Visiting Private Dogsled Tours for Two in the Taiga Forest

In May 2015, Bob from the Nature Travels team travelled to the provinces of North Karelia and Kainuu in Eastern Finland to visit our new experiences in the area. In the article below, Bob visits the kennels of our Private Dogsled Tours for Two in the Taiga Forest.

Day 4 and 5 – Watching the fire, hugging the huskies Today I had a morning to explore Kuhmo before meeting Urpo to discuss canoeing in the area. As I was to discover, Kuhmo doesn’t need a morning to explore! Not only because it’s not exactly big, but also because it turned out I’d arrived on a special Sunday where literally the only thing open in town was the Shell garage and the hot dog café next door. Still, I gave the locals at the café some entertainment, attracting some interested stares firstly for turning up at all (unrecognised cars seem to be a rare thing here) and secondly for coming back again 20 minutes later for another visit when I’d failed to find anything else open. But soon enough it was time to meet Urpo to talk about our Canoeing on the Tar Route in Kainuu experience.

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Urpo’s first words words were, “Hello, are you hungry?” as he held out a box of fresh Karelian pies, which seemed like a very good start indeed to the afternoon! After a quick munch and look at the equipment, we set off to a “kåta”, or fireplace, along the river to brew some coffee and talk paddling. We settled into the shelter and lit a fire to make the coffee, and Urpo began rummaging around in his backpack for the necessary bits and pieces. The rummaging became increasingly frantic until it transpired he’d forgotten one vital ingredient – we’d left the coffee on the kitchen table back at his house!

But all was not lost – one of the wonderful things about living in a remote area is how connected people are to their community – you can’t afford not to be. Most people I know, finding themselves out in the bush having forgotten something, would be faced with the choice of either going back to get it or doing without. No so in our case – a quick telephone call – Finland’s mobile network is amazing- to one of Urpo’s “neighbours” (we were 20 mins’ from Urpo’s house) a few kilometres down the road and a fresh pack of coffee was hand-delivered to us in our kåta minutes later…nice!

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My afternoon ended with a lovely surprise. It’s rare to find anyone in a remote region who has just one job – most people put together a living income from at least two or three sources – and Urpo does a little moonlighting taking guests for nature photography. A quick stomp through his farm brought us to a little hide constructed in the forest. We crept inside, drew back the curtain, and I was amazed to discover a nest box with three beautiful Ural Owl chicks just a few metres away, with the female gazing watchfully down from a nearby pine tree. Absolutely fantastic – we watched enthralled for half an hour or so, wondering if the male might return with some food, but time was marching on and it was time to be heading to my next stop, the husky kennels.

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Here I was greeted warmly by Aki and Suvi, the local hosts for our Private Dogsled Tours for Two in the Taiga Forest, and with a flurry of fur and barking by their lovely huskies.

Then I had another amazing wild-themed dinner, this time with creamed wild false morel mushrooms (which are poisonous when uncooked but delicious when prepared properly) served with pike. Dessert was ice-cream (foraged locally that day from the ice-cream trees that grow deep in the forest *only kidding), and blueberries and strawberries picked the previous season.

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No day in Finland is complete without a sauna, and this was a particularly nice one – wood-fired and located by a beautiful tranquil lake, with black-throated divers (“loons”) sending their eerie call across the calm water in the dusky evening light. Superheated by the sauna, I even braved a quick deep in the lake, which was a balmy 8 degrees. I have a Sami friend in Jukkasjärvi in the far north of Sweden who likes his sauna really hot (and I mean REALLY hot – you can feel your eyeballs melting), so it was so nice to be able to set my own temperature for a change! With guests sleeping in the main house, my accommodation for the night was a cosy little shepherd’s hut in the garden!

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The next morning Aki and I packed two dogs into the car and drove to a local hiking trail, where we were going to be doing some “husky trekking”. Unlike pet dogs, huskies are of course trained to pull, and pull they do! So a traditional lead doesn’t do the job. Husky trekking uses a climbing-style harness round the waist to which you attach a shock absorbing lead. Result: they pull you along rather nicely! (Except my dog had a cheeky trick of waiting until I wasn’t concentrating then  trying to pull me off the path into the swamp).

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We spent a happy few hours wandering through a stunning old forest, packed with signs of the rich wildlife of the area – from woodpecker holes to cones gnawed by red squirrels to (most exciting of all), wolf droppings.

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Back home we ended the day with a wonderfully calm row across the lake to check the fishing nets. Here fish forms a large part of the dogs’ diet. Salmon offcuts from a local fish farm provide a nutritious and cost-effective main ingredient, while also making use of what would otherwise be a waste product. But closer to home, the dogs are also fed on roach caught just metres from the kennel. This not only makes use of a natural resource with zero food miles, but removing roach from the lake also has a valuable ecological benefit, reducing the disturbance of sediment and lowering the nutrient content of the water (the forestry industry can cause the lakes to have an excess of nutrients).

It was hard indeed to leave the warmth and hospitality of the kennels, but time was marching on and it was time to head north up the Russian border. Over the next couple of days I would be taking in the route for our Hiking in the Finnish-Russian Borderland tour, ending in Hossa, location of Snowshoeing in the Hossa Nature Park.

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