Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: nature

Shoulder Season Chill Out

Shoulder seasons are interesting time for outdoor activities. An unusual mix of seasonal activities is possible, many things are little more challenging than during “normal seasons” and even popular destinations are usually quiet so you can have the wilderness for yourself.

Shoulder season packrafting trails…

Super-cute little furballs!

N had holiday on the last week of October but as I had some work to do a normal one-week hiking trip wasn’t an option. So instead we did something else. It was rainy and grey with temperature around +6C in the South-East Finland so North sounded like a better option. As we both wanted to visit Husky Center Kolmiloukko (we both had been working there the previous two winters) the North-East* was the way to go. (* In Finnish the are called Koillismaa meaning North-East land even though it’s still far from the most North-East parts of Finland…)

The owner of Kolmiloukko had said we should take skis instead of mountain bikes and we believed him and left the bikes at home but took packrafts instead of skis. Once we arrived at the snowy North-East we started to think if we should’ve taken the skis after all… The first days were spent at the Kolmiloukko catching up, reconnecting with the dogs training for the upcoming season and of course playing with the adorable husky puppies!

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Packrafting at Savinajoki

The main trip of the week was to be a packrafting trip at Oulanka National Park. There are plenty of interesting rivers at the area ranging from small streams to roaring class V drops. As N isn’t that familiar with white water packrafting we chose Savinajoki, a 15km long class I-II river, as our destination. We got the starting point little late and from the bridge it looked like there would be little water and plenty of ice, especially as there were some lake sections in the beginning. Well, it’s shoulder season so ice is part of the game. As are short days. The two combined lead to quick decision of not boating all the way but hiking at an open wilderness hut near the mouth of the river and doing a day trip from there. The hike in turned to be some 6km longer than expected as the last bit of road was not accessible with our car.

With badly packed packs we hiked to the hut arriving in the dark around 17 pm. Short days also mean long evenings so a hut or comfortable shelter is welcome. And so is good slow cooking food and loads of hot beverages. And we had both. Perfect relaxed time in the backcountry. There had been a group of four hikers from the UK at the hut the previous day but during our stay we didn’t see anyone else and had the hut for ourselves.

The next day we started to hike upstream the Savinajoki river scouting on the way when possible from the trail. The 80-kilometer Karhunkierros trail follows the river before reaching its Northern terminus at Hautajärvi and crossing the Arctic Circle. The Savilampi lake at the mouth of the river was mostly frozen but the river was mostly free of ice. The water level was very low, even lower than on average in the late summer or autumn but it still looked quite packraftable.

We didn’t walk all the way up the river but pushed to the river through the snow and forest maybe one-third of the way from the lake. We had some hot tea from Thermos bottle and energy from bars to keep us warm as we inflate the packrafts and put on the secret weapons: Ursuk drysuits. I have no desire to go white water paddling on shoulder seasons without a proper dry suit. N was using my prototype packrafting specific suit which is two or three sizes too big for her so it was little bulky and the neck didn’t seal properly but it was still a way better than only wearing hard-shell clothing.

After breaking few meters of ice we were in the nice flow going down stream with decent speed. We got stuck on rocks every now and then but mostly it was good going maneuvering around rocks and occasional bigger wave. Typical rocky class I-II river with low water but enough water to keep it enjoyable.

The paddling went fast and soon we were at the Savilampi lake and reached the edge of the ice. The ice wasn’t strong enough to support a packraft for pushing ourselves over it but was weak enough to be break under the bow of the packraft when paddling vigorously. This was hard work but I was quite happy as it warmed up my fingers that had gotten very cold during the downstream part. 3mm neoprene gloves are not enough for me with aluminium paddle and temps (water and air) near 0C.

First we tried to break our way straight across the lake towards the hut but that didn’t work. There was just too much ice. After a while we turned towards the Northern shore and were soon walking on top of an esker back to the trail and hut. More real food was cooked, hot beverages were consumed and pancakes were enjoyed. Good time. A top tip for spending long shoulder season evenings at huts is to bring candles! And a book. N had one, I didn’t but would’ve liked to have one.

The next day was the walk back. We planned to go along a different route following first a 6-kilometer Kanjonin Kurkkaus trail along the canyon of the upper Oulankajoki river and then head to a forest road back to the main road and our car (parked at a local farm with the kind permission of the owners). There had been a proper autumn storm on the area and several fallen trees blocked the trail giving a bit of extra wilderness feeling to the otherwise well-marked and established trail. The river looked awesome and the big rocky cliffs were very impressive. I’ll be definitely back – when there is more water! But I’ll be down in the canyon in a packraft…

Once at the road we had learned our lesson from the first day’s walk-in with the heavyish packs and utilized a packraft as a sled pulling the loads instead of carrying. A great option on easy terrain (like a snow-covered forest road).

Day trip along the Pieni Karhunkierros trail

After the packrafting trip we spent some time at a cottage at Ruka (a fjell with a skiing center) and did a day trip to one of the most famous and frequently visited trails in Finland: the 12-kilometer Pieni Karhunkierros trail. It’s a nice trail following the scenic riverside of Kitkajoki river and crossing the old-grown spruce forests of the area. As it’s very popular trail it’s very well-marked and established and even eroded and worn. Going there during the shoulder seasons has advantages: fewer visitors and the snow covers parts of the infrastructure and erosion so it feels more wild – and you also probably smaller impact as you walk on snow!

