Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: Arctic

Three Weeks in the Wonderland

It’s pretty much summer now. At least in most of Finland. The snow has melted away, the winter kit is serviced and packed away and plans for summer adventures are being finalized. But let’s go back a couple of months and return again to the winter wonderland of the high Arctic…

In April I was guiding a three-week Ankarat avotunturit ski expedition to Svalbard. When the starting date drew closer, for some weird reason, I was more excited about the Vatnajökull crossing waiting in May, thinking it would be more interesting than Svalbard. I was wrong. So wrong.

Three weeks is a long time and there is too much to write about in detail but I think the photos do justice for the tour, to the time and place where we were.

We where there…

…sweating our way up the hills.

…skiing through the remote valleys.

…crossing the wast glaciers.

…waking up to the gorgeous mornings.

…climbing up to the jagged peaks.

…and skiing back down.

…finding our way to the cold shores.

…overcoming obstacles.

We where there…

…for the scenery.

…for the wildlife.

…for the sweet little surprises along the way.

…for the good life.

To make memories that define us.

I’d like to thank the great group I had privileged to guide. And the weather gods. And who ever sold his/her soul to keep them happy and favourable. Sorry for the soul, but it was well worth it.

Weeks like those, in wilderness like that, leave their mark. They change us. They define us. They leave a longing for more.

And so, I will return to those cold shores and jagged peaks.

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As usual, more selected photos in my gallery.

– – –

And a little technical side note:

Due to hassle and serious sleep deprivation on departure, I accidentally packed my spare camera batteries to my checked luggage and as li-on batteries they were confiscated by the airport security. I noticed this way too late in Longyearbyen and didn’t have a chance to get any spares and thus had to survive with the single battery in my EOS 6D. I turned off the screen, the image stabilization, etc. and put the camera on only momentarily to take pictures trying to conserve power as much as was reasonable. I was amazed by the performance.

I took 1178 pictures with my camera (EOS 6D with 24-105 4 L IS lens)! And in the end the battery even had a tiny bit of juice left despite the camera warning of low battery level for the last three days. I was pretty damn impressed. But the next time, I will take spare batteries. And pack them to the carry-on luggage.

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Getting over the expedition hangover

The blog has been quiet for about two months. That’s a long time. Of that time I’ve spent about five weeks on my longest expedition yet, skiing 27 days across the Greenland icecap. It was a wonderful tour and I had great time. But the price to pay seems to be the worst expedition hangover I’ve ever had. Some sort of post-trip torpor is typical to me but this time it feels exceptionally bad.

Yours truly enjoying life at the Greenland icecap. Photo by Matias Utriainen.

Yours truly enjoying life at the Greenland icecap. Photo by Matias Utriainen.

I was physically fine after the trip. I had to catch some sleep and took it easy for the first couple of weeks after the skiing but I lost only 2 kg of weight and it was solely fat so my body was fine. I didn’t have any bigger aches except for minor cold damage on the tips of my middle fingers and big toes but basically after a week of rest I was ready to go and ski cross the thing again.

And actually, I was also mentally more than eager to return to the simple life on the icecap. Back home I was initially interested mostly in sleeping and eating. After some time reading, sauna by the lake, sitting by a fire and walking and biking in the forests also started to appeal but most other things felt repulsive. And they still do. I’d rather be in some remote and wild place than back home with the myriad everyday responsibilities. This is what I call expedition hangover and that has also kept me away from the blog…

But in addition to longing for another expedition I’ve been also going through the huge amount of photos and video we shot on the expedition. I alone took over 1800 stills and nearly 50 GB of video. And I wasn’t the only one with a camera.

The first patch of photos is now ready and published and you can find them from my gallery. The photos are accompanied by short captions and I think they are best browsed in full screen view (click the icon on top right when browsing the photos) by clicking through the photos one by one. But you can watch them also as a slide show and also hide the texts if you want. You can get to the gallery by clicking any of the photos in the post.

