The polar night is not pitch black, it’s magically blue! See what Kaamos actually looks like

While walking my son to school yesterday morning we noticed a peculiar phenomenon – the Sun was rising!

Living in Finland teaches us from the birth that winters are long. Not because of the cold and snow but because of the long darkness.

Kaamos is a Finnish word for polar night. It’s a beautiful word and we do not have that many of those to begin with.

But what is it?

Faint glimmers of light paint landscapes to vistas of beauty. (Liesjärvi National Park, Southern Finland, January)

Kaamos or polar night occurs when the night lasts more than 24 hours. In southern parts of Finland where I currently live even the darkest day still has few hours of light in. But most of the time dark clouds veil the sky.

While living in Rovaniemi (that’s at the edge of Arctic Circle) the days were even shorter. And as a student spending the “days” at the University of Lapland I went days without seeing any kind of daylight.

December, photo taken around noon, Olos fell, Muonio, Lapland (Northern Finland)

Above the Arctic Circle the long night gets even longer. In Utsjoki (the northernmost municipality of Finland) kaamos lasts a little over fifty days. Imagine living in a place where it takes over a month to see any ray of light.

Samoyed dogs looking at river Teno in Utsjoki. This is what noon looks like in the northernmost parts of Finland during polar night.

It would seem that Kaamos is the source of stereotypical Finnish melancholy. It might very well be at least a part of that but it is also the source of much that is beautiful. You might have heard the saying that “it’s magical”. That is quite likely the most accurate impression anyone can give.

In Lapland kaamos mostly looks blue. Christmas eve (noon) in Sodankylä, Lapland, Northern Finland.

Polar night is a phenomenon that is hard to grasp in the current age of electric light and busy city schedules. It might sound banal but it is something that must be experienced.

Sun rising for the first time after polar night in Kittilä, Lapland.

At first it does not seem like that big of a deal. The night goes on and on. But the more you think of it, the more you feel of it, the more you begin to understand the grandness of it. It makes you feel small. And it makes you understand the vast scale of space and how multitudinous the Earth is.

The beauty of Kaamos can be found everywhere if you are willing to look. (Kangasala, Southern Finland, January)

And in that long night, in the wilds of Finland, it is most likely that you will witness the magnificent Northern Lights. In Finnish they are called Revontulet – a word that can be loosely translated to “Fox’s blaze”. And there are a lot of stories about what they are. But we’ll leave that to another time.

Auroras above a reindeer fence in Utsjoki during polar night.

So if you have heart for celestial phenomenon like Solar Eclipses I would recommend you to visit Finland during Kaamos. It will be an unforgettable experience!

Northern Lights in Silence

The majority of the world’s people have never seen northern lights with their own eyes. Only 2% of the world’s population lives in an area where you can see northern lights. The Finnish Lapland is one of them.

Electrically charged particles (electrons and protons) burst out from the Sun and enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of up to a thousand kilometres an hour. This current of particles is called solar wind. The blasts of solar wind cause northern lights and other phenomena of space weather. A part of the particles penetrates the Earth’s magnetic field and is directed to the Earth’s polar regions, where they collide with particles of the atmosphere at an altitude of 100–300 kilometres. This creates an overwhelmingly beautiful play of nature as colours change from yellow-green to red.

In the Southern hemisphere, you can only see northern lights in the Antarctic. In the Northern hemisphere, northern lights are plentiful from the arctic circle to 75 degrees north. However, this thousand-kilometre-wide band is not accessible to all. The region is mostly sea, extending to Spitzbergen, central Greenland and northern parts of Alaska and Siberia where the population is sparse and communications poor. Canada in North America as well as Iceland, Finland and Norway in Europe are thus excellent places to observe northern lights.

The northern lights’ season begins in the Finnish Lapland in August, when nights grow longer.

Then it is possible to see ‘double northern lights’, which are northern lights in the sky and their reflection on the surface of the water. In the autumn, you can also see them as a reflection from the surface of black ice. We call this the double aurora effect”, says Ilkka Länkinen, proprietor of Arctic TreeHouse hotel, which specialises in northern lights’ tourism.

The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is located near the arctic circle in Rovaniemi. Its rooms have been designed specifically for viewing northern lights. The northern wall of all the rooms is all glass. The rooms have been graded so that they give to different directions. All hotel guests see mostly Lappish nature from their rooms – and hopefully northern lights.

