Since I've focused recently more on sailing with the packraft (some of which has also been caught on video, such as the trip to Suomenlinna embedded below), rather than paddling long distances with it, the traditional autumn trip with a group of friends came in handy.

As we are typically a mixed group on different types of vessels, choosing a destination is not always that straightforward. Having a full weekend to spend, Konnevesi, and the white water route especially, caught my attention, and soon we had a destination and a rough plan set. The route we chose, known as Konneveden Koskireitti, follows a series of seven rapids, down from Siikakoski to Hannulankoski, over a distance of roughly 20 kilometers, crossing couple of larger bodies of water down the line.

Traveling by car, we arrived to our starting point at Siikakoski on Friday evening, after dark, and enjoyed the fully-serviced lean-to next to the Siikakoski bridge while watching the last of the fly fishermen wrap up for the day. The route being a popular fishing destination (at Siikakoski there's a fish farm, right across the chute used by paddlers to avoid the rocky white water), there are good instructions for each of the rapids from that viewpoint, and permits can be bought locally. I had hoped to perhaps get a chance to try and catch some trout, but unfortunately all the permits were sold out well in advance for Friday and Saturday (there is very limited amount sold per day).

Popular turnaround point for kids with mopeds and teenagers with cars, there was some traffic along the evening which luckily quieted down for the night, leaving just the roar of the water rushing past our campsite to lull us to sleep. In the morning we arranged our gear, moved one car to the planned end point, some 30 kilometers away, and off we were. While the rest of the group, using a kayak, a somewhat delicate kevlar canoe, and a robust double canoe, chose the chute to start with (a fast flowing channel that avoids the rapid altogether), I took my chances with packraft on the rocky and shallow Siikakoski rapid, running it down without much hassle or ground contact, finishing with a slide between the pillars under the bridge.

Next rapid down the line was Taikinainen, which was basically a "sahi" (no translation available, but it means a fast flowing section of a river that just doesn't categorize as a rapid) at the current water levels, and we continued towards Karinkoski, which is nice and easy rapid, and which all of us were happy to paddle through. With this group I usually I tend to take the lead and scout the route for others, as it's easier with the packraft and hitting a big rock or two wouldn't lead to a capsize, as could happen with a kayak or a canoe. The rapids down this route were all rocky (specifically made like that for the fish), which also kept it interesting for us.

The fourth rapid, Kellankoski, is the largest of the seven, and one that comes with a note of warning. Kellankoski starts with a half-circle shaped drop (or a slide), and then runs down with rocks and large boulders to negotiate. What makes it potentially dangerous for the unprepared is that the obvious line down the drop pulls you straight into big rocks, so you need to be ready (and able) to maneuver around them. After the first 100 meters the rapid calms down a bit, but continues up to half a kilometer more as a nice rock garden with good flow.

Upon inspection we ran it with Mikko (who had a kayak), both choosing a bit different line down the drop. Taking the last look before dropping in, and turning away, I got pulled in to the current (which is very strong few meters above the neck of the drop), backwards, which made an interesting start, but with a packraft a quick 180 degree turn into the first big wave simply made a splash, and I was again back on track, enjoying the ride down the rapid.

We hiked around the Kellankoski with Mikko while waiting for the others to portage the canoes before we could continue together. Passing Yläinen next was simple, as that is also an easy and straigtforward rapid (while still shallow and rocky).

Knowing there would be lakes to cross, and wide sections of river with no flow to propel the slow (in comparison to my company) packraft, I had brought the sail and the keel with me, despite the forecast that had showed not much hope to power myself with wind. As it happened, the forecast was accurate, and while there was basically no wind to speak off, the little of it was all more or less headwind. Only when we stopped mid Liesvesi crossing for lunch, I could find an angle to sail a whopping 100 meters with a keel and fully tilted sail, at half of the normal paddling speed... But no harm done, carrying the sail just in case was still worth it, as the extra load was negligible - better luck next time!

Entering the rapid number six, Keskisenkoski, was preceded with a hop in between two bodies of water at Vanginvesi, with a short portage of few tens of meters only.

Keskisenkoski is relatively small and straigthforward rapid, but again being shallow presents some opportunities to get up close and personal with rocks. It was here where we probably had the closest call for tipping a canoe over. It got momentarily stuck on a rock, turned sideways and around in the current. Escaping with careful backwards meneuvering with just a few scratches on the laquered surface, journey continued merrily.