We were again on the trail little late and had to hurry a bit to get out before the dark but it was a nice day walk. For me the Kitkajoki river was naturally the most interesting part. As the water level was low the class III Myllykoski and class IV Aallokkokoski didn’t seem too bad. If I would’ve had a dry suit in the car I would’ve been very tempted to drop the walk and paddle the rapids with my packraft. But as I said: no dry suit = no shoulder season white water paddling. And my suit was drying at the cottage.

The next rapid dowstream, Jyrävä, was about as scary as I thought it would be. A rocky nine meter drop with water squeezing between rocky river banks. With low water it didn’t look much easier, only more rocky. Not for me. At least not yet and probably not with a packraft. The rest of the trail was more in the woods with occasional glimpse at the river until the trail crossed the river and ascended up to the forests to return back to Myllykoski rapid.

On the trail I was missing two things: proper gaiters and walking poles. As plan was to spent most of the time in dry suit I didn’t take proper gaiters to accompany my Merrel Proterra goretex mids (goretex mids are great for the shoulder seasons). And as I don’t usually take poles for packrafting trip I didn’t have them with me at all. Both would’ve helped a lot in the snow.

As a conclusion the week was quite succesful: peaceful and relaxed with nice views even though the weather was mostly grey and uninspiring. The little packrafting we did was good and I’ll be definitely returning to the area in summer when the temperatures are warmer and there is more water in the rivers. It’s a great destination for packrafting!

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Bike, Hike, Paddle – Pöyrisjoki Trip Report

Pöyrisjoki and Ounasjoki watershed

Pöyrisjoki river is often listed as one of the four great wilderness rivers of Finland. Like the rest of the great wilderness rivers (Lätäseno, Näätämö and Ivalojoki rivers) the Pöyrisjoki in situated in Lapland high over the Arctic Circle as that’s where’s most of Finland’s wilderness and free-flowing rivers are. The Pöyrisjoki river flows South from Pöyrisjärvi lake through the Pöyrisjärvi wilderness area to Vuontisjärvi lake and later joins the Ounasjoki river. The Pöyrisjoki river is about 60km long (some references state the river being 43km in length but the 60km is closer to reality) and drops over 110 meters on the way with rapids ranging from class 1- to class 4. It was the destination of my main trip of the summer.

Vuontisjärvi lake, the end of Pöyrisjoki river.

If you’re interested in the Ounasjoki watershed, there is a great information page about it at www.ounasjoki.fi. Unfortunately it’s in Finnish only but the map with white water classifications is very informative and you can easily translate the short descriptions of rivers and rapids. Please note that even though there are GPS coordinates for each rapid we didn’t find them completely accurate so normal caution is still needed when traveling on rivers.

Proksinkurkkio (class 2), one of the many shallow and rocky rapids.

The plan

After packrafting the spectacular Valtijoki-Poroeno-Lätäseno continuum in 2011 and not having done much packrafting in 2012 (but still some) I was looking for a proper wilderness packrafting trip for this summer. A friend, fellow wilderness guide and generally awesome outdoor’s guy Antti was also getting a packraft this year so we decided to do a trip together. After some planning Pöyrisjoki was chosen as the destination but unfortunately Antti was too busy in early summer for us to raft it in the spring flood so we had to go in late July and just hope for enough water…

Because of schedule restraints a fast (and lightish) approach for the trip seemed appropriate as we had four days for the 140+km round trip. The plan was quite simple:

– drive to the end of the paddling section (Vuontisjärvi), a very long drive from the South
– bike from Vuontisjärvi to the end of the road (Näkkälä), 60km
– hike from Näkkälä to the lake (Pöyrisjärvi lake), 20+km
– paddle the river from the lake to the car, 60km

Ugly but illustrative: grey = bike, green = hike, blue = paddle.

Ugly but illustrative. Grey = bike, green = hike, blue = paddle.

After paddling we’d pick up the bikes with the car. The Pöyrisjärvi wilderness area would make also great bikepacking but because we had little tight schedule we decided to bike on the road to save some time and as we didn’t want to paddle big white water with bikes on the packrafts we leaved them at the end of the road. But interesting options exist for the interested and skilled.

Bikepacking perfection?

Day 0 – Very early start

One of the schedule restraints was that I was working for the weekend prior the trip. This meant I had to pack a couple of days in advance and travel with extra luggage, especially as the forecast was on the wet and cold side. As my work ended around 2.00 a.m. on Sunday morning Antti came to pick me up and we headed North. I mostly slept the first half of the long drive to North and Antti also had to take a longish nap to stay awake which lead us arriving to Vuontisjärvi quite late in the evening despite our early start.

As it was late and we needed to sort the kit one more time, we decided to spend the night at Vuontisjärvi. The river flows down to the lake Vuontisjärvi by a little public beach and there is a rental sauna and an open “kota” shelter that we happily utilized. Gear was tweaked and packrafts tested. I was especially interested to test the new Anfibio Thigh Straps I had installed just before the trip and hadn’t tested them yet. They were awesome! (More on them later as a separate post…)

The evening was relatively cool and mosquitoes very few so we slept really well in the shelter.

