– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: white water

Hiking and packrafting in Northern Karelia

After spending nearly half of the winter skiing and hauling and sleeping on snow and ice, it was time to kick-start the summer season in mid-June. For this I headed to Northern Karelia, near the Eastern most corner of Finland where one can find almost untouched nature in the deep woods and also excellent white water paddling on several rivers.


Sasta 64 Wild

First part of the summer season kick-start was the 64 Wild hiking event organized by the Finnish outdoor clothing company Sasta who I’ve been working with developing the perfect shell clothing for demanding Arctic expeditions. Sasta hails from the deep woods and vast mires of Nurmes and wanted to show their natural habitat to their clients and other outdoor enthusiasts in the form of a three-day hiking event.


My role during the weekend was partially just hanging around, partially guiding and giving a campfire seminar on the first evening. A fellow wilderness guide Anton Kalland gave an excellent campfire seminar on wild greens and other useful resources one can collect from the nature while hiking.


The route plan suggested daily distances of 17km, 24km and 10km with some scenic or historically interesting waypoints along the route. In reality I ended up walking around 19km, 31km and 10km, skipping one way-point on the first day, visiting all the waypoints on the second day and cutting it a few kilometers short on the third day to catch the bus back to Nurmes with majority of the participants. A proper start for the backpacking season! The route was very nice with good views and interesting nature. But when walking in the woods I prefer shorter mileage to have more time for the details of the fine surrounding nature.


My feet took quite a beating as I chosen to walk in my waterproof mountain boots instead of light hikers better suitable for long days. At least the feet are now literally “broken in” for the upcoming summer. The weekend was also quite rainy and being little lazy selecting my spot I ended up sleeping in a stream during the first nigh. Luckily my tent has a good quality bathtub floor turning a possible catastrophe into a quite comfortable although weird water-bed.


It was a great event and I wish to participate again the next year. Hopefully with an option of shorter distances for more time to admire the nature and spend time by the camp fire in good company.

More pics here.

Packrafting at Ruunaa area

After the hike I went to Ruunaa area at Lieksanjoki. The area is well-known for its whitewater (mainly for one excellent and easy to reach wave for playboating) and fishing. Me and two friends were after the whitewater to test our new MRS Alligator 2S packrafts.

We arrived to the end of the road near Paasikoski rapid around midday, walked to the river, inflated our packrafts and got out for a little test spin. The Alligator was slightly less stable than packrafts with wider tubes but with its six-point rigging it offered tons of control and very agile boating. After feeling confident with the new boats we strapped our packs to the bow and headed down stream.


Paasikoski (class 1) was very easy-going. The Haapavitja (class 2) rapid offered little more fun in the form of bigger waves and more speed and was followed by easy going river sections which ended into the Neitijärvi lake. Lake paddling into headwind was hard work as always but it was soon rewarded by the Neitikoski rapid (class 2*). A short, narrow and deep bit with an excellent stopper wave suitable for freestyle kayaking.

We had all done the rapid in the past so decided to go straight thru heading into the big wave to see how the boats would perform. I went first, capsized and took a swim. Huck followed and did the same. Thomas coming as the third decided to take the easier line on the right and stayed upright. We probably did a good impression on the kayaker playing in the wave!


After routine self-rescues we went back to the shore, got rid of our packs and went testing the wave again. Huck tried to get thru the wave with the rucksack on the bow and managed on his third try but capsized in the wave train following the stopper. Me and Thomas concentrated on trying to get into the surf. Thanks to the thigh-straps of the Alligators it was possible but the current was simply too strong for our skills, or for the packraft in general, as once you got into slightly wrong angle or position the rushing water twisted our low-pressure rafts in a way that even agressive bracing didn’t help and swims were inevitable.

But it was still damn fun!

After an hour or so in the Neitikoski we continued down stream paddling Kattilaskoski (class 1) and Murrookoski (class 2) which we scouted for a safe route and also to get warmer as it was raining and our energies were getting low. After Siikakoski (class 1) we took out and camped at one of the many lean-tos on the area. We had a great evening by the campfire enjoying good food, beers, stories and the short night of the summer solstice with a glimpse of the full moon and falling in sleep to the sound of the rushing water.



