Rafting to Russia via the Wild Route!

“Have you rafted before?” they asked…hmm, good question…I had and although I was sure it was more than once, I could only recall one occasion several years back when I was on holiday in Thailand. A hazy memory came back to me of a friend afraid of water asking for the raft not to be tipped over, the skipper’s disappointment at that, and the friend ending up in the water at some point anyway….hmm…I looked down at my clothes and took comfort from not being told to put a swimming costume on underneath…

From Basecamp Oulanka you can raft the ‘Wild Route’ which takes in three sets of rapids – Niskakoski (a grade 2), Myllykoski (a grade 3) and Aallokkokoski (a grade 4). Everyone then disembarks before the Jyrävä waterfall. From Jyrävä there is a route they call ‘National park’s most beautiful sceneries’….for ease I shall refer to it as the ‘Pretty Route’…this is a more gentle part of the river with a few rapids amounting to nothing more than a grade 2. You can do these routes individually or as a whole ‘Basecamp to Russia’ trip. Oh and there’s also a family rafting route from Käylä to Basecamp. www.basecampoulanka.fi for anyone interested.

Wild and Pretty sounded just my thing so I went for that and set myself for 5hours of rafting! 🙂

Kitted up with waterproofs, life jacket, helmet and armed with a paddle we set off down to the beach where the rafts were waiting. Numbers meant we were four to a raft plus a skipper and everyone looked a bit apprehensive about what lay ahead. We got in and moved out onto the water for a safety briefing and instructions – kindly done in English so I could understand!

After a short practice, including the ‘paddles up’ ritual for the start of each set of rapids, we were off! (the following photos are of other groups from Basecamp Oulanka..I was otherwise engaged whilst in the raft on this part of the route..)

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I was wet from the first set of rapids at Niskakoski and soaked through by the end of the final set at Aallokkokoski! I’m sure i was totally engulfed at one point along Myllykoski! (much like the lady in the front right seat below)

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It’s ok, even along the ‘wild’ part you still have calmer moments when you can stop spluttering and look around at the scenery..like the one below which follows Myllykoski

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The rafts pull over and everyone gets off just before Jyrävä even if you’re going on to the Russian Border. It’s a small but quite fierce sounding waterfall so the rafts go over empty and are fished back on the other side..(these photos are from my time rafting now, much more leisurely).

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If you’re only doing ‘wild’ then you walk back to Basecamp from there. Those doing ‘pretty’ too get back in the rafts, along with anyone just joining for that route, and set off again. As the rafts move away there is another safety briefing and instruction for the benefit of those who have joined the rafts at Jyrävä.

I changed sides for the second part of the trip to try and balance out the workload on the muscles…not sure whether it made any difference or whether I have a ‘stronger side’ when it comes to paddling!

The ‘pretty’ route goes along the river which the Little Bear Trail crosses in parts and on further through the Oulanka National Park.

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It is indeed scenic and the paddling is at a much gentler pace with parts where we just drifted along from momentum and the current. Halfway along we broke out the provided rolls and thermos of hot juice while the skipper did all the work 🙂 The area has had a really nice and dry summer but that means the water level is lower than usual which brings rocks closer to the surface…the skipper had more work to do then, like getting out and pulling the raft off the rock…ok, rocks! But that’s all part of the fun 🙂

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Sight of the Russian border (marked with the yellow rope across the river, you might be able to make it out in the photo) marks the end of a tiring and wet but great fun afternoon of rafting.

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But there’s just enough time before we’re transfered back to Basecamp for the short walk to the border sign for the obligatory photo…and yes, I was tempted, but kept my feet safely in Finland!

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Follow the (Little) Bear

What better way to wind down and reacquaint myself with the stunning surroundings than to walk the Little Bear Trail (‘Pieni Karhunkierros’) on my first day. The trail is 12km long and technically starts from the nearby village of Juuma but I started from Basecamp as it is a little further along at the Myllykoski rapids that the route becomes circular and that was the part I wanted to do.

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I should say i chose to come over in September because that is when the Autumn colours can be seen (which is a time I love in England) and I have timed it perfectly. Turns out underneath all that snow there were more than just pines and spruces; there were also silver birch and acers which are bringing lovely red and golden colours amongst the green with the shrubbery that covers the ground amongst the trees also changing colours.

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I headed off without a map as I snowshoed it when I was over in the Winter so I know the trees are well marked with a blob of green paint to show the Little Bear Trail (the brown colour is the Great Bear Trail, some 80km long). I remembered that there is a steep staircase at one point which on snowshoes you want to go up as that’s easier, and safer, but in walking shoes going down it would preferable…I forgot which direction I had to go in order to tackle it that way but luck was on my side thankfully!

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I was quite unnerved to find I was decidely underdressed for the occassion in comparison to the Finns I met whilst walking – tshirt, a light water repellant jacket and carrying a baseball cap, seemed sensible to me but I passed people wearing winter hats, waterproof jackets, waterproof trousers, everything!…and they had no backpack to suggest it was the longer trail they were walking before you say it…as i spent most of the day walking in my t-shirt then I would say i got it just right 🙂

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I had been told I could drink the water from the river and lakes which sounded like a joke until I went to the edge and saw how clear it was. Tastes good too, better than we get out of our taps and all without filtering first! I imagine the water is even better if you can drill through the frozen layers to reach it icey cold, but refreshing, in the winter.

Along the trail are campfire sites with log stores and alter fires where you can stop and get a fire going to cook yesterday some food or make a hot drink..or marshmallows on sticks as I saw one group doing (and not a child in sight!). It’s all so trusting and respectful here; no fear of anyone lighting a fire where they shouldn’t, taking the wood home to use themselves, leaving rubbish everywhere or running off with the axe and making the headlines. It’s so refreshing to see, yet it shouldn’t be.

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When I reached Siilastupa, another campfire site and prime location for viewing Jyrävä waterfall, I perched myself on a rock that was in the sun and watched four rafting groups from Basecamp Oulanka take to the waters and have their briefing before heading off. The final part of the trail climbs higher up to give a view of the faster flowing rapids below.

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Hello from…

So here i am – 214 days after leaving, it is September and I am back at Basecamp Oulanka. Surprised?

It doesn’t feel that long ago now that I’m here. I was worried the place might look a bit..well, ugly really; naked without all the snow, but it doesn’t. It does look very different but Basecamp has changed it’s offerings with the seasons and is making ‘all year round in the wilderness’ look effortless.

Basecamp Oulanka in Winter

Basecamp Oulanka in Ruska

Feels good to be back 🙂

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Background

I felt it even before I left here in February, and as I said goodbye, said I’ll be back in September, I knew I would be.

We’ve all done it; gone away, had a really good time, said we’d go back. But we go home, routine life takes over, a new destination calls and the years fly by.

Not this time.

Something about Finland and my time at Basecamp Oulanka had me hooked; the activities I’d done, the Finns I’d met, the friends I’d made, the place itself – how all those made me feel and the smile that didn’t leave my face 🙂

There’s always a chance with ‘going back’; can it be the same, can it live up to the expectation of happy memories revisited or will it be an anti-climax that changes those too.

By returning during a different season there was a chance it would work out ok and it was a chance I was willing to take.

I had to go back..

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