Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sarkasvuori rock painting, Juva

The ice-covered, winding roads force me to drive extremely carefully to my destination at Juva, southern Savo, Finland. I take a free mini-cruise on on ferry (1-2 minutes, there is no bridge) to Hirvensalo before reaching Uimasalo and Ristilampi lake. The spring hasn't arrived here just yet although it is on its way; it is still the ice age of winter 2013 and the lakes are frozen which means that I don't need to follow the marked path to the rock paintings. I pick up my snowshoes...
Or should have bothered to take the snowshoes with me at all? There seems to be so little snow left on the ice that I really don't need to wear them when walking on Ristilampi lake. Oh well, they might come in handy later.
I wonder if that rock has something to do with the rock paintings?
As soon as I leave the lake the snowshoes come in handy. There is still plenty of snow on the ground. I walk up to the rocks by Ristilampi lake and find out that this is a prehistoric quartz quarry, not yet a place to discover rock paintings.
In this distant place there have been people hard at work such a long time ago! Just imagine - quartz from this very rock has been used for knives or arrow heads in the Stone, Bronze or Iron Age and the tools used in the excavation weren't exactly modern.
I follow the arrow sign and the occasional red ribbons tied on trees to head for the rock paintings. The ravine between the rocks offers plenty to see around me: there are gorgeous icicle formations both on my right and left. I keep following the red ribbons as long as I can but when there are no further ribbons, keep on walking, in the hopes of arriving at the right place. However, when I reach a lake, I quickly realize that it is a whole lot bigger than the one I have memorized on the map before arriving here so I'd better head back and try again.
Yes, it is indeed interesting to be out walking without a printed map, trying to memorize the map from an online service that doesn't seem to be available when I'm on the spot. Wonder why I prefer to carry a printed map with me whenever I can instead of relying always on my cell phone? But no, it isn't really a problem because this is such a small area and I remember which way the right lake was supposed to be. Very soon I am walking on Sarkaslampi lake and start scanning the rocks for a rock painting. It goes on for a while... without success. I should probably have followed the trail (that is somewhere high up) instead of walking on the ice because there might be a sign leading me to the rock painting at this end of the lake.
I keep on walking slowly on the ice and lose my hope of spotting the first rock painting. However, as soon as I have passed the group of guys who have been winter fishing on the lake (and who are enjoying their break by an open fire) I spot an interesting looking rock and a sign beneath it. Once I'm there, it doesn't take long to find the  Sarkasvuori rock painting - it is clearly an elk! The rock painting is a couple of metres from the ground - the water level was much higher earlier - and the elk dates probably back to 3300-3700 B.C.
This is how long-lived artwork was made before spray cans took over. The red paint has survived surprisingly well over the years, telling its greetings from the days gone by so long ago. It is very easy to see the elk but the shape above it could be whatever. A human? I'm glad that the water level in lake Saimaa is exactly where it is now so that it is not possible to reach the elk painting and it can stay as it is, protected by law but unguarded here by a small lake in the middle of nothing. Almost.

The fishermen return back to the ice and sit down on their stools to continue fishing on this beautiful, sunny day. I wave a hello and walk past them to find my way back to Ristilampi. I feel a pang of sadness; this may well be my last snowshoeing trip this winter that is clearly turning to spring.

