Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: Vatnajökull

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.

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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.

Vatnajökull-by-yr.no

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!

Auroras, snow shelters and husky tours

The blog has been little quiet, as has unfortunately been the way this winter. So, what have I been up to?

Mostly I’ve been busy guiding husky tours ranging from full-day safaris to over-night tours but there have also been other things…

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On the tours we spend the nights at huts but being out in the wild gives a good excuse to sleep outside and this week I decided to sleep in a quinzee as the night was expected to be a cold one. (The record low for this winter was recorded at Taivalkoski at the same week, -38,2C.) I was a little hasty building the quinzee and made the pile little too small and decided to go without the sticks to mark the wall thickness. The end product was livable but little too short with too big doorway and I had to patch one hole in a wall. But it still added apparently quite a lot of warmth as I managed to sleep most of the night comfortably in my sleeping bag rated to -18C (Tlim) and only woke up chilled a few times after 6.00 a.m. The cabin doesn’t have a thermometer but it’s in a cold place on low-lands next to big marsh so the temperature was likely colder than at the village of Taivalkoski… Snow shelters make sense! And there is still time to make some so don’t miss the chance!

Night_temp

The little free time I’ve had, I’ve used for arranging the guided ski tours. The last week I was guiding a group in Sarek (along the route mapped on Social Hiking, though the distance listed there is little optimistic). We also made snow shelters in Sarek as a training and they were not bad choise as the night was cold. Snow caves are especially nice shelters if you happen to find pile enough pile of hard snow. It was an awesome tour with good group and well worth sitting in the car for 21 hours – each way.

Sarek. There’s a feeling of real wilderness. And beatiful mountains as well!

I’ll write a separate post about the tour in Sarek later as this post is about northern lights! As the winter has been unusually cloudy there hasn’t been much auroras to be seen at Taivalkoski. I saw a good show here on early December, little faint lights every now and then here and at lake Inari and nice but little grey light show at Sarek. But this evening was different. After several cold and cold nights without a trace of the northern lights the lights at the sky were on a big time! Here are some photos of the showon Sunday evening. Hope you enjoy the photos in case you missed the show!

For those interested in the techy stuff all photos taken with my trusty Canon 550D (with a battery grip with dual battery for the cold), the cheap but stellar Samyang 14mm 2,8 lens and of course utilizing a tripod (a heavy Manfrotto 055). The only problem with this setup is the Samyang lens being fully manual, which shouldn’t be much of a problem but the markings on the focus ring are all totally wrong andgetting it focused in the dark is not too easy. I think I should make some new marking on it…

On the weekend we also had the pre-expedition meeting with the Vantajökull 2013 expedition and I can’t wait to get on the ice for with the group as it’s likely to be a great little expedition… But before that I still have some weeks of husky safari guiding to be done, including two nice longer tours. I’ll try to get some nice photos to share from the tours.