Gimme Some Liebster

The Liebster Award. It's a bit of a blogging love-in that's been going around like the clap (sorry), and I caught it from two separate sources: David Lintern and Ross at WoodTrekker.

Here's the deal: a blogger can award it to 11 other bloggers as a sign of appreciation, and those 11 can then pass it forward. There is an obvious flaw in the design (isn't there always?) in that after only 4 rounds, up to 14,641 blogs will have been awarded. After 8 rounds, that's 214,358,881. That's some love-in!

Well anyway, it's nice to be appreciated, and the people doing the appreciating are people I appreciate, so out of sheer reciprocal appreciation, I'm going to answer the 11 questions I was asked by each of them. However, much like Chris, Roger, and Martin, I'm not going to spread this around any further. That's not because I don't think there are people who deserve a clap (sorry, again), but simply because all the people that immediately come to mind have all been given the Liebster award multiple times by other good folk. Instead, I give the Liebster Award to anyone and everyone who has ever taken the time to write a blog about the outdoors, because you all deserve it.

David's Questions:

Favourite island, why and when did you last visit?

I was tempted to say Great Britain here, but I guess that wasn't quite what David was getting at.

Finland has many islands, most small and charming in their own way. Each one has the potential for a microcosmic appreciation. On the other side of Europe, I could happily go for somewhere in Greece, because there is a lot to be said for a nice sandy beach and a warm, azure sea, backpacking be hanged.

But closer to home, and more dramatically, it has to be somewhere in Norway. Tromsø is, of course, on an island, but again, much as I love it, it's maybe more city-like than island like. So let's go with Kvaløya: big mountains, big area, but it doesn't matter. It's spectacular, whichever way you look at it. And I last looked at it last year.

Best book about the outdoors and why?

Robert MacFarlane's The Old Ways. It conjures up for me a vivid sense of the ancient trails of England. I like to imagine the history of where I'm walking – what caused this trail to become – and MacFarlane reveals and celebrates that eloquently, and reminds us that so much can be found in the nooks and crannies close to home.

It seems a bit of a thing to quote Edward Abbey here, but while I loved Desert Solitaire, and especially reading in situ in Utah, I was always put off by the rabbit thing, and rolling a type into the Grand Canyon. Call me old fashioned...

Why blog?

I'd like to think that someone, somewhere has been inspired to get out and enjoy the outdoors by something I've written or photographed. I also hope that, by promoting a lighter-weight approach to backpacking, it entices some people back that have been put off by the drudgery of a carrying a heavy pack.

There's an element of self-inspiration too: to keep the blog going requires determination and necessitates actually going backpacking myself. I've learned a ton of useful knowledge through writing about backpacking.

Another aspect is the sense of community. The arctic circle, where I live, is quite far away from the social communities I've entered in the past. While I have a few friends here in Rovaniemi, the wider community I've never met through blogging feel, in some ways, closer to me than some of the people I might see on a more regular basis. There are people out there that I would dearly love to head out into the hills or pop down the pub with, and blogging keeps those people close, even when they are far away.

Solo or with others?


Have you ever had an encounter (not necessarily 'close') with a big predator outdoors and if so tell us about it.

A few, in fact. let's do this in order of scariness, from least scary to most hair-raising.

In Montana, just north of Bozeman, we were looking for a place to camp and found a totally empty campsite on the edge of a forest. The bloody, freshly-gnawed leg of a moose lying just inside the entrance quickly persuaded us to find a motel.

The next day, within five minutes of entering Yellowstone NP, we saw a family of Grizzly Bears about 100m from the roadside, and a hoard of tourists running towards them (contrary to signposts and common sense) taking photographs. I swear some of the people were sending their children in as bait, but I could be mistaken.

Run, children! Run towards the lovely cuddly bears, for we no longer love you.

Run, children! Run towards the lovely cuddly bears, for we no longer love you.

That night, we found a campsite in the park. The Rangers let us know as we paid the tent fee that there were bears in the area, so we shoudl lock our food in the provided lockers next to the pitches. Later that night, the Rangers were driving around the campsite telling people that bears had been sighted, so lock all aromatic substances away and start praying.

Unfortunately, Rufus, our Springer Spaniel, was more frightened than is, and decided to shit himself in the tent at 02:00, to much hilarity from us. After cleaning up the mess, I skulked around the tent with my headlamp, trying to find the trash, and waiting with every turn of my head for the headlamp to pick out a couple of eyes. Nothing happened.

By far the most terrifying encounter, though, was in Romania. I was hiking with my old friend Sam from Vlad Dracul's castle in Bran to Poiana Brasov. We found a nice spot for the tent (which was probably an old A-Frame tent!) and settled down for the night. In the early hours, close to the tent, a horrendous ROAR ripped through the night. We both sat up alert, quivering with fear. I was waiting for the claws to come ripping through the walls.

