The end of the Polar night and Travel Fair 2014

Today, on January 17th, the Polar night or Kaamos is over in Finland for this time. In the northernmost village of Finland, in Nuorgam, the sun rose above the horizon today for about one minute at 12.04, local time. The temperature in Nuorgam is at the moment -33 C; you could say the sun is not yet warming up at all….

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In Rovaniemi we have -23 C and I just returned from a nice, refreshing walk in the snowy environment with a clear sky full of stars above our heads. No sights of northern lights, though.

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At the same time Finland is planning for the next tourist season, spring and summer 2014. The travel fair Matka 2014 in Fair Center in Helsinki on 17-19.1.2014, is the biggest travel fair in Northern Europe. In the domestic part of the fair the local places to visit are represented, but there is also a part of the fair for foreign targets. With exhibitors from over 80 countries there is a lot to see! You can also vote for the best excursion place of 2014. You can of course choose between several places in Lapland, too. To vote, go to the site: www.goexpo.fi.

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VisitRovaniemi, the tourist board of Rovaniemi, takes of course part in the fair as usual. You could visit the stand number 7K51 and learn about the new plans for the coming seasons. SantaPark and Joulukka are of course also represented there and they also want to present their new spa and sauna facilities, Metsäkyly, where you can get experiences from original Finnish sauna, get treatments, jump into an ice-cold lake and learn all about sauna traditions in Finland. Check out the homepage to learn more.

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Snow and ice design and architecture

The surroundings of snow and ice for approx. 7 months a year in Lapland has inspired the Lappish people to create ways and methods to take advantage of that fact. There are several occasions during winter that are related to snow or ice, like art exhibitions, buildings and happenings.

Snow and ice buildings and happenings related to snow are of course depending on the weather conditions, but with many years of experiences there have not been great problems so far. The winter is cold and snowy in Lapland.

A building that this year raises for the 19th time is the SnowCastle in the town of Kemi, about 100 km from Rovaniemi by the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. The SnowCastle is already under construction and will be opened on January 25th 2014. The SnowCastle has different themes and both contents and architecture vary every year. Inside the castle there are light-effects on the ice-sculptures and the constructions. The SnowCastle will be open daily until the season ends on April 6th. This date could change depending on the weather conditions. Reservations can be done for the restaurant and for the chapel. Many couples get married here during the season. These pictures are from the SnowCastle in 2007.

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The snow-building is also represented at the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi. Every year there is something made of snow and ice. Even a whole log house made of only ice with an ice bar was built there in winter 2008-2009. 

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The Arctice Winter Wonderland with long snow slopes and a playground for children at the Arctic Circle is very popular. This year they have expanded with a building containing ice bar, art gallery and ice hotel.

In SantaPark you can visit the ice gallery. There are sculptures of wild animals living in the arctic regions. Last year’s visitor was Sid from the Ice Age movies. This year Niko the reindeer is visiting the Ice Gallery of SantaPark. There you can also meet the Ice Princess, try to sit on her throne and have a cold drink in glasses made from ice.

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At the Lapland University there is a Snow Design Project running under the Faculty of Art and Design and the University has the knowledge of snow design that it wants to export to other parts of the world.

Earlier projects of snow design in Rovaniemi are such as these:

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Many hotels around Lapland offer the customers possibilities to sleep in an igloo in combination to a hotel room. The night in an igloo is an extraordinary experience where you also get a certificate. You are provided with warm clothes and sleeping bags, the beds are comfortable and you always have the possibility to return into your hotel room if you find the igloo night too challenging.

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At the Arctic Circle outside Rovaniemi, near the house of Santa Claus a new world, Arctice Winter World, has opened its doors this winter. You enter the world through the wooden house and for an entrance fee you can visit the ice bar with spectacular ice sculptures and the igloo hotel, everything made of just snow and ice. Outside the igloos there is a huge icy slope for downhill tobogganing.

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The Arctice Winter world opened on December 5th, 2013 and is planned to keep open until the end of March this year. I was amazed by the igloo hotel. There were several rooms of different size and all with its special ice decorations on the walls. The beds looked tempting with comfortable madrasses. You can book a room on the home page and you get a sleeping bag to use. The walls in the hall are also decorated with outstanding sculptures.

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All over the Arctice Winter world there were special colored lights. After the entrance you enter into the ice bar and café. On real reindeer hides the whole family can enjoy non-alcoholic or alcoholic warm or cold drinks. Cold drinks can also be served in real ice glasses.

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The legend of Saana and Malla fells in Kilpisjarvi

In the upper north-west of Finland the country is like an “arm” between the Swedish and the Norwegian border. This area is where the highest fells of Finland are situated. On the Swedish and the Norwegian sides of the border are even higher fells and this area is amazingly beautiful all year around. Every season has its charm and beauty here. I use to go ice-fishing in this area in spring time.

As it has snowed the past week in Lapland for the first time this autumn, I think it is suitable to show you some winter pictures now in the beginning of winter. You can check out the snow situation in Kilpisjarvi here.

