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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!

Sky-Sailing above the Lakeland

I’ve always been afraid of heights. So, when a friend asked me if I would like to fly in a hot air balloon, I immediately said yes. I wanted to face my fears and have an unforgettable experience. Right after that I tried to forget what I just had promised.

After a few weeks it was time to face the fears. First the pilot gave us a short presentation of what was to come. Then he released a helium balloon to show the local wind direction, and decided the route in such a way that we would avoid the nearby great lakes. It would be a shame if the wind calmed over a big lake and the balloon would run out of gas.

The take off place was an old sports field 12 kilometers away. The first thing to do was preparing the basket. Then the hot air balloon was spread on the ground. First it was filled with cold air and when it was full, the pilot started to heat the air with a gas burner.

Soon the balloon was high in the air and the basket scarcely touched the ground. It was time to climb aboard. Now I was nervous, but just for a moment. Soon the balloon was high in the air and instead of thrill my mind was ecstatic.

Landscape was truly beautiful in the light of the setting summer sun. There was a green carpet of forests as far as it was possible to see.

Here and there I could see a blue lake shining like a jewel, hills rising and fields glowing in all shades of green.

The air was calm because the balloon had the same speed as the wind. It was absolutely quiet. The silence was broken only by our conversation, and occasionally the sound of the burner. The only sound from the ground was dogs barking.

Above a lake the pilot dropped the balloon as low as possible, and we could see our reflection on the calm water. The sight was unreal, beautiful and memorable. It was good moment to enjoy a glass of a sparkling wine. Then we rose again and travelled smoothly forward.

After an hour it was time to start preparing for the landing. As the balloon goes to the wind, landing takes place in a suitable open area. The balloon touched some treetops and finally it hit the ground with a small bump. The flight was successfully passed. This time fortune favored, because we hit the ground only 300 meters away from the planned spot. Such accuracy is very unusual.

We helped to pack the balloon, after which each of us received a diploma and a testimony to commemorate the memorable experience. It was not scary at all to be in the air. I had seen and experienced familiar landscapes in a completely different way than ever before. That was just great!

Ice fishing, cold and boring?

First of all, I have to say that don’t drink and ice fish. Seriously. Use proper safety gears and don’t fool around, or else you can die.

Finland is the promised land of associations. I personally belong to 5 different associations. One of my favorite ones is definitely WP. And no, it’s not white power, it’s Wanhat Parrat and it’s translated to English; Old Beards. Although some of us got really nice facial hair, it’s not about that. Basically our association is  for over 30-year-old men and the name relates from that.

Most people even in our association think that ice fishing is a really boring hobby. Just sitting out there in cold weather. Usually people think that the purpose of ice fishing is to get some fish. It may be for some people, but for us it’s just quality time to enjoy with friends and have a good time. We do have a little competition about who gets most fish (I won!), but it’s not so serious.

We have a tradition to get a little nip of alcohol when someone gets a fish. This year we had a place with over 50 cm (1,64 ft) of ice, and it’s quite a safe place to go ice fishing. But seriously, you should never drink and go walking on the ice.

Finnish people may look quite strange to foreign perspective. We don’t talk much, we don’t like closeness, we don’t smile so often. We don’t have any problems to go a 90℃ (194℉) degrees warm sauna, and after that we go swimming to a hole in a frozen lake. If it’s a warm day, we can take our clothes off and take all out of the sun. Even if it’s -10℃ (14℉) degrees outside. And we were not drunk.

Where does all this “craziness” come from? I think it’s from our history. When there is  -36℃= (-32℉) degrees cold outside and you have to go to toilet. You just have to do it. I did it once, and it was also fun. How crazy is that?

I think life isn’t about how many or how big fish you get. It’s about enjoying your life. Get some some crazy experiences, but do it safely.

This extreme outdoor activity is common In Finland – would you dare to try?

There might be a chance, that you feel cold in Finland during winter, especially if you’re not used to air temperatures below zero. If so happens, find a nearby winter swimming location and dip yourself into cold water. Paradoxically coldness warms you up. Be careful though – you might end up totally hooked to the hormone boost and the afterglow of winter swimming.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Better get used to it. Ice, our friend. Photo: Lauri Rotko.

