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Karhunkierros trail, from Hautajärvi to Taivalköngäs, day 1

A photo journal, with notes on lessons learned from backpacking the Karhunkierros trail from Hautajärvi nature center to Taivalköngäs campsite in August 2022.
Boiling water to hydrate the dehydrated travel ration, using a camp stove.
Cooking water for a warm lunch and coffee at the Vasaoja campsite. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022

I planned to hike the Karhunkierros trail for four days, Monday through Thursday, averaging about 20km per day, for the 82km length. I aimed to arrive at the Ruka resort on Thursday at the end of the day. Estimating around 3-4 hours of hiking + stops for eating and rest.  If the terrain is rugged, I would need to add 1-2 hours to the travel time, so 4-6 hours per day.

I chatted with the bus driver during the drive to Hautajärvi on Sunday, 14.8. and indeed, four days was the most common objective schedule for hiking parties set on the trail. Some groups took up to 7 days and explored a number of the nature trails branching from the Karhunkierros trail.

In fact, as a firm believer in preparation and planning, I had rehearsed and planned for the trip in advance as a first-timer to multiday hiking. But as always, when reality collides with a plan, reality wins. I was wrong on many accounts, some of which I will explore the lessons learned in this article.

The more popular modern version of Moltke the Elder's insight states,” No plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Strategic Plans Are Less Important than Strategic Planning, by Graham Kenny, in a 2016 HBR article.

A new day dawns at Rytiniva campsite.

Waking up to a bright morning, with fresh air and the river streaming loudly, it was time for breakfast, coffee, and a look around. Where had I arrived in the dark of night? Moreover, it was my birthday today—what a great way to celebrate - a solid meal and start on the backpacking adventure ahead.

My 4-person green tent next to a large wooden shelter, from where smoke tufts out from an open fire. The camp has gravel ground srrounded by long grass and 10+ meter tall birch trees.
Monday morning at the Rytiniva campsite, at the beginning of Karhunkierros, with my tent next to the wooden shelter. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Lesson learned: The Rytiniva campsite is excellent, but there is room for only a few tents. Those arriving after the first handful of people will need to hike 6km to the next campsite. That will be at least a long hour of walking if it's nearing midnight.

The wooden shelter with benches and fireplace inside it, around it there is gravel ground and long grass for the tents.
The large wooden shelter and room for perhaps four tents around it, at the Rytiniva campsite. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Priority was to get water resupplied. After the previous evening's travel and night, I had only a cup of water left. From the map and arriving at the site the last night, I knew the river was flowing right next to the campsite.

Lustily flowing, clear watered Koutajoki across which a wooden bridge lurches.
A wooden bridge across Koutajoki flows strongly at the side of the camp. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The video below is from the bridge in the picture above. No wonder the sound of the flow felt quite loud to a tent less than 10 meters away during the night.

A short video about the flow of Koutajoki (Kouta-river) at Rytiniva campsite on the Karhunkierros backpacking trail. Taken on Monday, 15.8.2022, at 08:07 in the morning. Location: 66°31'13" N 29°3'49" E.

In planning for the backpacking, I opted for a good heavy-duty water filter purifier as the preferred method for getting drinking and cooking water for hydrating dehydrated meals.

Draining water from the Koutajoki river, with a filter purifier.
A water refill from the Koutajoki nearby to refill water supplies for drinking and hydrating the meals. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

I can say that, personally, the water filter-purifier that allowed safe drinkable water re-supplied from streams at a fast rate (2l per minute) was absolutely essential for the success of my backpacking trip.

After water, next up was making breakfast before re-packing the tent and camp gear and setting off again. There will be a whole post about the gear used, so I won't go into those details yet.

In retrospect, I'll point out the vitamins at the bottom left of the photo. While planning, I thought that they would be a helpful complement to daily consumption. There would be no fresh vegetables or fruit for nearly a week, and the dehydrated rations can't compete with the richness of food we consume in the meals during the day.

Later I was advised by more experienced backpackers on the trail that these kinds of small extras add unnecessary weight. It's an excellent food for thought, how strictly necessary should we be while packing for the trip?  

