Overnighting at Porkkalanniemi

A few weeks ago I took my bike and finally went all the way until the land’s end at Porkkalanniemi recreational area.

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I followed first the Länsiväylä highway until Kirkkonummi before turning to south through picturusque countryside. The day was pleasantly hot to bike the 37 km and then to walk half an hour until the seaside.

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I enjoyed long afternoon watching birds flying all over, boats passing by and just reading and laying in the sun. I found a nice and quiet spot at the very edge of the peninsula.

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When the evening painted the landscape with late hour colors, I decided to sleep just there on the rocks and under the warm summer sky.

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I left very early in the morning, hoping to see some wildlife on the way back home.

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I got lucky and spotted first a huge flock of cranes and then three times a white-tailed deer crossing the road or nearby field. I am definitely going to repeat this trip in the future!

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Trip report: Seven Brothers hiking trail

“Jukolan talo, eteläisessä Hämeessä, seisoo erään mäen pohjoisella rinteellä, liki Toukolan kylää. Sen läheisin ympäristö on on kivinen tanner, mutta alempana alkaa pellot, joissa, ennenkuin talo oli häviöön mennyt, aaltoili teräinen vilja.”

With these words begins the famous Seven Brothers novel (1870) by a Finnish national author Aleksis Kivi, and now I was standing at Jukola bus stop, south of Nurmijärvi, near Palojoki and the childhood home of Kivi and in the very same landscape that had inspired him as described above, and along the hiking trail of Seven Brothers.

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I began walking slightly after 7:30 am. The sun was already high and shining brightly, promising a sweaty day. Righ next to me both the Hämeenlinna highway and old Hämeenlinna road were noisy and it was difficult to tune myself to a mood of a previous century and the time of Seven Brothers, even though a typical Finnish countryside landscape opened up soon on the right hand side.

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After walking three kilometers I reached the Myllykoski bridge, which spanned high and wide over the Vantaanjoki river. I found the first official signs of the trail after getting down to the riverside, passing by a slope full of blooming greater stichworts.

The path was well maintained and it climbed few times higher on the river bank and to the shadows of tall pine trees. The noise of the two roads got weaker under the sound of water. Birds were signing merrily but for my disappointment I wasn’t able to identify them. Only a White Wagtail and few Great Tits were brave enough to show themselves, and the first mosquitos of the summer.

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I soon crossed another bridge and went under the highway to the northern side of Nurmijärvi. The fields were shining in yellow sea of flowers, and near an edge of another forest I saw the summer’s first lilly of the valleys. The day got hotter as the morning progressed.

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After three hours of walking I arrived to the potholes of Nurmijärvi, which the Ice Age had so precisely carved. A whole class of school kids were wondering the same together with their teacher, but as soon as “lunch break” was shouted, I was left alone. I continued soon after towards Rajamäki town, some 6km away.

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I walked through forests, which were both boring thick bushes and nicer ones with tall pine and spruce trees, along endless fields and sand roads, until I finally reached the first houses of Rajamäki and personal looking church behind them.

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I bought some fresh juice and a choko ice cream, before sitting down for a lunch break next to a local football field – a true landscape of my soul.

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I kept going soon after because I was barely at the half way, which began to feel heavy in my mind. Everywhere there was more fields, more forests, and no sign of Juhani, Eero or any other of the Seven Brothers, apart from the good signposts.

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I went through a dry pine forest after crossing the Hanko highway. The ground looked nice for camping but I didn’t want to leave so much to walk for the next day as the weather would turn worse during the night; from summer heat into a cold and stormy, barely plus ten degreeish.

I pushed onwards but felt blisters beginning to form under my toes. What was happening? That had not happened even in the Alps.

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I reached finally Hyvinkää region and the trail marks changed from red to blue, but at the same time I lost the whole trail near of a huge sand quarry. I made my way out from the forest to a road nearby through some backyards and people staring surprised. I walked a small detour following the road back to the Petkelsuo crossroads.

