09 April 2016

Dogteam in a Canyon


A six dog team and crossing one of the biggest canyons in Finland. It doesn't sound like a good combination, but actually it was.

It all started three years ago. My husband took our sons for an overnight trip to Korouoma, which is a 30 km long ancient canyon in Southern Lapland. After spending a freezing cold  February night on an open shelter by the fire, the boys naturally wanted to make it a tradition. And so they did. They have gone there every winter.

Probably the best ice climbing place in Finland

This time my husband was fully booked in February and March, so they had to make the trip in the first of April. I was getting ready for a quiet night alone at home, when they suddenly said I'm coming with them to have my own adventure with my dog team. It was no joke.

They had it all planned: They would leave me and the dogs about 30 km before Posio on the roadside. There is a forest road I could probably follow and find my way to the south side of the canyon. They would drive to the north side, cross the canyon by skis and meet me at Piippukallio. There is a shelter where we could cook and sleep.

Shelter on top of cliff Piippukallio

It was an offer too tempting to refuse. I said yes, even though it meant packing in hurry with no list (!) and planning my route on the way. Just what I needed. Something new for a person who likes to make exact packing lists and always studies the map of the area in advance.

Soon we were driving with car and trailer to the north. When we reached my road, I saw to my relief there were some snow scooter tracks on it. It would have been a long evening to drive more than 15 km in deep snow, but now it was almost too easy. I stopped only one time to look at gps and made sure I was going the right way.

My team coming to Korouoma

In an hour I reached Piippukallio. The scenery made me sigh. The sun was shining. It was warm and quiet.I started making the camp. I tied the chains for from tree to tree, unharnessed the dogs and realiszd I had forgotten their jackets. What a luck the weather forecast was wrong! It said it would be raining all night, but there hardly not any clouds on the sky. 

Making fire

I gave the dogs their snacks and started sawing firewood. I noticed I had forgotten matches. How stupid can you be? I thought there is always some matches in places like this. I looked from the hut at shelter and found a box. It was a little damp but it worked. I got the fire going and then I started to hear voices. The three men were coming up the hill.

When the snow is too soft...

They had left their skis down. How they crawled in the snow with they heavy backpacks made me laugh. We had a very nice evening with good meal and lot of talking and stories. At bedtime it was not difficult to fall to sleep. At least I had not forgotten my sleeping bag!

Father and son cooking

In the morning we made a crazy plan to walk the dogs and to lower the sledge straight down and go together to the car. If I had known how steep it was I would have probably said no. But in the morning sunshine everything seemed possible, so I just said it sounds like a good challenge for our family.

Hmm... how to get down?

To begin descending my husband took the dogs with older son and I took the sledge with younger son. Somehow, little by little, we started going down. In different parts of the canyon we needed different tactics. In some places the most sensible dogs could walk free. In the steepest places it took three men to lift all the dogs safely down. In some places I lowered the sleigh with rope.

Slowly and carefully

It took us almost two hours and many steps up and down in the snow,  but in the end we all made it to the bottom of the canyon in one piece. There it was an other story to build and start the dog team. I'm happy my husband wanted to drive the first hundreds of meters. After that it was a pleasure ride for me and a hard uphill to ski for the men.

Our arsenal on the parking place

When I reached our car I left my gear there and drove my team back to take the backpacks from men. My team worked like dream and it was hard to decide which was more sunny: the weather or the expression on my face... Than you for a super nice adventure!

In this film you can get and idea how we managed it: 

07 April 2016

When you have to cancel


This winter I made plans to ski in Norway with my husband.

I planned the route. We would start from Kilpisjärvi and stay the first night in Goldahytta. Second day would be a short one to Gappohytta with an evening trip to Mountain Barras. Then, depending on the weather, we would go either to Isdalen and Rostahytta or to Pältsa, and finaly back to Kilpisjärvi.
Golda - Gappo - Rosta - Pältsa

It sounded like a wonderful five or six day tour with Miilu and Mora and skis and pulkas. I joined The Norwegian Trekking Association and ordered their key to the cabins. We both took a week of work in the beginning of March. But something didn't feel right. 

