– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Video

Last summer I did a 11-day 175 kilometer hiking and packrafting tour through the Arctic wilderness of Svalbard. I’ve been writing about the trip through the end of the summer including: some background information for the trip and a trip report in three parts (1, 2 and 3). I also promised a video which is finally ready and available.

Thanks for the video, Thomas!

The video is shot and edited by Thomas Wikström. Thanks for putting it together Thomas!

I might write something about the gear used on the trip as well but before that I have two autumn tours in Lapland to write about and of course time to spend in the outdoors. So, no guarantees on if and when gear post will happen. Instead, I recommend spending more time under the open sky. :)

Four Hours Naked Among Friends

I’m confident enough to say that all backpackers dislike bugs. Acutally, hate bugs. Well, not all bugs but the kind bugs that bite and sting you while you’re trying to enjoy the outdoors. We protect ourselves with clothing, shelters and chemicals and maybe even  avoid outings on certain areas during the worst bug season. So why would someone voluntarily walk into a swampy mosquito hell-hole during the worst bug season, and do it naked?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m lucky to have some extra-ordinary friends who do extra-ordinary things. Including the one I just mentioned. Here is Huck’s report of what he did, why he did it and what he learned in the painful process. Enjoy if you dare!

Since I turned 16 I had the joy to experience the big value of solos. Adding to previous solo experiences, I went for a 40 hour solo in 2013. In 2014 it was a solo of 4 days of constant shivering resulting in an interesting physical state and eventually also in youturntime.org and this tedx talk. This year it had to be either 40 days or something else.

Well, 40 days are still to come, but as I was looking for something that does not require so much time, I opted for a pretty challenging  four hour solo instead.

The story in brief:

On a beautiful summer day I went for a swim in a bog lake and then sat for four hours without any actions of defense, naked in a place, known and chosen for it’s high mosquito population.

Over the summer I had somehow mentally prepared for this and was pretty sure that I am ready for this challenge. I had done research about mosquitoes: 400.000 bites (that is 4000 bites for each of 100 minutes or 1666.667 bites for each of 240 minutes) could kill me.  There was no real risk other than the expected discomfort, as we do not have malaria or other mosquito transmitted diseases in Finland.

I still think that death by mosquito bites must be a very committed and honorable way of suicide.

But back to the solo.

I like to start solos with cleaning myself and I also like ending them in a sauna. In this case I went for a swim in a little pond in the middle of a bog

It appeared, that after I emerged from my swim, waiting for the fury of the “Finnish airforce” that there was a problem. The problem was, that the mozzies were pretty kind and surprisingly low in numbers.

Instead, I attracted hundreds and hundreds of black flies. It was only a very short moment from when I realized that I am standing in a cloud of black flies, until the pain started. They were sitting all over my body and ate me.

I behaved. Occasionally nature is playing tricks on you and here I was witnessing and experiencing one. I asked for mozzies but was served black flies. Sitting down, I had to gain control of my breathing and my feelings.

I had hoped, that this solo would teach me about self control and maybe even allow me to switch of the pain by disconnecting mind and body. Closing my eyes I focused on my breathing. About 15 years ago I experienced the pain, given to me by one sulawesian mosquito in the form of dengue fever. It felt as if every bone in my body was broken. The pain here was a different story. Somehow more sharp, pointed, fast and somehow more painful. I could not tell which was worse.

In between I felt the different sensation of mosquito bites somewhere, which were a lot easier to take. My body was twitching and shivering (it was not a cold day) and now I wonder, what role black flies play to induce states of trance for shamanistic practices. My fellow beings found the easiest skin and it was at times hard to resist the temptation to brush them off.  To remind you I was totally naked and every square centimeter of my skin was available.

In between suffering sounds came from my mouth, which at some point I managed to “switch off”. At some point I found myself laying on my back among plants of blueberry and Labrador tea.  Always when I opened my eyes and I saw the feasting flies and the blood droplets all over me, the pain seemed to grow stronger.

At some point I started to observe my surroundings. Opened my senses and did nothing else but “be”. Amazingly, the pain level dropped.  Looking at my body, I noticed that less and less black flies were benefiting from my solo idea. Where did they go?

The next time brought a change to my solo experience.  There were still some black flies and mosquitoes, but it was a lot more quiet and enjoyable. I was very wrong thinking that the worst pain was over.

One horsefly visited me but left me in peace. It was ants that was the most painful.

