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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″

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

Finding Santa’s Childhood Home

Everybody knows where Santa Claus a.k.a Father Christmas really lives right? It is not North Pole. Santa lives in Korvatunturi, Lapland! But if you’d fancy seeing what his childhood home looked like, you have to climb up the grand Levi fell in Kittilä. Or take a gondola straight up.

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Levi in the arctic night, kaamos as we call it. Photo: Mira Pyy

The talk about North Pole is just to cover the true story about Santa’s home. All of us Finns know it. Korvatunturi is a fell far far away in Urho Kekkonen National Park, very near the Russian border in Eastern Lapland. You actually need a special permit if you want to go there. In addition, it is 20 km from the nearest road so a bit of a hike by feet or skis. Santa chose well as there are not many nosy children snooping around before Christmas.

Santa’s childhood

In 2007 a movie was filmed called Christmas Story (Joulutarina, directed by Juha Wuolijoki). It tells a tale about a little boy Nicholas who later became Santa Claus. As a boy he lived in a cute little cottage high up on a fell.

Santa’s cottage. Rising up with the gondola you can see the rooftop of the cottage when nearing the top.

Guess what, the cottage filmed in the movie is still there! You can go visit it, if you find it. There are no signposts, you just have to know where to go.

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We came here by skis, me here with alpine skis, my friend with telemarks. Photo: Mira Pyy

The way to the cottage

It is situated on the southwest side of the fell, near the top, off piste, in between the gondola (World Cup and west pistes) and lift number 11 (south pistes).

In the winter you get there by snowshoeing, skinning up with skis, or the easiest option: by taking a gondola from the Levi ski resort up to the top, and descend down a bit, preferably by skis or snowshoes or you will sink in the snow up to your waist.

In the summer you get there by hiking up or by downhill biking (one track passes the cabin).

It is an adventure finding the cottage, plus a perfect place for a break, away from the piste lights. My friend Mira is admiring the view to the neighbouring fells Aakenus and Kätkätunturi.

The gondola starting point
Map pointing Santa’s cottage

Finland is the 3rd best travel destination in the world – and Hossa is the jewel in its crown

Finland is the third best travel destination in the world, as published in Lonely Planet’s latest list. It’s the only country in Europe that made it to the top 10! Lonely Planet raves about Hossa in particular – a hiking area located in Eastern Finland’s mystical backwoods, which in 2017 will become a national park in celebration of Finland’s 100th year of independence.

We have listed here what we think you should really experience in Hossa.

  1. Northern Lights and stars shine in perfect darkness

Situated in Kainuu’s stunning wilderness, Hossa is far away from urban light pollution. Here you can experience complete darkness at night, and on clear evenings, marvel at the magical night sky and the even the Milky Way. It’s also possible to see the northern lights. All of this makes Hossa a fantasy destination for night sky photographers.

  1. Hossa’s natural environment is clean and quiet

Have you ever experienced perfect silence? When you can’t hear the hum of cars, people’s conversations or the rumbling of machines, even from a distance? In Hossa you’re surrounded by peaceful nature. You can immerse yourself in thought, breathe the cleanest air in the world and let your gaze rest on the picturesque scenery.  In complete silence. Sit down, make a campfire and surrender. Perfect calm and quiet creates a feeling that  you will never forget.

  1. Indulge in the fruits of the forest on your hike.

In Summer and late Summer, Kainuu’s natural surroundings are bursting with a variety of berries, all equally delicious. You  are allowed to pick berries in the woods and from the swamps as part of Everyman’s Rights. Taste the orange cloudberries, red lingonberries, blue blueberries and bog bilberries as well as crispy black crowberries. Crouch down in the forest for a short while to pick nature’s offerings, and your kuksa (traditional carved wooden cup) will be full in a few minutes. Bon Apetit!

