Hiking the Karhunkierros trail in Kuusamo (Part 2)

… continuing ūüôā

Day #4

  • KulmakkopuroP√§hk√§n√§ 11km
  • Additional hikes to Saaripuro waterfall and up to top of P√§hk√§n√§ ~2km
  • Sights: Saaripuro waterfall, P√§hk√§n√§ scenery

In the morning we continued the trail uphill for quite some time before coming to the midway mark “41-41”. Another quick picture with the sign and on we go. We stopped for lunch in Jussink√§mpp√§ which is one of the bigger wilderness huts in the park (sleeps 20 people). Though the weather was nice we escaped indoors (the amount of mosquito must have doubled or tripled during the night) to eat our lunch.

After a while the trail starts to head down towards the river valley. At the top of the stairs we left our backpacks again to the side of the path and headed to the bush on the right. You can hear the waterfall all the way to the trail but there is no walk way to it. So navigating towards the sound and at the same time taking note of the surroundings so we would find back to our backpacks (it’s harder to find back as there is no sound to lead you, be careful not to get lost!). In the middle of woods, 150m from the path, Saaripuro waterfall runs down 20 or so meters down a rocky path. This was the biggest fall we saw during the trip and worth the extra few meters off the track. This is a sight that most hikers pass as there are no signs or paths leading to it.

 

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Saaripuro waterfall in the middle of the forest

 

Back on the trail we headed down several steps finishing to the valley of Kitkajoki river. There is a camp site right next to the river with a wooden tepee type hut and fireplace. The trail continues here to the right following the river and there are lean-to shelters every 500 meters. This is a popular fishing place (fly fishing) and many people wonder up and down the river bend looking for the right spot to get a big catch.

Just before making camp for the night we stopped at Ven√§√§nmutka lean-to shelter, left again our backpacks and followed the sign to P√§hk√§n√§ road “P√§hk√§n√§n tie 1.0“. There are 150 steps and 88 log steps up the hill and right after the last step a small path leading to the left. A short climb to the hill and the view over the river valley is spectacular. This is a favorite spot for Finnish nature photographers and of course we had to see it.

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View from top of Pähkänä

We stayed the nigh in the valley next to Pähkänä lean-to shelter. There were a lot more people passing by than in earlier nights as this is close to popular day hike routes.

Day #5

  • P√§hk√§n√§ – Puurosuo 13,5km
  • Hiking through small Karhunkierros day trail
  • Additional hikes up to Kallioportti and Myllypuro
  • Sights: Kallioportti view, Jyr√§v√§ rapids, Myllypuro old mill

In the morning we woke up early and saw some wondering reindeer just next to our tent (though they ran away when noticed us getting out side of the tent). After repacking our gear we had an hour walk to the popular “small” Karhunkierros day route. The day hiking routes are well kept gravel paths. This trail is a 12 km roundtrip and Karhunkierros trail only goes through it half way. So to see all the “major” sights we took two side tracks leaving our backs to wait by the trail. For the first one we climbed stairs (252 of them, without our packs though) up to see the views from Kallioportti. The view was nice with the sun shining and it felt so much lighter without our packs.

Back on the trail and reconnected with our backpacks we headed around the day route from southern side. During lunch we kept rain on the terrace of the Siilastupa wilderness hut. The passing shower extended our break to two hours but it was nice just sitting and watching the raging waters of Jyrävä rapids (9 meter long waterfall) on the other side of the river.

Karhunkierros continues out of the National Park a kilometer after the rapids but we wanted to make another detour and visit the old mill (Myllypuro) bit farther on the day trail. The mill was built in the 1930s and in use until 1949. Today the cabin has been turned into a wilderness hut with sleeping platforms in two floors, though it is only meant for day use.

Kitkajoki river and these rapids are popular also for river rafting, though we did not have extra time to try it on this trip.

