Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Plans for the summer: The Finnish packrafting epic?

For the last three weeks I have been teasing you with my trip plans for this summer. I’ve been given several clues but apparently the guessing  was too difficult as there were no right answers. So, it’s time to reveal the bold plans!

But first… the winner of the competition!

Even though there were no 100% correct answers I feel like that Yeti deserves the promised free meal and dessert as he was the first to guess that I will be packrafting. Yeti’s guess was that I would be packrafting from Kilpisjärvi to Tornio along the Swedish border, but this is not quite it… Congratulations Yeti!

Oh, and if you haven’t done it yet, check Yeti’s superb bikepacking blog!

And why there is a question mark?

There is a question mark at the end of the title. That is because I feel that the word epic starts to be somewhat over used and it is in the danger of loosing meaning. For me the word epic is reserved for the state-of-the-art of each method/style of travel on each distinct regions. For example I wouldn’t call my annual three-day spring kayaking trips epic, they are just nice and relaxing weekenders with good friends.

Kayaking in the Jongunjoki river in May 2010. Not epic but really good time!

But unlike kayaking packrafting is relatively new sport in Finland. I know that few people have been packrafting in Lapland for some years and for example Mikko Kilpeläinen has been blogging about his trips (In Finnish only, sorry!) and I’m sure we can soon read about Hendrik’s packrafting trips from his Hiking in Finland blog. But to my knowledge no one in Finland has done the kind of trip me and my friend Tuomas are planning to do. So, I leave the question about epicness of this trip to you dear readers. Is it epic or not?

The Finnish packrafting epic 2011

And here it is!

We plan to take the route drawn to the picture below. You know that you are doing something cool when you have to use 1: 500 000 map to make the route fit on the computer screen…

The route of the Finnish packrafting epic 2011!

As I told earlier we plan to start from the Norwegian side of the border North to Kilpisjärvi. From there we will follow Didnujohka river upstream to the border and cross the border. From the border we will follow Urttasjohka river down stream but it is too small to be rafted in July. After some hiking the river turns into a lake system which should be raftable. The first lake is about 40 meters above our take out point so there should be reasonable current, and maybe some drops requiring portaging, to get a feeling how the boats handle in heavy load. On the eastern shore of Vuomakasjärvi lake we will deflate the boats and start to hike along the Kalottireitti (Nordkalottleden) to Pitsusjärvi lake where we will take a turn to East to Somasjärvi on the border between Norway and Finland.

If the water level is unusually high (for example because of heavy rains) we might – instead of walking straight to Somasjärvi – walk to the  Halti fell (the highest place in Finland) and try to packraft back to Pitsusjärvi. The small river, Govdajohka, that runs from the base of the Halti is under 10km long but drops 186 meters on the way! This means a lot of portaging but luckily we can scout the river while walking upstream. If we end up rafting the Govdajohka we will end up back to Pitsusjärvi, pack up the rafts again and head to Somasjärvi along the trail. But it might be that we pass the Covdajohka option…

The rocky Govdajohka in the background and Pitsusjärvi behind the fells. Hiking to Halti at the end of June 2008.

From Somasjärvi starts the Valtijoki river which is about 25 kilometers long and drops about 150 meters on the way to Porojärvi lake. It is likely that we’ll have to do quite a lot of portaging to bypass big drops and hard white water but luckily packrafts are light to carry! Valtijoki is too small and rocky for traditional white water rafts but it’s possible to paddle it with a white water kayak. This happens occasionally but I don’t think that the river is runned even yearly, maybe biennially or so. The main reason for this is that the river is in the middle of nowhere so it’s hard to access and safety aspects are also challenging. Experienced paddlers describe the river in the following words (translation from Finnish by me): “Valtijoki can be considered as one of the most challenging river routes in Finland. – – For a beginner the river may turn into a nightmare-like fight for life but for an experienced boater with a solid kayak roll it is higly recommended as a “once in a lifetime” trip.” Frankly said, we are a bit unsure if we are trying to bite more than we can chew here – but with packrafts there is always the option to walk.

