Dear Supporters/Industry Friends,
On the 31st March 2022, myself and several other explorers from the electrical industry, set out on our adventure to the Arctic Circle to undertake the ‘Challenge for a Cause’ on behalf of the Electrical Industries Charity.
Most of my fellow explorers had not met each other before in person until we all arrived at Heathrow on the day. A true cross-section of the industry were represented with the youngest explorer being 26 years old, and the senior (yours truly) soon to be 65 years old!
In a matter of minutes after meeting, we all quickly became a team; recognising we were in this together, and that all essential camaraderie soon became evident with some jolly early morning banter – albeit, I believe, tinged with an equal measure of apprehension and excitement of the reality of what we had all signed up for!
Following our early morning flight to Helsinki and a rapid scramble to catch our connecting flight – we finally arrived in Rovanniemi, Finland. We continued our journey north with a 3 hour minibus transfer, finally reaching our Kussamo base camp destination at nightfall, deep in the Finnish wilderness.
After a welcome briefing from Heidi (our Finnish Adventure Leader), it was a late evening meal of reindeer stew, allocating everyone sleeping bunks, and lights out with only our thoughts of the challenges we would be undertaking in the days ahead.
With an average daytime temperature of -10c and dropping to as much as -20c at night; keeping warm over the next 4 days was certainly on everyone’s mind that evening.
Following breakfast, it was into our snow gear and out for a training session on attempting to master cross country skiing. For anyone who skis then any comparison to ‘normal’ skiing is soon out the window! Cross country skiing is a skill all on its own – the best way I could possibly describe it is skating using ultra-thin skis, but with only your toes fixed into the skis!
After a morning of mainly aiming to all stay upright and on our feet – we set off on our cross country ski. Following a pretty hard workout, we managed to make it through the cross country ski route, whilst taking in some of the most stunning scenery the Finnish wilderness has to offer.
Upon our successful return to base camp, it was a quick lunch break and for the next 4+ hours we commenced the build of our two quinzhees (a similar shelter to an igloo!). The challenge was to create a huge mound of snow in the shape of an egg around 3 metres high, 6 metres long and 5 metres wide. This was created by hand shovelling multiple tonnes of snow, and then at regular intervals compacting the emerging quinzhee as it starts to take shape. Without question; this proved to be an proper workout for us all!
After completion, the quinzhees were left to freeze overnight, and we would then return the next day to complete the next stage of excavating and hollowing out our planned ‘sleeping quarters’ for that same evening!
After some much needed sleep, our next days activity commenced with a trek on our cross country skis to a vast frozen lake where we would be undertaking our ice fishing challenge. This involved individually drilling holes through the ice covered lake we were out on, to gain access to the icy water underneath. Armed with our mini fishing rods and stools, we proceeded to do our best to catch a fish, unfortunately without any success. Remaining still for 3 hours on a frozen lake was certainly the coldest time and therefore make no mistake – moving around to keep the blood circulating is a must in these extreme cold weather conditions!
After returning to base camp for a quick lunch (yes, reindeer was on the menu again!), we were off to master the challenge of snow shoe trekking. Breaking out across a fresh trek route, with snow waist deep in places, the snow shoes definitely stopped us sinking into deep snow without question. Armed with maps and compasses; we were tasked to navigate a trek of approximately 20km, taking in yet more absolutely stunning arctic wilderness scenery, breaking for a picnic lunch and eventually making our way back to our base camp to complete our quinzhee build!
Our quinzhee shelters were now fully frozen from forming the mounds the previous afternoon; this meant we could set about the excavation and hollowing out the structures. Before we commenced, we had to drive in a series of wooden sticks approximately 18” in length across the whole exterior of the quinzhee shelter. These sticks provide a visual indicator/gauge of the roof/wall thickness. When excavating and hollowing out your quinzhee, as soon as you see the stick – stop digging! Simple but clever.
The excavation saw us hand digging and shovelling over the next 4+ hours, which proved to be a truly mega workout for us all. Our two quinzhees – one for the guys and one for the girls – were ready for us to occupy that evening for the big sleep out!
At 10pm armed with our head torches, sleeping bags and groundsheets – we all headed out to our icy sleeping quarters. Noting an outside temperature of -15c, we all clambered into the two quinzhee snow shelters we had built over the past 24 hours.
Our adventure leader Heidi provided each quinzhee with a candle in a glass sleeve. We were told this was our ‘safety warning device’.
As long as the candle flame burned we would all be fine – but if the candle goes out, that signals a drop in oxygen and we must then evacuate our quinzhee shelter ASAP – that cheered us all up no end. As you can guess, we subsequently all took it in turns to keep an eye on that burning candle throughout the night!!
After spending a very cold night within our self-built quinzhees, at 6am the following morning – common sense told us all we had successfully completed this challenge and rapidly started making our way back to our base camp!
Over the remaining two days, more challenges followed; including building a fire with no matches or fire lighters – just a good old fashioned fire stick!
This was followed by heading to a dog sledging centre, where we all undertook driving a very excitable five-dog-husky-sleigh team through a picture postcard winter wonderland forest of which we all survived, albeit with a few close calls and the occasional tree collision along the route, but pleased to report we all returned in one piece!
Slowing things down as we came towards the end of our Arctic Challenge, we also took in a visit to a reindeer farm, driving a reindeer pulled sleigh – and yes; yet another reindeer burger for lunch!
With all our challenges now successfully completed, it was then back to our base camp for our farewell dinner before shipping out the next day for our long journey back to the UK and some warmer weather!
When I now reflect on my recent 5 days spent in the Finnish wilderness (together with my eight industry colleagues who also took up this challenge to raise some much needed funds for the EIC), this overall unforgettable experience is now something I am indeed very proud to have undertaken, and of which I will look back on with some wonderful memories for years to come.
As I bring this blog to a close, I would particularly like to thank all of my sponsors who very kindly supported myself, the EIC and my fellow explorers, helping us to collectively raise circa £25k for the EIC through our recently completed ‘Challenge for a Cause’ Arctic Adventure 2022!
THANK YOU ALL!!!