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Tag Archives: Alpacka

Bike, Hike, Paddle – Pöyrisjoki Trip Report

Pöyrisjoki and Ounasjoki watershed

Pöyrisjoki river is often listed as one of the four great wilderness rivers of Finland. Like the rest of the great wilderness rivers (Lätäseno, Näätämö and Ivalojoki rivers) the Pöyrisjoki in situated in Lapland high over the Arctic Circle as that’s where’s most of Finland’s wilderness and free-flowing rivers are. The Pöyrisjoki river flows South from Pöyrisjärvi lake through the Pöyrisjärvi wilderness area to Vuontisjärvi lake and later joins the Ounasjoki river. The Pöyrisjoki river is about 60km long (some references state the river being 43km in length but the 60km is closer to reality) and drops over 110 meters on the way with rapids ranging from class 1- to class 4. It was the destination of my main trip of the summer.

Vuontisjärvi lake, the end of Pöyrisjoki river.

If you’re interested in the Ounasjoki watershed, there is a great information page about it at www.ounasjoki.fi. Unfortunately it’s in Finnish only but the map with white water classifications is very informative and you can easily translate the short descriptions of rivers and rapids. Please note that even though there are GPS coordinates for each rapid we didn’t find them completely accurate so normal caution is still needed when traveling on rivers.

Proksinkurkkio (class 2), one of the many shallow and rocky rapids.

The plan

After packrafting the spectacular Valtijoki-Poroeno-Lätäseno continuum in 2011 and not having done much packrafting in 2012 (but still some) I was looking for a proper wilderness packrafting trip for this summer. A friend, fellow wilderness guide and generally awesome outdoor’s guy Antti was also getting a packraft this year so we decided to do a trip together. After some planning Pöyrisjoki was chosen as the destination but unfortunately Antti was too busy in early summer for us to raft it in the spring flood so we had to go in late July and just hope for enough water…

Because of schedule restraints a fast (and lightish) approach for the trip seemed appropriate as we had four days for the 140+km round trip. The plan was quite simple:

– drive to the end of the paddling section (Vuontisjärvi), a very long drive from the South
– bike from Vuontisjärvi to the end of the road (Näkkälä), 60km
– hike from Näkkälä to the lake (Pöyrisjärvi lake), 20+km
– paddle the river from the lake to the car, 60km

Ugly but illustrative: grey = bike, green = hike, blue = paddle.

Ugly but illustrative. Grey = bike, green = hike, blue = paddle.

After paddling we’d pick up the bikes with the car. The Pöyrisjärvi wilderness area would make also great bikepacking but because we had little tight schedule we decided to bike on the road to save some time and as we didn’t want to paddle big white water with bikes on the packrafts we leaved them at the end of the road. But interesting options exist for the interested and skilled.

Bikepacking perfection?

Day 0 – Very early start

One of the schedule restraints was that I was working for the weekend prior the trip. This meant I had to pack a couple of days in advance and travel with extra luggage, especially as the forecast was on the wet and cold side. As my work ended around 2.00 a.m. on Sunday morning Antti came to pick me up and we headed North. I mostly slept the first half of the long drive to North and Antti also had to take a longish nap to stay awake which lead us arriving to Vuontisjärvi quite late in the evening despite our early start.

As it was late and we needed to sort the kit one more time, we decided to spend the night at Vuontisjärvi. The river flows down to the lake Vuontisjärvi by a little public beach and there is a rental sauna and an open “kota” shelter that we happily utilized. Gear was tweaked and packrafts tested. I was especially interested to test the new Anfibio Thigh Straps I had installed just before the trip and hadn’t tested them yet. They were awesome! (More on them later as a separate post…)

The evening was relatively cool and mosquitoes very few so we slept really well in the shelter.

