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!

One trip, three countries – Winter trekking from Kilpisjärvi

We arrived to Kilpisjärvi on Monday evening. We parked our car and started skiing across the lake. The sun was just going behind the hills and the weather felt a bit colder than we had expected.

When we came to Kolttalahti, we started to look for a place to camp. Near Swedish border we found it: a little hill with a magnificent view to all the three countries that meet here: Finland, Sweden and Norway (map).

Not a minute too soon we started putting up the tent and minding the dogs. With freezing fingers and toes we made it. The cooker made tent nice and warmish as we made dinner, but still I needed to wear down jacket and down skirt when we ate.

We saw northern lights red and green and yellow dancing in the sky like never before. It was going to be an extremely cold night. My two sleeping bags were not warm enough. I was feeling cold, especially my toes. My husband made hot water bottles for my feet. When that was not enough, he let me sleep in his sleeping bag. Then I was okay, but he was cold.

We didn’t get much sleep that night. The temperature was -28°C. Somehow we made it through the night and faced very cold and very beautiful Tuesday morning. Happy to see the mountains and to hear the perfect silence, but worried about the cold feet we started skiing towards Norway. We agreed that if we don’t feel warm soon, we have to turn back and seek shelter in a cabin.

After five minutes of skiing we knew we can make it. The blood started circulating and the warm feeling filled toes and fingers. To Gappohytta it is!

And what a trail it was. Up and down and up and down. We really needed to sweat to get the pulkkas up those hills. Even one of them made me feel I used all the power I had. And then there was an other and an other one… I never knew I could do it so many times. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the snow was sparkling and the Barras montaintop was watching over us all day as if we were the only people on Earth.

When reached Gappohytta in the afternoon, I was flat. The last bit of uphill was almost too much for me. It was such a relief to step inside a cozy hut and to know we would sleep safe and warm tonight.

In the evening we made short skiing trip around the cottage to see all the different shades of pink the setting sun painted on the mountains and hills. There was no-one else in Gappohytta, just us two and our dogs. That night we went early to bed and slept well.

Wednesday morning there were some clouds in the sky. Maybe the weather was getting warmer. Eating breakfast we made plans. Tuesday had been exhausting. Should we turn back now? We were tempted to go to Pältsa stuga in Sweden, but was it too far? Can we make it back to Kilpisjärvi from there, if the weather changes? At home we had said to our boys that we will be back to Kilpisjärvi on Thursday or Friday, so we did have an extra day in reserve.

We decided to give it a try. We packed our pulkkas, put on the belt, connected the dog and started skiing to Pältsa. Boy I’m glad we did! It turned out to be an easy day.

In two hours we reached the cabin, where the hostess welcomed us to the pet room and promised to warm the sauna in the evening. We were her only guests – no-one else here so early in March.

To my relief there was a marked 20 km track straight from the cabin to Kilpisjärvi. And there had been two snow scooters driving it that same day. The track went over the hills with a huge amount of climbing. We knew we had a challenging day ahead of us, so it was nice to just read and relax on the afternoon.

Also for the dogs it was good to have time to rest. Miilu had some snow cuts in her front pawns. I put medicine and boots on. She didn’t touch them, so the cuts started healing really well, as the dogs enjoyed sleeping in the cabin.

Thursday morning was cloudy. We started climbing up the highland well prepared, rested and packed so, that we can quickly make a camp up there, if necessary. It was difficult to tell from the weather if it is going to clear or turn in to a storm. We also had an extra days food with us, both for us and for the dogs.

Without the dogs this heavy trail would have taken us all day, but with them only 4-5 hours. So steep were the hills and so many of them there was. I could only admire my dear dog Miilu. I don’t understand how does she have the strength to pull up the walls all day. Finding the track in the snow, she really is my Togo.

But what a place, and what a weather it was up there! The sun started to shine, it was warm, no wind – just the white hills ending in white clouds – As hard as it was, we were in heaven.

We had lunch on a top, where we could see the place we camped on Monday ant the mountains we skied to on Tuesday. That moment had it all. The dogs resting behind a stone, us standing silent on the top. It was a farewell to the mountains before going down and back to normal life. This time it was more difficult than ever.