Day 1 – Hard biking and great walking

The morning was beautiful: sunny and warm. I was slightly worried about biking with a 20kg backpack so I strapped the packraft to the handlebars and paddle to the frame to lighten my load. After this my HMG Expedition felt actually quite good. I was even more worried about Antti’s backpack: he had quite a lot of kit stuffed in and strapped around his 40 liter Hiko Trek Backpack. But as Antti’s backpack for an approach hike of a climbing & skiing trip to Kebnekaise the last autumn had got the better of a 40kg scale – before adding telemark boots and skis on top of it – I was convinced he knew what he was doing…

After gathering the wind blow river notes from all over the beach we started pedaling. We were both riding slightly too small 26″ MTBs sporting a clip-in pedals, and we were having trail runners. But it was all good and we were eager to get going.

After the first 20km of biking we arrived to the town of Hetta and had a break at the local bakery. Antti was starting to feel his saddle little too well so we tried to cushion it with my PFD.

After turning towards North we had a thickening cloud cover,headwind and something that felt like a constant uphill… Clouds and wind were welcome to keep us cool but headwind and uphill neglected the effect quite well.

The seat cushioning didn’t work out too well and to save Antti’s ass we improvised a rack from paddle and straps to take some of the weight. It worked surprisingly well but failed couple of times towards the end scattering the kit on the road side…

After some reindeer dodging we arrived to the end of the road at Näkkälä. We chained the bikes into a tree, had lunch, repacked our rucksacks once again and headed towards the hills. It was still cloudy with a breeze and little on the cool side. No bugs. Walking was great and we decided to take a high route on the hill tops instead of following the ATV trail.

Once off trail and on the hills there was a real sense of wilderness and adventure, especially as we didn’t have any maps with us. (Yes, yes, it’s bad. Don’t do it.) But navigation on the hills was easy, and we had a GPS as a back-up. There were ripe cloudberries, a Golden Eagle soaring above the horizon, heards of reindeers and good scenery. Some of the best outdoors moments for me this summer.

Golden Eagle, first time I’ve seen one at Finnish fjells.

Reindeers, I’ve seen plenty of them on Finnish fjells.

Antti, you can meet him occasionally on the Finnish fjells.

From the top of Jierttisvaara we spotted a possible camp site by one of the little lakes (Jiertisrovanjärvi). As we descended down the cloud cover broke and sun started to shine. Swim, fishing and photography followed. In the camp the bugs started to get up to annoying levels but eased out a bit after the sun set and air got little cooler.

Day 2 – The beauty of lake Pöyrisjärvi

The next morning was hot! The clouds and breeze were gone and sun was blasting from a clear blue sky. A morning swim was needed and breakfast was had walking in circles (to keep the bugs away from you mouth) instead of sitting in the now sauna-like tent. We packed up and headed to the ATV trail as we wanted to check the open wilderness hut by the lake. We knew the trail would take us there so we didn’t need to use the GPS.

The ATV trail was an ATV trail but still quite a nice one as the tyres had broken the surface soil and revealed the fine sand. We walked barefooted all the way to the wilderness hut enjoying the fine soft sand and occasional easy water crossing.

At the hut we had lunch and checked the likely launching site for packrafting: A perfect shallow and long sandy beach! As the lake was mirror calm, sun blasting and water in the shore was relatively warm (+15C?) we didn’t bother to start paddling quite yet  but continued the barefoot walking at the water’s edge towing our gear in packrafts. There weren’t even bugs to bother us!

Even though the conditions at the time were heavenly we had a grim reminder that it’s not always the case: A boat with police officer and specially trained dog was out on the lake searching for a body of a man drowned in a storm a week earlier. A group of four man had gone to the lake with a boat in stormy weather and capsized. Two younger man had been wearing PFDs and managed to swim ashore but two older men had drowned. A serious reminder that one should always respect the water and the weather.

All good things come to an end and so did our beach walk. We jumped into our boats and started paddling towards the Eastern corner of the lake and the river. Going was good and according to the GPS we were paddling around 4km/h with little help from a gentle backwind. Once at the river we found another perfect beach (which would’ve also made an awesome camp site). We took a swim and spent some time admiring the grayling swimming in the river. The fish were not in a mood for catching Antti’s lures so we set our packrafts on the river and started paddling.

Quite soon we arrived to the first rapid, a class 1- Laulunivat. Easy in a way but rocky and shallow. After some paddling the 1+ Suomaniva followed. Again rocky and shallow. Then a long flat section followed. But paddling the flat felt actually quite good. But mentally I had been prepared for faster and more splashy going. We were happy that we hadn’t done the dry suits as we were toasting even in our normal clothing.

Good camp sites were scarce along the river but there was a nice little meadow at Proksinkurkkio. We pitched tent and changed into our Ursuk MPS dry suits as Antti wanted to test his packraft in the class 2 Proksinkurkkio.

