Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hike at the Finnish eastern border, summer 2011

Our "big" hike this summer was done a week before midsummer. The location we chose was somewhat a compromise between the flatlands where we live and the fjells of Lapland - the eastern border between Finland and Russia. There is a marked hiking path spanning 160 kilometers, called the "Eastern border trail", or "Itärajan reitti" in Finnish. They have a website in Finnish, found here. We hiked a small section of this trail, doing only small distances.

Our priorities for this hike were more on skills and techniques, as we wanted to have some practice for our upcoming hiking skills contest. Thus we had a few goals:

  • All campfires were to be done with a firesteel only
  • Finding/creating tinder from the woods
  • Practice the "figure 4"-trap
  • Learn to make a fire with a firebow/drill
  • Test all new gear to get comfortable with it
  • Gather some edibles from the forest & try to catch fish
  • Use ranger beads to approximate walked distances

As a shelter I only had a 2x3 meter light tarp (the noisy cheap stuff from hardware stores, 5 euros worth) and Adu had his Halti Cavity tent. Basically we could have camped almost anywhere along the trail (based on the Finnish law of everyman's rights), but since you need the landowner's permission to make a fire we decided to camp beside the marked and maintained firepits and wooden shelters ("laavu"). This came with the cost of some of the wilderness feeling, but with the comforts of a cooking fire, dry firewood, benches and easy shelter.

The weather conditions were typical Finnish midsummer - some rain, some sunshine. More of the rain this time, though. The temperatures were somewhere between 16 and 22 degrees centigrade in daytime and around 10 degrees centigrade at night.

Our first walk was just a few kilometers to get away from the car. We drove the entire day (~9 hrs) to get to the location, and left the car about an hour before midnight. A short walk later we got to our first campsite. It was dry, we put up our shelters, had a late supper and stayed up most of the night sitting around the campfire, enjoying the fine weather, lake view and a little brandy.

A view on the lake. The orange glow on the right is the campsite.

The "laavu" shelter.

Our sleeping shelters.
On day two we struck camp after breakfast, and it soon started to rain. This soon became the wettest and most miserable day on the whole hike. As the trail proceeded through several swamps and dense forest, we were soon wet from head to toe, even with rain gear on. The backpacks stayed mostly dry, though, and we had made extra care that the sleeping bags and extra clothing were packed waterproof. Eventually we came to our next campsite, another wooden "laavu". This one was located on the western shore of a long lake. The wind gushed strongly from the east, blowing straight inside the shelter. It rained constantly, and we decided to stay the night inside the laavu. We arranged my tarp as a wind shelter on the doorway of the laavu - this improved the shelter quite a bit.  My self-made wood burning stove did not function as I had hoped (although it performed nicely when I tested it), and we ended up cooking almost all of our food on the campfire instead. We spent most of the day and night just sitting inside the laavu, drinking tea, waiting for the rain to stop.

A dish best served hot. Pasta with some soy grits and spices.
The third day dawned wet and cold. We packed our backpacks inside the shelter and walked on. When nearing our next campsite, the rain stopped and the sun started to peek among the clouds. We decided to stop on another shelter to dry off our gear before continuing to the actual campsite. Some hot food, fire and drying clothes quickly got our spirits up.

A lake we passed by. Rain, rain, rain.

A typical swamp. We crossed lots of these, walking on wooden boards, "pitkospuut".

Drying off by the campfire.
We continued to the actual campsite by a river. The weather improved, we got lots of sunshine and we had a good chance to get our gear dry. We slept in our own shelters again, as the hard wooden planks suck when all you have is a foam pad!

I tried to make fire with a fire drill. Unsuccesful, I only got smoke. I used birch as the drill and pine as the board. We think my bow was too taut, since it was very hard to get it working properly.

The river.
The next day we hiked on. It was dry and warm, and we walked pretty fast. The terrain was mostly dense woods and swamps, but an occasional river and hill made the hike more interesting. We arrived at our next camping spot with perfect timing. Two minutes after we got our packs off, there was a torrential downpour that lasted for a few minutes. The rain soon turned into a drizzle that lasted a few hours. We had some good food, and drank a lot of tea. We also tested some natural drinks, pine-needle tea and spruce shoots tea (the light green year-growths of a spruce tree). These were delicious, and we'll be making more of these on our future hikes. Harming the trees without landowner's permission is illegal however, so it's hard work to find a freshly fallen branch to use for these. Lucky for us, there was much wind and thus a lot of fallen branches.

When the rain ceased, we tried our hands on some trap-making, practicing for our upcoming hiking skills contest. It did not take long for both of us to make a working "figure 4" trap, but then again, we only used light firewood as a load. It would probably be much harder with an actual heavy load, such as a stone or a log.

I also fished a bit, caught several small perches (perca fluviatilis) and used their eyes as bait. I soon caught a "bigger" one, that we cooked on a stick by the campfire and ate. At least we got a taste of fish, though not enough to fill a stomach. I also cooked a large "penny bun" mushroom (boletus pinophilus) I found. Delicious!

My figure 4 trap.

Adu's figure 4 trap.


Food. :)

The lake at night.

The next day we took off for the last camping spot. I walked a few kilometers barefoot, just for the hell of it, but as expected, my feet soon got tender and the going got slow. So, on with the running shoes. The trail went on some dirt roads, which killed both the wilderness-feeling and our feet. At least the weather was good. This hike was short, and we were soon at our last campsite.

This site did not have any shelter, and as the weather was looking to get worse, we pinned my tarp as a cooking shelter between some trees next to the firepit. The rain did not come despite some thunder, but we decided to keep our tarp-shelter anyway. I decided to sleep under a spruce tree, using a space-blanket as a groundcloth and my actual groundcloth as rain shelter. Worked like a charm, even when it rained a bit during the night. You could have walked right by the spruce and not spot my sleeping spot. Stealth camping! :)

Tarp as a rain shelter.

My stealth camping spot. Nice and dry, all night long.

Adu's last tent spot.

The last morning was wet, as it had rained at night. We had a hasty breakfast and headed to the parking spot where my car was waiting for us. A fun hike, though not much distance covered. :)

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