In the morning we packed our packs and headed upstream enjoying the warmth and sunshine. We decided to take a slightly adventurous shortcut following a little stream to Neitijärvi and crossing the lake to reach a road near the parking area. A nice thing possible with packrafts: you hike, you find a waterway, inflate your raft and follow it. Even though the stream was quite short it added a lot to the trip which could’ve otherwise been done with a canoe or kayak as well. (Leaving the boats down stream to be picked up after walking back to the car.)




The new MRS packrafts worked really well and I’m excited to get more whitewater time with them. Packrafting is so much fun, and packrafting whitewater is even more fun!

I’ll write more about the boats later this summer. Altogether it’s a 4 kg package which, in my opinion, hits the sweet spot between the whitewater performance and the packability and performance for general use. If you want to test them yourself, ask for possibility to rent one or join one of my packrafting courses!

As usual, more pics here.

* These are my estimates on the classic whitewater rating scale based on the water level (138,9m) and discharge (95m^3/s) we had on the trip. The official ratings are little higher, especially for higher water levels. For packrafts the big stopper wave in the Neitikoski difficult but there is a way around if you don’t like the chance of swimming it.



Highly Recommended Watch: Packrafting 101 Videos!

You really want to take a look at this! (At least if you have any interest in packrafting or boating rivers in general.)


Whitewater packrafting at Kymijoki in October 2012.

I spotted the Packrafting 101 video series by Media Feliz from Dave C’s excellent blog but in my opinion they are so good they deserve a post of their on – and few comments.

As packrafting is gaining popularity there has been a screaming need for a simple introductory video series on. Roman Dial’s book Packrafting! is a great resource and worth getting but for teaching boating technique a video is way better format than text. Although personal teaching from a guide or experienced boater is the best way to go, the high quality video series is very helpful – and even completely free!


Packrafting in Reisadalen in September 2012. I’ll be returning there in a week!

The first video is about getting ready for the river: how to inflate your raft, get into the boat and into the water. It’s showing the new Alpackaraft Whitewater Spray Deck but with the Cuiser Spray Deck things are actually even simpler. Personally I prefer inflating the seat and backrest before inflating the boat itself but I guess this is a matter of personal preference.

The second video is about the basic strokes, eddy turns and ferrying. Very good stuff, though I consider the eddy turns in the video to be beyond basic skills as packrafts are very stable and unless you turn into very strong current not much special maneuvering is needed. But of course, it doesn’t hurt to do the things in the proper way from the beginning. Ferrying is an important skill and I’d like to highlight also the usefulness of back ferrying (i.e. back paddling to slow you down and at the same time reposition yourself in the current to navigate obstacles or to get to the line you want to run).

The third (and final?) video is about river navigation which is maybe the most important skill for any river boater. In my opinion the video could start from even more basic things (like the “Vs” in the water, etc.) but it’s still very good stuff. Pay attention to dangerous obstacles, swimming in current and self-rescue with a packraft, which is surprisingly easy and useful technique! And remember, it’s never wrong to portage!

“Packraftafari!” 😉

PS. There’s also the Kickstarter funded Learn to Packraft! project by Ryan Jordan. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to back the project at the time so I don’t know what’s the situation of it but I’m expecting veru helpful super high quality outcome. And good news is that the 3-hour introductory level part will be available for free via American Packrafting Association.

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Update, 2.9.2013:

In case you are into more advanced stuff and found the contents of the Packrafting 101 familiar, Luc Mehl has added a good Class IV Packrafting introduction on his great website. Good stuff and I think a lot of it is usefull in class 2 and 3 white water as well. And I agree with Luc, I highly recommend taking a course and going out with more experienced boaters. To my knowledge, beer works for kaykers all over the planet, not just in Alaska. 😉

Luc’s article also lead me to NSR’s Youtube channel which has a video series on Safety and Rescue. Worth taking a look if you’re interested in more serious whitewater packrafting as the safety perspectives are basically the same in packrafting and hardshell boating. I guess one of the few differences between hard shell boating and packrafting is in the self-rescue: Wet re-entry self-rescue with a packraft is quite easy and very usefull and naturally not mentioned in hardshell boating videos so you want to keep that in mind as well. Again these videos are something more for inspiration and ideas than actually learning skills. Skill are learned in the field so take a course and/or get out with experienced people.

