Posts

What happens in a reindeer round-up?

Reindeer wander freely in the nature of Northern Finland. However, they are semi-domesticated animals: every reindeer has an owner. But how do the owners know where their reindeer are, how many of them may have disappeared and how many new fawns have been born?

That’s why regular reindeer round-ups are needed.

There are special kinds of reindeer round-up fences all over Lapland. In Finnish they are called “erotusaita” meaning litterally separation fence.

Above: Large numbers of reindeer are gathered to these fences from the surrounding areas a few times a year. In the actual round-up they are being separated to different kinds of smaller groups, according to their destination or owner.

Before the round-up the reindeer are being watched to see which fawn follows which mother. This is how the owners find all their new fawns.

Above: The most hectic and crucial place is a round fence called kirnu. Kirnu is usually situated in the middle of several other fences and there are doors in every direction. Here the actual separation takes place.

This is how it goes:

  1. The reindeer waiting in the big fence are taken into the kirnu in small groups.
  2. In the kirnu the reindeer owners capture, recognize, document and sort every reindeer. New fawns get their earmarks.
  3. The vet monitors all this and vaccinates the animals.
  4. One by one, every reindeer is being sent out of the kirnu. The bookkeeper writes down all the information.

It’s interesting to see what’s going on in kirnu, that’s why there’s often a curious audience.

Above: How do the owners recognize their animals? Every owner has a registered earmark, so reindeer owners can recognize every reindeer only by taking a look at their ears. During the round-up every new fawn gets its ears marked.

Above: In the kirnu reindeer are also marked with spray tags and fur marks to easily keep count of all the animals also after they have been liberated back to the nature.

Above: One by one every reindeer gets sent out of the kirnu. There’s always a bookkeeper registering each reindeer according to what the reindeer owners in kirnu report to him or her. This person keeps count on how many reindeer each owner has, and whether these animals are male, female or fawn.

Above: Reindeer on the left side have already been counted, marked and documented in the kirnu. The ones on the right are still waiting for their turn.

The amount of reindeer in reindeer round-ups vary quite a lot. In the Northern parts of Lapland there can be as many as 3000-5000 reindeer in the big fence at once. However, in the South it’s common to have anything between 150-1000 reindeer in the fence. The pictures of this article were taken in a round-up that had about 300 reindeer.

When the round-up is done, all the animals get to return to the nature. The owners now have an up-to-date knowledge on how many reindeer they own and that all their animals are in good shape.

If you ever get to participate to a reindeer round-up, consider yourself lucky! Only reindeer-owners get to know when and where the next round-up is going to be, and they often get the information only a day before. So if you’re in Lapland already and it’s either September, October, November or December, you can contact the local tourist information to check if they knew any upcoming round-ups nearby.

Kuksa – Crafting the traditional wooden cup

So what is a kuksa and what’s so special about it? It is a wooden cup that has almost sacred status among traditional hikers, bushcrafters, fell-goers and so on. Many claim that it actually originates here from Finland but I think it would be safer to say that it has Nordic origins. The saying goes something like this way, that every self-respecting outdoorsman should craft their kuksa by themselves and that the only acceptable material for kuksa would be birch burl.

During my earliest outdoor years I slowly grew to kinda embrace this legend about self crafted kuksas, but this doesn’t mean that I position myself above others as some kind of “real outdoorsman”. I don’t mean to disrespect anyone who decides to go with their plastic cup, an enamel mug, a ready-made kuksa, or whatnot. I see this more like my own personal maturity rite as an outdoor adventurer and less like “the only real way” of doing outdoorsy things. There just isn’t one right way of enjoying outdoors and it also applies to kuksa, no matter what that old bearded outdoor crank or some internet warrior tells you about the only right way of blah blah.

But this text isn’t about the deepest depths of the philosophy of kuksa or outdoors itself. Instead this is a short story of how a not-so-handcraftsman (read: me) made his first own kuksa to give his adventures a little more feel on a personal level.

The background and the “why?”

