Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: hiking

Quick Hike Around Käsivarsi Wilderness

This is “one from the archives” i.e. one of those trips I did but haven’t written about. But it was such a nice trip, it deserves to be blogged about and I thought now would be a good time since I’m again on my way to the same area…

Last year I was guiding a packrafting trip to Reisadalen and as I had some free time before that, I decided to go for a quick stroll around the Käsivarsi Wilderness area.  I had very rough plan of walking first to East, then up North and at the end returning to Kilpisjärvi. A simple trip without several kilos of packrafting, glacier travel or polar bear safety kit was a welcome change. Just a simple hike with light gear: HMG backpack, minimalistic tarp, “fancy feast” stove, etc. I even left the DSLR home in favour of a lighter point-and-shoot. So, here’s the story from that simple walk:

I arrive to the luttle village of Kilpisjärvi late in the afternoon on Sunday 30.8. I shoulder the delightfully light pack and start walking along the trail towards Terbmisjärvi hut. I had hoped to have a full day of hiking but work commitments turnnit into only a few hours of daylight.

The walking is easy, though my mind is still wandering and occasionally I stumble on the worn and rocky path. It’s quite warm for the final days of August this far North. There are some bugs along the birch woods and I wonder if it was a mistake not to pack the headnet and repellent. But usually you don’t need them this time of the year and once I get out from the bush to the higher ground the bugs are gone and won’t be bothering me again.

The 16km walk takes little over three hours and I’m pitching my tarp in good time near the Terbmisjärvi hut. The open hut would be empty but I want to see if the minimalistic 3×1,5m tarp actually works for me in open terrain. And with tarp you are way more connected to your surroundings than while in a tent or hut. I cook dinner, enjoy a beautiful moon rise and later admire an owl who soars around my tarp silently and gracefully.

I woke up to a drizzle the next morning. The tiny tarp has kept me dry and I’m ready for a new day, even if it seems to be a grey one. With minimal gear the morning chores take very little time and I’m on my way around 08:30.

I had planned to follow the valley East and then up thru Kutturakuru pass but with the light pack I’m tempted to head straight over the peak of Jollanoavi (1023m). On my way up I play hide-and-seek with a curious stoat (Mustela erminea) before reaching the summit. The clouds mess the views but it’s still nice to be on top of a big hill. It always is. I head down and meet two hikers who by coinsidense happen to be fellow bloggers Mari and Markus. A small world.

At lake Japmajavri the sun finds it’s way through the clouds and the views open. It’s beautiful, quiet and I have that good solitary feeling you get from traveling thru remote wilderness. I make a little detour North-East to wade across the Poroeno river from a safe place. Easy but long and cold crossing. Once my feet are warm again I stop for a coffee break. It’s close to 18:00 and this is the first proper break of the day but why stop if you are feeling good walking?

Bad bush steers me closer to Valtijoki and I can see my course crossing with a tent pitched on the river bank. I’m not really in the mood for meeting other people but prefer dry feet and easy going over solitude. At he campsite I meet a man who is half-way into his four week solo trip – without food! Instead of food he has a flyfishing kit snd plenty of spices. He has been fishing and foraging for over two weeks and seems to be living his dream: There’s an aura or satisfaction and happiness, and a constant smile. After a longish chat I continue up the Valtijoki feeling happy for meeting the man.

Valtijoki is a beautiful creek and there’s a good trail following it on the sand ridge. As expected, the waterlevel is a lot lower than the last time I was here with a packraft in July 2011. Around 21:00 I find a good spot to camp. There’s some dead wood by the river so I make a small fire to cook dinner and decide to cowboy camp by the river without the tarp. Close to midnight it starts to rain and I find myself hastly setting up the tarp in the dark with a headlamp. Would’ve been a lot easier to do it in the evening… Once under the tarp I fall asleep to the sound of water rushing over the rocky drops of Valtijoki. Over 31 kilometers off-trail in a day makes falling asleep easy but I wake up a few times being cold and adding layers. Apparently the long day has also eaten into my energy reserves.

In the morning the sun starts to warm my black sleeping bag and I sleep well past the alarm and wake up around 09:00. Two hours later than planned! There’s a damn cold wind straight from the North but otherwise the weather is nice. I continue up along the Valtijoki. The scenery is great and there would be plenty of excellent camp sites. After crossing the river I head to the open Kopmajoki hut for a coffee break. I meet a lone hiker with fishing kit on a two-week tour. Only few people wander in the remote parts of Käsivarsi and those who do, seem to be going solo, on a longer trips and often fishing…

From the hut I decide to hike up to the Ritnicohkka (1317m) which is actually the highest peak in Finland. The highest point of Finland is merely a point on the slope of the Halti fjell with the peak itself situated on the Norwegian side of the border. I follow the wide ridge from stellite peak Ritninolka and in the end have to scramble through some steeper slopes. I walk thru a barren landscape of grey rock and over patches of white snow. I sit down, admire the views to North-East and really enjoy being up there. Little later I’m on the summit in the jaws of the relentless wind. Everything is frozen, the  temperature is well below zero and the wind feels very cold. I put on my puffy jacket and seek shelter behind the shed on the top and have a little break taking photos and sending a text message back home.

