Thursday, September 18, 2014

Go Scotland!



Go Scotland! Great place, great people, and possibly soon a new, independent country. Vote wisely in today's elections!

I believe independence would be a good thing. Also, in addition to all the other benefits of being your own country, you would automatically add one to my list of skied countries, since I skied in Edinburgh two years ago.

The flag picture is from wikipedia and is in the public domain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge


In this week's episode of the Planetskier I participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Research on ALS and other serious diseases is very, very important. Please do all you can to support such research, for instance by donating ALSheart disease, or cancer research. And I would like to publicly thank those of my friends who have donated and who have taken the challenge, such as Ray and John. Thank you.

But I also want to say that most people are doing this challenge the wrong way. It should be an ice bucket challenge. See here how it is done right:



Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lost World


The sun is still bright, but the environment is getting strange. Fog is engulfing us. Plants are starting to look pre-historic. And I'm hanging from a 100 meter rope, above the Lost World, a cave system in Waitomo, New Zealand. And it is starting to look like my landing spot is in the river at the bottom of the cave.

Luckily, I manage to land on the riverbank. And the whole team is now down here, our legs numb from hanging on in tight harnesses for the long descent. And maybe from us being a bit tense, too. The descent was scary, while I climb a bit I rarely practice rappeling. And Tero and Olli have never done it. 

Our descent began on a platform built at the entrance of the cave. The whole group descends at the same time and the guides have set up ropes and belay systems where we can do this safely. Each of us have our own braking device, but we are also connected to the guide.

On the way down we pass through huge open spaces and narrower canyon parts where we can touch the walls on our sides. The rock walls are covered with green vegetation in the moist environment.

But the descent is nothing compared to the lost world we find at the bottom. Some sunshine travels even this far, and a large green "valley" has grown around the river, hidden from outsiders. There were already pre-historic plants in the neighbourhood of the cave. But the ones here, in the foggy valley, are out of this world.

We continue on foot, until the large open space turns into high-altitude ledges and narrow tunnels through the rock. We clip ourselves into safety ropes, and explore the wonderful cave. 

After exploring for a while, we turn our lights off and let our eyes get used to the darkness. When we look up, we see an underground night sky, the cave roof being covered with small green lights. Some caves in New Zealand host glowworms that need to generate their own light. The worms begin their life as worms, but eventually transform into flying insects. But at that stage they can no longer digest anything, and will only live for a couple of days. In the dark cave the light makes it easier to find a mate to produce offspring. 

Our route continues upwards in the cave. The 100 meter descent must be met by an equal amount of climbing to get back. The cave has multiple entrances, and some of them allow some light to shine through to the cave. Halfway on our path back we reach a metal ladder. These are not just any ladders. They are 30 meter high. Fortunately, we continue to be belayed by rope through the climb.

I start my climb with speed, because I want to show my supposedly good climbing condition. But 30 meters is a lot to climb, even on good ladders. Particularly when your hands are starting to slip from the wet dirt that previous climbers have left on the ladder. I have to stop and rest in the middle of the climb. Finally, I reach the top and the team continues the journey forward. We still keep clipping ourselves to the fixed security ropes, in a manner familiar to those who have climbed via ferrata routes. Our journey continues on a ledge with a 40-50 meter drop. 



And finally we reach the surface after four hours of caving. We were in New Zealand to ski, but the weather was bad on the early days of our trip. And the airline had, perhaps predictably, lost all our skis. So we were desperate to find something else to do. The ski areas were closed, but a day that begins with a 100 meter rappel can not be all bad!

Waitomo is in the middle of the north island of New Zealand, a couple of hours drive from the volcanoes and ski areas of the Tongariro National Park. The Lost World tour was organised by Waitomo Adventures (who I can wholeheartedly recommend). Although later I felt sorry that we had not taken the seven hour "wet" tour in the cave. That tour would have required us to go in our swimming suits to the cold water flowing in the cave river. Including a jump down an underground waterfall!

