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.

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!

Pictures from Juhannus weekend 2013

Juhannus is the Finnish name for the midsummer holiday celebrated primarily in the Nordic and Baltic countries, but in others as well. It originated as a pagan holiday celebrating the summer solstice and was Christianized as “Juhannus” (St. John’s Eve) upon the arrival of, well, Christianity. Nowadays, the festival is celebrated by drinking, eating lots of good food, playing fun games, drinking, going to the sauna, burning stuff in a bonfire, drinking and grilling sausages. Oh, and there’s drinking, plenty of drinking.

As usual, the Woodsfamily spent Juhannus at my mother-in-law’s cabin in the country. Rather than showing you pictures of folks engaging in…ahem…traditional Juhannus activities, I thought I’d do a little show and tell with some random pics I snapped at the cabin and around the city.

First, a little wildlife. I was fascinated by these beautiful metallic-looking beetles drinking nectar from flowers:

(sorry about the focus!)

Ducks enjoying a warm summer day:

And now for some plant life. Wild roses:

What’s this? A freak dusting of snow?

Nope, it’s copious quantities of seed fluff from some tree I have yet to identify. The bark looks like aspen bark, but the leaves look kind of like birch leaves. Any idea what kind of tree it is? Update: Thanks to a tip from Forest Turtle, I believe this tree is a black poplar (populus nigra), which is not native to Finland, as far as I know. Thanks FT! Update 2: Conrad pointed out that it is also known as a cottonwood poplar. Thanks!

A tradition in Finland (and perhaps other places as well) is to make a vasta (called a vihta in western Finland), which is a bunch of limber birch branches bound together and used for self-flagellation and spouse or friend abuse in a hot steamy sauna. While my mother-in-law gathered the branches, I made some cordage out of willow bark. Here’s the “Finnish’d product”. 😉

And here’s where we used them, a sauna with a wood-burning stove. I forgot to take the stool off the lower bench before taking the picture, but you get the idea.

The entire weekend, mosquitoes, black flies and gnats were on a mission to see me shrivel up like a raisin due to a lack of blood. Though I tried to resist, I ended up scratch-scratch-scratching away. I must have hit an artery at one point, because I started bleeding from one small spot and it didn’t seem to want to stop. Remembering that my favorite wild edible broadleaf plantain has astringent and wound-healing properties, I chewed up a small leaf and put the poultice on the spot in question. This stopped the bleeding immediately, and it did not continue after removing the plantain a few minutes later (excuse the bug-bitten, dirty leg…).

At one point during the weekend, I saw this boat in the city harbor. It’s a traditional Finnish-style boat which has been waterproofed with a pine tar/pitch.

And last, but not least, I leave you with a Juhannus bonfire over the water. This shot was lovingly captured by the Woodsbabe around midnight.

Hope you enjoyed this random selection of pictures!

Interested in Finnish bushcraft?

When I moved to Finland, I was happy to find that bushcraft, woodcraft, knife making and other traditional skills have a long history here and are still alive and well today. Since sharing a few blogs and other websites with you almost a year ago, I have learned of several more and some significant changes to others. This post is intended to be an updated list of bushcraft/outdoor-related blogs and websites in Finland (most of which are in English). If you know of any others, please let me know! By the way, please also give the “in Finnish” blogs a chance, even if you don’t speak Finnish. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. 🙂

Blogs

Blacksmiths/Knife makers

Forum

  • Bushcraft Finland: This is the main (and only, as far as I know) forum for bushcraft in Finland. It was recently moved to a new server/provider and is now advertisement-free. It also has a great new appearance and layout. Both English and Finnish speakers are welcome.

Other

Last, and definitely not least, I want to point you in the direction of some videos from yesteryear showing a variety of Finnish crafts and old-timey ways (click one of the “Isien Työt”s on the left-hand side and then scroll down and click “Katso nyt” to watch a video).

Enjoy!

A boat for “city folk”

In about 2 weeks time, the Woodsfamily will complete our move to southern Finland. As our new residence will be an apartment, there will be no room to keep a solid-hulled water craft where we live. I really wanted to find a solution to this dilemma, because the Woodsboy is now old enough to go on longer boating and fishing trips. Several years back, I had a lot of success with higher-quality inflatable boats, so I decided this was the way to go.

Now you might be thinking, “OK, so you bought a raft, Weekend Woodsman”. Au contraire. I’m not talking about pool toys here. I’m talking about larger, thick-PVC boats with multiple air chambers capable of holding several people. These things can be very stable and rugged, yet they don’t weigh a ton. The model I bought, the Sevylor Fish Hunter HF250 (from Adventra.fi in Tuusula, Finland) weighs only about 8.3 kg/18.3 lbs and folds up compactly, which means it can easily be carried in a larger pack. This boat can hold a total of 220 kg/485 lbs of people and gear. The total inflated length is 232 cm/7 feet 7 inches.

You’re not exactly going to be crossing oceans or going white-water rafting with a small boat like this, but for calmer lakes and rivers, especially ones which are not accessible to most boats (fishing, anyone?), an inflatable will do the trick. You have to be a bit more mindful of hitting sharp objects in the water, but to me the advantages of light weight and portability make up for any of the disadvantages.

I received our boat just a few days after ordering, so the Woodsboy and I were able to take it out for its “maiden voyage” this past weekend.

Here it is, deflated and folded up.

Here’s the boat unfolded.

I filled the five air chambers in the marked order with a manual pump.

It took 10 – 15 minutes to fill the boat completely. I attached some collapsible oars I had bought years earlier. They worked fine with this boat (I think they are also from Sevylor).

The Woodsboy and I brought the boat down to the water, and I helped him in.

It was easy enough getting out into the water. We rowed around for a while and took some pictures. The weather wasn’t great, but it made for “dramatic” shots. 😉

The Woodsboy insisted on helping Daddy with the rowing multiple times. 🙂

All in all, this boat performed exactly as I had hoped. As a matter of fact, it turned out being much more stable in the water than I had expected. We didn’t get wet at all while out on the water (except for a little bit of rain), and were able to move surprisingly quickly with the little oars. My manual pump can be used for deflation as well, which meant that I could easily deflate and fold up the boat again before putting it in the car. The Woodsboy really enjoyed the trip and wants to fish next time as well.

I’m really glad I bought this boat, because it opens up a lot of opportunities and enables us to go to places we couldn’t access before (like the little pond in the forest). Highly recommended for city folk or anyone else!

One more thing. I don’t want to sound like I’m advertising, but the company I bought this from is offering a 10% discount to any customer who likes them on Facebook, so I thought I’d pass this info on to you.