From Ritnicohkka I continue towards the actual summit of the Raisduottarhaldi (1361m), some two kilometeres to North and into Norway from the highest point of Finland. There’s a funny squeeky sound coming from my kit which I can’t localize despite checking my kit for stowaway lemmings. Soon the clouds roll in making navigation difficult and hiding the views. I adjust plans accordingly and head a bit more to the West until I meet the trail leading to the highest point of Finland (1323m) and walk up there to sign the book. No point of going for the actual summit. Near the border cairn there’s a book with a running number for visitors. Even though it’s not exact it gives an idea of the popularity: my number this time is 120066. The last time I was up here was in 2008 and then my number was 91203. Around 30000 vitits in the last eight years.

It’s still humid and cold and the wind is blowing. I hurry down from Halti to reach the open huts in the valley before darkness falls. The cozy old little hut seems to be empty so I head there. I really like it. It’s one of my favourite wilderness huts. And as the cold wind keeps on blowing, I’m happy to spend the night inside instead of sheltering under the bit-too-small-for-me-but-very-light tarp. I fetch water from the stream, light a fire in the stove and light the candle I brought with me and settle in while rain patters the single window. It’s warm and cozy inside. This night I don’t mind being little less connected to my surroundings.

Going thru my gear in the warm hut I find a reason for the weird squeeky sound that started while descenting Ritnicohkka: the soles of my trail runners are vetically broken between the heal and ball of the feet. They are worn and beaten anyway so it’s not a surprise but it means that for the return journey, I’ll stay on the trail in case of a catastrophic failure.

I don’t sleep too well. The hut feels too warm and the wooden platform feels hard as I only brought a thin short pad to save weight. Despite the discomfort I sleep until 09:00. Apparently I’m tired from the long days of walking. After morning chores I’m ready for the final 50km walk to Kilpisjärvi. I have an idea of walking it all in a one go as the trail is reasonably easy to follow even in the dark. My legs feel stiff and tired but soon pick up the rythm and I enjoy the downhill walk in the sunshine. Weather is good, views are good and going is easy. No reason not to enjoy.

Around midday I arrive to Pitsusjärvi hut. There’s a man sitting outside on the porch and he greets me with a question: “Do you have cell phone coverage?” It turns out his knees are in bad shape and he’d like to fly our with a float plane but doesn’t have signal to make the call. His brother is up on the nearby hill searching for signal. There’s no phone coverage in the valley but luckily I happen to have my satellite phone with me.  I have it for guiding remote ski expeditions and don’t usually carry it on summer trips in Scandinavia but decided to take it with me this time. A happy coinsidence.

We wait until the second man returns from the hill. He didn’t have any luck of getting signal so we make series of calls first asking for the number of the floatplane service and then trying several times before getting thru. I have plenty of time to eat snacks and drink coffee.

Almost two hours later I depart from the hut and from the Southern end of the Pitsusjärvi lake I can see a small plane approaching the hut and landing near the shore. I’m not too happy for loosing nearly two hours of daylight but I’m happy that I could help some fellow hikers in need. I guess my concentration is not at it’s best as I walk off from the trail and miss a bridge. A mistake I’ve made also back in 2008 in the same place. I backtrack, cross the bridge and blaze down the trail towards South and Kilpisjärvi.

Near the mighty cliffs of Meekonpahta I notice a lonely rucksack on the side of the trail. I look around but can’t see anyone. I assume someone has left it there to visit a nearby summit. There’s a short section of duckboards which makes going fast and easy and I soon catch up with a group of four hikers. One of the group is not wearing a backpack but is insted wrapped in emergency blanket.

Soon I find out that she had slipped and broken her wrist and they are on their way back to the previous hut. We arrive to the Meekonjärvi hut in no time and I hear that someone has already headed higher to search for signal to make an emergency call. I offer to make a call with my satphone and call to the Emergency response center in Kerava, near Helsinki. They are first taken aback for me calling to them from Lapland but the normal 112 doesn’t work from a satphone… They reconnect me to the center in Oulu that oversees the Northern Finland and I get to know that a helicopter will be send to get the lady to hospital.

In less than an hour a Boarderguard helicopter arrives to the hut, lands nearby and the paramedics go in the hut to prepare the patient for the transfer. I chat with the pilots and the winch operator who seem to have really nice job. They were actually returning from another mission when being alerted here and that’s why they were so fast. After waving the helicopter goodbye I decide to utilize the little daylight that’s left by walking to the next hut.

The walking is incredibly good: The trail is easy. Views are good. The coolness and freshness of the dusk feel good. My feet are light and go on autopilot, the last 100 kilometers have thought them well. It’s already dark when I arrive to the hut so I decide to sleep inside. Instead of a mammoth 50 kilometer day I walked just the normal 30 km but this is how things roll.

