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Category Archives: packrafting

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.

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 2

Part 2 – March through moraines and bone-freezing packrafting

If you haven’t done it yet, you can read the first part of the trip report and background for the trip from previous posts!

Falling into sleep in the sound of cold wind we woke up to a calm and sunny day at the mouth of Eskerdalen valley. In the morning a rare wildlife encounter awaited us right behind the door of our lavvu.

No, luckily not a polar bear – but unfortunately a horde of mosquitoes instead. They are not native to Svalbard and of the species introduced to the archipelago by man, they are about the only one that has managed to thrive. And to survive they must use every rare opportunity brought by calm and warm days with unaware foreign travelers passing by. So they were hungry and determined, but luckily stayed mostly out of our lavvu. Thanks a lot, who ever brought the little bastards there in the first place!

After packing up our still muddy kit (the light showers during the night were not enough to get the mud of our gear) we headed up to the Eskerdalen and got rid of the bugs. On the way we marvelled the Eskerfossen and numerous reindeer and enjoyed the easy walk on quite dry tundra. In winter time the valley is probably one of the busiest snow scooter routes in the archipelago and which was now indicated only by a few huts and old route markers. We were happy to find old bamboo wands and packed them up to be later used as part of improvised paddles.

Later the wind found us again and it started to feel cold enough that we had to wear our puffy clothing and search for a sheltering depression for the lunch break. As there are no trees in Svalbard and even big rocks are rare, you have to find relief from the wind either behind a prominence, from a depression or from your own shelter.

Turning into the upper parts of the Adventdalen the going started to get tough: tundra started to chance into moraine and rock and we had to climb up and down several ravines that crossed our path. It seemed that following the western side of the valley would have been easier but we were too lazy to cross the river until reaching the watershed. But as we knew that the terrain would get worse around the watershed (two glaciers used to intersect there and when retreating left behind a chaos of moraines) we decided to call it a day after some 15 kilometers. We camped to a spot with nice views and good source of clear melt-water. I went down to the river to wash the mud and silt of my packraft and other gear. I’m pretty sure the kit got lighter by a kilo or more!

The next day brought clouds and cold wind from the North. We broke camp and started heading up to the watershed aiming to get down to Reindalen to a place where we could start packrafting. Quite soon the going got tough as we had assumed: a mess of loose moraines with lots of ups and downs and very wet, muddy tundra in between. Slow but doable. But the views down to Reindalen and Oppdalen were awesome: barren moraines, streams, mountains and glaciers. Seemed like nothing could live or survive on that land. And we didn’t want to stay there either but continued towards the relatively verdant tundra lower in the massive Reindalen.

The weather got bitingly cold with the Northern wind bringing in some showers to amplify its effect. We were down to Reindalpasset and past the moraines and looking for protection from the wind. Luckily we found a huge pingo (earth-covered hill formed by ice), well over 50 meters high.  We seek shelter from the lee-side of it and found relatively nice spot for our lavvu, except that it was a bit wet. Happy for the wind-break we didn’t let it bother us and pitched the tent. Soon we were happy that we had a ground cloth and soon we added our packrafts for extra protection. I even build a little floor out of stones by the door to help staying dry while coming and going. We were camping on very wet tundra but after hard 18 kilometers of walking, any bed feels great.

The next morning the big question was: could we start boating from our camp or would we pack for more walking? After some discussion we decided to walk little more as the river broke into dozens of shallow braids after passing “our pingo” and would probably not be deep enough even for packrafts. A few kilometers downstream few smaller pingos forced the river into a single channel and here we inflated our packrafts. We had already improvised some kayak paddles in the shelter of our lavvu so we were able to paddle in five solo-rafts as originally planned.

