Friday, June 10, 2016

Cave Surveying Course

We often have just coordinates. While Finnish caves are small, they are often also non-obvious, mere collections of holes under boulders. Would be nice to have a map, to even know if we're in the right hole.

Enter the cave surveying course by the Finnish Caving Association.

Last weekend Janne and I joined a group of other enthusiasts on Luolaseura's course, with Johannes Lundberg from the Swedish Caving Association instructing us. The course started with an introduction to cave surveying and drawing maps, then we went to Lohja's Torhola cave.

We used old-school measuring tape, compass, and inclinometers, but also state of the art laser measurement tools with community-provided extensions. Quite some extensions, in fact, such as installing new motherboards and adding compasses, making the device more suited to caving.

We learned the basics of surveying a cave, measuring its size, position, form, and features. We also learned how to draw maps. This is very difficult!  I ended up making a few different ones, the vertical maps being perhaps the easiest to make. Below you'll find one example, inspired by the various different parts of the cave -- such as one with the tourists or the one where the local youngsters organised a party at 3AM, waking up one of the participants who was sleeping in a tent nearby.

Overall, a very useful course! We also identified a need to develop survey and map techniques for the boulder caves. These types of caves are rare, mostly appearing just in the nordic countries. There seems to be no easy way to draw understandable maps of these caves, and all cave surveying experience has been focused karst caves that typically have a more well-defined form.

I was also surprised to learn that there is no good home in the Internet for cave maps. This seems like an obviously useful thing to have, hopefully that could be started by somebody.

It was also fun to see how natural Janne is at caving. At age 13, he is obviously still not as big as us grownups, so he can enter places we cannot. But he also seems to have a natural ability to twist himself in the right way to fit into tight places. This was useful when we tried to explore the lower "exit" of the Torhola cave. The exit is blocked by a stone, but you can enter a small tunnel leading to the stone, and at least be able to talk to the other cavers inside the bottom of the cave's "basement" part.

Many thanks to the active caving society, the course participants and Johannes!

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

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bruxelles Ski de Plastique

Brussels has run out. They do not have enough for themselves, let alone for Greece. The Eurocrisis is getting worse. We're out of snow.

Well, there's really no snow in Brusseles, but fortunately they have come up with ways to deal with this difficult situation. Some years ago I found indoor ski slopes from Peer and Comines villages.

I am proud of my ability to find potential ski places. But I was blissfully unaware of a great slope not too far from the centre of Brussels. My friend and avid skier Catharina (CC) moved to Brussels some time ago, and found Yeti Ski. Interestingly, none of the locals that I asked about this had ever heard of the place. Yeti Ski resides in Anderlecht, near other sports venues and ten kilometres from the centre.

A networking conference took me to Brussels for a couple of days in April. This allowed us to go explore this plastic hill on one of the evenings, after the conference.

The hill is kept wet by sprinklers placed every few meters across the whole slope. Skiing wet plastic is surprisingly challenging. Both of us were recovering, I was trying to heal my broken ribs and CC was dealing with a flu. We skied only a couple of runs, but it was clear that practicing on this hill would improve anyone's skiing skills.

One difference to real snow is that it is much more difficult for your skis to get a grip on the plastic. Braking and turning needs to be done much more aggressively.

I can recommend a visit here, if you are in Brussels! You should take some protective clothing with you, i.e., long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Falling on the plastic can hurt you otherwise.

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

Snowing in May @ The Beast

The morning was warm and sunny both in Canada and US, as it should be in mid-May. Ted was planning to have a sunshine-filled ski day. But by the time we reached Killington, it was snowing.  Winter conditions!

Fortunately, I had a extra jacket in my luggage, problem solved. But, it didn't help much with the skiing. I hadn't skied properly in two months, and Ted hadn't had much skiing this year either. At this time of the year, Killington's Superstar is the only open lift and ski run, but it is a demanding, steep moguls run. On the previous weekend, the easier Skye Hawk run still had snow, and would offer a welcome break from skiing the bumps all day.

The snow on Skye Hawk had mostly disappeared during the week. But today's snowing was covering the grass with a dusting of snow, so I decided to take my chance and try skiing it. I was able to ski it almost to the end, though at few points I had to step with my skis to avoid damaging them on rocks.

It is a rare opportunity to ski in these conditions in May. And Killington is one of the only two open ski areas in eastern North America. They are open for an amazingly long time, given that it has been a bad snow year. The trick is of course snowmaking. Superstar still had as much as ten meters of snow in the middle of the run.

And it was a rare opportunity to ski with Ted as well. We've known each other for 10+ years, worked in the same team, saw each other in conferences, and always talked about going skiing together. But somehow it never turned into reality until now. Very happy that we got to do that now! I am on a long business trip in the US, wanted to keep weekends free instead of working through them, and the few ski areas still open made it possible for both of us to drive to the same one.

I also got to stay at Ted's and Andreas wonderful, hi-tech and energy-efficient, passive home in Brattleboro. Thank you!

On the way back to Boston for my meetings, I also stopped in the New Hampshire ski area, Granite Gorge. It had no snow left, but seemed like a friendly local ski hill, including the Volkswagen Kleinbus sporting Bernie stickers and the "Live free. Shred hard." slogan.

Volkswagen Kleinbus at Granite Gorge:

A traditional American hotel room, perhaps, in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Ted and me on the lift at Killington:

Top of Killington:

The closed run, Skye Hawk:

Snowing at the parking lot:

Snow covered areas that had been previously all clear:

Google Maps knew that on May 16, Granite Gorge would not be open :-) :

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016


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.