The night in the hut was again too hot and the platform too hard. Beaten feet on hard wooden platform just doesn’t work. But in the morning I’m ready to continue and get the hike finished. I enjoy a lazy morning reading the guestbook before getting started with the final leg around 09:00. It’s cloudy and I don’t really care for the views. Instead I’m more interested in getting the boring trail walk finished.

There’s one more hut about midway to Kilpisjärvi and I have a coffee break there. I catch two hikers who left the previous hut earlier and they offer me some proper coffee, which is welcome change for the instant stuff I’ve been drinking. On my way to Kilpisjärvi I find few handfulls of ripe cloudberries and spy a willow grouse family in the birch woods for a while. Hiking on the worn trail feels dull and indifferent but when I arrive back to Kilpisjärvi I feel happy and tranquil. I remeber all the good feelings, the beautiful views and the solitude. There’s an aura of satisfaction and happiness.

A good hike.

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A few additional photos in my gallery.

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Kebnekaise Traverses – The One With Paddle

In July I spent (again) a week on Kebnekaise area, this time combining two trips into a one-week tour. Both were traverses of a sort, the first including a traverse of the Kebnekaise summits and the second traversing the whole massif with packrafts. This post is about the latter.

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The second part of the tour started after the third pint at the Fjällstation. The foundations of the trip being layed in the form of a pitched camp seven kilometers up to the Tarfala valley. So, fueled with the few pints me, Nina and Thomas started the walk back up to the alpine valley. With light packs it didn’t take too long. To lighten my load even further, I had left my rain gear in the camp so when the drops started to land on our shoulders, I sprinted to the camp while N and T stopped to put on their waterproofs.

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After a midnight dinner it was time to hit the sack. We were little worried about Thomas’ hand which was slightly swollen and clearly very sore. But with the combined wisdom of two qualified WFRs we came to conclusion that nothing was likely broken and thus it didn’t need urgent attention and some “vitamin i” would suffice.

It wasn’t raining when we woke up but the rain started again while we were packing. And based on the weather forecast, it would rain heavily for the whole day. Good for the packrafting but less so for the walking. We hiked up the Tarfala valley, past the glaciers crawling down between the peaks hiding in the clouds. The end of the valley looks almost impassable but there is a decent path on the moraine ridge next to the Giebmebaktiglaciären.

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As we ascended up from the valley the rain crew heavier and the wind picked up. Temperature was probably closer to 0°C than +5°C and with the wind-driven rain it would be a cold day. Before the pass there was a section of steep snow and having changed our boots, crampons and iceaxes to trail runners and paddles had to make due with what we had and be carefull not to take a long tumble-down into the glacial lake.

Up on the pass above 1400m it was even colder and we were soaked. I started to lose grip strength from my fingers, a typical thing for me in the cold, having to do chores by pushing my palms together instead of pinching with my fingers. I wanted to get down fast but N was starting to feel hypothermic and wanted to have a break instead. Luckily someone had cleared a small relatively spot for a tent between the rocks so we decided to have a proper break, pitched our tent and dived inside.

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Sheltered by the thin nylon walls, me and Thomas added a layer and N changed into her dry sleeping clothes and drysuit, which was probably the smartest thing to do. Sitting in the tent battered by rain and gusts we watched walls flap and bellow and the little streams rush through the vestibule while enjoying our hot drinks and lunch. But once the stove was off, it wasn’t too warm in the tent either so it was time to get going.

Strengthened by the extra calories and layers we continued down in the steady rain through the land of snow and still partially frozen lakes. The terrain was mostly rocky but the long snow patches offered fun variation in the form of fast slides down, breaking and steering with the mid-sections of our four-piece-paddles. I’m sure the views from Guobirvaggi would’ve been great with decent weather but now we saw only the lower sections of the dark cliffs towering up towards the sky and occasional glimpse of the sharp summit of Gaskkasbakti.

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After wading a fast flowing glacial river fattened by the rain we got to easier ground. I ate the last bar of the day to get sensation back to my cold feet and enjoyed the easier walking as rocks started to give away for tundra. Since we started late, we reached the Kungsleden around 20:00 and had to make a decision: camp near the Kuoperjåkka shelter or hike additional 7 kilometers upstream to Sälkastugorna huts. We could see several tents near the little shed downstream and there would be soft dry beds, a little shop and even sauna at Sälkastugorna so the decision was pretty easy.

We hiked up to the hut in 1 hours 40 minutes on the Kungsleden, one of the most famous trails in Scandinavia and thus very worn too. Unfortunately we weren’t fast enough to get to the sauna which was closed at 21:00 but cans of cola and warm dry beds felt about as good. When hanging our gear to dry I emptied half a cup of water from each of the chest pockets of my shell jacket. So much for waterproof zippers!

Knowing that there was also a liter or two of water in our tent from the lunch break, the dry and warm bed felt especially good.

