Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Saarijärvi: Winter at Kulhanvuori

What a glorious winter day! I can't resist the call of the bright sunlight and the snow but drive about 90 kilometers northwest from Jyväskylä to a beautiful, quiet corner of Central Finland: my destination is Kulhanvuori area at Saarijärvi. The wooden signpost at Konttimäentie road is covered with frost and snow but it is legible enough: Kulhanvuori it is. I park the car by the side of the road and walk along the narrow trail made by the previous visitors; the last bit of road that leads to the car park hasn't seen a snow plough this season. The nature reserve welcomes me after about 1.5 km walk.
Of course, I could have worn or even taken my snow shoes with me... But I half forgot them in the car when I saw the trail leading to the nature reserve. Plus there isn't that much snow, really. Only about 20-30 cm in most places. Nevertheless, I trust my instinct and follow the trail made by the previous visitors - surely they've followed the nature trail as well? At least they've made a fire by the Iso-Musta lake although there isnt' that much firewood left for hikers right now.
Looking at the frozen lake, I see only the happily circling footprints of the people who've been here before me. Perhaps today, perhaps yesterday, or the day before. Suddenly the sky changes colour, and the sun almost disappears behind mist that looks like it is trying to choke the source of light. The tricks that cold weather plays - it is so hard to believe that it isn't late afternoon but this it is hardly after mid-day.
The path by Iso-Musta lake is surrounded by the magical, dimmed light of this strangely beautiful winter day. Come to think of it, I could stop here and make a fire and just enjoy the magic, but the call of the trail is far too loud. Let's see where the path will take me.
The marked nature trail turns right at the partly frozen brook that leads from Iso-Musta lake to its smaller sister, Pieni-Musta lake. However, this is also where the footprints end and I have to decide whether to keep going - without snow shoes - or turn back. After a moment's thought I turn my eyes to the trail marks. If the trail seems to be marked well enough, I'll trample in the snow and do the nature trail. If at some point it doesn't seem like a good idea anymore, I can always turn back. Anyway, I am wearing gaiters so snow won't get into my hiking boots.
I breath in the crisp air, the scenery powdered in white. It doesn't feel cold at all; what is -16°C on a day like this? I admire the shapes and the details around me, find a foothold on the duckboards that are almost totally hidden under the snow. The trail steers to the right, through the narrow opening between the trees. I follow the trail marks and leave my footprints on the untrodden snow.
I walk under spruces and meet tall pine trees. An old, grey wooden sign reminds that I am still walking along the nature path (luontopolku). Snow embraces every single tree and the forest oozes inner peace. The only sounds I hear are my own footsteps on the snow and my clothes rustling.
The old tree by the path is pretty much the only spot of colour in these woods in which everything seems to be painted with different shades of black, grey and white. Suddenly I hear something behind the trees. And then the swish of something white, a dash of black. The willow grouses have left their resting places in the snow and gone off for somewhere more quiet. Sorry!
I feel elated and my step is light after seeing the willow grouses. It is not easy to spot them in Central Finland! Very soon I arrive at a place where I need to be careful of a steep fall (luckily there is a railing!); there is even a yellow warning sign. Syväoja Gorge is about 1 kilometre long and the nature trail follows it for part of the way, mostly on the top of the cliff. Somewhere at the bottom of the gorge there is a brook called Syväoja.
The path leads me down the steep slope for a brief visit at the bottom of the gorge and immediately up again. It pays to watch your step because there is quite a bit of ice both on the ground and on the granite walls around me. And not just huge icicles. As the winter progresses, there will be even more ice that sometimes doesn't melt before July!
Once I'm again up above the gorge, the trail steers towards Lamminkangas where some hermits used to live in total peace with the nature. They were both women: the first one was Maija-Liisa Kovanen and when she vacated the area, Lipan-Riikka with her herd of goats took over in the early 19th century.
Finally, the trail signs point me to the bottom of Kulhanvuori hill and I cross the Kulhankoski rapid which flows slowly under the wooden bridge. The nature trail turns to to the left and starts its ascent towards the top of the hill.
The landscape is taking on a shade of blue at this time of the day as I walk slowly up the Kulhanvuori hill. I wonder if the view will get even better once I've reached the top (at 260 meters above sea level, about 60 meters higher than the surrounding area)? Will there be an opening between the trees for a great view?
I continue treading uphill, but with somewhat weary feet. Therefore it comes as no pleasant surprise that the trail marks (orange paint / red ribbons) stop. After a bit of searching I find the next one but then - no more. Where are you, my friends? I only need you for about half a kilometre or so...  The options are to try to continue to the top in the fading light and then hit the trail to go downhill to meet the path I started from, or trace my steps back down and take a slightly longer but definitely sure route to reach the trail again. After an attempt to search for the trail marks nearby I give in and abandon the climb up to the top of Kulhanvuori hill. Better be safe than sorry; the temperature will soon begin to fall and the sun is already very low.
Naturally I feel slightly disappointed at not visiting the top of the hill. After all, the nature reserve is named after Kulhanvuori hill! However, it would not be a clever idea to remain walking here after dark. Therefore, it feels good to follow the Kulhankoski rapid up to Pieni-Musta lake the shoreline of which I followed already earlier and return to the brook and my own footprints. Once I'm again back on the trail, I walk briskly back to the car and arrive there just before the light fades. Despite the last episode, what a fantastic day! And now I've got a good reason for returning here - reaching the very top of Kulhanvuori hill some day.

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