It’s pretty much summer now. At least in most of Finland. The snow has melted away, the winter kit is serviced and packed away and plans for summer adventures are being finalized. But let’s go back a couple of months and return again to the winter wonderland of the high Arctic…
In April I was guiding a three-week Ankarat avotunturit ski expedition to Svalbard. When the starting date drew closer, for some weird reason, I was more excited about the Vatnajökull crossing waiting in May, thinking it would be more interesting than Svalbard. I was wrong. So wrong.
Three weeks is a long time and there is too much to write about in detail but I think the photos do justice for the tour, to the time and place where we were.
We where there…
…sweating our way up the hills.
…skiing through the remote valleys.
…crossing the wast glaciers.
…waking up to the gorgeous mornings.
…climbing up to the jagged peaks.
…and skiing back down.
…finding our way to the cold shores.
We where there…
…for the scenery.
…for the wildlife.
…for the sweet little surprises along the way.
…for the good life.
To make memories that define us.
I’d like to thank the great group I had privileged to guide. And the weather gods. And who ever sold his/her soul to keep them happy and favourable. Sorry for the soul, but it was well worth it.
Weeks like those, in wilderness like that, leave their mark. They change us. They define us. They leave a longing for more.
And so, I will return to those cold shores and jagged peaks.
Due to hassle and serious sleep deprivation on departure, I accidentally packed my spare camera batteries to my checked luggage and as li-on batteries they were confiscated by the airport security. I noticed this way too late in Longyearbyen and didn’t have a chance to get any spares and thus had to survive with the single battery in my EOS 6D. I turned off the screen, the image stabilization, etc. and put the camera on only momentarily to take pictures trying to conserve power as much as was reasonable. I was amazed by the performance.
I took 1178 pictures with my camera (EOS 6D with 24-105 4 L IS lens)! And in the end the battery even had a tiny bit of juice left despite the camera warning of low battery level for the last three days. I was pretty damn impressed. But the next time, I will take spare batteries. And pack them to the carry-on luggage.
The blog has been quiet for about two months. That’s a long time. Of that time I’ve spent about five weeks on my longest expedition yet, skiing 27 days across the Greenland icecap. It was a wonderful tour and I had great time. But the price to pay seems to be the worst expedition hangover I’ve ever had. Some sort of post-trip torpor is typical to me but this time it feels exceptionally bad.
Yours truly enjoying life at the Greenland icecap. Photo by Matias Utriainen.
I was physically fine after the trip. I had to catch some sleep and took it easy for the first couple of weeks after the skiing but I lost only 2 kg of weight and it was solely fat so my body was fine. I didn’t have any bigger aches except for minor cold damage on the tips of my middle fingers and big toes but basically after a week of rest I was ready to go and ski cross the thing again.
And actually, I was also mentally more than eager to return to the simple life on the icecap. Back home I was initially interested mostly in sleeping and eating. After some time reading, sauna by the lake, sitting by a fire and walking and biking in the forests also started to appeal but most other things felt repulsive. And they still do. I’d rather be in some remote and wild place than back home with the myriad everyday responsibilities. This is what I call expedition hangover and that has also kept me away from the blog…
But in addition to longing for another expedition I’ve been also going through the huge amount of photos and video we shot on the expedition. I alone took over 1800 stills and nearly 50 GB of video. And I wasn’t the only one with a camera.
The first patch of photos is now ready and published and you can find them from my gallery. The photos are accompanied by short captions and I think they are best browsed in full screen view (click the icon on top right when browsing the photos) by clicking through the photos one by one. But you can watch them also as a slide show and also hide the texts if you want. You can get to the gallery by clicking any of the photos in the post.
Oh, and if you know cure for the post-trip hangover feel free to share it! 😉
PS. I also gave some interviews about the expedition. You can find the list from a post in the expedition blog but the only one in English is on Explorer’s Web and can be found from here.
When a one-week winter ski tour starts with heavy wind-driven rain you have to remind yourself why you like that stuff. This far I’ve always managed to convince myself that I’m doing what I really like and, fortunately, this time wasn’t an exception. In early March I was in Sarek National Park guiding the Advanced Course in Arctic Ski Expeditions with a great group of nine people. The tour was good but conditions were very unusual and quite challenging.
Rock Ptarmigans (Lagopus muta) in storm on the second day of the tour.
The conditions got interesting already on the approach to Ritsem. While we were enjoying a late hamburger-based dinner at Gällivare one participant, driving ahead to Ritsem, called on the way to report some serious winds and banks of spindrift. Little bit later he called again reporting flying gravel, wind ripping apart the ski box on top of his car and that he decided to bail and wait for us… Wise decision as the close-by weather station measured 35m/s average and 47m/s gusts!
