Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: hiihtovaellus

Crossing Greenland – So Familiar, So Different

Starting at the end of April I was guiding a ski expedition across the Greenland icecap. This was my second time crossing the ice cap, the first being in 2014 little earlier in the season but not much. Almost the same time, almost the same schedule, almost the same route. Very familiar but also very, very different.

Of course it’s different to be guiding paying clients than to lead a group of friends.

And of course things are always different on the first time. (The second time I didn’t get as bad expedition hangover.)

But the biggest difference was due to conditions: In 2014 we started somewhat early in the season and had quite challenging winter conditions: temperatures down to -36°C with high wind (12m/s) on top of it, some winter storms that prevented skiing and lots of soft snow to struggle with close to the end. But it was still a great trip. This year was record-warm in Greenland with the melt season starting almost two months early. The locals said the same as the scientists: spring was a month or two ahead of the normal. And some still say the climate isn’t changing…

Well, anyway.

Starting a week later on a record-warm year ment quite warm temperatures and with good weather made really nice and easy-going. I think there were only two days out of the 27 when I wore my Sasta shell jacket for the whole day. Most of the time I skied in my Rab Boreas shirt, and a few legs even without any shirt. On several morning I woke up before the clock to open the zipper of my sleeping bag as it was getting too warm. No sign of hoarfrost in the tent! Most of the time the surface was hard and with the warm temps made the skiing easy. We skied an average of seven 50 minute legs a day while in 2014 we skied seven 60 minute legs a day. That makes quite a difference over a course of four weeks!

Easy conditions and predictable going don’t make especially good stories but I enjoy them. When you spent enough time outdoors, you will get your share of the bad conditions, so embrace it when it’s good. And when I don’t encounter (unwanted) surprises, I’ve done my job well. You know how the saying goes: “adventure is just bad planning”. 😉

Naturally there are some challenges when you want to ski 550 kilometers unsupported and unassisted across a big empty glacier but luckily they were all manageable. Some crevasses in the beginning and end, the sheer distance and duration of the trip, the group dynamics and as a bonus challenge: a fuel problem.

On the fifth day of the expedition it turned out that one of our fuel canisters (10 liters out of 50 liters i.e. 20%) wasn’t white gas but something else, which didn’t burn in our stoves. Not even in the trusty MRS XGK! Later we found out it was stuff called Brymul which is used to wash engines… Stoves are crucial on Arctic expeditions to melt water, prepare food and also to provide extra warmth for drying gear and keeping up the moral. So, it was a major problem. But thanks to our ample fuel provision (330ml/person/day) and the good conditions we survived. And even enjoyed our time on the glacier.

Easy going, long and warm evenings in the camp, well workign gear, ample amount of food, swimming on the glacier, an improvised sauna high on the glacier, four weeks of simple living… What’s not to like? Another good tour.

It’s somewhat difficult to wrap 27 days (plus a week of traveling) into reasonable amount of words. So here are some photos instead. More to come later.

And even though I’m really looking forward to get packrafting and hiking, I started to long for another ski expedition the minute I saw the sunrise above the familiar Vatnajökull glacier from the plane on my way back home. This ski expedition thing, it’s a chronic illness.

PS. While camping next to the abandoned DYE 2 radar station a guy drove to our camp with a snowscooter. He was with a science expedition and speaking with an american accent and wearing a light puffy patched with plenty of Tyvek tape he seemed somehow familiar so I had to ask if his name was McCarthy. And it was! What a coincidence to meet someone you know from the blogosphere in the middle of the world’s second largest icecap. I hope you had a good expedition to the Summit, Forrest!

 

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Crossing the Vatnajökull

After the three weeks spectacular in Svalbard I had a week back home to take care of mundane issues and repack for another two weeks on the ice. This time the destination was Iceland and the plan was to guide an Avotunturit ski expedition across Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe.

This would be my third time crossing the Vatnajökull, this time from East to West once again visiting the Grimmsfjall volcano, a high-point in the middle of the glacier with spectacular views and a cozy hut on top of it. I was looking for a nice, relaxed little ski expedition with easy-going, good food and good company, mixed with little bit of infamously bad Icelandic weather.

But it didn’t go quite as a hoped for. The tour turned to be quite different from the three superlative-packed weeks in Svalbard. Good with it’s own highlights, none the less, but different.

The logistics of getting at the Eastern edge of the Vatnajökull are little more difficult than getting to the fjells in Lapland (or to Svalbard in that matter). We flew to Keflavik, took a rental car to Reykjavik were we shopped for food and fuel and spent a night in a familiar cozy hostel. The next day we drove along the Southern coast to a small village of Höfn near the glacier. The last time I did the drive straight from the airport, driving in the dark and missing most of the beautiful coastline so this time we took our time stopping every now and then to admire the sights. It got windy quite soon on the way, a state of conditions that would define our little excursion.

The views along the coast were not too bad.

In Höfn we returned the car, made ourselves home at nice bed & breakfast accommodation and readied our gear for the start. And of course we made time to enjoy the geothermal heat in the pools nearby. It was windy. And colder than it should be in early May. When walking from the pools back to our rooms the wet swimming suits and towels didn’t dry in the wind but instead froze into hard plates…

The next morning we got a ride to a pass near our entry to the glacier. The previous night I had asked about the road conditions (a small private road recreated every summer after the spring melt washes it away) and I was told they hadn’t yet driven up to the pass that spring but would go for a reconnaissance drive in the evening. In the morning I was told they didn’t go but instead would “just wing it.” And that’s what they did. Excellent driving once again.

And no, we didn’t all die on the way.

The drive wasn’t too long in kilometers but it took about two hours. We didn’t get quite to the pass because of sloping snow blocking the way but this was expected. So we carried our ski expedition gear in 20-24 m/s headwind over the pass and down to the glacier where the valley protected us from the worst of the wind.

