The lavvu lives again

Before I jump into today’s post, I’d just like to mention that Ilkka Seikku’s website is down temporarily. He is still there working and taking orders. He can be reached at rautasarvi@gmail.com.

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I was fortunate enough to get out to the forest again this weekend for a few hours. My main goals were to get some exercise, enjoy the sunshine and reconstruct my winter shelter, a lavvu/kota/teepee which I set up for the first time about a year ago. My inspiration for the shelter was the temporary shelter tent used by the Saami and other reindeer-herding groups of northern Eurasia.

I drove to the same spot as last time and parked the car.

When I got to the deeper snow, I strapped on the snowshoes and followed the path I made last weekend. Along the way to my campsite I spotted this (made by a ruffed grouse as he took flight, I believe).

The sunny forest was just beautiful.

This next track is kind of hard to see. I think it’s from a lynx.

And some bunny tracks.

There’s a small pine sapling in here somewhere.

A few shots of the area surrounding my campsite.

When I first got to my campsite, it was about -18*C/-0.5*F.

I managed to find my shelter cover after a little searching in the snow.

After a bit, the temperature had dropped to -20*C/-4*F.

After a bunch of ice-breaking, struggling and cursing, I managed to open up the frozen folded tarp and set it up crudely on the frame (It will need to be adjusted and tailored in the future). I can’t wait to do an overnighter there soon and use my new stove from Perkunas.

The sunset was beautiful, and it was about time for me to go.

While snowshoeing back, I noticed that the cold temperatures and heavy snow load had caused two pine trees to break and fall over the road sometime after I had passed there earlier. I was already having problems taking pictures with my camera at -20*C/-4*F, and there was no chance of getting any shots at -23*C/-9.5*F (the temperature at the time), though I did try. I broke off a few dead branches by hand so I could pass under the trees and continue on my way. Next time I go that way I will cut those trees and move them off the road. I guess I can’t really complain about my camera not working, though, since it’s the same low temperatures that also made the sky so clear and beautiful (I believe it has something to do with it being difficult for clouds to form).

Fake-fur hat update: It worked really well on this outing, but was still too hot for snowshoeing at -18*C/-0.5*F on the way to my camp! I was able to wear it on the way back though, after the temperature had dropped. It was very comfy and warm while I was sitting around eating lunch and not moving around at my campsite.

Usnea? I’m lichen it!

The fact that you’re reading this blog means there’s a good chance you’re at least somewhat familiar with the usnea group of lichens. They are commonly known in English as “old man’s beard”, as they somewhat resemble scraggly gray beard hairs. Usnea lichens are characterized by an elastic white string that runs through the main stem. They are found throughout the world. If you are familiar with these lichens, you probably know that they can be used for fire lighting, but there’s much more to them than their use as tinder.

Most usnea lichen species contain usnic acid, which is a strong antibiotic and antifungal acid. It’s literally medicine that grows on trees!* For centuries (at least), it has been used both internally (eaten as-is, drunk as tea or ingested as a tincture) and externally (applied like gauze to wounds) to prevent and fight bacterial infections. I have personally not used usnea in this way and will research further as to how much is a good amount to ingest, but I feel good already knowing it’s there!

The fact that they can be eaten means, of course, that they are edible. In addition to being high in carbohydrates, usnea lichens are also rich in vitamin C. Apparently, it is not a good idea to eat a lot of this lichen at one time, as large amounts of usnic acid can seriously irritate the stomach, but small amounts are said to be healthy and nourishing.

Mother nature never ceases to amaze me!

*Note: This information is NOT being provided as medical advice. It is for educational purposes only. As always, be sure to research wild foods and medicines on your own and be 100% sure of what you are eating/using. I will not be held liable if you eat something poisonous and then croak! Be aware that brightly-colored lichens are more likely to be poisonous, and some even resemble usnea (e.g. wolf lichen).

A winter outing…finally!

What most people would call “winter” usually starts sometime in October here in Eastern Finland. Maybe November. This winter, we didn’t have permanent snow and temperatures consistently below freezing until the beginning of the year, which is very unusual. I was hesitant to do a lot of bushwhacking until winter finally came, because being wet and muddy at temperatures hovering around freezing does not appeal to me. Give me hot and sunny or frigid and 4 feet/over a meter of snow. Wet and near-freezing temps are for the birds!

I had originally intended to spend about 24 hours at my primitive campsite this past weekend, but I ended up deciding to do a day trip instead because I didn’t have time to get certain things in order before leaving (pulk modifications weren’t done and a number of other things weren’t ready). As it turned out, I had a nice day out and was able to use my new knife a little in the process!

Since some of the back roads I travel on to get to the forest are not plowed regularly, I parked the car as close as I could get it and then continued on foot for about 10 minutes.

Looks like a fresh kill!

When I got to the last road, I had to strap on my snowshoes to travel further.

I don’t think I’ve seen a birch do this before!

Looks like a moose did some munching here.

After about 30 minutes of invigorating snowshoeing, I reached my campsite.

I tamped down the snow in the kota frame with my snowshoes.