There started to be a very unpleasant amount of mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums so we paddled down the rapid with head nets on… The rapid was quite long but again very rocky and shallow. It was easy run but as avoiding all the rocks was impossible it was also little frustrating: No matter what ninja moves you pulled, you’d hit a rock more often than not.

After the rapid we did some more testing with the Alpacka Gravity Grip and Anfibio Thigh Straps. Both enable incredible control compared to unrigged packraft making bracing actually possible and useful. We also tested wet exits and found them easy as always.

The paddle is not in the bottom. Antti testing bracing with the Gravity Grip.

Antti testing wet exit with Gravity Grip.

But as the rapid wasn’t very inspiring we returned back to camp after the run. Antti was dying for some fishing (he hadn’t caught any yet) and while he went back to the rapid I wandered around the camp eating cloudberries and picking some mushrooms (Leccinum versipelle) for a side dish. As long as I maintained a good pace the bugs stayed behind my back and I managed without a head net.

Antti had luck with the graylings and so we had two dinners: first a full pot of couscous and then fried mushrooms and grayling. This was welcome as we had found our standard dinner a little too small. After the dinner it was well past midnight and time to sleep. Even though the day had been hot it cooled down quickly in the evening.

Day 3 – A boring river

The wake up on the third day was one of the most unpleasant I’ve ever had while camping.

I woke around 6.00 a.m. with very dry mouth and feeling little weird. The sun was hammering out tent from the clear blue sky again and it was quite hot so I thought that to be the reason. Few minutes later I felt very nauseous and had to bolt out from the tent to vomit. Not the most pleasant of wake ups, specially with the hordes of bugs eating you alive at the same time! After emptying my stomach I had some water and went back to the shelter of our tent. I was still feeling sick and soon had to go out again.

All sorts of thoughts were going around my head: A food poisoning in the middle of nowhere? I was very sure of the mushrooms I had picked but what if I was wrong? Would this be the end of the trip? What would be the best way to get myself out from here? Float down? Walk out? Call a pick up?

After some time Antti woke up as it was too hot to actually sleep in the tent. I told him the situation and that I needed some time to recover before being able to continue. Antti was feeling okay and decided to go fishing while waiting. After couple of hours of carefully hydrating and resting I was starting to feel better and we had breakfast, broke the camp and continued down the river with the hordes of bugs following our packrafts. I was still feeling little week and let Antti lead the way.

Note: I’m very positive I picked the right mushrooms, but… Most or all of the mushrooms of the Leccinum family require thorough cooking to be edible. This is something I knew even at the time and I thought we had done it right but apparently we hadn’t. I got, in my opinion, quite a strong reaction but Antti had just a slightly upset stomach. But even a mild case of food poisoning can be dangerous, especially in the backcountry. So, always be carefull with mushrooms and remember to cook them in a proper way!

There were some technically easy but again very shallow and rocky rapids to navigate. Occasionally they were fun but quite often they started to feel just like work: avoiding all the rocks was impossible and sometimes pushing with paddle and hands was required to get over rocky ledges. But we still run every meter in the packrafts. There were also long stretches of flat water that were not very entertaining, especially as it was a hot day, we had plenty of bugs and I was still feeling weak after the mushroom episode…

Rocky and shallow at its worst.

Late in the afternoon we passed by some cottages and meet the only person on the way from Pöyrisjärvi to Vuontisjärvi. The older local lady was spending time at the cottage and picking cloudberries. We had a little chat floating by ans she said that the water level was about 0,5 meters higher than usually as the summer head been very rainy. We were very happy for the rains as with half-a-meter lower water level we would’ve had to walk down most of the rapids.

It’s a paradise for Grayling fishers!

We paddled some more flat sections and couple of easy class 1 sections, of which Purnunkoski and Lumikoski had adequate water level to be actually fun and not just plain rocky. We camped at the mouth of the Lumikoski. I pitched tent, took a swim and sheltered myself from the bugs inside the tent continuing the re-hydration process. Antti went to do some more fishing and prepared the dinner. This time it didn’t include mushrooms!

Day 4 – The best bits saved last

As our camp spot was shaded by the brich we were able to sleep long despite the merciless sun and also enjoyed the breakfast in the tent sheltered from the bugs. We had high expectations for the last day as there was bigger and more difficult white water to come! We were both feeling good and the morale was high despite having a longish lake-like section to cross.

The “lake” turned out to be very shallow and dotted with small islets and vegetation with occasional views to the hills so it was actually very nice. I noticed I had forgotten my sunglasses at the camp but as we had been coming down stream for an hour, I decided to manage without instead of the laborious upstream paddling or bushwhacking up and down the river banks.

The faster section started with the normal shallow and rocky stuff. Safe and relatively easy with a packraft but not very rewarding boating. The class 2+ (3) Pahtakoski started to be already proper fun: enough water not to hit the rocks all the time and some big waves and little drops/slides.

The lower (and the better) half of Pahtakoski (2+).

Pahtakoski (2+) from a different perspective.

