Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: ski

Crossing Greenland – So Familiar, So Different

Starting at the end of April I was guiding a ski expedition across the Greenland icecap. This was my second time crossing the ice cap, the first being in 2014 little earlier in the season but not much. Almost the same time, almost the same schedule, almost the same route. Very familiar but also very, very different.

Of course it’s different to be guiding paying clients than to lead a group of friends.

And of course things are always different on the first time. (The second time I didn’t get as bad expedition hangover.)

But the biggest difference was due to conditions: In 2014 we started somewhat early in the season and had quite challenging winter conditions: temperatures down to -36°C with high wind (12m/s) on top of it, some winter storms that prevented skiing and lots of soft snow to struggle with close to the end. But it was still a great trip. This year was record-warm in Greenland with the melt season starting almost two months early. The locals said the same as the scientists: spring was a month or two ahead of the normal. And some still say the climate isn’t changing…

Well, anyway.

Starting a week later on a record-warm year ment quite warm temperatures and with good weather made really nice and easy-going. I think there were only two days out of the 27 when I wore my Sasta shell jacket for the whole day. Most of the time I skied in my Rab Boreas shirt, and a few legs even without any shirt. On several morning I woke up before the clock to open the zipper of my sleeping bag as it was getting too warm. No sign of hoarfrost in the tent! Most of the time the surface was hard and with the warm temps made the skiing easy. We skied an average of seven 50 minute legs a day while in 2014 we skied seven 60 minute legs a day. That makes quite a difference over a course of four weeks!

Easy conditions and predictable going don’t make especially good stories but I enjoy them. When you spent enough time outdoors, you will get your share of the bad conditions, so embrace it when it’s good. And when I don’t encounter (unwanted) surprises, I’ve done my job well. You know how the saying goes: “adventure is just bad planning”. 😉

Naturally there are some challenges when you want to ski 550 kilometers unsupported and unassisted across a big empty glacier but luckily they were all manageable. Some crevasses in the beginning and end, the sheer distance and duration of the trip, the group dynamics and as a bonus challenge: a fuel problem.

On the fifth day of the expedition it turned out that one of our fuel canisters (10 liters out of 50 liters i.e. 20%) wasn’t white gas but something else, which didn’t burn in our stoves. Not even in the trusty MRS XGK! Later we found out it was stuff called Brymul which is used to wash engines… Stoves are crucial on Arctic expeditions to melt water, prepare food and also to provide extra warmth for drying gear and keeping up the moral. So, it was a major problem. But thanks to our ample fuel provision (330ml/person/day) and the good conditions we survived. And even enjoyed our time on the glacier.

Easy going, long and warm evenings in the camp, well workign gear, ample amount of food, swimming on the glacier, an improvised sauna high on the glacier, four weeks of simple living… What’s not to like? Another good tour.

It’s somewhat difficult to wrap 27 days (plus a week of traveling) into reasonable amount of words. So here are some photos instead. More to come later.

And even though I’m really looking forward to get packrafting and hiking, I started to long for another ski expedition the minute I saw the sunrise above the familiar Vatnajökull glacier from the plane on my way back home. This ski expedition thing, it’s a chronic illness.

PS. While camping next to the abandoned DYE 2 radar station a guy drove to our camp with a snowscooter. He was with a science expedition and speaking with an american accent and wearing a light puffy patched with plenty of Tyvek tape he seemed somehow familiar so I had to ask if his name was McCarthy. And it was! What a coincidence to meet someone you know from the blogosphere in the middle of the world’s second largest icecap. I hope you had a good expedition to the Summit, Forrest!

 

Crossing the Vatnajökull

After the three weeks spectacular in Svalbard I had a week back home to take care of mundane issues and repack for another two weeks on the ice. This time the destination was Iceland and the plan was to guide an Avotunturit ski expedition across Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe.

This would be my third time crossing the Vatnajökull, this time from East to West once again visiting the Grimmsfjall volcano, a high-point in the middle of the glacier with spectacular views and a cozy hut on top of it. I was looking for a nice, relaxed little ski expedition with easy-going, good food and good company, mixed with little bit of infamously bad Icelandic weather.

But it didn’t go quite as a hoped for. The tour turned to be quite different from the three superlative-packed weeks in Svalbard. Good with it’s own highlights, none the less, but different.

