Mount Vottovaara in Karelia: our guide, tips and photos

Mountain Vottovaara in Karelia.

Mount Vottovaara in Karelia

Mount Vottovaara in Karelia – a rocky ridge, about 7 km long and about 6 sq. km in area, is located 20 km south-east of the village of Sukkozero. The distance from Gimola is 35 km, from Petrozavodsk – about 260 km. The height of the peak is about 417 meters.

There are several interpretations of the toponym “Vottovaara”: going back to the Saami languages and modern Finnish. The most common meaning of the name is “Victory Mountain”.

Vottovaara attracts tourists with its legends and mysterious sights: numerous seids and obviously man-made ancient stone buildings; a stone pool and trees, which in this area have a bizarre “broken” shape. Typical photos from Vottovaara are unusually arranged huge rolled around seids on small stones, in turn “placed” on another stone boulder.

Mount Vottovaara in Karelia

The highest point of the West-Karelian Upland was formed, by geological standards, quite recently. About 9 thousand years ago in this place there was a powerful earthquake, during which a gap appeared around the array, raising it above the surrounding area.

For the first time the local historian S.M. Simonyan studied the seids of Vottovaara in 1970s. The cult purpose of the stone structures was confirmed in the early 1990s by researchers M.M. Shakhnovich and I.S. Manyukhin. According to rough estimates, the number of seids ranges from 1100 to 1600.

Since August 2011 the Vottovaara Mountain complex in Karelia is included in the republican list of landscape natural monuments. The protected area extends to more than 1500 hectares: this is not only the mountain and slopes, but also the surrounding area.

Legends

Vottovaara Mountain is popularly called “the place of power” and “the mountain of death”. Both names of the rock massif refer to different legends. Even skeptical people feel the special energy in the place.

Mount Vottovaara in Karelia was considered a place of power by many pagan peoples. Thus, Yakut shamans say that their ancestors made pilgrimages to the mountain in pre-Peter times. There is no evidence of this; according to shamans, their ancestors walked through the Arctic Circle, avoiding Russian territories.

Many locals like to tell stories about encounters with Bigfoot. The creature, which is about 2 meters tall and covered with wool, is mentioned almost every year in the stories of tourists and residents of nearby settlements. Judging by the stories, the creature is harmless.

Some believe that Vottovaara is haunted by UFOs. In the sky above the mountain and in the vicinity, both locals and tourists have repeatedly seen balls of unknown origin.

Mount Vottovaara in Karelia

The second name, Death Mountain, Vottovaara, presumably acquired after the events of 1942, when the Finns encountered a partisan detachment on the slopes and defeated it. After a while the locals began to find the corpses of partisans around Vottovaara and called it Death Mountain.

A legend is associated with the period of World War II that an elite Nazi unit for the study of the occult was conducting secret research in Karelia. It was this organization, called “Anenerbe”, that actually created a new religion, proclaiming Germans to be descendants of the superior Aryan race. There were no prolonged fierce battles in the Karelian region, which suggests that the German elite units were looking for something anomalous. According to the most widespread version – the artifacts of the civilization of Hyperborea. Proponents of this version believe that the Nazis wanted to make a secret weapon out of the seids.

Mangled and burnt tree trunks, which are often seen in photos of the Vottovaara mountain, appeared here not so long ago. In the early 2000s there was a big fire because of a thunderstorm. That is why the trees are not “covered” with scary legends yet. And the trunks are bent because of the strong winds at the top.

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Mount Vottovaara in Karelia

Sightseeing

Tours of Mount Vottovaara include visits to several “iconic” points, the origin of most of them is uncertain – there are versions about mechanical influence, there is – about natural. Among the most popular sites:

  • Seids. Large boulders on small pebble stands (usually of different origin) amaze tourists. But scientists explain the origin of the “Karelian Stonehenge” by the glacier – when it descended, it rolled boulders on smaller rocks. Specialists distinguish between female and male seids. The first are cold, and the second are warm. They say that if moss grows under a seid, it means that the stone is alive, and you can communicate with its spirit. In the most famous stone, Ukko (Karelian version of the god-thunderer), you can discern the outlines of a formidable elder.
  • “Stairway to Heaven.” The stairs are an hour’s walk from the main pit. There is a trampled path through the woods and a small swamp. The stairs are clearly distinguished stone steps (thirteen in total) leading to the top, from which there is a view of the main pit. Proponents of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations speculate that the steps were laser-cut.
  • “The Well. The stone well, the edges of which appear to have been worked by man, is filled with water. There is speculation that shamans used it to collect water.
  • Lake Eye and Amphitheater. The water in the lake is so saturated with phosphorus (which may have been formed from bones) that scientists make the assumption of mass animal and human sacrifices. The lake is surrounded by a natural amphitheater reminiscent of the ancient ones. Locals say that time passes more slowly here.

