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Urho Kekkonen NP

In a winter wonderland

Story by Northern Adventures March 29th, 2015
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INTRODUCTION

In fact, this may well be an exception: a winter trip instead of autumn or summer hiking. It somehow happened that I visited Urho Kekkonen national park twice within a single year, with the first trip being a lovely March cross-country skiing adventure.

Urho Kekkonen national park (Finnish: Urho Kekkosen kansallispuisto) is a national park in Lapland, Finland, situated in the area of municipalities of Savukoski, Sodankylä and Inari. Established in 1983 and covering 2,550 square kilometres (985 sq mi), it is one of Finland‘s largest protected areas. It is named after Urho Kekkonen, late President and Prime Minister of Finland.

The Suomujoki river flows through the northern parts of the diverse park. The marked paths in its western part are an easy destination even for the inexperienced backpacker, whereas the wilderness is good for long and demanding trips.

It took us seven days to ski across the western part of the area. We spent nights in wooden cottages (”tupas”) that offer a beautiful network of freely accessible accommodation in the park. It was a dreamy winter fairy-tale story; with abundant snow and sunny though chilly weather (it was well about -30°C during nights), we were crossing pristine winter wonderland of deep woods and frozen lakes.

And yes, being in Finland also means sauna - this experience was of course part of the story!
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Day 1: From RUMAKURU to Rautulampi

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Having arrived in Ivalo, we took a convenient bus shuttle to the village of Saariselkä which is an entry point to the national park. From here, already in the evening, we set out on the skiing track, aiming the reach one of the Rumakuru day trip huts. Skiing in darkness of the night was not easy, and from the very moment we realized that our heavy backpacks will make the journey somehow challenging.

The other day, we continued skiing in the eastern direction, using one of the perfect skiing tracks around Saariselkä. It was quite fun, although from time to time we felt really ashamed being overtaken by fur much older skiers (though just on a day-trips i.e. without backpacks on their shoulders).

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The weather was perfect - lot of sun, although the temperature was around -20°C - it was quite chilly. We made a short stop at the Luulampi day trip hut and had some grilled sausages and warm tea there.

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From Luulampi, we left the maintained skiing tracks behind and continued further to the east towards another hut called Rautulampi. It was a gentle long climb we had to carry out, but after a few hours we reached the hut where we decided to call it a day.

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The hut was a cosy place with a fireplace, a table, and a large sleeping platform. Though designed as a day-trip hut (overnight stays are not encouraged here), being here alone, it was no harm to stay in the cabin overnight.

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With the upcoming evening, all the day-trippers left, leaving us in the hut and its surroundings completely alone. The sunset at the cabin was picture-perfect and the temperature started to drop. We felt tired, however excited at the same time since the proper adventure was about to begin - tomorrow we were about the leave the maintained tracks and go into the true snowy wilderness.
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Day 2: From Rautulampi to Porttikoski

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The sunrise at Rautulampi was amazingly beautiful. Everything was completely frozen, the snow was crunchy, and the sun was illuminating the winter landscape perfectly. After short breakfast, we put our skis on, and began to slowly descend towards the Lankojärvi lake.

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We were lucky with the weather again. Besides the constant sunshine and clear skies, there was no heavy snowfall during the previous days - which meant the track and path were clear and firmed up by previous skiers. The journey continued along a frozen river in a typical Finnish forest.
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We made a short lunch break at the Lankojärvi hut located on a shore of a beautiful lake (which is naturally completely frozen). Here we realized that winter travel has also some advantages over the summer or autumn journeys - possibility to travel on the ice, just simply across frozen lakes and rivers.

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Then we continued further to the east, mostly on the frozen Suomujoki river. From time to time, we took short breaks, lazily lying on the snow and enjoying the sunshine.

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We reached Porttikoski hut in the afternoon; so much snow around and on the roof of the wooden cabin! We unpacked our stuff and moved inside; again a cosy place, with a fireplace, and two large wooden sleeping platforms.

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The evening in Porttikoski was magical - winter wonderland once more, and the sunset was just brilliant in the beautiful river setting. There was another guy with us in the hut, coming from the other direction and heading to the west. An old man. And true adventurer, apparently, since he had spent two weeks in the area already. Also, he got stuck in another hut (Anterinmukka) for two days because of heavy snowstorm. “Luckily there was a sauna”, he smiled while describing his winter solo journey...

