Sunday, June 17, 2018

Utö Caving

This weekend I was at Tero's cottage in Särkisalo, and decided to check out local caves, if any. It turned out that there's quite a nice set of cracks, roofs, and boulders in Utö, at the Vårdgasberget.

The forestry road leading to Vårdgasberget is nowadays gated, so there's a 1.5 - 2km walk to get to the place. Fortunately the owner gave me a ride on the way there, as he was just passing as I was wondering what to do and whether I'd have time for the walk.

It is a wonderful area, probably one of the best views from a cave in Finland, with sea visible from the high cliffs of Vårdgasberget.

The caves can be approached either from the top or from below. From the top a small canyon with rocks covering it leads further down. There's a tight spot to enter the main cave, and it would be helpful to know that your feet will touch the ground if you go over the edge backwards (they do). From the main cave there are a couple of tunnels that lead further, but there are also a number of roof lids in front of the cliffs and the main cave, and there's also a large side cave to the left (when looking towards the cliff). Further to the right there's a large flat boulder at the top of the cliff, with a roof that one can be under of, and a possibly crawlable route to the other side of the boulder.

A nice area and well worth checking out.

Utö is nowadays reachable by car and bridge. The cave is at N 60.053758° E 22.854267°.

The cave begins at the top of the cliff:

The canyon entrance from the top:

Inside the main cave:

Sign in front of the main cave. The owner was worried about people starting fires in the cave, particularly now that the nature is very dry. Please don't make fires at caves, save them for official campsites!

View of the main cave and the roof in front of it from the bottom:



Me squeezing into the main cave:

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Kazakhstan Pioneer Camp Skiing

Back in the Soviet times, pioneer camps were known to be a place for kids to have summer camps, as well as a forum for pushing socialism ideals. But can you find powder at a winter pioneer camp? Apparently you can, as long as you are ready to ride the death trap lifts. And pay your lift rides with vodka.

Seriously though, the camp experience was quite good. Kind of like your local ski hill, except smaller, and with weird lifts. And you won't find big crowds or immediately tracked powder. It is fresh, small, and full of forests. And the skiing costs nothing, a few euros for a group of people to go skiing. If you want to go further, sometimes you can pay the nearby private lift operator in vodka bottles to let you use their lift as well.

But why are we doing this, where are we, and why on earth would we look for pioneer camps? Tero, Jarmo, and I were skiing in Kazakhstan, when all of a sudden the big, touristy ski area announced they are closing. Apparently, the Russian prime minister Medvedev was coming in for a visit, and he wanted to go skiing. So the area closed due to "avalanche control work". More communism experiences there :-)

Oh well. Jarmo had dug out information about local ski hills, and he knew there were a couple of other small ones near Almaty. We had also hooked up with Viktor, a local skier who had guided us to good spots beyond the slopes. He kindly offered to come along to help us find these places. And without him, we could not have even begun negotiations with our driver, let alone demanded the off-road car that we ended up needing or know where to go.

So we headed to Pioneer and Elik-Sai, both south of Almaty and near each other. And we found pow, trees, local culture, and different skiing. All we wanted!

The only downsides to these small places are access and the lifts. First off, getting to the sites is tricky. We had an off-road truck, but even it had trouble getting to the places these ski areas were at, given the snowy road conditions. Steep hills to climb up, we didn't at first manage get up on the roads. And coming down, there were some scary slides and I was worried we'd end up in a ravine somewhere. But we made it through.

But then the lifts. At Pioneer, the lift is actually quite good, a regular anchor lift. But at the top there were some additional, private-use lifts. Had their operators been there on the day, we would have had to dug up some vodka somewhere to pay for our way. Unfortunately, there were not there on a weekday...

Of course, we climbed some ways to experience the foot or two powder that was covering the mountains and forests. It was very nice!

However, at Elik-Sai, it was a different setup. The lifts were basically cable loops running around car tires. And there was no anchors use or handles to hold on to. Just wire.

There's also a longer video by Jarmo. The link is here.

For 4€ for our team we got to ski here for half a day, and we hooks that we had to carry in our back (or around our necks Tero has below):

These hooks were attached to a cord and a metallic small hook, see below. This hook we had to slash onto the lift's cable at the right moment, and then twist, so that it would not slide. And off we went. Even the owner, who proudly demonstrated the ski hill, fell down on the first attempt.  Scary as hell.

It was also interesting how some of these places are marketed. The sign for Elik-Sai promised bikini skiers and sunshine... reality was quite different:

Here are some more pictures from Pioneer:

The vodka-ticket lifts:

Powder at Pioneer:

Some signs:

Pioneer slope and lift:

And here are more pictures from Elik-Sai:


Travel... gates on the road towards Pioneer:

This blog is also available at TGR. Tämä blogi löytyy myös suomeksi Relaasta. Photos and videos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko, Jarmo Ruuth, and Tero Kivinen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Pihlajasaari Bunker

Helsinki's recreation islands are interesting, also from the point of view abandoned military structures and ruins. Today's excursion was to Sirpalesaari.

In Sirpalesaari there are ruins of an early 1900th oil tank, a huge round structure. And the ruins of several gun positions, including a storage (?) rooms under the cliff that they are on.

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Stasi Bunker

While on my way to a conference, I wanted to do a small detour to visit a bunker that I had read about. A Stasi bunker.

I did not manage to enter the bunker, however. The signs were only in German, but I think they indicated that the place is only open on every second weekend.

Oh well. Does look well hidden but quite creepy. It resides within an area of summer houses in Machern, Germany. The "garage" ramp onto this regular-house-looking facility leads to further stairs, and into a bunker where 120 people worked daily, and which could have housed the government in case of an emergency.

Putting this on my list of places to visit when I happen to be nearby on the right weekend...

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Tegelhagens Badplats

100 meter commute to the office from the hotel. Free bikes at the hotel. And a nice beach a bike ride away. Cannot complain!

I was wondering what to do today, not being eager to go all the way to the city to meet friends from my meeting; plenty of time in the rest of the week to do that.

So I decided to go see the Tegelhagens Badplats beach that my friend Magnus had recommend. It turned out to be a nice one, and despite expecting cold water, it was actually very warm. Not a bad trip!

(But I can complain about the hotel's Internet. How can a major, brandname hotel skyscraper have an Internet breakdown that "will take days to correct"?)

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Training for Vertical Caving

For the last two days, I've had the opportunity to be trained for techniques that are needed to traverse vertical cave shafts.

Now all I need is more practice... the Single Rope Technique (SRT) style of climbing up and down ropes is not difficult, but it is not trivial either, and to make it second nature will need regular training.

The techniques are surprisingly different from climbing techniques, even if some of the basics of handling rope and equipment are similar. On the course we setup all the gear, made suitable length cowtails and ascender loops, and learned to climb up, descend, switch directions, pass anchors, pass other attachments, and, most difficult, pass knots on the rope. Cool. But, setting up rope belays would be yet another level, that was not covered on this beginner course.

Suomen Luolaseura (or The Finnish Caving Association) organises training for caving in Finland, from basic courses to these more advanced courses. The course program can be seen on the web page. Thank you Dare (+ Taina) for this course and photos!

Photos (c) 2018 by Jari Arkko, Taina Nyman, and Dare Talvitie. All rights reserved.