The morning begins with what will become a familiar routine; feed and water the dogs, have breakfast, tidy the cabin and pack the sleds…then off on to the next trail. From here on vehicles are not able to follow us, it will be snowmobile support from now on.
The trail leads north, further into the wilderness and up over hilly terrain, with the likelihood of coming across reindeer, one of the most important components of the Sámi livelihood, culture and economy.
Reindeer are well suited to the harsh environment, with fur covering each from top to toe to keep warm, and a large fat reserve to get them through the winter months. They eat over 250 species of plants as well as various types of lichen found hanging in trees.
At one time the presence of reindeer in a Sámi family affected almost all aspects of their lives, providing a ‘living larder’, taxation, and payments to being used in courting and for marriage. Up to 1500 the Sámi were mainly fishermen and trappers, living a nomadic lifestyle. This meant they moved with the migration of the reindeer as they sought new pastures to eat.
After 1500, due to over-hunting to pay taxes to Norway, Sweden and Russia, the number of reindeer started to decrease, and whilst many of the Sámi changed their ways of live to include cattle farming, a small number of Sámi started to tame the reindeer that continue to migrate nowadays.
Whilst reindeer have appeared to decrease in importance, they are still used by the Sámi for traditional purposes, including making crafts from the antlers and other products from the skin to sell. There are also still plenty for the team to spot given that there are approximately 200,000 in Finland alone, mostly owned by the Sámi.
If we come across any herds of reindeer on the trail we will have to make a diversion to avoid shifting the direction of the herd. The reindeer want to head north for better vegetation in Norway, but Swedish reindeer farmers face heavy fines if they let their herd go into Norway too soon, so they keep them in Sweden for as long as possible.