Please welcome our latest guest pen Kaisa and her exotic adventures! Have you ever hiked by swimming? //Anne

Kaisa Rikalainen is an starting trekker who compensates her lack of experience with tons of excitement and a go-to attitude. She hikes on both land and sea, with her family or just her husband. Sometimes they’re accompanied by a pack of three dogs.

Open water hiking in South Konnevesi National Park

So it all started with my love for swimming. Swimming and daring, even if I had little experience with either.

Open water hiking from an island to another, trekking, enjoying meals and nature inland. An idea became an actual thought, the thought became a careful verbal suggestion to the husband. At last in July of 2016 we completed our very first water hike. And what a hike it was!

We were browsing the local bodies of water, looking for the perfect location. The islands and islets would need to be close to each other so the swim wouldn’t be unbearably long and we’d like to hike freely on solid ground. We would also need to steer clear of boat routes. But a nice view wouldn’t hurt.

We chose South Konnevesi National Park.

Established in 2014, the park is very popular among canoeists and other water trekkers. So why not a little water hike?

The weather on hike day was perfect. The sun was shining but not in a scorching way. We had practiced swimming all Summer but a trip with all the hiking gear on would be a first. One reason for all this was to test them out and learn for the upcoming voyages. I mean, come on, there would be more.

Starting point: Rappaatlahti bay of Konnevesi

We ditched the car at the side of a dust road, put on the wet suits and shoved our hiking gear into resealable bags. Then it was off to the races! I mean, through the woods and to the lakeside.

We were super nervous! It was a brand new thing we were about to do!

The beach was a nature preservation area, empty, rocky and slippery. The water was crystal clear but the rocks were covered in an untouched alga which made them pretty treacherous. We quickly dove in so we wouldn’t tumble in. The first strokes have always been tricky for me. Gasping for air I wondered if I had forgotten everything I’ve ever known about swimming. But I got the hang of it: stroke, stroke, breathe. We were on our way!

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We had packed our stuff in a waterproof backpack which was strapped in a small raft. Arto being the strong one was pulling it. I had a bag for my shoes and knickknacks. This mean of transportation not only helped us carry all our stuff but also ensured we were noticed out there in the water. Not to mention we could rest against the bags should we get too tired.

First stop: from mainland to Aittosaari island

The first swim was the shortest, at around 100 meters. We went ashore near the rocks of the inhabited Aittosaari island. It’s actually made of two islands and a neck of land connecting them. We crossed the islands on foot – it was just a half a kilometer walk. And we swam next to the neck of land in the extremely clear waters with yellow waterlily covering  most of the surface. The place was perfect for snorkeling! We continued on in a steady pace.

As I kept swimming I noticed a flash of white through my fogged up goggles.

A hake? It wasn’t there anymore once we got closer. “Did you see it?”
“Yeah! But where did it go?” Arto saw a white feather among the blueberry twigs. Swans!

Definitely! Running away from us in the shrubbery. They looked so off in an environment where one usually witnesses blueberry buckets and mooning harvesters. Do swans eat blueberries?

Crossing Tulisalmi

Next in line was 400 meters of swimming with a change to rest at an islet. We headed towards it – well, Arto did. I made sure the raft was steady. Thankfully the cargo was bright yellow so I was able to keep my eyes on it through the increasingly foggy goggles. The weather was calm and there was very few waves. On a stormy weather the waves of Rääkänselkä would make this voyage a lot more difficult.

Destination: Rappaatsaari Island

Half of Rappaatsaari is nature reserve and half National Park. It’s mostly inhabited by cabin-dwellers. The original plan was to hike on foot all the way to Little Rappaatsaari, where, according to tradition, resides one of the prettiest rest stops in South Konnevesi. However, most of the area is inhabited by cabin-dwellers these days and a hiker has no business walking through their backyards.

On the shore we changed back into land hiking gear and gave our wet suits a chance in the waterproof bag. Our previous hikes on land were done in those suits. The beauty of open water hiking is that in the water you mostly use your arms and on land you use your legs. A balanced workout! Even though we already had plenty of kilometers behind us, the thought of more was actually pleasant!

We walked through the thick forest all the way to Isokaarre Bay.

