Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: packrafting

One Raft, Two Bikes and an Ancient Campsite

The last weekend N and I had a rare overlapping weekend without other projects and an overnighter was soon planned…

I wanted to do some more packrafting and found the Ruokolahden melontareitti, a 110km paddling route with some shelters and fireplaces along the way. As is the case in South-East Finland the route is mostly on the waters of lake Saimaa. But there was also a short river section, Lieviskänjoki, which was of interest for me as a packrafter.

The plan was simple: drop bikes to a shelter at Hiekkaniemi cape, drive to Pieni Jukajärvi lake and paddle 18km along the river and lakes to the shelter, spend the night at the shelter and cycle back to the car on Sunday.

We started the Saturday by dropping the bikes near the shelter and happened to meet some amateur archaeologists who had been searching the area as people have lived and traveled there also on the ancient times some 6000 years ago as the ice sheet had given up the area. The waterways were the natural routes before the time of roads that nowadays, sadly, reach almost every corner of Southern Finland. It was nice to think that we were about to follow an ancient waterway and sleep next to ancient campsite or settlement. There would be also some rock paintings on the way and we planned to take a look, but things don’t always go as planned.

After some more driving we were at the Pieni-Jukajärvi lake and found a good put in to start paddling. Thanks to sleeping in and spending some time chatting with the archaeology enthusiasts we were about two hours behind the planned schedule. But it was only 18 kilometers and we had nearly six hours before sunset and good possibility for a back-wind on the lake so we were confident…

To keep things interesting we had chosen to share an Alpackraft Explorer 42 instead of having separate boats. We hadn’t tried that ever before but it seemed possible. With the two of us and the gear we were probably close to the recommended maximum load of 200 kg and despite being quite big people we did fit in surprisingly comfortably. (We’ve also paddled sections of rivers in a single Alpackraft Llama with plenty of gear but that was far from comfortable…)

The river started as a small ditch but had enough room for the packraft and even a little flow to help us. We passed the first lean-to on our route, populated by a friendly group of men spending quality time in the woods with plenty of booze and car camping equipment. As we were on tight schedule we soon continued on the river taking breaks one at a time while the other was using the paddle as a two-bladed kayak paddle instead of two canoe paddles.

The flow was low and the river was quite densely vegetated, especially under the surface, which slowed us down and instead of the planned 4km/h our speed was around 2km/h and thus the 6 kilometer river took us some three hours leaving less than three to the sunset. As the wind had died we had no hope for packsailing across the lakes so it seemed we’d have to paddle in the dark… It was sort of “all in” situation as the waterway was the shortest route available because of the broken shoreline that was protected and thus without summer houses and roads. And to be honest, a long walk on the gravel wasn’t very inspiring idea either.

So we kept on paddling. 2,7 kilometers across the Lieviskänjärvi lake followed by a short and late lunch break at the mandatory portage around the ruins of an old mill. Then 4 kilometers along the narrow Lieviskänlahti sound. We passed the site of rock paintings in the sunset not having time to stop to search for them and rushed to cross the 6 kilometers of open waters at Muikunselkä and Rajakivenselkä. “Rushed” at what seemed to be 3 km/h as we started to be little tired and uncomfortable in our tiny raft.

It got dark and we had to navigate by the close-by shorelines and the horizon lines against the darkening night sky where stars started to appear. I was cursing myself not checking the time of the moon rise as I had been counting on some moonlight to help us but there wasn’t any available yet. We followed a marked boating lane as it would lead us by the little sandy cape we were aiming for. We paddled without headlamps to preserve our nightvision and to better see the little of the surroundings visible in the distance.

I was getting cold and N wasn’t too keen on paddling on the open lake in the dark.

The latter wasn’t helped by a boat heading to the opposite direction on the lane. We hadn’t seen any boats earlier the day but now heard a boat from the distance and then saw its lights and paddled out from the way towards a nearby island. We continued again, until we heard a second boat approaching. This time we didn’t see any light but heard the boat closing in fast and hastily paddled again out from the way. The boat passed us from a safe distance with high-speed – and without any lights. We decided to take the headlamps at hand to signal our existence and location in case of more boats.

