easy just isn’t worth it
I really had no ideas for this year concerning the annual Lapland ski trip on the last days of the year. It has become almost a no-brainer to put one together – finding like-minded people was more difficult. I wasn`t keen on joining any strangers, but when I was informed that another member from last year was putting together an event then I immediately joined the list and after some thinking joined in the group also.
Destination was to be the Urho Kaleva National park (UKK) near Saariselkä. I had drawn a possible route last year, but due to weather we opted for Halti attempt. I made some alternative routes, but we started with almost the same plan I had made. Waiting for us was 5-6 days of ski touring, Paradise Valley (Paratiisikuru), Hells Gate (Pirunportti), Sokosti and New Years Eve in a sauna in Luirojärvi Hilton.
We opted for a much easier way to get to Kiilopää – taking an overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and then bus to the starting point in Kiilopää. We have always driven ourselves and it has always been an arduous, not very comfortable journey. We`re planning to make it even more easier by booking some plane tickets much earlier to save about 1,5 days on transfer. By booking early it would be even more cheaper that taking our own bus.
Last minute decisions left our group with only five members, but it wasn`t a problem as it didn`t make any extra expenses as it would have if we had had our own transport. This years holidays also played out very nicely and we didn`t have to hurry much.
We were at Kiilopää on Saturdat 28th and after some packing and gearing up we were ready to start. As we had expected an afternoon start the day was planned shorter and we were to stay the night in Rautulampi day hut. It isn`t meant or equipped for that, but sharing the hut with two Finnish ladies we managed just fine. As almost every day onwards we reach the hut in total darkness although not very late. We had some uphill struggle, blood sweat and tears, some descending in the dark, finding the track markers that were only visible at close range or at a certain angle despite being almost two meters tall. Day endedwith descending on a steep slope among birch and beech trees and finding a already warm hut after covering almost 13km in over 3 hours. We arranged our sleeping gear on the benches and floor for the night and checked the route for the next day.
The second day wasn`t to be easy – long and with two long climbs. Ended up being the longest in distance and time. We started with a long realy gentel descent on a snowmobile track to Lankojärvi hut for a break and then had to make our own tracks while climbing in knee deep snow for 7km and ascending about 250m. The last push to that peak was already in dark and the wind was blowing quite hard on top. Coming down was occasionally steep and tricky through the trees, but we managed. One pass to go and it was about 6pm I think. The ascent to the second pass was much harder `cause everybody was somewhat tired and it was even steeper and we still had to make trail. But slowly upwards we went for another 200m in 4km. Looking at the data now the speed wasn`t bad at all – 2.5km/h. Near the top was much easier `cause the snow was wind packed and much less effort. Coming down from that pass was something for a beginner powder skier, but with some smaller crashes, little blood and a broken ski-pole we managed and had only 2km to go to reach the Sarvioja hut. Led by T the whole way along the Sarvioja banks we reached the hut tired, but happy about 12 hours after the start in the morning. GPS showed distance of 28km. My HRM showed 10k burned kcal. Great day. I felt really good in the last hours and managed some camp chores to give others some rest. We made dinner, considered a easier route for the next day and soon everybody hit their sleeping bags.
On the third day I had planned to climb up through Paratiisikuru and down from Pirunportti and reach Muorravaarakka hut. For lunch. And then climb over another pass and stay in the Anterinmukka hut. We clearly weren`t up for the second part as no-one even stirred at 9pm. So we decided to take it really easy and go down Sarvioja and then turn south to follow Muorravaarakkaoja upstream. This choice would give us almost no ascent and probably better weather. I was afraid that it would be a bit boring. And although weather was quite good in the morning it got cloudy during the day and as our start was really late it wouldn`t have been good idea to go after the higher alternative.
The going was easy and I spotted a herd of reindeers quite far away and managed to point it out to others. We sometimes skied on the river ice and sometimes on the banks. Until the Muorravaarrakkaoja we followed a snowmobile track, but then it crossed the stream at a very sketchy place for us and we turned to make our own racks again. But as predicted we reached a track again at that point it was already getting dark and the track was getting harder to find because the wind had blown steadily all day. GPS was holding us on course and after 6 hours we were at the hut. Everybody was feeling much better than the previous night despite the distance of almost 20km.
The night was clear and I was hopeful that it would stay that way when we climb up near Lumikuru, then take the high route to Sokosti and the descend to Luirojärvi on the next day. Morning was clear and again we took turns to plod through knee deep powder. It takes a lot out of you in just 10 minutes. When we got out from the tree-line the snow became more packed and occasionally it looked and felt almost like high class maintained ski slope. Half way up we saw another herd of reindeer coming down from the pass and later another one heading up to Lumikuru. The slope was about 30 degrees and more and occasionally very icy so we had to zig-zag up to find better patches. Upon reaching the pass we had a good view to all directions, but we also saw that our second destination – Sokosti, was in a cloud. Everything around was clear so we went on to see if we could get around the cloud. Reaching the ridge above Jaurotuskuru we had really great views to Luirojärvi and even spotted Sokosti. The wind was blowing fiercely to our faces as we continued south along the ridge to climb the last 100m. Soon we could take cover from the wind behind the maintenance building of the mobile antennae. There was a really good looking snowdrift that was begging for someone to build a snow-cave. There was also a long fence by the building which we thought was for wind protection. Later it turned out to be a solar panel. Everything was covered with a thick layer of hard packed snow formed into nice sculptures.