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If you visit the little village of Kilpisjarvi in Finland you are just 7 km from the crossing of the border to Norway. Kilpisjarvi is a very small village, and its known history is young. The first permanent inhabitants came to the village as late as 1915. Anyway, nothing remains from those years, since it all was demolished in the Lapland War 1944-1945. In the end of WW 2 Finland had to drive the former allies, the German forces, away. The Germans retreated towards north and then to Norway. German forces burnt everything behind them. This retreat and burning of structures left behind is called Lapland War. The road to and from Kilpisjarvi was much improved during the war because during the WW 1 (1914-1918) large amounts of war materials were transported through Kilpisjarvi to vicinity of Tornio. All this material was meant for the Russian front. At the most, between 1915-1916, 1400 horses were in duty to transport military materials on this road. This road, the Northern light road, is the only road in this area, so the Swedes and the Norwegians also use this road for transports to their fells. Kilpisjarvi is a very popular village to Norwegians and they spend holidays here both in summer and in winter time.

Treriksröset (in Swedish), Treriksrøysa (in Norwegian), Kolmen valtakunnan rajapyykki (in Finnish) is the special point at which the borders of Sweden, Norway and Finland meet.

TreriksThe name can be translated into English as “Three-Country Cairn”, and is named for the monument of stones erected in 1897 by the governments of Norway and Russia (which was administering Finland at that time). The Swedish could not agree on a boundary commission with the Norwegians and did not bring their stone until 1901. This is Sweden’s most northerly point and it is the westernmost point of the Finnish mainland.

The location of Treriksröset

It is reached by walking 11 kilometres from Kilpisjarvi on a public road. In summertime it can be reached by boat from Kilpisjarvi plus a 3 kilometres walk.

IMG_3698To drive from Rovaniemi to Kilpisjarvi by car takes about 5-6 hours. You drive along the Northern Light route and before you end up in Kilpisjarvi you will pass by a place called Muotkatakka. This is where the highest situated road in Finland is. It is on 565,6 meter above the sea level. On this place, Muotkatakka, you can also find a monument that tells you this is the place where the last cannon shots against the retreating German forces were shot in the Lapland War in 27.4.1945.

After you have been on the highest place of the road, the road starts to go down again and finally you will see a silhouette of a fell that is nothing like the surrounding fells at all. This is the fell Saana and the little Kilpisjarvi village is situated at the foot of Saana fell by the Kilpisjarvi lake. On the opposite shore of Kilpisjarvi lake is the border to Sweden. .

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Saana has received its name from the word of Saami language meaning a certain mushroom. From one angle the fell does look like a mushroom. Some people think it looks like an overturned boat with a keel. For the Saami people it is a sacred mountain. Fires were burned to the God of Thunder on top of it. The peak is 1029 meters above sea level and 556 meters up from the Kilpisjarvi lake’s surface. Saana is the 25th tallest fell in Finland, but second most known because of its impressive shape.

According to the legend – long ago Kilpisjarvi area was inhabited by giants. Sullen Saana (the fell) got a crush on lovely Malla (the fell next to Saana). On the wedding day Pältsä (that is a fell on the Swedish side of the border) wanted to stop the wedding ceremony. He had found out he was also in love with Malla. The wedding ceremony would have been held by Paras (a fell on the Norwegian side of the border), and he was known as the magician. But Pältsä had called the evil elderly women of Lapland to come to Kilpisjarvi. All of a sudden a fierce northern wind wiped all the celebrants with ice-cold wind. Very soon the area was frozen and filled with ice. At the last moment, Saana pushed the lovely Malla over to her mother’s, Big Malla’s arms. (There are two Malla fells just near one another). At that moment the freezing cold took away all life in the area. Malla cried, and from her tears Kilpisjarvi – the lake was formed. The lake is situated in between Saana and Malla fells.

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Read more about the area around Saana fell here.

 

 

An autumn day with experiences for body and soul in Pyytöuoma Nature Park

After a warm and exceptional long summer time this year in Finnish Lapland the autumn now announces its arrival with lower outdoor temperatures and the leaves falling off the trees.

Still you can enjoy fantastic and fabulous hiking day trips all over Lapland on the large amount of suitable hiking paths in the forests or on the fells. One of the most beautiful hiking paths for a day trip  in the forest is the path of Pyytöuoma in Posio in the east of Lapland near the Russian border. This is not far away from Korouoma canyon, where I have hiked before.

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IMG_9264Some people like to hike in the open areas on top of fells, but I like it very much to walk through forests and learn about the wild life and the nature of the Lappish forest. The environment is also changing all the time; sometimes you cross a little river and sometimes you have to climb up along a wall of the cliffs a bit and many times the path goes over swamps on duckboards, And almost certainly you find a fire-place where you can stop for a while and just sit down and enjoy your picnic and the surrounding views.

IMG_2628To find this Pyytöuoma, you drive by car along road nr 81 from Rovaniemi towards Posio. About 37 kms before Posio you turn left on to a sandy road leading you about 8 kms to a parking area where you can leave your car. From here the 3,7 km long nature path starts. The path circles in a beautiful scenery along the Pyytöuoma riverbed and cliffs. There are some steep places where you go down to the bottom of the canyon and also places where you approach up from the canyon again, but the path is very well suitable even for family day trips.

Pyytötuoma area is protected and almost in its natural state. There are rare species of flora and fauna living in the ancient forests of Pyytöuoma. If you are interested, along the path there are 12 info signs about the nature and forest management of the area.

IMG_0111After a while, almost halfway, you are walking on the bottom of the canyon and you cross a little river. In case you have your fishing equipment with you, you can always try to catch the rare river trout (brown trout), which lives in these kinds of small rivers in the Lappish forests. But from here the path starts rising again up on the other side of the riverbed. This is the most trying part of the path but once you end up on top of the cliff  you will get your reward. The view is just astonishing and there is also a beautiful fire-place waiting for you. The picnic you brought with you should be enjoyed here by the fire. There is a sign also telling that there is a well here near by, but I did not manage to find it, but I probably did not try hard enough.

