Thursday, 3 May 2012

Ruovesi: Helvetinkolu - Hell's Gorge

Helvetinkolu, or Hell's Gorge trail at Ruovesi, some 90-100 kilometres north from Tampere, is the pride and joy of Helvetinjärvi (Hell's Lake) National Park. The Kankimäki parking lot on the eastern side of Helvetinjärvi seems crowded enough when we arrive there in the afternoon. The friendly lady at the kiosque makes sure that we don't forget to take the free map with us and asks which way we are planning to return. Since we are wearing waterproof hiking shoes, we should be alright also on the (now) wet part of the trail.
We are not going to do a long hike but just the 4 km circle trail called Helvetistä itään (East of Hell) which is named after a song of Finnish heavy metal band Kotiteollisuus. Because of this, the band's lead singer Jouni Hynynen is the patron of this trail. An interesting choice... To my knowledge, the South Carelian, Lappeenranta-based musician has no ties to this area.
At the start, the route follows a small road and soon the trail turns to the forest, still partly covered in snow in the middle. An ant hill next to the path seems busy; hibernation is over.
The arched birches tell their tale: the heavy snow has indeed been a burden for the trees. I stop to listen to the brook that meanders through the forest, overflowing because of the melting snow.
We walk up the first set of wooden steps and soon meet a blue and white sign that looks like it says Crown Forest. We are now entering the Helvetinjärvi National Park, owned by the state.
In places, there are traces of the fierce storms that have passed through the National Park area. There are some fallen tree trunks also on the trail but you can easily walk over or round them. The trail signs reveal that already in the 19th century Helvetinjärvi area was also trodden by many artists. The most notable one was probably the painter Akseli Gallén-Kallela who loved the beautiful region so much that he also had an atelier built for himself at Ruovesi.
We descend the steep wooden steps down to the Helvetinjärvi lake. There is a bench for the weary about half way down, or perhaps half way up...
The red log cabin by the lake is taken care of by the state-owned Metsähallitus. The cabin can be freely used by visitors but strictly during the day - no staying there overnight. On a rainy day you can have a break inside, and make a fire in the fireplace.
The Iso Helvetinjärvi lake is still mostly frozen, with only narrow stretches of open water close to the sunny shore. The two hikers who are relaxing and drying their boots at the open fire outside tell us that they took towels with them for the hike but decided against a little swim, after all... 
It is wonderfully peaceful in here. You can only hear some birds sing, and the sausages cracking on the open fire. The curling smoke leaves its scent on my jacket.
It will probably take a day or two until the ice on Helvetinjärvi lake darkens more and melts away. I take a short walk to the left of the log cabin.
Wow! The cliffs are not incredibly tall but tall and steep enough for me. Somewhere in the area you are also allowed to go rock climbing, but not right here.
When I arrive at Helvetinkolu, or Hell's Gorge itself, it is smaller than I expected. You may easily think it would be wider than about two meters, but no. However, the gorge is still impressive and there is something about the shape of the cliffs that makes it unique. The steep walls are covered in green moss. The snow at the rocky bottom of the gorge is melting fast, with water dripping down towards the lake.
The old spruce close to the shore seems a bit odd...The tree trunk isn't round as usual, but reminds me of Flatiron building...
When I take a short walk to the right side of the log cabin, I discover a big pile of feathers on the ground. Someone's had a fight and a meal.
The sunlight makes up for the absence of summer and you can almost forget that the ground isn't green just yet. Somewhere above me, among the tall trees, I hear a woodpecker pounding a tree, but I just can't see it.
After a break, we climb back up and go to see the Hell's Gorge from above. There is a wooden bridge and a trail leading to a scenic spot but if you are careful enough, you can take a peek down from the edge of the cliff.
The scenic spot offers a view to the long and narrow Iso Helvetinjärvi lake, now frozen, but of course not for long. I can already imagine it on a summer day or evening.
On our way back we also see signs for E6, one of the European Long Distance Paths. Local Pirkan Taival trails that cross Helvetinjärvi National Park are partly included in the E6 trail.
Our trail crosses another brook and then we walk through an opening which reveals a whole lot of fallen trees, also hit by a violent storm. Glad the storm didn't do more damage.
Next we meet wet land: mires. Duckboards are a fantastic thing, and usually they save your feet from getting wet...
...Except here where they happen to be under water. This is the spot that the lady at the kiosque warned us about! However, our hiking boots can take a couple of centimeters of water for a few meters so this is not a problem for us. Some other walkers with lighter shoes have decided not to walk this way today.
Once back in the forest, you can again hear the water. On the left side of the path, a brook is rushing down the slope, forking in two, then coming back together again.
There is also another, steeper waterfall on the left side of the trail, splashing down the cliff. The sign on the path says that there is a special kind of moss in here, called Goblin's Gold because it glows in the dark. I don't think it is yet dark enough to spot it.
Before we arrive back at the start of the Helvetistä itään trail, we get to walk on the snow once more. I somehow feel that this was my last walk on snow this spring...


  1. Good post with nice photos. Looks certainly a place worth visiting

  2. Thanks; next time should spend more time there, and walk much more in the National Park. Plus taste some wild boar soup at the kiosk!