It was one sunny day in the spring of 2005. To be precise, it was Wednesday the 13th of April, around 2 o'clock in the afternoon.
As it happened, I was leading an expedition with a mission to visit the highest point of Svalbard and while at it ski to 80 degrees north latitude. It was all possible to accomplish in Svalbard and we had now done all that. We had faced unexpectedly low temperatures, unexpectedly deep snow and even the evacuation of one of team members. But 3 weeks into the journey, all that was really bothering anymore was the long journey back to the civilization.
During one of the breaks, a quarrel broke between the team members of the expedition. It was bad enough for me to start thinking of a relaxing trip to somewhere, maybe Greenland. It would be nice just to be able to ski there without the extra tension caused by mountains, fjords, bears and without all that additional hassle. The ice cap of the world's biggest island is so large that one could stay there for any length of time. I figured I would need at least one friend to go along and I quite naturally thought of Petri Vuorenmaa. The expedition in 2003, when we skied across the same ice cap from east to west, had been relaxing and peaceful. There were just the two of us and we had known each other a long time so after a couple of weeks it was pretty quiet. Everything tends to get done without much conversation when there are only two guys in the expedition.
The very same evening I sent email to Vuorenmaa via the satellite phone asking "are you interested in a relaxing trek across Greenland, north to south...?".
A couple of days later I received an answer from Vuorenmaa to our camp in Austfjorden saying he is ready to go. Or at least ready to plan it in the near future. With that settled it was easy to finish the Svalbard expedition knowing the next one would be waiting.
During the summer and autumn nothing much happened expedition wise apart from a couple of treks to Lapland. Instead I got a sudden urge to write a book about the Svalbard expedition and that kept me quite busy. The book called "80 astetta pohjoista leveyttä" (or "80 degrees north latitude" but it’s is only available in Finnish I'm afraid) came out in November 2005 and was published before an audience of a hundred or so people in the lecture hall of the main library of Tampere. I had naturally with me the whole Svalbard 2005 expedition team Sami Nytorp, Vesa Luomala, Sepe Virtanen and OP Lahti along with Jari Kaaja, Harri Kalliovalkama, Petri Vuorenmaa and Jussi Hilden who had signed up for the Perriertoppen 2006 expedition with me and Sami Nytorp.
The presentation went smoothly with a nice dinner after woods bringing closure to the whole Svalbard 2005 expedition. The trip was done and the book was now in stores, so it was time to move on to the next challenges.
With the next expedition, Svalbard 2006 (14 days, destinations Perriertoppen and Newtontoppen), looming in the horizon just 5 months after the publishing of the book, it soon became obvious that I just didn't have the time to do all the necessary arrangements for it. Fortunately the guys from Kangasala came to the rescue and took a more active role in handling the practicalities. It must be noted that even if a two week expedition to the arctic areas entitles you to a membership in the Finnish Arctic Club, it's not that demanding to organize such a trek these days. Experience and money take you quite far.
But the long expedition to Greenland was still the main topic of conversation I had with Vuorenmaa during our weekend hikes and weekly badminton "tournaments". We focused mostly on the big picture, how could it be done? What would be the maximum duration? When would be the best time to go? How much food would be needed and what sledge to use to haul all that 160 kg of needed equipment and supplies?
As the winter approached, the questions were pondered more often and with some significant results as well. I had already after the Greenland 2003 expedition made friends with Pekka Tyllilä from Hit Ky , who was involved in sledge business and claimed to be an expert when it comes to epoxide and fiberglass. I took his word for it and as it turned out he wasn't just talking.
The most important innovation in the area of outdoor sports gear in the winter of 05-06 was using the same material that was used in the soles of skies also in the soles and runners of the sledges. And it turned out to be a real success in tests. Using measured constant heartbeat the new coated sledges were on the average 25% lighter to pull compared to normal gel-coated sledges with plastic runners. The coated sledges can also be waxed with glide wax and just like with normal skis, paraffine can be used to fill the scratches. All the sledges for the Svalbard 2006 expedition were coated in the workshop of Tyllilä.
One of the main points of the 2006 Svalbard expedition was that there were the two of us, Vuorenmaa and me. We were supposed to plan the upcoming Greenland expedition, but we hardly said two words about the whole thing. But at least we had the chance to get use to each other’s company and odours again.
It sounds like a real catch phrase when you think about it sitting at home, but when your teammate is the only contact to humanity, you start to appreciate them just as they are. And for me that is the most important thing when you spend as much time alone with somebody as you do in these expeditions.