Components for a breakfast on a wooden table; water bottles, camp stove + alcohol for fuel, dehydrated travel ration, coffee, vitamins, cup and utensils.
Making breakfast at the Rytiniva campsite. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

After packing the camp, I had to stop, unpack and repack the backpack's contents for a better balance, but that's a topic for another time. Finally, I was ready to set on the trail.

Metallic signpost noting current location as Rytiniva, and pointing the direction and distance to Perttulankoski lean-to.
There are trail signs like this almost every kilometer of the whole journey. The sign is somewhat hard to read in this photo. It states Rytiniva campsite and points the direction to Perttulankoski campsite, the next one in 6km. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

After leaving the Rytiniva campsite, the path dives into a dry heath forest, uncrowded with tall pines and spruces that reach upwards from the forest floor.  

5-15m tall pines stretching up every few meters, growing from a soft heath forest floor.
Dry heath forest, with almost springy ground and sparsely growing pines. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Intermittently marsh areas open on the sides of the path, with smaller trees and undergrowth in shades of darker green, orange, and brown.

Spruces on the side of a dry marsh opening, at the edge of the heath forest.
The dry heath forest borders the moist marsh, with pine and spruce trees. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A short (10s) video on the duckboards passing through the marsh, taken on Monday 15.8.2022, 11:45, at 66°31'09.1"N 29°04'13.1"E, around a kilometer from the Rytiniva campsite.
A skeleton of a car with everything picked clean, probably decades old.
A surprising car wreck, that also marks the beginning. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A car wreck is pictured above on the side of the trail. In the middle of the delightful beautiful nature, not too far from a few houses. Seeing something like this felt both very disappointing (in humanity) and eerily post-apocalyptic, where nature would have taken over the space occupied by humans. I've never seen a car wreck picked so clean, but why have they left the steering wheel in place?

Fortunately, this wreck also marks the beginning of the more scenic trail, it only gets better from here onwards.  

Birch forest with lush Woodland horsetail growth, with sun shining between the trees.
Mixed forest with mostly birch trees, and vibrant undergrowth. Especially the wood horsetails seem to prosper in the area. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Before the Koutajoki -river, an area of tall, bright green undergrowth between the trees of the mixed forest.

A sunny forest path with birch trees and abundant green undergrowth.
Birch forest, with thriving undergrowth. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A rope bridge crossing the Koutajoki-river, one of many to come. Built very sturdy and balanced manner, it did not so much as tilt, let alone swing, when walking over it.  

A sturdy and well balanced ropebridge that reaches over Koutajoki.
Crossing the first ropebridge hanging over Koutajoki. It is warm, +25C in the shadow. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

During midday, in a nearly cloudless sky, it was so bright that I used the shadow of the tree to get a shot of the marsh.

Duckboards across a relatively dry marsh, with green vegetation and spruces.
Duckboards spanning the length of a relatively dry marsh area. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Emerging from the mixed forest, Könkäänlampi pond offered a blissful sight. As far as I could observe, there were no suitable piers or stones from which to dip into the water without risking sinking into the marsh - but it may be that I just didn't notice them. It was too early for a swim after walking only an hour from the Rytiniva campsite.

A large pond, or a small lake, Könkäänlampi with the bordering moist vegetation from the long side.
Könkäänlampi pond. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

When arriving at Könkäänlampi, I had to reduce some of the backpacking clothing that I was wearing. At +25C, the few insects were less nuisance than the heat wearing long pants. Switching to shorts made the trek much more bearable.

Lessons learned: When packing layers of clothing, prepare to reduce excess clothing, not just for layering more. Without shorts, I would likely have cut spare pants to make shorts of them.

Duckboards circling the waters of the pond, across the moist marsh area.
Duckboards across the side of the Könkäänlampi pond. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A short video from the Könkäänlampi pond at the Karhunkierros backpacking trail. Taken on Monday, 15.8.2022, at 12:50 in the afternoon. Location: 66°31'13" N 29°3'49" E. A photo from the same place currently decorates the site's front page.

It's not yet autumn, but the marsh is already showing a magnificent play of colors, from greens to oranges, browns, and reds.

