Pyhävuori – The Holy Mountain of Alajärvi

Episode 52

In this episode, I revisit the subject of Pyhävuori, an area overlooking Lake Lappajärvi, that is full of geological interest and historical mythology, featuring trolls, hermits and a “sacrificial stone”. From the ice age to modern days. Following this recording, Glenn Murray and I went out to explore (and as you can see in the video) get slightly lost on) the holy mountain, Pyhävuori.

Show Notes & Links

A Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain

Back in episode 36 A Tour Around Lappajärvi, Europe’s Largest Crater Lake, Craterologist Teemu Öhman introduced me to the Geo Trail project that he was working on. It was, however, the site called Pyhävuori that stuck with me. Teemu’s description of a hermit’s home, his sauna in a nearby cave and a sacrificial stone of local legend, all with a view over lake Lappajärvi really caught my imagination. So, when Glenn Murray (The Nordic Tourist) and I were looking for a location for his next video, Pyhävuori seemed the ideal destination.

It is located on the south-eastern tip of lake Lappajärvi, near the town of Alajärvi. Being situated in the flatlands of Southern Ostrobothnia, Pyhävuori is not really a mountain. It is actually the rim of the crater, made by a asteroid, that initially created lake Lappajärvi. It does, however, rise 80 metres above the lake and is a challenging walk, so one Sunday morning in September 2021, Glenn and I made our pilgrimage.

Below, you will find episodes of both the Explore Finland Radio Show podcast and the Nordic Tourist YouTube video. In the podcast, I speak again with Teemu Öhman for a refresher on what we would find at Pyhävuori. In the video, you can see what Glenn and I discovered on our visit.

Visiting Pyhävuori

Driving from Alajärvi in the direction of Vimpeli Pyhävuori IS signposted but, we soon realised, those signs are easy to miss. Finally turning off the road and onto an unpaved road, we started a winding journey up the hill towards the summit. There is a small ‘parking lot’ near the top, with room for about four cars but when we visited it wasn’t busy enough that all the spaces were taken.

From the car park, it is a short but step climb up a pathway strewn with stones, rocks and boulders. I immediately understood why Teema had warned that Pyhävuori is not accessible for less able-bodied people. Reaching the crest of the hill, we had a view over the lake stretching out into the distance, although the shore of the lake is actually two kilometres away.

From this point, you are actually very close to the location of the key features of Pyhävuori. There are wooden steps, walkways and bridge all over the area, without which access would be treacherous. Even with them it can be tricky, so be sure to watch your step and take your time. From the top, take the stairway down as if walking towards the lake, within 20 metres or so, you will find the following:

Jaakko Reipakka’s Stone Hut

In the 1920’s, a hermit named Jaakko Reipakka lived at Pyhävuori (the ideal place to avoid people 100 years ago) and the remains of his stone hot are the first thing you will find when you arrive. As we’re in Finland, even a hermit has to have a sauna, so Jaakko used one of the adjacent caves for his sauna. Exactly what a hermit would think about his fame a century later, is anybody’s guess.

Pirun Pesä – The Devil’s Nest

This is a shallow crevice, located close to Jaakko’s home. In the video, you will see Glenn insist that I crawl into this space because he has ‘bad knees’ (or maybe he was just a little scared 😉 Other caves in the vicinity are reputed to have been the home of trolls – probably not cute ones like the Moomins, either.

Uhrikivi – The Sacrificial Stone

This mushroom shaped stone, standing over five metres tall was created by two processes; 1) the fusing of two rock types during the geological ‘mountain building phase’ and, 2) wave erosion of the lower level, made of the softer bedrock. Local legend says that Lappi or Sami children were sacrificed by the Pirkka tribes atop of Uhrikivi.

Kalliomaalaus – Rock Painting

These rock paintings are of dubious veracity. They are undoubtedly old but there precise age has not been investigated scientifically. One of these ‘paintings’ is on the back wall of the stone hut but, while you will find images online showing distinct shapes in a bold red-orange colour, in reality they not as impressive; more a rust-coloured smear than a discernible picture.

While Pyhävuori may not be accessible for everyone, don’t be discouraged. When Glenn and I visited, there was a family spanning three generations, including children around 10 years old and a grandmother in her sixties. It’s not an easy walk, so be sure to wear sturdy boots and take some water and snacks. That said, the area of interest is quite compact, so you do not need to be there for hours unless you decide to hike six kilometeres, along the nature trail, to the neighbouring ‘peak’ of Lakeaharju.

Key Facts

– Lake Lappajärvi was created 76.2 million years ago when an asteroid hit the bedrock.
– The site of Pyhävuori, now 80m high, was once on the shoreline of the Baltic Sea.
– The Baltic Sea has, on two occasions, actually been a lake; enclosed on all sides.
– Uhrikivi, the sacrificial stone, and the caves were formed by wave erosion from the Baltic sea/lake approx. 9,000 years ago.
– Trolls probably didn’t live in the caves and Lappish children almost certainly were not sacrificed – but why let facts get in the way of a good legend?!

Watch & Listen to this Explore Finland episode

Watch the Nordic Tourist video

Finnish Words

  • Pyhävuori – literally, Holy Mountain
  • Lappajärvi – Crater lake in Etelä-Pohjanmaa
  • Vimpeli – Town east of Lake Lappajärvi
  • Alajärvi – Town south of Lake Lappajärvi
  • Uhrikivi – mushroom shaped ‘sacrificial stone’
    • Granite pegmatite – the rock that forms the top of uhrikivi
    • Micanise – the rock that forms the stalk of uhrikivi

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