"Winter is coming" said the weather forecast, as it has been saying for a few weeks here in southern Finland... but the problem is that winter never arrived. Finally I got fed up of waiting and decided to head north for a few days in search of deep snow and real winter rather than grey wet depression. My destination was Ruka, a skiing resort about 25km north of Kuusamo and about 40km south of the Arctic Circle... about an 850km drive from my home.
On my way I stopped for the night in the small city of Kajaani to break up the long drive, finding the interesting old church as I explored the city in the late evening. The following day I eventually completed the journey to Ruka and was happy to see that there was a good amount of snow in the area. It was already obvious from the drive that the trees, covered in an unfeasible amount of snow, would provide interesting subjects for photography. The days are very short at this time of year at this latitude but the light for photography is rather good, even when the sun is at its highest the light is not very harsh and the sunrise/sunset and the blue hours last for a long time.
Another bonus from photography point of view was the way the ski slopes were lit, the artificial lighting which is used for that purpose was not the harsh orange sodium lighting that you usually see in town centres but a much softer and slightly more pink light which resembled sunset colours, extending the sunset mood for many hours after the sun had departed.
I spent quite some time wondering around the area near the ski slopes as the twilight and the light from the ski slopes were made even nicer by thin low cloud. I had found the winter I was looking for.
The magical trees also looked great once it was truly dark, I ventured to the village again in the late evening after taking a dinner break.
One difficulty caused by the short days is that there is not much time available to scout for good shooting locations. In summer photography trips you have a total of 3-4 hours per day of good light to shoot in with a 10 hour scouting gap in-between - this makes it quite easy to find new locations and travel to them ready for the action periods. In winter that gap just disappears and it is not so easy to get to know a new location.
On the second day (and first morning) of my short stay in Ruka I headed out on foot a couple of hours before the sunrise, picked a direction in which to walk and hoped for the best... I was at least treated to a beautiful morning walk.
My idea for the day was to visit Oulanka National Park, about 25 minutes drive north of Ruka, where I hoped that one of the trails would be passable without needing skis or snowshoes. My goal was to get to the rather photogenic rapids at Myllykoski and shoot them in full winter conditions.
The path to Myllykoski was passable, but not very easy. There is a fair amount of traffic on this route so a very narrow path through the snow was kept open, but if you put a foot to the side your leg was quickly enveloped in snow up to your knee. The main hazard was the occasional very steep sections. There are steps in place for these sections in the summer but they were in a curious condition, smooth icy slopes with a rail beside them. I wondered how they got to this state until I saw someone approaching in the other direction sliding down the slope using the rail to keep the speed to a minimum. All very clever... but for people wanting to go up the same steep slope this was quite a pain in the ass.
The other interesting part of the route was the narrow rope bridges that allow you to cross over the Kitkajoki river. These were also quite hazardous as they were only just wide enough for a person, covered with snow and ice, and very wobbly... with a raging river below.
When starting the trail from the car park in Juuma, the first bridge over the river was a great spot to see white throated dippers. There were 2 of them fishing there when I went past on the way to Myllykoski, and 5 of them as I passed the same spot on the way back. Dippers are always interesting birds to shoot... but I did not have a suitable lens for that job on this occasion.
After a couple of kilometres I found my way to the Myllykoski area, a bend in the river where the water suddenly speeds up and becomes agitated, with a lovely old mill on the apex of the bend. After looking around for a few minutes it became clear that the best vantage point would be from another wobbly rope bridge.
After making my way round to the bridge, an even shakier one than the previous one, I was able to get some shots of the Myllykoski mill. The wobbly bridge presented quite a challenge from photography point of view, in order to handle the rushing water you would usually aim for a rather long exposure... but in order to keep the shots sharp on the unstable bridge the exposure could not be too long. Some experimentation was needed to discover the longest safe shutter speed for shooting from the bridge.
As I was in unfamiliar territory, with the light fading, and with the path not being easy to traverse, I didn't want to go too much further along the trail - returning in darkness would have been a bit difficult. I followed the trail through the forest and around the next bend where I found a nice view of another cabin in the forest as the sun went down, and then started back to the car.
I could not resist taking a few more shots of the mill at Myllykoski on my way back, this time using a bit longer focal length to make the mill take up more of the frame.
This was a really nice location to visit, and would be worth returning to in different seasons. There is an extensive network of trails through Oulanka National Park and they would be a great hiking destination in the summer months.
On the following morning I started for home, my idea was to drive a far as I (safely) could as I needed to be home by midday the following day at the latest, but in the end I made the whole journey home in one day. According to my car I drove 851 kilometres and the driving time was 10 hours and 31 minutes. I did however stop a couple of times to take photographs of the forests at the roadside.
This was an enjoyable little trip, and helped to blow away the depression of the grey days in southern Finland. The new year is well under way, the nights are getting lighter and I hope that I have some interesting trips ahead of me.
Until the next time,
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