Hiking in Finland

Climbing, bikepacking, skiing & packrafting in the north

Wilderness Guide School - Months Two, Three, Four

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Time flies if you're busy. Imagine running your own business, studying to become a wilderness guide and keep on top of other things as well. Yeah, you'd be mighty occupied. Well, I knew it wouldn't be easy from the start, so I don't complain. I will continue in the previous style and shortly tell what we did in the last weeks, and then talk a bit more broadly.

Week five was a nice week again, we had the most excellent teacher who taught us traditional wilderness skills, like making a willow frame backpack, a raft for crossing rivers and lakes, hunting spear and throwing arm (can't remember the name), traps like you can see on the above photo, and also we made wobbler, which I enjoyed heaps. The teacher is definitely the best one thus far, I like his humour, style of teaching and how he treats the students. We also collected a good five dozen different mushrooms at the end of the week and identified them.

Week six we did a First Aid 1 course. It was OK, I personally would have expected more, it was fairly relaxed with too much breaks for my taste. But we learned practical skills and some theory, so all is well. Finnish education is after all usually just giving you a brief taste of something and expects you to study more in-depth yourself. We learned about knots and ropes also, and did some orienteering exercises - day and night. A brief excursion into how a GPS works rounded out that week.

Week seven and eight we were in Russia, our first of four expeditions.


Back from Russia we had our First Aid 2 session over two days with an exam (Passed), and also feedback on the expedition. The feedback session itself was too short in my opinion, there was more to be said but we were cut short and did something else. Week ten was the autumn holiday week, so nothing much happened =)

Week eleven then, we had our orienteering exams - day and night. I failed the night examination as I wasn't able to locate the final flag, even if I was at the right spot. Discussing doesn't help passing exams, though, so I will need to do it again. Day orienteering exam was passed without problems. We had our first Hygiene Passport lecture, as we might be handling food for customers this is a legal requirement for anyone working with food in Finland. Another very good teacher, though the subject itself can be passed by using common sense. A visit to Tampere and a museum visit to an exhibition about Bears concludes that week.

First Aid.

In the twelfth week we had another Hygiene Passport lecture, learned about all kind of different sorts of hunting in Finland, identifying tracks and droppings of animals and how foreigners (think possible customers) can hunt in Finland. We had our first nature knowledge exam, in which we needed to identify thirty mosses, lichen and mushrooms - haven't heard anything about it yet, though I think I passed.

Week thirteen we then had the Hygiene Passport examination (Passed) and learned about snowmobiles - how they work, theoretical fixing, different models, traffic rules for them, etc. Each student is part of one organization group, and I am in the Bear Ski group, which plans the solo ski expedition in April 2011. Together with my three group mates and the teacher we met, got briefed and shared tasks.

That weekend we were having the annual IWG Meeting, in which the current students prepare a weekend with lectures, activities, food and drinks et al. for the Alumnis. A great way to meet fellow wilderness guides, make connections and get tips. It was a nice weekend, even if I was sick.

Sharing group gear in Russia.

Week fourteen and fifteen I was sick - I had a bronchitis already since two weeks and didn't sleep well, coughed all the time and there was no sign of it getting better. So the doctor told me to stay at home, while my classmates forged their own puukko knifes - something I am quite disappointed to have missed - and the other week they learned more nature knowledge.

Sunny in Russia.

So that were the lectures. I should be doing an internship for three weeks now, but because mass tourism is not my cup of tea (I hate it) and tasks like cleaning husky kennels and taking tourists on a two kilometer sleigh ride to see Santa and back are not what I plan to do in the future, I skipped this. In the spring I will be working for a bit over three weeks at a great, little company called Upitrek. It is great because the clients ski/ snowshoe/ hike/ paddle so it is a natural way to be in nature (versus sitting on snowmobiles, for example). If you're not sure yet what you gonna do in February/ March, check their trips and maybe we will see!

Off to the other things about school. Social skills are key. The teachers seem to pick their students to be as different from each other as possible, so you get a very varied mix of classmates. Before Russia tempers were often running high, but that first expedition was great in building camaraderie and team spirit among our group. The thinking here seems to be that we as a guide need to be able to handle very mixed and difficult groups, and we best learn that by being in a very difficult group and learn to lead them. I think it is really nice to see how we now look much more out for each other and work better together, and it is a on-going process.

