‘Fine, I understand that the scenery was beautiful, nature wonderful and so on,’ said my friend after we had come back home, ‘but you were overexerting yourself, starving and getting frozen almost to death and it was so great?!’ Was it great? It was awesome! I admit that sometimes it was nothing to laugh at but it came as a total surprise to us that we don’t have to go to the end of the world to find an adventure wilderness! Because how in other words you can call a place where meeting a man borders on a miracle and hiking on a marked trail demands good physical condition and serious preparation?
Inari is a small town located by the huge lake, which is also named Inari, about 300 km north of Rovaniemi and the Polar Circle. Farther north, just at the road from Inari to Nordkapp, Kevo Strict Nature Reserve was established in 1956 and it covers now about 712 square kilometers. The aim of founding it was a protection of the area similar to tundra and a canyon-like gorge which is 40 km long and more than 80 m deep. Someone who spend his life near breathtaking landscapes like Canyon Colorado probably won’t be impressed by Kevo but it is the longest gorge in Europe and every year it attracts hikers attention, especially from the beginning of August until the middle of September.
Reaching Nordkapp was a spontaneous decision and the same was about hiking in Kevo Reserve. We came to Lapland to commune with nature and there was no difference for us whether we hike in a national park or in a nature reserve. We found information in Lonely Planet bookguide that the trail is demanding. But demanding for whom? For people who normally work in the office and play sport occasionally or for people who exercise regularly? It was our first backpacking trip and hiking, we had no experience. Hiking in Poland does not count-trails are too close to any kind of civilization. And there? There we were on our own.
The Reserve’s boundaries run 12 km from the road from Inari to Karigasniemi. First you have to follow the nature trail that leads through a birch forest near Suolaja, the saint spring of Saami. This is a good warm-up before next more tiring days and a camping place next to the Reserve entrance helps you to gather your strength. Also, this is the only place where you can spend the night and staying there is a necessity.
Nature Reserves’ rules are very strict. Picking berries and mushrooms, fishing and hunting are forbidden. Moving is allowed only on marked trails, campfire and camping only at sites marked for this purpose. Luckily, there is nothing to complain about. The Scandinavians have great respect for nature, so campsites have all utilities that hikers need. There are places marked for fire, huts full of logs with an axe, dustbins and toilets with sawdust. Sometimes there are also open wilderness huts or small tepee-style huts with an oven inside. Every campsite is located by the water. You can read more about the trail on Outdoors.fi.
There are two main trails in Kevo Strict Nature Reserve. The first one, Kevo Trail is 64 km long and follows the gorge valley. The other one, Guivi Trail is 78 km and goes along the fell area. Both trails are demanding and you need to be in a good shape to pass them. Hiking the Kevo Trail takes 3-5 days (depends on the condition of hiker), daily a distance of about 15 km is covered. The path is not easy, there are a lot of places where the trail goes down to the bottom of the canyon or up to the highlands, in some of them wooden stairs were built (the longest are 1 km long). Hikers also need to wade across the cold river four times and there is one mini via ferrata as I called it (only few steps). A compass and a good map is necessary, it can be bought in Inari in Siida, a museum of Saami culture (about 20 euros). There are some places where the signal for mobile phones disappears, it’s good to have a good mobile in case of an emergency call.
What does the Kevo Reserve look like? I think it will disappoint everyone who expects to be marveled at landscapes. Nature in this part of Lapland is very severe, even tiring. The center part is the gorge and mostly treeless area, here and there grow single twisted birches, that look like fighting all the time with weather for survival. More green area and pine forests are in the bottom of the canyon and closer to the end of the Reserve (near the road from Inari to Utsjoki).
But the most impressive for us was silence. We used to stop for a while and listen but any sound reached our ears. Nothing. No wind blew, no birds sung, no water murmured, we couldn’t even hear splashing of waterfall on the bottom of the canyon. It was a perfect silence that does not exist in highly populated countries of temperate climate. As if Mother Nature used all of her strength on shaping this dramatic landscape, digging the gorge and smoothing the highlands so in the end she didn’t feel up to composing the soundtrack.
Can I say that we were well prepared to hike in Kevo Reserve? Our decision was very spontaneous and we didn’t even have time or opportunity to prepare ourselves. Mistakes were unavoidable.
First of all, we had not enough food. The last time we could make some shopping was in a small shop on the border of Finland and Norway when we were coming back from Nordkapp and we realized that we would be cut off from the world for the following days. Of course we had some food from Poland with us, nevertheless it turned out that our provisions were not enough. The last day we divided it into small portions so we had a lump of chocolate every hour, a cup of tea every two hours and a fruit gum every three hours. For longer breaks we had something more nutritious and for supper we had liofilizated porridge and a jelly-type dessert.
Sleeping bags and a tent were another mistake, but we took it with us from Poland and we had opportunity to correct this error. During our preparation to the trip we learned, that there can be light frost at night but in August it happens averagely twice per month. We couldn’t anticipate that the temperature every night would be around 0 Celsius degrees! Markus, whom we met on the trail, said that that weather was typical for September so that year it surprised hikers. It would not have been a problem for us if we had had better sleeping bags with a down filling, not synthetic one. Our equipment was perfect but for +6 C degrees. As a consequence, we put on every kind of cloth we had with us, even head-scarf, beanie and gloves, and we covered our sleeping bags with an extra foil blanket that saves from losing some body heat. And we were waking up in the middle of the night because of cold and had a cup of warm tea from a flask prepared for this critical moment. It may sound funny but that time it wasn’t. I was shaking and my partner Sebastian’s face swelled so much that I could hardly see his eyes. During the worst night I was so cold that he gave me his sleeping bag and went outside to set fire and warm up himself…
Our tent was not the best choice, either. It was small, tight and the flysheet barely touched the ground so there was a slit through which fled whole warmth from inside. Few days later in Lemmenjoki National Park Sebastian hit upon the idea to put logs around the tent to close tight the slit. If it had not worked out, we could have set fire…
Now we laugh at it but we did terrible mistakes. We sacrificed quality for weight and we were lucky enough that it didn’t cost our health.
During those few days we met 16 hikers and countless number of reindeer. We saw astonishing wild nature of polar circle. We had a rest from crowds, we could savour the dramatic beauty of that place without getting annoyed about thoughtless heaps of tourists. But the most important for us is experience. We have never had the opportunity to hike for few days and be only on our own before. And the mistakes we made didn’t go waste and we often analyse them before next trip. Even though we had some really critical moments, we think that it was our best adventure so far!
The trip happened in August, 2011