Article by Anu Suomalainen. This article was originally published on Wander woman blog.

Exploring the harsh beauty of Kaldoaivi

This time we took Ulla, our alaskan malamute puppy to Kaldoaivi. Kaldoaivi is the largest wilderness area in Finland. It is not only the largest, but it is one of the northernmost wilderness areas as well.

During the winter the northernmost parts of Finland fall under the complete polar night, meaning that the Sun won’t rise neither set for months.

We wanted to experience the complete lack of light and did a 10 day ski trip to the desert of Kaldoaivi.

Our cabin was located by the beautiful lake Riekkojärvi, 20 kilometers from the nearest road. The cabin was modest, but it had everything a man needs – stoves for heating and cooking and the most comfortable mattresses one could imagine, or at least that’s how they felt after all that skiing.

Camping in such latitudes means you must be prepared for everything. The risks you take might as well be the last ones you are ever going to take, but make no mistake, it is worth the trouble.

During these 10 days we experienced arctic storms with wind speed over 30m/s and temperatures as low as -40 degrees celsius. We sure were a little worried about Ulla at first, but soon we learned that these arctic dogs feel right at home here.  Even though Ulla didn’t mind the weather, the rest of us had nothing to worry about in the warmness of our cabin.

We were surprised of the amount of light we still had even though the sun never climbed over the horizon. During these light hours we skiied and explored the fells close by, and when we didn’t feel like skiing we tried our luck with ice fishing. These little lakes in such remote locations may hold fish a fisherman can only dream of.

After the light hours the darkness took over. Or so we thought. The darkness isn’t quite the same here in the north. At first it seemed like it was going to get dark, but then the stars lit up and with the stars the nothern lights started dancing. The Auroras were amazing. I think snow was invented just to reflect the beuaty of auroras and moonlight back to universe, and just when you thought the lights were gone they came back and did they dance again and again.

Under these lights we slept and we wouldn’t care less for the rest of the world for these 10 days. Every once in a while someone woke up and threw another piece of firewood into the stove to keep the cabin warm during the endless night of the Arctic.

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″

Finland’s Frozen Lakes

As winter approaches in Finland, it’s quite interesting to see how the lakes change in appearance. In the warmer months, the water looks crystal clear, but as winter approaches, the water becomes more icy and eventually turns into what looks like a snowy desert.

First the lake water slowly cools and starts to freeze, leaving thin layers of ice on the water.

Then the water gets more and more icy.

In these pictures, larger pieces of ice wash up to the shore.

Later on in winter, a thick layer of ice is formed on the surface of the water.

Snow then falls on top of the ice, leaving what looks like a snowy desert.

The pictures above were taken in Joensuu, Finland.

Skishoeing – fun and traditional way to enjoy winter magic

Short skis with skins are ancient, dating back 10 000 years. They represent skis as they were originally! Today they have been “invented” again to suit modern day winter adventurer. I tested skishoeing in lovely Pyhätunturi in the heart of Lapland.

skishoe1

Skishoes are short and wide. These are only 125 cm long, up to my shoulder. They have a hairy skin integrated on the backside for grip, but only partially. The bindings works for any shoes, I had my hiking boots with a couple of woollen socks.

Skishoes are literally a hybrid of skis and snowshoes.  But as you cannot have it all, they come with some compromises. They glide as skis, but not as well as proper skis. When climbing uphill they get traction like snowshoes but not quite as well as snowshoes when it gets steeper.

For me skishoeing was a new form of winter sport. Soon after setting off I decided I love it.

skishoe2

Skishoes glide surprisingly well on flat surface, you go faster than you would with snowshoes. The short size of skis makes it easy to navigate in the forest. Pyhätunturi fell with its skiing slopes is sunbathing at the background.

Nature trails in National Park

I got my skishoes for a test from Bliss adventure. As the day light broke (at nearly noon) we left for the 5 km marked path called Tunturiaapa nature trail in Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

In deep powder snow skishoes sink in the snow somewhat. Long skis would be better for floating on top of snow. But compared to snowshoes it still feels easier, in my opinion, as you don’t have to lift the whole foot up, just push the ski forward and save your sweat.

skishoe3

Me after one of my many falls! It took a while to learn just how to keep balance with skishoes. Luckily snow is soft. You can’t control them as well as you can proper backcountry skis.