After Pahtakoski we arrived to the main course of the day: the Kuirinkurkkio rapid (4-). The rapid starts with a short fast flowing slide with some waves next to a bit of undercut rock (class 3). Then follows a calm pool section followed with two options: left branch is a narrow but pretty straight forward swift run (class 3+) and the right branch is a proper 1,5 meter rocky drop with a bit of hydraulics (class 4). We scouted the rapid and were little intimidated by a broken canoe in the forest after the last drop.

A warning sign?

But despite the canoe we felt confident and decided to first run the thing. While one was paddling, the other one was providing safety from the shore with the Anfibio Throwbags, and the camera! The upper part turned out to be easy and fun, but short.

The upper part of Kuirinkurkkio (3).

Then we proceeded to run the lower left branch which was again fun and fast but also short and quite shallow (basically just a water slide) on places. Not much options there: just avoid hitting the rock wall on the right and enjoy the slide.

The start of the lower left channel of Kuirinkurkkio (3+).

I wanted to try also the bigger drop and as I managed just fine Antti soon followed and we run the drop some six times all together trying different lines and styles. The Kuirinkurkkio would be very demanding, if not impossible, for long vessels. But for a short white water kayak or packraft it is a good run – as long as you know what you are doing!

The lower right channel of Kuirinkurkkio (class 4).

More of the good stuff…

…and some more.

After lunch by the rapid it was time to continue. The class 2 Kirkkokurkkio has some nasty undercuts but with packrafts and the flow we had it wasn’t really a problem. We were little lazy and didn’t bother to scout it by foot but run from eddie to eddie scouting a section at a time from the boats. Same followed at Laakakurkkio (2+). The drop and hydraulics mentioned in the river notes were not bad at all with the flow we had. The rest of the rapids were again shallow and rocky but this time also quite fast and long. They would make great boating with higher water level.

The start or Kirkkokurkkio (class 2). Later there is a big undercut rock wall on the right.

More rocky, splashy and shallow stuff.

After the second to last rapid we had two options: either to paddle couple of kilometers of mostly flat river or pack the rafts, bushwhack to a nearby trail and walk to the car. We decided to boat all the way. The boating wasn’t actually too bad. Going was laborious, as flat water with packraft tends to be, but the spirits were high and we were almost done.

With thunder roaring in the distance a big sandy ridge with the familiar tree silhouette appeared and we arrived at the beach. We enjoyed the warm drinks reserved at the car and felt good. 140+km in little over three days.

Quite soon Antti left to get the bikes, I spread our gear drying in the sun and started to walk from house to house in search for the key to the rental sauna… Finding the key proved little difficult but the friendly locals helped and we happily paid a whole three euros per person for the sauna! Th only little set back was the rain that arrived when I was heating up the sauna – with all the gear spread around the beach…

I had requested Antti to visit the grocery on the way and the evening was spent with sauna, grilled sausages and some more beers. The last night in the shelter turned out to be the worst of the trip (save for the wake up of the day number three): the shelter was hot after the warm days and us having a fire going, mosquitoes were plenty and hungry and the night was restless…

Next morning an early start was required for Antti to pick her girlfriend from airport and for me to catch Mark Roberts of Backpacking North for a Brovernigther but that’s a different story…

Note on the water level

There is no official water level or flow measurements from Pöyrisjoki but if you’re planning a trip to Pöyrisjoki the measurements from Ounasjärvi (a lake draining to Ounasjoki above the Pöyrisjoki) and Ketomella in Ounasjoki (downstream from Pöyrisjoki) might be helpful. During our trip the water level at Ounasjärvi was around 287,1m (discharge 3,5 m^3/s) and at Ketomella 261,9m (flow 25 m^3/s).

The long flat water sections are paddlable around the year at any water level but as the rapids are shallow and rocky, I think majority of them would be not be paddlable with lower water level or at least they wouldn’t be any fun. On the other hand, we found all the rapids expect Kuirinkurkkio to be easy with this water level (and Kuirinkurkkio wasn’t difficult either, just exciting) but with higher water level the nature of the rapids may change dramatically and they may become difficult and even dangerous.

If planning a trip with canoe, kayak or some other boat the special characteristics of packraft are also worth noting: Packrafts are very agile, don’t need much water and are very stable which makes constant rock contacts more irritating than dangerous. For a longer vessel the flat sections will be more fun but the rapids will be more challenging or even impossible.

I hope to return to Pöyrisjoki one day, but probably only for the lower half (as packraft enables hiking in were ever you want to) – and definitely during the spring flood!

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As usually, more photos in my gallery.

Summer Solstice Solitude

Another overnighter trip report! Sorry, if you are getting bored. I’ll try write about kit/gear/stuff later, and of course finish the posts about the past winter. But for now, trip report it is!

My original plan was to spend the festive mid-summer weekend, Juhannus as we call it, working and I really didn’t have any other plans for the weekend. But things change. And when I found I had no work to do I though of it as a possibility to consume less and be more outdoors. Suits me.

As the weather forecast was good I quite quickly came up with a nice trip idea I named “summer solstice solitude”: borrow friend’s kayak, paddle around the western Pien-Saimaa area and search for a tiny islet to spend the shortest night of the year. I even borrowed Hilleberg Soulo tent to have a free-standing tent with a small footprint to fit on the tiniest of rocky islets.

