Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: hiking

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Pt. 1

Part 1 – Up, down and under the ice

This is the first part of my trip report from a summer packrafting tour in Svalbard. You can read about the plan, route and crew in the introduction post.

After a quite sleepless flight, short night at the camping ground and quick shopping and repacking in Longyearbyen we started the tour with a rib boat ride away from the little civilization there is in Svalbard. We didn’t see too much views during our ride as thick fog covered the sea on Isfjord. But when arriving to the bottom of Tempelfjorden the sun pierced through the fog opening beautiful vistas around us.

We hopped a shore, unloaded our gear and had a quick chat with a Polish (?) couple who started from the same place on a shorter, direct route back to Longyearbyen. They were the last people we saw for over a week.

We were not in hurry so we sticked to the plan and made ourselves home at an old well-used camp spot near the shore. Evening’s program included barbecue, swim in the sea and wandering the majesty of our surroundings: mountains, big active glaciers, the sea and abundant bird life in the bright Arctic midnight sun. There were no signs of polar bears but this is a place where the threat should be taken seriously so we had a guard through the night. Between the guard duties we ment our sleep deprivation. Some got lucky enough to have a brave little arctic fox to share their two-hour watch.

Picture by Nina Teirasvuo.

Picture by Antti Siltala.

In the morning the fog vanished again and we packed and shouldered our rucksack, mosty around 30 kilo including food for 12 days, packrafting gear, basic glacier kit, etc.  For the first hour the packs didn’t feel too bad but a weight like that gets to you after some time. We walked through moraine ridges to reach the Von Postbreen. Before getting on the glacier were comfronted with a swift melt water river. Thomas waded through making it look easy but being mid-thigh deep and hearing boulders rumbling at the bottom, the rest of us thought paddling would be better option. We inflated one raft and ferried over one by one using our climbing rope to pull the raft back. The rope caused significant drag in the fast flow and it would’ve been better for everyone to inflate their boat and cross individually. But we made it safely across anyway.

Soon after crossing the stream we reached the glacier: nice crunchy ice with reasonable friction. No need for crampons. If not counting going uphill, walking was easier than on the moraines. After some time the bare ice gave a way for snow and soon we found ourselves in a proper slush-fest: wet and slushy snow with plenty of small melt rivers up to knee-deep. We rationalized that if there is plenty of water on top of the glacier, there is probably no big crevasses underneath and thus continued unroped coming up with various ways of crossing the melt water channels.

Packrafts proved to be useful as bridges or as sort of “assault boats”: you would place the raft at the edge of the harder snow, run towards the boat, jump on it and glide over the water channel. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. After quite a long day we camped at the side of the Przybyllokfjellet mountain (What a name!) with wet boots. Maybe it would’ve been simpler to accept the wet boots in the first place and just wade through the slush…

The next day we continued in good weather across the Fimbulisen glacier, down the Rabotbreen and towards the source of Sassenelva river. For most of the day we traveled on snow so we roped up and used our packrafts as sleds to easy the stress on our shoulders. On the high glacier it was still full winter, though it was very warm. The snow was quite good to travel on even without snowshoes or skis (we didn’t want to carry the extra weight as we had only about 30 kilometers to travel on snow), most of the time we sank only ankle-deep but sometimes went all the way to the knees or groin.

Up on the glacier we followed faint snowscooter tracks (must have been well over a month old!) but on the way down diverged from the tracks to avoid the worst of the slush and melt-water pools. This lead us finding some crevasses – but luckily only one leg at a time. Lower on the Rabotbreen snow tuned again into crunchy ice so we packed our packrafts and continued on foot unroped. The melt water channels grew bigger and bigger but we found a good ice ledge to jump over the final channel. After the final crossing we called it a day and pitched our lavvu on the dry moraine. The channel at the edge of the glacier seemed to offer adventurous packrafting but it had been a long day (close to 20km) and it was time to get some rest.

The next morning we slept long and started the day discussing whether we should first walk down to the terminal moraines or start packrafting straight from the camp even though the river was running on top of the glacier. We ended up doing the latter: neoprene socks to the wet boots, extra layers on and shell clothing on top of it. After doing a quick test run under the ledge we had jumped down from, we headed down stream. The river was quite interesting as you can expect from a river running on top of a glacier: very fast current, very few eddies, shallow in places, deep in others and often making serious undercuts at the edges.

