Life at the Arctic Circle with 24 sled dogs
The nature and climate are quite extreme in the North. 24 hours daylight from end of May until middle of August.
About 4 hours daylight from November to January.
Sudden change of temperatures is not a rarity, it can be – 35 degrees in the morning and -5 degrees in the evening, at the same day.
You must be prepared.
The indigenous people in Northern Scandinavia are the Sami people, nomads who followed the reindeer herds. They divided the commonly known four seasons into eight seasons. It made total sense to us when we moved to the North in 2007.
I mean – we have snow from November to April, six months of winter?! And each month is so different, in daylight hours, atmosphere, temperatures…
It feels completely natural to divide the winter in different seasons.
Facts about 66 degrees North
In Swedish Lapland
- Snow from November to April
- Lakes are frozen from October to middle of May
- 4 hours of (kind of) daylight in November and December
- 24 hours daylight from May to beginning of August
- Midnight sun in the end of June
- Coldest temperature I have experienced -46 degrees (February 2009)
- Warmest temperature measured in our house lake Miekojärvi + 28 degrees (August 2018)
Here an overview for you to see the eight seasons and their lule-sami name.
I explain the special character of each seasons briefly and add some information’s about our daily life with the dogs. A short list with typical activities for the locals and the meaning for the reindeers and reindeer herders conclude the description of each season.
If you want to jump directly to a specific season simply click on the season you are most interested in:
- Autumn :: tjaktja
- Autumn-winter :: tjaktjadálvve
- Winter :: dálvve
- Spring-winter :: gidádálvve
- Spring :: gidá
- Spring-summer :: gidágiesse
- Summer :: giesse
- Autumn-summer :: tjaktjagiesse
Let me start with Autumn, during the month September and October. Autumn has a special meaning to me due to several reasons. First of all, we start dog training again – tattaataaa – if possible at the 1st of September.
The dogs are getting so excited about pulling again. They are almost exploding for joy, guess who else…
I also enjoy the first real dark nights again, calming feeling to see the moon and the stars again (since April). And in addition to that the first Northern Lights are visible dancing at the sky. Fantastic time for photographers, you can try to catch the reflection from the Northern Lights in the lake or river waters. Love this challenge! And don’t forget the autumn colored forests and the mystical mornings with fog dancing over lakes and rivers.
You can really feel now that WINTER IS COMING. Simply love that.
It´s also last harvesting time for this year. The lingonberries are ready to pick in September, moose hunting seasons starts as well, and the reindeer herders are slaughtering the not-castrated males. That’s how we get our meat for the winter, hunting ourselves moose or buying reindeer meat from a local Sami.
- Lingonberry picking
- Hunting seasons, mainly moose hunting
- Slaughter time for reindeers
After autumn comes the autumn-winter, in the month November and Dezember. The lakes in our region are frozen by now, hopefully covered by snow. Sled season starts.
Give me snow, give me dogs and you can keep the rest.
(Knud Rasmussen, polar explorer)
Since we are living at the Arctic Circle November can be a bit challenging, especially for a dog musher. I am constantly checking the weather forecast, hoping for colder temperatures and snow. Often we do not have enough snow in November at our home base in Miekojärvi, so I´m in search for good snow conditions. That usually means travelling even further North.
The days are getting shorter, the headlamp is becoming your best friend.
November and December are intense training month for the race team. Each dog will run about 700-1000 km in total per month. Several day tours with outdoor camping are the normality, sleeping in the cozy bed indoors is a rare treat.
What do the locals do?
- Snow shoveling
- Creating cozy fireplace atmosphere
- Some of our neighbors are traveling to sunnier places for 1-2 weeks to fill up their vitamin D storage
- Knitting is getting more popular these days
For the reindeer hurders it´s time to move the reindeers to their winter pastures into forests areas or to the coast. Here they can find easier food and are better protected against the hard winds and cold temperatures.
And what comes after autumn-winter? Yes, the real winter month from Dezember to March. These are the highlight months for me during the year. We are in the middle of the sled dog seasons, meaning very long runs with my best friends. Being outdoors most of the time, conquering challenges life and mother Nature prepared for us.
Our race season usually starts in January with a shorter race about 250 km. Followed by a longer race in beginnig of February about 500 km. The longest race of the winter season starts beginning of March and is about 1200 km long, the Finnmarkslöpet in Northern Norway.
January is the winter-wonderland month. Trees are covered with a thick layer of snow, everything seems to be in hibernation. This is also the time for the blue hour, photographers can get crazy about that. Truly magical.
Call it the blue hour, or the blue light, around and above the Arctic circle in December and January. Sometimes from 10 o’clock in the ‘morning’ until three in the afternoon, there is daylight. If you look north, the sky is blue. But if you look south, there is a blush along the horizon, coloured by the sun. Around two o’clock every afternoon, and for about fifteen minutes on a clear day, there’s a strange phenomenon that we can call the blue moment. Everything, the snow-covered landscape as well as the sky, is illuminated by a special, magical blue light. This natural phenomenon only occurs in the Arctic and can’t be experienced anywhere else.