They somehow knew where to bite/ sting so that it hurts badly. Between my toes and between my legs, in delicate places. I did not understand why they bit me. They walked around on me, heading exactly for the places that I hoped they wouldn’t and bit me there. The pain is really different to the black flies. If I were to rate all of my visitors, I’d give the mozzies a 1 for least painful, followed by horse flies, black flies and finally ants.

Luckily there were not so many ants and I’d guess I wasn’t bitten more often than 20 or so times, but the memory of these bites is the strongest. Just imagining the challenge of 4 naked minutes sitting on a nest of these big black ants is horrifying.

Reading this report one might think that I was only thinking about different insect bites during this four hour solo.  Of course a big part of my attention went to the pain and to dealing with it, but the time spend meditating seemed to go by a lot faster.

Before I had set off to my solo I had put an alarm to my watch, 4:30 hours from then.  The watch I had left laying a few meters from me, so that during the solo I had no idea how much time had passed.

Right in the moment when my alarm rang, a truly beautiful horsefly sat on my finger and performed a series of bites, which I then documented with my camera.

From there, I went to sauna and the second part of the challenge began: four or so days of resisting the itch to scratch.

Bottom line?

Well, yes; it is recommendable.

While I personally get more out of longer solos, I believe that also these short solos have good value, for giving you opportunities of getting to know yourself, your body and your limits. Maybe most important, they are more easily doable.

Again, I learned a lot.  Already the preparation for the assumed mosquito-solo was very beneficial, as I now am pretty good with dealing with mozzies. I remember the fuzz about wearing long sleeves and trousers on hot days and covering the head and face with nets and every inch of skin with repellent. This summer I was once again 98% of the time barefoot and was mostly wearing sarongs, which never caused me too much discomfort that I couldn’t easily stand it.

I guess it’s the same thing as with “no toilet paper”. Once you learn how to deal equally well with left hand and water or nature’s choices, you gain a lot more freedom when being in the woods.

Another thing I learned was indeed connected to my wish of learning something about self- and pain control. Even though I did not manage to be pain free, I nevertheless know now that I can stand a lot more than appreciated and that I have influence on the pain if I actively try to take this influence.

Did I learn anything else? Don’t expect to get what you came for. Even though I got a bit of a real challenge, I learned that there is a lot worse out there. In general, I believe it can be very beneficial in terms of possible symbiosis to be “open” and host parasites.


>I seek these experiences to learn, self reflect and grow.  In addition I know that initiation rituals are very important but few in our times. I like to offer guidance and assistance for solos to others and thus want and need to know my own limits very well.

Text and photos by Huck. (Intro by editor.)

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 3

Part 3 – Hungry coastal hike thru abandoned settlements

Check out some background information for the trip and the first and second part of the story to make it complete.

After 30 kilometers of awesome (though butt-freezing) packrafting on the Reinelva we were in the point where plans needed to be changed. We had lost almost a full-day and two paddles in a swim a week earlier and Antti and Venla were low on food due to a lost food bag and miscalculations. The original plan of hiking first to Barentsburg (a Russian coal-mining settlement) and from there to Longyerbyen was scratched and instead we decided to take an inland shortcut to abandoned settlement of Colesbukta and continue from there to Longyearbyen saving us some 30 kilometers of hiking and at least a full day.

The next day was warm and less windy as we made our way across the wet tundra from Reindalen to Semmeldalen. We passed some huts in the distance, saw again several reindeer and arctic fox and marvelled the view to Van Mijenfjord in the South. Once we gained some altitude the going was actually quite good. The ground was still wet, soft and uneven but way easier than in many previous places.

We followed old Soviet caterpillar tracks (from late 70s and early 80s) from Semmeldalen to Skiferdalen. The scenery changed from the vast valley with the sea in the horizon to more narrow winding valleys framed by snow-topped peaks. After 20 kilometers it was getting late and we decided to camp by the river next to Sandsteinfjellet.

The river might have offered great fast flowing packrafting straight from the camp but the water-level wasn’t high enough. But on the map the river got wider a few kilometers later and we had high hopes for some more river packrafting for the following day.

In the morning Antti told that he had woken up in the middle of night because of being hungry. The day without snacks or lunch was starting to have its toll. After breaking camp we hiked the few kilometers and found that the river did indeed change: it was little slower, little wider and little deeper: good for packrafting!

