Last week, we went on a coffee-date with Paula Strengell, the 51-year-old Finnish lady and outdoor enthusiast who recently went on an unsupported ski trek to the South Pole. With an admirable approach to adventures and a Mount Everest summit in her back pocket, she’s inspiring women across the world to do what they love and experience nature.
We met up at a cozy café named Cargo in Helsinki, and the sudden smell of roasted beans hit us as we stepped inside the calm pre-noon atmosphere. We felt very comfortable with our choice of location, as the sky was filled with heavy clouds outside. Paula had already taken a seat when we arrived and greeted us with a smile stretching from her two rosy cheeks. We sat down and started out with some small talk, and Paula ordered what turned out to be “her usual” - a yogurt muesli meal and a coffee with milk. We were both curious and eager to ask her about her adventures, and it didn’t take long before we dug deeper into the conversation.
Paula by the camp on her skiing-trip to the South Pole, wearing her Minna Wool Fleece Jacket in the color White Silver.
What sparked the interest to go on these kinds of adventures, like Mount Everest and the South Pole?
I think it was when I started hiking/trekking in Lapland seven years ago. I started with quite simple treks, but as I learned more, the trips became more challenging step by step. This made me feel more confident, and I became excited to continuously take on bigger challenges.
And how do you prepare yourself for them?
There’s a lot of physical training involved, for example for the South Pole, I spent six hours a week pulling a tire and four hours on other physical training. But, my main preparation is mental and for getting mentally strong I need my family. I have to find a balance between time spent on training, work, and family. It’s very important to be able to handle injuries and other setbacks out in the wilderness, you need to keep calm under any circumstances.
What’s the most unpleasant thing you’ve ever experienced during an expedition or adventure? How did you overcome that?
On Mount Everest being tired and lacking oxygen was challenging at times, but I had the feeling that everything was going to be fine. Both my mental and physical state were super important in those moments. The most important thing is to know and accept your limits, to understand when to stop and only keep going as long as it feels sensible.
Stunning view from the base camp, with Mount Everest top in the middle.
What about the most rewarding?
I would say every day. If I managed to get through the day’s work, that itself was very rewarding. At the South Pole, after skiing over 20 km with all the cargo (and the trip taking a total of 52 days), you get this indescribable feeling of success every day.
“I will make neither speed nor age records. I will not join Foreign Legion or Paratroopers. I wish to set the example as an ordinary woman in good fit who can make dreams come true with hard work and dedication, Finnish sisu that is.” - Paula
What are your main learnings from the adventures?
Definitely that you cannot just jump ahead to a challenge. You need to focus on the little details and be well-prepared. When you have a great routine on how to survive in nature, everything becomes easier.
Can you name some vital things that the outdoors is bringing you? Things that you don’t experience anywhere else.
When I’m amongst nature, I feel at home. I feel a certain balance and appreciation for life. I think the contrast you get from it compared to your everyday city life is essential.
"People often think, why do such things. Isn't it dangerous? You might get killed, or a good scenario just to lose a toe. I ask, why do you smoke? Are you really brave enough to risk getting cancer? When did you sweat hard last time?” - Paula
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
I’m very keen to try new activities all the time. Right now I’m super excited about ice climbing, and I’m soon going to try it out in Norway. Himalaya is the next place I have my sights.
What’s your best advice to the ordinary woman who wants to take on outdoor adventures, but might feel a bit lost in where or how to begin?
Try finding a group of experienced people, who you can learn from. You easily find long-term connections on these adventures, too. My adventures have mainly been about endurance, so you don’t have to be very young to do what I do. Women are by nature less physically strong than men, which of course can pose some challenges. Age gives you more sense and mental ability though, which is good.
What’s your best advice in getting up, going outside and enjoying nature in the cold winter months of the Nordics?
I would say put on the right clothes and gear. It’s never too cold if you are dressed right. You also develop a routine when you do something often. In the beginning, everything can feel like a hassle - but it will change!
Have you faced any setbacks about being a woman in the more extreme outdoor scene?
I like trekking in mixed groups with men and women as well. I lack some muscle for sure, but very few things are based on sheer muscle power. I'm happy to do my share of hard work non-dependent on gender. It is nice to see how women support each other and make networks. It doesn't need to be a huge goal and achievement, we all struggle on our own level of challenges.
We're so happy that we got the opportunity to meet Paula, and if you're interested in learning more about this lady and follow her upcoming adventures, we suggest you visit her own website and blog at https://www.polarbabe.com/.
Jemina & Maria