We, myself and my partner, had signed up for a trekking course in south central Finland. The course was my birthday present for my 40-year-old partner. Though I´ve gone hiking near the Icelandic glaciers, the Yukon wilderness, Hawaiian mountains and beaches, and the Finnish forests, it´s been years since the last time I´ve spent a night under the stars. Sleeping in nature for me means sleeping in a simple wooden house, a summer house (kesämökki, in Finnish).
We had no expectations, other than to be able to spend a night in the nature with some experienced people and get a fair dose of trekking-related information.
We arrived at Isojärvi national park´s parking on Saturday at 12.00. It had started raining lightly just a moment before. The parking was, in Finnish terms, full of cars. I was surprised to see that many people. Were they all coming along?
The organizers, Minna and Vesa, handed out our food containers, the dried food packages and a Trangia, the cooker that was to be used during the trip to cook all our food. This we packed into out gear, or, my partner did. We were also handed out the maps of the area, a printed A4.
When we all had packed up the gear we had received and all of the participants, all together 11 of us, had arrived, we headed to the forest.
The Isojärvi park is formed around the Lake Isojärvi, which is a lake formed inside a fracture in the earth’s crust.The beautiful park is covered mostly by dry and moist forests, with a small area of old growth herb-rich forest but also rugged pine forests on top of the rocks. Species of interest include the Canadian Beaver (Castor canadensis) that had been doing some extensive maintenance works causing the water level of the lake to rise, as well as the Black-throated Diver (Gavia arctica), which provided us with entertainment with its territorial battles as we enjoyed the fire by the lake side in the evening.
We walked only a few hundred meters when we had our first stop at the first camping site. Here, Minna and Vesa asked us to take out the cookers and demonstrated their use. We learned about the different kinds of cookers on the market, their pros and cons and then cooked some water to make us some coffee (just add water!).
After we had enjoyed our coffees and packed away our cookers, we took out the maps Minna had handed out. They quickly ran us through the different signs on the map, how to use to compass on the map and to show us the direction we were supposed to be headed to. I had a feeling I had learned all this at school in as part of forest orienteering, but since it is already more years ago than I care to remember, I had forgot about the details. It was about time for a refresher.
At the Finnish national parks, there are different kinds of camping sites. The facilities include:
- picnic sites with tables, cooking shelters and campfire sites with free firewood
- free facilities such as wells and campfire sites in areas reserved for free camping
- shelters where visitors may sleep overnight
- compost toilets
- waste collection points
(source: Nationalparks.fi )
During our hike, we saw rich forest areas covered with blueberry, areas where we could imagine at nightfall would be the working grounds of the busy beavers.
At times when something remarkable was to be seen in the landscape, Minna made us stop and look for the spot on the map, to see if we could still “find ourselves on the map”. Places like these included sharp cliffs, big boulders, swampy areas etc that were easy to be seen on the map.
After a while we stopped for a small eating and drinking brake. This was a welcome stop as we had left with just a breakfast in our stomachs. The sandwiches and boiled eggs tasted heavenly in the fresh air. At the same time,the backpack in the back of my partner was getting lighter for him to carry.
We then arrived at our camping site where we found 4 people resting, having started a fire in the fire place. Turned out, that these people had left late at night, with a plan to do a night hike. However, in the dim light of the forest, they had got lost from their originally planned path and ended up finding their way to the laavu (a type of lean-to shelter) at 4 am. There they rested and slept most of the day until we got there, at around 2pm.They later on excused themselves and walked further.
At these campsites the unspoken rule states that one must make room for others as well. If there´s a traveler who wants to spend the night at the laavu they have the right to stay there for that one night but they need to share the fireplace with others.
Around 4 pm, we started cooking our dinners. The trangia we were using, was very handy, consisting of 2 pots, one bigger, one smaller, one frying pan, the stands (2 pieces), a sieve and a belt to hold it all together. We took some water from the lake and started boiling it. Tonight on the menu was Italian pata (Italian stew) – a ready made meal to which we would add dried soy. My partner who normally does not cook much, enjoyed the cooking seemingly much. Though the cooking water came straight from the lake, the water that we used for drinking was run through a water purification bag. This active carbon filtered water filter was, according to the organizers, a very effective purifier, having used it at lake Laatokka for very green, algae laden water. The filter would be effective in cleaning everything, except viruses. However, Vesa and Minna reminded us that in the northern Finland, it is not necessary to use this filter as the waters are so clean.
