A short break in nature in the middle of a work week does wonders to your brain. Especially if it’s a warm summer week and the sun doesn’t really go down at all. But when you don’t have many hours for an adventure but still crave for one, fastpacking and local nature are the key words for fun.
I headed to Nuuksio National Park in Southern Finland, the urban nature oasis with rugged steep rocks and hills, green old-growth forests, and beautiful lakes and ponds. And flying squirrels! Located near Helsinki, I could reach the park in less than an hour.
Planning the first overnight running adventure
I had never been running with overnight gear and a backpack that would weigh much more than what I was used to. I started sketching my running adventure with how much I could run in a limited time and checking if any ready-made trail map fits the distance. Camping in Nuuksio National Park is only allowed at the marked tenting sites, which basically narrowed the options quite a bit. But I found a great 20 km stretch for the evening following a race route, leaving a 10 km stretch for the morning, with a tenting site between the trail stretches.
Most of all, I wanted to test some new light and ultralight equipment, particularly my new running backpack. For an overnight trip I packed a small and light one-person tent, a three-season sleeping bag, and a small ultralight sleeping pad. In a warm summer night in Southern Finland, you could survive without a tent, but then you would need some mosquito net and probably a tarp for sudden rain.
Trail running the whole evening required energy. I packed a bunch of chocolate bars, sports candy, energy bars and some dried fruits and nuts to the running backpack and the shorts’ pockets. I also filled four soft water bottles (2 x 0,5 l + 2 x 0,6 l) with sports drink. Then I took a trekking meal bag with an UL kettle and spoon, 100 g gas and the Pocket Rocket 2 stove to make a hot meal before sleeping. For the morning I had fast coffee and a portion of oatmeal. I had also a water filter, just in case.
Since the forecasts didn’t promise any changes for the extremely hot weather, clothes didn’t add much weight for the trip. I jumped into trail running shorts, a sleeveless sports top, and long trail running socks to protect my legs from scratches. For the evening chill I had a light running jacket, and for the night light merino pants and a long-sleeve t-shirt.
You should always have a map and a compass when going to the forests, but I thought I’d manage without them in Nuuksio, having just my mobile and GPS sports watch with me. My excuses: I’m quite familiar with the area, the mobile network coverage is good, and if you walk far enough, you’ll end up into the civilization anyway. But as a rule of a thumb: always have a map.
Evening trail run in Nuuksio
I chose Kattila as my starting point for the running adventure. The parking area is usually not as full as the other parking areas close to the most popular trails. I was a bit late from my schedule, but thanks to the summertime, the daylight lasts forever as the sun never sets. Or it does in Southern Finland, but the nights are still bright. The early evening sun was shining when I headed to the trail leading to the Salmi area. The first stretches of the trail were paved with crushed stone (a bit boring to run), but the greenness and the countless wildflowers were just amazing. It was the peak time of the lily of the valley, and there was the lovely scent in the air.
The views from the cliffs between the Lake Pikku-Parikas and the Lake Iso-Parikas were incredible, the golden sunshine and the glimmering blue lake. A pretty butterfly had a crush on my legs, it was like glued to my socks. I spent quite some time just enjoying the nature. I headed down to the lake. The cliffs were rising steeply from the water, the tiny trail disappeared, and moving forward became more or less rock climbing. It just was not a runnable cliff at that particular spot by the waterline.
I turned around and scrambled back to the trail and up to the cliff where I finally found a visible path that took me down to the lake and to the trail that goes around the whole Lake Iso-Parikas. A bit rooted, involving some climbing, but overall a nice stretch with beautiful views. Right after passing by the cooking shelter on the west side of the Lake Iso-Parikas I met a woman (in trail running shoes) with a dog. She asked me if I had just been running on the east side of the lake, on the cliffs. I was like, umm… yeah? And she asked if I had seen any snakes. Umm, no?? Apparently, there are a lot of poisonous snakes on those cliffs, especially baby vipers. I had goosebumps and felt my arm hair stand up. I had just spent a whole evening on that cliff!
The route included some gravel road stretches, not my favorite but usually better (faster) than untouched bushes. At some point when it was time to hop off and back to the trail, I couldn’t find the trail at all. I tried to spot the trailhead desperately running back and forth the gravel road and gazing at the dense vegetation. If there ever was a trail, it would be completely overgrown. But the map said it’s a trail, so a trail it was. I jumped to the bushes and started scrambling. Huge down cut trees blocked my way, and I found several dead ends but still no trail. When I decided to just climb over one huge tree, I injured my leg with a big scratch that started bleeding. Not enough to dig any plasters out of the first aid pouch. Eventually, I saw a narrow path that matched with my map and I started following it.
