Jouni Laaksonen 17.12.2018
(This is a 9 part story of a 9 weeks long hike. The first part can be found here.)
In this post we are crossing area 7, Tarvantovaara Wilderness Area.
After resting for two days and filling our pulkas with food, and Christmas cards and some presents, we continued north-west from Hetta. The cold and beautiful spell continued.
I admired in my diary how used we were to cold temperatures. It was –32°C during our lunch break, and it didn’t feel cold at all. Well, of course –32°C is cold, but when you have good clothing and good routines, it’s okay. Half an hour before we would stop for lunch break we started to ski a little bit faster, to accumulate warmth in our bodies. Not so fast we would sweat, though. When we stopped, we immediately donned down jackets, and during the lunch break we did everything without taking our sturdy leather mittens off. Our lunch was once again noodles with warm water poured from our thermos, and pre-made sandwiches.
However, though we knew how to feel okay in extreme cold, evenings and mornings are still a lot more enjoyable in a hut than in a tent. We decided to try to ski planned three day marches in two days. We skied long into the dark evening, and when we were crossing one bog, we got surprised.
A snow mobile come in full speed towards us. It was dark, but not pitch dark, and we were skiing with headlamps off. With a headlamp you see clearly what is within the beam, but nothing outside of it. The driver didn’t seem to notice us and we almost got scared, but then he saw us in the beam of his snowmobile. He stopped and exclaimed: “I thought I saw ghosts! Nobody is skiing here at this time of year!”
He was a reindeer herder and we chatted for a while. He also advised us on how to follow slender bogs towards our goal of tonight. There was more snow now than before during this journey, and skiing in forest was more difficult. On open bogs the wind always sweeps the snow cover, and it gets a bit harder, meaning easier to ski.
Typical view in Tarvantovaara.
We skied to near the top of Potnasenselkä hill. According to laws of physics cold air is heavier than warm air, and from experience we knew the coldest place to pitch a tent is on the bottom of a valley, or other low place. Indeed, it was “only” –27°C on our campsite, five degrees warmer than in the lowlands.
Camping procedures in cold
This was our week seven, and by now we had steady routines for everything. First thing in our camp we donned the down jackets, and then one of us started to prepare dinner with our stove, while the other started to pitch the tent.
We also tucked two pairs of socks under our longjohns. Why? To warm our thighs? No. To warm up the socks. When it’s finally time to crawl into our sleeping bags and we take off the socks that got wet during the skiing day, we take these warm socks and put them to our feet. Small luxuries. 🙂
At that time neither of us owned any other kind of a stove than Trangia, alcohol stove. Trangia is simple and very realiable, works well also in windy conditions, and it’s easy to find fuel for Trangia everywhere in Finland. But alcohol stove is not efficient compared to gasoline stoves. Well, we had never used gasoline stoves at that time, so we could not be envious about the difference in speed. We started the stove first thing when stopping to the selected camp site, and slowly it melted water and cooked dinner.
Pitching a tent with leather mittens is a bit more difficult than without, but when it’s cold enough you can – and do want to – manage it with mittens.
Have you camped in snow? It’s not necessary to dig snow out. Our way is to tamp the snow with skis and then pitch the tent over the tamped area. You cannot stand on the tamped snow, but you can lie on it, on your sleeping pad. When the tent was pitched, we rolled out our sleeping pads and spread out our sleeping bags above them, to fluff out.
The Arctic expeditions routinely cook inside their tents. Obviously that can be done, and when you are on a ice expanse with no other source of warmth for weeks on, you have to warm up your tent. When you cook with your gasoline cooker, and absolutely know what you are doing, you warm up your tent at the same time.
However, in Finland I’ve never felt the need to warm up my tent. You can spend the occassional night or a couple of nights comfortably enough in your tent, and now and then spend a night and dry your equipment in the cozy warmth of a wilderness hut.
Our camp in Potnasenselkä. Note the down jacket and large leather mittens.
So, no, we used our Trangia stove outside and thus prevented any hazards like burning our tent, or inhaling too much exhaust gases. After the warm dinner there wasn’t much else to do but to crawl into the sleeping bag.
Have you slept in extreme cold? There are a number of important things to do:
- Thick winter sleeping bag, or even two bags one inside other
- Well insulating sleeping pad, or two of them
- Eat well: a warm and filling dinner, to give your body fuel for the night
- The sleeping bag does not warm you; it only insulates, that is, it keeps part of your body heat inside the bag. Thus, you need to warm up before going into the sleeping bag. Walk or ski around the camp, or if you are otherwise warm, but your toes are cold, sway left leg far forward, far backward, forward, backward, for, say, 50 times. Then the right leg, and if your toes are not warm by now, continue with left again. Do not exercise so much you sweat, but you have to be warm.
