11-Apr-2006 -- It is hard to imagine many more out of the way places in the whole Scandinavian Lapland than this confluence. We were told at the Karasjok town hall that the last part of the road we had planned to use, was not maintained during winters, making it practically impossible to reach it by skis alone.
Snowmobile driving in Finnmark is restricted to dedicated routes, and even the closest of them was more than 20 km away, leaving a lot of woods, meaning deep snow, between the route and the confluence. A combined snowmobile and ski trip did thus not appear too attractive either. We started to see why this was the last confluence on land in Scandinavia and much of Western Europe as well.
Unlike snowmobile, dog sleds are allowed everywhere and this led us to Kreitta Andde Ammun Ammun Peder (sami name, or Amund Peder Teigmo, Norwegian name), a true sami, who runs a dogsled business at Helsegård (www.teigmo.no, N 69°26.462’ E 025°41.470’) when not busy with his other occupation as general practitioner and traditional sami healer.
From the very first encounter with Amund Peder I got the feeling that this might work out well. I am usually met with polite bewilderment when explaining the confluence project, but not so with Amund Peder. He grasped the idea instantly and seemed genuinely enthusiastic. In no time he threw reindeer skins on the snow to kneel on, and to study the maps. He started pointing routes and locations with the tip of his heavy Lapp knife which had appeared from somewhere as if it was his sixth finger.
There was only one problem. The migration of reindeer toward northern summer pastures was under way around the area of the confluence. Our dogs could easily disturb them and Amund had no intention to spoil his relations with the reindeer herdsmen. Fortunately, he managed to contact Nils, a reindeer herdsman who was active in the area, and who would transport us through the sensitive areas. I later heard from Amund Peder, that Nils was not so convinced that it was just a coordinate we were after. He suspected we had a hoard of gold in the area!
True, driving snowmobile all the way would have been cheaper, faster and easier, but we would have missed the deafening enthusiasm of the dogs before the start and the sprint when released, and their quick pleading glances when failing to help along in uphills and the soggy parts, not to mention seeing the acrobatic manouvres when they urinate on the move - hind legs spread forward in the air, collar leash taut, and running on the front legs alone. Sorry, my furry friends, for laughing out loud a few times. Maybe that’s why they were farting so much?
It rained the morning we started with three sleds and 26 dogs, Amund Peder guiding the lead sled with ten dogs, Mari-Helena and I had the second one with eight dogs, and Kari, Amund Peder’s wife drove the third sled with the remaining eight dogs. The rain had softened the snow and made the 75 km trip from Amund Peder’s place near Karasjok, along the Karasjok river to Bæivasgie’di hut (N 69°12.369’ E 024°45.714’) extremely tough for the dogs. The soft snow together with the higher than ideal temperature for the dogs meant that we arrived at the hut around nine o’clock, two to four hours later than in normal conditions. The dogs were then fed and they slept outside, as always. One of them was even born outside when it was -50°C. We liked it warmer and soon retreated to the now warming hut to have dinner.
The same day, Nils had had technical problems with his snowmobile, but luckily had managed to get replacement. So, the next morning Nils Samuel and Silje Marie, a young sami couple, arrived to take us to the confluence. We followed the unofficial herdsmen routes until about two kilometres from the confluence, after which Nils Samuel started navigating with the GPS. At times the snow was so deep that I had to leave the snowmobile to make it lighter and to let Nils Samuel open a track or to turn back to help Silje Marie, who followed us with Mari-Helena.
At 130 metres from the confluence we got stuck again and Nils Samuel left me once more and steered to the left and disappeared. Being so close I could not contain myself and plodded slowly through the more than knee deep snow to the confluence. I managed to zero in the GPS, but failed to find the gold.
Meanwhile, Nils Samuel had returned to the girls and helped Silje Marie restart her snowmobile and started bringing the girls towards me. But where was I? I had returned to the track, but it wasn’t obvious to find me back in the spaghetti of snowmobile tracks that had been created, and all the time you create more. Luckily, Mari-Helena had a spare GPS and quite logically they navigated towards the confluence. With a little bit of shouting we managed to locate each other and eventually met each other at the very confluence point.
On our way back Nils Samuel and Silje Marie took us to their mobile home (on skis, not wheels) from where we could admire their herd in the distance, two thousand or so, slowly travelling north while grazing for lichen. Soon it dawned on us, that what first felt like an unwelcome delay in our slightly tight schedule, was actually one of the highlights of the whole trip. What a privilege to be invited to a home of some of the last people in Europe, who lead at least a semi-nomadic way of life. The locals say ‘If you are in a hurry, you should have left yesterday’. So, for a moment we forgot the long return trip ahead of us, and simply enjoyed their hospitality, coffee and dried reindeer meat with it and dried reindeer fat in it.
The weather had cleared after the morning of the first day and the freezing temperatures during the night had hardened the snow making it faster for the dogs. The downside was that the resulting icy snow was bad for their paws and one of them had to be taken on Amund Peder’s sled, which was easier said than done, so eager they are to pull.
It was close to midnight when we eventually arrived back to Amund Peder’s Helsegård. The temperature had dropped well below freezing making the dogs noticeably faster. Some modest northern lights and a full moon gave light for the last few miles. Driving a dog sled when it is so dark you can just see the dogs, but none of the bumps or grooves in the snow was a memorable experience.