Saturday, 13 February 2010

Cowboys and constellations

It was kind of last minute. My night in a lavuu last week had put some fire in my belly about sleeping outdoors again. Too long I've been lying around wishing I had this piece of gear or waiting for that piece of gear to turn up. I thought about the kids that had slept in the lavuu with myself and the instructor. Of their cheap, heavy sport-store sleeping bags. Of their unfettered joy of sleeping beneath the stars. Friday night dinner plans fell through and suddenly I had the opportunity to go with my motive. I was stuffing clothes and a tent into my backpack within minutes and heading out the door.

This was the first time I've ever gone camping on my skis. I'd been discussing camping, skiing and pulk use with some friends on-line earlier in the day and instead of slipping into my Icebugs and trudging into the hills I locked myself into my skis and gracefully (!?) slipped out of the city.

The streams that drain this area are open and flowing, for the first time since before Christmas. I'd missed their gurgling accompaniment to my wilderness travel. It heralds the march of Spring.

Camp was reached after some difficult trail breaking. To reach this bench of flat ground I had to ski over some clear cut forest, the pick-up-sticks of felled branches covered in deep snow. My trusty Laser Comp didn't get a taut pitch either. Without snow stakes I was forced to use sticks as deadmen, my skis, a ski pole split in two and a nearby tree to keep it somewhat upright.

I find food crucial to keeping me warm. I eat little and often and find it keeps my metabolism ticking over and keeps me active, fetching snow and checking the stove. After spending an hour or two fiddling with guylines, carving out a snow seat, fashioning a kitchen area and collecting firewood I soon cooled when I sat back to admire the fruits of my labour. Tomato cup-a-soup made with melted snow never tasted so good.

The sentinel spruce trees that framed the view from my snow chair. As darkness fell the constellation of Ursa Major appeared between them, silently and slowly wheeling away across the night.

Be prepared... to learn that lighting a fire in the freezing cold isn't as easy as it is in the summer...

... but it's worth persevering. I was thankful I took a proper knife with me. Battening 1inch twigs to find dry wood would have been just a little difficult with a razor blade.

After waking from dreams of cowboys I emerged from my down filled cocoon to a pre-dawn sky studded with constellations. A double espresso and a freezer bag of raisin porridge, eaten with gloved hands, was a great way to start the day. The world went from inky black, to pink, to blue as I broke camp. I battled my way back down to the ski trail and truly woke up with a blast of adrenalin and freezing wind when I careered back towards the city, top heavy, on skinny skis and a big backpack.


Nick said...

Great post!

It's sooooooo easy in our world of huge kit choice to spend so much time about honing and collecting kit that we have no time to use it. I'm as susceptible to it as the next man!!

Sometimes it's good to just get out there with whatever's on hand that does the job. Let the kit take a back seat and remind ourselves of why we do it in the first place.

Hendrik M said...


Jealous of the adventure, I am hoping to do the same some time next week or the week after, just too busy with work at the moment to be able to escape.

Its written Laavu, btw, at least here in Finland where the term originated =)

Nielsen Brown said...

Excellent photos as always, and sounds like a great trip, sadly whilst I will be out in the snow Sunday, the views will be no where near as wonderful as yours.

Thanks for the report

Thunder In The Night said...

Nick - absolutely. I'm caught up with some red tape and belligerence that is holding up a small inheritance. I've been spending too much time fretting about stuff I'm going to buy or dismissing what I already have. I forget that I have perfectly serviceable kit that will suffice, as long as the temperature stays above about -10C!

Hendrik - every website I go on spells lavvu/laavu/lavuu a different way! If it originated in Finland then that is the way it should be spelt. Then there is the whole 'is it Lapp or Sami?' debate. Or I could just use 'snow tent' and side-step the whole issue :-)

Roger - I was loving the 'starry sky' programme mode! I have dozens of images of the stars now! I think there are wonderful views to be had everywhere. I often get a hankering for the woods and rugged coastline back home and this year I'm planning on quite a bit of wild, remote beach camping. Different.

Jörgen Johansson said...

Very inspiring. I long to be out there as well.

PhilT said...

That looks incredible - great trip and photos! Over here the thaw is well and truly setting in and everything's just a bit soggy.

Incidentally - the word verification below reads 'skingli' - is that Lapp for "Skiing Englishman"?!

Martin Rye said...

The joy of the outdoors and a wildcamp done very well, and written about very well. Thanks for that Joe.

James Boulter said...

A great trip report Joe. I feel that people are getting more and more hung up about gear and forgetting that it is actually getting outside that is important! I love the starry sky shot btw.

Thunder In The Night said...

Jorgen - thank you. I look forward to hearing about your epic ski tour soon.

PhilT - There isn't much time left for this 'skingli' to ski around the city. The trails are packed down hard, icing up and slowing fading. Still some time left for some skiing in the mountains though.

Martin - you're welcome. Thanks for your kind words.

James - it can get in the way sometimes of why we do this. I've been guilty of that recently. I like the starry sky shot too. It's always good learning new techniques with your camera.

Thomas W. Gauperaa said...

Great post! I'm not much of a winter camper, but this is inspiring. Maybe I should go for an overnighter next weekend.

Joe said...

Thomas - do it! Stay close to an escape route if necessary but do it! Personally I think it's even more beautiful out there now than in the summer.

kate said...

ace! proving it's not always about epic heroic adventures. inspiring :)

Joe said...

Kate - adventure is on your doorstep. Sometimes it's harder to take that first step into the backyard than it is to leave on an longer, more adventurous trip.