I’d been promising Enni a camping trip for months. As usual, things had conspired against me delivering on my promise; too hot weather, too cold weather, flu, school… There always seemed to be a reason. Then, out of the blue, in mid October the weather turned all Indian summer on us. Coinciding as it did with the Autumn holidays, I couldn’t put it off any longer. An overnighter was hastily planned.
Where to go? Well, I wanted to keep it as pleasant as possible for my new backpacking buddy. No need to put her off with long treks, so something reasonable for a 7 year old. Also, some nice scenery for both of us, and not too busy. Nuuksio National Park offers plenty of options, with the exception of it being rather popular (being very near Helsinki), but I hoped that getting slightly away from the main areas would deliver a little solitude too.
I’ve not been to Nuuksio that much (precisely because of the popularity), but there are several nicely-located campsites far enough from the central starting point that looked inviting for curious explorers, young and old. The campsite on an island in Holma-Saarijärvi lake looked perfect, and by taking a route from a trail head to the south I could avoid the madness of the central parking area at Haukkalampi.
Packing was surprisingly stressful. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go on any kind of backpacking trip, and after two moves in one year, locating all my gear, then checking and cleaning it was a bit of a grind. But, I thought, it’s only one night, and we’re not far from home. What could possibly go wrong?
After stuffing everything in my Vapor Trail (a good pack for one and a half people – I’m glad I held onto it)
I realise that I’ve been spoiled by years of Lapland hiking. In the south, I fear, I probably don’t have access to the pure, untainted waters that I had in the arctic north, so I decided it was time to buy a water filter. With a quick trip to Partioaitta to pick up a rebranded Sawyer Squeeze Mini, we were off.
Our hike to the campsite would be a long and arduous 2 km through woodland and past a couple of lakes. I know enough about hiking with kids to understand that you can’t have enough treats and incentives to make the adventure more adventurey, so my pack is laden with Haribo, Tuc biscuits, nuts, sausage, cookies, and other delights which I have to secretly admit to looking forward to eating, too.
Naturally we took the journey at Enni’s sub-snail-speed pace, stopping to look at whatever she found interesting, or for a well-deserved sweet, every 500 meters or less. That’s fine. We were there to enjoy ourselves, and it seemed to be working.
We met a few other people on the trail (smelling the perfume of passers-by is something I’m still not entirely accustomed to) - a 7 km loop that passes through the center of the park. Neverthless, it wasn’t too busy.
Short distances travelled at a slow pace can be harder to estimate than long distances at a fair click. Before I knew it we’d already reached our destination for the night, and that was great as it meant we had plenty of time to hang out and explore the area.
The campsite is located on a tiny island, and very pretty. As we approached I heard a few voices, but I suspected they were just people passing through.
On the island there was another family with a tent pitched, but it seemed they were in the process of leaving. We hunted around for a good place to pitch the Wicki-Up, and found one right by the water - a little damp underfoot, but we’d be fine.
Enni immediately made friends with three ducks as I erected our mansion and made the beds. Then, after our long hike, it was time to relax with yet more snacks.
Replenished, I suggested a walk around the lake before the sun set. It added another whole kilometer to our tally for the day, but I thought we’d manage, especially without the packs.
Enni seemed really in her element there. With nothing else to worry about, she was happy finding sticks and playing with the ducks that followed us around the lake.
We stopped at some rocks in the evening sun for a while, and I was content to sit there while she did her Moana thing, and collected lilys from the water.
We wandered around the rest of the lake with our duck friends, and found the other campsite on the opposite shore. There’s always a moment of tension when you know there are two campsites near each other; which one is the nicest? What if you get set up then discover the other is better?
I needn’t have worried. The other site was far less charming - a little murky even, so I was happy that we were located and all set up on our own private island for the night.
We timed it just right. The sun was setting, casting a golden glow over everything, and scattering beams of light through the trees. Very pretty.
It was time to put the water filter to use, and discover the limitations of the stupidly small squeeze pouch that came with the filter. Luckily I had a spare, larger Platypus pouch with me, but the filter didn’t screw on quite as well as it could have. Every squeeze produced potentially contaminated drips that I had to struggle to keep from entering the canteen of filtered water.
Stupidly, I left to refill the Platypus from the lake without closing the lid on the wide-mouth canteen, and obviously it fell over and spilled all my hard work. Grrr. But my fault – I should have known better. Trail, trial and error.
Sidebar Mini Review:
MSR Pocket Rocket 2
I decided to cut a few grams and just take my Vargo Bot and PocketRocket for simplicity’s sake. The PocketRocket 2 got great reviews on it’s release, but I found it to be a slow boiler, and quite prone to slight wind disturbance. It definitely would benefit from a wind shield, but for short trips with the kid like this, next time I’ll take my old reliable Jetboil.
Well, eventually, after teaching Enni the delights of shouting “bugger” in the (semi) wild, dinner was prepared, consumed, and followed up with a dessert of dried mango, chocolate, and yet more treats.
The night brought out some fears of the dark in the little one. When we had camped before in Rovaniemi, it was late summer and still light most of the night. Down here in the south, while camping without winter gear was still possible in October, the nights get dark fast, and she wasn’t accustomed to that. It’s understandable. Fortunately I thought to bring along a mini lantern which I could leave on all night. That helped a little, along with a FaceTime with mum, and some sleeping rearrangements more suited to comforting.
After a while, sleep came to both of us, although mine was fitful. My ageing Pacific Outdoors Equipment pad has sprung a slow leak, and requires re-inflation every 3 hours. Annoying, but bearable for one night.
There’s another difference to hiking in Lapland: the soundtrack. The drone of a distant motorway kept me company during the night, only quieting a little in the darkest hours. It was oddly comforting, but a stark contrast to the silence of northern Finland.
Any hopes I might have had for a lie in as a result of fresh air were abandoned when Enni woke at 5am. I tried to push for another hour, but after a while it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. As punishment I introduced her to the delights of freezer bag oats…
…which went down about as well as can be expected. Lucky I had those Tuc biscuits then.
I was in no hurry to pack up and go, but I think Enni was still a little shaken by the darkness, and was keen to get moving. Fair enough. It took another hour or so to deflate, clean up, and prepare for the 4 km hike out – almost double the previous day. I hoped we would both make it out alive.
We made it almost 200 meters before the first stop for some trail mix.
At the halfway point, I promised bread and cheese atop Rajakallio, a rock marking a boundary between who knows what. We climbed to the top and found a landscape that frankly could have easily been in Lapland: bare rock, stunted growth trees, lichen, and not much else.
We again met a few early risers on the trail, and a couple of mountain bikers doing the Reitti2000. The trail was much more developed on the way out, wine and fine, easy to walk, but starting to push the limits for a tired child.
It’s odd that on visits to London and Paris Enni could easily walk 13 km a day without complaint, but a short walk in the woods necessitates persuasion and constant reassurance that “it’s not much further”. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps the city is so overstimulating that distance and tiredness are forgotten by tiny legs.
The weather was rather dull, but the walk was nice, rising and descending through pine and spruce woodland, the last autumnal leaves clinging on to birch and aspen adding a little colour to the scene.
Before long we were on the last stretch back to the car, and time for a rest on the drive home.
I was glad to finally do the trip, and I think it was about the right length. We certainly had the right amount of snacks and food, and I hope that next year she’ll ask again, “When are we going camping?”
Maybe I’ll see if we can do two nights next year… But first I’m going to need to repair that sleeping pad.