Håkan Stenlund, Swedish Lapland
The reindeers are closely monitored during winter. The reindeer herders are making sure that the reindeers find enough food on their own. Otherwise they give additional food like hay or pellets.
March and April are the summer months in winter. I will get my first sunburn and the sunglasses or googles are a constant companion during daylight hours. The days are getting longer each day and the sun gets stronger and stronger. You can often sit in a T-shirt on a reindeer fur meanwhile you are ice fishing. Little bizarre, that´s the Arctic.
I start to get a little melancholic feeling because the end of the winter is near. Don´t get me wrong – I also enjoy the spring-winter feeling, but… it becomes clearer that winter is over soon.
The dogs are enjoying the warmer sun as well, sun bathing in the middle of the day is a favorite activity now. But they are getting nuts during early mornings, around 4:30. It´s already light outside but temperatures are still quite cold. The dogs want to RUN.
Spring-winter is also the time of Skare, if we are lucky. Skare is a hard top layer on a snow cover. It forms when the surface thins through direct sun light or warm air, and thean freezes again.
Perfect conditions because you can go by sled and dogs baisically everywhere. Great time for some extra leaddog training.
April is also month to start with making firewood. We usually order birch timber which we cut by chainsaw, chop it and afterwards stack it. Each spring around 45 cubic meters. Everybody is welcome to help! Free workout outdoors.
The Sami people are starting to move the reindeers back to the summer territories. Long days and skare are for sure helpful.
April and May are the spring months. Snow is almost gone, the lakes and rivers in our region are soon free from ice. Our home lake is covered with ice until end of May.
We switch back from sled to ATV or trainings cart for dog training. It´s quite muddy everywhere, but the dogs don´t care.
I personally have nothing against mud either, but it is always a bit sad to lose the freedom of traveling by dog team over snow covered terrain.
I try to go to the mountain areas with the dogs where you have great snow conditions until end of May or even longer. The mountain training is quite important for the whole team. Especially for young dogs who haven´t been to the mountains before. Here you often have strong winds and no protection from trees, an endless white wideness.
If I´m not training the dogs I´m still busy cutting firewood. Due to dry air and not a lot of rain painting projects are also good to finish this time of the year.
- Making firewood
- Preparing greenhouse
- Enjoying the last ski or snowmobile tours
For the female reindeers it is now the time to give birth to their calves.
June is the month of spring-summer. 24 hours daylight is guaranteed. Snow is gone by now. Everything vibrates with enjoyment of life. With a lot of sunshine and enough water in the ground the plants are growing like crazy and wild animals are giving birth to their young ones.
It feels like the beginning of a new year in a way, like a restart. Now you have the summer and autumn to prepare for the next long winter.
Only the the dogs are getting calmer, due to less training and higher temperatures. Training is still on the schedule if the temperatures are cold enough. It´s more a “keeping their bodies and mind active” than actual training.
Maintenance projects are on the list now, like repairing doghouses and dogyards. Firewood should be under a roof by now. So, the next big project can start – fishing for the dogs. I lay out nets in the lake to catch fish like pike, perch and bream – and I will catch a lot of bream! We grind the fish in a huge meat grinder and freeze it. Great summer food for the dogs in addition to beef and chicken meat plus dry food.
- All kind of boat tours – fishing boats, canoe, kayak
- Celebration midsummer in the end of June
The reindeers are back in the mountains. The calves are growing, and everybody is happily enjoying the time before the mosquitos.
End of June and July are the summer month. 24 hours sunshine, some mosquitos, vibrant colors in the nature around us. We are extremly lucky with the location of our kennel, located on a half island in the lake Miekojärvi. The lake is one of the biggest lakes in Swedish Lapland, 18 km from North to South, that´s why we often have a gentle breeze. The mosquitos don´t like a gentle breeze or wind so we have almost no mosquitos at our homestead.
The dogs are enjoying summer vacation with swimming, sunbathing and free running in our playground about 3500 square meters.
- More boat tours
- Picking the gold of Lapland, the cloud berry
The reindeers are trying to find windy places in the mountains to be protected against the mosquitos. It´s a busy season for the reindeer owners since they have to mark the calves now. Every family has their own mark and it´s a long tradition.
August is the month of autumn-summer. The nights are getting colder and the days are getting shorter, might be that we even have the first nights with temperatures below zero degrees.
Now it´s the time to harvest. Picking blueberries and mushrooms. The berries from the North are rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins due to the intense summer light.
The dogs are also getting more excited again, feeling that autumn training is close. They really want to start pulling again. I have to do the last check of the training equipment and to make sure that we have enough booties for the dryland training.
- Picking blueberries and mushrooms
- More fishing
- Harvest vegetables
The reindeers and moose are trying to gain as much weight as possible in preparation for the long winter. They love to eat mushrooms since they are rich in proteins.
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