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After a deserved pause the hike can continue. Now the path leads you through the forest and the information signs tell you about the work in the forest and how the Finnish Forest and Park Service has planned to keep the natural state of Pyytöuoma with as little incite in the nature as possible.

IMG_9271After a walk along a duck board you see a small “lake” or just a body of water in the middle of the swamp. The water is clear and it tempts you to taste it. I found out by tasting that it is clear and ice-cold and also good tasting.

Finally in the end of the path we end up at a “laavu” or a covered fire-place. This was a day trip for us, but if you choose to make a several days stay in the forest, this laavu could be the place to stay over night at this time of the year. You could keep yourself warm at the fire-place and in case of rain you would stay dry.

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This was a very interesting and enjoyable day trip for me both because of the exercise my body got by climbing and walking and the soul could just rest in the beauty of the nature of this canyon and the surrounding nature. In the evening the temperature lowered to nearly 0 degrees and you could see a thin ice coat on the surface of a lake near by.

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Vibrant autumnal period (Ruska)

In autumn in Lapland the days get shorter, rain raises the water levels of rivers, lakes and swamps, and the cooling weather helps to form a misty cloud cover over the waterways. The vibrant autumnal shades of the ruska period is a sign of nature making its preparations for the coming winter.

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In Lapland the period in early autumn when all the leaves of plants and trees turn into a yellow, red and orange colour they call Ruska.

 

Ruska intensifies day by day in early September as the nights get cooler from swamps to fell highlands. The colourful splendour is at its most spectacular around the middle of September, and sometimes at the end of the month.

TIMG_1055his phenomenon starts when the daylight hours decrease and the weather gets colder. Plants start to prepare for the long winter, the chlorophyll starts to move from the leaves into the branches, trunk and roots and this makes the colour cells in the leaves glow. The more the night-time temperatures fall below zero and the drier the weather, the more vibrant the array of colour. The birch turns a gentle shade of yellow, aspen turns red, and the leaves of blueberry and bog bilberry shrubs turn bright red.

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Many people like to come to Lapland from i.e. the south of Finland to admire the ruska by hiking in the forests and on the fells. Here you find information of how to join a ruska-trip to Lapland. And here is another travel agency’s offer. 

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Some of our birds migrate to warmer climates when autumn comes, but the local birds have to survive the cold of winter. During the autumn, squirrels store pine cones in the ground safely out of the reach of woodpeckers. The stoat and fox are also very good at hiding things.

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Some animals take a winter rest, hibernation and wake up again in the spring when the sun once again provides warmth and nutrition becomes available. The bear, badger and raccoon dog hibernate during the winter. During the autumn, these animals accumulate a layer of fat under their skins that their bodies use for nutrition through the long winter.

I am excited waiting for what the winter brings regarding the brown bears in Ranua zoo. See my earlier post.
The northern lights have already been seen in the sky above Lapland this autumn. They expect a very active northern light winter this year, so I suppose the tourists interested in the phenomenon will hurry to Lapland within the next months. Especially the Japanese are very interested in seeing northern lights.
IMG_4623In the autumn in Lapland you can fish in fluvial waters, lakes and marine areas. The provincial fish, the salmon may still be fished from the lakes. Before departing on a fishing trip you should check legal matters and statutes from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry website Lure fishing may be practiced on state-owned lure and recreational fishing regions. You can fish on private waterways without needing to pay the provincial lure fishing fee, but you must receive permission to fish the waters from the owner of the waterway. Private, joint permit region waterways like these are, for instance located on the Tornionjoki, Ounasjoki and Lower Kemijoki rivers. You need a permit to practice lure fishing.
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Reindeer herding in Lapland is based on year’s cycle that nature determines. The heat or mating season is in October. The male reindeer gather then a herd of female reindeer or does around him and at this time of the year there are large herds of reindeer also moving around on the roads. So there is a reason to be careful when driving. The female reindeer then carries the calf until the late spring. The calves are born in May and start to walk already a couple of hours after they are born.

Wolverine – a threat to reindeer herding in Lapland?

There are four large carnivores living in Finland: bear, lynx, wolf and wolverine. These are threats to the reindeer herding in Lapland. Every year a large amount of the Lappish reindeer become victims of these carnivores. And every year a large amount of money is paid by the government of Finland for losses on the reindeer herds in Lapland.

A Government decree on the payment of compensation for damage caused by carnivores came into force in Finland in 2000, stating that payments should be made from budgeted government funds for damage caused by bears, wolves, lynxes or wolverines to people, traffic, farmland, livestock, reindeer, pets or property. Last year, in 2013, the amount of damage compensation for damages caused by carnivores in Finland was about 8,5 million euro. 94 % of the damages was made by wolverines. There has been a huge increase in the last years.

The Finnish Forest and Park Service (Metsähallitus) explains why it is important for nature to have these carnivores on the page telling about the Finnish carnivores:

“Large carnivores are a valuable and integral part of the natural environment in Finland. In ecological terms, large carnivores play a vital regulatory role maintaining the natural balance in ecosystems. Large carnivores have evolved to keep the populations of larger herbivorous mammals in check. They also generally tend to prey on weaker individuals, thereby improving the genetic stock of their prey species through the processes of natural selection.”

