The ascent of Halti in fall of 2018, part 2/2
... an account of memorable landscapes, rocks and sore feet
In the first part we made it halfway up the slopes of Halti fell, as we had decided to attempt going all the way to the summit the same evening. Morale was growing thin in the rocky uphill.
On top of this we were paid a visit by Mr. Hunger (that asshole), but luckily thirst didn't get bad. Essi saw my frowning face and raised spirits with an adaptation of Nothing by The Fugs, which she had devised at Kaldoaivi before. This brought a grin back on my face. What are these rocks, stings in the ankles and drops of sweat? Nothing!
Okay, so you sing the song with your own words according to the situation. "Rocks are nothing, felsenmeer is nothing, sore feet once more nothing! Knee pains are nothing, heavy rucksack nothing, ascending the Halti is nothing!" A faux peak after another I was also doubting whether I could make it, but damned if I would give up! Climbing over man-sized boulders and the knee-pain growing ever worse, we met a man coming down from the peak. He was in a very good mood and relatable, because he had similar issues with his knees. We got a boost from this encounter and kept going upwards. We were likely the last visitors for the day, because we didn't meet others. -Essi
Since rocks, agony and sweat is nothing, it took us no time to get up there. At 1324 metres (4343 ft) there wasn't a rock to stand on to get any higher. High five! We shouted "Perkele!" into the winds, as is customary. After lake Pihtsusjärvi we had completed about 590 metres (1935 ft) of elevation and the feeling was sky high. We spent a good while looking at the views, took photos, signed the guestbook and had some beef jerky. Essi wrote down the running number 182 626 and mine was 182 687. The 100 000th visitor signed the book in 2011, which was started in 1930.
Then it was time for the more painful part, coming down. The footsoles felt crusty and both knees were shot. Essi seemed to have an endless amount of energy. I fell back a little bit to groan and puff with my knees. Luckily you can get really far with Finnish Sisu long after your earthly endurance has been depleted.
The sun set behind the fells as we descended the slope. The felsenmeer had an orange tint to begin with and with the sun setting bright red, the terrain started to look like a Martian landscape. As darkness fell we broke out headlamps and used them to light our way back to the tent, like explorers on an alien planet.
Back at our camp we revived our feet by rinsing them in the mountain stream. My other foot received the first and only blister band aid for this adventure. The ankle of the same leg was visibly swollen. Dinner turned once again into a night meal and instead of candles we enjoyed it in romantic headlamp light.
As the third day on the trek came to an end, we had a bit of a chat in our sleeping bags. The journey of the day was over 22 kilometres (13.6 miles) and the sum total so far was 60 km or 37.2 miles. It was past midnight when the thoughtful mind drifted off to sleep.
Doesn't feel like anything, except everywhere
Sleep was really good! We woke up to a thick fog all over our camp. We couldn't see Halti at all and even Fore-Halti was a faint outline. The first thought was of course how lucky we were to get to the top yesterday! As we made breakfast, some hikers we passed yesterday went past us and vanished into the grey. However, the weather cleared before we packed up and set foot on the trail.
From here on the fourth day was quite intensive. The feet were feeling well after taking care of them last night, and our pace was surprisingly fast. We stopped at lake Pihtsusjärvi shack for a short brake and by coincidence met Raija Hentman, who has written books on camping and hiking.
These books have had a great impact on me and inspired me to go camping and find new locations near and far. When I realized who was standing in front of me at the shack, I think I might have raised my voice just a wee bit: "I LOVE THOSE BOOKS"! There was probably no question about that to anyone in the shack... -Essi
From here to Meeko felt like a long way over rocks, even though the map said it was just 8.5 kilometres (5.3 miles). The footsoles were screaming bloody murder, even though we hadn't walked a lot during the day. Even the smallest rocks felt through the boot like in barefoot shoes. We had a quick lunch a bit earlier than planned, because the valley in front of us was going to have a rain shower soon.
