Leaving behind the vibrant and bustling city lights of Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, we set off on the SkiBus towards Pyhä-Luosto National Park, where we would be celebrating the New Year surrounded by snow-blanketed forests, Siberian jays and the northern lights. Waiting for us there were our expert guides, Tiina and Kai, who briefed us on the action-packed itinerary that awaited us.
Wasting no time, we geared up with headtorches and were led along an isolated path which opened out on to a beautiful frozen lake, illuminated by a full moon.
Its tail brushing against rocks would cause sparks to fly into the night sky, creating the aurora...
Kai had already prepared a fire and we gathered around it, where we were told ancient Finnish myths and enchanting folklore concerning the northern lights. My personal favourite was the tale of the mythical and elusive firefox, which was thought to run so quickly across the snow that its tail brushing against rocks would cause sparks to fly into the night sky, creating the aurora.
The following morning, we clipped on our snowshoes and ventured into the rugged valleys, travelling through a landscape covered with deep snow, surrounded by towering 200-year-old pine trees. Sunrise was not for a few more hours, so it was very much the twilight zone we were walking through, with an eerie, cold blue hue illuminating the landscape. We truly were in the depths of the Arctic wilderness.
Halfway through the hike we stopped for lunch and it wasn’t long before the peaceful stillness of the forest was interrupted by the lively antics of Siberian jays, lured into our circle by the hopes of obtaining some of our tasty snacks.
Our knowledgable guides told us that these friendly birds are the signature animal of the National Park, even featuring on the logo itself. A few members of the group managed to win the trust of a Siberian jay who perched on their hands.
After a few well-earned hot chocolates at the ski resort we got kitted out with our ice climbing equipment and headed out to Tajukangas Ice Fall, just a 10-minute walk away. Here we all got our first taste of the exhilarating world of winter climbing as we attempted to scale 20 metres of ice. The sight of a 20m wall of ice was a little intimidating at first, but the guides had fixed three different routes of varying difficulties to accommodate all skill levels. With a cosy fire pit, hot berry juice in hand and words of encouragement we all made it up the wall.
The next morning started early on New Year’s Day, as we embarked on a two-hour journey to Korouoma Canyon. This natural wonderland stretches 30km, with a series of striking frozen waterfalls. Our objective was the famed Mammoth Fall, known to attract ice climbing enthusiasts from all around the world – and it was not hard to see why.
Scaling the Mammoth Fall was no easy feat, but we were all eager for the challenge. Overcoming a difficult section was extremely rewarding with a great sense of accomplishment. With the Arctic sun setting, we headed back to Pyhä-Luosto National Park to experience a true Finnish tradition: a wood-burning sauna. The heat and steam surrounded us as we unwound and reflected upon our experiences. For the brave there was the option to take a refreshing dip in an icy lake.
While we were changing back into our warm clothes, our phones suddenly lit up with the message that the elusive northern lights had become visible! Without wasting a single moment, we frantically raced outside – still half-dressed – to witness the spectacle of the northern lights as they danced and shimmered across the expanse of night sky. Seeing the northern lights on the last night was a fitting end to a truly unforgettable adventure and the thrill of ice climbing will stay with me for a lifetime.
Inspired? Check out our winter adventure Ice, Snow and Saunas in Finnish Lapland.