Living in Kuru. It is a 2900 people community, has two supermarkets, a library, one gas station, one pharmacy, one café, one lunch restaurant, one bar & pizza place, another bar, a hardware store and a fleamarket. It is in the middle of the forest next to a big lake great for fishing, and the people in the village are (in my perception) friendly and helpful (the people in the shops speak perfect English as nearly everywhere in Finland, so no worries if you don't speak Finnish). The student dormitories are 95€/ month and you get a room which you share with another person, each flat has four such rooms so it is crowded. The eight persons share one kitchen, one shower and two WCs. If you have hygienic standards, you might want to leave them somewhere else if you move into the dorm =)

Anyway, I was living three months in Kuru, driving there on Mondays and back on Fridays to Tampere to be with my partner and in a more peaceful environment. As I was higher-than-average sick while living in Kuru, and also missing my partner and home, I decided to move back to Tampere and will now commute in the next six months to school and back. This makes my days an additional three hours longer for the going-return commute, but for being at home that is a trade-off I am willing to take.

If you don't have a partner in Tampere, you're well recommended to move to Kuru. One classmate lives in a privately rented flat which is more expensive than the dorm, but having privacy can be worth that. Otherwise there's not much to say about Kuru - there is plenty of hiking around it, the town being pretty much in the centre of the Pirkan Taival Trail. There is pretty much every evening sauna (wood heated!) and you can go swimming in the lake/ ice hole, which is a definite plus for living at the school.

The teaching is OK. I am someone who likes fast, informative lectures without many breaks, so for my taste the lectures at IWG are too slow and have too much breaks - almost every hour a ten to fifteen minutes break and a one hour lunch break. It feels for me that the information could be easily disclosed in four hours instead of the seven to eight hours. Here the teachers try to suit the different styles in the class, there are pupils who like this long days with much breaks, so one needs to adapt and learn as the majority does.

What is positive is that the methods are very varied, so from a lecture over group work & practical stuff to giving a own presentation and planning an expedition, as well as self-study (learn five species a day!) and should suit everyones learning way.

The future, or where do I plan to do with this education. Those questions have been asked before, and I will continue to shroud myself in mystery until I am ready to announce it. It is going to be exciting news, be assured of that!

If you have additional questions, please feel free to ask.

The Week in Review

Changes imminent.

News & Various:

I wrote an How-to Guide on how to plan a UL trip, so head over and check it out if your about to set out the first time on a outdoor trip.

You know your parents always told you to eat your veggies, remember? Here's a list of the ten most nutritious vegetables which is great for those folks who dehydrate their own food.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear has a holiday sale going on (till the end of the year), so now is a good time to get that cuben tarp or new backpack and save some money.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has released a new Minimal Impact Mountaineering Advice document, so if you want to read up on how to behave well in the environment you enjoy, have a read.

Kifaru is coming out with a line of lightweight backpacks on Wednesday next week.

Backcountry Bliss has a nice collection of outdoor desktop backgrounds.

Making Fire in Wet and Cold Conditions is a skill to know how to do if you go out in winter. Mungo shows off some superb videos he found online.

Pike Fly Fishing Articles is Finland's most popular outdoor blog, and Simon has a superb blog dedicated to the art of fly fishing for Pike. He's also a IWG Alumni! Check out his pike flies and trip reports with his clients, some superb photos to be seen there!

Ryan loves to hate hiking.

Ross gives us a brief History of Swedish Axe Manufacturers.

Adventure in Progress is in search of backcountry family bloggers, so check there list and let them know about other families who enjoy the outdoors!

Peter published his 1000th Post, head over and congratulate him and take apiece of that pie. Also superb photies!

Rio has a fantastic post on how to make a 8 g MYOG silicone pot lid! Excellent, a recommended read for the MYOG folks!

Is cushion (in running shoes) the devil?

John made a MYOG SUL cozy.

Backpacking Vegan tells how it is being vegan in trail towns.

Why is outdoor gear so ugly? is an article in the Guardian. The author certainly hasn't seen Bushbuddys, huckePACKs, Khufu and TrailStars!

Here you can win a few Buffs!

Sunday walk
Earlier today.