The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is located near the arctic circle in Rovaniemi. Its rooms have been designed specifically for viewing northern lights.

The hotel monitors the northern lights’ forecasts of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory, and it also uses the local Aurora Alert application which notifies the hotel guests’ mobile phones at any time when northern lights are visible.

“I can say from experience that if you stay three nights in the hotel, you will see northern lights with a 90% probability.”

The northern wall of all the rooms is all glass. You can observe the northern lights in peace and quietness from the room. In the picture the reflection of the exit-sign can be seen in the middle of the northern lights.

On a clear night, the average probability of seeing northern lights in the Finnish Lapland at 9 p.m. exceeds 50%. The probability peaks about an hour before midnight, which is the magnetic midnight, and the disturbances of the Earth’s magnetic field are at their greatest. The possibility of seeing northern lights increases the further north you go.

According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, northern lights are mostly seen in Finland in northern Lapland, at around the latitude of Kilpisjärvi. When the sky is clear, northern lights are observed there on an average of three nights out of four. In order to see northern lights every night you have to go to the Arctic Sea coast in northern Norway.

“We always emphasise to the hotel guests that northern lights are a natural phenomenon, whose occurrence does not depend on us. Till now the tourists have been understanding that they cannot always be seen”,  says the hotel manager, Katri Kerola.

“The guests come to the hotel in the winter mainly because of northern lights. Northern lights cause a nice kind of grouping among the guests. In a little street, twenty people meet in the middle of the night, thrilled and joyful, to view nature’s theatre. The Instagram account of our hotel is filled with visitors’ pictures of northern lights. I come from here, and I too stop to watch them, even if I was in a hurry to get somewhere. Northern lights are Lappish mindfulness.”

A silent nature experience

The gustiness of the solar wind causing northern lights is known to vary in eleven-year cycles. It is connected to the number of sun spots on the surface of the Sun. The probability of the occurrence of northern lights can be predicted by observing the Sun’s surface.If a blast is observed on the surface of the Sun, it can be deduced that northern lights will occur in one or two days.

Staying at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is a calming experience. Even if northern lights are not to be seen, you can lie on your large bed and stare at the beautiful forest landscape in silence. Watching television does not even occur to you.

“We have intentionally kept the hotel quiet. There are double-insulated double glasses and a grass thatch overhead, insulating sounds well. The television set is intentionally hidden in the rooms”, Länkinen sneers and emphasises that the hotel was specifically designed to give a nature experience.

“You can watch nature peacefully indoors, irrespective of the weather. The architect’s starting points were a good view, peacefulness and a safe nature experience. Nature comes very near, because the large window makes the guest feel a part of nature”, Ilkka Länkinen says.

Particularly Asians have found the hotel.

“In addition to the British, plenty of tourists from Japan and Singapore come here. China is growing at 300% annually. Many weddings and engagement parties have been held under the glow of northern lights.”

At the Arctic TreeHouse hotel, you can watch northern lights both in water and in the air. At the Metsäkyly forest spa, you can watch northern lights in a jacuzzi after the sauna.

Extreme experience. You can watch northern lights at the jacuzzi of the Metsäkylä Spa.

You can also climb up in the air.

“We offer the hotel guests the possibility to view northern lights at the height of two kilometres. A seven-seat light aircraft takes you on an hour’s trip to where northern lights appear. Because up in the air visibility is 50 kilometres, we will surely have a show of northern lights somewhere.”

Aurora Alert

The Sámis believed that northern lights are created when a fox waves its tail in the snow, creating sparks, “fox fires”, as they are called in Finnish. Picture from the norther lights-documentary from Arktikum.

Aurora Alert is a local northern lights’ forecasting system operating in Rovaniemi. It forecasts and observes northern lights and notifies the customer of the location of northern lights in the sky. Essential in the service is that it only indicates the northern lights the customer can observe.

“The forecast of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory indicates the probability of the occurrence of northern lights. Aurora Alert also takes cloud masses into account. It indicates when northern lights are visible with your own eyes”, explains data communications engineer Reijo Kortesalmi, the developer of the application.

