Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Karhunkierros III

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Day 5. Martin got up between six and seven, because he felt to cold to try to continue sleeping. He got the fire started while I still was in my sleeping bag. As the sun rose over the horizon I got out of the sleeping bag, and enjoyed the landscape: It was cold that night, frost covered the trees, reeds and ground that morning, and vapour was rising from the river. It was looking like it will be a beautiful day! We guess it was about -10°C that night, as even I in my Mammut down sleeping bag was quickly cold and needed to put on a baselayer, my FjällRäven jacket, and had the silk inlet in there, thick socks on my feet.

After a breakfast and hot coffee and cooking tea for the trip we felt warm enough on the inside, and continued our trip. We planned to walk around 8 to 10 km today, till the old Mill at the river, Myllykoski cottage.

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Me putting on gloves after a cold night, next to the river.

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Finland is at its best in the autumn, the colours, like the yellow tree, are magnificent.

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The fir trees in their icy dress from the night.

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Me walking over the duckboards in one of the many swamps.

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Martin on a rope bridge.

We made good speed that morning, even if the trail wasn't easy - next to the river, over icy roots and boulders, traversing and climbing over them at times, hoping not to fall into the cold river. We took it with humour, and soon reached the "Pieni Karhumkierros", the "Small Bear Round" which is a loop and has many of the most impressive sights on a short 12 km round. Its easy accessible from a camping ground, and we met many day trippers.

Before noon we reached the Siilasmaja hut, where we had lunch. Because it was windy we had lunch inside the hut, enjoying the view on the small pond and the waterfall at the other end. Some day trippers were hacking up the last wood, and every now and then peeking inside the hut.

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The view from the Siilasmaja hut.

We continued after washing the dishes, and reached at 13 o'clock the Myllykoski hut, where we planned to stay for the night. Looking inside, we were surprised to find no stove. It was something we were looking forward to this night, after having been a bit cold the last night. As it was still early, we decided to continue walking another 8 km to the Poronmatijoki hut.

A few kilometers after the old Mill the Oulanka National Park's border was reached, and we continued to walk to regular forest, and also through some less beautiful area where they had logged down all the trees. But this is Finland, and the Forest is one of the countries main natural resources. It didn't take to long and we reached a Nature Protection area, and at around 16 o'clock we stood in front of the hut.

The hut was splendid! Actually it were two cabins, both being able to host four to five backpackers, a very nice kitchen hut and a fireplace in the middle of it all. We lighted up the stove, put our wet cloths up to dry and had a dinner, after which we feel easily asleep.

Day 6.
I woke up early, at six, to light the stove again up, after which I crept back into my sleeping bag for a while. Around seven both of us got up, and after a quick breakfast we were on the trail again - we wanted to get the 14.20 bus to Oulu and the train at 17.30 to Tampere, which would have meant we would have been back home at 22 o'clock, ready for a few beers, pizza and Sauna!

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The trail was easy and we were quick, and we had our first short water break after 6 km at a lake, which was shrouded in mist.

While the first six km were easy, the following km were more arduous. Four hills wanted to be crossed, and it was a bit rainy and the mist didn't allow us to see far. We now made about 1,5 km per hour, nearly a quart of what we made on the flat.

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Me, walking up the hill.

We managed to traverse all the hills in time, and jumped into a Taxi which brought us to Kuusamo. The last 2 km and 500 m altitude were hard, but we pretty much jogged them up and down, in the hope of having "Sauna, beer, pizza" in the evening. We were exhausted as we sat down in the Taxi, but happy. We finished the Karhunkierros' 80 km in about five days, and enjoyed its splendid nature in autumn. Even though its Finland's most popular National Park, we didn't meet to many fellow hikers, and enjoyed the silence and tranquility of nature. Autumn is in my opinion the best time to go, as the colours of nature are fantastic.

If I would walk it again, I might go in winter and take a tent as well, maybe even a packcraft or rent a canoe to see it from a different angle. Its a beautiful NP, with a very good infrastructure and beautiful sights. If you want to see Finland in a week, this is certainly a good choice!

Karhunkierros II

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Day 3. On our third day we had a cup of coffee and a light breakfast, consisting of some fruit and and crispbread with cheese, before we packed up and headed out again. All the other backpackers had already left by the time we started, it thus seems that the early start practice is very common here.

We wanted to walk 18 km today, pass by some sights and the Visitors centre in the middle of the park, which is very suitable for families who only want to do day trips in the surroundings. Close to the Visitors centre is also a camping ground, where you can rent a cottage as well as a canoe. The Visitors centre itself has a little Café which serves a warm lunch, but we didn't jump in so I can't comment if one is able to buy food or fuel there.