To finish the day, we entered Hannulankoski, which required some scouting down the stream. Hopping off and climbing on a rock on the side I could scout the best line, and none of us had no problems completing this last rapid down the route. Only a kilometer away, we paddled on to the Akkasilta campsite, where we had planned to stay for the night. A refreshing swim for some and a dinner for all, we enjoyed the evening around a fire.

We woke up on a wet ground with mist over the water, signs of autumn starting to take over while the warmth of the sun and hence the temperature were summer-alike through the whole weekend. Taking our time, we eventually got moving and continued south, towards the end of our journey, some 6 kilometers away. The paddle was across a lake so no moving water to spice things up - fog, saggy clouds and finally the full blown sunshine supplied the awe for this final leg instead.

Based on this weekend I can warmly recommend this particular route, regardless of the vessel you have. Where we stopped for the night marks the end of the white water on the route, but the marked route continues much futher, in total of roughly 65 kilometers (measured from Siikakoski). As the rest of the route is more open, and across lakes mostly, I would not find it interesting enough for a packraft - except with some tailwind and a sail! Overall the route met the expectations, and for example the extremely clear waters all the way to Akkasilta was nice (and we drank it as well, thanks to the Sawyer Mini's).

Sep 12, 2014
Packsail away

Having done my fair share of paddling on the sea with the packraft, a vessel more well suited for moving water and small lakes and ponds, it was time to try something new. Some time ago, snaking around on the borderline of Espoo and Helsinki with Marko, we built a make-do catamaran out of our two rafts and a tarp, to sail between the islands for relatively short distances, and had a blast. A hassle to setup and awkward to sail, it still gave us a spark that had to be dealt with, and after a quick run through of commercially available options, we settled for a pair of WindPaddle Cruisers, already proven especially for use with canoes and kayaks.

We got the sails last Friday, and with Marko about to finish his week outdoors, and a forecast of brisk wind for Saturday, we headed out on Friday evening, taking aim to Pentala island some 6 kilometers from our starting point at Klobben, to try the sails a bit before camping out and hopefully catching some good northerly wind the next day.

Approach to Pentala started with paddling out in pouring rain, with no wind to speak off. As the rain receded, wind picked up just a bit, and we got an opportunity to pop out the sails for the first time. Attached to bow's aftermost grab loops, stowed against the backpack, the sail spun open with a light tug, taking it's shape in an instant. With a very slight breeze, we were struggling to keep the sail up and rafts in motion, and we made all sorts of errors while learning the required maneuvers - managing to sink the sail under the raft was probably the worst (not an issue with longer vessels like canoes and kayaks, but flipping the sail forward (while letting go of the sheets) while in forward motion can easily do this).

Learning the required maneuvers, we made way to our destination at Pentala, setting up a camp late in the evening. Friday the 13th was done with a full moon peeping between the clouds, prior to a heavy shower that drummed us to sleep. Half awake few times during the night I could hear the swish of leaves intensify as the wind started to pick up speed, as forecasted.

Morning found us in shivers both because of the wind chill and the excitement from looking down at sea and the white capped swell, wind on our backs - forecast had promised northerly winds from anywhere around 7 m/s to 10 m/s or more, and it seemed to hold. Out in the sea we felt the increased power instantly, our rafts gaining speed and the controlled steering with the paddle-rudder became more vital than the previous day. We took bearing towards Östergadden, a small cluster of islands and islets occupied by nesting colonies of great black cormorants (and seagulls). Enjoying the increasing wind and swell, feeling our new rigs, we were learning to maneuver them. We sailed mostly crosswind at varying angles and directions, prevailing wind being northerly and our way leading southwest.

The islands occupied by the cormorants is a sighting on its own - and if you would arrive upwind, the thick reek of feces would reach you way before sighting of the islands. Due to massive amount of bird excrements, and the resulting high concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus literally kills majority of flora, including any trees.

Passing west from these islands we were at furthermost from the mainland, and strong wind was raising quite high swell (perhaps a meter or so) and around this area we had some close calls of capsizing, as riptide and gusty wind made us pay fast for any errors while maneuvering the rafts - for that reason we could not document the roughest sections on camera, it would have required a fixed rig of some sort, or an extra pair of hands.

