Ivalojoki, one of the four big wilderness rivers in Finland. It is said to be the most beautiful of them all and after packrafting the Lätäseno ja Pöyrisjoki rivers I thought it was finally time to check out the Ivalojoki. (Näätämö river has to wait little more.)
Mid-July with a heat wave isn’t maybe the best time for a packrafting trip but that’s when N had her holiday so it had to make due.
And it was unbelievably great river running in a magnificent valley full of history and beauty! Way better views than on Lätäseno or Pöyrisjoki and also shorter flat sections to get bored to death and smaller and easier rapids (good news for some, bad news for others).
But as a spoiler I have to say, the creek-like Valtijoki in the alpine surroundings of Käsivarsi wilderness might be even better: 15 kilometers of near constant white water to keep the speed up and frequent challenging section to keep things interesting.
At Valtijoki back in July 2011. Tuomas looking for a safe line above a big drop.
But the Ivalojoki wasn’t bad either, only the way to the river was bad. More of that below…
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We started from an established landing spot below Tolonen by ferrying first our kit and then ourselves across the river with a single packaft. There was mild but clear flow and minor bugs. Temps were still warm in the evening, as had been the case for the last week or more.
After the crossing we had a road walk in the program. Long stretch of dirt-road was beating our feet not yet used to hiking with heavy pack but the good views, great weather and occasional animal sightings kept the spirits high.
We camped by a little pond at the end of the road. There was an old fire-place so instead of the wood stove we lit a proper fire to drive away the bugs and enjoyed the golden light from the low hanging sun taht doesn’t actually set at all this time of the year.
We slept well and long in the shade of the trees and after breakfast headed up the Paskaluottuma fjell as the plan was to stay on the higher ground in hope of fewer bugs. Quite soon the plan started to feel flawed: the packs felt heavy with the extensive packrafting kit, there was no shade, breeze was only occasional and bugs were frequent. The views were good but it was damn hot! I drank 6 liters of water during the walk from camp to the next and didn’t have to pee until late in the evening after hydrating more in the camp… Too hot. (Official readings on nearby Ivalo airport hit +30 °C that day.)
At the camp the plan started to feel even more flawed: there were loads and loads of black flies and it was hot due the absence of wind or proper shadow. The smoke from the Bushbuddy wood stove helped a bit to keep the bugs away and we were able to fall asleep when the sun was low behind the Hammastunturi fjell. The largest hill on the area named after it.
Unfortunately the sun soon rose above the hills, as it always does, and we woke up uncomfortable literally dripping with sweat. I moved my mattress and sleeping bag to the side to sleep against the cool ground but this provided only temporary relief. Option were to be eaten by the bugs or drowning in your own sweat… We pondered on the situation and re-evaluated our plan. Hiking over the hills in the scorching sun accompanied with hordes of bugs wasn’t fun and N had quite bad, inflamed bites on the neck and face despite wearing a head net. We decided to cut the trip short. I was kinda disappointed as I would’ve really wanted to packraft as much of the river as possible but on the other hand I didn’t enjoy the hiking at all.
N’s neck at the end of the trip, looking already a lot better.
We did a quick hike up on top of the Hammastunturi, broke the camp and then headed down towards the river. We headed to the historical Kultala Crown Station, a relic from the gold rush in the 1870s. It was again a hot walk. We were interrupted by a large herd of reindeers blocking our way and while waiting we got rid of our butter and cheese supplies that were pretty liquid at this point of the trip…
We arrived at the Kultala in the evening and found it to be inviting and comfortable place after the hell on the hills: cool and shaded meadow with very few bugs despite the proximity of the big river. (The latter was quite a surprice.) There was a couple staying in the open wilderness hut, which was also too warm for comfortable nights sleep, so we pitched the tent nearby and slept well and long thanks to the trees lending their shade.