Pihtsusköngäs falls didn't appeal much on the way back, and we also left lake Vuomakasjärvi and the tentsite of our second night behind. Our feet gave signals that we wouldn't make it past lake Meekonjärvi today. At river Vuomakasjoki we stopped for some foot maintenance. We exchanged a few words with a lone ranger, who hade strayed some time before and had to cross the river at a wide point to get back on Kalotti trail. The four-degree (39 F) stream numbed the pain and we switched to clean and dry socks.
Morale was improved during the break and Essi stated that it won't be Meeko where we spend the night, because we'll be at the hotel tomorrow. I added up the remaining kilometres in my head and thought to myself what guts Essi has, because this plan would leave 30 kilometres for tomorrow. So ruck up and start marching then! Essi had a bit of neck on flat grounds and downhills, while uphills were my strong areas. We passed Meeko huts and climbed onto the next fell as the sun set behind Kahperusvaara sopka.
For five kilometres we walked among the reindeer until dusk forced us to stop for the night. We found a flat spot next to a stream and some reindeer, which was more than appropriate. After the evening businesses Essi fell asleep right away, but I wasn't getting it. I chimped through my trip photos on the phone and pondered whether to dig out the book from my ruck (Sun Tzu - Art of War), but finally gave in to sleep. Ground covered during the day was 20 kilometres (12.5 miles).
During the night some reindeer woke me up several times by scrabbling and snuffling outside the tent. I might have expressed a vocal disagreement about this.
We slept late. This had become a theme of the hike. If it was up to me I would have slept even longer: a sleeping bag felt like a really good alternative to doing anything else in the morning. Essi got up earlier and picked some cloudberries from a marsh close by.
We prepared a massive porridge for breakfast. While we were eating we realized what the reindeer were up to in the night: it had dug up the ground in all the spots where I had taken a slash yesterday. Could it be that I was marking his territory and the urine of a competitor had to be removed? Possibly. The animal wasn't around in the morning so I couldn't ask.
The feet were still sore as hell, the knees in pains and foot soles burning with each step. The shot ankle was also swollen and sensitive to touch. Essi, on the other hand, was marching strong right from the bat. I was quietly suffering and trying to keep up until Kuonarjoki river, where we had a short break. Uphills were easier for me, but in rock gardens and downhills, my feet were begging for mercy with each step. Essi had a song stuck to her head for several hours and didn't even know what it was, except that it was something I listen to. I didn't recognize it either.
It was something like "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth *mumbling* I'm not afraid to die *mumbling*. We couldn't grasp my interpretation, but at the hotel, we found it was The Mercy Seat performed by Johnny Cash, originally by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Great song, but sticks in your head like nothing else. And it was Tero's choice indeed. -Essi
From Kuonarjoki we headed towards lake Saarijärvi to have lunch. At this point the rocky paths were not funny at all anymore. My mind was on some cold beer, sauna and clean sheets, but complaining hasn't helped before, so "Humm humm, let's go"!
These humms became familiar. The stop didn't have to be long and doesn't matter what it was for, when I'd hear "Humm humm, let's go!" from behind me. Repetition gave these a comic value and in the end we'd both just burst in laughter at the phrases.-Essi
We were hungry like wolves when we arrived at the shack, but kept the break short. We had hiked 15 km (a bit over 9 km) during this day, but estimated that we could make it to Kilpisjärvi within four hours during the same day, which would make the sum total 27 km per day. Some German hikers at the shack looked at us like we were mad.
The break was a refreshing one and for a while any trouble with the feet were gone. As I had boasted about the goals to others, doing anything else than keep it up until the end was not an option. Damn Germans! Morale was high, despite some aches: stroll a bit through Norway and return home!
The pace was aggressive, because we wanted to finish the last leg in four hours. Just a few days had sweetened the memory of the path that lay in wait for us. I had advertised to Essi that it would have fewer rocks, but it was the same damn stuff all the way to the last step! Luckily the landscapes were magnificient as the sun lowered to the peaks of fells and Saana fell was already looming in the horizon.
