Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Wilderness Guide Internship With Upitrek: Russian Border Skiing

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From the beginning I knew that this is going to be a kickass internship. While the words "obligatory" always leave a bitter taste in my mouth, I decided that an internship, even if obligatory, would be beneficial for me in many ways. As I rather do my practical training with a company I can look up to and which gives me a good and appropriate task, the companies to choose from got small. Very small. And so I sent off last autumn one email to Upitrek, asking if they'd like to enjoy my free labour for a few weeks in the spring. The answer came soon and was positive, and so I studied the Upitrek website, their different winter programmes, and kept in touch with them.



At the end of January was clear that I will go on their Russian Border Tour and the Winter Fun in Finland Tour. Lots of skiing first, and then some more skiing with snowshoeing, husky sled driving and a visit at a reindeer farm. It could be worse.

I arrived on the 27th of February in Kuusamo and continued to the airport, where I would meet my fellow guide and our clients. Much to my luck, my fellow guide Laura is someone I knew already, and our clients would be Dutch. After we collected everyone, stored their luggage in the trailer of the bus we started the drive towards the Hossa Hiking area, where we would start the trip. During the dinner I then revealed that I spoke and understand Dutch, which created some good laughs among the clients =)


Skiing Day One.

After breakfast on Monday morning all were eager to start skiing, despite the snow and wind outside. Day One started rather relaxed, and after a while everyone was back in the rhythm of kick-and-glide and it took just a bit under two hours to reach the first lunch place, the Hossa Visitor Centre. We enjoyed a look around the Museum which described the history of the area and its flora & fauna, before sitting down for a good lunch next to the fire place.


At the Hossa Visitor Centre Museum.

In the afternoon we continued skiing for another two hours, with a brief visit to the Reindeer Farm, before going to the hotel, the Hossan Lomakeskus. Sauna, dinner and some conversation before going to sleep. This was an easy day, and I had my own skis on, which wasn't a problem as the distance was short and I was the guide at the end. Though the next day we'd be skiing 25 km and I decided to switch to real Langlauf skis (44 mm width), which were a lot lighter and faster. I combined the boots with my new Urheiluareena Pilot overboots, which kept my toes warm and dry. A smart decision, as I would learn the following week.


Day Two starts cold.

After a late breakfast we left the hotel, for a 25 km skiing day. Today I was the leading guide, which was a bit of an extra challenge in addition to the new skis. But the first 11 km to the lunch place went smooth, through fine forests, over lakes and swamps, always following the track our snowmobile guide has made for us. Arriving at the lunch place we were welcomed with a warm cup of hot juice, a delicious soup as well as bread - something to look forward to after a morning's skiing! I helped serving while the clients one for one arrived, everyone in their own speed - it was their holidays, after all.


Lunch fire.

Well fed and with their thermos cans refilled, we started again. The sun was warm and the conditions for skiing great, and again I took off with the leading group. More swamps, lakes, hills, forests to ski through, and after a final climb we reached Kovavaara, the destination for the night.


Over a swamp, along the Finnish - Russian border.

Again our great snowmobile guide Antti was waiting with hot juice or tea and breads for the hungry skiers, while I tried to stretch my thighs - it was exhausting, that skiing. After the last ones arrived, the clients were shown their cabins, the sauna and toilet while Antti, Laura and me prepared the dinner and warmed up the sauna. In the sauna with the clients I introduced them to the great "Olut löyly" which was much liked, and after a refreshing wash with snow all headed back to the main house. Antti prepared a delicious dinner, and after that the Northern Lights spectacle began.


Northern Lights at Kovavaara.

The Northern Lights were spectacular, and our clients were very delighted to have witnessed them. With a smile on their face everyone went to sleep in their warm cabins. The next morning came, and Antti and I started to prepare the breakfast. It was a beautiful morning, with fine sunshine and crisp temperatures. After I did the dishes for 18 people we set out, today I was again the guide at the end, which was perfect as I still felt my tights.

We continued along the border zone in perfect skiing weather, with clear views towards Russia as we skied in our snowmobile-made skiing track. Short breaks to snap photos, or to have a cup of tea and a snack were had, until we reached the lunch place. Hot juice, good soup, breads, fire, a welcome routine.


Do not cross! There be dragons on the other side =)

After only skiing 17 km today we reached Arola, where we were welcomed with the most delicious home-made pie and great coffee - just thinking of that pie now makes my mouth watery =) Some clients went for an extra round skiing, while others went to their apartments and got ready for sauna. After sauna we were again treated with the best home cooking on this trip, with delicious elk, pikeperch, mashed potatoes and a variety of vegetables and salads. Everyone enjoyed the great food, and after an equally fine dessert we retired to our rooms for a good nights sleep.