There is a small recycling point at the junction where Karhunkierros trail leaves the day hike. The National Park reminds people to carry out all the trash they bring in and this is a good stop to empty your packs of all rubbish. Heading out of the park it felt calm and serene again. The masses of visitor are left behind and we were again alone with the wilderness. Actually we did not see anyone after this until noon the next day ūüėČ

The walk to Puurosuo lean-to shelter left a feeling that now everything worth seeing is past us (oh how we were wrong!). The day was full of meeting new people on the hike and seeing nature at its best. And now we were in the middle of the woods next to a small creek, just us, no one else. At the same time it was calming again to just light up a fire, setup the tent and cook some dinner under the blue sky (no stars, as the sun shines through the night).

Day #6

  • Puurosuo – Suolampi 14,5km
  • Sights: views from Kumpuvaara and Konttainen

In the morning we woke up again to blue skies and sun shine. We gathered our gear and continued the trail. Difference in the surrounding nature was visible, we were not in a national park anymore. Now we were walking past clearcuttings and more economically grown forests which differ greatly from the free grown national park trees. At noon we stopped for lunch at Porontimajoki wilderness hut. The place looked wonderful in the sun and with a small river flowing by the camp ground. We were not in a hurry so just enjoyed the day and sun for a bit. It felt like the first warm summer day of the whole year and a bit reluctantly we finally put our hiking shoes back on and continued our walk.

After the stop the forest changed to more natural like and we crossed some smaller ponds with little frogs and saw some reindeer end their little ones. The trail also partially followed larger roads and machinery trails until it took us again up a hill Vattuvaara. After a snack break by a swamp lake Kuikkalampi we continued the gentle climb up to Kumpuvaara. Originally we planned to stay the night in Kuikkalampi but as our legs felt still fresh after the break we decided to get some of the last days climbing over already. Oh heads up, the remainder of the trail is almost all up hill and stairs…

The next hill to be conquered was Konttainen and just before starting climb we entered Valtavaara-Pyh√§vaara Nature Reserve. There were 200 steps up and same amount of steep hill climb to get to the top. And the view got better ūüôā On the other side there were 300 steps down and after crossing the road the trail leads back to the forest and uphill again. We stopped for the night in Suolampi lean-to shelter to get a good night’s sleep before the final 5 km climb up two more hills. The camp site was next to a swap pond with many little swimming creatures in the water. This time we did not drink the water as is but boiled it before.

Day #7

  • Suolampi Ruka center 5,5km
  • Sights: Valtavaara views

We woke up excited and sad at the same time. This was our last day of hiking and the kilometer signs showed that only 5 km to go. We had a slow start to the morning eating rest of the food we brought with us and talking to some new hikers on their first day heading the other way on the trail. The trail to top of Valtavaara was partly very steep with some ropes to assist on the climb. Finally at the top there is an old day hut and a picnic table. The day was clear and we could see all the way to the mountains on Russian side of the border (just to note that Finland does not really have mountains, more like rounded hills or fells). Again it was visible that we were on a day trail as there were many people passing us without large packs. Many bird watchers visit this Nature Reserve as some more rarer species can be found there.

Stone steps lead the trail back down the hill and again some parts needed help from ropes tided to the stone. And a lot of stairs down, a lot… Finally at the bottom we exit the nature reserve just to see the slopes of Ruka in front of us. Few hundred meters more to go and all of it steep uphill. After six and half leisurely walking days we came to Ruka village and 82km trail was finished. We had booked a hotel room for the night (real beds!!!), enjoyed reindeer burgers at the hotel restaurant, relaxed tired muscles in the sauna and had a good night sleep before driving back south the next day.

Conclusion

Like I wrote we took our time walking and kept our days short. Some people we met aimed for four day hike for the entire trail taking 20km per day and some even less. We were both pretty unexperienced hikers and therefore reserved time for the walk as well as to make stops when needed. Though the trail is 82km in total it can also be divided into several smaller day trips around the main sights.

Our main worry was the heavy packs that needed to be carried through the whole trail and supplies to last for a week. In the end our packs weighed around 20kg when we left and were 15kg when returning… so food and water are heavy though we packed mostly freeze dried and powdered meals.

This is a trail that I would recommend even if you are inexperienced hiker, just take your time and enjoy the nature and do not make it a race.

