This was the second expedition undertaken as part of our wilderness guide training. A 5 day skiing trip through Eastern Finland, in an area known as Kylmäluoma. This trip allowed us to practice our guiding and leadership skills, our cooking skills, our organisation skills, our personal camp skills and our kit. It also served as direct practice for the Bear Ski – A 9 day solo skiing trip undertaken in the far North of Finland in April.
After a 690km drive from Kuru to Kylmäluoma we arrived later than planned. The final stretch of single track road had been specially ploughed for us. As the road unfurled before us, the 1m high walls of snow to our sides made it feel more like we were navigating a river – meandering its course into the snowy depths of an unknown forest. The vans’ headlights were the only light around, offering enchanting glimpses into the pallid monochrome landscapes that enveloped us. Tree branches hung low from the weight of snow and it felt like we had stepped into a magical wilderness.
After a slippery journey down this track we arrived at our parking spot. Our campsite for the week was about 0.5km away from here, and the only method of getting ourselves and all of our kit there would be by ski and sledge. It was already late and rather than ferrying the masses of equipment deep into the night we chose to stay put – deciding to move in the morning. Even though we were staying here for the night we still had to unload all the gear and set up the temporary camp. There was a huge amount of kit – from skis, to ski poles, to all the food for 15 people for 5 days, to all the cooking equipment, the fire racks, the grills, kettles, sledges, first aid kits and all the personal gear.
So without further ado, everyone donned their head torches and got to work. The guides for the day split people up into groups, some erecting the army tent, some chopping wood, some sorting out all of the gear and some getting a fire ready and cooking the evening meal. It was hectic, everyone was tired from a full week doing practical exams and a long days driving. But everyone got their heads down, slotting into their roles and before you knew it, the army tent was taught and secure with tarpaulins and reindeer skins lining the floor, wood was chopped, the gear was sorted and dinner was simmering on the fire.
The following day we spent the morning setting up base camp, which is where we slept each night. We made skiing trips each day, carrying small packs and pulling a couple of sledges – containing cooking gear and food for lunch – between us.
The week turned out to be one of the most beautiful I have experienced in Finland. For the past few months here, there’s only been a handful of clear days breaking the monotony of the grey wintry haze. No complaints about this, but the sight of the rising and setting most days was uplifting. And although still in the depths of Winter, you could feel the changes the longer days were starting to bring to this hibernating land.
As said, this trip had the potential to be a perfect training bed for our solo ski – The Bear Ski – later on in the year. Giving us an insight to how we would cope, how the kit would cope and what we could expect weather-wise. Well who ever was controlling the weather understood this, helping us out by throwing (almost) every condition in our general direction. From stark cold clear days of down to a jaw shuddering -22°C where the snow was hard and firm and a dream to ski on – easily sliding along its surface. To warm, wet and windy days of +2°C where skiing was a struggle due to the sticky snow constantly building up on your skis. To all the temperature ranges in between and some flurries of snowfall here and there.
It’s hard to give an accurate description of the feelings these landscapes produced. They were full-bodied yet hard to explain with words. Many of the days skiing had a dream-like quality to them, almost as if you were experiencing them in third person, watching a blissful montage of uninterrupted landscapes, colours and experiences unfold before you. Where life was simple, where we had no worries, where we were well prepared and had all we needed – water, food, fire, warmth and shelter.
We traversed all the terrains of the area – skiing across quiet frozen windswept lakes into the gentle climbs and falls of forested fells, and over marshes and bogs. Snow, trees and sky filled our eyes.
The clear days were most memorable. Colours seemed more saturated than usual, the sun brighter, the air crisper. One’s senses overflowed with sensory input, seeming to converge into one another. As the sun ebbed below the horizon, skies of pastel blues melted into peach tangerines and rose petal pinks and it felt like you could taste them.
The skies were then robbed of their colour, gently drowning into a sea of darkness. Where stars started to coyly indicate their whereabouts, delicately poking their way into a progressively crowded night’s sky. Most of us preferred to leave our headlamps off at this point, admiring the land and the stars as we skied, making regular stops to marvel at their mystique and making our best guesses of the constellations and planets that enshrouded us, pondering on questions about life, feeling lucky to be here, and wondering if there were any others, on another planet somewhere, wondering the same thing at that precise moment.