The route crossed then Petkelsuo marshland along well maintained duckboards. I reached also the 30km landmark and I wanted nothing else but to camp. But where to pitch your tent, the ground was not that nice and my goal, Kaksoislammit shelter, was still 7km away. Seven long kilometers full of suffering, just like many fierce adventures of the Seven Brothers had been.

My blistery feet were hurting, mosquitos were biting and the landscape wasn’t that inspiring. I began to question the sense of the whole hiking hobby, but I realized I had made a mistake by trying to walk too much considering my lack of walking lately.

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I reached the Kaksoislammit around 7pm, almost after 12 hours of constant walking. I felt a great relief when I saw the well maintained log shelter on top of a rocky cliff. I was exhausted and the evening began to cool down, but fortunately the sun would be still smiling for a few hours more. I cleaned some rubbish that previous people had left behind before boiling noodles and vedgies. I read for a while the Seven Brothers book that I hadn’t finished yet.

Few bees were living inside the shelter and I didn’t dare to bother them so I placed my tent nearby. The sun was swallowed by the clouds just before disappearing behind the tree line. Wind got stronger and the treetops were singing with a threatening tone.

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The next morning I got up early because of the birds and strong wind. At 4:30 it was light enough to walk so I began my last 8km to Hyvinkää city centre. My legs were complitely finished but the approaching stormy weather gave a boost to push forward. I saw two cranes in a field of Hyyppärä but the vicinity of Tampere highway disrupted this nature experience.

I finally reached the railway station and took a train back to Helsinki together with morning commuters, me looking tired and wild like a real Jukolan Jussi, one of the brothers in Aleksis Kivis story.

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FACTS

ROUTE: Palojoentie – Myllykoski – Rajamäki – Herunen – Petkelsuo – Kaksoislammit – Hyvinkää

DISTANCE: 37km + 8km

TRANSPORTATION: Plenty of busses from Kamppi bus station in Helsinki. The busses go towards Nurmijärvi or Hyvinkää, and depending on the line you can drop off either in Nurmijärvi or a bit earlier in the Jukola stop at the crossroads of Palojoentie -road. Takes about 40min and costs 7-8euros. Coming back by train from Hyvinkää. The birth home of Aleksis Kivi is located in Palojoki, 2km from Jukola stop to the east, if one feels like seeing that.

MAPS: Plenty of signposts along the trail, starting from Myllykoski, but I would recommend to print the maps below. Other terrain maps I didn’t need.

First part in Nurmijärvi

Second part in Hyvinkää

SHELTERS: One log shelter at Myllykoski and another one in Kaksoislammit, both well kept and having wood to make fire.

OPINION: I was excited in the beginning, but then the walking began to feel tiring and the trail boring. But this is partly because of my own exhaustion and the fact that as a Finnish I’ve seen this type of a landscape my whole life. It might be also much better for terrain bikers. Lot of noisy sections because of the main highways crossing the area.


Backyard birdwatching

Last time I visited my parents I challenged myself to photograph the birds that fly around my parents house. The idea was to capture at least one image of each of the different species and to learn to recognize them better. The task was difficult as most of these little fellows appeared only very briefly to the stage, but I’m very pleased with the results: 11 different birds and the squirrel!

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Blue Tit

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Chaffinch

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Common Magpie

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Great Tit & Tree Sparrow

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Brambling

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Yellowhammer (?)

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European Robin

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Fieldfare

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Great Tit

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Crow

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White Wagtail

I had so much fun spotting birds that it made me to appreciate more the “backyard nature”. I encourage you guys to study your nearby surroundings and to see what you could find!

 


Winter 2013 -2014

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The past winter was a huge disappointment, a total disaster. The one before had been very nice and winterish even here in the South of Finland; I did lot of cross-country skiing and enjoyed the true fourth season. But this one, I waited and waited but it never came. First snow appeared and disappeared and dull greyness prevailed.

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For not losing my mind completely, in mid March I had to escape to north for one week. Fortunately Ylläs ski resort showed the best of Lapland, and I was able to ski so much that it’ll be enough until the next winter!

