Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

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Summer Solstice Solitude

Another overnighter trip report! Sorry, if you are getting bored. I’ll try write about kit/gear/stuff later, and of course finish the posts about the past winter. But for now, trip report it is!

My original plan was to spend the festive mid-summer weekend, Juhannus as we call it, working and I really didn’t have any other plans for the weekend. But things change. And when I found I had no work to do I though of it as a possibility to consume less and be more outdoors. Suits me.

As the weather forecast was good I quite quickly came up with a nice trip idea I named “summer solstice solitude”: borrow friend’s kayak, paddle around the western Pien-Saimaa area and search for a tiny islet to spend the shortest night of the year. I even borrowed Hilleberg Soulo tent to have a free-standing tent with a small footprint to fit on the tiniest of rocky islets.

I got on the waters a bit after 17:00 after a substantial energy level boosting in the form of meat pastries stuffed with additional ham and egg (local specialty called “vety”) with my brother at the Lappeenranta harbour.

The weather was gorgeous and the kayak glided nearly effortlessly across the calm waters. Going was good and I felt confident even though this was my first time on a solo kayaking trip.

I had some small islets in mind but I soon found that I was a month or two late booking my place for the night as angry seagulls had already booked all the nice little islets. And of course most of the bigger islands were littered with summer houses, now occupied with people spending the mid-summer weekend in the traditional Finnish style: cottage by the lake, friends, sauna, barbecue, big bonfire and getting drunk.

With less seagulls and little lower water level this would’ve made a great camp!

As I wanted to have a bit of solitude and an island of my own I kept searching.

After couple of hours of kayaking my feet started to fall asleep. The borrowed kayak was a little bit too tight fit for my well-trained bottom so I decided to have a little beer break and get the blood flowing again.

I continued paddling towards some small islands that had looked promising on the map but found them to be very densely vegetated, not meeting my idea of small rocky islet. So I kept paddling as the going was good and the evening was beautiful.

At one point I decided I should camp by 20:00, then it was 20:30 and finally it was well past 21:00 before I decided to settle on nice rocky cliffs on a bigger island. It wasn’t exactly according to the plan but the island didn’t have any summer houses nor could I spot any on the shores in the horizon and the camp was on a cool spot with great views so I declared it good enough.

There is always something especially appealing in camping on top of a high place!

But immediately after getting ashore I noticed I would not be alone for the night: There were ants. A lot of ants. As it was late I decided to stay anyway and quite soon learnt to come along with the ants. As long as I stayed relatively still they didn’t actually climb on me or bite me that much but when moving around they got into my Croccs and started biting my feet which wasn’t very nice.

I pitched the tent, took a swim and lit the disposable grill I had brought to celebrate the mid-summer.

The longest day of the year ended with a sunset worth of the special day and after dessert the nearly full “super moon” rose above the horizon. All this made good photos but the cool evening also brought in the bugs so I retired to the shelter of the tent. Instead of counting sheeps I counted over 30 mosquitoes on the mesh of the tent door before falling asleep. (Which didn’t actually take that long.)

I slept well, as I usually do in the outdoors, waking to the pesky alarm that I had set for 3.20 am to catch the sunrise. What was I thinking setting up the alarm? After a quick look it was apparent that the sunrise would’ve required walking over the big rocky hill to the other side of the island so I didn’t bother and got back to sleep.

Later in the morning I woke up and started preparing breakfast and packing kit. I burnt my porridge on the canister stove (I’m too used to cooking it on fire or wood stove.), snapped my spork (Well, it had already lived for about two years.), got bitten by the ants and started to think if it was going to be a good day at all…

After the morning chores I gathered a bit of confidence and set on the waters. I re-checked a potential climbing rock on the shore for future deep water solo efforts. (Thanks for fellow blogger Lauri for  the term.) After getting out from the shelter of the island it was evident that I’d be enjoying headwind for the rest of the day. Going was still okay but not nearly as fast as the day before. There seemed to be also more boat traffic than the day before.

Climbing?

At one point my legs had gone past the numb phase into hurting-quite-a-lot-and-going-to-spasm-soon phase and I hurried to search for a decent place to have the first break of the day. Learning from the previous I later took couple of more breaks before arriving back to the harbour area and nearly got tipped over because of a boat speeding past me under a small bridge. Nice. Luckily I just got splashed over and didn’t even have to do any ninja moves to stay upright and dodge a bridge pillar near by. After the little drama I got back to the kayak shed and called it a day.

