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We know Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s Important Sleigh by name, but really nothing else. I went to find out what Santa’s reindeers are really like. They live all around Lapland, some in Torassieppi, Muonio.

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Meet Rolle, one of Santa’s less famous reindeer. The antlers are pretty impressive! Rolle is always willing to work hard and he is very patient with humans (and elves). He stood still for the photo shoot like a real pro model. Did you know that reindeer see ultraviolet light! The world looks very different with Rolle’s eyes.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Rudolph, as he was resting and saving his energy for the Big Day. But there are big personalities amongst the others as well.

Antlers are a signal of fitness

The bigger the antlers, the better father material you are in the eyes of the ladies. Lads cannot cheat and grow ridiculously large antlers, however, as it is up to genes and fitness how large they grow. 

Unlike other deer, female reindeer have antlers too, although smaller ones. Most likely the function is to better defend their young.

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Antlers grow at astonishing speed, as much as 2 cm per day! Reindeer antlers are the largest of all deers, relative to body size.

Reindeer shed their antlers once a year, males after the rutting (mating) season. Some hold on to their crown until Christmas, probably to show off when travelling with Santa. Others won’t get rid of them until spring! Big antlers are heavy to carry and not very handy in thick forest, so there is really no need to keep them after the ladies have seen them in Autumn. Females loose their antlers in the summer.

Reindeer are not fussy with food

The favourite food of reindeer is lichen. But in the forest during their summer holidays reindeer also munch mushrooms and plants. It has been counted that reindeer eat over 350 different species of plant! The strategy is to pile up weight as much as possible before the long winter.

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In Torassieppi the elves feed the reindeer an armful of hay a day, plus some protein rich lichen and reindeer pellets. To keep them in shape.

In the winter they smell food under a thick layer of snow. They have a very good sense of smell, it is reindeer’s most import sense.

His name is Aaro. He can be a bit moody and doesn’t get along with everybody. Aaro tends to prefer female elves and co-operates well with them! He does like his caretaker Tommi (at the background), with whom he goes sledding often.

Extreme cold doesn’t bother

Reindeer can manage in extreme cold, in -50 degrees of Celsius.

My lungs hurt if I ski at full speed in -25 C. Reindeer warm cold air in the long nose before it enters lungs.

But the coolest (or warmest) trick is in the fur: They have a very thick underlayer of hair, and overcoat is made of stiff, hollow hair that traps air for insulation. Actually Santa’s reindeer could make their journey by swimming, as the air trapping fur works like a life vest!

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I personally often get cold feet even in my warmest shoes. Reindeer don’t care, even if the temperature in their feet goes near freezing point. They don’t get a frost bite as I would, thanks to a specialised circulation system, in addition to a super cool antifreeze liquid in their bone marrow. True story.

Need to stop for a wee

In Finnish we have a measurement poronkusema which means the distance a reindeer runs without urinating. It is 7-8 km in fact. Reindeer cannot run and pee, so when sledding, they must be stopped at certain intervals so they can use the bathroom. I noticed at least Rolle seemed to empty his bladder every time we stopped on our 3 km sledding trip, just in case. It is actually very dangerous for the reindeer if he can’t go in a long time.

So if you see something yellow on the snow next to your house on Christmas Day, you know what it is!

These guys are sharing a joke. Or they both just love sledding. One of the elves is practising with young Harmikas (1,5 years old), who is too young to participate in Santa’s crew just yet.

 

See reindeer at Harriniva Torassieppi village, Lapland

Map to Torassieppi

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

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.

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

Autumn had arrived to Finland with it’s colorful touch. It was time to get together and spend a night outside.

Suomen Latu Ry (a Finnish outdoor association) has decided a date for Finns to spend a night outside. The 17th of September is the day that thousands of Finns will be heading to the forests every year for an overnighter, or they will camp on their own backyard etc.

So I asked if someone from our Finnish hammock group wished to get together and go hanging somewhere. Soon we had decided our destination: the Riuttaskorpi recreational forest.

Haukijärvi

Haukijärvi

Riuttaskorpi is a 16 sq km area in the north side of Ylöjärvi, near Kuru. It locates between 2 big national parks, Seitseminen and Helvetinjärvi.

This area hasn’t had much of population during it’s history. Mostly it is known for log floating and some of it’s white waters have been used for mills.

Some of Finland’s long trails go through this area, like Pirkan Taival for example. There is a lean-to and a few fireplaces, and also a sightseeing tower, which is closed now because of it’s poor rotten condition. One rented sauna can be found by the lake Haukijärvi,  and next to the sauna there’s a kitchen building which is open for everybody.

Parts of Riuttaskorpi log trails are also in poor condition, I hope the rotten logs will be replaced soon. There is a total of 15 km of trails to walk.

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The day started from my home, where 3 of us met at 10 am. Unfortunately, one had to cancel, because his child got really sick and they had had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.

It took about an hour to drive to the Myllykoski parking lot, where there were two more hammock hikers waiting for us.

Our first destination was only 500 meters away. It was the Suutarilankoski lean-to with it’s white waters.

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Remains of an old mill

Suutarilankoski is a beautiful place. One can still see some remains of the old mills from the 1920’s, or possibly even earlier. There wasn’t as much of water running as usual, I think, since this small river is sometimes also used for canoeing and kayaking.

