Enter The Land Of Melancholic Beauty

Perhaps not as striking and immediate as the Alps, nor as intimidating as the gorges of Norway, Finland can definitely be a strange beast to fathom, but there is great beauty here, beauty that is not found anywhere else on the planet.

In fact, besides those famous Lapland photos of aurora borealis and snow bent pines, small cottages and midsummer nights, it might appear to you that Finland is nothing but an endless stretch of mottled blues and greens. And while it’s true, it’s also so much more: It’s all about the details, and less about the scale. It is the silence, the sudden rush of leaves, the seasonal shift, the whole enthralling ambiance of the north.

A moment of stillness just before the sun takes the plunge.

While other countries often give me this continuous feeling of awe, bombarding my senses with towering mountains, quaint seaside vistas or gently rolling hills, nothing can really beat the magic of the moment I’ve felt herein. It’s a feeling hard to describe, with seemingly melancholy surroundings of little remark. It’s one of those deeply personal experiences everyone must figure out for themselves.

“Surely we have leagues upon leagues of lonely woods and scores of glimmering rural lakes, but to truly feel the magic – you only need to pick out any neck of the woods and let yourself be spellbound.”

Now, you might say that I’m perhaps a little bit biased, that everyone thinks just so about their country, but bear with me here. Although I have a great sense of home, my true country is nature, unhindered and unconfined by any border.

Imagine yourself somewhere there by the rocky coast, under those shadowy trees, enjoying the purity and silence.

For me the most memorable moments are those of discovery after a long day’s hike when you find that perfect spot in the wilderness. Be it in a dark wood by the deep green stream, or a solitary free-for-all cabin in the midst of winter. The peace that follows. The campfire by which you might find yourself contemplating the simple fact of being alive, or just warm yourself with the kuksa full of coffee.

Wilderness huts such as this one are scattered all around Finland for anyone to use as a temporary shelter.

Come summer and those mornings when you wake up to a concerto of early birds and the misty light of dawn. There is something ancient and shamanistic about it really, some deeper unconscious connection between the man and the wild, so often lost in this time and age.

What do you think? Why not come and explore it for yourself. The arboreal land of bear, elk and deer welcomes you!

Reindeers, while keeping their distance, are often quite curious about the wandering folk.

A stormfront chasing across the marsh with thunder in its wake.

Finland is all about stark contrasts and attraction of the opposites.

Amidst all those browns and greens, it’s spectacular to see a heather in bloom against the morning rise.

My Finland

I have been living here in Finland for close to 7 years now, after coming to Finland in 2011 in search of new adventures. I fell in love with the arctic and a local Finnish woman and have never left. While Enontekiö and Kilpisjärvi are my home and base for my guiding business, I have been lucky enough to live and visit a large number of places throughout Finland. Below is a summary of my Finland, in 5 photos. Enjoy!

These are the fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in the middle of autumn. This was taken the old fashioned way, out the window of a 2 seater aeroplane, piloted by my wife’s Uncle. The park has everything Lapland has to offer in one location, open fell tops, forests, marshes and lakes. As one of the national parks certified guides it was great to be able to see one of my workplaces from the air.

Kilpisjärvi, located in the arm of Finland, on the border of Sweden and Norway, is my home. There is nowhere else in Finland which offers the same mountainous landscapes. It’s a fantastic place for viewing the northern lights, and in winter you can ski or snowshoe pretty much anywhere you like. This shot is taken under Saana Fell looking over Lake Kilpisjärvi towards the Norwegian mountains.

At the other end of the country is Teijo National Park. It’s only a couple of hours from Helsinki, close to Turku and has around 80km of hiking trails. I was sleeping in of the laavu’s (a lean-to-shelter) in the park and was woken by the sun at around 4:30am to find myself shrouded in mist. This was one of the last photos I shot before the mist cleared. Misty mornings are common in Finland, particularly in autumn as the temperatures start to cool.

