Herajärvi Trail - Amateur Hiker Flying Solo

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During the busy stretch of our relocation and preparing for the Mega Grand Opening I started to think that a time-out in nature would be a brilliant way to get my mind off of work. The first phase of planning was potential participants. This phase was done pretty fast. At the end of August, all of my hiking-oriented friends had spent their summer holidays already.

Damnit, would this be something I could go for on my own? The thought felt fairly distant to me. I do go out to do stuff quite a bit, but without any company usually decide to stay in. The grocery store by myself is doable. Will I get bored, afraid of the dark or go insane listening to nothing but what goes on inside my head? With a lot of support from conversations with my colleagues I decided to go find out.

I was intrigued in finding a round trip trail, but not too long of a drive. A marked trail, so I wouldn’t have to know how to actually read a map. I decided on the Herajärvi Trail in Koli National Park. I had walked the northern route of the trail some years back, so I decided to start with the unseen southern route. After completing that I would have the option to return to my starting point, had things gone sideways.

This meant gearing up for four days, but no plan set in stone. The day of my departure would be the first day of bear hunting season. The highly grown bear population was meant to be cut back in Finland. Especially in the region of Northern Karelia, including Koli, where The Finnish Wildlife Agency had issued 137 additional bear hunting permits. I decided to set my goal at a reasonable 6 out of 137.

The divine solitude

I enjoyed a total of 3 hours of sleep on the night before departure. I wasn’t worried about anything in particular, but I guess that some amount of suspense was in the air. Earlier I had laughed at our store staff’s Henri when he told me that he talks by himself when he’s hiking alone. It took me about an hour to start the chatter. As well as random singing, with both some better known and improvised lyrics. My laughter had been totally pointless.

The spare cap earned its place in the backpack. Sneakers would have caused some serious issues. On this trails camping spots, you’re tool-wise all good with just a puukko knife.

There was no-one else sleeping at my first camping spot, Suopelto. I had run into a total of one person on the trail so far. After a disastrous previous night, I was operating with a relatively low energy level, so I didn’t mind at all dodging campfire small talk. It was a true pleasure to dabble at my own pace, making firewood and firestarters (in Finnish, kiehinen) and gaze at the fire. Not a single nightly noise from the forest startled me awake, but instead, I had probably the best night's sleep of the summer of 2018 in my DD Frontline hammock.

The pine cones and rocks can be on the ground, I’m in a hammock! On each camping site, I made sure to leave some firewood and kiehinens behind for the next happy campers.

Across the rivers, onto the hilltops

On the second day, I crossed the Herajoki river. I threw my Alpina Tundra boots over my shoulder and didn’t rush it. I took a moment just to stand in the middle of the river, listening to the birds of the forest, while letting my toes to be nurtured by the flowing water. I almost broke into a poem. Going on from there I got to admire the first sunny view over the Herajärvi lake.

While sitting on top of a rocky forested hill, I gave myself a mental pat on the back for finding it in me to get my ass out there. The need to avoid capturing tourists in my photos was not a problem here. It was a no-brainer to decide to continue to the northern trail as well, onto take a dip in a forest lake on the next stop in Pitkälampi.

Shoes off at the river and onto the next forested hill with dry feet.

Grassy glades, rainy days and a bigass teepee

My third day brought me close to the highest peak (and tourist center) Ukko-Koli, bringing all sorts of day-hikers on the trail. I started longing for the peace and quiet of the previous days but quickly passed the worst traffic. The terrain changed momentarily into dirt roads and grass glades. The weather forecast promised heavy rain for the upcoming night, so I decided to head for a wooden teepee (in Finnish, kota) for the following night. I would have kept dry under my DD Tarp, but my desire to pack up the sleeping gear under the morning downpour was somewhere between slim and none.

Grassy glade of Ikolanaho, on which to take a lunch break and boil some drinking water.

My leg for the last day was clearly shorter than on the previous days. So I watched other campers go on their way, kept a small fire going for a few hours and already started to think about the sauna that night. I had about 0,3 liters of water, either to take with me to drink on the trail or use half of it to make coffee. That morning I skipped the coffee. Not one of the most common choices that an office worker makes on a daily basis. The rainy, foggy weather didn’t bother me even the tiniest bit, but instead, it brought its own charm and mystique to the scenery.

Ryläys teepee and fog over Herajärvi lake.

Afterthoughts

After three nights, I felt it was a fitting time to get back from the woods. On the trail, not a single person in my travel party had complained about sore muscles, heavy backpack or about needing a break! The silence was not at all oppressive, but damn relaxing. Around the campfire, the threshold to start talking to strangers was probably even lower without any own travel buddies. On the other hand, I think I would have been left quite at my own peace if I had wanted to. If I just had the ability to be silent in a group of people.

Rainy return to Kiviniemi farm. After the much-awaited sauna the sky had cleared, so I walked to the shore of Herajärvi to sip some distilled recovery drink.

As mentioned, some random encounters took place on the trail. While getting water from a rental cabin well, I was invited in for a cup of coffee and shelter from heavy rain. Sitting at Pitkälampi campfire, I got to hear what it’s like to climb the steep forested hills when you’re around 70 years of age. Without a single complaint. Awesome grandpas.

I also passed the good vibes around by lending my superfast Jetboil stove to a group who had only some very questionable pond water to drink and dealing out my overstated supply of Scho-Ka-Kola. The bears wouldn’t believe their luck if they only knew how close they might have been crossing paths with me and my wrestling moves.

My choice for this and future adventures, butter coffee out of a Kupilka. Food-wise, I took the easy way with canned and bagged meals. No dishes were washed in the making of this article!

My trip was a great combination of peace, solitude and meeting new people by the campfire. Next step is to learn how to properly read a map, to dare to go out to less traveled paths. Hiking with good friends is awesome, but going out on your own gives a whole new interesting perspective to it, which is still fresh and fascinating to me. I pushed my limits way further than the grocery store, but also caught an itch to explore them further.

After a good night's sleep on a bed with actual linen at Kiviniemi, on the next day I drove to admire the scenery from the highest points of Koli over the lakes Pielinen and Herajärvi.

Based on this experience, I would say that if you fail to sync your calendar with preferred travel buddies, seriously consider going solo. Then stop your pondering and get out there.

Scroll down to see some of the items I had with me:

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