We Met Santa!

 

 

It was Day 6 of our drive up from Helsinki to the Lapland. We’d stopped in Rovaniemi for a bit the previous day , to visit Santa’s village and officially cross the Arctic Circle. We met Santa Claus too! Today our destination was a tiny village called Kilpisjärvi near the Finnish-Swede-Norwegian border. We were mainly going there to see the Northern Lights- the Aurora Borealis. The drive up from Muonio was spectacular. Every 10 seconds you’d see something that would mesmerize you. Scattered herds of reindeer were everywhere. It was hard to keep ones eyes on the road with so much going on around.

We arrived pretty late, around 10 pm where we stayed in a log hut (complete with its own sauna and everything!) . The owner told us about a short trek that we could take up a nearby mountain called Saana Fell. She told us to start early, but naturally, us being lazy and all, we woke up only around 10 am. We finally left for the Fell around noon. It took us nearly three and a half hours to get to the top! By this time we’d realised that Mum and I were the only two people on the trail. To add to that it was mid-October, which meant it would get dark pretty soon. And we didn’t want to get caught on the trail after dark, because 1) it would be dangerous on the icy slope and 2) we would freeze our asses off.

Once we set back downhill, Mom and I were arguing as to what time we’d reach back. Mom said 6:00, while I was adamant on 5:00. We decided to bet on it. Loser washed everyone’s socks. Naturally, to not make myself go through that horrible ordeal, I set a brisk pace downhill.  And this was when all the fun started.

Almost an hour into the walk, I hear a blood curling scream. It was Mom; she was sitting on the ground just staring at me. I ran back to her. I remember almost smiling, because I thought she was acting as though she was in trouble just to win the bet. She smacked me on my head and told me it was serious. Even she doesn’t know how it happened, but somehow she had slipped and fallen so badly, that she couldn’t move her ankle. Every time she tried, she would half scream and whimper in pain. I took off her shoe carefully and put some snow on it as emergency first aid. We were there for almost an hour trying to figure out what to do. I tried everything, from trying to lift her to making a sledge out of a jacket. Nothing seemed to work. Finally, we accepted defeat. Mom told me to go down and get help for her. She would wait there.

I remember half flying-half running downhill. I was still trying to process what had happened and a lot of bad scenarios were playing out in my head. After about 20 minutes of speeding down, I came to my senses and realised that if I slipped, fell and broke something, then we’d really be in trouble. I slowed myself and started looking for landmarks to tell me how far I was from the bottom. Around 5:30, I reached the final 1 km stretch left to the village. Just ahead of me, between the trees, I noticed a couple walking together. They had taken another trail up a nearby hill and were walking back home. I hailed them down and between gasps asked if they knew English. The guy was Finnish and his girlfriend Russian. He spoke a little bit I asked him if I could use his phone to call emergency services. The operator on the other end of the line heard my story out. Then she put me on hold while she called the local fire department and the nearest ambulance. When she got back on the call with me she told me exactly what was happening. The nearest ambulance was in Muonio, a town nearly 200 km away. It would take it a minimum of two hours to reach us. However, Kilpisjärvi had a fire department/rescue service who would meet me in a couple of minutes at the spot I was at. I was to take the fireman, up to my Mom.

She then gave me a list of first aid instructions that I had to do for Mom when I went back up to her. Once the fireman arrived, the Finnish guy, the fireman and me all started trekking upwards. The Russian girl went down to the trail.

Let me pause and give you a bit of an overview. It was 6:00 pm and nearly completely dark. The temperature (as I checked later) was a chilling -8 degrees celsius. My dad, who hadn’t come along on the trek, was to pick us up at 6:00 at the bottom of the trail. Mom and I didn’t have our phones so he had absolutely no idea what was going on at this point. I was already pretty cold, but my Mom who wasn’t even moving around to generate a bit of heat, would be freezing! We found out later that my Dad had received an anonymous call from someone, who briefed him with what was happening and told him to stay put. We still don’t know who called him or how they got his number.

I almost passed out on my way back up. This was the second time I was climbing this mountain and the physical strain was seriously getting to me. We reached Mom again only by 7:30 pm. It was really dark by now. Mom had put her jacket, the one she was sitting on, back on. As a result of that, the snow she sat on melted and soaked her clothes too. She was really cold. The fireman and I did the best we could with first aid. He didn’t speak any English so the Finnish chap acted as our translator. We waited on that hill for almost an hour.

I saw my first shooting star that night. Followed by the second, then third, fourth… It almost made me forget the situation we were in. We were sitting huddled together watching all this. Mom was shivering horribly by now. Temperatures had fallen to -13 degrees. The rest of us could get up, jump a bit and warm ourselves, but she couldn’t even do that.

When I asked the fireman why we were waiting for so long, he started jabbering away at the Finnish guy. Apparently the fire department, was debating on getting a helicopter to us to airlift her out. The terrain however, was not suitable for it to land. They finally decided on a heavily modified snowmobile. Now, this machine was a monster. It had eight wheels, four of which had chain mail around them and the other four had on them a tread, like the ones on a tank. We heard it from almost a kilometre away as it made its way up a 60-70 degree incline. Finally around 8:30 the snowmobile reached us. Attached to it, was a long sledge-boat sort of thing filled with padding and blankets for my mom. We carefully lifted her out of the snow and into the sledge. The fireman told me to sit on top of her and balance the sledge so that it wouldn’t topple on the way down. The two firemen and the Finnish guy got onto the snowmobile and in what seemed like an eternity, made our way down.

The firemen took us to a customs depot (Kilpisjärvi is just a few kilometres from the border), where the ambulance was already waiting for us. The two paramedics took over at this point and gave us hot chocolate and blankets. They took my mom aside and slowly warmed her up. They tightly wrapped up her foot and made a strong splint to support it with. My Dad turned up here. The Finnish dude had called his girlfriend (who had gone down to the bottom of the trail, met my Dad and tried explaining stuff to him, and waited all this time with him) who had in turn told him where to come. We thanked them over and over again, and Dad went to drop them back at the village before coming back for us.

The paramedics told us that they couldn’t be sure if Mom’s foot was broken or simply dislocated and that they would need an X-Ray to confirm. But again, the nearest place to do so was Muonio, 200km away. We decided to send the ambulance on their way and drive down ourselves to Muonio the next day. Mom said she felt reasonably okay, now that she was warm and the splint was in place. We got back to our log hut around 12:30 in the morning, over-exhausted and almost falling asleep on our feet. I had just changed into my pyjamas and was cosy-ing into bed when Dad, who had been smoking outside came running into the hut. “Come outside! QUICKLY!” He picked up the camera and ran back out. Confused as hell, we followed him outside.

The sky was lit with green curtains of light. It was an eerie sight. You could almost hear music playing in the background, perfectly in sync with the lights. It was absolutely beautiful.

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[P.S.: Mom had broken her ankle. The bone was fractured in four different places. The doctors had to put in a metal plate and 6 screws to fix it. Mom had specially asked them to operate on local anesthesia instead of general so that she could watch them do it.]

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