Oh, and if you know cure for the post-trip hangover feel free to share it! 😉

PS. I also gave some interviews about the expedition. You can find the list from a post in the expedition blog but the only one in English is on Explorer’s Web and can be found from here.

Skiing across Greenland

I’ve mentioned once every now and then that my main tour of the winter will be a ski expedition across the Greenland ice cap – and it’s about to start right now!

We will leave Finland behind on April 13th and arrive to Greenland the next day. And if all goes as planned we will start skiing from the West coast on April 16th and get to enjoy little over four weeks of white horizon, simple life and solitude before arriving to the East coast. Ski, eat, sleep, repeat. My idea of a great holiday!

Into the white in Svalbard in 2011.

White horizon, simple life and solitude on Vatnajökull in 2012.

The beauty of vast ice fields from Vatnajökull in 2013.

The beauty of vast ice fields from Vatnajökull in 2013.

All the little trips, longer journeys and previous expeditions have got me here and now I just hope I can get across the ice cap and enjoy the upcoming weeks. I have to admit, I’m little nervous but at the ame time also relieved that it’s about to start and the preparations are finally over!

I wished to write a lot about all the preparations and the countless myriad things needed to be done in order to get to the ice’s edge with a good chance to ski some 600 kilometers in four weeks without resupplies or other outside help… But, the preparations (and the little life I have in addition) kept me so busy I didn’t find time to write about them. But once on the ice we will have time for daily blog posts so at least you have chance to follow our tour if you are interested.

The daily updates will be post to our blog acrossgreenland2014.com. The updates will be in Finnish but will always include a summary in English.

You can also track our progress on the map.

For tweets (Finnish and English) from the ice cap follow Pohjoisemmas on Twitter and if you like this project, feel free to like us also on Facebook.

While I’m searching for the winter, you enjoy the spring and have good time outdoors!

In search of the place where sky and ice become one. (Vatnajökull 2013)

In search of the place where sky and ice become one. (Vatnajökull 2013)

 

 

 

 

Wet Winter Tour in Sarek

When a one-week winter ski tour starts with heavy wind-driven rain you have to remind yourself why you like that stuff. This far I’ve always managed to convince myself that I’m doing what I really like and, fortunately, this time wasn’t an exception. In early March I was in Sarek National Park guiding the Advanced Course in Arctic Ski Expeditions with a great group of nine people. The tour was good but conditions were very unusual and quite challenging.

Rock Ptarmigans (Lagopus muta) in storm on the second day of the tour.

The conditions got interesting already on the approach to Ritsem. While we were enjoying a late hamburger-based dinner at Gällivare one participant, driving ahead to Ritsem, called on the way to report some serious winds and banks of spindrift. Little bit later he called again reporting flying gravel, wind ripping apart the ski box on top of his car and that he decided to bail and wait for us… Wise decision as the close-by weather station measured 35m/s average and 47m/s gusts!

A couple of hours and one serious heart-to-throat spindrift bank push-through later we met at the Stora Sjöfallet hotel, ditched the broken ski box, repacked and headed towards Ritsem. The wind had calmed down a bit and we managed to push to Ritsem were it was eerily calm as the big valley protected the area from the stormy winds.

The next morning we got our gear organized and started to ski across the lake Ahkkajaure.  A local couple on snowscooters had ventured out early in the morning and returned before we left all soaking wet reporting “terrible weather”. What a great start for a course in demanding ski expeditions! And an hour later the weather hit us on the open lake ice: high winds and heavy rain. SKiing in slush getting soaked by rain. Very Arctic indeed. But the fantastic group just soldiered through in marvellous manner despite some of them being dripping wet down to their base layers.

Towards the evening the weather got better for a little while with moments of sunshine and it all felt right again. Once we were pitching camp in the cover of the birch forest showers of wet snow and gusts returned. But by that time we were camped and sheltered, wet but happy.