Sturdy duckboards snaking through the now waterless, but not dry, marsh.
Duckboards crossing the rest of the now dry marsh, coming from Könkäänlampi. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

On a bright day, the marvelous greens of the marsh are visible, almost radiant in their sunbathing.

Bright green tall grass with areas of deeper, almost brown greens and sparse clusters of small spruce trees.
The long grass of the marsh waved in radiant greens. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

While some of the paths had already felt like a wilderness up to this point, to my surprise, the beginning of the national park was very clearly marked.

A sign and a info-board detailing the edge of and area of Oulanka national park.
The edge of the Oulanka national park, when coming from the north. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The path this far has been only 4 km long, but there have already been many sights and varied terrain to experience. From hereon onwards, the path would be in the park, without inhabitants living nearby.

A screenshot showing the path thus far on a map view.
The path from Rytiniva campsite to the edge of Oulanka national park. The screenshot is taken from Komoot.

The only immediately noticeable change in scenery was the quality of the path, from a forest path to a gravel path, but that would change soon enough.

A typical gravel path, up to a meter wide, twisting through the birch and pine forest. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Small 6-12m pines growing from the heath forest floor, in the background there is a marsh opening.
Small pines next to the marsh. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Medium sized marsh open, with occasional man-sized pines, and thick and moist low undergrowth.
Marsh, with an orange-brown floor. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

One thing that distinguishes the national park from the previously well-kept forest is that fallen trees have not been cleared. But instead, outside of the path, the forest is in quite a natural state.

A dry patch of heath forest with a path worn by travelers into the forest floor. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A small marsh, like a pond of tall green grass, across which the duckboards cut like a divider.
Sturdy duckboards across a small marsh. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

After the marshes, the path slowly starts to climb.  

A wide natural path, with strong spruce roots, across the heath forest floor.
Dry heath forest, with green scrub and spruces. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Perttumakoski lean-to

A screen capture from the Komoot service, showing the distance from the edge, 2,5km, and elevation of +0/-20m.
A map depicting the trail from the edge of the Oulanka national park to the Perttumakoski lean-to. The screenshot is taken from Komoot.

There are no pictures of the Perttumakoski lean-to. So I'll have to describe it in a few words. It's a low shelter, similar to the Vasaoja lean-to below, with wood storage, a table with two benches, and a fireplace. It overlooks the Savinajoki-river, allowing easy access to the flowing water supply.

Considering how many pictures there are today, why are none of the lean-to? It's a lesson learned from the Komoot mobile application. You can take journey photos within the application, but it doesn't store them locally (like a camera does), so when the application fails to upload the photos, the battery runs out, or the application crashes... They're lost.

You would think an outdoor application would be designed to be more resilient to poor connectivity. Losing a portion of the photos is one of my regrets for the journey, but maybe next time, I'll get to complement the photo coverage.

Lesson learned: Take photos with a camera, not with the Komoot application. If you want to share photos within the application to publish the journey, you can add them manually when saving the journey.

Savinajoki as seen from the Perttumakoski lean-to. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A short video about the Perttumakoski river flow on the Karhunkierros backpacking trail. Taken on Monday, 15.8.2022, at 12:50 in the afternoon. Location: 66°29'33" N 29°10'5" E.
Dense scrub undergrowth and spruce trees both standing as well as fallen, with the trunks laying on the forest bed.
A small clearing in the spruce forest. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Water is life. The lush forests and green meadows prosper in the vicinity of the Perttumakoski river.

Tall green plans reach up from the dense undergrowth of the mixed forest.
This is not the Lapland I expected, not with the flourishing undergrowth. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Besides the vibrant life in the vicinity of the river, the fact that this is a national park is emphasized by how the forest grows wild. Fallen trees have not been removed but instead, act as a platform from which new life springs.

Dense green vegetation, fallen spruce tree trunks about to be engulfed by the undergrowth.
Fallen spruces amidst thick vegetation. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A dried brown fallen spruce, on a bed of bright green wood horsetails.
Wood horsetails cover the forest floor like a carpet. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A forest stream at, Perttumankoskenlaukamo, Karhunkierros backpacking trail. Taken on Monday, 15.8.2022, at 14:20 in the afternoon. Location: 66°29'20" N 29°9'35" E.