The highlights in the beginning of winter were the training session for the Svalbard 2006 expedition in the lake Näsijärvi and the Sunday we spent in Siilinkari telling our experiences from the arctic before a thousand wide audience.
In early April we finally set off and it was whiteout for two weeks. We had really peculiar weather conditions. We only saw a glimpse of the sun during the whole expedition and nearly half of the pictures we took were taken during that short period of time. All in all we had a speedy journey from the "village" of Fredheim to the highest point of Svalbard, called Newtontoppen, and back. It was like déjà vu from 2005, up and down the mountain in a fog. I have seen many magnificent pictures taken from the top of Newtontoppen, but mine are still waiting for the right weather. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but it seems I will get another chance in the spring of 2009.
The arctic spring of 2006 was in many ways a busy period. Almost record breaking looking from a Finnish perspective. The Airborne Ranger Club had their North Pole Project. Vaiska (Kari Vainio) was leading a three week expedition in Svalbard. Eero Oura and Vesa Luomala skied across Greenland in April-May and Pasi Ikonen did the same in an international expedition. And there were others as well. The New Year bomb came from the Mount Finland expedition with their climbing trek to the Antarctic.
The arctic regions were seeing a lot of action. The toughest of them all was probably the Airborne Ranger Club's expedition with the schedule so tight the guys knew already in the start that they would need to set a new record time if they were to reach the pole during the spring. The really low temperatures, open leads, pressure ridges and other obstacles made the expedition extremely rough and all the more interesting to follow from the comfort of a sofa.
I was busy doing my own expedition and also taking care of the web updates for Vesa's and Eero's Greenland crossing, so naturally I was following that expedition really closely as well. Especially the pideraq storm in the early days of the expedition was a strange story, one to take lessons from. I had heard many stories about the suddenness of a pideraq, but only after hearing it from Vesa Luomala and after seeing the pictures taken during the storm I truly grasped what it is.
A Pideraq storm is formed when cold air moves from the center of the ice cap towards the edges. The air masses gather force for hundreds of kilometres on the downhill journey to the coast reaching their peak in the steepest hill on the edge of the ice cap. And that is exactly where Vesa and Eero came in contact with the Pideraq feeling its power to the fullest. According to research the majority of these katabatic storms happen in the middle of the east coast of Greenland. But of course there are some storms along the whole coast of Greenland. So we are more than likely to get our own share during our expedition either when we are climbing to the ice cap or along the way if our route to north takes us near the coastline.
During the summer there was time for something less arctic as well. So we, that is members from the fellclub Kolbma, Petri and I, made a canoe trek from Sevettijärvi over the lake Inarinjärvi to Mustola in Nellim. Our less than 5-meter open canoe was really made for the water ways in the beginning, but in the open waters of the lake Inarinjärvi it proved to be less than perfect. Half the time we were paddling and half the time were using the vailer to prevent the canoe from filling up with water splashing in. Again we had planned to discuss the upcoming Greenland expedition and again we talked about everything else but that. But we did manage to get something done for the trip. Our diet consisted of macaroni and minced meat casserole all week as we tested possible food for the long haul. We concluded that the casserole would be nutritious enough but maybe an occasional tomato soup thrown in for taste wouldn't hurt.
Other activities included putting up the web pages for The Finnish Arctic Club and Vuorenmaa made a magnificent list of explorers for the pages where everybody can search information about the arctic adventures of our ancestors. We gathered all the Finnish arctic explorers in a timed order and even added some information about how the Finnish Arctic Club got started in the first place for the future generation of arctic travelers. And for ourselves as well.
We had some preparation work scheduled for the autumn of 2006 which needed to be started. One of the tasks was designing a new sledge for use in arctic regions. The design and actual crafting was to be done with Pekka Tyllilä. Pete and I figured that if we were to pay 3500 euros a piece for a Norwegian 2 meter long and 60 centimeters wide sledge with 600 litres of space, surely we could get something similar but domestic with the 7000 euros. So we started the work in the workshop of Tyllilä and by Christmas time we had the model outlined and I was able to start designing the fabrics. A more complete product was planned to be ready sometime next spring.
Another issue we had to deal with was to learn how to use kites with skies. And that meant getting lessons from Tapio Hinkkanen, an IKO certified kite-skiing instructor. Since there was still no snow during Christmas time we flew our kites on the lawns and other fields. At least we got the training under way and we were anxious to try the kites on snow.