Spending a night in a hammock in every season

For few years, I had been sleeping many nights in my hammock in the woods of Finland. “Wait, you said sleeping in a hammock?” you might ask at this point.

Yes, in a hammock!

People know tents, but what comes for a good option for solo travelers and hikers, hammocks are slowly becoming an option.

People know what hammocks are, since many might have had some sort of hammock in their garden or backyard. But how many have been thinking to use it in the woods?

Few years ago i started looking for a tent for myself. I had been doing small day hikes in the local forests,  and I wanted to spend a night there too. While I was looking for reviews about certain tents, I found an article, A tent or a hammock?

This really got me interested about hammocks, and I wanted to find more information. I found sites like The Ultimate Hang and Hammock Forums. Also a well-known hammock guy Shug, has a great Youtube channel for information and how-to’s.

Basically a hammock is easy to set up: all you need is two trees. Depending on the length of your hammock, you have to find trees that are 4–5 meters apart.

At the Repovesi National Park in Southern Finland

I love hammocks because they are so versatile. It’s also great being able to see the weather outside. When I wake up, I just open the zipper and sit like I would sit in my bed. I can reach out and turn on the stove, and a bit later I can enjoy coffee in my bed.

It’s not hard to find two trees where I can set my hammock – it’s even easier than finding a good spot for a tent. No spiders, ants or other insects or snakes bother me while I sleep.

A bit later I bought my first hammock, Ticket To The Moon double. I have used it quite many times already. After getting some more experience I have bought a few other models as well, like DD Hammocks Frontline, Warbonnet XLC and Amok Draumr.

Hammock

Amok, DD Frontline, Ticket To The Moon and Warbonnet

There are many hammock manufacturers like Warbonnet, Amok, Ticket To The Moon, ENO, DD Hammocks etc. However, very few of them are sold here in Finland.

A simple hammock is a single big fabric, which are tied from the ends. These are called gathered end hammocks. Some manufacturers use parachute fabric such as silk, and some use different kinds of nylon. Fabric also gives the strength to the hammock, and there are certain user weight limits.

Most hammocks are one or two layer modes. A double layer allows you to put an insulation pad between the layers. Double layers might have the weight limit up to 300 kg.

Amok and Exped have models that require airpads to build a frame. Without the pad, the hammock is quite useless. In these hammocks you lay sideways, which has benefits such as a very comfortable lay. Amok has designed this model to be more adjustable, so you can also comfortably sit on it by pulling the adjustment straps.

Comfort lay

In the standard hammocks, you have to lay in the same diagonal direction (e.g., head on the left, feet on the right or vice versa). This way you will have the best possible lay in the hammock. It also helps to avoid possible knee or calf pressure that could make you uncomfortable. The foot end has to be a bit higher than the head end, so you won’t feel any sliding.

It is possible to sleep on your side, but stomach sleepers will have problems.

If the hammock is too tight, you feel shoulders squeezed. If it’s too loose, it has a calf ridge in the middle of the foot end, which causes pain to the feets. The longer the hammock is, the more comfortable you get. The hammock should be at least 1 meter longer that the user.

When the hammock is in banana shape and the suspensions are in a 30 degree angle down from the tree attachment points, that’s when you get the most comfortable sleeping position.

Suspension

Suspension is one the most important parts of the hammock. This will hold you between the trees. The best thing is to use so-called tree huggers, which are usually 2,5 cm wide straps. These straps are important, because they will also protect the tree bark. Some use a thick cords such as paracord, but they leave very bad pressure markings to the bark. The tree might be badly damaged from those ropes.

If the suspension is pulled too tight, it might break. This is because the forces are very high, bigger than in the 30 degree setup. A 30 degree angle has only the same weight as the user. Straight line might have 10 times of user weight.

There is many ways to hang a hammock. Some use hooks, carabiners, buckles, whoopie slings (dyneema cord) or just plain wide rope. Buckles and whoopie suspension are also adjustable, so it will be much easier to set.

Tarps

Hex, square, Hex modification from square tarp and hex with doors

Tarpaulins are usually known as tarps. A tarp will cover you from the sun, rain and wind. Most of them are made of nylon, some lightweight solutions are made of cuben fiber fabric.

Usual tarps are 3 meters by 3 meters, but also larger ones like 4 m x 4m are available. There are also so-called hex shape tarps, and some of them have doors. This allows you to cover yourself from the wind or rain much better. You can also set the regular square tarp as a hex with doors by using the loops sewed to the sides.

Insulation

To be able to sleep warm and comfortably, you need to have good insultation around you. To cover your back, a sleeping bag simply isn’t enough, since it will compress under you and loose its insulation.

One way is to use pads, such as foam or air pads. Both are good options, and depending on the weather and the pads R-value, it will insulate your back. Down sides are that air pads can not inflate fully, because the shape will affect to the lay. Other one is that it might slide under you, when you are turning or moving.

Underquilts are a great option, since they don’t affect to the lay. A quilt is around you, under the hammock, and will cover your back and also your sides. An underquilt has its own suspension, that usually is shock cord. They are attached to the hammock ends. An underquilt has to be set tidily under the hammock, so that it will seal well. Even small air gaps let the warm air escape, and you will have a cold back or cold feet.

Topquilts are basically sleeping bags without a zipper and a hood, and they are used the same way as a blanket. This allows you to move more freely and getting up is much easier. I use sleeping bags too, but they are sometimes very annoying to use, because you have to get in and wiggle like a worm to get in it well. I am a restless sleeper so I use sleeping bags in colder seasons.

Are hammock systems light? Yes and no.

There are many ultralight options like DD Hammocks superlight series. They need very little space and their total weights are less than a kilo. They have limitations too, for example the maximum user weight is a 100 kg.

Choosing light material will save weight, but it will also increase the price.

These are just the basics for the hammock. To find out more, I recommend these websites: Ultimate Hang, Shug’s youtube and Hammock Forums.

