Across the Arctic blue night: Trans-Lapland expedition debrief

Across the Arctic blue night: Trans-Lapland expedition debrief

Posted: Mar 26, 2012 06:58 pm EDT

(José Mijares) It’s a perfect line to draw across the northern map; 67-day and 1,200km across Lapland with barely two hours of twilight sun that faded into an itch-black night.

My journey spanned across Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and included climbs to Halti (Finland’s highest peak at 1,331m) and Kebnekaise – Lapland’s roof at 2,111m.

An extraordinary mild winter forced me to leave the skis behind in some sections, which I instead completed on snowshoes and – on the Russian stage – cycling. I shared the initial and final sections of the 6-stage trip with friends but, most of the time relied on my loyal canine mate “Lonchas”, an Alaska Malamute which shares most of my expeditions.

Seen from a “southern eyes” perspective, the itinerary, mostly decided while on the go, was a unique way to penetrate into the genuine north; a sort of pilgrimage to the silent heart of the Arctic.

Lone rider drawing lines

I’ve always got a Lapland map at hand, wherever I am. I like to spend time looking at the colorful lines drawn on it by my own hand - one for each route completed – and dream of new ones covering new areas. My latest trip was however, in my opinion, the most aesthetic and logical of all: 1,200 km across Lapland, without motorized support, during the Arctic wintry night.

I had been dreaming of this route in the same way others dream of a long pleasure cruise, a race car or a lion’s head.

Otherwise, I reckon I like travelling solo, but I am not a loner. Thus, I happily agreed when two friends asked me to share patchs on the first and last stages of the trip: Ainoa Aldalur and Javier Pedrosa respectively.

The rest of the time, I relied on “Lonchas”, my regular mate. He is a pure breed Alaska Malamute originally named “Longyearbyen” (after Svalbard’s capital) but widely known by the shorter nickname. Thanks to social network, “Lonchas” is getting an increasing number of fans around the world and definitely becoming more famous than me.

Kick-off on wheels

The trip’s first stage started at Murmansk, in Russian Lapland, at the end of November – right at the beginning of the polar night. Due to the extraordinary mild 2011-12 winter conditions, Ainhoa and I switched from cross-country skis to bicycles, and rode along 300 km on iced-up roads to Ivalo, on the other side of the Finnish border.

The experience was mostly remarkable due to the travelling in the dark, camping for the night in thick forests by the road, and the chance to meet some particular characters on the way: truck, drivers, custom-agents on deserted frontier posts, petrol station attendants on high heels and tights, and lumberjacks drowning their salary in vodka and karaoke jams.

Ainhoa, young and eager to live the adventurous life, shared her enthusiasm at every event, every new person we met, and every turn of the road.

Tundra tough going

For the second stage, from Ivalo to Inari, I picked up Lonchas from a friend’s house in Norway, drove back to the point I had finished the cycling part, and set off what was supposed to be a rather easy, enjoyable walk on the frozen Inari Lake.

Just that, for the first time in the locals’ memory, the lake surface was not yet solid. Instead, we had to struggle along for 100 km on rough tundra terrain, with virtually no snow to drag the sledge on.

There were no cabins to spend the night in, we were in the middle of December and the darkness was overwhelming: barely two hours of twilight sun faded into an itch-black night. We marched with the headlights on, desperately searching for kairns marking tracks, which were often hard to find in the dark.

Eventually we reached a colder area where lakes were solid on top – but not too much. Lonchas’ polar-dog instinct was essential in such circumstances: he jumps back the second he smells water and retreats to safer terrain - and so did I.

Also, as he weighs 50 kg, I was confident that ice would hold my weight as long as Lonchas walking ahead of me, could pass with no problems.

Lonchas’ skiing accident

Colder conditions settled in during the following stage which started at Karasjok on the Norwegian border. Progress with back-country skis had a setback though: on a too fast descent, I accidentally ran over Lonchas, who was cut on two of his legs with my ski edges.

Worried, I renounced to the “self-supported” tag for the trip and asked for help, in order to get Lonchas in a car to a nearby town for vet treatment and some days of mandatory rest and recovery.

Sami reindeer herders, Christmas and New Year

The fourth stage, from Kautokeino to Kilpisjarvi, crossed the routes of the Samis. Here the reindeer herders, as they passed by on their snow-cats, stopped for a cup of coffee, a short chat and gave valuable advice on directions and route conditions ahead.