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Mild and snowless winter meant also that I was not able to test properly a new Guahoo base layer I got to test for free. Mid-weight sport 570 with 30% merino wool is designed for cold temperature range and high activity level, so as the temps rarely went below -5 Celcius this winter, I didn’t wear it that much. But as a first impression, when running (30-60min) or cross-country skiing (whole day), the Guahoo seems to do the job like an ODLO in temps ranging +2 to -5 celcius.

Korpijaakko and his team are skiing across the ice sheet of Greenland this spring, wearing Guahoo baselayers, so we might hear after their trip more about the performance and durability in real use and harsh conditions.

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Inspiration

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Where would you go this year?


Montane Air Jacket & RAB Kinetic Pants

I got today a package I had been waiting for:

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Ultra Light Outdoor Gear had some nice winter sales (they still do) and I thought to make the Gear Purchase of the Year right away. I’ve been long wanting to update my rain gear so I grabbed a nice new jacket and pants from the sales.

I used to have very light Columbia over trousers (Omni-tech) combined with a simple rain poncho. I used these for example in the West Highland Way and the GR5 the last summer and although they had worked pretty well the combo is far from being perfect. The poncho has a crappy hood and unprotected arms whereas Columbia pants didn’t keep the rain out that long and after years of use they are now breaking down.

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So, after some research the Montane Air Jacket sounded to be able to do the job. It’s extremely light (314 g size M) and has the eVent fabric. RAB Kinetic Pants in the other hand uses the Pertex Shield+ fabric (185 g size M). I haven’t really used either of these two technologies, my eVent gloves being the only exception, so I’m excited to see how they will perform.

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I got size S jacket and pants (I have finally admitted to myself that I’m a small man) and they fit very nicely. First thing you’ll notice with the jacket though is that the front feels quite short but luckily the jacket is longer in the back. I don’t think it’s too short, just an impression. The pants have nice over the knee length zippers.

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The jacket passed the initial shower leakage test without any problem. I stayed complitely dry inside as water drops had impossible task to penetrate the fabric. The pants worked also well, but as they have lesser HH than the jacket, I got a bit moist inside. (Air Jacket has 30.000mm HH and pants 15.000mm HH)

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I’ll give my final verdict after using them outdoors but both feel well made. I have always fancied the black color but I’m absolutely loving the tangerine tone of this jacket!


GR5 Summary

Here’s a summary of my thoughts about the GR5, how I prepared for it and what to consider. I hope this will help you to plan your own hike along the Alpine part of the GR5.

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POSITIVE:

* The weather was very nice in July. It was too hot only during the last days and fortunately it didn’t rain too much either.

* It’s hard to hope for any better landscapes than this. Good thing is that the scenery changes along the trail so you’ll feel the progress and won’t feel numb about the constant line of mountains.

* For me worked well the combination of wild camping and campsites.

* To hike one month solo is unbelievably rich experience.

* Plenty of services throughout the hike.

* Easy to navigate, good paths and signposts.

* The walking felt strong and I avoided any blisters and muscle pains.

* It wasn’t too crowded. Some sections were more popular especially at weekends but several days passed by without seeing much people at all. And in the morning it was always very quiet to walk (between 6-9 am).

* Lot of wildlife; marmots, chamoix, bouquetins and even a golden eagle.

NEGATIVE:

* I don’t like to deal with the sheep dogs.

* I would have liked to meet more like minded long distance hikers.

* The huge amount of snow this year.

* My shoes got broken in the end.

* Nuisance of the language barrier ( French).

GEAR:

My basic three were (about 3,5 kilos in total) Vaude Power Lizard tent, Osprey Exos 58 and RAB Alpine 400 down sleeping bag with a Thermarest cell foam mattress. Then rain gear and warm clothes as the wind and rain can be cold together. During the night the temps went sometimes down to +5C so my warm sleeping bag was quite alright.

I’m not using electronic devices but Suunto Core watch, which has a very nice altimeter. It was useful to monitor how much there was still to climb or to go down.

No crampons, ropes or other mountaneering equipment is needed but I advice to have walking poles. I bought the gas after landing in Geneva. There’s a Athleticum sports store just a half an hour walk from the airport.

