The Bear Ski was a 9 day solo skiing trip through the Hammastunturin Wilderness area in Finnish Lapland. It was the trip that had intrigued me the most before heading out to Finland. The thought of spending so much time completely alone, in the middle of nowhere and pulling all your gear and food was an exciting yet daunting prospect. It felt like it was going to be the true test of what I had learnt over the previous 7 months training as a wilderness guide. Whilst on the 930km drive up to Hammastunturin I wrote an Intro to the bear ski. The post didn’t actually upload as my signal suddenly cut out when we were nearing our destination. I thought nothing of this at the time. But later that day the trip was about to change quite dramatically for three of us in the group.
So, after driving 930km all through the night we parked up the vans, got the kit ready and skied to our lunch spot. After making lunch, and getting ready to go, the group steadily dispersed into the surrounding landscape. But as said, things were not so simple for three of us. I heard from one of the others that Mixu and Santiago would not be able to do the ski trip alone, as their phones had no signal. (Names may have been changed in some cases to protect identity).
Thinking back to my phone’s signal cutting our earlier I felt a pang of dread shoot right through me. I had my English sim as well as my Finnish, and I had two phones, so was quietly confident that one of the sims must work in one of the phones. But, after fiddling around, changing which networks were being searched for, nothing happened, no signal. We had to speak to the teachers before we left lunch camp anyway, so I went over and told them the news – a bit of me hoping something could be figured out to let us ski alone. But, for safety reasons, we would not be able to ski without a phone on us. It was just too dangerous. The nearest road was miles away and the area we were skiing in was vast. Even if someone got into an accident and managed to call emergency services, it could take hours of searching to pinpoint that person – without a phone it was just too risky.
Speaking for myself, my emotions were a sickly gurgling cocktail of disappointment and frustration. After building yourself up for such a trip it was a real kick in the face and I was completely and utterly gutted. I had been anticipating this trip for such a long time and wanted to see how I got on being completely alone. What made it all the worse was that we could have bought a simcard for €6 on the drive up. We were told that our service provider would have bad signal, but not that it wouldn’t have any, so I didn’t buy one – what was the point in buying something if you didn’t need it?
We discussed over and over certain options and possibilities with the tutors. They were being so helpful, and you could see from their reactions they were almost as gutted as we were knowing we couldn’t do the trip on our own. Eventually we came to a resolution: We would have to ski together following a route that we had just made, checking in at the teacher camps on the previously agreed days, and having a base camp in between the camps for 3 days. We could take day trips in pairs or as a three on the rest days if we wanted to. We agreed we would only ski together in the day, once we went to make our own camps we would be alone, no disturbances unless in an emergency. It was not perfect, and at this point I still felt completely empty, but it meant we could still do the trip
We gathered our things and skied off on our new route together. Our conversations spiraled between cursing the flipping network providers to thinking how lucky we were to be doing this trip even as a three, to going back to feeling so annoyed that we couldn’t do it on our own to looking at the unfolding landscapes, the snow, the trees, and realising that it wasn’t so bad after all to wishing we had just bought a god dam sim card for €6 to listening to the crunch of the snow beneath our skis and forgetting all about it. I would say these conversations lasted about a day and a half.
After all, we were still doing great trip through some amazing scenery. And if anything it taught me a lesson. You shouldn’t build things up so much in your head before they actually happen, as it is quite likely they may change. You can’t alter what has happened and sometimes you have to just go with the situation in hand and enjoy it – it’s part of the adventure.
So after an eventful start we soon got into our routine of skiing together by day and camping alone by night. We slowly and gently traversed the land, meandering around hills, over snow bridges to cross rivers, skiing off alone into the forests at the end of each day to set up our camps. On rest days we made several day trips to the nearby fells to gaze longingly over the surrounding landscapes subtly bounding off as far as our eyes could see. These fells, even at only 30 – 40 metres above the surrounding land, offered us glimpses of dazzling white snow-capped fells and snow dappled trees. Occasionally we would bump into other members of the group, stopping to chat and share experiences. During these moments, when we spotted someone moving towards us in the distance my mind would whimsically drift off, imagining we were fur traders working the same line, meeting after spending months in the wilderness, then trading items we were low on – dried meat for coffee, rifle shot for tobacco and whiskey for rum.
The temperatures were warm for the time of year, and the hottest they had been for the 8 years that our tutor Mikko had attended the trip. During the day they reached highs of up to 6°C and at night didn’t go much lower than -2°C. The picture above shows the weather in Inari, the closest city. Just for comparison, the previous year’s daytime temperatures got no higher than 1°C and many of the nights were around -13°C to -20°C. Despite the warmer temps, the snow fall had been better this year and there was still over 1m. The cold wind also kept the snow cold, and the skiing conditions were surprisingly good.
Setting up a camp each night took roughly 2 hours once perfected. This involved finding a good spot, flattening and preparing the ground, putting up the tent, digging out the fire pit, sourcing ground wood and then sawing and splitting it (we only had a license to use ground wood – dead stumps of fallen trees), then making a fire, heating food and melting snow for water. It was a fulfilling trip and a real detachment from ‘real’ life. For those 9 days I was completely extracted from modern society and the way of life so many of us know. I was more appreciative of the food and water I was consuming and the firewood I was using, feeling a connection to the land. It now feels like a blissful dream where I had taken a step back in time to a different way of living.