For me, this shot is winter. It’s one of the reasons I never went back to NZ. The temperature at the time was -42 C, the air was crisp and froze on the back of my camera every time I took a breath. When I looked through the viewfinder, my nose would freeze to the screen. Both our cars wouldn’t start and while most people stayed indoors, I was out exploring on snowshoes for a good couple of hours. I may not have been born in the north but I often feel as if I was meant to be.

I also love forests, which is a good thing as Finland is a land of forests, with seventy five percent of the country covered by them.  In the middle of summer, when everything is lush and green, that’s when they are at their best. This image was shot at Koli National Park back in 2015. The views from the top of the of the park are amazing, but it was the lushness of the forest which stood out for me.

Must see! The Secret Jewel in the Crown of Helsinki – Rhododendron Park of Haaga

If you are in Helsinki in the beginning of June, you really need to go to Haaga. Or if we are honest, it is worth to come and watch from a distance.  Rhododendron park of Haaga is just unbelievable.

I still remember when I found this place for the first time. When approaching the park I felt a pleasant scent that kept intensifying with each step.  When I was in the park, I thought: “People do not believe that in Finland we could have such parks”.

I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was like another world. I do not remember ever seeing anything like it. The place was filled by so much beauty that I was overwhelmed. In every direction my eyes could see huge rhododendron bushes blooming all at the same time.

The park was built when the University of Helsinki plant breeding science department crossed rhododendron varieties in the 1970s.  Now the place is a secret jewel in the crown of Helsinki. The park is also internationally unique. As many as eight acres of the area has nowadays nearly 3,000 rhododendron species. Beside rhododendrons, there are a whole bunch of azaleas in the park. Most of the bushes is 2–5 meters high.

You really need to see this park. Pictures show just a small part of the beauty when coniferous forest greenery is painted with new purple, white and pink shades.

If you want to experience all this, you need to have a perfect timing. Rhododendrons bloom for a short time, usually in the first two weeks of June.

You can on a criss-crossing the park paths and boardwalks through the rhohos and have a close view. The park also has viewing platforms from which you can admire the floral splendor also from above.

What?
Astonishingly wonderful 8 hectare park full of rhododendrons

When?

Usually the best time is two first weeks of June

Where?
Laajasuontie 37. 200 meters from Huopalahti station between the roads Paatsamatie and Eliel Saarisen tie.

The Water Is Back!

After taking many photos throughout the winter here in Finland, it’s nice to finally see some liquid water again. It’s quite amazing to see the transitions in nature as the seasons change, and I really recommend visiting Finland within the next few months as the weather warms up. The spring/summer season is really nice here, as it’s often warm and the forests become amazingly green and lush.

Below are some photos that I’ve taken recently, right after the lakes have thawed or are busy thawing.

The water slowly starts to show as the weather warms up.

The remains of some ice float on a lake as the weather continues to rise.

Only a bit of snow remains along the shore.

The last lonely piece of ice sits on a lake at sunset.

The sun sets over a recently thawed lake in Joensuu. No more ice or snow!

Have a great summer everyone!

This is one of the rarest seals in the world – check out the addictive live webcam!

The Saimaa ringed seal is a real cutie. It is also one of the rarest seals in the world. They live in lake Saimaa, which is the biggest lake in Finland. Nowhere else can you find this chubby big-eyed fellow but here.

However, this May WWF makes it possible for you to spot these seals no matter where you are. On the webcam called Norppalive you can keep an eye on a rock where seals are known to spend time.

This webcam is very addictive! Check out if any seals can be seen right here, right now: NORPPALIVE WEBCAM

Photo copyright: WWF

National Park Nuuksio (Welcome To Finland #2)

By Timo Wilderness.

One of the best things to do in Finland are National Parks. Nuuksio is just 90 minutes away. There is all you need.

http://www.outdoors.fi/en/nuuksionp?i…

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Ice fishing, cold and boring?