Following the coastline we reached our first checkpoint, and having made good progress, decided to continue all the way to the Porkkalanniemi from where we could arrange a pickup later. Regular route decisions based on the prevailing wind and roughness of the sea against our skills and commitment kept it interesting and time flew by. We pushed the rafts and the sails to the limit, finding what is possible, and getting more and more comfortable in maneuvering them in varying conditions.

At one time, closer to the end of our journey, we had a small rescue operation due to a dropped paddle. Neither of use had any leashes for the paddles, as it simply had not occurred to us that one would be needed (dropping a paddle while using it to advance by paddling is difficult - but using it as a rudder with one hand, not so difficult). Having just had his cap blown away in thr wind, Marko, fiddling with the sail, lost a hold of the paddle just for a second, dropped it and half a second later it was already out reach and departing fast. I was a bit ahead, unaware of this, but there was an island close by and by pulling down the sail and hand paddling Marko managed to get the drifting raft safely on the shore, and called me for help. I pulled the sail down as well, and paddled back up crosswind to the island, to lend my paddle for immediate retrieval before the runaway would drift too far downwind.

With two of us, dropping the paddle was less of a hazard, though still not something to take lightly, but obviously alone it would have meant jumping to the sea at an instant, trying to retrieve the paddle while holding on to the raft somehow, swimming in the churning sea, and then returning safely inside the raft (something that I've been practicing in calm water already, but even then wet entry is not a trivial exercise). Lesson learned, wear a leash of some sort when packsailing!

Remaining leg was a couple of kilometers and passing through a nice channel barely two packrafts wide, we reached Porkkala in due time, for our ride back home, now with sun coming out finally. Distance covered during the day (from Pentala) was roughly 21 kilometers, while reaching a maximum speed of 4.3 knots (8 km/h). Despite the rough gusty wind and our learning curve, the sails performed without any issues. We held the sheet (control line) behind the back of our heads at all times, and while that might not seem like a good way in strong gusty winds, it is the most convenient especially with packrafts (no rudder to control without hands, like in kayaks), and we had no trouble during or afterwards (no neck pain of any sort - those muscles are pretty strong). We're planning to add a cord lock to the sheet, to easily shorten or lengthen it to trim the sail. WindPaddle allows rotation to a certain angle by loosening the deck attachment straps - since we had the backpacks in front of the sails, we did not use this, but rather pulled from the sheet to draw a corner of a sail in, resulting to a similar (but not quite the same, as we found out on the second trip this week) trim.

Summarizing, if it was not already obvious, we had a blast and looking forward to all new possibilities this opens up. Having the Baltic Sea on our doorstep, and plenty of big lakes all around Finland, the possibilities are virtually endless. With the Cruiser sail, a loaded packraft starts moving already in around 2 m/s, quickly reaching a normal paddling speed of 3-4 km/h, but things get interesting once the wind speed exceeds 6 m/s and you start moving faster and get a lot more power, allowing maneuvers and tricks, like jibes and slalom turns, and get to surf on the bigger waves with the help of the sail (a great feeling!). Agile and nimble, you can play close to each other, bump to each other, use the other's backwash for tricks, and so on. Unlimited fun!

What came to both of us as a pleasant surprise (even after all the positive reviews we had read in advance) was the overall control we had - instead of being dragged down the wind, which would not be interesting at all, we have real control over the direction of the rafts, and despite having no keel we can sail more than 45 degrees crosswind (difficult to estimate, but realistically I feel it could be up to around 50 degrees), which is beyond what we dared to expect. Thinking hats are already on to come up with a portable but effective keel to further enhance the controllability, and to get up to around 90 degrees, which we believe should be possible.

I shot some footage with a GoPro on the fly, a video was published earlier in Vimeo, embedded below. Photos are this time all from Marko's Flickr album - as usual click any of the photos above to link back to that album for more.

Jun 19, 2014
Snaking around

Workweek escapes are great, and they are even better when you kick them off straight on Monday, breaking the week before it barely got started. And that is exactly what went down yesterday, when we rolled out the packrafts behind the office after work, heading out on the sea to explore some of the outdoor islands and islets southeast.

Despite being late May, weather was summery (hot even) and paddling without spray decks was a must, welcoming splashes of refreshment when we pushed diagonally or head-on into the brisk westerly wind and rising swell.

