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A GLIMPSE OF MAGIC IN THE HEART OF HOSSA

The quiet patter of rain didn’t put us off trying the 3km nature trail at the heart of Hossa. We had already been treated with a couple of days of sunshine, so a bit of rain felt quite pleasant. Being active outdoors can make you pretty warm, and nothing is more refreshing than raindrops on your forehead.

The nature trail, which winds around Huosilampi lake as well as a smaller unnamed pond, is clearly marked and departs from Hossa Visitor Centre’s courtyard. The first portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible.

The first sight on the path left me and my partner feeling rather puzzled. Was it an enclosure to keep people out, or was the fence there so that the lichen couldn’t stray?

To clarify, this kind of enclosure is usually known as a ‘kirnu’ (‘churn’ in English), a fenced area in the centre of the main corral, into which reindeer that roam in the wild are herded during the reindeer round up, something which happens twice a year. The ‘kirnu’ is usually where the main action happens, where individuals are caught and put into separate pens according to whether they will go slaughter, be castrated, go on to breed, be sold and so on. However, the ‘kirnu’ usually has a gate which you can open easily. There was nothing like that here.

Thankfully we were on a nature trail, which meant that there was an information board to offer immediate relief to our confusion. The spot in question was a test area, where they were studying how quickly lichen grows, when it isn’t being eaten. So the fence was to keep reindeer out rather than lichen in,  which was a slightly more logical answer than our earlier speculation.

Our reindeer herding dog seemed to be of the opinion that there were too few reindeer around, and was eager to continue the journey, when we finally finished reading the sign.

Wheelchair access to the shore of Huosilampi lake

Soon after the start of the trail, we reached the shore of Huosilampi. Along the route, a pier had also been made wheelchair accessible. It is really admirable that access has been provided, for all to enjoy the clear waters of Hossa. When Hossa officially becomes a National Park in 2017, it is said that accessible infrastructure will be developed even further.

Along the shore there was also a campfire area which included benches with backrests, as well as a table in the shelter that a wheelchair could easily fit around.

Someone could be heard fishing on the opposite shore. Our route continued in that direction. For a while, the wide, accessible trail hugged the edge of the lake and then crossed beautiful swamplands.

The route then narrowed into a regular path as we dove into the woods, where the elevation differences were noticeably greater.

Soon after, a swamp opened out to our right. Is it just me, or are swamps especially beautiful in the rain? Their colour saturation seems more intense against the contrast of the dark sky.

A little further along we got to admire the dark back of Huosiusjärvi lake from a high slope. There was also a bench, where you could sit and rest. The nature trail shouldn’t include any dramatically steep climbs or tricky downhills, but you can still manage to break a sweat. You won’t find flat, even ground in ridge terrain.

We were approaching the ridge of Huosiharju, the trail slanting towards its eastern end. The path snaked clearly through the ground and was well-marked, making it easy to follow. No-one crossed our paths throughout the whole journey.

The nameless pond along the trail was dark turquoise even in the rain. Might it have been a kettle hole formed by a lump of ice melting at the end of the ice age? The nature trail’s information board confirmed my suspicions.

Kettle holes (bowl-shaped depressions in the land) and ridges, which tell us of the ice age’s powerful influence, have a strong presence in Hossa. But they are so big, noble and soft in form, that nature’s rage during the ice age no longer really comes across. Instead everything is beautiful, gentle and quiet. The turquoise waters of the kettle holes, the soft lichen on the ridges and the carpet of low-lying forest shrubbery invite the soul and eyes to relax.

This aside, nature’s strong will can be seen in the fallen trees, some of which looked like they had experienced quite a violent fate.

We wandered around the forest between the kettle hole pond and Huosilampi lake in a figure of eight trying to guess where the route continued. Straight? No, it continued to the south of Huosilampi.

Soon we reached a road. There was a tourist in a caravan in the carpark. From the carpark, steps led down to the lake shore, by which we found a campfire spot with a woodshed. On the other side of the water on the forest slope a reindeer rustled.

The clear surface of Huosilampi was trying to tell us, that the rain was weakening. Only small individual drops tickled the surface of the pond.

Walking around a small bay I saw tree trunks resting beneath the surface of the water. They were as beautiful as they were eerie.

During the whole trip we only met one other person, a man fishing. I asked if any fish were biting, but the man asked for more time saying that he had only just arrived.