I got on the waters a bit after 17:00 after a substantial energy level boosting in the form of meat pastries stuffed with additional ham and egg (local specialty called “vety”) with my brother at the Lappeenranta harbour.

The weather was gorgeous and the kayak glided nearly effortlessly across the calm waters. Going was good and I felt confident even though this was my first time on a solo kayaking trip.

I had some small islets in mind but I soon found that I was a month or two late booking my place for the night as angry seagulls had already booked all the nice little islets. And of course most of the bigger islands were littered with summer houses, now occupied with people spending the mid-summer weekend in the traditional Finnish style: cottage by the lake, friends, sauna, barbecue, big bonfire and getting drunk.

With less seagulls and little lower water level this would’ve made a great camp!

As I wanted to have a bit of solitude and an island of my own I kept searching.

After couple of hours of kayaking my feet started to fall asleep. The borrowed kayak was a little bit too tight fit for my well-trained bottom so I decided to have a little beer break and get the blood flowing again.

I continued paddling towards some small islands that had looked promising on the map but found them to be very densely vegetated, not meeting my idea of small rocky islet. So I kept paddling as the going was good and the evening was beautiful.

At one point I decided I should camp by 20:00, then it was 20:30 and finally it was well past 21:00 before I decided to settle on nice rocky cliffs on a bigger island. It wasn’t exactly according to the plan but the island didn’t have any summer houses nor could I spot any on the shores in the horizon and the camp was on a cool spot with great views so I declared it good enough.

There is always something especially appealing in camping on top of a high place!

But immediately after getting ashore I noticed I would not be alone for the night: There were ants. A lot of ants. As it was late I decided to stay anyway and quite soon learnt to come along with the ants. As long as I stayed relatively still they didn’t actually climb on me or bite me that much but when moving around they got into my Croccs and started biting my feet which wasn’t very nice.

I pitched the tent, took a swim and lit the disposable grill I had brought to celebrate the mid-summer.

The longest day of the year ended with a sunset worth of the special day and after dessert the nearly full “super moon” rose above the horizon. All this made good photos but the cool evening also brought in the bugs so I retired to the shelter of the tent. Instead of counting sheeps I counted over 30 mosquitoes on the mesh of the tent door before falling asleep. (Which didn’t actually take that long.)

I slept well, as I usually do in the outdoors, waking to the pesky alarm that I had set for 3.20 am to catch the sunrise. What was I thinking setting up the alarm? After a quick look it was apparent that the sunrise would’ve required walking over the big rocky hill to the other side of the island so I didn’t bother and got back to sleep.

Later in the morning I woke up and started preparing breakfast and packing kit. I burnt my porridge on the canister stove (I’m too used to cooking it on fire or wood stove.), snapped my spork (Well, it had already lived for about two years.), got bitten by the ants and started to think if it was going to be a good day at all…

After the morning chores I gathered a bit of confidence and set on the waters. I re-checked a potential climbing rock on the shore for future deep water solo efforts. (Thanks for fellow blogger Lauri for  the term.) After getting out from the shelter of the island it was evident that I’d be enjoying headwind for the rest of the day. Going was still okay but not nearly as fast as the day before. There seemed to be also more boat traffic than the day before.

Climbing?

At one point my legs had gone past the numb phase into hurting-quite-a-lot-and-going-to-spasm-soon phase and I hurried to search for a decent place to have the first break of the day. Learning from the previous I later took couple of more breaks before arriving back to the harbour area and nearly got tipped over because of a boat speeding past me under a small bridge. Nice. Luckily I just got splashed over and didn’t even have to do any ninja moves to stay upright and dodge a bridge pillar near by. After the little drama I got back to the kayak shed and called it a day.

I got the bit of solstice solitude I was looking for but I have to say I find outdoors activities more meaningful when done with friends to share the experience.

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As usual, some extra photos can be found from my gallery.

Lake Kuolimo by Canoe

Last week’s overnighter was supposed to be a kayaking trip to lake Kuolimo in South East Finland not far from where I live. The plan was to go with T who has a kayak and I would have rented a kayak from the local club SaiLa just like before… But it turned out they don’t rent kayaks on Tuesdays!  We didn’t let this stop us and instead borrowed a canoe as you got to get your outdoors fix in a way or another.

Lake Kuolimo

Kuolimo is an interesting little (about 80 sq km) lake located in the South-East Finland in the municipalities of Savitaipale and Suomenniemi. It has very clear water (unlike most other lakes in Southern Finland), quite impressive rocky shores and it drains to lake Saimaa via two narrow rocky rapids: Partakoski and Kärnäkoski. According to official information these rapids are unsuitable for kayaking or canoeing but we were able to navigate them with our canoe – though they don’t provide much white water fun. Back in the days the rapids had been cleaned from rocks for floating timber but they have been restored as there is an extremely endangered population of Saimaa arctic charr living in the lake Kuolimo.

There are a couple of established nature trails at the shores of the lake, several lean-to shelter with fireplaces and also some services at the shores of the lake like the Partaranta that offers little pricey but delicious pizzas. And then of course there’s the large village (kirkonkylä) of Savitaipale with abundance of services for outdoors folk passing by. Of course there are plenty of summer houses on the lake shores so there is no feeling of a real big wilderness in my opinion – as is the unfortunate case in most of Southern Finland. But you can always find a nice bay or strait with no visibility to cottages and enjoy the nature around you.