The pictures in this blog article are partially taken by the guides and the guide company. On the tour itself the use of cameras and video equipment was forbidden. As a result, the above video has only a few clips taken secretly with my GoPro :-)






The three musketeers have arrived and are marching on:




Glowworms:


Green depths of the cave:


Preparations and Surroundings

Pick your boots from here:


The Waitomo area is full of sinkholes like this:


Vegetation looks pre-historic even outside the cave:


Equipment practice before going into the cave:


A leaf, shot from the bottom of the cave:


After-Caving

Fortunately, after a hard day of caving, our hotel (Chateau Tongariro) offered relaxation in the sauna and the pool. This luxurious hotel has been built in the 1920s, but has perhaps seen its best days. The pool area provided a claustrophobic experience suitable for us newly educated cavers:


Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko, Olli Arkko, Tero Kivinen, and Waitomo Adventures. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Capitol Hill


Today we are visiting Washington DC, and trying out a Planetskier recipe: take a grass slope, two miniskis, ice cubes from the hotel ice dispenser, and mix them together. And there we have, another ski destination!

This was my first descent in Washington DC, and the 21st state or district in North America that I have skied in. My family vacation in the museums of New York and Washington was not quite as mountain-focused as I would have wanted, but I did find some skiing, eventually!




I was a bit nervous about the possibility of the security in the National Mall getting too interested in my ski exercise near the congress. But fortunately they were relaxed and did not pay any attention. Some tourists even took a few photos of what I was doing.

And I was surprised by the amount of ice cubes one can get in few seconds from a hotel ice machine. I've never used those machines before, but clearly they are useful! In the next trip I will keep this option in mind, and consider them as a source of even larger amounts of ice. Now I used one bag, but it would probably have been easy to acquire much more.

I also happened to be in DC for the July 4th fireworks, which were great:


And I was in New York to witness the incoming storm. Those skyscrapers are a great place for storm watching:



Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On the Beach



Midsummer in Gotland, Sweden. Perfect place for boating, hanging out on the sand beach, swimming, as well as a little bit of climbing. And all this underground!

Gotland is a great vacation destination, but when the others were going through medieval church ruins for the third day, I felt I needed to do something else. Lummelundagrottan is Sweden's 2nd longest cave, and stretches for four kilometres. Or possibly more, as the exploration continues. The cave is 15 kilometres north of Visby, the main city in Gotland, and also near the airport. The largest open spaces of the cave were discovered in the 1950s by three school kids, Örjan, Percy, and Lars.

Today, the stairs lead to those large spaces, and the tourists can walk through the cave along paved pathways. The cave gets over 100 000 visitors every year. But there is another, a more interesting way to enter the cave - even for us who are interested in trying out caving but have no experience to do it on our own. An adventure group takes ten wannabe explorers into the cave along with two guides.

One of the branches of the cave system is closed, and we can not enter that. Even cave researchers get to visit that part of the cave for only a week in a year. The adventure group explores another branch for about half a kilometre into the cave. Going beyond this would require crossing a "water lock", i.e., would require diving. Not for us!

The route that we can take begins on small boats. They are easy to manoeuvre into the cave, as we can grab hold of rocks in the tunnel walls and pull ourselves forward. But then the going gets a bit tougher. The cave ceiling drops so low that we have to lean low - and lean to different directions to avoid capsizing the boat. Once we reach the end of the boat trip, we climb over rocks, and continue our journey on foot, wading through partially water-filled tunnels, climbing, and even crawling.






The cave was partially what I expected: tight spaces, water, crawling. But I was totally blown away by the surprising elements. The underground sand beaches. The beauty of large tunnels. The water that shines in bright green colours in the light of our headlamps.

And I did not expect clay. I imagined the cave would be rock, clean rock. But many parts of the Lummelunda cave are covered in clay. The crawling and climbing in these areas turns our clothes and hands thoroughly dirty. My fellow cave-men drew war paintings on their faces.

And the water. Wading through the deep water in watertight pants was surprisingly different from just wading through water in your swimsuit, as the pressure is feels stronger. My mind raced through the stories of cave diving, and I kept being afraid of the holes to other parts of the cave. The holes were hiding somewhere under our feet, under the water.

An interesting part of the trip was navigating in complete darkness, as we turned our lights off for a moment. This was surprisingly difficult, not to mention scary. The guides also told us a story about a mouse they had seen in one of the early tours, only to find the mouse half-eaten when returning from their tour. Is there a large carnivore hiding somewhere in the cave... true or not? I do not know.





