A late-winter snowshoe hike and overnight stay

In a few weeks’ time, most of the snow will be gone here in Eastern Finland, leaving only patches in the forests and the remnants of big plowed piles around town. This being the case, I wanted to get out to the forest for one last snowshoe hike and snow camp before spring really hits. The daytime temperatures are above freezing now, so there is noticeably less snow in some places. Nighttime temps still drop to around -5*C/23*F or so.

I started hiking toward my regular campsite and came across a fallen tree which had been nibbled on by bunnies for much-needed late-winter sustenance.

There’s still plenty of snow on the logging road I follow.

At one point I found a set of tracks unknown to me. The four prints look kind of like a butterfly and this pattern is repeated just like this, one after another. EDIT: Thanks to Matt AKA SKwoodsman for pointing out that they could be red squirrel tracks!

The sun tried to peak through for a while, but didn’t come out fully until the next morning. It snowed continuously most of the time.

The saplings around my kota are already snow-free.

I decided to camp in a different location instead of using the kota again, so I only dumped my gear there temporarily.

I thought it would be cool to camp near the small pond at the edge of the property last visited with the Woodswife, so I hiked in that direction, snapping this shot along the way.

By the way, the Swiss military surplus gaiters worked really well. Here they are almost up to my knees. These things look brand new and are solidly made.

I soon reached the pond where I would be camping.

There were two nice level and open spots nearby, and I chose this one after making sure there were no “widowmakers” overhead (i.e. dead branches or trees which could break and fall).

I tamped down the snow in the area with my snowshoes (or is it an alien “snow-circle”?….). Not a bad place to camp at all.

After preparing the site, I snowshoed back to my kota to get my gear. On the way, I saw some usnea lichen. I decided to eat some raw (if you decide to do this, you are doing so at your own risk). The first piece was a lighter shade of green and softer. It had no taste at all. Then I ate a larger piece, which tasted like somewhat bitter raw green vegetables. It’s not something I would want to eat every day, but it was definitely edible. The little bit I ate did not bother my stomach at all.

Back at my kota, I noticed some fine and fluffy material on one of the kota poles. I believe this material is part of the inner bark of the spruce tree. I tried to light it with my new flint and steel from Ilkka Seikku, knowing that this type of material probably wouldn’t light (especially since the air was somewhat humid). It was fun to try anyway!

After transporting my backpack and shoulder bag to my new campsite, I set up the “Franken-tent” I made last autumn. To make this tent, I snapped two of the very rugged German army ponchos together to serve as the side walls. I then measured and cut two triangular end pieces from some tent material I had, reinforced the edges and added snaps to both the ponchos and the end walls. This allows the end pieces to be unsnapped on either the right or left side on both ends or be removed entirely on one or both ends. The only permanent modification to the ponchos was the snaps I added, so they are still fully functional as two separate ponchos. The ground sheet, poles, guy lines and stakes are from another tent not currently in use.

I threw my bags into my new home, unrolled my lamb fleece and rested for a minute or two.

After a short while, I hiked to the back property line, which abuts a property which had been recently cleared of trees. In the summer, this field is full of pinkish-purple fireweed, but in the winter it looks quite different.

On the way back to camp, I saw a small birch sapling which I thought would be perfect for making an improvised ski/snowshoe pole, the current project-of-the-month at Bushcraft Finland. I quickly cut it down with my custom BushProwler from Ilkka Seikku and dragged it to my campsite.

I stripped most of the bark off (except for the handle).

Then I sharpened the tip and cut two notches into the stick about 14 cm/5 inches from the tip and fitted rigid pieces of wood into the notches. After this, I put two more rigid pieces under the pieces in the notches (forming a tic-tac-toe grid) and then tied them all in place with thin birch branches from the sapling. This was followed by weaving the basket with more birch branches.

It will stay upright in hard snow.

Excuse my “workshop”, it’s kind of messy. ;)

I used only my knife and one birch sapling to make this pole. I was surprised, because it ended up working pretty well! ;)

Just as I was done making the pole, I heard a low grumbling noise very close nearby. My stomach dropped and I froze still. Did I wake up a hungry brown bear a little early from his winter slumber?! I slowly scanned the area, making no fast moves. I heard the growl again and froze in place. This time I was able to pinpoint where the noise was coming from. I slowly looked down and realized it was coming from my stomach. It was time for dinner! :D I dined on a popular Finnish camp standard, pea soup. This was a great opportunity to try out my buddy burner stove in the field (and on top of the snow, for that matter) (see buddy burner Part 1, Part 2).

