There is a certain point in time, where I can say I got completely sucked into hiking. It happened a few years ago, in the forests of Koli National Park in Finland. It was rough going, made me sick and ill, and hooked.
It was in August, that me and my boyfriend at the time drove off from Helsinki about 400 – 500 km to the north-east, not too far from the Russian border. The plan was to walk a loop of either 40 or 60 kilometers, depending on the conditions. That loop would take us around a long and narrow lake, called Herajärvi.
We arrived late in the afternoon at the parking right on the foot of Koli hill, packed our backpacks and headed for the first campsite at Ikolanaho some kilometers further in the forest. Putting up the camp in the setting darkness and evening chill was an experience in it self. We cooked on camp fire after collecting some water from a spring. The water needed to be boiled, thanks to someone, who had decided to swim in the spring, and contaminate it with e-coli… After the evening activities we crawled into the tent for the night.
The first actual hiking day started off hot, as those late summer days often are in Finland. The sun was heating up the tent already early in the morning, forcing us to wake up. Before noon the temperature was up to 27 degrees and there was no cloud on the sky to be seen. That might not sound too bad, but if you add on top of you a backpack of 15 kilos and keep walking with descent speed, you will start to feel the heat, fast. After a few kilometers we found a small stream, with crystal clear water and crabs. We decided to relax there for a moment, swim and have our lunch of soup and rye bread,the best bread for hiking. And fill our water reserves.
The trail started to climb soon, heading for the top of a hill called Ryläys, which stands at 315 meters of height. From up there you will be treated with a beautiful view over the surrounding lakes. After the climb in the heat I was starting to get pretty tired. While trying to keep up with the boyfriend, the idea of the hike started to feel a bit stupid. I was in pain, tired and thirsty. We had to safe the water, since in the higher grounds there were no sources or springs.
Small meltdown and scenery enjoyment later, we continued on. This time it was downhill journey. In the map we saw, that we would soon be passing a small pond, which meant more water to drink! Maybe even a camping spot, which seemed like a nice thing, since the day was turning into evening. By the bond, there was a small piece of land for setting up a tent. There just happened to be a hiker already, so after dinner we had to move on, to search another place to camp. Judging by the map, that was still about 8 kilometers away, and I was already very tired.
We walked on, the sun setting behind the forest. The air was cooling down fast, as it always does in the late summer evenings. We arrived at a camping spot close by a lake shore. The night had fallen, grass was long and moist. I started to prepare food as my ex pinched up the tent into the hey. It was really getting cold, and after walking close to 20 km, I was exhausted and my body complaining. At this point I might have sounded it out quite loud, that there was no way I would walk the whole 60 km loop.
The next morning arose even worse. I was aching, the spots of the waist belt of the backpack were bruised, and my legs were barely able to hold my weight. I was happy to be able to swim in that lake close by. It offered some refreshment, but did not save me from a complete meltdown moment. I was yelling at him, since he had made me run after him the whole day yesterday and I was in misery.
The hike that day ended up being very short. I only managed to move for 4 – 6 km, again in very hot summer weather. Then we happened by a very nice old farm house, the institute taking care of the trail has restored. Our tent was soon standing next to an old log cabin, at the lake shore. There I had a moment to breath in some of the cultural history of my very own people, in the middle of one of the most famous landscapes of Finland.
A dinner, swimming and few sheep later, it was again time to crawl in for the night. Morning came with a slight drizzle, I had recovered a bit and actually started to feel like walking. We would be moving back up to higher grounds, towards Koli. Where we had left, two days earlier. We walked through an ancient taiga forest, and area, that had never been touched by people. The old spruces were sheltering and offered cooling shadows. And the forest was filled with wild blueberries and raspberries! The perfect hiking snack, that you can just pick from the bushes. The trail takes you to plenty of historic sites, either old dwellings or farm lands and areas that were slash and burned. They offer quite some information on those things along the trail too.
That day ended into the same spot where we had spent the first night. There were other hikers too, sitting around the campfire, sharing stories and lending their big black schnauzer to sit on our feet. We had dinner with fresh blueberries and tea. It started to get late again, and pretty cold too. I did not notice how cold exactly, until I started to shiver, and couldn’t stop. Even in the sleeping back I was shaking and felt frozen. The morning came with misery. I felt the fever rising, and it seemed I had gotten a stomach bug on top of that.
I knew, that the last day would be the heaviest so far. The trail would be going first down to the big lake called Pielinen, which has beautiful sandy beaches. Before going down all the way to the lake, we stopped by a natural cave formation, called the Devils Church. That has formed into the sandy hill of pine trees, when a giant piece of the base rock decided to slide down for a few meters. It is a rather amazing sight. After that stop, we finally got to a beach, where he swam a little, I was mainly trying to focus on surviving the fever.
That small pause was exactly what I needed, since we were facing the heaviest climb of the trip. From the lake, we were headed up to Koli, which stands at 347 meters. We would need to get some 150 meters higher on rough forest path. I had to stop and sit down multiple times, to prevent fainting. The good thing was, that there were plenty of blueberries to munch on. After couple of hours of climbing we finally got a glimpse of the scenery. On top of the hill, the view opened to both directions over the lake spotted lands.
Our trail followed the tops of the hill range of Mäkrä, Akka Koli and Ukko Koli. The hills are formed out of quartzite, which is white and a rather peculiar site in the middle of Finnish forests. The trail finally ended, we found our way back to the car, and I could not have been more relieved. I fell asleep on the journey to the north, where a summer cabin would be waiting for us.
That was the first over night hike for me. It was not the perfect experience, it was mainly suffering, but still it left behind rather sweet memories. The wild berries, beautiful scenery and the peace of nature. That is why I am hooked. If you ever consider visiting Finland, and are up for a small hike, Koli is something you might well enjoy!
Thank you Dirk, for wanting to hear more about Finland. I hope you enjoy this bit! 🙂