I was reminded of why I absolutely love the Finnish nature and why it is the biggest treasure Finns have. The fact that we could scoop our water from the lake and use that for cooking, and seeing the lichen covered trees with naava, luppo and tons of other kinds of lichens growing on the trees, reminded me again of the purity of this environment. Lichens, especially naava and luppo, are excellent indicators of the air´s quality as they only grow in clean air.
After dinner, MInna showed us the usual contents of her backpack. The back that weigh about 17 kilos, was equipped with everything one would need for 24 hours. Indeed, with the same stuff one could go for a longer time as well, as long as they would pack more food. But the basic things from safety to comfort were all included.
What we learned is that comfort equals discomfort and vice versa. This means, that if you want to camp and sleep comfortably, you will have to suffer for it a bit on the way. However, packing lightly and being comfortable during the hike would mean sleeping uncomfortably or missing some crucial pieces of equipment.
Then it was time to set up our tents. Minna and Vesa had scoped out the spots were the tents would be best set up. This was also the reason we hiked to this exact location, because we could house that many tents in this spot easily. Plus, some usual spots could not be used as the ground was still wet fro the past days rain.
As we started to set up the tents, we had an introduction to the types of tents that can be found on the market and the kinds of specifics they come with.
We got to sleep in the (green one above) laavu looking tent. This turned out to be a nice tent, easy to set up, though a bit too wide for just the two of us who didn´t have much stuff with us on this trip. It would be better to surround yourself with as many backpacks and things around to keep you from rolling off your mat, which inevitably happened.
After the tents were set up and all our stuff was in, we headed down to the fireplace to just sit around and chill. We exchanged stories, took the opportunity to ask all kinds of questions to the organizers who have extensive experience in hiking in the wilderness. Minna told us about the culture of exchange and how friendly and helpful people are towards hikers and campers in the wilderness of the north. For example, when the urge for lemonade hits, even multivitamin tablets work as an exchange items, especially if the other person has chocolate or rye bread to spare. This pleasant chatter was enriched by the territorial fight of the three black-throated divers (kaakkuri).
Later on, when the evening started to get dimmer (remember, it doesn’t get dark at night in the Finnish summer), we decided to walk to where we had seen the beaver work grounds. However, my greed for the blueberries and the mosquitoes that smelled us, distracted us and we never got to the beavers. The two people who left before us to the beavers did get to see 4 of them swimming around in their newly dammed pond!
It was finally time to hit the tent. I had forgotten the most crucial part of my camping equipment: the woolen socks. Luckily Minna has an extra pair (but of course!) which she let me borrow. I slept surprisingly well though the silence kept me up some time. I woke up only as my partner complained about my snoring or when i rolled off from the matras.
In the morning, I was surprised about how well I had slept. I was also mesmerized about the beauty of the place and the clear blue skies. I felt almost giddy.
In the morning we made breakfast, which consisted of rolled oats which we then pimped with some jam and butter as well as the beautiful blue berries (Vaccinium myrtillus, mustikka) found in the forest and the banana found in my backpack.
After breakfast, doing the dishes and packing up the tents, it was time continue our journey, and start returning back. The trail back was somewhat steeper and as the sun was out, it got warm very fast. On the way, we could see some beautiful sceneries, lit up by the glorious sunlight.
Around 2 pm we got to our camp site, where we then cooked up our lunch.
On the menu today was lihaperunasoselaatikko (a kind of stew made of mashed potatoes, minced meat and vegetables). All the ingredients, besides the mashed potatoes which came in a premade and dried bag, were dried by Minna and Vesa themselves. Impressive! Again, we took water from the lake, removed the little moving insects in it, and started boiling the water on the trangia. We added the vegetables, the dried minced meat and the spice cube (bouillon). After about 10-15 minutes, we took it off the heat and added the dried mashed potatoes and a scoop of butter into it. Maybe it was the hunger or my taste buds that had been altered, but this all tasted seriously delicious.
We made a coffee from the excess water we had boiled and poured the rest of the water into our dirty dishes to soak. We enjoyed the last bits of each others´ company, packed up and started heading back to the parking lot where we started.
By 15.00 we were back, as had been announced in the program.
The course did not feel like a course but a trip with friends. Friends who were well prepared. I got excited about taking our kids out to a hike the same summer, but Minna reminded me, that with small children, you will have to carry much more things, plus, most likely, some of the kids will need to be carried as well. Therefore, it´s better to do day trips but leave the overnight camping trips for later when everyone can walk and perhaps even carry some of their own things. But in the meantime, we can get into the mood of real survival by cooking our own food on our day trips with our brand new trangia.