Last year, I decided I would visit all 40 national parks of Finland. I knew it would take some time, but it sounded like a fun project, and whenever I’ve been, I’ve discovered wonders. Remember Pallas-Yllästunturi? Pyhä-Luosto? Sipoo?
I’m still not there, but I recently added a new park to my list: Koli! Here is the story.
My parents were visiting Finland this February, and while I didn’t follow them to Lapland, I took them on a trip to North Carelia for their last weekend here. Koli is a very famous place in Finland, for the landscape there has inspired many artists, including the great composer Sibelius and painter Gallen-Kallela. In a sense, it’s the Skagen of Finland 😉
We took the train to Joensuu on Friday evening, slept there, and were off on an adventure in the morning. Koli lay some 60 km north, but we were not so much in a hurry. The weather was cold and sunny, proving once more that February was the most beautiful month of the year.
We stopped in Kontiolahti, at the biathlon stadium. Since they started to broadcast it on TV, my mom had become a huge biathlon fan, and so she was quite keen on seeing that place. I had been there already with my friend Anka, several years before, when it hosted the world championship. Apart from a few skiers, the area was very silent, quite a contrast from my first time there, but that allowed us to have a close look at the shooting field, and the targets.
While we were driving in the forest, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed: there wasn’t that much snow. In fact, it looked quite like Helsinki. Not bad, but not impressive either. And then, as we topped a small hill, we had a glimpse at our destination: the hilltops were completely white. Promising…
And indeed, as we climbed up the hill, trees started to bear more snow, and when we reached the parking lot, we were in true winter wonderland. That was nothing compared to was awaited us further up, though.
The next step was to take the free funicular to the hotel/visitor center level. There, we received good information about the park, where we could walk without snowshoes, how we could reach Ukko-Koli, the highest summit. We learnt that the huge snowfall, combined with a mild winter, had created of a mess of the forest. Since the soil was not frozen, many trees had collapsed under 3 tons (!) of snow. When it wasn’t the whole tree, it was the top 1 or 2 meters that had gone down to the ground.
Finally we set off to the top. Entering this forest was like entering another world, for trees were encased in snow and rime, creating fantasy-like shapes looming over our heads. Finns call it tykkylumi, I’ve just learnt that in English it’s crown snow-load, and I had never seen such a thing before.
I felt very inspired by this alien landscape.
At the top, there was a little wind that froze us to the bone, so we went back to the visitor center, half walking, half sliding on our bottom, and warmed up at the cafe. Then we climbed up again for sunset, and what a sunset it was!
I often think that I would like Helsinki to be more hilly; maybe that’s why I enjoyed Koli so much. Or maybe it was just this late sun coating spruce in gold and pink, with the sky a rich blue hue.
My dad and I woke up early in the morning, but clouds hid the sun, so we quickly drove back to the hostel and slept some more. Then it was time to explore a bit the region.
In this lanscape of solid water, the most exotic sight was definitely the ice road: accross Lake Pielinen, its seven kilometers make it the longest inland ice road in Europe. Along the driveway, there’s a track for skaters; as for the rest of the lake, it’s free territory for skiers and hikers, if they like. From Ukko-Koli, we saw tracks in all directions.
To close this Carelian experience, we visited the heights of Koli again. This time, clouds dimmed the sun’s light. We ventured a bit further than the day before, followed less traveled paths in the still forest. We saw close to no bird during this trip, but the sceneries made up for this absence.
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