Nature paths and the necessary equipment in winter hiking

The weather conditions in Rovaniemi has been just perfect for outdoor activities for over a week now. I have spent many days outdoor walking among other things.

(This post was published last March, but due to problems with my host I have to publish it once again. The time of the year is also now suitable to publish posts with snow theme.)
So far this winter I have not visited any of the nature paths near Rovaniemi center and I decided to do something about it. A friend of mine asked me one afternoon to join her to the nature path on Ounasvaara hill near the center of Rovaniemi. We had learned there would be a hiking path also for winter hiking. My friend was very preventive and wore a pair of shoes with steel-studded bottoms to prevent her from falling if the trail is slippery. This winter steel-studded shoes have been a top-selling product this winter sold in the shoe stores and outdoor equipment stores here in the north of Finland. It has even been so popular, that you hardly any more this winter manage to find a suitable pair to buy if you want to. They have sold out almost every pair of steel-studded shoes in the stores.

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The steel-studded bottoms made it safe for my friend when we went walking on the winter hiking trail. I myself wore only normal winter shoes and somewhere in between the trail was really a bit slippery and I had to be careful where to put my feet. We met a couple on the trail and the woman was using Nordic walking sticks and that would of course also be an option on slippery trails.

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The trail started impressively by a gateway in the forest and was marked with pictures of a hiker and a snowflake along the route that was easy to follow. In summer time there is a nature path, too, but the winter hiking trail differs a little from the summer version.

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Anyway, the trail has been prepared by a snowmobile during the winter and was very easy to walk on; only partly slippery. We took the long route of 6 km with a short visit up on the top of the downhill slope of Ounasvaara. The view from up there was marvellous. We were just thankful we did not have to go downhill by skies from there.

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Our hike ended with some fried sausages at one of the fire places along the trail. The evening sun shined at us, but the fire-place was not so tidy and nice. All black with soot from the frequent use of the fire-place by the citizens and students living near by.

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Inspired by this hike I planned the next hike the same week. This time to the Vaattunkiköngäs nature path at the Arctic Circle Hiking Area about 20 km from the Rovaniemi center. This time I went alone and this time I came to regret I forgot my equipment for the shoes to prevent me from falling….Not that I did any falls; only many times close.

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The nature path of Vaattunkiköngäs does not have any winter maintenance. The area is often used by local people as well as by tourists because of its beauty and how easily reachable it is. This lack of maintenance has resulted in a path that was almost all the way very slippery and partly almost impossible to walk on. I sent some warm thoughts to my friend with the steel-studded bottom shoes all along the path. I struggled my way, and I managed not to make any falls along the icy trail.
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The walk over five bridges over the rapids is very beautiful and I had to stop and enjoy the nature every now and then. Part of the trail is equipped with duckboards and easily approached even by wheelchairs in summer. The snow depth in the forest is about 70 cm now and I could see that the snow really amuses some of the visitors, as there were tracks in the deep snow besides the trail all the way.

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This time it was not the walking that gave me satisfaction, but the goal for my walk. I ended up at the fire place of Karhukumpu. I made a fire and fried a sausage and ate it together with a cup of tea and a bun.

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(These matches for storm use are really useful when you have to light a fire to not very dry wood.)
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As I sat there and enjoyed the meal and the sun shining on me, I heard kind of “small talk” from the nearest spruce. It took me a while but then I saw my visitor: A Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus)! And at the same time a second one occurred, too. The Siberian Jay is known to wilderness traveller as a very inquisitive and fearless species, which can be seen near camps and fires and even take food if such is left nearby. I put out some of my leftovers on the bench and it did not take long time for the Siberian Jays to come and fetch it just a couple of meters from me.

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If you have heard the legend about the Siberian Jay you now realize how happy this made me. The say is that the Siberian Jay brings luck to the people it meets. It is called a good-luck bird. If a hunter kills a Siberian Jay, his hunting success disappears for ever. One legend also tells that the souls of hunters transmit to Siberian Jays after death. Ancient people called it the “soul bird”.
The Siberian Jay is 27–30 cm, between the wings even 40 cm and it weighs 74–98 g. It is the smallest bird of the crow family, living in Finland. It does not migrate during winter. It has a very nice “small-talk” sound but also a tub-thumping sound when needed.