I guess we all felt little beaten the next morning. We lied in long and watched other people come and go preparing breakfast and desperately waxing their 1000G trousers over the gas stove. After a breakfast and final cups of coffee we headed out dressed in our paddling clothing. Me and N had light Ursuk MPS drysuits while Thomas had opted to go with a thin wetsuit. I guess it’s quite rare to have people walking along the Kungsleden in full neoprene suit…

After a short walk to the river we inflated our rafts, scouted the river from a nearby hill and hit the waters of Tjäktjajåkka. Now the extra 7 kilos lugged over the mountains started to do the work and pay back. The river started with a section of rocky class 2 water with a couple of bigger waves but soon calmed down into fast and straight-forward class 1 ride.

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At the first reindeer fence we got out and scouted the canyon-like S curve leading to a little bridge. N and Thomas decided to portage it while I paddled it without the rucksack on the bow. I’d estimate it was around class 3 due to big waves and thigh turns with a neat narrow gate in the end. Very beautiful spot along a river with great views.

It was cloudy with light showers of rain but great weather compared to the day before. Paddling was easy, fast and enjoyable. Very nice packrafting indeed. The MRS Alligator 2S performed well and the dry spray deck and excellent thigh straps were worth the extra kilo.

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Closing into the next bridge we knew it was time to get out from the waters and portage based on the aerial photos on Lantmäteriet map service. The beginning looked like fun class 2-3 drops and waves but soon the river rushed into a deep, steep and narrow canyon suitable only for the maddest hard-shell white-water enthusiasts. We had a nice lunch break by the side and portaged along the Western shore past the waterfalls near the Sami village of Kårtjevuolle.

I played around a bit in the final drops enjoying another incredibly beautiful spot. This is how rivers should look like! But soon it was time to continue downstream.

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At the end of the previous day we had scratched our original plan of packrafting all the way down to the Padje Kaitumjaure, then following the lake to East and bushwhacking over the fjells to Laddjujohka to paddle down to Nikkaluokta. After the long and wet day it felt like little too much. So instead we took out near the Unna Jiertas  fjell and called it a day. There were many gravel banks suitable for camping and quite a bit of dry willow branches cut by the winter ice and left up to dry by the floods. This all translated into good camping grounds for packrafters.

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We pitched our tent, spread our gear all over the place to dry in the wind and I bolted out to gather some dry branches for a campfire. For me, an evening by a campfire is essential part of a good packrafting adventure. Unfortunately it started to rain soon and instead of a nice evening by the fire, we spent it in our tent. But the tent and our gear was mostly dry so no real reason to complain.

The next morning we packed our still dripping wet rafting kit into our rucksacks and headed up to the trail towards the Kebnekaise Fjällstation. Despite the clouds, the views down to massive Tjäktavagge valley and around the alpine-like Jierttajavri lake were beautiful. The weather was the familiar mix of cloudy and windy with showers of rain but after the one very wet day, it didn’t feel too bad. Walking on the trail was pretty easy and driven by the promise of hot sauna and cold beer, we hiked the 15 kilometers in four hours or so with very few breaks.

 

 

In the afternoon we were again at the Fjällstation. We hadn’t planned it that way but it was welcome. Short and easy day, good coffee and sandwiches on soft sofas and sauna with a cold beer. Not too bad. I felt I could get used to doing trips like that. But not to take it too far, we opted not to have the three-course buffet dinner and also slept in our tent instead of the soft beds. In the late evening the temperature dropped to +4°C but we were warm crammed in our cozy little tent. The Anjan 3 is better for two but works also for three as planned.

Waking up to a cold but sunny dayfor an early start we got distracted by the excellent breakfast at the Fjällstation once and for all and sat there for an hour making up the calories lost during the previous days and downing several cups of good coffee. We were again dressed in our paddling gear and I’m sure many of the fellow guests would’ve liked to ask from the neoprene-clad Thomas what he was up to but politely refrained.

From the distance it had seemed that with the high water we could start paddling almost straight down from the Fjällstation so we walked about a kilometer down to the river. Here the river was more like a stream but seemed paddlable, rocky and fast but not impossibly shallow, so we inflated our rafts one final time and shot down the stream.

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The river stayed small, shallow and fast down to the confluence of the Darfaljohka. It was difficult to avoid all the rocks but good paddling was rewarded with fast and splashy ride without getting stuck on the rocks. Down from the confluence the stream grew into milky.-coloured creek with occasional simple splashy class II sections. Simple and fun going!

Before Laddjujavri lake the river calms down into meandering bends with slow flow requiring a bit of actual paddling. We arrived to the little lake with an excellent backwind and decided to take a lazy ride sailing instead of paddling. I had thought about it already on the way and soon we had lashed our three packrafts side by side and rigged the tent fly to the front as a sail. Me and Thomas, sitting on the side, managed the sail while N was using her paddle as a rudder steering the raft. It worked really well! The lake is only about 2 kilometers long so paddling might had been more efficient time-wise, but this was more fun. We sailed straight to the shore where the locals offer boat rides for tourists to rest their feet and I’m sure baffled a few people again. But still, no-one dared to approach us. Next time, I’ll take a pirate flag too and see how it goes…

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On the shore there is the legendary Lap Dånalds which was now closed and superseded by “Restaurang Enoks”. Judging from the upgrade, the reindeer burger business is doing well. Once again we surrendered for the temptations, walked in and offered the whole shebang: reindeer burgers, Cola, waffles and coffee. And oh boy, it was good again!