Warbonnet with super fly tarp. Both in porch mode.

Today I am mostly using the Warbonnet Blackbird XLC. It is quite a long hammock, 335 cm, and it offers many great features. Such as removable bugnet, designed footbox for better lay and comfort, and a great view outside. Really long straps with buckles are great, they protect the bark in the trees. Buckle suspension is easy to use and it holds well. Bugnet is removable, which changes it to a Traveler hammock. With the bugnet, you also have a storage shelf, which is very useful. I usually put my eyeglasses and my phone there. The total weight is 1,1 kg, and it has double layers with 180 kg weight limit. I have slept well many nights in the Warbonnet.

Warbonnet hammock and tarp review can be read in Finnish from HERE.

Super Fly’s

The tarp is a Warbonnet Super Fly, which has 2000 mm water barrier. It is 335 cm long and 305 cm wide.  Both ends have doors, which can be closed to get more cover from the wind and rain. This tarp is designed to be used in the winter as well. It has pull outs on both sides to make more space inside. This tarp is very light, weighing around 500 grams. With the stakes and cords the total weight is 700 grams. This tarp is well made using good materials, but the pull outs need to be sealed with silicon etc, so that any water won’t drip inside.

Cumulus Selva 600 underquilt

To cover my back from the cold temperatures of the Finnish winter, I bought new down underquilt, the Cumulus Selva 600. Its Pertex fabrics are a great protect from moisture. The outer fabric is also water-resistant. The hydrophobic down is also said to be less sensitive to moisture, although not everyone agrees. The loft is amazing and this is truly a quality work. This is size L, which means that it’s 235 cm long. The size M is available too, with 215 cm lenght, and in my opinion it’s better for regular hammocks. The size L works well with Warbonnet, because it is 45 cm longer than Ticket to the moon.

A draft collar helps to seal the air leaks from the ends.

Selva 600 is comfortable to use in -14°C. The limit is -22°C. I slept warm and cozy in -10°C.

Cumulus is well known for their down clothes and sleeping bags. You can read the full review from my site HERE.

As a top insulation, I use my Haglöfs Cornus +2 bag, mostly from late spring to later fall. In the summer I just use it as a blanket. In winter time I have my Savotta Military bag, which has comfort around -15°C.

A -10°C night behind, snug as a bug, warm and toasty

I have slept over a hundred nights in my hammock. To me it is a cozy bed, where I can read, sleep and even eat! Because I love to be near water, I have found great places where I can wake up and see the lake. We have our own Finnish hammock group where I have met great people who share the same interests. We have had a few meetings with lots people.

To me, hammocks are the perfect solution for sleeping in the woods. With a hammock I am able to choose my place better that with a tent. Surely, using a hammock requires more attention so that I won’t hurt myself. It’s more complex in some cases and needs more things to know, like knots for example. A backpack needs to be under the hammock or tied down to a tree.

It took some time to find myself a good hammock, and I have been enjoying the Finnish nature in many ways, all seasons, all weather, with friends, or alone.

 

Skiing in the Arctic Night

In midwinter there is light for only a couple of hours a day in Lapland. We decided to go for a two day skiing trip in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, to get a proper feel of the darkness during the shortest days of the year in December.

The route was marked on the map, starting from Koivarova parking lot, and went around Keimiötunturi and Sammaltunturi fells in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. The plan was to stay the night in one of the three open huts on the route, depending on how quickly we could move in the snow with sledges.

Packing in the parking lot. Me and my friends Pipsa and Salla had long skis, forest skis, special for deep snow. Our sleeping bags and food was packed in two sledges, inside waterproof bags.

The weather was not on our side

It was just above zero degrees of Celsius, around +2 C, when we started the journey. This is bad news for skiing. Snowflakes melt too much under the ski and there is absolutely no traction whatsoever. The skis glide very well, but without traction there is literally no way you can pull a sledge behind you.

We added some grip wax on all skis after the first 20 meters but the effect was minimal. I wished I had hairy skins to put under my skis. They would have worked.

So the first couple of hours our journey proceeded very slowly. It was nearly one meter ahead and two backwards, if there was even the tiniest hill. Our spirits were still high, but we started thinking maybe we have to stay the night at the first open hut only 4 kilometres away at lake Keimiöjärvi. At least there was a lovely sunset to enjoy, and the great Keimiö fell on our left side kept us company.

Me pulling the sledge. Luckily the track was visible, it was cleared by snowmobile. In deep powder snow we would have been exhausted in no time.

When finally reaching the first hut, Keimiöjärvi autiotupa, it was lunch time. We went to sit inside. There was everything one needs for perfect camping: firewood, a stove, some buckets to fetch snow in and pans so you can melt the snow for drinking or food. Sleeping places for 3 people, more if you squeeze. A dry toilet outside. Someone had left many candles on the big table which made me very happy.

Across the frozen lake and into the darkness

After lunch break it was only 2 pm, so we decided to keep going. It was always possible to return to this hut if the journey wouldn’t proceed at all due to non-existent grip. The second hut, Mustakero, we had to forget as it was situated on top of hill. No way we could climb up in this snow.

It was getting dark already so we wanted to cross the lake as soon as possible. You never know with frozen lakes, if there is a current or underwater spring that prevents the ice from properly freezing over.

This route was marked though and I felt pretty trusting there wouldn’t be any soft spots in the ice. Still, there was nervousness in the air. We had forgotten to bring ice claws. You should never cross unfamiliar waters without them, ice claws literally save your life if you fall in. You smash them on the ice and pull yourself up.

Crossing the lake, leaving the Keimiöjärvi open hut behind.

After crossing the lake with no casualties (phew), our path continued in the dark. The funny thing about darkness is, it never really is pitch black when there is snow on the ground. I didn’t even want to turn my headlamp on. I could see shades and trees, the fells around me. And I could see the amazing sky with a zillion stars!