Reaching Vehkasaari and passing the tiny channel running through it, wind had picked up to a reasonable strength (perhaps 5-6 m/s) and we decided to rig ourselves a sail from a tarp. Tying rafts together (tarpacatamaraft?), we planned to try and sail downwind(ish) to our next destination, Käärmesaari island and the Käärmeluodot islets close to it. After first few dry tests we paddled out into the wind and set sail using paddles as masts and also for steering.

A single packraft having little directional stability, our contraption had none, and at first we were all around. Perfecting the technique of adjusting the angle of the sail, while using the blades for drag steering (as rudder-style did not work out) finally got us going and we made it to our next stop at Käärmesaari. As we were too busy keeping things in control, we couldn't really take photos, but this snapshot gives an idea how we did it:

Hiking around Käärmesaari we admired great views to the open sea, from the rocky shores. There was a boat parked on this island, so we gradually moved on to the next islet, continuing with our make do catamaran.

Getting closer to the first of the Käärmeluoto islets, we found a small surf forming on a shoal and, pulling the rafts apart, took some rounds to try and catch it. Surfing some of the bigger waves was fun, though tricky, and while we had stayed pretty much dry until this point, it was time to get soaked from the waves rolling over, following failed attempts.

We stopped over at the two islets nearby (one of them occupied again by a boat), and careful not to distract nesting birds decided to camp on the last one, bringing us also the closest for the return trip next morning. A small islet with high rock cliffs and open space with no thick forest to block views, was a great place to camp out. Strolling around we enjoyed the last rays of light and receding warmth, wondering how the weather would turn out to be next morning.

Forecast had promised the wind would turn northerly overnight and pick up a bit, while the temperature would drop from the 20 something to just 6-7 degrees celsius. Waking up few times during the night I noticed the wind turning and gaining strength, and by the wake up call around seven in the morning, the summery feeling was long gone, and the grey sea churned around us, blending in the misty horizon.

Last leg of the trip was to paddle into the wind, back towards the shores of Länsiväylä. This took us a fair hour (three kilometers in distance), finishing through a wind tunnel underneath a bridge for that last final push. Back at the starting point, it was time wrap things up and get refreshed before a day at the office. What a fun roundtrip, more will definitely follow!

May 27, 2014
Porkkalanniemi reach

Last weekend brought a warm summer breeze, and what better way to enjoy the cheery easterly wind and the sun than on the sea. So off we went for an overnighter, to explore islands and islets around Porkkala peninsula, all the way past Träskö, one of the first national parks in Finland (established, but later abolished, back in 1938). This early in the season, boat traffic around the peninsula is minimal (but ramping up fast once the summer kicks in), so we could have not chosen a better timing for the tour, mostly paddling in solitude.

May 19, 2014
Stop offs

Having a business meeting in Tampere yesterday, I dediced to take an opportunity to try and visit some of the outdoor areas nearby. Browsing around, I was contemplating between cycling and packrafting, or combining both, but eventually ended up just bringing the bike, and choosing the destinations accordingly. Out of the available options Kytäjä-Usmi and Evo outdoor areas turned up as favorites, despite the lousy weather forecast for the day.

Starting very early from Espoo, and arrived to one of the parking lots at the Kytäjä-Usmi outdoor area, nearby lake Usminjärvi. It had been pouring all the way there, but by chance not a drop of rain fell when I unloaded the bike and packed it with basic gear - plan was to have a warm breakfast somewhere on the trail. When browsing the map for a route, sky opened as forecasted and it started raining sleet. Merrily I took a direction towards Kaksoislammit lean-to, following the signposts available along the gravel roads entering the park.

This was my first visit to this area (which is also part of Natura 2000 network), except for the days I've spent climbing in Jaanankallio in the past, southwest from the area I was now cycling in. During the two-hour ride, including tracking back my steps to search for a pair of rain gloves I dropped (found them!), I toured east from Piilolammi and Iso Kypärä lakes, and found good sections of varying single track - plus some proper bushwhacking and bike-carrying terrain, but that's bound to happen when you are trying figure out where the good ones are. Rain never stopped, but just the quantity and consistency of sleet was alternating, at times being almost, but not quite, like snow. But great views (small ponds and lakes, bogs, rock cliffs and an old quarry) all around nevertheless.

Finishing the ride, I headed towards Tampere, taking a shower (and dipping in the pool) in Hervanta swimming hall, amidst the handful of senior citizens doing water aerobics and deep water running in the otherwise empty hall. It was great to head to the office refreshed!