From the lake the nature of the river changes: It’s more like a proper river than a creek. With this water-level it was was almost a single constant class II rapid for the final five kilometers. The riverbed was littered with boulders from the size of a bucket up to size of a big refrigerator, there was often sweepers in the outer bends and occasional thigh S curve when the  milky water had found a new way through a gravel bar. We went down eddy-hopping a section at a time me leading the way. During a longer more demanding section I got worried about how N would do and tried to stop mid-stream to have a look. Instead I hit a rock and capsized. Luckily I only hit my knee and was able to self-rescue easily in the shallow water. A stupid  mistake reminding me that paying attention to the river is always primary and other worries secondary.

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Near Nikkaluokta we arrived once again to a reindeer fence and got off from the river. This time it was not to portage around a dangerous section but for the final short walk and wade to our car which was waiting near the helipad. Six hours after launching our rafts we had paddled 19 kilometers down to Nikkaluokta. With stomachs still full of burgers and other treats we loaded the car and started the long drive South.

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The latter part of the trip didn’t go quite as planned but was very enjoyable, maybe except for the wet and cold first day. Should the weather been better we might have done the loop as planned but then we would’ve missed quite a bit of the paddling from Laddjujohka, which was great fun. But I guess I’ll have to return there again one day to explore the lower Tjäktajåkka and many other interesting looking rivers. There’s a lot to paddle on the area!

A word about the rivers near Kebnekaise:

The rivers on the Kebnekaise area are mountain rivers with some creek-like sections. The water-level can change rapidly and you need reasonable level to make good packrafting. See for example SMHI Vattenweb for simulated flow estimates. Based on the Vattenweb we had over 20 sqm/s at the put in of the Tjäktjajåkka and little less at the lower Laddjujohka. Thanks to the heavy rain, both rivers were clearly above the normal summer level. Probably half of the flow would be enough for good packrafting and more might make it challenging in places. I would recommend going earlier in the season to catch the end of the spring flood or waiting for rain to get proper flow. Anyway, one should pay attention to the planning and make sure to avoid the seriously dangerous sections (consult aerial photos for that) and if planning to do whitewater, have the proper gear, skills and company.

The scenery is magnificent, the rivers are beautiful and the packrafting is fun, but remember to be careful!

Hiking and packrafting in Northern Karelia

After spending nearly half of the winter skiing and hauling and sleeping on snow and ice, it was time to kick-start the summer season in mid-June. For this I headed to Northern Karelia, near the Eastern most corner of Finland where one can find almost untouched nature in the deep woods and also excellent white water paddling on several rivers.

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Sasta 64 Wild

First part of the summer season kick-start was the 64 Wild hiking event organized by the Finnish outdoor clothing company Sasta who I’ve been working with developing the perfect shell clothing for demanding Arctic expeditions. Sasta hails from the deep woods and vast mires of Nurmes and wanted to show their natural habitat to their clients and other outdoor enthusiasts in the form of a three-day hiking event.

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My role during the weekend was partially just hanging around, partially guiding and giving a campfire seminar on the first evening. A fellow wilderness guide Anton Kalland gave an excellent campfire seminar on wild greens and other useful resources one can collect from the nature while hiking.

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The route plan suggested daily distances of 17km, 24km and 10km with some scenic or historically interesting waypoints along the route. In reality I ended up walking around 19km, 31km and 10km, skipping one way-point on the first day, visiting all the waypoints on the second day and cutting it a few kilometers short on the third day to catch the bus back to Nurmes with majority of the participants. A proper start for the backpacking season! The route was very nice with good views and interesting nature. But when walking in the woods I prefer shorter mileage to have more time for the details of the fine surrounding nature.

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My feet took quite a beating as I chosen to walk in my waterproof mountain boots instead of light hikers better suitable for long days. At least the feet are now literally “broken in” for the upcoming summer. The weekend was also quite rainy and being little lazy selecting my spot I ended up sleeping in a stream during the first nigh. Luckily my tent has a good quality bathtub floor turning a possible catastrophe into a quite comfortable although weird water-bed.

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It was a great event and I wish to participate again the next year. Hopefully with an option of shorter distances for more time to admire the nature and spend time by the camp fire in good company.

More pics here.

Packrafting at Ruunaa area

After the hike I went to Ruunaa area at Lieksanjoki. The area is well-known for its whitewater (mainly for one excellent and easy to reach wave for playboating) and fishing. Me and two friends were after the whitewater to test our new MRS Alligator 2S packrafts.

We arrived to the end of the road near Paasikoski rapid around midday, walked to the river, inflated our packrafts and got out for a little test spin. The Alligator was slightly less stable than packrafts with wider tubes but with its six-point rigging it offered tons of control and very agile boating. After feeling confident with the new boats we strapped our packs to the bow and headed down stream.