What you don’t see, is depth. Downhills on our way were not steep, but all three of us managed to fall many times! Luckily snow was soft and there was a lot of it. The sledge is funny when coming downhill: first you have to pull it for the initial glide. Then gravity takes over and you feel a push on your back, as the sledge gives you extra speed! I wouldn’t dare to slide down a steep big hill, the speed would accelerate so fast I wouldn’t be able to do anything but yell.

Mustavaara hut

After the last rays of light were gone by 2.30 pm, the temperature dropped below zero, just enough to get some grip back. Our expedition managed to actually ski ahead now! Before no time we had travelled 5 km from the first hut to Mustavaara, an old reindeer herders’ hut. It has been estimated that this hut was built in the end of 1800’s, making it the oldest hut in the whole Pallas-Ylläs National Park.

Melting snow for drinking water.

In summer time there is drinking water practically everywhere. The waters in Lapland are so pure. In winter, you melt it from snow. But snow takes quite a while longer to bring to boil than liquid water, as you might recall from chemistry lessons. Still, it took surprisingly long, I thought.

For dinner we made avocado pasta, not the most traditional of Finnish dishes, but very quick to prepare and absolutely yummy!

The cute and old hut Mustavaara. Imagine this too is complete free for everyone to enjoy! Many thanks to Metsähallitus, the Finnish Administration of Forests, for the maintenance and firewood.

The next day

Our expedition team didn’t sleep too well as there were mice rattling (don’t leave food laying around) and wind howling in a snow blizzard. But we were more than happy to have experienced this old hut. After breakfast it was time to get going as daylight would last, again, for only a couple of hours.

Today it was about -2 C, just enough to get a decent grip of the snow. The way back around the fells was 15 km so it was going to be a long way – or not, depending on the path. The first 7 km were in great shape with hard path made by snowmobile. There were even proper ski tracks all the way from Mustavaara hut to hotel Jeris, 7 km leg. Our forest skis were too wide to fit the tracks though, they were meant for normal cross-country skis.

Skiing in deep snow

The last 7 km leg was something else. This part of the route hadn’t been opened, I don’t know why. Or perhaps it had snowed so much the track had been covered. It was quite a struggle as we had to cram in unbroken snow, in the dark. The benefit of tall, wide skis is that they glide better on top of snow. That is, IF the snow is hard enough to carry your weight. This snow was powder fresh fluff and we sank right through. We took turns in opening the route.

Also the terrain changed to very hilly. It was ever-changing uphill – downhill for at least 3 km. The last leg goes next to a reindeer fence so you can’t get lost. You just need to find the gate where you started off.

Obviously it’s hard to take good pictures when it is dark, but most of the time our skiing trip looked liked this.

It was fine with a good headlamp, but my friends had very dim headlamps and couldn’t see where they were skiing. Imagine skiing down at high speed in complete darkness without knowing where you will end up! They took it well though, and by that I mean, they landed softly when falling in the snow – with head first, butt first, sideways, you name it. I fell too, even though I had a good lamp and thus, no excuses…

Finally we recognised the gate in the fence and yelled out of excitement. It was a fun, challenging trip, I learned a lot about skiing in snow that keeps changing its form.

Starting point on the map

coordinates: lat:67° 55′ 18,488″ lon: 24° 9′ 35,108″

Skishoeing – fun and traditional way to enjoy winter magic

Short skis with skins are ancient, dating back 10 000 years. They represent skis as they were originally! Today they have been “invented” again to suit modern day winter adventurer. I tested skishoeing in lovely Pyhätunturi in the heart of Lapland.

skishoe1

Skishoes are short and wide. These are only 125 cm long, up to my shoulder. They have a hairy skin integrated on the backside for grip, but only partially. The bindings works for any shoes, I had my hiking boots with a couple of woollen socks.

Skishoes are literally a hybrid of skis and snowshoes.  But as you cannot have it all, they come with some compromises. They glide as skis, but not as well as proper skis. When climbing uphill they get traction like snowshoes but not quite as well as snowshoes when it gets steeper.

For me skishoeing was a new form of winter sport. Soon after setting off I decided I love it.

skishoe2

Skishoes glide surprisingly well on flat surface, you go faster than you would with snowshoes. The short size of skis makes it easy to navigate in the forest. Pyhätunturi fell with its skiing slopes is sunbathing at the background.

Nature trails in National Park

I got my skishoes for a test from Bliss adventure. As the day light broke (at nearly noon) we left for the 5 km marked path called Tunturiaapa nature trail in Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

In deep powder snow skishoes sink in the snow somewhat. Long skis would be better for floating on top of snow. But compared to snowshoes it still feels easier, in my opinion, as you don’t have to lift the whole foot up, just push the ski forward and save your sweat.

skishoe3

Me after one of my many falls! It took a while to learn just how to keep balance with skishoes. Luckily snow is soft. You can’t control them as well as you can proper backcountry skis.

The trail continued through the woods and out to the open marshland in deep snow. We had a lunch break at Tiaislaavu lean-to shelter, where there is firewood for everybody.

skishoe4

Lunch break at Tiaislaavu lean-to in Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Great fun on small hills

The last leg of the round Tunturiaapa trail was full of small hills, so up and down we went. There the traction and gliding properties were really put to test. Climbing up a steep hill with skishoes is a task. The traction isn’t quite enough, snowshoes would be better. But on gentler hills they work like magic. We couldn’t resist playing around and went up and down some nice hills several times.

skishoe5

This was one of the steepest hills. Skiing down such a hill with new unfamiliar toys made me nervous, but it was actually a lot of fun!

Not a new hobby

There are still people living in the Altai mountains in northern Asia who use these kind of skis with actual animal skin on the bottom. The Tuwa people have been moving on snow like this for thousands of years. Instead of two poles in each hand, they use one long pole that balances on the way up and helps manoeuvre when skiing downhill.

