On the ice of Päijänne National Park

We wanted to spend a night outside and took some time to figure out where to go. We got an idea to walk on the ice and find a small isle to spend a night. We would have a great view around us from there. Päijänne is a large and long lake, where there are lots of small and a bit bigger isles. During the winter, some people ice skate or ski on the ice of Päijänne all the way from Lahti to Jyväskylä (136km) in one or two days.

Screen shot: retkikartta.fi

We soon got some ideas about where we would be heading to. Also, we figured we should use pulks (small toboggans) for getting our gear to place X easier. Some of us had skis or skates but not everyone, so we decided to walk there, with spikes on our shoes.

I bought spikes and a simple cheap pulk, which i modified a bit. I have Osprey Transporter 60L bag, and for the cover I used my bigger backpack rain cover. Found some hooks and shock cord, all done in 30 mins.

Woke up at 7am and packed all that was left. Got my small Savotta MiniJäger backpack, there I packed all the food etc. 9.30am I was on the road, heading to Tuulos, where I’d leave my car. My friend Jani picked me up around 12. Coffee break at the local mall, then we had a one hour drive to Höysniemi parking. My car isn’t in great shape, for example my exhaust pipe is broken, so most likely it would have been  ripped off on the forest roads….

Before 2pm we were there, Joonas arrived about an hour later and found us from Pitkäniemi.

The weather was perfect! We all got our sunglasses, snow blindness avoided! There was some snow on the top of the ice, but it was easy to walk. Some 10-15cm piles sometimes, and we (or I) got a bit scared every time we heard a cracking sound… The weather had been really warm and a bit rainy too, so the slush was frozen a bit and broke when we’d step on it. But the ice was about 25 to 35cm thick. No wind, even though the forecast had told us about 5-6m/s winds.

It was amazing to see so far and walk there, where we last summer were in a boat! Walking on the snow covered ice, which had no marks of other people. It was a snow desert. Colors of Finnish flag, blue sky and white snow.

Our pulks worked really well, I was happy. Also the spikes were really necessary.

Soon after we arrived to Pitkäniemi, we found out that the forest on our right side had blocked the wind. But it didn’t bother us, since the Pitkäniemi lean-to was a bit deeper in the forest and the trees gave us a good cover.

Wind drawed great piles and drawings into the snow. Light frosty snow danced and flew around us. It was so beautiful….!

We were not sure if we are going to stay there. We had asked about the current firewood situation via Päijänne National Park Facebook site, and they told us that Kelvenne has none. Unfortunately, Pitkäniemi had none either…. Only some sticks etc that someone had been carrying from the forest.

however, after some discussion, we decided to stay there. Jani disappeared to get some firewood from the car. A bit later he called for help, because he had taken one dry and long log with him. So I walked to help him and pulled the pulk full of wood.

The Sun was going down fast, so we went to enjoy the golden moment… Beautiful! Wind was blowing light snow, and the colors were amazing… It might have been cold, but my heart and mind felt really warm.

Blue tones got more deeper when the Sun went behind the horizon….

It was time to prepare the dinner, everybody was really hungry. Bacon, potatos, vegetables… I got a couple of good steaks and made some smashed potatoes. It was a good eatin’!

A couple came to greet us, and decided to sleep in the lean-to. They had fatbikes and they were cycling around Päijänne. They ate something too and went for drive again for awhile. It was fun to see their lights moving far away.

It was time to enjoy the starry sky. We did see a lot of them… Big dipper, Orion and it’s belt etc… They were bright. Also the milky way was above us, we could see it barely. I need to buy a DSLR camera again! This time I only got my LG G4 phone and Fuji X20 camera with me.

So we got some ideas and played with some long exposures, light painting etc. They came out pretty good!

We had fun on the ice and at the lean-to. Good stories and jokes, great food and so on. It was a bit cold but the wind was dying slowly, so the small breeze here didn’t bother us anymore.

It was time to go to sleep. I had my 4x4m DD tarp with me, so I had lot’s of room. This time I had chosen the Ticket hammock: it fit’s well with my Cumulus Selva 600 underquilt. Took some time to get all warm, felt a bit chilly on my back at first, but slowly everything was warming up. Snug as a bug. Warm and toasty inside of Savotta Military bag. Temp went down to -10’C.

Woke up 7.30am, and it was still dark. Wait, I need to get out from the bag where I was totally buried… Oh wow, it’s a beautiful morning! The tarp was a bit frosty inside, but everything was dry.

Niko opened my tarp so I could see the view. I didn’t want to get out from the warm bag….

We all had had a warm night and we all had slept well. The wind was gone, but so was the morning sun.

Only big cloudy sky was saying goodbye when we headed back to our cars. It started to snow also. We had a coffee break at the Tuulos mall and said goodbye until next time.

It was an awesome trip and thank you all! Not sure if we can enjoy these kind of weathers this winter again. Spring is coming slowly, so other adventures calling.

More photos from Päijänne : pixabilly.1g.fi

Here is a video from our trip too :

Thank you for reading!

Kuksa – Crafting the traditional wooden cup

So what is a kuksa and what’s so special about it? It is a wooden cup that has almost sacred status among traditional hikers, bushcrafters, fell-goers and so on. Many claim that it actually originates here from Finland but I think it would be safer to say that it has Nordic origins. The saying goes something like this way, that every self-respecting outdoorsman should craft their kuksa by themselves and that the only acceptable material for kuksa would be birch burl.