So as I mentioned I grew to embrace the legend that every outdoorsman should make their own kuksa by themselves. This made me decide that if I some day got a chance to make my own birch burl kuksa I would take that chance. I started my outdoor activities with those cheap ‘o’ timber-made mugs which I bought when I was in army but I never really liked them because a cheap wooden mug made of random piece of timber is just that: unauthentic, heavy and generally poor. Instead a self made kuksa would only be heavy and poor but absolutely authentic! It’s a freaking self-made birch burl kuksa, think about it. It would have the right feel to it and so it would be “justified weight” in my backpack. But until I would come across with such a noble, precious and rare material as birch burl I decided I wouldn’t carry a wooden kuksa with me, so I threw those timbermugs to the corner and took a lightweight but oh-so-soulless plastic cup with me whenever I ventured the great outdoors. Then I just waited for the day I would possibly find a birch burl to make my own kuksa.

Even though I’ve always known that there isn’t one right way of, for example, crafting a kuksa, I wanted to track down the most agreed-on authentic and traditional way of crafting one. Unfortunately the definition of a “real kuksa” is a bit vague as there are about as many definitions for it as there are people who own a kuksa. However if we put aside this “freedom of choice” in kuksa making, which basically gives you the freedom to define your own kuksa carved of a dried up elephant turd being as authentic as any other, many kuksa enthusiasts agree about the only acceptable material for making a real kuksa: the birch burl. Many also agree on that when someone is about to manufacture a real kuksa by themselves they should forget about using pieces of randomly selected board wood, modern power tools and their common sense. These kuksa making basics considered as somewhat traditional are the guidelines that I felt good enough with, so my aim was clear. The only problem here was that the birch burl suitable for making a kuksa is about as rare as hens’ tooth (“suitable” meaning a burl about the size and shape of a kuksa including the handle) and should you anyhow happen to encounter a birch burl, one or more of these apply….

  • The burl is too fresh. It needs to dry up over a summer or two, but preferably three
  • The burl is dry as lecture in history but it has a crack you could fit your mortgage into
  • The burl is too big / too small / too deformed / too “not kuksay”
  • The burl is attached to a tree and you’re too broke to own the forest where the said tree is located in. Therefore you don’t have the permission to cut it off the tree it grows in (or at least this is how the legislation goes here in Finland, look for “freedom to roam” or more specifically “finnish everyman’s right”)
  • You get a permission of the owner of the forest to cut the burl off of the tree. This is when you realize the burl is actually 17 meters high in the tree. Damn. If the forest isn’t going to be raped and leveled tomorrow for the sake of forestry / industrial purposes you can forget about asking a permission to take the whole tree down for a “one stupid burl”.
  • Bonus: There’s the thing called Salix caprea root burl, which is even more appreciated material for kuksa, but also – if possible – even more rare. After all you theoretically CAN find a birch burl, and some even have found, so that’s pretty boring and everyday’ish stuff when compared to burl in Salix caprea’s roots. These things appear like once in a millenia during the fifth full moon in the roots of that one specific Salix caprea located exactly in the middle of nowhere, Lapland. Ingest this, cry and admit to yourself that there is no way of finding the rarest of rare, the Salix caprea root burl. Be happy if you ever encounter a proper birch one. However if you ever happen to beat the odds with Salix caprea root burl consider filling a lottery coupon.

Anyway I managed to avoid all of these great filters ending up hitting a jackpot when in the summer of 2015 a friend of mine said that they’ve had this one birch burl at his parents’ garage for almost 30 years. Damn, that’s longer that I’ve even existed at this point. Anyway his father had found it three decades ago but neither of my friend or his father had any actual interest in making a kuksa out of it so they generously donated the burl to me. How convenient that the lump was somewhat a size of a kuksa and though it was dry, it didn’t have even one slighest crack in it! It was this real stroke of materialistic luck that gave me a possibility to try what kind of kuksa would I find inside of a real birch burl.

The crafting begins with all the chiseling

As soon as I got to a better space for woodcrafts than a block of flats I started gathering the tools needed for the job. As my idea was to keep the process as traditional as I could I wasn’t going to use drill presses or modern power tools. Here’s the weaponry I used in 99 % of the battle against the hard wood.