Before long, my soup was hot and I extinguished the stove. What’s nice is that the bottom of the stove didn’t get hot enough to cause it to sink into the snow, so I didn’t even need any kind of platform for the stove. The following morning I also tried using this stove with sticks, and it worked really well (and luckily burned off the paint/coating, leaving a uniform dark gray metal underneath). It put out enough heat to cook nicely, but the flames were not so big as to be uncontrollable. When cooking with wood, I put the can on a platform of green sticks to keep it off the snow, because the bottom of the can does get hot when used this way. Unfortunately, my camera was not cooperating in the morning, so I don’t have any shots of the stove burning wood.

Shortly after eating, it started to get dark, so I lit up my jar lantern and hung it on a small sapling.

I was feeling pretty tuckered out from the day’s activities, so I moved the lantern inside and got in a little light reading.

Before settling down to read, I had set up my bedroll, which was comprised of a bivy bag, a thin foam mat, the lamb fleece and two sleeping bags. I slept very comfortably with this setup. Overnight the temperature had dropped to -6*C/21*F, but I was toasty warm.

The following morning was sunny and beautiful, but as my camera batteries were shot, I couldn’t get any pics. I slowly woke up after sleeping about 9 hours, emerged from the tent and used my hobo stove with sticks to melt the water in my pot that had frozen overnight. I didn’t have a lot of time to stick around, so I packed up camp and headed back to the car.

This was one of the nicest solo outings I’ve had in a while. In a way it will be “sad” to see winter go, but spring is in the air, and I’m already looking forward to collecting birch sap and harvesting birch bark in just a few weeks!

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14 comments on “A late-winter snowshoe hike and overnight stay

  1. Finnman says:

    Looks like you had some quality bc-time there and got some projects done also! 9 hours sleep, wow that´s luxury. I need normally 2 nights to sleep that much at home :D
    Winter is very good time to be outdoors with right equipment, but so are other seasons aswell!

    – Finnman

  2. Ron says:

    Nice going!
    Good to see you guys still have some winter over there. I like it that you both practice new things and show previous projects being practically used, but that snowshoepole is great!

    • Thanks, Ron. :)

      Yep, it’s still winter here, but one of my favorite times of the year is almost here (early spring). Soon most of the snow will be gone, it will be much warmer (but not hot yet) and there will be no bugs yet. It’s easy to get around without snowshoes, I don’t sweat while hiking and…did I mention no bugs? :) That time will be here soon, but it only lasts a few weeks. Then the trees will grow new leaves, other plants will grow and more critters will emerge. Of course I enjoy the full spring as well. :)

  3. skw says:

    Hey! Nice pictures, I enjoyed the post as always! :) Those unknown tracks looks like red squirrel to me.

    All the best!
    -matthew

  4. OZme says:

    That is enviously nice looking night out you had. And that lantern, I do not knw what is it about but I really like it.

    • It was really enjoyable!

      Maybe you like the lantern because it’s simple, cheap, easy to make and very functional and portable. That’s why I like it, anyway. :)

      • Finnman says:

        Yes, that very simple lantern gives nice atmosphere. Not sure if it would be enough for reading book well. You can make 20 or 30 more and paint them different colours with glass paints and have nice “venice-style camp site” :D

        To OZme: And you will soon have plenty of materials for such lanterns ;)

        • Well, it’s not super bright, but if you hold the lantern near the book, it does give off enough light to read by for a little while. Not something to do for hours, though. :)

          Making lots of those lanterns and painting them with different colors would actually be a cheap and clever way to make decorations for use outside at summer barbeques etc.

  5. […] There’s still some snow to be found here and there, and there isn’t too much plant growth yet, but the days are long, the sun is warm, the bugs are buzzing and the sap is flowing. I spent Sunday afternoon and evening in the forest, and as you will see, quite a bit has changed since my last trip there. […]

  6. […] the winter, but embrace it (a few outings from last winter can be found here, here, here and here). No bugs, no rain, silent forests, gorgeous scenery…what’s not to […]

  7. […] the blog. Ok, ok, the only thing I’ve ever shown that could be called a carving project was the snowshoeing pole I made last winter. Anyway, I’ve been planning on doing more carving projects for a while, and as anybody who […]

  8. […] spark, open food packages, cut cordage, slice tomatoes, bacon, potatoes, carrots and onions (edit: make a snowshoeing pole, make a primitive fishing rig etc.). If I choke up on the handle, the balance is fantastic and I […]

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