Sunday, March 16, 2014

Urho Kekkonen National Park

I am from Finland, and that's also where these things I'm about to describe to you happened. This was some years ago (pre-smartphone/GPS era). It was the end of the summer and myself and two friends were on a camping trip way up in the north, in Lapland. The mosquito season was over, and the weather was cooling down in anticipation of the coming fall. The three of us had packed food and gear for a 10 day trek. The car we arrived in had been left at the parking lot of a visitor center - this happened within the premises of the Urho Kekkonen National Park, a 985 sq. mile stretch of wilderness near the Russian border.

The terrain there varies greatly, from treeless and semi-mountaineous to dense forest of spruce and pine and dwarf birch. There are lots of swamps. Seeing reindeer is not uncommon and some nights you might hear wolves in the distance. You can run into a bear or a wolverine in this place, but of course normally they avoid people. We mostly camped in a tent, but some nights we used shelters and simple huts provided for travellers free of charge. The trip had lasted 5 days, we were at the furthest of any kind of civilization we were going to be on that particular outing, truly in the middle of nowhere - there really is nothing there. There are no villages, towns or industry, the place is a national park after all. Seeing other hikers happened from time to time, you'd see some people in the distance maybe, very rarely would you come face to face with anyone.

So, in the middle of our trip, we were camped in a small clearing, woodland extending around us for a considerable distance in all directions. It was already dark, we had eaten our evening meal and all three of us were jammed in our only tent. It was a bit cramped but we fit. We took turns carrying it during the hikes. We were just exchanging some jokes and crude humour in the dark, like guys in their twenties do, about to go to sleep in our sleeping bags. When we quieted down we began to hear it: talking. And the sound of machinery. Given our location, this was profoundly weird. We camped in a tent because there were no huts nearby. Maybe there was another camp somewhere near us? We couldn't quite make out what was being said, but it was a human voice, no doubt about it. But nothing really could explain the sound of heavy machinery. It sounded like an excavator or a tank, something big, powerful, and really not too far away. Combined with the sound of talking, we thought "construction yard". But at that time of night, in an unpopulated, protected nature reserve? We got out of our tent. It was cold and pitch black, the campfire had some coals stll glowing. We took out our flashlights.

My two buddies have always been a lot braver than me. The sound was clearly coming from the north, maybe half a kilometer away. We thought the construction might be going on behind a small hill some distance away. We could see no lights or anything. We still could not make out what was being said. The speaking-like voice was monotonous, and it was impossible even to say what language was being used. Still sounded a lot like a person speaking though. You may be aware of the sort of spooky phenomenon of hearing a human voice in static? Maybe you've used a blowdryer and been sure someone is talking - turn it off and it was just something the brain tried to interpret from the steady hum. Maybe it was sort of like that, it's hard to explain. The machinery-like sound continued, not loud, but you could sort of make out the powerful engine, at times accelerating/adding power, at times at idle. My two friends resolved to go find out what was going on. We put our warm clothes back on, donned boots and i sat next to the dying fire, adding some more wood to it. I would stay at camp while my buddies left to check out this mystery construction yard in the middle of nowhere in the Lapland woods.

So, there i sat. The guys took out their maps, took a compass heading and left and i could hear them make their way through the forest, see the light from their flashlights. Then they were gone. The weird sounds continued, unaltered. They were gone 15 minutes, then maybe 30. Then the better part of an hour. It was odd, judging by the volume of the sound, they should have reached it, checked it out and been back already. I added more firewood, and tried to make out what the person talking was saying but it was too tinny and obscure. The guys had been away for over 2 hours. I figured they had stayed for coffee with the construction guys or something. Then the sound stopped. Just like that. It just ended, all at the same time. The engine sound and the voice both just quit. It was very silent. I waited for another 30 minutes, very worried now that something had happened, that maybe my friends were lost. Should i go and try to find them? I shouted their names several times, and built the fire pretty big. I was scared shitless when suddenly i saw the flashlights of my friends. Apparently they were returning in a hurry.

The guys got back to camp, out of breath. They told me the following: They had followed the sound beyond the small ridge in the distance. There was nothing there and it seemed like they were not getting any closer to the source of the sounds. They had to stop every now and then, be quiet and listen to it to be able to walk towards it. They walked and stopped like this for some time, then realized they were not getting any closer. The sounds did not change in volume at all. They decided to go "just a bit further" several times, when suddenly the sound just stopped like someone pressed a button on a recording. They realized they had been going on for a long time. They were in the middle of the dark woods, alone. They reversed the heading and started back at a brisk pace. Eventually they saw my big ass fire from the top of a hill and found their way back.

The weird thing is, we seemed to think the sound stopped at different times. They had been gone 2,5 hours in total. They said the sounds stopped at around the 1 hour 15 minutes mark after they left, they then started to head back immediately, return trip taking a bit longer even though they kept a good pace, they apparently wandered around a bit. For me, the sound stopped at the 2 hour mark, just 30 minutes before they returned.

We did not sleep that night. Nothing more happened on that trip and we never found out what the weird construction yard like soud was about. When we returned to the parks visitor center some 5 days later, we asked around but no-one knew of any ongoing construction taking place in the whole national park area. Been bugging me ever since... About the place this happened in, in case anyone is interested:


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