The author, glad to still have all his limbs. Note the external frame backpack, and appropriate legwear.

The author, glad to still have all his limbs. Note the external frame backpack, and appropriate legwear.

Nothing happened of course, but it was enough to make us pack up and hike through the night (which, in retrospect, knowing the bears a nocturnal was not so smart). The Brown Bear population in Romania is the largest in Europe – around 6000. A few years ago an American tourist was eaten by one, and there are a couple of attacks each year, usually on foreign hikers because people are not aware of the threat, and do not follow bear safety practices (cook at least 80m from your tent, bear bag all food and consumables, change clothes that you cook in).

I will, perhaps, write another post about Romania, once I dig out the rest of my photos from those years.

Somewhere in Romania

Somewhere in Romania

How many knots do you know and which ones?

I have a handful of knots I regularly use, but as the adage goes, to know a knot you must tie it a lot, and in the gaps between trips I tend to forget some of them.

As for names, it doesn't help that some knots have multiple names, but anyway: overhand/double overhand, clove hitch, taut-line hitch, bowline/bowline on a bight, slip knot, trucker's hitch.

When were you last scared outdoors and why?

I usually get a few jitters on the first night, and other than the bear encounter recounted above, the last time was probably in Afton State Park. It wasn't really scary, but I just let my mind run away with itself sometimes (a problem with a fertile imagination). The distant sound of sirens and the howling of jackals got my mind racing with ideas of escaped criminals coming to knife me in the night. I knew it was ridiculous even as the thoughts raced around my tired head, but it's the stupid ideas that settle in and make themselves at home until the early hours of the morning.

On trail or off trail?


Okay, I won't pull that one again. I have a fascination with trails, particularly their history; who was the first person (or beast) to walk it, and why. Trails are history embedded in the landscape, and when I walk along one I can help but let my mind wander.

But they also serve a particular purpose. More often than not, they take you from point A to point B by the most intelligent route: either avoiding unpassable areas, or via areas of particular beauty. When you follow a trail you place a certain amount of trust in those that have walked it before. Less used trails might get overgrown, disappear, and die, and even that process holds questions that demand answers; what is it that led to the trail becoming less used?

And then, of course, sometimes you need to follow a trail to get off the trail. Off trail walking always encompasses exploration. You never know what you will see, and the potential of seeing something never seen before, no matter how unlikely or remote, is enticing. Off-trail travel is true freedom of expression. You choose your own route, and live by your successes and failures. Off trail, nature throws you surprises, and the devil is always in the details. There's a thrill and a release to it, and always, always the wonder of what might lie just over that hill.

Decidedly off trail

Decidedly off trail

What is elegant route planning to you?

I love looking at maps for landscape features that might afford a nice view, or make an interesting photograph. Those out-of-the-way places where contour lines converge to create something unusual or striking. Finding a way to them is like solving a puzzle, or perhaps setting yourself one.

Elegance comes into it not through taking the most direct route, but the most interesting, the most smooth. I find it hard, often, to pick the one route: my mapping software is criss-crossed with alternatives: the easy way, the interesting area, the challenging route. For certain no planned route is ever followed 100%; the best routes are those that allow you to react in the field. Every route must contain within it the potential for diversion.

How many tents do you own and how many should you own?

When it comes to tents, you should own exactly one more, and one less, than necessary.

If I include old tents that I tried to sell but nobody wants, then I own 5: * Haglöfs Genius 21 - the original domebuster * Kelty - a car camping tent, the one Rufus shat in, completely inappropriate for the North * MLD DuoMid - still my favourite * Nigor/Eureka Wicki-Up SUL 3 - perfect for shared trips * Black Diamond Firstlight - winter tent

I could add another one... And I'm working on a prototype of my own.

What was your earliest/youngest significant outdoor experience?

A school trip as a teenager to the Kent Mountain Center in Llanberis, Snowdonia. It was the first time I climbed mountains, and went spelunking. The guy leading the course (his name was Mark) was really into photography, and I was getting into it too. I think that trip had a huge influence on me, or at least brought to the surface things which remain important to me today.

I have often wanted to work in such a place. I would dearly love to help get kids into the outdoors, inspire them, and watch them discover new abilities and new sides of themselves. This would have been a perfect job for me. I sometimes wonder about re-training for a real profession, and this would be it.

Not Snowdonia: Romania again. 

Not Snowdonia: Romania again. 

Ross's Questions

Who are some of the people in the outdoor community, either past or present who you either consider mentors, or from whom you have gained knowledge about the outdoors, or inspiration to get out there?

