Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mayday


Wappu, or first of May is a huge celebration in Finland, traditionally celebrated by hiking to a hill and drinking alcohol. This is very different from other festivities in Finland, where the part about the hill is omitted.

The hill that people traditionally climb is one of the park hills in Helsinki, but this year Janne and I decided to go searching for caves and holes in Espoo. We found the Saunalahti hole, a crystal opening where the crystals have long since departed, just the surrounding granite remains.

We also searched for caves from a large boulder in Suomenoja, and found some small holes under this 5x5x5 cube-formed rock. But what was more interesting was the bouldering routes along the sides. Janne didn't have climbing shoes to try them properly, but it seemed that a few moves could also be made with slippery rubber boots.

Finally, I skied the traditional May run in the Grani ski hill in Kauniainen, my home town. I almost didn't make it, having to leave for a business trip and being late with packing, but in the end I found the half an hour to visit and make a fun ski run in the blazing sunshine, wearing a t-shirt and wondering why the ski area has closed when there's so much snow left.







Photos and videos (c) 2016 Jari Arkko. This blog is also available at TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Serious Sports




Taking sports seriously. Or Siriously. Sirious Sports is an adventure place in Pyhtää, Finland. They have skydiving and surfing simulators.

The skydiving simulator was something that I had experienced once before, a huge fan blowing air through a funnel where you can float in the air flying past you. The remarkable thing about this is that skydiving always looks so easy. But it turns out to be pretty difficult, for me at least. Controlling your movements so that your hands and legs are in balance is tough. Fortunately, the simulators come with instructors that will catch you and help you balance. That was definitely needed even on my second visit to a simulator. Olli and Janne had their first visit in a simulator.

Now we all are wondering how it would feel if we practiced it a bit more. Pyhtää is an hour and half from Helsinki, so it is not that far, but still a drive. There's also the issue of cost. Surfing is relatively cheap at Sirius Sports, 25€ for an hour per person in a group lesson. As a part of a group, you'll get to surf enough, and fall enough, so that this is more than enough. Flying is more expensive though, just two minutes costs 60€ for a beginner. That being said, I was sore after one minute of flying and an hour of surfing...

In any case, the costs do come down for the non-beginners and for groups. We should return some day. This is also a great destination for company team events, kid's parties and the like.

But a surfing simulator was a totally new experience for me. I couldn't even figure out how it would work. I imagined a giant wave generator in a pool, but it turned out to be something far simpler and easier: water being sprayed at high speed along a surface formed like a wave. If you fall, the water will carry you to the top of the "wave", water disappears in the drain, and you walk to the side.

And surfing on this nice, soft surface was a lot of fun. And surprisingly easy, though wobbly at first. Much recommended!








Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Smuggler's Cave, Salo



Salo, southern Finland. More than an hour away by car, and we've been in the forest for an hour now. The cave is nowhere to be found. I have coordinates, but in the wrong coordinate system and Google isn't co-operating to interpret them in the right way.

Finally, however, Janne sees the cave as we walk in circles in the hills in the forest.

Rosvoluola [1,2], or the smuggler's cave, turns out to be interesting. Once again we find ourselves in a cave that is large by Finnish standards. The actual cave is said to be 25 meters, all side channels included, but there is a long route under boulders leading to it, perhaps another 20 meters, and there are crack systems running horizontal and vertical and on many levels.

The cave can be easily reached by driving a forest road here, and the coordinates of the cave itself can be found here.







Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko. This blog is also available at TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paraguay on miniskis



Have skis, can carry snow, will ski anything. First descent of Paraguay's highest mountain, Cerro Tres Kandú.

After ten days of meetings in Buenos Aires, I was so exhausted that I spent the day after pretty much unable to move from my hotel room sofa. But, after only a day of rest I was itching for an adventure, and I still had another day before my flights to the next meeting.

I have skied many places in South America, but I had never been in Paraguay. Is there something I could ski? The rational answer would be "no", given that the country lies mostly in the tropical plains. However, the are a few hills in the eastern side of the country, Cerro Tres Kandú being the highest point at 840 meters.

Maybe there's a way? After some phone calls and Internet searches, I had flight tickets, a hotel, and a driver for the 10-hour roundtrip to the mountain from Asunción. Definitely a crazy adventure with no certain results, and two far too early wake-ups for flights. But, hey, we only live once.

It was very unclear if I'd be able to find ice, or what the conditions on the mountain would be. My hotel's concierge thought there was a small walk of about a kilometer to the top. Which, of course turned out to be a 600-meter vertical climb through the jungle. That took three hours...

On the positive side, I had acquired plenty of ice from a gas station along the way. And I was very glad that I had a good driver. Even with our four-wheel drive van, the road was barely passable. I would not have had a chance with a regular rental car.