During my earliest outdoor years I slowly grew to kinda embrace this legend about self crafted kuksas, but this doesn’t mean that I position myself above others as some kind of “real outdoorsman”. I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who decides to go with their plastic cup, an enamel mug, a ready-made kuksa, or whatnot. I see this more like my own personal maturity rite as an outdoor adventurer and less like “the only real way” of doing outdoorsy things. There just isn’t one right way of enjoying outdoors and it also applies to kuksa, no matter what that old bearded outdoor crank or some internet warrior tells you about the only right way of blah blah.

But this text isn’t about the deepest depths of the philosophy of kuksa or outdoors itself. Instead this is a short story of how a not-so-handcraftsman (read: me) made his first own kuksa to give his adventures a little more feel on a personal level.

The background and the “why?”

So as I mentioned I grew to embrace the legend that every outdoorsman should make their own kuksa by themselves. This made me decide that if I some day got a chance to make my own birch burl kuksa I would take that chance. I started my outdoor activities with those cheap ‘o’ timber-made mugs which I bought when I was in army but I never really liked them because a cheap wooden mug made of random piece of timber is just that: unauthentic, heavy and generally poor. Instead a self made kuksa would only be heavy and poor but absolutely authentic! It’s a freaking self-made birch burl kuksa, think about it. It would have the right feel to it and so it would be “justified weight” in my backpack. But until I would come across with such a noble, precious and rare material as birch burl I decided I wouldn’t carry a wooden kuksa with me, so I threw those timbermugs to the corner and took a lightweight but oh-so-soulless plastic cup with me whenever I ventured the great outdoors. Then I just waited for the day I would possibly find a birch burl to make my own kuksa.

Even though I’ve always known that there isn’t one right way of, for example, crafting a kuksa, I wanted to track down the most agreed-on authentic and traditional way of crafting one. Unfortunately the definition of a “real kuksa” is a bit vague as there are about as many definitions for it as there are people who own a kuksa. However if we put aside this “freedom of choice” in kuksa making, which basically gives you the freedom to define your own kuksa carved of a dried up elephant turd being as authentic as any other, many kuksa enthusiasts agree about the only acceptable material for making a real kuksa: the birch burl. Many also agree on that when someone is about to manufacture a real kuksa by themselves they should forget about using pieces of randomly selected board wood, modern power tools and their common sense. These kuksa making basics considered as somewhat traditional are the guidelines that I felt good enough with, so my aim was clear. The only problem here was that the birch burl suitable for making a kuksa is about as rare as hens’ tooth (“suitable” meaning a burl about the size and shape of a kuksa including the handle) and should you anyhow happen to encounter a birch burl, one or more of these apply….

  • The burl is too fresh. It needs to dry up over a summer or two, but preferably three
  • The burl is dry as lecture in history but it has a crack you could fit your mortgage into
  • The burl is too big / too small / too deformed / too “not kuksay”
  • The burl is attached to a tree and you’re too broke to own the forest where the said tree is located in. Therefore you don’t have the permission to cut it off the tree it grows in (or at least this is how the legislation goes here in Finland, look for “freedom to roam” or more specifically “finnish everyman’s right”)
  • You get a permission of the owner of the forest to cut the burl off of the tree. This is when you realize the burl is actually 17 meters high in the tree. Damn. If the forest isn’t going to be raped and leveled tomorrow for the sake of forestry / industrial purposes you can forget about asking a permission to take the whole tree down for a “one stupid burl”.
  • Bonus: There’s the thing called Salix caprea root burl, which is even more appreciated material for kuksa, but also – if possible – even more rare. After all you theoretically CAN find a birch burl, and some even have found, so that’s pretty boring and everyday’ish stuff when compared to burl in Salix caprea’s roots. These things appear like once in a millenia during the fifth full moon in the roots of that one specific Salix caprea located exactly in the middle of nowhere, Lapland. Ingest this, cry and admit to yourself that there is no way of finding the rarest of rare, the Salix caprea root burl. Be happy if you ever encounter a proper birch one. However if you ever happen to beat the odds with Salix caprea root burl consider filling a lottery coupon.

Anyway I managed to avoid all of these great filters ending up hitting a jackpot when in the summer of 2015 a friend of mine said that they’ve had this one birch burl at his parents’ garage for almost 30 years. Damn, that’s longer that I’ve even existed at this point. Anyway his father had found it three decades ago but neither of my friend or his father had any actual interest in making a kuksa out of it so they generously donated the burl to me. How convenient that the lump was somewhat a size of a kuksa and though it was dry, it didn’t have even one slighest crack in it! It was this real stroke of materialistic luck that gave me a possibility to try what kind of kuksa would I find inside of a real birch burl.

The crafting begins with all the chiseling

As soon as I got to a better space for woodcrafts than a block of flats I started gathering the tools needed for the job. As my idea was to keep the process as traditional as I could I wasn’t going to use drill presses or modern power tools. Here’s the weaponry I used in 99 % of the battle against the hard wood.

