An Icy Swim, the Northern Lights, a Solar Eclipse, the Spring Equinox and Bear Ski Preparation

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Me and my classmates are on the final stretch of our wilderness guiding training here in Finland – with just under 2 months left. Since getting back from the February work placement, one of the main focuses was preparing ourselves for the Bear Ski, which we completed several weeks ago. This was a real test of our personal, camping and bushcraft skills learnt over the last 8 months. But, that will be explained in another post. I wanted to do a weekly round-up blog post because recently all I have been writing about is spoons (more spoons to come don’t worry).

So, in the week leading up to the Bear Ski we prepared all the skis, pulkars (sledges), and checked the equipment was in good condition. Me and Mr France and two of the Finns were in charge of all things ski related. We managed to maintain the skis with the precision and rigor of an Austrian gym teacher. However the rag-tag mix of poles was a brain crushing exercise. There were around 30 individual poles, natrally all missing handles, baskets, spikes, and being different styles and lengths. So acting like a ski pole ER, me and the french man filled bowls of boiling water and started to remove and rearrange handles, baskets, and spikes to create some odd looking, but the same length, pairs of poles. After a lot of patience and many failed attempts we managed to pair up many poles – which was actually quite satisfying I have to admit.

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Ice Swimming

Other than the necessary but soul-destroying ski-pole-sorting we also discussed the risks and safety practices when crossing frozen water when pulling a heavy pulkar. One of these exercises involved doing a fully clothed ice swim! No explanation needed here. After staying in the water for a while we climbed out using the ice picks we made earlier on in the day and then had to make a fire. It was pretty damn cold but not as bad as you would think. But, it was surprisingly hard to get out, and we were in a perfect situation – the air temp wasn’t that cold, it was sunny, there was no wind, we were completely safe and we were guaranteed to get warm afterwards. Good to know what it feels like in case it does happen one day. In a real life situation it would be crucial to act quickly – get out safely, make a fire, and dry and warm up.

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The key thing is this: Whilst on expeditions (even in the summer) always have the bare minimum of a lighter / matches in a waterproof pouch, knife and compass on you. Then if everything turns to shit, and you crash through the ice and somehow lose all your kit, you’ll be able to make fire, get warm and figure out what to do next.

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Aurora Borealis Experience

Since moving to Finland, my interest in space activity has grown, and every so often I check the suns activity to see if there’s a chance of northern lights. The previous week I was treated to a couple of small light shows whilst on practical training. Incredible still, but they left me eager to see more, like the ones you see on tv or nature documentaries – where the whole sky is filled.

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Where I am based in Finland, the northern lights are uncommon. However, I knew there was a solar storm on the 13th March, and it was expected to take 2-3 days to hit earth. So each night I was checking the figures, but nothing seemed to be coming in. Then on this particular night I thought I would check again and BAM the figures were going flipping mental. They were off the charts. The kp rating was 8.6! Usually it hovers around 2-3 (I am no expert and don’t know exactly what the kp is, but I know that the higher it is the more south you can see them and the stronger the activity. 8.6 actually had the potential to be seen down as far as southern England, Northern France and Germany (see pic above). I instantly switched of the computer, grabbed my bag and ran manically back to the house to alert the others. I actually only managed to persuade one of the Fins and a German to join me, we quickly packed our bags and walked to a local lake away from town. This is where we had our eyes, hearts, souls and minds blown to pieces and then rebuilt by one of the most indescribably beautiful things I have have ever seen.

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Whilst walking there, we were worried the sky was being filled with clouds, but once out of the yellow glow of the street lights we realised it was the glow of the northern lights. Typically they are always to the north, but on this occasion they were all over, starting with long streaks travelling right over the sky from west to east. We quickened our pace to get to the lake as quickly as possible, in between quick marches we took whimsical breaks to crane our necks upwards.

At first the streaks were slowly moving over us. Then gradually the colour intensified you were able to see reds and purples with the eye – usually only possible with the help of a camera. After this the colours faded but the activity seemed to suddenly erupt, like firey sparks arcing from a twitchy live wire the whole sky was filled with pulsing streaks of whitey greeny blue for the entire night. From this stage on, taking photos just couldn’t capture what we were seeing. The flashes and pulses of light were coming in and snaking away so fast, it was almost as if watching clouds in a storm.

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We took out sleeping bags and spent all night laying by the side of the lake, staying awake for as long as our eyes would let us. In between our shrieks and crys of excitement there were moments of solitude, where the rapture of the lights had us under her spell. During these moments we lay there motionless, wrapped up in the personal warmth of our sleeping bags, the metallic bark of a fox and the breathy hoot of a nearby owl adding to this surreal experience. I tried not to fall asleep, but as our conversations started to drift off mid sentence we gradually slipped into the land of slumber. I woke up every so often during the night, the northern lights still everywhere to be seen, eventually waking in the morning to bird song and the rising sun.

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There, I tried my best, but I really cannot do it justice. Before this I had seen the northern lights, and they were beautiful, but I hadn’t experience them like this. Never seen anything like it.

IMG_7600Solar Eclipse

We geeked out further on space activity the next day, watching the solar eclipse through a classmates telescope and welding glasses. Many of us shivering and having to change clothes as it got noticeably colder during the eclipse. To top it off, at the weekend we toasted the spring equinox around a campfire. The equinoxes mark the point of the year when the day and night are of the same length – this particular one – 20th March – signifies the start of spring.

All in all a week a memorable week I will tell my grandkids about in years to come.

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