Because of the lost paddles we decided to use only four rafts: me, Nina and Thomas were paddling our rafts solo with some extra gear and Antti and Venla shared their Alpackaraft Denali Llama with little less gear using simple-to-improvise canoe-style paddles.

The Coleselva offered actually the most enjoyable packrafting of the whole trip: there was no headwind to fight against, the weather was actually warm and sunny and there was even a decent flow to keep up a good speed. The 11 kilometers on the river were over fast and it was soon time to take out and head towards the abandoned buildings in the distance. Unfortunately we took out in a wrong branch and had to wade across another easy but quite deep branch to reach the settlement of Colesbukta. A minor obstacle which provided refreshing bath for the beating feet.

The shoreline was littered with huge amount of driftwood and all sort of interesting items. The buildings were abandoned but not compltely empty and some of them were in surprisingly good condition. The Colesbukta used to be a port for nearby coalmine, Grumantbyen, but the mining ended in 1965 (?). Afterwards the settlement was used as a base for mineral searching operations until abandoned for good in the 1980s.

After taking a thorough look around we continued along the cliffs towards the Grumantbyen we planned to visit as well. On the way we found the Rusanovhuset, an open hut that I knew was there but hadn’t planned to visit. It was a short but nice visit. There was an Irish family staying at the hut, recuperating after a hike from Longyearbyen over the mountains. There would’ve been plenty of room for us too but we were dedicated to continue little further.

We followed the remains of the old railway, covered with wooden “tunnel” for most of the way, in the soft light of the high Arctic summer night. We bivied between the tunnel and the cliffs with magnificent views to the Isfjorden. Despite a great day the moods were tense due to low blood sugar levelsand a long day.

As we were planning to follow the coast all the way to the outskirts of Longyearbyen, we needed to catch the low tide. The route was suggested passable with low tide and fair weather in Rolf Stange’s book and we had both so we decided to give it a try. Climbing over the mountain didn’t really appeal our tired minds. After an alpine start we continued along the old railway until reaching the tunnel to Grumantbyen now blocked by permafrost ice. A steep climb up and down followed offering again great views over the Isfjorden.

Grumantbyen was way more decayed than the Colesbukta. Some of the building were still standing but that was about it. Half-a-century of harsh Arctic conditions had left behind only walls and partial roofs, and rusting railway tracks and coal carts. We took our time exploring the remaining buildings (and the mine…) while waiting for the low-tide to make our final push. After some time we headed down and started to follow the shoreline to North-East, towards civilization and hamburgers.

The shoreline was quite good for walking but very narrow in places with waves licking your left foot and your right shoulder brushing to the steep cliffs with fresh signs of rockfall around. It was maybe 15 minutes past the low tide when we reached the final cliffs before the mouth of Björndalen.

We judged the shore too steep and water too deep for safe wading and inflated our packrafts for the final push. Still short on paddles we decided to use the three paddles we had and have two rafts in tow to save time. This worked reasonably well though I got properly wet in the launch thanks to the combination of the swell and sideways launch with another raft in tow… Well, it was nice and warm day so damage done.

After couple of kilometers of paddling we were on the shore dotted with little cottages and the end of the road in our sight. It was done. Despite lots of persuasion I was the only one to go for a final swim in the sea before packing up. We called for a taxi and started walking toward the Longyearbyen. The taxi never showed up and we took one from the airport – after 6 kilometers of marching on the road and with fresh blisters in our feet. But it didn’t matter. The tour was done and it was time for hamburgers, beer, shower and some more beer. In that particular order.

Thanks for Nina, Thomas, Antti and Venla for the great tour!

In numbers:

– 11 days and 175 km
– 65 km packafting (three different rivers and a bit on the sea plus a river crossing)
– 110 km hiking (of which 30km on glaciers)
– 9 other people (on the first and the second to last day), several arctic foxes, many reindeers, countless birds
– spectacular high Arctic scenery
– myriad good memories

– – –

PS. More photos in my gallery. Later theremight be even a (gasp!) gear post…

Reminder: The Packraft Gathering Next Weekend!

A short bilingual reminder that: The Second Finnish Packraft Gathering will take place on next weekend (18.-20.9.2015) at Helvetinjärvi National Park. Below is also info regarding packrafts available for rent and about shared ride options!


