– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: polar night

Sleeping off the polar night at Lake Inari

I’m sorry for the few weeks of down time but now I’m back with the blog and there should be a lot of things coming up. Or at least I have a pile of drafts waiting to be finished…

But let’s start with a trip report about the trip I mentioned in my latest quick sitrep. It has been way too long time since I wrote a proper trip report to this blog. I rarely get inspired by short overnighters or daytrips so I have to wait for bigger trips to put together some sort of trip report. Even this four-day skiing trip to the lake Inarijärvi felt a bit short but that’s probably because of the few kilometers of skiing and not because of the duration.

Lake Inarijärvi in January

First I’d like to use few lines to promote the lake Inarijärvi as a winter adventure destination. The lake is traditionally known as a summer playground for fishing, boating and canoeing/kayaking. It’s the “wilderness sea” of Northern Finland and rarely thought as a place for winter trips. This was my second trip to Inarijärvi in January. (The first one was a year ago and there is a bunch of pictures from it in my gallery.) What I like about Inarijärvi in January is that:

– It’s quiet there: Not many if any skiers or hikers there. So, remember to keep the secret… 😉
– The scenery is goog: Lots of open big sky “ground” on the ice with forested islands and hills in the horizons.
– Easy and good skiing: Flat surface with  relatively hard wind beaten snow and not too much of it.
– The light: With good luck you can see amazing Northern lights and the daylight can be very soft and beautiful as polar night continues until January 12th.
– Challenging weather: The weather can be really challenging. Temps can plummet well below -40 degrees, high winds are likely, visibility can be very limited and so on. Which is cool!
– Shelter available if needed: There are lots and lots of cabins on the lake. There are both free-to-use open wilderness huts and rental cabins. The forests on the shores and islands also provide shelter, especially in the Eastern parts that are part of the Vätsäri wilderness area meaning for example that you can build fires there (limited or forbidden in the islands).

Northern lights at the lake Inarijärvi in January 2011.

But as I already mentioned, there are also some challenges related to Inarijärvi in January. The daylight is very limited, in the beginning of January there is only about five hours of good “twilight” for travelling but a full moon can help a lot.  There are also strong currents at some parts of the lake that can lead to thin and treacherous ice. A boating map helps to judge these areas and in general the ice should be thick (typically nearly half a meter in January). The biggest and the most enjoyable challenge can be the weather. I know of people reporting temps below -50 degrees Celsius on the Inarijärvi in January and temps around -30C are more of a rule than exception. And as it’s a big open area there can be also high winds and high winds combined to low temperatures which is unusual in Finland. Heavy snowfall, dusting snow or mild temps can also lead to poor visibility or white-out conditions that make navigating challenging. But, if you can handle the challenges, I highly recommend the lake Inarijärvi as a winter trip destination.

N in -25C in January 2011.

As I mentioned, the lake is traditionally seeing as fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking area but I think that winter open lots of other possibilities.  In addition to skiing I could think:

– walking: if you want to walk in Lapland in January the low snow level might make Inarijärvi one of the best destinations, some sort of traction devices (like Microspikes) might be useful and you might need snowshoes to move in the islands and mainland forests but probably you’ll manage just fine in warm footwear
– biking: flat surface, thin (maybe generally around 10cm) of hard packed snow, lots of shelter for going light but comfortable, etc. I’d recommend some fatbikers doing this the next year?
– kiting: it can be very windy there and there are long open stretches to speed through with kite and skis – or a snowboard if you can’t handle too moving parts 😉
– dog sledding: there are some restrictions for dog sledding but the packed snow and flat surface would be very suitable for a nice dog sledding safari even with quite small dog teams

Tuomas kite skiing in January 2011. I'd recommend doing the kiting trips in March or April for more light and better weather.

And now to the trip report itself…

Sleeping long, skiing less

Already before the internship period begun, I hoped that me and N could get about three days off at some point to do little mid winter trip to Lapland as we were nearly there already because of working at Taivalkoski. Instead of three days we got four days off on my last week at Taivalkoski. We had planned a trip to Urho Kekkonen National Park but with the extra day we decided to head to the lake Inarijärvi instead. The plan was to ski in the mid Southern parts of the lake and sleep in open wilderness huts.

Leaving from Veskoniemi. It felt bitterly cold!