  • A gouge
    • For the actual chiseling work
    • I used size 16 mm and it worked fine
    • More pricey I’d think. My wallet hurts
  • A puukko -knife (Marttiini Kaamosjätkä)
    • For rough finishing
    • “This thing really needs sharpening”
  • A small fine carving knife (Mora Wood Carving 120),
    • Small-bladed precision carving knife
    • For actual finishing touches of the outerior
  • A curved hollowing knife (Mora Wood Carving 162)
    • A.k.a. spoon making knife
    • Resembles a question mark made of carbon steel
    • For finishing the interior of the kuksa
  • Other equipment
    • A hammer for chiseling if you don’t mean to stab the burl with the gouge until it turns into a kuksa (pro-tip: don’t). A good ol’ carpenter’s hammer will do.
    • A good-sized vise to hold the burl in it’s place. A burl bouncing around your garage after every hammer strike can be a little annoying.
    • Hearing protection of some kind. Thousands (yeah…) of hammer hits will make your ears ring. Also with hearing protection you can’t hear your neighbor screaming for you to stop the kuksa-making madness.
    • Safety goggles. Usually you remember the need for protective eyewear when you’re digging the first chunk of wood out of your eye. Just like I did.
    • I also had to use a carpenter’s saw, some sandpaper (+ a piece of flat wooden board and a stapler) and hand-fitting pieces of hard wood. More of these later on.

The lineup      

The first step of the actual work was to cut the excess branch off of the burl. For this I used the carpenters saw.

It had been a long time since I last used a gouge for real so the first hour or two went by just relearning to use the tool effectively. I had little problems as the burl itself had a different opinion in turning into a kuksa. This forced me to go all medieval on it, but even though the burl had a protective bark on it’s surface I still wasn’t feeling too sure about having to use so brutal amounts of force. Unfortunately there just wasn’t any other way: A dry birch burl can be as though as Clint Eastwood’s face so I really had to chisel the sh*t out of it (the burl, not Clint’s face). Chiseling was the only way to work with dry burl because the so-called organic, pliers requiring, “rip and tear” -method that your dentist uses on you works in kuksa-making only if the fibres of the burl are fresh and moist. This organic ripping method is an exception to the rule that the processed burl should be dry. I have no experience in this kind of organic kuksa crafting, but I hope I would get to try it some day too.

First bites

After a few first centimeters of hollowing a doubt crossed my mind. The chiseling of the interior part is made in respect to the outer surface of the burl. Okay, this is pretty clear for anyone with more brain than a protozoan, but the thing that wasn’t clear was the actual form of the wood surface beneath the bark. The bark was protecting the surface of the kuksa-to-come during the hard work but at this point it would be more useful to remove the bark to see the exact form of the burl underneath it. This would help me to estimate the correct thickness of the wall so that I wouldn’t accidentally make my kuksa into a fancy wooden sieve. So a few puukko-swings later it came clear that the wooden surface under the bark was actually quite where it ought to be.

Once I got started I was pulled deeply into the project. It was in a way actually quite fascinating to make my own kuksa at last so I easily spent most hours of the firts weekend crafting. Or actually I had to spend because I only seldomly would have access to that kind of workspace. The finishing of the kuksa could be delayed weeks – even months – if I didn’t chisel the burl like a rabid beaver.

Getting somewhere

The tool for “stabilization”. Sandpaper is modern era so basically it’s cheating!

Nature by the way doesn’t make burls so that they stand steadily on their own. This was basically the only part where I had to “cut corners” (pun intended): I had to cut the bottom flat so that the kuksa would be stable and that the precious caffeinated beverage wouldn’t spill all over when kuksa is placed on a flat surface. For this “stabilization” I used a carpenters saw to get a good area of the bottom somewhat flat and tried to finish it with a belt sander machine (which is cheating(!!) by the way). Using belt sander took time and still the result was only poor and roundish, so after wasting my time with a power tool I got an idea to staple a piece of sandpaper on a straight piece of board to rub the kuksa against this “flattening tool”. It actually worked pretty well and in a few minutes I had made my kuksa perfectly self standing with no wobble of any kind. Besides this sandpaper cheating I wouldn’t be smoothing the kuksa in any way using modern equipment. Instead I would use another dull piece of wood to “seal” the surface of the wood, but more of it later.