Lyhty muistutus: järjestyksessään toinen packraft-kokoontuminen pidetään ensi viikonloppuna (18.-20.9.2015) Helvetinjärven kansallisupuistossa. Ohessa myös infoa mahdollisuudesta vuokrata parkaft-lauttoja ja tietoa kimppakyydeistä!

Last year we had great fun at Kymijoki. // Viime vuonna Kymijoella oli hauskaa.

In English

Not having a packraft but would like to have for the gathering? Joose from Wild Hikes Finland contacted me and offered to rent packraft packages (packraft, paddle, PFD, etc. I assume) for the weekend for 50 euros. The packrafts are top-class Alpackaraft Yaks and Llamas with spraydeck. Joose will delvier the rafts to the gathering. If you need a raft, feel free to contact him! And remember that you are welcome even without a raft to take a look what packrafting is all about!

As Friday 18th will likely see some strikes thru Finland that will affect also the public transportation, make sure you can get to Haukanhieta some way if you are planning to arrive on Friday. At least Timo has one free seat in his car from Kokkola to Helvetinjärvi NP and I have three free seats from Riihimäki to Helvetinjärvi NP and back (both leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday). If you need a ride or would like to offer one, feel free to comment!

Not having a packraft is no reason to stay home. Neither is not having a ride. Be there!


Jos sinulla ei ole omaa pakcraft-lauttaa, mutta haluaisit sellaisen käyttöösi viikonlopuksi, niin nyt onnisti! Wild Hikes Finlandin Joose otti yhteyttä ja tarjosi viikonlopuksi packraft-paketteja (lautta, mela, liivit, jne. – olettaisin) vuokralle hintaan 50 euroa. Lautat ovat packraft-maailman huippua: Alpackraftin Yak ja Llama -malleja aukkopeitteellä. Joose toimittaa lautat paikan päälle. Jos tarvitset lauttaa, ota yhteyttä suoraan Jooseen! Ja muistathan, että paikalle voi tulla myös ilman packraft-lauttaa tai edes aikomusta meloa.

Koska perjantaina 18.9. aiotaan ilmeisesti lakkoilla, ja se vaikuttaa myös julkiseen liikenteeseen, kannattaa tarkastaa matkasuunnitelmansa jos aikoo paikalle jo perjantaina. Ainakin Timo on tarjonnut kyytiä Kokkolasta yhdelle ja minun kyydilläni Riihimäeltä Haukanhiedalle ja takaisin mahtuu kolme henkeä (molemmat kyydit lähtevät perjantaina ja palaavat sunnuntaina). Jos sinulla on tarjota kyyti tai tarvetta kyydille, kirjoita siitä kommentti vaikkapa tänne!

Oman lautan puuttuminen ei ole syy kotiin jäämiselle. Eikä ole kyydin puutekaan. Tule siis paikalle sen sijaan, että jäisit kotiin!

The Second Finnish Packraft Gathering

This bilingual post is an open invitation to packraft gathering at 18.-20.9.2015!
Tämä on  kaksikielinen kirjoitus on avoin kutsu packraft-kokoontumiseen 18.-20.9.2015!

All pictures from 2014 gathering at Kymjoki. // Kuvat vuoden 2014 kokoontumisesta Kymijoella.

In English: Packrafters in Finland – Unite one again!

We’d like to invite you to the second gathering of packrafters in Finland. A well seasoned veteran, happy owner of a new boat or a complete beginner with a borrowed or rented boat – all are welcome! From Finland or from abroad, doesn’t matter. You can even arrive without a boat to see what it’s all about!

This is an open invitation for anyone interested in packrafting. You can show up even without a packraft, though then packrafting will be limited into testing other participant’s rafts on the lakes.

The 2015 plan and schedule in a nutshell

This year the gathering will take place on and around Helvetinjärvi National Park at Ylöjärvi near Tampere and the gathering will take place on 18.-20.9.2015. Schedule is flexible so you can also join for a part of it!

Friday 18.9. around 18:00 or so: arrival to and hanging around the Haukanhieta area getting to know each others and having good time. If you arrive early the National Park offers lots on small lakes to explore by foot or by boat. Haukanhieta is located at the shore of Haukkajärvi lake and has two fireplaces, shelter for cooking, a well, area for tents and the usual services. No hut though so bring your own shelter. If you arrive by car, you can drive close to but not all the way to Haukanhieta. Public transportation should work too.