The paddles, made of hiking poles, bamboo wands, ice axes, gaiters, zip-ties, straps and a lot of duct tape (more would’ve been better, combined with iceaxe and some cord it makes a reasonably good paddle blade), were not pretty but worked. And the Reinelva river was great! We were cruising down the enormous valley up to 7 km/h with little effort carried by the brown glacial-fed flow. The river changed multiple times from a deeper single-channel to dozens of shallow braids which required good choices and good luck to find passable route. For a while we even paddled through a fast canyon like section, not very deep nor narrow but with proper steep rock walls and tight bends. Eddie-hopping from bend to another. Simply fun!

The only downside was, again, the wind. Unlike on Sassenelva it was a welcome backwind but it was damn cold! The temperature was probably below +5°C, water was closer to 0°C and the wind was blowing from the big expanses of ice in the North. Especially those soaked because of the splashy improvised paddles were feeling the chill and we had to take breaks to run on the tundra to get warm.

We must have been a hilarious sight wobbling from our little colourful boats with numb legs, shivering and starting to run around pointlessly. For the lunch break we pitched our shelter against the wind and some of us opted to chance into dry clothing and spend the break shivering in their sleeping bags. I guess this was very much back to the basics packrafting: improvised gear, definitely no dry-suits, wet and cold – yet still so awesome! (Though I bitterly missed the option of warming by a fire!)

What made the rafting even more awesome was the surroundings. While flowing down the river a huge flock of goose were swimming ahead of us and the lucky ones paddling in the lead saw an Arctic fox catching a stray goose from the river bank! You don’t see that happening every day! In addition we saw more arctic foxes and reindeer and passed the remainders of an old hut. For the whole day we were, once again, surrounded by snow-topped peaks with glaciers crawling down between them. In addition, this time we had the sea and distant mountains far in the horizon!

By the early evening were getting again too cold to paddle and closing to our exit we pulled out and pitched camp by the river. We had covered over 30 kilometers in a relatively easy (but cold) day! It was time to celebrate with hot chocolate spiced up with some Baileys. By paddling 10 kilometers further down the river we could have reached the shore at Kaldbukta (“Cold bay”) which was tempting because of the drift wood for fires but we would have had to walk back those 10 kilometers as we had reached our Southern-most point and needed to head North-West to Semmeldalen.

Our original plan was to continue through the Semmeldalen to the Russian coal mining town Barentsburg and then follow the coast line back to Longyearbyen but this started to seem unlikely. We had lost nearly a full-day because the swim at Sassenelva which made the schedule quite tight. But what was even more problematic was that Antti and Venla found out that in addition to the food bag lost in the swim they were missing lunches for four days due to miss-calculations – i.e. they were out of lunches. So being short on food and behind the schedule we had to change our plan, something we had just ignored until now, but could not postpone any further.

The new plan and the final days here! 😉

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Up, down and under the ice

This is the first part of my trip report from a summer packrafting tour in Svalbard. You can read about the plan, route and crew in the introduction post.

After a quite sleepless flight, short night at the camping ground and quick shopping and repacking in Longyearbyen we started the tour with a rib boat ride away from the little civilization there is in Svalbard. We didn’t see too much views during our ride as thick fog covered the sea on Isfjord. But when arriving to the bottom of Tempelfjorden the sun pierced through the fog opening beautiful vistas around us.

We hopped a shore, unloaded our gear and had a quick chat with a Polish (?) couple who started from the same place on a shorter, direct route back to Longyearbyen. They were the last people we saw for over a week.

We were not in hurry so we sticked to the plan and made ourselves home at an old well-used camp spot near the shore. Evening’s program included barbecue, swim in the sea and wandering the majesty of our surroundings: mountains, big active glaciers, the sea and abundant bird life in the bright Arctic midnight sun. There were no signs of polar bears but this is a place where the threat should be taken seriously so we had a guard through the night. Between the guard duties we ment our sleep deprivation. Some got lucky enough to have a brave little arctic fox to share their two-hour watch.

Picture by Nina Teirasvuo.

Picture by Antti Siltala.

