Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Upitrek Family Trip Guiding

In August I was lucky enough to switch from the office in Tampere & Helsinki to the outdoor office in Hossa, in the company of a wonderful family from France. It was all a bit short-noticed, and I first needed to check with my wife if it would be OK, though after her encouragement it didn't take me long to accept the gig and travel up to Hossa.

My journey started from Savonlinna in the East of Finland, where I was for the weekend, on a grey Sunday morning. I was standing at the bus stop, in a rather good mood despite the nine plus hours of travelling which lay in front of me. The time was spent with a good book, Instapaper and observing the landscape which passed by the window. The weather changed from rainy to sunny back to rainy, but by the time that I jumped of the bus in the middle of nowhere the sun had won, and a fine, red-orange-pink sunset was in full swing by the time I arrived at the Hossa Hiking Area's camping site. Urpo from Upitrek gave me the last instructions on what to do in the coming week, and then he took off, while I searched for a nice spot to pitch my tarp for the coming week.

Monday morning I got up nice and early, and walked over to the Sauna/ Shower/ WCs/ Kitchen building. Staying on a camping site definitely has its advantages, and for me that meant electricity, water, showers and a warm sauna in the evenings. Point 8.30 o'clock I stood in front of the cottage of the clients and knocked on their door - they already were expecting me. Three boys between five and nine and their dad were my clients this week, and it promised to be a lot of fun, despite what the weather would throw at us. A bit later we headed off to the visitor centre, where we would be eating breakfast during the coming week.

The boys had to brush their teeth after breakfast, while I was gathering the necessary equipment for some angling that day. I picked out a jetty not far away from the cottage, and it didn't take long till all floats were in the water, with a lively worm on the hook, trying to convince some perch to take the bait. The perch totally fell for our worms, and after a bit all of the boys had caught a fish or two, and also the dad was not left out. The weather, however, decided to stick to the forecast, and put up the wind a notch and also decided to flavour it with some rain. Initially the boys weren't much impressed, and just put on their hoods and closed the jackets. However, after a while I got a bit concerned, as the youngest one was a bit cold. I suggested the dad to go for a bit of a walk to get him warm again, but he was set on angling and only with difficulty could we convince him of the necessity of a little run. This only had little effect, as the wind and rain picked up even more, and so we went back to get on dry clothes and head for lunch the visitor centre.

The visitor centre is one of the nicer ones I have been to, big windows give a fine view on the lake and ridge behind it, with a big playground outside and plenty of toys, children books and magazines to spend some time when indoors is just nicer than outdoors. Also the employees are super child friendly, and had no problems when there was some running around. Anyway. Having spent all its energy on getting us inside, the bad weather died down and soon it was dry and less windy outside. Round two then!

I scouted another jetty while the family got some gear after lunch, and probably the long stick with a float and hook was a good indicator of this being a good spot. Now all three of the boys would be able to fish at the same time, and their dad and me could concentrate on equipping hooks with worms, taking fish of the hooks, and hold the rod. The perch were hungry, and it didn't take the boys long to catch upwards of two or three fish per person. "I want to eat them!" they soon declared, which their dad and me smiled about, explaining that these perch were too small to eat. We continued fishing for a good while, before the boys' interest waned and we headed back to the cottage.

Later we go and have dinner together, again at the visitor centre, before I walk them back to their cottage and head to the sauna. Relaxing. Outside the rain startes again, and when I head back to the tarp its lovely sound is the soundtrack I love so much when outside.

Tuesday the rain has stopped, but the sky remains grey in the morning. Today's adventure is walking through the forest to the Hossa Reindeer Farm, to pet, feed and eat reindeer. While we have breakfast a bit of rain hits the windows, but once we set out on the trail the rain disappears and the sun starts to come out. The ridges and eskers of the Hossa hiking area are lovely, and on the four kilometer walk we already spot the first reindeers in the forest. Black- and Lingonberries are ripe, and all five of us stop to pick some. Also the first mushrooms put their bold heads through the moss, and excited calls of "Champignon!" echo through the forest when on of the boys sees a mushroom. Immediately I need to identify the mushroom in question, while the next question is if one can eat it! I explain that one mushroom wouldn't feed us five very well, plus that it likely would spoil until we're back. And so we continue, with occasional calls of "Champignon!"

