a stream as I’ve done since about three weeks now, jumping from rocks to rocks or walking straight in the water. I jump on a rock, not focused, tired, whatever, and my foot slips and I fall violentliy in the water. My elbow and back hit the rocks pretty badly and for a while I’m a bit dizy by what just happened. And the water is now flowing all over me as I lay in the water. It takes me a minute to kind of wake up and I try to stand up. The water is freezing cold and I’m now totally soaked. The temperature is 2 degrees and I’m frozen. I take of my t-shirt off and sqeeze it as well as my pants and check quickly my elbow and my bag to make sure that everything is ok. Apparently nothing is broken.

I decide to go on in order to warm my frozen body. I’m almost running on the trail as the rain seems to get heavier and heavier. As I go on I wonder how I will be able to set up my tent without soaking everything. After a few kilometers I find the solution in my head and apply it. I take of my backpack while protected under my poncho. I take the outside tarp of my tent and put it on the ground, put 4 sticks to make it stay on the ground and crawl under. Then I adjust two trekking poles, unfold a part of the ground sheet and here I’m protected from the rain. I just have to set up the inner tent (mosquitoes are already trying to reach me), take all my clothes off, set up my sleeping pad and bag and here I am, warm, finally. I will pass on the warm soup tonight since I didn’t get any wood outside and I don’t feel like wearing my soaked clothes just to warm some water. I eat some peanuts and snickers and fall asleep.

 
21/07/2011

This morning is sunny. Yesterdays hike was short but mentally hard, fortunately I’m better now that I can see the nice landscape around me. The valleys are really wide and make you feel really small, lost in the infinity of those lanscapes. I slept really well and I’m ready for a big day in order to erase all the dark thought from my mind.

After a few saddles I take a glance at the valley that we hiked a few days ago with Piia. I spot some dead branches in a small patch of dwarf vegetation and it’s exactly what I need for warming my dinner tonight. I take a left turn and head to Sulitjelma. I know that there is an amazing camping spot a few kilometers further beside a high altitude lake but unfortunately the place is already taken. I continue further as the surrondings get rocky and cloudy. I have been walking in this rocky ambiance since one or two hours now, the rain slowly begins to soak again my clothes. At this moment a nice cabin appears from nowhere, what an amazing place for a cabin. The place is already occupied so I was about to go on when the door opens and a guy tells me: “I’m cooking fried potatoes, you want a bite?” I must be dreaming! The guy is German and hikes with a 35 kg backpack in which he carries potatoes, spices and lot of other good food. It’s another way of having fun on the trail for sure!
After this good dinner we talk for a while and then go to bed. During the night a French guy arrives, saying that he spent 17 hours on the trail from Sulitjelma and he is totally freaked out. He tells me that there is no trail at all and that I won’t probably make it to Slitjelma. After one more hour of talk, the guy goes to sleep and I do the same a bit more worried.


22/07/2011

I wake up early despite the short night. I follow the advice of the French guy who arrived panicked at the shelter during the night and I try to keep a good speed and hope to reach Sulitjelma before the stores close. I think that the French guy got scared when he saw that the trail wasn’t “French marked”. When you compare the Norwegian trails with the main hiking trails in France, the Norwegian ones can get a bit scary since sometimes they let you without a clue about where to go. You just have to know about where you are going and go on. I think that the people who marked the trail did a great job but the feeling that we have about the trails can change so easily depending of our motivation, on the weather and other stuff that I can’t blame the French gyu for being a bit shaky. I arrive at Sulitjelma a bit after noon, run in the store, buy a 4-person picnic and eat in front of the store. Once my stomach is totally full I go back and do my resupply. It is my last resupply before the end and it is pretty important to keep my diet balanced. Meat is extremely expensive as are the protein bars and I can’t afford them. Since I don’t find anything rich in protein, I will have to do without.

After my shopping I have to go all the way up again, but it doesn’t matter. I had a good lunch and the weather is still pretty nice so everything is great. I walk on a gravel road for a few kilometers beside a lake. I set up my tent on a nice stop a few meters from the lake, what a beautiful spot for sleeping again. The night was extremely windy, I was pretty pissed at myself to have chosen so a bad spot but have to admit I was too lazy to move the tent.


23/07/2011

Today I should reach the Junkerdal park. The clouds are low and pretty impressive but it doesn’t rain. There is no trail and I don’t have any map of this area since I couldn’t do what I usually do, meaning taking a picture of the park map at the entrance. This time I enter from the side of the parks, so no map for me.  The landscape is composed by a large valley surrounded by pretty steep hills. A huge lake is located in the middle of the valley and the surroundings of the lake are just tundra wich make it really easy to hike even without a trail. I don’t know which side of the lake I have to take. All I know that I have to go at the other end of this 15 km long lake but I have no idea what direction is the easiest. I choose the west way and then the rain begins to fall pretty heavily. After some kilometers I notice that going this way is probably a bit longer but as long as I can reach the end point I’m ok with it.

