Pushing, Carrying and Riding to Finland’s Highest Point, with Manon Carpenter

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Manon Carpenter continues her post race-tape life with a trip to the highest point in Finland, in a 100km bike packing trip that looks like the sort of thing even us mortals could achieve. Though, just hearing about the endless pushing and speed sapping boulders is making us tired and hungry. Who volunteers to carry in extra biscuits?

Mountains appearing from the otherwise mellow and rolling landscape
Heading out from our starting point near Kilpisjärvi. In the background is the recognisable fell, Saana, sacred to the Sámi people and which has a protected nature reserve and research area with restricted access during the summer months

“Journey to Halti is a four day bike-packing trip born from a slightly hare-brained idea three years ago, that saw us trying to reach the highest point in Finland – above the Arctic Circle, in the middle of winter, on skis. It was my first time on skis (brave or stupid, you decide), -28° C when we set off and at the end of the year when the sun no longer rises in Lapland. We only made it halfway, faced soft snow and a lack of established skiing routes that early in winter, so it’s been an incomplete mission since then.

Wooden boardwalks offer brief respite from the rocky start to the trail
Where’s wally? A quick stop at the first cabin along the train, 12 km out from the trail head

Christian moved nearby for work in 2020, and me visiting for summer presented the perfect opportunity to try reaching Halti again – this time by bike. We had no idea what the trail would be like, and were aware that it might not be rideable. With a very literal rocky start, and slow-going flat sections and climbs, we were rewarded with descents that we could actually ride to enjoy. Smooth sections in between the boulders felt like the best trail ever! Four days out in the vastness of Käsivarsi Wilderness Area, with everything we needed on us or our bikes, was a great way to complete the mission of Halti, three years on.”

The highest point for the first day – with some hardy plants amongst the otherwise barren rocks
Heading down to the night’s cabin, with incredible greens lighting up the landscape
Welcomed with a cosy cabin, all to ourselves
Ready to go the next morning, after a refresh in the lake and a decent feed the evening before
The trail was a mix of technical rock in between smoother sections and total boulder fields. A combination of riding, pushing and carrying got us through
The weather changed constantly, with bright skies turning to showers, to gloomy clouds and back again – often with a rainbow thrown in for good measure

The ride doesn’t look easy – there’s plenty of stop start riding through boulders, which probably frays the temper a little when you’re tired and hungry. There’s also plenty of wind to sap the energy, and whip away any prospect of distracting conversation.

Rain wasn’t the only thing making rainbows
The flattest sections of the trail alongside lakes or rivers often coincided with major boulder fields
I loved this Arctic cottongrass. It_s one of the most widespread flowering plants in the northern hemisphere and tundra regions – according to Wikipedia
Heading up towards Halti, and getting closer to the snow
Not your typical trailside companion!
Not your typical trailside companion!

‘In Finland the ‘Everyman’s Right’ allows every person the freedom to go where they like, responsibly, in nature – including by bike – with the exception of national parks where you’re encouraged to stick to the trail, and avoid protected areas. In national parks unlocked wilderness cabins are open to everyone who respects the rules to leave things the way you found them (or better!), and make multi-day excursions into the outdoors so much easier. On this trip wilderness cabins provided shelter, beds and cooking facilities which meant we only needed to carry food, spares and sleeping bags – with pristine water readily available from the many rivers and lakes we passed’.

In the ten minutes we stood here debating how much daylight we had left, we had blue skies, ominous clouds and showers sweeping across the valley floor. Our cabin for the night is in the distance, but we head to the top of Halti first before dark
We ditched the bikes 3 km from the top as the trail became a mass of boulders, carrying on by foot
The highest point in Finland! Looking back on the landscape we’d travelled through the previous two days
A short walk away is the actual peak of Halti, just over the border in Norway
A short walk away is the actual peak of Halti, just over the border in Norway.2

Riding out into a wilderness area and finding no one else around, a wood burner ready to light and a lake to dip in at the end of the day is a pretty special experience, and something that makes you appreciate wilder spaces all the more – and the invitation to roam in them, freely.

Strong winds whipped around the cabin during the night, and we woke up to a dusting of snow on the hills around us
We took a little longer over coffee and basic porridge that morning
We took a little longer over coffee and our basic porridge that morning

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered Finland’s wilderness cabins – Hannah rode out to one on her fat biking trip along the Finnish/Russian border. You can read that here.

With no need for a tent, there’s relative comfort to be had overnight, plus the security of knowing you’ve somewhere to get warm and dry. But, in between the huts it looks like there’s plenty of effort and suffering! Plus, whatever you need, you’ve got to carry. Hmm… we need an online biscuit/calorie/effort to carry calculator!

Day three, heading back down the way we had come with energy, food supplies and batteries getting a little low
Our fourth and final day led us back up the pass we’d come over on the first day, with winds picking up again for the journey back to Kilpisjärvi.
Enjoying the descent back down the other side, before a final mission along 12 km of mostly flat, rocky traverse to finish the trip
Energies running low, a relentless headwind battered us on a final push back to the satrt, which was almost in sight but on the other side of the lake.
Back to relative civilisation, where reindeer make up a large portion of the population!

The video itself has a nice slow pace to it that captures the effort of the ride well. Self shot, there’s just enough effort gone into getting interesting angles and to-camera pieces to make it an interesting and inspiring watch. But if this ride takes a super fit athlete like Manon this much effort, maybe we’d plan to stay in a few extra huts along the way?

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Comments (5)

    Beautiful. That’s Finland on ‘the list’.

    Very nice!

    I’ve been to Finland a few times when I worked for Nokia. In my memories it’s always dark, or inside an office. I don’t think I ever even saw a blue sky. I wonder if I need to go and visit again with a bike.

    I think I am the bikepacker mentioned in the video, who gave the couple some advice about the route. I think I also tried to give some encouragement.

    The terrain between Kilpisjärvi and Halti is very demanding, and there are easier (and maybe better) areas for bikepacking in Finland. The good news is that the Sami people move around the Kilpisjärvi area with their ATVs. ATV tracks are sometimes a lot easier to ride than the marked footpath.

    If you really want to ride/push your bike east from Kilpisjärvi, I strongly recommed using this route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33899941

    Inspiring! I’ve done two canoe trips in Finland (and would have done another two this year if covid hadn’t happened). Finland is great, and the ‘Everyman’s Right’ is as it should be. An interesting bit of logic with the open huts is that since they are open to all and not bookable, anyone arriving must be let in – it’s not ‘first come first served’ but the opposite. If you were there first, and have already warmed up, rested and eaten, if the hut’s too full you’re the one who should leave, to make space for the new arrivals whose need is greater.

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