This time of year I start to dream about next summer and new hikes. Planning is nearly as much fun as going. And remembering the old hikes. I don’t think anyone ever forgets their first long hike. I know I never will. Here is the story of our first hike. Unfortunately the photos are not of best quality, no digital cameras back then…
I was seventeen years old and I had dreamed about it for years. At the first week of July I, my sister and our boyfriends of that time started a long drive (around 1000km) to Utsjoki, heading to the Kevo strict nature reserve.
Strict Nature reserve is mostly meant for research purposes and differs from a National park by some tighter rules. For instance you are only allowed to walk on the marked routes. But visiting Strict Nature Reserve is free of cost just like hiking in National Parks. The basic route of Kevo is 64 kilometers long and most of the route runs through fell highland and goes up and down the Kevo canyon, which I think is the most beautiful place in Finland. We drove our car to the north end of the route in Kenestupa and took a bus to the south end in Sulaoja. From the south the path begins with a walk on sandy land, if you ever seen an old TV show called Bonanza that’s what we all thought it looked like.
At the first day we also walked through a ridge with lake on both sides. Since every one of us was a rookie to hiking for long distance, we made some silly mistakes that we have been able to laugh many times after that. The first one happened in the first night when we build our tent to this beautiful sandy beach of a tiny pond. It looked so soft and even place to sleep at we were really happy about our choice of place. Well, during the night it started raining… And in the morning the sand, that had got slightly wet, got stuck everywhere. I had also got my sleeping bag wet somehow during the first day when it had rained a little bit. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that until everyone else was sleeping so I was freezing the whole night. Although the first morning was rough with sand everywhere, we were all really excited to start the hike and reach the Kevo canyon soon.
And it was totally worth of all the trouble. I think the canyon is at its best if you reach it from the south and the biggest and steepest end of it opens right in front of you.
Otherwise the path was following the canyon edge on the fell highland which can be quite rough. Since in the early 1960s a little bug called autumnal moth (tunturimittari in Finnish) ate most of the birches in the area. There was just some tree trunks without branches left on the fell. Occasionally the moth goes around in huge amounts and practically the larvae eat every leaf and branch they find. The nature in the fells is really delicate and it takes extremely long time to recover for such destruction.
Our second day was windy and full of little showers. Then we discovered a little failure in our equipment. On that summer we saw lot of advertisement of these rain ponchos that were kind of a hit thing back then. So we inexperienced hikers thought that here is a thing for us and it was also a bargain. After that day we all just wanted to burn our ponchos in a big fire or bury them and dance on their graves! The wind blew on the inside of the poncho so no matter how you stuff it in under your backpack it just slithered its way out and flap around you preventing you from seeing, hearing and most definitely from staying dry. It was so comical that we can still remember us finally just laughing desperately to our rain covers in the rain.
In the end of the hike of the day we came to one of the biggest waterfalls in Finland, the Fiellu falls. Before getting to dry our clothes we had to get wet again because to get to the camp side you have to cross the river. It is one of the four crossing on this basic route. This first one is not wide and there is a wire to help you cross it. We had a good year for these crossings because the water levels were really low. On Fiellu camping side there is also a turf hut (kammi in Finnish). Inside it was possible to make a fire and finally got our gear dry again.
The days 3 and 4 we went up and down the Kevo canyon and without any rain. We also had a little event that none of us probably ever forgets. We met the most aggressive willow ptarmigan moms that ever existed. We were walking on the path, me in the front. Suddenly we noticed two grownup birds and big pile of tiny ones few meters ahead of me. Normally they just run to safety or the mother tries luring you to the other direction but not these ones. They attacked us. In Kevo area it is forbidden to leave the marked paths but that moment we did. Every one of us, even the big guys, ran away when the fearless mums attack. You would expect that kind of behavior from a capercaillie male in the spring time when they are full of hormones but not from little ptarmigans.
I really hope I can hike this route again one day and see how all these years have changed the route and the hiker. First time there I could just keep going with that youthful energy but now after all these years I have to prepare a lot better with equipment and also physically for longer hikes. But my urge to go to places that can only be reached by foot has not changed. M.