(The above video is the first of 12 episodes, a good way to spend you lunch break today…)

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And a little unpaid advertisement:

– In Finland and interested to try packrafting? Rent one from Mark at Backpacking North!
– Would you like to learn packrafting in safe and efficient way or go for an epic packrafting tour in the Northern wilderness? Hire me as a guide!
– Living in Europe and wanting to buy a packraft (or cool accessories)? Packrafting-store.de is what you are looking for!

Flippin’ the llama

The title of the post emerged from conversation in Mark’s post about Testing the Waters with borrowed Alpacka Denali Llama packraft and it’s very appropriate title for the post as this is about getting my new packraft wet and flipped around. That’s what I did the last weekend.

Friday evening in a pond

Tuomas loading his rucksack with water for some "pool training".

Mostly for the sheer fun of it but also as a training for the upcoming FPE2011 trip me and my good mate (and newly graduated wilderness guide – congratulations!) Tuomas spent the Friday evening in a pond flipping packrafts with and without load and learning to manoeuver them. Big thanks for Hendrik of Hiking in Finland for borrowing his little red Alpacka raft for Tuomas!

A freestyle kayaker playing in the Torminvirta rapid.

Pernoonkosket rapids

Of Saturday we got our rafts in the fun staff: white water at Pernoonkosket rapids in the Kymijoki river near Kotka, a bit over one hour drive from Lappeenranta where I live. I had never visited the Pernoonkosket but I think I’ll be returning there regularly from now on. There is a good description of Pernoonkosket here but it’s in Finnish so I’ll give a short summary in English.

Pernoonkosket is a 1,1 kilometer long stretch of rapids in three stages:

– The uppermost rapid is class II Torminvirta (1,4m/150m) which is also the funniest part of the system.  In the beginning there is a small stopper on the river left (visible in the picture above) and smooth fast current on the right. These are followed by two big breaking waves, followed by smaller breaking cross waves from the front and left and a longish wave train in the end. There are some stones under the waves but nothing especially dangerous. The rapid is easy to portage on the gravel/stone bar on the river right.

– The second rapid is Karkuuskoski (0,8m/100m) with one big surfable wave in the beginning followed by a wave train. There is a big rock just beneath the surface so this is a bad place for a swim! This is a bit hard to portage as the small island in the middle is full of bush and there is some private property on the river right bank but a packraft can be first paddled upstream in the eddy on the right and then walked by the rocks at the neck of the rapid. After the rapid there is reasonably strong current that makes paddling a packraft upstream a bit hard but it’s still possible.

– The lowest rapids flow in three canals with the left canal, Sittaränni (1,3m/200m), is quite enjoyable with big V style wave on the right, a very firm stopper wave in the middle and a good eddy in the left, all followed by smaller waves and a bit rocky bottom. The middle canal of the lowest rapids is called Tukkiränni and there is dangerously powerful hydraulics in the end so it’s best avoided with small boats.Beneath these rapids there is a sandy beach on the river left and some good eddies before it.

– In addition to the rapids I mentioned there are smaller parallel rapids (see the map at the end of the link above). There is a free to use shed for shelter and parking area next to the Sittaränni rapid.

Saturday in the white water

So, we arrived at the rapids around midday and after changing into our wetsuits, pfds and bicycle helmets and inflating the rafts we hit the water. We paddled upstream to Karkuuskoski with some detours, rode the rapid once and played in the eddy for awhile accompanied by some freestyle kayakers. We must have been a weird sight in our rubber boats and bicycle helmets! Tuomas had a near bander snatching in the big sharp stopper wave of the Karkuuskoski but managed it with a quick high brace.

Tuomas surfing in the Sittaränni rapid.

After this we rode the Sittaränni and started to play in the stopper wave. The wave has some real power in it and hold packraft so well that it’s hard to get off from the surf! So we decided to avoid the stopper as it would have been also hard to swim out of it if capsized. We noticed that packrafts can catch and surf even small standing waves very easily – often unintended while ferrying thru the wave trains. We tried to surf the left side of the river but it was hard because of the currents (strong eddy, some rock and strong main current) and lead into what the title of the post suggests: I flipped the Llama three times there and Tuomas capsized twice. On the first times we swam a shore with the paddle and raft but in the end we managed to self-rescue with ease.

