Skiing in the Wilderness

So by the good grace of the Finnish/UK university systems I’m pretty much allowed to take whichever modules I want here , so I’m basically studying Biology this year and spent last week on a Winter Ecology field course in the Oulanka national Park  in the north east of Finland , only 15km away from the forested Russian border , skiing around 6 hours a day on ex-Swedish military skis. Having never so much as touched a ski before in my life to then suddenly using it as my primary mode of transport for a week of hard work in the snow , I’m pretty pleased with how it went.

Cross country skiing is great fun, a mix between walking and ice skating, and you can quite quickly get the hang of it. Sometimes it’s like magic , smoothly flying over the ice and snow , balanced and almost elegant ,and the other half the time  they’re like the heaviest , most ill-fitting angular shoes you could ever imagine , seemingly designed only to twist your ankles into shapes they weren’t meant to go. Once again i defied common sense in the clothing department, and  skii’d about in the snow in my jeans ,a t-shirt and my puffy jacket from England instead of the ‘recommended’ insulating thermal layers and waterproof skiing trousers everyone else had.Having been told tales that a few years ago on this same field course that the day to day working temperature was about -30 C , with work in the mornings postponed occasionally by some -45 C gusts , it turned out to be  just a degree above or below zero for the entire time , so a lot of the work measuring the snow load on trees was impossible , unfortunately.But let’s not get confused-we’re still talking Northern Finland here- so even in this freakishly hot winter there was still a good SEVEN FEET OF SNOW. Let’s just imagine this for a moment. I didn’t realise it, skiing around on the top of it all , until your ski falls off and you step on the solid ground only to plummet up to your waist down into the frosty depths. I really saw it when we dug a hole to measure the temperature gradients at different snow depths, and the snow level was above my head, and a Finnish man dug a series of tunnels under the snow to traverse between the snow holes. Bizarre.

As well as a lot skiing, we did some ice hole fishing too, and caught a load of tiny perch which we skinned and cooked on the fire. There was also a downhill sledging competition that was great fun, and lots of saunaing and then bathing in the ice hole that was cut into the frozen river nearby. The extreme temperature change of the sauna then ice hole is great fun, definitely worth the sauna experience of sitting and sweating with all your naked lecturers whilst you discuss goose migration patterns. The whole area of the natural park was beautiful, a real colossal foresty wilderness ,and we were taught how to track the forest animals and to identify their traces , so although we didn’t really see many animals , we saw recent tracks of mink , pine marten, reindeer , moose(!) , foxes and snowshoe hares.

But at one point a gust of wind blew over the stacked up skis onto a man’s shiny new car , and the lecturers grimly informed us that we either had to collectively decide if as a group we wanted to  pay him off  with €400 , or allow him to pursue legal action. After all my praise for the mad ways , new responsibility and risky activities of my new European life , suddenly I wanted to be back in the nanny culture of England , where I’m sure the lecturers would sort everything out or someone would have insurance for something , or somehow this wouldn’t be our responsibility. But, like Spiderman’s uncle said , with great fun comes great responsibility , and so we all had to bite the bullet and  chip in €13 each to pay off the angry Finnish man to avoid a lawsuit that would bring the research station into disrepute.

On returning to Oulu the snow had all melted and it is still +/-1 degree ,  I’m beginning to wonder if the second winter really will come at all. My family arrive in a month and a half, and The Dove will be back in my arms in just 12 days , so I hope some more lovely snow comes to welcome them- ‘The Defrosting City’ is not Oulu’s best look , as the entire winter’s worth of rubbish , grit and all kinds of un-named horrors previosuly frozen in time and space are suddenly dumped onto the roads and streets overnight.Roll on Summer/Second Winter!

I have a week without lectures ahead of me whilst all the French guys are in Norway, and looking at the Oulu guide for inspiration I can barely recognise any of the pictures of Oulu- I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere that changes so much from summer to winter. I’m really looking forward to the midnight sun, the leaves on the trees, the long (endless…literally endless) summer evenings and everything it will bring.

Also today , went to see some genuinely interesting and vibrant modern Finnish art at the museum , along with some interesting old photos of what Oulu used to look like when it was populated by rich Swedish duchesses and impoverished fur-trappers, and I also had a look at the Islamic Society of Northern Finland , interesting due to its title alone, I believe. I also read something interesting about the famous Finnish Gypsies , who you can immediately recognise in Finland by their customary medieval looking dress , I usually see them in Lidl, and they have their own language , half Finnish and half Romani (I bought a newspaper printed in this language when I was in Tampere-It’s one of the rare languages not currently in Google Translate!) Who says Oulu doesn’t have any culture? Also, found and bought some houmous, finally.

Also, found some data for my dissertation. Will upload some good photos fo Oulanka soon , but at the moment , there’s some new ones from Oulu anyway.

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Cameron (Finland)

About Cameron (Finland)

Cameron has now graduated for the University of Leicester. I am Cameron, currently living in Oulu, Finland for my Erasmus year and studying Geography...Physical Geography (BSc) to be precise. I’ll tell you what it’s like to be me, a 3rd year geography student at the northernmost geography department in the world.

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