First of all, I have to say that don’t drink and ice fish. Seriously. Use proper safety gears and don’t fool around, or else you can die.

Finland is the promised land of associations. I personally belong to 5 different associations. One of my favorite ones is definitely WP. And no, it’s not white power, it’s Wanhat Parrat and it’s translated to English; Old Beards. Although some of us got really nice facial hair, it’s not about that. Basically our association is  for over 30-year-old men and the name relates from that.

Most people even in our association think that ice fishing is a really boring hobby. Just sitting out there in cold weather. Usually people think that the purpose of ice fishing is to get some fish. It may be for some people, but for us it’s just quality time to enjoy with friends and have a good time. We do have a little competition about who gets most fish (I won!), but it’s not so serious.

We have a tradition to get a little nip of alcohol when someone gets a fish. This year we had a place with over 50 cm (1,64 ft) of ice, and it’s quite a safe place to go ice fishing. But seriously, you should never drink and go walking on the ice.

Finnish people may look quite strange to foreign perspective. We don’t talk much, we don’t like closeness, we don’t smile so often. We don’t have any problems to go a 90℃ (194℉) degrees warm sauna, and after that we go swimming to a hole in a frozen lake. If it’s a warm day, we can take our clothes off and take all out of the sun. Even if it’s -10℃ (14℉) degrees outside. And we were not drunk.

Where does all this “craziness” come from? I think it’s from our history. When there is  -36℃= (-32℉) degrees cold outside and you have to go to toilet. You just have to do it. I did it once, and it was also fun. How crazy is that?

I think life isn’t about how many or how big fish you get. It’s about enjoying your life. Get some some crazy experiences, but do it safely.

At the edge of the sky

Volunteering in a National Park, in addition to hard work, contains some serious hiking.

On our second week in August 2016 we came to Pallas, so an opportunity to finally scale the Taivaskero Fell arose. On our last visit here we had to skip it due to extreme conditions. Taivaskero is the tallest one in the chain of fells, towering at 807 meters above sea level.

The weather was spectacular by the time our shift ended at 3 o’clock so after a tasty communal work meal we took on the fell. The sun was already pretty low and we witnessed a wonderful halo phenomenon on our way up.

The path to Taivaskero starts from the courtyard of Pallas Hotel with a “light” 4 kilometer ascend. You’ll come across an intersection with a sign post and from there it’s about a kilometer of rocky uphill. I wouldn’t recommend the route to anyone with bad feet. On your way and once you get there, remember to look back every once in a while. The top of Taivaskero is broad and wide so there are plenty of different landscapes available. On the highest point you’ll find a pile of rocks with a plaque commemorating the lighting of the Olympic torch in 1952. They had to replace it due to skiers damaging it when trying to scrape snow and ice off to get a clear view of the plaque.

Taivaskero is also known for its ferocious winds. So even if you don’t feel a breeze at the hotel, practice extreme caution once you get all the way up.

The path goes along the Laukkukero fell and continues down the ski-lift trail. The view is incredible the whole way down.

On a clear day you can see into amazing distances and the light preceeding the sunset looks mezmerising. The opposing skyline was all in pastel colors.

On our hike we noticed a hang glider up in the sky. They were up there for the entire time. I bet the view was even more stunning from their perspective.

The return toward the hotel is a steep path down but about half way there we turned left at a”To the hotel” sign. We followed a small path serpenting down the hill. The almost ghost-like woods we walked through took us right to the backyard of the hotel.

If you’re ever around Pallas or on the Hetta-Pallas hike, be sure to take the extra mile to see Taivaskero. It really is worth it.

//Anne

In August through September of 2016 we were volunteering at Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We applied a new coat of paint to several huts and other buildings, first in Hetta’s Pyhäkero and later around the vicinity of Pallaskota. Everything involving this particular experience can be found under the tag National Park Volunteers. That and The earlier adventure aka our first Lapland hike can be found here.