The Valtijoki ends to Porojärvi lake and from there starts one of the most classic wilderness river routes in Finland. It starts as a Poroeno river which is about 44 kilometers long and drops 135 meters on the way. There are few dangerous class IV rapids that likely require portaging and a lot of easier white water to enjoy. After this section Rommaeno river joins the Poroeno forming the Lätäseno that continues 70 kilometers all the way to the village of Markkina on the border of Finland and Sweden, dropping 118 meters on the way. There are few dangerous class IV and V rapids in Lätäseno that require portaging but there are also long stretches of smooth backwater. The river route from Porojärvi to Markkina is quite popular to do with a white water raft, canoe or kayak. The boats are usually flown to the lake with helicopter or plane. Our trip will end to the village of Markkina after some 200 kilometers of wilderness travel by foot and packraft. After the trip Tuomas will head back to South but I plan to stay in the North for week more. My girlfriend will join me and we will head to Swedish Lapland for a summer hike, and maybe for some more packrafting… 😉

We plan to do the route in eight or nine days, depending on a few things. In the beginning the packs will be quite heavy with food for nine days and about 5-6kg of rafting gear each. I’ll post detailed gear list and menu when I have them figured out. We are going to start in either July 8th or 9th and end the trip the next weekend. As the July is somewhat the official month for summer vacations month in Finland we might meet some friends along the way. My colleague will be fly fishing at Valtijoki at the same time so we might get some fresh fish along the route but we plan to be self-sufficient. There is also group of friends rafting the Poroeno-Lätäseno river route with a traditional white water raft (flown in by helicopter) and if we are quick enough we might meet them along the way and float the final stretches together. The major uncertainties, in addition to the water level and raftability of some parts, are related to the logistics as our starting point is about 150 kilometers from our ending point and bus schedules in the North are crappy. But if we don’t come up with anything better, we’ll solve the problems with hitchhiking.

So, if we can pull this together… Could this be called an epic trip?

Psst! Jyrki and Joel from Loimumedia paddled the Poroeno-Lätäseno route with a canoe and documended it. First they hauled the canoe to the starting point in March and came back in July to ride down the river. Respect for not using motors! You can buy the DVD from their website but the trailer is of course free so here you go:

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14 responses to “Plans for the summer: The Finnish packrafting epic?

  1. Outsider/Yeti 29/05/2011 at 21:12

    Looks very interesting and I think it certainly has the potential to be epic.

  2. sabi 31/05/2011 at 10:23

    Finnland will see at least one more packrafting trip this summer – but I will be on the east end starting 8 july from Ivalo Airport going 4 weeks north to Nuorgam, maybe even Utsjoki. I plan to packraft the Näätämöjoki (as far as it is not too “white” 😉 ) and Pulmanikijoki and off course lots of lakes.
    Have a good safe trip and looking forward to your trip report in autumn!

  3. Korpijaakko 31/05/2011 at 13:38

    Thanks for comments! Very interesting to see packrafting becoming more popular in Finland!

    Sabi, your plan sounds at least equally awesome! Those rivers look quite nice and if you are anyhow into fly fishing then the Näätämöjoki is somewhat a holy grail for that… I wish I had four weeks to spent in the wild. Well, not for now, but maybe in the winter…

  4. Dave Hanlon 01/06/2011 at 22:01

    Epic? I don’t know. All things are relative. It’s a bigger undertaking than any of my trips and the kind of trip (packrafting aside) that I aspire to doing some day. From my frame of reference it would be an epic. Whichever way you look at it you’re going to be crossing a big stretch of the finest wild country Europe still has to offer. Epic or not it looks like it’s going to be a fantastic trip!