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Hiking the Karhunkierros trail in Kuusamo (Part 1)

Just after the midsummer night weekend we drove up north to Ruka, Kuusamo to hike the most popular trail in Finland РKarhunkierros Trail. This legendary 82 km route starts north from Salla and heads south through Oulanka National Park and Valtavaara Nature Reserve finishing to Ruka Skiing Village. The original 1950s route starts from Ristikallio and is 72km long but we chose to walk this bit longer version from Hautajärvi. The two routes merge in Taivalköngäs (day #2 on our trip).

We drove up to Ruka (831 km and 12 hours including stops) and reserved a room from a hotel in the middle of the town. In the morning we enjoyed the complimentary buffet breakfast before leaving our car in the parking lot to wait for our return and took a shuttle bus to the start point of the trail. We reserved week for the trail though people usually tend to aim to complete it in four to five days.

Day #1

  • Bus from Ruka to Hautaj√§rvi
  • Trail Hautaj√§rvi – Vasaoja 12,5km
  • Sights: Rupakivi stone pilar

The bus left from Ruka at 7:45 and we were eager to get started. The same bus takes you to both starting points and to Hautajärvi it took approx. 1 hour to drive. Hautajärvi has a small visitor center but it was closed when we arrived so we just started out on the trail. Although the center is closed there is a water tab outside behind the building if you forgot to fill your bottles for the day. Otherwise the water from the small springs and streams are clean and refreshing on the way.

The trail is clearly marked with yellow paint along the whole way. There is also kilometer signs every km indicating how long you have walked from Hautajärvi ja how much is still to go to Ruka. This was a fun addition to walking and we took a picture with each sign (though I we think three signs were missing, or we did not notice them between Porontimajoki and Konttainen).

The trail was quite easy on the first day with very little hills on the way. We did cross the first of the many hanging bridges and walk on wooden planks (duckboards?) over some swamp areas. We had a lunch break at the first lean-to shelter (with hundreds of mosquitos). Camping and open fire are only allowed in designated areas next to these lean-to shelters or open wilderness huts. Just before Vasaoja there is a sign to steep downward stairs to Rupakivi (at this point we left our backpacks by the trail and headed down without them… whoa it felt light:)). This is over six meter tall rock standing alone in the middle of the river (Savinajoki) and molded by erosion and water masses. The weather was murky and indicated rain so we setup camp already in Vasaoja lean-to shelter in the afternoon and took a 2 hour nap as the thunderstorm and rain roared around us. In the evening we enjoyed dinner cooked on the fire before heading to sleep early.

Day #2

  • Trail Vasaoja – Oulanka National Park Camping Ground 14km
  • Additional hike to see Oulanka Canyon ~1,5km
  • Sights: Oulanka Canyon, Taivalk√∂ng√§s rapids

We got up early after over 10 hours of sleep (one really sleeps better in fresh air!) and were greeted by beautiful sunshine (though here the sun really does not go down at all at this time of the year). We decided to made breakfast with camp cooker (oat porridge), repacked our backpacks and tent and headed out on the trail. We were lucky to have the camp site to ourselves in the evening and noticed that two more tents had been set up during the night. At this stage we also decided to call Oulanka National Park Camping Ground and booked a hut for the next night to dry out our wet tent and other gear (it really did pour during the evening thunderstorm).

After a while we came to Savilampi open wilderness hut which can be freely used for overnight stay. The cabin itself is very base with rough wooden platforms for sleeping and stove to keep warm during the colder time. There are also a gas stoves usually outside the wilderness huts and they can be used freely for cooking (bring your own kettles). We left here our backpacks again next to the hut and headed up the stairs to see the Oulanka Canyon. This was about 1,5km round trip to the best viewpoint and in my opinion worth it ūüôā

Next to the hut the trail crosses the river on a hanging bridge and approx. 300 meters from here there is a bright, flowing stream to refill drinking water for the day. We stopped for lunch on the next camp ground at Taivalköngäs wilderness hut. There are rapids starting just next to the hut with a hanging bridge going over it. The weather was still a bit rainy so we ended up eating lunch inside the hut. Crossing the three bridges we continued the trail. Thunderstorm roared again the same time as previous day but now we were still walking in the woods. The rain was like a shower for 20 minutes. At this stage we were really happy that we had reserved the hut for next night as we were completely soaked. Luckily the shower past quickly and sun dried a bit before we finally got to Oulanka Camping.

