Friday, 27 January 2012

Snowshoeing afternoon at Hailuoto

For a person living in Central Finland, a ferry trip from mainland Oulunsalo to Hailuoto island, close to Oulu, is quite exciting; the sea is frozen except for the narrowish passage that stays open, thanks to the regular traffic and strong ferries. I stretch my legs outside while waiting for the ferry trip to begin, under the shadow of the tall wind turbines. 
The open ferry carries quite a few cars and the journey across takes some 20-30 minutes. A glimpse of the sun is a welcome sight on this cloudy day when the amount of daylight is scarce anyway.
I breath the fresh air and walk round the deck. It is fascinating to watch not just the frozen landscape but also the round pieces of ice that are rocking in the water; they have been shaped by the waves produced by our ferry.

If you take a ferry to Hailuoto at 1.30 p.m. on a January afternoon, a snowshoeing trip cannot be a long one unless you are wearing a headlamp. We drive across Hailuoto island close to its western shore and take our snowshoes: time to go.
The marked trail begins by the side of Sumpuntie road. It is easy to spot the yellow signs that mark the way although the path itself cannot be seen through the snow. For a while I wonder how come my snowshoes seem to slip somehow until I realize that in places, I'm stepping on snow-covered duckboards that are not wide enough for my snowshoes!
The land is even and the route so well marked that it couldn't be easier. The person who walks first naturally has the heaviest job, clearing the trail for the people behind him, but even that isn't too hard.
There is enough snow on the ground to justify walking on snowshoes but there is no need for poles. We are not aiming to go far, only to the closest lean-to (laavu) because of the limited amount of daylight left for today. It's great to be out here!
The lean-to close to Hannuksenlampi pond is deserted when we arrive there. Clearly, no other visitors today because there are no traces in the snow. We are glad to find dry firewood by the side of the lean-to; all you need is to clear the fireplace and start the fire.
Our snowshoes take a break by the bench while we are warming up and enjoying our snacks.
And what can be better than cooking sausages over an open fire on a winter day... that gradually fades away and we sense darkness approaching. Oh yes, the sun has already set. I tie my snowshoes back on and march to where we started from, leaving the others to return after me. We're so close to the western shore of Hailuoto, but we've been walking in the forest. I really want to see a the seashore before it gets totally dark.
I arrive at Rantasumppu resort parking lot, pass the tiny holiday cottages and head towards the beach. The three changing cubicles stand on the dune; no swimmers about... Finally - the snow-covered beach facing the Bay of Bothnia. Darkness is already falling, and it is so blue all around me. The only sound I hear is the wind that brings fresh air from the sea.
I have never been here before but it is easy to find my way to Marjaniemi, the westernmost place on Hailuoto island. I got simple instructions before dashing off from the lean-to: when you've arrived at the beach, walk to your right, along the shore. Although it is pretty dark, I can still see where to go, thanks to the snow that magically illuminates the landscape. The lights from Marjaniemi and its lighthouse are guiding my way. However, it is best to stay on the safe side and not venture too far from the dunes because there is no way to tell where the ice might begin. For a while the snow gets so thin that I take my snowshoes off but soon it's time to put them back on again.
Step by step, Marjaniemi lighthouse gets nearer. On the seafront there is also another tall structure: a wind turbine, of course, working its way through the night. The first stars are appearing on the dark blue sky; time to say goodbye to the island and return to Oulu. What a great first visit to Hailuoto!

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