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Paasikoski (class 1) was very easy-going. The Haapavitja (class 2) rapid offered little more fun in the form of bigger waves and more speed and was followed by easy going river sections which ended into the Neitijärvi lake. Lake paddling into headwind was hard work as always but it was soon rewarded by the Neitikoski rapid (class 2*). A short, narrow and deep bit with an excellent stopper wave suitable for freestyle kayaking.

We had all done the rapid in the past so decided to go straight thru heading into the big wave to see how the boats would perform. I went first, capsized and took a swim. Huck followed and did the same. Thomas coming as the third decided to take the easier line on the right and stayed upright. We probably did a good impression on the kayaker playing in the wave!

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After routine self-rescues we went back to the shore, got rid of our packs and went testing the wave again. Huck tried to get thru the wave with the rucksack on the bow and managed on his third try but capsized in the wave train following the stopper. Me and Thomas concentrated on trying to get into the surf. Thanks to the thigh-straps of the Alligators it was possible but the current was simply too strong for our skills, or for the packraft in general, as once you got into slightly wrong angle or position the rushing water twisted our low-pressure rafts in a way that even agressive bracing didn’t help and swims were inevitable.

But it was still damn fun!

After an hour or so in the Neitikoski we continued down stream paddling Kattilaskoski (class 1) and Murrookoski (class 2) which we scouted for a safe route and also to get warmer as it was raining and our energies were getting low. After Siikakoski (class 1) we took out and camped at one of the many lean-tos on the area. We had a great evening by the campfire enjoying good food, beers, stories and the short night of the summer solstice with a glimpse of the full moon and falling in sleep to the sound of the rushing water.

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In the morning we packed our packs and headed upstream enjoying the warmth and sunshine. We decided to take a slightly adventurous shortcut following a little stream to Neitijärvi and crossing the lake to reach a road near the parking area. A nice thing possible with packrafts: you hike, you find a waterway, inflate your raft and follow it. Even though the stream was quite short it added a lot to the trip which could’ve otherwise been done with a canoe or kayak as well. (Leaving the boats down stream to be picked up after walking back to the car.)

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The new MRS packrafts worked really well and I’m excited to get more whitewater time with them. Packrafting is so much fun, and packrafting whitewater is even more fun!

I’ll write more about the boats later this summer. Altogether it’s a 4 kg package which, in my opinion, hits the sweet spot between the whitewater performance and the packability and performance for general use. If you want to test them yourself, ask for possibility to rent one or join one of my packrafting courses!

As usual, more pics here.

* These are my estimates on the classic whitewater rating scale based on the water level (138,9m) and discharge (95m^3/s) we had on the trip. The official ratings are little higher, especially for higher water levels. For packrafts the big stopper wave in the Neitikoski difficult but there is a way around if you don’t like the chance of swimming it.

 

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 3

Part 3 – Hungry coastal hike thru abandoned settlements

Check out some background information for the trip and the first and second part of the story to make it complete.

After 30 kilometers of awesome (though butt-freezing) packrafting on the Reinelva we were in the point where plans needed to be changed. We had lost almost a full-day and two paddles in a swim a week earlier and Antti and Venla were low on food due to a lost food bag and miscalculations. The original plan of hiking first to Barentsburg (a Russian coal-mining settlement) and from there to Longyerbyen was scratched and instead we decided to take an inland shortcut to abandoned settlement of Colesbukta and continue from there to Longyearbyen saving us some 30 kilometers of hiking and at least a full day.

The next day was warm and less windy as we made our way across the wet tundra from Reindalen to Semmeldalen. We passed some huts in the distance, saw again several reindeer and arctic fox and marvelled the view to Van Mijenfjord in the South. Once we gained some altitude the going was actually quite good. The ground was still wet, soft and uneven but way easier than in many previous places.

We followed old Soviet caterpillar tracks (from late 70s and early 80s) from Semmeldalen to Skiferdalen. The scenery changed from the vast valley with the sea in the horizon to more narrow winding valleys framed by snow-topped peaks. After 20 kilometers it was getting late and we decided to camp by the river next to Sandsteinfjellet.

The river might have offered great fast flowing packrafting straight from the camp but the water-level wasn’t high enough. But on the map the river got wider a few kilometers later and we had high hopes for some more river packrafting for the following day.

In the morning Antti told that he had woken up in the middle of night because of being hungry. The day without snacks or lunch was starting to have its toll. After breaking camp we hiked the few kilometers and found that the river did indeed change: it was little slower, little wider and little deeper: good for packrafting!

Because of the lost paddles we decided to use only four rafts: me, Nina and Thomas were paddling our rafts solo with some extra gear and Antti and Venla shared their Alpackaraft Denali Llama with little less gear using simple-to-improvise canoe-style paddles.