Day 1 – Hard biking and great walking

The morning was beautiful: sunny and warm. I was slightly worried about biking with a 20kg backpack so I strapped the packraft to the handlebars and paddle to the frame to lighten my load. After this my HMG Expedition felt actually quite good. I was even more worried about Antti’s backpack: he had quite a lot of kit stuffed in and strapped around his 40 liter Hiko Trek Backpack. But as Antti’s backpack for an approach hike of a climbing & skiing trip to Kebnekaise the last autumn had got the better of a 40kg scale – before adding telemark boots and skis on top of it – I was convinced he knew what he was doing…

After gathering the wind blow river notes from all over the beach we started pedaling. We were both riding slightly too small 26″ MTBs sporting a clip-in pedals, and we were having trail runners. But it was all good and we were eager to get going.

After the first 20km of biking we arrived to the town of Hetta and had a break at the local bakery. Antti was starting to feel his saddle little too well so we tried to cushion it with my PFD.

After turning towards North we had a thickening cloud cover,headwind and something that felt like a constant uphill… Clouds and wind were welcome to keep us cool but headwind and uphill neglected the effect quite well.

The seat cushioning didn’t work out too well and to save Antti’s ass we improvised a rack from paddle and straps to take some of the weight. It worked surprisingly well but failed couple of times towards the end scattering the kit on the road side…

After some reindeer dodging we arrived to the end of the road at Näkkälä. We chained the bikes into a tree, had lunch, repacked our rucksacks once again and headed towards the hills. It was still cloudy with a breeze and little on the cool side. No bugs. Walking was great and we decided to take a high route on the hill tops instead of following the ATV trail.

Once off trail and on the hills there was a real sense of wilderness and adventure, especially as we didn’t have any maps with us. (Yes, yes, it’s bad. Don’t do it.) But navigation on the hills was easy, and we had a GPS as a back-up. There were ripe cloudberries, a Golden Eagle soaring above the horizon, heards of reindeers and good scenery. Some of the best outdoors moments for me this summer.

Golden Eagle, first time I’ve seen one at Finnish fjells.

Reindeers, I’ve seen plenty of them on Finnish fjells.

Antti, you can meet him occasionally on the Finnish fjells.

From the top of Jierttisvaara we spotted a possible camp site by one of the little lakes (Jiertisrovanjärvi). As we descended down the cloud cover broke and sun started to shine. Swim, fishing and photography followed. In the camp the bugs started to get up to annoying levels but eased out a bit after the sun set and air got little cooler.

Day 2 – The beauty of lake Pöyrisjärvi

The next morning was hot! The clouds and breeze were gone and sun was blasting from a clear blue sky. A morning swim was needed and breakfast was had walking in circles (to keep the bugs away from you mouth) instead of sitting in the now sauna-like tent. We packed up and headed to the ATV trail as we wanted to check the open wilderness hut by the lake. We knew the trail would take us there so we didn’t need to use the GPS.

The ATV trail was an ATV trail but still quite a nice one as the tyres had broken the surface soil and revealed the fine sand. We walked barefooted all the way to the wilderness hut enjoying the fine soft sand and occasional easy water crossing.

At the hut we had lunch and checked the likely launching site for packrafting: A perfect shallow and long sandy beach! As the lake was mirror calm, sun blasting and water in the shore was relatively warm (+15C?) we didn’t bother to start paddling quite yet  but continued the barefoot walking at the water’s edge towing our gear in packrafts. There weren’t even bugs to bother us!

Even though the conditions at the time were heavenly we had a grim reminder that it’s not always the case: A boat with police officer and specially trained dog was out on the lake searching for a body of a man drowned in a storm a week earlier. A group of four man had gone to the lake with a boat in stormy weather and capsized. Two younger man had been wearing PFDs and managed to swim ashore but two older men had drowned. A serious reminder that one should always respect the water and the weather.

All good things come to an end and so did our beach walk. We jumped into our boats and started paddling towards the Eastern corner of the lake and the river. Going was good and according to the GPS we were paddling around 4km/h with little help from a gentle backwind. Once at the river we found another perfect beach (which would’ve also made an awesome camp site). We took a swim and spent some time admiring the grayling swimming in the river. The fish were not in a mood for catching Antti’s lures so we set our packrafts on the river and started paddling.

