As you may know, in addition to street photography, I am a bit of an outdoor person as well. Even though I don’t go hiking or camping that often nowadays, a nice long hike in the Finnish Lapland has been a dear autumn tradition for me in the recent years.
This year we headed out to Urho Kekkonen national park, which is a huge wilderness area in the north east of Finland. I’ve been there once before and I’ve been waiting dearly to see the majestic landscapes again. Things didn’t go quite as planned though and our hike ended up featuring a surprise helicopter ride to the hospital. I posted few images already to my Instagram account and of course many IG friends started asking what happened. Now that I’m at home again and recovering from the trip, I though I’d write all about it.
The hike started out very promising. Hiking in that kind of pristine wilderness was just as breathtaking and soul-cleansing as I remembered. We started our hike from near Kiilopää fell, in the western part of the national park. Our plan was to head south-east to a fell called Sokosti and from there, head north-bound for the return trip. The total length of the hike was planned to be roughly 100km in about 4—6 days.
UKK national park isn’t a small place. It’s 2,550 km² of total wilderness and those are just the borders of the so called national park. Beyond that, there’s still pure wilderness on any given direction as far as the eye can see with very little settlement in between.
Everything went extremely nicely for the first 40—50km. We were heading to a campsite at lake Luirojärvi, near Sokosti Fell. It was late in the evening and we noticed that we had apparently taken the wrong trail or otherwise ended up on a slightly different location than planned. It was becoming late and our legs were killing us after a long day of hiking. Both of my knees, calves and thighs were exhausted! We decided to set up a camp and figure out where we were in the morning.
In the middle of the nigh my friend woke up shivering heavily — almost like suffering from a hypothermia. Moments after he started vomiting violently, which continued right until morning, causing him bad dehydration — very dangerous! We were stuck at our camp at that point and 12h later I started to have similar symptoms as well. I remember getting really nauseas, feverish, weak and disoriented. At that point it had turned out that we were only about few kilometres from lake Luirojärvi. Our camp was at a river valley that didn’t have any kind of mobile phone reception, which isn’t uncommon in wilderness areas. Neither of us were not able to drink or eat hardly anything. We packed our gear and decided to head to Luirojärvi for help. We were able to walk very slowly. I was trying to hold my puke with each step. Luckily our trail crossed a hill where we found a weak mobile signal. I was able to make an emergency call.
At this point we were still guessing what was causing all this. We didn’t share any of our foods and the only common thing we’d been consuming, was the water from the rivers and streams. Lapland is known for it’s (relatively) safe natural water sources, but there’s still always the risk of some kind of contamination. For example, there can very well be a rotting reindeer corpse up in the river. We still don’t know what kind of dicease we had or what caused it, but for all we know, it could’ve been a bad bacterial infection from the water.
We finally reached Luirojärvi but it was the most painful and slowest walk I’ve ever hiked. Bear in mind, that our car was about 40—50km away. (The shortest possible route would’ve been probably 30—35km if we would’ve taken different way out.) We had absolutely no chance of hiking that kind of distance in the condition we were in. Even the short few kilometre walk felt really hard. In just few moments, we heard a helicopter that came to pick us up. We were brought to the hospital in Ivalo. We were badly dehydrated with high infection levels (CRP), decreased blood pressure and fever (38,5°c). We were extremely weak with bad headache, nausea and very upset stomachs. I honestly can’t recall being in worse condition in my life. We were given extremely good care and eventually we were able to leave home, which was still a 1000km drive back home, that took about 12h. Luckily we were doped really well in the hospital and the drive wasn’t as bad as I would have thought.
Not my ideal hiking trip I have to say. Now that I’m at home recovering, I can feel relieved, but for a moment there, I was of course pretty scared and helpless. I was really looking forward to do some much needed nature photography on black and white film, which I’ve waited ever since the previous trip. So who knows — I’ll try next year with better luck! I’m definitely still itching to do more B/W film photography in Lapland because I, of course, came back home with a fraction of the amount of photos (about 40 frames) that I was planning to shoot. I don’t feel too disappointed or traumatised at all though. As for a minor survival situation, things turned out just as good as they should. We received help and we were able to return safely at home.
And yeah, before this will turn into a wilderness survival blog, I’ll have to say few more words about the photos. Even though we were in a bad situation, I still kind of was able to see photographs in what was happening around me. I have not been in a helicopter before, so naturally I would’ve taken some shots anyways, but as we were escorted inside the aircraft, I of course had my Leica in my hand. The situation didn’t last very long and I was feeling like absolute garbage at that point. On those kinds of situations photography becomes impossible unless it’s your second nature, that comes from practise and experience. There’s absolutely no time to mess around with the camera and settings. When I came back home, I wanted to develop the pics as soon as possible. To my surprise I had close to perfect exposures and focusing, even though the conditions were far from ideal.