Cabin restoration project – Construction nears completion

For the past several weeks, the building contractor has been working hard to get the century-old brand-new cabin into shape and ready for occupancy. Since my last cabin update, all the windows have been installed and trimmed, the door has been installed, the floor insulation and flooring have been installed, the bathroom shell has been largely completed, the loft stairs have been built, some exterior insulation has been installed and covered and a lot of the front porch has been constructed. I imagine all the rest of the work by the contractor will be completed over the next week or two, and then it’ll be my turn to furnish the cabin, set up the kitchen and bathroom, paint the exterior etc.

Meanwhile, my friend Alex and I did some work of our own to the sauna, namely raising it up onto six concrete blocks left over from the cabin construction and digging out the area around and under the building for better ventilation underneath, to preserve the wooden beams the sauna is built on and to prevent mice from finding their way inside through the drain holes in the sauna (the beams/sauna used to rest directly on the ground).

I’ve spent just about every weekend for the last two months out at the future homestead site doing extremely uninteresting things like yard work (no yard work had been done there in 20 years, so you can imagine how much there is to do…), collecting all kinds of interesting garbage from around the property and throwing it onto the mountain of trash which has been accumulating and also fixing up the exterior of the old farm house to make it a little more presentable. After one or two more weekends of yard work, I think I’ll have the place the way I want it. Then I’ll start dismantling what’s left of the old storage building where the new cabin originally came from and sort through the wood to see what I can use for firewood and future building projects (chicken coop, greenhouse, firewood shelter etc.).

I’ll leave you with a picture of a stoat (mustela erminea) which seems to have made the old farm its home. Hope you enjoyed this update!

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Lemmenjoki National Park, Lapland, September 2013 – Part 2

In case you missed it, Part 1 can be found here.

Pasi and I had spent Monday night at the Vaskojoki hut, which is open to wilderness travelers on a first-come, first-served basis and provides bunks with mattresses, a wood-burning stove, a table and benches and even a gas cooking stove.

The scenery around the hut wasn’t too shabby.

Following breakfast, we packed up our gear and said adieu to the Vaskojoki hut, traveling roughly along the Vasko River looking for a suitable place to cross it. The wetter land between the river and drier pine forest was often covered with scrubby birch trees.

Here’s Pasi testing a route across the river.

Our prospects didn’t look good at that location, so we headed to a higher elevation and traveled through the pine forest again. A sight often encountered throughout these forests was reindeer droppings, aka “nature’s licorice jellybeans”. They are much smaller and darker than moose droppings.

Speaking of moose, while Pasi and I stopped to take a short break, I spotted a cow moose plodding through the forest not too far away. She obviously didn’t smell or hear us, for she carried on with her business for quite a while. Unfortunately, the best picture I could get of her was this (she’s the brown blob in the center):

As we continued hiking parallel to the river, we came across this kota/lavvu frame. For those of you not familiar with this type of shelter, it is similar to the tipi used by Native American Indians. In Lapland, they are primarily used by the indigenous Saami people/Laplanders.

Our route toward a narrower and rockier section of the river where we might cross more easily took us over some very marshy ground. Good thing I was wearing rubber boots! A few scenes from along the way:

An old bird’s nest:

Parts of the forest were littered with scraggly dead pines like these.

Some of the marshy areas were full of dwarf birch, the leaves of which had either turned brown or fallen off by that point.

When we cut over and approached the river again, we looked for a suitable place to stop for a meal and thought this area would do.

While Pasi got a fire going in a fire pit used by previous hikers, I collected firewood from a dead pine nearby with my Fiskars large sliding saw.

It was a fine spot for a meal indeed. 🙂

From time to time, the clouds broke, giving us a glimpse of beautiful blue sky.

Following our meal break, we threw on our packs and headed southward away from the river and through the pine forest to a lake where we’d make camp. We saw these moose rubbings along the way. When a bull moose is regrowing antlers in the spring and summer, they’re covered in a fuzzy layer of skin called velvet which the moose rubs off once the antlers stop growing. They often use saplings like this for the purpose.

