Friday, 23 March 2012

Laukaa - Devil's Icy Grave

If you follow the road north from Jyväskylä to Laukaa, and from Laukaa a bit further towards Valkola, you will see a black sign pointing to the left: Hitonhauta. Hitto stands for devil, and hauta for grave. That of course may not tell you much... I park on the side of the road and decide to take off without my snowshoes and only carry a pair of poles as a precaution, in case the icy surface of the snow gets too slippery in places.
I arrive at a log shelter but it is much too early to stop there to make a fire. How interesting - the fireplace is actually inside the open log shelter, and the smoke will simply escape through the opening at the front (of course there's no chimney). Never seen a shelter like this before. Then again, it must be pleasant on a wet day, to sit in front of a fire that doesn't mind the rain.
The Iso-Harinen lake is right next to the narrow road. Judging by the footprints leading to the ice, I guess they were left there by fishermen who've gone winter fishing. Not a bad way to spend a day, sit in the sun and wait for the fish to bite.
The narrow road leads through a conifer forest and every once in a while there are clear signs pointing to Hitonhauta. Some of the signs are in a dire need of repair, but at least there are good black and white maps attached on some signposts. A bit further, a sign forbids motor vehicles; this is a nature reserve. Finally, a grey wooden sign guides me to turn to the right, into the forest.
Thanks to the snow, the path underneath is not visible, but I can follow the footsteps of the previous visitors. Without them, I would have to rely on the map because I notice only one red trail blaze painted on a tree...And that wouldn't actually take you anywhere.
As the trail descends, the rocks on both sides get more and more steep. When was the last time I was here? It must have been years ago. I've totally forgotten how impressive the Hitonhauta gorge is! And Hitonhauta is what a gorge like this is often called in Finland; perhaps people thought in the old days that Devil's Grave must have been designed by the devil himself.
Actually, the sculptor wasn't the devil, but the Ice Age. It is believed that towards the end of the glacial period, the melting ice was flooding through this area. I know these rocks are nothing compared to rocky mountains somewhere else, but when found in the middle of a Finnish forest, it is quite impressive.
Although the glacial period is over, Hitonhauta can still boast of its own little glacial period that repeats itself year after year, each winter! On my left there is a great icy wall with numerous, massive icicles, some parts of which have already smashed onto the ground.
Hitonhauta gorge is quite a sight, especially at this time of the year. When the spring is on its way, the combination of sunlight, the bright white snow,  ice and the rocks is simply magnificent. On different seasons, Hitonhauta can look totally different.
I continue along the footsteps in the snow, deeper into the gorge which is about 800 meters long. Before I reach another wide opening, the rocky walls are leaning even closer.
There I meet another, perhaps even larger ice wall behind which you can hear water falling and dripping down. The afternoon sun seems to reach this far through the trees on the other side of the cliffs. It is quite a fairytale land...
There are so many different, fantastic shapes of icicles in the ice wall. You could spend ages just looking at those.
Right opposite the ice wall there is a granite wall with a little cave in it. I climb on top of the pile of snow and have a peek but can only see more ice; definitely no going in, if there would even be room to enter the cave. Oh what is that sound which so thrills the ear? I can still heare the sound of the water from behind the ice wall!
I simply have to go back and admire the ice wall once again, listen to the water splashing down, hidden from my eyes.
On my way back I walk slowly, stopping here and there to wonder about the never-ending groups of icicles hanging down from the rocks. There are already so many, and there may be even more, depending on how the spring advances and how the snow that covers the cliffs continues to melt.
Everywhere I look there are little ice sculptures, and whatever glacial artwork you can imagine.
Hitonhauta, Laukaa, Central Finland, is a wonderful place for a winter day trip especially at this time of the year. The rocky path that is now hidden under the snow may actually be more difficult to walk on in the summer but snow is easy to tread on. Anyway, thanks to the previous visitors who kindly opened the trail for me.

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