This article was originally published on Likelygonehiking.com.

Sunbathing on Red Sand

Punainenhiekka (The Red Sand) is a long beach at the Southern edge of Pallasjärvi Lake. Like the name suggests, the sand is red in color, making it stand out from the rest of the paler beaches along what is often referred to as The Sea of Lapland.

It’s a popular beach but as you’d imagine, late August (and especially after the Rauli storm), isn’t exactly sunbathing season.

I was even wearing a beanie. The beach was beautiful and the howing wind felt refreshing, though. I must be a little daft, preferring Autumn weather over hot Summer days.

The place was made for chasing Auroras, with the fells lining up in the distance. But a creeping feeling of an uncoming cold kept us from pitching our tent. Don’t worry, we did witness those radiant masterpieces later, on Monday and at the lawn of our accommodation.

At the wilderness hut near the beach we ran into a group of women busy having a photoshoot inside. HandMadeInRaattama, they were called. So we prepared our food outside.

After they were done interviewing and taking photos, it was our turn to take ours. The hut was adorable! Plenty of room and you couldn’t ask for a better view. There’s also a firepit on the beach and it’s only half a kilometer away from the road.

//Anne

In August through September of 2016 we were volunteering at Pallas-Ylläs National Park. We applied a new coat of paint to several huts and other buildings, first in Hetta’s Pyhäkero and later around the vicinity of Pallaskota. Everything involving this particular experience can be found under the tag National Park Volunteers. That and The earlier adventure aka our first Lapland hike can be found here.

This article was originally published on Likelygonehiking.com.

Skiing in the Arctic Night

In midwinter there is light for only a couple of hours a day in Lapland. We decided to go for a two day skiing trip in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, to get a proper feel of the darkness during the shortest days of the year in December.

The route was marked on the map, starting from Koivarova parking lot, and went around Keimiötunturi and Sammaltunturi fells in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. The plan was to stay the night in one of the three open huts on the route, depending on how quickly we could move in the snow with sledges.

Packing in the parking lot. Me and my friends Pipsa and Salla had long skis, forest skis, special for deep snow. Our sleeping bags and food was packed in two sledges, inside waterproof bags.

The weather was not on our side

It was just above zero degrees of Celsius, around +2 C, when we started the journey. This is bad news for skiing. Snowflakes melt too much under the ski and there is absolutely no traction whatsoever. The skis glide very well, but without traction there is literally no way you can pull a sledge behind you.

We added some grip wax on all skis after the first 20 meters but the effect was minimal. I wished I had hairy skins to put under my skis. They would have worked.

So the first couple of hours our journey proceeded very slowly. It was nearly one meter ahead and two backwards, if there was even the tiniest hill. Our spirits were still high, but we started thinking maybe we have to stay the night at the first open hut only 4 kilometres away at lake Keimiöjärvi. At least there was a lovely sunset to enjoy, and the great Keimiö fell on our left side kept us company.

Me pulling the sledge. Luckily the track was visible, it was cleared by snowmobile. In deep powder snow we would have been exhausted in no time.

When finally reaching the first hut, Keimiöjärvi autiotupa, it was lunch time. We went to sit inside. There was everything one needs for perfect camping: firewood, a stove, some buckets to fetch snow in and pans so you can melt the snow for drinking or food. Sleeping places for 3 people, more if you squeeze. A dry toilet outside. Someone had left many candles on the big table which made me very happy.

Across the frozen lake and into the darkness

After lunch break it was only 2 pm, so we decided to keep going. It was always possible to return to this hut if the journey wouldn’t proceed at all due to non-existent grip. The second hut, Mustakero, we had to forget as it was situated on top of hill. No way we could climb up in this snow.

It was getting dark already so we wanted to cross the lake as soon as possible. You never know with frozen lakes, if there is a current or underwater spring that prevents the ice from properly freezing over.