I’d see Kuolimo as a  great destination for a 2-5 days canoeing or kayaking trip. On longer trip you would have time to visit the sights: walk the nature trails, visit the old fortress at Kärnäkoski, etc. and maybe try some bouldering on the rock faces on the shores. I assume there is quite a lot of boat traffic in the summer holiday season so preferably go during weekdays in the early summer or early autumn to get some solitude. Also biking around the lake would make sense, there are even some established bike routes!

Here are high-resolution photos of some information boards along the way if you’re interested in the details.

Click for a larger high-resolution version!

Click for a larger high-resolution version!

Showers, sauna and other luxuries

After shopping and a coffee break followed with some heart-in-my-throat rally driving by T we made it alive to our starting point at Luotolahti in the North-East corner of the lake. The original plan was to kayak around the large headland of Suomenniemi but as canoe is slower than kayak we adjusted the plan slightly. Quite soon after the sunny start the rain returned and we were able to enjoy occasional cold shower every now and then through the whole day. For some reason rain is much less of a problem when in a kayak – especially as I didn’t take any waterproof trousers as the good old ultra light style requires…

First we paddled trough the long narrow strait of “Luotolahden Kapia” which is quite impressive place with its rocky shores. When we got on the more open waters we decided to head to Partakoski for lunch at restaurant at Partaranta. We had a rare case of tailwind so we tried some sailing and got nice speeds of 7km/h or so but the sail rigged from cheap hardware store tarp could use a little upgrade… If I’d go canoeing regularly I’d definitely sew a sail for my canoe!

The route to the lake Saimaa down the Partakoski rapid includes three sections of rocky and narrow swift water but to our surprise those were quite easy to navigate with the canoe. They required active maneuvering and slow going but provided actually fun little challenges but were unfortunately very short. The maneuvering was rewarded with pizzas (13 euro each) and beers (small beer 4,50 euro) at the restaurant terrace were we watched the weather roll in again with a thunder in the distance and heavy rain surrounding us.

Last section of Partakoski seen from the bridge.

As the rain didn’t seem to be going anywhere, we decided to take the initiative and started to paddle away from it. Plan was to paddle about one kilometer on the lake Saimaa and then paddle up the Kärnäkoski as high as possible and to portage back to Kuolimo. There is an old mill and a bridge with quite small passage under it with the bridge being the only sensible option to portage. We were able to paddle up to the mill quite easily but when closing to the bridge I had to jump out from the canoe and push it upstream wading in very fast mid-thigh deep water while Tuomas was paddling and steering in the front. This was actually quite easy as the canoe offered some “cover” from the water and a support to lean against. We made it trough the little hole quite easily and were back at lake Kuolimo.

Kärnäkoski, the mill on the right, the bridge on the left.

For the night we decided to paddle to a lean-to located on the Western shore of Lehtisensaari island (quite a big island of about 3 sq km that used to have permanent settlements). While the way to the Southern tip of the island was quite nice and relaxed the weather decided to throw in one more challenge for the day: rain rolled in again and after passing the tip of the island we were faced  with strong wind from the West generating big waves that properly rocked our canoe. (No photos of this as I was too busy paddling…) We paddled close to the shore enjoying the rollercoaster and finally reached the lean-to.

The plan for the evening was to luxury camp with some gourmet food and an improvised tent sauna. The cold showers during the way were not that luxurious but the camp proved good: The wind settled a bit but still kept the mosquitoes away, rain didn’t return and we even got a proper sunset. We reshaped the fire-place to serve as a sauna stove and started to heat the rocks while preparing dinner: bruchettas (btw the WordPress Proofreading suggest “brunettes” here but we didnät have any with us…) with Spanish style tapas and red wine for starters (as tested on the previous trip), salmon fillet cooked  on a piece of wood in the glow of the fire and grilled veggies as main course (with more cheap red btu still no brunettes…) followed with Irish Coffee and marshmallows as dessert. This time even the cream made it and was easily whipped by shaking it in a Nalgene bottle!

Notice the improvised-on-site cooking equipment.

After the proper three course dinner it was time to improvise the sauna. There were some slightly charred tree trunks at the shelter and we had a big tarp with us and these combined with the seats around the pimped fireplace and some pack straps made a cozy yet very functional sauna for two. (Caution! If you build an improvised sauna, remember to put out the fire properly before covering your stove with a fabric, otherwise carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide or other nasty fumes may get you!) As the wind kept to bugs away there was no need to pitch the tent and after the sauna, swims and beers we retired to our sleeping bags under the lean-to.

We slept long, prepared breakfast on the camp fire with no hurry and feeling lazy (all that cheap red?) decided to just take the straight route back to Luotolahti. The weather was good with sunshine and only a slight breeze. On the way back to Luotolahti we found some nice rock by the water and Tuomas decided to try a bit of bouldering but not having climbing shoes quickly changed the sport into swimming. (Caution! This is fun but check the spot thoroughly before jumping or falling into the water from any high places!)