Main house at Arola.

Day Four was a daytrip, as we would spent another night at Arola. A good 20 km skiing in less than perfect conditions - from white-out and over-blown tracks to full frontal wind and snow sticking to the skis, but fun was had by everyone nevertheless. Another fun evening with sauna, delicious food, song and laughter was had - as you can see this guide life is hard =)


Less than perfect conditions, fun nevertheless.

On the fifth skiing day I again was at the end of the line of skiers, and after a final good breakfast at Arola, many thanks and good byes to the perfect hosts we continued onwards. Another short day with only 17 km, and to mix things up lunch was next to a very nice hut, which was welcoming after the first leg of skiing.


Setting sun at Arola.

After lunch we continued towards Martinselkoksen Wilderness Centre, where we were welcomed with coffee and pastry. If you start to think that there's a lot of food involved, you're right! We were joking with some of the clients that it is more like a food trip with skiing in between =) Again the sauna was visited, "Olut löyly" was enjoyed, before dinner was served. The evening was passed by playing fun games and chatting, before slowly everyone retired to bed.


Towards Martinselkoksen Wilderness Centre.

Saturday was the last day where Antti, the snowmobile guide, would make a track for us. The group of fourteen clients was fairly split in the middle between those who would like a longer round, and those who'd prefer a shorter round. I was happy to go with the short (17 km) round group, and retire early - after all, there was sauna, dinner and evening programme to be enjoyed.


A last fine day of skiing.

Laura had a bag of instruments with her, and our impromptu jam session was fun and a great way to spend the final evening. More games and some fine Dutch Jenever made it an "gezellige avond" as we say in Dutch!


Fresh Wolverine tracks.

Sunday Laura left early and I was responsible for keeping the clients happy until the bus to the airport came to pick us up. Part wanted to go for a stroll, others wanted to try snowshoeing and some went for another short skiing round before packing commenced.


Embers.

As the bus finally arrived we packed the gear into the trailers, before the trip back to Kuusamo began. And so my first week as an "apprentice guide" went towards the end, but even before we reached the airport I left the clients with a nostalgic feeling as I went to meet the second group, and a new "Master Guide" for dinner in Kuusamo.


A old mill we visited on the snowshoeing trip.

Looking back on this week, after an estimated 111 km of skiing, six saunas, five different beds, plenty of tasty meals and fourteen happy clients, I know I made the right decision to do the wilderness guide education and do my internship with Upitrek. If this trip sounds appealing to you, and you want to hone your cross country skiing skills in pristine Finnish wilderness, all while staying in a warm bed at night with plenty of good meals, check the Russian Border Tour site at Upitrek - and who knows, maybe we might meet in the future on a trip like this!

The Week in Review

I'm on my way north. The next "The Week In Review" is due on the 27th of March in a megalomanic four week edition, appropriately titled "The Month In Review" =) But fear not, possibly there will be a few interesting articles for you during the next weeks, so subscribe or follow!



News & Various:

Ryan writes on Tracks, Crud, and Powder.

The Trailblazes February Edition Podcast is available.

Benjamin shows how to make cereal bars.

Andy reports from the Outdoor Leisure Show.

Chris is starting a series called "Monday Meditation" in which he will inspire us with some fresh ideas.

Sam writes on the "The Art of Glissading" and shows us some fine facial expressions.

Dave's "Paper Dolls For Backpackers" is a wonderful excursion into shelter design. A recommended try-at-home.

Light As Possible is a new blog and it mainly shows off great MYOG projects. The minimalist Primaloft Vest looks fantastic!

New to backpacking and you get lost with all the terms? John compiled a handy Hiker Slang glossary for the rescue.

Bikerafting which combines bikes and packrafts as a means of transport.

Eric shows in a how-to guide how to waterproof new maps.



Trips:

Carsten shares some first impressions from his time in New Zealand. I love it.

Dalene & Peter were padding around beautiful Roatán, Honduras.

From sun and warmth to blistering cold, as I wrote about my skiing trip which went a bit wrong. My toes are fine, and I am better prepared now =)

Alberto went with snowshoes to the Three Peaks, fantastic photos - and I get the sneaking suspicion that in Italy also in winter the sun always shines!

Cedar & Sand's birthday present from his wife: Two days in which he may pursue a fine solo adventure. Toroweap, here he comes.

