Start Basecamp Oulanka.
After a hearty Finnish breakfast we head down to collect all of our equipment that we will need for the next three days in Russia. The rest of the morning is spent learning some essential wilderness skills that will come in use in wilds of Russia. In the afternoon there is the option of visiting the large carnivore centre near the town of Kuusamo. Although protected by the confines of secure paddocks you will still be able to get up close and personal with some of the more elusive large predators from the region such as wolves, wolverines and lynxes.
An early start today as we transfer to the Russian border to gain access to Paanajarvi National Park. As we step outside the EU the process of getting into Russia will naturally take longer than passing into any other of Finland's neighbouring countries. However, good things come to those who wait as once you cross the border it is not long until you are in a region that has been virtually untouched since it was ceded to Russia after the Second World War in 1945.
It is very easy to fall into the cliché of describing an area of wilderness as being 'pristene', and in most cases in Europe this is never entirely true. However, due to the lack of human interaction in the last 65 years, what lies before you is a wilderness that really can legitimately be described as 'pristine'. Mile upon mile of crystal clear lakes and taiga forest is all you will find in Paanajarvi.
We enter the park by minibus, stopping at the Kivakkakoski rapids and/or the Kivakkatunture fell en route before taking a boat en route to the campsite, our home for the next two nights. The area is remote and our only stop will be at the national park visitor centre in the small town of Paajarvi to complete formalities and purchase any snacks (although you must keep in mind never to litter if you do bring in food).
After breakfast we set out on a boat trip along Lake Paanajarvi heading deep into the national park. This is the perfect opportunity to reflect on your surroundings and if you are very lucky, you may even spot some of the larger mammals such as bears and elk coming to the shores to drink. Passing the Ruskeakallio cliffs we come shore to stop for a packed lunch before taking a short walk to the beautiful Mantykoski waterfall. On the return journey we will have an hour and a half trek though forest clearings and meadows discovering the tracks and signs of the various forest inhabitants before finally returning back to our campsite.
Today we pack up our gear at the camp and begin to make our way back to civilisation. After a short boat trip we rejoin the road back to Paajarvi. From here we head back to the Russian border for our re-entry into Finland and Oulanka National Park. This is quite a long day making the comfort of Basecamp Oulanka all the more welcome following a few days in the wilderness. Showers, saunas, hot tubs and a comfy bed are all at hand to help you feel human again.
A slow start today to allow you to catch up with sleep. However, if you are feeling active then there is time to have a quick walk to the Myllykoski rapids and over the suspension bridge to look down on the old mill. If you take this walk do keep your eyes peeled for the white-throated dipper that is a resident of the area. If you hear a bird call when standing by the rapids, it will 99% be that of the dipper as where most other bird calls are drowned out by the roaring water, the dipper calls at a frequency that is well above the noise levels of the rapids. In the afternoon we transfer once more towards the Russian border where, after an early dinner, we settle into a bear hide for the night. The rules are quite strict when in the huts; no mosquito repellant, perfumes, smoking, noisy wrapping paper and cameras that flash or go 'beep'. This may seem excessive, however the number one priority when in this area is to not disturb the bears as after all, you are a guest in their home. As light is plentiful at this time of the year, the chance of seeing the bears and getting good pictures is relatively high.
In the morning we transfer once again back to Basecamp Oulanka where those who stayed glued to their cameras all night will be able to get their head down onto a pillow and catch up with some sleep. In the afternoon there is the option for a number of different walks in Oulanka National Park, the most renown of these being a route that locally translates as the 'Little Bear Trail'. All of these routes are well marked. If feel the need for more of an adrenaline rush then today is the perfect opportunity to try your hand at the optional white water rafting. Under the expert tuition of the guides you will paddle your way down some of finest rapids in Finland, in some places pounding through grade 4 rapids.
Today we take part in something that is known in the area as 'citizen science'. This entails collecting data on the local wildlife that is based along the Kitkajoki River, starting at the Jyrava waterfall and travelling all the way to the Russian border. We head down the river on rafting boats, and although we will pass class 1 and 2 rapids, no previous rafting experience is needed. All of the data that is collected from this excursion will then be passed on for research purposes to the University of Oulu. Before we head out onto the river we will be taught the most effective way to collect data and will be shown pictures, sounds and habits of some of the animals that we will hope to gather information on. In essence you will be directly contributing to help preserve the most up-to-date information on the wildlife that lives in the surrounding national park.
End Basecamp Oulanka.