After work and an early dinner, it was time to start the journey towards Evo for an overnighter. Not exactly on the road back home, it's still a reasonable detour diverting from Hämeenlinna and a place I've had on the to-do list for a while. I knew a group of packrafters, led by Pekka from reppulautta.com, was starting their 3-night paddle across the park, and hoped to catch up with them someplace on the trail.

Evo, a typical watershed region, is one of the largest continuous forested areas in southern Finland, of which some 47 sq.km is mapped as a hiking area. Splattered with small ponds and lakes and meandering rivers, it's a great spot for packrafting. And due to good network of forest roads, it's also well suited for bikerafting, allowing round trips across the whole area. Not to mention the possibilities for hiking and mountain biking. A good visual overview of the area (including shelters and camp sites) can be found here.

Arriving quite late, I parked the car on the northeast corner, at lake Iso-Tarus, and loading up the bike again, headed to Nuijamiehenkolo lean-to. Riding on the gravel roads, and sections of single track and few dead ends (while the constant rain kept it fresh), led me there, to find Pekka's group settled for the night in tents. Before settling in myself for the night in the lean-to (no bugs yet = no tent for me), I did a bit of touring around the surrounding lakes and ponds (and sadly some clean-cut areas), finding wide range of trails and single track (while the typical ride-lift-ride-carry-ride-push-ride sequence prevailed).

Back at the camp, it was time for dinner with an experimental dessert and a good chat around the fire. Exchanging tips and information especially about packrafting destinations, I got some ideas how to use up some of my future weekends inside the rubber dinghy with and/or without a bike.

Morning arrived with a very early wake up call and a quick breakfast, before finding a new route back to the car (through some of the trails I missed on the way there) with full day at work ahead back in Espoo.

Though relatively superficial, it was great to have an opportunity to visit these two outdoor areas, and once the next time comes, it will be easier to make plans knowing already somewhat what to expect. Not too bad business trip giveaway!

May 9, 2014
Raseborg looksee

Original plan to cycle through the newly established mountain bike trail between Mäntyharju and Repovesi National Park over the last weekend got postponed (to very near future I hope), and instead a train-assisted bikepacking tour in Raseborg was chosen. I had shortlisted some interesting spots around Raseborg region earlier, so I pulled that out to make a rough plan for an overnighter, and got a friend interested enough to tag along.

First leg was by train from Espoo to Lappohja, with three different types of train (including one of those cute bus-like regional trains). I had followed the mixed weather forecast keenly, but despite the short shower while cycling to Kauklahti railway station (and a brief flurry of hail that followed) sun kept shining between the clouds while we placed the bikes next to the bicycle racks in the InterCity train. Old VR cars are so much better for transporting bikes - fatbike does not even fit to the over-engineered bike hangers in the newer trains. And it's a tight fit for any three bikes.

Arriving to destination, we rode to the Lappohjanranta, a shoaled bay of fine sand over a kilometer wide, with views to the sea from the timbered dunes, protected from wear and tear by a fence that routes visitors through the wooden stairways.

Wind on our back, and picking up, we biked across the beach and started heading towards Tammisaari, some 18 kilometers away. Following mainly the coast line, we found sections of nice single track here and there, disconnected by lengths of gravel roads and tarmac. After stopping for some ice cream and cake in Villa Kosthåll at Skogsby and passing wartime front lines with tank barriers, next target was the Dagmar spring - perfect spot for a refreshing refill, while locals were hauling large water containers along the trail (it's a short walk from the parking lot).

We had been pushing the rain clouds ahead of us, but as it now looked like the weather would finally close in, we continued quickly to Tammisaari downtown, to buy some fresh food for the evening. My rough plan had pinpointed few lean-to's in the Västerby outdoor area northwest from Tammisaari, and with the weather clearing again in front of us, we entered the gravel roads and the network of well-marked trails.

Using the PDF map found under the link above, we cycled first to lake Västerby Storträsket (and the lean-to there), and continued then towards lake Långträsket. Passing two other lean-to's, we reached the southern tip of lake Grabbskog Storträsket, and found yet another lean-to on the edge of the lake, quickly agreeing it was the nicest of the ones seen, and perfect spot for the night. Odometer showed good 40 kilometers of riding for the day, and we were ready for the dinner feast and ride backwash.