Being that sunday is a rest day I felt like letting my mind rest in making the kuksa. I managed to carve the kuksa hollow enough to test my Mora spoon carving knife which turned out to be more tricky than one would expect. The only safe way for using this knife to achieve a smooth carving surface was to actually use the knife like an ice cream scoop. I was carving with a twist, I’d say: The movement was only about the twisting of the wrist to have the force and the range of motion under control so that in case of the blade slipping out of the kuksa I wouldn’t have all the arms’ force involved resulting in a huge swing of a blade and possibly an acute accidental blood donation. Anyhow the key to smooth interior was to carve cross the fibres of the wood, but as the fibres themselves didn’t seem to always know where they’re pointing to, the result wasn’t spotless. The parts where I didn’t have any other choice but to carve in the direction of the grains ensured that the fibres get torn off instead of cut off even with the sharpest of knifes. Some parts might have been a bit tricky but in the end most of the results were satisfying.

During the quick experiment with the finishing knives I noticed that the soft-as-iron-touch of the vise hadn’t actually made a single noticeable scratch in the surface of the burl. The burl was so tough that I wouldn’t be surprised if it had damaged the vise! Anyhow even if there was some imperfections that my eye didn’t catch those would be gone after I’d finish the surface.

Roughly finished kuksa

It’s not about the size of the blade but how you use it

Back home I worked on the kuksa as much as my other activities and limited workspace made possible. This means that when I got back into the actual workspace the kuksa hadn’t taken a single step forward. Damn it. After finishing the interior part and some concave parts of the outerior with the spoon knife I finished the outer surface with the precision knife. In this point the strangely deformed “handle” part got it’s fair share of beauty that Marttiini couldn’t deliver with it’s longer (and more dull) blade. Even though I’m a fan of huge phallic symbols survival knives, and I usually carry a Kizlyar DV-2 on my hikes as it is a tool that can handle almost anything you can imagine throwing at it, I still recognize that the small bladed knives also have earned their reputation.

During the finishing phase I tought that it would be best to follow the curves and shapes that nature had chosen for this burl so all I practically did was just the removal of the bark. The strange handle…ish part also originated from the shape mother nature had earlier given to it. In some point I had visions about holes in the handle and some reindeer bone inlay details (at least I wasn’t visioning about mammoth bone altough you can buy everything online nowadays) but in the end I realized it would be fitting and even symbolic somehow if my first kuksa didn’t have anything complicated in it. So for the sake of lack of skill simplicity I decided to make it as natural as possible at this point. This would fit nicely into the line of my traditional ideology that also didn’t include any kind of oiling finish that many use nowadays for their kuksas. So no bone details or holes on the handle or even the leather lanyard as I’ve never felt good with hanging my kuksa outside my backpack or on my belt. This was my way of honouring the rare material.

Steel requiring part of the finishing is about done

In many cases kuksa makers recommend to boil the carved kuksa (or the burl right after removing the bark) in salted water. Boiling in salt water allegedly removes some inner tensions that together with constant changes in humidity would somehow result in cracking. I don’t consider these claims entirely plausible because it’s yet to be explained clearly that how exactly boiling and/or salt remove mechanical tension. Instead of this I find it much more believable that the salt introduced in the wood would stabilize the changes in humidity and thus prevent cracking. Due to the hygroscopic nature of salt it should prevent the wood of a kuksa from drying up too much in between moistening effect (humidity peaks) of the beverages being consumed from it. I have no scientific research behind my claims whatsoever so we’re not about to make any kind of factual statements here about why boiling water salt bath might be or might not be good for your kuksa or you. This was just a sidenote.

In the lack of proper explatation (“seems to work” isn’t one) for the salt water bath I decided to leave it out of the equation. I also didn’t want first one or two or hundred cups of coffee to taste salty and besides that kuksa was already dry as ever and still didn’t have any kind of cracks. As far as I know cracking would most likely occur IF the kuksa wasn’t made of round cup-shaped burl. Timber or board wood (or even a non-suitable burl) that has its grains going straight through the cup instead of following cup’s form in a curved fashion is not as solid as it a proper cup-shaped burl is. Although there wasn’t any absolute certainty for my kuksa not to explode into tiny pieces the second I poured some coffee in it I was pretty sure that I’d be getting somewhere with this.