Aurora Alert sends a forecast, probability percentage and alarm to the mobile phone. The application is based on signal processing and colour analysis. Aurora Alert uses its local sensors located in Rovaniemi, serving the northern lights’ tourists of the Rovaniemi area.

Aurora Alert combines data from many sources.

“An indicative forecast comes every night at eight o’clock. The probability percentage indicates what you can observe with your own eyes. A real-time alert comes, for example, if the local cloud curtain opens for five minutes.”

The application also indicates the intensity of the northern lights.

“Number one means that northern lights are clearly observable with one’s own eyes. Number five means that northern lights light up the whole sky. The intensity of northern lights may vary in the course of the evening. At 11 p.m., northern lights may be of level 1, but at 2 a.m. the intensity may be five”, says Kortesalmi.

The duration of northern lights varies as well.

“Weak northern lights may appear for a few minutes, but strong northern lights appear from half an hour to one and a half hours.”

Kortesalmi takes his holiday from April to July, when northern lights are not seen in Rovaniemi. Forecasting and alerting starts again in August.

“Aurora Alert definitely gives the most precise information on northern lights in Rovaniemi.”

Ari Turunen (2017)

This article was originally published by SlowFinland.fi

How does it feel when the temperature is below -30C?

There is only one way to describe it: it feels cold, at first, but then after you’re getting warmer you realize it becomes the thing you’ve been missing your whole life.

After ten hour drive we finally reach our destination at the edge of the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. The latter hours of driving were battling against the freezing windshield, because when the temperature drops below -25C heaters can’t keep up with the cold any longer. After getting out of the vehicle the freezing windshield was the least of our worries.

We had selected our cabin carefully so we knew that after a long day we didn’t have to hike for too long. Our cabin was only about half a mile away from the closest road. We were happily surprised when we noticed that the path leading to the cabin was clear and we didn’t have to walk across the snow. There was already half a meter of snow on the ground even it was only a December. It was full moon so we decided to save batteries of our headlights for later and started our walk at the moonlight.

mokki-3

The walk to the cabin made us warm and even to sweat a bit so it was crucial to get the fire going as quickly as possible after getting over the cabin. We got lucky again since there had been somebody at the cabin few days earlier. We got nearly 20 degrees advantage comparing to the air outside as the cabin thermometer showed only -10 degrees of celsius. Even though it was only -10C inside it felt immediately warm after being outside. 

Third time we got lucky happened just when we were about to go back outside to make some firewood. The unwritten rule of these deserted cabins says that leave some firewood ready for the next one: Next to the fireplace were laying two stacks of nicely chopped firewood with some smaller ones on the top piles ready to get the fire going. We sure appreciated that this time. 

mokki

After few hours of working hard we finally got some time to rest. There was enough firewood to support the fire over night, candles were setting the mood just right and we got our bellies full of warm soup. Outside the cabin you were able to enjoy some subtle hints of auroras and watch how the moon light the fells around us. The only sound was cold which got the trees cracking. Inside it was getting warm enough to sleep in our sleeping bags as the fireplace next to us gently hummed us to sleep.

mokki-2

Tonight we had cut our firewood to heat up the cabin, we had made a hole in the ice from where we got water, we had heated the water over the fire and made some soup to eat. We did it all ourselves and after all that work in the cold when you’re feeling warm and cozy you can really feel what you have done. And you realize that those are all the things that matter: being warm and full and surrounded by your friends. 

This is what I saw as I walked 500 meters into a dark, silent, frozen forest

I live in a small village in the middle of Lapland. In fact, most people who live in Lapland live in small villages. That’s because there are almost no proper cities here at all, above the arctic circle.

And because there are no cities, there is no articifial light, but lots and lots of darkness in winter. But during this darkness, the sky can sometimes set on green and purple fire.

Last night I left home around 7 p.m. and walked into the forest next to our house. I had no headlamp or flashlight with me, as I knew that after a few minutes my eyes would get used to the darkness. There is a bit of snow on the ground, which helps to see the path. Also, the Moon started rising.

After having walked only about a 100 meters, I saw the first flames in the sky.

I sat down and looked at the auroras dancing above me.

In the dark forest full of pure silence, I could hear some soft and distant rustling. At first I thought it was the aurora making that noise, as they are known to make some weird sounds sometimes. But then, as I sat there thinking about it, I realized that what I actually heard was the nearby lake freezing. The temperature was well below zero.