Picture by Antti Siltala.

When closing to the moraine piles we scouted the river both from opposite shore and from a high moraine: The river gained more speed, got some bigger but still reasonable waves and then eased after passing through the terminal moraine. We decided to continue in our rafts. Antti and Venla were going first with Nina and me following, Thomas being last taking some video footage.

Antti and Venla got ahead and didn’t see us anymore so Antti decided to eddy out and wait. In normal river the spot would’ve worked just fine but now, instead of a safe eddy, Antti found a strong flow that flipped his raft and pulled him under the undercut ice. Venla followed to help and the same happened to her. Both took (apparently) quite frightening dive under the ice but managed to get back to the main current.

We didn’t see this happening but soon found Venla stranded on an iceflow in the middle of the river. Antti had swam ashore little further downstream. Coming down the rest of us eddied out next to Venla but soon I continued down stream to check Antti. Antti was wet but okay and had lost his paddle so run down stream to see if he could still catch it. I run upstream to the rest of the gang to rescue Venla. Climbing rope doesn’t make such a great throw bag but it works. We first pulled her packraft on the shore, threw her a PFD and then pulled her to the safety of the shore. She was seriously cold but otherwise okay. Antti returned without the paddle and we decided to pitch camp to warm up.

In camp we counted the losses: two paddles, a food bag and a pair of gloves. Both swimmers had bruised legs from hitting the ice but were otherwise okay. We decided to call it a day and let the evening sun and cold breeze to dry the wet kit. We discussed options now that we had lost two paddles, some food and a half a day but decided to carry on as planned and see how it would go. We spent night in the lavvu listening the active and unstable moraines sliding into the river with varying magnitude.

The aftermath. No photos as I was too busy rescuing.

The next day we continued walking past the last bit of moraines (founding an intimidating whirlpool in the river on the way) to the huge Sassendalen valley. Even though we had spent only two days on the moraines and glacier the green vegetation, goose and reindeer in the valley were welcome! In the valley we improvised canoe paddles from hiking poles, ice axes and gaiters. Antti and Venla paddled an Alpackaraft Denali Llama as a duo towing a smaller MRS Microraft as a “gear barge” behind them.

Sassenelva would have offered awesome paddling but when we were building the paddles, a stiff headwind blowing from the sea started. The wind pretty much cancelled the effect of the swift flow and we had to really paddle to get forward. When the river meandered in the vast valley we paddle through wind-born lengthwise waves sweeping across the river – the first time I’ve seen such waves on a river.

But slowly and steadily we reached the mouth of Eskerdalen valley some 17 kilometers further downstream. The landing and exit turned into a mud-fest as we had to walk/wade/run through a section of quick-sand-like silt in water that was too shallow for paddling. The cold wind continued and we walked deeper into the Eskerdalen in search of shelter from the wind and pitched camp in light drizzle. Tired and muddy but somewhat satisfied.

Next we would have a couple of days of simple walking through valleys so at least the we wouldn’t have to worry about treacherous rivers.

The story will continue later with our way up to and down along the Reinelva river in Reindalen…

Pt.2 of the story can be found here.

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Few thoughts on the swim and loss of gear:

We discussed the capsize and swim quite thoroughly during the trip. In my opinion the decision to paddle the river was right, it wasn’t that difficult water. Problem was that a river that flows on top of ice (even though covered with moraine) acts quite differently than a river on land or over rock. If Antti and Venla would not have tried to eddy out, they would not have capsized but when the group was splitting up, stopping was the right thing to do.

Conditions were unfamiliar to us and we had a bit of bad luck judging them. Paddling this sort of water (fast, very few eddies, a bit like the upper Visttasjohka in flood) requires commitment and accepting the related risks. Go, if you know what you are doing, otherwise walk until the river gets more gentle. Walking is always an option, especially with packrafts as they are so easy to portage.

Antti and Venla had decided not to take PFDs to save weight. I opposed it and told I would definitely take a life jacket but in the end  it was their decision to make. In this case PFDs would have helped to keep Venla a bit warmer while waiting for the rescue and maybe made the swim a bit easier but luckily both stayed safe without them.