We started from a small fishing harbour at Veskoniemi in the Southern parts of the lake. We got started around 14:00 and it was already getting dark. The temperature was around -10C but it felt bitterly cold to change clothes in the parking lot. We started skiing towards the open hut in Iso Jääsaari. It took a bit over an hour for me to get sensation back to my toes but I wasn’t too worried as it’s unfortunately quite normal to me after getting little cold damage in March 2010.

It was getting darker all the time and I think I said maybe three or four times that “I don’t think it will get darker than this” but it did as the moon rises until around 22:00 and there was a thick veil of clouds. We saw a snowmobile safari of six in the horizons but otherwise the lake was ours to enjoy. It was dark, silent and calm.

The best full moon we saw. It was really bright despite the clouds.

We arrived to the hut (cozy small huts with narrow bunk beds for three) and started the usual chores that were repeated every evening: N wanted to train her axe use so she made fire wood, I made a fire and started melting snow and warming the hut and later we prepared dinner and enjoyed the silence. On the first night the cloud cover broke a bit and we watched herd of reindeers crossing the ice from island to a nother in the bright moonlight. And then it was time to sleep. And sleep we did. We first planned to get up early enough to start around 09:00 to utilize all the daylight available but we ended up sleeping untill 11:00. The sleeping bags were so comfy and maybe we were tired from the work…

As mentioned in the beginning, there lots of open wilderness huts.

From the Iso Jääsaari we continued to the hut at Hoikka Petäjäsaari island (the hut, wood shed, cooking shelter with fire-place and other stuff in the picture above) which wasn’t too far away but it still got dark before we got to the hut. That’s what you get for sleeping in late… In the morning it was -6C with low winds and clouds and that kind of weather continued for the rest of the trip.

We followed reindeer tracks, it got darker, occasional snow shower impaired the visibility but with the help of a compass and GPS orienteering wasn’t too hard. There were buildings for a small village at the Hoikka Petäjäsaari as it seems to be popular during summer time. The same evening routines were repeated but this evening the clouds covered the sky as they did during the day and actually for the whole trip, so no Auroras, starry skies or full moon to photograph.

The next morning we slept long again. I would’ve wanted to ski to a hut at Kaikunuora but N was against this because there are strong currents in that area and ice wasn’t particularly thick this January. (There is ice thickness info available behind the link.) So, we decided to ski back to the hut in Iso Jääsaari. We skied, saw reindeers from close distance and snowmobile speeding far away and arrived at the hut again in the dark. That evening it was hard to fall asleep, I guess sleeping 12 hours on the two previous nights was enough. In the morning we packed with a decent routine and a lot faster than in the first morning and skied back to our car in the harbour at Veskoniemi. It didn’t even get dark during the last day and we saw few snowmobiles on the ice when closing the village at Veskoniemi.

That was the end of the little mid winter skiing trip. A quick wash with snow and changing clothes and turning the car towards Rovaniemi to meet Mark, the man behind Backpacking North.

Not the best visibility imaginable but way better than the worst experienced.

Reflections on gear and food

For this trip I had quite atypical kit. Well, atypical winter kit for me to be precise. For the last to winter I’ve been doing all my skiing trips with a sled and most of them with a very comfortable Hilleberg Keron 3 GT tent and other heavy stuff. This time the stuff wasn’t available as I didn’t have it with me at Taivalkoski so I got to try other things. I carried stuff in my Golite Pinnacle (which isn’t quite adequate for heavy loads in my opinion), had Golite SL3 as a backup shelter, and an old Optimus Hiker 111 as a stove, instead of down jacket (I couldn’t fit my Nahanny expedition down jacket into the Pinnacle) I had only PHD down vest and so on. I skied with my Madshus VOSS with NNN BC bindings and Alpina leather boots and wore a Finnsvala merino baselayer, Haglöfs midweight Climatic pants, Sasta Everest jacket and occasionally had a Finnsvala Powerstretch fleece for extra warmth.

As the temps were mild the down vest was easily adequate and I didn’t need most of my extra clothing. Neither did we need the shelter or the stove because of the huts, but I wouldn’t go out there without them. Though lighter options would suffice. I also lugged over 3kg of camera gear with me but because of the uninspiring weather took only few dozen shots. Oh, to have a m3/4 system in addition. Btw Does anyone know if there are m3/4 system that would be compatible with Lithium AA batteries?)

