That’s great underwear you’re wearing, we are told by our guide. We are dressed in our winter wonderland clothing. Five layers on top including thermals, fleece, down jackets, three pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, fur lined boots along with scarf, neck warmers, beanies and dual layer gloves. Apparently this is not enough. As our guide says, this is just underwear.
We are handed another two pairs of woolen socks, alternative snow boots to wear, an all in one jump suit to put over the top of all of the above, followed by balaclavas, face warmers, spare beanies if we want and also spare woolen knit tops. A helmet is squashed on my head, my hands shoved into leather wool lined mittens. Now I am ready to venture outside. Are they serious? I am in a sweat. This is overkill for sure.
Walking outside towards our snow mobiles, I am getting hotter by the minute. This is ridiculous. Today’s temperature is said to be -23C, however on our snow mobiles, the wind chill factor is up to -50C. Guess this gear is all necessary then.
We are shown to our snow mobiles and given an overview as to how to drive them and then we are off. Sitting on our red snow Ferraris, we zip across the frozen river. Freezing at a rate of 200m every two days, the steam in the distance rises off the waters still not solid ice yet.
The river is wide and flat, we are the only ones out there on the ice covered in a blanket of snow. The landscape is spectacular. As we scoot along, we veer into the pine forest. The scenery is stunning. Lean pines are weighed down in snow, their bows bending with the weight, smaller pines almost fully submerged in the soft powder.
We wind and zig-zag, through tunnels, across frozen lakes and waterways, weaving through this Disney like scenery. Bare trees that are nothing but twigs are encrusted in inches of snow creating a forest of white fortified looking coral.
The wind chill starts to kick in. My toes are frozen. I can barely feel them. They are going number by the second, as are my fingers. There is not much I can do. The wind whips my cheeks like someone is lashing them with barbed wire. When I blink, my eyelashes crunch and I can feel that they have adapted a new look of snow mascara. My lashes are completely frozen. This is nothing though compared to the man in our groups mustache ‘Stalagmites’ his daughters refers to it as.
Picking up speed, the scenery continues to amaze. It’s a shame it’s too cold to have a camera out to snap pictures of the beautiful nature and the Go Pro has frozen from the cold and won’t even switch on.
Following in a single file, we reach our destination 30km deep into the forest. An opening greets us on the side of a frozen lake with two tepees made from hide. Whilst we all go for a run to get our frozen blood circulating again, our guide cranks a fire for us to defrost by. Sitting on reindeer pelts, we almost have our hands in the flames to try and get some of heat back into our lifeless fingers.
As lunch is thrown onto the fire, (we are told it will take some time to cook as it has also frozen along the way), we head onto the lake for some ice fishing. Our guide demonstrates by drilling a small hole. Once he has penetrated the thick ice, freezing water gushes forth. It’s time to throw a line in!
Within seconds of the hole being created, it already begins to freeze over again. Showing how tough he is, our guide plunges his hand into the water and splashes the arctic waters onto his face. Brrr.
He threads some bait on this tiny fishing rod. To be honest it looks completely ridiculous and smaller than a child’s toy fishing rod. There is no way this little flimsy thing could catch anything. The bait he uses is florescent as it is dark under the ice and the fish can see the vibrant colours.
He drops the line in and releases some tension. I almost laugh at this fully grown man sitting on the ice with this tiny rod. Less than a minute later, he’s had a bite and has snagged a fish.
Winding it in is a process in itself. The hooks are so tiny, that you have to be so gentle when reeling in the line. Keeping in mind that the fish also needs to be vertical when it reaches the surface so you can squeeze him through the hole in the ice, otherwise the line will break. The diameter of the hole in the ice would only be 10cm or so.
Speaking of the line, our guide has been winding for about five minutes now and the line has half a centimetre of thick ice forming on it and he is winding in using bare hands.
Finally the fish reaches the surface and low and behold it is correctly positioned and comes out of the hole vertically and hits the ice with a flop. A beautiful large rainbow trout is lying before us. Its reflective pink and green colours stunningly vivid on its silver skin, our mouths all begin to water at the prospect of what we could catch in these frozen waters.
As our guide takes the fish to fillet and smoke on the fire, the group take turns drilling holes and attempting to secure their own prized fish. No-one has any luck. It seems the guide is the only one with the midas touch today. We decide it’s snow angel time instead.
Snow shoeing was another option we could have done on the frozen lake, but with daylight disappearing fast and everyone chilled to the bone from kneeling on ice for an hour trying to fish, we all decide to huddle around the fire taking in the beautiful scenery as the wafting aromas fill our frozen noses.
Our guide heads off into the pine forest with two empty jugs and returns moments later with them filled with water from a fresh nearby spring. Deliciously refreshing. As our Lappish sausages sizzle away slowly, soon enough it is time to dig into our meat and potato mixture, washed down with hot Lingonberry juice. Then it is time to taste the catch of the day. Our Rainbow Trout. Smoked perfectly over the fire, we each taste the freshest fish that any of us will probably ever eat in our lives. Strong in flavour and bursting with smoky goodness, we fill our bellies by the warmth of the fire as the sun disappears by 3pm. It is now complete darkness.
As we snow mobile back in the dark, the headlights illuminate the shadows of the snow bent trees. Everything is crisp, white, silent apart from the hum of the snow mobiles and eerily beautiful. The sky looks like it is dancing with glitter as the snow gently falls.
The powder on the ground glistens like diamonds. Everything is sparkling in this sharp cold air. I gaze towards the sky. This would be the perfect moment for the northern lights to dance before us. There is a heavy cloud cover. There will be no northern lights tonight. Perhaps tomorrow?
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.