I got the bit of solstice solitude I was looking for but I have to say I find outdoors activities more meaningful when done with friends to share the experience.

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As usual, some extra photos can be found from my gallery.

Lake Kuolimo by Canoe

Last week’s overnighter was supposed to be a kayaking trip to lake Kuolimo in South East Finland not far from where I live. The plan was to go with T who has a kayak and I would have rented a kayak from the local club SaiLa just like before… But it turned out they don’t rent kayaks on Tuesdays!  We didn’t let this stop us and instead borrowed a canoe as you got to get your outdoors fix in a way or another.

Lake Kuolimo

Kuolimo is an interesting little (about 80 sq km) lake located in the South-East Finland in the municipalities of Savitaipale and Suomenniemi. It has very clear water (unlike most other lakes in Southern Finland), quite impressive rocky shores and it drains to lake Saimaa via two narrow rocky rapids: Partakoski and Kärnäkoski. According to official information these rapids are unsuitable for kayaking or canoeing but we were able to navigate them with our canoe – though they don’t provide much white water fun. Back in the days the rapids had been cleaned from rocks for floating timber but they have been restored as there is an extremely endangered population of Saimaa arctic charr living in the lake Kuolimo.

There are a couple of established nature trails at the shores of the lake, several lean-to shelter with fireplaces and also some services at the shores of the lake like the Partaranta that offers little pricey but delicious pizzas. And then of course there’s the large village (kirkonkylä) of Savitaipale with abundance of services for outdoors folk passing by. Of course there are plenty of summer houses on the lake shores so there is no feeling of a real big wilderness in my opinion – as is the unfortunate case in most of Southern Finland. But you can always find a nice bay or strait with no visibility to cottages and enjoy the nature around you.

I’d see Kuolimo as a  great destination for a 2-5 days canoeing or kayaking trip. On longer trip you would have time to visit the sights: walk the nature trails, visit the old fortress at Kärnäkoski, etc. and maybe try some bouldering on the rock faces on the shores. I assume there is quite a lot of boat traffic in the summer holiday season so preferably go during weekdays in the early summer or early autumn to get some solitude. Also biking around the lake would make sense, there are even some established bike routes!

Here are high-resolution photos of some information boards along the way if you’re interested in the details.

Click for a larger high-resolution version!

Click for a larger high-resolution version!

Showers, sauna and other luxuries

After shopping and a coffee break followed with some heart-in-my-throat rally driving by T we made it alive to our starting point at Luotolahti in the North-East corner of the lake. The original plan was to kayak around the large headland of Suomenniemi but as canoe is slower than kayak we adjusted the plan slightly. Quite soon after the sunny start the rain returned and we were able to enjoy occasional cold shower every now and then through the whole day. For some reason rain is much less of a problem when in a kayak – especially as I didn’t take any waterproof trousers as the good old ultra light style requires…

First we paddled trough the long narrow strait of “Luotolahden Kapia” which is quite impressive place with its rocky shores. When we got on the more open waters we decided to head to Partakoski for lunch at restaurant at Partaranta. We had a rare case of tailwind so we tried some sailing and got nice speeds of 7km/h or so but the sail rigged from cheap hardware store tarp could use a little upgrade… If I’d go canoeing regularly I’d definitely sew a sail for my canoe!

The route to the lake Saimaa down the Partakoski rapid includes three sections of rocky and narrow swift water but to our surprise those were quite easy to navigate with the canoe. They required active maneuvering and slow going but provided actually fun little challenges but were unfortunately very short. The maneuvering was rewarded with pizzas (13 euro each) and beers (small beer 4,50 euro) at the restaurant terrace were we watched the weather roll in again with a thunder in the distance and heavy rain surrounding us.

Last section of Partakoski seen from the bridge.

As the rain didn’t seem to be going anywhere, we decided to take the initiative and started to paddle away from it. Plan was to paddle about one kilometer on the lake Saimaa and then paddle up the Kärnäkoski as high as possible and to portage back to Kuolimo. There is an old mill and a bridge with quite small passage under it with the bridge being the only sensible option to portage. We were able to paddle up to the mill quite easily but when closing to the bridge I had to jump out from the canoe and push it upstream wading in very fast mid-thigh deep water while Tuomas was paddling and steering in the front. This was actually quite easy as the canoe offered some “cover” from the water and a support to lean against. We made it trough the little hole quite easily and were back at lake Kuolimo.