In the morning the fog vanished again and we packed and shouldered our rucksack, mosty around 30 kilo including food for 12 days, packrafting gear, basic glacier kit, etc.  For the first hour the packs didn’t feel too bad but a weight like that gets to you after some time. We walked through moraine ridges to reach the Von Postbreen. Before getting on the glacier were comfronted with a swift melt water river. Thomas waded through making it look easy but being mid-thigh deep and hearing boulders rumbling at the bottom, the rest of us thought paddling would be better option. We inflated one raft and ferried over one by one using our climbing rope to pull the raft back. The rope caused significant drag in the fast flow and it would’ve been better for everyone to inflate their boat and cross individually. But we made it safely across anyway.

Soon after crossing the stream we reached the glacier: nice crunchy ice with reasonable friction. No need for crampons. If not counting going uphill, walking was easier than on the moraines. After some time the bare ice gave a way for snow and soon we found ourselves in a proper slush-fest: wet and slushy snow with plenty of small melt rivers up to knee-deep. We rationalized that if there is plenty of water on top of the glacier, there is probably no big crevasses underneath and thus continued unroped coming up with various ways of crossing the melt water channels.

Packrafts proved to be useful as bridges or as sort of “assault boats”: you would place the raft at the edge of the harder snow, run towards the boat, jump on it and glide over the water channel. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. After quite a long day we camped at the side of the Przybyllokfjellet mountain (What a name!) with wet boots. Maybe it would’ve been simpler to accept the wet boots in the first place and just wade through the slush…

The next day we continued in good weather across the Fimbulisen glacier, down the Rabotbreen and towards the source of Sassenelva river. For most of the day we traveled on snow so we roped up and used our packrafts as sleds to easy the stress on our shoulders. On the high glacier it was still full winter, though it was very warm. The snow was quite good to travel on even without snowshoes or skis (we didn’t want to carry the extra weight as we had only about 30 kilometers to travel on snow), most of the time we sank only ankle-deep but sometimes went all the way to the knees or groin.

Up on the glacier we followed faint snowscooter tracks (must have been well over a month old!) but on the way down diverged from the tracks to avoid the worst of the slush and melt-water pools. This lead us finding some crevasses – but luckily only one leg at a time. Lower on the Rabotbreen snow tuned again into crunchy ice so we packed our packrafts and continued on foot unroped. The melt water channels grew bigger and bigger but we found a good ice ledge to jump over the final channel. After the final crossing we called it a day and pitched our lavvu on the dry moraine. The channel at the edge of the glacier seemed to offer adventurous packrafting but it had been a long day (close to 20km) and it was time to get some rest.

The next morning we slept long and started the day discussing whether we should first walk down to the terminal moraines or start packrafting straight from the camp even though the river was running on top of the glacier. We ended up doing the latter: neoprene socks to the wet boots, extra layers on and shell clothing on top of it. After doing a quick test run under the ledge we had jumped down from, we headed down stream. The river was quite interesting as you can expect from a river running on top of a glacier: very fast current, very few eddies, shallow in places, deep in others and often making serious undercuts at the edges.

Picture by Antti Siltala.

When closing to the moraine piles we scouted the river both from opposite shore and from a high moraine: The river gained more speed, got some bigger but still reasonable waves and then eased after passing through the terminal moraine. We decided to continue in our rafts. Antti and Venla were going first with Nina and me following, Thomas being last taking some video footage.

Antti and Venla got ahead and didn’t see us anymore so Antti decided to eddy out and wait. In normal river the spot would’ve worked just fine but now, instead of a safe eddy, Antti found a strong flow that flipped his raft and pulled him under the undercut ice. Venla followed to help and the same happened to her. Both took (apparently) quite frightening dive under the ice but managed to get back to the main current.