Huosilampi’s disabled access shelter

Around the corner we came across a picnic area so large that you could arrange a wedding there. But it was empty. In front of it was a disabled access jetty. At the water’s edge there was a table for gutting fish.

Soon we were back at the Visitor Centre, where the carpark was filled with the smart-looking motorhomes belonging to French and Germans. It’s wonderful that foreigners have also found Hossa.

The nature trail is a great sampler of what Hossa is all about: clear turquoise waters, forests that are bright and full of rich colour, straight trees and round shapes. This is why it’s a great choice for those, who are for whatever reason only passing through and don’t have enough time to enjoy Hossa more extensively.

Also, thanks to its accessible sections, even wheelchair users can fully enjoy the beauty of its waters, the colourful marshes and the atmosphere of the campfire with ease.

After our own tour, we retreated to the cottage at Hossan Lumo that Suomussalmi region had kindly offered us, to dry off and rest for a moment.

The trail’s starting point is here on the map

This article is part of series about Hossa, carried out in collaboration with the municipality of Suomussalmi.

Translated by Becky Hastings.

Julma Ölkky’s (Cruel Canyon) rugged ring route, Ölökyn Ähkäsy

I scanned the Ölokyn Ähkäsy (this roughly translates as the Canyon Groan in local dialect) ring route on the map. It didn’t look too bad, only around 10 kilometres long. However, when I asked about the route at Hossa’s visitor centre and talked to people who had done it, all of them warned me that it was extremely tough and demanding. I needed to set aside at least 5-6 hours. Apparently there are great changes in elevation and lots of rocks and roots.

But I was willing to take on the challenge. I put on my hiking boots and backpack. In my backpack I had packed the minimum amount of gear: a camera with acouple of lenses, a couple of sausages, a sandwich and 2 bottles of water. It’s important to be careful on the route, as your mobile phone won’t pick up any signal apart from at the highest points.

As the crow flies, it’s about 5 kilometres along Ölökyn Ähkäsy to the Ölkynperä (Canyon rear) lean-to and back. Just by looking at the map you can tell that the views are going to be rugged and spectacular. After all, we are at  Julma Ölkky (Cruel Canyon), one of Finland’s three largest canyon lakes born of a large crack in the land. The others two are Iso Helvetinjärvi (Big Hell’s Lake) and the Toriseva canyon lakes in Virrat.

History and geology

The birth of the gorge took place more than 2 billion years ago. The canyon is a rift valley, which is caused by earthquakes or transitions in the ancient continents. Later the ice age honed the rift, but the traces are clearly visible on the vertical wall that towers almost 50 metres out of the lake. The canyon already looks quite impressive when viewing it on Google Earth.

The Toriseva canyon lakes and Helvetinkolu in Helvetinjärvi (Hell’s Lake) National Park were formed in the same way. This canyon formation process is however completely different to that of Oulanka’s canyon, where water and ice have carved the gorge from the bedrock.

Route

The trail starts from Julma Ölkky’s parking place, which is around a 20 minute drive from Hossa’s visitor centre. It must be said,  the road was not in the best condition. A little Fiat will hit its undercarriage, if you don’t drive carefully.

At the starting point there is a summer cafe, which had just gone into hibernation. It’s open until 31.8. When it’s open, you can explore Julma Ölkky on a guided boat tour.

I approached the circuit following the signposts, which take you counter-clockwise along a route marked with orange dots. I chose 10am as my departure time, as the sun was shining appropriately from the east, its light hitting the west shore. The canyon’s orientation is pretty much north to south for the whole length, which meant that for the final part of the journey the sun would be shining from the west and lighting up the canyon walls on the eastern shore.

Already half a mile in, the scenery was reminiscent of a fantasy film. I felt like calling Hollywood and asking them to come here and film a remake of Lord of the Rings.

On the outward journey, the path runs right along the edge of the rocks, so I ended up having to stop repeatedly to take pictures of scenes that were even more  impressive than the last. What a nuisance.

However, those with vertigo need not worry. You don’t have to go so close to the edge if you don’t want to. Just as I thought I had reached the best spot, a more spectacular view opened out before me a few minutes along. Every now and then I heard the sound of a waterfall. A number of waterfalls formed from streams flow out from the canyon walls and from some of them you can see rainbow colours in the evening sun.

