Winter Wonderland…

Roger: Tuesday 22 December

After another night of not enough sleep, we were picked up by Anniina and driven 40 minutes to Husky Point. At -3′ C it’s quite warm for this time of year. Last week it was -30. We were issued boots, gloves and overalls before checking out some husky pups.

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They have around 100 Alaskan huskies here. Today they are running ten teams of six.Heading up a track we came to a number of sleds with dog teams lined up ready to go. This was a very noisy affair with dogs in full bark and jumping around in spite of sleds being tied down to stop them moving. We were told this is part of the warm up process. The four harnessed teams raced away and we got to harness our teams.

There is a bit of skill to this. Select the correct size harness, get the dog out of the kennel, hold with your knees against their stomach, slip harness over neck and then lift legs through belly part of harness. Hold on tight as you lead the dog to attach to a sleigh tow rope. Apparently if you let the dog go it’s off – where to I am not sure but we were somewhat relieved we didn’t let one go.

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Team harnessed, Sylvia took a seat on the reindeer skin in the sleigh and I was on the back skids, driving. Anniina’s team led out and our team pulled hard on the anchored sleigh. I released the rope and we were off in pursuit of the front team. These guys only have one speed “full steam”. On the uphill I assist by pushing with one foot, on the downhill I use the brake with one foot to keep the rope tight to stop the sleigh hitting the back dogs.

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We followed trails through the forest, then across and around the edge of a frozen lake. We swapped over from time to time and I got to sit in the sled while Sylvia drove.

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Eventually we parked up near a tepee. Two of the dogs had to be removed from the teams and tied up separately as they are renowned for eating their harnesses. In the tepee a fire was quickly lit with dried silver birch bark. Soon a hot lunch of meat and potato soup, sausages cooked on sticks over the fire, and rather bitter coffee was served.

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After lunch we were back on the sleds racing along. These dogs are often used in 1000k races. In teams of 14 for hill and forest races or 18 for flat open country racing they cover up to 200ks a day. These are all Alaskan huskies and were introduced to Lapland in the 1950s, mainly for racing. Nowadays they are used mainly to cart tourists around to help pay for the racing. The owners of Husky Point have won many races throughout Scandinavia over the past few years.

The temperature dropped a couple of degrees and light snow prevailed on the way home.

We enjoyed a light evening meal back at Beana Laponia prior to which we took a brief stroll outside to look at the stars in the now clear -13 degree sky.

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At around 9.30 pm the owner banged on our door to inform us that there was a faint glow of the Northern lights. Coat on, camera and tripod in hand we headed outside to witness what can only be described in the pictures below:

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Sylvia: Wednesday 23 December

We woke very early again to a crisp and cold morning. It was -23’C when Ina arrived to pick us up at about 10:30am. The sun was just beginning to rise and the sky was glowing pink and orange. The trees were all covered with hoar frost and sparkling white in the headlights – they look like they are studded with diamonds.

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We drove about 40 minutes back towards Rovaniemi, arriving at a large shooting range just near the local military base. A couple of local guys met us there and we braved the icy cold. First stop was some skeet shooting – I managed about 5 wayward shots before my fingers went numb. Roger managed to do all four stands, ten rounds each and didn’t seem to be feeling the cold at all. His aiming improved with each stand. (We were using a Beretta semi-automatic shotgun). We then headed up the hill and they pulled out their Finnish sniper rifle (.308 marksman’s rifle) to do the test that hunters have to pass to be able to shoot moose and bear. They send one moose and one bear shaped target out at the end of the range and you have to get 4 out of 5 shots within the circle on the shoulder. The gun must have been pretty good because I managed to get all 5 shots in a nice wee line in the target circle on the moose. Roger got all his 10 shots in two tiny spots in the target circle on the bear!

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They had lit a fire in the back of the rifle shooting area and it was nice to warm our hands up. We roasted sausages over the open flames before heading off.

Next we climbed about 500m up a hill to a large bird tower. In the biting cold it is quite challenging to breathe and climb (well for me anyway) and figure out whether you are hot or cold! We climbed up the tower for some great views over the surrounding area.

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We then drove about 15 minutes out to a lovely area by a lake. By this stage the sun had set and the near-full moon was rising. We strapped on our snow shoes and headed out for a walk. It is not a particularly elegant exercise as you walk through the deep snow. Without the snow shoes we would be thigh deep, with them you only get in about knee deep – easier but I could still feel it in my legs after a while. The best parts were in between the trees where it was quite icy and we didn’t sink so much.

Our last stop for the day was at a forest sauna. This was set up by a woman and her husband at their lakeside property. There was a sauna hut, a barbecue hut and a hole in the ice in the lake that was kept open by a pump in the water. She explained the process. We washed using warm water in bowls with ladles, then into the traditional wood-fire sauna room where you lie down with your legs raised. We beat ourselves with birch-leaf whisks always from the extremities toward the heart. When we were toasty warm we wrapped towels around us, donned flimsy spa slippers and headed about 30 metres along the snow-covered path (remember it was about -21’C) to the hole in the lake where we dipped, Finnish style, into the icy water. Of course the water is warmer than the air but freezing nonetheless! It is quite interesting trying to get your feet back into the slippers to head back up to the sauna to repeat the process. They have to take the pump out of the water while we are there because it is electric. They go down periodically to use sticks to keep the hole in the ice open but even so a very thin layer of ice had formed over the water by our second dip!

After the sauna we enjoyed some delicious reindeer soup, followed by some gingerbread and then lingonberry cake in the little barbecue hut which was warmed by an open fire. We then headed back to Beana Laponia for a light dinner before calling it a day!

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