I recommend skishoes to anyone who loves snow sports or winter trekking. It is a unique way of moving: faster than snowshoeing, slower but more versatile than skiing.

skishoe6

Photos: Joona Kivinen

Skishoes, snowshoes and fatbikes for rent at Bliss Adventure 

Visitor Centre Naava at Pyhä

Starting point of this trip on the map

cold hot fun

The real fun starts when it’s really cold

Winter in Finland brings all kind of opportunities. From winter sports to trying to catch the aurora borealis, it’s never really boring. When the temperature drops below -20C, I enjoy to go out with a thermos bottle of boiling tea or water. You’d think it’s to keep myself warm, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

cold hot fun

Sunset vapor at -24C

That hot water will nearly insta-vaporize when it is thrown into the air.

When you attempt to do that, you can pour the hot water into a cup, so you have a few tries. Be sure you throw fast enough otherwise hot water could fall on you before it’s cooled down.

Vaporizing water in the cold air

Vaporizing water between trees

What else is in the photo is up to your imagination.

Winter fairy tale land – Koli

You don’t have to go all the way to Lapland to find beautiful winter landscapes. In North-Karelia you can find the most highest place of South-Finland. In the fell Koli you can find it’s peaks Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli. People believe that these peaks got their name’s from powerful ancient gods.

You can use snowshoes or ski’s to get to the top of Koli. There is also a hotel and Koli National Park‘s nature center in the top. After hiking in the hills you can get a cup of coffee for example in the nature center Ukko’s cafeteria.

When the sky is clear, you can see lake Pielinen from the Koli hills. When the sky is misty, you just have to enjoy the magical spruce forests with snow and hard rime that accumulates on tree branches.

Old forests look magical in winter time. Village under the hills can be without snow on the trees, but when you climb up to the fell, usually you can find beautiful trees with snow and ice on them.

Finnish artists, photographers and nature-lovers have been inspired with this heritage landscape for centuries. Usually people say, that you should go to the Koli, when the sky is clear and sunny. I think you should definitely visit Koli in a foggy day also.

When almost everything is white, you start to realize, that it’s not really white. It’s blue, it’s purple, it’s orange and colors are changing sometimes really fast. Some camera’s go crazy and it’s difficult to capture the real color of the forests. But who know’s, what’s real and what’s unreal?

Some part’s of the trails are without winter maintenance, but usually paths are walked open by people, so you can even go walking there just with your winter shoes. Don’t hesitate to ask advice’s from nature center’s helpful workers.

Cycling in Porvoo’s National Urban Park

Porvoo is one of Finland’s best loved national landscapes, with its red wooden riverside storehouses and pastel-coloured buildings belonging to the old town, its river valley and its National Urban Park.

National Urban Parks are an assembly of natural spaces, agricultural landscapes and built areas of cultural significance in and around the urban environment. Porvoo’s Urban National Park is made up of the historical town itself, ancient relics, nature conservation areas as well as parks and recreational areas used by urban residents. Altogether this forms about 1,112 hectares.

While writing this I discovered that Urban National Parks can also be found in seven other cities around Finland: Forssa, Hanko, Heinola, Hämeenlinna, Kotka, Pori and Turku.

My own National Urban Park exploration began on board a Jopo bike courtesy of VisitPorvoo, which can be rented from under Mannerheiminkatu bridge. I set off just as the bells of Porvoo’s handsome cathedral struck ten o’clock, as if someone had fired a starting shot for a race. Weaving through tourists enthusiastically taking pictures with their smartphones, I peddled through the cobbled streets, over the bridge and then onto the bicycle lane alongside Porvoo river.

I had boldly chosen a gearless bicycle, having concluded that I would be riding mainly on flat terrain. Riding on a Jopo also felt reassuringly nostalgic and like a laid back way to travel on a sunny day.

Having decided on Haikkoo Manor as my destination and point for turning back, I peddled along Porvoo’s western bank. The city’s old and new centres were left behind on the opposite shore, as I continued my journey south alongside relatively new apartments.

From my bike saddle, I observed boats laying idle in the harbour as well as gliding along the water. Canada geese were resting on the river bank as I passed The Art Factory, where Visit Porvoo’s travel info is based and from where you can pick up a cycling and outdoors map. I spotted its #URBCULT- area, in which school kids had been nurturing vegetables planted in containers made from old pallets. There was even sauna on offer there in celebration of summer!

After the cycle path had curved round into Kokonniemi, I stopped for a moment to admire a some street art on the wall of the pumping station, inspired by the famous Japanese print The Great Wave of Kanagawa. On my right the coniferous hill of Kokonniemi rose up steeply.

Soon I came across a maintained park area with a campfire pit – a great place for a picnic. One couple had set up their picnic chairs on the lawn of the river bank, but the two campfire sites made out of concrete well rings are a much better way to cook your sausages than using disposable barbecues. I do advise taking your own firewood though, as I didn’t notice any provided by the city.

The features of this park at the tip of Kokonniemi are charming, with a delicately carved yellow pavilion (unfortunately somewhat vandalised), as well as a magnificent straight avenue of linden trees, which leads from it to the beach. This would be a lovely spot for a summer cafe.

Looking at the pavilion and the view, images of old, black and white domestic movies started to play my mind: a manor house romance; a couple in love walking along the linden tree avenue in the summer dusk, a violin playing softly in the background… The park’s construction began in 1891, which was an acknowledgement of the location’s beauty and elegance.

After admiring the park, I cycled ahead on a gravel cycle path and started to crave ice-cream. Looking at the map I noticed, with relief, that nearby was Kokonniemi’s campground, which would be sure to have some. I broke into a little sweat cycling up hill, but at least I had earned my ice-cream.

I took this opportunity to inspect the map further. I noticed as I left the camping area, that the rocks of Kokonniemi were gleaming at me from the other side – another place to go and explore.

