– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: skiing

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 largest glacier in Europe – Vatnajökull 2013

The winter ain’t over yet!

Even though the winter is definitly over in most of Finland, it ain’t over for me. At the moment I’m hurrying with some last-minute preparations for guiding a ski expedition across Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe situated in South-East Iceland.

Urttaslaakso (Käsivarsi wilderness, North-West Finland) on a holiday ski-tour in April 2013.

The winter season has been a very busy one with guiding work. (My apologies for the silence in the blog and all the broken promises related to it.) It’s been hard at times but also very rewarding and guaranteed plenty of time in the great outdoors around and above the Arctic circle. This far I’ve spent little under 30 nights and closer to 100 days outdoors this year, which is never a bad thing. There are loads of unpublished photos and some stories to tell but that’ll have to wait until the end of May or so…

Winter magic - working the outdoors in cold but beautiful weather in January.

Winter magic – working in the outdoors in January. Cold but so beautiful!

The last time…

I was skiing across the Vatnajökull also about a year ago. The Vatnajökull 2012 expedition was a crossing from West to East (roughly along the line where the glacier is at it’s widest) and also included a longish detour to South to climb the Hvannadahlsnjukur (2110m), the highest peak of Iceland. The expedition took 16 days and was mostly very enjoyable experience despite the weather sucking big time every now and then: Freezing super-cooled rain, winds above 30m/s, temps below -20C, white outs, etc. – But luckily not all of that at the same time! And luckily we also had some days of great weather and good skiing to boost our moral.

Skiing on Vatnajökull in 2012.

… and here we go again!

The Vatnajökull 2013 expedition will be little different: we will start about 1 month later (meaning generally better weather), we will ski from East to West and won’t be doing the detour to Hvannadahlsnjukur and will spend 12 days on the glacier.

As we are leaving later in the season, I was expecting milder temperatures and generally better weather. I told to my clients that we’d probably have day time temps above 0C and night time temps down to -10C and would definitely get some rain at some point. But looking at the weather forecasts now at the eve of the departure it seems very different… Well, at least snow is better than rain and we still have good chance of rain at the end of the expedition.


Itinerary of Vatnajökull 2013 expedition

– 26.4. flight from Finland to Iceland and drive to Hoffel
– 27.4. we will start skiing (or likely walking with crampons) from the edge of Lambatungnajökull in the East
– … skiing* …
– 7.5. arriving to the hut in Jökulheimar, on the Western edge of the Vatnajökull
– 8.5. super-jeep pick-up from Jökulheimar and drive to Reykjavik
– 10.5. flight back to Finland

* The basic plan is to ascent up on the Vatnajökull along the Lambatungna glacier in the South-East corner and then ski roughly to West across the glacier. But we might do also some detours on the way to check interesting places, weather and conditions permitting. At least we will try to visit the Grimsvötn volcano (1725m) on the middle of the glacier. There’s also a nice hut at the edge of the volcano…

The Grimsfjall hut in 2012. Expecting less snow this time…

Follow the Vatnajökull 2013 expedition!

We will be carrying a SPOT tracking device so you can follow the progress of the Vatnajökull 2013 expedition online on the awesome Social Hiking service: Click to the map!

In addition I’ll try to send some tweets along the way when we have cellphone reception (the sat phone we will be carrying doesn’t support tweeting…) but this will be scarce. But if you’re interested, it’s still worth to follow me on Twitter.

And if you’re really interested in the expedition you can also follow the weather forecasts on yr.no and Icelandic Met Office to get an idea of the weather on the glacier.

And if you happen to know Vaiska’s sat phone number, you can also cheer us with a message about the nice warm days, sunshine, beer and barbecue you are enjoying…. You enjoy the spring, we’ll be skiing.

I’ll be back in couple of weeks!

A skiing trip back in time

Just a short post from a short skiing trip. A skiing trip back in time. And a lot of nostalgia. Well, nostalgia from a 26-year-old if such thing is possible.

I have learned that I have to write when I have the inspiration to do so, so here we go…

The weather on Saturday was awesome with clear blue skies, sun shine, no wind and warm temperature. Unfortunately I had to be indoors sitting in a meeting but at some point all meetings end and I managed to get out skiing with the Altai Hoks before sunset. I took a short drive to a field side, donned the skis and headed to a little swamp on the other side of the field. The sun was about to set but there was still plenty of light.

The days are already pretty long...