Numerous think birches, a few large spruces, and a sea of wood horsetails.
Birch forest, with a couple of spruces, surrounded by a forest floor of wood horsetails. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Below is a short video about the Perttumakoski river flow on the Karhunkierros backpacking trail. Taken on Monday, 15.8.2022, at 12:50 in the afternoon. Location: 66°29'33" N 29°10'5" E.

A worn forest path through a forest of birch trees and heavy undergrowth.
Birch forest with heavy scrub undergrowth. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Vasaoja lean-to

The Vasaoja lean-to isn't visible from the main Karhunkierros path, but instead, you need to venture downhill for some 200 meters, but it's worth it.

A photo of the somewhat messy signpost, showing directions to the lean-to and the next locations in Karhunkierros.
The Vasaoja lean-to crossroads signpost. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The Vasaoja lean-to sits on top of a beach embankment, maybe 1,5-2 meters higher than the river rapids below. In dry weather, it's easy to traverse, but if there's rain, the slight slope might become somewhat harder to climb.

The spot is suitable for refilling water, with a water filter-purifier, with access to the water's edge.

Trap fishing at Oulanka national park area requires a fishing permit and is allowed only between June and August (1.6.-31.8.2022). For more information and on purchasing the permit, visit the Eräluvat agency. I don't trap fish, so I can't add more information on the topic.

A photo of the sturdy lean-to, from the riverside.
The Vasaoja lean-to is sturdy enough to handle the worst weather. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The Savinajoki river flow grows stronger with whitewater at Vasaoja.

The rapid flow of the rather wide river creating whitewater swirls and rhytmic waves.
Savinajoki-river rapids, at Vasaoja. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The lean-to's, called "laavu" in Finnish, have room to allow 4-5 persons to sleep side by side in sleeping bags. Well sheltered from the weather, but with one side open. In the photo below, you can also see a part of the fireplace and also, importantly, a bucket for quenching the fire with water from the river.  

A photo of the inner space in a lean-top, with sturdy log walls and the ceiling and floor made of thick boards.
The inner contents of the Vasaoja lean-to structure are a typical example of the ones found on the trail. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Each of the lean-to's and campsites on the trail have (relatively) comfortable amenities, like outdoor toilets called "huussi", "ulko WC"  or "puucee" in Finnish. Remember to bring your own toilet paper rolls, however.

A separate small wooden outdoor toilet structure, with a door, for one person.
The outdoor toilet is set somewhat apart from the camp table and benches. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Another example of the great amenities provided is the national park. At least during my visit, all the wood storage was well stocked and available for use by the visitors, free of charge.

The size of the logs makes you wish you brought your saw and/or axe, doesn't it? They are not provided, and I assume would be lost too frequently.

Assuming you brought your gas or alcohol camp stove, firewood is needed more for the atmosphere or warmth in more extended stays anyway.

Firewood storage for use by visitors to the camp. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A sturdy wooden table and a bench, currently occupied by some of my cooking gear.
Table and bench next to the first lean-to. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The second lean-to is maybe 50 meters from the first one. A slightly more roomy version with walls ensures that fresh air flows freely.

A lean-to built of logs, but with cracks between the logs to allow air to move unhindered. Sitting at the edge of a grass opening.
The second lean-top at Vasaoja campsite. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Next to the second lean-to, on an expansive grass field, there is a lot of room for tents, with the necessary amenities nearby.

Lessons learned: If you would arrive in a bus full of other backpackers and there's enough light, I'd consider aiming for the Vasaoja campsite, though it is 12km away. Where Rytiniva and Perttumakoski could each house less than ten people, there is enough room at Vasaoja lean-to more than thirty people.

Next to the second lean-to, a grass field and lovely scenery from the fast-flowing Savinajoki-river. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The second fireplace is roomier but doesn't have a table like the first one.

