What a difference a year makes. Last year we had ample snow, freezing temperatures and great auroras. This year we had very little snow, temperatures barely dipping below freezing and no auroras. Well the last statement isn’t quite true, it teased us on the 5th night and we had a reasonable viewing on the last night but both were with cloud laden skies and moonlight.
Going to Nellim is like going to our second home. The staff were very welcoming and it was lovely to be recognised by some of them. It continues to be a very comfortable hotel with good facilities and excellent food....this has to be given a nine out of ten and the only reason I didn’t give it a ten was that we didn’t have Reindeer this year (if you haven’t tried Reindeer before it is delicious).
Rambo collected us from the airport again and took us on the 50 minute journey to the hotel. The roads were very icy going due to the mild weather (the surface layer of snow had melted leaving an icy surface below). At the hotel we were taken straight to dinner then given our rooms and finally an introduction by the rep. We got this over with as quickly as possible so that we could collect our warm gear and get changed to go outside. As with previous years we went down to “Morton’s Jetty” to look for the aurora. We were not out for long as the weather was not conducive to aurora viewing – low cloud and drizzly snowy rain.
The weather continued in the same vein for the rest of our time at Nellim. The days were mild, cloudy and snowy. Sometimes the sunshine would make an appearance, but not for very long. And at night the weather continued in the same way. Generally cloudy, it would occasionally clear but not sufficient enough for us to see the aurora should it have made an appearance.
Our days were spent walking, snow mobiling and husky mushing. Richard and Rene had GPS units and Andrew had a local map on his phone, which allowed us to able to go a bit more off the beaten track without the fear of getting lost. We went on some lovely walks in the surrounding forests and across the frozen Lake Inari. We visited the local Orthodox church and nearby high (ish) vantage point which afforded lovely views of the surrounding area. This walk in particular was very pleasant, though even with GPS units we managed to miss the footpath signposts and wander off in the wrong direction. On average we would be out for a couple of hours at a time and cover some two to three miles. We spotted Reindeer, Kuukkeli – the local name for the Siberian Jay and a Siberian Tit as well as our more familiar Sparrows and Great Tits. As the temperature was on average 1 – 2 degrees we generally just went out in our winter trousers and down / winter jackets. There was no need to wear the supplied gear during the day and I think we would have cooked if we had of done.
The snow mobiling once again proved to be a very enjoyable experience. We went across local lakes and through forests. We stopped half way for a drink of hot berry juice at the Russian Border and then made our way to Nellim. We were joined on this trip by a group of chaps from Holland; slightly worse for wear from the previous nights drinking. One of them managed to flip the snowmobile in reasonably deep snow but in fairness to them this was more due to the icy conditions rather than the alcohol! We covered about 12 miles on the snowmobiles and reached a top speed of around 60 km’s per hour.
Then to the husky mushing. As Jane and Andrew have not tried it before they went on the two hour trip and had a very enjoyable experience. Us “die-hards” who have been a couple of times before decide to we would like to go for a longer trip this time so did an all day trip. Our guide for both trips was Matti who has guided on the previous trips to Nellim (in particular the snow mobiling and aurora watching trips). He now “runs” all the husky trips and is responsible for all the dogs. The dogs struggled this year due to the lack of good snow. On the lakes, which in places were literally like ice-rinks, they were particularly troubled and were often impersonating Bambi with legs going off in all directions. There were also times when their paws would break the surface ice on the lakes and they would be running through 6 inches or so of slushy, icy, shardy water. This proved somewhat difficult for them and they often needed a bit of help in the way of the mushers boot going into the icy water to help push them along (thank heavens for the supplied warm, waterproof, boots). We stopped for lunch in an idyllic spot in the middle of nowhere. Securing the dogs we made our way up to a camping hut, ready and warm with a fire already going. Jackie fell down in some deep snow – well her foot went into it and so she went down with it. Instead of us all rushing to help her, we stood and took photos of our secretary on her hands and knees laughing because she could not get back up (sorry Jackie). Lunch was a very enjoyable and welcomed salmon and potato soup...delicious. After lunch we made our way back and by the end of the day we had covered 26.9 miles...some distance.
The aurora trips were great. We had one aurora camp and three aurora trips with the minibus. All the trips were enjoyable with the camp fires, hot berry juice and cookies but unfortunately they were not great for spotting the aurora due to the weather conditions. The best night was our last night and we had some lovely views at Patsjokki Bridge (but unfortunately not as good as our previous trips). It was a shame not to see the aurora but being a force of nature we always knew it could not be guaranteed and the rest of the trip more than made up for it.
There is, believe it or not, already talk of going back to Nellim on another society trip next year and I would be happy to organise another trip for members to go and see the aurora and experience it for themselves (though if you are anything like me once you have seen it once you will just want to keep on seeing it). Nellim has a new experience to take in as well....The Aurora Bubble. Not very cheap at 155 euros per person per night the Aurora Bubble is a heated glass bubble which has a double bed and small bathroom. Just imagine lying in bed, nice and cosy, looking up at the night sky and the ever changing aurora above you......next year?