Down in the valley we repacked the gear once again, this time for 11 days of skiing and manhauling, and set on the glacier after searching for a safe route. Because of the heavy hauling and carrying, we skied just a short stretch to a safe and flat campsite before calling it a day. It was beautiful but windy day.

The next day started beautiful with very little wind but while pushing up from the glacier to the plateau of ice, the wind picked up. And it wouldn’t stop. For five days.

In the afternoon the drifting snow hampered the visibility and wind got bad enough (15-20 m/s) that going downhill to the plateau wasn’t safe anymore so we camped. The next day we spent a good hour digging our tents out of the snow (mostly a single geodesic dome, the tunnels did a lot better) and got back on our skis but stopped again after four hours because of bad conditions.

The next day we postponed the start by two hours, then again by another two hours and then once more by two hours to decide it would be a full weather day. Wind wasn’t impossible but around 15-20 m/s with thick drift lowering the visibility to 5-10 meters at the worst. On the evening’s radio call the inhabitants of the dome tent, referring to themselves as the bear cubs, asked if someone would bother to come and dig them out of their tent. And of course we did. And the next morning we once again dug up and packed the tent, an hour of group effort…

The weather was only slightly better than the previous days but that was enough for us to start the push towards West. We skied some 15 kilometers in eight windy hours before setting up camp. This time the dome tent stayed in the bag and we utilized the extra space in our three person tunnels to make things faster – and cozier. We did the same on the following two days after skiing nine hours in varying weather. On the fourth day after the storm we got the Grimmsfjall in our sight and climbed the icy slope up to the cabins. A small victory! We relaxed at the cabin, enjoyed the volcano-powered sauna and went for a little walk at the edge of the caldera to witness a beautiful sunset.

The next morning was gorgeous but we missed most of it sleeping long and relaxing in the cabin. Soon after we had departed from the safety of the cabin we skied into very humid wind. Those who have been to Iceland know what I mean. But that doesn’t really stop one from skiing so we continued towards the Western edge for half a day.

The next day offered the best skiing of the trip: good weather, good condition and nice looong downhill. It was not difficult to persuade the group to do a longer day of full ten hours on skis to reach the edge of the glacier, and another Jorfi cabin. And that was it. The biggest glacier in Europe was crossed!

The next day we were picked up by a trusty super-jeep driver and delivered safely back to the cozy hostel at the heart of Reykjavik through the snowy (and officially closed) highlands. After ski, dinners, a visit to Bluelagoon and other appropriate pastime followed until we returned to Finland.

The ski season was over for me for the year but I wouldn’t quite get rid of the snow. But more about that later…

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And as usual, more photos in my gallery.

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.

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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.

Guided trip for 2015! / Opastettuja vaelluksia 2015!

This is again a bilingual blog post about guiding services I am offering. / Tämä on jälleen kaksikielinen tiedote tarjoamistani opaspalveluista.

This post is also to serve as a “commenting area” as the comments on pages are disabled. / Tämä tiedote palvelee myös kommentointi- ja keskustelualueena, sillä info-sivuilla ei voi kommentoida.

Templet, Svalbard. Would you like to go there? I can help! - - - Templet, Huippuvuoret. Haluaisitko sinne? Minä voin auttaa!

Templet, Svalbard. Would you like to go there? You can join me for expedition in April 2015!
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Templet, Huippuvuoret. Haluaisitko sinne? Lähde mukaan retkikuntaan huhtikuussa 2015!

Winter 2015

My winter 2015 will be mostly spent guiding for the Ankarat avotunturit ski expedition program. In 2015 the program offers selection of short courses, one-week ski tours and longer ski expeditions to the fjells of Lapland, to Vatnjakökull the largest glacier in Europe and to the cold shores and jagged peaks of Svalbard. And if you dare, you can join us on these memorable trips!

Most of the programs will be guided in Finnish only but we have a tailor-made, all-in-one program guided in English: The Crash Course in the Arctic Expeditions (click for more information)!

I will be personally guiding set of trips. As said the main language will be Finnish but except for the introductory courses you can get away with very basic understanding of Finnish and we can discuss things in English in addition.

More information available on the Ankarat avotunturit website but again in Finnish only.

Tailor made programs in English are also available on request.

If interested, please ask for details with e-mail!

avotunturitmerkki_perus_rgb_300

Talvi 2015

Talvi 2015 kuluu pääosin Anrakat avotunturit -koulutusohjelman kurssien, vaellusten ja retkikuntien toteuttamisessa. Suuntana ovat siis pohjoisen jylhät tunturialueet, Euroopan suurin jäätikkö Islannissa sekä Huippuvuorten kylmät rannat ja terävät huiput. Ja myös sinun on mahdollista lähteä mukaan matkaan!

Minut saa oppaakseen ainakin seuraavilla kursseilla, vaelluksilla ja retkikunnissa. Ja  todennäköisesti olen mukana myös monilla muilla kursseilla.

Katso myös tiedot muista kursseista ja vaelluksista www.avotunturit.fi sivuilta! Olen mukana mm. useilla erikoiskursseilla.

Minun lisäkseni Ankarat avotunturit -koulutusohjelman kursseja pyörittävät Kari “Vaiska” Vainio ja Carissa “ADQ” Lehtolainen. Mikäli minun tarjoamani päivämäärät eivät sovi kalenteriisi tai joku toinen kohde kiinnostaisi enemmän, katso muu tarjonta Ankarat avotunturit -sivuilta!

Nordic nature at its best! - - - Pohjoisen luontoa parhaimmillaan!

Nordic nature at its best!
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Pohjoisen luontoa parhaimmillaan!

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.