I stood up and headed forward. I wanted to see the nearest swamp. And boy, was it beautiful.

I sat down again, this time next to a small pine on the edge of the forest. I didn’t want to walk on the swamp, as it might not be fully frozen yet. It was safer to stay on dry ground. I was wearing enough clothes so I didn’t feel cold at all, even though I was sitting in snow.

I could still hear the sound of the freezing lake. Then I heard a little snap behind me. I still don’t know what it was, but probably it was just a freezing tree. Trees can make popping sounds when it gets really cold. It’s such an interesting experience to walk into a dark forest in winter: you can even hear the trees.

I texted my husband that everything was ok and that I was be heading home now.

In a Finnish forest there’s really not much to be afraid of. Reindeer and moose are not dangerous, and wolves, wolverines and bears do not come anywhere near you. Most finns know this and that is why we love to spend time in forests, enjoying silence, pure air and sometimes also auroras.

First snow has fallen in Lapland – this is what Sodankylä looks right now

First snow is always magical. As polar night approaches, there is less and less sunlight every day. One day the sun no longer rises at all. But with only a pinch of snow the whole world gets bright again.

I went to see the first snow to the hills of Sodankylä. My friend came along with her lapponian herder puppy Ruska.

It was a sunny day after weeks and weeks of cloudiness. We climbed to the top of Pittiövaara hill to have a picnic. A raven came to say hello to us. What a beautiful bird.

It was noon and the temperature was a few degrees below freezing. We were wearing lots of warm clothes and also proper hiking shoes – Pittiövaara is a rocky hill, and it is not easy to walk safely on big snowy rocks.

Some parts were too challenging for the puppy. Luckily she still fits in a backpack.

We chose a sunny spot to stop and have a coffee. It was a little gorge on the top of the hill, so the rocks gave us shelter from the cold wind. It was spectacular. In the horizon we could see the silhouettes of Pyhätunturi and Luosto – the Pyhä-Luosto national park.

The trip took us a few hours. I can not imagine a better way to spend a sunny Sunday in Lapland.

I’m so happy it’s snowy again. Welcome winter!

You need to see this: nature in Lapland is now breathtakingly red, orange and yellow

Every September lots of foreigners and also many Finns head to Lapland. People from all around the world arrive here by plane or with campers and caravans. It’s almost like a ritual: something magical is going on up here and people are eager to see it for themselves.

They want to see the fall colors.

And some reindeer.

Ilmakkiaapa is a string bog in Sodankylä, Lapland

The best time to see the Lappish nature glowing in all shades of yellow, orange, red and green is September. You might be happy to know that in autumn you don’t have to worry about mosquitos, as they are long gone after the first frosty nights. So you can just relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Ounasjoki river in Kittilä, Lapland

In Lapland nature is practically everywhere around you, so it is very easy to find good spots to admire the fall colors. Enjoy a short nature path or take a longer hike: in the national parks of Lapland you’ll find many different kinds of routes to walk on. With a bit of luck you’ll probably see lots of reindeer as well!

A semi-wild reindeer in Kaarestunturi, Sodankylä

Now it’s also a good time to pick some berries. In Lapland you’ll find bilberries and lingonberries as well as crowberries, bog bilberries and alpine bearberries. They are all quite delicious! Thanks to everyman’s right, you can pick berries without asking permissions, as long as you stay away from peoples’ yards. Most berries in Lapland are safe to eat, but if you’re not sure, do not hesitate to ask a fellow hiker for some advice.

Bog bilberry

I recommend that you go for a walk early in the morning. That way you can enjoy colors of the rising sun and see how the fog slowly disappears after a cold night. Best places to enjoy this amazing phenomenon are swamps.

Ilmakkiaapa, Sodankylä

In Lapland there are five big national parks: Pyhä-Luosto, Pallas-Yllästunturi, Riisitunturi, Urho Kekkonen and Lemmenjoki. In addition there is Oulanka national park by the Russian border and Bothnian Bay. Check out the links to learn more about these national parks and to find out how you can reach them by public transport.

Pallas-Yllästunturi national park

In national parks, as well as practically everywhere in Finland, there are lots of public lean-to shelters. Usually they are found on nature trails. Sit down and relax, make a campfire and enjoy your packed lunch in the middle of the nature!

