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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. 

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.

Ylläs is heaven for snowshoeing

Hiking up fells with snowshoes is fun and good workout. Ylläs has around 50 km of marked snowshoeing routes to keep everybody happy and fit. You don’t need prior experience, just good spirit and a camera to capture the breathtaking nature around you. My first encounter with snowshoes was sweaty but left me infatuated.

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Tuija attaching boot to the binding. It is around -10 degrees of Celsius and we are feeling a bit chilly as we should. It’s going to get sweaty! My choice: Merino wool base layer, T-shirt and a windproof softshell.

Marking routes for the winter season

In the early December days I tagged along a friend who had a task of marking a snowshoeing route next to Ylläs fell in Lapland. The route is 3–4 km in length and takes you up through a magical forest on top of a small fell “Pikkulaki” for some striking views and back.

We stuffed a big bunch of blue poles in our hiking backs and started the journey. Tuija needed to mark the path to follow specific route, so that it follows the same route as on official maps.

Tuija marking the official route with blue poles. Elli the dog is helping.

Tuija marking the official route with blue poles. Elli the dog is helping.

Snowshoes prevent sinking in the deep snow

There are many different kinds of snowshoes but they all work with the same idea: You place your shoe in the binding so that your toes point to the shorter end of the snowshoe. Tighten the cords and go!

The point of snowshoe is that it is easier to walk on top of loose deep snow when your weight is distributed on larger area the your feet. The larger the area, the more it allows you to float on top of snow. The same applies with skis: the longer your skis, the better they will hold you on top of snow. This effect was the reason skis and snowshoes were invented in the first place – to help people move in deep snow.

Harder than I thought

So we embarked upon our journey and within 50 meters it was clear it is going to be rough. Even the dog Elli knew it and wisely saved her energy by stepping only our tracks. The snow was powdery but packed tightly by wind and there was a lot of it, 40–50 cm on average, sometimes much more. So the snowshoe didn’t really do the magic and let me glide on snow as I was expecting, but rather I had to work really hard in knee deep snow to take steps forward. But Tuija was reassuring that conditions on this particular day were harder than usual. Onward we went.

The first hill was very small but steep. I felt I was sliding back and couldn’t get a grip. Then Tuija pointed out there are metal “teeth” below the shoe that allow you to step on you toes and get a proper hold of snow when climbing a steep surface.  So I changed my step to tiptoeing, with success.

Forest is just magical now. Trees have piles of snow on them, some of them are bend as the snow is so heavy. The scenery is from a fairy tale, and as the day light gets fainter and fainter I start to see all kinds of mystical creatures in the tree silhouettes.

Finally on the top, just in time to see the last beautiful rays of light! On the way back headlamps were needed.

Finally on the top, just in time to see the last beautiful rays of light! On the way back headlamps were needed.

It took us a couple of hours to reach the top, Pikkulaki. It was 2 pm, the sun had only been up for two hours and had already set. Polar night will begin here soon. The colours were breathtaking.

View from Pikkulaki mini fell. Sweating up was totally worth it. I haven't enhanced a single colour on this pic. On the other side of Pikkulaki there is the grand Ylläs fell, boasting the largest skiing resort in Finland.

View from Pikkulaki mini fell. Sweating up was totally worth it. I haven’t enhanced a single colour on this pic. On the other side of Pikkulaki there is the grand Ylläs fell, boasting the largest skiing resort in Finland.

Snowshoeing down was an easy ride as now we could follow our own tracks. On the way down we made sure there are enough of blue poles, so you won’t be puzzled or have to worry about getting lost. A map is a good friend though, so you see how to get to the starting point by car or bus.

What to wear?

Tuija had her Sorel Caribous, I had my hiking boots plus gaiters to prevent snow from wetting my pants. Hiking boots or the like work as they feel comfy but robust, and they are somewhat waterproof. The rental places often have a variety of shoes if you don't own suitable ones.

