Korpijaakko

- my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Skiing across Greenland

I’ve mentioned once every now and then that my main tour of the winter will be a ski expedition across the Greenland ice cap – and it’s about to start right now!

We will leave Finland behind on April 13th and arrive to Greenland the next day. And if all goes as planned we will start skiing from the West coast on April 16th and get to enjoy little over four weeks of white horizon, simple life and solitude before arriving to the East coast. Ski, eat, sleep, repeat. My idea of a great holiday!

Into the white in Svalbard in 2011.

White horizon, simple life and solitude on Vatnajökull in 2012.

The beauty of vast ice fields from Vatnajökull in 2013.

The beauty of vast ice fields from Vatnajökull in 2013.

All the little trips, longer journeys and previous expeditions have got me here and now I just hope I can get across the ice cap and enjoy the upcoming weeks. I have to admit, I’m little nervous but at the ame time also relieved that it’s about to start and the preparations are finally over!

I wished to write a lot about all the preparations and the countless myriad things needed to be done in order to get to the ice’s edge with a good chance to ski some 600 kilometers in four weeks without resupplies or other outside help… But, the preparations (and the little life I have in addition) kept me so busy I didn’t find time to write about them. But once on the ice we will have time for daily blog posts so at least you have chance to follow our tour if you are interested.

The daily updates will be post to our blog acrossgreenland2014.com. The updates will be in Finnish but will always include a summary in English.

You can also track our progress on the map.

For tweets (Finnish and English) from the ice cap follow Pohjoisemmas on Twitter and if you like this project, feel free to like us also on Facebook.

While I’m searching for the winter, you enjoy the spring and have good time outdoors!

In search of the place where sky and ice become one. (Vatnajökull 2013)

In search of the place where sky and ice become one. (Vatnajökull 2013)

 

 

 

 

Wet Winter Tour in Sarek

When a one-week winter ski tour starts with heavy wind-driven rain you have to remind yourself why you like that stuff. This far I’ve always managed to convince myself that I’m doing what I really like and, fortunately, this time wasn’t an exception. In early March I was in Sarek National Park guiding the Advanced Course in Arctic Ski Expeditions with a great group of nine people. The tour was good but conditions were very unusual and quite challenging.

Rock Ptarmigans (Lagopus muta) in storm on the second day of the tour.

The conditions got interesting already on the approach to Ritsem. While we were enjoying a late hamburger-based dinner at Gällivare one participant, driving ahead to Ritsem, called on the way to report some serious winds and banks of spindrift. Little bit later he called again reporting flying gravel, wind ripping apart the ski box on top of his car and that he decided to bail and wait for us… Wise decision as the close-by weather station measured 35m/s average and 47m/s gusts!

A couple of hours and one serious heart-to-throat spindrift bank push-through later we met at the Stora Sjöfallet hotel, ditched the broken ski box, repacked and headed towards Ritsem. The wind had calmed down a bit and we managed to push to Ritsem were it was eerily calm as the big valley protected the area from the stormy winds.

The next morning we got our gear organized and started to ski across the lake Ahkkajaure.  A local couple on snowscooters had ventured out early in the morning and returned before we left all soaking wet reporting “terrible weather”. What a great start for a course in demanding ski expeditions! And an hour later the weather hit us on the open lake ice: high winds and heavy rain. SKiing in slush getting soaked by rain. Very Arctic indeed. But the fantastic group just soldiered through in marvellous manner despite some of them being dripping wet down to their base layers.

Towards the evening the weather got better for a little while with moments of sunshine and it all felt right again. Once we were pitching camp in the cover of the birch forest showers of wet snow and gusts returned. But by that time we were camped and sheltered, wet but happy.

The next day dawned in reasonable conditions as we broke camp and headed towards the big uphill push. It looked windy higher on the fjells and once we got further up on the shoulder of the Ahkka fjell then wind and snow really hit us. The steep bank requires a push with the heavy loads even in good weather and now we got a little extra challenge on top of that. But once again the group did great. The terrain got easier and we got little protection from the worst of the weather by taking a route down in a ravine. After one more push up from the ravine it was time to set up camp.

The third day was probably the best day of the tour weather-wise. We made good progress but some health issues in the group and a forecasted storm loomed in the back of my head. When we arrived to the point were we had to choose whether we try to do a longer tour and take the shortcut the answer was quite obvious as the latest forecasts warned us about serious storm with wind speeds over 30m/s.

Shortcut it was.

At the end of the day we set up camp and fortified it with some unusually robust snow walls (I rarely bother…)  to protect our tents from the predicted high winds. As a bonus I managed to break the leeward main zipper from the Hilleberg Kaitum 3 I was using and after several repair attempts I had to sew the door shut and turn the tent around in the wind and snow… Later in the evening the wind grew into a proper storm and our tents played us the characteristic lullabies of flapping silnylon.

