Last week’s overnighter was supposed to be a kayaking trip to lake Kuolimo in South East Finland not far from where I live. The plan was to go with T who has a kayak and I would have rented a kayak from the local club SaiLa just like before… But it turned out they don’t rent kayaks on Tuesdays! We didn’t let this stop us and instead borrowed a canoe as you got to get your outdoors fix in a way or another.
Kuolimo is an interesting little (about 80 sq km) lake located in the South-East Finland in the municipalities of Savitaipale and Suomenniemi. It has very clear water (unlike most other lakes in Southern Finland), quite impressive rocky shores and it drains to lake Saimaa via two narrow rocky rapids: Partakoski and Kärnäkoski. According to official information these rapids are unsuitable for kayaking or canoeing but we were able to navigate them with our canoe – though they don’t provide much white water fun. Back in the days the rapids had been cleaned from rocks for floating timber but they have been restored as there is an extremely endangered population of Saimaa arctic charr living in the lake Kuolimo.
There are a couple of established nature trails at the shores of the lake, several lean-to shelter with fireplaces and also some services at the shores of the lake like the Partaranta that offers little pricey but delicious pizzas. And then of course there’s the large village (kirkonkylä) of Savitaipale with abundance of services for outdoors folk passing by. Of course there are plenty of summer houses on the lake shores so there is no feeling of a real big wilderness in my opinion – as is the unfortunate case in most of Southern Finland. But you can always find a nice bay or strait with no visibility to cottages and enjoy the nature around you.
I’d see Kuolimo as a great destination for a 2-5 days canoeing or kayaking trip. On longer trip you would have time to visit the sights: walk the nature trails, visit the old fortress at Kärnäkoski, etc. and maybe try some bouldering on the rock faces on the shores. I assume there is quite a lot of boat traffic in the summer holiday season so preferably go during weekdays in the early summer or early autumn to get some solitude. Also biking around the lake would make sense, there are even some established bike routes!
Here are high-resolution photos of some information boards along the way if you’re interested in the details.
Click for a larger high-resolution version!
Click for a larger high-resolution version!
Showers, sauna and other luxuries
After shopping and a coffee break followed with some heart-in-my-throat rally driving by T we made it alive to our starting point at Luotolahti in the North-East corner of the lake. The original plan was to kayak around the large headland of Suomenniemi but as canoe is slower than kayak we adjusted the plan slightly. Quite soon after the sunny start the rain returned and we were able to enjoy occasional cold shower every now and then through the whole day. For some reason rain is much less of a problem when in a kayak – especially as I didn’t take any waterproof trousers as the good old ultra light style requires…
First we paddled trough the long narrow strait of “Luotolahden Kapia” which is quite impressive place with its rocky shores. When we got on the more open waters we decided to head to Partakoski for lunch at restaurant at Partaranta. We had a rare case of tailwind so we tried some sailing and got nice speeds of 7km/h or so but the sail rigged from cheap hardware store tarp could use a little upgrade… If I’d go canoeing regularly I’d definitely sew a sail for my canoe!
The route to the lake Saimaa down the Partakoski rapid includes three sections of rocky and narrow swift water but to our surprise those were quite easy to navigate with the canoe. They required active maneuvering and slow going but provided actually fun little challenges but were unfortunately very short. The maneuvering was rewarded with pizzas (13 euro each) and beers (small beer 4,50 euro) at the restaurant terrace were we watched the weather roll in again with a thunder in the distance and heavy rain surrounding us.
Last section of Partakoski seen from the bridge.
As the rain didn’t seem to be going anywhere, we decided to take the initiative and started to paddle away from it. Plan was to paddle about one kilometer on the lake Saimaa and then paddle up the Kärnäkoski as high as possible and to portage back to Kuolimo. There is an old mill and a bridge with quite small passage under it with the bridge being the only sensible option to portage. We were able to paddle up to the mill quite easily but when closing to the bridge I had to jump out from the canoe and push it upstream wading in very fast mid-thigh deep water while Tuomas was paddling and steering in the front. This was actually quite easy as the canoe offered some “cover” from the water and a support to lean against. We made it trough the little hole quite easily and were back at lake Kuolimo.
Kärnäkoski, the mill on the right, the bridge on the left.
For the night we decided to paddle to a lean-to located on the Western shore of Lehtisensaari island (quite a big island of about 3 sq km that used to have permanent settlements). While the way to the Southern tip of the island was quite nice and relaxed the weather decided to throw in one more challenge for the day: rain rolled in again and after passing the tip of the island we were faced with strong wind from the West generating big waves that properly rocked our canoe. (No photos of this as I was too busy paddling…) We paddled close to the shore enjoying the rollercoaster and finally reached the lean-to.
The plan for the evening was to luxury camp with some gourmet food and an improvised tent sauna. The cold showers during the way were not that luxurious but the camp proved good: The wind settled a bit but still kept the mosquitoes away, rain didn’t return and we even got a proper sunset. We reshaped the fire-place to serve as a sauna stove and started to heat the rocks while preparing dinner: bruchettas (btw the WordPress Proofreading suggest “brunettes” here but we didnät have any with us…) with Spanish style tapas and red wine for starters (as tested on the previous trip), salmon fillet cooked on a piece of wood in the glow of the fire and grilled veggies as main course (with more cheap red btu still no brunettes…) followed with Irish Coffee and marshmallows as dessert. This time even the cream made it and was easily whipped by shaking it in a Nalgene bottle!
Notice the improvised-on-site cooking equipment.
After the proper three course dinner it was time to improvise the sauna. There were some slightly charred tree trunks at the shelter and we had a big tarp with us and these combined with the seats around the pimped fireplace and some pack straps made a cozy yet very functional sauna for two. (Caution! If you build an improvised sauna, remember to put out the fire properly before covering your stove with a fabric, otherwise carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or other nasty fumes may get you!) As the wind kept to bugs away there was no need to pitch the tent and after the sauna, swims and beers we retired to our sleeping bags under the lean-to.
We slept long, prepared breakfast on the camp fire with no hurry and feeling lazy (all that cheap red?) decided to just take the straight route back to Luotolahti. The weather was good with sunshine and only a slight breeze. On the way back to Luotolahti we found some nice rock by the water and Tuomas decided to try a bit of bouldering but not having climbing shoes quickly changed the sport into swimming. (Caution! This is fun but check the spot thoroughly before jumping or falling into the water from any high places!)
Towards the end of the trip the wind picked up again and we felt cold so we had a coffee break with roaring fire at the lean-to in the Luotolahden Kapia strait before arriving back to the car. On the last bit we saw seagulls apparently trying to fend of something in the water: The birds didn’t mind us floating only 10 meters away but kept diving and hovering above the reed next to a little islet… Maybe there was a snake swimming to the nest?
After admiring the airshow for long enough we paddled the last strokes back to our car and headed home. Another jolly good overnighter!
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PS. As usual, more photos in my gallery.