Tuomas taking a closer look at the bottom of Sittaränni.

After of playing in the Sittaränni we had a coffee break at the car parked next to the rapid and then we headed up to Torminvirta rapid. There was a group of freestyle kayakers at Torminvirta with some of them very interested about our rafts. They though packrafts would make good training tools for beginners who are afraid of capsizing in kayaks. Well, sport paddlers are likely to miss the biggest advantage of the packraft: the packability and the adventures it enables! We did several runs in the Torminvirta and some ferrying and wave catching in the wave train below it. The rapid was surprisingly easy to paddle despite the big waves. On the last run we both capsized while fooling around. I got stuck for a while in the second big wave and Tuomas was surprised by the breaking cross waves. We both managed to do quick self-rescues. It started to be a routine after playing in the Sittaränni.

Yours truly riding down the wave train below the Torminvirta rapid.

After getting enough we paddled thru Karkuuskoski and Sittaränni back to the car for a quick snack. I capsized in the Sittaräni while trying to catch a big river with too aggressive ferrying in wrong place and hitting my left hip to rocks in the bottom.

My hip after making some contact with the rocks of the Sittaränni.

After few meat pastries and coffee in the shed sheltered from the rain, we loaded our packrafts with about 15 kilo rucksacks and paddled back to Torminvirta. We did several runs and some ferrying in the waves. As predicted the packrafts tracked better with the load on the bow. Tuomas said that the older model Alpacka was much more stable in the rapids with the front load but I didn’t feel major difference in my 2011 model Llama. This is mostly because of the big butt that adds stability. We both noticed that the rafts were more sluggish and slower to respond.

Tuomas riding down the Torminvirta with rucksack on the bow.

At some point we noticed that the clock was around 6:00 pm and it was time to get back home after six hours of nearly constant white water fun. We rode down all the three rapids with no problems,  catched an eddy after Sittaränni and took out. We packed the wet gear in rain, shared a last chocolate bar and started the drive back home. It was a good day: learning new things and having great time! I’m not still too confident about the big drops and long class III stretches that wait us in Lapland but I think we’ll manage. At least our self-rescue routine is already quite good.

Yours truly riding the waves in Torminvirta with rucksack keeping the bow down.

Few words about gear

– As is widely known the 2011 Llama is veeery cool boat. The new hull makes it a lot more stable. I don’t think this is very big deal in class I or II but the difference will be likely remarkable in more challenging white water. But luckily Tuomas is more experienced paddler than I am… The standard spray deck doesn’t work with “leisure boating” style pfds. It might work better with high riding white water kayaking pfds but I think I’ll be adding some velcro to the deck or getting the “Beefy spray deck” upgrade from Alpacka later. I am 186cm long and the Llama is okay for me but for playing in white water I might move the seat forward and swap the backrest into dry sack to move it along with the seat. The seat is attached with cord threaded through four tabs (two on each side) and I think that the seat would be just fine threaded more forward with just one pair of tabs. Then a bottom tab of a dry sack (e.g. Ortlieb PS17, size M or so) could be threaded to the tabs in the back of the boat and the top of the dry sack could be attached to the tie-down plates used to attach the removable backrest. This would move the paddler more forward and create a 20-30 liters of dry space for gear near the center of the gravity.

The two part aluminum paddle from Welhonpesä performed well enough and is a good pick for the price.

Cheap wetsuits from Motonet are very useful in colder water. The suit is not especially designed for paddling but works well enough, gives some protection from rocks while swimming and is very reasonably priced. I think I’ll add a relief zipper to mine for conveniency. Cheap neoprene socks (Snow Fox brand) work also very well and have even sealed seams! But the gloves from the same brand don’t work too well for paddling as the seams chafe.

– All the pictures are taken with Olympus Though-3000 waterproof compact camera. I don’t like it too much as a camera but it can take hits and be submerged so it fits the job well. It also takes 720p video, which will likely follow later.

Next time I’ll be trying the Llama in still water with two people and two rucksacks…