My Pants Don't Fit
Kautokeino - Mile 343 - Aug 2nd, 2018
Our final ration period was certainly the most eventful portion of the hike, and despite certain complications, was probably the most rewarding as well. We left Kilpisjarvi with heavy packs, which quickly became lighter through the first couple days, which we spent staying in the bare-bones but free shelters provided by Metsahallitus, Finland's trekking organization. We met quite a few other hikers, since the first section of the trail leads to Halti, the highest point in Finland, which is a popular hiking destination.
Since Halti was only a bit off our trail, and we were covering ground quicker than expected, we decided to make the detour and climb it ourselves. Our plan was to hike to the shelter at the mountain's base, drop our packs and have dinner, and then do the short climb in the evening before bed. However, it turned to pouring rain as we approached the shelter, so we spent the night drying our gear and drinking hot cocoa instead, and climbed Halti the following morning.
The day after that, just after we crossed back into Norway, we encountered a group of Norwegian fishermen with a Saami guide, who knew the area well. He recommended that, instead of following the next 50 or 60 km of the trail, which went northeast and then back southeast in a big loop, we cut off a day and a half of hiking by cutting straight east. Because it was a fun navigational challenge, as well as a way to skip some hard terrain, we decided to take the bushwhacking route. The terrain itself was easy for the first day, and only became technical in the last 2 km before meeting back up with the trail, where we had to navigate a steep descent into the dramatic, Grand Canyon-like Reisa valley, losing about 400 m of elevation in about 1.5 km.
Following our dramatic descent, we arrived at the DNT's beautiful, perfectly-situated Nedrefoss hut, just across the river from several excellent cliff-diving spots, each between 15 and 20 feet high. It was also just a short walk from some excellent blueberry-picking spots, and equipped with an excellent kitchen. We decided to spend a full day there, swimming, diving, fishing, reading, berry-picking, cooking, and eating. We wanted to reduce our pack weight before the climb back out of the valley, so we ate 4 square meals, plus assorted snacks and a blueberry cobbler.
The following day's climb out of the valley contrasted dramatically from the previous day, and constituted what I can only describe as an exercise in Murphy's Law. We got an efficient start, but as we began to climb out of the valley, we realized that we had run out of bug spray. The whole valley was teeming with mosquitoes, so our only hope was to climb out as fast as possible. For me (Eli) this was made worse by the intense heat and the fact that I'd lost my Nalgene with actual water in it (the other was full of coffee) over a cliff within the first 30 minutes of hiking.
We successfully booked it out of the valley, but I emerged in a state of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and with an excruciating pain in my left knee.
The heat exhaustion gradually subsided, but the knee only got worse through the day, to the point where I was limping down the trail. We made it a full 18 km, but at the end of the day, despite being only 2 days' hike from our end point in Kautokeino, I wasn't sure if hiking on it for 2 more days was the best idea. The following morning, we decided to hike to a closer trailhead, only 15 km away, and try to hitchhike or call a cab into Kautokeino.
On the way, we passed a small Saami village, where we met a woman named Inger Marie who was out walking her dog. She told us that she and her husband Mikkel had a boat, which he could take us across Reisajavri lake on, and drive us into Kautokeino from there in his van. Before we'd even agreed, she ushered us into her house and served us homemade bread with reindeer meat, cloudberry jam, and coffee. Over lunch, we learned a ton about Saami culture, language, music, and their reindeer herding lifestyle. Inger Marie, who we only learned later is a recorded musician, even demonstrated some joiks for us. (Check her out on Spotify or buy her music online- her name is Inger Marie Nilut).
After helping Mikkel bail his boat (which looked like a cross between an oversized canoe and a scaled-down Viking longship), he shuttled us across the lake, and then down into Kautokeino. The entire time, they refused every offer we made to pay them back somehow, except for the 6-pack of beer we insisted Mikkel take before he left.
Since then, we've spent a day in Kautokeino and are now in nearby Alta. I need to take a bit more time and maybe use a laptop instead of a phone before I'll be able to really reflect on the trip as a whole, but the next blog post should cover that, as well as these next couple days in Alta, the North Cape, Honningsvag, and back south in Bergen.
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Eli, Liam, Sam, and Kristian
Kautokeino - Mile 343 - Aug 2nd, 2018