Saturday, March 23, 2013

Helsinki, Lapland, and Finnmark

We left aboard the auspiciously named Finnair 666 from Københaven under sunny skies bound for Helsinki, Finland. We landed, gathered our baggage and soon found ourselves trying to negotiate travel from the airport to downtown Helsinki. Bus 615 arrived and soon we were in Helsinki proper, and so we left the bus when we first saw a sign for the metro. In retrospect, this was not a good plan. After an illegal trolly ride and a two mile walk dragging a checked bag through several inches of snow we arrived at the main square. The impressive Finnish National Museum and the VR train station rose through the falling snow, strangely illuminated by the yellowed street lights.

The Finnish National Museum, Helsinki
The Helsinki Central Station and VR train station.
We found a bar down a back street, dinner in an Italian restaurant, and soon it was time to board the bus to Saariselk in Lapland. Being a tall person, I was not looking forward to the upcoming bus ride because the leg room is never enough. Then people started taking their shoes off.

Mid way through the next morning, the bus stopped at the polar circle. At 66° 33′ 44″ N, there is a theoretical brief 24 hours of darkness at least once a year. However, because of atmospheric refraction, light is still visible during the winter solstice some distance north of the circle. 

полярныи круг-Polar Circle
That day it was -10C and snowing hard. The break was over all too soon and the bus ride resumed. We arrived in complete darkness and cloud at the cabins in Saariselka around 8PM. Late that night, the sky cleared and the northern lights became visible.

Northern lights over Saariselka. The green color indicates nitrogen gas excitement.
Since nitrogen gas accounts for about 78% of atmospheric gases, it is the most commonly excited gas for the northern lights. Nitrogen has a green emission and so green northern lights are the most common. As the lights dimmed and the clouds returned, sleep started to sound very nice. We had be up for 36 hours with two hours of sleep.

At ten the next morning, we left for the cross country skiing trails that crisscross the village. There is markedly little relief in the surrounding terrain except for the ski resort hills immediately behind the village. We set out for the remoter of the two peaks. Outside air temp was -12C and so the snow was unconsolidated and tiring.

A typical view from the top of the plateau.
We finished the day after at least ten miles of walking through the snow. It was enough.

Early the next day we boarded a bus for the arctic ocean and Finnmark, Norway. Many hours of driving through swampy, gently rolling terrain passed before we arrived at Varangerfjord, a 70km long fjord near the northern tip of Norway.

I saw some interesting ice features that are likely first ascents waiting to be done. If only I had my gear and a partner...

At the fjord, the bus turned off the tiny E6 and onto a smaller rural road enroute to Burgøynes, Norway. There were few trees in sight.

A small fishing hamlet on Varangerfjord.
The villiage of Burgøynes is entirely supported by fishing and crabbing. When the Russians in Murmansk were starving, the Russians imported king crab from the bearing straight. The crabs have now moved into Varangerfjord.

 The setting of the sun on the bus ride back was prolonged greatly because this far north the sun moves across the bottom of sky in a big arc.
Lapland sunset.
 We made the long journey back to Helsinki by bus. Because I showed up to the bus close to the time of departure, I had a seat in the very back. To be able to open the bathroom door my seat had to be in the fully upright position. Sleeping bolt upright coupled with a very bumpy road and poor suspension meant that I arrived having hardly slept. We did find time to tour the city briefly.

An Orthodox cathedral in Helsinki.

A school building
 We caught an afternoon flight out. It departed as the sun was setting over the city. Flying south and west, we arrived in more daylight than we had in Helsinki.
Helsinki in the sunset.
An old A319 winglet on Finnair 667.

3.23.2013 The Thunderbolt Ski Trail

The snowfall in Western Massachusetts hasn't been as heavy as it's been in Kiev lately, but there was still a pretty decent amount of snow on the ground.  It is about two month to the day since Kyle and I made our last trip to Mt. Greylock to ski The Thunderbolt.  

There was actually enough base to cover all of the rocks and grass and then there was about a foot of powder on top of it.  We skinned up The Thunderbolt all of the way until the Big Bend, there we took a side trail to avoid needing to bootpack up the steep section.  This detour added a little bit of distance to the hike up; however, we got some good views of spots to ski in the woods.  Only two skiers and one boarder rode past us on the skin up and two other skiers with a dog hung close with us for most of the way until the detour.  

Skinning up the start of the trail.
Crossing the road that cars can drive up in the summer, we were able to skin up the remainder of the trail right to the door of the lodge.  A few snowmobilers were hanging out in the lodge, but no other skiers were in sight.  One of the guys was nice enough to take our photo before heading back out.

Steez and stoke factors both high.
Cruising down the start of The Thunderbolt from the intersection with the auto road.


Looks like this could be the last good weekend for backcountry skiing before it warms up too much and the cover gets thin.  Who knows, maybe we'll get slammed with another foot of snow and The Thunderbolt will live on a little bit longer into Spring.