We reached the small lake, which was linked to the river by a stream, and set up camp before it got dark. We followed the usual drill of setting up our shelters and a stone fire ring and then collecting firewood. Pasi’s shelter on the right is a “pena-laavu” from the Savotta company, and my shelter on the left is two German army surplus ponchos snapped together in a brew shelter configuration. I wasn’t able to set up my shelter perfectly because of the trees nearby, but it worked well enough.

The water we got from the lake was crystal clear and delicious. Just dip your cup in and drink. 🙂

In all, we had hiked about 9 km/5.5 miles on Tuesday, and I was eager to hit the sack as soon as night came. Pasi arose earlier than I for some morning capercaillie hunting with his laika Pyry. I awoke to Pasi shouting at Pyry some distance away in an effort to stop him from chasing a moose, which can lead to a long sit-and-wait or retrieve-your-dog-from-deep-in-the-wilderness scenario. Pyry complied and I fell back to sleep. A bit later I woke up again and started up the fire after collecting more wood. While fiddling around, I heard a nearby shotgun blast from the otherwise silent forest, and Pasi returned with the second capercaillie of the trip, another male, which was older and more substantial. He related his brief encounter with a bear that morning as well as his intention to return to the area for a bear hunt in the future.

After Pasi had finished unburdening the fowl of its internals, we sat down to cook a meal over the fire. He had remarked that the temperature dropped below freezing overnight, at which time I remembered noticing this at some point during the night. Not long after, we got a little confirmation from mother nature in the form of a 5- to 10-minute period of wet snowfall…quickly followed by sunshine.

Out of curiosity, I took out my thermometer to take a reading. Just as the weather report had forecast, it was 4°C/40°F. As a side note, I used the Swiss sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner on this trip and never felt cold.

We then packed up and headed down to the river again to search for a good spot to cross. We cut ourselves some poles from the nearby woods, and Pasi skillfully led the way across.

With my luck being what it is, I’m sure you can guess what happened when I traversed the cold river, stepping from one slick rock to another. 🙂 Yes, yours truly fell in, filling my boots with water and getting wet almost up to my waist and wetting the front of my jacket and my gloves as well. Fortunately, the water wasn’t deep there. I picked myself up, wrought myself out and continued across the river. After quickly changing socks (my pants dried surprisingly quickly, so I left them on) and dumping the water out of my knife sheath, we continued hiking on the other side of the river toward our pick-up point, but not before I slipped on a boulder at the edge of the river, landing on my kuksa (the one I got from the Woodsbabe’s grandparents last Christmas). I had attached it to the shoulder strap of my pack with a carabiner for easy access, but never expected it to serve as an emergency cushioning device. Let’s just say I’m happy I landed on this cup with one of my cheeks and not straight onto the boulder with my tailbone… While it was unfortunate that this gift was rendered unusable, I’m sure the Woodsbabe’s grandparents would be happier knowing it broke while on a wilderness trip in Lapland as opposed to sitting on a shelf collecting dust!

The rest of our time in the forest was uneventful. We traversed some more marshy land near the river and eventually reached the pick-up point, where Pasi’s girlfriend was waiting for us. That evening, the three of us drove out to their cabin further to the north. Pasi intended to paint the new shed he put up there, and I offered to help. It ended up raining all Wednesday night and Thursday morning, so we scrapped the idea, instead returning to their home. That afternoon, they cooked my favorite Finnish dish, “käristys”, with moose meat (reindeer is often used as well). To make käristys, partially frozen meat is cut into thin slices and then slow-cooked with onions in butter over low heat. It’s then usually served with mashed potatoes and cowberries/lingonberries. Pasi used a leuku he made to slice the moose meat. The meal was delicious.

