Sutikki’s Stephen Gould talks us through the last three days of his challenge for The Light Fund.
Day 3: January 27, 2019
Circular Route back to Camp Väkkäräjärvi
This morning everybody helped to get the camp work done (feed dogs, fetch water, prepare breakfast, chisel out and gather up frozen doggie poop, etc). Afterwards the dogs were once again harnessed and we headed back into the Arctic wilderness. There is more spectacular scenery with sweeping views across the icy landscape. The bright whiteness is dazzling, broken up only by dark tree trunks poking out here and there… and we see the sun which last appeared in mid-December. If heaven on earth exists, this must surely be what it looks like. It was jaw droppingly beautiful and it silenced and humbled one and all. The only sound was the glide of wooden skis on snow and the pitter patter cantering of little paws.
We sled past huge glacial lakes and the occasional open swamp area… the latter being a little disconcerting as they are a dehydrated pee yellowy brown and not frozen solid like everything else. One’s mind tells you that you are about to crash through the lake when in actual fact it is only running surface water on top of solid and very thick ice. Lunch today was once again supposed to be prepared in a kåta on an island beside Lake Sautosjärvi, however, as it is so very cold that we are off piste to take full advantage of the frozen lakes and did a repeat of yesterday, this time with reindeer fajitas. After another cold but exciting day with the dogs we return to Camp Väkkäräjärvi which is now in complete darkness.
At this point the most important bit of gear to have is a head torch and not an £11.99 one like mine from Sainsbury’s. It worked fine inside, however, as soon as I poked my head outside in minus 30C+ the batteries were zapped in an instant. Cold at this level is simply life changing in every regard.
Aside from lighting the fires, stoves and oil lamps we now had to return to our snow hills from yesterday and start digging them out to turn them into igloos. This was a relatively straight forward task for those who were not claustrophobic. Remember too that our igloos are built on a frozen lake. Even though the ice was over 80cm thick, this place croaked and creaked like a ship that had run a ground and it was not for those of a nervous disposition.
Out of 13 of us on this trip including the guides, only two opted to sleep in the igloos that night and this was primarily so that they could steer clear of the snorefest back at the main wilderness cabin.
Distance: 40 km / 7 hours. Third lesson learnt – wear a full face balaclava to help filter the stomach retching stench of pungent and incessant doggy wind.
Day 4: January 28,2019
Camp Väkkäräjärvi – Kauppinen
After breakfast we do the same camp work as previous days which now also included cleaning and re-stocking etiquette such as logs for the next arrivals, before heading back to the Musher’s Lodge in Kauppinen. By now each dog team and musher should have been working efficiently and everyone confident in their sledding abilities. Therefore, today’s route was technically and physically the most challenging of the trip. With four rolled sledges on the surprising mogul exit from the camp (not a promising start) we encountered narrow forest trails with lots of inclines and steep downhill stretches which were definitely challenging for us all.
For those with the heavier sledges that contained the water and firewood, the inclines today were very tough as one had to get off the sled and run with the dogs. If you did not do this the dogs were quick to give a disparaging look and the sleigh would grind to a halt in silent protest. Neither could one walk with the sleigh as walking is not what dog sledding dogs do. They only run, poo, eat and sleep! Even though it was utterly freezing, all this running made it tough, slow and despite the super sub zero temperature rather hot work.
There were simply beautiful views of snow-covered mountain ranges and along the way we also saw rare moose tracks and wild reindeer. Lunch today was once again trailside with the now customary log fire. It was mini weeners day with Johnny’s mustard and boy were they both very welcome and very good. Each day we would also each bring a thermal flask of hot water to make tea or coffee, however, it was so cold that most of us just sipped the hot water rather than do a gloved hand flaff with tea bags or coffee granules.
While doing this I remembered something that I had seen on the BBC News for a New Year celebration in Northern China and I decided to throw a cup of hot water into the air. It instantly froze to ice crystals and fell to the ground as a cloud of white powder. This caused great excitement and near kindergarten frivolity. Regression analysis can be a wonderful tonic.
The sun quickly set as we crossed Sweden’s largest lake and started to re-enter the environs of peripheral suburbia. The odd car passed us on the lake as we traversed the rear of the Ice Hotel past wooden piers, boats and all sorts of lakeside holiday homes literally frozen solid in time. This reminds us that we are actually on water albeit some 80cm+ below us.
We are now sledging in the dark again and by late afternoon we arrive back at the Musher´s Lodge for a very welcome re-aquaintance with electricity, central heating, hot water and flushing toilets. That evening we enjoyed the most magnificent celebratory meal of Norwegian salmon with a tongue-in-cheek awards ceremony whilst reflecting on a fantastic few days in the wilderness. Distance: 45 km / 8 hours.
Fourth lesson learnt – make sure you are aerobically fit before you leave Heathrow.
Day 5: January 29, 2019
Lappish Village & Flight Home
After a relaxing morning start we headed into the nearby town of Kiruna for some shopping. Kiruna is a mining town where they have mined iron ore since the late 1880s. It is a strange place. Everyone drives a Volvo. The cool kids drive old box type Volvos with blacked out windows and rear roof spoilers – oh yes! The lorries are made by Volvo. The buses are made by Volvo.
This is a proud town in an equally proud country. The architecture is soviet communist style and it has an early 1970s aura about it. It is evident that not much happens here during daylight hours and so we go in search of traditional Saami and Lapland inspired gifts, while also visiting the incredible Gustaf Wickman wooden structure that is the inimitable Church of Kiruna.
The church along with some other buildings of historic interest are soon be dismantled and reassembled four miles down the road as the iron ore deposits underneath the town are too valuable to ignore. Unbelievably, the rest of Kiruna is going to be demolished and rebuilt down the road, too. The elderly shuffle zimmers with skis, mothers push babies in prams bare handed and the men’s public toilet is a large snow doughnut style structure on the footpath where one ablutes so to speak against the internal circular walls… just do not be here in the spring when this thing thaws!
After our town experience, its back to the Mushers Lodge along roads which are all covered in snow – even in the main town centre – and we then say farewell to the dogs and local team before boarding our return flight to London via Stockholm.
Fifth lesson learnt – Volvo is Swedish for cool.