A couple of hours and one serious heart-to-throat spindrift bank push-through later we met at the Stora Sjöfallet hotel, ditched the broken ski box, repacked and headed towards Ritsem. The wind had calmed down a bit and we managed to push to Ritsem were it was eerily calm as the big valley protected the area from the stormy winds.
The next morning we got our gear organized and started to ski across the lake Ahkkajaure. A local couple on snowscooters had ventured out early in the morning and returned before we left all soaking wet reporting “terrible weather”. What a great start for a course in demanding ski expeditions! And an hour later the weather hit us on the open lake ice: high winds and heavy rain. SKiing in slush getting soaked by rain. Very Arctic indeed. But the fantastic group just soldiered through in marvellous manner despite some of them being dripping wet down to their base layers.
Towards the evening the weather got better for a little while with moments of sunshine and it all felt right again. Once we were pitching camp in the cover of the birch forest showers of wet snow and gusts returned. But by that time we were camped and sheltered, wet but happy.
The next day dawned in reasonable conditions as we broke camp and headed towards the big uphill push. It looked windy higher on the fjells and once we got further up on the shoulder of the Ahkka fjell then wind and snow really hit us. The steep bank requires a push with the heavy loads even in good weather and now we got a little extra challenge on top of that. But once again the group did great. The terrain got easier and we got little protection from the worst of the weather by taking a route down in a ravine. After one more push up from the ravine it was time to set up camp.
The third day was probably the best day of the tour weather-wise. We made good progress but some health issues in the group and a forecasted storm loomed in the back of my head. When we arrived to the point were we had to choose whether we try to do a longer tour and take the shortcut the answer was quite obvious as the latest forecasts warned us about serious storm with wind speeds over 30m/s.
Shortcut it was.
At the end of the day we set up camp and fortified it with some unusually robust snow walls (I rarely bother…) to protect our tents from the predicted high winds. As a bonus I managed to break the leeward main zipper from the Hilleberg Kaitum 3 I was using and after several repair attempts I had to sew the door shut and turn the tent around in the wind and snow… Later in the evening the wind grew into a proper storm and our tents played us the characteristic lullabies of flapping silnylon.
In the morning the weather was still bad and the forecasts predicted even worse weather towards the end of the tour. We waited for couple of hours and as the wind died down we broke camp and skied a short stint to a place suitable for digging snow caves. We arrived little late and the group really worked hard to get the snow shelters ready before the dark and soon we were sheltered behind half-a-meter of snow, sipping Jägermeister and trying to get warm in our damp clothing.
As the forecasts threatened us with no-go weather (loads and loads of snow with over 30m/s winds) for the next day we decided to ski out from the high fjells a day early for a sheltered camp spot at the birch forest at the shores of lake Ahkkajaure. Skiing was good with reasonable visibility, warm temps and no wind, though we did get again some rain on the lower elevations. There hasn’t been anyone on the snowscooter trail before but the wind had packed the snow reasonably well so going was easy but rather monotonic. During the week Luc Mehl’s recipe of dance music on iPod and yellow lenses became known as the “Alaska prescription” and turned out to be quite popular. It really helps to cope with sub-optimal conditions. Add some hard candies and you become invincible to the elements…
Our last camp was well protected from the winds but the serious gusts still shooked our tents in the evening and it looked like serious weather up on the fjells as you could hear the wind howling even while camped on the low ground and the fjell tops were all covered in a thick veil of snow rushing through the air. We got our part of the snowfall with about 60 cm of fresh snow covering our tents overnight. I woke up around 5 a.m. as it was too quiet and noticed my tent was mostly buried under snow muting the characteristic flapping the tent fabric makes in high winds. I was too lazy to get up in the dark and waited until the dawn before getting out for some serious shoveling.
As the weather was supposed to get better in the evening we spent the last day mostly resting in camp wondering the constantly changing weather swinging from sun shine to full-on blizzard every five minutes. It was important to time the calls of nature accordingly. It turned out to be nice and relaxed day fixing equipment, frying bacon and pancakes, listening to iPods, etc. It’s not for everyone but it’s part of the game.
Towards the evening the weather got better and after late evening nap we woke in a frost covered tent for the first time during the tour. Even though the last stretch towards the lights of Ritsem is always a long one the conditions made it more tolerable: calm, little below zero and partially cloudy letting in some moonlight painting the scenery we didn’t really get to see on the tour.
After such an ending it’s always easy to convince yourself that you actually liked it and want to go for another round. Especially after a sauna, dinner and some quality beer in good company.
Group orders: In addition to the discount from Trekki webshop, there is also possibility to get gear for reasonable price via group orders. There is a possibility to purchase skis, bindings and boots and other gear via Vaiska KY. In addition there is possibility for discounted orders from Finnsvala (great baselayers, midlayers and balaclavas) and Sasta (the best shell clothing for Arctic expeditions!)