There was a small trail on the right bank, where we could access easier to the small flowing river. I jumped from rock to rock in the middle of the purling waters. Yellow leaves gave extra colors to the beautiful green moss around. I enjoyed the sound of purling water by closing my eyes.

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It was a bit of a disappointment that we couldn’t use the sightseeing tower because of it’s poor condition. Parts of the stairs had been removed so that people wouldn’t go up and possibly get hurt.

But there was quite a nice view from the rocks to the lake as well, even if we couldn’t go up in the tower.

We also got a few deer keds on our way… I hate those. Hard to kill because they have such a strong armor, and they are really small insects. Crawling under the shirt and in the hair… nasty little… well, you know. They appear usually in the August and their season lasts around the end of September.

Haukikalliot

Haukikalliot

It didn’t take long before we arrived to Haukikalliot (the Pike Rocks) and had a conversation whether this could be our place for the night or not.

We had some snacks and soon we decided to check out the last place by the lake Haukijärvi (Pike lake). If it wasn’t a good place for us, we would come back here. We had lot’s of time, since it was only 12.30 pm.

Table was collapsed due it's poor condition

A table had collapsed due to it’s poor condition

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Most of the logs in the trail were in bad shape as I mentioned earlier. Also the table up on the hill had collapsed because the wood was too soft and rotten. But the trails were mostly in good condition, luckily.

Kitchen building

Kitchen building

Mancave, 3 x knock

Man cave, 3 x knock

Salinkalliot has an kitchen building with a fireplace and two big tables. It is a really nice cottage, but I forgot to take photos inside!

There was only a sauna down on the shore and no camping possibilities for all of us, so we decided to head back to Haukikalliot.

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We set our hammocks and made a fire. We also made enough firewood for the whole night and for the next morning too.

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Me and Jani decided to not use the tarps, since it was obvious that it wouldn’t be raining at all. The weather forecast told us that the night would be clear, but the temperature would be around 0 celcius (32F).

There wasn't any grid available so this worked out well too...

There wasn’t any grid available so this worked out well too…

We had a great evening! We chatted and made something to eat. Also some other people joined us and since they didn’t have much of experience with hammocks, we showed them some of our own solutions with our hammocks and tarps. Hammock camping is a relatively new thing here in Finland.

The gear we had was this: 1 DD Frontline, 2 Ticket To The Moon’s, 1 Amazonas and 2 Warbonnet Blackbird XLC’s. Mostly DD Underquilts, since we don’t have other options here available…

A friend of mine has a Warbonnet Wooki down underquilt, which he ordered for over a month ago. It cost around 85$ more in Finland because of the taxes and duty. Wish to get mine someday too.

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Around 8 pm the sun was starting to set.  The weather was really calm, no wind at all. The lake reflected the sky and it’s clouds perfectly. It was also very quiet, only sometimes I could hear some distant traffic noises from the roads far away.

I was really waiting for the night to fall, since I wanted to take some long exposure shots.

Colors changed to dark blue and purple

Colors changed to dark blue and purple

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It started to get more cold slowly, but fire kept us warm

It slowly started to get colder, but the fire kept us warm.

Big moon raised in yellow but got really bright fast. Fog started to appear soon.

Big moon raised behind the trees in yellow but got really bright really fast. Fog started to appear soon.

We finns don’t talk much, even in the campfire. Some small chat but enjoyed the warm feeling of fire and relaxing quiet moments

We Finns don’t talk much, even by the campfire. Just a bit of smalltalk, but mostly we just enjoyed the warm feeling of the fire and relaxing quiet moments.

Finally some stars started to show up and only a glimpse of daylight was left in the West. I took my tripod and camera from my backpack and started to shoot.

I really love the night time when the sky is clear with all of it’s billions of stars. This was the time I had been waiting for.

Big dipper was easy to see

I played with my new headlamp and long exposures

I played with my new headlamp and long exposures

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Big dipper in the middle. A plane passed us from the left (Moscow-Seattle flight)

Warmth of fire and night sky makes a perfect match

Warmth of the fire and a clear night sky make a perfect match

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We went to sleep soon. I didn’t sleep well because I mostly just looked at the stars and listened to the sounds of the night.

Above me there were Polaris, Capella and Pollux. I could see the bright Vega on the left side. I was hoping to see a shooting star. Eventually I fell asleep.

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We had quite a cold night after all. The temperature went down to -4C (25F) so we had some ice on our hammocks and underquilt protectors (2QZQ).

One of us had only had a spaceblanket under him. He got a so called cold butt syndrome.

I used a Haglöfs +2C bag, but I also had a fleece blanket that I had wrapped around myself for the night. I felt warm and toasty all night round.

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Got up after 7 am and wow… The fog gave a really nice light around us with the sunrise!

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Morning coffee with Bialetti and Kupilka

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We left quite early, around 10 am. There was some sort of a hunting season going on, since we heard dogs barking and some shots being fired.

The car windows were a bit frozen so we let them be on idle to warm up. Meanwhile we talked about some ideas for our next meeting. Maybe we could book a sauna?

We will be having a big hammock meeting on the 2nd of October in the Nuuksio National Park, so that will be our next trip.

Over all, a splendid trip again! Enjoy your time in the woods on all of the seasons.

For more information about the Riuttaskorpi recreational forest, click here.

To see all my photos from this trip, click here.

Haukikalliot (pike rocks) area on a map.