Friday, 1 March 2013

Korpilahti: Vaarunvuoret nature trail

Vaarunvuoret nature trail or "Vaarunpolku" as it is called on the spot, can be found in Korpilahti, about 38 kilometres south from Jyväskylä in Central Finland. The site is located on a scenic route (road 610) between Korpilahti and Joutsa, not very far from Kärkinen bridge that crosses Finland's second biggest lake, Päijänne.
The footprints before me show me the way but I still prefer to wear my snowshoes - it will be so much easier to step aside when I wish plus you never know how far the previous walkers have gone along the 4 kilometre long trail. As usual, the beaty of the white forest descends upon me like snow flakes, gently, slowly, softly.
V for Vaarunvuoret. Spruces, pines, a swamp, and finally a small lake surrounded by junipers: Särkijärvi. On the other side of the lake there is the only campfire site in this nature reserve - you simply aren't allowed to make a fire anywhere else.
On the other hand, it is a bit too early on that I arrive at the campfire site... Yes, there would be plenty of firewood available at the old-fashioned shed but I'm not quite yet in the mood for having a snack. The scenic spot (Vaarunvuoret is literally "Vaaru Hills") is only 0.6 km away but I feel like walking a bit more. However, there is a side track to Korospohja by lake Päijänne - great!
The track to Korospohja goes downhill all the way and is amazingly straight. The explanation behind it is that before it became part of the hiking trail it was an official road until the 1980's, connecting Luhanka and Korpilahti. The Vanha Vaaruntie road was famous for its steepness and it slowly dawns on me that yes, I do have to walk back uphill! Just imagine a bus driving slowly uphill, with passengers stepping out and perhaps pushing the bus...That was also reality sometimes!
Those who visit Vaarunvuoret area by boat step ashore right here, at Korospohjanlahti bay on the eastern shore of lake Päijänne. Standing here you can't really see that there's a steep hill very close by so I have to walk a bit further to the steepest part, Vaarunjyrkkä, to get some idea.
After about a kilometre's walk on the ice I arrive at Vaarunjyrkkä's rocky shore. On such a grey day as this and with the rocky hill covered with snow it doesn't look as spectacular as you might expect. However, I can easily imagine how great this all looks in the summer, with bright blue skyes above and the light waves of lake Päijänne splashing against the granite.
There's always something special to see though: at least some artistic icicles. When I start my return journey to the nature trail via Korospohja, I foolishly change my route on the ice and after a short while realize how heavy my snowshoes have just become. Below the layer of snow, there is already water on the frozen lake - and it means that the slush starts to stick to the bottom of my snowshoes and they're becoming ice shoes. For a second. Until I scrape the ice off them and head quickly as close to the shore as possible and find a better route. It seems that the best season for walking on the ice is now almost over.
I have a short tea break at Korospohja before climbing back up along Vanha Vaaruntie road - a wise decision because it isn't exactly a light walk uphill - but when I arrive back at Särkijärvi campfire site I don't feel like stopping there for making a fire. Onwards! Up! Oh, how the last leg to the top feels so easy! And I'm once again back among the winter fairytale land.
The Vaarunvuori hill is pretty steep so I'm somewhat surprised to find some cross country skiing tracks heading downhill from the top, across the nature trail track. I truly hope all has gone well before the skiers have arrived at lake Päijänne, somewhere down there. There are so many trees there that it can't be too easy to avoid hitting them on the way.
Once I'm at the scenic spot, I get a better idea of how tall the Vaarunvuoret hills are - lake Päijänne is so much below me and you can see pretty far through the opening between the trees. The guest book that is hiding in the wooden box is already full and it is hard to find a place where to scribble my signature and there's no telling who was here last and when that was. Beware of the steep hill, says the sign - Varo jyrkännettä.

I am extremely happy to be wearing snow shoes, judging by the 'trail' which was made by someone who was simply wearing boots. He or she has stepped in pretty steep snow but has still managed to keep going!
The route marks (blue paint, in places yellow paint) lead me to an opening which is the only place where I can't locate the next trail sign. My own fault for not paying attention perhaps; here the route doesn't actually enter the opening (which is on private land) but goes round it, making a sharp turn to the right and then heading back to the woods. I take a minute to locate the trail again but while I do so, I pay a visit to the snow-covered Loch Päijänne Monster, nature's creation, that actually is looking exactly where the trail is...

Vaarunvuoret area can surely offer great experiences all year round, and definitely not just in the summer. Yet it would be pretty cool to arrive there on a kayak on a summer's day!

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