Saturday, September 16, 2017

Lighting a fire in difficult conditions

During my trip with Odd we decided to try and get a real fire going, despite having brought cooking sets. Lighting a fire in the fjäll or mountains was an absolute new for me. The conditions in case up there were wet, windy and just below the treeline. It had been raining plenty in the previous period up until the day before and everything was really soaked.

Odd gathering juniper
We found a spot on the lee side of a small canyon or crevice and there were plenty of stunted trees and shrubs growing there. So we set out to find some material to get a fire going and keeping it that way. The first thing I always look for is birchbark. Preferably the one that is already peeling away as it tends to be drier already. I found a birch that had broken off and sure enough there was bark. So I took some pieces, scraped them clean from moist rotten wood on the inside and soaked lichen on the outside. Lichen literally was everywhere!! And it holds moisture like a sponge, so you want to get rid of it! Then the bark went into my thigh pockets, so that it could dry as I was looking for more.
Then we proceeded gathering firewood. There were mainly birch and juniper. Like I said there was lichen everywhere and especially the birch branches were covered in it. So I considered those to be less of an option, except for a few that had broken branches on them. Those were more exposed to the wind and felt less wet to the touch.
The juniper on the other hand had a lot of upright branches and quite a few of them were bare; no bark and no lichen. Still they felt a little damp, but I figured that they would dry rather fast and that the inside would be dry anyway. So we gathered a bunch of those in several sizes.

I then started preparing the wood to get a fire going. I started by stripping off the bark and anything feeling wet. Each branch and twig was then placed on a flat stone in the sun and wind to dry out as much as possible. This combination really did work! Temperatures were pretty nice and the constant wind dried the wood pretty fast on the outside.
I then proceeded making what is called feathersticks, meaning shaving strips of wood from the branch, s that each strip curls up. Making them thin enough to catch a flame is the goal. I was moderately successful at that, since many a shaving came off, but I managed to get a few with relatively decent curls. These too were placed on the rocks to further dry.
The next step was to split the smaller branches into halves or quarters, thus exposing the dry inside and let those dry as well. The final step was to take some of the bigger branches, break them into useable lengths and carve them up to, creating course "curls" so that they would dry a bit faster too.

If you find juniper, you can use them bark and the wood itself to create very fine curls, almost dust by scraping them with the blade of the knife or a stone at a 90 degree angle. When dry, as when using the insides you could ignite them with a firesteel. I however had forgotten mine at home, so I used this dust at the very heart of the fire to be.
I usually build a tipi-style of fire instead of a pagoda-style. Why? This way I think that the wood is exposed to the flames to maximal effect and when burning, the ashes and embers fall into a pile, creating a hot, glowing heart, which retains its heat better. Also the wood collapses onto the heart adding more heat and fuel at a concentrated spot. Others use different styles, but this has worked for me thus far.
I start by laying a "floor"; a layer of wood on a wet underground or on snow or, in this case, a sheet of dry bark on top of the soaked coal. By reusing that coal there will be more heat, once it dries out, reducing the need for additional wood. On top of that sheet comes the juniper"dust" which I had collected there in the first place. Then some strips of more birchbark, next a layer of thin strips of wood like the mentioned quarters, making sure air can pass through and between each layer and then some bigger pieces; the halves.
Now because I had forgotten my firesteel I used matches; one to be exact, carefully shielding the flame from the wind, keeping a close eye on the development of the fire. I had to assist by blowing on the glow a few times, when the flames died out, but in the end.......

There is one other issue I would like to address; in wet or damp conditions I do not like to put my pack on the ground. The reason might seem obvious; it gets wet that way. But there is another issue; when roaming about in unfamiliar territory or when focused on other things, like foraging or collecting wood, it is easy to lose track of where your base site is. What I prefer to do is to hang up my pack whenever possible. Keeps it dry and clean, but is also helps finding your base again!!
You can see how Odd's backpack blends very well, as it is supposed to (military origin) and when standing a bit further off you might just pass it by and not see it at all.
Even in a wooded area with a green/camouflaged pack, hanging it would make it far easier to spot it and thus find your way back.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hedmark, Norway 2017 - the way in...

Just a word of caution; the following posts are going to be full of large pictures.
Watch your bandwidth!! ;)

We had been planning this trip for a while and wanted to hike up Sölen, one of the heights in the area. This one has the highest peak I believe. Also some foxhunting was planned. The weather forecast was anything but good, so we had to keep that in mind and once again we would be staying at his parents cabin.
At around lunch I was finally ready to get going. At home everything had been taken care of and I drove, leaving behind 2 girls that were home with a cold and related symptoms. At least the dogs would now not be alone for an hour or 2. Driving down the road I had this nagging feeling that something was amiss.... I tread down the clutch pedal, shifted gear and knew what was wrong!! I had put on the wrong shoes! Dohhh...... Going on autopilot I had put on soft comfortable shoes. After this minor mishap had been corrected, there were one or two things I needed to do, before finally being able to make some headway. First a visit to the library to collect a rather substantial amount of books on which I had put a reservation. Had to be done by saturday..... Another one was some grocery shopping for "trail food". And then.... finally..... 5.5 hours of driving ahead of me... 👀
The trip was rather uneventful, apart from the occasional rainshower. That is until I had crossed the border and went down road 217..... which really went down! Gradients ranging between 8-12%. During one photo-stop I noticed a strange smell around the car..... The ticking sound of cooling brakes indicated what that smell was.

Snowy heights in the distance.
This is still Sweden.

No idea what peak this is.

The specks in the picture is not dirt on the lens........

At around 18:00 I arrived at Odd's parent's place and a warm dinner awaited me. It felt real good to replenish the energy with a proper meal, instead of bananas, apples, chocolate and bottled water. I didn't really take a break, except for a quick photoshoot or to perform a sanitary emergency landing.
After that we headed out and up to the cabin. Daylight was failing and the dark grey clouds did nothing to enhance that. Up in the cabin Odd lit a fire in the stove to get temperatures comfortable. Those were in the single digits and combined with the high humidity and wind, made things rather uncomfortable. Besides I wasn't feeling all too well myself. Guess the girls shared some of their "stuff" with me after all.
I took a stroll around the cabin, to let the cobwebs blow from my mind and hopefully clear up my airways a bit too. Cranking up the circulation after such a long drive was badly needed as well.
We spent the evening getting installed, chatting and having a beer. Sometimes the conversation would fall silent, both of us being rather tired. But that's quite ok. Better say nothing then say something unnecessary. During those lulls we just listened to the wind and rain, let our minds wander or, in my case, leafed through the pile of rather appropriate reading. But actually I had gotten these books with another purpose in mind; the pre-planning phase of another trip. Hopefully for next summer.
We discussed the options we had; the hike up Sölen, the foxhunt and the hopeless weather..... and how that might mess up the whole thing.....

That grey lump in the far distance was our initial goal.
Turned out that this was as clear as would ever see it.

A locally brewed beer and some of the homework Odd handed to me;
Fox skinning and hide tanning + maps of the target area.

Books revolving around a centre theme; Fjäll
Both containing dogsledding and military history.

Hedmark, Norway 2017 - Saturday, rainy saturday

I woke up at 07:00 to the patter of rain of the roof and the run off from the rain pipes. I had not really had a good night's sleep; broken by the need for a toilet visit (an outhouse) and bad dreams. Have those quite often lately. I still wasn't feeling really fit; blocked head and runny nose. Bit feverish too.
But the situation gave me a good reason to put on my beloved norwegian army pullover. Love that thing.
We had discussed a scenario like this and we decided that it would not be wise or fun to go out into the highlands in weather like this. It was not to get better before long into the afternoon. So instead we settled for a trip to Elverum and the forestry museum there. I had been there in 2001 and would like to see it again. I was quite impressed by it back then.
But before we headed out Odd made us a breakfast a man could live on; Norwegian bacon, norwegian home baked sourdough bread and Swedish homegrown eggs. And coffee of course.

The trip to Elverum was uneventful. Boring really. But the museum itself was quite nice. Of course much more hitech then 17 years ago, which I thought was a bit of a shame. It had lost a good deal of its charm. But is was nice to see their hallmarks still in place; 4 statues of moose, a cow, 2 calves and a bull still "running" in the front and a bunch of long pine trunks erect in front of the entrance.
There are many exhibits of forestry, both old and modern, woodworking, animals, fish, tools, guns... the works. Worth mentioning are the stuffed animal- and knifecollections! The stuffed animal can be touched and are very lifelike. They really give you a feel of their size and more then once I was impressed by the "tools" mother nature's creatures wield. We spent a few hours here and had a moose meat burger for belated lunch.

A forest workers' cabin. There was a backpack just like mine in the right corner!
Picture by Odd

The comparison to my dogs was easily made...
Picture by Odd

Now I know how big wolf prints can be.
Almost filling up the L between thumb and index finger!

No "chicken" to mess with either!
Picture by Odd

These nearby studies were really impressing....
and enlightening.
Picture by Odd

Picture by Odd

After the museum visit we needed to do some shopping. We were having whale meat for dinner and I wanted some for my family at home too. Plus I promised them some Norwegian chocolate too.
An equally uneventful drive back to the cabin saw us arriving there late in the afternoon. As odd started preparing dinner, I roamed around the cabin once more, breathing fresh mountain air. I also wanted to experience a little how bad weather like a mix of rain, wind and low temperatures felt in this kind of terrain. Well, I now know..... But still, despite the dark, gloomy and saddening weather the colours were still amazing!! And the landscape remained impressive, probably even more so due to the weather.

The whale meat dinner was very tasty, as I remembered from the previous year and we both ate too much.
That night we sat and discussed our further plans and how to adapt. It looked like there might be a window of reasonably fair weather for sunday morning and early afternoon, but then the weather once again would turn bad. Did we want to risk it? A drive to Sölen would cost us about 1.5 hrs still, the hike up to 10 hrs if we wanted to go to the top.... if it even would be cloud free, which was highly questionable. And personally I did not feel up to it. Simply felt not strong enough.
Maybe hike up the high grounds around the cabin and bring the rifle for some foxhunting? That sounded just right to me. Later that night Odd tried some of his fox calls with not entirely satisfying results. A hike up to the location he wanted to show me meant crossing the county borders... meaning his permits would no longer be valid. Not wanting to take any chances (chances of getting caught are very slim, but if you get caught you're in serious trouble), we decided to abandon the hunt-option and just go for the hike. That decision would turn out to be the correct one.......

Hedmark, Norway 2017 - weather 'n' heights

Sunday saw me start with an early rise again, but this time there was a difference. There was silence. No wind, no rain and nothing stirred. The light was quite different too. So I got up quietly, fired up the stove, put on my anorak and grabbed the camera. I was out before sunrise and I wandered, taking pictures and looking at the world around me until the sun rose.... and then took some more pictures and looked some more. There was so much to see!! The sun felt warm on my face... well warmer, since the morning chill, combined with the moisture, made my fingers numb. I continued operating the camera with thin knitted finger gloves on. The skies continued breaking up, the sun claiming more and more terrain, but Sølen was covered in clouds and what looked like rain.

That dim grey shape in the distance is Sölen

That's the cabin..
After breakfast, an equally fulfilling one as yesterday, we packed up our gear and headed out. As I said the rifle stayed behind. This time we drove a little bit just to reduce time lost hiking alongside the road, before venturing off into the "wild".
What can I say? The landscape was phenomenal, the colours almost overwhelming and weather as good as we could wish for; cool, dry, sunny spells, with a slight breeze. There was so much (very) clean and (very) fresh water around that we not not have bothered filling our canteens and bringing them. But I guess we can put that down to habit.
We did not see any animals except from a number of ducks and small birds, but we came across reindeer- and moosetracks and droppings.
Our first goal was a cabin nearby some smaller lakes. A lovely place, but I did not envy the owners if they were planning on a longer stay here. Everything had to be hauled out here.

An old boathouse

A sip of real mountain dew!!
Picture by Odd
Odd wanted me to show a gorge in the area, before hiking on beyond it, over the flats toward higher ground. That gorge was really something else. On the top it was barren save for the abundant mosses and lichen, where especially the white moss felt like walking over soapy sponges, but in the wind shadow/lee side (?) a small forest grew. Here we decided to take a break and we wanted to see if we could get a fire going. Everything was soaked because of all the rain, so there was a challenge. We did bring back up, just in case....
We set out to explore the area, looking for dead standing wood and Odd collected some crowberries in the process. These were all around and he found some juniper too. Along we way we came across some lingon and blueberries as well. After we had gathered some materials I started preparing the things we found to light a fire and Odd scoured around some more.
We found some previous fire sites, but they were kind of hard to miss. A pile of rocks, charcoal and charred logs strewn all over the place and we found one birch, where some idiot had been hacking into it with what looked like some kind of very big knife; a dozen or so cuts in a row.....
Lunch consisted of woodscoffee, a present from a fellow Dalarna bushcrafter, and chocolate covered oat cookies. Strangely enough neither of us were really hungry.

Picture by Odd

Picture by Odd

After lunch we doused the fire properly and Odd refilled the canteens with water from the nearby lake. There would be no water where we were going next. The next goal was another gorge or crevice on the other side of the height we were facing with some steep drops. So off we went. I must say that I was glad I had brought those walking staves, since this way I could keep my balance much more on this very uneven ground with a backpack on my back. I had strapped a tarpaulin onto the side of the pack since that was where 2 attachment points were located, but I now transferred that tarp into the backpack. The centre of gravity had been too low and the tarp kept bumping into my butt in the most annoying way. The pack immediately rode much better!!
We hiked up the height, but up here there was much more wind. We buttoned up our coats a bit more. By the time we had reached the other side the wind had picked up even more and it was quickly becoming quite chilly. Now even the finger gloves came out! But the landscape was just awe inspiring.... Big skies and big lands...... Up here I tried to erect the Norwegian shelter, but failed. I could not make heads nor tails from the design. It is rhomboid and I could not get straight edges and a heightened center, so we could sit there in case of an emergency. I need to work on that one! We lingered a while longer until we had seen enough, if ever one can do that, but also because in the distance trouble was brewing. If I had learned one thing it was that you do not want to get caught in bad weather out here! You are just too exposed!

A fumbling moron
picture by Odd

That looks like an area with very humid air coming our way!
Picture by Odd

We packed up and turned around, regularly casting a watchful eye over our shoulders. The wind had picked up some more, dropped a few degrees in temperature and the skies were getting darker and darker, clouds rushing overhead as the wind swept them past us.
We did stop occasionally to spot for any form of wildlife, reindeer mostly, but none were seen. We found the trail again at the gorge and followed that one back via the cabin down to the road. The patch leading to the road was the worst part of the hike; boulders and rocks jumbled over one another and the entire path was murder on feet, ankles and legs in general. Very uneven ground. The untrodden and moss covered heights were much more easy on the legs and feet, despite the shrubs and mini birch growing there.
With the car in sight the first drops had started to come down and by the time we sat in the car the skies opened up........

With strong and cold gales in the neck, the hood came up regularly!
Picture by Odd

Picture by Odd

After that the weather just became worse and we were glad to be spending the evening in the warm cosiness of the cabin.
Odd had planned yet another culinary surprise; rakfisk. That is fermented fish...... but not as bad as the infamous Swedish surströmming! I must admit that I was sceptical and when I smelled the fish it indeed was no way near as bad, but still had a smell that would make me chuck the fish right in the bin if I were home. But when one eats it with some raw leeks, mashed potatoes and butter, wrapped in potato pancakes with a dash of sour cream it taste quite good!!
We did not linger to long that night. That much fresh air, exercise, food and a can of beer makes a man sleepy. There would be an early rise the day after and a long drive home again and I was anxious to get home as early as possible, since the dogs would be home alone from the early morning until my arrival.
We packed up as much as possible, went to bed early, rose early, cleaned everything up and left. I dropped Odd of at his parents place, said goodbye and drove off. Here the phone gps played some nasty tricks on me, sending me circling through the village, making me end up before a closed railway crossing. Another lesson learned; prepare your route and NOT rely on technology solely. I have to admit that I did not keep to speed limits all that much, regarding them more as a guideline instead of a rule and 5hrs. 10 minutes later I was home.......