The next day dawned in reasonable conditions as we broke camp and headed towards the big uphill push. It looked windy higher on the fjells and once we got further up on the shoulder of the Ahkka fjell then wind and snow really hit us. The steep bank requires a push with the heavy loads even in good weather and now we got a little extra challenge on top of that. But once again the group did great. The terrain got easier and we got little protection from the worst of the weather by taking a route down in a ravine. After one more push up from the ravine it was time to set up camp.

The third day was probably the best day of the tour weather-wise. We made good progress but some health issues in the group and a forecasted storm loomed in the back of my head. When we arrived to the point were we had to choose whether we try to do a longer tour and take the shortcut the answer was quite obvious as the latest forecasts warned us about serious storm with wind speeds over 30m/s.

Shortcut it was.

At the end of the day we set up camp and fortified it with some unusually robust snow walls (I rarely bother…)  to protect our tents from the predicted high winds. As a bonus I managed to break the leeward main zipper from the Hilleberg Kaitum 3 I was using and after several repair attempts I had to sew the door shut and turn the tent around in the wind and snow… Later in the evening the wind grew into a proper storm and our tents played us the characteristic lullabies of flapping silnylon.

In the morning the weather was still bad and the forecasts predicted even worse weather towards the end of the tour. We waited for couple of hours and as the wind died down we broke camp and skied a short stint to a place suitable for digging snow caves. We arrived little late and the group really worked hard to get the snow shelters ready before the dark and soon we were sheltered behind half-a-meter of snow, sipping Jägermeister and trying to get warm in our damp clothing.

As the forecasts threatened us with no-go weather (loads and loads of snow with over 30m/s winds) for the next day we decided to ski out from the high fjells a day early for a sheltered camp spot at the birch forest at the shores of lake Ahkkajaure. Skiing was good with reasonable visibility, warm temps and no wind, though we did get again some rain on the lower elevations. There hasn’t been anyone on the snowscooter trail before but the wind had packed the snow reasonably well so going was easy but rather monotonic. During the week Luc Mehl’s recipe of dance music on iPod and yellow lenses became known as the “Alaska prescription” and turned out to be quite popular. It really helps to cope with sub-optimal conditions. Add some hard candies and you become invincible to the elements…

Our last camp was well protected from the winds but the serious gusts still shooked our tents in the evening and it looked like serious weather up on the fjells as you could hear the wind howling even while camped on the low ground and the fjell tops were all covered in a thick veil of snow rushing through the air. We got our part of the snowfall with about 60 cm of fresh snow covering our tents overnight. I woke up around 5 a.m. as it was too quiet and noticed my tent was mostly buried under snow muting the characteristic flapping the tent fabric makes in high winds. I was too lazy to get up in the dark and waited until the dawn before getting out for some serious shoveling.

As the weather was supposed to get better in the evening we spent the last day mostly resting in camp wondering the constantly changing weather swinging from sun shine to full-on blizzard every five minutes. It was important to time the calls of nature accordingly. It turned out to be nice and relaxed day fixing equipment, frying bacon and pancakes, listening to iPods, etc. It’s not for everyone but it’s part of the game.

Towards the evening the weather got better and after late evening nap we woke in a frost covered tent for the first time during the tour. Even though the last stretch towards the lights of Ritsem  is always a long one the conditions made it more tolerable: calm, little below zero and partially cloudy letting in some moonlight painting the scenery we didn’t really get to see on the tour.

After such an ending  it’s always easy to convince yourself that you actually liked it and want to go for another round. Especially after a sauna, dinner and some quality beer in good company.

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More photos from the tour can be found from my gallery.

Antti’s trip report from the climate change simulator is also worth reading and can be found from his blog. Highly recommended blog anyway. As is his photography work from the Arctic and sub-Arctic at anttihaataja.kuvat.fi.