Want a recommended read? Here ya go: Timo was with a kicksled in the outer archipelago. Can you say cool? ICE COOL.

Jaakko did some sloppy packing and cold weather skiing. All that gets me quite excited to see his future trip report from Svalbard!

Royal Wulff has an addiction.

Apertome rode from Muscatatuck to Crosley a sweet spring ride along fields, forests, lakes under a crisp blue sky.

Joe asks us to "Do not speak unless you can improve the silence". I believe he just want to listen to his metal music without being disturbed.

Nibe reports from mysterious Germany with gorgeous photos.

Nick went super fast again, as he hiked the hills of Cromdale.

Martin reports about Mad dogs and Englishmen in the heart of Wales, a post with wonderful photos.

Dave conducted a case study and the result is the First Epic of 2011.

Hawaii. Waianae Waterworks. Beautiful.

Barbara shows us the Bow Glacier Falls in a beautiful photo series.

Fine, mysterious photos from Mt Bogong via the Eskdale Spur.



Gear:

Mark's "A Tale of Two Kuksas" is pitching the newcomer versus the old guy. Really well written, you want to check this post for sure.

Brian takes a good look at his eight month old Inov-8 Roclite 320 Trail Runners.

A Thru-Hiker's Heart: Tales of the Pacific Crest Trail is a book John reviewed.

Mr. Bunten reviews the Alpkit Gourdon 30 litre Rucksack a affordable and light sack for the aspiring lightweight hiker.

I got a good chuckle out of Jack's "Fi’zi:k saddle" post.

Stick is addicted to cuben fibre and did a video on his Bear Bagging System.

Rio shows off the Silva Siju.

Richard dresses warm in the Mountain Hardwear Micro Chill 100wt Fleece.

The terrybndBLOGCAM captured the Terra Nova's 'Laser Ultra 1' tent at the Outdoor Leisure Show.

creep likes it warm with the Kawasaki Pocket Warmer KPW-210.

Tenkara On The Fly reviews the Trico Pack.

And in celebration of 300+ Followers:

Skiing Trip Report

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It should be called "Snowmobile Assisted Skiing Trip" Report, but snowmobiles are for morons so lets scrap that! 2nd trip of the education to become a wilderness guide. Another group trip. Take a cup of tea and a cookie, this is a long post.


Saturday morning.

The trip was twelve days for the other students, due to personal reasons I skipped the first five days, in which snowmobile driving, theory and stuff were on the curriculum. I don't have a driving license, and am not interested in snowmobiles, so instead of learning about things which would not help me much in the future (I think it is good to have a foundation and know the basics, how the machine works, don't get me wrong - though due to personal circumstances needed to skip it). Arrived Friday evening in Nurmes, eastern Finland, a sunny, fine day. Checking in to the hostel, and I hear that there's a good meter of snow with lots of powder. Hmmm, that could mean problems as I took my Madshus Glittertind skis. Well, best to see for myself. I strap on my skis and turn a round, and then switch to the Metsäsukset (230 - 280 cm long skis, 7 cm wide, cable bindings, to be skied with rubberboots) which the others use and do another round. Result: Absolutely the same floatation, just that my skis are more ergonomic and easier to use (for me). Bien!



Saturday morning, breakfast and off we go to Nurmijärvi, a tiny village not far from the border, nestled along the Jongunjoki river and plenty of lakes. Erästely is a Canoe & Outdoor business in the village, and we park our cars there and start the unpacking/ repacking. It always takes time, and with gear needing to be divided between two snowmobile trailers and two pulkas for the skiers, we spent some good time packing.


Unpacking and repacking at Erästely.

The idea of the trip was to learn a) snowmobile skills, b) skiing skills, and c) winter skills. Daily Guides would rotate and switch between skis in the morning/ snowmobile in the afternoon; and all the main gear (mats, sleeping bags, army tent & stove, food, extra clothes, etc.) is transported by the snowmobiles, while the skiers only carry a backpack with their daily gear (puffy jackets, snacks, thermos, food, etc.). Then there also were be two pulkas for the skiers, which carried some survival gear, and the skiers rotated pulling them. Anyway, I decided to pull my own gear all the time in my own pulka, a Fjellpulken XCountry 130. I saw this trip as a test run for the nine day solo ski trip in Hammastunturi which is again part of the education.


The Swedish Army pulka.