Night was peaceful, with a soundtrack of wind calming down, overdue downpour at night and early morning trumpets of passing Mute Swans and chatter of Black Grouse from the distant bog. With an early train to catch from Tammisaari, we packed up after a quick breakfast around eight in the morning, and followed trails and gravel roads back to tarmac. After some eight kilometers we reached the railway station to hitch the ride back home with the same combination of trains (at a moderate price of 15 EUR with a bike).

Great little outing in a new area, and definitely will pay it another visit at some point, as there's still a lot more ground to cover, trails to ride. And the bike worked like a charm except for the odd case of faulty chain rollers that required some roadside maintenance (and visit to Velosport this week for warranty replacements). I used the setup I tested earlier last week, riding without a backpack, and it worked well, including the large(ish) 22 liter Ortlieb PS10 dry sack strapped to the harness on the handlebar.

May 5, 2014
Suupohja sample

Heading to Ostrobothnia around Easter for family festive, I planned to take some time on my own and visit some of the interesting outdoor spots nearby. While searching, I ran across Suupohja Development Association (Suupohjan Kehittämisyhdistys ry), and their extremely usefull resource, especially for a casual visitor like myself, for locating the best destinations in the Suupohja region. Not only is it well made (with introductions in nine languages altogether, though the site itself is in Finnish only) and easy to use, but each destination is described in sufficient detail, and completed with photos, precise coordinates and a map link. With these details, I was able to quickly choose interesting spots in a specific area, and had a plan ready before I left Espoo.

To capitalize the hours available but still wanting to visit more than one place, I chose three different destinations relatively close to each other, and headed out at dawn, maxing out with roughly 8 hours on the go.

Starting from Isokyrö, my first destination was a lookout tower and a hut on Myötämäenkallio, close to Jurva (merged with Kurikka back in 2007). I parked the car at the link mast as suggested, and following the trail and random sign posts it was a short hike to the tower, suddenly rising up behind the trees. The tower is actually an old fire tower, bought and moved on the site by the Tainuskylä village society in 2006.

Climbing the ladders, through a hatch and into the small wooden box to the top of the all steel structure 144,5 meters over the sea level offers an open view all around and to a distance, as far as my northbound destination of the day, Levaneva bog. It was a windy day, so I swayed away for a short moment for a few photos before heading back down to check the hut nearby.

Just behind the tower there's luxurious hut, fully maintained with an outhouse and firewood supply. Based on the logbook entries it seemed to have a steady flow of visitors and with a good supply of billberries and funnel chantarelles at the right time of the year, it certainly is a nice spot for day trips and family outings.

Back in the car I took a bearing towards Niinistönjärvi lake. A bog lake of decent size, trails run around it, with a bird-watching tower and a few fire places. I spotted a pair of Common Cranes nearby the tower, and sadly all too many seagulls, populating the lake. Reinon Tupa has facilities around the lake, and they organize activities especially for groups, with full service.

After a short stop and hike in the surroundings of Niinistönjärvi it was time to head to the main destination, Kurjenkierros trail, and specifically to Kivi- ja Levalampi reservoir and Levaneva bog on the border of Jurva and Laihia. I wanted to do a round trip, and as the Kurjenkierros trail itself runs from point to point, almost 50 kilometers in length, I packed the packraft with me, to first hike on the trail and across the bog, and then paddle back along the reservoir.

Levaneva is a vast, several kilometers wide raised bog, extending as far as the eye can see - it's actually the largest mire reserve across Ostrobothnia, well preserved due to its size and location. Trail fully equipped with duckboards and blue dots as route markers when on dry land, it's an easy stride with spectacular views.

Reaching a suitable spot to try and enter the reservoir, I inflated the packraft and begun a semi-wet entry procedure that consisted of route finding while hopping from tuft to tuft, hoping not to sink more than a knee deep to the depths of ice cold and murky waters of the wetland, bordering the reservoir on the northeast corner.

While entering the raft, and quickly slipping my chilled feet into Sealskins, I noticed the strong wind that had picked up by the hour was directly against me, and so I started the persistent fight against it, not made any easier by the increasing swell and small whitecapped waves. Distance of just a couple of kilometers took some effort to conquer, though part of me (the part that was not concerned about me missing my sister's wedding) was enjoying the struggle.

I finished the round trip with a smile on my face, close the Maalarinmaa bird-watching tower from where I had started, in the nick of time. Great day overall, and definitely left an itch to explore the Suupohja region more once the summer arrives (perhaps some kind of a bikepacking tour in July, when I will most likely be in the area next time).