Those who like climbing can scramble up the cavity called the Devil’s church, where you can find a guest book. This time I left the Devil in peace and continued my journey.

Approximately halfway to the lean-to, the canyon splits into two parts. The lake continues along the western gorge and the eastern depression, Sitkansola, is essentially swamp. The scenery certainly didn’t get any worse.

Finally I reached the lean-to at Ölkynperä, where I met 3 sausage barbecuers. I told them about Värikallio (Colour Rock), a few kilometres away, where you can see amazing rock paintings from thousands of years back. Together we agreed that you can find everything in Hossa, and that it had most definitely earned its new status as a National Park in honour of Finland’s 100th Year of independence.

After this, no more people crossed my path.

On the way back the terrain is more forested and some of it is quite far from the rock’s edge. It was this proportion that was full of steep climbs and descents. However, in a few places, I came across a viewing point. Julma Ölkky’s own ancient rock paintings are near the water’s edge, but they can be better seen by boat.

Summary

The Ölökyn Ähkäsy route is indeed challenging, but I still wouldn’t say that it’s a bad route, as long as you are in possession of good basic health and your legs function properly. I completed the trip with a few photos and breaks in a total of 4 hours, walking on my own. With a group, it would probably take 5-6 hours. And if you go the gym, it might be a good idea to do some extra squats!

I recommend wearing hiking boots to protect your ankles, but in good dry weather you will probably be fine in trainers. Doing the trek in autumn, I had to cross a few swampy areas that were a couple of metres wide, which would have meant my socks getting wet if I wasn’t wearing proper hiking boots.

I don’t recommend the route for children, unless they have a lot of hiking experience. Even my 67 year old father stayed behind at the cottage making food. Although this wasn’t due to his age, rather the knee surgery that he had a couple of months ago.

Making the most of digitalisation, I saved my route onto my mobile and in reality it works out at around 12km, with changes in elevation on top of that. From a scenery freak’s point of view, I must say that it’s an impressive canyon and totally underrated.

Perhaps when it becomes a National Park, awareness of this amazing place will grow. Even though more publicity does of course mean more use, which carries its own risks, it is still the kind of place where all Finns should be encouraged to come and marvel at their own natural wonders instead of jetting off to Gran Canaria. Lapland is of course Lapland, but you don’t always need to disappear beyond the arctic circle to see something unique. Highly recommended!

Map to Julma Ölkky’s car park | ETRS-TM35FIN -coordinates NLat 7270314 ELon 607372

GoogleMaps: Julma-ölkyntie 82, Kuusamo

Map to the lean-to at Ölkynperä

This article was executed in cooperation with the municipality of Suomussalmi. The author stayed at Camping Hossan Lumo during the trip.

 

Finland is the 3rd best travel destination in the world – and Hossa is the jewel in its crown

Finland is the third best travel destination in the world, as published in Lonely Planet’s latest list. It’s the only country in Europe that made it to the top 10! Lonely Planet raves about Hossa in particular – a hiking area located in Eastern Finland’s mystical backwoods, which in 2017 will become a national park in celebration of Finland’s 100th year of independence.

We have listed here what we think you should really experience in Hossa.

  1. Northern Lights and stars shine in perfect darkness

Situated in Kainuu’s stunning wilderness, Hossa is far away from urban light pollution. Here you can experience complete darkness at night, and on clear evenings, marvel at the magical night sky and the even the Milky Way. It’s also possible to see the northern lights. All of this makes Hossa a fantasy destination for night sky photographers.

  1. Hossa’s natural environment is clean and quiet

Have you ever experienced perfect silence? When you can’t hear the hum of cars, people’s conversations or the rumbling of machines, even from a distance? In Hossa you’re surrounded by peaceful nature. You can immerse yourself in thought, breathe the cleanest air in the world and let your gaze rest on the picturesque scenery.  In complete silence. Sit down, make a campfire and surrender. Perfect calm and quiet creates a feeling that  you will never forget.

  1. Indulge in the fruits of the forest on your hike.

In Summer and late Summer, Kainuu’s natural surroundings are bursting with a variety of berries, all equally delicious. You  are allowed to pick berries in the woods and from the swamps as part of Everyman’s Rights. Taste the orange cloudberries, red lingonberries, blue blueberries and bog bilberries as well as crispy black crowberries. Crouch down in the forest for a short while to pick nature’s offerings, and your kuksa (traditional carved wooden cup) will be full in a few minutes. Bon Apetit!