The trail continued through the woods and out to the open marshland in deep snow. We had a lunch break at Tiaislaavu lean-to shelter, where there is firewood for everybody.

skishoe4

Lunch break at Tiaislaavu lean-to in Pyhä-Luosto National Park.

Great fun on small hills

The last leg of the round Tunturiaapa trail was full of small hills, so up and down we went. There the traction and gliding properties were really put to test. Climbing up a steep hill with skishoes is a task. The traction isn’t quite enough, snowshoes would be better. But on gentler hills they work like magic. We couldn’t resist playing around and went up and down some nice hills several times.

skishoe5

This was one of the steepest hills. Skiing down such a hill with new unfamiliar toys made me nervous, but it was actually a lot of fun!

Not a new hobby

There are still people living in the Altai mountains in northern Asia who use these kind of skis with actual animal skin on the bottom. The Tuwa people have been moving on snow like this for thousands of years. Instead of two poles in each hand, they use one long pole that balances on the way up and helps manoeuvre when skiing downhill.

I recommend skishoes to anyone who loves snow sports or winter trekking. It is a unique way of moving: faster than snowshoeing, slower but more versatile than skiing.

skishoe6

Photos: Joona Kivinen

Skishoes, snowshoes and fatbikes for rent at Bliss Adventure 

Visitor Centre Naava at Pyhä

Starting point of this trip on the map

Sounds of silence

Lapland is known for its pure air, vast wilderness and the fact you can escape all noise. Enjoy silence. When is the last time you could let go and float into meditative mode surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but the wind and occasional bird? I am lucky to live in Lapland but actually sitting still in the forest doing nothing is something I hardly ever do. I did now.

Road to nowhere

I spread out my map on the kitchen table and had a good look. I didn’t get much wiser by looking at it, so I closed my eyes and placed a finger randomly on the map. Ok, looks just as good as anywhere, I shall go somewhere there!

I packed snowshoes and drove off. I already felt good and relaxed, as there were absolutely no expectations. I wasn’t really aiming anywhere particular, no mission, no time limits or anyone else to look after. I realised I often get a bit anxious because of all the planning and gearing up hiking and skiing trips include.

The random road I chose went on and on and on. I even woke up a reindeer who was standing still in the middle of the quiet road, head drooping. Lazily he moved out of the way. At some point I just pulled over, put on my snowshoes and headed straight into the woods.

Sounds of snow

The snow was deep and fluffy. Even with snowshoes on I was knee deep in there. On each step there was mute fluffy part on the top, and a crunchy layer underneath. The crunchiness was due to hardened snow, as a week ago temperatures rose temporarily as high as +2 C. Snow feels and sounds different every day, depending on temperature now and in the past couple of weeks.

I kept on snowshoeing until I needed a break to catch my breath.

The Sun was setting as it always is midwinter. The sky looked like a trend colour catalogue from the 80’s. Beautiful lavender, purple, pink, peach and yellow pastel shades. I had to close my eyes as the ridiculously beautiful sky was filling my head and blocking other senses.

Silence isn’t silent

I could only hear the beating of my heart. So loud! After few minutes my body had recovered and I could listen properly. Annoyingly the first sound I recognised was a snow mobile going fast somewhere in the distance, probably on a lake I had passed by car. Here, in the wilderness, in the arms of Mother Nature, a motorised vehicle. Quite a turn off.

Ok. I kept standing still, no hurry.

A crow.

Wind catching the tree tops, making some branches to drop their snow load on the ground.

Nothing.

Standing still surrounded by trees is very calming. They are just there, wanting nothing from you.

A dog barking far away few times.

A little bird calling shortly, probably Siberian tit.

I noticed my breathing became deeper and slower. Indoors it’s often short and shallow. It’s not something I normally would pay attention to. But now I have time to observe. I also remembered to be grateful for the pure air. In Muonio where I live in Lapland, the air is actually the purest of all Europe.

Nothing.

Wind in the tree tops again.

Me singing, noticing there was a cool echo.

BEEP of my phone, receiving a message.

..And the moment was ruined.