A while after eating, we three drove to the Siida Saami Museum in the village of Inari, which had very interesting exhibits covering Saami history, culture, handicrafts and technology, including an open-air section which I’ll cover next time. The museum also had plenty to show and tell about the geology, fauna and flora of the region.

Bidding my gracious hosts farewell on Friday morning, I retraced my 12-hour train and bus route of almost a week earlier and returned safe and sound (and a little sore) at home. Despite the issues of this year’s trip, I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the north (for which I will definitely be better prepared). As per usual, I’ll use this experience to make future trips more successful and enjoyable!

I want to say thanks to Pasi for being a great wilderness companion, showing me around “his neck of the woods” and for being patient and flexible. He really added a great dimension to the trip. I’d be happy to join him for another in the future (in better condition, of course ;))!

Lemmenjoki National Park, Lapland, September 2013 – Part 1

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – Boxer Mike Tyson

I try to see every experience in life from a positive perspective. When I succeed, I gain confidence and reinforcement in what I did right. When I fail, it gives me an opportunity to take stock of my skills, knowledge and experience and figure out what I can improve upon to avoid a repeat of that failure. While I would by no means call my recent trip to Lapland a failure, I would say that it could have been better in some aspects if I had not punched myself in the face in one big way, but I’ll get to that later.

On Saturday, September 21st, I boarded a train bound for Rovaniemi and rode 8 hours up to the capital of Finnish Lapland. In Rovaniemi, I transferred to a bus and rode an additional 4 hours to Ivalo in Northern Lapland, where I was picked up by blacksmith, knife maker, wilderness guide and all-around outdoor-dude Pasi Hurttila. The trip seemed to be getting off to a lucky start as I saw the northern lights (aurora borealis) for the first time shortly before arriving in Ivalo. Anyway, we drove to Pasi’s place and I hit the sack after a little chit-chat with him and his girlfriend.

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we did our final gear checks, packed up the van and drove about 100 km/60 miles to Lemmenjoki National Park. Our plan was to start from the northern border of the park, make our way southward to a certain point and then head eastward to our prearranged pick-up point, traveling through the “remote zone” of the park and entirely bypassing the more heavily trafficked “recreation zone”. Pasi would be hunting in the forested areas along the way. As a side note, the weather was expected to be on the rainy side and average about 5°C/40°F over the course of the trip.

We had planned in advance to enter Lemmenjoki Park by crossing the Vasko River (Vaskojoki) by canoe, so one of Pasi’s friends came with us to bring the canoe and van back to Pasi’s place. It wasn’t a long canoe ride at all, but it was fun to start the trip off this way.

We hiked southward from the northern border of the park towards some of the highest fells of the area, passing through pine forests and marshes on the way.

The views became more expansive once we reached higher elevations.

We decided to stop and cook lunch in this area, so Pasi made a stone fire ring, we gathered resin-rich seasoned pine wood for fuel and Pasi started the fire.

I was too hungry to wait for food to cook, so I ate some dry-cured sausages I brought with me, as well as some “rieska” bread and “juustoleipä” cheese typical of Lapland.

While we were stopped, I worked on hooking my kuksa to my belt for easy access. I tried the setup below for a little while, but abandoned it when the stick started slipping out. As a side note, we drank directly from streams, rivers and lakes throughout the trip, as no filtration or boiling is necessary.

After eating and resting for a bit, we continued on our way. Although the peak time for autumn colors had already passed, there were plenty of beautiful scenes left to discover.

By the time we reached the small pond where we wanted to make camp, it was getting dark, so we quickly set up our shelters. After settling in, we made some food and enjoyed the warmth and light of the fire.

