Igloo Building in the Arctic Circle Lapland under the Northern Lights
The view from the edge of the lake is amazing. Just pure white snow leading up to the forest edge and then thousands of trees, snow and ice clinging onto the branches dragging each one down towards the forest floor. This will be our home for the next night.
I am starting my ‘build an igloo’ 2 day trip and together with a few fellow travellers, I will be making my own accommodation today for tonight’s overnight stay. Cecilia started igloo building in 2008 and is very busy with tourists this winter. Interest in igloo building has been increasing as more people look for a little something special to add to their Arctic winter experience.
For a lot of people, a visit to Swedish Lapland is not just about the Ice Hotel, Jokkmokks Winter market, a dog sledding tour or cross country skiing, although Cecilia can arrange all of these for you if you wish. Today’s Arctic visitors want to get their hands dirty, or at least get their hands cold.
There are three ways to get to the Skabram site from Jokkmokk, the best experience is on skis, by dog sled, or by snow scooter if you need to. We choose the dog sled option and the 1 hour trip from the transfer point just outside of Jokkmokk, to the edge of the forest region and Skabram Lake, is a delight. We arrive just after lunchtime and Cecilia is sitting next to the camp fire waiting for us with a hot blackcurrant drink, coffee and a few buns.
It is around -18C and a clear February day. It feels cold of course, but not as you would expect as it is a very dry cold, not the damp into your bones cold I am used to. As soon as we start working on the base of our igloo, lifting the pre-prepared blocks over to the igloo site, we warm up very quickly. It is very important not to get too warm, as sweating is one of the big dangers of a cold climate. If underclothing becomes wet from sweat while you are working, when you start to cool down there is a real danger of getting a serious chill. Cecilia tells us to change our underclothes if we get too sweaty while building the igloo and to change our clothing in the evening in any event.
Cecilia has some snow saws and large knives with her for us to use to cut some more blocks from the wind packed snow. The blocks need to be left for a day or two to form and freeze properly, so we are making blocks for the next group and using ones made by the previous group. There seems to be much debate in the igloo building world about the size the blocks should be. We are cutting ours out at about 800mm long by 600mm high and 200mm deep.
We begin placing the blocks in a circle on the base, which is simply a metre thick ice 'plate' covering the whole lake. Some of us will work inside the igloo and the rest outside. Cecilia tells us that it is important in the beginning to have a few people inside the igloo, to prevent the walls falling in on themselves. We rotate jobs to enable us to learn the complete igloo building process.
After a while and with a few rows of blocks up, the wall begins to hold itself. We shape each block so it leans inwards a little to create the traditional curved and spiralled wall of an igloo. It is vital to make a few air holes in the wall to allow the heat and carbon dioxide to escape and fresh air to circulate when sleeping in an igloo.
The last block at the top of the igloo is a little bigger than the hole it will fill. We gently carve the outside of this last block until it falls into place making a tight seal. When this is finished and we have packed the gaps between all of the blocks with loose snow, we build a platform out of packed snow inside the igloo make sure we sleep above ground level. Cecilia tells us that our body warmth will melt some of the outer surface of the blocks and seal the wall. A final test is made by simply climbing up onto the roof of the igloo to see if it can support our body weight.
The evening meal is prepared next to the igloo on an open fire under a clear Arctic Circle night. No-one has taken up the offer of a rentable alternative nights stay in the 'emergency claustrophobics' cabin nearby and Cecilia thinks we have a good chance to see some Northern Lights later in the evening. What an ending that would be to another fantastic day in Lapland.
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