Backpacks, waterproofs, tent, winter sleeping bags, a selection of tea bags and plenty of bread… What do you need for a few day hike in October?
When my German friend from Scotland, Sebastian, suggested we’d go for a hike somewhere in Finland, I agreed immediately. I meant to go hiking on my own this summer but, like so many other things, I just didn’t make it happen. Now I would not be able to let it slip through.
We pick the destination two days before taking off: we’re going to Koli National Park, in Eastern Finland. The trail is about 60km long Herajärven kierros. The trail promises a couple of nice days in nature spiced up with rain, sunshine, mist, yellow birches and red lingonberries.
Day 1 – Car to Myllypuro, 2km
This is a travel day. Google maps says that it will take 5.5 hours before we reach the parking spot. With our grocery store visit and lunch stop, it takes much longer. It is getting dark and light rain is falling when we nearly drive over a capercaillie family crossing the dirt road. Black male looks at our car unafraid and doesn’t feel the slightest need to get away from the road.
Finally, we hit the trail and make it to the Myllypuro campsite, the closest campsite to our parking spot.
We hide in the tent listening to the rain and discussing the relativity of time. Our conversation is inspired by the History of Time by Steven Hawkins which I am reading. What was the twin theory? So, the mass increases with speed and gravity slows down the time…
Tap tap tap tap… rap rap rap rap.
That’s not rain! I sit up in my sleeping bag. Sebastian looks at me. Did you make that noise? I heard it as well! Without hesitation we unzip the tent flap and grab our bag of food. We are not catering for the mice and shrews. Better to store all the food inside the tent.
Day 2 – Myllypuro to Ahvenlampi, 23km
Today we start the proper hike. The tent is wet, but the morning is bright, and we will even see the sun later. Aspen leaves on the ground are still yellow, they have fallen very recently. As we walk along, the wind shakes the trees and more golden leaves rain softly down.
The path from Ryläys onwards is easy going and time goes by quickly when we admire the views over the lake Herajärvi. We decide to walk all the way to Kiviniemi before having lunch. Maybe it would have been smart to eat a bit earlier, but when we reach Kiviniemi, we are convinced that it is the best lunch spot we could have picked.
The lean-to is more like a hut and the sun kissing the tips of the surrounding birch trees add the final touch. We could just stay here for the night. But we decide to continue another 6 kilometres to the open hut that a fellow hiker recommends to us. Before that, we take a detour to Sikosalmi crossing place to take a spin on the rope-pulley ferry. Why not!
We reach the Ahvenlampi hut in full sunshine around 5 pm. I admire the view over the lake while my saw bites the tree trunk I took from the woodshed. The chopped wood is free to use, but it is often too big for the fireplace – so it is expected that when you grab the axe and pick up the saw, you will make enough firewood so that the next visitor will have usable wood to start the fire as well.
As our tea is brewing over the fireplace, two other trekkers arrive. The free hut has plenty of room – it would fit 12 people without any issues – and we exchange some pleasantries. No need to chat too much while the fire heats up the hut and water boils in the blackened kettle.
Day 3 – Ahvenlampi to Ylä-Murhi, 23km
Tart, hand-picked lingonberries spice up the morning porridge and give us energy for the second full day of walking.
The track heads to Rykiniemi via Eteläpää and Suopelto. This is the hilliest and the slowest bit of the trail.
I follow the path through the forest with dense spruces to more open woods with sparsely dotted pines and birches. The path climbs up and drops down again. The footsteps behind me step over the same rocks and roots, slow down at the same high steps where the ground is slippery and rock wet.
The peace of the forest is disrupted as we catch a harvester machine red handed felling trees. It is not the only place where the atmosphere cracks a bit: the Herajärvi trail crosses dirt roads and passes by several houses. Indeed, Koli is a national park, but it is not a wilderness area.
The forecast threatened us with rain and misery, so we get on our waterproofs when the sky turns grey, but heavy rain never arrives. It doesn’t mean that we would make it through the day with dry feet. Oh no.
The river flows calmly in front of us. It is in no rush. But it is cutting our path. The wading cable with ropes hangs the crossing point. In the springtime the water level can be high and the wading cable is necessary, but now it is just a nice way to keep my balance. Boots around my neck and trousers rolled up to my knee, I wade through the freezing cold water. Maybe this is just what my hardworking feet need.
We both make it over without accidents and continue the last few kilometres to Ylä-Murhi campsite.
The campsite used to be a historic farmhouse and meadow. Nowadays the area is preserved but there is a breezy barn by the campsite where we hang our wet clothes to dry.
Day 4 – Ylä-Murhi to car via Mäkrä, 12km
Hugging the food bag did not save us from the greedy mice this time. The mice occupying the barn, where we left the stove and (clean) dishes, have not only eaten through the dirty food wrappers, but they have also nibbled holes onto one of our bright orange silicone bowls. Soup is now out of question. Oh well, that silicone must have tasted exotic.
We pack our belongings and hit the trail once more. The last 10 kilometres to Mäkrä hill fly by and we are having lunch and tea on the cliffs by midday. The view to lake Pielinen is a brilliant backdrop for the last brew of the hike. No wonder why this scenery (just like the scenery around Karhunkierros trail) inspired the romantic painters and poets of the 19th century. The woods, eskers, islands and lakes create a harmonious yet majestic atmosphere where a human being takes her place among the other critters that occupy this world.
- What: Herajärven kierros hiking trail
- Where: Koli National Park, Eastern Finland
- How long: About 60 km
- Why: Eskers, woods, lakes, flora and fauna – like mice and capercaillie.
- Rules: Part of the trail runs on private lane, part within the national park – follow the everyman’s right and national park rules
- Open: The trail is open when the ground is unfrozen – May to November
- Drinking water: General guidance is that all water from the springs and lakes in the area should be boiled. We didn’t, and we survived.