After four kilometers of walking, and decreasing motivation to do so by the kids, we reach the Reindeer Farm. Quickly the boys are full of energy again, as two reindeer bulls with huge antlers wait in the yard. The owners come and introduce themselves, and quickly show us how to feed them. The initial fear the boys have quickly leaves, as they see that the bulls are harmless, and soon we proceed to the enclosure with the two females and calves. The two calves are shy in the beginning, but quickly realizes that the small boys mean no harm - the opposite, really: Who doesn't like to be pet and fed?

We head inside, where reindeer soup is served, and we watch a short documentary about reindeer herding in Lapland, and how it is intertwined with the Sami culture. The delicious blackberry and vanilla-sauce dessert we eat outside in the sun, no sense in sitting inside when the weather is so fine. After saying goodbye to the reindeers, we head back. Funny discussions about cars ("Dad should buy a Ferrari!"), mushrooms, berries, bears, wolves and reindeers are had, and we have good fun, walking in the warm weather. Along the way home I mention that Wolverines are living in this area, and a quick look-up on French Wikipedia we know it is the "Le Carcajou" - and a topic, which should be with us for the rest of the week, is born!

Wednesday already - time flies if you're having fun. We go a bit more angling in the morning, and the rain returns in full force. Doning our hardshells, all five of us continue to fish, with a lot of motivation despite the rain - the perch are eating, which means the kids have fun, and so do their dad and me. After lunch we walk a short bit to another lake, where we'll be canoeing. This was the one thing on the itinerary which had me a bit worried. Being on water just adds another level of unexpectedness and danger to the equation, that at the beginning I was a bit at unease. I picked up helmets and vests for all of us, right-sized paddles, and tried to give the boys and their dad a brief introduction to canoeing: How to hold a paddle, how to paddle, and the trunk-rotation which Petri kept on instilling in us during our BCU course!

After we divided up how we gonna sit in the canoes, I pushed the two youngest boys and their dad into the water, and then launched the oldest boy and me into the lake. The weather thought it be fun to treat us with a mix of rain, sun and wind, though we were not impressed and made our first circles around an island. We got so comfortable in our new transportation mode that soon we were playing Pirates (including proper Pirate talk, YARRRRRRRR!) and made a smaller trip to a bigger island. To our dismay, the landlubbers on it declared it their own, and so we paddled on to an uninhabited island to claim it as ours.

Paddling finished withut anyone capsizing, and we walked through the forest back to the cottage; me highly relived that this activity went well! On the trail I explained how to behave in the unlikely case that one should encounter a bear in the wild, while calls of Le Carcajou were met with panicked looks over the shoulders by the kids. To protect themselves, a growing assortment of short and long sticks, well sharpened by dad's Swiss Army Knife, we collected and would be carried wherever we went in the following days. Each day, the sticks became a bit longer, which made me smile a lot.

Thursday the rain was back again. And then not. After breakfast we got a short ride to Julma Ölkky, a canyon lake which harbours a few 4000 year old rock paintings on some of its walls. On the way back to the little jetty the sky opened up to reveal a bit of blue - together with the opening canyon and the lake, this made for a spectacular view, as you can see underneath. After the short boat trip we set off to walk to Värikallio, the northern-most rock paintings in Finland, also some 4000 years old.

Before Värikallio, a good four kilometers from where we started, we had lunch in a nice kota hut. Fire is always exciting for kids, and it was no different with the three boys. I told them a bit how to build a good foundation for the fire, how to make feathersticks and then how to light it. Good fun! The steel pot I was carrying was used to boil water for hot chocolate and coffee, while everyone was grilling sausages with sticks. Sitting in the dark hut, we once again were talking about Le Carcajou - and soon the kids were sure that outside there was one prowling around our hut...

We finished lunch, dad and me made sure there was no Carcajou outside, and so we strolled to the rock paintings. It is an inspiring sight, even more so when one starts to think how the landscape must have been as these paintings were made (nowadays there was a lake, which wasn't there 4000 years ago) and what went through those early humans' heads as they were making their paintings. After snapping photos, reading the info board and talking about it, we started the hike back to the pick-up point. The weather got constantly better, and soon we were able to take our hardshells off and enjoy the warm, sunny weather.