This was followed by gathering some spruce boughs to use as insulation on the ground. I used my new knife from Ilkka Seikku to cut up the boughs into smaller pieces. It easily sailed through with one swipe each time.

It was snowing continuously, so I quickly threw my poncho onto the kota frame and secured it there to keep the snow off.

I checked the temperature. It was a balmy -7*C/19*F. This actually isn’t that cold at all, and I was comfortable the whole time. MUCH better than near freezing temps… When I left later on it was about -9*C/16*F.

It was time to make a fire, so I dug my way through the snow to my secret winter wood stash. ;) I pulled out two pieces of spruce cut earlier from the big downed tree nearby.

Then I used my axe to split it up a bit.

Further splitting was done with my new knife. Worked perfectly. No complaints. :)

I decided to test the knife’s chopping capabilities a bit as well. I was able to chop clean through a 2.5 cm x 1.25 cm (1″ x 1/2″) piece of seasoned spruce in four chops. Pretty good, considering that this knife is not a heavy chopper.

This was followed by making some shavings. I really like how this picture came out, for some reason.

I got a small fire going and heated up some water for spruce-needle tea.

While the tea was brewing, I took out my sandwich and crackers and started to munch away. Finally, a chance to rest!

I let the small fire burn out and decided it was time to leave. The days are pretty short at this time of the year and I didn’t feel like hiking back in the dark, though I have done it before without problems.

The forest was beautiful and silent.

I learned a few things this time out (as usual). The fur hat I got recently is much too hot to wear while hiking/snowshoeing at temperatures above -10*C/14*F, but it was comfortable to sit around in. Also, my rain poncho also works well as a “snow poncho” to keep the snow off. Don’t know why I didn’t think of using it before!

Hope you guys all had a great weekend, too!

Christmas in January

As some of you know, I have been expecting a few items to arrive by mail, and the fact that one arrived yesterday and the other today makes it feel like a mini-Christmas. Actually, one of the items is my main Christmas present, so in a way it really is a little extension of Christmas for me. :)

Let’s start with the item I received today. It’s the new camp knife I ordered from Finnish craftsman Ilkka Seikku and my main Christmas present. In one of my first blog posts, I described my ideal camp knife and showed the one I was using at the time. My new camp knife is a modified version of Ilkka’s original BushProwler design. The modifications include a longer blade, a slight convex, a cow horn bolster and a “hidden full tang”. What I mean by this is that the knife almost has a full-width tang (as in sandwich tang), but the entire tang is contained within the wooden handle and is secured with two rivets. This gives me the advantages of a full-tang knife (strength for light prying, batoning, (eventually) joint separation etc.) and the advantages of a stick tang (minimal skin-to-metal contact on the handle for comfort in very cold weather, “warm” feel etc.). Design modifications like these will naturally add a bit to the price, but considering Ilkka’s already-low base prices, you get a LOT for the money. To be honest, I’m not sure how he charges what he does, considering what goes into making the whole package!

Some tech-specs:

Blade material: Spring steel (differentially tempered)
Blade length: 15 cm, 6″
Blade thickness: 4 mm, 0.16″
Blade height: 27 mm, 1″
Blade grind: Slight convex
Blade shape: Slight drop-point
Blade tang: Hidden full tang
Blade finish: Forge finish with mirror-polished bevel

Handle material: Rowan wood, dyed dark for rustic look
Handle bolster: Cow horn
Handle spacer: Leather
Handle attachment: Two rivets
Handle cross-section profile: Egg-shaped

Sheath material: Cow hide
Sheath color: Dark brown
Sheath insert: Carved wood
Sheath design: Modified BushProwler (differences: stitched up the back, firesteel loop on back)

I received the knife earlier today and haven’t had a chance to do much with it except fondle it in my office and cut paper (it’s sharp :D), but you can be sure I will put it through it’s paces. What I can say at this point is that it fits perfectly in my hand, balances well, locks securely into the sheath and is a beautiful overall package. Stay tuned for a field-testing report very soon!

By the way, the bat symbol on the sheath was devised by the maker, and he likes to put it on the sheathes he makes for me. :)

Last year, Perkunas from Perkele’s Blog and I made a trade for some gear/services. I sent him a Roselli leuku that I had done some small modifications to and also threw in a modified Mora No. 1 with a laminated blade and leather sheath, some paracord, a small belt pouch and a few Euros.

In turn, he was going to make me a wood stove for my kota/teepee shelter from scratch. The stove arrived yesterday, and I am more than pleased! It features good solid welding, a black paint coating, a nice grate inside, a big ash pan, a big flat area on top for cooking with pots and pans, threaded bolt legs with .308 shells as the feet and a hinged door with an antler handle! What a unique item. The body itself is about 30 cm x 30 cm by 40 cm (12″ x 12″ x 16″). The door hole is about 14 cm square (5.5″). It weighs about 8 kg (18 lbs.), so it’ll be easy to transport on my gear sled. I am VERY happy to have this stove and can’t wait to crank it up on a frigid winter day and bask in its warmth. All I have to do now is get a smoke pipe for it. It is things like this, hand-made-by-a-friend things, which can’t be purchased in any store, that help to make outdoor trips that much more enjoyable and memorable.