  • A gouge
    • For the actual chiseling work
    • I used size 16 mm and it worked fine
    • More pricey I’d think. My wallet hurts
  • A puukko -knife (Marttiini Kaamosjätkä)
    • For rough finishing
    • “This thing really needs sharpening”
  • A small fine carving knife (Mora Wood Carving 120),
    • Small-bladed precision carving knife
    • For actual finishing touches of the outerior
  • A curved hollowing knife (Mora Wood Carving 162)
    • A.k.a. spoon making knife
    • Resembles a question mark made of carbon steel
    • For finishing the interior of the kuksa
  • Other equipment
    • A hammer for chiseling if you don’t mean to stab the burl with the gouge until it turns into a kuksa (pro-tip: don’t). A good ol’ carpenter’s hammer will do.
    • A good-sized vise to hold the burl in it’s place. A burl bouncing around your garage after every hammer strike can be a little annoying.
    • Hearing protection of some kind. Thousands (yeah…) of hammer hits will make your ears ring. Also with hearing protection you can’t hear your neighbor screaming for you to stop the kuksa-making madness.
    • Safety goggles. Usually you remember the need for protective eyewear when you’re digging the first chunk of wood out of your eye. Just like I did.
    • I also had to use a carpenter’s saw, some sandpaper (+ a piece of flat wooden board and a stapler) and hand-fitting pieces of hard wood. More of these later on.

The lineup      

The first step of the actual work was to cut the excess branch off of the burl. For this I used the carpenters saw.

It had been a long time since I last used a gouge for real so the first hour or two went by just relearning to use the tool effectively. I had little problems as the burl itself had a different opinion in turning into a kuksa. This forced me to go all medieval on it, but even though the burl had a protective bark on it’s surface I still wasn’t feeling too sure about having to use so brutal amounts of force. Unfortunately there just wasn’t any other way: A dry birch burl can be as though as Clint Eastwood’s face so I really had to chisel the sh*t out of it (the burl, not Clint’s face). Chiseling was the only way to work with dry burl because the so-called organic, pliers requiring, “rip and tear” -method that your dentist uses on you works in kuksa-making only if the fibres of the burl are fresh and moist. This organic ripping method is an exception to the rule that the processed burl should be dry. I have no experience in this kind of organic kuksa crafting, but I hope I would get to try it some day too.

First bites

After a few first centimeters of hollowing a doubt crossed my mind. The chiseling of the interior part is made in respect to the outer surface of the burl. Okay, this is pretty clear for anyone with more brain than a protozoan, but the thing that wasn’t clear was the actual form of the wood surface beneath the bark. The bark was protecting the surface of the kuksa-to-come during the hard work but at this point it would be more useful to remove the bark to see the exact form of the burl underneath it. This would help me to estimate the correct thickness of the wall so that I wouldn’t accidentally make my kuksa into a fancy wooden sieve. So a few puukko-swings later it came clear that the wooden surface under the bark was actually quite where it ought to be.

Once I got started I was pulled deeply into the project. It was in a way actually quite fascinating to make my own kuksa at last so I easily spent most hours of the firts weekend crafting. Or actually I had to spend because I only seldomly would have access to that kind of workspace. The finishing of the kuksa could be delayed weeks – even months – if I didn’t chisel the burl like a rabid beaver.

Getting somewhere

The tool for “stabilization”. Sandpaper is modern era so basically it’s cheating!

Nature by the way doesn’t make burls so that they stand steadily on their own. This was basically the only part where I had to “cut corners” (pun intended): I had to cut the bottom flat so that the kuksa would be stable and that the precious caffeinated beverage wouldn’t spill all over when kuksa is placed on a flat surface. For this “stabilization” I used a carpenters saw to get a good area of the bottom somewhat flat and tried to finish it with a belt sander machine (which is cheating(!!) by the way). Using belt sander took time and still the result was only poor and roundish, so after wasting my time with a power tool I got an idea to staple a piece of sandpaper on a straight piece of board to rub the kuksa against this “flattening tool”. It actually worked pretty well and in a few minutes I had made my kuksa perfectly self standing with no wobble of any kind. Besides this sandpaper cheating I wouldn’t be smoothing the kuksa in any way using modern equipment. Instead I would use another dull piece of wood to “seal” the surface of the wood, but more of it later.

Being that sunday is a rest day I felt like letting my mind rest in making the kuksa. I managed to carve the kuksa hollow enough to test my Mora spoon carving knife which turned out to be more tricky than one would expect. The only safe way for using this knife to achieve a smooth carving surface was to actually use the knife like an ice cream scoop. I was carving with a twist, I’d say: The movement was only about the twisting of the wrist to have the force and the range of motion under control so that in case of the blade slipping out of the kuksa I wouldn’t have all the arms’ force involved resulting in a huge swing of a blade and possibly an acute accidental blood donation. Anyhow the key to smooth interior was to carve cross the fibres of the wood, but as the fibres themselves didn’t seem to always know where they’re pointing to, the result wasn’t spotless. The parts where I didn’t have any other choice but to carve in the direction of the grains ensured that the fibres get torn off instead of cut off even with the sharpest of knifes. Some parts might have been a bit tricky but in the end most of the results were satisfying.

During the quick experiment with the finishing knives I noticed that the soft-as-iron-touch of the vise hadn’t actually made a single noticeable scratch in the surface of the burl. The burl was so tough that I wouldn’t be surprised if it had damaged the vise! Anyhow even if there was some imperfections that my eye didn’t catch those would be gone after I’d finish the surface.

