Comfortable winter camping

Jouni Laaksonen 8.2.2021

Last weekend I was skiing with good friends in Elimyssalo Nature Reserve. We spent two nights on the yard of Teerinen lean-to, and in between skied a whole day inside the Nature Reserve. There was a lot of snow, –20°C, beautiful open bogs, old forests, and not a single other hiker, or her/his ski tracks to be seen. Just what we wanted.

We had long and wide skis (270—310 cm long, 7 cm wide metsäsukset), and skiing in deep snow was not too difficult. There were six of us, so when you had ploughed through the snow for a while, making a ski track for those that followed you, and you started to feel tired, or too warm, you naturally stepped aside and let the next one to continue. Then, for a while, you got to ski as the last one, easy going on a rather good ski track. Slowly your position moved forward until you were once again the first one.

In my last post I told about a recent January hike where the sky happened to be cloudless, and therefore colorful. This time it was cloudy, which made the scenery very black and white. I find this also beautiful, but in a different way.

When we approached our lunch break at Elimysjärvi lean-to, we crossed a lake and got to taste northern wind. The lean-to is situated at the tip of a small cape, and the wind blew straight to it. It was rather a cold break, but a hearty campfire prepared us water from snow, and a hot lunch.

On out way back to Teerinen lean-to the clouds parted for a short while, and we got to glimpse a wonderful pink-orange horizon.

We did not see any tracks of humans, but we saw many kinds of animal tracks. I tell much more about animal tracks here and here. This time we saw tracks of moose, hare, weasel, ermine, otter, roe deer (which was a big surprise), willow grouse and capercaillie. And, in the evening, on our way back, along the ski track we had made in the morning, we saw fresh tracks of a wolverine. It had galloped (I’m not sure this is the correct verb in English) across our track just a while before we arrived.

Sun gets down early in midwinter. Now, in February, the daylight time is considerably longer than in December or early January, but still the dark evening is long, and cold. If you sleep in a tent, there are many hours to pass before it’s time to get to sleep. For this reason I bought a kota, which translates probably as tepee, or Lapp hut, in the beginning of this winter. Until now I had always spent the nights along my winter expeditions a) in a tent, b) under a tarp, or c) in a wilderness hut. What would it be like to spend the evening in a kota which is warmed up by a wood oven?

After half a dozen first experiments I’d say it’s very comfortable! When we arrived to Teerinen lean-to, where our kota waited, it took a minute or two get the fire going in our wood oven. And then it was just a short while more until it was comfortably warm (comparing to outside temperature) inside the kota. If you sat near the wood oven, you needed to take off your knitted cap and gloves, later also jacket.

The wood oven also prepared us a big dinner, which was crowned by thin pancakes. We sat and talked and ate for hours around the wood oven. The negative side of a wood oven + kota is weight and volume. You need a sledge to pull that much gear. Though my combination is not very heavy: the kota weighs 4 kilograms and the wood oven 2 kilograms.

In future I probably will use warmable kota on my cold midwinter expeditions (with a sledge), but in spring winter I will continue to use a lightweight tarp, like on this tour (with a backpack), or a tent. And I will continue to use the wonderful Finnish system of wilderness huts.

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