PS. There are still some vacancies for the ski tour to Sarek in Northern Sweden and for the ski expedition across Vatnajökull glacier. Both require previous experience but if you’re missing it, it can be arranged on a tailor-made course/tour if you are interested. Detailed information on the ski expeditions. Rememer also the dogsledding tours which will provide you the knowledge and skills needed to participate on the ski expeditions in addition to the experience related to traveling with dog teams.
Kimppatilaukset: Trekin verkkokaupan alennusten lisäksi varusteita voi hankkia kohtuuhintaan myös kimppatilauksien kautta. Suksia, siteitä, monoja ja muita varusteita on saatavissa Vaiska KY:n kautta. Lisäksi kurssilaisten on mahdollista hankkia Finnsvalalta (loistavia alus- ja välikerrastoja sekä huppuja) ja Sastalta (parhaat kuoriasut arktisiin retkikuntiin!) varusteita kohtuulliseen hintaan kimppatilauksena.
PS. Arktisen hiihtovaeltamisen perusteet -kurssilla on vielä pari vapaata paikkaa ja yksi niistä on jaossa ilmaiseksi blogin lukijakilpailussa! Lisäksi jatkokurssille Sarekiin on vielä yksi paikka vapaana. Vatnajökull 2013 -retkikunnassa on myös tilaa parille osallistujalle. Lisätietoa hiihtovaelluksista. Muistathan myös koiravaljakkoretket, joilla on mahdollista oppia samoja tietoja ja taitoja talvioloissa liikkumisesta sekä tutustua koiravaljakoilla liikkumiseen!
As I’m working at Husky Center Kolmiloukko this winter I’m able to offer also guided tours with dogsleds in addition to my other guiding services. The tours combine learning vital winter skills to enjoy the Nordic and Arctic winter with dogsleds and skis and/or snowshoes.
For the winter 2013 I offer two one-week programs with fixed dates but tailor-made trips with dogs are available through January, March and April:
– Deep-winter wilderness; 13.-19.1.2013; Taivalkoski, Finland.
Learn “expedition style” winter skills in the dead of the Nordic winter. Makes also a great introduction for Advanced Course in Arctic Ski Expedition in Sarek!
– Sunny spring crust; 7.-12.4.2013; Taivalkoski, Finland.
Enjoy the sunny days and crusty snow of late winter season driving dogsleds and on skis or snowshoes.
– Tailor-made trips in January, March and April 2013; Southern Lapland, Finland.
For tailor-made tours please inquire availability and prices via e-mail!
Ps. Remember also the ski expedition courses and trips for winter 2013:
– Basics of Nordic and Arctic Winter Travel; on request; Southern Finland or Finnish Lapland
– Basic Course on Arctic Ski Expeditions; 25.-27.1.2013 and 6.-8.2.2013; Lappeenranta, Southern-Finland
– Advanced Course on Arctic Ski Expeditions; 1.-9.3.2013; Sarek, Northern Sweden
– Vatnajökull 2013 – Expedition Across the Largest Glacier in Europe; May 2013; Vatnajökull, Iceland
Työskentelen tällä talvikaudella Husky Center Kolmiloukossa ja tarjoan muiden opaspalveluideni lisäksi myös opastettuja koiravaljakkoretkiä. Retkillä opit tärkeitä talviretkeilytaitoja liikuttaessa koiravaljakolla ja suksilla ja/tai lumikengillä arktisissa talvioloissa.
Talvelle 2013 tarjoan kaksi valmista retkeä kiinteillä päivämäärillä ja lisäksi räätälöityjä ohjelmia on tarjolla tammi-, maalis- ja huhtikuussa:
– Sydäntalven tunnelmia; 13.-19.1.2013; Taivalkoski, Suomi.
Opi “retkikuntatyylin” talviretkeilytaitoja sydäntalven pakkasessa. Kurssilla opit myös tarvittavat taidot osallistuaksesi Arktisen hiihtovaeltamisen jatkokurssille Sarekiin!
– Keväthankien kimallusta; 7.-12.4.2013; Taivalkoski, Suomi.
Nauti kevättalven auringosta ja hankikeleistä koiravaljakolla ja suksilla tai lumikengillä.
– Räätälöidyt ohjelmat tammi-, maalis- ja huhtikuu 2013; Pohjois-Pohjanmaa/Etelä-Lappi; Suomi
Räätälöityjen retkien saatavuutta ja hintoja voit tiedustella sähköpostilla!
Ps. Muista myös hiihtovaelluskurssit ja -retkikunnat talvelle 2013:
– Arktisen hiihtovaeltamisen perusteet; 25.-27.1.2013 ja 6.-8.2.2013; Lappeenranta, Etelä-Suomi
– Arktisen hiihtovaeltamisen jatkokurssi; 1.-9.3.2013; Sarek, Pohjois-Ruotsi
– Vatnajökull 2013 – Retkikunta halki Euroopan suurimman jäätikön; toukokuu 2013; Vatnajökull, Islanti