Day #3

  • Oulanka Camping Ground – Kulmakkopuro 11,5 km
  • Sights: Kiutak√∂ng√§s rapids, Kulmakkopuro logging

We slept again really well and long, took our time in the morning and finally hopped on the trail just before noon. From the camping grounds it was a short walk on a paved road to Oulanka Visitor Center (they also offer daily warm lunch at a reasonable price) and then back to the trail. This time it was also a day trail which meant wider gravel paths.

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Woodpecker marks on the tree

 

Kiutak√∂ng√§s is a 200 meter long set of “waterfalls” and rapids with rugged cliffs around it. There are some gutters left from early 1900s logging drives. We left again backpacks on the side of the trail and took a walk on the cliffs left side of the path. There are also some protected plant species visible at this part of the National park. It is important that in this part you stay on the path not to stomp over the delicate plants. We managed to spot the rare Calypso bulbosa/orchid and protected mountain avens (dryas octopetala).

The trail continued high up on the cliff edge showing beautiful views down to the flowing Oulanka river. We had a lunch break at the Merenoja camp ground with the blooming globeflowers.

Right after Ansakämppä camping grounds are picturesque meander scenery over the Oulanka river. Sandy beaches close to the camp ground look inviting when the sun shines (though the water is freezing).

After this it is up hill for a while. We stopped for the night in Kulmakkopuro which is a site for a logging drive gone wrong‚Ķ in early 1900s they used to pile logs close to streams in the winter and then run them down to the river with flood water. However in this case it did not work and the logs were left to decay until a sawmill bought them in 1930’s, sawed them to planks and left the round edges in the woods. This is what is left now around the camp site. This site does not have a lean-to shelter nor a hut, just some campfire places. This time we were the only ones staying the night and it was really calm and quiet alone in the middle of the forest the only sound coming from the little stream few meters away. Definitely one of my favorite camp sites.

To be continued…

Searching snow and Aurora Borealis 2/2

As I wrote earlier we spent a week up north in Lapland to enjoy snow and photograph Northern Lights. We did two snowshoe hikes in Luosto National park, one to the Pikku-Luosto and another one to hike up on top of Ukko-Luosto. The latter was not official winter route and we followed the signs for the summer hike.

The hike up to Ukko-Luosto was a bit more demanding than the first one as it was all uphill one way with few quite steep parts (at least with snowshoes, though without them would probably have sunk knee deep in the snow). The sunrise was beautiful though several clouds were rising in the horizon.

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Hike up to Ukko-Luosto to see the sunrise

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Sunrise from Ukko-Luosto

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Not even close to the top yet, but sun is already on its highest

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Sunset on Ukko-Luosto

After reaching over the tree line the weather started to get a bit snowy and after a while we couldn’t see either the top of the fell nor the bottom. At his stage we decided that it would be safer to just turn around and head back before we got snowed in or lost from the trail.

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Visibility getting bad closer to the top

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Turn-around point, better head back down

We also walked a trail in Pyhä National Park (25 km southeast from Luosto). The tourist information in the ski center gave a great map with all different trails and tips on which ones to take. The one we chose took also about 4 hours looping from the skicenter to Pyhäkuru (a pass between two peaks) and back. This trail was more crowded and people were able walk on the snowy path with normal shoes. Also whereas in Luosto we only saw two to three people during the whole hike here there were a quite lot of traffic with people walking and skiing on the marked trails. It was a really nice outing, the temperatures raised to -4 Celsius, however due to cloudy weather picture wise it was not the best hike.

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Snowshoeing! ūüôā

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Pyhäkuru trail (pass between the two peaks)

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First peak of Pyhä Tunturi & ski center from the backside (south side)

After our second nights beautiful light show by mother nature we eagerly followed the weather forecasts for clear night skies and the Meteorological Institute web page for the magnetic disturbance level (=Aurora Borealis possibilities). I have to admit that I have dreamed of seeing proper (=big, firework type) northern lights my whole life but for some reason have always been in the wrong place.

