Tai Chi in the Snow – A Week in the Swedish Wilderness – Snow Shoes, Pulks and Dried Food

December 16, 2014 Off By Peter Carol
Every few months we get an email from OAS, the Outdoor Academy of Scandinavia, they are eagerly received by the shop staff keen on some training in the wilds of Sweden or Norway. This March was my turn for a trip away in the snow. After hunting  out what information I could on what boots were suitable for snow shoeing and what I could get from our suppliers at the end of a cold winter season I ended up with a pair of I ended up with a pair of Hi-Tec Winter Boots and some Rab Down Booties for in the sleeping bag in the cold northern nights.

Kit list and dehydrated camping food packing complete I booked my two flights to Ostersund, north of Stockholm with an overnight stop at the superb Jumbohostel at Stockholm Arlanda Airport.

Next morning began the usual game of spot the people who are catching the same flight as you who are on the same trip. A multi national bunch from all over Europe with oversized bags and big warm boots stood out from the other passengers. Arriving at Ostersund airport (the only airport I know of with a small Tentipi inside and giant one outside), we were loaded into the waiting coach for our journey to the mountains.

Kit issue is always well organised at these events, find your rucksack with your name on it, check everything fits and swap what you aren’t happy with. With some persistence I managed to get a pulka to myself, well I asked if there was one, it seemed a better idea to have my kit on a sledge rather than on my back.

Next came a whirlwing of training, clothing and sleeping bags from Haglofs and Klattermusen, tents from Hilleberg, thermal underwear from Woolpower and stoves from Primus.

Next day we were off into the wilds, pitching our tents and boiling up snow for drinks and food, all set up in snow deeper than our thighs we had a talk from the nature reserve warden about the park and how to work in harmony with the environment and wild life.

We were split into groups of ten or so, then into tent pairs, changing tents each night. The  first job on camp was always to get the cook tent up, dig out the floor and get a brew on. Each day a different tent pair was give the leadership role, in charge of the group and navigation for the day, a task I managed to avoid until the last day.

The first team decided to ignore the ski trails and take a short cut towards the days destination, the picture shows how much climb you can find between 10m contours, and you can’t always get back down where you think it might be possible from the map. Virgin snow in snow shoes and big packs wasn’t everyone’s idea of fun.

Last team to the camp site, we where soon set up and cooking, with petrol stoves, reliable and quick to melt the snow.

Next day was a training day, with tent pitching races, clothing quizzes, navigation exercises and more, great fun with scores kept for the end of week prize giving. doing a team impression of the fibres in woolpower underwear was a highlight, if only I hadn’t lost the photos.

After a good nights sleep came the highlight of the trip, I have always wanted to dig and sleep in a snow cave, and this was the day. If you have dug a snow cave you will know that you want a steep slope of reasonably compact snow. If you are building a dozen snowholes and get the last spot where the slope is getting too gentle, you know the work is harder. In a steep slope you dig your snow out and throw it out the door and it falls down the slope, we dug it out, threw it once, then threw it again before it went down the slope. A four man hole takes a long time to dig, but we got there in the end, though we didn’t add the loo one of the teams dug.

That was our warmest night by far, snug and quiet in the snow after six hours of hard digging. When we awoke we dug ourselves out to a gorgeous sunny morning, all the snow caves had disappeared in to the slope with the drifting snow, a couple were dug out from six foot drifts.

After a good hot breakfast of muesli with chocolate chips, we headed off into some good foggy mountain weather, a big climb with packs  and pulkas we pulled together as a team, down in to the valley and we passed a state complex of huts, and even a little shop, staffed all winter and placed at the junction of mountain valleys, up hill again, and back in to the weather to our last mountain camp site. After passing several ice falls, and with the dark creeping in we set up camp in the woods.

A down hill day, most of the way back out of the wilderness. Pulks pushing us gently down the track, fox tracks on frozen lakes and a short day to a great camp site with room for all our tents below a great little hill. A tempting little hill, so up we stomped in the snow first for the views and second for the night glow one of the team organised, every tent glowing with torch light in the dark.

The last day dawned, an with it our turn to lead. Not wanting to do the day job, I offered to navigate and let my tent partner lead. Then we got our task, a day of navigation, their aim to get us walking through trackless winter forest. Our first leg took us to a frozen lake, and our second to a clearing in the trees. Having given us our last objective, a ribbon lake 3k away they decided that instead of a nice easy approach with a catching feature and an attack point for the middle of the lake I had to take us straight there on a bearing. After an hour of fighting through the woodland, from tree to tree and taking back bearings on our track I stopped and pointed out the way to the lake. They wouldn’t let me take the route I knew was the way to the lake, when they showed me the GPS I understood why, a perfectly straight line through 3k of woodlands, snow drifts, thickets and frozen lakes, past strange trees and animal tracks.

All with an impromptu Tai Chi lesson to help the team keep their snow shoes on the top of the snow.

So after a hot lunch on a frozen lake we headed back, past the first liquid water we had seen for five days, down to the sports complex for well earned beer, hot tubs and rolling in the snow, and a grand Swedish banquet with quizzes, prizes and our Outdoor Ambassador of Scandinavia certificates. From the meeting at the airport to the slideshow of our escapades in the bar, the Woolpower factory tour and the very cheap, sightly soiled Scandinavian Outdoor kit we came home with, the Swedes have shown us once again that they really know how to to retailer training in the great outdoors.

With thanks to all my group, and the organisers of a fantastic week I hope you have as fond memories as do and are looking forward the next trip to Sweden.