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Day 3: From Porttikoski to Sarvioja

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The morning at Porttikoski was as perfect as the previous evening was. We put our skies on, and continued along the river for a while, before reaching a point where we had to turn to the south and start to climb a ridge we had to cross.

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Our destination for the night was a rather isolated hut called Sarvioja - not on a main track, however we did not want to go directly to Luirojärvi, opting for slower pace and more leisure and laziness time. Skiing down to Sarvioja from the mountain pass was a ridiculous thing - with long skies, heavy backpacks, and deep snowdrifts, we were falling constantly, laughing and swearing at the same time.

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Sarvioja was a perfect destination. Again a fireplace - a stony one - where we grilled a few sausages. And yes, Caol Ila single malt whisky was a lovely digestive afterwards. A special time!

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It was in the middle of the night when one from our group had to go outside for a pee. Jaromír returned quickly, really excited and hilariously shouting: “It’s there, it’s there!!!” Quickly we realized he talks about the famous northern lights, Aurora Borealis. Of course, we went outside, and enjoyed the marvellous spectacle. A special thing truly, though it is only green on photographs; using one’s own eyes, it looks more like a moving colourless wonder light that travels unpredictably across the night sky.

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Day 4: FRom Sarvioja to LuirojärvI

The journey planned for the next day, to Luirojärvi lake, was quite straightforward - climbing to a mountain pass to the south via a clear and firm skiing track, than to enjoy some downhill falling (better not to call this activity downhill skiing :-)), and finally to continue on a flat terrain across the frozen Luirojärvi lake to the huts on its shores.

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Luirojärvi hut is one of the newest and most spacious in the area, sometimes funnily nicknamed “Hilton” by local wanderers. Really a cosy and comfortable place, and we took a rest, made a dinner… and were getting for a magical ritual that was going to follow.

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We had been looking forward to a sauna since the beginning of the trip, and now, finally, the time had come. Of course, in the remote wilderness and in winter, sauna needs some preparation. Wood; ridiculously, there is a special “sauna wood” marked in the wood storage. Apparently, sauna deserves it better than an ordinary fireplace. Water; there is a lake. Frozen lake. Which means using an axe and a bucket to take the water to the sauna room. And then… sauning. A special time indeed! Going from the overheated sauna outside to -20°C and cool down in the fresh snow… not easy - the word “refreshing” gets here its another and true meaning! :-)

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Day 5: From LuirojärvI to Tuiskukuru

The journey to Tuiskukuru was really a short one. It took us a few hours to cover those ten kilometres of the skiing track, and than we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon and evening in another cosy wooden hut.

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Day 6: From Tuiskukuru to LankojärvI

We continued back to Lankojärvi lake and hut that we had already visited on the second day in the national park. Here, some parts of the journey was a traverse of areas of deep snowdrifts - quite an effort with still heavy backpacks we had to carry.

Here we realized that though we really had wanted to get ready for the skiing adventure and had taken wider cross-country skies with us, we were not really prepared. Locals do it differently. No backpacks - better to go with spacious pulks. And to have skies that are 2,6m long and wide as those for ski jumping, to avoid sinking into deep snow. Next time, we will know, we were saying to ourselves in between falling into deep snowdrifts and swearing…

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Day 7: From LankojärvI to Rumakuru

Last day in the national park was the most pleasant. Spring began! The temperature reached its highs above 0°C - such a perfect time! In Rumakuru, during our last day night in a hut, we enjoyed a few beers that two of us brought from the nearby Saariselkä settlement. In the night, then, the final Aurora Borealis performance began. We enjoyed once more this natural phenomenon spectacle, now in much bearable conditions in terms of outside temperature.

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It was a special adventure. Children from the deep north seem to be born with skies on their legs. We are not. That’s why we went rather slowly and carefully, being aware of the severe winter conditions the area may be quickly ruled by.

Hiking seems to be more easier and natural for us. This special adventure, however, will never be forgotten. It was a perfect trip in the unspoiled wilderness of the Finish north, spiced by Aurora Borealis sightings and sauning in the wild. A winter delight…

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Footnote: All images are exclusive property and may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, transmitted, manipulated or used in any way without permission of the photographer (tomas.zrna@gmail.com).
Urho Kekkonen National Park, Finland