IMG_0535I use to visit the Ranua zoo regularly because I am fascinated by the sight of these animals. In Ranua zoo they have individuals representing all these four carnivores. My dilemma is that I am also very found of reindeer, and the fact that reindeer often become victims to all these carnivores is just breaking my heart. It is hard to understand why a little animal like the wolverine has to kill a big reindeer to get food, as it does not even eat it up but leaves the carcass after having a bite; preferably the heart of the reindeer. The wolverine jumps up on the back of the reindeer and with a bite in the neck it kills or at least paralyses the reindeer. A small animal could, in my opinion, survive eating smaller species from the Lapland nature like lemmings and sorks. Sometimes they do store their pray and return to eat from the same carcass.

Reindeer are easy prey for the wolverine to kill (in winter the wolverine mainly lives on reindeer), to tear up into pieces and hide for a “rainy day”. The wolverine does not sink into soft snow nearly as much as a reindeer does. The weight of a reindeer per cm² of its base is 8 – 10 times that of a wolverine. The wolverine does not always kill reindeer for food, but does it for “fun”, too. To read more about reindeer herding and predators, visit the site of the Reindeer Herders’ Association.

IMG_7086In the wilderness of Lapland I have once seen a wolverine (Gulo gulo). It looked so small and neat to my eyes. We were out icefishing in the Upper North of Finland and suddenly it appeared on the ice of the river. Even if it is said they have an excellent sense of smell, it did not recognize us and we followed its movements from a distance of approx 75-100 meters for quite a long time until it disappeared again behind some fell birches. After that I walked to the place where the wolverine had left some footprints. This was a very small wolverine, perhaps only a young wolverine or a female. The male wolverine grows to approx. 28 kg and the female to approx 12 kg. The length varies from 69 to 83 cm.

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Wolverines’ fur is generally dark brown,  but some individuals are paler brown or blackish. Their tracks are surprisingly large, and resemble the footprints of a small bear. Their large paws enable them to move around in the snow easily without sinking into drifts. Wolverines most commonly move in leaps and bounds, leaving their tracks in pairs or groups of three.

Today wolverines mainly occur in the open fell regions of northern Fennoscandia, and nearby coniferous forests. The most growing population lives in the border regions between northern Sweden and Norway. In Finland the approx amount of wolverines is 230-250 specimen.
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Here is a map of Finland indicating the amount of wolverines in 2008. Darker regions in the map show high number of observations and on the lighter regions amount of sightings is lower. The Upper North of Finland as I call it is in the so-called “arm” of Finland.
The Wolverine has been an endangered species in Finland for the last 30 years and the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute supervised between 1984 and 1998 the introduction of about 20 wolverines into parts of their former ranges around Finland. Wolverines have been removed from areas where reindeer are raised, and introduced into parts of Central and Western Finland. The wolverine population now thriving in Ostrobothnia and northern parts of the province of Central Finland is largely the result of such introductions.

However, the population of wolverines in regions where reindeer are raised has increased from 40 specimen in 1980 to 180 in 2010, and the Government has to take into consideration giving permissions to the Lappish people to hunt the wolverine again. It is a protected specimen and hunting is not allowed at the moment. 

 

The Lapland Gold

If you try to get in contact with your Lappish friends these days by phone or by visiting, you would probably find that they are not at home, neither would you be able to reach them by mobile phone. The answer you get on the phone is that their phones are out of reach; no possibilities to connect. What is going on in Lapland these days??!

The answer is cloudberries! This year Lapland is blessed with more cloudberries (rubus chamaemorus) than the last 2-3 summers. The beginning of this summer in Lapland has been exceptional with warm and sunny weather for weeks now and only one night with degrees below 0  during the blooming of the cloudberries. The insects have done a wonderful job, and the inhabitants of Lapland are now delighted and every one is out picking cloudberries on every possible time off from work or other duties. You can even stay out on the swamps and in the forests all night long and collect berries because of the midnight sun shining. The Lappish people do their sleeping during the winter. The summer is the time when you fill your deep-freezer with all the delicacies from the nature. First the cloudberries, then the blueberries and the lingonberries and finally the cranberries.

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Outside the densely built-up areas the possibilities to connect to mobile phones are weak and on large areas even non-existent. That is why you cannot reach your friends who are out collecting cloudberries on the swamps. Luckily the emergency number 112 is still working in case the cloudberry picker gets lost or has an emergency out there. Every year someone gets sick or disappear on the swamps when picking berries. There is of course also reason to be careful in the wilderness, not at least with the possibilities to meet an angry bear. All bears are of course not angry; usually they absolutely do not want to meet people and they escape as soon as they get the whiff of a human being.

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Many keen pickers are also able to sell part of their harvest to berry buyers for a quite good sum of money. The offered price for cloudberries has been real good for some years now; up to even 18 euro/kg, and even unemployed people have been able to get quite an extra income on berry picking. The state of Finland does not claim any taxes for these kinds of income. This year, due to the good harvest, the price unfortunately has fell to hardly half the price; 10 euro/kg, from last year. On the other hand pickers are now able to pick with both their hands instead of only one hand as they have done the last years.