Kärnäkoski, the mill on the right, the bridge on the left.

For the night we decided to paddle to a lean-to located on the Western shore of Lehtisensaari island (quite a big island of about 3 sq km that used to have permanent settlements). While the way to the Southern tip of the island was quite nice and relaxed the weather decided to throw in one more challenge for the day: rain rolled in again and after passing the tip of the island we were faced  with strong wind from the West generating big waves that properly rocked our canoe. (No photos of this as I was too busy paddling…) We paddled close to the shore enjoying the rollercoaster and finally reached the lean-to.

The plan for the evening was to luxury camp with some gourmet food and an improvised tent sauna. The cold showers during the way were not that luxurious but the camp proved good: The wind settled a bit but still kept the mosquitoes away, rain didn’t return and we even got a proper sunset. We reshaped the fire-place to serve as a sauna stove and started to heat the rocks while preparing dinner: bruchettas (btw the WordPress Proofreading suggest “brunettes” here but we didnät have any with us…) with Spanish style tapas and red wine for starters (as tested on the previous trip), salmon fillet cooked  on a piece of wood in the glow of the fire and grilled veggies as main course (with more cheap red btu still no brunettes…) followed with Irish Coffee and marshmallows as dessert. This time even the cream made it and was easily whipped by shaking it in a Nalgene bottle!

Notice the improvised-on-site cooking equipment.

After the proper three course dinner it was time to improvise the sauna. There were some slightly charred tree trunks at the shelter and we had a big tarp with us and these combined with the seats around the pimped fireplace and some pack straps made a cozy yet very functional sauna for two. (Caution! If you build an improvised sauna, remember to put out the fire properly before covering your stove with a fabric, otherwise carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or other nasty fumes may get you!) As the wind kept to bugs away there was no need to pitch the tent and after the sauna, swims and beers we retired to our sleeping bags under the lean-to.

We slept long, prepared breakfast on the camp fire with no hurry and feeling lazy (all that cheap red?) decided to just take the straight route back to Luotolahti. The weather was good with sunshine and only a slight breeze. On the way back to Luotolahti we found some nice rock by the water and Tuomas decided to try a bit of bouldering but not having climbing shoes quickly changed the sport into swimming. (Caution! This is fun but check the spot thoroughly before jumping or falling into the water from any high places!)

Towards the end of the trip the wind picked up again and we felt cold so we had a coffee break with roaring fire at the lean-to in the Luotolahden Kapia strait before arriving back to the car. On the last bit we saw seagulls apparently trying to fend of something in the water: The birds didn’t mind us floating only 10 meters away but kept diving and hovering above the reed next to a little islet… Maybe there was a snake swimming to the nest?

After admiring the airshow for long enough we paddled the last strokes back to our car and headed home. Another jolly good overnighter!

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PS. As usual, more photos in my gallery.

Auroras, snow shelters and husky tours

The blog has been little quiet, as has unfortunately been the way this winter. So, what have I been up to?

Mostly I’ve been busy guiding husky tours ranging from full-day safaris to over-night tours but there have also been other things…

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On the tours we spend the nights at huts but being out in the wild gives a good excuse to sleep outside and this week I decided to sleep in a quinzee as the night was expected to be a cold one. (The record low for this winter was recorded at Taivalkoski at the same week, -38,2C.) I was a little hasty building the quinzee and made the pile little too small and decided to go without the sticks to mark the wall thickness. The end product was livable but little too short with too big doorway and I had to patch one hole in a wall. But it still added apparently quite a lot of warmth as I managed to sleep most of the night comfortably in my sleeping bag rated to -18C (Tlim) and only woke up chilled a few times after 6.00 a.m. The cabin doesn’t have a thermometer but it’s in a cold place on low-lands next to big marsh so the temperature was likely colder than at the village of Taivalkoski… Snow shelters make sense! And there is still time to make some so don’t miss the chance!

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The little free time I’ve had, I’ve used for arranging the guided ski tours. The last week I was guiding a group in Sarek (along the route mapped on Social Hiking, though the distance listed there is little optimistic). We also made snow shelters in Sarek as a training and they were not bad choise as the night was cold. Snow caves are especially nice shelters if you happen to find pile enough pile of hard snow. It was an awesome tour with good group and well worth sitting in the car for 21 hours – each way.