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MAPS:

With the guidebook of Paddy Dillon (Cicerone Press) one manages well but as I was going alone and not speaking French I decided to have some maps as well. I ordered online four IGN 1:100 000 maps, that will cover the whole route (144, 151, 158 and 165). Even if I cut off the extra halfs, they were useful to see more around the narrow corridor of the guidebook map, and to plan possible detours. I also printed maps from google of bigger urban areas, as they tend to be tricky to navigate.

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Beforehand I marked all the possible camp sites and wild camping spots in to my maps. I tried to gather the info by reading other peoples trip reports.

TRAINING:

I knew from the previous trips how the days will be and what condition I needed to be to cope with my planned schedule. Good basic fitness is enough if you plan your daily schedule according to it.

During the previous winter I tried to cross country ski as much as possible, at least once a week a long half a day exercise.

In spring I biked to work daily for couple of months, one hour per way.

After the snow had melt I did few longer day hikes at the weekends with a full backpack. I also went several times to a local ski hill to hike it up and down so that I made at least 500 vertical meters per exercise.

Just before the trip I went three times to see a masseur because of my legs felt quite tight. (Best decision ever!)

DAY RHYTM:

For me starting the day early comes natural but in my opinion all the factors speak for it too. In the morning is very quiet even until 9 am, when the people have finished their breakfast at refuges and are beginning their days. It was fantastic to be alone with the mountains plus one sees much more wildlife then.

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For me the most important factor was, however, to avoid the typical Alpine afternoon thunderstorms. More than once the storm hit just when I had my tent up.

I like walking fast and as I had no one to chat with, I kept quite fast pace. Only few times I was very exhausted and close to my reasonable limits. I streched well every night and massaged my feet and muscles.

EATING:

I ate only fresh bananas or a muesli bar at the camp in the morning and kept my real breakfast break after walking an hour or two. I then ate plenty of choko muesli, some cookies and buns.

For lunch I usually had some bread, cheese and sausages. I kept the lunch break when my body began to ask for it.

I tried to snack all the time; raisins, bars and hell of a lot of chokolate. In the afternoon I might keep a second lunch break too.

If I arrived early to camp, I boiled some noodles or fast porridge to get some warm meal. Then I waited until seven to be served at a restaurant. If I was wild camping I ate either adventure food or fast rice with dried premade soup ingredients. I was carrying five adventure meals from home and tried to have all the time food for three days with me. From the supermarkets I tried to buy always something fresh, fruits and juices.

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I carried 1,75 liters of water with me, which was sufficient for me. There is plenty of water available and I didn’t need to drink from the streams at all. Not very advisable either as there are plenty of animals in great heights. I didn’t use any purification as the undrinkable water spots are marked so.

EXPENSES:

During the hike it went like this:

Accommodation 213 euros (1 night in a hotel for 90 eur, 2 nights in a refuge for 17 + 18 euros, and 13 nights at campsites averaging 6,8 eur/night)

Food 374 euros ( eating in restaurants and groceries both 187 eur)

So in total 587 eur (23,5 eur / day)

RESOURCES:

http://www.grfive.com/

http://drw.me.uk/RedYeti/2010/06/29/gr5-the-book-a-gr5-honeymoon/

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=69163

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/track_notes_gr5_in_france.html

http://billtomlinson.net/me/Alpstrek.html

http://onefootatatime.wordpress.com/page/3/

If you’re going early in the season, you might want to check the current trail and mountain conditions. As the Chamonix is close to the beginning, these websites are useful:

http://www.ohm-chamonix.com/mountain-conditions-12100000.html

http://www.autourdumontblanc.com/en/index.cfm/general-conditions.html

Please feel free to ask if having any questions!:)


GR5 – DAY25, to NICE

DAY 25, ST. ANTOINE CHAPEL to NICE (airport)

Ascent: 1029 m

Descent: 1618 m

Distance: 40 km

Time on trail: 4:30 – 15:30+

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The night went all wrong. It was too hot to be inside of my sleeping bag but fierce mosquitos took any chance they had to suck my blood. Hours passed by slowly.

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At 4am I got fed up and packed my stuff. In half an hour I was on the move, walking carefully with the light of my headtorch along the path of loose stones. The red moon was disappearing behind the mountain line and the morning began finally  to reveal itself.