When searching for information regarding ways of crafting a kuksa I found out that some of “ye olde” makers have been favouring “massaging” the knife finished surface with dull pieces of hard wood instead of finishing it with sandpaper. Hard wood would allegedly close the fibre ends for more moisture resistant result whereas sandpaper would just make the fibers ends more fine leaving the surface as open to moisture as it originally was. This argument was enough to make me rub my kuksa with another piece of birch and as I was expecting this also polished the kuksa nicely. Although it only took a few sentences to describe this polishing phase it took me two to three hours to go the kuksa somewhat through and still the results would’ve been better if I’ve had the energy to continue to rub for hour or two more. You see the burl was harder than the “basic” birch so it was more of the burl polishing the polishing pieces than the other way around. Perfect polishing also requires a somewhat smooth surface to begin with and my kuksa was all but smooth cos I finished it with a knife.

In internet many kuksa purists also remember to CAPSLOCK that one shouldn’t impregnate the kuksa with any kind of oil or whatever poison they’d choose. Many commercially manufactured kuksas actually have some kind of oil finishing, which is perfectly fine if you aren’t a friend of principles, but I didn’t feel like dipping my precious creation into any other than coffee or whatever beverage I’d be consuming from it. Speaking of which…

Caffienating & introduction

After surface finishing there would still be a kind of impregnation before the actual introduction. Here introduction means some kind of “initation”, or “breaking” the kuksa into use or baptizing it in a way. In my humble opinion the most traditional way of introducing the kuksa into use requires using both coffee and a distilled beverage, of which the former is needed in the actual impregnation and the latter in the introduction “ritual” you could also call “a vainglorious desire to baptize the kuksa using scotch”.

I brewed some filtered coffee to celebrate my newborn kuksa. After drinking the coffee (not from the kuksa, though) I took some moist used ground coffee from the paper filter to use them to impregnate the kuksa: I rubbed the interior of the kuksa with something like a teaspoon worth of ground coffee until the coffee felt somewhat dry in my fingers. According to the “legend”, and to common sense too, this makes the little amounts of fat in coffee to impregnate the surface of the wood making the wood more moisture resistant. I repeated this step a two or three times and always with a fresh moist spoonful of used ground coffee. The next morning I decided to go it yet through a few times and also to rub the outerior too to give it a nice colourful touch and a little bit moisture resistivity. This way the outerior wouldn’t have so perverted contrast with the interior as they were now basically the same colour. The kuksa was now all done to be introduced for use.

This might be or might not be what it looks like depending on how you see this

The actual introduction ritual is the part that requires the long awaited alcoholic beverage. They usually favour quality cognac with kuksas, but because I like alcoholic beverages distilled of grapes about as much as I like my nails being pulled off, I chose whiskey. Due to the summer’s lack of rain, darkness and other overall autumnish sadness my stash of whiskey only had one bottle, being Ardbeg Uigeadail, which I cannot pronounce aloud because I’m not a drunken scottish gnome. Anyway choosing one out of one bottles was pretty easy even for me.

[Note: The following magic ritual was taken from the Wikipedia itself, which by the way is considered reliable enough to be considered as an inacceptable reference for academic bachelor’s thesis. The ritual was described in finnish article for kuksa, but there is no way of checking the originality, traditionality or any other nuances regarding the act itself. The most important part however is that we atleast have an excuse to use whiskey here, because it was mentioned in the article!]

So let’s get to the black magic part:

1. A sip of beverage was to be poured in the kuksa

2. The kuksa was to be moved clockwise in a circular motion so that the beverage makes a small whirlpool and rises towards the edges of the kuksa (My own kuksa was a little deformed so the whiskey didn’t run exactly smoothly like this but I still managed to get this done).

3. Then the sip was to be… well, sipped.

4. Steps 1.-3. were repeated but this time moving the kuksa counterclockwise in a circle.

5. Finally beverage was to be poured in the kuksa the amount that one desires. No acrobatics needed this time, just take a fair taste of your choice of beverage.

It surprised me how well the smoky whiskey covered all the taste of the coffee and the wood itself. There wasn’t a doubt that this whiskey was quality stuff. The next day I finally enjoyed the very first coffee from this kuksa and the experience was somewhat towards irish coffee. But it wasn’t bad! The residues of whiskey would dissapear after a few cups of coffee.