Roughly finished kuksa

It’s not about the size of the blade but how you use it

Back home I worked on the kuksa as much as my other activities and limited workspace made possible. This means that when I got back into the actual workspace the kuksa hadn’t taken a single step forward. Damn it. After finishing the interior part and some concave parts of the outerior with the spoon knife I finished the outer surface with the precision knife. In this point the strangely deformed “handle” part got it’s fair share of beauty that Marttiini couldn’t deliver with it’s longer (and more dull) blade. Even though I’m a fan of huge phallic symbols survival knives, and I usually carry a Kizlyar DV-2 on my hikes as it is a tool that can handle almost anything you can imagine throwing at it, I still recognize that the small bladed knives also have earned their reputation.

During the finishing phase I tought that it would be best to follow the curves and shapes that nature had chosen for this burl so all I practically did was just the removal of the bark. The strange handle…ish part also originated from the shape mother nature had earlier given to it. In some point I had visions about holes in the handle and some reindeer bone inlay details (at least I wasn’t visioning about mammoth bone altough you can buy everything online nowadays) but in the end I realized it would be fitting and even symbolic somehow if my first kuksa didn’t have anything complicated in it. So for the sake of lack of skill simplicity I decided to make it as natural as possible at this point. This would fit nicely into the line of my traditional ideology that also didn’t include any kind of oiling finish that many use nowadays for their kuksas. So no bone details or holes on the handle or even the leather lanyard as I’ve never felt good with hanging my kuksa outside my backpack or on my belt. This was my way of honouring the rare material.

Steel requiring part of the finishing is about done

In many cases kuksa makers recommend to boil the carved kuksa (or the burl right after removing the bark) in salted water. Boiling in salt water allegedly removes some inner tensions that together with constant changes in humidity would somehow result in cracking. I don’t consider these claims entirely plausible because it’s yet to be explained clearly that how exactly boiling and/or salt remove mechanical tension. Instead of this I find it much more believable that the salt introduced in the wood would stabilize the changes in humidity and thus prevent cracking. Due to the hygroscopic nature of salt it should prevent the wood of a kuksa from drying up too much in between moistening effect (humidity peaks) of the beverages being consumed from it. I have no scientific research behind my claims whatsoever so we’re not about to make any kind of factual statements here about why boiling water salt bath might be or might not be good for your kuksa or you. This was just a sidenote.

In the lack of proper explatation (“seems to work” isn’t one) for the salt water bath I decided to leave it out of the equation. I also didn’t want first one or two or hundred cups of coffee to taste salty and besides that kuksa was already dry as ever and still didn’t have any kind of cracks. As far as I know cracking would most likely occur IF the kuksa wasn’t made of round cup-shaped burl. Timber or board wood (or even a non-suitable burl) that has its grains going straight through the cup instead of following cup’s form in a curved fashion is not as solid as it a proper cup-shaped burl is. Although there wasn’t any absolute certainty for my kuksa not to explode into tiny pieces the second I poured some coffee in it I was pretty sure that I’d be getting somewhere with this.

When searching for information regarding ways of crafting a kuksa I found out that some of “ye olde” makers have been favouring “massaging” the knife finished surface with dull pieces of hard wood instead of finishing it with sandpaper. Hard wood would allegedly close the fibre ends for more moisture resistant result whereas sandpaper would just make the fibers ends more fine leaving the surface as open to moisture as it originally was. This argument was enough to make me rub my kuksa with another piece of birch and as I was expecting this also polished the kuksa nicely. Although it only took a few sentences to describe this polishing phase it took me two to three hours to go the kuksa somewhat through and still the results would’ve been better if I’ve had the energy to continue to rub for hour or two more. You see the burl was harder than the “basic” birch so it was more of the burl polishing the polishing pieces than the other way around. Perfect polishing also requires a somewhat smooth surface to begin with and my kuksa was all but smooth cos I finished it with a knife.

In internet many kuksa purists also remember to CAPSLOCK that one shouldn’t impregnate the kuksa with any kind of oil or whatever poison they’d choose. Many commercially manufactured kuksas actually have some kind of oil finishing, which is perfectly fine if you aren’t a friend of principles, but I didn’t feel like dipping my precious creation into any other than coffee or whatever beverage I’d be consuming from it. Speaking of which…

Caffienating & introduction

After surface finishing there would still be a kind of impregnation before the actual introduction. Here introduction means some kind of “initation”, or “breaking” the kuksa into use or baptizing it in a way. In my humble opinion the most traditional way of introducing the kuksa into use requires using both coffee and a distilled beverage, of which the former is needed in the actual impregnation and the latter in the introduction “ritual” you could also call “a vainglorious desire to baptize the kuksa using scotch”.

I brewed some filtered coffee to celebrate my newborn kuksa. After drinking the coffee (not from the kuksa, though) I took some moist used ground coffee from the paper filter to use them to impregnate the kuksa: I rubbed the interior of the kuksa with something like a teaspoon worth of ground coffee until the coffee felt somewhat dry in my fingers. According to the “legend”, and to common sense too, this makes the little amounts of fat in coffee to impregnate the surface of the wood making the wood more moisture resistant. I repeated this step a two or three times and always with a fresh moist spoonful of used ground coffee. The next morning I decided to go it yet through a few times and also to rub the outerior too to give it a nice colourful touch and a little bit moisture resistivity. This way the outerior wouldn’t have so perverted contrast with the interior as they were now basically the same colour. The kuksa was now all done to be introduced for use.

