“Monthly highlights” is a series of post concentrating on a 10-month wilderness guide course I am taking this year at Niittylahden opisto near Joensuu in Eastern Finland. These posts try to summarize the best parts of each month and are naturally published at the end of each month (or in the beginning of the following month as it seems to be now). Hopefully you enjoy it!
Highlights of September: The Herajärven kierros trail, autumn hike, kayaking and passed exams!
As the regular readers recognize the highlights of the last month include some things that I have reported separately to give them more depth. But as a quick reminder:
Instead of attending to a fire drill at school, me and most of my classmates walked a 40km long Herajärven kierros trail at the Koli national park in one day, under 12 hours to be precise. A great trail with nice views, good infrastructure and service and surprisingly high total elevation gain for a Southern Finland trail. A longer trip report can be found here.
Views along the Herajärven kierros trail.
Another big highlight of the last month was the autumn hike to Muotkatunturit wilderness area in Lapland. This was a six-day trip with the class, short in kilometers but quite rich in group experiences. An in-depth trip report is also available.
In addition to these two trips we had a four-day course in white water (or more like quick water) paddling with kayaks and canoes and few days at the school, partly in a classroom and partly in the forest. Some of the days at school were spent for planning and preparing for the autumn hike and one day at the forest was dedicated solely to orienteering exercises. I will write more about orienteering in the next monthly highlight post as we had our orienteering tests in the beginning of October. (And for those interested: I passed, so from now on I don’t have to know anymore how to orienteer.)
The starting day of the course at the Pielisjoki in Joensuu.
One of the interesting things of the past month was the basic course in white water paddling. The course is continuation to the four-day basic course in (lake) paddling and later on we will have a course in advanced white water paddling and also bunch of other water related stuff. The course started with a brief theory session but very soon we moved into an easy quick water at the Pielisjoki in the city center. We trained the basic stuff like going into the moving water, taking out into an eddy, ferrying across the river, paddling upstream and so on. People were taking pictures of us from the bridge and Google might have caught us on their street view while driving by… Luckily we had only few swims this time.
Someone screwing his kayak with dancer group in the background. Please, don't ask. 😉
On the second day we moved to the Ruunaa rapids that are very well-known in Finland. On this course we didn’t go into the best known section called Neitikoski (known for the big stopper wave that is favoured by freestyle kayakers, but trained and played in four different white water sections: Haapavitja, Kattilakoski, Murrookoski and Siikakoski. These are all typically class II rapids and despite the lowish water level they were class II also this time. We trained with kayaks and canoes doing different maneuvers, running different routes and then carrying the vessel back upstreams for new runs. The first day at Ruunaa was dedicated to the basics at Siikakoski, second day was spent running the Haapavitja several times learning to use different routes and on the third day we did a short river trip starting from the Ruunaan retkeilykeskus and running the Kattilakoski, Murrookoski and Siikakoski.
A happy student pushing through a wave. Our paddling teacher Pertti in the background.
We also trained with canoes.
We stayed in small huts at Ruunaan retkeilykeskus next to Neitikoski (And I would have wanted to run the Neitikoski with a packraft but there were no volunteers to provide safety for the run…) and had sauna on both evenings. Very nice facilities for a paddling course as we have many other occasions to learn camping in the woods and in thus could concentrate solely on the paddling. After some swims at the first day at Siikakoski no-one capsized even though we had couple of very interesting runs with canoes that filled up with water and bumped into rocks… And all the unintended swims of the first day were related to playing in stopper waves and fooling around not really running down the rapid. I think it is very good achievement and big thanks goes to our visiting paddling teacher Pertti. There was another group of Wilderness Guide students from another school at Ruunaan retkeilykeskus at the same time and all but their teacher ended up swimming in Murrookoski when they were supposed to run it down with canoes…
Carrying a kayak back upstream. A packraft is so much easier to carry!
I also had my packraft with me and run the Haapavitja couple of times in it and let one classmate to test it. He had never paddled a packraft before and had paddled a kayak only at the school courses but after couple of spins in the still water he headed down the class II Haapavitja with some advice from me. And he didn’t flip and liked the packraft a lot! Packrafts are just cheer joy to use and easy to learn.
Notice the differences between the loads. There is a right way and there is a wrong way to do it.
Another important thing were the exams. To qualify as a wilderness guide you have to pass several exams measuring the skills and knowledges required. The last month we had an exam about insects, about plants and about mushrooms. To pass an exam you have to get at least 80% right. In the insect exam we had to name bugs from dead samples and I blew this because of couple hard ones. Well, I’ll be having another try at the end of October and it shouldn’t be a problem. I’m more afraid about identifying birds and their voices in the spring! In the plants and mushroom exams we went out into the woods and had to name living samples pointed by one our teachers. I passed both with pretty good scores (19/20 and 18/20). I really liked the exams being held out in the woods in “real life situation” instead of using dried samples or photos in classroom.
Mushrooms at a trip. In the exam we didn't pick them up.
At the moment we are having a very tasty open fire cooking course and the next interesting thing will be likely the “Kaksnelonen” at the end of the week. It is a voluntary 24 hour challenge were one can test how far one can walk or run in 24 hours. Well, not exactly how far but how long distance one can cover, as we will have two loops (a 15km and 30km loops) to choose from and a service point in between. I’m hoping to cover over 100km but I’ll have to see how things turn out. I haven’t been running nearly as much as I should have so I might be walking all the way. There might be a separate report about it coming later on.