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 winter is coming, sooner or later. Do you already have winter holiday plans? If not, why not try something new, some new outdoor activity. Push yourself to the limit and overcome your fears if you have some.

I fought my fears last February and tried ice climbing. I had climbed once before, but that was over 10 years ago. After that I had some thoughts that I never could climb again. For some reason I had managed to create a fear of techical climbing.

When my birthday got closer I decided to spend a holiday on my own. That would be a present for myself. A vacation when I could do anything I wanted (or was able) to do.

I travelled to Lapland with my two dogs to have a week for myself. Couple of days just relaxing and wondering the lousy weather! It was February but it was raining and the temperature was just above zero. Still I did not let this stop me from having a great time.

Then came the big day, I drove to the ski resort of Ruka for ice climbing! I had butterflies in my stomach, but when I met my guide Jussi and the other climber, I felt much better and relaxed.

Jussi told us what kinds of things we could expect to happen during the day and showed all the gears we needed. He then instructed us how to wear big climbing boots, harness and gaiters.

The gaiters were necessary because of the crampons, just in case if you hit your foot against the other by accident you may break your trousers. We put the crampons on and started walking like ducks towards the ice wall.

The ice wall is located in the middle of the slalom ski slopes, so we had to walk carefully and be aware of the downhill skiers. Up we went, and when I saw the ice wall I was very excited, not afraid anymore. The ice wall is made by both nature and man. It is about 35 meters high. The company that organizes these climbing expeditions also keeps the ice wall in good shape.

Our guide Jussi showed us how to use the ice axe. Then he prepared the top rope in place, and suddenly it was our time to climb! First I stayed down and with the help of Jussi I either tigtened or slacked the rope while the other climber was going up and then descending.

Then it was my turn. The rope was tight and I hit the first hit with the ice axes. Yes, I had two ice axes, one for both hand.

The meaning is to hit the ice axe just above your head with straight hands. Then you step up and hit your toes straight against the ice wall. The crampons have also forward pointing spikes that help you stand in steep wall. You just have to trust them! And that is difficult while your brain keeps saying ’that is not possible, is that possible, can you really stand there…!’

By the second attempt I managed to reach the top! I conquerred Mount Ruka!

I have to admit that during the climb I lost all of my selfconfidence and yelled out to Jussi that I am coming down, cannot go further. Jussi was so calm and he just shouted me back that ’hey, you can do it, just move a little bit closer to the ice wall, then to the right etc’. I might have said a few bad words to myself at first, but then thought a while and slowly moved my leg to the right.

I knew nothing bad would happen to me, Jussi kept the rope very tight and helped me ascend to the top! Oh, that feeling! I was so proud of myself, took some photos there still hanging on the ropes, admiring the views of the cloudy and rainy day.

Then I heard Jussi’s voice…’are you coming down, I’ll loose the rope for you so you can lean back and start walking down’. I looked down… a mistake! I was on a high place on a steep ice wall and now Jussi wants me to LEAN BACK! My legs started to shake, I felt like Elvis! Twist and shout… Come on woman, you can do it, I repeated to myself.

And I did it. I dared to lean back and I took the first step down, after that it was easy and I enjoyed it a lot. And when I hit the ground I felt like a hero! I was so grateful to Jussi. Without his encouragement I would not have made it.

So if you also want to try some new outdoor activity, I do recommend ice climbing in Northern Finland!

Ice climbing and other activities organized by: www.outdoorpassion.fi

Ski resort Ruka

On top of fjell Juuvanrova in Muonio, Lapland, there is a cute pond in the middle of old pine trees, perfect silence and a charming little cabin waiting for you (or me).

A hidden little gem.

A hidden little gem.

In Finland there is this wonderful network of wilderness huts, ‘autiotupa’, free for trekkers and skiers to stay and rest for a night. The huts are fairly small and generally accommodate about 4 persons – but with general friendliness and empathy among fellow-trekkers you can be fairly confident you won’t have to spend the night outside. But you might have to endure a stranger snoring right next to you! Also, the custom is you only stay for one night or two at the most and don’t make it your personal cottage for a week.

Juuvanrova fjell is situated next to Olostunturi and Särkitunturi fjells, and is easily reached from the north side of the fjell, with just 5 km hike from the road. In the winter you can ski to Juuvanrova from any direction.

Short hike past wetlands and up the fjell

We parked on Luusunseläntie, a small road off Rovaniementie (road 79), about 7 km from Muonio towards Kittilä. There are signs to Juuvanrova from the tiny car park a couple of kilometers from the main road 79.

The hike to the cabin is 5 km and the path is well marked by orange triangles. First two kilometers take you through some wetland, waterproof hiking shoes are recommended. There are wooden duckboards across the wettest areas but careful – they are not in their best shape anymore.

Mind the duckboards after rain! The bogs are pretty though.

Mind the duckboards after rain! The bogs are pretty though.

After 2 km you reach an autiotupa Tammikämppä, also an open hut. It is situated by a lovely river with pure drinking water right next to you. If you feel tired or are in awe already – stay here and chill by a fire! Or walk across the bridge and continue for 3 km upwards to Juuvanrova.

The climb is not very steep and you can take breaks to admire the neighbouring fjells and lakes – it really is quite pretty! 

Admiring the Pallas fjells in the distance.

Admiring the Pallas fjells in the distance.

Juuvanrova hut

There are sleeping places for 4 persons, but more can be fitted if you squeeze. We were just two persons and nobody else was there so felt pretty lucky. The rule of these open huts is that the last one to enter has the right to stay. The person who has come earlier has already rested and can move on.

There is an area for fire outside the wilderness hut.

There is an area for fire outside the wilderness hut.

A lovely fireplace in the corner lights up the room and fire wood can be fetched from the wood shed. There is also an axe in the shed to make smaller firewood. But keep in mind the wood is there for everyone to enjoy, don’t burn them all. You can make coffee and cook with the pans found in the hut, the former user will have washed them properly for you to enjoy.

Juuvainside

We walked up here on a Friday evening in Autumn. We enjoyed the warmth and crackling of fire indoors, but also the crisp air and some Northern Lights outdoors. The following day we walked around the fjell, saw a sleepy reindeer, some eager and nosy Siberian Jays and heard Crows fighting about something. Then we walked back to the cabin for another night, as nobody else had come there.

Siberian Jays are very curious birds.

Siberian Jays are very curious birds.

Drinking water

We boiled the water from the pond before drinking, just in case, but it is most likely very pure on its own. In general, it is recommended you only drink water that is running freely and not standing still. So creeks, streams and rivers of Lapland are pretty safe bets. Otherwise boil the water first to kill possible germs.

The open wilderness huts are marked on most maps along the hiking and skiing routes. They are maintained by Metsähallitus, a Finnish Administration of Forests.

Woodshed full of wood is a happy sight for all wanderers.

Woodshed full of wood is a happy sight for all wanderers.

The rule is you leave the hut the same way you find it – clean and nice. Empty and wash up all the pans and make some fire wood for the others. Pour the dirty water on the ground at proper distance from the pond. Consideration for others – that is the only way such a superb system keeps working!

This is a dry toilet. Don't forget to bring your own toilet paper.

This is a dry toilet. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper.

From Juuvanrova you can continue the trail down to Kuusikonmaa hut for about 5 km, and onwards all the way to Ylläs fjell if you like.

Juuvanrova wilderness hut on the map

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.