Trip Reports:

Robin went for a snow bivy trip.

Mungo had his first winter hike, very nice.

John reports about the first snowfall at Windermere.

Chris shows off a snowy Edinburgh.

Timo visited Iso Vasikkasaari near Espoo for an overnighter.

Granite & Ice shows how to go White Heather Snorkeling.

The Glencoe mountaineer has a near miss and a fright in Coire nan Lochan, which shows that in winter extra care should be taken at all times.

Kenburg reports that it is frosty. Nice photos.

Lapland Times went river walking - in December!

Some employees from Mountain Equipment went winter climbing in the Lakes.

Roger continues his lovely local strolls, and visited the Frilandsmuseet this time around.

Richard's photos from his Northern Irish Winter Wonderland a superb!

Also the collection of Aberdeen Winter Sunsets on Oh Inverted World is superb and worth your time.

Adiós snow and ice, welcome sun and warmth - on Hawaii! Joshua and friends climbed up Bear Claw and the writing, photos and HD videos are worth your time.

More beautiful photos and videos from Hawaii's upper Kaluanui Valley can be seen on Nathan's site.

Paul spent four days on the Colorado Plateau.

Walking on ice.

Gear Talk:

A new woodstove and a comparison video to the BushBuddy Ultra and Bushcooker LT II can be seen on the ULG blog.

Thomas discusses how to stay warm in -40°C.

Litekayaking discusses the perfect compass combo at a mere 40 g!

Sam published his one day Splitboarding Gearlist.

Baz takes a first look at the Katoola MicroSpikes.

Phil has a look at the Optimus Stella+ as his choice for warm water in winter.

Maz wrote an Initial Analysis of his PHD Yukon Pullover.

Remember, you can be become a Fan of Hiking in Finland and Nordic Lightpacking on Facebook! And if you enjoyed this post, remember to Flattr it!

Planning a UL Backpacking Trip - a How-to

Planning a trip, UL style. While I like the spontaneousness of 24 h trips and overnighters, some trips require some more preparation. Currently I am planning two trips, one solo trip of four to six days, and together with three classmates one school expedition for fourteen people with a duration of 11 days (two travel days, nine days solo skiing trip). As I like to go prepared I like to plan ahead, and as there are also a bunch of readers here who might just ponder how to go about their first winter trip, I thought to share with you how I go about planning a trip. This should be a good set of guide lines to follow if you're setting out to plan a trip and hopefully helps you have a great outdoor experience!

Location is the first thing I think about - where do I want to go? I go about this in a multitude of ways: Being inspired by trips which others have done, browsing through books and maps in the library, reading blogs, and checking out the Finnish Outdoors.fi website. Usually one leads to the other, if I read about a trip in a magazine I go to the library to loan the maps and a book if available, and also check the Outdoors.fi site. Once I have settled on a location, I move on to the second step.

Transportation is a tad more difficult. I don't have a driving license nor a car, so I rely completely on public transportation (or a friend with a car on rare occasions). Checking bus and train timetables and picking the best connections is thus next. Being an entrepreneur I have the advantage just go during the week, when also busses and trains are driving much more often than on weekends. When going to Lapland I am tempted to go by plane - it is fast and sadly way too cheap - but the emissions and that I usually would need to travel to Helsinki first means I skip this option. I reserve my tickets online and mark down possible connections back home - though hitchhiking home is often faster and cheaper! With that out of the way, I move on to the next steps.

Weather is important for a UL trip. yr.no is my favourite weather forecast service, as it actually does a good job of forecasting the weather. I don't own a TV or Radio, so those means, also being in my experience very unreliable, fall flat. Agricultural weather forecast services are great as well, farmers need to be well informed about it so that are sites to check if you go on a trip. Usually predictions get more accurate the closer you are to the trip, so having a quick look at the long-term forecast and then starting to plan gear, food, route and safety in general, so that they are ready and can be adapted the closer you get to departure is a good idea. Once you're closer to departure you check again, and pack accordingly.

