Saturday, 26 March 2016

A taste of UKK trail on snowshoes, Koli

It was a gorgeous sunny day in early March when I was walking towards Räsävaara at Koli, North Karelia in Finland. Before the last long ascent to Räsävaara I spotted a wooden sign saying UKK. The acronym stands for UKK Trail which runs between Koli and Savukoski. It is by no means an easy, short trail walked in a weekend;  Savukoski is up in Lapland, about 1,000 kilometres away, and the trail is well marked in some areas only and requires extremely good navigational skills. And you might still lose the way even if you carry detailed maps.

UKK stands for Urho Kaleva Kekkonen who was the President of the Republic of Finland in 1956-1981. Kekkonen was an outdoors enthusiast and loved especially cross country skiing and fishing. He is said to have hiked the trail himself in 1957.

It seemed that I could get at least a taste of the UKK trail with no chance of getting lost... The signposts seemed good enough and I would always be able to follow my own trail back in the snow. So, I returned to the same spot the following day, again equipped with my snowshoes.

There were no human footprints on the dazzling, white snow. Only a hare had made his trail in the snow before me. I strapped on my snowshoes and stepped off the road to UKK Trail. The snow was nice and crisp and my snowshoes sank somewhat into it, but not very deep. Nevertheless, winter walking in snowshoes is always harder than walking on a road without the extra weight and the sinking experience; very soon I had to wipe my forehead and slow down.

At first the trail followed a narrow dirt road (or should I say a snow road?) and I thought it would turn into a narrower track. But not just yet. I felt curious. Would I be able to follow the trail marks without being able to distinguish a well trodden trail on the ground?

I was soon to find out. When the trail left the road there was a clear sign to the right, but after that it got trickier. It really helps if you have some experience with looking for any possible trail signs in the land ahead, and you are lucky if the paint chosen for the trail is of vibrant colour. Nevertheless, it took me a while to spot the next trail marks that only just reached above the snow!

I had a small - but not very detailed - map with me which helped me to see the right direction, but no compass, and anyway, I was hoping to find out whether it would be possible to follow the UKK trail in winter time. This was already an indication that a good map would be a great help.

I could see the Räsävaara observation tower in the distance; it was my treat the previous day.  If following the trail now were to become too hard, I could always make another visit to Räsävaara.

Sun was keeping me company. I kept walking on, keeping an eye on any orange dots on trees or in wooden posts peeking through the snow. What a wonderful day! What a fabulous forest!

The trail turned left and I followed the trail marks between the fir trees. It was like a narrow lane, surrounded by the homes of forest folk. A kind hare had again jumped before me and marked the way in the snow, first to a small opening and further on, deeper into the forest. I wonder if the path was also created by animals before humans started using it as well.

On my left there was a dense fir forest; on my right deciduous trees wearing the latest winter fashion, fluffy snow jackets. When you walk among fir trees, you may not often catch the sun so this was a welcome view.

It was so quiet. No birds singing, no motors, not a sound. Except for snow sometimes falling on the ground from the top of the trees after the sun had managed to turn some of the snow into less solid format.

When I continued on in the forest, I kept looking for the trail marks but soon could see no orange dots on the trees. However, I figured that by walking to the right direction I would be bound to find the trail again and was right. Orange paint dots greeted me by the side of the next clearing and for a while I was definitely on the trail again. That is, until the trail marks again disappeared!

The distances were however so short that I was confident of meeting the trail again soon, and was right. At the next opening (felled perhaps recently?) I looked at my map and knew that a campfire site was near.

I walked down the slope and there it was. An official campfire site. Oh well, maybe I was content with just my thermos flask and didn't have an urge to make a fire this time... I didn't even bother to go and see if there would have been any dry firewood left.

The trail turned right before the next house (the first house I'd met on the trail so far) and joined a cross country skiing track which was heading in the right direction. I didn't want to trample on the skiing track so I jumped off it and made my personal trail on the snow. When the cross country skiing track arrived at a narrow road and turned right, I continued straight on, keeping on the UKK trail. Virgin snow again.

This time even hares had abandoned me and I had the trail and the forest all to myself. Or not really, but there were no hare footprints on the marked trail. Only some tiny footprints - perhaps mice  that ran across the trail here and there. Wait a minute, is that a bird singing? It sounded like spring.

Finding the next trail marks proved a bit more difficult in some places, but I felt confident I wouldn't have to turn back and follow my footprints back to where I had started from. Anyway, there were still many hours of daylight left.

After walking through a coniferous forest I arrived between lovely birches and to myt pleasant surprise, met trail signs and a map which told me exactly where I was. Nice! Mustikkavaara was only 2.5 kilometres away but I had already earlier decided that I'd be happy reaching Ryynäskylä where I could step onto a road that would take me back to Koli village. Not far too go anymore!

I walked across a field and then headed towards yet more fir trees. There was a house not too far on the left and I knew I didn't have too far to go anymore. And when you meet this kind of a straight 'lane' you just can't go wrong!

My final destination, Ryynäskylä's old village school was totally deserted, and it seemed like this was not due to school holidays. I suppose the school is no longer in its original use but that any kids in the area are transported to schools further afield. What surprised me was that the lovely kota had not been used recently either! It meant that it might not be easy to open the door...

I walked to the kota's door and tried gently to open the door, but as doors in Finland usually open outwards, the snow totally blocked the way. Also, I thought I'd prefer to stay out in the sun rather than go indoors, even if it would have been nice to make a fire, so I gave up quickly and headed towards the road that was supposed to be right next to the school. Although the road to the school yard was totally covered in snow, the Ryynäskylä road was clear and I took my snowshoes off. A couple more kilometres to go along the roads and then I'd be back at my lodgings at Koli village, at Kolin Ryynänen.

It was only then that I realized the connection between the names (Ryynäs = of Ryynänen, kylä=village)... I was walking from Ryynänen village to Ryynänen!


  1. Using snowshoes may sound scary at first, but it only takes a little bit of practice and understanding the importance of balance and traction to avoid injuries. If you’re unsure how to snowshoe, you can learn a lot about it here:

  2. Thanks Julie! I just bought a pair of snowshoes and started walking on snow in the woods! Later, I bought a better pair of snowshoes and haven't since done cross country skiing ;)