Around 11.30 o'clock we finally started skiing, beautiful weather at crisp temperatures made for great skiing. We saw a 22° solar halo most of the day, and the skiing over lakes and bogs, through forests and crossing roads and snowmobile tracks was good fun. The trees were covered in nearly 50 cm of snow and looked majestic against the blue sky.


22° halo.






Daily guide tests a lake's ice.


Skiing in line.

While the skiing was fun, it took us very long. Some of the other students aren't yet that good with skis, let alone pulling a heavy pulka, so time went with people learning how to ski with it. I went on a few training skis with my pulka at home, so had a good idea of what laid ahead. We missed our lunch schedule, and snacks were consumed to have power to keep going, which made us slower and slower.



As dusk arrived, so did we at the campsite designated for lunch. As we heard from our two classmates who were on the snowmobiles, they had an accident and one of the snowmobiles and one trailer needed fixing. The teacher crashed into the trailer of the other snowmobile, and a mechanic needed to come in to help fix it so that we can continue our journey. It was late already, the first stars were coming out and the temperature fell more and more, so plans were changed and we would stay at this site for the night. The snowmobile guides, aware that we were a hungry bunch of skiers, had already two fires going and were soon serving us "lunch". The army tent was erected, firewood from the swamp collected, sleeping places in the army tent were claimed, all while the waxing moon was illuminating the forests, lakes and bogs around us.


Dusk over the swamp.

The temperature fell to -31°C that night, slightly more than was predicted. Which was one of the reasons that I decided to sleep in the group army tent and not under a tarp or pyramid shelter that night (the other reason being that I was too tired to dig a place to pitch either on my own). And while we had a stove in the tent, the decision was made that we will not have a fire watch this first night. Nevertheless I was warm and comfortable under my quilt, though sleeping in a tent with ten other people is "sub-optimal" for me. I need absolute silence to sleep comfortably (I don't mind nature's sounds), so the night was spent in a comatose state of trying to sleep, and while this would make for an unproductive next day in civilization, I am able to cope with it in nature.


Nightfall.

The breakfast, porridge, while not one of my favourites, gave energy for the day ahead. The day ahead meant 15 km of skiing, and with perfect sunshine that was looking like going to be a great day. We crossed bogs and lakes, traversed little hills in the forest, skied along forest roads covered in plenty of snow, and then skied over a massive swamp in a beautiful straight line while the wind was relentless, gathering speed in this vast open space, looking for exposed skin to freeze.



We skied for a good five hours, which equalled about nine kilometers (all off-piste, in case you wonder about our speed) before we reached our lunch place. The snowmobile guides were already busy cooking and had prepared a fine seating area including trench and reindeer skins around a fire, where we sat in our puffy jackets waiting for the food to be ready. The interesting thing is, that after skiing such a distance in such cold, you're so hungry that you eat with gusto anything that's set in front of you. In this case, pasta with spam!

Now cooking at minus temperatures brings a whole new set of challenges with it. If I'd travel private or solo, my meals would be dehydrated or freeze-dried for convenience and quickness, though with the limited budget (and time to some extent) the planning group had this was not possible or feasible. Now, at -25°C everything is frozen and using it a challenge, let alone eating it while it is hot. Think rock-hard butter, oil, cheese, bread, meat, fish and so on. The only thing which wasn't frozen solid was pasta. You have about three to five minutes to eat your food before it is cold and frozen to your pot at these temperatures, cleaning up means that the time it took me to grab a piece of paper to dry my pot after rinsing was enough to freeze the water in the pot - we speak seconds here. This is not complaining for those who do not know me, merely stating the facts. It is hard to cook in these conditions, more so if you need to cook for 13 people.

After a good lunch, refilling the thermos and a final hot cup of coffee the journey continued, another six kilometers to cover. The sun was already setting by the time we left the lunch place, that warm globe in the sky slowly going down.


Sunset on Sunday.

We again crossed vast bogs and lakes with the occasional forest in between, and for a while even traveling on the Karhunpolku, a 133 km long trail along the Finnish-Russian border (and this will be a trail to bring me back to the east in the summer, splendid looking!). As soon as the sun sets and starts to colour the sky in red, orange and pink before letting the dark blue and black of night takes over, the temperature drops rapidly. Skiing in the sun is warm, small breaks of a few minutes can be handled without putting an extra insulation layer on, though once the sun is gone the thermometer starts to enter the realm of -30°C and more, making breaks a freezing pain.


It is getting cooler in these breaks.

We continued skiing at good speed, which is necessary to keep warm, and the waxing moon gave us enough light to leave the headlamps off while following in the trail of the daily guide. I was smiling in pleasure at the beautiful scenery, while little breaks to take a bearing started to take an effect on my feet and hands. Skiing to camp, where a dinner should be waiting, was all I wanted.