In the morning the weather was still bad and the forecasts predicted even worse weather towards the end of the tour. We waited for couple of hours and as the wind died down we broke camp and skied a short stint to a place suitable for digging snow caves. We arrived little late and the group really worked hard to get the snow shelters ready before the dark and soon we were sheltered behind half-a-meter of snow, sipping Jägermeister and trying to get warm in our damp clothing.

As the forecasts threatened us with no-go weather (loads and loads of snow with over 30m/s winds) for the next day we decided to ski out from the high fjells a day early for a sheltered camp spot at the birch forest at the shores of lake Ahkkajaure. Skiing was good with reasonable visibility, warm temps and no wind, though we did get again some rain on the lower elevations. There hasn’t been anyone on the snowscooter trail before but the wind had packed the snow reasonably well so going was easy but rather monotonic. During the week Luc Mehl’s recipe of dance music on iPod and yellow lenses became known as the “Alaska prescription” and turned out to be quite popular. It really helps to cope with sub-optimal conditions. Add some hard candies and you become invincible to the elements…

Our last camp was well protected from the winds but the serious gusts still shooked our tents in the evening and it looked like serious weather up on the fjells as you could hear the wind howling even while camped on the low ground and the fjell tops were all covered in a thick veil of snow rushing through the air. We got our part of the snowfall with about 60 cm of fresh snow covering our tents overnight. I woke up around 5 a.m. as it was too quiet and noticed my tent was mostly buried under snow muting the characteristic flapping the tent fabric makes in high winds. I was too lazy to get up in the dark and waited until the dawn before getting out for some serious shoveling.

As the weather was supposed to get better in the evening we spent the last day mostly resting in camp wondering the constantly changing weather swinging from sun shine to full-on blizzard every five minutes. It was important to time the calls of nature accordingly. It turned out to be nice and relaxed day fixing equipment, frying bacon and pancakes, listening to iPods, etc. It’s not for everyone but it’s part of the game.

Towards the evening the weather got better and after late evening nap we woke in a frost covered tent for the first time during the tour. Even though the last stretch towards the lights of Ritsem  is always a long one the conditions made it more tolerable: calm, little below zero and partially cloudy letting in some moonlight painting the scenery we didn’t really get to see on the tour.

After such an ending  it’s always easy to convince yourself that you actually liked it and want to go for another round. Especially after a sauna, dinner and some quality beer in good company.

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More photos from the tour can be found from my gallery.

Antti’s trip report from the climate change simulator is also worth reading and can be found from his blog. Highly recommended blog anyway. As is his photography work from the Arctic and sub-Arctic at anttihaataja.kuvat.fi.

Marko took also great photos on the tour and you can find the photos with captions here. The creative man also shot a short video from the stormy night at camp number three:

Icescapes of lake Konnevesi

As February turned into March it was time for the AcrossGreenland2014 expedition to gather for a meeting. This time we had agreed to meet outdoors to test gear and get some kilometers on skis. Even though the lousy winter conditions in Southern Finland were against us, we didn’t let it slow us down and thus headed to Etelä-Konnevesi i.e. the Southern parts of Lake Konnevesi, a future national park.

We arrived at a quiet little fishing harbour after midnight and as the lake was covered with bare black ice we opted to pitch our tents on the snow patches on the parking area. The morning saw us packing our pulkas and local pensioner driving back and forth on the ice road starting from the harbour. Clearly he was curious of what we were doing but not daring enough to stop, come out from the relative safety of his car and speak to five strangers in bright coloured clothing…

The skiing was, well, interesting. There wasn’t any snow on the ice and on every push I felt stupid for not having ice skates. But as it was supposed to be a ski expedition training, skis we had. Going was fast and friction minimal so one could easily tow five pulkas and three skiers taking a break on top the pulkas…

We got to our destination the Pieni Navettasaari, an island with a lean-to shelter, in few hours. We had good company at the lean-to (in addition to the friendly dog who started following us on the way…) but despite the company decided to go for a quick spin on the skis also in the afternoon. Skate skiing on the steel edges of the skis was the most efficient way to travel as we had partial skins fixed to the bases of our skis. The little loop offered nice views and most of all very interesting miniature icescapes.

We spent the early evening chatting by the fire and once it got darker we retired to our tents to go through the endless lists of planning and preparations related to big expeditions. Heini also wrote a little blog post from the tent, though we had to send it over 3G network as our satellite hotspot refused to work. That’s why you go for training trip in the first place.

