Pollyanna's adventures through wintery Lapland were some of her best yet.
Kitting up in thick Arctic clothing, I wondered what I had got myself into as I pulled the balaclava over my head and put on my crash helmet. Deep in the frozen north, my adventure in Pyhä-Luosto National Park was about to begin. We made our way to the bright red snowmobiles, and after a short lesson, we were off.
Led by our guide, who pulled a trailer in which the group’s children were nestled snugly under reindeer hides, we sped through the forest along snow-covered tracks towards our destination at the top of a nearby mountain: the Amethyst Mine.
In these parts, daylight only lasts for a couple of hours during midwinter. Situated in the stretch of Lapland that falls within the north of Finland, around 72 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the National Park is a stunning landscape of deep forests, lakes, hills, and gorges. Here, reindeer and foxes wander among the pines and birch trees, overlooked by owls and Siberian jays.
Verdant and lush through the summer months, the scenery changes to a frozen wonderland during the winter—trees heavy with snow, the lakes and rivers frozen. Your breath freezes as you exhale into a cloud of shimmering ice shards that glitter like diamonds, a reminder that without the appropriate clothing you wouldn’t last long out here.
Setting off from our base at the Lapland Safaris office in Luosto, we travelled in single file. Here you must travel on the right hand side of the track, adhering to the instructions of the lead guide. Raising a left hand was the order to halt. Holding out the left hand and flapping it like a birds wing was to slow down, whilst holding out your arm and pumping it as if activating the horn of a steam train meant “go”! When each command was given, each snowmobile rider had to repeat, so the commands could be seen down the line of our vehicles, stretched along the snowy paths.
The cold began to bite as we ventured deeper into the forest, the wind gusting against our bodies as we whizzed through the snow. Condensation within the visor began to freeze, leaving me with no choice but to lift it up. Whilst I could feel my cheeks and nose growing icy cold, at least I could see where I was going! It was a mercy that the snowmobiles were equipped with heated handlebars, and combined with lined leather gloves, the bitter cold could not numb my hands.
The track ascended along a gentle path that wound along the side of Lampivaara hill where our destination awaited on its peak. The forest began to thin as we climbed the slopes, giving way to thick banks of snow, hanging over gorges in drifts. The trees disappeared beneath their wintry cover, forming strange and surreal shapes reminiscent of trolls and goblins looking on at the strange visitors to their realm. A reindeer and calf looked up from their grazing on lichen buried beneath the snow as we drove past, and knowing that we could not stop continued to watch us with curiosity as we rode by.
Finally reaching the peak of Lampivaara, engines were cut and we dismounted. The still quiet of the hill, muffled by the snow was only broken by the gusts of wind and the noise of snow crunching beneath our feet. The sky warned of snow, low white cloud mirroring the white on the ground all about us, giving a strange feeling of being in a place out of this world. The mine compound lay before us; a small wooden hut, and a shack leading down to the area where we would hopefully find some amethysts.
We were welcomed by the guide who hurried us in to the shelter of the hut and handed out warming cups of hot berry juice, instructing us to take a seat. A circle of benches covered with thick warm reindeer hides gave a welcome respite from the intensity of our journey; the bumps and dips along the snowmobile leaving our frozen backsides somewhat rattled!
He explained how the mine is managed in a sustainable way. An amethyst vein runs all through this region, yet they refuse to use intensive mining methods such as machinery or dynamite. Instead, the mountain is allowed to reveal its treasures in its own way via the natural forces of erosion. Sifting through the scree that slid from the slopes, amethysts, snowy quartz, and black quartz waited to be discovered by those with a sharp eye. And today, we would be able to keep one if we found such a gem.
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Whilst crystals are very popular, they are often obtained through destructive means on the landscape, or under terrible working conditions. Some mines around the world even employ children or use slave labour, so to obtain my own stone ethically from a sustainably managed mine was truly a joy.
We were given a talk on the history of the mine and the geological processes that had caused the formation of this wonderful purple stone, and various samples were passed around for us to handle including an enormous amethyst that was too big to hold in one hand.
Two rounded pieces of snowy quartz were presented, and we were shown that if you strike them together, they will spark. This method was used by the indigenous nomadic Sámi people of the area to light fires. Another magical property of the stone is that in low light, when rubbed together, the stones will glow. Due to this property, snowy quartz was associated with the Finnish thunder god, Ukko, meaning “grandfather” or “old man”. Possessing a hammer, he would bring lightning to the skies, and was celebrated in pre-Christian Finland around Midsummer each year.
We were also shown a particular variety known as a “shaman’s stone”. Treasured by the Sámi spiritual leaders known as the Noadi, it was a rock banded with snowy and black quartz, and amethyst, representing perhaps sky, earth, and water, or day, night, and twilight. Sadly many of the legends of these people have been lost as theirs is an oral tradition and their ways had not been recorded in writing. The Sámi legends of Lampivaara were now lost, although there remain gorges and rocks in the forest glades that are still considered sacred and places where spirits and gods dwell.
After the presentation was given, our eyes lit up as our guide explained that now was the time for us to venture down into the mine. We would be given a small hammer of our own, and a basket in which to collect rocks. Our labour would be used to reveal treasures for the mine to sell, but we would be allowed to keep one of our own as long as it was no larger than the palm of our hands.
In summer months, much more of the hillside is revealed to those participating in the mining activity. However in the midst of winter, we made our way to the shack and descended a long flight of wooden stairs to an area of scree covered by something that looked like a wooden feasting hall. The wooden structure was so cold that frost formed on the inside, but down here we were protected from the worst of the elements. And after a short while of sifting through the rubble, we soon warmed up.
Moving a large stone with my hammer, I found my first gem! A clear amethyst striped with lighter and darker bands of purple. And soon after another; a smaller clear stone of a deep purple. Soon my basket was full and rather than concerning myself with whether I would find an amethyst or not, the dilemma was now to choose the one that I loved the best!
Our time was up. The little sun that lit up the cloudy skies was now rapidly sinking, and we emerged from the mine in an ever deepening twilight. If we were to descend the mountain safely, we had to go now.
Safely tucking our treasures away in our pockets, we put the balaclavas and helmets back on, and with the children tucked up in the sledge, we began our journey back to our base. We descended down a different path, somewhat steeper than the one that had led up to the mine, yet the track was smoother and well used. The main road to the mine, it was the route that the Pendolino, best described as an Arctic bus, would use to carry visitors up to the mine for the tours. Other means of travel would include skiing or hiking; as it is within the National Park, cars and motorbikes are strictly forbidden.
Night was closing in fast and the darkness shimmered with falling snow that shook from the boughs of trees as we passed under them. More confident than our journey up, we thrashed our snowmobiles and made good time. By the time we arrived at the Lapland Safari office, it was pitch black. Frozen but smiling we dismounted, having brought our treasures of gems and memories down from the mountain with us. It certainly was quite the adventure!
The Lampivaara Amethyst Mine is located near Luosto in Finnish Lapland and is open most of the year, excluding May. Check their website for further details.
Due to the terrain, it is not suitable for those with mobility difficulties. This is a working mine, so there are no tourist facilities on top of the hill, although gifts and stones may be purchased from their Arctic Amethyst shop in Luosto itself.
Skis can also be hired if you’d prefer to go cross-country on your own steam. They also provide Arctic clothing including boots, gloves, and scarves.
If you prefer a gentler pace, you can also travel up there in the warmer Pendolino from the cafe in Luosto next to Arctic Amethyst.
Any photographs not by Pollyanna Jones are courtesy of the Lampivaara Amethyst Mine website, used with permission.
© 2018 Pollyanna Jones