Map of Ristilampi - Sarkasvuori, Juva

Monday, 8 April 2013

Laukaa: Scenic Hyyppäänvuori

I just can't imagine a more beautiful day for a snowshoeing trip! My destination is a hilltop which some have claimed to be the equivalent of the famous Koli (of North Karelia) in the province of Central Finland. Hyyppäänvuori hill is located on the southwestern shore of lake Lievestuore in Laukaa and it rises to 171 meters above sea level. There are more than one path leading to its top; I select the shorter, unmarked one via Ruoholahdentie, being lucky in finding a place to park (for there really isn't parking available) by the side of the road only a little distance away. Also, finding the unmarked trail is easy because there are some footprints in the snow leading to the right direction.
Climbing to the top of Hyyppäänvuori is very good excercise. The path winds up the steep hill slowly but surely and I feel almost sorry for the cross-country skier who has also gone up the same way. When I am close to the top, I also encounter the marked trail which joins my path from the west.
Parts of Hyyppäänvuori area are also parts of a nature reserve maintained by Metsähallitus. As I'm out here without a map, having arrived here by following instructions only, it's great to see where exactly I am on the map as well as where the marked trail would have been (had I known about it!). Good to know for the next visit which might well take place when the snow is gone.
Well, I must say the view isn't too bad. Not bad at all. The view must be one of the best in Central Finland. And  there is no need for an observation tower because there are no trees blocking the panorama and there is a sheer drop right in front of me.
The lonely, grey pine tree strikes a weary pose for me. I stand still in the snow for a long time, gazing the blue-tinted view around me, and hear no sound, not even from a distance.
The other handsome, already grey or slowly greying pine trees may not be hundreds of years old but they are charming just the way they are. Let me think - there was also supposed to be a cave around here. It must be somewhere beneath me.
I take care in descending the rocky slope in my snowshoes and hope that I won't miss the cave; I have no idea how big or small it could be. Once I'm safely down, I start following the rocks and it seems pretty promising. I wonder if that can already be labeled a cave?
A couple more steps and... No doubt about it, this is a proper cave and it's easy to enter it, without needing to wriggle in through a tiny hole. I can well imagine someone must have slept here, safe from the wind and the rain. I guess these days this is not meant to be used for spending a night here... and making a fire in this area is forbidden.
I climb back up the hill and rejoin the trail that goes round the scenic Hyyppäänvuori, giving a view to almost every direction. If you are visiting Hyyppäänvuori and don't want to go down and visit the cave, you can also get a temporary shelter by sitting under the large rock by the path. Again, making the fire is forbidden and there is no fireplace offered here, unlike in many other nature trails. It is quite understandable because this gorgeous area had better stay as it is!

I walk down the hill with a light step, choosing a different shortcut to the road in my snowshoes now that I know the way. Hyyppäänvuori may not be the equivalent of Koli, and Lake Lievestuore doesn't exactly equal the huge lake Pielinen in North Karelia, but to me Hyyppäänvuori is now definitely among the most scenic spots in Central Finland. I hope to return here in the summer!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Tornio: Nivavaara hill

Karunki, Lapland, by Tornio River and E8 road. Close to a roadside car park there is a black sign Näköalapolku (Panorama Path). We cross the railroad tracks and wonder should we walk straight on or turn left. We keep on walking straight uphill, with the sun behind us, until I realize the road is turning the wrong way, towards the right.
Guess we missed the panorama path but that's no problem; we're well equipped. A quick check of the map on the cellphone - and it's snowshoe time! We will make our own trail to the top of Nivavaara hill. If we manage to find it, that is.
The shadows are creating new shapes on the crisp, windswept snow.
It is totally quiet around us but we are not exactly making a lot of noise. However, the Black Grouse (if that's what it was) manages to hear us approach and takes off to the top of a nearby tree, leaving a snow angel behind him or her.
We march on with our snowshoes and try to keep going in the right direction. It isn't exactly easy because the land rises very gently and there are quite a few trees; perhaps that's a bit higher, and that...As if it were hard to find a hilltop!
This piece of grey wood is what is left of an old tree. A work of art in itself, and probably untouched by human hands. Even mine. It feels good to choose exactly where to go instead of following cross country skiing tracks or a ready made path, even if that would be easier. After a while we however meet snowmobile tracks but that's ok; it seems we're still heading in the right direction.
And here we are: on the top of Nivavaara hill where there are some signs of humans in the form of masts and even a little cottage, albeit a deserted one. Down below is the Tornio River thanks to which it is very easy to not get lost - you only have to keep it on your left!
My guess is that somewhere under this pile of snow there are the remains of an old triangulation tower so this is probably the very top of Nivavaara hill: 124.4 meters above sea level and a guaranteed lookout spot. Nivavaara was visited also by Pierre Louis de Maupertuis in 1736 when this French astronomer and mathematician and his team were conducting their measurements to confirm the shape of the earth. Back then they could see Tornio church tower in the south as well as Aavasaksa hilltop in the north.
Either the scientists' eyesight was far better than mine or they must have carried a telescope with them. I really can't spot Tornio, looking south. It is far too bright... Anyway, I am quite happy with just enjoying the fabulous view from the top of the hill; a true panorama. How about a cup of tea from a flask? Yes, please!

Apparently there is a place where you can make a fire somewhere quite near us but we don't bother to look for it seriously. No need. From here we simply need to choose our own way down as we can't miss the road which runs parallel to the Tornio River. There are not too many footprints on the snow, not even by animals...
We meander downhill through the woods, again ignoring the 'official' trail that must be somewhere close by, under the snow. Soon we arrive among young pines among which there is something taller. It really is a single pine tree but from the distance, counting the tree tops, you could think there are four growing extremely close to each other! No wonder they let it grow... Hope it's gonna stay there for many years to come.