Apr 23, 2014
Slätmossen

I was already sold at the notion of spending the night again under a full moon, and when an interesting location was also thrown into the deal over a lunch break the other day, I was soon calling around to source a bike for train-assisted bikepacking trip to Slätmossen bog in Meiko, Kirkkonummi, the same evening. Having my fatbike still under work with few parts in the mail, I was lucky to be able to borrow a hardtail 29er for this trip. Though medium in size (when I typically run large or extra large), with the seatpost extended and fair 20 kilometers to cover by bike, it worked very well.

We kicked off with Marko from Espoo, taking a train to Kirkkonummi to keep up with receding daylight, and pedaling up past lake Vaipo, which resides close to the bog we were after. Arriving just to see the sun disappear behind the forested horizon, and locking bikes to a tree, we took a bearing to one of the rocky outposts, vestiges of the lake not so long gone. Hoping to see some of the wildlife at daybreak, this islet was to offer a good viewpoint and a nice encampment overall.

Crossing mire, any efforts to keep one's feet dry were futile. Wearing waterproof socks (I wore medium weight Sealskinz) inside the bicycle sneakers helped to keep the water out of the skin, but feet got cold pretty fast unless we kept moving.

In the middle of the bog there's an observation point - a low profile shack with small plexiglass windows, accommodating perhaps two viewers at a time.

Reaching the islet we unloaded the packs and continued up to Vitträsk a kilometer away, to fill up the empty bottles with perfectly clear water.

Night was cool but not cold, temperature was probably a couple of degrees celcius below zero at the coldest hour. Awakening a bit before six was anything but rude, as we got to listen and then follow the very distinctive courtship ritual of a large flock of Black Grouse not too far away. With the fixed 35 mm focal length on my pocket camera, I opted for the binoculars and enjoyed the sighting through them, while Marko was able to get some nice photos with his longer lens. What a great view to start your morning with! Packing up for return we also got to see a single crane that we spotted based on the distinctive trumpeting calls across the mire, not an everyday sight either.

With a working day ahead, we crossed the bog quickly, after I added more layers in the feet to try and keep those digits warm enough to bear the trip back home with wet shoes (didn't care to carry spare shoes this time, only had those cycling shoes with me). While the soil was still frozen in some places after the cold night, it did not carry our weight in the morning sun and we padded in ankle-deep water back to the bikes.

A great midweek escape to outdoors, not far away from home. Ignoring occasional flyby's of airplanes and distant hum of traffic at dawn, Meiko region has a nice remote wilderness feeling to it, great to have places like this nearby!

Apr 17, 2014
Slice of Vantaanjoki

Video of a quick hike'n'paddle down Vantaanjoki with Marko, through three rapids: Pitkäkoski, Niskalankoski and Ruutinkoski. For the future reference, discharge was as follows (from Ympäristökeskus):

I have paddled these rapids few times before - few years ago with a canoe and quite recently also with a packraft. It is best to go during spring floods, when these rocky rapids are easier to maneuver and give you a fun ride - especially the last one, Ruutinkoski. Good starting point is Pitkäkosken Ulkoilumaja parking lot, from where it's a short walk to the start, a low head dam at the bridge where Silvolantie crosses Vantaanjoki. And once finished, it's a straightforward hike back, following the trail along the southern bank of the river. If scouting is necessary, then it's best to do this in reverse order, there's a car park next to restaurant/kiosk Wanha Pehtoori which is a stone's throw away from Ruutinkoski.

Apr 6, 2014
Siuntionjoki on the rocks

After a disappointing winter, it's great to see the spring coming, and especially waters opening up for packrafting - though lakes and even the sea is still partially covered with ice, temperatures dropping few degrees celcius below zero during the nights.

To kick off the season (traditionally even), I had a quick after-work paddle last week in my backyard river, Espoonjoki, which has enough water only during the spring and autumn floods for rewarding paddling. Espoonjoki (starting from Espoon tuomiokirkko) is mostly uneventful, but with decent discharge it's a comfy paddle with a short rapid in Kauklahti to spice things up a bit. This time I continued from Kauklahti all the way to the sea, by then mostly thawed, and finished near home in Saunalahti.

As it happened Marko had a similar idea on the exact same day, and we ended up running down the same river only few kilometers apart, unaware of one another's presense. Sharing another objective for spring flood paddling, Siuntionjoki, a proper plan was formed for the following weekend, Marko quickly fixing the rough route, and by the end of the week we were on a train towards Siuntio, straight after work.