This might be or might not be what it looks like depending on how you see this

The actual introduction ritual is the part that requires the long awaited alcoholic beverage. They usually favour quality cognac with kuksas, but because I like alcoholic beverages distilled of grapes about as much as I like my nails being pulled off, I chose whiskey. Due to the summer’s lack of rain, darkness and other overall autumnish sadness my stash of whiskey only had one bottle, being Ardbeg Uigeadail, which I cannot pronounce aloud because I’m not a drunken scottish gnome. Anyway choosing one out of one bottles was pretty easy even for me.

[Note: The following magic ritual was taken from the Wikipedia itself, which by the way is considered reliable enough to be considered as an inacceptable reference for academic bachelor’s thesis. The ritual was described in finnish article for kuksa, but there is no way of checking the originality, traditionality or any other nuances regarding the act itself. The most important part however is that we atleast have an excuse to use whiskey here, because it was mentioned in the article!]

So let’s get to the black magic part:

1. A sip of beverage was to be poured in the kuksa

2. The kuksa was to be moved clockwise in a circular motion so that the beverage makes a small whirlpool and rises towards the edges of the kuksa (My own kuksa was a little deformed so the whiskey didn’t run exactly smoothly like this but I still managed to get this done).

3. Then the sip was to be… well, sipped.

4. Steps 1.-3. were repeated but this time moving the kuksa counterclockwise in a circle.

5. Finally beverage was to be poured in the kuksa the amount that one desires. No acrobatics needed this time, just take a fair taste of your choice of beverage.

It surprised me how well the smoky whiskey covered all the taste of the coffee and the wood itself. There wasn’t a doubt that this whiskey was quality stuff. The next day I finally enjoyed the very first coffee from this kuksa and the experience was somewhat towards irish coffee. But it wasn’t bad! The residues of whiskey would dissapear after a few cups of coffee.

Remember when photographing near reflecting surfaces that wearing just a birthday suit isn’t advised. I remembered, so no unintentional acts of random nakedness here!

Lastly

The kuksa was now finished and formally introduced into use. There are totally excessive amounts of beverages to be enjoyed from this to further enjoy the outdoors.

Regarding the “user manual” a kuksa is a fairly simple piece of outdoor kitchen, because a kuksa should never be washed. Never ever! Why so? Because it just isn’t allowed to be washed. The only exception to this rule is a real fell river and all the other tries to wash a kuksa lead to misfortune according to the demigods of outdoor activities. But if you’re not-so-superstitious you can rinse your kuksa with warm water after use. Just don’t use any detergent as it isn’t good for your kuksa nor the environment. Besides this you should drink your firewater straight from the flask, not from the kuksa, to prevent dissolving the protective coffee fats. Also dairy products, food and other stuff that goes easily bad should be kept away from the kuksa if the user doesn’t wish to have diahrrea or gastroenteritsis.

There will be many kilometers of hiking ahead with me and my kuksa. At least it’s got to be some kind of sign of good luck to still have all my fingers left after this project. I hope some day to get to craft another kuksa as handcrafting is always so rewarding and like in trekking it’s the trek itself that’s at least as enjoyable as making it to the finish line.

Finished kuksa that has served me well for two years at this point

Learn more:

Kokovartalokommando Youtube channel (videos with English subtitles)

Read this article in Finnish here

Snowshoeing in Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Snowshoeing in the city at Kuopio? The answer is Puijo!

Sometimes you get lucky and can find just the thing you are looking for very close to you. We chose Kuopio as our destination for a winter weekend mostly because it offers plenty of great winter activities within a very short distance from the heart of the city.

Puijo Tower at Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The city’s famous landmark Puijo ridge with its iconic Puijo Tower is less than 3 kilometres from the city centre. However, Puijo is also a haven for nature lovers: it is among the oldest nature conservation areas in Finland, having been established on Puijo ridge already in 1928.

We had already had a great time kicksledding on Lake Kallavesi, straight from Kuopio’s passenger harbour. Next, we headed up to the Puijo hill for a bit of snowshoeing.

Trail signs at Puijo, Kuopio in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

We parked our car at the car park closest to Konttila Farm and grabbed our snowshoes. The map of Puijo paths indicated clearly marked paths and when we arrived at the signposts, we saw to our surprise that we would have been fine even without snowshoes: the paths were well trodden.

Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

However, very soon we abandoned the marked trail and set off to find our own way in the gorgeous, snowy forest wearing our snowshoes. The great thing about leaving your own footprints in the snow is that you can’t get lost – you can always see where you came from and retrace your steps, if necessary.

Snowshoeing in Puijo forest in winter. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The fir trees of Puijo have enjoyed peace and quiet for decades, thanks to its status as a nature conservation area. We started heading towards Satulanotko.

Snowshoeing at Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Every once in a while we stopped to gaze the trees above. Suddenly we saw something colourful behind the tree trunks: a trail runner following the path closest to us. We preferred a slower pace.

Fallen fir tree at Puijo conservation area, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

There is absolutely no logging at Puijo conservation area. However, sometimes trees happen to fall down naturally, just like this poor fir tree fellow.

Snowy fir trees at Puijo conservation area, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Suddenly we heard a strange, creaking sound pretty close to us. It took us a while to locate its source: a fallen tree had got stuck, leaning against another tree, and whenever the fir tree swayed even a bit in the wind, the contact made it sound like a creaking door.