Quite soon we arrived to the first rapid, a class 1- Laulunivat. Easy in a way but rocky and shallow. After some paddling the 1+ Suomaniva followed. Again rocky and shallow. Then a long flat section followed. But paddling the flat felt actually quite good. But mentally I had been prepared for faster and more splashy going. We were happy that we hadn’t done the dry suits as we were toasting even in our normal clothing.

Good camp sites were scarce along the river but there was a nice little meadow at Proksinkurkkio. We pitched tent and changed into our Ursuk MPS dry suits as Antti wanted to test his packraft in the class 2 Proksinkurkkio.

There started to be a very unpleasant amount of mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums so we paddled down the rapid with head nets on… The rapid was quite long but again very rocky and shallow. It was easy run but as avoiding all the rocks was impossible it was also little frustrating: No matter what ninja moves you pulled, you’d hit a rock more often than not.

After the rapid we did some more testing with the Alpacka Gravity Grip and Anfibio Thigh Straps. Both enable incredible control compared to unrigged packraft making bracing actually possible and useful. We also tested wet exits and found them easy as always.

The paddle is not in the bottom. Antti testing bracing with the Gravity Grip.

Antti testing wet exit with Gravity Grip.

But as the rapid wasn’t very inspiring we returned back to camp after the run. Antti was dying for some fishing (he hadn’t caught any yet) and while he went back to the rapid I wandered around the camp eating cloudberries and picking some mushrooms (Leccinum versipelle) for a side dish. As long as I maintained a good pace the bugs stayed behind my back and I managed without a head net.

Antti had luck with the graylings and so we had two dinners: first a full pot of couscous and then fried mushrooms and grayling. This was welcome as we had found our standard dinner a little too small. After the dinner it was well past midnight and time to sleep. Even though the day had been hot it cooled down quickly in the evening.

Day 3 – A boring river

The wake up on the third day was one of the most unpleasant I’ve ever had while camping.

I woke around 6.00 a.m. with very dry mouth and feeling little weird. The sun was hammering out tent from the clear blue sky again and it was quite hot so I thought that to be the reason. Few minutes later I felt very nauseous and had to bolt out from the tent to vomit. Not the most pleasant of wake ups, specially with the hordes of bugs eating you alive at the same time! After emptying my stomach I had some water and went back to the shelter of our tent. I was still feeling sick and soon had to go out again.

All sorts of thoughts were going around my head: A food poisoning in the middle of nowhere? I was very sure of the mushrooms I had picked but what if I was wrong? Would this be the end of the trip? What would be the best way to get myself out from here? Float down? Walk out? Call a pick up?

After some time Antti woke up as it was too hot to actually sleep in the tent. I told him the situation and that I needed some time to recover before being able to continue. Antti was feeling okay and decided to go fishing while waiting. After couple of hours of carefully hydrating and resting I was starting to feel better and we had breakfast, broke the camp and continued down the river with the hordes of bugs following our packrafts. I was still feeling little week and let Antti lead the way.

Note: I’m very positive I picked the right mushrooms, but… Most or all of the mushrooms of the Leccinum family require thorough cooking to be edible. This is something I knew even at the time and I thought we had done it right but apparently we hadn’t. I got, in my opinion, quite a strong reaction but Antti had just a slightly upset stomach. But even a mild case of food poisoning can be dangerous, especially in the backcountry. So, always be carefull with mushrooms and remember to cook them in a proper way!

There were some technically easy but again very shallow and rocky rapids to navigate. Occasionally they were fun but quite often they started to feel just like work: avoiding all the rocks was impossible and sometimes pushing with paddle and hands was required to get over rocky ledges. But we still run every meter in the packrafts. There were also long stretches of flat water that were not very entertaining, especially as it was a hot day, we had plenty of bugs and I was still feeling weak after the mushroom episode…

Rocky and shallow at its worst.

