Springtime in Pöyrisjärvi Wilderness Area – Skiing Between Reindeer Herds

After I had to cancel my skiing trip earlier this winter, I was looking forward to spend some time in Pöyrisjärvi wilderness area in spring, to be still able to enjoy a couple of days skiing through the tundra. Now in March I finally found the time to go skiing for a week ..

Finally out for a Skiing Trip

In December already my plan was to ski through the tundra area in Pöyrisärvi wilderness area, but unfortunately bad weather kept me from doing so. While also this time I had days with very limited visibility due to fog and precipitation, the sun – while hidden behind thick clouds – was still giving enough light to make navigation much easier than during the polar night.

snow covered door of wood shelter
Snow in front of wood-shelter door

While I didn’t have as much time for this trip as I hoped, getting a ride to Näkkälä helped me to start closer to lake Pöyrisjärvi than if I would have started from Hetta. And this part – skiing from Näkkälä to Pöyrisjärvi – was then also the distance for my first day. Thick clouds, leading to little contrast on the snow, made it quite difficult to spot the snow mobile tracks I was following on the first day. Since I never took the winter track to Pöyrisjärvi yet, and after only starting in the afternoon, I made life easy and aimed to simply follow these tracks. Just when I thought I couldn’t find any more the tracks I was following, a snow mobile passed by showing me the way again, which allowed me to still arrive during twilight at Pöyrisjärvi, without the need of my headlight. The sun had already set and because of the humidity that went through my clothes I felt rather cold, thus all I wanted to do upon arrival was to quickly heat up the oven in the open wilderness hut and to prepare myself some supper. However, as it turned out, there was still some work to do before being able to make a fire: The wood shelter was pretty much covered with snowed, so some cubic meter of hard packed snow that was blocking the entrance door had first to be shoveled away. Also in front of the open wilderness hut a snow bank made it challenging to enter the hut.

Leaving Pöyrisjärvi

snow bank in front of hut
In front of Pöyrisjärvi autiotupa

The next day the weather seemed to be worse at the beginning: After getting up in the morning and looking out the window I realized that once again there was even less visibility; this day due to snow showers rather than lack of light. Anyhow, since I wasn’t in a hurry, I slowly prepared my breakfast and chopped some more fire wood and made some feather sticks from very dry and nice smelling pine wood for the next people to arrive at the open wilderness hut. While being busy with cleaning up the hut, the morning the sky though slowly opened up until I eventually could see that the other side of the lake Pöyrisjärvi, which partly already brightened up by some direct sun light. Thus I also started to speed up a bit with packing in order to get going. After my pulk was packed and I just got ready to leave the open wilderness hut, a snow mobile came towards the hut and stopped in front of me. While I was still wondering what that snow mobile driver wanted from me, I could discover a familiar face under the fur hat that covered the driver’s face: It was the friendly smile of a team mate from our floorball group. He, a reindeer herder of the area and as much surprised to meet me as I was to meet him, asked where I would be heading for. After introducing him to my plans he explained me that most of the reindeer of his community is currently grazing in the area I wanted to visit. While I was very thankful for this hint, he moreover pointed out on my map which route I could take in order to avoid running into any reindeer herds. Spring time is the most difficult season for reindeer to find footage, since the snow is hard and deep and the animals need a lot of energy to find food as well as for moving. Thus running into a herd could become troublesome and cause lots of stress for the animals. Moreover, for the reindeer herders who try to keep their animals together, it would likely also cause some extra work if a skier would separate the herd. Thus I decided to change my route according to the suggestions of my team mate.

Change of Plans

frozen lake
View back to Pöyrisjärvi

After leaving the open wilderness hut and crossing lake Pöyrisjärvi I first felt a little lost. The change of my plans came to me as a surprise and I needed to make myself a new goal. While already crossing lake Pöyrisjärvi I was still thinking if I should simply ski back to Hetta, or if I should continue further North into the tundra area. However, a short time after I started moving on the lake the clouds opened up and let some sunlight through, encouraging me to continue towards the Northeast. After crossing the lake and while for the first time during this trip experiencing some sun, I took the opportunity to sit down, melt some snow, prepare some tea, and to reconsider my plans. While enjoying a coup of tea I decided that my destination for this day I would be the foot of Suomavaara.