Ryan Jordan is at the top of this list. I admire his dedication, professionalism, the importance he places on family, but most of all he just seems like a really warm human being. Ryan lent me his packraft to borrow while I was in Minnesota, an act of generosity that is rare in this world, and left an indelible impression. I only wish I'd been more into ultralight backpacking when I was in in Bozeman. It would have been nice to go for a stroll.

Chris Townsend, because I don't know how he manages to spend so much time outdoors and write so much. His experience gives him great insight into techniques and equipment, and I'm sure many people have been inspired by his books.

What is the typical duration of one of your trips, and how much distance do you tend to cover on such trips?

I'd say an average trip is about 4-5 days. I do a fair amount of overnighters at the moment, mainly because of family circumstances and the need to eke out a living.

On a good day I'll cover around 27km. On a four day trip it'll be around 70-100km, depending largely on how much ground is covered on the first and last days after travelling to the trail head.

Maramures, Romania

Maramures, Romania

What is your favourite instructional book about the outdoors?

I like to read so I tend to devour books whenever I get into something. When I was getting into backpacking I enjoyed Colin Fletcher's Complete Walker, and Chris Townsend's backpacking book. But I'd have to say my favourites are those by Mike Clelland on Ultralight Backpacking and other related activities. They're knowledge-packed books that are fun, easy to read and re-read, and I always discover something new in them, or rediscover an old technique I'd forgotten about.

What is your vision of the woodsman, or the outdoorsman, at least as related to you and what you hope to achieve?

I'd like to think that the idea of being an "outdoors person" encompasses a certain amount of self-reliance and humility. I look to achieve a kind of minimalism; for me, backpacking is a wilful paring down of effects to the essential, and an engagement in a process in which our relationship with a space is more attuned and thoughtful.

There is a cleansing, calming transformation that takes place when you are alone, relying only on what you carry, and what you can make use of. This simplification is very important for me. It doesn't exclude niceties, but the niceties come with reduced packaging and more appreciation.

I'm not so much into the survivalist aspect, although I appreciate that that approach is the source of a lot of really interesting knowledge that could be applied to less extreme activities. I'm also absolutely uninterested in the transformation of hiking/backpacking into a sporting/athletic activity. I couldn't care less about competitiveness in the outdoors: I go into the wild to escape that, not to participate in a show of endurance.

You can do a hell of a lot with just a knife.

You can do a hell of a lot with just a knife.

Do you hunt, and if so, how do you incorporate that into your trips? If not, is there a specific reason?

I don't hunt, unless you consider occasional bad fishing as hunting. When I moved to Helsinki from England, my attitude towards hunting was fairly typical for a lefty art student: I could see no point or value in it. The idea of hunting seemed almost as weird to me as wearing fleece on an everyday basis.

Having moved to Lapland, my attitudes have changed somewhat. Hunting is a fairly common way of life here. My friend's dog won the Finnish Hunting Championship last year, for example. I've even eyed up her shotgun. And moose is ever so tasty.

I'd be interested to go on a hunt, but I doubt that I would stretch to killing a big animal. You never know, but I feel it is unlikely.

How much was your pack base weight on your last overnight trip?

5.976 kg

Have you been offered the opportunity to film any TV shows related to your outdoor pursuits? If yes, have you thought of accepting them? If no, would you be interested in such an offer?

I've not been asked, but then Finland has such a very small TV production industry, I doubt they'd be interested in some English bloke wittering on about vaseline fire starters. I imagine it would probably be considered sacrilege that I don't wax my trousers and I wear non-waterproof trail runners.

But hey, I'll accept any offers if I'm paid (reasonably) well.

What is your preferred shelter system for winter trips?

I do like the MLD DuoMid with my Katabatic Bristlecone Bivy, but recently the kind of snow we've been having has made it less than optimal: the snow takes too long to sinter, so getting the shelter up properly can take several hours. For this reason I switched to a Black Diamond Firstlight, which is a breathable, self standing, single-wall tent that you can get up in minutes if you need to get out of a storm. Inside that I might still use the bivy to protect the bag against condensation (it breathes, but ice-crystals still form inside, and I'm a touch too tall for it, so I always brush against the walls).

The BD Firstlight, in situ.

The BD Firstlight, in situ.

Are you a member of any outdoor organisations whether they be hunting, backpacking, etc?

Not currently. Cost and language are issues for me.

Have you ever found yourself in a survival or emergency situation while in the woods, and if so, how did you cope?

I can't recall anything particularly dramatic. My tent got washed out in Romania during a thunder storm once, but fortunately there was a friendly shepherd nearby. He put me up in his hut and provided some excellent bivol (a kind of buffalo) milk.

Why do you blog?

Answered in David's questions. Great minds think alike, huh?

Pofta buna!

Pofta buna!