Late in the afternoon we passed by some cottages and meet the only person on the way from Pöyrisjärvi to Vuontisjärvi. The older local lady was spending time at the cottage and picking cloudberries. We had a little chat floating by ans she said that the water level was about 0,5 meters higher than usually as the summer head been very rainy. We were very happy for the rains as with half-a-meter lower water level we would’ve had to walk down most of the rapids.

It’s a paradise for Grayling fishers!

We paddled some more flat sections and couple of easy class 1 sections, of which Purnunkoski and Lumikoski had adequate water level to be actually fun and not just plain rocky. We camped at the mouth of the Lumikoski. I pitched tent, took a swim and sheltered myself from the bugs inside the tent continuing the re-hydration process. Antti went to do some more fishing and prepared the dinner. This time it didn’t include mushrooms!

Day 4 – The best bits saved last

As our camp spot was shaded by the brich we were able to sleep long despite the merciless sun and also enjoyed the breakfast in the tent sheltered from the bugs. We had high expectations for the last day as there was bigger and more difficult white water to come! We were both feeling good and the morale was high despite having a longish lake-like section to cross.

The “lake” turned out to be very shallow and dotted with small islets and vegetation with occasional views to the hills so it was actually very nice. I noticed I had forgotten my sunglasses at the camp but as we had been coming down stream for an hour, I decided to manage without instead of the laborious upstream paddling or bushwhacking up and down the river banks.

The faster section started with the normal shallow and rocky stuff. Safe and relatively easy with a packraft but not very rewarding boating. The class 2+ (3) Pahtakoski started to be already proper fun: enough water not to hit the rocks all the time and some big waves and little drops/slides.

The lower (and the better) half of Pahtakoski (2+).

Pahtakoski (2+) from a different perspective.

After Pahtakoski we arrived to the main course of the day: the Kuirinkurkkio rapid (4-). The rapid starts with a short fast flowing slide with some waves next to a bit of undercut rock (class 3). Then follows a calm pool section followed with two options: left branch is a narrow but pretty straight forward swift run (class 3+) and the right branch is a proper 1,5 meter rocky drop with a bit of hydraulics (class 4). We scouted the rapid and were little intimidated by a broken canoe in the forest after the last drop.

A warning sign?

But despite the canoe we felt confident and decided to first run the thing. While one was paddling, the other one was providing safety from the shore with the Anfibio Throwbags, and the camera! The upper part turned out to be easy and fun, but short.

The upper part of Kuirinkurkkio (3).

Then we proceeded to run the lower left branch which was again fun and fast but also short and quite shallow (basically just a water slide) on places. Not much options there: just avoid hitting the rock wall on the right and enjoy the slide.

The start of the lower left channel of Kuirinkurkkio (3+).

I wanted to try also the bigger drop and as I managed just fine Antti soon followed and we run the drop some six times all together trying different lines and styles. The Kuirinkurkkio would be very demanding, if not impossible, for long vessels. But for a short white water kayak or packraft it is a good run – as long as you know what you are doing!

The lower right channel of Kuirinkurkkio (class 4).

More of the good stuff…

…and some more.

After lunch by the rapid it was time to continue. The class 2 Kirkkokurkkio has some nasty undercuts but with packrafts and the flow we had it wasn’t really a problem. We were little lazy and didn’t bother to scout it by foot but run from eddie to eddie scouting a section at a time from the boats. Same followed at Laakakurkkio (2+). The drop and hydraulics mentioned in the river notes were not bad at all with the flow we had. The rest of the rapids were again shallow and rocky but this time also quite fast and long. They would make great boating with higher water level.

The start or Kirkkokurkkio (class 2). Later there is a big undercut rock wall on the right.

More rocky, splashy and shallow stuff.

After the second to last rapid we had two options: either to paddle couple of kilometers of mostly flat river or pack the rafts, bushwhack to a nearby trail and walk to the car. We decided to boat all the way. The boating wasn’t actually too bad. Going was laborious, as flat water with packraft tends to be, but the spirits were high and we were almost done.