Approaching Uddas, the view opened out along with river’s mouth, which stretched out on my left. The reedbed continued as far as the eye could see and the sea could barely be spotted behind all the greenery. The cycle path continued to be even and easy until I reached Uddas, where there was a small uphill before rolling into the forest. I made a little stop again: the raspberries on the side of the cycle path looked too good to resist.

Out and about were other cyclists, joggers and a few walkers. It was especially pleasing to see one particular couple: the lady was jogging while the gentleman accompanied her in an electric wheelchair. It was great to see that this route in the middle of nature was accessible, for all to enjoy. When I came to the field, I chose the path on the coast and and started to look out for a cycle path on the right. Somewhere the path had to rise up to a vantage point.

Then I came to a small beach, where a couple of families where sunbathing, and noticed that a path branched out from the cycle path uphill to Tornberget, next to a granite column, with a mysterious engraving of the number 60 on it. I parked my bike on the side of the coastal path and clambered up the gently rising trail in hope of finding the vantage point.

The forest path was a joy to walk, with the leaves shimmering in the sun. Without the drone of cars anywhere nearby, it was completely quiet except for a bird fluttering and chirping in a nearby tree. Further up, I came across a fitness route which had stretching apparatus on the side of it. I turned past it onto the path that led to the left. And then again to the left, on the coastal side.

With my mouth blue from Tornberget’s juicy berries, I walked onto the almost bare rocks and was presented with a fantastic view towards Porvoo River. This was the moment to sit down and dig out my sandwich and water bottle. I did slightly regret not filling up my tea flask that morning, but that was quickly forgotten. It did me a world of good watching the shimmering water, boats occasionally floating by and a few fluffy clouds in the blue sky.

Back on my bike, after peddling a few metres; I noticed another path leading upwards after the rock walls of Tornberget. The path seemed to promise another fine view, but I decided that my next scenic stop would be a vantage point further along.

As I passed the shore of Hamari, I took a peek at cute, old houses which the local sawmill workers had built for themselves. At some point Hamari used to have its own harbour and docking station. If I hadn’t already had a snack break, I would have stopped at the beach cafe, but instead I looked for the route to the Lennätinkallio nature conservation area. The area’s forests have been left alone to grow in peace since 1961, when the nature conservation area was established.

I cycled along the park road and then to Haavikkotie road which shot me out onto the the fitness trail. I left my bicycle parked on the edge of the forest and picked up the first path going up on the left and decided to aim as high as possible, sure I would find the vantage point around there somewhere. I scrambled for a little while on the pine dominated rocky hill and wondered where to go, but then took the widest path into the spruce forest. From there I found the vantage point with it’s small lookout tower.

At the lookout tower there’s a picnic table. You can compare the view with the image of it that hangs on the side of the tower, by the internationally known painter Albert Edelfelt. Some kids turned up from the straightest path from Lennätinvuori clutching their mobile phones. I suspect they were not there for the view, like I was. Probably on a Pokemon mission.

Because the tower is low, you don’t see over the tops of the trees as far as Porvoo’s centre. The view is mainly of forest and the open water of Haikkoo on the horizon.

I descended on the occasionally very rocky path that led down from the observation tower and back onto the fitness trail, peering at the forest view. The light dappled onto the dazzling, beautiful moss, the trees and on the scattered boulders. I let out a sigh.

After that I peddled towards Haikkoo on the nearest cycle path. However, I didn’t stop immediately at the Manor House and Spa, but continued by journey downhill, it was only 600 metres from the crossroads to Albert Edelfelt’s studio museum. Almost immediately I spotted a sign on the right hand side of the road. It indicated that a pond featured in Edelfelt’s painting was on the right hand side of the fitness trail. Naturally, I turned down it and continued cycling the forest route towards this other art subject.

The marked fitness trail was primarily for skiers and walkers, but it was also easy to cycle. The good signage to Haikkoo’s pond was a bonus. I parked my bicycle on the side of the fitness trail and walked on the bumpy and partially damp path towards the edge of the forest pond.

Haikkoo’s forest pond was charming with its waterlilies, which blossomed joyfully as they did in the painting itself. A large print of the painting was also on display in situ, which enabled comparison of Edelfelt’s version with the live view. I wondered if he carried his drawing and painting materials to the place himself or if he had an assistant. Did the models have to shiver in the pond for long?

I returned to my bicycle and rode along the fitness route back to the nearest residential area and from there to the crossroads, where I reached Edelfelt’s path which led to Albert Edelfelt’s studio, which now serves as a museum. An engraving on a rock in the garden confirms that Edelfelt (1854-1905) worked here for 24 summers.

Albert Edelfelt had been so fond of Haikkoo’s nature and landscape that in 1880 he bought himself an old estate manager’s house, and in a few years had a studio built for himself with windows in the roof. There were excellent views of Haikkoo’s open water from the house. The trees on the plot have obviously kept growing since then, but right on the shore you can still see the landscape.

In the garden of the studio, I noticed a few pictures of Edelfelt’s works and before going into the museum, I walked down the path towards the shore. More photos of paintings! This was a really nice outdoor exhibition and it was interesting being in the exact locations where the paintings were painted.

Down by the water, there was a table on a wooden bench. If you happened to have a print of Edelfelt’s Haikkoo painting with you, you could sit and observe what had changed in the landscape.

I popped a few wild blueberries into my mouth and stopped at the museum, where a guide was talking about Edelfelt’s life, the paintings on display (which were duplicates) and the artefacts, fluently in different languages. Then it was time to head back.

I peddled and at times had to push the Jopo bike up hill. Then, sweating, I turned right into the courtyard of Hotel Haikko Manor and Spa. It was very grand. However, the pond with a fountain near the parking area softened my heart – it looked somewhat unruly in the middle of this manicured milieu. My bike waited in the parking area, as I took a short stroll in the gorgeous grounds of Haikko Manor, where lawns and flowerbeds lived in harmony with frisbee-golf baskets.