Marko took also great photos on the tour and you can find the photos with captions here. The creative man also shot a short video from the stormy night at camp number three:

Crossing the largest glacier in Europe – Vatnajökull 2013

The winter ain’t over yet!

Even though the winter is definitly over in most of Finland, it ain’t over for me. At the moment I’m hurrying with some last-minute preparations for guiding a ski expedition across Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe situated in South-East Iceland.

Urttaslaakso (Käsivarsi wilderness, North-West Finland) on a holiday ski-tour in April 2013.

The winter season has been a very busy one with guiding work. (My apologies for the silence in the blog and all the broken promises related to it.) It’s been hard at times but also very rewarding and guaranteed plenty of time in the great outdoors around and above the Arctic circle. This far I’ve spent little under 30 nights and closer to 100 days outdoors this year, which is never a bad thing. There are loads of unpublished photos and some stories to tell but that’ll have to wait until the end of May or so…

Winter magic - working the outdoors in cold but beautiful weather in January.

Winter magic – working in the outdoors in January. Cold but so beautiful!

The last time…

I was skiing across the Vatnajökull also about a year ago. The Vatnajökull 2012 expedition was a crossing from West to East (roughly along the line where the glacier is at it’s widest) and also included a longish detour to South to climb the Hvannadahlsnjukur (2110m), the highest peak of Iceland. The expedition took 16 days and was mostly very enjoyable experience despite the weather sucking big time every now and then: Freezing super-cooled rain, winds above 30m/s, temps below -20C, white outs, etc. – But luckily not all of that at the same time! And luckily we also had some days of great weather and good skiing to boost our moral.

Skiing on Vatnajökull in 2012.

… and here we go again!

The Vatnajökull 2013 expedition will be little different: we will start about 1 month later (meaning generally better weather), we will ski from East to West and won’t be doing the detour to Hvannadahlsnjukur and will spend 12 days on the glacier.

As we are leaving later in the season, I was expecting milder temperatures and generally better weather. I told to my clients that we’d probably have day time temps above 0C and night time temps down to -10C and would definitely get some rain at some point. But looking at the weather forecasts now at the eve of the departure it seems very different… Well, at least snow is better than rain and we still have good chance of rain at the end of the expedition.

Vatnajökull-by-yr.no

Itinerary of Vatnajökull 2013 expedition

– 26.4. flight from Finland to Iceland and drive to Hoffel
– 27.4. we will start skiing (or likely walking with crampons) from the edge of Lambatungnajökull in the East
– … skiing* …
– 7.5. arriving to the hut in Jökulheimar, on the Western edge of the Vatnajökull
– 8.5. super-jeep pick-up from Jökulheimar and drive to Reykjavik
– 10.5. flight back to Finland

* The basic plan is to ascent up on the Vatnajökull along the Lambatungna glacier in the South-East corner and then ski roughly to West across the glacier. But we might do also some detours on the way to check interesting places, weather and conditions permitting. At least we will try to visit the Grimsvötn volcano (1725m) on the middle of the glacier. There’s also a nice hut at the edge of the volcano…

The Grimsfjall hut in 2012. Expecting less snow this time…

Follow the Vatnajökull 2013 expedition!

We will be carrying a SPOT tracking device so you can follow the progress of the Vatnajökull 2013 expedition online on the awesome Social Hiking service: Click to the map!

In addition I’ll try to send some tweets along the way when we have cellphone reception (the sat phone we will be carrying doesn’t support tweeting…) but this will be scarce. But if you’re interested, it’s still worth to follow me on Twitter.

And if you’re really interested in the expedition you can also follow the weather forecasts on yr.no and Icelandic Met Office to get an idea of the weather on the glacier.

And if you happen to know Vaiska’s sat phone number, you can also cheer us with a message about the nice warm days, sunshine, beer and barbecue you are enjoying…. You enjoy the spring, we’ll be skiing.

I’ll be back in couple of weeks!