Friday, 11 March 2016

Magnificent Mäkrä, Koli

Koli, one of my favourite places in North Karelia, was bathing in gorgeous sunshine, giving special glow to the tall fir trees covered in sparkling snow. What a day! Just perfect for snowshoeing!

There are marked snowshoeing trails at Koli, starting from the hotel. The shortest one does a circle round the top and takes you to the best viewing spots. We didn't bother to use our snowshoes at first; so many people had taken the path to the top of Ukko-Koli, the highest peak already that we started our daytrip by carrying our snowshoes. There was plenty of time for leaving our own footprints in the snow.

The view from the top of Ukko-Koli to Lake Pielinen is breathtaking, no matter what time of the year. In the summer blue takes over, from the sky to the lake, but now everything is white, white, white....And blue. The weather is just perfect, between -5 and -10 °C, keeping the snow dry and crisp.

I feel so lucky to be here.

Time to strap the snowshoes on. Which way? The next, shadowed peak is Mäkrä and I can't take my eyes off it. Mäkrä it is, as if I hadn't already decided... I've once gone up the hill in cross country skis, I've walked there in summertime, and enjoyed its slopes on snowshoes. It has been fun every single time. So why not this time?

With our snowshoes on, we descended Ukko-Koli and followed the marked showshoe trail for a bit, then stepped aside and  learned how deep in the snow we could leave our footprints. Bigfoot's plastic footprints. Yes, walking in the snow even with snowshoes is more strenuous than walking on a clean tarmac but without showshoes making a trail in the snow would be much harder!

After the first clearing, Mäkränaho, we continued further down via our own trail and soon reached Purolanaho. The soft glow of the sun made the quiet clearing even more beautiful. We stopped for a while to catch our breath and to consider having a snack. Perhaps just not yet, not even a tiny bit of chocolate. Mäkrä first!

I remembered the climb to the top of Mäkrä both with cross country skis and with snowshoes. I didn't have hiking poles with me - usually prefer to have my hands free even although at times I do miss them sometimes in deep snow when going up or down steep slopes.

Some other pairs of snowshoes had gone up Mäkrä before us and showed us the way. I didn't mind the ready made trail at all - it was hard enough to walk up the hill and it felt good to stop and take a photograph. No, it wasn't just to steady my breath...

The climb was well worth it! The view from Mäkrä is amazing. From here you can again see Lake Pielinen in its glory as well as Ukko-Koli where we started our day trip from. The downhill skiing at Koli was not to be heard neither here nor at Ukko-Koli: over here they don't play music next to the ski lifts.  The only sounds were the whiff of the wind and our own breath, shuffling of our feet in the snow.

After we'd gazed at the scenery long enough, we headed for the other western slope of Mäkrä to face the sun. In the distance I could distinguish Lake Herajärvi which has gien its name to a great hiking trail (31-60 km) which isn't as easy as it may sound. The hills, called 'vaara' can be quite strenuous.

I felt I was in fairytale land. You don't always need to travel as far north as Lapland to see the best of Finnish winter with the snow covered trees and experience the whitest of snow!

We chose our way down: the summer trail of Mäkrä, marked with green paint on the trees, took us directly to Ikolanaho under yet more snow covered trees. For a bit it felt like we were walking in a tunnel. A tunnel of white beauty. When some light snowflakes fell off the trees above us, glittering in the rays of the sun, it felt surreal.

Just before reaching Ikolanaho, our chosen stop, I glimpsed towards the cliffs on my right. Loads of icicles, like gigantic teeth of the elves grinning. I wondered what else was there, hiding under the white snow.

It was finally time for our snack. But first, a small fire. Metsähallitus kindly provides the hikers with dry firewood (you may need to use the axe though!) but it should be used sparingly, because transporting firewood to these places isn't easy and there are lots of people who stop to make a fire - often to cook their dinner if hiking. There is no charge for firewood, either, so be kind to others and don't use more firewood than necessary! Also, if there is a metal grill above the fireplace, do not leave it on the fire after you've fried your sausages, made your toast etc. but turn it to the side because metal grills don't last forever in the heat. We saw the proof of that... A totally ruined grill. Hope it will be replaced soon.

Our tiny fire was just about enough to heat our sausages - a must! - and we also had some tea from our flask to get warm. The sun was beginning to set soon and it was time to go: mostly uphill again, as we were heading back for Ukko-Koli.

We followed someone else's snowshoeing trail from Ikolanaho towards Purolanaho at first, but the trail diverted a bit to the left and we soon found ourselves close to the trail that we had first followed towards Mäkrä. There was no way we could get lost: all trails lead to Koli!

And if you think it's too cold to go snowshoeing at Koli, you are mistaken. Snowshoeing on Koli's slopes can only keep you warm... Still, it was great to go to sauna after our snowy day trip!

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