  5. korpijaakko 02/06/2011 at 22:17

    Dave, those are wise words. It’s a matter of reference and in the end, it doesn’t even matter. I just wanted the word epic to the title… 😀 I just came back from two days of canoing on the lake with friends. It wasn’t hard, challenging or epic but it was still awsome. Good time with good friends in great weather.

  6. Toni Lund 07/06/2011 at 21:58

    Certainly epic and once-in-the-lifetime! I think even short trips and overnighters can be epic. I’m just hoping if I could do a longer, 2,5 days / 2 nights bikepacking trip this summer.

    Your blog is very nice, keep up the great work!

  7. korpijaakko 08/06/2011 at 00:08

    Thanks Toni! I’m trying to keep up the blog as well as I can with work and actually getting out being on the way. I’d really like to do bikepacking. Maybe I should put my old unsuspended “mountain bike” into shape, throw a pack to my back and go riding the trails near by. It’s just a bit unpleasant with no suspension…

  8. Toni Lund 10/06/2011 at 17:31

    I highly recommend to try bikepacking, even with a full-rigid bike. Actually many “true” adventure bikes are full rigid, like Salsa Fargo, and fatbikes like my 907.

    Speaking of packrafting, I’m really interested to try bikerafting in some point of the future. There is very good opportunities to try it here in Paimio.

  9. Il Dolce Far Niente 13/06/2011 at 19:28

    That’s a great plan! Field reports expected 🙂

  10. korpijaakko 13/06/2011 at 23:12

    Thanks for the comments!

    Toni: Yeah, bikerafting at some point. It might be that during the next year or so I have some quite good opportunities for bikerafting… My apparent problme is that I’d like to everything outdoor related but I have limited time & money. Maybe some one could pay me for outdoor activities? I could take some pictures or write a report or two in exchange…

    Il Docle: Luckily there is still quite some time before the trip as my series of Ultima Thule 2011 reports is still work in progress and I wouldn’t need another big trip report to keep me even more occupied… 😀

  11. Sven 17/06/2011 at 00:07

    Hi there once again (second comment in one day on one site, a rare thing for me;)
    I missed the announcement of this one! What a shame. Guess what Jaakko, the Lätäseno was the manifestation of my paddling activities back in July/August 1996! Certainly a trip of reference. I exactly came up with the idea as your set of criteria (isolation and long distance from the road system). You gave a good overview of the background already. Just some additional things I remember (no digital pictures from the time, only slides):
    We flew by helicopter with a traditional canoe plus Ally folding one on board (3 guys) from Kilpisjärvi to Govddosgaisi, heading south from there. It took us 10 days to reach the road. Most memorable:

    1. Horrendous amounts of mosquito, for my central European standards (to the point of: never wanting to be back in mid summer. Might be different for someone from Finland 😉
    2. Little water! Thus portaging a lot. Should be different earlier the year. However, I concluded early June to be the preferred time up there.
    3, Indeed serious white water, but mostly drop and lake style with relatively short stretches of difficult flows. However even to time unknown of the concept of packrafts, I wished having an inflatable one (bought a Metzler 2 person raft after that!)
    4. Overwhelming midnight sunsets (we travelled during the night due to the mosquito)
    5. A long time “out there”, but also surprisingly a lot of fishermen! We saw and talked to people every day.
    6. Fine weather actually, mostly dry and sunny. Made the relatively bleak landscape (my taste) actually quite nice.
    7. Wilderness Sauna 🙂 Yes, even there we found Kota/Laavu style sauna houses.

    Still one of the best areas in Europe of longer experience in nature.

    I agree with you about overusing terms like epic, expedition, and wilderness. Point of personal reference does not really help, as we cry for being objective. How about creativity! A trip can be new in certain aspects. I do respect true “ideas” more than superlatives. However, hiking in to the Lätäseno and combining it with undone stretches of lakes and others is! There should always be some sort of uncertainness, well some call that adventure, so we are back at the buzz words 🙂 Turning front door adventures into an adventure often is a great challenge and a true packraft opportunity 🙂

    Take care, Sven

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