InHotel Haikko Manor and Spa there’s a cafe where daytrippers can go and have a sweet or salty snack, you don’t have to be an overnight guest.

I returned to my bike, passing a white Rolls Royce, and then cycled back along the same way that I came, following the wonderful waterside route back to Porvoo, where I returned my rented vehicle to Mannerheim street under the bridge. A shorter route would also have been possible, but why take a short cut if you don’t need to? As I cycled I thought that you could quite easily do this day trip from the centre of Porvoo to Haikko just by walking.

Porvoo’s National City park is a great outdoor destination because it’s easy to hike there on your own, on short or longer routes, and keep within a stone’s throw from cafes if you wish. Or you can rent a bicycle and explore a wider area. When I saw the stand-up paddlers I immediately felt like paddling along Porvoo river.

I can honestly say, that one day is nowhere near enough to explore the National Urban Park that spreads out across both sides of Porvoo’s river. To help you plan your trip, there is some excellent material available. You could start with the ready thought-out themed routes (find the downloadable PDF maps here) and pick up a pocket-sized leaflet with you about the park or a free cycling and outdoor map from the Visit Porvoo visitor office which is in the Art Factory on the river’s western bank.

For those interested in art, there’s a leaflet available that tells you about areas connected to Albert Edelfelt. You can depart from wherever you like, follow the suggested routes or go off and create your own mini adventure!

The author stayed at Ida-Maria Bed & Breakfast, courtesy of Porvoo’s travel office VisitPorvoo.fi

Tornberget on the map.
Edelfelt’s studio and museum on the map. Address: Edelfeltinpolku 3, 06400 Porvoo.

The Magical Experience of Photographing Wild Bears in Eastern Finland

We’d been in the hide for around five hours, slowly watching the summer evening envelope the view before us: a still lake fringed by forest.

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The lake had begun to steam as the sun began to set – the hot day cooling – and mayflies flickered in the golden brilliance.

Bears in Finland

“Bear!” Chris whispered.

I couldn’t see it a first, then a snout peeked from behind a tree, followed by the furry bulk of a bear as it emerged from the forest to the edge of the small lake.

Bears in Finland

It took a moment to find the bear through the lens on my camera, I’m not used to using a longer lens. I pressed the shutter button. The bear was ambling hesitantly towards the hide; it edged around the lake before reaching a stop and looking straight at us. I fired the shutter again.

All of a sudden the bear was alert, spooked. It turned and headed back towards the forest. I realised I’d been holding my breath!

The bear meandered around the curve of the lake and came to a stop, snuffling at the water’s edge.

Bears in Finland

The sun had just dipped behind the forest leaving a golden glow filtering through the trees and the night had taken on an ethereal light. A mist danced over the still lake.

Sniffing the air, the bear was reflected in the watery mirror; I couldn’t take my eyes off the magical scene.

A second later the bear vanished back into the forest yet the magical moment hung there for a second: did that really happen?

We were in a tiny wooden hide deep in the wilderness – just a few kilometres from the border with Russia – at Wild Brown Bear Centre, a company in Kuhmo, eastern Finland, specialising in wildlife photography of wild bears and other wild animals.

After the bear had vanished back into the forest nothing much happened for the rest of the evening except a brief appearance by a red fox. I curled up in the lower bunk of the hide and read a book for a while before drifting off into a light sleep.

Bears in Finland

An hour after midnight Chris woke me: “There’s another bear!”

I crawled sleepily out of the sleeping bag and perched onto the chair, squinting into the twilight, my eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness.

The bear was walking towards us, and he was big!

Bears in Finland

He strolled casually past the hide, so close we could hear him snuffle.

I remembered my camera was still set up and I fired a few sleepy shots. The settings were all wrong and the photographs were woefully underexposed. It didn’t matter: I won’t be forgetting this moment for a long time.

To be so near to a wild brown bear was thrilling: just a thin plywood wall stood between us and this majestic carnivore yet I felt perfectly safe.

I’m sure those bears wandered through my dreams that night, I slipped back into bed and the next thing I knew it was morning. Sunlight was streaming into the hide and the view beyond the window had transformed with the dawn.

Bears in Finland

It had been an unforgettable night, woven with moments so magical that they seemed improbable in the harsh light of day.

The moments were fleeting yet enchanted: a fantastic story rather than a wildlife spectacle.

A few days later, I was walking through the forest in a Patvinsuo national park late in the evening, the low sun burned through the boughs as I gathered blueberries. I wasn’t alone in these forests, somewhere deep in its heart were bears, I’d now seen them with my own eyes!

As well as the wildlife observation hides, The Wild Brown Bear Centre has accommodation, however we stayed in our camper on site for a small fee instead and had access to showers and sauna.

The bears are completely wild, they are encouraged to wander into the vicinity of the hides with tiny amounts of food left in photogenically strategic places.

Bears in Finland

As well as photographing bears, there is also the chance of seeing wolverine, wolves, and lynx.
Bears in Finland
We visited Wild Brown Bear as independent travellers, through our own choice and paid for the experience with our own money as part of an amazing two month road trip around Finland over the summer of 2016.

This story was originally posted on my own blog www.vagabondbaker.com, I have re-edited some of the text for this post.

Wild Brown Bear Oy: www.wildbrownbear.fi

Ice fishing in Finland is an exotic way to enjoy nature

First impressions about ice fishing are usually negative. Even many Finns think it’s a cold and boring hobby. Actually it’s just the opposite.

Imagine yourself walking or skiing on the ice of a frozen lake or sea. There might be dozens of meters of water below you. Only half a meter of ice is between you and the freezing cold water.

