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.
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.
The trip to Russia was a whirlwind of temperatures, laughs, some dubious cooking, beautiful views and a smattering of wildlife. We spent 9 days trekking through the old growth taiga forests just outside of Paanajärvi National Park. Old growth means the woodland has not undergone any major unnatural changes (such as logging) for more than 100 to 150 years, contains young, mature, standing dead trees and provides a home for a diversity of flora and fauna. A taiga/boreal forest is made up of mostly pine, spruce, birch and aspens (as well as many others). It’s the largest biome in the world and can be found in the northern latitudes between roughly 50°N to 70°N.
This week we were introduced to the basics of Canoeing and Kayaking, calculated our walking pace over 100m (good for calculating distances when trekking), and made the final preparations for the trip to Russia.
I have spent the weekend mostly preparing and packing my food and gear for next week’s trip to Paanajärvi National Park in Russia. I wouldn’t say I am unorganised, but the truth is, I am consistently slightly late and when I’m packing I usually find myself in the depths of the night frantically chucking things into my pack. But as I sit here typing, my bag is behind me, packed and ready to go. It was a nice feeling actually being able to spend time packing, and being organised, rather than doing it last minute. But the blog on the other hand, has been left to the last minute…
This week we trained for our First Aid level 01, presented our Russian Trip plans to the rest of the group, went bird watching, did some orienteering, had a small toaster fire and went on a fishing trip to local island where we camped the night. Oh and there was also some hilarious nudity.
Tuesday night was one of the most memorable nights… We were having a nice relaxing sauna after a busy day training for our First Aid level 01 qualification. As usual we had a couple of swims during the sauna, hobbling back as quickly as possible on the sharp stones underfoot. We had wedged the door open with a broom to ensure we could get back in. On this particular trip back, I had a plan, so I picked up the pace (from a excruciatingly slow hobble to a slow amble) inching past the others at a snail pace, running in just before them and slamming the door behind me, locking them out – ‘Absolute classic trick’ I thought.
This week we were taught all about preparing and cooking food outside. Our tutor for the week, Turka, was a memorable guy, dressing in an army green jacket and trousers each day, with an old shirt below and worn-out smart shoes upon his feet – a smart casual look for sure. Each time he spoke, a long low rumbling voice would emerge past a thick bushy broom-like moustache, as if gurgling from the depths of a ancient cave.
Started the week with a walk in a nearby forest to observe birds and plants. Got introduced to some more mushrooms – some edible and some deadly. One that I will definitely remember was the destroying angel, the name says it all, eat this mushroom and you’re probably going to die. Symptoms do not appear for 5 to 24 hours, when the toxins may already be absorbed and the damage (destruction of liver and kidney tissues) irreversible. As little as half a mushroom cap can be fatal if the victim is not treated quickly enough! On a lighter note we the also found many brittle gill (pictured below) and gypsy mushrooms – which are both edible, and very tasty.