Other than that, it was almost totally quiet. Although we were so close to Kuopio city and the distance to the closest roads isn’t great, we could hardly hear any cars through the dense forest.

When you are snowshoeing, you don’t usually need to worry about getting cold. However, when the temperature is about -18 °C, you soon get a craving for a hot drink. We turned our faces towards the beautiful winter sun and began walking back, towards Konttila Farm.

Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

You just can’t miss Konttila Farm – it dates back to 1770 and when you enter it, it feels like you are stepping back in time. The farm is open all year round and welcomes visitors to its café and nature & guiding centre. Konttila Farm is open most days until 6 pm.

Cafe at Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio. Photo: Upe Nykänen

We left our snowshoes outside and stepped into the main building. Hot chocolate? Yes, please! We began sipping our delicious cups of hot chocolate and just enjoyed the moment, listening to the fire start roaring in the traditional old fireplace.

I wonder when I will dare to try the cross-country skiing tracks at Puijo…

Konttila Farm on the map

Read next:

On a one horse open sleigh at Puijo, Kuopio

Sleighride at Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

On a one-horse open sleigh at Puijo, Kuopio

Prancing through the snow, on a one-horse open sleigh? Come on, it’s not Xmas… Little did we expect that our day trip to Puijo hill on an ordinary winter day in February would include a sleighride!

Our main reason for visiting Konttila farm on top of Puijo ridge, only few kilometres from the city centre of Kuopio, was that there is a small café which serves also hot drinks along with a selection of sweet and savoury snacks. A mug of hot chocolate never goes amiss on a cold day like this: -18 °C.

Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The main building at Konttila dates back to 1770 and is among the oldest in Kuopio city. These days, the farm welcomes visitors on a daily basis all year round to learn about the surrounding nature as well as to its café that is located in the main building (just try the door handle). The farm is usually open until 6 p.m.

We were just about to leave the warmth of Konttila when our host asked if we’d be interested in a sleigh ride? Yes please!

Finnhorse Miilu at Konttila, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

 

Who would be doing the hard work? The 27 year old gelding Miilu (a Finnhorse) whose grandad Vieteri was a Finnish harness racing champion, just like Miilu’s uncle, an equally famous Viesker.

We walked to the end of the shed, sat down on the open sleigh and our host drew a warm blanket over our legs before we set off.

Sleighride at Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Miilu turned towards the track and we moved swiftly on top of the crisp white snow, with the lovely winter sun shining above us from the perfectly clear blue sky.

You just can’t compare this to a snowmobile ride.

Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

The track took us round the open space, right next to the lovely, snowy forest, and at intervals, our host stopped Miilu so that we could take photos.

Sleighride at Konttila farm in winter, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

When we were getting closer to the main building of Konttila farm, we thought the ride was almost over, but now: our host led Miilu towards the small road. Finally, thought Miilu, and our sleigh picked up speed when he started trotting happily.

The lovely 15-minute sleighride really made the Puijo visit special.

Puijo tower at Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

However, our trip to Puijo wasn’t yet over. To finalize our great day on top of Puijo ridge we walked the few hundred meters from Konttila farm to Puijo Tower which isn’t just an observation tower but also has a nice restaurant/café.

View from Puijo tower at Kuopio, Finland. Photo: Upe Nykänen

Below our feet were the ski jumping tower, the downhill skiing slopes, and the forests of Puijo nature conservation area. Puijo Tower is well worth a visit as from there you can get a lovely view all over Kuopio and its surroundings, maybe even spot the location of Konttila Farm.

Thanks again to Miilu, we’ll definitely be back at Puijo!

Konttila Farm, Puijo, Kuopio, Finland on the map

I can not imagine a better way to spend an afternoon in Lapland – a trip to the top of Oratunturi fell

One of the best times to enjoy the beauty of Lapland is March. There’s still lots of snow and even auroras, but also plenty of sunlight.

I took these pictures on an ordinary Monday afternoon just days ago, when me and my husband went to the top of Oratunturi fell to see the sunset.

A snowmobile trail leads to the top of the fell. The more up you go, the snowier the trees get.

Snowmobiling is an every(winter)day hobby for many laplanders. I, however, am still practicing. This time I felt lazy, so I let my husband do the driving. I just sat behind him holding on to him like a koala, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful snowy views.

The snowmobile trail leads to a lean-to that anyone is free to use. From here, the summit of the fell is no longer far away.

The view from the top is magnificent. We were amazed that the air was perfectly still! Usually it’s super windy on top of any fell.

I recognized many other fells in the horizon, for example Pyhä and Luosto, the two famous fells of Pyhä-Luosto national park.

Luosto

Pyhä (far away in the middle, with ski slopes and a mast on top)

Me. Photo: Joel Saari

It had been windy at some point. Cold, moist wind makes these little “leaves” of ice (below).

I can not imagine a better way to spend an afternoon in Lapland. I hope you too can experience something like this one day!

Oratunturi on GoogleMaps.

Beautiful white & blue views from the top of Kommatti hill – this is Finnish winter at its best!

The polar night felt endless this year. So now that the sun is back, I need to get out and enjoy some bright sunlight!

Near my home there’s a hill called Kommattivaara (map link). It’s easy to reach by car, so it’s a great destination for a little winter trip.

It was quite chilly when we visited Kommatti about a week ago. Maybe -20 degrees Celcius. I loved it. Lots of snow, lots of sunshine and lots of tranquility. And no mosquitos!

