Norway | Nordkallotleden
Ever since reading "Nooit meer slapen" (translated in English as "Beyond Sleep") by W.F. Hermans (on midnight sun, mosquitos and nihilism) I've been curious about Finnmarken and the northern part of Scandinavia. Kungsleden will be up some day, but I first set my eyes on Nordkallotleden, which starts a bit farther north. The complete path is 800km, of which I walked the first 200 from Kautokeino to Kilpisjärvi as this seemed to provide some overview of the far north. I've arrived in Alta by plane, where a daily bus leaves to Kautokeino (according to the bus driver, it gets as cold as -50 in winter, glad it's summer).
The first part, from Kautokeino to Nedrefosshytta, crosses open and rather flat landscape on ±300m elevation. Very swampy walking with an endless horizon. Not spectacular at all, which made the sense of emptiness all the more impressive.
It had been about 10 years since I've worn proper leather walking boots as these seem overkill for the vast majority of walks I do. I also seem unable to keep my feet dry during a trek, so I might as well wear shoes that dry out quicker than boots which take forever to get dry again. However, because of the swamps, amount of snow and river crossings I was expecting, I opted for boots again. After about 5km from the start, I already switched to my Vibram Fivefingers as there was no way I could've kept the boots dry. The going is slower on VFF's, but oh so nice not needing to stop every minute to look for a possible crossing and fretting about dry feet (just jump in!). Another note on gear: I usually don't use hiking poles, but was very glad I brought them along, they sure make river crossings a whole lot easier. Whilst we're in the practicalities section, I might as well add that the warnings on mosquitos are not something to ignore. They hunt in packs and will find you. Mosquito spray (I used DEET) and headnet are no less than necessary.
The second section of the path goes through Reisadalen, from Nedrefosshytta to Saraelv. If I picture Alaska or BC, this is more or less what it looks like. And if I'd ever expect to encounter bears in Norway, this would be the place (I got my mosquito spray at hand, just in case). The path from Nedrefosshytta to Saraelv is only ±30k, but it took me two days to get through this tangled jungle of ferns, rivers, ferns, bushwhacking, rivers, and some more ferns. Though going, so slow the mosquitos could keep up with my pace and had quite the feast. I didn't notice it stopped raining as the valley held all the moisture anyway. I believe packrafting would be a good alternative for this part, although I don't have any experience with this (yet).
From Saraelv to Kilpisjärvi the path crosses a plateau, which includes Halti, the highest point of Finland at 1325m. The first days on the vidda where very quiet and outstanding walking. I decided to spend a night inside in Somashytta to get all my gear dry again. Later that evening, Nick, a British hiker, arrived in the hut as well. He also started out in Kautokeino, but was going to spend an impressive 2 months hiking, first along Nordkallotreitti, then along Kungsleden. Good talking about gear and the great outdoors, which continued the next day on the way to Pihtsusjärvi (conversations on sleeping bags, stoves and places no one has ever heard of can continue quite a while).
I stayed at Pihtsusjärvi as I was going up Halti the next day, so said goodbye to Nick. Halti, being the highest point in Finland, is quite popular. Water planes land daily on the lake at the second nearest hut, Pihtsusjärvihytta, or you can get there by helicopter so you don't have to walk two days from Kilpisjärvi. Although I'm all in favor of people going to the mountains (I strongly believe it's good for mental health) I don't understand why someone would go there and bring loads of alcohol with them, it seems to be missing the point I guess. As I was the only non Finnish person at the hut (and the present Fins didn't speak English that much, whereas I'm no expert in Finnish), I spent the evening in my tent instead of at what seemed to grow into a party and lasted till 3am (not that I was kept awake, oddly Fins seem to party quiet). That said, I did enjoy the beer I got. The next morning I went up Halti through a lot of snowfields and had the summit all for myself.
The final part, from Pihtsusjärvi to Kilpisjärvi goes through open mountain landscape. Near the huts I met quite some people (got another free beer), but once I got past what I considered "the crowd", it was back to solo-hiking. On the last evening, I pitched my tent near the final pass (just before descending to Saarijärvi), with a enormous view looking south on Finland, Sweden and Norway and all it's mountains. Most likely one of the best camping spots I've had so far.
From Kilpisjärvi I took the bus to Tromsø, the route passes along Lyngen and other inviting landscapes, I arrived in Tromsø not quite done with walking and planning the next trip. After visiting the Polar Museet (including instructions on how to hunt seal cubs) and spending some time with camping-neighbour Marjo (a Finnish ultra-running girl with an Australian accent, solo-cycling to Senja who gave a much needed positive twist on my feelings towards the Fins, kiitos for that!) I took the plane home.