Route planning is good fun - who doesn't love to spent looking at maps and thinking about possible routes, how the view would be from that ridge or mountain top, would the camping spot at this lake be fine, or is a high camp here feasible? I love maps, and can spend hours over them, thinking about routes, calculating distances, were I could bail-out, where to camp, etc. However, as here in the south of Finland most of my trips are in National Parks or on the Pirkan Taival Trail, planning routes as we did for Russia is not necessary - you just follow the established trails, which also in winter are well maintained and often prepared for skiing. But if your journey takes you into the wilderness, where there are no trails, then planning your route is an exciting part of the trip ahead. Think about where to start, where to stop, how to get back to civilization in a case of emergency, how easy/ safe it is to go through certain areas (fjells, mountains, crossing rivers, swamps, etc.), where to get water, where to camp, where to have lunch breaks, interesting features to see (old grown forests, ridge walks, hill tops with wide views, etc.). Consider the speed you're walking and the altitude you plan to gain/ lose on those trips, and better be conservative with your estimates - you might be able to walk 6 km/ hour on asphalt, but that can quickly decrease to 1 km/ hour if your traversing a boulder field or swamp. I plan with 25 km/ day, with a walking time of six to seven hours, to give you an idea of what is realistic.

Gear is next. Look at the temperatures to expect during your trip - is it going to be warm, cold, rainy, dry, snowing, windy? Plan accordingly to what to expect, and if you can not be sure and want to play safe, best prepare for the worst - if the forecast says it is going to be +5°C at night and your caught out at -3°C but didn't have enough of a safety cushion it is not going to be a nice trip. That said, this is of more concern on a longer trip and in an area where temperatures and weather can change dramatically, the forecasts for a weekend are usually pretty spot-on and you can rely on them. Depending on the conditions to be expected I think about what kind of quilt and sleeping pad I need together with the clothing to be worn and carried. I have a few basics which are always coming, these include a wood stove, FA & fixing kit, Hygiene, puukko, kuksa, compass, firesteel, and a tarp as a shelter. Depending on the length of the trip the size of the backpack is chosen, considering that there needs to be sufficient place for food and gear but there doesn't need to be too much space - I might take a smaller pack and have it a bit overpacked for the first day rather than take a too big rucksack. Laying out all the gear and packing it is a good way to see that everything that is important comes along.

Food is the next step. Starting at noon or in the evening, and planning on finishing at noon? Then you don't need to carry a breakfast and lunch for the starting day, and no dinner for the final day - those are consumed at home/ on the road. A healthy mix of bought and homemade meals is my diet, müsli and coffee for breakfast, noodles/ pasta for lunch, a freezerbag meal in the evening and snacks like nuts, dried fruits and bars in between meals - I carry about three bars/ day and around 50 g of nuts & dried fruits, that is plenty for me but others might go hungry with that and need more/ less. Think what is your energy need if you hike for a whole day, and pack appropriately. Going a bit hungry on a weekend hasn't killed anyone yet, but on longer trips you should make sure you get all nutrients that your body needs. If you're just starting out with backpacking and have no idea what your energy need is, have a look here for inspiration. I highly recommend to re-pack your food to the needed portion size and leave all the unnecessary packing at home - it is just more rubbish you need to carry out of the forest and mountains.

Safety is closely related to route planning, in my opinion. Leave a copy of your planned route and estimated times & places with your partner/ family/ friends - this benefits you twofold, your partner knows where you're supposed to be (it can give them peace of mind) and in case of an emergency/ you going missing, SAR can have an idea where you should be searched. I usually let my partner know in written form from where to where I plan to go, and where I plan to stay at the nights. I also inform her about my arrival at the camp site via a short text message, this gives again important peace of mind to those who care about you. A further important part of safety is to think about how to bail-out in case the weather is getting worse, you overestimated something, or you injured yourself. Look at close by roads/ houses/ signs of civilization and have an idea what would be your shortest route to safety in case something goes wrong. Additionally, if you're in a group on the trail, make sure everyone has a copy of the map, and possibly mark into the map the boundaries of the area you plan to traverse - if a member gets lost, and ends up at the big river in the east, it should know that it shouldn't cross that river but backtrack the river further up/ down to a emergency meeting point and hence safety. Discuss these with the group and make sure they understand the procedures before you start hiking.

If you follow these simple steps in planning a trip - from a two night - three days weekend trip to a five weeks expeditions in Greenland - you should be well prepared for a great time in the outdoors! If you have additional hints or tips, or questions, please feel free to ask in the comments =)