The rain is really cold and I’m circled by fog which gives me the feeling that I’m swimming more than walking. After a few really wet crossings and some hours under the rain, I reach the other end of the lake. That is a good spot for the night so I light my stove, once again under my poncho and enjoy my hot soup before jumping into my sleeping bag for a dry and long night of rest.

 
24/07/2011

While on the trail during the morning, I cross two hikers who own a map and I ask them if I can take look in order to see where I come from and where I go. I remember, while looking at the map, why I didn’t take any. Indeed not even the third of the distance that I covered yesterday is on the map. I would have needed a considerable weight of maps in order to cover all my trip. My small map shows me the main trails and the mains cabins as well as the roads, with it I always know about where I am and where to go in case of emergency. Plus it adds some challenge which is pretty nice.
At noon I arrive close to a small village. There are some roads and houses around but no trail. The road goes in the opposite direction and following it would add at least 30 km to my total and walking on the road isn’t really exciting. So I walk around for a few minutes and see a closed road with a sign : danger no trespassing. The closed road goes to the right direction so I take it. I quickly understand the purpose of the sign. The road went through a canyon some years ago but now the most part of it was collapsed into the river and just a few parts of it stand against the steep canyon. The walk is challenging but beautiful and I would say quite technical. I need to climb some trees, do some challenging jumps and trust some branches in order to keep my balance.

After one hour of climbing and jumping, the canyon gets a bit less steep and I can use a part of the road still standing. I’m glad to be there since one mistake could have been dramatic.

The road leads to a maze of forest roads which all lead to private properties. I try to do my best to keep my direction and after some kilometers I’m finally beside the road that I had to cross. I ask some water at the bar but all I get a weird look from the bartender and no water. A bit pissed off I decide to continue. I climb the hill, desperately looking for water, then cross a flat area and go down at the other side of the hill a few hours later. It has been a long day, about 50km. My muscles are fine, just my feet are seriously bothering me. My shoes are really good but the insoles were too hard and I got a micro fracture at one of my feet which hurts a lot. I try to use my river shoes for a while but it doesn’t help. I finish this day with bear feet, it’s actually a nice feeling.

I cross a train station and some hikers. I stop for a small chat and don’t notice the huge thunder storm clouds developing behind my back. It seems one more time this night I would set up my tent under the rain. Cooking under the rain with a wood stove is something challenging. First you have to find dry wood, then sit with the poncho on your shoulder and over your head. Then you place the wood stove between your legs and try to stay like that. It produces a lot of smoke and usually my eyes cry a lot, but at this point I wouldn’t trade my place with anybody. Through the smoke I take some glances at the valley where massive clouds are moving up really fast. The thunderstorm cloud is so dark and the contrast between all the elements in the landscape is beautiful.


25/07/2011

The sun is shining when I wake up. I let my tent drying while I take my breakfast. I follow the same diet since the beginning. For the morning it is a bit weird, a mix of couscous seeds, chocolate powder, baby milk powder and raisins that I soak at night. By the morning it becomes a bit wet sort of cake. It’s full of energy and contains many nutrients that help to stay healthy during a long hiking trip and, it’s maybe hard to believe, it’s pretty good.

Once the tent is dried I go back on the trail. Today I go through a national park which isn’t busy. Which means that I will have to cross many rivers by myself. I could call it another day in paradise. I begin to feel that my muscles around my knee get weaker and weaker and I think that I’m in lack of protein which a beginner mistake. But well it’s my first long hiking trip, next time I will be more careful and less creedy.

As I go up the clouds go down and I’m soon surrounded by pretty impressive clouds which are nice enough to let me see some of the summits around me. The ambiance is pretty nice here. The temperature is perfect for walking, the clouds bring some moist and fresh air and it is really nice to walk at this time of the day. It makes me forget how hard it is every morning when the day before has been long. My shoes are wet since a while now and I get some infection on my feet sole.
The mountains are naked, no vegetation but rocks and grass. With the humidity it gives the feeling that you are in the middle of Scotland. It is sometimes hard to find the path today and there is some flooding that once more push me to do some challenging river passings. I become pretty good at doing mini bridges in order to cross several creeks in front of me. As I go further I walk beside a huge river that looks impossible to cross without a challenging swim. Fortunately a bridge appears in the middle of nowhere but no trail leads to it, Gosh this country is a hiking paradise.

After this bridge I climb a small hill and finally find the wooden arch representing the Arctic circle. Beside it stands a small and cozy cabin and since it has been raining a few hours now I take advantage of this cabin and spend a good and comfortable night.

I’m glad that I found the cabin in fog that was so dense that I barely saw at one meter ahead, I was lucky to find both the arch and the cabin. The fog goes away during the evening and it gives me the opportunity to take a pictures under the arch with Gedeon, the mini duck that Christophe asked me to make travel. Here it is in the middle of nowhere under the rain, what an adventure for this little duck that became the symbol of our hiking trip.