The swamp looked and felt a lot smaller than many years ago and the ditches were freshly re-dugged and forest had crown on the previously open areas. But the surroundings were still very familiar.

A super highway across the swamp.

On that very swamp I had gotten really lost for the first time in my life. I guess I was 6 or 7 back then. I was exploring the little swamp with the pockets of my cotton camouflage jacket full of lingonberries. I took a spin and walked full 180 degrees to a wrong direction, came to a road and started walking – again to the wrong direction. There were no cellphones that time so I think I walked some 4-5 km stopping to ask advice from a house on the way before my father came driving down the dirt road looking for me. At that point I actually knew which way the home was but it would’ve been nearly 10 kilometers of walking back home. A long walk for a little kid.

Since then I’ve spent numerous days skiing and walking on that little swamp and probably walked or skied along the field side for hundreds of times. Sometimes hunting with my father, sometimes looking for moose or deer and most often going for a trip with my friends.

Passing woodpecker's dining room on the way across the swamp.

Skiing across the swamp didn’t take too long while following the wide ditches and soon I came back to the field. A right hand turn and a few minutes of skiing would have taken me back to my car but instead I took a left hand turn. A little bit of skiing and soon I saw it: a little cabin on the field side next to a little stream. I skied across the field, crossed the little stream and I was soon at the cabin door. On the field there were some fresh fox baits for sit-and-wait hunt accompanied with a lot of fox tracks but the cabin was just like I remembered it.

The little cabin.

In that very cabin I had spent my first night in the woods with friends (no parents involved). That was at the end of 1997 and I was 11½-year old. Since the first over-nighter me and few of my good friends spend probably dozens of nights in that little cabin. Biking, walking or skiing there to escape the little mundane responsibilities like school and homework, to observe the surrounding nature, to have good time and to grow.

I opened the door and stepped in. The furnishing had changed a little to serve better the sit-and-wait hunting but there was still the same rusty stove, the same holes in the corners, the same soot-blackened pot and kettle and the same guest book.

From my second over-nighter in the cabin.

I sat down, lit my torch and opened the book. My mind was overflown with good memories from the past. A lot of good memories. A lot of nostalgia. Dozens of entries by me from short visits or over-night trips with friends. Some entries by my old friends, some entries from the times when we crammed 10 people into the three-people cabin…

My last entry was from year 2006 when I had given a ride to a friend (Whose leg had been operated and who was still walking with sticks!) who wanted to spend a night there. The last time I had spent a night there was in winter 2005. I thought I had stopped going there a few years before I went to army but apparently I hadn’t. I had spent several nights there every year between 1997 and 2005. The foundations of my outdoorsy lifestyle were built there: in and around that little cabin. Following the stream, walking the surrounding woods and skiing on the little swamp. The dozens of nights and daytrips gave experience and self-confidence that have led me here.

I owe a lot to that little cabin and to my old friends. I should pay the cabin another visit, this time with some food and a sleeping bag.

The familiar field side...

After little searching I found a pencil and wrote few lines to the guest book as there were no entries since 2006. When I left it was already getting dark and Vega and Deneb were twinkling on the deep blue sky. The same stars had been there for ages watching me coming and going and growing. I felt sad. Sad in a happy bittersweet way. It was an exceptionally good skiing trip.

Deneb and Vega. (Or Jupiter and Venus?)


Dear fellow armchair adventurers, I’d have an announcement to make. Those following me on Twitter might have already spotted the reason for the blog being a bit quiet, a lot more quiet than I’d like it to be… This is because I’ve been busy organizing my next project and my main trip for this winter:

I’m going to Iceland to ski across the Vatnajökull.

Training Z-pulley building and use for crevasse rescue.


Vatnajökull is located in South-East Iceland. It is the largest glacier in Europe (measured with volume of the ice, Austfonna in Svalbard having slightly larger surface area) and it could be even considered to be a small ice cap. Here are few facts about the Vatnajökull:

– 8100 km² of icy surface to enjoy
– 3100 km³ of ice
– Average thickness of the ice is 400 m reaching 1000 m at maximum and soaring up to 1800 m above the sea-level in some places.
– Distance from the Western edge to the Easternmost point is about 200 km as the crow flies.
– There are things like the volcano Grimsvötn and the Iceland’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur (2109 m) on the glacier.
– The weather at the glacier can be really shitty: cold, rain, snow, white outs and winds well over 100kmh.