The lost food bag was a bummer and in my opinion all gear should always be attached fail-safe to the raft when paddling in moving water (or at sea). The lost paddles were a major set-back but also “unavoidable”. When paddling swift water you definitely don’t want to have a paddle-leash and when swimming in such water and having to choose between getting out from an undercut riverbank or choosing between paddle or raft, abandoning the paddle is the right decision. We didn’t carry spare paddles. Packrafters rarely do as walking is always an option and often you can improvise a paddle. Though next time when on a group trip, I will take my Supai Olo paddle as a dedicated spare paddle.

Svalbard – Summer 2015 – Special Edition

My main trip for the summer season 2015 was a summer packrafting tour to Svalbard. After the superlative-packed winter tour in Svalbard in April I was excited to get back.

This trip had been on the drawing board already for a few years and now it was about the time to change a digital line on a digital map into a real line of footsteps on tundra and series of paddle strokes on river. And then later let that physical effort turn into intangible, but still very real, memories. The sort of memories that define us.

This post is only an introductory post of the 11-day adventure which I will explain in more details in a few upcoming posts.

The plan

As I mentioned I had been planning a trip like this for quite some time and had come up with several route options. As we wanted it to be a summer trip we didn’t want too much skiing (possible through the whole year on the big glaciers) and we didn’t want to do “only” hiking or sea kayaking (quite popular options in summertime). And with the usual limitations of time and money the logistical options were also somewhat limited (only one town and major airport, no “bush-pilot flights” for tourists, no surface travel with vehicles allowed in summer time).

Thus we chose to do a packrafting tour through the Nordenskiöld Land traveling through Sassen-Bünsow Land and Nordenskiöld Land national parks. We decided to do the trip in July partially because it would fit our schedules but also because we estimated that at this stage of early summer the ground would not anymore be too wet for hiking but there would still be enough melt water to paddle the rivers. Timing this stuff is a game of chance.

It’s pretty easy to spot the major rivers from a map and draw a line via these waterways and major valleys. Knowing whether the rivers are passable or if they offer any good paddling is more difficult to tell as very few people have paddled the rivers and beta is very limited. But judging from the aerial pictures is seemed possible so a plan was hatched.

We would take a boat ride from Longyearbyen to the far corner of Tempelfjorden and camp on the site of tragic polar bear attack in 2011. From there we would walk up the Von Postbreen, cross Fimbulisen and descent Rabotbreen glacier to get access to the Sassenelva river. After paddling down roughly two-thirds of the river we would switch back to hiking and leave the Sassen-Bünsow NP to hike through Eskerdalen and upper Adventdalen to the huge valley of Reindalen. After Reindalpasset (pass) we would reach the upper parts of Reinelva river which we would then aft South-West. Before reaching the sea we would switch again to hiking, hike to the Russian mining town Barentsburg and turn to North-East for a coastal hike to Longyearbyen, passing the abandoned Russian mining settlements of Colesbukta and Grumantbyen on the way. This would also keep us inside the Management Area 10 saving us from the bureaucracy.

A few glaciers (30km), two big rivers (62km) and some hiking (120km) in between. Some 210+ kilometers of proper Arctic wilderness. We estimated that his would take us 12 days. Either long or short. And as that was all we had, it had to work.

But things don’t always go as planned.

The crew

From the left: me, Antti, Thomas, Venla and Nina.

The Famous Five of this tour consisted of a team of wilderness-loving outdoorsy types around their 30s doing their first trip together:

Thomas: Aspiring wilderness guide with solid glacier travel experience e.g. from Patagonia and one winter tour in Svalbard under his belt. A first time packrafter (well, he did test the raft on a lake a day before leaving). Always cheerful, always hungry but also always willing to share his food. Awesome addition to any expedition crew.

Antti: wilderness guide and experienced packrafter with solid mountaineering and glacier travel experience. A first-timer in Svalbard. Antti was sorry for not bringing his fishing kit and down jacket – and was seriously hungry towards the end.

Venla: Antti’s girlfriend with varied outdoor background and packrafting experience. Also a first-timer in Svalbard. Very determined when needed and incredibly talented in falling asleep (though in camp only). Once out of food, seemed to be happy just to have coffee.

