Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

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.


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.

Savilampi cottage from the outside...

... and from the inside...

... 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!

The Oulanka canyon.

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.

Gear Test: BushBuddy Ultra + Tibetian Titanium 1100 Pot

Being a responsible writer I decided to go already this morning out and test the BB Ultra. The conditions were less than stellar, as it was rainy and windy. But its so much closer to the real life conditions we find ourselves so often in, so I am happy that I could do this first test in these conditions. I live 200 m from the lake and the green area, so I took the BBU + TT 1100, some matches, a 1l Nalgene Loop Top and some pulp from a empty toilet paper roll and set off. On the way I collected some small and medium-size twigs and some dry leaves, which I found close to the trees, which was no work at all and was done in less than two minutes. This will be the same on tour, which I scooped out during previous walks - there's always enough death and dry wood near the paths, so its no big effort to collect fuel.

I settled by a spot down at the waterfront, put in the tinder and leaves in the BBU and stroked a match. No two minutes later, after putting in some of the smaller twigs, I had a nice fire going.

BushBuddy Ultra + TT 1000 pot in action

Thus, fill 1l of water in the TT pot, throw in some bigger twigs and start the stopwatch.

BushBuddy Ultra + TT 1000 pot in action

As I said, it was windy and rainy, and I needed to use my Haglöfs backpack as a windscreen, which worked fine. After 10 minutes I had a boil going, so its working as advertised. I expect with using a proper windscreen and 100% dry wood I will be able to get it down to 8 minutes. Here a photo of the gas flames which come out of the inner ring holes and the boil.

BushBuddy Ultra + TT 1000 pot in action

BushBuddy Ultra + TT 1000 pot in action

I fed the BBU for another ten minutes with the rest of the wood I had, and it was a fun little undertaking. I let the fire burn down, and this is what I had over at the end:

BushBuddy Ultra + TT 1000 pot in action

And to illustrate how small the BBU + TT 1100 pot are, here a comparison photo to the 1l Nalgene bottle:

BushBuddy Ultra + TT 1000 pot in action

I cleaned up and packed the two back in the packsack, and walked home, stopping every now and then to take some photos of blossoming trees. But some opinions already:

+ extremely light
+ fun!
+ easy to operate
+ no need to carry fuel
+ fire!

- soot on your pots and hands
- the smell of smoke in your clothes
- need to search your fuel before you can start cooking
- needs constant attention to keep it going

For me some of the negative points aren't negative, but I wanted to point them out for others. If you're sensible to dirt and want your gear to look like new all the time, the BBU isn't for you as the soot will make your pots dirty. The smell of smoke might be something to consider if you're sensitive to that. And if you like to do a kazillion things besides cooking, then you also want to reconsider the BushBuddy.

However, if you like a very light and fun cooking system, and don't want to depend (and spend money) on alcohol, gas and esbit then the BushBuddy is the way to go. Its easy to use, just starting the fire might require some practice. The sound and smell of a fire can raise your spirits, and the natural light of it as well. I believe I will have many good trips with it in the future, and will report back after I was able to test it on a few trips.

Gear Talk: BushBuddy Ultra + Tibetian Titanium 1100 Pot

On Monday my BushBuddy Ultra arrived, after only 9 working days in the mail. I drove by bike to the customs to pick it up, and after I paid a
16,50€ customs-fee I was back on my bike. However, I was already a happy backpacker as I couldn't wait to weight it, so I borrowed the scale at the customs office, and my BushBuddy Ultra is 134 gr!

The box it comes in:
BushBuddy Ultra

Unpacked in front of the lovely wooden box and the instructions leaflet:
BushBuddy Ultra

I ordered a Tibetian Titanium 1100 Pot from Ultralight Outdoor Gear on the same day I ordered the BB Ultra, and it was within five working days delivered to my door. Its beautiful, but I won't feel bad about the soot it will collect - its an item I will use, and not an item I put on the shelve to look at. But here it is in its pristine glory:

Tibetian Titanium 1100 Pot

The BB fits perfectly in there, and together the two are a beautiful couple:

And here in "cooking simulation":
BushBuddy + 1100 Titanium Pot

Both go in the packsack the TT 1100 Pot came in:

Finally, a comparison photo of my old system versus the new system. Trangia 25-3 UL + the Alcohol bottle on the left, BushBuddy Ultra + Tibetian Titanium 1100 Pot in packsack on the right.
Old vs. New

The cold hard facts for the number guys out there:

BB Ultra: 134 grams
TT Pot + Lid: 141 grams
TT packsack: 18 grams

Makes for a total of 293 grams. I will be adding a LMF Swedish FireSteel Mini and some tinder in there, as well as my Spork for cooking. Also a Pot cozy and a wind screen are in the making, so I guess it will increase a bit. But in comparisons to the old system I shaved off around 1700 grams (that includes 1l of Alcohol), so its a lot and a good first step towards a lighter load.

On the price side, I paid 75€ incl. shipping for the BB Ultra + 16,50€ for customs, that's 91,50€, or about the same as the Trangia 25-3 UL set costs. For the TT 1100 Pot I paid about 43€ incl. shipping.

Pictures of the system in action including boiling times will follow during the weekend.