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The Lappish food factories bring berry pickers from Far East, from Thailand, to help to collect the harvest needed for their fruit products manufactured in their factories. There has been a lack of some cloudberry products now for some years, which will be fixed this year, I am sure. During many years already these kinds of berry pickers from Thailand have been brought to the Lappish areas during summer. Some inhabitants of Lapland do not approve of these manners and every year these topics are up in newspapers and on other public forums. Some Laplanders claim there are not enough of berries in the swamps and that they think the incomes would be more useful for the unemployed Laplanders instead of given away to foreigners. But this year hopefully these kinds of greedy thoughts are left behind and the harvest is big enough to share among also others than the Lappish people. May the thought of how  the job for one man as berry picker here in Lapland for one summer season helps a whole family back home in Thailand to get a better life, bring peace into the hearts of the Finnish people, too. And frankly, not many of the Finnish pickers are disturbed by these foreign pickers, and you are still almost certainly able to enjoy the harvest from your own secret cloudberry places alone. The areas of the swamps and forests in Lapland are really vast.

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Added when the cloudberry season was over: Due to discussion with local berry picker there were a lot of cloudberries that had to be left on the swamps because they were too mature, not suitable to eat anymore. .

 

By a river in the wilderness of Lapland to catch the river trout

Did you think I am not fishing this time of the year? Actually, this year I am not summer fishing in Lapland, but I want to tell you about earlier years as I have fished in Lapland in the beginning of summer. In Lapland there are a lot of small rivers and really tiny rivers in the wilderness, not much bigger than a ditch, where there is a lot of fish.

IMG_9474You can get greyling (harjus) from the rivers near the rapids also in summer, not only when ice-fishing. In summer you catch greylings standing on the shore of the rapids or you could stand in the rapid yourself, if you want. I never did that, though.

 

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If you are out camping you can fry your catches on a trangia spiritburner right away. Delicious!

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Another peculiar fish in the tiny rivers is the little brown trout or river trout (tammukka, purotaimen) as it is also called.

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The river trout is related to the common trout, but it does not really grow big. The river trout stays in the river where it was born. Normally trouts migrate from the birth place to bigger rivers and rapids and at times they grow really big; they could even be about 15 kg. But the trouts that stay in the little river where they were born never grow big, to not even 1 kg. The river trout is found all over Finland but specially in Lapland it is really small; about 25 cm. The government of Finland has decided the minimum of all fish you are allowed to catch, and the minimum length they have put on a river trout is 40 cm, but the fact is, they never grow that big in Lapland! So you could say the river trout every little boy in Lapland uses to catch does not even exist in the eyes of the government. Read more about fishing licenses and restrictions here.

IMG_4139 IMG_4132Even small children can go angling river trouts in the small rivers. It is easy to catch, But one thing is important; you should keep quiet when angling! The river trout does not like voices and noise. It is easily frightened away. You should sneak quietly into your place on the shore before you start angling.

I love to walk along these small rivers in the absolute wilderness. The forest is so quiet around you. Sometimes you meet some reindeer and sometimes a beaver. I have also seen poo-poos of bears, but I never saw a bear, luckily. Even if I am very keen on fishing I also often just admire the nature and try to enjoy every minute of my stay in the wilderness. A foot bath in the ice-cold, clear river-water is a lovely experience after a long walk into the wilderness and refreshes your feet .

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Enjoy these photos of the wilderness of Lapland!

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In Lapland during summer season the main trouble is the mosquitoes. You should never forget to put on some insect repellent when going angling by the river. The mosquitoes could ruin the pleasure about angling for you. 

 

 

The time to catch river trouts is at its best in early summer. At the same time the cloud berries are blooming and every Laplander hopes for no night frost or hailstorm that could spoil the opportunities to enjoy a perfect cloud berry crop later in the summer.

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Hiking in Lapland and shelters for staying overnight

On hiking trips in the Lapland nature and especially along hiking routes you will find shelters or huts to use for resting, just for some hours or even to stay over night. There are huts which hikers can use for free, and others for which a fee is charged. You can look for maps and useful information about hiking here.

IMG_2373The most common and well-known type of free, open huts are the open wilderness huts. The wilderness huts are meant for one-night stays. They are usually located in the northern and eastern parts of Finland, usually in roadless backwoods. Other open huts include day trip huts, which are not meant for staying

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overnight. Also open turf huts, or campfire sites as you also can call them, and Lappish pole tents are suitable places to stop and rest during the day, but in exceptional circumstances they can give shelter for the night, too. The shelters and huts are managed by the Metsähallitus of Finland. Near the huts and shelters there is also firewood for free use by the hikers.

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Reservable huts are locked, and a fee is charged for staying. By using reservable huts, the hiker can be sure to have somewhere to stay overnight. But then the hike must be planned in advance, and that is not always what the hikers want to do. There are of course also more equipped cottages to rent for more than one night’s stay managed by the company Wild North. 

Many extensive areas of forest and open fell are owned by the State and managed by Metsähallitus, especially in Finnish Lapland. In the south, more forests are owned by local people. Finland’s liberal laws of public access give everyone the right to roam the forests and countryside freely, no matter who owns the land.

I have spent many days in the Lappish forests and lakes and I have loved to explore different kinds of shelters. I, myself, have not yet stayed over night in any of these shelters, but I have heard other people doing it and they have loved it. In summer time of course there are the mosquitoes, gnats and horseflies bothering. That is not the case during winter, but I can think of a lot of reasons not to want to stay over night in a shelter during winter. But I could be wrong, I admit that. To be able to sleep outdoors in summer you have to use some kind of insect repellent or venom on your skin.

