- -45c is MUCH colder than -28c
When the water pipes inside a house in northern Finland freeze, you know shit’s going down. In 2023 I experienced my coldest-ever temperature (-28c) crossing the frozen Kilpijärvi lake for four hours as we snowshoed in the pitch black towards the warmth of our overnight hut.
But this year was off the Richter. Even the people who live in the town year-round were commenting about how cold it had been for five days: “I know of a young girl who died when her lungs froze”, “if you stop moving your toes inside your boots you’ll get frostbite within minutes”
It was enough to fill our crew with the fear of God. Luckily the next day was only -39c, and it touched 0c four days later. Whack, wild and wonderful weather.
- The Northern Lights don’t tell you they’re playing in the skies
For four days the cloud cover had masked our view of the heavens restricting any chance of seeing the best Aurora Borealis display in nearly seven years. It was although our valiant efforts towing sleds across the tundra would go entirely unrewarded in 2024.
But as we left the warmth of the restaurant with just one day to go on our expedition, one of the team shouted out “LOOK – is that the lights!?”
Sure, enough on the horizon to the north, there they were – streaking and shimmering across the panorama of the heavens, like the fingertips of magical sprites painting patterns on the ionosphere that surrounds our planet, protecting it from solar winds.
There was no sound, no warning, no notification from my phone app – it was just there, happening all around. For four hours I sat outside my hut, watching and marvelling at the skies above.
- Salty liquorice can taste good
At the end of a tough day pulling sleds across the frozen tundra, 450kms above the Arctic Circle, the process of life comfort is simple:
- Securely pack sleds, snowshoes and poles alongside hut
- Light fire
- Change from damp cold clothes into dry cold clothes
- Boil snow to rehydrate your evening meal
- Relax and talk shit with your fellow adventurers
This year however was different. Our Finnish hosts, Minttu and Joona decided to introduce a different local delicacy each night to showcase the best their beautiful country has to offer. One night Minttu (the person) served Minttu (the minty alcohol) Hot Chocolate, another night smoked reindeer meat, and then Koskenkorva Salmiakki – or Salty Liquorice alcohol.
Liquorice is normal something I give a wide berth to; a sweet with its roots firmly in the 1800s from a time before taste came into it and kids would eat whatever sugary tasting thing they could find.
But this little shot of goodness was super yummy. Maybe it was the fatigue or the lack of a decent alternative, but it hit the spot, gave a slight headrush and left me wanting more.
- Ice baths in Finland are much colder than inflatable Australian versions.
Our social media feeds are full of them – ‘brave’ individuals jumping into an ice bath with the outside ambient temperature around 20-25c.
Seriously?? There’s nothing difficult about this at all
If you want to enjoy the full effects of an ice-bath immersion session and are really brave, you need to try it somewhere colder, where mind control and practised breathing really come into their own.
The famed Ice Master himself, Win Hof, has been preaching the virtues of controlled breathing, mental focus and extended iced water immersion sessions where the differential between ‘in’ and ‘out’ is no more than 10c, for several years.
It’s not about simply surviving 3 minutes of discomfort, it’s about controlling and preparing the shock reflex of the body to acclimatise to the external environment before entering the frigid conditions of the ice bath.
This leads me nicely to the next point…
- Extended ice bath immersions are just a matter of breathing
In previous Extreme Dreams: Arctic expeditions, when it came to the ice lake immersions, I did the same as everyone else. Raced down the frozen jetty in sub-zero conditions, jumped into the ice hole for a quick dip and escaped into the sauna as quickly as I could to thaw out before preparing to do it all over again.
This year was different. I set myself the mental challenge of staying under the water for as long as I could. It wasn’t about beating any records, but more about beating my thoughts and the fear of not being able to do it for long.
I researched and practised the same Wim Hof breathing techniques I used while freediving on Lady Elliot filming manta rays – slow, steady, full-bellied inhales and exhales. It allows me to calm my mind, prepare for the sharp inhale and stay in the ice hole for over 90 seconds longer than the previous record. But it wasn’t about the record.
- Repeated exposure to cold kills nerve endings
I’ve been exposing myself to high-altitude, sub-zero conditions for nearly a decade and my poor fingers take a battering every time I’m there. The combination of Raynaud’s Phenomenon and poor circulation has meant that within a couple of days of arriving in Norway, I lost feeling in the tops of my middle and index fingers. It’s the pre-cursor to frostbite but I’ve not lost anything quite yet.
The feeling eventually comes back after a couple of weeks in the Australian heat, followed by the gradual peeling of my fingertips, leaving sensitive reddened skin. One of the joys of living an adventurous life in wild environments.
- Dog sledding is STILL my favourite means of transport
There’s no easy day on the dogs when it comes to a Best Life Adventure. I see other adventure companies taking clients on trails following snowmobile tracks with pre-hardened snow where you just hold on and let the dogs do the work.
But that’s not us. You need to work hard to get the ecstatic feeling of racing through a snow-clad pine forest hanging onto your dogsled for dear life.
First, you must help the dogs climb the mountain ranges, aiding their progress with long-reaching strides as you hold the sled with white knuckles for fear of falling off.
As you do so V02 levels peak, sweat pours from your brow, and soaks your frozen clothes, instantly turning from steam to icy crystals caught on the clothing around your face.
And then you hit the crest, jump back on with both legs and let the speed build – the dogs transforming from powerful workhorses to leaping gazelles. Eyes stream from the cold air, your legs bend to soak up the terrain and you are 100% racing.
It’s a feeling you only know when you’ve experienced it first-hand. Life as a part-time dog musher is seriously mad.
- Better gear = a more enjoyable experience
Whether the ambient temperature is -10c or -40c, when the wind kicks in, the Arctic becomes a hostile terrain. My saving grace for the last few years has been excellent quality clothing.
I ‘made do’ with a Mountain Designs Pro-Elite jacket for a couple of years, but the cold wind cut through the thin Gore-Tex outer, and I relied on multiple base layers to make up for its inadequate design. My under-fattened body is more akin to trail running in the heat of Australia really struggled to stay warm, and warmth = comfort = happiness.
Two years ago I invested in an Arcyterx Alpha SV Shell, Arcyterx mid-layer and Arcyterx down jacket. I have never felt cold to the core since. Real gear, for really tough conditions. Do yourself a favour and invest.
- Hand warmers are not for pussies.
While the top-quality Arcyterx gear protects my core, my extremities always suffer. I’ve tried different inner gloves and socks, super thick gloves and mittens but have not yet managed to stop the onset of frostbite when the cold bites.
Cracking open a pack of charcoal-activated hand and feet warmers is the only solution. 8 hours of residual warmth only 15 minutes after opening the packet. Game-changing x 2.
- There are 40 different words for snow in Finland
Growing up in the UK I was just happy to see any type of snow over the winter. There were to types – the type that melted on impact with the ground, and the type that stayed. Everyone wanted the latter.
In Finland, there are plenty more describing every type from ice crystals to the type that floats on water, to the very fresh powdery snow, to a hole in the ice.
For a southern hemisphere heat-lover, this makes for a fascinating read – https://en.biginfinland.com/40-words-snow-finnish/
Every January, Best Life Adventures takes 12 hardy adventurers to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, deep inside the Arctic Circle in the far north of Finland and Norway. If you think you’ve got what it takes to join us, bookings are now open for our 4-11 January 2025 expedition. Come and join us – https://bestlifeadventures.com/product/tri-nation-arctic-challenge/