The plan

There are still some uncertain things and lots of things to do but so much time and effort has been put into the planning of this trip that I feel confident to tell about the plan in public.

The planned route

I’m going to do the trip with my long time girlfriend Nina and two friends (Jouni and Heini) from the last year’s Ultima Thule 2011 expedition to Svalbard. The trip will take place in March-April and we are going to spend around two weeks on the glacier. The plan is to:

– start the skiing from Jökulheimar near the Westernmost point of the glacier
– ski to East up to Grimsvötn, the volcano at the middle of the glacier
– ski South to Hvannadalshnúkur and climb to the summit (weather and schedule permitting)
– ski a bit back to North and then turn East and ski to Lambatungajökull, one of the Eastern most outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull
– descent the Lambatungajökull and walk from there to the village of Hoffel
– ski a bit over 250km of skiing and have great time!

We are just hoping to have good weather (better than Alex Hibbert had on his try), no volcanoes erupting near us and not having to negotiate very bad crevasse fields.

Training for crevasse rescue: climbing rope with prusiks.

Coming up soon…

Even though this is not a ground breaking expedition we are still going to put up a separate blog for the expedition and send short updates from the glacier during the trip. The blog will be in Finnish but I’m working on getting translations of the updates to this blog. If there are voluntary translators out there, please leave a comment or send an e-mail for details!  (Finnish to English translation, few SMS each day for two weeks in March-April.) And of course there will be some posts in English here related to my personal preparations and some analysis after the trip.

Stay tuned for more info…

Altai Hok 125 – Initial Impressions

Generally I’m against initial impressions and support thorough long-term reports but occasionally there are good reasons also for writing about initial impressions. And I think, this is one of those occasions as the Altai Hoks are relatively new product and the best season for using them is under its way at the moment. So, here are my initial impression of Altai Hok 125 skis with X-Trace universal bindings.  As I weight nearly 100kg I wished to test the 145cm long version but none were available for test (and I don’t think any are available for purchase either, at least not from Finland).

The tools of choise for the initial testing.

The Skis

Well, they are not exactly skis in the traditional Nordic meaning of the word but the Hoks are closer to skis than to snowshoes so lets call them skis for a while.

The Hoks are 125cm long, erm, short and about 12cm wide and relatively light making them very maneuverable. Those interested in numbers can check Dave C’s posts: Altai Hok: by the numbers, Tools; choices (for comparing different options) and The 145 Altai Hok (for those interested in the longer option providing more floatation). The skis are built with wood core covered with fiberglass mixed with organic materials. The bases are smooth sintered polyethylene (the typical ski base stuff) and have a large glued-on skin insert in the middle and are finished with 3/4 steel edges. The skis have metal screw inserts for the standard 75mm Nordic Norm bindings (with three inserts for a heel pad) and thus also fit the X-Trace binding and there is an adapter plate for NNN BC and SNS BC bindings.

There is not much camber and it might not even work with very short skis like these. The tip has a generous amount of rise that lifts the ski on top of snow by just pushing it forward (no need to “walk”, it’s more of a motion of kicking and gliding but without much glide because of the skin) and there is also some rise in the tail. The little side cut and raised tip and tail makes then turn super easily on down hill!

The skis and the sled in camp near Patvinsuon National Park.

The Bindings

The Hoks are often sold as a package with the X-Trace universal bindings. The word “universal” means that you can use them with about any boot or shoe that has relatively flexible sole (so a no go with plastic ice climbing boots and similar).  The X-Trace is a Finnish design binding that uses snowboard binding style straps and flexible base plate. The toe strap is mounted on a fixed front piece and another strap wraps around the ankle and is mounted on a heel piece that can slide on the flexible plastic plate to adjust the size. The size i.e. the length can be easily adjusted on 8cm range which wasn’t enough for my size 46 Sorel Caribou boots but there was plenty of extra space on the flexible plate so making extra notches for adjustment wasn’t a big deal. I recognize that the binding should fit size up to 46 hiking boot without any problems (manufacturer claims fit with EU sizes 35-47,5) but the big Sorels were a bit too much and felt lined Sorels larger than size 47 or 48 are simply too big even with extra notches. The straps were barely long enough for the Sorels but for even bigger boots, there are extra-long straps available as accessory. I’ll write more about the bindings when I have more experience with different footwear.