Once we reached the end of the road, I packed maybe 15 kilos of the ice onto my backpack, and headed up. The path was walkable, though with some difficult sections with climbing over rocks, holding on to lianas and cables, and some no-fall places above cliffs. On the return it was more difficult, with the darkness and slippery mud making things more complex.

At the top there is an abandoned communications link and army station. The view that opens to the other side of the mountain from the station is incredible, however. The mountain rises from the surrounding plains, and I was standing on top of a vertical cliff, overlooking a sunset.

I emptied my ice bags at the top, skied a few meters, and headed down in a hurry before the darkness fell. Fortunately, I had a headlamp as the it became very dark as soon as entered back to the forest.

Was this the first descent of Cerro Tres Kandú on skis? Probably. The only time there's been ice on ground on it? Probably. Or any descent in Paraguay? Possibly. Unfortunately, the form of the mountain did not allow me to make a longer ski run, like I had done on Gunung Agung and other places. But you get what you get.

I'm very happy about making this visit, the view into the sunset from the top in particular was spectacular. I'm also happy that the broken ribs seem to be healing well enough that I can do this kind of climbs. On to the next adventures!






Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko. This blog article is also available on TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Broken Ribs



I had an accident on a horse, skiing an ancient volcano in Africa. As people do. Broken ribs and a horseshoe-shaped bruise on my side. But I did manage to ski the remaining ski areas in Morocco. And ski down with the broken ribs.

But back to the beginning. I was in Morocco for a meeting (incidentally, we managed to change how the Internet is administered). After six days of difficult meetings, I was about to leave for the next meeting but had a day or two free first. I wanted to ski the other places than Oukaïmeden that I had skied my previous visit to Morocco. There are a few other ski areas listed in Morocco, but only two appear to actually exist today: Michlifen and Jbel Habri, both near the town of Ifrane in northern Morocco. This area is often called the Switzerland of Morocco.

After a gruelling day-long taxi drive to the Middle Atlas mountain range, I settled in the Michlifen Ifrane Suites and Spa, a hotel that indeed does bring Swiss luxury to mind. The two ski areas are just outside the town.

The first ski area I visited was Michlifen. The entire area is covered by Moroccan tourists and kids who play in snow. The kids love it, I cannot imagine that they see snow too often! The highest mountain forms the actual ski area. There's one lift, and it is no longer operating this season, although I would have thought there was enough snow. I climb up and ski down in mostly untouched hard snow. At the bottom there are again tons of people photographing themselves in the snow, playing with sledges, etc. This is a nice, sunny area. I wonder what it feels like in the coldest part of the year. And if the lift really is ever running.

Next up was Jbel Habri, some 10 kilometres further. This volcanic cone sits on otherwise fairly flat land, and I cannot see any signs of a ski lift. My plan was to walk up the 100 or so meters, but as I start my way up, a guy appears in front of me with a horse, suggesting that he can take me up. Plenty of people ride the horse, so I figure it would be fun.

On the way up the horse stops a couple of times, with the owner trying to pull it forward with a rope. I didn't think much of it, but the next time it doesn't just stop, it objects wildly, rears, starts jumping and runs away. I tried to hold on, but couldn't. It might have been better to be just thrown out, but I ended up having one of my boots stuck, dragged along by the horse. Once I got free, I slid down the slope.

Everything happened too fast for me to remember the details. Fortunately I didn't hit my head. But I was clearly hurt in chest and back. And breathless for some time. Did I fall on top of my camera? Or did the horse kick me? Don't know, but my ribs are broken where there's a horseshoe-shaped big and painful bruise.

After collecting myself and picking up various pieces, like my camera buried in mud, I skied down. It didn't feel right, but was probably the easiest way to get down. And allowed me to collect the skiing of this hill!

My driver took me to the local hospital, where I got X-rays done which showed that I was generally OK but had some broken ribs. The next day I flew to London, as I was supposed to continue my trip with a workshop in California. London also offered a convenient place for me to show the damage to western doctors. Curiously, you have to wait much longer for admission in a London clinic than in Africa. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was asked to stay put and not fly in this condition, so I didn't get to go to my interesting workshop.

Now, couple of days later it felt like the right decision. Just recovering from the damage takes a lot of energy. Couple of days later I flew home, feeling better. But I won't be skiing for a while, maybe a month. Or riding...

Lessons from this? I'm very unhappy that I didn't get to go my super-interesting workshop. And I suppose it wasn't such a great idea to ride a horse without really knowing anything about it. And attempting to have an adventure every weekend... just based on the pure odds, I have to be more careful to not hurt myself.

