This is one of two trip reports that I did not get round to publishing from my time training in Finland. In May 2015, we spent a week on Jungfruskär Island, which is situated in the archipelagos to the south west of Finland. We were here to do some conservation work and study the local flora and fauna. The college has a deal with the Forest and Parks service that allows the class to stay on the island and use the facilities in return for doing some conservation work.
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.
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).
Update: This post was meant to send last week, but the signal on my phone cut out. I actually ended up having no phone signal for the whole trip which meant my solo ski had to be altered slightly, but will explain all in an up coming post.
Starting this morning we embarked on the 930km drive to Hammastunturin wilderness area in the far north of Finland. We will drive through the night and should arrive in the early hours tomorrow. From here we will start an 8 day solo skiing trip – The Bear Ski.
During a recent skiing trip to Kylmäluoma we made and slept in a quinzhee. A quinzhee or quinzee is a shelter made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow.
To make one, you first make a big pile of snow. This one slept 2 comfortably and was 5m or so in diameter. Don’t worry about compacting the snow as you go, just make a large heap. Compacting the snow would not only takes ages, but it also ruins the insulating properties of the snow. Once you have a large enough dome you can mildly compact the outside with shovels or skis. After this, slide in 30cm sticks, roughly 50cm apart all over the structure. These sticks are not added for structural reasons as you might think but actually act as guides when hollowing out the chamber. Once the sticks are in place leave for around an hour to harden.
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.
Making an effective shelter can be the difference between having a cosy and dry night’s sleep or having a horrendously cold and wet ordeal. I know what I would rather choose. In extreme situations, it could mean making it through the night alive.
In relation to building a shelter, Mikko our tutor aptly told us the fable of the cricket and the ant:
“During the wintertime, the ant was living off the grain that he had stored up for himself during the summer. The cricket came to the ant and asked him to share some of his grain. The ant said to the cricket, ‘And what were you doing all summer long, since you weren’t gathering grain to eat?’ The cricket replied, ‘Because I was busy singing I didn’t have time for the harvest.’ The ant laughed at the cricket’s reply, and hid his heaps of grain deeper in the ground. ‘Since you sang like a fool in the summer,’ said the ant, ‘you better be prepared to dance the winter away!’.”
To gain experience as a guide, during the IWG training you are required to work with two companies, totalling 5 – 6 weeks. You offer your services for free in return for the experience.
This was my first practical training position, my second was as an assistant ski guide. During the first 3 weeks of December 2014 I worked as an assistant dog sled guide at Saija lodge, a family run company offering husky tours in central Finland. Located just below the arctic circle, where the sun coyly rises at 10.10am, floating just above the horizon before sedately slipping away again several hours later, at 1.30pm. A sun filled day compared to many of my course mates who were further north, where the sun didn’t rise at all.
I’ve been looking forward to this week since starting the program. Furthering our knowledge of craftsmanship and traditional Finnish culture we designed, forged and crafted a knife that embodies the Finnish culture – a Puukko.
A puukko is a small traditional Finnish belt knife, characterised by a small curving blade with a flat back, usually the length of the users palm, around 90 – 120mm. This allows greater dexterity and control when using the knife, as the thumb from the other hand can be used to push the top of the blade. These types of knives are truly multi-purpose and are used for carving wood, skinning animals, descaling and gutting fish, stirring the soup, lifting the pan from the fire, gardening… The list goes on, you name it and it’s been used for it.
The knife is held in a leather sheath that is attached to a belt, easily accessible and ready to use in an instant. However, bearing a sharp object that could be used as a weapon was banned in Finland in 1977. Since then the puukko has lost some of its visibility in public places. But in rural areas where the connection with the outdoors is stronger and the use of a knife is still essential, you can see the blade around the belts of forestry workers, dog sled guides, hunters and fishermen. Whilst writing this I am currently doing a work placement at a husky farm and one of the guys carries 2 knives on his belt permanently. A true Fin!
The weather doesn’t know what to do with itself recently, temperatures have been bouncing around the low positives melting all the beautiful snow. Nooo, fingers crossed for a decent snowfall soon, I’m itching to try out the old wooden forest skis.This week we visited Vapriikki Museum, had our safety passport exam, learnt some more about plants, had a big group meal, did some planning for the winter guiding task and went foraging for mushrooms and traditional fire starters. But first I want to tell you a story all about how an elderly lady named Carmen from the Costa Del Sol brightened up my Saturday.