Snowshoes, crown snow scenery, and my first winter hike solo. Everything in the sentence screams: exciting!
Syöte National Park was named after the Southernmost fell in Finland, Iso-Syöte. Nature in Syöte varies from broad mires to dense old forests and fell sceneries. During winter, you can admire crown snow loaded trees and oftentimes see also Aurora Borealis. Syöte National Park was established in 2000 and it is located within Pudasjärvi, Posio and Taivalkoski areas.
There are around 122 km of signposted trails for hiking and backpacking in Syöte. The Syöte winter trails start at the nature centre. The winter trails are for cross-contry skiing, snowshoeing and fatbiking. You can get the map of Syöte winter trails from the nature centre.
Here is the story of my first 1) winter hiking 2) winter hiking solo and 3) snowshoe hiking adventure in Syöte National Park in December 2020.
Kellarilampi laavu shelter in moonlight
It is the beginning of December and I have come to Syöte, since it is the snowiest place in Finland. I have driven from dark Southern Finland into winter wonderland. I'm heading to Kellarilampi 'laavu' shelter close to Iso-Syöte nature area for the first night. The parking area is empty, there are no visible traces because it has been snowing all day. It's only a couple of hundred of meters to the shelter, I leave my snowshoes in my car.
The moonlight is stunning bright, it creates almost an eerie atmosphere in the dark snowy forest and pond. Bears and wolves pop into my mind – there is a rich wildlife in the Syöte forests. I try to be rational: the animals will probably stay far away as I'm making a lot of noise. I chop some firewood and set up fire between the two high lean-to shelters. The sparks dance toward the deep blue sky. Kellarilampi is full of feeling.
I enjoy the silence and hot chocolate after the long day. Using my shovel and winter boots, I prepare a spot for my tent in snow. It's freezing cold, around -15°C degrees. Winter frost makes banging sounds. My first overnight winter hike alone and spending the first winter night in a tent is exciting, but I manage to sleep well in my thick winter sleeping bag.
The winter trails start from Syöte nature centre
In the morning, I drive through amazingly white winter wonderland to Syöte nature centre. I have fresh coffee and a homemade bun, and chat with friendly people. Then I pick up the map of Syöte winter trails. The first thing to do, is to find out, how a beginner manages snowshoeing. The 4.5 km Teerivaara trail is a perfect trail to start. I put on my shiny new snowshoes and take a day backpack with me. I hike the longer stretch first following some footsteps. It is surprisingly easy to hike with snowshoes, even climbing the steep hills. It's freezing cold, but I'm sweating inside my thick down coat.
I prepare my lunch at the new Teerivaara day hut, some lentil curry and blueberry soup for dessert. It's a cloudy day, but the crown snow loaded spruces seen from the top of the hill are so beautiful. It's also close to Finland's independence day, and I sing a bit of Finlandia Hymn by Jean Sibelius. Then I hike back to the nature centre. In the middle of the return trip, it gets already dark.
It's time to swap the day backpack to heavy trekking backpack. The first thing I realize is that I have to put on the snowshoes before the backpack. My equipment and clothes are a bit bulky, I feel like the Michelin Man. I start backpacking through the dark forest, the only light coming from my head torch. I'm not as agile as I was at Teerivaara a moment ago, although the darkness makes me wish that the journey was short and fast. It doesn't take long until I reach the cute Annintupa day hut. I pitch my tent on the backyard under trees and set up fire inside the hut. Time flies when I sit by the fire and have dinner. I sleep early.
In the night, I wake up to some horrible sounds, like someone was scratching the tent fabric with a knife. My heart beats as I listen to the creepy sounds. There's nobody out there, and nobody trying to come inside my tent: it's just lumps of snow falling from the spruce branches onto the tent roof and sliding down to the ground.
Ahmatupa open wilderness hut
On the next day, the temperature has risen above zero. I'm hiking along a snowmobile track on the Ahmavaara winter trail. Wet snow sticks to the bottom of the snowshoes, I'm sweating inside the down coat again. I have to take breaks and just breathe cool air. The crown snow has melted, everything looks more or less various shades of grey.