 

26/07/2011

This night was rainy and the ground is full of water when I wake up. I’m supposed to go down in a valley and go up to the other side today. My pants and my shoes are totally wet since a few days and the good things about it is that I don’t have to care anymore about where I put my feet. I’m wet anyway so I can walk straight. Another good thing is that the temperature is so low that I need to walk to stay warm. For the moment there are just two ways to stay warm, either in my sleeping bag or while walking fast enough.

I go down to Lobno, take a pause there and go up at the other side. I don’t see any trail so I have to guess where I should go. The trail should lead me to Valdashytta where I will stay for the last night.
It’s still raining. I would like to take some pictures but the DSLR doesn’t really like the rain. It makes me think that for my next trip I will take a smaller camera. I get sometimes lazy to open my bag and unpack the camera and with a point and shoot camera it would be a lot easier.

The hills are in fog, the grass is impressively green and it feels like it’s raining every day in this area. It reminds me of a four days hike that I did in southern Norway with the same kind of landscape. The ambiance is hard to describe but I like it a lot. It’s so moist, cold, windy, unfriendly and so beautiful at the same time. After a long and wet day, I arrive at Valdashytta. There I meet a man who is on his way from Bergen to the Nordkapp and sleep every night in a cabin and it seems we definitely have a different experience on the trail. The funny fact is that the weight of his maps is as heavy as all the gears I carry, around 9 kg.

The cabin is luxurious, about 30 degrees in it and the man invites me to stay the night inside. But I refuse since it would be cheating to spend my last night in a fancy cabin. I would rather be under the rain all the night.

I leave the cabin and walk around to find some wood for my stove, then I light it and cook my pasta. I guess it would have been a good picture to take. I’m sitting on the wet ground with my poncho on my shoulder and over my head, between my legs I have my really smoky stove and my pasta cooking. I see the guy through the smoke while he watches me through the window and maybe thinking I’m totally crazy. But you know what, now two years after the trip, it is one of my best memories of dinner. I felt exactly where I was supposed to be that night, being in the cabin would have felt so wrong.

After my soup I took a walk beside the river, trying to realize that it was my last night on the trail. One more time the ambiance is impossible to describe. Cold, wet, pure, beautiful. It was once again amazing to witness this great scenery. And no pictures would have been able to capture that.

Then I went to bed with a mix of lot of different feelings. I was happy to finish but already nostalgic, and probably really proud to be where I was.

27/07/2011

After this comfortable night I go on the trail. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m soon at the end, or the tiredness, or something else but the pain in my knees and my foot is hard to deal with. The grass is soaked and my shoes haven’t been waterproof since a while, so there is constantly a small amount of water around my socks and feet. Infection there gets a bit worse.

I feel weak especially in my legs since I barely have muscles around my knees anymore. That doesn’t help cushioning the ligaments. My biggest mistake was to underestimate the amount of protein for the last leg of the trip. Indeed my fat percentage was pretty low already while shopping in Sulitjelma, but I thought that it would be okay. I’m a bit disappointed to finish in so bad shape, but on the other hand only the few last days have been hard and I still enjoyed every part of them.

Another mistake has been not to pay attention to the wound at the bottom of my foot, which is now pretty badly infected. The last big mistake (there are many small ones but it might take too long time to go through all of them) happened with the shoes since I didn’t try them before the trip and for that I didn’t notice beforehand that the insole was too hard for my feet. That is how I got the micro fracture.

All those symptoms have been enhanced by the loss of motivation due to the bad weather and the loneliness.

Anyway, I’m now on my way to the road which mark the end of my trip. I walk fast now, motivated by the finish line which is getting close. I switch on my cell phone and got some text messages which make my motivation even bigger. It feels like everything is much easier as I come close to the road. I’m more and more convinced that the mental part is definitely an important factor in hiking, since with good motivation even the uphills are easy to hike.

Before I really realize I hear the road! I then unpack all my stuff, the sun is shining and the temperature rising. Perfect conditions to take a shower and wash everything before the hitchhiking to Oulu.

My gears are a bit used and I don’t have proper underwear anymore. My socks are pasted together with my foot because of the infection. I spend two hours beside the river, washing, enjoying and drying myself in a sunny spot. My last shower was days ago, now it feels really good!

Once everything is repacked I hike a few hundred meters to the road. The feeling is amazing. I did it, this crazy project! I hiked 1400 km surrounded by the most beautiful places in Europe! It was amazing to be able to see all those landscapes, to hike from horizon to horizon and to be able to share that with Marie and Piia. I had such a good time on this trail and it will stay in my memory for a long long time. That was a once in a lifetime experience for me.

So many things could have gone wrong but they didn’t’. Sure I’m a bit limping and some of my gears are destroyed but from a global point of view it was a success!

 

After that, it took me 3 full days to reach Oulu and Piia who waw waiting for me with carrot cake and blueberry dream. Hitch hiking didn’t really work for me so I ended up taking the bus. I spent the last night with the company of an old drunk Finnish guy who spent his night peeing on himself and throwing up just beside me, welcome to the civilization!