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(This picture is not my own. I took it from Wikipedia to show the colors of the back of Siberian Jay.)
On my way back to my car I stopped at the rapid and took some photos. There was also a German man taking a lot of pictures. They are astonishing, the rapids. My interest was whether I could get a glimpse of the White-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) there. But I did not see any. It is probably a little early for that. I’ll try again in April. The local Bird Association uses to make excursions to this place every spring to spot the White-throated dipper as it makes diving into the rapid.

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Photo from www.fageln.se.

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Snow and ice and how to enjoy them

In northern Finland we have snow for almost half of the year. Snow plays a big role in the life of the Finns living in Lapland. This fact has led to development of many different ways to move around on the snow or to take advantage of the snow and ice elements as much as possible.

Skis were invented already by our ancestors to help people to move on snow. Skiing is faster than walking. In those days the skis were used for necessary movements, but today to go skiing is a popular way of getting exercise. Downhill skiing in its various forms is the choice for many people. In Rovaniemi you can go cross-country skiing and downhill skiing on Ounasvaara fell.

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Sledging is another way to move around on snow. The sledge was developed especially for sledging downhill, but you can also use it to transport goods.

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People have used kicksleds for a hundred year to get to school, to the church or to visit each other. The look of the kicksled has been the same for many decades, with a seat and handles, but in recent years a more sporty model has been developed to use even in competitions in Finland and all over the world.

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Snowshoes look like tennis rackets fastened to your feet and they make walking in the snow a lot easier. In old days they were made of natural material, but nowadays they are made from different kind of plastic, You do not sink into the snow, but you stay walking on top of the snow.

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From time immemorial huskies have pulled sleds in the Arctic regions. They have been reliable and reach their destination in even the hardest conditions. The husky was born to pull sleds and it is really happy when working. Today many tourists go for safaris with huskies and enjoy the speed of around 17 km/h. You can choose longer or shorter safaris with huskies from husky farms in Lapland.

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The reindeer have also been used for centuries in Lapland to pull sleds. Their hooves enable them to move in the snow. At first glance, the reindeer seem very slow and lazy, but they can also race in competitions. Reindeer safaris are arranged all over Lapland during winter.

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Along with the development of technology the snowmobile was invented. Reindeer herders use snowmobiles, but the snowmobiles are also used for tourist safaris. There are several safari companies offering snowmobile safaris during winter; both for beginners and more adventures tourists.

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Many ways have been developed to get around during the long-lasting period of ice on lakes and rivers. Figure skates, hockey skates and Nordic skates are different forms of skates. The Finnish national team sport is of course played on hockey skates and Nordic skates are for long journeys. In Rovaniemi there are several arenas for hockey and figure skating. You do not even have to bring your own skates, because you can rent skates and get instructions how to go skating if it is your first time. First timers have lots of fun just trying to stay on their feet.

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In summer time you can play golf in Rovaniemi, at Arctic golf course, on the shore of river Kemijoki, but as the summer is so short, they have taken advantage of the snow element and invented ice golf and winter golf. On the frozen river Kemijoki you have been able to play ice golf for several winters already and on the golf course of Ounasvaara, Santa’s own golf course Arctic golf course, you find probably the world’s best winter golf course. It opens in the end of February-the beginning of March, depending on the snow situation. It was opened for the first winter season in 2011 and so far the seasons have offered good opportunities to enjoy golf, with 9-holes, also in winter time. The home page of the course is unfortunately not translated into English concerning the winter course. You can rent golf clubs from the course, you do not have to bring your own. Just remember to use colored balls, orange is the best color. A white ball is of course impossible to see in the snow.

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Some people also use to go swimming in the river Kemijoki during the winter period; the winter-swimmers! A hole is sawed into the ice and the winter-swimmers take a dip in the chilly water. All you need is a swimming costume, a woolen hat and a pair of slippers and a big bath sheet. The winter swim gives you an extraordinary experience and is told to have many healthy effects, too. This year the Winter Swimming World Championship is arranged in Rovaniemi; on March 20-23, 2014. Check out the program! There is something for everybody, and you do not have to practice winter-swimming to take part in the big event.

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Rovaniemi web cameras

If you are interested, you can see what is going on in Rovaniemi at any time of the day or night at all year around via web cameras, placed on several places in the city and at the Arctic Circle. Even Santa Claus has his own web camera! On the map you can also view the panorama pictures by changing the viewing angle by holding the mouse button down and moving the cursor horizontally.