I have been crossing Suomajoki a couple of times during summer or autumn, so I was curious to see this place under snow cover as well. Finally I had a new goal for the day and for my trip. While the visibility got worse during the day again, I safely made it to my destination before the sun set, and still had time to scout for a place to establish my camp. With the last light of the day I finished preparations and built up my self made bivy bag, which I would use for the first time on a skiing trip. After making some more tea and preparing supper, cold wind made the decision easy to slip into my sleeping bag and to get some rest.

Day Trip

bivy bag and pulk on camp site
My DIY bivy bag in action

The next morning was surprising me with sunshine, as it actually was the sun that was waking me up! Well, that is, actually the need to go for the loo woke me up before that, but laying in the cozy and warm sleeping bag let me ignore this need and continue sleeping until the sun woke me up again. Anyhow, with curiosity I opened up my bivy bag as I didn’t really know what kind of landscape to expect, since the visibility during my arrival was hiding most of the surroundings. Getting up and looking around me fulfilled me with lots of pleasure and joy, particularly when during breakfast fantastic optic phenomena, such as halos, snow bows, and the like, became visible. A perfect start into the day.

snow bow above trees
Snow bow
halo effect over trees
Halo

 

 

 

 

Food Surprise

screws in soup package
Crunchy soup vegetables

That is, almost perfect. I was pretty much looking forward to prepare myself a soup, when I realized that one of the soup packages I took with me was actually not filled with soup, but with screws, which I put into an empty package for storage. Just hilarious! I was cracking up over the fact that I have been carrying around all these screws on my trip, but who knows .. maybe there would even be some need for that at some point :-) (well actually, there wasn’t).

For this day my plan was to leave my camp site as is and to take advantage of the perfect weather to ski up some fells, and thus to just have a day trip in the area. I emptied most of the unnecessary stuff from my pulk and started skiing with very little luggage, which made me almost feel like flying. The first goal of the day was to ski up Suomavaara, where I had planned to have lunch on the summit. However, skiing up there was done in such a short time that due to the rich breakfast I had I didn’t feel any hunger yet. Instead I enjoyed the amazing view over an area I visited before only in the absence of snow. Under the deep blue sky I decided that the next stage for this day trip would be to ski up Aletavaara a few kilometers north, at the Norwegian border, and to postpone my lunch until reaching the summit there.

traces from carrying the pulk in the snow
My pulk tracks on Suomavaara
snow covered tree, tundra, and a fell
Snow covered trees on the way to Aletavaara

 

 

 

 

Aletavaara

After skiing through some swamp and tundra areas, I climbed up to the summit of Aletavaara, where to my surprise I met quite a big number of reindeer. While they were slowly moving away from me, I spotted many many more north and east of the fell. As I learned later, these reindeer were not part of the herd my floorball colleague told me about, but from the neighboring herding community. In order to leave the animals alone I turned around and skied half way down the fell. Since I was on my 2,5 meters long forest skiers, which don’t have metal or any other kind of sharp edges, not an easy task to do. Anyhow, a few hundred meters away from the reindeer I found a place with great view towards the South and the East, which seemed perfect for my lunch break. While preparing and having my lunch I was watching the grazing reindeer from distance, and enjoyed the amazing weather and view.

grazing reindeer in tundra
Some grazing reindeer in the tundra near the Norwegian border

During the time sitting there the weather also started to play some tricks, partly exciting to watch, but partly also raising my concerns: some times some fog formed up in the valley and moved up hill, from time to time also reducing visibility. After some time I decided to leave the fell and start my way back to my camp site, as I was afraid the weather could turn to the worse shortly. Indeed the sun disappeared soon after I left. On my way back to my camp site I wanted to ski along some interesting shapes I spotted during my break, of I which I was pretty much convinced it would be some snow covered sand dunes (which are quite common in Pöyrisjärvi wilderness area). While getting closer to my camp site, thicker getting clouds and the setting sun took away light and contrast on the snow, making it more difficult to find my path. Nonetheless, I managed just in time to reach my DIY bivy bag before it finally got dark.

