Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: Lapponia

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.

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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.

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The best winter yet? Starting from Sarek.

The blog has been quiet since my contemplations of saying farewell to winter.

The reason is, that I succeeded and found the winter. And definitely didn’t have to say good byes in February. At the end of February I headed to Sarek in Northern Sweden and found beautiful winter on the fjells. No signs of the wet misery of last year but simply great late-winter conditions.

After Sarek I got a taste of wet winter on an overnight expedition training trip at Southern Konnevesi National Park and as I didn’t want to let go of the winter quite yet, I soon headed to Svalbard for a three-week expedition. As the pile of photos from the Svalbard expedition is still a mess of raw files, I’ll just settle into saying: It. Was. Awesome.

Well, there is one photo, so I’ll include it here as a teaser.

15-04-15EOS 6D1180_900But Sarek was awesome too, and the photos from Sarek are ready so lets get back there…

The first tour we started from STF station at Ritsem. We got a firm welcome from Nordic nature crossing the lake Ahkka: heavy winds with drifting snow. But starting from the second day it all got better. A lot better.

We were mostly blessed with bluebird skies and light winds. Temperatures dropped occasionally well below -20°C but mostly it was quite warm to be early March. In addition, one night we were blessed with short but spectacular auroras! We also saw quite a lot of wild life with the highlight, for me, being a wild wolf! We saw plenty of wolf tracks and on the lunch break of the fifth day spotted a black silhouette moving in the distance and later confirmed from the track that it was the wolf we had been skiing with!

Thanks to the good conditions we managed to ski “the long tour” as planned and clocked a bit over 120 kilometers in the seven days dispite a pretty serious burn on one participant caused by spilling a litre of boiling water on his thigh. It looked really bad, but he was a seriously tough guy and soldiered through the remaining three days of skiing without any issues.More photos from the trip in my gallery.

After a recovery day at Levi, it was time to go back with another group. Meanwhile Tero from the first tour had braved the winter storms solo and joined us for another tour.

The second tour started in spectacular weather but on the third day and the fifth night we got hit by a nice storm, not too bad, but enough to say it was a storm. In between the weather was again great, colder at times but mostly pretty warm. In the end we blasted over 5 kilometers in an hours (with pulkas!) and enjoyed coffee and refreshments at a pop-up coffee on lake Ahkka.

More photos also from the trip in my gallery.

Thanks for the great groups for the great tours! It was awesome.

For me the winter will still continue for a while as soon I’ll be heading to Iceland to once again cross the Vatnajökull glacier. I sure hope I haven’t burned all my good weather karma quite yet as the weather is Iceland can be horrible. I wouldn’t mind the spell of good luck continuing for a few more weeks. Or a few more years…

Wet Winter Tour in Sarek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortcut it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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