Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: trip reports

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. 🙂

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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.

Why?

>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…

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.

– – –

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.