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I once heard somebody asking “is this really a lake?” It was a man who had never seen a frozen lake before. It’s sometimes difficult to understand that you are actually on the top of a large water pool. When you drill a hole to the ice and drop your ice fishing lure towards the bottom, you finally realize whats happening.

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Ice fishing gets even more exciting when you fish in the wilderness. You never know in advance if the lake has any fish in it at all. Or maybe there haven’t been any fishermen in years and it’s full of huge pikes or salmons. When you drill the first hole and put your lure into the water…

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Ice fishing isn’t only about fishing or catching a fish. It’s also about enjoying the nature, peace and silence. If you go outdoors at winter time, the easiest place to wander is on ice. When there is snow everywhere, the nature is so silent and peaceful.

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If you go walking on ice at a cloudless night and full moon, you don’t need any extra light source. Everything is changing into a fairy tale.

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With the everyman’s right in Finland you can ice fish in lakes and sea areas for free (there are a few exceptions). We have a long sea coast line and almost 200 000 lakes.  You can find a lot of pikes, perches and roaches in almost every lake. When you go more north, you can find a lot of graylings, trouts, salmons and some arctic chars also.

Ice climbing in ski resort Ruka

The winter is coming, sooner or later. Do you already have winter holiday plans? If not, why not try something new, some new outdoor activity. Push yourself to the limit and overcome your fears if you have some.

I fought my fears last February and tried ice climbing. I had climbed once before, but that was over 10 years ago. After that I had some thoughts that I never could climb again. For some reason I had managed to create a fear of techical climbing.

When my birthday got closer I decided to spend a holiday on my own. That would be a present for myself. A vacation when I could do anything I wanted (or was able) to do.

I travelled to Lapland with my two dogs to have a week for myself. Couple of days just relaxing and wondering the lousy weather! It was February but it was raining and the temperature was just above zero. Still I did not let this stop me from having a great time.

Then came the big day, I drove to the ski resort of Ruka for ice climbing! I had butterflies in my stomach, but when I met my guide Jussi and the other climber, I felt much better and relaxed.

Jussi told us what kinds of things we could expect to happen during the day and showed all the gears we needed. He then instructed us how to wear big climbing boots, harness and gaiters.

The gaiters were necessary because of the crampons, just in case if you hit your foot against the other by accident you may break your trousers. We put the crampons on and started walking like ducks towards the ice wall.

The ice wall is located in the middle of the slalom ski slopes, so we had to walk carefully and be aware of the downhill skiers. Up we went, and when I saw the ice wall I was very excited, not afraid anymore. The ice wall is made by both nature and man. It is about 35 meters high. The company that organizes these climbing expeditions also keeps the ice wall in good shape.

Our guide Jussi showed us how to use the ice axe. Then he prepared the top rope in place, and suddenly it was our time to climb! First I stayed down and with the help of Jussi I either tigtened or slacked the rope while the other climber was going up and then descending.

Then it was my turn. The rope was tight and I hit the first hit with the ice axes. Yes, I had two ice axes, one for both hand.

The meaning is to hit the ice axe just above your head with straight hands. Then you step up and hit your toes straight against the ice wall. The crampons have also forward pointing spikes that help you stand in steep wall. You just have to trust them! And that is difficult while your brain keeps saying ’that is not possible, is that possible, can you really stand there…!’

By the second attempt I managed to reach the top! I conquerred Mount Ruka!

I have to admit that during the climb I lost all of my selfconfidence and yelled out to Jussi that I am coming down, cannot go further. Jussi was so calm and he just shouted me back that ’hey, you can do it, just move a little bit closer to the ice wall, then to the right etc’. I might have said a few bad words to myself at first, but then thought a while and slowly moved my leg to the right.

I knew nothing bad would happen to me, Jussi kept the rope very tight and helped me ascend to the top! Oh, that feeling! I was so proud of myself, took some photos there still hanging on the ropes, admiring the views of the cloudy and rainy day.

Then I heard Jussi’s voice…’are you coming down, I’ll loose the rope for you so you can lean back and start walking down’. I looked down… a mistake! I was on a high place on a steep ice wall and now Jussi wants me to LEAN BACK! My legs started to shake, I felt like Elvis! Twist and shout… Come on woman, you can do it, I repeated to myself.

And I did it. I dared to lean back and I took the first step down, after that it was easy and I enjoyed it a lot. And when I hit the ground I felt like a hero! I was so grateful to Jussi. Without his encouragement I would not have made it.

So if you also want to try some new outdoor activity, I do recommend ice climbing in Northern Finland!

Ice climbing and other activities organized by: www.outdoorpassion.fi

Ski resort Ruka

Spend a night outside – Riuttaskorpi recreational forest

Autumn had arrived to Finland with it’s colorful touch. It was time to get together and spend a night outside.

Suomen Latu Ry (a Finnish outdoor association) has decided a date for Finns to spend a night outside. The 17th of September is the day that thousands of Finns will be heading to the forests every year for an overnighter, or they will camp on their own backyard etc.

So I asked if someone from our Finnish hammock group wished to get together and go hanging somewhere. Soon we had decided our destination: the Riuttaskorpi recreational forest.

Haukijärvi

Haukijärvi

Riuttaskorpi is a 16 sq km area in the north side of Ylöjärvi, near Kuru. It locates between 2 big national parks, Seitseminen and Helvetinjärvi.

This area hasn’t had much of population during it’s history. Mostly it is known for log floating and some of it’s white waters have been used for mills.

Some of Finland’s long trails go through this area, like Pirkan Taival for example. There is a lean-to and a few fireplaces, and also a sightseeing tower, which is closed now because of it’s poor rotten condition. One rented sauna can be found by the lake Haukijärvi,  and next to the sauna there’s a kitchen building which is open for everybody.

Parts of Riuttaskorpi log trails are also in poor condition, I hope the rotten logs will be replaced soon. There is a total of 15 km of trails to walk.

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The day started from my home, where 3 of us met at 10 am. Unfortunately, one had to cancel, because his child got really sick and they had had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.