Pasi tending the fire

I was really happy when we stopped for the day after a total of 10 km/6 miles of travel, because to be honest, the trip was already proving to be a challenge. Now, I’ve been on several backpacking trips where I’ve easily covered 4 km/2.5 miles per hour on trails with a fully-loaded pack, hour after hour (probably about average for casual backpacking), and I’ve also done plenty of hiking over rough terrain in Finnish forests. What took me by surprise is how different it is to cover rough terrain at a moderately fast place with a fully-loaded pack while wearing soft rubber boots (I decided to wear these boots instead of the new hiking boots I’d bought because of the wet conditions of the location). Wilderness backpacking takes a lot more energy compared to trail hiking! Of course, it’s not at all unusual to be tired out after the first day of any backpacking trip, so it’s something I expected to a degree. Luckily, my energy level picked up dramatically by the middle of the second day, as is usually the case with me, but an unexpected problem crept into the picture which forced us to completely change our original trip plan. More on that later.

After a long night of sleep, we arose on Monday morning and packed up. While getting ready, I realized that I had forgotten a small drybag at home containing my toiletries and other sundries, so I made this toothbrush out of a birch twig by stripping off the bark and then pounding the wood with the back of my knife to break up the fibers a bit (little did I know then that I did in fact remember to pack that small drybag: I had “cleverly” stowed it along with some other things in a larger drybag…). The birch twig toothbrush worked surprisingly well!

The small pond nearby

After a little hiking, Pasi let loose his West Siberian laika “Pyry” to find capercaillie, or “metso” in Finnish. The dog was outfitted with a GPS tracking collar, and Pasi skillfully used it not only to ascertain Pyry’s whereabouts, but also to determine what he was doing. If he barked consistently, ran in small circles and didn’t stray from a location, this would signify that he’s likely found a bird. If Pyry barked irregularly in a low authoritative way and covered greater distances, this could indicate a moose or bear. So Pasi was able to read the situation based on Pyry’s frequency and type of barking and his movements and other behavior. I was impressed! After a short while, Pyry found a bird and Pasi moved in. He made short work of it with his single-shot 12-gauge/.222 Remington combo (the shotgun in this case, of course).

We proceeded to a creek where Pasi removed the bird’s internals and put fresh juniper branches in their place to keep the body cavity open.

While we were stopped, I took pictures of some berries nearby.

Northern bilberries

Black crowberries

Cow berries

Here’s proud Pyry and the first capercaillie. And no, the knife is not stuck in the bird’s neck. 😉

As we continued on through the forest, I snapped a few pictures.

Chaga fungus on birch tree

Birch burl

After some more hiking, the factor which would change the course of the trip for us became painfully apparent. Although my energy level was picking up, hauling my pack over the rough terrain began taking its toll on my left knee. The longer I went, the more it bothered me. We decided to take a break at a creek and make some food. It was at this time that I realized the fatal mistake I had made before the trip: not training properly on comparable terrain wearing a fully-loaded pack. After the fact, it sounds like such a simple and stupid mistake! I had based my expectations for this trip on previous on-trail experience. Oh well, live and learn. You can be sure I won’t make that mistake again!

You might think that this experience would push me in the direction of going ultralight, but I’m not planning to. I will make a few changes to reduce my pack weight somewhat, but the real culprit here was simply not being fit enough for the task, so I will start taking long hill climbs with a loaded pack as a frequent supplement to my regular daily exercise routine.

Anyway, back to the events of the day. We had stopped at a creek to eat and rest, and I collected some resinous pine wood to get the fire started. I cut thick feathers into the pieces the way I had seen Pasi do it. Make up three or four of these, hit ’em with a match and you’re in business. No other kindling or tinder necessary!

I decided to lighten my pack by using up some of the potatoes, carrots, onions and sausage I had brought with me, so I made a hearty soup out of them, adding a little salt and pepper as well.

While eating, we discussed how we’d have to change our route if my knee problems persisted (which they did). Instead of a route through the park from the northern border to the eastern, we’d change course and make a loop, traveling back along the Vasko River to a place where we could cross it near our initial drop-off point. After finishing and packing up, we made our way through more pine forest and a reindeer fence on our way to the Vaskojoki open hut where we would stay the night.