Remember when photographing near reflecting surfaces that wearing just a birthday suit isn’t advised. I remembered, so no unintentional acts of random nakedness here!

Lastly

The kuksa was now finished and formally introduced into use. There are totally excessive amounts of beverages to be enjoyed from this to further enjoy the outdoors.

Regarding the “user manual” a kuksa is a fairly simple piece of outdoor kitchen, because a kuksa should never be washed. Never ever! Why so? Because it just isn’t allowed to be washed. The only exception to this rule is a real fell river and all the other tries to wash a kuksa lead to misfortune according to the demigods of outdoor activities. But if you’re not-so-superstitious you can rinse your kuksa with warm water after use. Just don’t use any detergent as it isn’t good for your kuksa nor the environment. Besides this you should drink your firewater straight from the flask, not from the kuksa, to prevent dissolving the protective coffee fats. Also dairy products, food and other stuff that goes easily bad should be kept away from the kuksa if the user doesn’t wish to have diahrrea or gastroenteritsis.

There will be many kilometers of hiking ahead with me and my kuksa. At least it’s got to be some kind of sign of good luck to still have all my fingers left after this project. I hope some day to get to craft another kuksa as handcrafting is always so rewarding and like in trekking it’s the trek itself that’s at least as enjoyable as making it to the finish line.

Finished kuksa that has served me well for two years at this point

Learn more:

Kokovartalokommando Youtube channel (videos with English subtitles)

Read this article in Finnish here

Happy birthday Finland!

Today Finland is turning 100 years and celebrated it by lighting up one of Finlands most iconic fell, Saana. All the way up north in the town of Kilpisjärvi stands 1029 meters above sea level a fell of which everyone in Finland knows. We went to see how it looks like and it was magnificent.

Finland has the cleanest air in the world – and that’s a fact!

The cleanest air in the world is in Finnish Lapland. It is proven that the world’s cleanest respiratory air is in the Muonio municipality of Western Lapland. In Muonio, there are only 4 microgrammes of particles of under 10 micrometres in a cubic metre, while in the world’s dirtiest city, Nigeria’s Onitsha, there are almost 600 microgrammes.

The database for 2016 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals that the clean localities in the world are usually small, affluent and located far from industrial areas. Other particularly clean localities are Norman Wells, Canada, Campisábalos, Spain, and Converse County, United States. The WHO list took into account the mass concentrations of fine particles whose diameter is less than 10 micrometres (PM10). The diameter corresponds to a seventh part of a hair’s thickness. Particles of under ten micrometres travel with respiratory air into the human bronchi.

Finnish Lapland has the cleanest air in the world.

In Finland, the limit values of clean air are not reached anywhere

According to the WHO’s recommendations, the annual average of PM10 particles should be a maximum of 20 microgrammes per cubic metre. According to the WHO’s statistics, the levels fall below that everywhere in Finland, even in big cities.

According to the WHO, there was an average of 12 microgrammes per cubic metre including in Finnish urban areas in 2011. In India, the corresponding quantity is 134.

Only a tenth of European urban population enjoys air as clean as this. Air quality can be considered particularly poor, if the average of the mass concentration of particles of under 10 micrometres exceeds 100 microgrammes during an hour.

More dangerous than PM10 particles are fine particles of a diameter of 2.5 micrometres. Their amount per cubic metre should not exceed 10 microgrammes. In the world’s cleanest place, Muonio, the annual average for 2.5-micrometre particles is only 2 microgrammes.

It transpires from the WHO’s data, into which have also been collected the measurement data of fine particles of 2.5-micrometres from 3,000 localities in a hundred countries for the years 2008–2014 that, on average, Finland has the third cleanest air in the world. Only Sweden and Canada top Finland. Finland is followed by Australia, Iceland and Estonia. Air quality in these countries is very clean, that is, an average of fine particle concentrations of 2.5 micrometers fall below 8 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Finland’s air quality is excellent compared to the rest of the world.

According to senior researcher Pia Anttila of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, several factors influence Finland’s good air quality.

– Finland is located far enough from big European cities, so emissions from long-range transport of pollutants remain low. On a global scale, there is really only one big city in Finland, Helsinki, and even its air quality is excellent. There are also few inhabitants and little traffic in Finland. A very significant aspect is also that Finland has managed to curtail industrial emissions. In addition to good cleaning methods, industrial processes operate with clean technology.

