From Näkkälä to Vuontisjärvi: An Autumn Hike through the Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area

Almost like a tradition, also this autumn I wanted to go for a hike in the Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area. This year, together with Heidi, we wanted to pick up some old leather-made children shoes, which we discovered a couple of years ago. Starting from Näkkälä, our route brought us to Pöyrisjärvi, Haukijärvi, Maattojärvet, and Stallojärvi, before we finished our trip in Vuontisjärvi.

What’s this with the shoes?

Four years ago, together with some friends, we hiked for the first time through the Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area. Along our trip, we discovered some old handmade kids shoes, made out of reindeer skin. Since no one was willing to carry the boots back home, we left them near the place where we found them. Afterwards we regret that we didn’t take them with us, and thought, maybe a museum could have had interest. Thus, this year we thought we could try to find them again and if there is interest, we would give them to a museum. With this goal in mind our route was already slightly predetermined. Since we got a lift to Näkkälä, we started there, and because I wanted to visit Stallojärvi since years (but never managed), the idea was to end our hike in the nearby Vuontisjärvi village, not far from Hetta.

New gear to test

In the past years I have been experimenting with other types of accommodation than a tent, which in the meantime I perceive as something where I am closed in. I love the idea of being able to the see the sky before falling asleep, and also right after waking up in the morning. For this purpose I sewed myself a bivy bag two years ago, and it proofed as a great shelter in wintertime. For summer, though, with the possibility of rain, I wanted to have something more spacious. This should be more convenient during rainy days, but also more communicative for non-solo trips. Thus I decided to make myself a tarp, which was also supposed to have its premiere and to be tested during this trip. Since my sleeping bag is not windproof, I furthermore made a light version of a bivy bag. Also this wind-proof and water resistant cover should get tested on this trip.

From Näkkälä to Pöyrisjärvi

A friend of us was kind enough to give us a lift to Näkkälä, where we wanted to start our hike this year. Originally our idea was to have a short first day hike and stay in the open wilderness hut at lake Pöyrisjärvi. However, when we saw how many cars where parked at the parking area in Näkkälä, including a bus, we got second thoughts. Since we didn’t want to run into dozens of people, we decided to take a slightly different route. Avoiding the direct way we aimed to pass by Olkojärvi, to where we hiked last year. Instead of spending a night in the open wilderness hut, we thus decided that we would stay at lake Muotkajärvi, a few kilometers south of Pöyrisjärvi. This would also allow us to test our partly new – and self-made – equipment within a day hike from the next village, rather than in the middle of the Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area.

lakes and sand dunes
Ellanjärvi and sand dunes near Pöyrisjärvi
moon rise with reflection in lake
Moon rise at Muotkajärvi, our first camp site

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed our choice proofed to be wise, as we only met two hunters along our way to Muotkajärvi. The first night in the new tarp, which I just finished a week before our hike, was a bit challenging. Not yet experienced with how to best build up the tarp, it was set up a bit too low. Consequently, some of our gear got a little bit wet in the morning. Anyhow, the sun quickly dried this up again. Later it turned out that the first night was also the coldest during this trip. Since we had some degrees below freezing, frost covered our gear in the morning. However, cold also means clear sky this time of the year. Thus we witnessed the amazing rise of a full moon. There were also some northern lights visible during this night, but nothing spectacular.

Wading through Pöyrisjärvi

beginning of river
Pöyrisjoki

The next day brought us to lake Pöyrisjärvi. Since we took an alternative route, we avoided two places where we would have had to ford. Though we still needed to cross Pöyrisjoki, the river which originates from Pöyrisjärvi. Since this year there was generally lots of water in all rivers, lakes, and swamps here in the area, we were almost up to our hips in the bloody cold water. After walking through the appr. 50 meters through the lake, we still needed to find our way through a deep swamp. Then, however, we had mostly dry ground under our feet, almost all the way to Suomajoki river, where we spent our next night.

After another cold night, the next part of our route we first hiked along some sand dunes and a wonderful juniper shrubs. Of course we also picked some of the berries, as I like to use them as an ingredient for certain dishes. This day we also passed through Kalkujärvi area, where the local Sámi people have a summer village which is mainly used by reindeer herders. Our next goal, however, was to reach the lake Haukijärvi. This was also the place where we were hoping to find again the old leather shoes.