The logistics of getting at the Eastern edge of the Vatnajökull are little more difficult than getting to the fjells in Lapland (or to Svalbard in that matter). We flew to Keflavik, took a rental car to Reykjavik were we shopped for food and fuel and spent a night in a familiar cozy hostel. The next day we drove along the Southern coast to a small village of Höfn near the glacier. The last time I did the drive straight from the airport, driving in the dark and missing most of the beautiful coastline so this time we took our time stopping every now and then to admire the sights. It got windy quite soon on the way, a state of conditions that would define our little excursion.

The views along the coast were not too bad.

In Höfn we returned the car, made ourselves home at nice bed & breakfast accommodation and readied our gear for the start. And of course we made time to enjoy the geothermal heat in the pools nearby. It was windy. And colder than it should be in early May. When walking from the pools back to our rooms the wet swimming suits and towels didn’t dry in the wind but instead froze into hard plates…

The next morning we got a ride to a pass near our entry to the glacier. The previous night I had asked about the road conditions (a small private road recreated every summer after the spring melt washes it away) and I was told they hadn’t yet driven up to the pass that spring but would go for a reconnaissance drive in the evening. In the morning I was told they didn’t go but instead would “just wing it.” And that’s what they did. Excellent driving once again.

And no, we didn’t all die on the way.

The drive wasn’t too long in kilometers but it took about two hours. We didn’t get quite to the pass because of sloping snow blocking the way but this was expected. So we carried our ski expedition gear in 20-24 m/s headwind over the pass and down to the glacier where the valley protected us from the worst of the wind.

Down in the valley we repacked the gear once again, this time for 11 days of skiing and manhauling, and set on the glacier after searching for a safe route. Because of the heavy hauling and carrying, we skied just a short stretch to a safe and flat campsite before calling it a day. It was beautiful but windy day.

The next day started beautiful with very little wind but while pushing up from the glacier to the plateau of ice, the wind picked up. And it wouldn’t stop. For five days.

In the afternoon the drifting snow hampered the visibility and wind got bad enough (15-20 m/s) that going downhill to the plateau wasn’t safe anymore so we camped. The next day we spent a good hour digging our tents out of the snow (mostly a single geodesic dome, the tunnels did a lot better) and got back on our skis but stopped again after four hours because of bad conditions.

The next day we postponed the start by two hours, then again by another two hours and then once more by two hours to decide it would be a full weather day. Wind wasn’t impossible but around 15-20 m/s with thick drift lowering the visibility to 5-10 meters at the worst. On the evening’s radio call the inhabitants of the dome tent, referring to themselves as the bear cubs, asked if someone would bother to come and dig them out of their tent. And of course we did. And the next morning we once again dug up and packed the tent, an hour of group effort…

The weather was only slightly better than the previous days but that was enough for us to start the push towards West. We skied some 15 kilometers in eight windy hours before setting up camp. This time the dome tent stayed in the bag and we utilized the extra space in our three person tunnels to make things faster – and cozier. We did the same on the following two days after skiing nine hours in varying weather. On the fourth day after the storm we got the Grimmsfjall in our sight and climbed the icy slope up to the cabins. A small victory! We relaxed at the cabin, enjoyed the volcano-powered sauna and went for a little walk at the edge of the caldera to witness a beautiful sunset.

The next morning was gorgeous but we missed most of it sleeping long and relaxing in the cabin. Soon after we had departed from the safety of the cabin we skied into very humid wind. Those who have been to Iceland know what I mean. But that doesn’t really stop one from skiing so we continued towards the Western edge for half a day.

The next day offered the best skiing of the trip: good weather, good condition and nice looong downhill. It was not difficult to persuade the group to do a longer day of full ten hours on skis to reach the edge of the glacier, and another Jorfi cabin. And that was it. The biggest glacier in Europe was crossed!

The next day we were picked up by a trusty super-jeep driver and delivered safely back to the cozy hostel at the heart of Reykjavik through the snowy (and officially closed) highlands. After ski, dinners, a visit to Bluelagoon and other appropriate pastime followed until we returned to Finland.

The ski season was over for me for the year but I wouldn’t quite get rid of the snow. But more about that later…

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And as usual, more photos in my gallery.

The best winter yet? Starting from Sarek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More photos also from the trip in my gallery.

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

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

Getting over the expedition hangover

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.

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.

Wet Winter Tour in Sarek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortcut it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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