With the last clicks remaining I cursed my legs, which no longer followed my orders. I wiped snot off my cheek and said out loud that only a rain could make things more miserable. Guess what we got a few minutes afterwards? But as before: even the longest distances are covered step by step. We made our four-hour goal in the nick of time, exactly as we had sworn to the Germans. Smiles wouldn't come off our faces as we packed the car. We did it! And in two days less than scheduled!
Now the calling of clean sheets and sauna was loud and clear. In a moment we'd be drinking beer (or wine! -Essi) at a table and stuff our faces. The next day we'd turn the car towards the stout landscapes of the northern shores of Norway.
We thank you for reading all the way here, see you in the fells or on the trails! If you want to follow us on social media, @hevotler and @lunar_ess are our Instagram handles.
We aimed to complete the trail in seven days. Due to a faster pace by Essi we did it in five. Instead of a casual hike among Nordic mountains it was a fairly aggressive execution. We knew the terrain to be rocky, but didn't quite prepare for it to be as hard as it was. Some claim it's the most difficult you can find in Finnis Lapland, which I can not entirely back up but it really was challenging. In hindsight another choice of boots would have been better. My soles were a bit soft for the terrain and weight I was carrying and it took two weeks for my ankles to recover.
My rucksack weighed about 25 kg (55 lbs) at the start and the weight was distributed quite well. Adjusting to the feeling of carrying it took half a day. It could have been lighter, but was not an unfathomable burden. There's an old saying: "Discomfort adds comfort". Carrying a light pack means you'll have less luxuries when you set up the camp, which can affect your rest and recovery. By making other choices and leaving some spare clothes off I could have shaved off up to 20 % of the weight. One thing to note is that it was packed for a full seven-day trip in terms of meals.
Virtually all water we drank or cooked with was filtered or boiled. In most places this was unnecessary. We drank the occasional cup from mountain streams here and there without any issues. We both had 3-litre hydration bladders, but a 1q canteen would have sufficed just fine and saved a lot of weight at the start of each day.
Our lunches were freeze-dried meals, mostly Blå Bands. We cooked water during breakfast and poured them in thermos bottles, which enabled us to have a warm lunch in less than 15 minutes. As luncheons we carried rye bread, butter, cheese spread, salami, nuts, chocolate and oat cookies. Dinners were more involved and we prepared our own specials such as couscous and dried meat.
The route back would have been more interesting along different tracks than our own, and would have likely extended the trip to a full week. The end of August and beginning of September in the area were gracious in terms of weather. Had we known about the theatre, we would have re-scheduled the trip to have more peace and quiet on the trails.
Mosquitoes and other pests pulled a no-show, exactly as we had hoped. The lowest temperature was just at the point of freezing, but at 10 degrees Celsius (50F) most of the days. Rainfall was slight except for a couple of nights, and the only time the wind got really strong was luckily during the night.
We were pleased to notice how many surplus items and Varusteleka's own products we encountered, such as the Särmä Windproof Smock and a Särmä TST L4 field uniform like I was wearing.