The camera on Lordi Square shows the life in the city and from the place where several major events take place. Specially around Christmas you can follow the Christmas market going on on the Square. (In case you do not know what Lordi stands for: Lordi is a monstrous rock group that took part in the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2006 with the song “Hard rock Hallelujah“, and won the whole Contest. The lead singer of Lordi; even called Mr Lordi himself was born in Rovaniemi. The winning of this Contest is such a big thing in Finland – it never happened before – so the city of Rovaniemi decided to name the main square in the city the Lordi Square after this group.)

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The camera at the City Hall shows the buildings of architect Alvar Aalto and the park around the City Hall, the Library and the Lappia House.

OunasvaaraThe two Ounasvaara cameras show skiing conditions for the ski stadium and the ski jumping arena during changing seasons.

kamera3_00001The camera at the church shows a view over the Kemijoki bridges on the Kemijoki river and the camera on Rovakatu shows a view from one of the main street in Rovaniemi.

I myself used to check out the views over the city before I even visited Rovaniemi for the first time. After I had moved there, I once made a phone call while standing on the Lordi Square and the one I phoned could open the computer and see me standing there.

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All over Lapland there are also road cameras, ruled by the Liikennevirasto, the Finnish Transport Agency, in Finland, so you can check the conditions of the roads if you are going to travel in Lapland. Just click on a camera where you are going and you will see if there is a lot of snow or not on the road. This is how the road looks in Rovaniemi at this very moment. Exciting or what? Almost like you visit Rovaniemi yourself.

 

Out in the nature just outside the Rovaniemi city center

After I had explored the city center of Rovaniemi with its amazing city plan formed like a reindeer’s head and after I had visited the big amount of different memorial stones in parks all over the city, I took the Lumber jack bridge over to the Ounasvaara hillside. Ounasvaara is a hill about 200 m high above the sea. Up on the hill there is an enormous amount of possibilities to enjoy the nature and stay outdoor during all seasons of the year.

The sport center Santasport up on the hill of Ounasvaara, near the arena for ice hockey among other sports and exhibitions, is definitely the best provider if you are interested in getting a more throughout experience of indoor sports in Rovaniemi. On the other side of Ounasvaara, on the northern side, is the Ounasvaara ski center you can go downhill skiing or cross country skiing. You can also take part in ski schools and rent equipment. On the home page of Ounasvaara ski center you find a good map of the slopes and also about the tracks all over Ounasvaara.

In summer and autumn there are hiking paths that take you around the hill with stops on lovely little fireplaces or cooking shelters, in Finland called laavus, hootchies, where you can fry your own sausage and have a lovely break in the sun. You always find wooden logs by these fireplaces to use to make your own log fire, you do not have to bring your own. It is also quite possible that someone already has made the fire as you arrive. The nature of Ounasvaara is very frequently used by the inhabitants of Rovaniemi but also by all the exchange students that arrive to the University of Lapland to study. The nature path of Ounasvaara also provides you with information about the ice age and its impacts on this hill on information stands along the route. You can also visit the upper side of the downhill slopes and have a marvellous view over the city of Rovaniemi.

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In winter time there are well prepared tracks, partly with lights and partly without lights, to go skiing all over Ounasvaara. The perceptions for the ski season start usually already in October, when stored snow is spread in the forest to form a shorter ski track to begin with. The most enthusiastic skiers start the season with that. Then after some weeks of natural snow falls the main track building starts. You can now go skiing and stop by on cooking shades, laavus, to fry your sausage or just have a break. On Ounasvaara there are three different shades for breaks. By one of the laavus you can also climb up in a view tower and take a look over Kemijoki and the city center. Astonning! During your excursion on skis on Ounasvaara you will probably meet all kinds of people, as well the sport enthusiasts of Rovaniemi as the untrained tourist trying out the cross country skiing for the first time in his life. You can probably also meet people on snow shoes, mostly tourist groups, strolling around in the forest outside the tracks. On a sunny winter day with all white snow around you there is no doubt: this is absolutely the most beautiful you can experience in the Lapish winter time! At the laavu you can have the chance to meet some friendly birds searching for some left overs from the visitors’ breaks. The Lapish birds are very tame up here, because they are used to people and the fact that they could catch something to eat from here. Some inhabitant brings some seeds for the birds on his daily ski trip here.

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People in Rovaniemi are very keen on going skiing, so they also use the huge river to go skiing on the ice. You can also find laavus along the riverside on several places near the city center of Rovaniemi. Look at the photo! Tempting or what?! Just get your skis and start. If you do not happen to have your own skis, there is possibilities to rent ski sets at the Ounasvaara ski center; both for downhill skiing as for cross country skiing and also snow shoes.

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