By this point, the trip had been a mixed bag. The scenery and companionship were great, but the sometimes uncomfortable travel detracted from the enjoyment. In large part, the gear I had selected for the trip (most of which is part of my normal outfit) was serving me well. The Swedish LK-70 rucksack fit and carried well, but the straps slipped a bit from time to time, so I used a sort of twine wrap to keep them in place. I realized I should have brought a larger axe, as the small Wetterlings Mini was a bit underweight for splitting the twisted pine we used as firewood. My LHA model would have been a better choice, I think. The old standby of instant oatmeal proved once again to be a good choice for quick and easy meals, and the nut bars and dry-cured sausage I ate were a great source of protein with no cooking required.

Stay tuned for the second half of the trip report for more adventures, misadventures and great scenery!

A little fishing and a lot of berries!

At the beginning of August, the Woodsbabe, Woodsboy and I joined my in-laws at the cabin to enjoy some summer sun, boating, fishing and berry picking. We suited the Woodsboy up, who was chomping at the bit to head out.

We hopped in the boat, and Woodsbabe rowed…

…while I fished. 😀 Thanks Woodsbabe! 😉

On the other side of the lake, there were boulders in one direction:

And berries galore in the other:

We picked bilberries (vaccinium myrtillus):

And northern bilberries (vaccinium uliginosum):

We saw some cow berries (vaccinium vitis-idaea), but they’re not ripe yet:

I snapped this picture nearby. The lichen and plants kind of look like a miniature forest to me.

Upon returning to the cabin, the Woodsboy and I set up the hand-line fishing rig with a piece of a fake worm and tried our luck.

We managed to get two roach fish (rutilus rutilus) like this:

After fishing, we looked around the yard for more berries. We found rowan berries (sorbus genus) (note: these are not poisonous, but are very bitter and could bother your stomach!):

Black currants (ribes nigrum):

And white currants (ribes rubrum):

Then the Woodsboy and I headed down the dirt road to find more berries. We found a lot of raspberries (rubus idaeus):

And stone bramble (rubus saxatilis):

We also saw unripe lilly of the valley (convallaria majalis). They turn orange when ripe. DO NOT EAT THESE BERRIES, as they are poisonous!

As we walked back, I shot this field of fireweed (chamerion angustifolium). Many of the seed pods have opened and released their fluff.

This is probably the most prolific time of year for berries in Finland. The wild strawberries (fragaria vesca) are mostly long gone now, hence no pictures of them in this post. The last berries to ripen should be the cow berries and black crowberries (empetrum nigrum), which will last into the autumn.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of some of Finland’s wild and cultivated berries. 🙂

Disclaimer: Consuming wild edible plants and/or using them for medical purposes is done at your own risk. Always be 100% certain of what you are eating/doing. If unsure, contact an expert.

Saaremaa, Estonia – July 2013

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you might remember my camping trip to Saaremaa, Estonia in September 2012. Last month, I returned to Estonia’s largest island with the family in tow. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for any bushcraft or camping this time around, but we did visit a lot of interesting sites and hit up the island’s main attractions.

As is probably the case with many tourists on Saaremaa, the 14th-Century castle was one of our first stops.

After strolling around the town just outside the castle, we drove out to neighboring Muhu island, where we were able to take a look inside a traditional Saaremaa-style thatch-roofed cabin. As you can see, there is no other roofing material besides the thatch. It was the roof of choice for poor people for a long time due to it’s low cost and availability. A roof like this can last 50 years!

One of Saaremaa’s main attractions is the Kaali meteorite crater lake, which was formed…you guessed it…by a meteorite which fell to Earth sometime between 4,000 and 8,000 years ago.

In case you’re wondering, yes, there are (introduced) fish in it.

While driving along the coast on our way to another of the island’s attractions, the Panga Cliffs, we stopped at the seaside to explore.