We didn’t see this happening but soon found Venla stranded on an iceflow in the middle of the river. Antti had swam ashore little further downstream. Coming down the rest of us eddied out next to Venla but soon I continued down stream to check Antti. Antti was wet but okay and had lost his paddle so run down stream to see if he could still catch it. I run upstream to the rest of the gang to rescue Venla. Climbing rope doesn’t make such a great throw bag but it works. We first pulled her packraft on the shore, threw her a PFD and then pulled her to the safety of the shore. She was seriously cold but otherwise okay. Antti returned without the paddle and we decided to pitch camp to warm up.

In camp we counted the losses: two paddles, a food bag and a pair of gloves. Both swimmers had bruised legs from hitting the ice but were otherwise okay. We decided to call it a day and let the evening sun and cold breeze to dry the wet kit. We discussed options now that we had lost two paddles, some food and a half a day but decided to carry on as planned and see how it would go. We spent night in the lavvu listening the active and unstable moraines sliding into the river with varying magnitude.

The aftermath. No photos as I was too busy rescuing.

The next day we continued walking past the last bit of moraines (founding an intimidating whirlpool in the river on the way) to the huge Sassendalen valley. Even though we had spent only two days on the moraines and glacier the green vegetation, goose and reindeer in the valley were welcome! In the valley we improvised canoe paddles from hiking poles, ice axes and gaiters. Antti and Venla paddled an Alpackaraft Denali Llama as a duo towing a smaller MRS Microraft as a “gear barge” behind them.

Sassenelva would have offered awesome paddling but when we were building the paddles, a stiff headwind blowing from the sea started. The wind pretty much cancelled the effect of the swift flow and we had to really paddle to get forward. When the river meandered in the vast valley we paddle through wind-born lengthwise waves sweeping across the river – the first time I’ve seen such waves on a river.

But slowly and steadily we reached the mouth of Eskerdalen valley some 17 kilometers further downstream. The landing and exit turned into a mud-fest as we had to walk/wade/run through a section of quick-sand-like silt in water that was too shallow for paddling. The cold wind continued and we walked deeper into the Eskerdalen in search of shelter from the wind and pitched camp in light drizzle. Tired and muddy but somewhat satisfied.

Next we would have a couple of days of simple walking through valleys so at least the we wouldn’t have to worry about treacherous rivers.

The story will continue later with our way up to and down along the Reinelva river in Reindalen…

Pt.2 of the story can be found here.

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Few thoughts on the swim and loss of gear:

We discussed the capsize and swim quite thoroughly during the trip. In my opinion the decision to paddle the river was right, it wasn’t that difficult water. Problem was that a river that flows on top of ice (even though covered with moraine) acts quite differently than a river on land or over rock. If Antti and Venla would not have tried to eddy out, they would not have capsized but when the group was splitting up, stopping was the right thing to do.

Conditions were unfamiliar to us and we had a bit of bad luck judging them. Paddling this sort of water (fast, very few eddies, a bit like the upper Visttasjohka in flood) requires commitment and accepting the related risks. Go, if you know what you are doing, otherwise walk until the river gets more gentle. Walking is always an option, especially with packrafts as they are so easy to portage.

Antti and Venla had decided not to take PFDs to save weight. I opposed it and told I would definitely take a life jacket but in the end  it was their decision to make. In this case PFDs would have helped to keep Venla a bit warmer while waiting for the rescue and maybe made the swim a bit easier but luckily both stayed safe without them.

The lost food bag was a bummer and in my opinion all gear should always be attached fail-safe to the raft when paddling in moving water (or at sea). The lost paddles were a major set-back but also “unavoidable”. When paddling swift water you definitely don’t want to have a paddle-leash and when swimming in such water and having to choose between getting out from an undercut riverbank or choosing between paddle or raft, abandoning the paddle is the right decision. We didn’t carry spare paddles. Packrafters rarely do as walking is always an option and often you can improvise a paddle. Though next time when on a group trip, I will take my Supai Olo paddle as a dedicated spare paddle.