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Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure
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Kittilä 2023


Wayland on a previous expedition. - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

The truth of the matter is that a winter camping trip to the Finnish Taiga  takes a fair bit of planning. I usually enjoy that part of of the process too.  Dusting off cherished kit, deciding which bits to take and how to pack  them, splitting kit between bags in case one or other is delayed or lost on flights. 

Most of all I enjoy planning what I will do when I get there, which involves pouring over maps and guides, both real and online these days.

The planning for this trip literally took months. Not because the trip was  particularly complex, it wasn’t. What was complicated was the world  around it.

We started planning this trip in 2020 aiming to be in Kittilä in February  2021 but then some guy in China ate an undercooked bat and everything  went pear shaped. If anyone ever tells you that one person cannot change the world I beg to differ.

The COVID pandemic made the trip impossible for 2021 so all the planning  went on hold and all the gear was packed away again hoping for a  brighter future.

Towards the end of 2021 there was a glimmer of hope and we picked the plans  back up for February 2022. Lots of changes were required for the new  travel restrictions and we got as far as booking flights and even a dog  sledding trip for one of the days.

It was the Airline that pulled the plugs on us this time. Evidently the  travel restrictions were discouraging travellers and our flights were not deemed profitable enough so Finnair cancelled them. We were entitled to refunds of course but not in time to make alternative arrangements so we were completely devastated.

Morale was at an all time low for some of us, added to by the fact that one of the team that originally planned to take this trip with us had died tragically during this period of limbo 

By the time it came around to thinking about 2023 most of us hardly dared  to hope, not wanting to trust the airline with our money again we held off booking until the new year. Unfortunately the ski centres of Europe had very little snow and some of them were closing the slopes. This led  to a surge in bookings for Kittilä and Finnair responded by dramatically hiking up the prices. I’m not developing much love for that company I have to say. We got in just before the worst of the increases but we still got burned.

The objective is to take a group with varying levels of experience into the Boreal Forest, west of Kittilä in Northern Finland. The trip will focus on sub zero camping skills with relatively short distances travelled between camps. We will be flying in to the local airport, picking up food and fuel supplies locally.

My equipment should remain largely the same as previous trips but there have been a few minor modifications and I’m sure more refinements may follow.

I will be experimenting with a new shelter, the Wayland Snow Shed, and a new Ventile cover for my sleeping system. I have also made a lighter weight toboggan and changed the saw I will be taking with me. Apart from the addition of a solar charger and an iPhone to my photographic kit, most of the other changes made to my gear so far are cosmetic really.

The Ice Raven / Sub Zero Crew flag. - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

The plan as it stands at the moment will be to fly out in two parties, The Advance party will depart the airport with the gear loaded on toboggans and head to the nearest supermarket for supplies. Then we head West into state owned forestry land for our first camp where we can pitch our shelters and then start building snow shelters and attend to other camp admin.

From there, we break camp and move a few miles further from the town and the airport. Our second camp puts us in an area with a wider range of terrain, perfect for more skills training.  This is where we will rendezvous with the Main party who will be flying out a few days later due to time constraints.

After a few days at our second camp, we will return to our first camp to occupy the snow shelters for the last night before flying home.

From that camp, it is just a short trip back to the airport where we can repack the gear for the flights home.

Of course, such plans very often change on the ground but an outline like this is at least a good starting point.

Snow block cutter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

What you see here  is a Mad Idea that has taken form...

The snow block cutter / mould / kitchen / windbreak.

It is one of those crazy ideas I wake up with occasionally but I thought this one might have wings.

It’s primary purpose is to push into wind compacted snow to cut blocks for building an igloo. If good snow conditions are not available, loose snow can be shovelled into it and compacted to serve the purpose instead.

It’s secondary purpose when not being used for that is to act as a kitchen base to stop the stoves melting into the snow.

It will fit in the big duffel bags with kit packed inside it, taking little space for itself.

Tipping the scales at 1.33 kg it is not insignificant but, as an experiment, I hope it will prove worth it’s weight.