He also threw in an awesome coal/wood fork which he made, a fish-processing knife, a tin which I will use to make charcloth, a waterproof tube for matches and a pack of Backwoodsman cigars. :) I talked to Perkunas yesterday to thank him for the great stove and other gear, and he said that he also included a small piece of flint, but sadly I couldn’t find it in the package. :( It must have worked its way out somehow. Either that, or it’s mixed in with the packaging somewhere. I’ll have to check again.

Stay tuned guys, because there’s plenty more good stuff coming, including trip reports, projects, wild medicine and more gear lists!

Bushcraft Finland autumn meetup 2011 – A blast from the past

Before Christmas, I was looking forward to over 2 weeks off from work and plenty of time in the winter woods. Unfortunately, life had different plans for me. My son and I got sick shortly after Christmas, so the pre-Christmas chaos was followed by two weeks of doing absolutely nothing. Quite a contrast. But we are almost all better now, and I am looking forward to doing a lot now that the temperature has dropped and stayed down (give me cold/dry/snowy over warm/wet/rainy any day…)

In the meantime, here’s a “blast from the past” trip report (that you may have already seen)….

Back in early October, OZme from Bush n’ Blade and I got together for a weekend “minimalist” camp at my regular campsite. The permitted gear was as follows:

Shelter: Any of your choice (the weather had been wet and just above freezing recently so we didn’t want to make ourselves suffer too much ;)).

Cooking: One cooking container, spoon, cup and water container.

Food: Any food of your choice.

Fire: Two fire-making tools/items of your choice.

Cutting tools: Two tools of your choice.

Pack: One pack/bag of your choice.

Other: 10 m paracord or other cord, bandanna or other cloth, simple first-aid kit, simple wash kit, extra clothes.

OZme arrived at our house at about 5 o’clock on Friday, just in time for a quick dinner and to meet the family before we headed to the bush. I quickly packed up the rest of my stuff and we were off. After about 20 – 25 minutes we reached the cabin and parked our cars. Another 10 minutes through the forest on foot and we were at my campsite. Luckily, there were no deer keds there, probably because it had been too cold (and because my campsite is in a more open area).

We realized that we wouldn’t have a real long time to set up our shelters, so we decided to partially cover my kota frame with our shelter ponchos, which worked really well. For bedding, we collected handfuls of a small bushy shrub that was growing around the campsite. I had used this before and knew it was really comfortable. We then gathered up some firewood and started a nice warming fire in the shelter. Before we knew it, it was dark and the stars were twinkling above.

On Saturday morning, we got busy preparing more firewood.

Once the fire was burning nicely, we made a cooking rig. Since we would usually be using two pots over the fire at the same time, we made two tripods with a bar across the top of them. We tied two loops of cordage around this bar and hung our notched sticks from the loops.

For breakfast, OZme made oatmeal with fresh berries he collected, and I had a slightly more American breakfast of bacon and eggs. :D The mixed eggs and bacon may not look great, but they tasted goooooood. :D

After breakfast, we made some brushes out of birch sticks by pounding the end with the poll of an axe. Great idea by OZme! I put in a little water and then some ashes from the fire to use as “soap” to clean my pot, which worked really well.

OZme’s dogs enjoyed themselves as well (3 collies in all). :)

We had to gather some more firewood, so we went to a nearby spruce tree which had been blown down in a storm a few years ago. We limbed part of the tree, which provided some good cooking wood.

There were still some blueberries on some bushes nearby. There were also cowberries, black crowberries and northern bilberries nearby.

Before we knew it, it was time to eat again, so OZme tried cooking some eggs in sphagnum moss. One of them exploded and the other came out OK. :) My meal would be a sausage.

We decided to do some more work on the shelter in case it rained Saturday night, so we threw up a tarp which I had nearby (this wasn’t really cheating, because OZme had a similar tarp which we could have used instead).

Then I did a little more work “refining” my pot hanger. ;)

Here’s the kota from a distance.

Again, the time went really quickly and it was getting dark, so we transferred the fire to the fire ring inside the kota. We prepared some tinder and kindling, and then OZme brought the live coals from the cooking area to the fire ring, while I sat next to the ring and got the fire going with the materials we prepared.

How about this picture! Great photography by OZme.

The temperature dropped to -2*C/28*F overnight, and one of the dogs thought she might like to join us in the shelter.

The hot fire kept us warm, though.

There was smoke in the top of the shelter, but we didn’t have any problems when sitting down.

On Sunday morning, everything in sight was frosty and there was fog in the air.

We decided to both make bannock for breakfast. OZme decided to bake it on a board, but I wanted to try baking it on a stick, which I never tried before. I made a dough ball and then squeezed it into a long thin piece.

We placed the bannocks near the fire.

I flavored my bannock with some birch syrup which OZme had made previously.

After breakfast, he made a fan out of spruce wood. Very clever!

We decided to break camp at about 11 o’clock or so, because he had a long drive ahead of him. Luckily, I only had to drive about half an hour. I collapsed in bed and took a nice nap until my family got home. :)

I’m definitely looking forward to the next meetup!