Luckily, there were no more boats and we soon saw the horizon line dropping against a more distant horizon line marking the cape and the end of our night-time paddling. Seven and half hours after the start we had covered the 18 kilometers and were happily ashore on our planned campsite. We wobbled out from the boat with numb toes and stiff feet. To be fair, it wasn’t too bad taking into concideration the time we’d spend paddling in the tiny boat.

We put on more clothes and changed the wet and cold neoprene socks to dry woollen socks and trail runners and started a fire to get warm. Proper packrafting stuff. I noticed I was actually more cold than I had thought while paddling. Something you don’t think too much while you’re concentrated on navigation and making progress… +5 C night-time temps were forecasted and I had been only wearing two thin layers and Anfibio Buoy Boy vest which is not as warm as a typical foam filled PFDs. No wonder I was cold.

About immediately after we got on the shore the moon rose behind our back lighting the scenery. Soup, toasted sandwiches and hot chocolate tasted very good. Actually, even better than the cold beer. I spend some time taking photos of the moonlit mist on the lake before retiring to the warmth of my sleeping bag, once again sleeping on the thickest airbed I’ve ever taken on a trip: the packraft.

I woke occasionally to admire the misty moonlit lake and later the sunrise over the waters but always fell asleep after a short glimpse at the scenery. No ghosts of ancient travelers or hunters bothered our sleep. After sleeping in late the day was started with porridge and local lingon berries, smores (we were too tired to eat them the previous evening) and grower’s cup coffee (Quick verdict: Good coffee but little pricey and the trash would be a problem on longer trips.)

I hadn’t spent much time planning on lashing the gear on my bike and thus ended up with just some gear on the beam rack and most of the odd but lightish kit in my trusty HMG Porter pack. After some iterations and re-lashing I was good to go for the 30+ kilometers back to the car. I had sketched the route roughly on map by following the smallest continuous roads back to the car. I hadn’t payed any attention on the contours and was surprised by the amount of hills on our route. There were plenty. It made good training but would’ve been more fun with less equipment on the back… No surprise there.

We took it easy admiring the forest, rocks and ponds on the way following small winding gravel and sand roads up and down towards East. After a lunch break and couple of hours of pedaling we were back at the car and soon on our way back home for pizzas and beverages. A weekend well spent, though not exactly in the way we I had planned.

The small river provided an interesting adventure and the scenery on the lakes was good with plenty of rocky shores without summer houses or forestry roads, thanks to the conservation areas. The paddling route is worth another visit but next time I’ll take a kayak or canoe and paddle most or all of it. In my opinion packrafts just aren’t much fun on long lake crossings, though this time the darkness gave it a special twist keeping it interesting. But if I have to do extended lake paddling with a packraft the two person variant is a viable option: it’s little faster, you can take breaks in turns and easily socialize while paddling. I’d love to try the Alpackraft Gnu for trips like this. Maybe I’ll just have to buy one…

Special thanks for the Packrafting Store for the equipment I had in for testing!

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Footnote on photos: In addition to my trusted combination of Canon EOS 6D body and the EF 24-105 4 L IS lens I also took my old and nearly forgotten EF 50 1,8 lens and it was great fun to use it in the dark with a Gorillapod. I should keep in mind that DSLRs are systems as the name says and not get stucked using one lens only. It’s not good for inspiration. Now I found myself looking for reasonably priced high aperture lenses around the 24-35mm range. Any suggestions?

Packrafting at Kymijoki

A couple of weeks ago I was guiding a packrafting course at Kymijoki and had great time first alone and then with a nice group. Packrafting seems to be almost always great fun.

I went to the river a day ahead to check the water level and scout the rapids I’d been paddling only with considerably higher water level. I got at Kuovinkallio shelter, my starting point and shelter for the night, little late but was on the waters in 15 minutes after parking the car. I paddled around the area wondering the low water level and polishing plans for the days to come. Except for the roar of the water it was silent and even the roar was somehow soothing.

During the hasty start I had forgotten to take my headlamp and had decided I should stop after the sunset to have enough light for the short walk back to the shelter and to set the camp. Paddling alone in the maze of islands was so fun I ended up getting out an hour after the sunset and took an adventurous shortcut back to the shelter through the dark forest without my headlamp…

I met a local fishing supervisor and outdoors man at the shelter and had a great chat with him about the life by the river, local hunting and fishing and so on. After he left I started preparing late dinner and enjoyed the dark and silent surroundings under the stars. I fell asleep on my packraft thinking I should probably do solo trips more often…

The next morning I met the group on a breakfast at Aholan Lomalaidun and soon we were on the shore getting to know the tools for the weekend. The plan was to paddle to the nearby lake for starters but the headwind made our upstream paddling efforts useless. But as everybody had some previous paddling experience we changed the course and headed downstream for some swifter water. The day was spent learning basic techniques for moving water and at the end of the day we walked and paddled upstream back to Ahola for dinner and some self-rescue training with sauna as a reward.