The idea was to start from Siuntio and make way upstream some 12 kilometers, paddling and hiking, to the starting point nearby Sågars fors. For the future reference, discharge was as follows (from Ympäristökeskus):

Unpacking rafts at a pier on the backyard of a friendly local, we kicked off a kilometer downstream from lake Tjusträsk, which was the first question mark on the planned route. Being early spring, we knew that the lake would be at least partially frozen, but hoped to find a way in and out, or around. Arriving to the lake, closed in with ice, we regretted leaving the ice claws behind at the last minute, but decided to give it a try and get on the solid ice and across the lake. With trial and error of agile (yet not always graceful) moves and maneuvers we made it on the top, and five or so meters from the edge the ice was already solid enough (though bendy) to stand on, with no water flooding on top. Pulling the packrafts behind, we strolled across the lake observing any hollow spots and changing ice underneath our feet. Reaching the other end of the ice cover without incidents, another series of moves was performed to successfully slid back to the open water.

Entering the river again, we could feel some resistance from the current, but continued a kilometer and a half, before finding a good spot to go ashore, and start our next leg on dry land. Crossing fields and few roads, we were soon in the forest, and aimed on the high ground along the river, with mild bushwhacking and crossing few frozen tributaries feeding to our target river.

Finally the darkness fell, so we pulled out the headlamps while temperature dropped few degrees celcius below zero, and continued with heavier bushwhacking through the thickening forest. We had initially planned to camp somewhere on the high ground downstream of Sågars fors, but reaching it we decided to continue a bit further and after stopping by the old mill of Myllykylä, we found ourselves a kilometer more upstream, high up on a cliff. Looking over the river it was a perfect spot for the night.

Small campfire around Bushbuddy fed us with freeze dried meals and sausages, perfected with a dram of whisky while stargazing. With the early start in mind, we hit the sack shortly past midnight, Marko crawling under the tarp while I snaked myself into the bivy. Night was cool at -6 degrees celcius, but I was comfortable in my 4-season sleeping bag.

We woke up around six with the sun, and taking it all in we finished breakfast in peace and packed up for the last leg - a paddle down the Siuntionjoki, back to our starting point.

This was my second visit in this section of the river, back in June 2012 I paddled 6 kilometers downstream from Sågars fors (video from that trip is available in Vimeo), and also Marko had been there last October. While we both knew roughly what to expect, the conditions were somewhat different from either of those previous visits, and especially the ice covered banks came as a pleasant surprice, transforming the views.

Starting off above Myllykylä, we first ran a nice series of small rapids that finish with a large drop down the old mill, which we had to portage.

Downstream of Myllykylä starts a series of rapids, the section between Sågars fors and Prästgården some 6 kilometers downstream is often referred to as the "amazon" - a narrow meandering stream well protected by the surrounding thicket, with numerous obstacles (mostly fallen trees across the river and packed driftwood) to negotiate.

One of the first rapids on the route is Kurkiksenkoski, actually a spillway with good discharge, followed by a short rocky rapid. We ran it twice simply because it was so much fun even if we got a bit wet!

Steady flow allowed breaks without stopping - simply put the paddle down, kick back and have a snack, while drifting down the river.

We used two GoPro's (Hero3's) throughout the trip, and while I carried my X100s, I only took a handfull of photos and focused more on the video footage. Marko was more effective with his SLR, browse his recent Flickr set for more views. Publishing a video is in the works, but as there's quite a lot of raw footage to sort and edit, it will probably take some time - stay tuned!

Update on April 6: Video is out!

Passilankoski, which follows shortly after Kurkiksenkoski is the longest continuous stretch of rapids, and at this time had quite a different outlook due to ice covered banks raising even above your head when seated in the packraft. Few more short rapids and a handful of obstacles followed before reaching Purnus that marks the beginning of another section that is without any obstacles and used more regularly by canoers and other paddlers.

SE-Action organizes group programmes and offers rental canoes to paddle from this point all the way to the sea - for us it was about tracing back the route we had used the evening before, across Tjusträsk (now with polished techniques), and back along the river to the train station, to catch our ride back to Espoo in the nick of time.

The route taken can be seen from these two Suunto "moves" - Friday and Saturday.

Apr 1, 2014