Anyhow, we crossed the rope bridges across the rapids and disappeared into the forest. The sun was shining, and it was a lovely autumn day. We still were able to hear the rapids for a while, but soon the rapids were a silent lake to our right. After about four km we made a first tea break, at a nice scenic spot at the now-again river.

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The forest path.

As we continued, I somehow managed to get us off track, I must have missed a sign or a turn to the left. So we continued for a while, bushwhacking our way through the forest, always staying close to the river. As we reached a pasture, we decided to walk to our left into the forest, where the path should be. After not even 300m we reached the path, and continued walking on it, now paying more attention to the markings.

We passed the Visitors centre and headed straight for the Kiutaköngäs rapids, one of the biggest rapids in Finland. They're only about half a kilometer from the Visitor centre, so there where more people around here, as they're a popular daytrip destination. After sitting there for a moment, sucking in the landscape and sounds, we continued, as we were rather hungry. We walked to a nearby fireplace, where we barbecued a few sausage.

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Me at the rapids...

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... and Martin, taking in the scenery.

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Now a lake, this was formerly part of the river.

The path was now excellent, and we made good way. After the fireplace we were pretty much alone, just a few crows were accompanying us, probably hoping that we would collapse under our backpacks so that they can feast on us =) We saw a small herd of reindeers next to the path, and at around 16 o'clock we reached our next destination for the night, the new Ansakämppä - the old one burned down in 2003, because some hikers overheated the stove.

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A reindeer, close to the Ansakämppä cottage.

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The stairs down to the cottage...

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... and the cottage itself.

We were the first ones to arrive, and put our stuff down on one of the two - four person bunks. We fired up the wood stove inside, and hung our cloths up for drying, before laying down for a while and relaxing. Slowly the cottage filled up, and the more people arrived the noisier it got. I already was getting worried that there will be some folks who snore, but Martin calmed me down and showed me the bottle of Whiskey he had with him. So after a nice dinner we went to sit outside on the veranda and started to drink, to make sleeping easier.

It worked, and I slept alright despite the snoring in the cottage, but the headache the next morning... Also there were two girls which got up at 5 o'clock, and instead of having packed up the evening before they were rummaging on to seemingly no end, putting things in noisy plastic bags. I hate these kind of reckless people, pack up what you can the evening before and leave as silent as possible the next morning, if you leave early while others are still asleep.

Day 4.
I was trying to ease my headache, while Martin was still asleep and the other folks were leaving. We were again the last ones to leave, and after an easy breakfast we hit the trail at around 10 o'clock. We planned to walk about 14 km today, so it was nothing exhausting. We took some more photos and then started walking.

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The river from down at the beach...

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... and from the top of the ridge.

After an hour we already passed the group which left before us, they were already making a real break with fire and cooking. Martin and me just had a cup of tea, before we walked on. While it was a bit cloudy in the morning, the sun came out during the afternoon. We walked to the Jussinkämppä cottage, where we had lunch. By now we were both quite fed up with the instant noodle dishes, but we managed to eat up and continue.

We reached another river, a different one from the one we have been following for the last days. If we would follow this river up, we would end up at the Russian border! On the Russian side there is also a National Park, though I can't tell you its name or how good it is. Its also a bit of an effort to get a Russian visa, and Finland belongs to the EU, so its slightly easier to come here =)

We wanted to sleep this night again in a lean-to shelter, as we didn't want to deal with snoring folks. We reached our destination at 17 o'clock, and were happy to see that no-one was there! We lit a fire and took a quick bat in the river. As dusk was setting, I realized that it will be a cool night - first ice crystals appeared on the wooden stares down to the river, and the air was crisp. As the night was upon us, the sky was lit with beautiful stars, and the sound of the river in front of our shelter, fantastic. We chopped sufficient wood, and put on some extra cloths before we slipped in our sleeping bags and went to sleep.

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View from the shelter.

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Martin by the fire at night.

To be continued.

Karhunkierros I

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The Karhunkierros ("The Bear's Round" literally, or "Bear trail" more freely translated) is Finland's most popular and famous trail. Its 80 km lead through the unique landscapes of the Oulanka National Park. You are walking nearly constantly close to water, be it lakes or rivers, through forests and swamps, and you will be climbing some of the Finnish hills.