The view from the bay to the peninsula was breathtaking! A smooth rock emerging from the lake. What a great rest stop. It was easy to picture what the ancient sun-warmed stone would feel against one’s cheek.

In hindsight, we don’t really know why we didn’t change our plans and visit the rock. It would’ve been a great destination. But we stuck to the plan and headed north to look for a good spot.

The terrain was harsh, half-meter twigs. So it was not easy to advance. The storms of past years had downed trees in an east-west direction aka right on our path. We were starving, tired, hot and thirsty. Needless to say, I started complaining internally and externally a bit too.

Did we really have to come all this way to walk in twigs and circle around an endless graveyard of fallen trees?

Suddenly I saw something on the ground. A viper! Help! I screamed and literally froze with fear. I had never seen one in the forest! They had always been on the road or something.

Realizing that Arto, a man who is fatally allergic to bee stings, had just almost stepped on a viper, did not help my panicky situation. My train of thought had already left the station:

How am I supposed to carry a snake-bitten man off an island? What if there are more and I step on one? What if we both get bitten? What if our phones got wet and won’t work?!

It was impossible to see the ground from all the shrubs and twigs. But we needed to move forward or backward. We considered going into the water and continuing that way but in the end we kept on land, stomping the ground with sticks. Maybe we’d survive this ordeal.

Lunch break

We stopped for lunch at the northern tip of Rappaatsaari island, had a meal and rested our weary limbs. I had dehydrated soup ingredients, like one does: ground beef, potatoes and veggies. The soup turned out great and our serpent scare was a thing of the past.

We had our first people-sighting in the form of a small boat tour. It was surprisingly quiet even with the flawless Summer weather.

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The landscape was astoundingly beautiful. Finnish pine forests, open rocks, deadwood and islets. Crystal clear lakes, seagulls up in the sky, ant trails across the willows. I wonder if the human eye could grow tired  and numb to such a sight if shown every day? Or will a familiar view continue to blow your mind?

Returning home

After a good rest we soldiered on. We were heading back home. First, to east coast of Rappaatsaari where we could dive in and swim back to Aittosaari and back to mainland. The terrain hadn’t changed, it was still difficult to traverse.

And of course, right where there would be a perfect spot to put your foot down, a black viper coiled on a stone, warming in the sun. How many of these had we missed on our way here? How many were there to come? Quickly, into the water. We were done playing with Arto’s life.

Crossing Tulisalmi we took a slighly different route and rested on an islet. One shouldn’t come here during avian mating season and as the vacant nests suggested, birds had occupied this location earlier this year. But it was quiet now and permitted a short stop. The next swimming trip was the longest one yet, a little over a kilometer.

We didn’t spend too much time back on the swans’ blueberry hideout and continued toward Aittosaari. Vipers were back in our thoughts and in a much more physical sense, so was the enormous swarm of mosquitoes accompanying us. So we dove back in.

You get a whole new perspective on nature in the water.

The experience trumps canoeing, even though it comes close. You get an above and below view of the surface and the rocks rising from the water are something to behold. Water plants don’t just stop, they go all the way to the bottom. The forest towering on both sides of the inlet demands respect and a little bit of fear. I have never felt anything like this.

Back in square one!

In the end we beached at the same spot we left off of. We changed into civilian clothing and transformed from rubbery hikers to regular Summer vacationists. We had just accomplished something spectacular and as far as we know, the only people who had done this in South Konnevesi National Park.

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Our first water hike was behind us and the experience had provided us with joy and excitement. Even remembering it takes my breath away! Not to mention the gratitude of you know, not dying from snake attacks. We did it!

The idea for an open water hike is simple and yes, it can seem insane. Why go through the trouble or carrying stuff for two different elements? Because it’s so much fun! Because you get to experience the best of both worlds and because you literally feel like part of the lake. And naturally because we had the guts and because we could!

It was also a trip for gear testing and I’ll tell you later what kind of gear we had with us. And even though it was just a day trip, having to carry everything everywhere and water is, you know, wet. Drenched footwear easily gives you blisters and soaked clothing doesn’t really inspire you to hike further. But it wasn’t a mission impossible and I’ll tell you in more detail how we pulled it off.

//Kaisa

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