Tuija had her Sorel Caribous, I had my hiking boots plus gaiters to prevent snow from wetting my pants. Hiking boots or the like work as they feel comfy but robust, and they are somewhat waterproof. The rental places often have a variety of shoes if you don’t own suitable ones.

Snowshoeing is proper workout, make no mistake. Don’t overdress or you’ll be sweating like a pig. Well, I was anyways. But it’s important to have extra clothing in a backpack so you can add a woollen layer or two if you get cold during a break or when descending.  A good advice is that you should feel slightly cold at the start. Your body will soon heat you up.

Map – how to get here 

Coordinates: (ETRS-TM35FIN) N=7494364.526825563, E=382855.67971687607

Check these out:
Snowshoeing routes in Ylläs
Snowshoe rental places

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

Planning on visiting Finland? Here’s what you can expect!

Northern lights over West coast

Northern lights over West coast

When travelling around the world and talking to people about Finland, they have heard about polar bears and northern lights. Well, we do have northern lights but no polar bears. None. Except a few in zoos.

Those white bears live on the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean, but in Finland we have the Baltic Sea. Finland doesn’t have mountains either. We have only mountain roots. Keep reading; I’ll explain this later.

Baltic sea

The Baltic sea

Almost 72% of Finland is covered by forests. It’s quite easy to see; when landing at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the only things you’ll see are Helsinki city and forests. The landscape is quite flat, and a 20 or 30 metres difference in height already looks and feels like a mountain.

Cities in Finland are quite small and scattered with long distances in between. The Helsinki area has about 1 million people, but other cities fall behind significantly in population. And we don’t have skyscrapers. Sounds boring, right? Maybe not!

Finnish forests and lakes

Finnish forests and lakes

Ok, I have told you about things that are different here compared to the big world. What does Finland have to attract people here? Trendy Finnish design is one thing and food another, but I’m talking about nature. Lonely Planet just released a top ten list of the best countries to travel to in 2017 and Finland was the third.

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

As a Finn nature has always been close to my heart. Here is a few things that I think are special in Finland’s nature. I was born in a town called Kokkola which is next to the sea. Nature and forest literally started from my backyard. In the spring nature bloomed and I watched the birds sing and build their homes in nesting boxes I had built. In the summer, I enjoyed the long days –the whole night was one long sunset and sunrise. It was hard to say when one ended and the other began. Colorful autumns, then again, were perfect for long walks on the beach. The polar night is so magical in the winter that to get the best experience, I went to Lapland to see the Nordic magic.

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

The ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, but you can see its legacy right under your feet. Once, a few million years ago, we had mountain ranges like the Himalayas. Erosion has flattened the landscape, and the moving ice cover, which was many kilometres thick, flattened the ground even more. As I said before, we have mountain roots which you can see in Lapland as fells and hills. Even in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, there are smooth rocks sticking out of the ground that were polished by the ice.

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

The coastline of Western Finland was under the sea just a few hundred years ago. Near the town of Vaasa, there is the Unesco world heritage site where you can witness this phenomenon. The land is rising from the sea about 1 centimeter per year.

Tampere city, on the other hand, was built on a monument of the ice age: the whole city lies on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, and there is the highest gravel ridge in the world called Pyynikki. It was formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the ice age.

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

I once read that “Finland lacks those dramatic must see attractions but is one big attraction itself”. Agreed. We don’t have the tallest buildings, greatest mountain ranges, highest waterfalls or even strangest wild life, but Finland is one big national park of the world, because of all the untouched land. Nowadays I live in Tampere city, but I still enjoy long walks in Pyynikki where I can see red squirrels living in peace with humans. And I’m only one hour away from Helvetinjärvi national park’s beautiful gorge lake which was formed by an earthquake millions of years ago.

Peaceful summer days

Peaceful summer days

I welcome you to the land of thousand lakes!