Mount Vottovaara in Karelia

How to get to Vottovaara Mountain in Karelia

The nearest settlement to the mountain is the village of Gimoly. Only 200 people live here permanently, and there are no schools or medical facilities. The distance to the mountain Vottovaara on the map (not straight line) – 35 km through the woods and swamps. Some car owners try to overcome the distance in their vehicles, but it is not easy to get to Mount Vottavaara by car. For passenger cars the road is practically impassable. Local inhabitants offer to drive in “Uazis”.

From Petrozavodsk

The main tourist routes to the mountain go through the historical settlement Gimoly. To get to the Vottovaara from Petrozavodsk you have to go to the village 230 km: firstly by E105, before Girvas turn to 86K-18, then to 86K-61, from Yustozero take 86K-14.

The route to Vottovaara mountain from Petrozavodsk:

From St. Petersburg

To get to Vottovaara from St. Petersburg you must travel 580-630 km, depending on the route. Way will take about 10 hours.

Road to Vottovaara Mountain from St. Petersburg:

You do not need to have your own transport: you can go to the station “Gimolskaya” by train № 350A “St. Petersburg – Kostomuksha” for the most part of the way. Further – with conductor or independently.

You can take a train to “Gimolskaya” station:

Long hikes or combined with bicycle trips are often organized to the mountain. You can also visit the mountain, which is steeped in legends, as part of tours in Karelia. Group tours to the mountain Vottovaara from Petrozavodsk are organized during the summer season, individual tours are organized all year round on request.

Hike to Vottovaara mountain

“Vottovaara” sounds as unusual as it looks. Nastia Buzinaeva from Minsk went to the mountain, sacred to the Lapps in Karelia, to recharge herself from the unusual nature of those lands and to admire the mysterious stone compositions – seids. To everyone, who is still looking at Vottovaara, Nastya tells what to expect from this trip and without what things in a rucksack and with yourself it is definitely not worth going there.

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– There are a lot of cool places in the world, we have heard a lot about and worth visiting, but if you put a little effort, you can find places not as popular, but no less interesting (and sometimes even more affordable). Vottovaara in Karelia is one of them. “A place of power”, “a place of accumulation of ancient energy”, “a fiery mountain, which has been attracting fans of mysticism and shamanic rituals for ages” – headlines about Vottovaara do not leave anyone indifferent, and this summer I was drawn there – of course, after I have sufficiently enjoyed my native Belarusian rivers, lakes, swamps, forests, abandoned and restored farmsteads and churches.

What is Vottovaara

Scientifically speaking, Vottovaara is a rocky massif of the West-Karelian uplands on the territory of Sukkozersky rural settlement in the southeastern part of Muezersky district in the central part of the Republic of Karelia. This is the highest point of the West-Karelian Uplands – 417.3 meters above sea level. The area of Vottovaara is 6 square kilometers.

Scientifically speaking, on travel portals Vottovaara is presented as the most mystical and mysterious place in Karelia, the mountain that keeps terrible secrets. You can decide yourself how to treat this place, but after you have been there, I can tell you for sure that you should see it.

What to be afraid of and how to get there

The most frightening moment for me were insects (in the blogs about Vottovaara they wrote: “lot of gnats”, “ravenous gnat”, “mosquitoes of fantastic sizes”), and my companion was more intimidated by bears. Carefully comparing the “testimonies” of those who have been on the mountain, we decided that it is safest to go there closer to the middle of August. We stocked up on mosquito nets, repellent, gloves and long socks. To protect against bears we bought false flares and took note of some deceptive maneuvers. Otherwise the set of things did not differ from the usual camping trip of several days.

The hike to Vottovaara can be combined with a visit to the cultural capital of Russia, which we did: we went to the mountain from St. Petersburg. You must take the train 350A “St. Petersburg – Kostomuksha”, which leaves from Ladoga station at 16:15, to “Gimolskaya” station. Arrival – at 03:15.