Lakes in Finland are frozen quite a long time in a year: in Lapland usually seven, in Central Finland five and in Southern part of the country at least four months. The Baltic Sea by the coast gets its ice cover in November-December, depending on annual weather conditions, and sea ice might thaw as late as in late May.

Ice, cold water, sun and friends - what more do you need? Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää.

Cold water, ice, snow, sun and friends – what more do you need? Winter swimming club at Lake Tuusula in Järvenpää. Photo: Päivi Pälvimäki.

Winter swimming (or ice hole/pool swimming, when done in an ice hole) is a traditional Finnish outdoor activity. We know for sure that people took cold-water baths in the 17th century. Probably much earlier than that, but we don’t have any documents of those practises. First winter swimming clubs were founded in the 1920’s and since then winter swimming as an outdoor and health enhancing physical activity has become increasingly popular.

Fell brook at Kiilopää arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

Ice pool in Kiilopuro fell brook at Kiilopää, Lapland. A true arctic spa. Photo: Suomen Latu Kiilopää/Sampsa Sulonen.

If you want to experience the most traditional custom, combine sauna going and a dip in a hole in ice. The extreme temperature change really puts your blood circulating and releases many pain-relieving and pleasure hormones. Entering into cold water straight from sauna is not the healthiest thing to do, so you ought to cool off a bit in between. Usually this happens naturally, when you walk outside in frosty air from sauna to an ice pool.

Wait, I'll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Wait, I’ll do it again! Winter swimmers at Lake Lohja. Photo: Vivienne Rickman-Poole.

Go slowly into water, breath slowly out and dip yourself into water as short as you like. You might feel tickling in your fingers and toes, red spots might occur on your skin and you might have difficulties to keep up your normal breathing rhythm. They are normal reactions to cold-water immersion, do not panic and run away, especially because it might be very slippery. When you come out of water, you’ll start slowly feeling better and better and better and better…and you want to go back into that freezing embrace of water. After dipping/ swimming warm up slowly and drink something warm. Cold-water immersion is a positive shock to your body. When you do it regularly you will be able to stand better stress and your immune system becomes stronger.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Frosty morning at Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki.

Winter swimming season in Finland starts when water temperature goes below 10 °C, which happens in Southern Finland in October. There are over 260 registered winter swimming locations, where you can actually swim, not just dip. In Helsinki there are 14 winter swimming locations.

Great locations for winter swimming:

  • Fell Centre Kiilopää in Lapland, Northern Finland: Coldest water ever, minus degrees. Swim in Kiilopuro fell brook and then relax in a smoke sauna afterwards. Next day you will be so energized that you’ll ski over fells in no time. The true arctic spa!
  • Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki (opens again in May 2017): Urban treasure. A seawater 25 m pool with unique city view. Also a heated fresh water 25 m pool, children’s pool, saunas and a restaurant.
  • Löyly in Helsinki: Sculptural architecture and windy winter swimming in the Baltic Sea. A beautiful smoke sauna and good food.
  • Lake Kuusijärvi in Vantaa near Helsinki: Easy access. Winter swimming training. A 25 m ice pool and saunas.
  • Winter Swimming Centre Joensuu Polar Bears in Joensuu, Eastern Finland.
  • Rauhaniemi Ice Swimming in Tampere, Central Finland.
  • Herrankukkaro in Turku area, Western Finland.

Read more:

Swimming Holidays in Finland – for bespoke swimming holidays and swimming guiding services
Wild swimming in Finland
VisitFinland/winterswimming

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.

Bears in Finland

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.

icefishing-3-of-11

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.

icefishing-9-of-11

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.

The Hidden World under The Ice

Finnish freediver Johanna Nordblad holds the world record for a 50-meter dive under ice. She discovered her love for the sport through cold-water treatment while recovering from a downhill biking accident that almost took her leg. British director and photographer Ian Derry captures her taking a plunge under the Arctic ice.

Johanna Under The Ice – NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.