Oulanka National Park is a special corner of the world that until we ended up there by chance, I had never heard about. Located just over 900km north of the Finnish capital, Helsinki and 14km from the Soviet border, Oulanka National Park is a destination that can be enjoyed whatever the season. In the winter snowshoe trails and cross country skiing allow the forest to be explored including areas that are restricted in the summer months when rare flowers are protected by eliminating human footprints. In the summer a trail that runs 80km from Luontokeskus in the north to Ruka in the south is big draw. There are wilderness huts along the route allowing overnight stays. The summer is also a perfect time to explore the shorter walking trails and attempt the rafting along the rivers of the park. The park has an amazing array of wildlife including bears, migratory brown trout, the calypso orchid, Siberian jays and white-throated dippers that we saw flitting across the river by the old mill.
We were staying right in the southern corner of the park at Basecamp Oulanka, a lovely wilderness hotel with warm rooms, amazing food and enthusiastic staff. The camp is located on the shores of the lake - Ala-Juumajärvi which freezes to a depth of 25cm in the winter and is ideal for skiing. Needless to say skiing comes easily when you are young, less so when you have never tried before and are a little beyond ‘young’.
Exploring the forest was our final adventure in the winter wilderness. The hike starts by passing the old mill called Myllykoski. This has roaring rapids that are crossed over a hanging bridge. This was iced from the rising steam as the relatively warm water evaporated from the river. The river was not frozen and significantly warmer than the surrounding air.
This was a walk of faith, once the iced steps down had been survived it was then a slow walk across, hoping that the bridge did not swing too much. Just round the corner from the hanging bridge a secluded calm area of the river was full of mini icebergs, the pool was a collecting area for the small lumps of ice and eventually these will merge to cover the corner of the river.
Castle Rocks and Jyrävä
Walking through the snow filled forest was like a winter dream. Tracks were everywhere from elk, arctic hares and reindeer, some having passed by very recently but given our entourage were long gone. During the whole hike the noise of the river Kitka was always there and the views made the cold and whingeing children bearable. We reached our destination at Linnakallio, Castle Rocks, a wall of rock standing isolated on the banks of the river and then realised that the hardest climb of the hike was still ahead of us.
This is a sharp climb from the river at the Jyrävä Waterfall back up to the tracks and away from Castle Rocks. This is one of the tallest waterfalls in Finland with a 9 metre free fall, frozen solid in this weather but still impressive. The Jyrävänkoski Rapids were noisy even with the frozen waterfall and their noise could be heard permeating the forest long after we had left the river behind. The return walk was as beautiful as our trek out with darkness falling and the forest changing yet again.
The Finnish past time of snow bombing did not go unnoticed and all the boys got immense pleasure from side shoving the spruce trees and causing a blizzard of snow to fall on whoever happened to be passing behind them. We were however relieved to start recognising landmarks with the low bridge that was freezing into the river being our point of momentum for getting home.
Photography at Basecamp Oulanka
The woodlands around the hotel are full of winter opportunities. The mill is a fantastic location along with the river running past it. Even in the depths of winter the dippers were fishing and popping around the banks. On nights when the aurora borealis is out, the mill is one place that the lights can be watched.
In the summer the river and lake are full of wildlife and wildflowers fill the forest floor. The river becomes an adventure for white water rafting making extreme photography a possibility.