“The connection – and with it the Internet – disappears as soon as you leave the station.”

Then there are two options. The first option is to get to the foot of the mountain by car by calling “Votto-tour” and agreeing on the transfer in advance. In that case you will be met right from the train by a local on a classic “loafers” or a more modern minibus and will be delivered to the place in an hour, and then will pick you up and take you back to the station. The second option is to walk 21 kilometers to the mountain. We chose a combined method: walk to the mountain, and then booked a car back.

Early in the morning (or late at night) in mid-August is already quite bright, we did not have to wait for dawn at the station. The road to the mountain is almost straight, only at the beginning there are a few forks. Here, as well as throughout the trip, you will come in handy the offline maps service Maps.me, in which all the necessary roads are marked. By the way, the connection – and with it the Internet – disappears immediately after leaving the station, and appears again only at the top of the mountain.

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Since we were going with full-fledged backpacks, remembering our Carpathian experience, where we could use trekking poles, we made something similar out of the material at hand: we picked up roadside wood poles of the same size and chopped off the excess knots on them. It was one of the best decisions in the trip, because the sticks were useful for us both on the way to the mountain and on the way to Vottovaara.

The way to the “southern parking lot”.

There used to be a swamp on the whole area where the road to the mountain goes. Then they felled the wood and built a road of logs and sand for logging trucks. The road goes through picturesque Karelian bogs, occasionally interspersed with small clearings. From time to time you can find a camping site with a fireplace and a place to pitch a tent by the side of the road.

Bogs, small rivers crossing the road, and forest lakes that can be seen through the sparse forest are a beauty that will accompany you all the way. One lake, if you are careful(ish) and don’t miss the trail, can even be approached. It is about 8.5 kilometers from the station. We had breakfast there. It’s quiet, the smooth black surface of the water, with a path from the sun just up, the woods all around and not a soul.

“The campsite is equipped with a makeshift teepee with a fire pit inside, a table, benches, and a camping washbasin.”

The challenges are huge puddles, up to 30-40 centimeters deep. You have to go around them on the right or left, and there, as you remember, immediately the swamp, so you need to be extremely accurate (-s), and without a stick here can not cope. By the way, there were almost no mosquitoes along the way. We didn’t meet a bear either, so we didn’t need any flares and one of them we exchanged for tea later with our new friend from Petrozavodsk – he will need it while hunting.

With a rest at the lake and stops to admire the surroundings, it took us seven hours to get to the “southern parking lot”, as it was called on the map. (Then, however, it turned out that the local people called the “southern parking lot” meant a completely different place, and we had some problems with that on the way back, but more about that later).

The camp is equipped with a makeshift tepee with a fire inside, a table, benches and a camping sink, complete with a bar of soap and a rag. There we ate lunch, took a break, and moved on. It was three kilometers to the foot of the mountain, which we crossed in about an hour and a half.

At the top of Vottovaara

There is a steep ascent ahead and we finally feel that the mountain is here, the last pull is left. The path becomes steeper with every meter, there are more and more rocks, and their size increases.

According to local beliefs, the key to a successful ascent is an offering to the spirits of the mountain. The “reception point” is located at the foot (there, by the way, you can take free use of the sticks and return them on the way back), and there are several more along the trail. Tourists presented us with a lot of things, they gave us, probably, the most valuable things: from intricate jewelry to un-smoked cigarettes.

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After about forty minutes of ascent we reached the top. We quickly set up our tent. Places suitable for camping are marked on the map and despite the fact that it was Saturday, there were few people.

On the way we took water from a mountain spring. We drank boiled water, although a woman who met us at the top later said that it was not her first time here and she always drinks this water without boiling. By the way, we had with us a tourist gas stove – an indispensable thing, because you can not make fires on the mountain: such amateurism is punishable by a fine of 15,000 Russian rubles (about € 175).

“Trees on Vottovaara grow as if their tops are down and their roots are up”.

No fire – no need to gather firewood. After getting rid of the burden you can straighten your shoulders, breathe in the fresh Karelian air and go sightseeing.

At the top, it feels like you’ve ended up in an experimental̆ shadow theater, or puppet theater, or something in between. Trees on Vottovaara grow as if their tops are down and their roots are up, they twist into knots and loops, and from the outside they resemble dancing witches, ancient warriors or aliens from fantasy movies. There is a scientific version that strong winds at the top, snow and rain in winter make them so. However, locals and mystic lovers who have taken a fancy to the mountain for rituals believe that the trees are prevented from growing directly by some force from above.