Saturday 19.9. the majority will likely paddle down the Haukkajoki river, leaving from Haukanhieta around 12:00. It’s a small forest river with plenty of little rapids and one bigger rapid (Karhukoski) that needs to be scouted in advance. In autumn waterlevel might be so low that some rapids need to be portaged, but that’s easy with a packraft! Idea is to paddle down some 8 kilometers to Karhukoski where there is a lean-to with a fireplace. From Karhukoski you can walk or bike back to Haukanhieta (or even arrange your car nearby in advance if you’re lazy/busy), stay at the shelter or continue further downstream (lakes with rapids in between).

Sunday 20.9. doesn’t have any preset program. If you’re continuing on the river, have a great trip! If you returned to Haukanhieta and have extra time, go explore the National Park by foot on the trails or by boat on the lakes.

Further information about Helvetinjärvi National Park at luontoon.fi and from Pekka’s packrafting.fi (in Finnish). A simple .pdf map (in Finnish).

Spread the word and be there!

PS. If you would like to packraft but don’t have a boat you can rent one from Backpacking North or from Packraft-Store. Some participants will also have extra boats so you can also ask about that for example here in the blog!

Suomeksi: Suomen packraft-melojat – on taas se aika!

Haluamme kutsua sinut toiseen suomalaiseen packraft-kokoontumiseen. Olitpa sitten kokenut veteraani, onnellinen uuden packraft-lautan omistaja tai ensikertalainen lainatun lautan kanssa, olet yhtälailla tervetullut! Suomesta tai ulkomailta, sillä ei ole väliä. Voit osallistua jopa ilman packraft-lauttaa ja tulla katsomaan mistä hommassa on kysymys!

Tämä on avoin kutsu kaikille packraft-melonnasta kiinnostuneille!

2015 ohjelma ja aikataulu pähkinänkuoressa

Tämänvuotinen kokoontuminen pidetään Helvetinjärven kansallispuistossa Ylöjärvellä lähellä Tamperetta 18.-20.9.2015. Aikataulu on joustava, joten koko viikonloppua ei ole pakko käyttää vaan käydä voi vaikka päiväseltääkin!

Perjantai 18.9.: saapuminen Haukanhiedan alueelle n. 18:00. Illanviettoa alueella ja muihin melojiin tutustumista. Jos saavut paikalle aikaisin perjantaina, voit tutustua esimerkiksi kansallispuiston lukuisiin järviin jalan tai meloen. Haukanhiedalta löytyy kaksi tulipaikkaa, keittokatos, kaivo, telttailualue ja muut tavalliset palvelut. Tosin tupia ei ole, joten tuo oma majoite. Jos saavut autolla, pääset hyvin lähellä Haukanhietaa. Myös julkisella liikenteellä pitäisi päästä paikalle auttavasti.

Lauantaina 19.9. pääosa joukosta meloo todennäköisesti Haukkajokea. Lähtö Haukanhiedalta noin kello 12:00. Haukkajoki on pieni metsäinen joki, jossa on useita pieniä koskia ja yksi isompi ennakkotarkastettava koski (Karhukoski). Syksyllä vesi voi olla sen verran vähissä, että joitain koskia joudutaan ohittamaan kantamalla, mutta packrafteillähän se on helppoa! Ajatuksena on meloa alavirtaan noin 8 kilometriä Karhukoskelle, jossa on laavu tulipaikkoineen. Karhukoskelta voi kävellä tai pyöräillä takaisin Haukanhiedalle (laiskoille ja/tai kiireisille autoilijoille voitaneen järjestää myös autonsiirto), jatkaa alavirtaan (järviä, joiden välissä koskia) tai yöpyä laavulla.

Sunnuntaille 20.9. ei ole ennalta sovittua ohjelmaa. Jos jatkat jokea alavirtaan, hyvää matkaa! Jos olet palannut Haukanhiedalle ja on aikaa, voit tutustua kansallispuistoon jalan tai meloen.

Lisätietoja Helvetinjärven kansallispuistosta luontoon.fi-sivuilta ja Pekan packrafting.fi-sivuilta. Tarjolla on myös simppeli .pdf kartta.

Levitä sanaa ja lähde mukaan!

PS. Jos haluaisit meloa packraft-lautalla, mutta sinulla ei ole omaa, lauttoja vuokraa Backpacking North (Rovaniemi) ja Packraft-Store (Saksa). Joillain osallistujilla on myös todennäköisesti ylimääräisiä lauttoja. Niiden perään voi kysellä vaikka täällä blogissa.


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