Kommatti is not a huge tourist attraction. Here you can actually hear and feel the peace and nature of true Lapland.

We didn’t go to the ski slope because that would be dangerous. Fast skiers and slow snowshoers are not a good combination. So we chose a quiet path in the forest next to the ski slope.

Kommatti is right next to Sodankylä village in the middle of Lapland. There is a small skiing center downhill, where you can rent some gear and grab a cup of coffee before heading uphill to these magnificent views.

Even though the hike to the top is not very long – less than a kilometer – make sure you have proper winter clothes, a map and enough drinking water with you. Also, as the snow is very deep, snowshoes come in very handy. Without snowshoes you’ll soon be swimming in snow, and it’s practically impossible to get forward if you leave the trail.

Lots of snow and sunshine! This is Finnish winter at its best.

The Lakes Are Calling

Over the last few months I’ve been fairly busy with things other than photography, but never too busy for an occasional trip to the water. The Finnish lakes have once again been calling my name and spoiling me with moments of tranquility and a feeling that makes me appreciate life in the greater sense.

I always feel as though something is pulling me into the forest or towards a lake and that I have very little control over it (help?). So in connection with what seems to be a loss of free will to some degree, I have managed to get a few photos over the last few months. Below are some more scenes that Finnish nature has been so kind to bless me with.

Above: A sunset over lake Pyhäselkä in Joensuu, Finland. The weather was windy and clouds were moving through the sky fairly quickly.

Above:​ An ice fisherman leaves the frozen lake after a fishing session. This photo was taken after some heavy snowfall that left all rocks on the shore completely covered.

Above: A splash of sunlight to end the day off spectacularly.

Above: Trails of snow leave interesting formations over the lake.

Above: A maze of snow coating the icy lake surface. This was the first time that I had seen these types of interesting shapes.

Above: Another very long exposure shot with fast moving clouds.

Above: Another shot of the sun hovering over waves of snow. Goodbye for now, my warmest of friends.

Wishing everyone in Finland a great and fun-filled winter. Don’t forget to catch the sunsets!

www.jasontiilikainen.com | Instagram: jason_tiilikainen

Starting Vuori-Kalaja trail at Southern Konnevesi National Park

Step into the winter wonderland: a winter walk in Southern Konnevesi National Park

Sometimes you just get an urge to get out of town, to go somewhere really quiet, with only few people around you. And if it’s winter time, what could be better than to be surrounded by the whitest snow, breathe the purest air and share the moment with a friend… So let’s go and visit one of our national parks!

There are 40 national parks in Finland; five of them are located in the province of Central Finland. To the south of Jyväskylä, there are Isojärvi National Park with its wooded hills and valleys, and Leivonmäki National Park with its easier marsh and esker terrain. The other three are north of Jyväskylä: about an hour’s drive takes you either to the old forests of Pyhä-Häkki or to the lakes and hills of Southern Konnevesi National Park, while the northernmost Salamajärvi National Park with its wild forest reindeer, pine woods and bogs adds another hour to the journey. All of these national parks are best reached with a car.

Our day trip destination was chosen based on my previous trips to Southern Konnevesi National Park: we would easily manage the trail to Vuori-Kalaja campfire shelter and back in a few hours, even with the limited daylight hours of late December. After parking our car at Törmälä we saw – to our delight – that there were already footprints on the snow-covered forest road towards the start of the Vuori-Kalaja trail.

Walking the Vuori-Kalaja trail in winter

There is no winter maintenance on the forest road so in this season be prepared to first walk 1.5 km from Törmälä to the (summer) parking area from where the Vuori-Kalaja trail begins.

I had packed two pairs of snowshoes in the car just in case, but the path trodden in the snow seemed easy enough to walk without them. We just added garters to protect our boots from snow and started following the narrow trail. The forest around us was simply magical.

Inspecting trail information at Vuori-Kalaja

After inspecting the trail information at Kalaja parking area we stepped onto the Vuori-Kalaja trail. From this spot it is only 900 meters’ walk to Vuori-Kalaja lean-to and campfire site.

Winter wonderland: snowy forest

That’s when we really felt like stepping into the winter wonderland! The snow covered birches, alders and firs all around us were simply amazing. Nature’s own sculptures!

Vuori-Kalaja lean-to in winter

Once we’d arrived at Vuori-Kalaja campfire shelter our first task was to make a fire and luckily, there was plenty of dry firewood available. Oh, where are my matches? There!

Campfire at Vuori-Kalaja shelter

A campfire is always a treat, but especially on a winter trip.

After the fire was happily burning, I stepped to the shore of the frozen lake and admired the snowy view: Kalajanvuori (Kalaja hill).

Kalajanvuori hill, Vuori-Kalaja

The snowy, steep cliffs on the opposite shore of lake Vuori-Kalaja were impressive in their almost black and white glory. There is something special about a winter landscape that lacks all the vivid colors of the other seasons: a certain serenity. Everything stands still, all is calm.

As the winter had until now been fairly mild, I knew that it wouldn’t be safe to step on the ice and walk across the lake to the cliffs (the ice just wasn’t solid enough yet) so it was better to stay on land rather than risk it. Time to take out the thermos flasks, sandwiches, and did someone mention a slice of cake?