Snow block cutter - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

It never does any harm to consider different opinions.

So many people have said I should have put handles on this that I changed  my mind and added some. For the very few grams they weigh they are unlikely to do any harm.

I’m also showing here another way it could be used. As a wind break with a handy shelf over the cooking area.

That would mean using my fire grill to stop the stoves melting down into the snow but no harm there.

Returning to my sleep system, I knocked up a home made a pump bag for the Down Mattress as well to make things easier when setting up camp.

Sadly when checking the sleeping bags, about a year after last seeing them I discovered that the synthetic insulation in my old Nanok bag had completely collapsed which means I need to order another one before the trip. Given that I have used it for about 12 years or so I should not be surprised but the suddenness was a bit of a wake up call.

I store my bags loosely packed into large boxes. Un-compressed but generally out of the way. I am very glad I checked them long before needing to pack them. ( The down bag is stored the same way and is fine.)

Glove Harness - Ice Raven - Sub Zero Adventure - Copyright Gary Waidson, All rights reserved.

Another item that I decided to tweak was my glove / mitten harness. I made it originally with a simple strap across the chest but decided along the way that I would prefer a release system for safety.

I replaced the braided strap with one that had a plastic quick release buckle but never liked the look and feel of the thing so I decided to replace it again with a Sam Brown stud system to release it if needed. A bit more “old school” which will sit well with the rest of my gear.

I have preordered all my food and fuel supplies for the trip for collection from a local supermarket 1300 miles away on the day of our arrival.

I'm able to do this on a Finnish website, even though the only word I know means "thank you", because Google Chrome translates the web pages almost seamlessly. I can check the ingredients aren't going to hospitalise me and add to the order any time up to the day I fly. My credit card gives me the best exchange rate with no foreign transaction charges and I do this all from the comfort of my own home.

This is the kind of future that the internet was made for.

Anyway, planning entered it’s final stages. Gear that had been scattered by two years of other use, had to be gathered back together and checked. The dates had all changed and this led to a split between part of the group that could only go for a week and a couple of us that could squeeze in an extra week earlier.

Pete and I, the advance party, set out to follow the original plan of working across two bivi areas to reduce our impact on the environment and the main party would join us at our second camp location.

To make things easier I decided to book an extra hold bag for the flights, making it three in total. This would make packing for light weight a little less critical and bringing some food supplies from the UK possible.

Raim had a set of 4 PMR radios available which we decided might be useful for getting in contact when the second party arrived and staying in touch at other times while we were there. On reflection I decided to get a compatible pair of my own which would be useful for Pete and I on the first few days before the others joined us.

I went for a waterproof set which were slightly bulkier but I thought their resistance to condensation and increased thermal mass might be  better suited to the Arctic conditions. They are also a nice bright colour which I prefer for critical equipment in that sort of  environment.

One thing that is always difficult to plan for is turns of health. Just three  weeks before departure, when I was fully booked with school work right up to the weekend before the trip, I started to get stabs of pain from a tooth which soon developed into the steady ache characteristic of a dental  abscess. I was able to get an emergency appointment at the weekend on the NHS but as the tooth was one that had been crowned and too little of the tooth remained above the gum it required a surgical extraction which needed to be done privately in the time scale available before the  trip. Although the fee hurt somewhat, it was slightly less painful than the tooth so it had to be done.

So now it was just the countdown to the first flights.



Part One


Sub Zero Crew - Bushcraft UK

Unless noted otherwise, all photography, artwork and content on this site is copyrighted. © Gary Waidson 2022 All rights reserved

The Ice Raven Project promotes sustainable and low impact bushcraft and wilderness skills in Arctic and winter conditions. This includes the use of  tents, tarps  and snow shelters where possible. Fires are only used where safe and where use and collection of firewood will not damage the natural environment. We often travel to locations by public transport and then use snowshoes, sleds, toboggans and pulks to transport our equipment into the wilderness.