You can walk it from north to south or vice versa, and Martin and me took the "natural" approach of N -> S. Its even possible to traverse some parts with a canoe or rowboat, and I guess it shouldn't be long before one sees packrafts going down the rivers - it would be a supreme place for it. You're allowed to fish between May and September, a day pass is about 15€ and you can get them in the Visitors Centres. Because its a National Park, the "Everyman's Right" is valid (as almost everywhere in Finland, will talk more about this in a later post) with some reservations: you should try to stay on the paths, and leave flora & fauna undisturbed. You may collect berries and mushrooms, and fires are allowed at the fireplaces if there's no forest fire warnings. Common sense stuff pretty much, which should be known by a responsible backpacker.

The trail is very well marked, and you're able to find a lean-to shelter or a "Mökki" = cottage every 5 to 15 km, with plenty of rest areas + fireplaces in between. I would say its difficulty is medium, the last 8 km into Ruka are a bit more exhausting because you're going over a few hills. On the map you can see, its very close to Russia, so if you go off-trail, be sure you know what you're doing! Orange is the Karhunkierros trail. The blue line is the Keroharjun trail, which is recommendable because of the free sauna and cottage on the trail. Its also less popular than the Karhunkierros, thus if you're looking for some peace and quiet it might be a good alternative.

Getting there
I'll cover another time how you can get to Finland and get around here, lets now look how to get to Kuusamo. VR is the Finnish railway company, and they're pretty good though expensive. The trip from Tampere to Oulu takes about five to six hours, and there you hop on the bus to Kuusamo. Busses are cheaper and are very punctual. Good service all around. Oulu to Kuusamo takes around three hours. I recommend taking the overnight train and then the first bus to Kuusamo.

If you're in a hurry, you also can fly. Helsinki - Kuusamo has a connection, and Finnair flies you in less than an hour there.

Now you're in Kuusamo. From here you can take the local bus up to Hautajärvi, where the northern starting point is, or to Ruka, the southern starting point, or in our case, finishing point. Its one and the same bus, so you can't do much wrong. Its a short ride, about twenty minutes to Ruka and an additional 25 min. to Hautajärvi. I recommend asking the bus driver from Oulu to Kuusamo about the connecting bus, they usually will know or call their office to inform themselves to let you know.

Return trip is the same, just the other way around =) I recommend writing down some bus and train connections for your "check-out" day, so you know before hand and don't need to spent time waiting.

Day 1.
Martin and me started our Tour on October 4th 2008. We took the night train to Oulu, had a tea at the station and hopped on the 8 o'clock bus to Kuusamo, where we arrived at 11 o'clock. There we waited for the connection bus up to Hautajärvi, where we arrived at 14.30 o'clock. Quick some photos of us at the polar circle before we started walking.

On our first day we took it easy, and after about one and half hours we arrived at our first campsite, the Perttumakoski Laavu. Laavu is Finnish for lean-to shelter, and these, as well as the cottages, are for free and are maintained by the Finnish Forestry Ministry.

Parttumakoski Laavu
Perttumakoski Laavu and the view on the river.< Like all lean-to shelters, it was a beautiful place, and besides the shelter and fireplace there's a wood shelter (including an axe and saw!) with plenty of wood and a dry toilet. We rolled out our mats and bags, made a fire and cooked a meal on the Trangia. And we should have slept very good that night, if it wasn't for our concern of ending up as a snack for the wolfs or bears which roam the area! So we had a light sleep, but at least we were convinced the next morning that no wild predator will eat us =)

Day 2.
After a cup of coffee and a small breakfast we started walking. The first sight was just a short walk off the path, so we made a quick trip there.

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Me going down to the Rupakivi, the first sight of the day.

We made good way, and arrived at around 16.00 o'clock at the Savilampi Mökki, where we were planning to stay for the night.

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Savilampi cottage from the outside...

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... and from the inside...

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... and the wood shelter and fireplace in front of it.

The Savilampi cottage is located close to the Oulanka canyon, which we decided to explore. After all, we only walked 14 km today!

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The Oulanka canyon.

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And the view from it.

After a quick dip in the river, which was freezing cold, I sat down to have a closer look at the map. It was then, around 18.00 o'clock, that I realized that we should walk 22 km the following day to reach our next campsite. Because we like to take it easy, and also enjoy something of the landscape, we decided then and there to pack up and walk another 4 km to the next cottage, so that we could take it easier the following day.

Thus so we walked in the dusk for another hour until we reached the Taivalköngäs cottage, and we were lucky, there was still a bunk free. After a delicious dinner - we were starving! - we went to sit outside with two women, and the sky cleared out and the stars were shining down on us. We slept well that night, although some folks already got up at six in the morning and they weren't especially silent, but oh well. We tried to ignore it as good as possible, and slept for another hour or two before we got up.

To be continued.