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

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
You call this a winter?

Needless to say, at least for anyone having spent time in southern Finland, it's been rather lousy winter. Of course it does not help the last two were, in comparison, absolutely marvelous. As a result, also this blog has been hibernating with bears through the winter months, aftermath of having to scrub some plans for the great outdoors. I've also been quite preoccupied with work related changes, becoming an entrepreneur and with all things that come with it. All of which however is very welcome, and made the winter a lot more interesting indoors.

Regardless of pulling the short straw on some outdoors activities for the season, I did manage to spend 2 weeks out skiing, traveling with family first to Levi around Christmas, and to Åre 2 week's back, for some time out in the snow - would have probably gone mad without those! Levi offered some very good backcountry skiing and piste runs, and timing turned out to be spot on to have a white Christmas after all.

Åre on the other hand, despite it was raining (with +3 degrees celcius) on our evening of arrival, nicely wrapped up the season, and the trip felt like last year's Easter in Åre - freezing at night with some faint new snow, and warm and sunny(ish) during the day. There was even good snow on the backcountry around Duved and Tegefjäll, which offered some easily accessible runs to scratch that off piste itch.

Other than those, winter here in Espoo has been mostly uneventful in terms of life outdoors - short overnighters, some skiing and cycling on sea ice and one flippin set of kiteskiing (sport for which I had high expectations for the season). But no reason to grizzle about it too much, just need to find ways to enjoy whatever nature throws at you - perhaps I need to consider taking up that ice skating, as winters like this certainly supports the idea of adding those skills into the repertoire - or what do you think about trips like this and this for an inspiration?

Mar 2, 2014
Overdue in Orismalanjoki

Back in Ostrobothnia (my roots) over a long weekend, due to autumn break at school (and with an opportunity to work remotely, visiting friends and family back there), a plan was fixed to try and paddle down the Orismalanjoki, which starts from lake Kotilammi and runs past my in-laws house in Orismala, finishing in Kyrönjoki.

It's been a dry autumn also on this region, and water levels are really low. This raised some concern whether the river (or stream, as Orismalanjoki is pretty narrow even in high water, except when it floods to the fields) would mostly be dried up, and not possible to paddle, even with a packraft. First snow fell a day before the paddle but most of it was quickly gone, leaving only patches of white and frost on the ground.

Paddling could not be started from the lake, as the upper part (down from the regulatory dam) was completely dried up. But after 2 kilometers or so, there started to be a visible stream around 2 meters wide, and I was able to put down the raft.

Upper part of the ca. 15 kilometer long river was narrow, shallow (mostly less than 50 cm in depth) and paddling was interrupted with regular touchdowns into submerged rocks and tuft, some of it requiring a quick step out from the raft.

Meandering river took me down a varying terrain, involving some bushwhacking to get over and around obstacles. Several bridges were also passed under.

Views were quite diverse, starting with a narrow stream surrounded by mixed forest with gravel banks and small rapids, gradually widening up as the river grew larger (but never large) and more open, running between the agricultural fields. An elk got me startled, appearing majestically around a curb and disappearing with a crash through the bushes once our eyes made contact.

Down the river, getting close to the other dam around midway of my paddle, the small patches of ice I had listened crackling under waves, in the shadowed banks, gradually grew larger and started connecting in the middle, forming another interesting obstacle (consistency varied from a slush to solid ice up to 10 mm in thickness). Refining a technique of rolling with a raft forward and on top of the ice (should have taken some video :)), collapsing it to continue a stroke or two before repeating slowed down the progress, and at some point I had to bail, and start walking on the shore, probably a half a kilometer before the dam.

After the dam, river had again some movement, keeping the amount of ice manageable, and paddling was sped up a notch. Few more small rapids, and other small obstacles and picturescue spots eventually brought me at my in-law's house, some 1.5 kilometers before the river drains to Kyrönjoki. Having spent over 5 hours on a stretch of fair 10 kilometers, and running late for some family errans, I left the last short bit undone and called it a day.

Fun little outing with a twist, and a great way to spend a cool autumn day in the sun. Perhaps this was it for the paddling season - but who knows, winter is not here yet!

Oct 23, 2013
Capturing colors

Tick tock. Hendrik from Hiking in Finland tagged me on the Capture the Colour photography contest already filling up with great photos, go take a look. This got me looking into the Lightroom libraries with a new point of view (while at the same time realizing that I have work to do there, good reminder). Without further ado, here's what I pulled up:

Green. Whether it's for shelter from the elements, cones for your hobo stove or firewood to chase away the evening chill, these evergreen conifers will keep you covered.

White. Snow. The ultimate playmate - beautiful and dangerous. And the enabler for so many great outdoor endeavours.

