By Laura Waris, July 2013
Contrary to what its name might imply, Helvetinjärvi (Hell’s Lake) National Park offers a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. The fearsome title conceals fresh forest air and a feast for the senses.
Crack, snap, roar. The flames lick the logs merrily and mesmerise my eyes and ears as I sit by the campfire at the end of the day. It has been two days of Hell – Hell’s Lake National Park, that is, located about 80 kilometres north of Tampere.
My intrepid friends and I are hiking and camping along the trails, some well marked and others tantalisingly less travelled. These woods, friendly despite the hellish name, awaken the senses and offer a wealth of experiences.
The silence of a pine and birch forest can be deafening as well as soothing. On the one hand, it is the sound of growing things, of air through leaves and the flow of my own breath matching the sound of hiking boots swishing through the underbrush. It is echoes that ricochet from the rocks, and it is water gushing over boulders in a nearby stream.
But in the early morning hours, the silence is a lullaby to soothe the soul. Our adventure soundtrack also contains guest vocals by curious sheep in a nearby field and the strains of Sibelius’ Finlandia on a friend’s flute.
The rugged scenery around Hell’s Lake comes from deep fault lines. We descend from spacious ridge-top views through a rough, two-metre wide gorge that has attracted visitors since the 1800s. In the evening, the sun casts long shadows through the trees onto the forest floor, now a carpet of light and dark lichen and low shrubbery, different but no less beautiful than the earlier marshland and brilliant moss under tall pines.
Upon our arrival at our campsite, Nature tries to outdo herself: The lake surface is placid, a pair of swans welcomes us from a polite distance, and later a double rainbow sweeps the sky. We are duly impressed.
The evening campfire not only enthrals our eyes and provides us with cooking fuel, but also gently cloaks us in its pungent, smoky smell. We decide to replace this in the morning by going for a pre-breakfast dip in the lake, which leaves us perfumed with eau de forêt, a scent composed of chopped wood and fresh air, a hint of smoke and wet skin, and the lingering aroma of blueberry pancakes that we devour with gusto.
Who says you can’t eat gourmet in the forest, especially when the provisions come from Nature herself?
The blueberries are courtesy of an obliging patch along a ridge of boulders. Crouched down in a faint drizzle, we stained our fingers with berry picking, enjoying juicy bursts of blue; one for the collective cup, one for me, one for the cup, two for me, and so on.
All food tastes better cooked outdoors – morning coffee, afternoon sausages with mustard, evening rice dinner and a final cup of chamomile tea to wind down the day.
Everything I’ve mentioned so far meshes with what my body tells me it “feels” like: goose bumps from the refreshing morning swim; rough granite walls covered with moss in the gorge; tense steps over a slippery path made of rain-drenched planks; raindrops tickling my face; the weightless feeling of taking a backpack off at the end of the day; hands and toes warmed by the fire.
The day ends with a well-earned stretch before falling asleep – if I have been careful enough to remove all the rocks beneath my tent – and with a thankful sigh expressing inner peace and bodily wellbeing.
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