Final light.

Around six-ish we arrived at the campsite, to find out that the wood the snowmobile guides found was pretty moist and it was hard to start a fire let alone to cook (no fire = no boiling water = no food). Well, time to put that army tent up to stay warm, exercise is what keeps your body temperature up. And here's where things started to go downhill for me. I was late with ordering my Forty Below Light Energy overboots and didn't have them with me, so I stayed in my skiboots to do the work. Big mistake, especially at -34°C. By 20.30 o'clock I couldn't take it any longer, headed into the army tent and took off boots and socks. The light of my headlamp illuminated what my body told me already, and my mind expected: Frostbite. The toes where half-white and a bit numb. I am very lucky indeed, as one of my classmates is a nurse - a quick shout brought her over, she confirmed the condition, and was setting out to warm my feet with her hands. I put on dry socks and my BPL Cocoon pants and hoody, and my mate was so generous to loan me his Sorel boots. The teacher appeared, looking worried and recommended I should go for a run to exercise the feet, to animate the blood circulation in the extremities. I did this, and it started to feel a bit warmer. Around ten-ish dinner was finally served, which helped fuel my internal engine, and delicious it was - veggies, fish patties and mashed potatoes taste fantastic after a hard day skiing.

One of my classmates was equally cold, and our teacher checked with everyone else how he/ she felt. Cold toes and hands all around, but no-one as badly as me. Ah well. The stove was kept going this night, and with -34°C outside that was a welcomed decision, even if it meant for everyone in turn to wake up at night to keep the fire going.


The next morning.

The next morning came, and as Monday was a rest day people were sleeping out. My night's sleep was again as unruly as the previous night, though I had a bit of sleep nevertheless. I rose to go for a run, as my toes, while no longer being white, were still sensitive and cold. Sunshine was greeting me, and it was getting warmer by the minute. I helped make breakfast, that delicious porridge, while sawing and chopping wood to keep the fires going. I then decided to go for a ski trip around the forest, to see how it would go.



Well, it was OK. Cold in the boots, and the movement was a tad painful. It was good to be back at camp and switch into the Sorels of my mate, and have another cup of coffee. One of the students, who felt extremely cold, arranged to be "evacuated". The teacher took him out via the snowmobile, while the rest of us - the remaining nine (we had one drop-out on Sunday due to personal circumstances) were wondering who would leave the next day.


Firewood and moon.

That wondering and joking soon took another route. The teacher called in from basecamp, and asked if there's anyone else who'd like to be "evacuated". After everyone said they'd stay, I was put on the phone with the teacher, who asked how my toes are and if I want to leave. I answered honestly that while my toes are sensitive I think I'd cope, though the conversation went on which led to me asking our nurse for advice. She thought it be a good idea to spent the next two days and nights inside, and hearing her advice I made the decision. As the teacher called back as agreed, I said that yes, he can take me out. I started packing, ate another great lunch (reindeer cheese soup and toasties!) and waited for the teacher.



The snowmobile ride back to Erästely was beautiful but cold. The owners welcomed me warmly with a cup of tea and showed me my room. I went to read, but fell asleep pretty much right away, only to wake up at 23 o'clock to realize that I fell asleep over my book with the lights on. Two bad nights sleep do that to you! I used the two next days to walk through the village, eat, read, sleep, tweet, dry my gear, and get ready for the ride back to Nurmes.



Which leads us to the conclusion. Yes, it was a hard decision to say "I'm out" though in my book ten toes are better than being the tough (dumb and toeless) guy. It was not smart from me to do the work in my skiboots, as it are skiboots and not made for kicking holes for snow anchors and walking around. I should have either switched in my Inov-8s + GoreTex over-socks as we arrived at camp, or used VBLs, or asked my mate right away if I might slip in his Sorels. Afterwards you're always smarter.

I knew that there would be some comments afterwards from the teacher, "enlightening" me that sometimes light isn't right. The light gear wasn't appropriate. I concur to some extent, though if you should have a fire and dinner at 18 o'clock and you have neither that is also something add to the equation. Add in that the temperature was far colder than expected (yeah yeah, never trust the weather forecast =) and I think the light gear, while being part of the reason, is not the sole reason.



On Sunday I leave for three weeks of skiing and snowshoeing as a guide in north-east Finland. I will add overboots. I am taking some warm camp footwear. All of it is light. We will see if it is right.