History of the arctic

About 10.000 years ago, all northern Lapland was still covered in a thick layer of ice. The melting of the glacier was a slow process. During winter, the glacier would expand, and during summer it would recede. The edge of the ice moved enormous amounts of soil, forming fells, mountains, fjords, ridges, moraine, and round and sharp peaks. Inside the glacier, there were lakes and flowing rivers of melting ice, forming valleys and drumlins.

Northernmost Lapland gets inhabited

As the glacier slowly receded towards the Arctic Ocean, also the climate, wildlife and flora of northern Lapland enabled human settlement. The indigenous population of the Sámi inhabited northern parts of Fenno-Scandia already several thousand years ago. The Sámi were originally nomads, whose livelihood was hunting, fishing, gathering and trade. Reindeer herding became an important livelihood for the Sàmi about a thousand years ago, when the traditionally hunted mountain deer was tamed.

The unbroken wilderness in Utsjoki is a rewarding destination. ©Tarja Länsman, Arctic Photos (www.arcticphotos.fi).

Today’s life and livelihood

Today, we can witness the power of the last ice age by looking at the beautiful landscape of Northern Lapland. With its unbroken wilderness areas of Kaldoaivi and Paistunturi, Utsjoki is a must-visit destination for any traveler yearning for breath-taking sceneries of untouched nature. With 3000 km2 of deep river valleys to gentle fell slopes, Kaldoaivi is the largest wilderness area in Finland. Paistunturi is a 1500 km2 large wilderness area. Stunning sceneries after another are exposed, as the gentle rolling fells are crossed by deep carved river valleys. From the highest fell tops, you get a great view over the entire wilderness area, as far as to the fells in Norway. source: www.nationalparks.fi

Reindeer herding is still an important livelihood for the Sámi, especially in Utsjoki, which is located in the Sámi homeland. Utsjoki is the only municipality in Finland with a Sámi majority. Everyday life in the villages has many characteristics from the indigenous culture. There are more than 5.000 reindeer grazing in Kaldoaivi and more than 6.000 reindeer in Paistunturi. Source: www.paliskunnat.fi .

Snowshoeing in Paistunturi area during spring, Norwegian fells in the background. ©Kota Collective

Why do we spend time in the wilderness and what do we do there?

From a western perspective, the wilderness areas may seem like nature that is almost out of reach for human, but for the Sámi, the wilderness is a place for business and pleasure. Locals love spending time in the wilderness hunting, fishing, plocking berries, herding reindeer, or doing sports like skiing, biking or walking. However, the Sámi treat nature with respect and aim at leaving as little trace and marks in the nature as possible. Preserving nature as it is, is an intrinsic value for most locals in Utsjoki.

The secret behind Finnish happiness – icefishing. Aini Lehtonen and Henna Riekkoniemi (guides of Holiday Village Valle) at lake Lokta in Paistunturi. ©KotaCollective

Kaldoaivi and Paistunturi wilderness areas have only a few marked trails and wilderness cabins. They are both demanding, but also extremely rewarding destinations. A beginner should always explore the wilderness with an experienced local guide. The best season to explore deep inside Kaldoaivi and Paistunturi is from January to April, when the area is accessible with snowmobile and sleigh.

Guests of Aurora Holidays enjoying an Arctic Tundra Safari with Lasse Jansson in January. ©Petra Suontausta.

In the end of the polar night, in January and February, the sky is painted with changing pastel colours.  In March and April, the beautiful sunshine reflects from the snow-covered fells, warming the nature after a long winter. March and April are perfect for trying out also icefishing in the wilderness. The habit of icefishing is probably the secret behind the joyful and relaxed spirit of people in the north – you will understand once you experience it.

Several service providers in Utsjoki offer guided fatbike tours, icefishing trips, reindeer safaris and snowshoeing, where you get to see small fragments of the wilderness areas. The easiest and safest way to explore more thoroughly and deep into the wilderness in Kaldoaivi and Paistunturi is a guided tour with snowmobile and sleigh. An experienced local guide will drive you through the stunning views as you travel warm and comfortable in a sleigh. As you are having a nice cup of hot chocolate, you can listen to stories about the geology, traditional nature-based livelihoods and Sámi culture – or just enjoy the silence.

Welcome to explore the unique Utsjoki, northernmost Lapland!

This article was written by Petra Suontausta, living in Utsjoki and studying tourism in Sami Educational Institute, Inari.