There was a slight dusting of snow overnight which made the ice even more slippery. Taking down the tents pitched on the ice was a slow process and required all concentration and balance available. And as the temperature was below zero the surface was too hard even for the steel edges of our skis so we changed into plan C – crampons – and walked back to our cars. Sub-optimal, but we are expecting to walk our fair share on crampons also in Greenland so why not at the lake ice as well…

The Etelä-Konnevesi area was very nice: countless little island with rocky shores, bits of old-grown forest, wind fallen trees et cetera. It’s not a big wilderness with all the summer houses and locals driving cars on the ice but it’s definitely worth a visit and it’s great to know it’ll be protected also for the future generations as a national park. I assume the best ways to visit would be skating (conditions permitting), skiing (assuming a normal winter) or paddling the summer, preferably not during the holiday seasons.

More photos of the ice in my gallery. All photos taken with Canon EOS 6D and EF 24-105 4 L IS. Still a lot of learning to do with the full-frame…

Worst Winter Ever

We are having quite terrible winter here in the Southern Finland. Saying it’s the worst ever is probably exaggerating but it’s horrible compared to the previous few winters.

There’s not much snow to ski on, two weeks of above zero temps have turned the lakes into slush fields and generally it’s not very inspiring for someone who likes the cold and proper winter. This is also partial reason for the quiet time on the blog but main reason is that I’ve been also busy with other projects…

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Black ice at lake Saimaa in late January.

The bit of winter we had

At the end of January we had a short period of proper winter which was great as I was instructing a Basic Course in Arctic Ski Expeditions. I was fortunate to have a great group of 12 people and we had a good course covering the basics needed for longer Arctic ski adventures…

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The course also got some flattering media coverage:

- Juha wrote a blog post about the course (in Finnish only) but at least take a look at the awesome photos!
- Also Riikka covered the course shortly in one of her blog posts (in English).
- And the major Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat published a lengthy article and a nice little video of the course which is awesome. It’s in Finnish only but comes with photos and video.

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But that’s past now and there are other exciting things coming up…

Greenland, baby, yeah!

The big thing that’s kept me busy since last autumn is my upcoming major expedition of the year. I’ll be going to Greenland!

There has been a lot of work related to the project but now we are at the point where we can publicly say we’ll be skiing across the Greenland icecap starting in mid-April: Group of five friend, around 30 days on our own and some 600 kilometers of skiing through the white wilderness.

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About to get windy…

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Practise makes perfect. Pitching tent in ~30m/s wind.

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More practise.

We also got our blog online and it can be found from AcrossGreenland2014.com.

The blog will be mostly in Finnish but there’s a Briefly in English section to cover the basic background information and all the blog posts will include a short English summary. In addition I’ll try to cover some topics in English in my personal blog for more in depth views. If there’s something you want to know, feel free to comment!

We are also on Twitter @Pohjoisemmas and Facebook AcrossGreenland2014. The content will be again mostly in Finnish but also some in English and plenty of photos.

Other things coming up…

Even though I occasionally feel I’d need all the 24 hours of each day for the Greenland project alone there’s some other stuff coming up too. (And I guess that’s good for my (questionable) mental health too…)

The first week of March I’ll be guiding another one-week husky tour at Taivalkoski for Husky Center Kolmiloukko. There’s a proper winter up there and I can’t wait to get back working with the furry little rascals!

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Guiding a husky tour a year ago.

And straight after the week of touring with the dogs (and clients) I’ll head to Sarek National Park in Swedish Lapland to guide my Advanced Course in Arctic Ski Expeditions to prepare the group for bigger and bolder future expeditions. At least I should be getting a decent dose of winter during these weeks. :)

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Guiding in Sarek the last year. It was a such great tour!

And in addition to getting all set for the Greenland expedition, and of course being in the outdoors, I’ll also try to get some content in the blog and avoid the one-month radio silences…

Outdoor year 2013 in pictures

/ A word of warning: This post includes a lot of photos. They are nice and varied outdoors photos but there are many. You have been warned. /

Views from early 2014 at Taivalkoski.

Foggy views from early 2014 at Taivalkoski.

It’s time to look back on the past outdoor year and like in 2012 and 2011, photos are my media of choise.

The year 2013 started as it ended: with guiding work at Husky Center Kolmiloukko at Taivalkoski in North-East Finland. This is also the reason for this post being a week late. In early season the work consisted mostly of full-day safaris with nice lunch break by the fire but there were also overnight safaris with clients sleeping in log cabins and me sleeping in lean-to or quinzee or sometimes also indoors. I was working together with N which was great and I’m missing that this season as she’s in the South doing better paid academic work… But early 2013 was a blast with the cute huskies and great clients and I even wrote more about that in the blog.