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I passed by villages and hills before I began to see the sea more and more. As a final test the sun tried to scorch me making the midday insanely hot.

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There it was, lying just beneath me, the legendary Nice, where many trails and stories end and begin. I had done it and connected the dots; in 2009 I had walked through the Swiss Alps finishing the hike to Lake Geneva, in 2011 I had began the GR20 from Nice and now I had walked the trail between. It was time to raise the hands in the air!

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As my airline charged me extra 40eur for the walking poles, I couln’t take them back home anymore. Instead, I left them leaning to a tree where the trail finishes and street walking begins. It was funny how I felt so sad leaving the loyal companions behind. I hope someone in the need will find them.

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Smile on my face I went straight down to the heart of a big city and tried to navigate my way to the shore. I can’t really express the feeling when there was no more to walk, just a blue flat horizon. After a while I went to swim and tried to wash myself after a sweaty day.

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It was late afternoon and I still wanted to walk until the airport. I followed the sea side boulevard about 6 km before reaching the terminal. I cooked outside the rest of my food before going inside to sleep the last nigth on the hard terminal floor. My flight would leave home the following morning, after an unforgettable one month adventure.

Big thanks to everyone for your support before, during and after the hike! I will write some general thoughts about the GR5 after Xmas but now it’s time to wish Happy Holidays to all of you!


GR5 – DAY24, to ST.ANTOINE CHAPEL

DAY 24, ST.DALMAS to ST. ANTOINE CHAPEL (Utelle)

Ascent: 1155 m

Descent: 1732 m

Distance: 34 km

Time on trail: 5:40 – 16:40

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I was eager to start the day early and climb up to the col right behind the village. The trail went through a dense forest before I saw an open col, Col des Deux Caires (1921m) and the moment I had long been waiting for was there; I finally saw the Mediterranean. Barely though as it was hazy, but there it was, the finish line. I had crossed the Alps alone and I felt quite emotional.

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The next day it would be all over, although there was still some 60km to walk. The trail went through endless forests and cols after another. The walking began to feel pointless after the long waited moment had now happened.

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The day was hotter than before and I was exhausted when reaching finally the hilltop village of Utelle. There was nowhere to camp, so I kept walking one hour further to an old chapel for a possible bivouac spot.

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The last evening on trail was warm, very Mediterranean, and I think I was able to smell even the sea breeze. I didn’t care to pitch my tent as I was quite tired after so many days of constant walking. But I was still ready for the final march – 40 km until the Nice airport! Realizing that made me sad and joyful at the same time; the sole purpose and goal I had had for the last month was now about to come to its end.

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GR5 – DAY23. to ST.DALMAS

DAY 23, REFUGE DE LONGON to ST.DALMAS

Ascent: 1050 m

Descent: 1675 m

Distance: 27 km

Time on trail: 6:30 – 14:45

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I left the refuge before the others. In a nutshell the idea of the day was to cross the deep and forested Vallée de la Tinée, which runs all the way until Nice. Taste of a victory was getting so strong that I felt like flying forward.

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For my disappointment, I was not really able to see the sea yet from this vantage point, but the end of the mountain line!

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In the next village I got suddenly a new friend as the village dog wanted to lead me from Roure to St. Sauveaur sur Tinée, over 600 vertical meters lower. I couldn’t get rid of the dog no matter how I tried. I was a mean friend. The dog clearly knew the path down and wanted to lead me there. I mean it did not just follow me, no no, it wanted to go first! At path junctions it chose few times different paths and I went alone to another directios, some times even 10 minutes, before the dog appeared and led our team again. After one hour I reached the busy town of St. Sauveaur sur Tinée where there was finally too much distraction and our friendship abruptly ended. Perhaps it looked for someone else going back up again. But whenever I remember that day I remember also that sympathetic and funny dog.

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After St. Sauveaur sur Tinée the day began to feel crazy hot under the Mediterranean sun. It was an exhausting last section to St. Dalmas and a nice campsite over there. I was feeling more excited than ever; the next day I would see the sea FOR SURE!

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