The Coleselva offered actually the most enjoyable packrafting of the whole trip: there was no headwind to fight against, the weather was actually warm and sunny and there was even a decent flow to keep up a good speed. The 11 kilometers on the river were over fast and it was soon time to take out and head towards the abandoned buildings in the distance. Unfortunately we took out in a wrong branch and had to wade across another easy but quite deep branch to reach the settlement of Colesbukta. A minor obstacle which provided refreshing bath for the beating feet.

The shoreline was littered with huge amount of driftwood and all sort of interesting items. The buildings were abandoned but not compltely empty and some of them were in surprisingly good condition. The Colesbukta used to be a port for nearby coalmine, Grumantbyen, but the mining ended in 1965 (?). Afterwards the settlement was used as a base for mineral searching operations until abandoned for good in the 1980s.

After taking a thorough look around we continued along the cliffs towards the Grumantbyen we planned to visit as well. On the way we found the Rusanovhuset, an open hut that I knew was there but hadn’t planned to visit. It was a short but nice visit. There was an Irish family staying at the hut, recuperating after a hike from Longyearbyen over the mountains. There would’ve been plenty of room for us too but we were dedicated to continue little further.

We followed the remains of the old railway, covered with wooden “tunnel” for most of the way, in the soft light of the high Arctic summer night. We bivied between the tunnel and the cliffs with magnificent views to the Isfjorden. Despite a great day the moods were tense due to low blood sugar levelsand a long day.

As we were planning to follow the coast all the way to the outskirts of Longyearbyen, we needed to catch the low tide. The route was suggested passable with low tide and fair weather in Rolf Stange’s book and we had both so we decided to give it a try. Climbing over the mountain didn’t really appeal our tired minds. After an alpine start we continued along the old railway until reaching the tunnel to Grumantbyen now blocked by permafrost ice. A steep climb up and down followed offering again great views over the Isfjorden.

Grumantbyen was way more decayed than the Colesbukta. Some of the building were still standing but that was about it. Half-a-century of harsh Arctic conditions had left behind only walls and partial roofs, and rusting railway tracks and coal carts. We took our time exploring the remaining buildings (and the mine…) while waiting for the low-tide to make our final push. After some time we headed down and started to follow the shoreline to North-East, towards civilization and hamburgers.

The shoreline was quite good for walking but very narrow in places with waves licking your left foot and your right shoulder brushing to the steep cliffs with fresh signs of rockfall around. It was maybe 15 minutes past the low tide when we reached the final cliffs before the mouth of Björndalen.

We judged the shore too steep and water too deep for safe wading and inflated our packrafts for the final push. Still short on paddles we decided to use the three paddles we had and have two rafts in tow to save time. This worked reasonably well though I got properly wet in the launch thanks to the combination of the swell and sideways launch with another raft in tow… Well, it was nice and warm day so damage done.

After couple of kilometers of paddling we were on the shore dotted with little cottages and the end of the road in our sight. It was done. Despite lots of persuasion I was the only one to go for a final swim in the sea before packing up. We called for a taxi and started walking toward the Longyearbyen. The taxi never showed up and we took one from the airport – after 6 kilometers of marching on the road and with fresh blisters in our feet. But it didn’t matter. The tour was done and it was time for hamburgers, beer, shower and some more beer. In that particular order.

Thanks for Nina, Thomas, Antti and Venla for the great tour!

In numbers:

– 11 days and 175 km
– 65 km packafting (three different rivers and a bit on the sea plus a river crossing)
– 110 km hiking (of which 30km on glaciers)
– 9 other people (on the first and the second to last day), several arctic foxes, many reindeers, countless birds
– spectacular high Arctic scenery
– myriad good memories

– – –

PS. More photos in my gallery. Later theremight be even a (gasp!) gear post…

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 2

Part 2 – March through moraines and bone-freezing packrafting

If you haven’t done it yet, you can read the first part of the trip report and background for the trip from previous posts!

Falling into sleep in the sound of cold wind we woke up to a calm and sunny day at the mouth of Eskerdalen valley. In the morning a rare wildlife encounter awaited us right behind the door of our lavvu.

No, luckily not a polar bear – but unfortunately a horde of mosquitoes instead. They are not native to Svalbard and of the species introduced to the archipelago by man, they are about the only one that has managed to thrive. And to survive they must use every rare opportunity brought by calm and warm days with unaware foreign travelers passing by. So they were hungry and determined, but luckily stayed mostly out of our lavvu. Thanks a lot, who ever brought the little bastards there in the first place!

After packing up our still muddy kit (the light showers during the night were not enough to get the mud of our gear) we headed up to the Eskerdalen and got rid of the bugs. On the way we marvelled the Eskerfossen and numerous reindeer and enjoyed the easy walk on quite dry tundra. In winter time the valley is probably one of the busiest snow scooter routes in the archipelago and which was now indicated only by a few huts and old route markers. We were happy to find old bamboo wands and packed them up to be later used as part of improvised paddles.

Later the wind found us again and it started to feel cold enough that we had to wear our puffy clothing and search for a sheltering depression for the lunch break. As there are no trees in Svalbard and even big rocks are rare, you have to find relief from the wind either behind a prominence, from a depression or from your own shelter.