The next day we paddled and floated again down the river, doing some training on the way towards bigger rapids. Despite the very low water level (it apparently hit the all time record low on Sunday) there was still plenty of waves and excitement on the Martinkoski rapids. There is sort of a “water guarantee” on Kymijoki, there’s always something for almost everyone, even enough to cause an involuntary swim…

On the way back we had the wind on our back and one of the group got a chance to try his Windpaddle Cruiser sail. Even with very light wind he was as fast as I was paddling an Explorer 42 as a solo boat with quite some effort. Sails do make sense and Packrafting-Store is now stocking them as well! After the hard paddle against the current it was time for good-byes.

It was a good course with a nice group. And at least one new packrafter was born on the currents of Kymijoki which makes me super happy. You can find Erkki’s blog post (in Finnish) here and some videos here and here. There will be more courses in 2015 for sure.

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As usual, some more photos in my gallery.

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PS. Remember the First Finnish Packraft Gathering!

It’s turning into an international event with participants coming also from abroad. It’s turning out to be quite popular event and if you have even slightest interest in packrafting I think it’ll be a blast! So, if you have the time on 3.-5.10.2014 and have or can get a raft, make sure to be there! With only one portage the route we’re planning is doable even with a PVC pool toy but for th best experience I’d recommend a real packraft. If you don’t have one, you can rent one from Backpacking North or Packrafting Store.

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!

Packrafting with Autumn Colors and Auroras

Less words, more photos.

Packrafting the Reisaelva in Reisadalen. The last day of the one-week tour.

The last week I was guiding a one-week packrafting tour from Kilpisjärvi (Finland) to Reisadalen (Norway). Unlike the last time I was there, we had good luck with really good weather, nice autumnal colours (ruska) and auroras almost every night.

The trip started from Kilpisjärvi where we followed the Nordkalottleden near the Kuonjarjohka hut for our first night. There were some footwear problems that lead two of the clients do most of the tour in more or less improvised footwear. But apparently neoprene diving booties with double socks are good enough for hiking with heavy rucksack over the mountains to Norway… I had some though clients with great moral.

After a cold night we continued with perfect weather to Meekonjärvi where we inflated the packrafts and got on the waters. This is the most packrafts in one place in Finland that I’ve ever seen. Scenery was beautiful and water level very low.

The little clouds we had the previous evening quickly made way the sunrise and a cloud inversion over the lakes. We continued with rafting going down the Poroeno river which had very, very low water level. After enough of the rocky rapids we decided to switch to walking and headed towards North-East off-trail. Still perfect weather all day.

The fourth day started with thick pea-soup mist that quickly changed to blue skies and just as quickly turned into cold drizzle with wind and thick cloud cover. Luckily the clouds broke and the sun returned in the afternoon once little further on the Norwegian side of the border. Even though I say it myself, the navigation on this off-trail sections went very smoothly. We decided to push little longer than planned and ended up camping in the tree line on the slopes of Jierta fjell.

The fifth day was short: traverse the slopes of Jierta, descent down into the Reisadalen canyon/valley/ravine and follow a trail to Nedrefosshytta hut. A luxurious hut on Finnish standards with sauna and everything. Long afternoon and evening to relax after the initial longer days: good food, a bit of reading, sauna and swim in the river with auroras later in the night.

The next day we did a day-hike up the Reisaelva river to Imofossen waterfall. The trail up to the waterfall was interesting but easy enough without backpacks. The river looks great further up from the hut except for the narrow canyon closer to the (definitely not boatable) waterfall. I think the canyon might be packraftable… I would just need skilled company, some climbing gear to descent in and then a big commitment to run it down… After the day trip we tidied the cabin, lashed rucksacks on the packrafts and headed down stream in search of a perfect gravel bar camp site. And we found one.

Later in the evening it turned into even more of a perfect spot with good company, camp fire and auroras dancing above the canyon walls.