The Use

I’ve had the skis only for a bit over a week now. I’ve used the skis on a short test run in the backyard forest and on four-day winter trip near Patvinsuo National Park in Eastern Finland. On both occasions I was wearing size 46 Sorel Caribou felt lined boots. On the short test run I was looking for the wort possible ground without a backpack or a pulka. I crossed blown down trees, ditches, climbed over some big rocks and pushed through dense forest.The skis proved to be very agile and maneuverable and on steeper down hills they glided nicely and on safe speed but on subtle slopes the skin inserts prevent real down hill skiing. Floatation was quite good but there wasn’t that much snow for a real test, maybe some 30cm.

A swift little down hill on the test run: easier and faster with the Hoks than with snowshoes or traditional long Finnish skis.

On the four-day trip I was pulling a Fjellpulken Explorer 168 sled weighting something over 30kg fully loaded. The terrain was varying but mostly we skied on small lakes, swamps and in woods. There were no big hills but occasional little slopes, banks on the shores, ditches to cross and one fucked up boulder terrain. Other people on the trip were using 225-280cm long traditional Finnish forest skis and the Hoks turned out to be a lot more maneuverable in the woods and the skin inserts provided plenty of grip for pulling the pulka and tackling little obstacles on the way. The down side is that on good open terrain they are slower than long skis because of the skins but they are still a lot faster than snow shoes. The floatation was decent even though there was occasionally over half a meter of snow. The tip rises really nicely on top of the snow by just pushing the ski forward. I recon that the 145cm model would have been better for me providing more floatation. The weather on the trip was also frigging cold with lowest skiing temps being -36C. It is advised that the bindings should not be used in temps lower than -30C but not skiing wasn’t an option and the bindings coped the use well.

Fucked up place to go with a pulka. Here shorter skis make easier going.

The Impressions

They work and they are fun.

They are very maneuverable and provide decent floatation.

The Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises. In my opinion the biggest compromise with the Hoks is the permanent skin insert which slows them down though also adds to the agility of the skis. It might be the only sensible option for skis like this but I’d really like to see a version with fish scale base and detachable skins (like the Madshus Intelligrip but a lot wider) or skin inserts (like the ones Åsnes has). The bindings are also quite a compromise. I like the ability to use any kind of footwear with the skis but they were not especially convincing, convenient or light weight. But untill I get to use something better I’m happy with them. The Icetrek Flexi bindings seem like an interesting option but they are quite expensive.

I’d personally rather have the 145cm long model to get more floatation as I believe it would be just as maneuverable as the 20cm shorter version. I have a trip plan for the next winter where the 145cm Hoks might be just the perfect tool…

Judging by the limited experience that I have with the Hoks I’d say they are killer tools for certain conditions and I see the Hoks suiting well for:

– Traveling in dense woods, especially with lots of soft snow. The maneuverability is invaluable and floatation good enough.
– Shoulder season trips when there is still some skiable snow left or you are expecting year’s first heavy snowfall during a walking trip.
– Hunting, photographing and doing other things that require agility and maybe occasionally going without poles.
– Having fun! Hoks are fun and provide a good way to have some exercise in the backyard woods or to tread trails in the deep snow around the house or a cottage and so on.

As I saind the Hoks are not skis in the traditional Nordic sense, neither are they snowshoes. Based on the snowshoe = slowshoe word play the Hoks are often called fastshoes which is very apposite name in my opinion. My friend translated fastshoe to “vauhtikenkä” in Finnish and I’ve called them “pätkäsukset” (shorty skis).

In my opinion Hoks do good job replacing snowshoes unless you are heading to very steep hills with hard packed snow (say hiking up for some off-piste snowboarding or climbing a mountain). They are agile enough for gathering fire wood, moving in and around camp, for hunting in woods, etc. From my point of view the Hoks could also replace long traditional Finnish forest skis if loosing some speed and ease of going in easy terrain is tolerable. The floatation is good enough and when hauling a sled the extra grip is nice. The Hoks could even replace steel edged fjell skis but that would mean loosing a lot of speed so I wouldn’t personally go there.

But if I could have only one pair of skis… I might nor have skis at all. I’d have fastshoes, the Hoks.

Availability & Price

The 145cm version seems to be out of stock every where in Finland though I heart that there might be some available at Kalevan Prisma in Tampere. The 125cm version is readily available from the usual suspects like the Varuste.net that sells them with X-Trace bindings for 295 euros.

– – –

Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland (the importer and distributor of Altai Hok skis and X-Trace bindings) lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them.