Turning into the upper parts of the Adventdalen the going started to get tough: tundra started to chance into moraine and rock and we had to climb up and down several ravines that crossed our path. It seemed that following the western side of the valley would have been easier but we were too lazy to cross the river until reaching the watershed. But as we knew that the terrain would get worse around the watershed (two glaciers used to intersect there and when retreating left behind a chaos of moraines) we decided to call it a day after some 15 kilometers. We camped to a spot with nice views and good source of clear melt-water. I went down to the river to wash the mud and silt of my packraft and other gear. I’m pretty sure the kit got lighter by a kilo or more!

The next day brought clouds and cold wind from the North. We broke camp and started heading up to the watershed aiming to get down to Reindalen to a place where we could start packrafting. Quite soon the going got tough as we had assumed: a mess of loose moraines with lots of ups and downs and very wet, muddy tundra in between. Slow but doable. But the views down to Reindalen and Oppdalen were awesome: barren moraines, streams, mountains and glaciers. Seemed like nothing could live or survive on that land. And we didn’t want to stay there either but continued towards the relatively verdant tundra lower in the massive Reindalen.

The weather got bitingly cold with the Northern wind bringing in some showers to amplify its effect. We were down to Reindalpasset and past the moraines and looking for protection from the wind. Luckily we found a huge pingo (earth-covered hill formed by ice), well over 50 meters high.  We seek shelter from the lee-side of it and found relatively nice spot for our lavvu, except that it was a bit wet. Happy for the wind-break we didn’t let it bother us and pitched the tent. Soon we were happy that we had a ground cloth and soon we added our packrafts for extra protection. I even build a little floor out of stones by the door to help staying dry while coming and going. We were camping on very wet tundra but after hard 18 kilometers of walking, any bed feels great.

The next morning the big question was: could we start boating from our camp or would we pack for more walking? After some discussion we decided to walk little more as the river broke into dozens of shallow braids after passing “our pingo” and would probably not be deep enough even for packrafts. A few kilometers downstream few smaller pingos forced the river into a single channel and here we inflated our packrafts. We had already improvised some kayak paddles in the shelter of our lavvu so we were able to paddle in five solo-rafts as originally planned.

The paddles, made of hiking poles, bamboo wands, ice axes, gaiters, zip-ties, straps and a lot of duct tape (more would’ve been better, combined with iceaxe and some cord it makes a reasonably good paddle blade), were not pretty but worked. And the Reinelva river was great! We were cruising down the enormous valley up to 7 km/h with little effort carried by the brown glacial-fed flow. The river changed multiple times from a deeper single-channel to dozens of shallow braids which required good choices and good luck to find passable route. For a while we even paddled through a fast canyon like section, not very deep nor narrow but with proper steep rock walls and tight bends. Eddie-hopping from bend to another. Simply fun!

The only downside was, again, the wind. Unlike on Sassenelva it was a welcome backwind but it was damn cold! The temperature was probably below +5°C, water was closer to 0°C and the wind was blowing from the big expanses of ice in the North. Especially those soaked because of the splashy improvised paddles were feeling the chill and we had to take breaks to run on the tundra to get warm.

We must have been a hilarious sight wobbling from our little colourful boats with numb legs, shivering and starting to run around pointlessly. For the lunch break we pitched our shelter against the wind and some of us opted to chance into dry clothing and spend the break shivering in their sleeping bags. I guess this was very much back to the basics packrafting: improvised gear, definitely no dry-suits, wet and cold – yet still so awesome! (Though I bitterly missed the option of warming by a fire!)

What made the rafting even more awesome was the surroundings. While flowing down the river a huge flock of goose were swimming ahead of us and the lucky ones paddling in the lead saw an Arctic fox catching a stray goose from the river bank! You don’t see that happening every day! In addition we saw more arctic foxes and reindeer and passed the remainders of an old hut. For the whole day we were, once again, surrounded by snow-topped peaks with glaciers crawling down between them. In addition, this time we had the sea and distant mountains far in the horizon!

By the early evening were getting again too cold to paddle and closing to our exit we pulled out and pitched camp by the river. We had covered over 30 kilometers in a relatively easy (but cold) day! It was time to celebrate with hot chocolate spiced up with some Baileys. By paddling 10 kilometers further down the river we could have reached the shore at Kaldbukta (“Cold bay”) which was tempting because of the drift wood for fires but we would have had to walk back those 10 kilometers as we had reached our Southern-most point and needed to head North-West to Semmeldalen.

Our original plan was to continue through the Semmeldalen to the Russian coal mining town Barentsburg and then follow the coast line back to Longyearbyen but this started to seem unlikely. We had lost nearly a full-day because the swim at Sassenelva which made the schedule quite tight. But what was even more problematic was that Antti and Venla found out that in addition to the food bag lost in the swim they were missing lunches for four days due to miss-calculations – i.e. they were out of lunches. So being short on food and behind the schedule we had to change our plan, something we had just ignored until now, but could not postpone any further.

The new plan and the final days here! 😉