I felt like I'd been cooped up for months. I hadn't – I'd been out on dog walks daily – but still: I longed for the white silence. The feeling of being out in the cold, alone.
And yet, at the same time, I was nervous about it all. The lack of any real outdoorsiness in my life for the last few months left me with an odd feeling of unpreparedness. I had all my winter hiking gear, but whenever I ventured into the basement, the abundance of base layers and gloves just confused me. Which shirt should I wear? What mid-layer would be appropriate? My indecision turned into procrastination; I'll figure it out tomorrow.
When the year came to an end, I decided to delay it no longer. I dug in to my crate of clothes and pulled out a few potential items that might be appropriate for the weather (-10ºC, calm) and conditions (50cm of pure white snow; myself... unfit), chose what to wear, and stuffed the rest in my pack. It was time to go. I'd make it a fact-finding mission to figure out what to wear in Lapland, and to reacquaint myself with my skis and other goodies.
It had almost been a year since I skied last, and even then I'd only just started using the Madshus Eons. And skiing around Minneapolis is a far cry from the Lapland wilderness, where, in fact, I'd never really skied at all (outside of tracks). But this was why I purchased the Eons – I find skiing in tracks tedious and joyless.
I headed to Vennivaara, an area a few kilometers north-west of Rovaniemi, where the pylons and accoutrements of the city give way to the wilderness; the last post of civilisation before the wild takes over. I've recently started taking the dog out here, but the area is still fairly unfamiliar. The land is criss-crossed in summer by the occasional forestry road, and in winter bisected by a single ski trail. After 10 km of treacherous and scary un-ploughed road, I parked the car, kitted up, and headed off into the forest.
As I didn't have a map, I carried my GPS (with it's woefully inadequate global basemap) and compass just in case. I've found I get a little confused in forest there, but I know that if I head far enough east I'll hit the ski trail eventually, so I can't go far wrong. And I'm not planning a week long expedition anyway – just an afternoon of meandering.
Vennivaara is an excellent testing ground for the, ahem,
. Roling forest with little in the way of hills – perfect to get my ski legs back again before I push myself a little harder (an instructor friend has promised to educate me a little in the sacred ways of telemark).
Start cold, they always say, and in Lapland you can't fail to do that. I'd decided that my old Haglöfs base layer would pair nicely with the
I picked up before I left. The Bat Hang is supposedly "expedition weight", but I generally take that description with a pinch of salt. It's usually only used by the bigger brands in an attempt to gain some street cred.
I followed the trail of a previous explorer which seemed to be going in the general direction I wanted to go.
I soon warmed up – a little too much perhaps. I'd made the mistake of also wearing a very thin soft shell which frankly I didn't really need. I could have got by with just the base layer and Bat Hang, as the two in combination seemed to deal with perspiration nicely (the Haglöfs synthetic base layer dries very quickly).
Another downside to the gear was that, criminally, none of the items had thumb loops! I really must learn how to use a sewing machine so I can improvise my own on all miscreant gear. The Haglöfs top was also annoyingly too short. A winter base layer should stay tucked in.
This was the first time that my gaiters proved essential. I generally shy away from using them, but in deep snow they are vital, and performed their simple task efficiently.
After some twists and turns and a moment of feeling lost, I checked the GPS and headed to a more familiar area, so I could get a bearing on the point I'd decided I wanted to reach: an old cabin by a lake which doesn't appear on Google maps or the GPS (a worrying oversight as it's not a small lake).
A little hot and sweaty, I put on my medium-weight Halti down jacket. I'd decided to take instead of my MontBell Ex Light as I find the Ex Light os only good to around -5ºC. It's also very short in the torso, and much more suited as a three-season UL alternative to a fleece. For the future I have my eye on a Rab Infinity, which I hope would be both warm and light enough for a Lapland winter. But for now, the Halti is sufficient: not the best quality, but it's warm, long enough, and has a (removable) hood.
I shook off the skis, took out my z-Lite sit pad, and prepared to meet another old friend... my kuksa.
Sipping a hot Russian Earl Grey, I sit and find what I came for: white silence. Not a sound to be heard. A smile spread over my face, contemplating the last few months, my stress levels falling away.
I was surprisingly comfortable in the cold, but that's what a little exercise does for you. Maybe I'll come back here for a night someday soon, but I've already planned to visit another nearby destination for my first overnighter back in Finland.
The sun, hidden behind a veil of clouds, was beginning to set; the light turning bluer and murkier. It'd soon be dark, and as I wasn't in the mood for a night ski through unfamiliar woods, I decided to pack up and head back, refreshed.
I found a snowmobile track and sped along at a fair clip back to the car – it's much easier to ski on snowmobile tracks than to walk on them.
Back at the car I checked the GPS again, reluctant to drive back the way I'd come. It looked shorter back to the road if I continued, but the driving was as slippery and hairy as before, even with AWD.
After I eventually hit a ploughed section, the road curved around back to Rovaniemi. In the distance, the lights from the Ounasvaara ski resort twinkled in the otherwise grey landscape. As I drove home I realised I really do live in a winter wonderland. And this year, I aim to take advantage of it.