Back home all relaxed

Hiking alone has its advantages. You don’t have to fill the space by talking non stop. You can concentrate on being very quiet, thinking nothing at all. For me this works better than any meditation. Also, if it is longer than a day trip, you have to keep your phone off to save the battery! In the wilderness, further from the roads, there is no network anyway.

I think I’m going to do this again – just head somewhere with no expectations, just to breath, listen and be.

Photos by Joona Kivinen, from another trip as I didn’t want any cameras on my retreat of silence.

cold hot fun

The real fun starts when it’s really cold

Winter in Finland brings all kind of opportunities. From winter sports to trying to catch the aurora borealis, it’s never really boring. When the temperature drops below -20C, I enjoy to go out with a thermos bottle of boiling tea or water. You’d think it’s to keep myself warm, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

cold hot fun

Sunset vapor at -24C

That hot water will nearly insta-vaporize when it is thrown into the air.

When you attempt to do that, you can pour the hot water into a cup, so you have a few tries. Be sure you throw fast enough otherwise hot water could fall on you before it’s cooled down.

Vaporizing water in the cold air

Vaporizing water between trees

What else is in the photo is up to your imagination.

Winter fairy tale land – Koli

You don’t have to go all the way to Lapland to find beautiful winter landscapes. In North-Karelia you can find the most highest place of South-Finland. In the fell Koli you can find it’s peaks Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli. People believe that these peaks got their name’s from powerful ancient gods.

You can use snowshoes or ski’s to get to the top of Koli. There is also a hotel and Koli National Park‘s nature center in the top. After hiking in the hills you can get a cup of coffee for example in the nature center Ukko’s cafeteria.

When the sky is clear, you can see lake Pielinen from the Koli hills. When the sky is misty, you just have to enjoy the magical spruce forests with snow and hard rime that accumulates on tree branches.

Old forests look magical in winter time. Village under the hills can be without snow on the trees, but when you climb up to the fell, usually you can find beautiful trees with snow and ice on them.

Finnish artists, photographers and nature-lovers have been inspired with this heritage landscape for centuries. Usually people say, that you should go to the Koli, when the sky is clear and sunny. I think you should definitely visit Koli in a foggy day also.

When almost everything is white, you start to realize, that it’s not really white. It’s blue, it’s purple, it’s orange and colors are changing sometimes really fast. Some camera’s go crazy and it’s difficult to capture the real color of the forests. But who know’s, what’s real and what’s unreal?

Some part’s of the trails are without winter maintenance, but usually paths are walked open by people, so you can even go walking there just with your winter shoes. Don’t hesitate to ask advice’s from nature center’s helpful workers.

Stunning view with special effects – Helsinki in winter

In winter day is short in Helsinki, less than six hours day light at its shortest. Usually the sun hides behind the clouds, but when it shines, it is time to get out and enjoy the winter day.

Kaivopuisto in southern Helsinki offers beautiful view to the archipelago and nice walk by the waterfront. In November when weather gets cold, sea begins to freeze and boats are lifted to the dock yard for the winter.

When the busy small boat marina quiets down, a temporary bridge is set up between Kaivopuisto boardwalk and Uunisaari island. From Uunisaari and neighboring Liuskasaari islands stunning scenery opens up to the sea.

The place is popular but the atmosphere is so peaceful and seems that nobody is in a hurry.

In winter time, icy seaside cliffs and cold air make a strong contrast to the open sea. When the water has higher temperature than the air, steam begins to rise above the sea. That makes the scenery even more dramatic. Rocks and cliffs are beautiful when covered with ice. Be careful, they are slippery, too.

On a cold day, air above the sea is full of ice crystals and it is possible to see a special halo effect around the sun. Crystals reflect the light splitting it to the colors of rainbow.

Kaivopuisto is located 2 km from the city center and it is easy to reach by foot or tram. To enjoy the best views, head to the small islands.

During winter time, it is easy to get to the Uunisaari island via pedestrian bridge. When the boating season begins, bridge is removed and there is a boat connection. Uunisaari is a recreational area and there is a restaurant and a sauna. In winter bring your gloves and scarves and enjoy the view to the open sea.

Map – Uunisaari bridge

Coordinates: (ETRS-TM35FIN) N=6670343 E=386410

Information about Uunisaari can be found here.