Monday, 31 December 2012

Leppävirta: Orinoro gorge

Orinoro Gorge at Soisalo, Leppävirta makes a great destination also in wintertime. However, at this time of the year you may need snowshoes, depending on how much snow there is and whether there have been other visitors before you to keep the path open (if you're really lucky!). There are two alternatives routes to visit the gorge. The longer route starts at Mustinmäki school (3.3 km to the gorge) and the shorter one at Hanhiahontie road (900 meters to the gorge). My pick today is the shorter route because there just isn't enough daylight left to make it back before the dark.
I check the start of the path before hitting the trail and find that there is no need for snow shoes today; someone has been walking there recently, and the path is open. The nature trail signposts - in Finnish only - tell more about the flora and fauna. However, the cuckoos that typically live in this forest are long gone somewhere in the south for the winter...
I wonder what creature of the woods has crossed the path, leaving its own trail in the snow? There are no prints because the trail is under a thin layer of snow that has fallen in the last few days. Perhaps it was a fox.
The Orinoro trail descends down to more dense forest with the snow-covered fir trees. This is a winter wonderland.
The two spruces that are standing guard right by the trail, watching over the passers-by must be twins.
Rauhoitettu luonnonsuojelualue means that we are now entering a protected area: a nature reserve. The first large rocks appear close to the path so the gorge is already near.
The icicle season has already started at Orinoro gorge, thanks to the recent cold but sunny days or the occasional warmer spells.
There are even larger icicles higher up the rocks. In my eyes they bear resemblance to teeth - those of not-so-nice fairytale creatures.
The trail that leads to up the gorge has railings for safety. On one side the cliff is very steep, on the other side the rocks slope up more gently.
The gorge gets even narrower. Orinoro gorge is about 100 meters long and at its tallest point about 20 meters deep; it is considered one of the seven wonders of Savo. I get flashbacks of my visits to Hitonhauta at Laukaa and to Helvetinkolu at Ruovesi.
To help walking, there are duckboards at the bottom of Orinoro gorge. Because of the snow, it is hard to tell how rocky and hard to walk the ground is but we opt for walking along the duckboards which can just about be discerned under the white layer of snow. However, it is good to walk slowly to avoid slipping.
The different sides of the gorge behave differently: the other side has gathered quite a bit of snow whereas the other is almost snowless.
I think I prefer the snowy rocks and the icicles here and there to bare rocks. The Orinoro gorge is gorgeous and makes you feel small even if it isn't one of the largest in the world. Time to say goodbye to it, unfortunately.
There isn't that much snow (less than 30 cm) so we decide to make a small detour before returning to the car. Nobody has walked before us in the snow so we need to make our own path, following the green trail marks painted on the trees; there are not an awful lot of them but the trail is still fairly easy to follow. I'm glad to wear gaiters so snow doesn't get into my hiking boots.
There is a small shelter - for firewood, not for spending the night - at Orkonen lake as well as an outdoor toilet. Time for a snack and some hot tea from the thermos flask! A poem by Kaisa Laitinen reveals that Orinoro gorge got its name (ori= stallion) after a stallion that fell into the gorge from the cliffs.
The small, frozen Orkonen lake is silent and doesn't show any signs of life. There are no prints on the surface of the snow. Where is everyone? The trail to Orinoro gorge exists thanks to the local villagers whose volunteer work made the construction of the trail possible in 1997-98. The trail was officially opened in May 1999. Even today the villagers take care of it and bring firewood to to the shelter; this is a meeting place for local nature lovers. There are lots of these fantastic, similar volunteers all around Finland who maintain trails and shelters for the benefit of their local community and for all of us.
So... Let's do our share and honour the volunteers' work as well as the nature. No more ripping birch bark from living trees: bring your own kindling if you want to make a fire. The distance from Orkonen lake to Mustinmäki school is only 2.5 km but we turn back to follow our own trail to Hanhiahontie where we started from. Some more of Savo's winter wonderland to see on the way!

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