Sarek. There’s a feeling of real wilderness. And beatiful mountains as well!

I’ll write a separate post about the tour in Sarek later as this post is about northern lights! As the winter has been unusually cloudy there hasn’t been much auroras to be seen at Taivalkoski. I saw a good show here on early December, little faint lights every now and then here and at lake Inari and nice but little grey light show at Sarek. But this evening was different. After several cold and cold nights without a trace of the northern lights the lights at the sky were on a big time! Here are some photos of the showon Sunday evening. Hope you enjoy the photos in case you missed the show!

For those interested in the techy stuff all photos taken with my trusty Canon 550D (with a battery grip with dual battery for the cold), the cheap but stellar Samyang 14mm 2,8 lens and of course utilizing a tripod (a heavy Manfrotto 055). The only problem with this setup is the Samyang lens being fully manual, which shouldn’t be much of a problem but the markings on the focus ring are all totally wrong andgetting it focused in the dark is not too easy. I think I should make some new marking on it…

On the weekend we also had the pre-expedition meeting with the Vantajökull 2013 expedition and I can’t wait to get on the ice for with the group as it’s likely to be a great little expedition… But before that I still have some weeks of husky safari guiding to be done, including two nice longer tours. I’ll try to get some nice photos to share from the tours.

Winter wonderland and working dogs

In addition to guiding during the last four weekends I’ve also work during the weekdays as well. Unfortunately this means very little time for blogging but here’s (again) a set of photos to make up the lack of words. The photos are from overnight and one-day husky tours at Taivalkoski region in North-East Finland. All dogs are hard-working (well, except a few lazy ones) huskies from Kolmiloukko.

For those interested in (camera) gear the photos are taken with Canon EOS 550D with Canon EF 24-105 4 L IS or Samyang 14 2,8 lens. Mostly it’s just fast’n’dirty point’n’shoot, often from moving snowscooter but when you shoot enough, you also get some hits. Especially the Samyang 14mm wide-angle has proven to be a very nice piece of glass and it’s also cheap for the quality. Downside is that it’s all manual lens and the markings on the focus ring are far from reality but when you learn that the infinity is around 0,7m focus it works like a charm.

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I have to say that even though I love my job, I’m really looking forward to having a day off on Sunday as I’ve now worked for 33 straight days! I need some time to wash clothing, repair gear and do some more preparations for the one-week ski tour to Sarek in early March. And maybe I also have time to write some more words for the blog as well…

Photos from the winter wonderland

The regular readers probably know that for most of this winter season I’m working at Husky Center Kolmiloukko at Taivalkoski (a small town in North-East Finland) guiding husky safaris.

I’ve been lately quite busy with the huskies and guiding because I’m also putting together my own ski expedition courses and tours and actually spent the last weekend at lake Inari training winter skills with two ultra-runners. It turned out to be a superb trip but more of it later… Despite being busy I’ve had some time to take photos on the way and here are some shots from the winter wonderland here at Taivalkoski. Photos from the Inari are to follow later…

Here are some photos from a full-day husky safari in early January. The customers were great (as they usually are) and we saw the sun for the first time for over a week or so.

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The guide’s job here includes also quite a lot of driving with snowmobile – and waiting as N is doing in the photo…

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In addition to the 60 adult dogs, we have also some of these cute fellows as well. The big one, named “Nuoska” (meaning wet sticky snow), is probably the biggest husky puppy of her age I’ve ever seen and if she’ll continue to grow like that she’ll be around the size of a horse in the end… 😀

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As mentioned the work involves also waiting but luckily our dogs are masters in the waiting game. Here the dogs are waiting for customers to arrive for a full-day safari in mid January on a particularly cold day with temps below -30C. The upside with the cold weather is that here it goes hand in hand with clear skies and sunny weather.

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And this is how the cold here looks like…

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On my free time I try to go out skiing as often as possible. The views are often nice, like the dusk in the photo below taken while on a skiing trip at the close-by swamp plains.

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As we haven’t seen much auroras here lately, here’s one of the nice northern lights we saw in early December. The skies are clear tonight so I keep my fingers crossed for more fresh photos of the fire on the sky…

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For those interested: All photos are taken with Canon EOS 550D and most of them with the magnificent EF 24-105 4 L IS. Equipped with an external battery grip it works just fine below -30C temps and can be used also with thick mitts. Just remember not the breath towards the viewfinder or lens. 😉