Osku, Mikko and I have known each other since the end of the last millennium. We originally met trough other hobbies, but four wheel driving has always played some role in all of our lives. Prior to this trip we’ve participated in several organized four wheeling events and have done some shorter trips together here in Finland. We’ve planned a trip to Lapland for quite some time, but for some reason it has always been moved to the future. Personally I’ve had the desire to explore northern Lapland for quite some time, since I’ve never crossed the Arctic Circle before. Both Osku and Mikko had been to northern Lapland before. As a professional photographer Osku had spent a lot of time in the northern parts of the country.
Most of the organized four wheeling events in Finland are limited to short technical trails on private land. That kind of wheeling is fun, good for testing the equipment and developing driver skill, but the three of us are more into longer trips with some kind of a goal instead of just driving around in circles climbing rocks. Our vehicles are also set up more towards traveling than extreme off-roading. Osku drives a Toyota Land Cruiser 100, Mikko a Jeep Wrangler JK four door and yours truly a Toyota Hilux. All of the rigs run on Diesel.
We finally decided to execute the trip on September 2014. We set two goals. The first was to drive to the northernmost point of Finland located in Nuorgam while the second was to drive through the old maintenance road of Kemihaara. Due to challenges in scheduling the trip we would only have five days to complete the journey. We would try to drive on unpaved forest service roads as much as possible.
The plan was to drive to Rovaniemi/Arctic Circle on the first day. From there we would drive to Nuorgam on day two from where we would head down towards the northeastern territory. When we’d be done, we would drive back south along the Russian border.
Day 1: Helsinki – Rovaniemi
The goal of the day the arctic circle at Rovaniemi. We had reserved a cabin for the first night from “Santa Claus Holiday Village” located basically on top of the arctic circle. Osku had made arrangements to fit new BFG MT KM2 –tires to his Land Cruiser in Jyväskylä about 300km in to the trip. The logical thing to do was to get groceries and get something to eat while the tires were being installed so that’s what we ended up doing.
All of the rigs had UHF-transceivers installed so we could communicate during the long drive. In addition to an extensive music library we also had a bunch of audiobooks to help pass the time.
We got back on the road a little later than we originally planned. It got dark before we reached the northern part of the country so we didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful scenery just yet. We reached Rovaniemi just before midnight and were laughing when we first saw our accommodation for the night. We had arrived to a full blown Christmas/Santa Clause theme park! They had Christmas trees and the whole nine yards going throughout the year. The cabins were really nice, almost new and were also equipped with an in cabin sauna. We had embarked on the journey right after the work week so all of us were pretty tired, so after the sauna we decided to call it a day. Moods were still high and we were looking forward to the next couple of days.
Day 2: Rovaniemi – Nuorgam
We woke up to a cold morning. After the breakfast we did a pre-drive check on the vehicles, packed our gear and headed out to the souvenir shop and the cheesy tourist attraction built on the Arctic Circle. The lady at the souvenir shop warned us about the first snow that was supposed to hit northern Lapland the following day. Osku and I had MT-tires under our vehicles and Mikko had worn out AT-tires on his, so we were not so happy about the news about the snow.
After the mandatory photos on the Arctic Circle we finally headed north towards our goal for the day. It was raining and we were taking the fastest and the most boring route north so we were just passing time chatting on the UHF-radio as we drove on. As we were making our way up passing Sodankylä we took a break from the driving to stretch our legs at Saariselkä, a ski/hiking resort in the middle of beautiful fell (a rounded bare hill/mountain) –landscape. It was after we had passed Kaamanen when the roadside views started to resemble the tundra type features associated with the northern Lapland region.
The fuel tanks of our vehicles were topped off every time there was a reasonably priced opportunity to do so. Fuel prices were naturally much higher the farther north we went. The operating range of each of our vehicles was around 1000 kilometers including the spare fuel we had with us. Refueling every now and then made sure we didn’t have to think about running out of fuel.
At Utsjoki the road to Nuorgam turns east and follows the river Teno one of the premier fishing rivers in Finland. Even though the level of the water was low, we were still impressed by the views. As soon as we got to Nuorgam we located the most northern point of the country. The point was located in some local guy’s yard with nothing marking the spot. After we had seen the massive tourist attraction at the Arctic Circle it was kind of a surprise to find no trace of that at the most northern point of the country. Not that it’s a bad thing, just an observation. Once we had accomplished our first goal we drove briefly to the Norwegian side of the border. With nothing more than a surveillance camera on the border it’s a weird feeling to drive to another country with none of the usual formalities.
We had planned to set up camp somewhere near the most northern lake in Finland called lake Pulmanki. The road leading to the lake traveled through some really dry arctic scenery, the kind you would expect to find on another planet. Lacking a better spot to set up camp for the night, we parked the trucks on the sandy bank of the river Pulmanki. The river runs south from the lake bearing the same name. The temperature had sunk close to zero Celsius and the wind speed started to pick up making it feel even colder. As the darkness fell upon us we cooked a tasty dinner consisting of cheese ravioli and grilled sausages with some red wine on the side. After we finished eating everyone moved swiftly in to the vehicles to get out of the wind. Mikko and Osku slept in their vehicles equipped with fuel-powered heaters, while my more humble accommodations consisted of a truck bed covered with tarp-camper shell.
Day 3: Nuorgam – Kairijoki
At around 6am I crawled out from under the truck canopy only to realize the first snow that had came down during the night and it was freezing cold. The temperature had also gone as low as -9 degrees Celsius, which was close to the extreme value of my Carinthia Defence 1 – sleeping bag. I’m usually a cold sleeper so I was surprised to having slept as good as I did. While the temperature was not very low for wintertime, it sure felt cold this early in the year.