Rather than sand, pebbles, rocks or boulders, the sea bed at this location is actually smooth slabs of dolomite.

Nearby shore with junipers.

When we reached the cliffs, the Woodsboy and I headed out first, and the Woodsbabe snapped this pic (actually, she took a lot of the pictures in this post).

A few pictures from the countryside.

My Finnish readers will appreciate the name of this small Village. 😉

Anyone familiar with Saaremaa knows of the “windmill hill” in the village of Angla. These types of windmills were used to grind flour in the olden days.

This site also has some farm animals for the kiddies and some exhibits with items from yesteryear.

While on our way to the lighthouse on the peninsula in the southwest, we saw these rock piles at the shore.

Here’s the lighthouse as viewed from the very tip of the peninsula.

On our last day on Saaremaa, we ate at a unique restaurant in town. At some point in it’s history, it was converted from a working windmill to a restaurant with several dining stories inside.

On our way home, we spent a night in the medieval old town of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. Here’s a shot from up on high.

Hope you enjoyed this peek at my favorite island!

Primitive fishing update

I haven’t been posting as much as I’d like to lately. One reason is that I have less time for writing blog posts because of my new work and kiddie schedule which resulted from our recent move. The other reason is that we recently had the pleasure of hosting my parents for 2 weeks here in Finland, and this week the Woodsboy and I are on vacay at home together. My list of things to blog about is growing faster than I can scratch things off it, but I am trying! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read and comment on other blogs as frequently as I used to because of the schedule change. Lately I’ve had to pick one blog at a time to catch up with. If you notice that I’ve been conspicuously absent from a particular venue, this is the reason!

About a month ago, I wrote about my first experiments in primitive fishing. Since then, I haven’t done too much more testing with the rig I made for one reason or another. I did try the thinned-down line for a short while in less-than-ideal conditions, but the result was still the same: bites, but no hooks. Since the conditions and testing period of the modified rig were different from the first trial, the results are not fully conclusive.

In the meantime, I have been in contact with Ilkka Seikku about the matter. He is kind of my go-to guru for all things boreal bushcraft. According to Ilkka, my rig looks good, but the type of “hook” I’ve been trying is usually used in a different manner in northern lakes. Here, the gorge hook was inserted into a small live bait fish with the hope of catching a larger fish, i.e. pike. So basically, I’ve been using the right technology and equipment, but kind of in the wrong way. Ilkka sent me a photo of some hooks he has made for various fish in the northern lakes.

Primitive fish hooks made by Ilkka Seikku.

Here you can see a small hook made from a grouse’s wishbone reinforced with sinew, a small hook made from juniper reinforced with sinew and a gorge hook made from antler. The line is willow bark, like my line. It seems that smaller hooks actually shaped like hooks were used for the small fish I’ve been trying to catch. Imagine that! 😉 Ilkka mentioned that the method of fishing with the hook-shaped hooks was different from that which we use today. Rather than letting the fish nibble and waiting to set the hook, you have to be quick and try to hook the fish immediately when you feel a nibble.

So my next step will be to fashion some similar hooks using materials I can find. To be continued!

Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum

In the past, I have brought your attention to a number of forums, blogs and YouTube channels focusing on outdoorsmanship, primarily in Finland, but also elsewhere in the boreal region. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fine forum started by Ron from The Trying Woodsman Blog. He wanted to create a place where folks could discuss woodsmanship, bushcraft, primitive and traditional skills and anything else having to do with outdoor life in the north.

This primarily English-language forum is small, but growing (it has been experiencing a surge in activity lately). So far, there are members from Finland, Sweden, Norway, the northern US, throughout the British Isles, Germany and a host of other countries. As far as I know, this is the only north-centric forum of its type out there!

If you would like to learn from and contribute to a growing knowledge base on woodsmanship in the north in a relaxed and open atmosphere by sharing stories, projects, ideas and experiences and make friends in the process, be sure to visit the Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum!