This post was last updated on August 12th, 2014
“The Wilderness holds more answers to questions than we have yet learned to ask.” Nancy Wynne Newhall
I never used to be much of a ‘wilderness’ girl. Growing up I had a tent for a bit, but I would set it up in our playroom and sleep in it indoors. My first ‘real’ camping experience wasn’t until high school when Dan insisted we try it. (He’s an Eagle Scout with lots of experience in nature.)
That first time camping together was fun. There were smores, after all. But I also remember it being freezing and having to trek out into the woods for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. Eh.
Since then we’ve gone camping and backpacking too many times to count, and each time the activity has started to grow on me more and more. But none of these trips prepared me for what it would be like to venture into Sweden’s Arctic Lapland.
This was truly an adventure into what can only be described as the wild. And it was absolutely spectacular.
An Arctic Adventure in Swedish Lapland—
Our venture into the wilderness began when Mikael, the owner of Aurora Retreat, stopped on the side of the road in The Middle of Nowhere, Lapland.
“From here, you ski,” Mikael grinned at us. “The lodge is only accessible via foot or snowmobile.”
Our group consisted of Dan and I, three lovely new friends from the UK, and Leif, our wilderness guide. Eager to take on the unknown, we strapped on our traditional wooden skis and got ready to cover the short distance to our cabin.
The day before we had had our first encounter with the traditional wooden skis. Awkwardly long and coated with resin on the bottom, they felt surprisingly different from the downhill style we had used before. Of course, the novelty of the skis was also half the fun. We started out on flat terrains, traversing through the forest and getting a feel for the way we should slide the skis back and forth while working the poles for support. Cross-country skiing is certainly a great workout—even when you are as novice or slow going as we are, you still feel that burn in your thighs and arms.
As we began our trek to the cabin, we naturally fell in line, one behind the other. We didn’t talk much in the beginning—there was too much beauty to occupy our attention. Miles of pristine snow surrounded us on all sides. Our ski marks formed the only indentation in the blank white canvas, save for the clear animal tracks that prove life does thrive in the arctic forest. The complete and total silence was striking; the only sound the slight swooshing of our skis over the crunchy snow. And each deep breath we took proved more invigorating than the last, its refreshing coolness fighting off any last bit of slumber in our bodies.
If I had to create the perfect nature guide out of the musings of my own imagination (and probably more likely from what cinema has taught me), I’m quite confident that the result would be Leif himself. Everything about him says wilderness, from his winter bibbers to his beard to his quiet and calm demeanor. When he pauses to teach us about the animal tracks or plant life we stumble upon, it is with careful consideration. His voice is deep and serious, but with a spark of humor to it. You can tell when he is about to say something funny or sarcastic from the sparkle in his eye. Leif also has a penchant for cake, able to pull it out from nowhere at the most perfect of times. From the get-go we knew we could trust him with our lives. And when you’re in the backwoods of the Arctic Circle, that’s a very good thing.
After a few hours, a few hills, and only a fall here or there, we arrived at the wilderness cabin. It was so much more than we had hoped for. Perched upon the banks of a frozen river, the camp has commanding views of the surrounding forest and winter landscape. There might not be any electricity or running water, but there is a cozy common room, private sleeping nooks, and a traditional sauna- a necessity for any Lappish home.
In the afternoon we split up to leisurely pursue the activities of our choosing. Jonny, Colin and Anwen opted for another ski, while Dan and I happily dozed in front of the fire. Normally during any down time you would find us glued to our computers, catching up on whatever blogging tasks we are behind on at any given moment. But of course that’s not an option on our wilderness adventure. And we certainly weren’t complaining about having to disconnect.
Before the sun went down we tried our hand at chopping firewood for our personal furnaces. The task quickly became a competition of ‘who can most accurately split the wood in half’. The end result was a surplus of wood, not all of it well proportioned, and a lot of laughter. We also made the quick walk to the river to collect a few buckets of water for our sauna later that evening. While they might sound like burdens, we quickly took to these small chores, enjoying the simplicity in the tasks. And when we returned to warm cabins later that evening, with awareness of the source of the heat and what it took to create it, we appreciated the warmth like never before.
For no electricity we ate surprisingly well in the wilderness; Mikael and his wife, Maya, are fabulous chefs. The food is primarily local produce and vegetarian based, a difficult task when you live in one of the harshest environments on the planet, and most of it is pre-prepared for our convenience. We began our first night with a bit of champagne, to ‘Cheers’ the first successful day of our wilderness outing. In the middle of our chatting, a surprise visitor showed up. It was Mikael, of course. He passed around handcrafted wooden cups, enquiring as to if we would like coffee or tea. We were required to choose one- he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. And it’s a good thing he didn’t. Before we could realize what Mikael was up to, a familiar ‘pop’ rang out in the air. It wasn’t a hot beverage after all, but more celebratory champagne. Mikael remembered it was Dan’s 25th birthday, and he had brought a sweet surprise to top off an already amazing day.
The rest of the bubbly finished, we decided it was time to look for the Northern Lights. We walked down to the river and took our places on a natural ‘snow couch’. We sat on reindeer skins, holding warm cups of hot chocolate in our hands, awaiting what we hoped would be another magical display. Thousands of stars glistened above us, but after 30 minutes of waiting, still no sign of the lights. Nearly frozen to the core we stood up to leave, knowing we had two more nights in the wild to try to see them. But then, as if on cue, the first haze began. The Aurora made its appearance, slowly filling the blackness around us.
When the lights finished their show, we returned to the lodge to seek warmth. It was now nearly midnight, but we had one more event on the schedule before calling it a night: that steamy sauna we had prepared earlier.
It was hard to believe that this was only day 1 of our four day excursion. With a blanket of solitude we did eventually drift off to sleep that night, anticipating the adventure that awaited on our doorstep the following morning.
We didn’t think it could get any better than that first day. But it did.
This is Part 1 of a story about our wilderness adventure with Aurora Retreat. Read Part 2 here!
Have you ever been on a wilderness outing? Have you ever tried cross-country skiing? Share your thoughts about the first post in the series below!
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This trip wouldn’t have been possible without Aurora Retreat kindly hosting us. As always, all thoughts and opinions remain our own.