Pia Anttila says that people living in countries with clean air do not always understand what a natural resource clean air is. Over 80% of the world’s urban population is exposed to air pollutants exceeding the WHO’s recommended values. Over 3.5 billion or a half of the world’s population live in countries where there is an average exposure to a quantity of particles exceeding the WHO’s limit values.

Fine particles and air pollutants cause asthma and aggravate obstructive lung disease and respiratory infection. The great quantity of fine particles also increases the occurrence of coronary heart disease and diseases of cerebral circulation. For example, if the quantity of PM10 particles can be reduced from 70 microgrammes per cubic metre to 20 microgrammes, mortality decreases by 15%.

If you want to breathe the cleanest air in the world, this is your destination: Muonio, Lapland.

Large African and Asian cities suffer from air pollution. Although the 600-microgramme figure of Onitsha, Nigeria, is huge, the figures are also alarmingly high the big cities of Asia. In Beijing, there are over 100 microgrammes of PM10 particles per cubic metre, in Delhi, India, over 230 and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, even over 350. In Helsinki, the corresponding figure is 19. In Muonio, the cleanest place in the world, there are, on the other hand, almost five times less PM10 particles than in Helsinki.

Clean nature of Pallas-Yllästunturi

One of the world’s air quality measurement stations is located in the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Finland’s most popular national park. The exceptionally clean air of this measurement station is compared to the data of the world’s other measurement stations. The measurement stations give important data for analysing the state of the world’s environment.

– Finland’s air quality is excellent compared to the rest of the world, particularly Asia, notes Riku Lumiaro of the Finnish Environment Institute.

– For example in Beijing you can feel the air pollutants in your lungs on a windless day. You’re also tired and your head aches.

Sunset seen from Pallastunturi fell, Muonio

Lumiaro considers Finland a good destination for health tourists. In Finland, the air, the water and the food are clean.

In Lumiaro’s view, a special feature of Pallas-Ylläs-tunturi National Park is quietness, in addition to the world’s cleanest air.

– In the spring and autumn, even birds are quiet there. In good wilderness hotels you can peacefully view the spacious fell landscape, which comes into its own in the clear, clean air.

The largest quantity of PM10 particles per cubic meter per day in Europe in 2005. Source: EEA. www.eea.europa.eu/publications/spatial-assessment-of-pm10-and-ozone-concentrations-in-europe-2005-1

This article was originally published by Ari Turunen / Slow Finland / Visit Finland

Photos by Jonna Saari

These 7 summits in Finland are easy to reach and will take your breath away!

Climbing on top of a fell is something you’ll never forget. Physically it can feel exhausting – prepare to sweat. However, with each step you’ll notice that the view behind your back is getting more and more amazing. When finally on top, you can not believe how beautiful the view is.

Here are my personal favorites that are relatively easy to reach and their beauty is mind boggling.

Saana, Kilpisjärvi

Saana is one of the most legendary fells in Finland. To get to the top you’ll have to hike about 4 kilometers back and forth, including Finland’s longest stairs. The view on the top is spectacular – and so is the cold wind. At the feet of Saana you’ll find Kilpisjärvi Visitor Centre and for example a hotel and some restaurants. Read more in English here. MAP.

On top of Saana

Pyhä-Nattanen, Sodankylä

This is an ancient holy place of the sámi people who are the only indigenous people in the European Union. On top of Pyhä-Nattanen there are strange rock formations called “Tors” named after the Scandinavian god of thunder Thor. To get there you need to hike a 7 km circle trail. Pyhä-Nattanen is in the Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, which means that you have to stay on the official trail at all times. Read more in English here. MAP.

Tors on top of Pyhä-Nattanen

Olos, Muonio

Olos is a cute little fell near to the Swedish border. It is a ski resort with hotels and restaurants and stuff, but you can still experience the serenity of the Finnish nature when hiking on top of Olos. The hike to the top is not long: only about 1,5 kilometers from the hotel. I recommend wearing snowshoes in winter! Read more in English here. MAP.

On top of Olos. Levi fell is in the horizon.