This lean-to can be found on Paavon polku nature trail in Sodankylä.

Wanna see a bit futher? No matter where you are in Lapland, there are most likely many fells quite near you. Contact the local tourist centre to find out where is the nearest trail to the top.

On the way to the top of Saana fell in Kilpisjärvi, Enontekiö.

Prepare for breathtaking views!

5 things you didn’t know about Lapland

What do you know about Lapland? You’ve probably heard about Santa Claus, maybe you’ve even met him when you were little. And all his reindeer of course – they live in Lapland. In winter there is lots of snow and beautiful northern lights, yes. But what more do you know?

I want to tell you about Lapland the way I know it, the way I love it. Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about Lapland!

1. Reindeer like to hang out on roads in summer

When travelling in real Lapland it’s almost certain that you see reindeer at some point. In summer there are lots of mosquitos, so reindeer want to enjoy a bit of summer breeze that keeps the mosquitos away. That’s why they spend quite a lot of time on open places like roads. When driving, be cautious: these animals often don’t know how to give way to cars.

When you see reindeer on road, you probably want to take a photo. Make sure that you stop your car only on a good, visible spot. Do not park around a corner – there might be a bus or a truck coming behind you!

2. Summer in Lapland quite often feels like a real summer

Summers in Lapland are not very long, but they are stunningly beautiful. The sun is above the horizon 24/7 and the flowers are blooming like crazy. When the sun shines, it can get really warm, which in Lapland usually means something between 20 and 25 degrees celcius. There are lots of lakes and rivers – enjoy the Finnish everyman’s right and go for a swim!

3. Driving in Lapland is a blast

In Lapland there are endless roads and small villages in every direction. Many tourists come here by car, but if you need to take a plane to get here, I recommend you rent a car. That way you can enjoy Lapland’s traffic-free roads and amazing views on your own without having to be an expert hiker. However, remember to fill the tank often enough: it can be a 100km drive to the next gas station!

This is what you see when driving by Teno river in Utsjoki.

4. You can fish with a fishing rod almost everywhere

Thanks to everyman’s right in Finland, everyone is allowed to fish almost everywhere using a fishing rod. You don’t need any permissions, all you need is a fishing rod, some worms and a place to fish. Worms are usually sold in markets and gas stations. When choosing a place to fish, just make sure you’re not on somebody’s yard. You have an endless list of places to choose from: Lapland if full of lakes and rivers!

If fishing even with a simple fishing rod is prohibited for some reason in some specific lake or pond, there is a plaque on the spot that tells you not to fish.

5. People still offer gifts to ancient holy places

In Lapland there are many natural formations that have been concidered as holy. There are many holy fells, but also rocks, trees and ponds. A holy natural formation like this is often called a seita. They have been offered gifts like fish heads and reindeer horn bits to keep them happy, so that they would provide the giftgiver with hunting of fishing luck. Many of these places still receive gifts, like coins.

Taatsin seita in Kittilä is one of the best-known holy rock formations in Lapland.

MIDNIGHT SUN FILM FESTIVAL @ SODANKYLÄ (Welcome To Finland #4)

One of the best festivals in Finland must be Midnight Sun Film Festival held in Sodankylä, Lapland a week before midsummer. We migrate there like lemmings to enjoy nightless nights and overdoses of movies.

By Timo Wilderness.

MORE WTF:
WTF#1 NORTHERN LIGHTS
WTF#2 NATIONAL PARK NUUKSIO
WTF#3 FINNISH WINTER COTTAGE

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NORTHERN LIGHTS IN HELSINKI (Welcome To Finland #1)

By Timo Wilderness.

A short story of our trip to see the lights unusually this south in Helsinki. That hill is the highest and the best place around to witness any kind of shit that is happening in the sky.

With this I’m starting a new series Welcome To Finland, the next clip is coming already on Friday!

Btw, for the nerds, the timelapses are shot with 1 second shutter speed, shooting every second or every three seconds, so the video is 25-75 times faster than real-time. In the video when I said the lights are “fast”, I meant the fast movement that can be seen with the naked eye but could not be captured in real-time film because of the bad low-light performance of my GH-3. These timelapses anyway give the idea of the phenomenon 🙂

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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.