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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Pink skies and freezing cold: this is what’s going on in Lapland right now

The temperature dropped in a matter of days. First it was -5 degrees celsius, then -12, then -18*. Although it has snowed next to none so far, we can say that winter has taken over the vast commune of Kittilä in western Lapland.

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The river Ounasjoki froze overnight. Everything froze. Now you can hear what total silence sounds like.

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When it’s really cold, the eastern sky turns pink during the sunset. Until of course the sun no longer rises and the polar night begins in a few weeks.

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Even during the coldest of winter days one might get some visitors.

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Can you guess who’s there, behind all that snow?

 

 

*-5 degrees Celsius is equal to 23 degrees Fahrenheit,
-12°C = 10,4°F
-18°C = -0,4°F