Old, rotten leather boots from Kotasijajärvi

pair of rotten leather shoes
Old leather shoes

We arrived only at dawn, and thus hurried up to prepare our camp site and to collect some fire wood for the night. After dinner and while preparing tea – it was already dark – suddenly an ATV showed up at our camp site. A reindeer herder, who was scouting his herd, stopped by at our camp, since he saw the fire shining through the night. He explained us that the nearby lake Kotasijajärvi was a popular place for summer camps of the local Sámi until the 1950s. Thus, he added, he wouldn’t be surprised to find relict of reindeer herder around the lake. However, today the reindeer herder use modern technology for their activities, such as snowmobiles or ATVs. Thus, the herders can go home in the evening or at least travel bigger distances, and don’t need to stay any more in the wilderness with the whole family. As a matter of fact, he also told us that for the next day he had rented a helicopter. Since not all of his community’s reindeer had been marked yet (usually the calf marking takes place in summer), they wanted to move them to their summer village.

Helicopter support for reindeer herders

a helicopter following reindeer herd
Reindeer herding with helicopter

Eventually during the night it got cloudy, which is why the nights became much warmer again. Thus, after a good night sleep, and with the return of daylight, we continued our search for the shoes which brought us here. We eventually succeeded in finding them, but unfortunately they were already in a very bad condition, which is why we didn’t take them with us. After we had finished our breakfast, we started to hike south. Our next goal was to reach lake Stallojärvi. However, as we tried to pass a big valley, we just ran into the herder we met the night before. Since they were trying – with the support of the helicopter – to get a few hundred reindeer through the valley, we had to stop. The last thing we wanted to do was making the life of the herders (and reindeer) more difficult, by startling the reindeer due to crossing their path. So instead we sat down and watched for about an hour how the helicopter pilot pushed the reindeer to move toward the summer round up place.

From Maattojärvi to Stallojärvi

Because our search for the shoes took a bit longer than expected, and because we waited for the reindeer herd passing by, we were a bit late and changed our plans. Instead of going strait to Stallojärvi, we decided to only have a short hike this day. Thus we took a short detour and went to lake Maattojärvi. Since we arrived early in the afternoon I tried my luck with fishing. Though, this wasn’t really much of a success. While this was the first day we had some rain showers during the day, the newly made tarp proofed quite comfortable in having a shelter from the weather.

reindeer bones in tundra
This reindeer doesn’t migrate anymore
tarp set up near lake shore
Self-made tarp near shore of lake Maattojärvi

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we hiked further south, to lake Stallojärvi. After passing another day through tundra landscape, and crossing several swamp areas, the vicinity of Stallojärvi brought us back into forest vegetation. Once again we only arrived at dawn, but since we planned to stay in the Stallojärvi autiotupa (open wilderness hut), we didn’t need to collect fire wood for this evening.

Change of accommodation, change of weather: Stallojärvi

After a couple of nights in the sleeping bag, under a tarp, we eventually had again a solid roof above our heads. We appreciated this in the next morning, as this protected us from the high humidity, which became visible as thick fog. Since the sight was limited to maybe 50 meters most of the day, it was an easy call to spend another night in the hut, rather than continuing back home. Instead of carrying our backpacks towards south we further explored the surroundings of Stallojärvi. We hiked up the beautiful Stallokuru, and eventually also had some time to concentrate on photography. And of course, I once again tried my luck with fishing. Though, this wasn’t really much of a success. Again.

lake in thick fog
Fog at Stallojärvi
lichen growing on a rock
Lichen on a rock

 

 

 

 

 

Final day: Hiking back to Vuontisjärvi

Because I never hiked in this part of the Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area, I had no idea how difficult or how long actually it would be to reach the ATV trail, which connects Vuontisjärvi with Kalkujärvi. As I already mentioned, this year the whole area was quite wet for this season, and along our route were a couple of difficult to traverse swamps. While this slowed us down significantly, we nonetheless manage to hike the appr. 25 to 30 kilometers back to Vuontisjärvi, where a friend (the same one, actually) picked us up again. Vuontisjärvi is only a short distance from Hetta, so we were back late in the afternoon, and good in time to end this trip with a cozy sauna turn.

Summary

While we were a bit late for the colorful ruska season, we still enjoyed the hike through Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area. Most of the time we had good luck with the weather, including some clear – though cold – nights. Our aim was to spent some time in the Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area, and to hike through tundra vegetation. Once again it was a pleasure to do so, even if this year we met much more people than in the past years. After I had to cancel a trip in winter to reach Stallojärvi, I finally managed to visit the place.

On this trip we were also trying to see if we could find again a pair of shoes, which we discovered four years ago. Even though we succeeded, due to the shoes’ bad condition we left them in place, and didn’t take them with us. On our way south we ran into reindeer herders, moving their herd with the support of a helicopter, which was interesting to observe. I found it quite remarkable to have this direct comparison, on how herding has changed in the past 50 years: While the boots we were looking for were the main tools people to carry out their herding activities until a few decades ago, today ATVs, helicopters, and airplanes are the main means. A change which also is visible in the landscape, where omnipresent wide tracks of ATVs are testimonials of this technological change, significantly reducing the wilderness character of the  Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.