I have been surprised to find these shelters in so many different shapes. Some of them more architectonic with more constructions than others.

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On my trips in Lapland I have also found shelters for cooking or just eating, made of inhabitants of Lapland without any connections to the Metsähallitus and their huts and shelters.

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I must say the most fascinating hut I found was the one made of reindeer keepers long time ago for overnight stays. I felt the wind of ancient times blowing as I opened the door to the hut.

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Lapland – the land of eight seasons

Lapland nature has four seasons. These are spring, summer, autumn, and winter. But Lapland is also called the land of eight seasons.

IMG_0800Winter lasts more than half a year in many places. Winter also means a long darkness and the blue light during day time and the lakes and rivers are covered with ice and snow for many months. But winter also brings light, because the white snow always makes even the tiniest lights brighter. At around 70 degrees north the sun is below the horizon for two months. During the winter period there are also possibilities to see the aurora borealis or northern lights. In summer you cannot see them because of the light. Summer is short. But then Lapland has up to two months of midnight sun – or nightless nights as they also are called.

From the oldest times eight seasons were used by people living in Lapland to describe the cycle of mother nature. Here are the eight periods:

8Seasons_ympyrahotspot_ENGLWinter (December to April)

Spring-winter (April and May)

Spring (May and June)

Spring-summer (June)

Summer (July and August)

Summer-autumn (August)

Autumn (September and October)

Autumn-winter (November)

There were good reasons for dividing time into eight seasons. The seasons followed the cycle of nature, which is constantly changing. The Lappish people learned that different tasks had to be done during the ever-changing cycle of the eight seasons.

Did you know that Lapland and the Arctic region on an average have more light than for instance regions near the equator? Thus the Lapland light makes the area a realm of light. And because of hours of twilight even the shortest day is not totally dark. As we move through the year, the Lapland light is in constant change. As winter changes to spring, the spring light changes everything around you.

The long white nights even urge many kinds of birds to migrate to these northern areas where they have more working hours than anywhere else in the world to bring the next generation to the world.

There are many kinds of birds in Lapland. Lapland is an eldorado for bird watchers. In many places there are bird-watching towers. The Lapland spring is a hectic time for fumigators who often come a long way to nest. I was surprised to find out that the time of arrival for the birds in Lapland in the spring does not vary too much from their time of arrival in the south of Finland. When I lived in the south of Finland I always thought of the arrival of the Common Gull (lat. Larus canus, fin. Kalalokki) meant that the spring was about to begin. But I have seen Common Gulls sitting on the ice in March looking for some leftovers from the ice-fishing people. And I can tell you the spring is really not in the nearest future; the ice is about 70 cm thick still.

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IMG_2694The same thing concerns the Swans (Cygnus cygnus). They migrate from Europe to Lapland in a time when there is only smaller parts of lakes or rivers open and free from ice. Then they spend time in the open water areas for weeks waiting for the ice to melt more and more around them.

 

In spring time the Lappish people collect Birch sap (fin. mahla) from the Birch trees. Birch sap is drinkable and must be collected during a specific time of the year, at the break of winter and spring when the sap moves intensively up inside the trees before any green leaves have appeared on the tree. The Birch sap collection is done by tying a bottle to the tree, drilling a hole into its trunk and leading the sap to the bottle by a plastic tube. A small birch (trunk diameter about 15 cm) can produce up to 5 liters of sap per day, a larger tree (diameter 30 cm) up to 15 liters per day. The collection period is only about a month per year, as the sap later becomes bitter.

IMG_2753The sap is often a slightly sweet, thin syrupy-watery liquid. The tree sap contains sugars (namely xylitol), proteins, amino acids, and enzymes. It is very healthy and keeps the flu away. It is also considered as antiseptic, anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory and anti-itching treatment. Fresh birch sap is highly perishable; even if refrigerated, it is stable for only up to 2–5 days. You can of course also freeze it for later use.

The Birch sap collecting is a habit among people in the north of Europe and in Russia.

As the time of the nightless nights now are just about to start in Lapland, you can check the light in the city of Rovaniemi at any time of the day by opening this link with web cameras showing real time pictures in the city center. So even if you check the web camera in the middle of the night there will be light.

 

Expecting brown bear cubs in Ranua Wildlife Park?

I use to visit the Ranua zoo several times a year. I love to see the animals and their actions at different times of the year. In winter there are many active animals in the zoo, because this is an arctic animal zoo with animals from the region of Lapland, and so they are used to winter. During the winter the animals are more active while they during the summer season often are feeling a little dizzy because of the heat during the days and are mostly resting during the visitors’ time.

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When I visit the zoo during the winter seasons one animal is not to be seen at all. That is the brown bear. The brown bears in the nature are sleeping winter hibernation during the winter, and so are the brown bears in Ranua zoo. They use to go to sleep in November and wake up in the beginning of March. This year the brown bears woke up already in February. The staff in the zoo thinks the early wake-up is caused by the big amount of visitors who came to look at the polar bear cub, Ranzo, and the noise spread in to the dens of the brown bears. Read more about Ranzo in my post about the polar bears. Here is a link from Jehu’s first meeting with the snow in 2011.