With thunder roaring in the distance a big sandy ridge with the familiar tree silhouette appeared and we arrived at the beach. We enjoyed the warm drinks reserved at the car and felt good. 140+km in little over three days.

Quite soon Antti left to get the bikes, I spread our gear drying in the sun and started to walk from house to house in search for the key to the rental sauna… Finding the key proved little difficult but the friendly locals helped and we happily paid a whole three euros per person for the sauna! Th only little set back was the rain that arrived when I was heating up the sauna – with all the gear spread around the beach…

I had requested Antti to visit the grocery on the way and the evening was spent with sauna, grilled sausages and some more beers. The last night in the shelter turned out to be the worst of the trip (save for the wake up of the day number three): the shelter was hot after the warm days and us having a fire going, mosquitoes were plenty and hungry and the night was restless…

Next morning an early start was required for Antti to pick her girlfriend from airport and for me to catch Mark Roberts of Backpacking North for a Brovernigther but that’s a different story…

Note on the water level

There is no official water level or flow measurements from Pöyrisjoki but if you’re planning a trip to Pöyrisjoki the measurements from Ounasjärvi (a lake draining to Ounasjoki above the Pöyrisjoki) and Ketomella in Ounasjoki (downstream from Pöyrisjoki) might be helpful. During our trip the water level at Ounasjärvi was around 287,1m (discharge 3,5 m^3/s) and at Ketomella 261,9m (flow 25 m^3/s).

The long flat water sections are paddlable around the year at any water level but as the rapids are shallow and rocky, I think majority of them would be not be paddlable with lower water level or at least they wouldn’t be any fun. On the other hand, we found all the rapids expect Kuirinkurkkio to be easy with this water level (and Kuirinkurkkio wasn’t difficult either, just exciting) but with higher water level the nature of the rapids may change dramatically and they may become difficult and even dangerous.

If planning a trip with canoe, kayak or some other boat the special characteristics of packraft are also worth noting: Packrafts are very agile, don’t need much water and are very stable which makes constant rock contacts more irritating than dangerous. For a longer vessel the flat sections will be more fun but the rapids will be more challenging or even impossible.

I hope to return to Pöyrisjoki one day, but probably only for the lower half (as packraft enables hiking in were ever you want to) – and definitely during the spring flood!

– – –

As usually, more photos in my gallery.


New packrafting toys!

No, unfortunately I don’t have any new packrafting toys for myself but there have been few very cool new products hitting the market this summer. And even though I’ve tweeted about every one of the new toys they are also worth a blog post as I have readers who don’t follow me on Twitter. (For those readers: It’s an option worth considering just go here and click “Follow”.) A lot of this information is originally from packrafting.de, a great blog worth following!

To get you started here a few pics from the recent trips near Kilpisjärvi, both including a bit of packrafting. Both trips were possible thanks to the packraft rental service by Backpacking North.

My mate Tuomas packrafting the Kummaeno river. A lot of walking followed by easy river with low water level: a trip where a light but sturdy packraft would have excelled.

N floating down the gorgeous Reisadalen after a lot of walking. Again a lighter packraft, or a raft for two, would’ve done the trick here.

Dry suits, designed solely for packrafting!

Dry suit just makes packrafting a lot more comfortable if it’s cold, the water is cold or you’re doing hard stuff in white water. For most use you don’t really need one but might occasionally still want one. We didn’t have dry suits on the aforementioned trips but I did miss mine on the Kummaeno. I have been using an Ursuit AWS 4-tex suit made by a Finnish company Ursuk. They make great dry suits, especially for demanding professional use, and the AWS 4-tex is also a very good dry suit for the use it was designed for. But it has socks and they tend to wear out and start to leak in packrafting use (which includes walking with the suit, often sand, sticks and squirrels in your shoes). And  for the trips where you have to carry your rafting kit over long distances, a lighter option would be nicer…

Tuomas on Lätäseno back in 2011. One of those moments when you really appreciate a quality dry suit.

And da-daa! Now there are two dry suits designed solely for packrafting.