An open fireplace, with three wooden benches around it, in an grassy opening.
The second fireplace, at Vasaoja campsite. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The trail between the Perttumakoski and Vasaoja-laavu is summarized on the map below. The time estimation of 1h 40minutes is an estimation from the Komoot software. For me personally, it took longer at 2h 40 minutes - but that time contains several factors affecting speed (listed at the end of this article).

Lessons learned: The lean-to's in the Karhunkierros trail is around 6km apart. It makes sense to plan the stops for them for a moment's rest from carrying the gear and eating.  

A map of the path between the two lean-to’s, with 6,5km distance +20/-50m levevation in forest paths.
Map of the trail from Perttumakoski to Vasaoja lean-to, inside the Oulanka national park. Screen capture is taken from the Komoot application.

Continuing the journey, back up the sloped path from the Vasaoja campsite.

Knee to waist high green undergrowth, a mixed forest with birches, spruces and ferns.
Dense forest undergrowth, with ferns and tall grasses, fed by a small stream not visible in the picture. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A perfect spot to fill the carried water supply, clear flowing fresh water. Very conveniently located by the path. For the note, I still used a water filter-purifier that doesn't change the taste of the water.

A wide stream, not quite a river, nor a ditch, flowing freely surrounded by a tall sea of green plants.
A forest stream with clear, great-tasting water. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The moist forest soon changes to a drier, softer area where moss is the predominant feature, covering all the rocks, pebbles, and fallen tree trunks.  

An area where miss seems to prosper, growing as a thick layer on top of rocks and boulders as well as covering the forest floor.
An area where moss covers everything in a green soft layer. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The scenery changes again shortly after to a pine forest with a thick, soft heath floor.

Quite tall (20 meters maybe) pines, and a soft mushy heath forest floor.
A forest of tall pines situated sparsely from a thick heath floor. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

After traveling alone in the forest for a while, you start to notice subtle details, like how the forest floor consists of patches of various shades of green, depending on the dominant plant in that small area, from blueberry to lingonberry, and from mosses to grasses.  

The path snakes through the heath forest, surrounded on both sides by pines and undergrowth in different greens.
A pine forest, with regions of different greens depending on the dominant plant in the heath forest floor. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Towards Taivalköngäs, the elevation starts to become more pronounced, with sparsely growing pines. Behind the river, what was previously Savinajoki has widened into Oulankajoki, which appears almost like a lake.

I should have taken a swim here but didn't, as I wanted to push forward to reach the Taivalköngäs campsite. This would have been perfect.

Lesson learned: If it's warm enough (maybe even if it isn't), take the opportunity for a swim at least daily or preferably more. There are no guarantees that suitable places are available in the next half a day's travel.

A low ridge, covered in a sparse pine forest.
Oulankajoki can be seen from a forested ridge. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

In the first leg of the journey, water is plentiful from rivers and streams.

Lessons learned: In Karhunkierros, the water in streams, ponds, and lakes are quite clear (except for some of the marshes), and there isn't much need for filtering the water. Even with water that visually appears pure, I'd still advocate for purifying (via a purifier, cooking, etc). the water to be on the safe side.

A small steam, surrounded by green plants, with clear fast flowing cool water.
Beautiful small, fast-flowing stream to supply water from. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

An exciting area, with a forest opening into a steep slope of rocks, boulders, and pebbles, all covered in a thick layer of moss.

A open slope of prominent rocks and stones, all covered with a thick layer of moss.
A slope of rocks and boulders, all covered in thick green moss. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The slope pictured below is an interesting one as if there had been a pile of relatively roundish stones that had rolled down the hill like water and then stopped in their place and grown a thick layer of green moss.

A slope or a cliff side of rocks, stones an pebbles, all covered in a skin of thick green moss.
A slope of boulders, just before Savilampi campsite. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Savilampi campsite

Like with the Perttumakoski lean-to, there are no images of the Savilampi campsite due to them being lost from the Komoot application. The campsite has room for several tents, a couple of fireplaces, firewood, and a lean-to.

On maps (e.g. Google maps), the campsite can also be found as "Savilammen autiotupa" (66.432, 29.156).