Pallas, Muonio

Oh my, the Pallas fells will surely steal your heart. In the beautiful national park of Pallas-Yllästunturi, the round summits of Pallas are one of the most popular place to visit. To get to the top I recommend that you hike the 9-kilometer-long circle trail called Taivaskeron kierros. At the feet of Pallas you’ll find a hotel and a visitor centre. Read more in English here. MAP.

If you love reindeer, Pallas is the place for you.

Oratunturi, Sodankylä

When driving from Kemijärvi to Sodankylä or vice versa, Oratunturi is a must see. With only a 2 km hike you’ll reach the top of this quite underestimated fell. The trail is well marked with red, wooden crosses (it’s actually a snowmobile trail). The view from the top is unreal! You’ll also find a lean-to shelter with firewood and everything next to the top. To find out more contact the Sodankylä Tourist InformationMAP.

View from the top of Oratunturi fell.

Luosto, Sodankylä

The Pyhä-Luosto national park is very easy to reach and has lots to offer. In winter this place is amazing for snowshoeing and aurora watching. The hike to the top of Ukko-Luosto is about 2 km long. When visiting Luosto, check out this beautiful little café with no electricity or running water: Torvisen maja. Read more about Pyhä-Luosto national park in English here. MAP.

View from the top of Ukko-Luosto. Pyhä fell is in the horizon.

Levi, Kittilä

And finally, if you’re not into hiking but still wanna see some breathtaking views, there’s always Levi waiting for you. On top of Levi there’s a parking lot and even a café. It is not common in Finland that a road leads to a top of a fell, but Levi is an exception. This place is a very popular ski resort, so be prepared for lots of tourists especially in winter. In the feet of Levi there is a village with many kinds of tourist attractions such as snowmobile safaris, hotels, restaurants and so on. There’s even a cabin lift that will take you to the top if you don’t have a car! Read more about Levi here. MAP.

Polar night on top of Levi fell. Pallas is in the horizon.

Please remember that weather can change very quickly in Lapland. Also, the trails to the tops of the fells can be very steep and rocky. Always make sure that you have proper hiking shoes and hiking clothes and a map before you go for a hike – even if the hike is going to be a short one. If you don’t know what you should wear, contact the local tourist information and tell them where you’re heading to ask for their advice.

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.

Suvanto, a historical village in Lapland that did not burn

It is more than 70 years since the World War II ended. Finland suffered great losses but managed to get on her feets again.

During the war the German soldiers fought against the Russians in Lapland. But things changed as it started to seem like Finland would loose the war. The Germans had to withdraw from Northern Finland. While moving back they burned everything. They burned houses and barn houses, and they blew up bridges, railroads and roads.

suvanto-4

The disaster was total. But one village was lucky. That village is called Suvanto, and it is situated by the river Kitinen. The whole village remained intact.

suvanto

No one knows why or what happened. How come the Germans left this small village in peace while they burned almost everything else in Lapland?

suvanto-14

Today Suvanto is under the protection of Finnish National Board of Antiques and it is categorized as a cultural environment. There are about 30 people who live in the village year around. In summer time the amount of inhabitants grows when people come to visit their old homes, relatives and summer cottages.

suvanto-9

The village also attracts tourists because of it’s beautiful old log houses that were built before the war. The oldest one is from the 1800th century. Some houses still have shingle roof.

suvanto-15

To keep the village alive and buildings in good shape, voluntary work has been organized. People can for example take part in restoring the roofs and fences and learn how things were done in the old days.

suvanto-18

The last effort was to save the old ferry and it’s shelter in 2015. The ferry was in use during the years 1960–1975, then came a new ferry with an engine and later, in 1991, a new bridge was opened over the river Kitinen.

suvanto-3

The ferry was moved in dock and at the same time into history. The dock is located on the opposite bank of river Kitinen and is free to visit.

suvanto-5

Suvanto is also popular with artists and photographers and some art courses are arranged there during summers.

Visitors may rent a cottage from the village or nearby, have a cup of coffee in cozy café (check opening hours) or just walk around and admire the view and the colorful houses. A perfect place for a day trip.

suvanto-8

The location of Suvanto N / lat: 7448368 E / lon: 512567

More info about the village (only in Finnish)

National Board of Antiques, NBA

The following video is made by Mediapaja Seita-säätiö.