We used wade-fishing pants, high enough to reach our armpits. But they were not high enough to protect us completely from the water, as it was too deep in places. In a couple of points we had to either jump a few meters or swim. This would not have been such an issue, but doing that while carrying two cameras was a challenge for me. In some other points we held on to rocks on the tunnel walls to keep ourselves afloat. In another case we had to move on our bottoms along a small underwater ledge in the tunnel wall.

The cameras survived, albeit a bit dirty from all that clay. But most of us had taken in some water during the trip. The advice from our guides was that if water starts pouring to our pants, there is no point in raising the issue - we better keep going and pass the difficult point. And the organisers have a system for drying the pants :-)

A tourist tour into the Lummelunda cave costs 130 SEK or about 13 €. The adventure tour costs 800 SEK or about 80 €.








Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ich bin ein Berlin(ski)er



The Berg - a creation by architect Jakob Tigges - is the latest source of pride for Berliners. This artificial mountain covers almost the entire Tempelhof, an old airport. A park like no other. And I am in Berlin to make the first descent!

The historic Tempelhof airport was closed in 2008, and has since then been reserved for recreation. Biking, climbing, hiking, camping, even paragliding, ... the possibilities are limitless. The mountain and its views are like a dream that has captivated the Berliners. Just the thought of the mountain has caused other cities to be envious. Suddenly the biggest skyscrapers, Guggenheim museums, and and opera houses seem nothing compared to what Berlin has.

Climbing to the 1000 meters high The Berg is tough in the hot Berlin summer. At this time of the year, there isn't much snow, but I can still ski on the moss and lichen that covers the steep parts of the mountain. My skis slide better on moss than on grass, and the recent rain helps me go even faster. 

And it is much more fun to fall on moss than on grass! This is my first time skiing on moss, and I take a couple of falls. But here and there rocks stick out of the ground, as do tree stumps. And there are drops in the rockface. Selecting the right route is crucial. Skiing what you climbed is the safest way.


Above: A "sselfie" (skiing-selfie).




Above: A view from the old terminal.


Above: Reaching the top.

So this was the first descent of The Berg. At least for the moment, however, The Berg remains an imaginary mountain. But what could be more rewarding than thinking about how to construct a perfect mountain? And reality is not required for enjoying the mountain. As the architect himself notes: "Tourists would come to the site to take photographs of the mountain that isn’t there". The mythical plan opens our eyes to see things that we were unable to see before, to imagine the unimaginable.

Perhaps paradoxically, the ski runs on this article are real. Imagination can affect reality.

What is your imaginary mountain?


Above: The only photo that I have of the first descent; 
timing delay shots when you are alone is very difficult.


Above: Old signs at the airfield.

Photos and videos (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. The audio track used in the video for the John F. Kennedy speech has been taken from wikimedia. Two of the pictures are taken from The Berg project homepage. Thanks to Désirée for coming up with the title for the article. More information about The Berg can found from the following links: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. Tämä artikkeli löytyy myös suomeksi.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Liquid Nitrogen



A long, hot summer. And boring. But then I found some leftover liquid nitrogen from an overclocking experiment. Would skis work on liquid nitrogen?

This was an obvious opportunity for a physics test. Pour the nitrogen on the small slope in my yard and attempt to ski the liquid-covered surface. I put on my Orthex miniskis, grabbed a pair of poles, and skied the slope.

The skis slid on the surface... pretty much like they do on any rock surface, i.e., not very well. Much of the nitrogen disappeared in a white cloud. But there was a little bit of ice formed on the rocks. (See the picture of the surface further down below.) But still, it was not a bad ski day. The cloud was nice, even if I used only a small amount of the liquid.

With more liquid, the icing effect would perhaps have been more noticeable. But at the same time, the risks would have been higher. I wouldn't want to fall on a pool of liquid nitrogen, for instance.





So what happened with my son's overclocking experiments? The CPU was run at 8.025 GHz. Here's the icy heat sink:


WARNING: Liquid nitrogen is extremely, extremely dangerous. Physical contact with it is obviously dangerous. But it is even more dangerous as an unnoticeable gas that could replace oxygen in the air.

Photo and video credits (c) 2014 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi.