Monthly Archives: November 2012

A baptism of fire (and ice)

Dog sleds crossing sign, Hetta

I arrive after dark, dragging my suitcase through the thick snow. But I’m barely through the door when I’m handed a pair of work boots and dispatched down to the farm.

“Do you want to get thrown in the deep end?” asks Anna, my host, but it’s not really a question. “Get your jacket on, go down the hill and follow the snowmobile tracks to a gate.”

The instructions turn out to be unnecessary – I follow the sound of barking which starts off loud and grows to a wall of noise and fury by the time I reach the kennels.

Three figures are running back and forth up the lines of dogs, pulling more from cages and running circles and harnessing them to three sleds tied to posts along a track running up the centre of the yard. The noise is incredible; I can barely hear to introduce myself to the others, but they are too harried to talk much anyway. Not knowing how to help, I hover on the sidelines and rub the forehead of one of the quietest dogs.

Ice crystals are hanging in the air, glinting in the glare of the floodlights.  The dogs are mewling, almost hysterical in excitement, throwing themselves forward and straining against the holding ropes in their desperation to be off and running.

“Get in!” someone instructs me, and obediently I hop down onto a sled full of snow, immediately soaking the jeans I’ve been wearing since I got on the tube in Kentish Town the previous morning.

A command rings out and with a jerk we are off into the dark, through the snow-tipped pine, with only a head torch for light.

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From London to Lapland

Location of Hetta, image via http://www.hettahuskies.com

Tonight I fly from London to Helsinki, the first leg in my journey to Enontekiö in the north-west corner of Finland, 300km inside the Arctic Circle.

But I’ve been preparing for this journey for a while. My weighty suitcase holds:

  • one down-filled Rab Neutrino jacket (800 fill, second hand)
  • one Primaloft inner jacket
  • four fleeces (one heavy, two mid-weight, one base layer)
  • three pairs fleece trousers (two leggings, one normal cut… i.e. I might not be too embarrassed to wear around the house)
  • 6+ base layer tops
  • 5+ thermal tights
  • four pairs salopettes (two of which are waterproof)
  • two polar buffs, one normal buff
  • one pair heavy-duty outdoor gloves, one pair waterproof mittens
  • one pair Polartech thermal liner gloves
  • 5+ pairs magic gloves
  • first aid kit
  • one under-helmet balaclava
  • one ‘Petzl tikka’ headlamp
  • two carabiner
  • one climbing knife
  • one pair fur-lined ‘mucker’ boots
  • two hats (one waterproof, one fleecy)
  • fleece sleeping bag liner
  • several pairs Merino wool four-season socks
  • camera kit, laptop
  • misc personal items, including a bottle of vodka and three Christmas puddings

Needless to stay I’ll be up all night guarding all this kit before the next leg of my journey (Helsinki to Kittilä) tomorrow morning – not least the Merino wool socks, which cost an extortionate £21 per pair. I’ll review all my kit in a couple of months, which may be useful for anyone planning a similar purchase.

On the bright side, I’ve been doing my research: Helsinki Vantaa is one of the most comfortable airports in the world to sleep in.

I’ll fly out too early to make use of Finnair’s four (4) saunas, but free wifi will be very handy for following the US elections as the results come in.

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