In the fourth morning we, again, re-evaluated the plan while having breakfast, around the midday, in the now empty hut. We liked it by the river, we were not in hurry and not interested in battling the head-wind down the river so we decided to spend the day exploring the historical area and the surroundings. Ivalojoki river has a long history of cold digging starting from the 1870s and there is still some small-scale digging going on. Lots of related history and relics around for those interested. In addition we hiked up the river to paddle down some of the easy rapids above Kultala and climbed on the opposite river bank to enjoy the views. A good, lazy day was finished with fresh sweet buns with curious Siberian jays and voles zipping around looking for any leftovers or crumbles…
The next day we headed down the river with our little rafts. The rapids were easy, the flow was decent and the weather was still gorgeous. We had a break at the mouth of the Sotajoki creek where we met a father and son team on a canoeing trip and wondered the huge fields of rocks and the several kilometers long (I assume) hand dug ditches. Again relics from the time of the cold rush. It must have been hell of a job to dig gold from here, though the skilled and lucky got couple of kilos relatively easily in just few weeks during the first summer of the rush… For us the river provided just leisurely paradise after the hard time on the hills.
Later we continued downstream stopping at some more cold-rush era memorabilia: a failed dredger, another digging station at Ritakoski, a memorial near the place where the first cold was discovered, etc. The river got wider and shallower. There was barely enough water to get through the shallowest rapids but by choosing good lines and with some aggressive power paddling we didn’t have to get out from out little boats at any point. There was still also some flow to help us but more importantly, we were blessed with back wind. :)
We arrived to an established fire-place at the confluence Louhioja and Ivalojoki where we planned to camp. The father and son team had taken the single obvious camping spot near the fire-place and were warming up an old stacked rock stove for tent sauna. There are lots of old fire-places, shelter support structures and rock stoves for saunas along the riverside. In my opinion too many. I’d love to see less human impact on the river (save the historical impact from the late 19th century) especially when it would be easy to have camp fires near the waterline where the floods will remove any marks…
But I have to admit I wasn’t sorry when we were offered a chance to use the tent sauna after the father and son. And we enjoyed the soft “löyly” (just missing a cold beer…) before retiring to our tent which we had pitched on a comfy spot right on the low river bank. There was no danger of water level rising that night and I don’t think the red tent added too much on the already abundant signs of human activity.
After a breakfast by the fire we walked up the Louhioja to check out the Louhioja open wilderness hut and then started paddling down stream. And there was plenty of paddling to do as on this last section the rapids were short, shallow and few. It was mostly flat and still water except for Toloskoski. The river notes recommend scouting the lower part of Toloskoski but it seemed reasonably easy and being lazy we just went for it. The price was bumping into couple of sneaky rocks at the very end. nothing serious with packrafts but might have very well resulted a swim in a canoe. After Toloskoski there was some more flat water to paddle untill we reached our car.
We packed up and took a final swim in the river with a thunder rumbling in the distance and a cloud front slowly rolling in. Little later at Ivalo the skies broke with proper down pour and thunder storm. But at this point we were sheltered and happily munching burgers. A perfect timing.
Ivalojoki proved to be great packrafting destination: nice views, lots of history and easy rapids with reasonable flow in between. But do hope for back wind. With a canoe or a kayak you’d most likely start from Kuttura which you can reach by road or higher up from the bridges at Ivalon Matti or Repojoki. But with a packraft you’re free to choose and the Hammastunturi wilderness area around the river offers great hiking terrain for the way in. We saw plenty of birds and reindeers and also moose and bear droppings. Proper wilderness with forested valleys and bare hill tops for the views, but also quite a lot of signs from humans: reindeer fences, etc. And with packraft you’d probably also get some fish from the several lakes of the area.
Once again I hope to return one day. Maybe in June with more water and definitely starting higher up, maybe all the way from the head waters.
Side note for future paddlers: The discharge at Pajakoski of Ivalojoki was around 30 m^3/s during the time which is quite typical summer flow. This was just enough for packrafts and we were able to power through the occasional (well, frequent) shallow sections with strong forward paddling and there was also reasonable flow to help us most of the time. But little more water wouldn’t hurt in my opinion. With this water level the rapids are quite safe but require careful reading of the water to avoid getting stucked on rocks. And unless you’re experienced paddler it’s wise to scout the biggest rapids in advance. It’s also good to keep in mind that there are no big bodies of water above river so the discharge can change fast.
There are also reasonably good river notes for the section from Kuttura to Ivalo. Good beta worth checking if planning a trip.
As usual, there are some more photos in my gallery and if you’re interested, you can find them here.