  1. Hike and go mountain biking – there are over 90 kilometers of trails!

In Hossa you will find suitable trails for mountain biking as well as hiking – over 90 kilometres altogether. You could easily hike for a week. Routes are marked clearly, so you don’t need to worry about getting lost. You can get maps for the area from the nature centre, and local guides will advise you on an  interesting route suitable for your needs. An accessible nature trail, from which you can admire Hossa’s nature with children’s pushchairs or a wheelchair, departs from the nature centre and is about half a kilometre in length.

  1. Feel the ancient atmosphere on the canyon lake of Julma-Ölkky

This incredible canyon lake is one of the most mystical places in all of Finland. About 3km of  steep canyon walls reach up 50 metres towards the sky –  and under the water’s surface, the walls continue down into almost bottomless depths. The lake, proudly resting in the gorge is surrounded by untouched wild nature, a trekker’s paradise. You can admire the view of Julma-Ölkky by hiking the 10 km circular route from the gorge’s edge, or marvel at the canyon walls from the lake’s surface by boat, canoe or kayak.

Photo: Antti Huttunen

Photo: Antti Huttunen

  1. Hossa was inhabited by humans  thousands of years ago – here is their message to you.

The wall that rises straight out of Somerjärvi lake tells an interesting tale: that man has lived in these wild lands for thousands of years. These rock paintings, which are 3500-4500 years old, are the northernmost in our country. Over 60 different pictures have been found on the rock. Amongst them is a human-like figure with antlers, which could well represent a shaman. The route that detours to Värikallio is 8 km in total, and in winter you can get there by skiing. A viewing platform has been built in front of the rock, so it’s relatively effortless to go and admire this ancient work of art.

  1. So, you think reindeer can only be found in Lapland?

When you are travelling through Hossa it’s highly likely that you will meet some reindeer. You may come across a reindeer on the road or in the forest, or  even see them strolling through a meadow or someone’s garden. Reindeer are semi-wild: they wander through all kinds of terrain, wherever takes their fancy. If you want to visit a real reindeer farm and see some of these creatures up close, stop off at Hossa Reindeer Park.

Photo: Antti Huttunen

Photo: Antti Huttunen

  1. Take a rest in nature’s embrace – this lean-to is an idyllic spot

Along Hossa’s routes there are plenty of huts, campfire sites and lean-to shelters, where you can stop, camp and make a fire. The location of the lean-to at Muikkupuro brook is one of the most picturesque in all of Finland. You can get to the lean-to by walking around a kilometre through a delightful wide forest path. You can sit in the lean-to, light a fire, enjoy a picnic and even sleep. In front of the leant-to is a shallow, sandy-bottomed and clear brook, which feels heavenly to wade in barefoot. The spot is between two lakes and both lakes open out onto a lovely untamed landscape.

  1. Fall into deep snow and savour the frosty air

In winter Hossa is overcome with snow and sub-zero temperatures, turning this summer paradise into a winter wonderland. There is so much snow, that it’s hard to even describe – you just have to experience it. The area is a great place for skiing, snowshoeing and admiring the Northern Lights. Another popular past-time to try is ice-fishing. Hossa’s waterways are teeming with fish!

  1. Swim, dive and try stand-up paddling in the crystal clear waters of Hossa

In Hossa there are abundant lakes, whose sandy beaches and clear waters tempt one to plunge right in. In Finland you can swim freely almost anywhere under Everyman’s Rights, as long as you’re not bobbing around next to someone’s private shore. In the summer, Hossa’s lakes are pleasantly warm. Take diving goggles and a snorkel with you, for you can see far in the clear water.

You can also rent stand up paddle boards  from Camping Hossa Lumo and enjoy stand up paddling from the camping area’s stunning sandy beach. Other equipment available for rent includes kayaks, canoes and rowing boats. The camping area is run by local Maija Daly and her husband, Irishman Lenny Daly.

Maija Daly runs Camping Hossan Lumo.

Getting to Hossa

It is advisable to come to Hossa by car, as public transport does not currently come to this out of the way idyll. If flying to the region, the nearest airports are: Kuusamo, Kajaani or Oulu, from where you can hire a car and drive into the midst of Hossa’s unforgettable landscapes.

Hossa on the map

Translated by Becky Hastings.