- When you go into the sleeping bag, take off the outer garments: jacket and trousers. (Well, if your trousers are completely dry and snow-free, you might on some rare occassion keep them on. That way you have easier time in the morning when coming out of your bag to extreme cold.) Take off your socks, for they are always wet or moist after an outdoors day. Change into dry socks: preferably thinner woollen, or other outdoorsy socks and thicker woollen socks. You might like to use down “socks/shoes” also.
- If your shirt is wet, you must change it to a dry one. However, your shirt shouldn’t be wet. Don’t exercise so much and fast that you sweat, or, if you do sweat during the day, allow your back to cool and your shirt to dry while you are skiing the last kilometers to your camp.
- The more (dry) clothes you wear the warmer you will be inside your sleeping bag. As long as the extra garments do not make the sleeping bag feel tight! And as long as the extra garments do not make you sweat! Usual clothing inside a sleeping bag in these temperatures is two layers of socks, longjohns, long-sleeved technical or merino wool shirt, another shirt of merino or fleece, knit cap or two, woollen (or like) gloves. If needed, another pair of longjohns and fleece jacket.
- You need to take some items with you to the sleeping bag: water bottle(s), headlamp, camera, radio, cell phone, spare batteries are vulnerable to freezing. It’s also nice to have ready-made sandwiches fr morning in plastic pouch. That way you can start your breakfast without getting out of your sleeping bag, and you can munch unfrozen sandwiches. An empty peeing bottle is very nice also, for that allows you not to rush out of your sleeping bag in the middle of the night, or the first thing in the morning.
- What about wet socks, can you dry them in the sleeping bag? You might be able to dry them a little bit, but at the same time you would make your sleeping bag moister. So, no, you don’t want to take wet stuff inside your sleeping bag. Wet socks can sleep through the night between two layers of sleeping pads, for example. That way they are not frozen solid in the morning, and you are able to pull them to your feet. Donning wet and cold socks, and frozen felt linens is not nice, but once you get your feet inside your boots and start walking and skiing, your feet will be fine. (If you have many enough spare socks and you can leave your dry night socks on, that’s more comfortable. This isn’t possible on longer tours, however.)
Now it’s time to go to sleep. I’ve taken off my boots and felt linens. Both of these are wet from the sweating of my feet, and both of these get frozen during the night. Next I’ll be taking my wet woollen socks and wet liner socks off, and also my jacket and trousers, and then I put on my dry socks and dry woollen socks, and then I jump to my sleeping bag.
Long days in Tarvantovaara
We skied another long day, and late in the evening we arrived to a reindeer herder’s hut that we thought might be open. If not, we’ll sleep in our tent. But open it was. It was full moon now, and that helps a winter wanderer a lot. It’s not pitch dark, on the contrary, the moon can illuminate the landscape even better than you can see on a cloudy day. On a cloudy day there are no shadows, which makes it difficult to see small mounds and pits on the snow, but on a full moon night there are clear shadows. Though you do still need your headlamp, for downhills and map reading at least.
After another long day we arrived to Syväjärvi wilderness hut, and we decided to have our weekly rest day here. After resting, eating, washing ourselves and laundry, eating and eating all the day, we then continued to Puussasvaara wilderness hut. Our skis now sinked in for some twenty cm, so skiing was not as easy as it had been so far. We changed the front man frequently.
In Puussasvaara we saw two reindeer herders. They were patrolling their reindeer herd with their snowmobiles.
From Puussavaara we continued to Pingiskoski wilderness hut, which was situated on the shore of River Lätäseno. This is the biggest river in this part of Lapland, but it was solidly frozen by now, so crossing it was no problem. (The Pingiskoski hut is no more, it burned down in 2012.)
Every wilderness we have crossed so far has been different. At a first glance at a map Tarvantovaara looks pretty much like Pöyrisjärvi, where we were last week. Hills and hills, and some rivers and lakes between them. But these hills are a couple of tens of meters lower than those in Pöyrisjärvi area, and that’s enough to make a difference. The hills in Tarvantovaara are mostly covered by downy birch, whereas the hills in Pöyrisjärvi are mostly treeless fells. There are bogs in Pöyrisjärvi, but nowhere as much as in Tarvantovaara, where bogs are a very dominant feature.
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Next week we’ll continue to Käsivarsi Wilderness Area. Christmas is nearing, and I’ll tell about our Christmas delicacies, and about the Christmas surprise I hinted at already in post 6. – BTW, only two of these Millennium hike posts coming, after that I’ll return to more usual questions about hiking, and to more normal trip reports. 🙂