Now we had about 500m of descent to negotiate. The beginning was difficult `cause of the pre-mentioned snow formations so we had to pick path carefully. But soon the ground got more even and the speeds went up. As it was sometimes icy then it was not as great as I had hoped or I just expected more control from the Salomon XADV6 boots. Good downhill skiing equipment tends to spoil you like that. I managed a face-plant at high speed when I went over a softer patch.
The greatest part of the descent was when we reached the last 100m and entered really deep powder. The slope was also steep, but it was really amazing to push down those slopes and snow. Something for really fat skis. At the bottom we continued on a level plain and soon we found the track again. The moon was almost full, sky was clear and it was really quiet. A short stretch across the lake, past the first huts and we were at the Hilton. It was already warm as three Finnish ladies had been there for a while. We immediately started to make preparations for the sauna – hauling water and making firewood. We expected it to take some time for the water to heat up, but were surprised when it was ready in about an hour. Otherways it was a quiet night.
We started to see plenty of other skiers at Luirojärvi and a lot of gear too. Everybody had big sledges and most had old school skis. We briefly wondered what would we take with us when somebody was actually willing to tow that huge monster through the placed we had been. Those two climbs on second day would have been “awesome”. But then again – fried eggs in the morning and my own personal folding chair… The Finns also had some of the longest skis I have ever seen and by some mysterious reason they use rubber boots for skiing. I know that they are comfortable for camp in winter, but for skiing?
Weather had turned in the new year. It was near 0 C and it rained. Like WTF?!. It`s January, Lapland and it rains. It didn`t affect the skiing much `cause most of the first part of the day we went uphill, but it soaked clothes and gear. In addition to that the visibility was poor and the kilometers just dragged along. When we reached Tuiskukuru we found it to be packed with people and took a break outside. We had planned to go west following the summer trail, but failed to quickly notice the track. There was a hard trail going along the Tuiskukuru and we went for the easy option (at that time). The valley is quite narrow at the bottom, with steep sides and straight as an arrow on the map. Our trail wasn`t that straight as it tried to follow the path of least resistance. It went from one side to another, climbed under trees, up and down, split and re-joined multiple times. It would have been really fun at higher speed, but ours was about 4km/h. Saw a white-throated dipper and it searched for food in the stream.
We had hoped that upon reaching Suomujoki the trail would split as we were sure that it would go to Lankojärvi hut, but that was in the opposite direction to our destination. Turned out that there was no trail heading to our direction So we made trail. Looking at the GPS trail now there was a lot of wasted effort, but the maps and the real thing are not comparable. Type 2 fun. Reaching the trail was a real relief and the last 2-3km was a breeze. Suomunruoktu hut was already warmed up and inhabited by a couple and two dogs. It was another very long day of 27km under the skis.
For the last day we were somewhat unsure what to do. Some of us were tired, but some didn`t want to check into the hotel yet. Original idea was to check into the Niilanpää day hut and then take a short trip to Kiilopää in the morning. However we found the hut to lack some comfort and decided to push on. I even chose another day hut in Rumakuru where to push on, but I was warned that if we didn`t continue immediately then the appeal of sauna and soft bed would be too big to resist. Sad to say – they were right. The trail from Niilanpää to Kiilopää was mostly downhill and very fast. And soon we were in the sauna, dried gear and changed into clean, not smelly clothes and made plans for the last day.
Come next morning three of us decided to climb to the Kiilopää peak. Others went cross-country skiing or just hanged out `till the bus came. The climb wasn`t physically hard, but weather soon deteriorated and in the top wind was blowing really hard and visibility was very poor. We found the top only by the GPS. Coming down was quite extreme as the speeds went over 20km/h and visibility was still non-excistant. I fell about three times and others just as much. But it was fun. Another round of packing, showers and lunch and soon we were on the bus heading to Rovaniemi. On the train we celebrated a birthday `till quite late in the night and the trip was basically ower.
In total we covered 123km, made trail for about 1/3 of the distance and consumed about 30kg of food. For the fifth year in the row I didn`t see any northern lights. They conveniently showed up in Yllastunturi and even in Rovaniemi a few days later, but none for us.
The gear for me was pretty standard for these kind of events. About 3/4 of my pack weight was made up by food. I just had my sleeping gear, medkit, spare socks, down jacket, camera and some other smaller pieces. For the first time I had a chance to to try out the Salomon XADV6 touring boots I received in exchange for the pair of XADV5 that weren`t that durable.. The XADV6 model has much better support around the ankles. It did however put some pressure on weird places on my feet, but that was just a tad uncomfortable. I think I just have to walk them in. The skis are the same as always – Salomond XADV 89 Grip. They seem short for my weight and size, but are very maneuverable. I wouldn`t have wanted to take much longer skis to the places we went.
In conclusion – another great one. Plenty left for next time and a nice end for 2014.