Winter hiking for beginners

Exactly a year ago we visited Riisitunturi national park in Posio, Finnish Lapland. I happened to hear from an active friend of mine about the Riisitunturi wilderness cabin, which is an easily accessible winter hiking destination for those, who do not own forest skis or sturdy winter hiking gear (pulka, winter compatible tent, ”cooker box”, or the like). Riisitunturi national park and especially the Riisitunturi wilderness cabin are great hiking destinations for photographers and hikers, who might wish  to stay the night and enjoy the northern lights among fells and arctic hills.

Riisitunturi surprised me in many positive ways. The winter scenery and crown snow-loaded spruces were a sight to see, as I had not been to the north earlier during polar night. Although it was clearly darker at Riisitunturi than it is in southern Finland at the same time of year, there was enough light during the day, as the sun rose above the horizon for approximately three hours around New Year.

Riisitunturi national park is very well known among locals and other Finns for its spruce forested fells and the bare fell top, from which you can admire wilderness like scenery towards Kitkajärvi lake in the southeast and beautiful fell landscapes together with the Riisi marshlands in the west. Riisitunturi is located reasonably close to Syöte national park and the Syöte ski center, as well as Oulanka national park in Kuusamo. All are amazing places to visit, but even though distances are fairly short in a northern sense (50-100km in one or the other direction is not very far), it would be wise to focus one’s hiking adventures into one area at the time, to get the most out of that particular national park visit. All have very unique and quite different experiences to offer.

4. tammikuuta 2015, klo 14:50. Pimeää on.
Riisitunturi fell wilderness cabin. Photo from January 4th 2015, time is 2:50 pm. Quite dark as you can see during daytime, after the sun has set. :)
Riisitunturin autiotupa metsänrajassa
The cabin by the treeline. Can you spot it? This photo is taken the following day during ”morning” light.

Riisitunturi wilderness cabin is located quite close to the starting point of Riisitunturi and the parking lot in the south-eastern corner of the national park.  The distance from the parking lot to the cabin is only a few kilometers. This is a very easy hike, although it is good to note, that the cabin is not all that easy to spot among the snow-covered spruces. If there’s been recent snowfall, the trail is not very easy to follow either. For us, this hike was long enough to complete the first test to transport gear in a pulka while hiking with snowshoes on our feet.

When we went for this excursion, my winter hiking experience was not all too extensive (I had mainly done 1-2 overnighters in the wintertime in southern Finland), and our plan to stay over at the Riisitunturi wilderness cabin was an excellent opportunity to try out gear and get familiar with the the treeless, snow crown-loaded fell terrain. Such awesome and breathtaking surroundings that were within our reach as we drove our car to the parking lot and hiked a short distance. We completed several brisk snowshoe hikes in the surrounding areas, and checked out the lean-to shelter close by and the actual top of Riisitunturi fell. I had rented the pulka for a week from the Oudoor Association of Finland, a Finnish promoter of outdoor activities and an expert in hiking. The rent for a week cost me only 30 euros.

Aurinko kajastaa klo 9:50. Kuva otettu 5. tammikuuta 2015.
The sun dawns at 9:50 am, on January 5th 2015. Lake Yli-Kitka can be spotted in the distance.

We slept over at the wilderness cabin for two nights. Finnish wilderness cabins (also called huts – get acquainted with Finnish national parks, hiking and wilderness cabins in Finland at are awesome, as they are free of cost and open to all. They are intended for very short overnighters, i.e. one or max two nights during one stay.

We met quite many people at the cabin during our stay, notably photographers, as Riisitunturi is a popular destination for those wanting to capture the northern lights and the fell landscapes in their pictures. We discussed with fellow hikers / photographers and listened to the thoughts of a seasoned nature photographer, about how to get into photography as a hobby. Some hikers only accessed the cabin to warm themselves up, before heading out again to continue photographing in the night. The most extreme fellas arrived at the cabin at around 9.30 pm, slept for two hours on the rough wooden bed, to wake up at midnight to continue photographing. One guy apparently spent the whole night outdoors with his camera and got in to warm himself up late in the morning. How he managed to stay outdoors for the whole night, without freezing his toes, fingers or other body parts was a mystery to me.

Riisitunturin huipulla
Two beanies on my head. It was warm while moving around, but very windy on top of the Riisitunturi fell.

I was a wee bit scared that it would be cold to sleep in the cabin, not because of the weather per se, but due to my 3-season sleeping bag, which I had not used in extreme cold weather. Naturally, as it is a 3-season sleeping bag. During late hours, as the stove had heated up the cabin already for some time, the three season sleeping bag (Marmot Angelfire, my trustworthy companion) however proved to be a very warm match (now indoors) for me. During our hike, the temperature was around -16c. If you have not stayed over at wilderness cabins before, I can tell you that when you first enter the cabin, it is almost as cold indoors, as it is outdoors. This is when you start warming up the cabin, by making a fire in the often not-so-huge stove. The stove is a fairly effective source of heat though and gives warmth in a smaller cabin within a reasonable time. The stove can also be used for cooking your food and it also provides warmth for drying up damp gear and clothes.

I did not have any special gear with me on this trip. It was the first time that I used my Sorel Caribou boots while snowshoeing outdoors, but even though the manufacturer states that the shoes block the cold even down to -40c temperatures, my toes still got a bit frozen. Why so, I will get to that in later posts and tweek the shoes to gain more warmth. At the time I thought that I should’ve bought larger shoes that the 38 2/3 size boots that I got me (my feet are size 38 even). As for clothing, I tried out hiking in shell clothing, with many layers underneath. My Lundhags hiking pants and two layers of long underpants worked otherwise well, but my behind was slightly frozen, as usual. :) To warm my upper body, I was wearing a merino underwear shirt with long sleeves (I might even have been wearing another thin merino knit garment op of it), a thicker merino knitting, a thin down jacket bought from Stadium in Helsinki and my Marmot Speed Light Gore-Tex Pro Shell jacket.

I will slowly, but shortly also be translating other posts into English.


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