Nina: my trusted companion in life and on countless tours. And often the voice of reason on our tours. Specialized in hauling heavy loads through wast snowy and icy landscapes (Vatnajökull, Greenland, Svalbard…) but carries a heavy pack too if needed.

and me. Well. You know who I am.

The story

Starts from here.
Continues here.
And ends here.

Kebnekaise Traverse, Trying the Hard Way

In June me and N traversed Kebnekaise (2100m or so), the highest peak of Sweden. It’s a classic hike with parts following the wide path from Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Fjällstation and parts following the hugely popular Kungsleden trail. The marked trails and well equipped huts can make a nice hike in spectacular Alpine scenery. But I seem to be incapable of going “only” for a nice walk.

Instead I usually come up with a stupidly big unconventional plans. This time the plan was to start from Nikkaluokta, hike over the Kebnekaise (1700 vertical meters mostly with huge backpacks), then head further North to packraft river Aliseatnu (no idea if you can paddle it but looks reasonable on aerial photos) and then hike back Southward to float the Visttasjohka river back to the car. Pretty awesome plan, eh?

To enjoy good flows for packrafting going early in the season is good idea but this year summer was seriously late which meant plenty of snow on the trail (snowshoes needed), cold nights (a bit more insulation) and cold, fast and bloated rivers on the week after the summer solstice. Not far away people were still skiing and driving snow scooters… As you can guess, with these conditions it doesn’t always go as planned.

After a late camp, approach from Nikkaluokta and a great breakfast at the Fjällstation N was the sound of reason and said that hiking up the “Västra leden” (Western route to Kebnekaise) with 25kg backpacks was a stupid idea. Well, it probably was. So instead we traversed to the Eastern side of the mountain. Scratch the original plan, but there was a backup…

The highway on the approach from Nikkaluokta to the Fjällstation.

It would’ve been up that way and over the peak in the middle and then to the actual summit…

The next day we tried to approach the summit from East along “Durlins led” but we started too late and sinking into the wet snow with our snowshoes, watching the cornices rumble down from the cliffs on both sides N pulled the plug again and we returned to camp. No summit this time. Probably a good decision.

I’ve read that Singgivaggi has good campsites by the lakes… What lakes?

And judging from the still frozen lakes and stories told by other hikers we met on the trail, packrafting the Ailiseatnu river would probably not work either: the lakes would still be covered with ice and river probably too dangerous due ice and flooding. So scratch that too. Instead we hiked a short day to Sälkastugorna huts and solaced ourselves with some extra rations from the small shop, a sauna and soft beds. Not a bad way of spending a holiday either but why do the conventional option when you can try an unconventional one?

The next day we decided to take a shortcut to Visttasvaggi valley through Stuor Reiddavaggi valley and past the majestetic mountain Njallu. We ended up walking most of the way on snowshoes hauling packrafts as sleds but we didn’t mind as it worked really well. The rain and clouds hid some of the scenery a bit but it was still beautiful.

Proper winter in Stuor Reiddavaggi in late June.

The next day we started with a short day hike upstream from Visttasstuga hut to packraft the upper part of Visttasjohka river. The river was in full flood being faster and slightly more demanding than I had thought but not too difficult. With the silty water rock contacts were unavoidable but swift and harmful. At the hut we packed the rest of our kit on the rafts and headed downstream.

N floating on the upper parts of Visttasjohka.

I knew the river would be quite easy from Nikkaluokta up to Lisa’s stuga and from the aerial photos I had noticed only one serious section of white water on the way to Lisa’s stuga. (It’s where the trail from Kaskasvagge crosses the river. Serious stuff.) Well, with the flood there were more difficult spots and in the strong current without any eddies we ended up to a section of big waves in a rocky bend. I’d say it was class 3 or so, not extremely difficult but too difficult for N who capsized and while I was checking on her I flipped too. After some time with rocks hitting my legs I decided a wet re-entry wouldn’t be good idea and swam ashore with my kit. N had manged to get to the shore as well so I paddled down stream to catch her raft. A moment later we were together on the shore, little bruised and scared but in one piece and with all our kit. N wasn’t any more in the mood for packrafting so I continued alone down to the bridge and from there on we hiked down to Lisa’s cabin, passing what seemed like excellent packrafting.

Part of the serious stuff after the bridge.

