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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The Arctic Circle Hiking Area for all year around use

As you drive about 20 km to the northeast along highway 4 from Rovaniemi towards Sodankylä you find the Arctic circle hiking area with Vaattunkiköngäs, Vikaköngäs and Vikajärvi. It is an area managed by Metsähallitus of Finland. It is about 36 km2 big and it is just a perfect area to visit when you long for pure nature experiences but you do not want to go away for a long time, and you want to return home in the evening. There are several marked trails suitable for day trips in the area.

Map of the surroundings of Arctic Circle Hiking AreaI visit the Vaattunkiköngäs many times a year. I want to visit it all year around in different times and enjoy at least autumn, winter and spring there. You reach the parking area for Vaattunkiköngäs as you turn right on your way towards Sodankylä approx. 20 km from Rovaniemi. There are informative signs that tell  you when to turn. Drive about 2 km from highway 4 and you will end up in a perfect parking area with information like maps and descriptions of the hiking paths starting from there. There are also toilets and waste recycling points.

IMG_7190Hiking and camping are allowed in Finland due to Everyman’s Rights, but at the Arctic circle hiking area you are recommended to camp in the vicinity of campfire sites and other rest spots. The area is mostly visited during the summer and when there is only little snow. But as the area is visited by so many people all the time I have managed to visit it also in the middle of winter because there are paths in the snow made by other visitors and they are easy to walk. In the summer and spring you can pick berries and mushrooms  here.

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My favorite time of the year for a visit at Vaattunkiköngäs is spring. During spring floods in late April and early May part of the duckboards in the area may be under water due to the melting snow. But as the snow  has melted you can safely walk the duckboards around the area.

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After starting from the parking area you first of all cross the Raudanjoki river on a hanging bridge. The river has several rapids used for rafting and kayaking. You walk along the Könkäänsaari trail of duckboards and you can stop by and read on the information boards about the surrounding nature with its birds and animals. Soon you will end up at the Könkäänsaari lean-to-shelter, where you can set a fire and fry you own sausages or just rest before you continue. Along the trails there are several rest points. There are dry toilets at each rest spot. The trail from Vaattunkiköngäs to Könkäänsaari is suited for disabled visitors during the snowfree season. The Könkäänsaari lean-to shelter has also been designed for the disabled. The trail has been classified as a demanding wheelchair route.

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IMG_2180The Arctic circle hiking area is made up of several parts which are in their natural state and very wilderness-like. On one hand there are the rapid areas of the river and on the other hand there are parts of the river with still water. In the different areas you can become acquainted with the region’s typical plant and animal species on special information boards along the trail. As the area is not situated near the road there are no disturbing noises from cars. In spring time you can enjoy the hundreds of bird species singing in the area.

In spring you can find an adorable yellow flower there. It is the Globe-flower (Kullero); a Lappish flower I did not know existed before I came to Lapland. It grows only occasionally in the south of Finland, but is very common here in Lapland in spring time.

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The Globe-flower shines like a sun and only the sight of it makes you happy.

A visit in winter time has its own specials, like campfire where you can warm your toes or fingers and fry your own sausage. The Metsähallitus provides all the lean-on-shelters with wood all year around. You can just pick from the fire-wood store and set the fire. But be careful with the fire and extinguish the fire as you leave the shelter.

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