Blue. One to rule them all, color of harmony and confidence. Painted on the sky, reflected from the water, or pushed up front by glacier calving.

Yellow. Autumn incarnation. Illuminate with low angle sun and admire.

Red. Sunset, last rays of light coloring the sky. Those short moments, easy to miss - so remember to stop, sit back and enjoy.

Ka-boom? Perhaps not on my watch, and as the rule of the game goes, passing the baton now forward, inviting Outdoorsfinland, Hikeventures, Thunder in the Night and Yetirides.

Oct 10, 2013
Autumn tones

Autumn rocks, period. Crisp weather, colorful foliage and light like no other. And absolutely no reason to stay indoors.

Oct 8, 2013
Full monty at Vantaanjoki

A stretch of river with rapids to negotiate, packrafts, good company and few hours to spare. Sunshine, rain, autumn colors, downpour, hail - what else you need for a fun Sunday excursion?

Sep 22, 2013
Autumn highs in Kymijoki

Since I had a small accident at the end of summer vacation, involving a bike and a car (both mine, don't ask), I've been doing more packrafting and started trail running (since any longer sprint on tarmac seems to induce runner's knee type of pain all too easily - no problems on the trails), to keep enjoying the excellent autumn we have at hand.

Last weekend I had an opportunity to join Karsten, Mikko and Matti on a weekend's paddle in Kymijoki, a river that I've not visited before. Starting off on friday evening, for a night outdoors, we headed to Kuovinkallio lean-to, which provided a good starting point for next days' paddle. Firewood was almost gone, but luckily there were few damp logs left, of which we had enough wood for food and good vibes, rounded up with a few beers and dram of whisky. This lean-to had no proper platform for sleeping, but benches around were sufficiently wide to sleep on, while Mikko chose to bivvy on the river shore, stargazing.

Weather forecast failed not, we noticed, hatching from sleeping bags with the sun, clearing the morning haze.

Our transport included a canoe, kayak and packraft, one of each, and payload strapped we headed round the bend, paddling towards Ahvionkoski, first of the larger rapids on the way. We had no real target for the day, paddling at relaxed pace until sunset.

Water levels were low due to dry autumn, and flow relatively slow on most parts. Choosing a narrow tributary (Koskuenjoki), diverting right after Ahvionkoski, allowed more interesting views and a few swift water sections (and even two pontoon bridges set up by army, connecting mainland and Karjasaari), before joining the main river at Kultaankoski.

We paddled to an islet next to Kultaankoski for a lunch stop. This rapid also provided nice playboating with packraft, and it's known as a good spot for practicing swimming down a rapid, with large rock plateaus to glide down in relative safety.

Continuing down the stream (first returning to Koskuenjoki), we kept right on the smaller channels, passing around and between islands, with short sections of swift water and small rapids to keep paddling interesting.

Past Koivusaari we headed right, towards Valkmusa National Park, which we passed visiting Tarkjärvi through a passage hidden by a bed of reeds.

Relatively slow flow meant me falling behind (and/or setting the pace), but it did not get overly strenuous over the 20+ km of distance we covered during the day. I had bought a second-hand Neoair Seat earlier, to try and raise the seat height on the packraft, and it worked very well on this trip - seated a bit higher allowed better posture and ergonomics especially for longer stretches, definitely a keeper!

Hirvivuolle dam (with sluice gates) had a passage for boats with pulleys and rollers, handy also for loaded canoes and kayaks. And I managed not to puncture my raft against the sharp edges of the grille.

We finished the day at Hirvikoski, and after fetching the cars, decided to head to a lean-to upstream, at Alakylä, close to the old railway bridge of Koria. Alakylä lean-to is a short hike (covered mostly with duckboards) away from the parking lot near the river, following a 2.7 km nature trail on the hillside.

Out of supplied firewood, we gathered loose branches for a small campfire, leaving a handful of sticks for a morning coffee and breakfast (stick stoves to the rescue). Night was again dry and warm, and benches served again as the platform for a good night's sleep (while Mikko chose to blairwitch-bivvy in the woods). Unfortunately this campsite had suffered some damage, someone tearing down (and probably burning) planks from the used-to-be-woodshed, leaving a skeleton (and empty beer cans) behind. Immediate surroundings in daylight reflected the same indifference. Sad.

Great autumn weekender in the sun (and absolutely no bugs, not even deer flies). Definitely worth the less than 2-hour drive from Espoo, and despite the subtle flow, perfectly fine on a packraft.

When driving back I spotted an interesting meandering river (Taasianjoki) west of Kouvola that at closer inspection (and on the map) looks like something to try out, possibly still this autumn (narrow meandering river with some rocky rapids and good flow overall, perfect for packrafts). Season is far from over!

Sep 16, 2013