We spent week 2 camping in the college forest, a short drive away. It was a great week and a good opportunity for the group to bond whilst still in our ‘Honey Moon’ period, as Mikko, our tutor put it. Throughout the week a range of skills we taught, including orienteering, fire making, whittling, fishing, proper use of an axe and also local plants and wildlife knowledge.
On Monday morning, the first thing we did was to organise all the equipment and pack it into the trailer of one of the vans. Again, much more to do than initially thought – we collecting the vans and trailers from the school garage, 2 of the guys collected the shopping lists from the others and did the food shop for everyone, only going 7 euros over for the whole group – their efficiency could be down to the fact that they were both German. We had to collect all the personal tents, the tarpaulins and the larger group tents, which included – a large round army tent, a Canadian wall tent and a small white wedge tent. Axes and saws were also collected as were all the water containers, fishing rods, tackle, lines, lures and reels, cooking utensils and kitchenware, ropes, fire racks and a spade as well as everyone’s personal gear… The trailer was bulging, it looked like we were all going away for months!
Once we had arrived at the forest, we carried all the kit about 300m to the smoke hut – the place where all the meals would be cooked (a log cabin with a fire pit in the middle and benches around) – and where we would spend much of our time in the evenings. It was hard work, there was a lot of kit, the food boxes were particularly awkward to carry. Everything was planned well, but it made us realise how much more refined the plan would need to be for Russia – as we will be carrying all the food, cooking utensils, axes and camping gear in our packs for 9 days trekking.
Not long after arriving we split into teams to erect the army tent, the Canadian wall tent and the wedge tent. The group split into ‘tent erectors’ and ‘stake choppers’. All three of the larger tents were thenconstructed – a team effort of simultaneously pulling ropes, putting in poles, chopping and then hammering stakes in, then and slowly tensioning the ropes till the tents were taut and strong.
There’s an emphasis on being able to work with the forest – for example – no tent pegs are taken with you on forest trips, as it is easier to make your own. Either by splitting an already cut log into sections (like below) or by felling a young Norwegian spruce (between 4 – 6 foot), chopping off the branches and then cutting the trunk into small sections that can be used as stakes. We were taught how to split wood correctly and more efficiently. Still got all my fingers, so that’s something.
After the group shelters were put up, it was time to construct our personal tents. We used a wedge shape tent – more of a triangular tarpaulin – that can be erected in a range of ways. It is completely open on one side, and offers protection from the rain, so in extreme conditions orientation is vital, to avoid wind blowing rain or smoke from your fire into the tent. We had to change the locations of the tent each night, and try and put it up in a range of ways for practice. Henkke, one of our tutors said it takes around 4 days to get accustomed to living in the woods i.e. perfecting the daily routine of cooking, setting up camp, knowing exactly where you’re stuff is in your pack, preparing wood, lighting fires and living comfortably. He was completely right, and after 4 days everything felt very natural and most of us didn’t want to leave. Although, maybe a shower was in order, and maybe a change of underwear – you can only turn them around and inside out so many times.
The food was incredible, and if anything we ended up taking too much, most of us ended the evening round the fire, struggling to move after the huge portions. However, a short while later we would always find room for some stick bread (where you wrap bread around a stick and cook it on the fire) and marshmallows, washing it down with cups of tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We would practice out whittling round the fire and eventually we would end up in some sort of tin whistle / recorder / harmonica musical jam session.
We did orienteering each day, the first day as a group, the second day in pairs, and on the final day individually. It went pretty well for the first two days, but on the individual orienteering session I got lost. I found the first 3 checkpoints fine, even whilst trying to play lord of the rings on a tin whistle, much to the annoyance of some of my coursemates! Onto the fourth checkpoint I noticed a 10-15m rockface made up of large boulders. I couldn’t resist, so instead of going to the next checkpoint I climbed them. Probably not the best decision I’ve ever made, but it was fun and the view was incredible! I then made my way to the sauna to meet the others of course.
During one of the group orienteering days, a dog called Onni (which means happiness in Finnish) joined one of the groups and followed them around all day. This breed of dog is used for reindeer herding in Lapland. He was so cute I wasn’t even angry that he relieved himself on my tent!
We were also taught the basics of fishing – the types of rod we will use, the reels, appropriate lines, the types of spinners we need, tactics for fishing in different weather conditions, good locations to fish and also how to humanly kill the fish and prepare for cooking. On the first day fishing we only caught 1 little perch between 13 of us… think we need some practice! We returned to the fish trap the next day and caught about 6 perch and 2 pikes. We threw most of the fish back in, only keeping a few perch to prepare and cook.