History along hiking trails!

Hiking in Finland
Jouni Laaksonen 26.8.2019

I am a sports fan. I like many team events, like volleyball and soccer, but even more I get enthusiastic about individual events like athletics, cross-country skiing, orienteering, biathlon and so on.

An important piece of fandom is persistence. When I follow the Finnish long jumpers, hurdle runners, high jumpers from year to year, it’s great to see how the young and unknown athletes like Taika Koilahti, Reetta Hurske or Ella Junnila grow to the brink of getting internationally known. Or as I eagerly follow cross-country skiing, it was not such a wonder that young Frida Karlsson from Sweden made a breakthrough to podium last winter in World Championships. Or how young Simona Aebersold from Switzerland took medals just a moment ago in Orienteering World Championships.

The more you know, the more you enjoy. You know the rules and tactics, and you know the capacity of the athletes, and the possible rising new stars.

This very same applies to hiking. The more you know about flowers, birds, butterflies, beetles, fungus, animal tracks etc., the more you can get from your hikes. And, the more you know about history!

Let’s say there’s a pit, a shallow excavation next to the trail. See pics below.

Hiking in Finland

Hiking in Finland

The ignorant walks past perhaps not even seeing the pit. The one knowing more about history sees in the upper pic a pitfall dug out some thousands of years ago, one of many similar pitfalls in a trapping system for wild reindeer. And in the case of the lower pic she/he sees a pit dug about 150 years ago, for producing tar out of pine blocks.

The upper pic is from Lemmenjoki National Park, along a hiking trail. The lower pic is from Iso-Palonen area in Kuhmo, along a day hiking trail. The red arrow pointing down shows the center of the tar burning pit, and the arrow pointing left shows the shallow “pipe” leading out of the pit. That was where the tar flowed, into a waiting wooden barrel.

Sometimes the historical sight along a trail is clearly impressive to everyone’s eyes, like these two below. However, when you know more, you enjoy and appreciate more.

Hiking in Finland

This building is almost 150 years old, and quite special. In 1869 two men found a significant amount of gold at river Ivalojoki, which resulted in a gold rush. The next year hundreds of men journeyed to this remote river in the middle of roadless wilderness. That year, 1870, this building Ivalojoen Kultala was built. This was the central building in the gold panning area, housing the state officials.

Today this place is still in roadless area, Hammastunturi Wilderness Area. Though the marked hiking trail from the nearest road is only twelve kiometers – hundreds of kilometers less than in 19th century.

Hiking in Finland

This structure is a timber floating chute. You just have to admire the ingeniosity of our ancestors. You might think that winter, with freezing temperatures and a meter of snow would stop all logging activity during the axe, handsaw and no lorries era, but it was the other way round. The huge logs were felled during winter, and pulled by horse sleds to lake and river shores, or on the ice.

In spring, flood time was not regarded as a hindrance, but a necessary helper. Imagine a small headwaters lake, in fact just a tiny pool. The stream starting from it is just a meter or two wide. Floating tall logs is not possible on it. Or would there be some way? Yes. The lumberjacks built temporary dams. This way these small headwaters lakes expanded much larger because of melting snow. The logs were rolled into the lake, and then the dam was opened. Now the rush of flood made the tiny stream swell to a largish river, for a short while. A long enough while to get the logs floating downriver, to bigger rivers.

Rivers were the lorries and freight trains of that era. To make the logs travel for hundreds of kilometers was no easy feat, what with rapids and slowly flowing river sections, and lakes along the river route. Every problem was solved. If there was a high waterfall, that was a major problem. But solvable, as we can see in the pic above. At Auttiköngäs, 16 meters high waterfall near Rovaniemi, the old wooden chute for timber floating is right beside a day hiking trail.

These themes, and many more interesting insights into Finnish cultural history found along hiking trails, are described in my guidebook Hiking in Finland, with coordinates.

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I had planned to write on also other historic topics today, but this is a long post already. I’ll continue next week!



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