An elevated sturdy rope bridge, lurching over the river.
A sturdy wooden ropebridge across Sarvisuvanto river. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The rope bridges on the trail are sturdy, with railings and low points of gravity, making them very stable.

A wooden ropebridge with netted railings, and wide bottom planks that eliminate most of the swinging.
A view at the ropebridge across Sarvisuvanto. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The rapidly flowing, wide Sarvisuvanto river, photo taken from the rope bridge.
A view from the ropebridge across Sarvisuvanto. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

After the Sarvisuvanto river, the landscape changes into somehow very clearly grown forest. The trees are far apart, all of the ground is covered in very thick heath, and the worn path snakes a brown river through the green land.

In the fall, these areas might grow a lot of edible blueberries and lingonberries ripe for picking.

Thick green heath, with occasional slim trees and the well worn trail climbing up a meandering slope
The path gets more accessible as it snakes up the hill in the heath forest. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A typical sight in the area, sparse trees, floor a sea of green twigs, occasional fallen tree trunk or a tree stump.
Heath forest, with the forest floor covered in a thick carpet of twigs. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A view of Savilampi from the trail. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

A forest typical to the area, sparse spruce and pine trees, with dense mat of green schrub forming the forest floor.
The leaf tree heath forest turns into a pine and spruce heath forest. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Crossing the municipality, from Salla to Kuusamo, within the Oulu province.

A wooden sign, between two wooden posts indicating that you are now in Oulu province, and entering Kuusamo municipality.
Trekking from Salla to Kuusamo municipality, within the province of Oulu, as part of the Karhunkierros trail. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

An opportunity to refill carried water, as at Puikko-Oja, which could be translated to "Stick-ditch". I was delighted, that there was a plank bridge so I wouldn't need to dip my shoes into the water just before the camp. By the looks of it, when the snow melts in the spring, it might be reasonable to carry a pair of boots to the trail.

Lessons learned: In Karhunkierros trail, like all of Lapland if you're backpacking when the snow has recently melted, such as in June, the streams are likely to overflow.

A sturdy plank bridge across a wide stream with trees surrounding the stream and a signpost indicating the name.
Puikko-oja, stream or ditch. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

While not rugged terrain, as defined in having to climb rocks, the uneven ground on the path requires focus and attention on where you put your feet so you don't stumble.

Forest path with lots of spruce roots on the surface, requiring that each step is taken consciously.
Gradually the trail gets harder to travel. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

After the uneven terrain, a delightful span of a comfortable path where the trail was as easy as a trail can be.

Green heath floor, like a mat, with a clear cut and easy path worn to a trail between the pines.
A span of easy trekking through a sparse pine forest with a heath floor. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

The forest just before the Taivalköngäs campsite is so orderly and clear cut that it feels like it could have been a commercial/planted forest before being converted into a national park. Nevertheless, it is a welcome respite at the end of a long day.

A relatively dense heath forest with numerous thin pines.
Jagged rocks, without the heath layer, for some reason. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

Taivalköngäs campsite

Finally arriving at Taivalköngäs campsite, I erected the tent on the last large enough spot available that wouldn't intrude needlessly close to other campers. As the sounds carry through the tents unhindered, I choose to leave 5+ meters between tents whenever possible.  

At half past eight in the evening, I was the second last to arrive at the site. There were already around ten tents erected (accompanied by nearly 20 people), but as commented earlier, it is a design decision at this site to leave the people out from the images.

The 4 person green tent set-up, on plain forest floor with some protruding roots.
The tent was finally erected at Taivalköngäs campsite at 20:20 in the evening. Copyright © Niko Kotiniemi 2022.

For reference, you can find a for the last leg of the day's journey, from Vasaoja lean-to to Taivalköngäs campsite. Again, for me personally, it took around one-half longer at 2h 10min.

A map describing the travel of 5,8km, 50m/-60m elevation, time estimate of 1,5h.
From Vasaoja lean-to to Taivalköngäs campsite, within Oulanka national park. Map screenshot from Komoot.

Insights from the trip of the day

In addition to the lessons learned notes above, below are some personal insights that span the whole day. Note that these are as a beginning backpacker, if you're more experienced, you likely already have established better practices.

