A week of forest school

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Wilderness Basics

Kuru forest 

For our second week we went to live in the forest for the week. The college owns a large forest about 4/5km away. So after a lot of food planning and gear checks we loaded the vans and headed into the nature for the week. 

I've never been a good packer. I think packing is a fine art, it requires you to know the perfect balance between packing the essentials for a range of possibilities. My usual tact is to pack it all....for this trip I did exactly that. My reasoning being that it was only a short walk from the van to our intended camp. This attitude will not work for our 9 day hiking trip to Russia in October.  But in my head I also wanted to take it all to see what I did actually use - well that was my excuse anyway. 

So the main skills we were developing throughout the week were:

How much wood could set the smoke hut on fire....

How much wood could set the smoke hut on fire....

  • Shelter building - different techniques, choosing the right location, considering the elements and anticipating what was to come. 
  • Cooking - We were divided into separate food groups, each in charge of generating a food plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper for 17 people. Then we had specific days where we would be cooking our meals for the group. 
  • Orienteering - Learning to use the map and compass in order to navigate our way through the surrounding forest. 
  • Fishing - We would learn more about different types of fishing, where to pick your spots and where the sneaky fishes would be likely to hide. 
  • Fire building - You'd think it was pretty simple but theres a lot to consider. What type of fire you want, therefore what wood to use, different ways to get it started. My favourite bit - how to use an axe!

The whole week was such a great experience, it brought the whole group so much closer together. It was the real deal out in the woods, it was the fundamental reason why most of us were there. We were all in our element. Having spent a few months in Lapland I knew a few of the basics of living out in the wilderness, but there was still so much for me to learn. 

Shelters 

Tripod technique

Tripod technique

For our trips we would be using a Finnish brand of open shelter (Vihe Loue 1) its a lightweight tarp material that forms a spacious semicircle when set up, and functions extremely well with a camp fire in front of it. We were shown just a handful of ways that you can set up the shelter, using a tree or creating a tripod structure to tie on to. Throughout the week we all moved and experimented with these different things, each night learning something new. I learnt a few VERY important things that week in making sure you have a good nights sleep:

  1. Always Check! - When picking up your gear make sure you check it out first, check the condition of it and the size. E.g Don't pick up a groundsheet tarp that can't fit your body size on it without some crazy contortion. So I spent my week sleeping in a compulsory fetal position avoiding the damp ground all round me. Not a good start.
  2. Go to bed warm - However good your sleeping bag is - I've got a Halti Futura 30M down sleeping bag so its pretty cosy; but if you go to bed cold its so hard to warm yourself up. If in doubt make a small fire just to warm yourself up before hitting the hay.
  3. Don't wear all of your clothes to bed - Most nights I was fine but the final night the temperate had really dropped, it was colder than previous nights and I hadn't warmed up before heading to bed so despite knowing that my body heat is what warms up my sleeping bag I was reluctant to take too much off so slept in my leggings, t-shirt and hoody.  Remember be strong, take the layers off, the sleeping bag will soon do its thing and warm up!

Camp cooking 

The previous week in our separate groups we had made a plan of what we were cooking for everyone. We had to take into consideration dietary requirements and making sure everybody was getting the right amount of protein, fat and carbs, and we had a budget of 112 euros for the group per day. It was actually quite a hard task but our menu was this:

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Breakfast - Porridge and Jam / Rye bread (For some unbeknown reason the Finns seem to love this dry, tough stuff) tomatoes and cucumber

Dinner - Sweet potato and chorizo stew

Supper - Pancakes with cream and jam

For the most part it went quite smoothly, there was 4 of us in our team so the workload could be spread out. We were the last group to make dinner, and not all the ingredients for our recipe were still around so it was a bit of a free for all when I was cooking it as I was just adding what was left but everyone ate it, so that's always a good sign. The pancakes...not one of my best ideas.

