Our Top 10 Adventure Memories from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1

Our Top 10 Adventures from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1. Photo: Tom Wilkinson.

Nature Travels celebrated its 15th birthday on 1st March this year – 15 wonderful years of working with outdoor adventures in Sweden, Finland and Norway, helping over 16,000 guests from more than 20 different countries discover the wonders of these beautiful countries.

Founders and owners Bob & Sofia Carter look back on the last 15 years and pick their Top 10 Adventure Memories that they’ve collected along the way!

In Part One, we start with five special adventure memories from Bob:

When I was tasked with choosing my five to contribute, and began to think about which to include, I realised just how many amazing memories Nature Travels has given me the opportunity to make.

Whittling it down to just five hasn’t been easy, but here they are, in no particular order:

#1 My First Mountain Dogsled Tour

This one goes right back to the beginning of Nature Travels, the very first winter after we opened our doors in March 2006.

The tour was Dogsled Adventure in Jämtland, a 7-day hut-to-hut tour located in the beautiful Vålådalen Nature Reserve in central Sweden. This particular tour isn’t one we offer any more (don’t worry, we have some equally amazing mountain dog sledding tours!), but it gave me my first taste of a multi-day dogsled tour in charge of my own sled. I knew when the tour was over that I’d well and truly caught the husky sledding bug and would be back for more as soon as possible.

Our Top 10 Adventures from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1. Photo: Nature Travels.
Discovering the joy of driving your own dogsled. Photo: Nature Travels.

We’d been stuck at one of the cabins for a couple of days during a snowstorm, passing the time by watching through the ice-encrusted windows as the snow was driven horizontally by the gale force winds, listening to the howling as the storm whipped round the corners of the cabin.

We went out only to go to the outhouse (which was an expedition in itself, requiring taking a “loo buddy” with you to make sure you didn’t get lost in the blizzard!) and to check on and feed the dogs, who’d dug themselves comfortably down into the snow to wait it out, only their noses and the tips of their ears visible through the powder.

The next morning, the storm had abated, the air was completely still and the sky was a piercing blue, the sunlight bouncing off the snow. We harnessed the dogs, who were raring to go after their unexpected extra day’s rest, and had a long and gloriously scenic descent that day towards the cabin at Helags. As we made our way down with the mountain peaks rising above us, I distinctly remember thinking, “I never thought I’d get to do this. If I die tomorrow, I’ll die a happy man!”

I didn’t of course, and I lived to sled another day (many more days, actually), and since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have lots of dogsled adventures. But that feeling of contentment and satisfaction from my first tour is something I’ll never forget.

#2 Watching the Northern Lights from a Hot-tub

As the owner of an outdoor activity company, I probably shouldn’t be choosing such a luxurious and decadent memory to put on the list – but even outdoor adventurers enjoy a bit of comfort sometimes!

This wasn’t during one of our tours, actually, but on a trip several years ago to Vesterålen in Northern Norway researching new products for our portfolio.

We were staying at a local lodge and, having checked the Aurora forecast, were getting excited that prospects for a good display that night looked promising.

Our Top 10 Adventures from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1. Photo: Tom Wilkinson.
A very decadent evening enjoying the Northern Lights from a Norwegian hot tub! Photo: Tom Wilkinson.

As the sky darkened, we went for an evening “Northern Lights” walk to see what we could see, but despite the clear skies, there didn’t seem to be much happening save for a faint green glow on the horizon.

We went back for dinner and, halfway through the main course, someone came in from outside calling excitedly, “Northern Lights, Northern Lights!”. We gulped the rest of our food (apologies to the chef – it was delicious!) and went out to have a look. Dessert had to be somewhat delayed, as we spend the next half an hour outside, gazing at the shifting curtains of green and white as they danced across the sky and going “ooh” and “aah” as those members of the group who’d brought decent cameras showed us the photos they were getting.

As the display began to fade, satisfied and thinking we’d been very lucky, we went in to finish our meal and get ready for a session in the wood-fired hot tub, which was to round off the evening.

Wood-fired hot tubs in winter are, it has to be said, absolutely wonderful things. Being gently cooked in a big vat of water, heated by a blazing log fire just next to you, sipping an ice-cold beer (or, on this occasion, several ice-cold beers), wearing a woolly hat and looking up at the stars as the chill winter air tickles the end of your nose is a “thing to do before you die” if there ever was one.

But that wasn’t to be the highlight of the night. After we’d been in there for half an hour or so, talking, laughing, and getting lightly sozzled, the sky above us once more erupted into a blaze of green, with ribbons of light stretching right across the horizon. It just went on, and on, and on, and two hours (and a few more beers and several kilos of wood) later, we were still in the tub watching the display, pretty well pickled (in every way) by this point, but loathe to break the spell and go to bed.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a number of great Aurora displays, some significantly stronger than the one we had that night. But for sheer all-round atmosphere and magic, the hot tub show has to be the winner.

#3 A Ski Touring Expedition in Proper Cold

This is one of those memories that’s more enjoyable in the remembering than it was (at least in parts) in the making – something that, when you get home, you look back on as utterly amazing and file under “life experiences” to cherish forever.

It was February 2019, and I was trying out the Halti itinerary of our Backcountry Skiing and Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland tour, an 8-day ski touring expedition using pulks and rucksacks between wilderness cabins in the Kasijärvi Wilderness Area in the far north of Finland.