Towards the end of the trip the wind picked up again and we felt cold so we had a coffee break with roaring fire at the lean-to in the Luotolahden Kapia strait before arriving back to the car. On the last bit we saw seagulls apparently trying to fend of something in the water: The birds didn’t mind us floating only 10 meters away but kept diving and hovering above the reed next to a little islet… Maybe there was a snake swimming to the nest?

After admiring the airshow for long enough we paddled the last strokes back to our car and headed home. Another jolly good overnighter!

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PS. As usual, more photos in my gallery.

Barbecue Doesn’t Fit in a Kayak

For the last two weeks or so it has been a full on summer here in Finland. Temperatures have been close to +30C, there hasn’t been much rain (at least in the South-East) and everything is green and blooming. Well, mosquitoes are not green but they seem to be booming as well… This all means it’s about the time to start summer outdoor activities and that’s what I did. Here’s a trip report from the season’s first kayaking trip.

Usually I don’t do that much overnight trips, I prefer longer periods spend in more remote places than overnighters enable. But when the weather and company are good there’s absolutely no reason to turn down an overnighter. So I went for one, and later for another and now I’m planning a third one… But this post is about the season’s first overnighter.

I haven’t been kayaking for a while. I actually like kayaking a lot and happen to be a qualified kayaking instructor and even live at the shore of the largest lake in Finland with little wild land but plenty of water… So I guess I should do more kayaking but as I have a packraft I can’t afford a kayak at the moment. But when a friend bought himself a kayak and asked me to join him for a test trip I decided quickly to rent one. In addition to businesses, in Finland many clubs of Suomen Latu rent canoes, kayaks and equipment and also offer guiding services. I rented the kayak from local Saimaan Latu.

We started the trip from Myllysaari in Lappeenranta where I picked up the rental kayak from the club’s fine kayak shed. The plan was to circumnavigate a largish island called Kirkkosaari, spend a night in a shelter on the way and return back to Myllysaari the next day.

We started late in the afternoon in good weather: warm, sunny but windy enough to keep it cool and add a little extra challenge for crossing the more exposed areas. Water was probably around +18C so there was no need for a drysuit, which would’ve probably caused a heat stroke anyway. Short underwear, nice button-up shirt and cap was all that was needed – and of course a PFD.

There were also nice shores without summer houses, with a wilderness like feeling.

We paddled, paddled some more and then kept paddling. After some three hours in the boats we had very late lunch break on rocks sheltered behind a nice island. No bugs, no wind, warm sun shine. Could it get any better?

The wind was slowly dying and the going was getting better with air cooling and lake calming down. After the break we soon reached the lean-to we had originally planned to use but decided to go for another hour as the conditions were so nice. It was perfect on the lake: warm, sun low in the horizon, no wind, calm waters, tranquil atmosphere.

I guess we could have kept paddling for quite a long time in the lovely conditions but we had agreed a meeting at the next lean-to. We had a problem as we wanted to have some quality grilled food but open fires were banned due the dryness and we couldn’t fit a proper barbecue in the kayaks… As a solution we called cavalry to the rescue – with a barbecue!

After some 25km of kayaking we met N at a lean-to shelter easily accessible from a road. And she had brought barbecue with her! Evenings’ program was mostly grilling, eating and trying to not mind the mosquitoes. The lean-to is located in a nice spot on a riverside near the lake shore and the area was populated with birds and mosquitoes and we even saw a beaver in the river.

Exploring the river upstream past the shelter.

The big lump under the bridge is actually a beaver!

Around midnight N left as she had work the next morning and we pitched my Hilleberg Anjan 3 to shelter us from the bugs. I slept well trough the night and to my surprise didn’t wake up being too hot in the morning. Rolling up both ends of the tent makes it quite well suited for hot weather as well. My friend Tuomas was traveling light without a sleeping pad and said the night had been somewhat restless…

After breakfast and coffee cooked on Bush Buddy wood burning stove it was time to set on the waters again. The conditions weren’t bad but not as good as the previous evening: it was warm but cloudy, there was a headwind and forecast was threatening us with rain. The stiffness in my upper body reminded me that I hadn’t been kayaking for a while before yesterday but the headwind helped to warm up the sore muscles.

Because of the headwind we decided to take some 5km shorter route and do a little portage. After a few hours we reached the portage in rain (Notice the photos missing as it was raining?) and easily carried our kayaks on the other side. Mosquitoes and rain didn’t encourage to have a longer pause so we just continued paddling untill the rain ended and we could have a lunch break on the waters without the bugs.

Later we had a proper break on a small island enjoying snacks and watching train of barges sail past us. We paddled past islands crowded with summer houses of varying size and shape.

The town silhoutte was visible in the horizon for the latter half of the day but it took some time to get there… As we closed the town and harbour area we zig zagged trough the archipelago and found an interesting shipwreck before finishing the trip. The second day turned out to be some 27km and took little under six hours with breaks.

The trip reminded me that it would make a lot sense to own a kayak when living next to lake Saimaa but I guess I’ll stick with the rentals for now but I’ll be definitely kayaking more this summer!