*Last summer I hiked the Karhunkierros long distance hiking trail in northern Finland. It’s taken me forever to write about it!*
Me and Sara are in Ruka, a ski resort in northern Finland, and we’re about to walk the 82km-long Karhunkierros, or Bear Trail in English. We grab a not-very-detailed map from the tourist information centre. The worker assures us that this is all we will need. “It’s impossible to get lost!” she says.
“What a disappointing start to the trail,” I moan. “It’s soooo ugly.” I hate ski resorts.
We take an obligatory selfie at the start of the trail. It starts to shit it down with rain. I’m not surprised. It always shits it down when I hike. Our rucksacks are heavy: we’re carrying one week’s worth of dehydrated food. Sara has spent *days* dehydrating food for this trail because we won’t pass a shop.
Before we know it, we’ve left the ski resort behind. We’re soon in typical, stunning Finland, surrounded by pine trees and blueberry bushes.
The trail meanders up and down hills. Sara quickly realises that she’s really unfit, and she’s ready to quit for the day after walking just 2km. I realise that I need to change my attitude if we’re going to enjoy hiking together: there’s an ugly demon inside of me who wants to hike 20-25km each day. Where does this egoic demon come from? And who am I competing with, exactly?
We arrive at a laavu (a laavu is a shelter with three walls) and set up camp.
I lay awake for much of the night, excited by the everlasting daylight. I poke my head out of my sleeping bag at 2am: it’s light! I poke my head out again at 3am: it’s still light! The day lasts forever! It’s amazing!
Over the next few days Sara gets fitter. And it’s an ideal trail to get fit as you go. As hiking trails go, it’s probably the most ideal one for beginner hikers, or for those who have lost their fitness, or who might be recovering from injury. The trail is so well-maintained that it’s almost frustrating! And the tourist information worker was right – it’s impossible to get lost if you’re walking this trail when there’s no snow. If you’re hiking in the summer, you can walk through the night if you want – it never gets dark!!
We hike through fairytale forest, meeting Siberian jays, red squirrels and reindeer. We pass rivers and lakes. We munch on cloudberries, while mosquitoes munch on us. We have conversations with hikers about whether you need to filter the water: we say you do. Others say you don’t.
And we cringe at all the Finnish people cooking sausages over fires. If you’re from Finland, it is apparently obligatory to carry sausages with you while you hike.
What amazes me most about this trail is the unbelievably high quality of the hikers’ huts. They’re free to stay in, and even come with gas stoves. The wood is always stocked up for fires, too. It would be really easy to hike the Karhunkierros without a tent or a stove. Finland has to be one of Europe’s ideal places to hike.
After a few days we cross the ‘border’ to Lapland. And as we cross this border, the mosquitoes multiply by their thousands. They attack my face, getting tangled in my hair. But this invisible border to Lapland also symbolises a more diverse, enchanted forest, with mosses, wild flowers and berries.
Our last few kilometres on the trail are spent hiking on boardwalks over bog. We debate whether it’s actually bog, or if it’s swamp. “Sara, I’ve hiked in Scotland. I know a bog when I see it!” I insist.
We finish the trail at the very ugly Karhunkierros Visitor Centre. What an anti-climax. There’s no information at all about the most famous hiking trail of Finland. There is, however, a very informative exhibition about bogs! I enthusiastically read about the different types of bogs of Lapland, whilst Sara rests her weary legs and eats a celebratory feast.
And then before we know it we’re hitchhiking northwards, into the Arctic Circle, past reindeer and away from the beautiful Karhunkierros trail.