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This guest blog is from regular Large Outdoors Leader Alex...
The joy of snowshoeing is similar to the experience of the pond-skater, using the surface tension of the water to keep itself afloat. You, used to sinking through soft snow and feeling it push ever further into your boots, are able to tread over the surface. In a way it doesn’t really need a special name, it is in the end just walking with some attachments to your boots. Show shoes, thought of as ‘tennis rackets’ by most, come in all shapes and sizes, useful for everything from ascending a steep mountainside to wading through slush over a melting marsh. They all do the same thing though, allow you to explore snowy wilds where simple boots would leave you far behind.
Four of us gathered for the two day hike from Näkkälä to Hetta, two towns in northern Finland. Here is it January, the middle of winter, and the sun has only just returned to the sky after a month of absence. The landscape is coated with snow and the trees are cast in a permanent black and white twilight. The lakes and marshes are frozen and we plan to follow compacted snowmobile tracks for 30km south. These snowmobile tracks are easy to walk on compared to the surrounding terrain – where even with snowshoes we sink in deep and have to wade to get back to the track. The way is easy to follow as there are regular signs, and this easy route gives us time to look around at the wilderness.
One of the things which makes walking the simplest and best means of transport is that at any time you can just stand still and listen to the landscape around you. In Lapland at this time of year the pervading sound is silence. Absolute silence. Streams are frozen and the wind is still. Now and again a bird may be heard, perhaps the hardy Siberian Jay, or a clump of snow falling from a tree to the ground; but even that is muffled. The only other sounds are the ones you make, breathing hard as you walk on, or the scrape-flump of the snow shoes on the ground.
After half a day’s easy hike we come to the hut we’ll spend the night in. These huts, maintained by the Finnish Forestry Service, dot the land, and can be used by anyone for free. They have a regular stock of firewood and a sleeping platform and once the fire is roaring they can get extremely warm. By this point the light was fading and we settled in for an easy late afternoon chopping firewood, reading and sleeping. Now and again you would have to go outside to get firewood and there was the snow and the silence, and the birch trees covered in frost.
On our second day the clouds lifted moderately and we had some pink dawn lights as we began our walk. After a few months here you stop feeling odd about planning a route that goes over several lakes – still blue on the map – but by this point they are mostly solid. I have previously used snowshoes on glaciers in Svalbard, using snow shoes designed more for mountaineering, so I guess I’m used to the feeling of realising all that you’re walking and living on is just frozen water.
There is nothing quite the same to get you out of a hectic life than to go for a walk in a snow covered landscape and to see nature suspended. One of the best ways to do this is by using snow shoes, where you are at a walking pace and perhaps – like me – find skis untrustworthy. Using the shoes, which are strapped onto the bottom of your normal walking boots, is a simple learning process and once you have learnt not to trip over your now massive feet it will feel the same as walking. Then you can release the pond-skipper inside you and go for a proper wander in the frozen wild.
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