Aren’t we humans just tiny compared to the planet that accommodates us? This question came to my mind when skiing over Lapland’s vast swamps and through its endless forests. It was the solo skiing trip of the Wilderness Guide education program that took us into one of the most scarcely populated areas of Finland, close to Saariselkä, 68°North. For nine days, everyone was following an individual route on skis, pulling a toboggan full of gear. Every third day a checkup at one of the teacher camps was mandatory, ensuring that everyone was safe and sound. And for sure it was educational, both in terms of wilderness skills, and in terms of getting to know yourself. All of a sudden the silence around makes the voices from within heard. And they have a lot to tell.

The landscape

… is seriously stunning. When you climb one of the hills in the area and have a look around you’ll notice that there are no traces of humans. No roads, no houses, nothing. Just the nature as it was created.

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The animals

In Lapland it’s still winter. Which means that not many animals were to be seen. Of the birds, only those that stay in Lapland could be observed; the others were not yet back from their winter home. Reindeer and elk tracks from time to time – that’s pretty much it.

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The black woodpecker was not shy to pose for a picture

Water

You’d think that it’s easy to obtain water, because it’s all around. And it is. But in order to melt the snow it takes a lot of energy and time. So whenever it was possible I got my water from the river. Which is not that easy either. When you get too close to the open water, the ice might break. Therefore I attached one of my pots to the ski pole, which worked nicely as an extension.

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The shelter

The first days it was quite a struggle to set up the shelter, but gradually it bacame faster and faster. Also the style of pitching changed over time. For the first two nights I dug out the whole pit – also the area where I would sleep. Later I realized that it might be smarter to compress the snow in that area and dig out only a pit for the fire. Which has the advantage of being able to sit on the edge:

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Not the optimum setup – while the tree offers shelter, it’s not possible to have a fire there.

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Getting better …

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The queen of shelter pitching

The wood of the woods: Firewood

Fortunately there was enough available – mostly the dead branches of pine. Doesn’t spark much, easy to get, very dry, easy to chop – perfect. And when the fire was finally crackling, it was a good time to dry socks, the boots and the sleeping bag. But as the temperatures were always ranging around zero Celsius, it was only a question of time until everything was moist again. The fire was also great to melt snow and prepare food. However when the hunger was already big, the gasoline cooker was a great option to have.

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One time also the self-built solo stove was able to demonstrate its magical powers – very efficient wood stove

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Swedish log candle – made by using an axe only.

Skiing

This crunchy snow crust – what a pleasure. It meant that it was easy to ski and pull the toboggan. Only during midday and the afternoon, when temperatures rose above zero the snow would start sticking to skis. But for the soul it was a pleasure when the sun appeared – no matter how difficult the skiing would become.

Pulling the toboggan was fairly easy in flat areas. Just the down- and uphills posed a bit of an issue as my sledge was fairly thin (ca. 40cm), but therefore high. Which meant in practice that it would tip easily. But if you have been to Finland, you might know that there are not many hills at all. The land flat like a pancake.

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That one night

… I still remember in detail. It was so wonderfully warm, but something was pushing me to leave it. A very human need. And then I discovered the full moon. So bright and pretty through the trees. You never know what some things are good for!

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And some more impressions …

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