This route was marked though and I felt pretty trusting there wouldn’t be any soft spots in the ice. Still, there was nervousness in the air. We had forgotten to bring ice claws. You should never cross unfamiliar waters without them, ice claws literally save your life if you fall in. You smash them on the ice and pull yourself up.

Crossing the lake, leaving the Keimiöjärvi open hut behind.

After crossing the lake with no casualties (phew), our path continued in the dark. The funny thing about darkness is, it never really is pitch black when there is snow on the ground. I didn’t even want to turn my headlamp on. I could see shades and trees, the fells around me. And I could see the amazing sky with a zillion stars!

What you don’t see, is depth. Downhills on our way were not steep, but all three of us managed to fall many times! Luckily snow was soft and there was a lot of it. The sledge is funny when coming downhill: first you have to pull it for the initial glide. Then gravity takes over and you feel a push on your back, as the sledge gives you extra speed! I wouldn’t dare to slide down a steep big hill, the speed would accelerate so fast I wouldn’t be able to do anything but yell.

Mustavaara hut

After the last rays of light were gone by 2.30 pm, the temperature dropped below zero, just enough to get some grip back. Our expedition managed to actually ski ahead now! Before no time we had travelled 5 km from the first hut to Mustavaara, an old reindeer herders’ hut. It has been estimated that this hut was built in the end of 1800’s, making it the oldest hut in the whole Pallas-Ylläs National Park.

Melting snow for drinking water.

In summer time there is drinking water practically everywhere. The waters in Lapland are so pure. In winter, you melt it from snow. But snow takes quite a while longer to bring to boil than liquid water, as you might recall from chemistry lessons. Still, it took surprisingly long, I thought.

For dinner we made avocado pasta, not the most traditional of Finnish dishes, but very quick to prepare and absolutely yummy!

The cute and old hut Mustavaara. Imagine this too is complete free for everyone to enjoy! Many thanks to Metsähallitus, the Finnish Administration of Forests, for the maintenance and firewood.

The next day

Our expedition team didn’t sleep too well as there were mice rattling (don’t leave food laying around) and wind howling in a snow blizzard. But we were more than happy to have experienced this old hut. After breakfast it was time to get going as daylight would last, again, for only a couple of hours.

Today it was about -2 C, just enough to get a decent grip of the snow. The way back around the fells was 15 km so it was going to be a long way – or not, depending on the path. The first 7 km were in great shape with hard path made by snowmobile. There were even proper ski tracks all the way from Mustavaara hut to hotel Jeris, 7 km leg. Our forest skis were too wide to fit the tracks though, they were meant for normal cross-country skis.

Skiing in deep snow

The last 7 km leg was something else. This part of the route hadn’t been opened, I don’t know why. Or perhaps it had snowed so much the track had been covered. It was quite a struggle as we had to cram in unbroken snow, in the dark. The benefit of tall, wide skis is that they glide better on top of snow. That is, IF the snow is hard enough to carry your weight. This snow was powder fresh fluff and we sank right through. We took turns in opening the route.

Also the terrain changed to very hilly. It was ever-changing uphill – downhill for at least 3 km. The last leg goes next to a reindeer fence so you can’t get lost. You just need to find the gate where you started off.

Obviously it’s hard to take good pictures when it is dark, but most of the time our skiing trip looked liked this.

It was fine with a good headlamp, but my friends had very dim headlamps and couldn’t see where they were skiing. Imagine skiing down at high speed in complete darkness without knowing where you will end up! They took it well though, and by that I mean, they landed softly when falling in the snow – with head first, butt first, sideways, you name it. I fell too, even though I had a good lamp and thus, no excuses…

Finally we recognised the gate in the fence and yelled out of excitement. It was a fun, challenging trip, I learned a lot about skiing in snow that keeps changing its form.

Starting point on the map

coordinates: lat:67° 55′ 18,488″ lon: 24° 9′ 35,108″