“Monthly highlights” is a series of post concentrating on a 10-month wilderness guide course I am taking this year at Niittylahden opisto near Joensuu in Eastern Finland. These posts try to summarize the best parts of each month and are naturally published at the end of each month. This is the first post of the series. Hopefully you enjoy it!
Highlights of August: a saimaa ringed seal, first aid courses and the best tent-sauna ever!
Even though the line above tries to sum up the individual highlights of the past month, the most interesting thing has been a more abstract experience of getting to know the people on my class and getting used to the life at the school. I will write more about the life at the school later on when I don’t have other highlights to share with you.
Canoeing at Kolovesi National Park
When the school started a bit over four weeks ago we went straight into business and headed to the Kolovesi National Park for a five days canoeing trip. The trip itself was really relaxed with not much daily mileage but a lot of time together sitting by a fire, doing different tasks and getting to know each others. With the great weather we had it was very nice trip even though I would have liked some more canoeing. As there were only few bugs and the views were awesome it was great to sleep under the stars without a bivy or a tarp. Because of the views I slept the second night next to a rock cliff and it was pretty cold place to sleep without the shelter of forest. Still, that night was one the greatest nights outside I’ve had this summer.
Maybe the nicest place I've slept in this summer.
The second highlight of the trip took place on the last evening when we were at Kirkkoranta making food and packing gear to the car. I think it was our teacher Pasi who spotted a saimaa ringed seal swimming next to the opposite shore a few hundred meters away. Saimaa ringed seal is very rare and endangered species – only some 270 individuals exist. The seal surfaced three times swimming back and forth probably looking for some fish to eat (or lurking to steal our coffee and pancakes?) I have never seen one before, and neither had our teacher Pasi even though he has spent some time especially looking for the seals… Lucky us!
The Saimaa ringed seal swimming to left. Use your imagination if necessary. 😉
The second week we spent at the school, mostly sitting in the class but also going occasionally outside for some orienteering or to learn nature lore as we are required to identify a lot of plants, birds, bugs and stuff to become wilderness guides. But there was not much interesting happening during the second week or at least not interesting enough for me to remember now when writing this… But on the third week we had two pretty nice first aid courses each lasting for two full days. The contents of the courses were based on the first aid 1 and 2 courses of the Finnish Red Cross but were modified for outdoor situations and had quite a lot of additional content. I got a lot of useful information from the courses and learnt to do few things also in practise. The teachers were also really good and thus the course gets a place in the highlights of the month. I can’t wait for the WAFA course in November!
Yours truly in a splinted stage of being.
And during the last week we got back into the woods! This time we headed to the Southern end of the Karhunpolku trail near the Patvinsuo National Park where we exercised basic wilderness skills like camping with Erätoveri tarps (relatively light traditional 3m x 3m PU coated tarp) and cooking on open fire. This wasn’t especially new for me but it’s always good to spent time outside under a tarp. We didn’t hike too much during the trip but instead did some fishing, orienteering exercises with 1:50000 maps during the day and night and learnt many things about the surrounding nature thanks to our visiting teacher/guide Harri. He was a superb guy with very profound knowledge about the North Karelian nature.
I didn't bother taking of my trail runners for this. 😉
Cooking: grilled sausage, eggs in moss and mushrooms with some onion. Delicious!
But the best thing, at least for me, was tent sauna. We took with us a big box-shaped tent cloth that can be used as a sauna using an improvised stove. We made the stove from a big pile of rocks and some steel grating we found near the beach. Then we spent about five hours warming up the stones and ended up with a big pile of red glowing stones (see the picture, most of the red glowe is not from the fire but from the stones themselves). After that we shoveled away the embers, poured some water on the stone pile to put out the last of the flames and then pulled the tent cloth over corner poles to cover the stove and benches made of a big fallen log. And the sauna was ready! It was a great sauna, definitely making it to the Top 3 sauna experiences I’ve ever had. The only problem was that we had to cut it short as we had some more night orienteering to do that evening…
Straight from the deepest pits of Mount Doom: Improvised stove for sauna.
Enjoying the work done.
This week we’ve had a lot of time in the classroom and also some orienteering. The next week we’ll have some more sitting in the classroom, some more orienteering and our first exams in nature lore. We might also be going for a long walk but if we go, I’ll write a separate post about it. After that we will have the basic course in white water paddling at Ruunaa and the week after that we will head to Lapland for a six-day autumn hike. We have a challenge of getting the total pack weight below 15 kilo for the trip. That one should be relatively easy. even if I’d had to borrow a heavier sleeping bag for the trip.
Two Erätoveri tarps and a fire. A good place to be.