Piles of rocks and foxfire

After our glorious day in Lemmenjoki, we left with no hurry, and took the southern road to Kittilä. After an hour at high speed on this deserted drive through hills and swamp areas, asphalt gave way to soil and gravel, and we slowed down.

A replenishment stop in Sodankylä later, we were driving south, but soon we turned left.

There was one last national park I wanted to see: Pyhä-Luosto, located on a ridge it shares with two very small ski resorts (they are really riquiqui, as we would say in French). The thing is, this ridge seems to be strictly made of rocks, which must have been dropped from the sky by some kind of giant. From a distance, it’s really striking. After asking some directions from the visitor center in Pyhä, we set off to the Isokuru gorge. And then, miracle, as we were walking in the forest, the sky cleared and the sun started to shine! Surprised (we had forgotten that feeling), we started to dream about northern lights in the night…

Isokuru is a pass between two fells, and visitors walk at the bottom of it, where the two slopes collide. In some sections, a catwalk is secured by chains and anchors directly set on boulders, and I wondered whether this assemblage was safe. I mean, rocks roll, right? How can I be sure they won’t take me into the crystal-clear waters that run nearby? In other sections, the path is made of kinda-stable flat stones. In both cases, we survived, but it was an impressive place for sure!

The first portion of the gorge leads to a small lake and a waterfall, a place sacred to the Forest Sámi people who used to live in the area. We continued a bit, climbing up neverending stairs to overlook the valley. Far down lay a small colorful pond, and in the sky glided a White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), the second eagle for this trip after the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in Urho Kekkonen National Park.

The rain came back, and we turned towards the car again. I must confess it, I had learnt about Isokuru while reading the map in the car, only hours before. My main motivation for coming to Pyhä-Luosto was the park’s emblem, the Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus). Remember that, before the trip, I had had no proper sighting of that bird. At the visitor center, they had told me about a campfire site where they had been seen, but it was at the other end of the gorge and we didn’t reach it. However, we met the birds at another campfire, closer to the beginning of our hike. They are used to visitors, and they know they can get food from them, so they often roam around huts and campfire sites. We had nothing to offer them, unfortunately, but still we extended the hand, and sure thing, they came. One of them, surely pissed off not to see anything in my hand, starting to peck at my glove! I shoved it away 😀

Me and my friend (I’m on the right)

The sun pierced the clouds again. I made two pictures of those handsome fellows before they left us. The first one was an error: I badly underexposed it, for I was not ready. It came close, I didn’t have time to react and adjust my exposure, but still I fired. When looking at it on my computer, that gave me an idea. I kept the dark areas very dark (even darker), but I widely pulled up the lighter areas, so as to highlight the jay’s features that were lit by the sun. What do you think?

Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus)

The second is a more classic portrait, with a nice blurred background bathing in the sun. What a glorious day! I’m going back to Lapland in March, I hope to see those little buggers again there!

Siberian jay

Given the weather, I announced my decision: “tonight, we’ll hit the road, and we’ll see northern lights”.

After these perambulations, we drove to our Airbnb, a ranch in Pyhäjärvi. Anu welcomed us there, and lit up the sauna in the basement before going to give a horseriding lesson. After a week of electric saunas, I must confess finally finding a wood sauna was a true delight – it’s simply not the same.
I scared my friends by pushing it over 80ºC. Southerners… 😉 It’s way too cold below that!

As I took breaks during our session, I monitored the situation outside. The sky remained clear for some time, but clouds seemed to come our way as night settled. Not good. Still, it was our last night, and it was as close to a cloudless night as ever… so we hit the road.

The quest started without any clear plan. I had tried to find roads leading to a hill where we could have a good view, but I couldn’t find anything convincing. So we simply followed the main road to the north, stopping whenever we could to look at the sky and see if we could detect some light up there. The first stops yielded nothing but a fright: in the distance, where a reindeer farm must have stood, hounds howled, and in the darkness, all lights from the car off to avoid any parasitic glare, they sounded pretty much like wolves… brrr, even though logic dictated us not to be afraid, we didn’t stay very long.

Twenty minutes later, we branched out on a smaller road, and stopped again. There, in the silence, we observed the stars above our heads. My friends were far more knowledgeable than I, so I let them guide me. We were happy to see clouds go away, but still there was no trace of any light dancing above our heads. We continued.

A few kilometers down the road, we found an area open to the north, with only a few trees (and a power line) on the way. We thought it to be a good spot, but we could see nothing in the sky. After a couple of minutes, we went out of the car, I set my camera on a tripod and took a long-exposure, something like 30 seconds. I had this experience from Norway: if they are really feint, the northern light might not be visible to the eye but one could see them on a picture, provided one lets enough light enter the camera.

Verdict: after 30 seconds, the sky was green. They were there!

All we had to do was wait and hope they would grow stronger.

Little by little, they started to appear, trails of light seemingly anchored somewhere in the east. They kept growing, to form an arch firmly linking east and west, a tall ribbon undulating before our eyes wide open. It was beautiful. The following picture doesn’t even show the climax of the show: at that point, the emotion was so overwhelming that I could not think of making photographs.

The lights of Sodankylä created this glow just over the horizon

It’s difficult to explain the elation provoked by northern lights. I was jumping and dancing on the road while the camera was taking the pictures (I used exposures of 10 to 15 seconds), completely ecstatic.

After this peak of activity, the lights slowed down but stayed for a while, and we had some fun with the flashlights. Alexis wanted to shake hands with himself, and so he did.

At 1 in the morning, tired, we decided to head back to our apartment and take a well deserved rest. In the morning, we chatted with Anu, telling her about our adventures in the night. I took the obligatory Elmer picture (with a canoe and horses instead of snow), then we went back to Rovaniemi, exhausted but happy.

Elmer and horses

Previously in my Lapland series

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Bird inventory

18 thoughts on “Piles of rocks and foxfire

  1. What an epic adventure! I would have been jumping around all happy to see such a display of the aurora too!

    I love your photos (especially the birds!) You must have spent a while with them to get such gorgeous photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much! Northern lights really are a special thing…
      We actually spent very little time with the jays, because when they realized we had no food to give them, they stopped being interested and left. But of course I have shot birds for a while now, so I have a bit of “experience”

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am still learning, so I take hundreds! Then I *might* get one good ‘un! It’s just so hard to focus when they are speedy little buggers!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Once you go to the right place (aka north), it’s all about luck: they have to be out there, and there has to be no cloud. So yes, better go again! 😀
      Thanks for your visit and your kind word *-*

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Décidément, on prend les mêmes chemins à ce que je vois 🙂 Pyhä-Luosto et Isokuru me laissent là aussi de superbes souvenirs et pourtant je n’ai eu ni les mélangeais ni les aurores là-bas, qu’est-ce que ça aurait été sinon ? Tes photos de paysage retranscrivent parfaitement l’ambiance du lieu, tes portraits de mésangeai sont magnifiques et les aurores splendides. Bref, un superbe article qui donne envie ! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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