They are both very simple and light weight and instead of socks (or fixed boots) they have gussets in the ankles. The long-awaited dry suit from Alpacka, the Stowaway, hit the shelves this summer and a bit later the European Packrafting-Store launched their own Anfibio line including a dry suit called the Packsuit. I have to say that on the screen the Alpacka Stowaway is more appealing thanks to the zipper on waist (for the need that naturally occur during a long day of packrafting) and a neoprene neck closure (suits better for my skin). But the Packsuit’s zipper seems better for ventilating while on waters (Yes, it’s dangerous so practise at your own risk!) and the price point is really good.

As the Ursuk dry suits are though bastards I don’t see myself investing on a new dry suit any time soon… But if you are looking for a dry suit mostly for packrafting, I’d choose between the two dry suits really designed for packrafting.

As the waters in Finland are already getting colder it’s timely to remind also of the cheaper option for a dry suit: neoprene wetsuit. These are not as comfortable (especially when wet the next day and crispy in the freezing morning air) nor are they as light but they are cheap alternative for stretching the packrafting season towards the winter. For packrafting I’ve used one of the cheapest a sub 40 euro model available from Motonet-stores in Finland. It’s designed for surfing and probably doesn’t excel even for that but it’s cheap and gets the job done. A real bargain.

New packrafts!

I’ve been mostly using an Alpacka Denali Llama which is a great packraft for my needs but occasionally either too small (as me and N found out last summer when trying to packraft with two people and two rucksacks on board) or too big and heavy. The big and heavy part usually leads to leaving it at home if it’s not really needed for the trip but a light raft would be nice for occasional river or lake crossing and generally as a tool to provide more freedom of choise in the backcountry. And now there are options to tackle both of the problems!

The Alpacka Explorer 42. Picture stolen from Packrafting Store website.

For the need of a two-person packraft there is now the Explorer 42:Nearly canoe-like two-person packraft by Alpacka Raft available on Packrafting Store. It’s 32 cm longer from the inside than my Llama and the inner doesn’t taper towards the front which means there should be really enough room for two people and two big packs. Just add few tie-downs to the stern as the big butt easily supports a rucksack or two. It weights only 2650 g (without seats) i.e. 1325 g per person. That’s not bad as the classic solo packrafts from Alpacka weight about 1 kg more! Add a pair of Trekking Pole Blades (140 g) to your trekking poles for canoe style paddling, use your sleeping pads as seats and you have a sub 3 kg packrafting package for two! (Just don’t take it on white water… Though some nice class I might go…)

The Alpacka CuriYak. Picture stolen from Alpacka website.

For the need of a sturdy but light tool for backcountry travel there has always been the Alpacka Scout. But with an inner length of 104 cm and limited buoyancy it’s not really meant for people of my size (186 cm tall). Roman Dial has been using a longer spray-decked special version “the Super Scout” but the design is not available for the public. Instead there is now the all new Alpacka CuriYak! It’s very interesting design with pointy bow and big stern with the standard 12 inch tubes but the tubes in the middle are only 10 inch in diameter. It’s sized like the standard Yak (i.e. has 10 cm more inner length than the Scout) but weights only 1,87 kg (versus 2,25 kg for the Yak). Unfortunately there is no spray-deck available for this one but a MYOS spray-deck is always a possibility… Anyhow, very interesting boat and if I could afford, I would definitely buy this one to accompany my Llama. (Then I could upgrade the Llama with the new spray-deck and skirt, add thigh-straps and so on. To pimp your packraft  take a look at Luck Mehl’s great tutotial.)

And there is also a lot lighter option for this category from Klymit (the company making the weird sleeping pads) the “Light Water Dingy”. As the name suggest it’s really meant for easy water and seems a bit dubious in my opinion but would probably do great job on easy crossings and would double as a very comfortable sleeping pad. Only problem is the 200 pound weight limit as I’m way over that, even without any gear! But for some this is probably an interesting option to the FlytePacker packraft (or for inflatable beach mattresses typically used on Finnish multisport competitions). Oh, it weights only about 650 grams and should cost around 250 euros. Not too bad.