“Some stone structures especially stand out and have become local landmarks.”

Another unusual phenomenon on Vottovaara is stone seids, pyramids of stones (guria). Of interest are not those made by the principle from big to small (created, most likely, by modern man), but constructions from a huge stone, weighing up to several tons, standing on smaller, stone legs, lying, in turn, on another boulder. Scientists consider these constructions to be the creation of the glacier and the efforts of the ancient Lapps. The hypothesis is as follows: the glacier dragged a huge quantity of stones, and as it was melting big boulders gradually fell down on smaller stones, and as according to the laws of physics any body is in the state of stable equilibrium only on three supports, small fractions were gradually washed away, as a result of what in the course of centuries boulders appeared standing on three stones. According to another version, seidas were built by the Lapps themselves to hold their pagan ceremonies near them.

Some stone constructions are especially notable and became local places of interest. These are seids “Seid” (the biggest among all the others), “Ukko Head” (“ukko” in Finnish means “grandfather”), “Eye Lake” (from above it resembles a human eye), “Amphitheatre”, “Stone Well” and “Stairway to the Sky”. They are all within a 5-7 minute walk of each other, except for the last one. The points are marked and signed on the maps.

There is almost no fauna on the mountain: we met only a couple of waxwings and a few white wagtails. But there are many species of moss and lichen of the most bizarre shapes and textures. And of course berries: bilberry, blueberry, cranberry, crowberry (we first took it for a wolfberry), mountain ash – in August there are a lot of berries, they are large, ripe and very juicy.

Without a navigator it is easy to get lost on the mountain. There are hundreds of treaded paths on the top, they are not always well visible, and besides, all are intertwined with each other, so that after every couple of steps, if you deviate in the wrong direction, you risk going in the direction opposite to that which you need. A local told us how one hiker got lost and walked around the same stump for three days. In the morning he left, went in one direction in search of his own, and in the evening invariably returned to the place from which he began. And so for three days until the rescuers found him.

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But if you have the Maps.me app installed on your phone, you are not afraid of anything. First, the map shows all the most interesting places of the mountain, and some of them were not even in the guidebooks we read. Second, all the trails and paths are marked there, and if the parking spot is marked and your phone is charged, you’ll have no problem getting to the spot to drink tea with marshmallows.

We had a moment when our phone died and we completely lost our bearings. It was not a pleasant feeling. We were running back and forth along the trails, and now and then it seemed that this tree we saw for sure. The drama was added by the fact that it was about eight o’clock in the evening, and it was getting dark. Fortunately, after twenty minutes of adventure, the phone magically turned on as it did off, and the remaining 1% charge was enough for us to skip (there’s no other way to say it) to our campsite. Don’t forget to take a phone with a good battery and a charged powerbank to Vottovaara.

We stayed on the mountain for two days with one overnight stay. If you don’t need more time to relax in solitude and be in nature, this is quite enough to get acquainted with the area.

We had arranged in advance that a car would pick us up from the “south parking lot” and take us to the station. Here there was a hitch: locals understand by the “southern parking lot” a place at the foot of the mountain, where the ascent begins. We meant the stop, which is marked as “south” on the map, it is located three kilometers from the foot of Vottovaara. We have come there in a responsible manner to the appointed time – by 22:00. And now it’s 22:20, the car is gone, it’s almost night, the train is in three hours, and the phone in this place has no signal.

We were very lucky that by 00:00 other tourists had ordered a car in the right place, and the road on which the driver was following them, passed by our place of waiting. The information about our location was passed to our attendant, he arrived and drove us to the station with a breeze.

The train from Gimolskaya station departs at 01:59, it arrives in St. Petersburg at 13:09. During the trip you can get a good sleep, and in St. Petersburg you will be full of energy and loaded with positive emotions.

One-way train ticket from St. Petersburg with linen costs about 1300 Russian rubles (€ 15).

Phone number of Votto-tour, where you can order the transfer: +7 (921) 620-13-30.

The coordinates of the forest lake are: 62.977161, 32.611554.

The coordinates of the camping area, marked on the map as “Pivot camping”: 63.042062, 32.654013.

The coordinates of the camping site, which is called Southern Camping by the locals and the staff of the camping site, are: 63.058245, 32.618574.

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