This time we were extremely lucky one night as we were just about to give in (around mid-night) after taking pictures of the cloud formations on the horizon for quite a while in -32 Celsius temperature when suddenly the night sky just light alive. The lights danced across the whole sky, and not just the northern horizon, with green, white and purple ribbons. It took about 5 minutes for the spectacular main show before calming down.

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Full on show across the whole sky

Of course my camera + tripod malfunctioned due to the cold weather and urgency to take pictures. In the end I just sat on the ground and watched the show (though I did manage to get few shots after it calmed down a bit :)).

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“Calming down”

On our last night the sky was a bit cloudy and moon was really bright so we did not see as spectacular show as the two other nights. This time we walked up to Pyhä Tunturi ski slopes to the north side and got some pics of the moonlight and some lighter Aurora Borealis over the fells.

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Moonlight over the ski slopes

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Overall I loved the trip and snowshoeing was a great option instead of cross-country skiing or slalom (also was easier to stop for photos). Around Luosto there are several great ski tracks also which I would have loved to take, though they are accessible only with skis. Luosto National Park and ski center was definitely quieter than the one in Pyhä. Car was easy and convenient way to get around between these two towns and parks. However there are also public busses to the ski centers from larger cities such as Rovaniemi (railroad and airport) and if the accommodation is close to the ski center there might not even be need to rent a car.

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Searching snow and Aurora Borealis 1/2

After new year we decided to take a road trip up north to take snow pictures and hopefully see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Winter this year has been quite warm here in southern Finland so up north we would be guaranteed to see piles of snow. Our chosen destination was Pyhä-Luosto National Park close to Sodankylä in Finnish Lapland. Of course with our luck our trip was on the coldest week of the winter (at least so far), temperatures declining to -14 all the way to -33 Celsius (from 7 to -27 degrees Fahrenheit).

The drive from Helsinki through Oulu and Rovaniemi to Luosto (930 km) took us approx. 12 hours not including pit stops. In Rovaniemi we stopped for photo break on the Arctic Circle and to have a glance of Santa Claus’s Workshop.

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Santa Claus Village –¬†Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi

From Luosto we had rented a nice cottage (through Pyhä-Luosto Matkailu) with two bedrooms, large common area, kitchen and of course sauna. The cabin was just outside of the National Park and few kilometers from the ski resort. We did not plan to ski, but brought snow shoes to take photo walks in the fells.

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Weather wise we were really lucky as it only snowed one day and was cloudy for two nights during the whole week. Second evening after sun set (approx. 1:30 pm, but it was dark by 3 pm) we drove to small town called Pelkosenniemi just to see how it looked. It also is hometown of a Finnish rock-musician Andy McKoy. We were just coming out of the local supermarket when we noticed the beautiful green ribbon across the sky… Northern Lights!!! They were really bright as we could see them in spite of the street lights. Quickly we drove to the other side of the river where there were no lights to get some pictures.

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Mobile picture taken just outside the supermarket at the town center

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Northern Lights @ Pelkosenniemi

On our way back we stopped at Luosto Lappland hotel and walked behind it to small lake which was perfect, dark place to see the light show mother nature provided us.

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@Ahvenlampi, Luosto

In the next days we did couple of snowshoe hikes in Luosto National Park and one in Pyh√§ National park (approx. 25km from Luosto). We had our own snowshoes with, but you can also rent them from the ski center (23‚ā¨/day, 60‚ā¨/week). There are several marked trails and maps. My favorite was a loop trail across Pikku-Luosto where we saw the sunrise (11:30 am) and sunset (1:15pm). This loop took us with all photo stops 4 hours (in the freezing -33 Celsius weather). Basically we spent the whole time it was light outside on the trail. Trail was clearly marked with blue tags and poles + other people also had walked on it so there was visible trail on the snow. Halfway there was a cafe at the Amethyst mine where they served freshly baked sweet rolls (pulla in Finnish) and you could warm up with cup of hot chocolate.

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Hiking on Pikku-Luosto

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Sunset @Pikku-Luosto

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Frosty pines

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View of Ukko-Luosto from top of Pikku-Luosto