Feel free to comment the post and the topic, especially if you have any first hand experience about the products mentioned here or links to user reports!

Flippin’ the llama

The title of the post emerged from conversation in Mark’s post about Testing the Waters with borrowed Alpacka Denali Llama packraft and it’s very appropriate title for the post as this is about getting my new packraft wet and flipped around. That’s what I did the last weekend.

Friday evening in a pond

Tuomas loading his rucksack with water for some "pool training".

Mostly for the sheer fun of it but also as a training for the upcoming FPE2011 trip me and my good mate (and newly graduated wilderness guide – congratulations!) Tuomas spent the Friday evening in a pond flipping packrafts with and without load and learning to manoeuver them. Big thanks for Hendrik of Hiking in Finland for borrowing his little red Alpacka raft for Tuomas!

A freestyle kayaker playing in the Torminvirta rapid.

Pernoonkosket rapids

Of Saturday we got our rafts in the fun staff: white water at Pernoonkosket rapids in the Kymijoki river near Kotka, a bit over one hour drive from Lappeenranta where I live. I had never visited the Pernoonkosket but I think I’ll be returning there regularly from now on. There is a good description of Pernoonkosket here but it’s in Finnish so I’ll give a short summary in English.

Pernoonkosket is a 1,1 kilometer long stretch of rapids in three stages:

– The uppermost rapid is class II Torminvirta (1,4m/150m) which is also the funniest part of the system.  In the beginning there is a small stopper on the river left (visible in the picture above) and smooth fast current on the right. These are followed by two big breaking waves, followed by smaller breaking cross waves from the front and left and a longish wave train in the end. There are some stones under the waves but nothing especially dangerous. The rapid is easy to portage on the gravel/stone bar on the river right.

– The second rapid is Karkuuskoski (0,8m/100m) with one big surfable wave in the beginning followed by a wave train. There is a big rock just beneath the surface so this is a bad place for a swim! This is a bit hard to portage as the small island in the middle is full of bush and there is some private property on the river right bank but a packraft can be first paddled upstream in the eddy on the right and then walked by the rocks at the neck of the rapid. After the rapid there is reasonably strong current that makes paddling a packraft upstream a bit hard but it’s still possible.

– The lowest rapids flow in three canals with the left canal, Sittaränni (1,3m/200m), is quite enjoyable with big V style wave on the right, a very firm stopper wave in the middle and a good eddy in the left, all followed by smaller waves and a bit rocky bottom. The middle canal of the lowest rapids is called Tukkiränni and there is dangerously powerful hydraulics in the end so it’s best avoided with small boats.Beneath these rapids there is a sandy beach on the river left and some good eddies before it.

– In addition to the rapids I mentioned there are smaller parallel rapids (see the map at the end of the link above). There is a free to use shed for shelter and parking area next to the Sittaränni rapid.

Saturday in the white water

So, we arrived at the rapids around midday and after changing into our wetsuits, pfds and bicycle helmets and inflating the rafts we hit the water. We paddled upstream to Karkuuskoski with some detours, rode the rapid once and played in the eddy for awhile accompanied by some freestyle kayakers. We must have been a weird sight in our rubber boats and bicycle helmets! Tuomas had a near bander snatching in the big sharp stopper wave of the Karkuuskoski but managed it with a quick high brace.

Tuomas surfing in the Sittaränni rapid.

After this we rode the Sittaränni and started to play in the stopper wave. The wave has some real power in it and hold packraft so well that it’s hard to get off from the surf! So we decided to avoid the stopper as it would have been also hard to swim out of it if capsized. We noticed that packrafts can catch and surf even small standing waves very easily – often unintended while ferrying thru the wave trains. We tried to surf the left side of the river but it was hard because of the currents (strong eddy, some rock and strong main current) and lead into what the title of the post suggests: I flipped the Llama three times there and Tuomas capsized twice. On the first times we swam a shore with the paddle and raft but in the end we managed to self-rescue with ease.