In addition to guiding husky tours I was also arranging and guiding my own ski expedition courses and tours. As I wrote back in January I was prepping two ultra-runners for the Siberian Black Ice Race at lake Inari in Finnish Lapland. Later in January I was guiding Basics Course in Arctic Ski Expedition on frozen lake Saimaa in Southern Finland and in early March I guided the same group in Sarek Narional Park in Swedish Lapland on an Advanced Course. We had mostly good but cold weather in Sarek with temps constantly below -20C leading to one small frostbite but other than that the course was a great success.

Later in March and early April I was back at Kolmiloukko mostly guiding week-long husky tours. I really like guiding longer tours where groups of individuals turn into teams and you see people learning new skills and adapting to the new environment and challenges. Oh, and we also had some kick ass auroras!

In addition to work I also managed to squeeze in a short overnighter at the sea ice near Oulu and celebrated the end of the husky guiding season with N by doing an overnighter to a nearby log cabin with the dogs but without clients. After that we headed to Käsivarsi region in the very North-West of Finland for a five-day ski tour on the fjells. The weather was great the whole time and we enjoyed the spring sun and easy-going.

After the Käsivarsi ski tour we returned to South with car crammed completely full of stuff. It was spring in the South and I was mentally ready for summer and some holiday! But even though the snow was long gone in the South, there was one more expedition to guide for the winter. My main trip for winter 2013 was an 11-day crossing of the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, this time from East to West via the Grimmsvötn volcano (1725m above sea level). Once on the edge of the glacier I didn’t regret at all having to postpone my summer for two more weeks. I had an awesome group to guide and we had a great expedition with proper 30+m/s storm, whiteouts and sunny days. There is a little story about the tour in Finnish in Outa online outdoors magazine.

For me the summer consisted mainly on kayaking and canoeing trips in the South-East Finland. It started with a three-day kayaking trip around the Kirkkosaari island (where I’ve spent first 18 years of my life) and continued with overnighters here and there with my good friends and even alone for the summer solstice. I also did a little  upstream packrafting overnighter with a friend swimming (!) along the way…

In addition to paddling me, N and Perttu also did a nice early summer overnighted to the wide trails of Repovesi National Park.

The main trip of the summer turned out to be a bike-hike-and-paddle tour to Pöyrisjoki in Finnish Lapland. I did the trip with Antti, a fellow wilderness guide and awesome outdoors person, who was paddling a big traditional raft with some friends at Lätäseno river in 2011 when I was packrafting the Valtijoki-Poroeno-Lätäseno with Tuomas. Now that Antti had his own packraft it was time to hit a remote and wild river and as we had already paddled the most remote and wild river of Finland we choose one of the other three big wilderness rivers and planned a nice multisport round-trip to Pöyrisjoki. There is even a trip report about it! On the way back I did a quick Brovernighter near Rovaniemi with Mark of Backpacking North.

In September I guided a packrafting tour from the village of Kilpsijärvi in the very North-West Finland to the magnificent valley of Reisadalen in Northern Norway. We were again lucky with the weather (Which seems to be the common nominator for my trips in 2013, or it’s my memory playing tricks on me?) and I had again a great group I’d be happy to go out again with. Autumn colours and auroras, and good packrafting on easy fast flowing river. There is not much more to ask.

Later in the autumn I did some overnighters with N and clients in South-East Finland. I also bought a bike, a 29er hardtail mountain bike, and did a lot of cycling and also couple of bikepacking overnighters also meeting the bikepacking specialist of South-West Finland: Toni Lund and Peter Nylund. There is still a lot for me to learn about bikepacking but it’s great fun already!

As October turned into November N had some holiday and we went for Shoulder Season Chill Out. The first trip was a two-day packragfting trip that had to be cut little short due the frozen section in the river but we had good time packrafting part of Savinajoki and breaking ice at Savilampi. The second trip was just a day trip along the classic trail of Pieni Karhunkierros which sparked a great urge to go packraft the Kitkajoki…

In December I headed again back to North to guide husky tours for a little while before concentrating on ski expeditions later in the winter. I spent the Christmas week in Ivalo with 20 of the Husky Center Kolmiloukko’s dogs, doing crazy long days filled with short loops and safaris to serve the well greased wheels of the tourism industry. The good thing was, once again, the great people of Extreme Huskies I had the chance to work with. As the end of the year approached I was back at Taivalkoski and getting for ready of one-week husky tour but that’s a different story as it happened in 2014. ;)

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All in all, 2013 was once again a good outdoor year. During the year I got only (?) little under 50 nights out (compared to the about 60 in 2011 and 2012) on tours, not counting the husky tours I was guiding. But when counting also the husky tours the number increases close to 70 which is not too bad after all and sets a good target for 2014.

Big thanks for the co-workers, the huskies, all my clients and friends, and especially for N for another great outdoor year. May the next one be even better for all of you too! :)

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