“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” (Jim Rohn)
It is 6:30 in the morning. Our alarm is ringing. How fortunate! In the last couple days, it did not always work because of the cold. Since then we keep it close to the body during the night. This morning we get up disciplined because we have quite a long route in front of us. The way will lead us along the exclusion zone of the Russian border. Our goal today: Anterinmukka – an open wilderness hut with a sauna!
Who we are: Olaf, Roberto, Mo and Leo – four friends in their late twenties that have already shared quite a few meals in nature. We love being outdoors always searching for adventures on the less traveled trails, if there are any where we are headed! Together we already did some tours usually in summer or fall. For Olaf and Roberto winter tours have become quite a regular thing to do. This time it will be the four of us since they convinced Leo and Mo to join them on this adventure. For Mo it will be the first time on skies ever. You can find further photos of tours from Olaf and Roberto on Flickr: Olaf.R and roberto_mottola.
In the preparation of the trip to the Urho Kekkonen National Park we looked for an area where we would have snow for sure. One condition for Mo was that there would be huts for some nights but we all agreed that we would also like sleeping in our tents for some nights. Our agreement was that we would do it 50/50, not knowing how comfortable and beautiful the wilderness huts will be.
Where we are: Urho Kekkonen National Park (Finnish: Urho Kekkosen kansallispuisto) is a national park in Lapland, Finland, situated in area of municipalities of Savukoski, Sodankylä and Inari, 250 kilometres north of the arctic circle. Established in 1983 and covering 2,550 square kilometres, it is one of Finland’s largest protected areas. It is named after Urho Kekkonen, late President and Prime Minister of Finland.
Back to our morning in our hut close to the border. We start packing our stuff and preparing our usual breakfast: Porridge with chocolate chips and dried fruit – delicious! This morning we do not fire up the oven because we want to get going soon and a warm hut will not make that easier. The wood ovens for warmth, cooking and melting snow are in every wilderness hut together with nicely dried Finnish wood, sometimes even already chopped. The best part about it – it is all for free. Thank you, Finnish taxpayers!
If we are we quick in the morning and not to sleepy we are ready for takeoff after two to three hours – same this morning. But after a couple hundred meters over a huge frozen lake we have already been walking on a couple hours the day before we need our first break – the snow is sticking heavily to our skies we need to put on our skins, which makes it a lot better and we make our way to the border quickly, additionally rewarded with our first sightings of reindeer. As expected we find really good snow-mobile tracks there and we are able to make quite a long distance in short time with only a few hot teas and delicious Forestia cereal bar breaks. For the first time in days we even meet other people – border patrol on snow-mobiles who drive up and down our track.
During midday, as almost every day, the temperature raises to around 0° C and the snow starts sticking again. Sticking means after a few steps you have 15 cm snow sticking below your skies which leads to breaking off sidewards almost every other step. At one point we decide to take off our skies and walk, which makes it a lot easier but also slower.
After a short break at a lean-to-shelter we continued upstream along the river Anterinjoki. We are now on a less traveled on track heading away from the border. Less than 5 km before reaching the warm shelter of today’s destination, it starts snowing heavily. Since the air is still quite warm the snow melts on our clothes and we are starting to get wet. As long as we keep on walking this is not a problem but as soon as we stop to orient ourselves with map and GPS-device it is freezing. Because of the heavy snow and the more secluded area the snow mobile tracks are getting harder to find. During our travels we also learned not to trust them all the time although they stick to the summer routes on our map most of the time they do not always. Which can lead to learning the hard way that not all routes are suitable for skiers and snow mobiles the same and that not every snow mobile is heading towards the same destination as you are.
At one point we leave the tracks and decide for the direct way on the frozen stream although leaving the woods means snow and wind whips us heavily in our faces. It is freezing cold now and getting dark which does not make the walk even more uncomfortable. But after a couple hundred meters what seemed to be at least two hours the struggles finally come to an end and emerging from the snow we see a wooden cabin at the riverside which soon reveals to be the small sauna we were promised to have according to our map. Happy and relieved the short but extremely steep climb to the actual hut is even with a 35 kg pulk not a problem for us.
Leaving the pulks outside curious to explore our camp for the night we head into the hut. It was one of the biggest open wilderness hut we encountered during our trip with a vestibule for jackets and shoes, a big open fireplace, a gas stove and room for sleeping for at least ten people. But as luck would have it (and maybe also due to the weather outside) we are the only ones there.
Without losing much time we start preparing for the evening: lighting the oven, chopping new firewood and of course the most important thing – firing up the sauna.
The sauna was a small hut with two ovens inside: one with stones for the heat and one with a big kettle of water. It was located right at the stream where someone dug a whole into the ice so you could get water for the sauna and for cooling down. After two sauna cycles quite close together because the only room for relaxing was a tiny vestibule for the wood were the four of us could barely fit and where it was almost as freezing as outside we finally are able to take a warm “shower” again. Shower meaning taking a big bucket of hot water outside standing naked in the snow and pouring hot water over ourselves. Although after a while you are not able to feel your feet the setting was quite breathtaking being in the middle of nowhere beneath the most beautiful starry sky with faint northern lights on the horizon.
All there was left to do was having dinner which fortunately only means heating up some water for having tasty hot seafood paella. Finally we crash deadbeat but more than happy into bed. Unsurprisingly the next day we decide to take a break at this hut to give our sore legs a little break, gathering strength for the days to come and of course enjoying the sauna for another day. Because being in a sauna is really a simple thing. And in the right moment it can be the best thing in the world (Finnish saying).