Tuomas taking a closer look at the bottom of Sittaränni.

After of playing in the Sittaränni we had a coffee break at the car parked next to the rapid and then we headed up to Torminvirta rapid. There was a group of freestyle kayakers at Torminvirta with some of them very interested about our rafts. They though packrafts would make good training tools for beginners who are afraid of capsizing in kayaks. Well, sport paddlers are likely to miss the biggest advantage of the packraft: the packability and the adventures it enables! We did several runs in the Torminvirta and some ferrying and wave catching in the wave train below it. The rapid was surprisingly easy to paddle despite the big waves. On the last run we both capsized while fooling around. I got stuck for a while in the second big wave and Tuomas was surprised by the breaking cross waves. We both managed to do quick self-rescues. It started to be a routine after playing in the Sittaränni.

Yours truly riding down the wave train below the Torminvirta rapid.

After getting enough we paddled thru Karkuuskoski and Sittaränni back to the car for a quick snack. I capsized in the Sittaräni while trying to catch a big river with too aggressive ferrying in wrong place and hitting my left hip to rocks in the bottom.

My hip after making some contact with the rocks of the Sittaränni.

After few meat pastries and coffee in the shed sheltered from the rain, we loaded our packrafts with about 15 kilo rucksacks and paddled back to Torminvirta. We did several runs and some ferrying in the waves. As predicted the packrafts tracked better with the load on the bow. Tuomas said that the older model Alpacka was much more stable in the rapids with the front load but I didn’t feel major difference in my 2011 model Llama. This is mostly because of the big butt that adds stability. We both noticed that the rafts were more sluggish and slower to respond.

Tuomas riding down the Torminvirta with rucksack on the bow.

At some point we noticed that the clock was around 6:00 pm and it was time to get back home after six hours of nearly constant white water fun. We rode down all the three rapids with no problems,  catched an eddy after Sittaränni and took out. We packed the wet gear in rain, shared a last chocolate bar and started the drive back home. It was a good day: learning new things and having great time! I’m not still too confident about the big drops and long class III stretches that wait us in Lapland but I think we’ll manage. At least our self-rescue routine is already quite good.

Yours truly riding the waves in Torminvirta with rucksack keeping the bow down.

Few words about gear

– As is widely known the 2011 Llama is veeery cool boat. The new hull makes it a lot more stable. I don’t think this is very big deal in class I or II but the difference will be likely remarkable in more challenging white water. But luckily Tuomas is more experienced paddler than I am… The standard spray deck doesn’t work with “leisure boating” style pfds. It might work better with high riding white water kayaking pfds but I think I’ll be adding some velcro to the deck or getting the “Beefy spray deck” upgrade from Alpacka later. I am 186cm long and the Llama is okay for me but for playing in white water I might move the seat forward and swap the backrest into dry sack to move it along with the seat. The seat is attached with cord threaded through four tabs (two on each side) and I think that the seat would be just fine threaded more forward with just one pair of tabs. Then a bottom tab of a dry sack (e.g. Ortlieb PS17, size M or so) could be threaded to the tabs in the back of the boat and the top of the dry sack could be attached to the tie-down plates used to attach the removable backrest. This would move the paddler more forward and create a 20-30 liters of dry space for gear near the center of the gravity.

The two part aluminum paddle from Welhonpesä performed well enough and is a good pick for the price.

Cheap wetsuits from Motonet are very useful in colder water. The suit is not especially designed for paddling but works well enough, gives some protection from rocks while swimming and is very reasonably priced. I think I’ll add a relief zipper to mine for conveniency. Cheap neoprene socks (Snow Fox brand) work also very well and have even sealed seams! But the gloves from the same brand don’t work too well for paddling as the seams chafe.

– All the pictures are taken with Olympus Though-3000 waterproof compact camera. I don’t like it too much as a camera but it can take hits and be submerged so it fits the job well. It also takes 720p video, which will likely follow later.

Next time I’ll be trying the Llama in still water with two people and two rucksacks…