I’d say that for skiing on flat open area, a pulka is far superior to a rucksack and thus I was missing my Paris expedition pulka but the rucksack was manageable. Though for longer winter trips the 70 liters isn’t that much of volume and as stuff tends to get heavy I’d prefer more rigid load carrying system. The HMG Expedition seems like a perfect winter (and packrafting!) rucksack but unfortunately there is no way I could afford it.

And also few words about food… I think I had quite a lot less food than I usually have for winter trips but it was still a bit heavy because of some fresh ingredients. And even though I had less I had way too much of it! I think this was mainly because of the short skiing days (only around three hours a day) and mild temps. I didn’t eat half of my snacks nor any of the freeze-dried lunches. This meant having some excessive weight in my rucksack but also proved to be nice learning experience. For easy winter trips, I’ll do well with about 3000kcal instead of the typical 4000-5000kcal per day.

Red lentil & tomate soup for dinner. Also fresh onions and garlic...


Outdoor year 2011 in pictures

As the year is ending soon, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favourite outdoors moments along the year and I thought that photos would make nice variation to the thousands-of-words posts that I’ve been writing lately. But I couldn’t help adding few words in between… And there are way too many pics but try to tolerate and stop to stare only the ones that interest you – or grab a cup of coffee and go through all of them.

The year began with a nice five-day skiing trip on Lake Inari during the polar night. Great Northern Lights on several nights, easy-going and good company.

The beginning of the 2011 was mostly spend on preparations for the Ultima Thule 2011 a three-week ski expedition to Svalbard. As a part of the preparations I did few weekend trips and skiing but on the other hand, didn’t have time for longer trips because of work and preparations. But, the weekends were nice and I had some time to continue experimenting with snow shelters and I had a chance to try kite skiing which was great fun!

The Ultima Thule 2011 expedition in Svalbard was the main trip of the year, my biggest trip yet. We had good luck with the weather (though more challenging weather would have been welcome), the scenery was incredible and the expedition was a success on personal level and in general.

In the beginning of the summer I did few short trips with friends but mostly I was working after three weeks of work to catch up.

I had tried packrafting in the end of 2010 and in 2011 I pulled the trigger and bought myself a packraft. My friend rented one from a guy living in Rovaniemi and after a day of training we headed to the possibly “most wild and distant river in Finland” the Valtijoki-Poroeno-Lätäseno river system. We hiked in about 45km packrafting a bit on the way and then paddled down some 140 km doing even class 4-5 white water as the water level was low. In the end we were accompanied by friend paddling the river with a big traditional white water raft.

The packrafting trip was immediately followed by a hiking trip (with a bit of packrafting in the end) to the Western side of Kilpisjärvi with my girlfriend. A nice relaxed trip and in the end of the trip I packrafted down most of the Kummaeno river. The water level was too low and the raft too cramped for two to effectively travel the river but we tried also that for some kilometers.

In August I quitted my job at the university and started a one-year wilderness guide course. We did several trips on the guide course during the autumn but unfortunately I didn’t find any time for longer trips of my own. Couple of weekends had to suffice.

In December I started a four-week internship period working at a small husky company in Taivalkoski. For the first two weeks I’ve been mostly taking care of the 60 dogs, done some dog sledding and now that I know the dogs I’ll be hopefully doing some real guiding during the next two weeks. I also managed to do a short overnighter with my girlfriend to the Syöte National Park nearby and I’m hoping that we’ll get couple of days of in January for a longer skiing trip.

The year 2011 was very good outdoor year in general. I learned a lot of new skill and did many things for the first time in my life. I also slept more nights outside than on any other year. The number of night spent outside is somewhere over 60, I haven’t been really counting, but it still doesn’t feel like too much or even enough. So there will be more coming in 2012.

In the beginning of the year we will have a four-day winter trip with the school and I will be doing some extra work practise periods for Vaiska KY working as a junior instructor and assistant guide (or something) on weekend courses about expedition style winter trips. In the beginning of March I’ll be again working as an assistant guide for Vaiska but this time on a one-week skiing trip to Sarek National Park in Swedish Lapland. And at the end of the winter I’d hope to do a two-week skiing trip to some cool place…

My spring will be spent mostly kayaking, canoeing and rafting with the guide course and on June 8th I should qualify as a wilderness guide. What happens after it is a mystery at them moment. But I hope it would involve lots of outdoors and wild places: packrafting, hiking, canoeing, guiding, skiing – anything goes! 🙂