I started dreaming of conquering Halti a year ago and was able to talk Tero into it. The previous year's experience at Kaldoaivi gave me so much and I was looking forward to peaceful trails and new landscapes on this hike as well. I also knew the trails to be rocky, but it was still more than I expected. The difficult terrain and repetitiveness made me want to haste forward and get back to the hotel, which caused the latter half to be a very goal-oriented march. Day journeys of almost 30 km with a 22.5 kg rucksack is something I wouldn't have believed I can do, but I guess that's just Finnish Sisu doing its magic or something. And I only got two blisters to my feet! Landscapes at Meeko, meeting the writer and reaching the Halti summit were my peaks of the trip. The theatre folks were happy and cheerful, but I prefer less human interaction on trails. I wouldn't have done this alone, thought, so a big thanks to the best travel company, Tero!-Essi
Essi's Top Picks
Särmä TST L1 boxers: These are super-nice! A bit warm for this weather, but stayed put and I avoided all chafing. Särmä Merino Sports Bra: These have saved my long hikes and cold weather days. Nothing is worse than a moist technical sports bra in the cold wind. These are warm and don't feel wet. Some moisture was unavoidable, but it was gone by the morning when I suspended these from the tent ceiling in the evening. Särmä Merino Socks / Premium Merino Socks, Lightweight: I alternated between these two socks. Against all advice I used single socks, but still managed to avoid blisters except for two during the last day. I got what I deserved for the abuse I put my feet through. Särmä retkeilyhousut: The fit was good for me. During the coolest days these were comfortable, but a bit sweaty to wear in sunshine. The cargo pockets in the front were really good for me and easily accessible even with a ruck on the back. I used them to stow light gloves and a map. Ventilation wouldn't hurt these pants. Särmä TST L1 Liner Gloves: I used these on cool and windy days. Despite wind blowing right through, my fingers kept warm as it wasn't really that cold. These were comfortable also in light rain and dried quickly afterwards. Prolonged use with hiking poles is likely to wear them, but so far (this trip) I haven't noticed any wear. Särmä TST L1 Balaclava: This is magic! I used this as a neck toque, cap or balaclava depending on the conditions. I also wore this while sleeping. Added bonus for long-haired folks, this keeps hair out of your face in windy weather.
Tero's Top PicksSärmä TST L4 Field Trousers: The pinnacle of cargo trousers! I've worn these in the woods, on marches and trails. The waist is just the right height and you can slip pads into dedicated knee pockets. Mobility of the cut is what I like the most, bonus for different inseam lengths for tall and short people. Särmä TST L4 Field Jacket: To go with your L4 Field Trousers. Smart pockets that don't interfere with a rucksack and other gear. Dries surprisingly fast when wet. It has vent zips in the armpits, which are a must. Särmä TST M05 Boonie Hat: When I was in the army, we didn't have this kind of adventurous laughing hats. So what's this about? Well, it stays on and covers your head. Differing from usual models you can adjust this to fit a light cap underneath, if necessary. Särmä TST L1 T-Shirt, Merino Wool: Insulates when wet and dries pretty fast. The seams are flat and sleeves raglan-cut, so nothing chafes even with a ruck on your back. Folklore on the Internet says these start to smell because of some polyester mixed in. I haven't noticed anything to this effect, even during prolonged use, and neither has my partner in crime. Särmä TST L1 Balaclava: Don't leave home without one! This is a versatile piece of headgear and packs small. Stuff one in the pocket of each jacket so you'll have one when you need it!
Gear and packing lists
- Rucksack with rain cover
- Sleeping bag and pad, large waterproof stuff sack
- Small packing bags for food
- Trash bag
- Waterproof packing bag for spare cloths
- Matches with cookware and another set in the pocket. "Two is one, one is none!"
- First-aid kit
- Repair kit
- Phone and waterproof bag
- Hydration bladder and water filter
- Compass and map
- Few metres of cord
- Few metres of wire
- Few metres of duct tape
- Two utility straps
- Pressure bandage, bandages and wraps
- Sports tape
- Kinesiology tape
- Burn gel
- Sun lotion
- Personal medication (allergy etc.)
- Blister band-aids
- Towel (just a Shemagh in this case)
- Insect repellent
- Toothbrush and -paste
- Toilet paper (one roll / person / week)
- Hand disinfectant
- Hygiene towels
- Biodegradable detergent
- Jacket and trousers
- Long-sleeve shirt
- Double socks for hiking
- Thick socks for the camp
- Long-sleeve merino base shirt
- Merino long johns
- Hiking boots
- Boots for crossing streams
- Rain gear
- Scarf (shemagh)
Cookware and food
- Field stove (Trangia)
- Fuel (2 dl / day / 2 persons)
- For each day: breakfast, lunch, two luncheons, dinner