The next day we paddled down from Lisa’s stuga to Nikkaluokta in great weather and with great speed: good flow and some back-wind plus a closing cafeteria helps a lot. In the end we did 9 kilometers (measured on map along the river) in 1 hour 25 minutes. That might be the fastest packrafting I’ve ever done if not counting short sections of rapids. With numb legs we stumbled towards the parking area and well deserved coffee and cake.

Lisa’s stuga: cozy open cabin with interesting history. Bring your own firewood.

You know it’s good when you have snowshoes and packraft.

For most of the week the weather was great and favourable but conditions were against us and maybe we just weren’t up to the task. I guess no one likes scratching but if you plan huge and fail, you can still deliver big. So it wasn’t a bad trip, and one day I might try it again with the “racing style” required to pull it through.

– – –

As usual, more photos in my gallery!

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A footnote on packrafting the Visttasjohka:

If you are planning to packraft the Visttasjohka river, I’d recommend going with high water but after the floods of the spring this will vary between years. With the floods eddies are very few which makes either long scouting walks or committed paddling. If you start lower, you’ll need less water.

Study the aerial photos carefully and at minimum scout the section starting before the bridge mentioned above. And if you’re planning to paddle it, take proper white water kit. Also the bend about 2,4km upstream from the bridge (where we capsized) and the spot were Kaskasjohkka joins the Visttasjohkka are worth scouting, at least when water level is high.

The river drops 120 meters on 17,5 kilometers from the source to Lisa’s stuga and 40 meters on the 22,5km from Lisa’s to Nikkaluokta so speed is guaranteed if waterlevel is adequate. The river offers great packrafting but be carefull, we are not the only ones who have swum there.

On the Wide Trails of Repovesi

As I mentioned in the previous post I’ve been doing more overnight trips than usually. About a week ago a good friend of mine, lets call him P, asked if I’d have time for a weekend overnighter to Repovesi National Park. Even though I’ve been living only about an hour’s drive away from the park I’d been there only in winter so I thought it would be about the time to pay a visit in summer as well.

The Repovesi is a small 15 sq km national park located in South-East Finland near Kouvola. (Detailed information is available from the always useful Outdoors.fi pages.) It offers varying terrain, great scenery and good infrastructure: well established trails with good markings, plenty of established camp fire sites, wells for drinking water and some rental shelters. This of course makes the park very popular and often even crowded, something I don’t enjoy much. Our overnighter happened to be on weekend with awesome weather which meant a lot of people but it was also the graduation weekend in Finland which should hold down the hoards of backpackers hitting the park.

After sleeping in way too long on Saturday, doing some last minute shopping and driving to Repovesi me, N and P started the trip in the afternoon from Lapinsalmi parking area. There were quite a lot of cars but no queue to the hanging bridge which was a good sign. We didn’t have a detailed plan, nor a detailed map, for the trip. The general idea was to do a round-trip following the trails towards North and visit all the scenic places on the way, camp somewhere at the end the day and then return to the car the next day.

On the first half of the day we got to enjoy plenty of cumulative height gain as there happens to be quite a lot of rocky hills on the area. Hilltops offered great views on the small lakes and the seemingly endless forests. All hill tops are basically worth a visit when weather is good. At Kuutinkanava (a wooden conduit built for floating logs back in the days when there were logins on the area) we had a nice coffee break (with cake!) utilizing my Bushbuddy stove as open fires were prohibited. After the coffee break we walked some more on trails and occasionally off-trails visiting the tower at Mustalamminvuori hill for some more views before continuing to last major sight on our route, the Olhavanvuori.

Mustalamminvuori tower on the right, Olhavanvuori hill in the middle.

At Olhava we met several groups of topless men with shiny stuff dangling below the waist…  And with that, I mean climbers. The 50 meter high vertical walls of Olhavanvuori offer probably some of the best rock climbing in Finland and thus the area is often populated with climbers, especially on a good weekend like this. Rock climbing is only allowed at the Olhavanvuori though the whole park is littered with nice rock faces… We let the climbers keep the vertical stuff and took a detour on top of the hill for some more scenery and a nice break on the top. For most of the day a slight breeze kept the bugs away and made going pleasant. Olhavanvuori is worth a visit even if you’re not a climber. It’s an impressive piece of rock with good views.