The trail meandered through beautiful forests, with endless trees and green moss covering the ground. The forest was so dense that the late evening sunlight didn’t much reach the trail. And then there were hills and some more hills. My new adventure backpack (it’s a big vest really) was hanging too low and it felt very uncomfortable against my lower back. I was mostly walking to avoid the rubbing of my backbone. Suddenly, I heard a loud cracking sound. I stopped and looked around. A bear? A human? I felt discomfort also in my head and started running again. It’s funny how the irrational fears sometimes get me when I’m close to civilization, it never happens in true wilderness far away from everything!
You could think it’s easy to navigate in a popular national park near the buildings and cities, but Nuuksio is full of small unmarked trails and paths and you can actually get lost quite easily. And when you have to stop after every 50 m to check the map, it’s not very effective moving forward. I ended up to another gravel road and some private buildings. And skipped a couple of kilometers in the forest, because it was so much easier to run on the road, and my back was burning. After a few turns to the right, left, and back again, I arrived at my camping destination, the Lake Saarilampi.
Camping by the Lake Saarilampi
Saarilampi camping site is located at the northern side of the lake. There’s a fireplace and a wood shelter, a dry toilet, and a table with benches. And of course, some spots for tents. I was thirsty, and so were the mosquitos. I thought of setting up a campfire, as bugs don’t like the smokey atmosphere that much, and collected wood from the shelter. But then I started pondering that it hadn’t been raining for several days, and I needed to check if there was any forest fire warning in force. Yeah, no open fire tonight.
There were one other tent and some people camping with hammocks and tarps on a small cape. I envied the hammock spot a little but found a nice place with views to the lake for my tent too. I had thought I’d go and wash myself in the pond, but I couldn’t find a suitable entry point to the water. Anyway, I didn’t have a swimsuit (I wear bikinis even in wilderness, mind you!), and I was kind of hungry too. I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate while waiting for my trekking dinner to simmer in its package. The forest was quiet in the dusk, and I felt like I was further away from the city than I really was. The vegetarian ‘noodles’ were ready in ten minutes.
I was totally exhausted from the heat and running with the almost 8-10 kg backpack (it gets lighter as you drink the water), but when I crawled into my sleeping bag, the tiredness slowly escaped. After rolling around in a shallow sleep a couple of hours, I checked the time: 3:45 AM. The alarm was set at 5 AM so that I could make it back to my work in the morning. Heck, the sun was rising already, and the brightness kept my eyes wide open. I walked to the beach cliffs and gazed at the pink sky and the reflections of the clouds on the lake. The morning mist was slowly dancing on the surface of the water. The echoing bird’s sound and dreamy pastels created a magical moment, and I thought that Finnish nature truly is one of a kind.
Morning trail run to Kattila
After packing up my tent and all the rest of the stuff I realized that a) my back was aching badly and b) the running backpack was as heavy and as uncomfortable as it was yesterday. My morning run was waiting, and I decided to make it short and simple. Basically, drawing a straight line from Saarilampi to the Kattila parking area. One of the great things about trail running and running adventures is that there’s absolutely no stressing about some performance, just run or walk as you wish!
Well, it was bit of a boggy route. And if you see beautiful cotton grass tussocks and mist above a forest pond surrounded by a wet bog, but can’t resist the view, you’ve got only yourself to blame for muddy shoes and wet socks. Up to the knees. The backpack was not working at all, and I was running with the tripod in one hand, my Canon in the other hand, and my iPhone for navigating … (?) well, it was somewhere.
I didn’t quite nail it with my first adventure running gig. My camera equipment adds over 3 kg to the total weight, but that’s the best I can do at the moment. (No, I’m not leaving them home!) Did I take (other) unnecessary items? I didn’t bother to make any breakfast, and the night was too hot to wear any of my change clothes, so those weren’t necessary. On the other hand, it would have been nice to swim all the sweat away – a towel and a bikini will come along next time. Packed into a backpack with a hip belt!
Anyway, I had so much fun, and got my batteries charged for the rest of the week. I also gave myself a high five for testing new equipment before going to more challenging running adventures with no easy access out of wilderness.