Musta Tunturi (Barren Tundras), Murmansk Region, Russia; April 28 — May 1,

We have a 5-year tradition of ski trips on May holidays (usually first 3 days of May). The previous years we had them more like expanded ice fishing trips. We skied to our camp about 10 kilometers, pitched out tents, set dozens fishing poles. We spent most time sitting around the fire talking and on the lake fishing. This time we had an idea to change the pattern and to have a real ski trip. We decided to reach the Barents sea, which is about 25 kilometers from the road. Four stretches, each 10 — 12 km long (round trip), total distance 50 kilometers.

This time we had a small company. Andrey from Nickel, my old friend, with his two sons, 9 and 12 years old. The older one, Dima, had been in two trips with us. Younger, Yegor went to his first adventure like that. Both professional athletes, cross country skiers with many awards. I took my younger son, Fedya, 11 years old. That was his first multi-day trip. He is a professional downhill skier. Another Andrey came to join us from Perm, a city 3000 km South East from us. He went with us last year and decided to come again. Andrey is the chef editor of a Christian magazine. Volodya joined from the rehab center in Zelenoborsky. He is going through his rehab program, but the rehab center director decided to let him join with us. Tough decision, especially considering very complicated logistics to make it possible. So, we were seven.

We started April 28, 9 am — a beautiful sunny morning. We had explored the first day stretch a couple of weeks before with Andrey. It was an easy route, going mostly through the lakes, with very little elevation gain. Those first 11 kilometers we covered easily with a couple of short stops in 3,5 hours. The first camp we had on a lake with an interesting name Kiwi Jarvi. With Kiwi Tunturi Mount nearby respectively. The boys started riding down the nearby slope on our cargo sleds. We were a little afraid for the sleds — losing one will mean that we would have to carry all the stuff on our backs with packs overloaded already. They also dig a multi room cave in the slope and stayed there most of the time. Strange. They looked pretty tired on the trek.

That was the first time we pitched our big teepee tent on the snow. After it had been broken down with the wind at last summer camp, it was fixed and modified. The top was amplified, the doors were sawn at the bottom, so we had only zipped slots, not real doors. That helped a lot, especially at the last night.

In the evening we were talking about salvation. Who are «the men of violence» and what it means to take the Kingdom of Heaven «by force». What does Paul mean when he says «work out your salvation». What does it have to do with our trip? The first night there wasn“t clear understanding yet. We had a good Bible class and prayer, but the true meaning of these words was yet to discover.

The first night the temperature dropped to lower tens (- 12C). But we were prepared for that and nobody was cold. We peacefully slept all night and were feeling really well in the morning. But the tent and the sleeping bags were covered with thick frost, though the sun quickly melted it when rose  early in the morning and soon after dried completely. After quick breakfast we packed our stuff and started the second stretch. Now the way was unknown.

We used a lot of sun lotion that day, but it didn“t help me much. My face was burned by the end of the trip. That day we crossed the Musta Tunturi ridge. We had to climb and to walk down. Then again a chain of lakes. At the end of another lake we had to walk down a stream to another lake, but the stream happened to be a real frozen waterfall. The drop to the lower lake was about 120 meters. Some of us were discouraged. Some wanted to stop where we were. But we continued the trip, and soon we just fell to the lower lake. Everybody was safe, it was actually fun. The only thing which made me sad was the thought that we would have to climb there on the way back.

Now we all decided that we make our camp here, at the harbour where we landed. The place looked inviting: incoming stream, a spot, free from snow for fire, and wood! Here there were trees, so we could make fire! We pitched the tent twice faster then the previous day, chopped some trees and made fire. Felt awesome! The only thought made me feel uncomfortable — we didn“t reach our destination! And that was our last night“s message! Considering that, we decided to walk to the sea that night — just me and Andrey from Perm. The kids would stay in camp with Volodya and another Andrey. So we had some rest, a lot of tea, and at 8:30 pm we started down to the sea. The weather was nice, the snow was strong and the skis were sliding really well. But very soon we discovered another surprise — one more drop, now about 150 meters. We didn“t hesitate much. Just looked at each other, took off the skis and started walking down the slope. Very soon we got into a real birch forest. The trees almost „real size“. Then a lake. Skied across it easily, and then another stream. Our plan was to walk down the stream, but it happened to be open already, and its shores were almost 70 degrees slopes with birch trees all over them. Absolutely impossible to ski there. We decided to walk on the bottom of the stream. The water level was low, and we could walk from rock to rock with our skis attached to the pack. Then another lake, and another problem after it — small twisted birch tree forest, absolutely impossible to walk through, and the creek was winding from one side of the valley to another, so we had to cross it on skis, considering that the creek itself is 4 — 5 ft lower then the snow we walked on. Jump — climb.

