After having spent the whole month of August in the northernmost county of Norway, Finnmark, I really feel like I got to know this scarcely populated, arctic region quite well. Finnmark is clearly not the most visited or most attractive region in this country full of fjords, snowy peaks and breathtaking views. But still, it is definitely worth a visit – maybe not for the mountains or the scenic roads, but for experiencing true wilderness and meeting extraordnary people.
In the first place, my reason to visit Finnmark was a hiking guide I´m writing for a german publisher. The terminus of quite important long distance trail, the E1, which runs all the way from Nordkapp to the south of Italy, is located here. And still, there is yet no guidebook written about just this part of the trail. So I thought, well, so it´s gonna be me writing that book. I don´t know if I would have gotten the idea of visiting Finnmark if it wasn´t for the book… The rest of Norway feels way more flashy, all the highly advertised places and the attractions that can be found on any homepage about the country.
Finnmark does not have a lot of mountains that look like bits of Toblerone, there are no fjords with kilometer high rock walls on both sides and no fancy ski resorts. But there are many things to be found up there, that make a trip to the arctic certainly worthwhile.
One of the things that I found striking is how friendly people are. That sounds like an old stereotype and something tourists are fooled with regularly; you travel somewhere and think everyone is so much nicer than at home. But that´s not what I want to say. My impression was, that there are so few inhabitants this far north ( 1,5 individuals per km2), that people really look you in the eye. When I was out on the hiking trail and there would be a raindeer herder, he would come over, even if we were a couple of hundred meters away, just to talk and ask what we were doing. I came past someone´s summer house, which was a camping trailer, in horrendous weather and he would ask us in, offered us coffee, tea (cause I don´t drink coffee), chocolate, to hang up and dry our clothes and to ask his neighbour if we could sleep at their guest hut. In a densely populated area, harldy anyone would open their door for complete strangers and let them stay for hours.
Some days later we came past a guesthouse, several dozens of kilometers from the next road. It had been a rough couple of days and we were a bit demoralized by the weather and the muddy trail. Some locals from the town of Alta, who spent their weekend at the guesthouse, just handed me a bottle of french wine and said we deserved a cozy evening indoors. If you have been to Norway, you know what a bottle of wine costs and that this is a more than generous gesture.
Some further days along the trail we came to the only DNT hut this far north. The hut was in the best condition I have so far seen a tourist hut. Everything was new, clean, friendly and simply done with love, especially considering that building and maintaining these huts is a voluntary work. As if it wasn´t enough with a radio with spare batteries, loads of candles and a brand new fireplace, the volunteers had even left a glass of Nutella in the pantry. A place that is visited by so few hikers and skiers every year, is in much better condition than the random tourist hut in Sweden. It gave me the feeling of being trusted and a welcome visitor.
Now, of course, not everything is positive about Finnmark. It can be said that all terrain vehicles have ruined hiking culture quite a bit. With a quad and a snowscooter in winter most places that take days, if not weeks to reach, are suddenly only a drive of a couple of hours away. It seems like most locals have turned their back on walking over the sheer endless plateau that is Finnmarksvidda and go fishing, hunting and on their weekend tour on a quad instead. What happens after this – former one track trails for hikers, cyclists and skiers become double tracks for big vehicles and going without a motor can feel pretty pointless. Why walk in the deep mud for days, if you could experience the landscape without moving a finger?
As a result of this motorized traffic you won´t meet many (or any) other hikers and you will spend a lot of your hike, walking on a gravelroad. That is: if you follow a trail, which is not absolutely necessary in a landscape that is quite flat, open and accessible. Rivers to cross are plenty and there are no bridges anywhere, so it chosing a trail for safe river crossings is not an argument.
I already plan to come back to this arctic wilderness, next time maybe in winter, to experience the breathtaking emptyness on skis, see northern lights dancing around my tent and meet warm and welcoming people.
If you have any questions about Finnmark and want some suggestions on enjoyable hikes, feel free to send me a mail or write a comment! 🙂