Coffee break at Vuori-Kalaja shelter

We were already sipping our cups of tea and coffee and digging into the cake when we heard voices from behind the shelter.

Three young men with big backpacks arrived and sat down for a bit of rest before heading back to their car. The brave trio had spent a night sleeping outdoors at another campfire site in the national park. Wow! Yes, you can go hiking in the woods also in wintertime if you’ve got the right gear – but for some of us, just a day trip is quite enough…

Walking in the winter wonderland at Southern Konnevesi National Park

However, soon it was time to head back to the car and return to city lights, and enjoy the last minutes of winter magic in daylight before the drive home.

Hiker at Southern Konnevesi National Park, Central Finland. Photo:Upe Nykanen

The dusk was already beginning to fall when we met the next winter walker, a young hiker with impressive looking gear, carrying also a pair of snowshoes. Just in case – to allow him to walk where there was no trail! The serious hikers were going to the woods while we city girls were leaving…

I wonder if we should try winter camping next time?

Directions: how to get to Southern Konnevesi National Park

Map to Törmälä parking area | ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates  N=6941195.000, E=485582.000
Google Maps: Konnekoskentie 552, Rautalampi

Map, lean-to shelter at Vuori-Kalaja

This article has been previously published at visitcentralfinland.com.

Make friends with a reindeer – it’s easier than you think, as long as you’ve got some treats

In Northern Finland there are several reindeer parks where one can meet and feed some super cute domesticated reindeer.

One of these parks, a reindeer park called Kopara, is situated in Luosto area in the middle of Lapland. One day I went there with my husband and his daughter.

I must confess, I’m crazy about reindeer. I was much more excited about meeting these animals than the six-year-old was. She is born and raised in Lapland, so to her reindeer are not that exotic. I, however, come from Southern Finland, where there are no reindeer whatsoever.

In Lapland you can see reindeer herds roaming free practically anywhere. Those animals are quite shy: they are only semi-domestic. There are over 200 000 reindeer in Finland and each one of them has an owner. Somewhere.

In reindeer parks the animals are much braver: they are used to getting some treats from reindeer-loving tourists. That’s why they actually come running towards you to see if you have something yummy to give them.

In Kopara there is this big chest full of reindeer food in front of the fence. After having paid just a few euros you get to go there and feed the reindeer. Just take some food and hand it over to them. They won’t bite.

Reindeer don’t really enjoy being pet. They withdraw as soon as you run out of food pellets. Luckily, you can always give them some more treats from the chest. We spent about 15 minutes feeding these reindeer, before we got too cold (remember to wear some really warm clothes!)

In Kopara there is also a café and a souvenir boutique. They also offer a variety of reindeer experiences and they actually have a few celebrity reindeer as well. Read more here: Kopara homepage

This place is right next to Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Learn more about Finnish reindeer here.

The polar night is not pitch black, it’s magically blue! See what Kaamos actually looks like

While walking my son to school yesterday morning we noticed a peculiar phenomenon – the Sun was rising!

Living in Finland teaches us from the birth that winters are long. Not because of the cold and snow but because of the long darkness.

Kaamos is a Finnish word for polar night. It’s a beautiful word and we do not have that many of those to begin with.

But what is it?

Faint glimmers of light paint landscapes to vistas of beauty. (Liesjärvi National Park, Southern Finland, January)

Kaamos or polar night occurs when the night lasts more than 24 hours. In southern parts of Finland where I currently live even the darkest day still has few hours of light in. But most of the time dark clouds veil the sky.

While living in Rovaniemi (that’s at the edge of Arctic Circle) the days were even shorter. And as a student spending the “days” at the University of Lapland I went days without seeing any kind of daylight.

December, photo taken around noon, Olos fell, Muonio, Lapland (Northern Finland)

Above the Arctic Circle the long night gets even longer. In Utsjoki (the northernmost municipality of Finland) kaamos lasts a little over fifty days. Imagine living in a place where it takes over a month to see any ray of light.

Samoyed dogs looking at river Teno in Utsjoki. This is what noon looks like in the northernmost parts of Finland during polar night.

It would seem that Kaamos is the source of stereotypical Finnish melancholy. It might very well be at least a part of that but it is also the source of much that is beautiful. You might have heard the saying that “it’s magical”. That is quite likely the most accurate impression anyone can give.

In Lapland kaamos mostly looks blue. Christmas eve (noon) in Sodankylä, Lapland, Northern Finland.

Polar night is a phenomenon that is hard to grasp in the current age of electric light and busy city schedules. It might sound banal but it is something that must be experienced.

Sun rising for the first time after polar night in Kittilä, Lapland.

At first it does not seem like that big of a deal. The night goes on and on. But the more you think of it, the more you feel of it, the more you begin to understand the grandness of it. It makes you feel small. And it makes you understand the vast scale of space and how multitudinous the Earth is.

The beauty of Kaamos can be found everywhere if you are willing to look. (Kangasala, Southern Finland, January)

And in that long night, in the wilds of Finland, it is most likely that you will witness the magnificent Northern Lights. In Finnish they are called Revontulet – a word that can be loosely translated to “Fox’s blaze”. And there are a lot of stories about what they are. But we’ll leave that to another time.

Auroras above a reindeer fence in Utsjoki during polar night.

So if you have heart for celestial phenomenon like Solar Eclipses I would recommend you to visit Finland during Kaamos. It will be an unforgettable experience!