Did I mention w-i-d-e trails in the title? This one is actually a road.

Climber populated camping area at the base of Olhavanvuori.

Continuing to North-East from Olhavanvuori we found a scenic camp spot at a small headland called Sukeltajaniemi and as it was already around 8.00 pm we decided to camp there. N stayed at the camp pitching the tent to shelter us from the bugs while me and P walked some 900 meters (one way) to a well at Saarijärvi parking area to refill our water bottles. It was quite obvious we hadn’t drunk enough during the day: nearly +30C and lots of ups and downs calls for a lot of water and I was till in the “winter mode”. Luckily this was easily solved by drinking more.

Back in the camp we prepared a hearty three-course dinners. One of the advantages of light kit is that you can carry quality food – and some wine to go with it. Bruschettas with Spanish style antipasti and read wine turned out to be a great starters also in the woods. I’ll be definitely packing more of that over the summer. For the main course we had some nice slowly cooked soup and to make up the lighter main course we had pancakes with cloudberries and whipped cream. Unfortunately the cream hadn’t liked the heat of the day and immediately turned quite butterish, but was still totally edible. Next time I’ll have to pack it inside the sleeping bag with something cold…The Bushbuddy stove provided an atmospheric little camp fire and also helped to fend of some of the bugs that returned as the wind died.

It doesn’t get darker than this. No need for headlamp.

After staying up late we didn’t set alarms for the morning. And just as expected, the sun woke us up in the morning and the body yearned for a morning swim! (Even with the both ends of the Anjan 3 tent were rolled up, it’s still quite warm in direct sunshine with three people inside.) After a relaxed morning of swims and breakfast it was time to continue.

We followed the trail at the Eastern edge of the National Park South towards Tervajärvi visiting the cool rocky ravine at Kirnukangas. Worth a visit as well. The trails on the Eastern parts are little smaller and less populated but still clear and easy to follow. At Tervajärvi we had one more swim and noticed that N’s Suunto watch had dropped on the way. It was hanging from the shoulder strap of her pack and had probably snagged against a tree and dropped. We backtracked a while trying to look for it but didn’t have luck and returned back to Lapinsalmi crossing the Kapiavesi with a ferry.

All in all, it was yet another great little overnighter with good company, great weather and delicious food. The Repovesi was a positive surprise: it doesn’t have the feel of a real wilderness in it, but the scenery is beautiful and the ups and down offer also some challenge for walking. You can still find peaceful and quiet spots even on the trail side and going off-trail is also allowed and would definitely get you away from the crowds, but also away from the major sights which are all worth visiting. Maybe next time…

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Psst! If you’re confident with your navigation skills and intend to only or mostly follow the trails at Repovesi you can probably get away with just the pdf trail map available for free from here.

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And for those interested, more photos available (for free!) from here!

Ultralight and whatever

I don’t usually feature quest posts in my blog as the focus is on “my personal views on all walks of outdoor life”. But occasionally you come up with something so great that you want to share it. This is one of those cases. This a “ghost post” by a man who I greatly respect. A man with insight, passion and close connection to nature but who does not blog. There are many non-bloging outdoor enthusiasts out there (and more often than not they are literally out there) and it’s great to give them a venue to share their views with the world. This time the views are especially about UL backpacking and going light in a different way. Enjoy!

– Jaakko Heikka

(The photos in the post are added by Jaakko Heikka. All text by Huck.)

Ultralight and whatever

A few weeks ago I visited the ‘‘Neandertal museum’’ near Düsseldorf in Germany. The museum tried to explain the life of our ancestors and also a bit how things developed from there. Most amazing was that:

1. After 16 years of learning (i.e. when reaching fertility age) people knew what they needed to know to ‘‘run’’ a family.
2. People worked about 4-5 hours per day. (This includes preserving food for the winter!)
3. People also got old, though life expectancy was relatively low due to bad work-safety.

In the late Stone Age lived the famous ‘‘Ötzi’’, who’s lifestyle made him spend a lot of time in the Alps. His gear list was relatively short (check it out: http://www.iceman.it/en/clothing-equipment) and covered all his needs, including getting food and killing enemies. The gear was certainly suitable for his needs.

Most UL hikers start off with the realization of carrying too much. They reduce, re-equip and rethink ‘‘their’’ system.

