Sunday, 26 February 2012

Snowshoeing at Koli: Ukko-Koli - Mäkrä

In the winter, you can best enjoy the gorgeous scenery from Koli's highest point Ukko-Koli by taking the snowshoeing track that starts right next to the Koli hilltop hotel and Visitor Center Ukko. The idea really is to wear snowshoes! "The summits' snowshoe trail 1.5 km. Please, do not walk on the snowshoe trail without snowshoes."
I'm glad to find a well marked snowshoe trail because the summits' path is buried under a thick layer of snow, currently about 60 centimeters. It feels right not to leave your own snowshoe footprints outside the trail when we're this close to the hotel and naturally, it is lighter to tread on a ready track.
However, a marked trail doesn't mean that it equals to a wide highway, despite the fact that there is a hotel right next door and guided snowshoeing tours are also organized here. Thanks to the blizzards, the track can be quickly covered in snow and you will then appreciate the bright pink route marks. Following them, you can easily find your way even if you're the first to walk on the fresh snow.
During the the first part of the trail we walk in the shadow of tall spruces that are covered by thick layers of snow and ice. This is typical to Koli area.
On the right side of the path I get a glimpse of bare rock on which the winter sun has already managed to melt a row of icicles from the snow above. That can only happen on a sunny day!
The way the snow behaves here is extraordinary and it has a special name in Finnish: tykkylumi (snow=lumi). Tykkylumi snow doesn't fall off the trees but it sticks to them, and the combination of snow and ice is pretty heavy, often making the trees and branches to bend and break. This kind of snow also sculpts interesting shapes in the nature and you can find whatever creatures around you. Also a slightly unhappy snow angel.
Today the scenery is painted by different shades of white and grey, but what can you expect when the weather forecast only promised more and more snowflakes to fall from the sky!
Above one pink trail mark there's a tiny spot of colour: a polypore the brown cap of which resembles one of my favourite mushrooms, cep.
If you take a peek under one of the tall spruces and look above, you get to see how beautifully the branches are outlined by the snow. That's something you can't see any other time of the year. And what a neat hiding place and shelter there is under the cover of those branches that reach onto the ground!

The summits' trail crosses another trail that nobody has yet today walked or skied on. If I were to continue the summits' trail, it would soon turn back to the hotel, following the eastern side of Koli hill... I don't feel like going back just yet, so I turn right and make my footprints on the hidden, wide snow-covered track leading downhill.
The trail descends to Mäkränaho clearing on the other side of which there is an old grey barn which hasn't been used for storing hay for decades. I'm on familiar ground; beneath my feet is  Herajärvi trail, popular among hikers when the snow is gone - but very few attempt to do the whole 40-60 km route in the winter.
The traditional, unpainted barn has aged beautifully and when you look at the details, you can see that no nails have been used in its construction. The barn welcomes visitors who are seeking for shelter from the weather or have a snack but you are not allowed to spend a night here or make a fire; there are other places reserved for that purpose at a bit further.
Should I turn back or go further? The trail continues downhill, with only a solitary skier's ski track printed on the snow. I decide to snowshoe a bit further (being careful not to trample on the skiing track) towards Mäkrävaara hill, or at least to Purolanaho clearing which isn't too far. I know I'm going to pay for the now easy descent when returning to Ukko-Koli hill...
Purolanaho is another small clearing in the middle of the dark evergreen trees. I discover a snowshoe track from before the last blizzard. Should I follow it to Ikolanaho and its outdoor fireplace, keeping me at more level ground, or choose a scenic spot up at Mäkrä instead? The solitary cross-country skier has not given up although the terrain is getting harder...
Despite the fact that there is a fairly long ascent ahead before reaching Mäkrä hilltop, I go for it. The map tells me that the cross-country skiing track is marked black, being the most difficult kind, and I suddenly remember a skiing trip here, and how hard it was to get up there. So, better take it easy, stop every now and then and breath deeply. At least I'll have plenty of time to watch and listen to the frozen nature around me - the snow and ice-laden spruces make eerie sounds in the wind.
Finally I reach the first scenic spot at Mäkrä hill! The highest point of Mäkränvaara (307 m) is very close by but I'm content (and out of breath) enough right here. The February sun is still hiding behind the clouds but some silvery light filters through them to brighten the scenery around me, if only for a while. Behind the trees, you can get a fuzzy view of the large, frozen Lake Pielinen. The long, narrow islands become visible for a second, then they disappear under the blizzard. I am visiting a very quiet winter wonderland.

The return journey to Ukko-Koli offers first an enjoyable descent from Mäkrä to Purolanaho but after that the snowshoes feel heavier as I climb back up to the Summits' trail. It was just a little detour to Mäkrä... Although forbidden here, someone has dragged his or her skis up here and gone off piste down the rocky Koli hillside. Another blizzard seems to be approaching from a distance.
I meet a fellow walker, of a silent sort. The tykkylumi snow covered trees are swaying and creaking in the wind, talking winter Koli language. The views from Koli hills are not as magnificent on this grey-whitish day as they would be on a clear day but I don't mind. There's something about Koli, labeled as one of the national landscapes in Finland, that simply touches you, no matter the weather.

To end the snowshoeing trip I enter the visitor center Ukko for a cup of warming, local herbal tea and to enjoy Tea Karvinen's great photos she took in different national parks over one year. The photography exhibition will move on from Koli to other visitor centers of Finnish national parks over the next years.

P.S. Koli is stunning even in a blizzard but visiting the hilltop two days later on a sunny day the landscape looks even more magnificent...


  1. Tykkylumi snow is a new concept for me - must create some very interesting shapes. Enjoyed looking at your photos.

  2. That kind of snow is very hard on the trees but looks great. Over here, you can see tykkylumi snow mostly in Northern and Eastern Finland, especially on hilltops.

  3. Koli, one of my favorite places! Thanks for the great story and pictures! Reminds me that I have to get there again.