FINNMARK 2017 – PART 2

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This is a continuation of my story from the previous post. After crossing the Varanger Peninsula a week before I continued south-west across the plateau and between the mountains towards Skoganvarre.

DAY 8 – UP AND DOWN AND UP AGAIN

While eating breakfast I noticed a strange pain in my right ear. It was very mild and I could only feel it when chewing hard on something. I supposed that it was consequence of continuous northerly winds in the last days. I had my hat on and a hood over at all times and I never had any ear issues before, so I was a bit worried. There was nothing much to do, but I did not want to let this discomfort develop into something serious, so I decided to take an extra care of my ears from now on.

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Snowy road between the trees.

Besides it also became clear that I followed the wrong ski track last night and to get to the right one I had to cross the valley first thing in the morning. From there on it finally went smoothly up the hill. Incredible what uphills skiers can mange on the light cross country skies. I felt quite heavy on my mountain skies (fjellski) and the pulk was topped with 4 liters of fuel since yesterday. The ascend from Tana bru/Deanušaldi became the hottest part of the trip! I was going up the track red-faced and stripped down to my thermals. At the top I quickly cooled down by  the winds still blowing from the north-east. After a couple of hours in the snowy cloud with a white-out I reached the other side and descended into the next valley. The road marked on the map was really  where it should be and I enjoyed a nice downhill at the safe distance from tree trunks. Although it was Monday the road on this nor on the other side where I climbed up again were used recently. So, I plowed up again to the next mountain. From here on I was on a vast plateau extending between the coast and Tana/Deatnu River and all the way towards my finish point in Skoganvarre. I celebrated the occasion by gulping down a handful of my favorite licorice jelly beans before the dinner.

DAY 9 – FINALLY A NORMAL DAY ON THE ‘VIDDA’!

I was getting very fed up with plowing through the snow. Finally I got what I call ‘a normal day’. A day like I had a full week of last year when I skied over Finnmarksvidda from Lakselv to Karasjok. A day I was expecting all the time. Blue skies, cold air, hard snow, gentle tail winds. Just for me and myself. I covered over 2okm in a straight line and took some pretty pictures.

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Walking high in the sky.
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My favorite lunch cafe – they serve fish and noodles!
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Sun was setting at 3-4PM, but at good weather there were still a couple of hours of twilight that needed to be used!

DAY 10 – INTO REINDEER KINGDOM

Things don’t last forever. They wear down and break. This morning my fuel stove needed cleaning and while attending to it – at 4:15AM still in my sleeping bag and all moist form the vapor barrier, the cleaning needle snapped. It simply broke off the tool. Holding it carefully with two fingers the 2cm long steel thread still did the job, but I really did not want to loose this precious object. The fuel I bought at the last tank station was not as good as the one I had from before and the stove needed regular cleaning once a day.

The pulk was not in its best shape neither. The re-roping worked great, but now the whole front part with all 4 pulling holes was breaking off. Quite strange, because I did not remember crashing it to any rock or tree the previous days. And the pulk was not that insane heavy (all is relative, right?) and the temperatures were not low enough to make the plastic brittle. Quite scary when you are some 20km of deep snow away from the nearest road. I decided to count on my luck one more time – some people never learn…

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Sunny morning – time to go on.
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I just couldn’t get enough of sun!
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Getting down the slope between the hidden stones.

The day started with a beautiful sunrise and developed in another blue sky day. My track was full of rocks and stones and I was grateful for the recent snowfall that covered them up a bit. The rolling landscape finally led me to a steep over 100m high climb that leveled up at 600m. Another 20km today. That was a good progress, but there were still 70km between me and Skoganvarre and I had to keep up such pace if was going to make it on time.

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Reindeer don’t care about the snow drifts. They are real ‘mountain goats’. I had to be a bit more modest in picking my tracks.

DAY 11 – AROUND THE MOUNTAIN

The weather forecast was good, so I decided to start early and try to get as far as possible before its starts snowing again. The morning was cold and foggy and it somehow did not want to clear up. It looked like it will snow – and it soon did! I was going in an arc around the mountain and had to cross a lot of gullies this day. I would appreciate some reasonable visibility. I guess I was expecting too much. I got a white-out almost whole day long with winds and intensive snowfall. Towards the evening I was again sinking in some 10cm into the fresh snow. It was very warm (maybe -5C or warmer) and the snow was heavy. I was exhausted and I had to stop and set up camp already at 5PM just 16km away from the previous one. At least I knew that I did not go in a strait line today!