  • Plan to stop every 6 kilometers, with the lean-to's conveniently placed for this. During the pause, unload the gear carried and take the opportunity to rest without hurrying.
  • Plan for four meals a day. Breakfast before starting on the trail, two lunches during the trail, and dinner at the end of the day. By a meal, I mean actual food, like travel rations.
  • If you plan to pause at the lean-to's, the first meals happen conveniently at around every third of the planned 20km per day of travel.
  • Some backpackers seem to like porridge for breakfast, it's convenient due to its lightweight, high fiber composition, and fulfilling feeling. I don't. It has minimal energy, and I found that a dry/dehydrated ration worked much better for my energy levels.

On the rate of walking compared to the hiking estimates

My travel times were much slower than the estimates given by Komoot, it's wise to account for your speed in planning for the day's travel objectives. Before the trip, we had planned for 20km per day without knowing the terrain.

During the rehearsals, my walking speed was around 7 km per day in my home city of Hämeenlinna. So 3 hours of walking for 20km and then enjoying nature the rest of the day, right? Wrong. This 1st day's walk was approximately 8 hours from leaving camp at Rytiniva to arriving at Taivalköngäs. Starting from the North, the first day is also the easiest leg of the journey based on the terrain.

The main reasons impacting my speed are listed below, not as excuses but as suggestions when estimating your daily travel objectives.

  • I carried a much heavier gear than the typical 20 kg suggested amount. At 28 kg +2 kg of water. Then again, what are averages anyway - what is an average backpacker like?
  • I approached the trip mindfully, enjoying nature, not making a deliberate pace from one milestone to the next (as hikers seem to do)
  • I took many photos, not deliberate setups with tripods and all, but still around 200 per day, so that might have added some time to the duration.
  • The meal stops were relatively short, cooking water on a gas stove for meals and coffee, and purifying water with a water purifier instead of cooking or gravity filtering it.  

On accessibility, this first leg, the day of the trail, could be traversed with walking sticks with some more challenging terrain, but it would be inaccessible with a wheelchair.

On making a camp for the night

Especially if you arrive late into the night, or if the campsite is crowded, there may be a temptation to just erect the tent at the next suitable flat ground. You should check the national park's instructions for camping and making a fire from the Nationalparks.fi site (in Finnish it's Luontoon.fi).

In the Karhunkierros national park, camping is intended for the campsites and allowed next to the lean-to and fixed fireplaces. It is prohibited outside of the aforementioned areas. Fire-making is restricted to fixed fireplaces, such as those found near lean-tos.

Internet, mobile connectivity

Even in Finland, a country known for its mobile networks - national parks have patchy connectivity. It is slightly better at high elevations, like on top of ridges, and similarly worse in valleys.

Of the day's trail, Internet connectivity was decent at the beginning and at the end, but worse in the middle of the trail.

If you have a satellite connection contract, that's, of course, an altogether other matter.

Vocabulary, translations used in the post

English Finnish Notes and what is it?
Bear's trail Karhunkierros An 82km trekking/hiking trail through areas and national parks in Salla, Oulanka and Kuusamo areas. The most popular hiking trail in Finland.
Gravelake Hautajärvi The lake from which Koutajoki flows, the name is a free-form translation of the name of the lake at the northern end of the Karhunkierros trail.
Kouta-river Koutajoki The river that flows from Hautajärvi, past the Rytiniva campsite, at the northern end of the Karhunkierros trail.
Wood horsetail Metsäkorte Latin: Equisetum Sylvaticum, the up to 60cm tall bright green undergrowth plant, with light stick-like leaves.
Needle ditch Puikko-oja A free-form translation of the name, by the author, of the stream in the picture.
Porridge Puuro A popular breakfast that is very light to carry in dry form.
Oulanka national park Oulangan kansallispuisto A large national park in North Finland, within which the Karhunkierros trail resides.


On product placement

  • There can be mentions of product names as chosen by the author, but the videos or photos do not contain paid promotions like product placement, sponsorship, or endorsement.

Further reading about this trip