It was too cloudy last night to see any northern lights, and when we woke up this morning it was even cloudier. There was a low mist over the village which made it difficult to see more than a few hundred metres ahead.
We were up relatively early – or, at least, well before daylight – because we needed to get ready for today’s activity: snowshoeing! This was something I had booked about a month ago, thinking that it would be a fun activity to try and something that we wouldn’t be able to try anywhere else. As the time to depart drew near, however, I began to wonder whether it had been such a good idea. Suppose snowshoeing was really difficult and we weren’t able to do it? I had booked for us to go on a guided snowshoe walk which said it was suitable for beginners, but perhaps a Finnish person’s idea of a beginner’s abilities wouldn’t be quite the same as mine!
We were picked up from outside our apartment in Äkäslompolo just after 9am and driven to the nearby settlement of Ylläs. The car journey was an adventure in itself, as the road took us across the fell between the two villages. It was still very dark, and we could just make out the rows of snow-covered trees behind the swirling mist. When we arrived, Ylläs seemed like a bit of a metropolis compared to Äkäslompolo. There were some large hotels and restaurants, as well as various ski lifts, and overall it was quite reminiscent of an Alpine skiing resort (whereas Äkäslompolo just feels like a small village in the middle of the wilderness!).
We were taken to the office of the adventure company, where we were supplied with coffee and snowshoes. The snowshoes were like a small skateboard for each foot, into which you clipped your boots and attached yourself with various straps. The front and underside of the snowshoes were fitted with sharp metal spikes to give you a good grip on the snow. The guide was a lovely lady who reassured us that if you are able to walk then you are able to snowshoe. She led our small group outside into the snow and showed us how to clip ourselves into the snowshoes. This actually turned out to be the most difficult bit of the entire experience, as there are numerous different buckles and clips to navigate. You have to make sure you are clipped in as tightly as possible so that you don’t lose one of your snowshoes when walking. Here’s a picture of me once I’d got them clipped on 🙂
Then we were off! It really is very simple – you just walk as normal, although you do have to be a bit careful not to trip over your own feet. There were about 15 or so of us in the group and the guide led us off on a narrow snowshoe path through the forest. As you can see, it was still quite dark but gradually starting to get lighter.
The mist meant that there wasn’t much of a view, but the guide made up for it by pointing out other points of interest. The first thing she stopped to show us were the footprints of a snow hare.
Later she also pointed out some reindeer droppings, but we didn’t take a photo of those!
We saw lots of trees that were bending under the weight of the snow. The guide explained that although the trees look like they are broken, they will all spring back once the snow melts.
Some of the trees had a special sort of lichen growing on them, which only grows in this part of the world where the air is so pure.
The landscape was magical as it started to get brighter.
There isn’t any logging in this part of the region because a large part of it is covered by the Pallas-Yllästunturi national park. One of the other members of the group questioned how old the trees are, because they all looked comparatively short; as if older trees were routinely cut down and replaced with new ones. The guide explained that no, the trees might be up to 70 years old and they just grow far more slowly that elsewhere because the summers are so short. There aren’t many trees older than 70 years because retreating German soldiers operated a scorched earth policy during the Second World War, causing massive devastation throughout Finnish Lapland.
After about an hour of walking, we reached a little shelter and it was time to stop for a rest and some hot berry juice. Once we removed the snow shoes to sit down, it was clear quite how effective they had been at keeping us upright, as the snow was quite slippery under our normal boots.
Tim was feeling a little warm from the exertion, so decided to take his jacket off for a while!
As we were drinking our berry juice, we saw an interesting bird sitting in one of the nearby trees.
The guide explained that this was a Siberian jay. It sounds like they are to Lapland what seagulls are to the English seaside; the guide explained how they like to swoop down and steal food from people’s picnics. Someone had some bread in their bag so she demonstrated holding it out in her hand, while the bird swooped down to take it.
Then it was time to be off again!
On the way back we were told that we could try walking off the prepared snowshow path and onto the untouched snow.
The snow was about a metre deep here, so there is no way you would be able to walk on it without snowshoes to spread your weight.
At times it was quite difficult even with snowshoes!
We made it back to Ylläs for midday, then were dropped off outside our apartment in Äkäslompolo just on time to go and get some lunch. It was an amazing morning and we had worked up quite an appetite! It cost about £45 each for morning’s adventure, which included the transport and the snowshoe hire. We had a fantastic time and we definitely think it was worth it 🙂