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My track passed many municipality borders. All neatly marked by rows of poles.
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Reindeer in Finnmark all have an owner, but they are running wild around the mountains in the winter and are only collected in big herds in spring. They are very shy and hard to take pictures of – especially if all you have is a 24mm lens. They best way to sneak on them is to walk towards the wind in a white-out. Every weather is good for something!

DAY 12 – PUSHING THE LIMITS

Today the bad weather was actually forecasted. There was about 30km to Levajok – an alternative endpoint,  and about 55km to Skoganvarre. The weather was supposed to improve in the days to come. My ear pain was gone and I felt fit. I decided to give it a try. I got up at 4AM and was on my way at 6AM. Nothing much changed since the day before. Still same white-out, just more wind and more snow. I had to cross a col. The winds there were so strong that a couple of gusts pushed me sideways. It was much calmer lower in the valley and I even saw patches of blue sky for a few moments every few hours. But it did not get easier for me. The mountain valleys in Finnmark have an uneven bottom with numerous side valleys, alluvial fans and terraces. There is no soil or sturdy vegetation to keep the surface stable. Barren slopes are left to the mercy of surface water that over many summers shaped the landscape into piles of rocks that in the winter remain bear on the top and collect deep snow drifts in the troughs between them. While the drifts are fresh they wont hold the weight of a skier. I was sinking in to my calves and occasionally to my knees. And there was no end to it. I battled each and every drift individually and I decided not to think about what comes next. All the ones behind me were little victories and all those ahead were challenges that would make me stronger. I had to fight the desire to stop after each and every of them. I pushed on and forced myself only to stop when I needed to check the GPS track and had a snack once every hour and a half. In the evening it started to clear up for real. It cooled down and the drifts hardened almost instantly. But I was exhausted and had to stop for the day after one of the most difficult 18km I have ever done.

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Never give up!
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A generous reward after a hard day. While still setting up the tent I saw first the Venus, then the other stars and finally the northern lights.

DAY 13 – DESCEND

Another good weather forecast was mocked by the sound of snow on the tent roof when I opened my eyes at the 4:30AM alarm. I knew this was my last day in the mountains. ‘I can do it – this is not stopping me!’.  I was lucky once again – the snow was hardened and there was only 5-10cm of fresh snow on top of it. ‘Piece a’ cake!’ It was just a few more kilometers of a climb and then a descend. As soon as I came down some 100m I was suddenly not in a cloud anymore and the white-out was reduced to a pleasant snow shower. In about 8km I stumbled upon a marked ski-do track. When I reached first marking pole I got the nicest surprise of the day. I realized I was not alone! Two fishermen came up with a ski-do. Obviously we were standing on a frozen lake. They complained about the weather, showed me their catch and offered me to stay in their cabin. My feelings were maybe biased because I did not see anybody for more than a week, but the Finnmark people always strike me with their openness and kindness.

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Getting down the valley on a hard snow surface.

This was it! I was on an easy track from here on! I finally took off my long skins and put on the short ones. It continued to snow all day and into the night, so I decided to carry on first down the valley and then along the foothills for as long as I could. I was now on the winding main track from Levajok to Skoganvarre. At 8PM I came down the last steep slope before the lakes and set up the tent at 32.5km away from the day before. Considering all the curves the track took, I probably did close to 40km that day!

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I usually avoid ski-do tracks, but not this time! I came down nr. 20 and continued along nr. 14 towards Skoganvarre.

DAY 14 – ON THE EASY TRACK

Next morning the snowfall could not upset me anymore. I was done with the trip. At 11AM I was in Skoganvarre.

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Another snowy morning. Just some 15km to go.
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The trip is over. The pulk and me endured. Skis are packed and I am inside enjoying freshly made Finnish salmon soup and chatting with Marjo. In the background: ski-does with groomers that they use to break the trails for the famous Finnmarskløpet – a 1000km long dog race that will revisit some of the places that I skied on.

I am very happy with this trip. Beautiful places seasoned with a big enough dose of strain and unpredictable weather to call it an adventure. I got right what I needed.

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