Amazing sunsets

Amazing sunsets

Here you can find more information about Finnish nature and national parks in English.

THE JOY AND BLISS OF ROLLING IN UNTOUCHED POWDER SNOW

Powder snow… Everybody in Lapland knows what it is, how wonderful, soft and light it is. It is anxiously anticipated until the crust of snow finally gets deep and fluffy as ever.

It can be described with words and pictures but you actually understand the real fun and loveliness of it only when you experience it first hand.

On the morning of February 1, just when the sun was only preparing to spread warm rays on the vast Lapland, we headed to the ice of the mighty Ounasjoki river to experience the thick and untouched crust of powder snow. According to the information provided by the nearest measuring point, the depth of snow was at 77 cm but the wind had thrown the snow blanket even higher at some locations.

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At a short distance, on the river there is a sandy island which, I heard, had gotten a thick blanket of snow during winter. So, there we went and leaped into the snow!

Our feet fell deep into it as we stepped down from the snowmobile – at first the snow was knee deep, then even deeper with the slightest move we made. We trudged in the fluffy snow, enjoying every moment like children. The air was still and quiet, and it was lovely to follow the arrival of daylight onto the powder snow of Ounasjoki river.

I use to make first contact with untouched snow by dropping into it with straight legs; this is how I sometimes lie in the snow at home by night, watching northern lights and listening to music through my earphones.

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I wore as many as two hoods over my head and made sure that the bandana scarf stayed right where it was supposed to. I also checked that I had pulled the zipper of my coat all the way up and that I had closed my pocket – should my phone have slipped down into the snow, it might have been lost forever.

Ready? Let’s jump!

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No, I’m not Chewbacca, I just forgot to tie my hair up.

Preparing for the leap wasn’t all that simple because my feet sank into the soft powder snow even when I tried to stamp it down to make a solid base.

You need to have proper clothing, for rolling in the snow is fun only if you manage to stay warm and dry. Just having cold toes can easily ruin the experience! That is why I always wear winter boots and other outdoor winter clothing for this purpose.

The winter coat must be wind-proof and warm. It is good to have snow locks at sleeves and hem to prevent snow from slipping inside your clothes. For that purpose, it is also good to wear suspenders on your winter trousers and to have snow locks at trouser legs, too.

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Snow locks and warm mittens prevent powder snow from entering the sleeves.

Our boots plunged countless times deep into the snow on the sandy island. There were a few more stable layers of snow in between but then with a step forward we might plunge even deeper.

It is hard to make through a crust of snow like this but the fun makes up for it! The snow is like the most comfortable armchair when you sit in it – it feels like sitting on fluffy air. When you do that and take a look around at the vast Lappish landscape, it always makes you feel like you could stay there forever.

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You might actually have to stay there for good because standing up is not easy at all. I was reminded of that first hand for the umpteenth time…

At that point, the snow locks and proper mittens prove to be extremely useful; the soft snow doesn’t really help in getting up. You try to use your hand as a support but it plunges deeper and deeper into the snowy abyss. Then you try the other hand and both legs, with no better results. The more you struggle, the deeper you fall into the snow! First you are in a sitting position trying to get up, only to end up lying with your back against the cold.

I began to laugh at myself. What a desperate mess! I rolled myself into some kind of a crawling position and tried to lift my body by crawling backwards. The attempt was a successful one, judging from the fact that I am no longer there, in the snow.

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All this might make you think of the cold but in fact if you are properly dressed, it won’t get anywhere near your body. Playing in the snow actually makes you sweat!

For as long as you have fun in one spot, you don’t need snowshoes or skis. They are made for transportation and they would only ruin the snow immersion experience.

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Just like Finnish Lapland in general, untouched snow when approached with the right mindset is a sure remedy for all kinds of moodiness and grumpiness. When an adult finally has a chance to play like a lemming in the infinite soft snow, joy and laughter are only natural to burst out.