Our Top 10 Adventures from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1. Photo: Nature Travels.
Getting into pulk-pulling mode in Finnish Lapland. Photo: Nature Travels.

I’d done some hut-to-hut ski touring before, but hadn’t used a pulk much. This is a very challenging tour, and I was aware that I was going to need to shape up a bit before the trip if I wasn’t going to disgrace myself. So two months before I was due to go, if you lived in Dorchester, you might have seen me running up to the local park most mornings for a session on the free outdoor gym equipment with one of those ski trainer machines.

One hour into the tour and I was thanking my lucky stars that I’d had the sense to do some preparation, but wishing I’d done more. The pulk I was hauling seemed to weigh a tonne, the cold sucked my breath away, and time and distance seemed to be at a standstill.

Another hour in and I was beginning to enjoy myself immensely. The landscape was stunning, the remoteness uplifting, and now I’d warmed up a bit (in all senses), I was beginning to fancy I might cut it as a proper Arctic explorer after all.

Then, two days later, we had an epic day which, I don’t mind admitting, brought me pretty close to the limit of my fitness.

We’d had a tough but manageable morning and had stopped at one of the cabins for lunch. There we’d discovered, inexplicably, that somehow we’d managed to contaminate half the day’s lunch rations with fuel, and it was inedible. What we had left, we divided equally between the four of us, but it really wasn’t enough and we felt unsatisfied and low on energy reserves as we started down the valley on the second, and longer, stretch towards our cabin for the night.

It was cold when we’d started, and I love the cold, but down in the valley it was wickedly cold (-32.5 at one point – the extra .5 might seem petty, but I reckon it made all the difference!), and the world felt like it was suspended in time. There wasn’t a breath of wind, no sign of birds or any other life. We might have been on another planet. The extreme cold made the snow very heavy and sticky, which meant the skis and pulks did not glide properly. Progress was both very slow and very energy sapping.

The afternoon wore on and, by the time it got dark and we turned on our headtorches, we were still several hours from the cabin and just starting a long ascent towards the lake, on the other side of which (apparently) lay the cabin where we’d stay the night.

Needless to say, we got there in the end, though the next few hours felt endless and I was absolutely shattered by the time the cabin finally loomed into view in the beam of my headtorch.

But it’s days like these that are the ones that make life truly worth living. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

#4 A Boys’ Canoe Adventure in Sweden

Sofia jokes that some of the canoe tours we offer seem particularly popular as “boys’ adventures” – and she’s right, they are! Discover Wilderness Canoeing in Rogen is one such trip.

Back in 2011, myself and three friends headed to north-west Sweden to try out the Rogen tour, which at the time was a new addition to our range.

We spent a glorious week together in the wilderness, canoeing, camping, lighting (and arguing about the best way to light) fires, sometimes relaxing with full bellies and the sun on our faces, at other times cowering wet, tired and hungry as we were lashed by the elements.

Our Top 10 Adventures from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1. Photo: Euan Turner DMh photo.
The moments that matter – canoeing in Rogen. Photo: Euan Turner DMh photo.

Many of the things about that week that made it so wonderful are not something easy to describe here – it’s the little things, the in-jokes, the mini-adventures, thrills, false starts and mishaps that each day brings, even just the simple act of brewing tea together on a camping stove, that remind us of the value of friendship and of spending time enjoying the beauty of the world with the people we like and love.

Life is sometimes unkind with the cards it deals, and, though I didn’t know it at the time of course, this was to be the last proper outdoor adventure I’d share with one member of our little group. My memory of the trip is all the more precious for it.

#5 Wolverine Ahoy!

My last memory on my list is one that lasted just a few seconds, a brief but magical encounter with something truly wild and beautiful.

I was on a ski touring trip in Swedish Lapland, and we were taking a day tour from our cabin towards the mighty Sarek National Park. It was a beautiful day, and the majestic peaks of Sarek dominated the horizon.

Wolverines are one of my favourite Nordic animals – shy, rare, but often maligned and still persecuted. I’d seen them in zoos and animal parks before, but never expected to see one in the wild.

Our Top 10 Adventures from 15 Years of Nature Travels – Part 1. Photo: Nature Travels.
The wolverine’s back yard. Photo: Nature Travels.

We were skiing along happily when, up on the side of valley, the unmistakable form of a wolverine appeared, making its way expertly across the surface of the snow (wolverines have a plantigrade posture, which allows them to move over deep snow easily and quickly). I couldn’t believe it. Even our guide, who had been leading tours in the area for many years, had only ever seen one once before.

Everyone was excited by this unexpected bonus to our day, but I was practically jumping up and down on my skis.

The sighting didn’t last long. We weren’t even that close. Not everyone would have been as pleased as I was to see a wolverine in the wild.  I’ve had the chance to watch many amazing animals in many different places around the world, but that brief glimpse of one wolverine at home in the vast wilderness of Swedish Lapland is one of my most treasured wildlife moments.

Thank you, Nature Travels, for all the experiences and opportunities you’ve given me so far. Here’s to the next 15 years of making adventure memories!

Bob from Nature Travels

Additional articles published before 2018 can be found at our previous blog location at naturetravels.wordpress.com