It took about an hour to drive to the Myllykoski parking lot, where there were two more hammock hikers waiting for us.

Our first destination was only 500 meters away. It was the Suutarilankoski lean-to with it’s white waters.

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Remains of an old mill

Suutarilankoski is a beautiful place. One can still see some remains of the old mills from the 1920’s, or possibly even earlier. There wasn’t as much of water running as usual, I think, since this small river is sometimes also used for canoeing and kayaking.

There was a small trail on the right bank, where we could access easier to the small flowing river. I jumped from rock to rock in the middle of the purling waters. Yellow leaves gave extra colors to the beautiful green moss around. I enjoyed the sound of purling water by closing my eyes.

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It was a bit of a disappointment that we couldn’t use the sightseeing tower because of it’s poor condition. Parts of the stairs had been removed so that people wouldn’t go up and possibly get hurt.

But there was quite a nice view from the rocks to the lake as well, even if we couldn’t go up in the tower.

We also got a few deer keds on our way… I hate those. Hard to kill because they have such a strong armor, and they are really small insects. Crawling under the shirt and in the hair… nasty little… well, you know. They appear usually in the August and their season lasts around the end of September.

Haukikalliot

Haukikalliot

It didn’t take long before we arrived to Haukikalliot (the Pike Rocks) and had a conversation whether this could be our place for the night or not.

We had some snacks and soon we decided to check out the last place by the lake Haukijärvi (Pike lake). If it wasn’t a good place for us, we would come back here. We had lot’s of time, since it was only 12.30 pm.

Table was collapsed due it's poor condition

A table had collapsed due to it’s poor condition

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Most of the logs in the trail were in bad shape as I mentioned earlier. Also the table up on the hill had collapsed because the wood was too soft and rotten. But the trails were mostly in good condition, luckily.

Kitchen building

Kitchen building

Mancave, 3 x knock

Man cave, 3 x knock

Salinkalliot has an kitchen building with a fireplace and two big tables. It is a really nice cottage, but I forgot to take photos inside!

There was only a sauna down on the shore and no camping possibilities for all of us, so we decided to head back to Haukikalliot.

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We set our hammocks and made a fire. We also made enough firewood for the whole night and for the next morning too.

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Me and Jani decided to not use the tarps, since it was obvious that it wouldn’t be raining at all. The weather forecast told us that the night would be clear, but the temperature would be around 0 celcius (32F).

There wasn't any grid available so this worked out well too...

There wasn’t any grid available so this worked out well too…

We had a great evening! We chatted and made something to eat. Also some other people joined us and since they didn’t have much of experience with hammocks, we showed them some of our own solutions with our hammocks and tarps. Hammock camping is a relatively new thing here in Finland.

The gear we had was this: 1 DD Frontline, 2 Ticket To The Moon’s, 1 Amazonas and 2 Warbonnet Blackbird XLC’s. Mostly DD Underquilts, since we don’t have other options here available…

A friend of mine has a Warbonnet Wooki down underquilt, which he ordered for over a month ago. It cost around 85$ more in Finland because of the taxes and duty. Wish to get mine someday too.

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Around 8 pm the sun was starting to set.  The weather was really calm, no wind at all. The lake reflected the sky and it’s clouds perfectly. It was also very quiet, only sometimes I could hear some distant traffic noises from the roads far away.

I was really waiting for the night to fall, since I wanted to take some long exposure shots.

Colors changed to dark blue and purple

Colors changed to dark blue and purple

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It started to get more cold slowly, but fire kept us warm

It slowly started to get colder, but the fire kept us warm.

Big moon raised in yellow but got really bright fast. Fog started to appear soon.

Big moon raised behind the trees in yellow but got really bright really fast. Fog started to appear soon.

We finns don’t talk much, even in the campfire. Some small chat but enjoyed the warm feeling of fire and relaxing quiet moments

We Finns don’t talk much, even by the campfire. Just a bit of smalltalk, but mostly we just enjoyed the warm feeling of the fire and relaxing quiet moments.

Finally some stars started to show up and only a glimpse of daylight was left in the West. I took my tripod and camera from my backpack and started to shoot.

I really love the night time when the sky is clear with all of it’s billions of stars. This was the time I had been waiting for.

Big dipper was easy to see

I played with my new headlamp and long exposures

I played with my new headlamp and long exposures

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Big dipper in the middle. A plane passed us from the left (Moscow-Seattle flight)

Warmth of fire and night sky makes a perfect match

Warmth of the fire and a clear night sky make a perfect match

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We went to sleep soon. I didn’t sleep well because I mostly just looked at the stars and listened to the sounds of the night.

Above me there were Polaris, Capella and Pollux. I could see the bright Vega on the left side. I was hoping to see a shooting star. Eventually I fell asleep.

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We had quite a cold night after all. The temperature went down to -4C (25F) so we had some ice on our hammocks and underquilt protectors (2QZQ).

One of us had only had a spaceblanket under him. He got a so called cold butt syndrome.

I used a Haglöfs +2C bag, but I also had a fleece blanket that I had wrapped around myself for the night. I felt warm and toasty all night round.

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Got up after 7 am and wow… The fog gave a really nice light around us with the sunrise!

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Morning coffee with Bialetti and Kupilka

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We left quite early, around 10 am. There was some sort of a hunting season going on, since we heard dogs barking and some shots being fired.

The car windows were a bit frozen so we let them be on idle to warm up. Meanwhile we talked about some ideas for our next meeting. Maybe we could book a sauna?

We will be having a big hammock meeting on the 2nd of October in the Nuuksio National Park, so that will be our next trip.

Over all, a splendid trip again! Enjoy your time in the woods on all of the seasons.

For more information about the Riuttaskorpi recreational forest, click here.

To see all my photos from this trip, click here.

Haukikalliot (pike rocks) area on a map.