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I visited the zoo in the beginning of May. At the moment there are three brown bears living in Ranua. They are the old Palle-Jooseppi and his son Jehu, 3 years old. Last spring Jehu got a girlfriend from another zoo in Finland, the Ähtäri zoo, and her name is Malla. Malla is four years old at the moment. The brown bears get sexually mature at the age of 4-5 years, so the expectations are high there would be one or two cubs in the den next spring when the bears wake up. The cubs are born in January-February. Here is the you tube-link from Malla’s first day in Ranua zoo last spring.

IMG_2777The possibilities for cubs in Ranua zoo next spring are quite high while Jehu and Malla spend a lot of time together and seem to get along quite well. Jehu is at the moment the last brown bear born in this zoo. His mother, Doris, got sick and had to be put to sleep a couple of years ago. After Doris was gone a new female bear, also named Malla, was brought to the zoo. The staff wanted Malla and Palle-Jooseppi to get acquainted to each other and the two bears were put together in the same cage. But it turned out something about Malla irritated Palle-Jooseppi and he hit her and then caused her death.

Last spring as the new Malla-bear was brought to the zoo she was put together with Jehu immediately. She, however, got a bit scared of Jehu’s interest, so the staff had to put Jehu away for a while to “cool down”. But at the moment there are no problem whatsoever and the two young bears seem to get very well together, while Palle-Jooseppi spends his time alone in his own cage.

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The brown bear lives in the forests and mountains of northern North America, Europe, and Asia. The Finnish brown bear lives mainly in conifer forests. The brown bear, which is active during twilight, can also be seen searching for food during the day. Brown bears are usually solitary. The male and the female spend time together during mating season in the summer, and the mother usually lives with its growing cubs until the next cub is born. The female bear gives birth to new cubs approx. every three-year.

Adult brown bears are powerful, top-of-the-food chain predators, but much of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and roots. Bears also eat other animals, from rodents to moose. Last week there was a killed reindeer found just about a kilometer from the Santa Claus’ village outside Rovaniemi, most certainly killed by a bear. There is at the moment not so much other food to eat in the forest, unfortunately.

Despite their enormous size, brown bears are extremely fast, having been clocked at speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). They can be dangerous to humans, particularly if surprised or if a person gets between a mother bear and her cubs. Almost every year there are reports of bears seen too near habitations in the eastern parts of Finland. People have all reasons to be careful when they see a bear, even though the bears are very neat to look at and every child probably has a beloved teddy bear at home in their bed.

The bears could live to 25 years of age. The adult bears are 5 to 8 ft (1.5 to 2.5 m) tall and weight 700 lbs (318 kg). The male bear is bigger than the female bear.

 

Nature path at its best in spring time at Ounasvaara hill

The last remainders of snow are melting at the moment and I am looking forward to the time when the nature paths dry and I can make spring excursions in the nature around Rovaniemi.

One of my favorite nature paths is the one at Ounasvaara hill. There are actually several possible routes to choose; they are between 3,8 and 4,4 km long. Along the paths you will find places to rest and there are several parts of the route along so called duckboards to keep your shoes dry when you walk across the swamps. You will also find a nice little well where you can taste absolutely clear water that comes out from the ground.

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Along the route you find lots of useful information boards explaining to you about the kind of forests and swamps there are to be found in this part of Finland. You can also learn about the trees, the plants, the bedrock and the type of ground you find along the paths.

During the ice-age 115,000 to 10,000 years ago Finland was covered with ice as the rest of northern and central Europe. The continental ice sheet began to withdraw from the edge of southern Finland about 13,000 years ago. Melting of the ice began to accelerate around 11,000 years ago; Finland was free of ice about 10,000 years ago. You can see a place on Ounasvaara considered as the first shore line when the ice began to melt.

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You can also walk the path up to the tower of the downhill slopes (for downhill skiing in winter) on the northern hill side of Ounasvaara and from there you will get a marvellous view over the city of Rovaniemi.

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I think the nature paths are at their best in spring time after the snow has melted and there is only a little greening starting to show.

From this link with maps of Rovaniemi region you can search for the nature path (called airing routes) on Ounasvaara.

 

Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis

Last night, once again, I was admiring the Northern Lights’ green curtain dancing above my head in the dark sky in the middle of the night. The Northern Lights never cease to fascinate me. Every time is unique! There are never two alike Northern lights. Even if there is no wind blowing at all on the place where you stand, the Northern Lights are moving all the time like the wind blows them; sometimes they increase and then again decrease. The next minute they come from another part of the sky and increase rapidly to long green stripes and then again decrease down to a shorter “curtain” of bright green. I have once seen a green Northern Light with a bright red center. That is more unusual.

I use to check up with sites that are special Northern Light forecast sites and I also have one of the sites sending me an e-mail when the activity is increasing, so I can move to a place where the possibilities to see Auroras is at their best. The fact is, you cannot see them in a town or city, because of the “light pollution”. There should not be any disturbing lights nearby. The nearer the North Pole you are the more above your head are the Northern Lights. If you look at them from more far away from the North Pole they appear more near the horizon.

Here are some of the sites I use to check up about Northern Lights:

The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory near Rovaniemi is making observations and statistics over Northern Lights and I often check up their home page. This is, however, not a forecast site. It is more like statistics of how frequent the Auroras have been last night, for example. The space weather prediction center gives you more a hint of what is to be expected the next hours and The Geophysical Institute of Alaska can give you quite exact predictions of upcoming Northern Lights.

Soft serve news is also a very good site with information about Auroras and it also provides you with links to predictions sites.