I sit for a while on a bench next to Välitupa day hut. Backpacking with snowshoes is more sports than I anticipated. I wish I had a lighter jacket with me. Then I continue hiking through open mires. I can see the gentle slopes of fells and hills in the horizon. Someone is skiing on the track, the first and the last person I see during the day. The wilderness forest is peaceful.
When the trail turns and crosses a wide creek, I have to stop. There's not enough ice for crossing. I can see the skiing traces, but it's not going to work with snowshoes and a heavy backpack. I remember a video I saw before my trip: you can compress soft snow with snowshoes with slow movements. The trick is working, and I get to the other side after all.
There's a sign that says it's three kilometers to Ahmatupa open wilderness hut. Snowshoes, a heavy backpack and wet snow in the same sentence means that the kilometers are long. It is 3 PM and it's already getting dark. The greyness turns into blueish light, from lighter blue to dark blue.
Finally, Ahmatupa open wilderness hut stands in the middle of the forest. The log cabin is located on the south slope of Ahmavaara hill on the bank of River Ahmaoja. During the high season, there is a wilderness cafe in the hut. Now the hut is empty, and I decide to sleep in the hut. I set up fire in the stove and put my sweaty clothes hanging to dry. It's very dark in the hut, but I manage with the light from the stove and some candles. It doesn't take long to warm up the hut.
The night is long, I don't have a book or paper and pen with me. How many hours can you just be mindful? I climb up to the balcony with my sleeping bag. There are mattresses and pillows on the balcony, quite luxurious. The night is quiet, just some rustling sounds in the corners of the hut.
I wake up early so that I'm on the move as soon as there's a hint of daylight. It happens to be a good idea: a maintenance guy comes in the hut at 7 AM to drink coffee. We chat a little and he invites me to the Lappish hut to grill some sausages. But I'm already packing to go, so that I don't miss any daylight.
I visit the Lappish hut briefly and see a stream. Maybe you could drink from the stream, I'm not sure. There's also a sauna for visitors of the rental hut.
From a hut to another on Ahmavaara winter trail
I'm hiking slowly the same route back through the forest. A snowmobile drives by, and I wave at the maintenance guys. Suddenly, the ground disappears under my feet, I toss myself to the bank of the hole. There's some creek under the snowmobile track and it seems deep. Rolling back to the track with snowshoes and the heavy backpack on is like making extreme burpees.
On my way back, I see more and more wet spots. The snowmobiles have left curved traces while going around the wet spots. At the mire I see reindeer traces. They have also sunk deep through the snow.
Backpacking with snowshoes is fun but slow. It's impossible to hike long day stretches during the daylight in December. I head to Koiratupa day hut. It's only 500 meters from the Ahmavaara winter trail. Somebody has cleaned the snow from the terrace and stairs, and filled the wood basket. I decide to boil water without making a fire, it's not that cold outside.
It's almost 3 PM when I leave Koiratupa and hike to Välitupa day hut for the last night. I have got a tent with me, but camping next to a hut feels safe and cozy. The sky is full of clouds, it's not a trip where you gaze the stars and northern lights.
Time goes by as I chop firewood and make water by melting snow. It's the last night, and I'm able to just focus on the moment and be present. It's exciting to take a walk to the wood shelter with a head torch. The winter forest is quiet, only the sounds from the axe echoing in the darkness. I sit by the fire and eat all I can find from my backpack. Before I go to bed, I chop wood to the basket and carve chips for the next visitor.
Early in the morning, it's still dark. I clean up the floor and begin the final strecth back to Syöte nature centre. I'm happy with my equipment I got for my first winter hike, except that I didn't have a light jacket. It is a skill to know what clothes to wear for winter hiking. I'm also very pleased with the destination for my snowshoeing. Syöte was a great choice for a beginner – I will definitely come back hiking in Syöte National Park!
Syöte National Park - winter hike
- Destination: Pudasjärvi, Taivalkoski and Posio, Northern Osthrobotnia, Finland
- Difficulty: easy to moderate
- When to go: from December to April for a winter hike
- Duration: suitable for day trips and multi-day adventures
- Where to stay: camping in tent, many open wilderness huts, hotels and lodges in Syöte