Here, in pure Arctic environment and well off the beaten track, Lonchas and I spent Christmas Eve in a cabin with -17ºC temperatures. Four days later we climbed Mt. Halti - Finland’s roof.

Funny enough, there were people in mostly every cabin we spent the nights. It seemed that no one wanted to spend Christmas at home! It was fine with us though, since we made some cool friends on the way: A Czech truck driver on a lonely holiday and a Danish couple who travelled dress as ancient Vikings.

On New Year’s Eve we shared a bungalow in Kilpisjarvi, right on the border point between Finland, Norway and Sweden, and celebrated and welcomed 2012 together… twice: there were fireworks on the Finish side of the place, and one hour later midnight struck on the Swedish time line, right on the other side of the bay.

Adventure land

The following stage was a genuine adventure since, rather out of the blue, I discarded all previous plans and went instead for a new route across an area I had never been before. The result was an amazing experience of bitter cold, absolute loneliness, and stunning landscapes in Arctic blue light and overwhelming beauty.

In spite of getting involved in a fight with a Sami dog which ended up with me badly bitten (that’s what happens when you try to get in the middle and ask for peace); I can ensure that Lonchas is the best expedition mate I could think of.

I’ve had several companions on different trips across Lapland, but there is something special about travelling with Lonchas. I can’t explain but, somehow, marching with just my dog makes the experience more intense and genuine.

The rising sun and northern lights

It was also on that stage that we saw the sun rising above the horizon, after 46 days of absence. It was a moving moment: something we usually take as routine, turned into a surprise, a remarkable phenomenon and a breath-taking show of bright colors burning on the sky. From that day on, the promise of a rising sun would provide all motivation needed for swift progress.

At the end of the stage in Kiruna though, I got news of family issues which required me to cut the final stage and return home earlier than expected.

I still had, however, a week left to reach Ritsem and return on a touring trip around Kebnekaise, the highest peak in Lapland. The climb to the top added an alpine side to the trip and, by the way, proved that Lonchas was as a natural-born climber.

I’ve been living in northern Norway for 10 years already, I have seen plenty of Arctic landscapes and northern lights – but Kebnekaise’s summit views and the descent under spectacular northern lights will remain in memory forever as some of the most magic moments of my life.

A new line on the map

I’ve often thought about the aesthetic reasons that pushed me towards this trip. A line on a map, a track on a frozen lake, a lonely row of some wild animal’s footprints, our own tracks left by the skies, the sledge and Lonchas’ paws… I can see art in these lines that I later draw on my maps – they provide landscape with a particular, personal look.

This is how I feel about it once I am back at home in Cape North and the experience has settled in. This is the story behind a new line on my old, ragged, Lapland’s sentimental map.

Jose Mijares traveled 1,200 km during 67 wintery days across Lapland. The journey, which spanned across Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden, included climbs to 1,331m’s Halti (Finland’s highest peak) and Kebnekaise – Lapland’s roof at 2,111m.

Born in sunny Spain, José Mijares (44) was however attracted to Polar areas since a young age. Worked as a tourist guide specialized in Arctic regions and guided clients to the summit of Aconcagua (Argentina), Denali (Alaska) and several peaks in the Alps. As an individual explorer, he has completed crossings across Greenland, the Baltic Sea and Patagonia's South Icecap.

Mijares moved to Norway 10 years ago, where he currently lives and runs “Arctico” company together with his wife, Gloria.


#Polar #topstory











The first stage started at Murmansk in Russian Lapland at the end of November 2011 – right at the beginning of the polar night. Due to the extraordinary mild 2011-12 winter conditions Jose decided to switch from cross-country skis to bicycles.
courtesy Jose Mijares
"I reckon I like travelling solo, but I am not a loner. Thus, I happily agreed when two friends asked me to share patchs on the first and last stages of the trip: Ainoa Aldalur and Javier Pedrosa respectively."
courtesy Jose Mijares
"The experience was mostly remarkable due to the travelling in the dark, camping for the night in thick forests by the road, and the chance to meet some particular characters on the way."
courtesy Jose Mijares
Lonchas and José. "Lonchas’ polar-dog instinct was essential in such circumstances: he jumps back the second he smells water and retreats to safer terrain - and so did I."
courtesy Jose Mijares
"I can’t explain but, somehow, marching with just my dog makes the experience more intense and genuine."
courtesy Jose Mijares
"The result was an amazing experience of bitter cold, absolute loneliness, and stunning landscapes in Arctic blue light and overwhelming beauty."
courtesy Jose Mijares
Route traveled.
courtesy Jose Mijares