We didn’t feel like cooking breakfast in the sub-freezing temperatures, so after brushing the snow off the trucks we fired them up. We decided to head west along the river Teno and stop to cook breakfast when the sun would warm up the weather, which we did.
Driving through Karigasniemi and Angeli to Ivalo from where we backtracked the route 4 for a while until we found a nice sand track taking us east towards Lokka. The route we had selected for the day turned out to be excellent with fast twisting sand roads and awesome scenery.
At Lokka we checked out the environmentally controversial artificial lake created for a hydroelectric power plant in 1967. At that point we set course towards the “Kairijoki wilderness center”, a nice little camping area with cabins. The weather had turned colder than we had anticipated so we were hoping to get a cabin. If there would be no cabins available we would suck it up and camp at the site, which was located near the old maintenance road, our next goal. Despite all of the latest maps and gizmos we had for navigation, we were relying on Osku’s old Garmin City Select – maps on his old device to plot the route. The device has proven to have a good track record of pointing us to places where no one has gone before.
This time was no different. We found ourselves on a small rock infested track as it was starting to get dark and the snow started to come down with a vengeance. The fall colors combined with the snow coming down created a weird mystical atmosphere. After we had crossed a couple of ditches the track got wetter and soon we found ourselves at a swamp. We got out and scouted a little further on foot. There were some really old tire marks of some kind of a heavy machine heading towards the swamp. According to the maps the track would cross a sand road after a few hundred meters at the other side of the swamp.
Mikko drove on point with his Jeep, so we could pull him out with our winches if he got stuck. After about 50 meters the Jeep spun it’s tires and stopped. Mikko managed to back up the Jeep back on the solid ground. He gathered a little more momentum and barely managed to get the jeep to a dryer spot up ahead. Osku and I made through the same spot a little easier with the help of our MT tires. Eventually we made it through the swamp to the sand road with no additional drama.
We arrived at the camping site just as they were closing up for the day. Luckily they had one cabin available and the sauna was still warm. The site itself was a cool little village of about ten primitive cabins. It was only open during the premier hunting and fishing season. The site is remotely located, so the electricity for the cabins is produced with generators. All of the other visitors were there for the awesome hunting opportunities the area provided. We exchanged a few words with some of the hunters and settled in the cabin. After the sauna and some late dinner it felt great to finally catch some z’s.
Day 4: Kairijoki – Kuusamo
After a good nights sleep we made breakfast in the cabins kitchen. Everyone was exited to get behind the wheel. We noticed the trucks were all muddy after the previous nights swamp episode. While the rest of us were cleaning the cabin Mikko cleaned out the glass on the trucks so we could see out from them. Our plan for the day included driving through the old maintenance road of Kemihaara. Before heading out to our main event of the day we did a short detour to drive on top of a fell called Niekkatunturi.
The views from the top were breathtaking and among other things we saw Korvatunturi, a fell that’s located on the border zone between Finland and Russia. According to Finnish folklore Korvatunturi -fell is the home of Santa Clause, so it was a cool to see it in real life. After some photos it was time to head towards the old maintenance road. The road is well known among the local adventure motorcycle riders and was included in our trip based on a recommendation from one of them.
The road had previously served as a maintenance road for an old hydroelectric power plant. At some point of time the bridges on the road were removed and the road had clearly not been maintained since. The road runs along the river Kemijoki. There were two notable water crossings and a couple of smaller ones. In addition there was some erosion by floodwaters, but nothing too bad.
The most challenging part of the route was one of the water crossings, mostly because the banks of the stream were a bit on the steep side for our fairly stock vehicles. There was also a short stretch of swamp to drive through before reaching the river’s bank. Things were beginning to get interesting when my truck was already on the far side of the river, Mikko’s Jeep was stuck in the swampy section and Osku was behind the Jeep with a now non-functioning winch. With some help from some Maxtrax’s and the Hilux’s winch from the other side of the stream we all managed to make it trough with no damage.
The old road had definitely been one of the driving high points of the trip. After we were done with the old maintenance road we had some lunch and planned ahead on how we would start moving back south. We could have spent a week only in this part of Lapland and there would still be plenty to see and experience, but we were on a tight schedule. I had five days off from work to do the trip. Osku and Mikko had six.
At this point we were about 1000 kilometers from home and on day 4. I suggested that I would split from the group to head south so the rest of the team could explore the region one more day. The guys would have none of that. We started the trip together; so we would finish it together. As a mid-ground solution we decided to head south on narrow fun-to-drive tracks in the north and take the bigger roads as we got further south.
We’d drive as far as we could and find a place to stop for the night. We got as far as Kuusamo around midnight until we got a cabin and called it a day.
Day 5: Kuusamo – Helsinki
It had snowed during the night and the snow kept falling as we headed south along the major roads. It became clear that this would be the worst weather we had seen during the whole trip. There was a thick layer of heavy slush on the road that made even a heavy truck start to wiggle dangerously outside the tire tracks.
Mikko had the worst time with his worn out AT-tires. At times we had to drive slower than 60 kilometers per hour (KPH) on a road with 100 KPH speed limit, which made the progress really slow. This was in September so all of the cars we saw were still on summer tires.
We saw a lot of accidents and at one point we stopped to help an elderly man get his car back on the road. The fifth day was spent entirely on major roads, so beside the extreme weather it was fairly uneventful.
During the five days we had driven a total of 3023 kilometers. Despite the tight schedule we managed to accomplish the goals we had set and got some new experiences out of the trip.