Friday it was nice and sunny, and after a good breakfast and brushing teeth afterwards we set off on the about four kilometer long nature knowledge trail which starts not far from the Hossa Visitor centre. To freshen things up a bit, I suggested we all take our shoes and socks off, and walk barefoot on the trail. The boys and their dad were cool with the idea, and so we put shoes and socks away in the backpacks and started to walk. It was good fun, the occasional laughter when someone stepped in some reindeer poop, and an interesting experience for everyone - walking barefoot in the forest just lets you connect very well with your surroundings. We waded knee-deep into a lake and tried to fish with a spear, balanced on fallen trees and run away from the Carcajou =)

The afternoon we had a bit of free time, and I decided to head out to the nearby Iikoski (Hossa has a huge range of fine fly-fishing rivers available, and its rivers apparently are well stocked with grayling, brown trout, arctic char and other salmonidae species) to practice some tenkara fly-fishing. Finland is so forward thinking technological-wise, that you can buy a license to fish the river via phone: Call the number for the license you want (3 hours, 24 hours, a week - there are info boards along the stream), wait till the voice says you can end the call and a second later you'll receive a text message with your license. I love it. It was nice sunny, and I had good fun even though all I caught was one roach (If I ever come to Montana, I sure as hell will invest in a tenkara fly fishing trip with Ryan Jordan to hone my skills).

After a fine two hours of tenkara fly-fishing I headed back to meet the boys and their dad, and soon our ride to Arola came to pick us up. We went there for such a feast of a dinner that words won't do to describe it, though it is suffice to say that Helena is one of the finest cooks in Eastern Finland. We got a good taste of fresh perch in a mushroom-creme sauce, a mouth-watering potato gratin, home-made bread and for dessert an excellent blackberry pie. Arola also offers bear watching trips, they have a cabin in the forest and have a group of bears which come to visit the place, which makes for a fine experience if you can sit still & silent for a minimum of four hours. The five of us weren't up to that, so Helena showed us some videos of the bears, which gave the boys more to talk about on the way home.

Saturday morning we again went angling for perch. The warm weather meant that after an initial success with angling soon there were more interesting things to do, like trying to convince dad that a rainworm would make a great pet and should be taken home. After more fishing and discussing, we had lunch and the family had some free time in the afternoon, while I again headed out to Iikoski to try my luck. However, the fish weren't having any of it, and so I left without catching anything. I headed back to my tarp, and started the packing - tomorrow would be another long travel day.

Sunday morning, finishing the packing, I realized I had lost my sunglasses. Bugger, I must have lost them at Iikoski. I went to pick up some of the luggage fo the family and headed to the Visitor centre, were I was able to loan a bicycle to drive the two kilometer to the stream and search for them - sadly without success. Back at the visitor centre I had a cup of coffee and a donut for breakfast (very minimal, you see) and shortly after the bus to Kuusamo arrived. Good-byes, thank yous, and best wishes were exchanged before we parted ways in Kuusamo. While the family headed to the airport, I jumped off at the bus station, commencing another nine plus hours trip south.

It is wonderful if young kids get to know the outdoors in a way like this - I think it is the exception, though, and not the norm. Too tempting are holidays in a club to most parents (child care inclusive, so mom & dad can concentrate on their holiday) that both the boy's dad and me were wondering why not more families are going on holidays such as there. The family had a wonderful time, as they told me, and still now, back home, the kids are talking about Le Carcajou and their holidays in Finland.

Guiding with kids, then. It was a first for me, and while not having own kids I do like children, and get along well with them. The boys quickly accepted me as part of the tribe, and soon we were playing their games of hide and seek, catch-me-if-you-can, telling each other about Le Carcajou which we saw behind that tree and making pointy sticks to protect ourselves from the wild predators. I really had a lot of fun with the boys and their dad, they were as great clients as I could have wished for.

Hossa continues to be a great destination for outdoor adventures. Our basecamp (the family in a comfy cottage, me under a tarp with convenient access to civilization) on the camping site was lovely, the kids were able to play in the forest in front of their cottage, we could go fishing at the lake walking a few minutes to it, and all the other adventures took place in close vicinity. The employees at the visitor centre speak perfect English, and are very friendly and helpful. Definitely a place to consider when your thinking about your next holiday destination.

Bottomline: Going outdoors with clients and getting paid for it is great. Going outdoors with clients which are friendly, funny, and teach you things is priceless. I had a great week, learned a lot of things and was able to introduce the boys and their dad to the Finnish outdoors which I love so much. "Work" doesn't get much better than that.