But mostly, I should learn to keep my GoPro on, for once again I have an accident that didn't get on the video. Darn.









Here were by the way my accommodations in Medina, the old town of Marrakesh during my meetings. The old town looks scary, and the traversing the dark corridors at night is unnerving. But inside the Riads it can still be luxurious.



Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko. This blog is also available on the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Taking the Nysse to the Slopes



Tampere.  A great destination for the winter vacation.  But can you take the city bus to the slopes? Yes you can.

There are two ski areas, but also skating on the Näsijärvi lake, and even some caves along the road back home to south. But back to the skiing. Nysse, local slang for the bus, takes you to Mustavuori (black mountain) ski areas on routes 17 or 29, and to Hervanta on routes 13, 23, or 30. "Nysse" stands for "Nys se tulee" and has become to mean the bus, instead of the act of coming ("now it is coming") that it literally stands for.

Both ski areas are local small hills, but clearly with good vibes with many kids playing around, big air jumps, and small cafeterias. And even a grill in both places, with sausages available for sale from the cafeteria! Very nice.

On Näsijärvi you can skate along a snow-plowed path and rent the skates from the Bikini Bar on the lake shore. Although bikinis are furthest away from your mind when visiting their snow covered hut. The route is very nice, along shore next to the Näsinneula observation tower, and then onwards to the small lighthouse in a rocky outcrop, Siilinkari, in the middle of the lake. I always wanted to visit Siilinkari, and now it was possible!

And then to the caving: I visited the Hirvi-Simuna cave in Lempäälä. This is a set of broken-up large boulders, with some space left under the stones. Hirvi-Simuna was a local hunter in the 1800s and lived in the cave. The main rooms in the cave are relatively big for being under a boulder. But the most interesting part was a crack between two rocks, a very tight squeeze to go see. You can turn around in the middle, and going all the way in didn't feel right, not head first at least. I also wanted to come back from the cave. Anyway, a good cave to visit, and will certainly will give a day's worth of claustrophobia!















Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko and Janne Arkko. This blog is also available from the TGR site. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Torhola



Caves in Finland may be small, but fortunately also claustrophobia-inducing. Caves are also not well known, but this one has an actual road sign and a parking lot!

On the last Sunday of January, we collected our regular team of experienced cave researchers, ranging from 11 year olds to adults, and headed to Lohja. The Torhola cave is easily reached, and the longest karst cave in Finland. It has been measured to be 32 meters in length, and the difference between its highest and lowest parts is 12 meters.

The winter makes caves and entrances to them icy, but it also makes rock even prettier than usual. Ice stalactites grow from the roof and floor. And beautiful frost covers surfaces!

The main entrance to the cave is big enough to walk in. Or as it may be, slide in on your bottom. The main chamber begins right from the entrance. A large, open space chamber by Finnish standards, blocky rock forms covered by that frost.

There are cracks and even some side entrances to choose from, and exploring the cave, despite its size, can take a long time. We didn't explore everything, and even we stayed for three hours in the cave.

The main attraction of the cave is at the furthermost point of the main chamber. If we had not read about it, we would not have found it. A narrow hole lets you drop into a lower level a meter and half below. You'll not see what you are dropping into, so it is a bit of a leap of faith. And the hole is very small, it is easy to get stuck or claustrophobic.

When you get to the lower level, there is a small chamber where two paths split to the left and right. I thought I had read the right one continues further, so I tried to take that path. With a small stream of water at the bottom, and ice forms constricting the already narrow path, I started to get very claustrophobic. I took myself half way through the tightest point, but then decided to crawl back - backwards. My friends from the Finnish Caving Society didn't feel so scared, however, apparently you can go through even in these conditions and turn around in the very small chamber right after the tight squeeze. In a pool of water. I don't know, way too extreme for me. What if you get stuck?

Fortunately, we decided to look down the left path as well, and realised that I had remembered the instructions wrong. The left path continues a few meters further down through relatively narrow passages, but ends in a bigger space called the Torhola Basement. From there on, the tunnel continues just a meter or two until it is blocked by a rock. The rumour is that if you reach your hand around the rock, and someone reaches their hand from another entrance to the cave, your hands can touch. We tried the other entrance later, and it was way too small for me to enter. My head does not fit through the hole, let alone my fat ass! Although the hole might be easier to go through in the summer, if the leaves at the bottom of the hole could be pushed aside. We'll have to return.

Aside from the other entrance, there are also a couple of other smaller caves around the area, away from the lake towards the forest.











Photos and videos (c) 2016 by Jari Arkko, Jarmo Ruuth, Olli Arkko, and Janne Arkko. This blog is also available at the TGR website. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.