  1. Hike and go mountain biking – there are over 90 kilometers of trails!

In Hossa you will find suitable trails for mountain biking as well as hiking – over 90 kilometres altogether. You could easily hike for a week. Routes are marked clearly, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost. You can get maps for the area from the nature centre, and local guides will advise you on an  interesting route suitable for your needs. An accessible nature trail, from which you can admire Hossa’s nature with children’s pushchairs or a wheelchair, departs from the nature centre and is about half a kilometre in length.

  1. Feel the ancient atmosphere on the canyon lake of Julma-Ölkky

This incredible canyon lake is one of the most mystical places in all of Finland. About 3km of  steep canyon walls reach up 50 metres towards the sky –  and under the water’s surface, the walls continue down into almost bottomless depths. The lake, proudly resting in the gorge is surrounded by untouched wild nature, a trekker’s paradise. You can admire the view of Julma-Ölkky by hiking the 10 km circular route from the gorge’s edge, or marvel at the canyon walls from the lake’s surface by boat, canoe or kayak.

Photo: Antti Huttunen

Photo: Antti Huttunen

  1. Hossa was inhabited by humans  thousands of years ago – here is their message to you.

The wall that rises straight out of Somerjärvi lake tells an interesting tale: that man has lived in these wild lands for thousands of years. These rock paintings, which are 3500-4500 years old, are the northernmost in our country. Over 60 different pictures have been found on the rock. Amongst them is a human-like figure with antlers, which could well represent a shaman. The route that detours to Värikallio is 8 km in total, and in winter you can get there by skiing. A viewing platform has been built in front of the rock, so it’s relatively effortless to go and admire this ancient work of art.

  1. So, you think reindeer can only be found in Lapland?

When you are travelling through Hossa it’s highly likely that you will meet some reindeer. You may come across a reindeer on the road or in the forest, or  even see them strolling through a meadow or someone’s garden. Reindeer are semi-wild: they wander through all kinds of terrain, wherever takes their fancy. If you want to visit a real reindeer farm and see some of these creatures up close, stop off at Hossa Reindeer Park.

Photo: Antti Huttunen

Photo: Antti Huttunen

  1. Take a rest in nature’s embrace – this lean-to is an idyllic spot

Along Hossa’s routes there are plenty of huts, campfire sites and lean-to shelters, where you can stop, camp and make a fire. The location of the lean-to at Muikkupuro brook is one of the most picturesque in all of Finland. You can get to the lean-to by walking around a kilometre through a delightful wide forest path. You can sit in the lean-to, light a fire, enjoy a picnic and even sleep. In front of the leant-to is a shallow, sandy-bottomed and clear brook, which feels heavenly to wade in barefoot. The spot is between two lakes and both lakes open out onto a lovely untamed landscape.

  1. Fall into deep snow and savour the frosty air

In winter Hossa is overcome with snow and sub-zero temperatures, turning this summer paradise into a winter wonderland. There is so much snow, that it’s hard to even describe – you just have to experience it. The area is a great place for skiing, snowshoeing and admiring the Northern Lights. Another popular past-time to try is ice-fishing. Hossa’s waterways are teeming with fish!

  1. Swim, dive and try stand-up paddling in the crystal clear waters of Hossa

In Hossa there are abundant lakes, whose sandy beaches and clear waters tempt one to plunge right in. In Finland you can swim freely almost anywhere under Everyman’s Rights, as long as you’re not bobbing around next to someone’s private shore. In the summer, Hossa’s lakes are pleasantly warm. Take diving goggles and a snorkel with you, for you can see far in the clear water.

You can also rent stand up paddle boards  from Camping Hossa Lumo and enjoy stand up paddling from the camping area’s stunning sandy beach. Other equipment available for rent includes kayaks, canoes and rowing boats. The camping area is run by local Maija Daly and her husband, Irishman Lenny Daly.

Maija Daly runs Camping Hossan Lumo.

Getting to Hossa

It is advisable to come to Hossa by car, as public transport does not currently come to this out of the way idyll. If flying to the region, the nearest airports are: Kuusamo, Kajaani or Oulu, from where you can hire a car and drive into the midst of Hossa’s unforgettable landscapes.

Hossa on the map

Translated by Becky Hastings.