The last day was an enjoyable, lazy rafting down the river with good flow and enough water despite the almost record-low water level. We visited Mollifossen on the way, admired eagles flying above us and finally arrived to our pick-up point just to find out the road was closed due a damaged bridge. But luckily, packrafts are easy to carry that extra mile…

It was simply a splendid tour. On tours like this it’s easy to love my job.

This was the last guided packraft tour I’ll be doing this year but if you’re interested, I will be offering more the next year!

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And if you would like to see more photos, there are plenty more in my gallery.

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Packrafts for the tour were from Backpacking North. If you need a packraft, support a local business and rent one from here.

And if you need a guide or just good company, you know who to ask from. 😉

Highly Recommended Watch: Packrafting 101 Videos!

You really want to take a look at this! (At least if you have any interest in packrafting or boating rivers in general.)

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Whitewater packrafting at Kymijoki in October 2012.

I spotted the Packrafting 101 video series by Media Feliz from Dave C’s excellent blog but in my opinion they are so good they deserve a post of their on – and few comments.

As packrafting is gaining popularity there has been a screaming need for a simple introductory video series on. Roman Dial’s book Packrafting! is a great resource and worth getting but for teaching boating technique a video is way better format than text. Although personal teaching from a guide or experienced boater is the best way to go, the high quality video series is very helpful – and even completely free!

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Packrafting in Reisadalen in September 2012. I’ll be returning there in a week!

The first video is about getting ready for the river: how to inflate your raft, get into the boat and into the water. It’s showing the new Alpackaraft Whitewater Spray Deck but with the Cuiser Spray Deck things are actually even simpler. Personally I prefer inflating the seat and backrest before inflating the boat itself but I guess this is a matter of personal preference.

The second video is about the basic strokes, eddy turns and ferrying. Very good stuff, though I consider the eddy turns in the video to be beyond basic skills as packrafts are very stable and unless you turn into very strong current not much special maneuvering is needed. But of course, it doesn’t hurt to do the things in the proper way from the beginning. Ferrying is an important skill and I’d like to highlight also the usefulness of back ferrying (i.e. back paddling to slow you down and at the same time reposition yourself in the current to navigate obstacles or to get to the line you want to run).

The third (and final?) video is about river navigation which is maybe the most important skill for any river boater. In my opinion the video could start from even more basic things (like the “Vs” in the water, etc.) but it’s still very good stuff. Pay attention to dangerous obstacles, swimming in current and self-rescue with a packraft, which is surprisingly easy and useful technique! And remember, it’s never wrong to portage!

“Packraftafari!” 😉

PS. There’s also the Kickstarter funded Learn to Packraft! project by Ryan Jordan. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to back the project at the time so I don’t know what’s the situation of it but I’m expecting veru helpful super high quality outcome. And good news is that the 3-hour introductory level part will be available for free via American Packrafting Association.

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Update, 2.9.2013:

In case you are into more advanced stuff and found the contents of the Packrafting 101 familiar, Luc Mehl has added a good Class IV Packrafting introduction on his great website. Good stuff and I think a lot of it is usefull in class 2 and 3 white water as well. And I agree with Luc, I highly recommend taking a course and going out with more experienced boaters. To my knowledge, beer works for kaykers all over the planet, not just in Alaska. 😉

Luc’s article also lead me to NSR’s Youtube channel which has a video series on Safety and Rescue. Worth taking a look if you’re interested in more serious whitewater packrafting as the safety perspectives are basically the same in packrafting and hardshell boating. I guess one of the few differences between hard shell boating and packrafting is in the self-rescue: Wet re-entry self-rescue with a packraft is quite easy and very usefull and naturally not mentioned in hardshell boating videos so you want to keep that in mind as well. Again these videos are something more for inspiration and ideas than actually learning skills. Skill are learned in the field so take a course and/or get out with experienced people.

(The above video is the first of 12 episodes, a good way to spend you lunch break today…)

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And a little unpaid advertisement:

– In Finland and interested to try packrafting? Rent one from Mark at Backpacking North!
– Would you like to learn packrafting in safe and efficient way or go for an epic packrafting tour in the Northern wilderness? Hire me as a guide!
– Living in Europe and wanting to buy a packraft (or cool accessories)? Packrafting-store.de is what you are looking for!