Camping

snow covered sand dunes
Snow covered sand dunes

This evening I wasn’t willing to spend much time for supper or preparing tea outside my sleeping bag, as it was quite windy and chilly. Instead I decided to turn in early, to also be able to leave early in the morning and to start my way back to Näkkälä. I was planning to be back to Hetta on Saturday so I would be able to attend a concert of Niko Valkeapää during Marianpäivät; one of the biggest festivities in Enontekiö. The next morning though looked like my plans got scrutinized: Thick fog reduced visibility to some 20 or 30 meters; I couldn’t read the landscape at all. I was just standing in front of my bivy for a while, thinking what to do. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to navigate back during this whiteout. Anyhow, since I was really eager to make it to the concert, I decided to give it a try. After all, the worst case would have been to establish the camp again somewhere else. Also that morning I was hearing some reindeer herders’ snow mobiles so I knew there tracks weren’t far from my camp. So the idea was, to follow these tracks back to Pöyrisjärvi. After packing all my stuff I followed my compass strict toward west, in order to find these tracks. After maybe half an hour I was close to returning to my abandoned camp site to re-establish it, since it seemed I wouldn’t find them. Just before turning back, nonetheless, I could spot a fresh snow mobile track on the ground. Bazinga!

White Out

Fog and some trees in near distance
Foggy morning at camp site

Nonetheless, this day was kind of a mental challenge, I was permanently looking into plain white. Only from time to time I saw the silhouettes of some bushes or some single birch trees, but since the snow mobile tracks where going over the vast swamp area east from the lake Pöyrisjärvi, most of the time there was nothing to see. However, since frequent checks on my compass confirmed that the tracks were going toward Pöyrisjärvi, I basically followed them blindly with some confidence. Almost as a surprise I suddenly spotted a tree line about 50 meters away. The fog seemed to get thinner, and I was pretty much convinced that I must have reached the place where the lake Pöyrisjärvi discharges into Pöyrisjoki river. Finally, I had reached the lake!

silhouettes of huts in the fog
Pöyrisjärvi autiotupa

While I was skiing over the lake, the fog opened up a bit and visibility increased. Following my compass to the south-western tip of the lake, where the open wilderness hut is situated, even some sun light became visible in small areas. Eventually I could find my old tracks from a few days before and, while following them, the silhouette of the Pöyrisjärvi open wilderness hut became visible. Good sign for being able to make it to the concert after all!

sun behind fog, and some bushes
From time to time the sun came through in the evening
Pöyrisjärvi autiotupa
Pöyrisjärvi open wilderness hut during one of the few & short sunny periods

 

 

 

 

Heading Back Home

The next morning though brought the worst weather during my trip, even if the visibility was much better: When I left Pöyrisjärvi in the morning, it was actually raining a bit, with temperatures around freezing. Not only did this feel very unpleasant, but it also reminded me that the snowy season may come to end soon. Moreover, due to the low temperatures the rain turned into ice immediately after reaching the ground, which made the snow quite slippery. Along my way the rain fortunately turned into snow, and skiing to Näkkälä became a bit more pleasant in the afternoon.

tree covered hills on cloudy day
On the way back to Näkkälä

After reaching Näkkälä I got a ride back to Hetta. It turned out that I came to Hetta in time for the concert. After my arrival, I still could take a quick shower and have some meal, before I leaving to Vuolikka, where the concert was supposed to take place. After having had this wonderful experience of my skiing trip, I was very happy to make it to the concert, particularly sine I really love the music of the artist playing. While sitting at the concert and listening to the wonderful tones, I had my eyes closed and once again remembered the most marvelous moments of this short, though fantastic, skiing trip. This way, the amazing week found a great end with some relaxing music and meeting nice people in the evening afterwards.

 

 

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