We were cooking in a wooden smoke house, so the place is pretty snug and when you need a big pancake fire the place quickly fills up with tear inducing smoke. Throwing batter half blind into a hot pan of oil whilst the group sits around awaiting a culinary masterpiece was never going to end well. And as usual it took till the last pancake to get the right amount of heat/oil and mix to produce a vaguely respectable pancake. But hey lesson learnt. 

Orienteering

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Now this was a big one for me. I'm not known for my sense of direction, every walk/ride I have ever been on will always include a detour/wrong turn or I just never know where I am in the first place. So this was going to be a challenge. One of my worst habits is that I rush things, I think i'm just a bit impatient so I just plough on and don't stop and think about things much. 

Task 1 

We spent the morning learning about Finnish maps and how to read them, what the colours and symbols meant. Its quite funny - like most maps theres large ares of white, this sometimes means fields or open land or something but in Finland this means forrest. They have so MUCH forest. This didn't bode well for my navigation skills. Anyway the group was split into two groups and we were going to navigate ourselves to 8 different points marked on our map. Taking it in turns to lead the navigation. Learning to take bearings and read the route was really interesting, you could tell so much from the map so you knew what to encounter on your route. 

When it came to my go I had a fairly straight forward route. Despite knowing my tendency to plough on, I marched quickly on following my bearing until I hit the road that indicated that I had gone to far. Knowing I had gone too far but unsure where to go from here I was told to look at the placement of the spot more closely and I realised it was on the top of a contour. So it must be the highest point, so I turned around and went back to the top of the hill we'd reached not that long ago and walked along the ridge till I hit the highest part and was greeted with the marker. 

Task 2

My 'will we ever find it' face.

My 'will we ever find it' face.

A few days later we were asked to rank ourselves in our confidence levels with our navigation skills. I put myself pretty low, knowing that I wasn't very good yet. I was partnered with Sirpa who had placed herself pretty high so that was comforting. As we set off I realised we both walked at quite a quick pace, only stopping occasionally to eat a fat ripe blueberry or raspberry! We had 5 markers we had reach and the whole afternoon to do it so we set of confident.

After over shooting the first one we broke up the next one into two more manageable bits, this worked for the first half, but something went very wrong on the second half. This section didn't give many clues from the map as it was all forest and nothing very distinctive to notice on our route so we did what we did best - walk super fast. We realised we had gone wrong when we hit a very boggy area which the map said was nowhere near our destination. We stopped for the first time in a while and thought about how we could have gone wrong. We decided to turn around and took a general bearing in the direction we thought we had to go. It really wasn't going too well until we hit a road. Although our tutor Mikko told us to not use the roads we had taken so long on this one we decided to use it to find our marker. 

This was a good lesson for us, we decided to take into account how fast we were walking and try to concentrate more on understanding the distance. Saying all that we still overshot our next marker by a long shot too. We were starting to walk triple the distance required to find each marker. On the final one we really started marking each step and concentrating on our distance and direction, we found the final one easily. 

We both learnt a lot whilst wondering not so aimlessly through the woods, we realised we both walk a bit too quick, we both tend to head to the right and always miss our marker because of this. So a good lesson, and a lovely afternoon spent hiking round the woods! 

Bridge building team!

Bridge building team!

All in all it was a great week for learning a whole range of new skills, I love that despite there being a whole range of different abilities in the group we still start every new skill or bit of information assuming we know nothing. It's also so useful to find out why you do things and also being made to think about things. I'm always much better at the practical things than the studying/logic side of anything but I find this course so interesting that I want to motivate myself to learn more and retain relevant information. The overall group vibe was great too, everybody really came out of their shells and I can see that were gunna have an awesome year together. 

Also I helped build a bridge!!! Chainsaws and everything...well I wasn't actually allowed to use that but I did get to use an axe and a saw. 

 

My backpack Pie chart

When emptying my 70l backpack at the end of the week I weighed up the percentage of what I actually used. There's defiantly room for improvement.