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So, what is exactly the phenomenon Northern Lights or the Auroras? The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.

The Northern Lights appear in many colors although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

Northern Lights can be seen in the northern or southern hemisphere, in an irregularly shaped oval centred over each magnetic pole. The lights are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.
Where is the best place to see Auroras? Areas that are not subject to ‘light pollution’ are the best places to watch for the lights. There should be a clear sky, mostly in a cold winter night. Winter in the north is generally a good season to view lights. The long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights provide many good opportunities to watch the Auroras in Lapland. Usually the best time of night (on clear nights) to watch them is local midnight.

Researchers have also discovered that auroral activity is cyclic, peaking roughly every 11 years. This year, 2013, is a peak period.

The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common Northern Light color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.

As I do not own a camera with possibilities to take my own photographs of the Northern Lights, I have to add some photos I have found on the Internet. These are typical Northern Lights seen in Lapland.

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Hiking in Korouoma canyon in Lapland

Korouoma is about 30 kilometers (20 mi) long, few hundred metres wide and up to 130 m (430 ft) deep canyon at Posio about 200 km east from Rovaniemi. The entire area is natural reserve. At the bottom of the canyon there is the very narrow Korojoki River, which ends up to Kemijoki river, which is also running through Rovaniemi. Kemijoki river makes a great impact on the Lappish nature as it flows through different places on its way out to the sea near Kemi city. Korouoma offers great opportunities for hiking and enjoying the nature.

Korouoma is a fairly popular hiking area. There is a marked hiking path at the bottom of the Korouoma and several fireplaces, huts and cabins. Finnish Administration of Forests takes care of the routes and hiking related infrastructure there. Korouoma with its steep cliffs and the frozen pouring water is also the best place in Finland to do ice climbing, and also climbing in the summer is popular.

As I made a hiking trip together with a good friend we only made a part of the 30 kilometers but the nature was outstanding. In ancient times there has been a kind of earth quake that has formed the place to a canyon with steep cliffs on both sides. There is said to be some bears’ dens, too. I am glad we did not meet any bears.

We partly walked along the Korojoki river but we also took the over 100 steps of a stair leading up to the top of the cliff; a condition testing achievement. It was much easier to walk down again. We stopped at a fireplace, i.e. a hootchie or laavu, and had our break before we returned to the parking where our car was waiting. I dream of the day I can make the whole Korouoma hiking, 30 km. Here you find more hiking routes in Lapland and other places in Finland. .

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Polar night or Kaamos and Midnight sun for the first time

The polar night is a phenomenon above the Arctic circle that means the sun does not rise above the horizon for an amount of time depending on how near the north pole the place is. In Rovaniemi the polar night, or kaamos as the Finns call it, really do not exist because the sun rises around Christmas time for a couple of hours during the day time. But still people use to call the time around Christmas and New Year the kaamos time. As my friends heard I will stay in Lapland during winter time they asked me how I would cope with the kaamos. After I experienced my first kaamos winter I really have to say, it was no problem at all. On the opposite, I found the kaamos quite exciting with the blue shine all day long, only with an exception of a couple of hours of light yellow sun shine in the middle of the day. You get the feeling of real arctic moments then. It is an relaxing feeling as you are surrounded of this blue atmosphere. It the weather is really cold, as it usually is at that time of the year, the blue light turns out to be even somewhat deeper.

The changes from summer lights to winter kaamos and on the other hand from kaamos to light again happen faster up in the north of Finland than in the south. The fact is that on March 20th and September 22th day and night are the same length in both south and north of Finland. Still in Lapland there are these periods of kaamos and the Midnight sun in the summer, when the sun does not set in the night at all for a period of time. The length of the time of the Midnight sun is depending on how near the north pole the place is; just the same as the fact about polar nights. In Rovaniemi region the Midnight sun period lasts from June 6th to July 6th.

These two pictures are from the polar night.

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This picture on the other hand is taken around midnight during the period of Midnight sun in Rovaniemi. It is amazing when you can stay outdoor all night and you have no problem to see in front of you because the sun is shining all the time. It is a well known fact that the Lapish people take advantage of these light summer nights and they do not sleep very many hours per night. During the winter and kaamos time they on the other hand sleep more hours.IMG_2218

 

 

My first Rovaniemi autumn

As I arrived in Rovaniemi in September 2006 it was all new to me. I had never been that up north in my home country Finland. In September the beautiful “ruska” time was going on. Ruska is when the leaves on the trees turn from green to yellow and red before they finally fall off. I walked along the riverside of Kemijoki near my apartment and took a lot of pictures of the phenomenon with the yellow and red colored trees and the red colored ground. Where I used to live before the “ruska” never seemed to be as bright as it was here in Lapland. I just loved and enjoyed it now. The yellow color is the color of happiness and well-being and it appealed very good to my mental health. I got a happy and warm feeling inside.

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As you walk around on Ounasvaara hill there is the possibility to meet a reindeer and the chances to meet one when driving your car along the roads are also big. You have to be aware of that and look out for the grey, or sometimes even white, animals. They move very slowly though. They are not like the quick footed deer in the south of Finland, who just without warning jump out from nowhere in front of your car. Once as I was driving my car I met with a sleeping reindeer on the road! And it did not even bothered to move away as cars drove by! No wonder there are so many killed reindeer during the dark time of the year. There are also elks in this part of Finland, but I have not seen many of them during my stay here.

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