But how does the evolution go?

Living in Finland, I get to see a lot of (Swedish!) Trangias. When people go hiking with their Savotta framed packs, they always have to take the good old trusted Trangia. Eventually somebody starts to rethink and builds a lighter version of it and in the end it’s a Jetboil or catstove or whatever.

So is evolution. But what was before the Trangia?

Ask Ötzi & co; Fire! As simple as that.

So my approach to ultralight hiking starts the other way round.

Well; do not go naked, but do go ‘‘stupid light’’.

In the Finnish survival guild’s ‘‘outdoor safety’’ course I was allowed to take:

– Clothing: long trousers, T-shirt, woolen jumper, forest jacket, rain jacket, shoes, 2x socks, long underwear, sun hat, head net, woolen hat, work gloves
– Gear & food: a plastic bag (sturdy, 40L), 3m paracord, 1m webbing strap, 1x rescue blanket, 1x film canister of salt, 7x glucose pastille, flint& striker, Trangia (!) mess tin, 5m fishing line, 2 hooks, 3 weights, 1m wire, 1 compass & 1 map for three people, 1 mora knife for three people, pen& paper, toothbrush (no toothpaste!), 0,5L ziplock bag, 1st aid bandage, 1,5L water bottle, whistle
– No: phone, watch, flashlight, spare cloth, sleeping bag, tarp, tent, mattress, backpack, stove, tenkara fishing rod, spoon, fuel, food…

In seven days we hiked over 85km and only ate some fish (not every day), some berries (which are energy-input-output-stupid) and 2 mushrooms.

In one night the temperatures went below freezing. The rescue blanket we always used as a roof. We build a shelter for three people (spooning) out of two blankets.

I never wore my long underwear, because I wouldn’t take it anyway when hiking in early September in Finland.

After 2 days in the hike I had a frame for my bag, made of natural string and branches. For tea I had a piece of chaga mushroom and for a bog crossing we build some kind of snowshoes.

Ok. This was a survival trip focused on moving. The comfort level was very low but it got me thinking. I do not know how heavy our gear was. But for seven days it was surely light. We were lacking food and comfort when sleeping. But we got to sleep. We slept mostly during the night but also during the day.

After this trip, I looked at upgrading the main things that made this trip ‘‘hard’’.

Evolution:

– a slightly more comfy backpack,  >40L, which had to be light, sturdy and simple
(I chose the Fährmann ‘‘balance’’ and often use the Golite Breeze).
– toothpaste, soap
– better 1st aid kit
– AA-based headlamp
– some cheap cordage
– summer sleeping bag or quilt when hiking alone in summer. Otherwise spooning.
– tarp (rayway cut or 3x3m ‘‘Erätoveri’)’
– short isolation mattress
– when hiking alone: own knife, compass, map
– some food when longer than a few days (chaga tea is great)
– maybe a cup
– maybe poncho instead of rain jacket or rain trousers/chaps in addition to the rain jacket
– maybe a spoon
– Phone?
– Binoculars?
– A book?

The above list would allow almost anyone to go very simple and light while being pretty comfy, specially when hiking in a small group.

Thinking backwards, this is still far away from the hiking skills of our ancestors. With my over 30 years of age, I am still lacking over 14 years of education to ‘‘run’’ a family in the environment that I was born in (near Düsseldorf, Germany).  Replacing gear with knowledge is a big key and taking your time can be another. If you know where to find good natural shelters, you do not need to carry one. If you know about natural foods and medicines, you can carry less food. If you know how to make all the gear that you need from natural materials (this might require the skills of a group), you can once again carry a lot less.

The approach from starting ‘‘stupid light’’ and then slowly going heavier until you reach an acceptable level of comfort is very appealing to me, since I know that I went with less once before and I was okay.

Before finishing this little text, I would just like to explain my motivation of going light. It is not any more the possible distances.

I am motivated by the possibility to go silent. Tiptoeing through thick bush with a light backpack is already exhausting enough. I also like my gear to be in natural colors (camo), a bit more robust and cheap. In practice that means that I do a lot of my own gear and use some surplus-army stuff (which is often surprisingly light).

Best regards,
Huck

PS. Human brain: about 1,5kg (80% water)