The sea showed up suddenly. We were just fighting with birches, and here it was — peaceful, colorful, wide. Amazing dusk was over it, or dawn, I don“t know. All together. It was a few minutes before midnight. Beautiful.

We spent 3,5 hours to walk those 4,5 kilometers. The place was awesome, but I was happy I didn’t insist on continuing the trip together. The kids wouldn’t have made it. No way. Nor the guys with the cargo sleds.

Andrey was going to go bathe in the sea. I was not up to this this time. So he went alone. I started the gas burner and made some tea. We had a great meal right at midnight on the sea shore watching amazing dawn, eating wonderful belarus made sausage and ginger bread. Not too much talking.  Precious moments. But we couldn’t spend much time sitting. The temperature was going down, and we had to make it back to the camp. The way back took an hour less — we knew the way already. We were in the camp at 2:30 am, getting into our sleeping bags.

Next morning we slept late. Actually, spent half a day in the bags. The route for that day was difficult, and we had to rest well. We started pretty late, at 5:30 pm. As soon as we started, it started to snow. It had been windy for a few hours already. Soon we found a place to climb the ridge. It was just 20 — 30 meters lower, then surrounding walls. But we had no options. We climbed it. It was hard. Especially for those with cargo sleds. Now the words of Jesus and Paul started to become clearer for us. Ok, here“s what it means to „work out“! That was the beginning. On the ridge snow and wind progressed into a full-size blizzard. Could see nothing. Fresh snow was sticking to skis and every step was a hard labor. Just imagine, the skis are not sliding anymore, and to advance, one has to lift one leg after another, with the ski and many pounds of snow on it, which you can“t get rid of.

The attempts leave you completely exhausted, so you have to stand catching breath. Especially it was hard to new skiers, who had no experience how to keep the skis clean from snow. The solution soon was found — we had leftover bacon, which was successfully used as ski wax.

Meanwhile, the blizzard was coming into full force. It was hard to see who“s going in front of you, and who“s behind. That was literally the „instrument walk“. We could see nothing. Only Garmin GPS unit knew where to go. The kids were tired and scared. I believe, conversations with Fedya as we went that evening were the most impacting in his life. It was hard to talk though, it looked more like shouting in his ear. Very soon it became clear, that we had to stop and find a shelter. The problem was, that we were on top of the ridge, and the surface was completely exposed. We were hoping to find shelter at one of the lakes, mayby the shores could protect a spot from wind and we could pitch our tent. We found one. We just fell off the steep cliff, we just didn’t see it.

Happily, lots of snow there, and it was soft to fall. So, we found ourselves under a wall on a lake, but that wall didn“t really protect us from the wind, it was blowing along it. But we had no choice, and decided to encamp here. The time was 10:00 pm. To tell the truth, i had little hope, that we would successfully pitch the tent. But working together, as a team, we did it! Everybody was completely exhausted, wet and cold. Besides that, we had to drill the ice to get water for cooking. The ice on that lake was about 4 feet thick.

Finally, the tent was pitched, everybody inside, trying to change clothes and get warm. The tent was scarily shaking, and I was worried about it seriously. The snow was coming in through the ventilation opening on top. But it survived! And it saved us during that blizzard night.

In the morning all sleeping bags, all pads and all clothes were wet. Not a cozy feeling — getting out of a wet sleeping bag and putting on soaked and wet clothes… Nevertheless, the wind calmed down in the morning, and we could see the clear sky and even the sun. Having no idea, if the blizzard is going to start again, we quickly had breakfast, packed everything and started the final, and the longest stretch. The weather was changing on the way, but it never got that bad, as previous night. We covered about 13 kilometers that day. The kids were complaining. They were tired. Everybody was tired. But we could not afford a break.

We could not stop just because we were tired. We had a goal — we had to reach our cars, and if we didn’t, we lost. That“s like salvation, like the Kingdom of Heaven. You can’t stop on the way. You have to learn how to ignore pain, weariness and to keep going. The same as in blizzard — you stop — you’re dead.

I believe it was a great lesson for all of us, new believers, church leaders, grown ups and kids.


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