I said to my husband I want to go but I just can't see us there. I said hopefully nothing happens to stop us from going. He agreed and thought maybe I worry about our parents. Their health is not the best and there is always a possibility we need to go and see them on our holiday.

But it was not them. A few days before the trip my husband hurt his arm badly at work. He was not allowed to lift anything at least for a week. It was obvious our trip had to be cancelled.

For a second I thought of the possibility of going with someone else, but then I started to see something good in this: Suddenly I had a lot of time in my hands. We would spend the week at home with our boys. A year or two from now they will not be living with us anymore. We should enjoy and appreciate family-time while it is still here.

We can't afford to take an other week off this spring. I'll have to live with the fact this winter I won't see the mountains. Time will show how badly I will miss them. Situation is a little bit different for my husband: He did an eight-day skiing trip in Lapland with my brother in February. I guess I could arrange something for summer time, but it isn't the same. 

Having said that, here is the main thing: My husband's arm is healing very well. It means we will be able to go trekking also in future.

After all we have already done many amazing trips to Scandinavian Mountains - I know many people who would be more than happy to say the same. In that perspective canceling one skiing-trip is a minor setback. At least the next one will be well-planned, if it happens a year later than intended :)

06 April 2016

Kuusamo Sprint 2016

MY TEAM Miilu, Piitu, Diesel, Nebula

This was the fourth year Kuusamo Sprint was arranged, and I have been there every time.

This year I had some problems before and during the race. Two of our dogs hurt their frontleg. Mora stumbled and fell when running free on our yard and Tete - I don't know how, but she also was limping.

A week before the race I started asking friends for help. My neighbour Timo Jokela lend me a dog called Nebula. He is a three year old male, breeder Sari Ikonen. 

I completely fell in love with that dog. He is like all the best sides of Mora and Miilu combined: happy, open, easy to handle and hard working.

Visiting Star Nebula with Tete - Yes, they are related.

On the race morning I woke up at five. After breakfast I packed the dogs. My husband drove us to Kuusamo, where I left him at his work in Fire Station and drove on to Multasniemi. I had just time to put the dogs out and give them their drinks before mushers meeting at eight.

Happy Ronja in the orange outfit. 

This year in Kuusamo Sprint they had three new things. Also in 4-dog class the distance was 2 x 9 km. There was a longer trip available on Sunday and a children's class on Saturday. That made me really happy, because I got to see my god-daughter Ronja in her first ever dog race. 

My start

My first start was at eleven and my second start was at three. In my team run Miilu and Piitu in the lead, Diesel and Nebula as wheeldogs. After doing the Robur Sprint I was not nervous about the track at all, I just wished my team would run fast.

Soon after the start something happened. The leaders looked at Nebula and the lines where stangeled. For the first time in a race I actually had to stop and fix them. Soon after that one team passed me and a little later an other. I noticed Piitu was not doing her best. At the finish line I saw why: She had a huge plump on her right front leg. It must have hapend when the lines got round her.
Piitu hurt herself

I put snow on the plump and did all I could, but it didn't help. I took her to vet, who gave her a shot of painkillers. She could not start for second round. I was so disappointed! I was ranked eighth after first round and I would have been so happy to keep that. It seemed impossible with three dogs.

Only three dogs for the second 9 km

I decided to put Miilu alone I in the lead and keep Nebula and Diesel as wheel dogs. They all did great job and I did my best to help them by running all the uphills. Only one team catch me, and when they were in front of me I had to stop and wait for them to fix lines, but I don't mind, because in the end my team was still faster than them.

In the final results my little team was seventh! With three dogs on the second round, I'm really proud of it. I could not have done it without Nebula galloping all the way. There were 22 teams I even got some dog food as a prize.
Overnight in Multasniemi

I stayed the night on the place to take part to the trip on Sunday. I had taken two more dogs with me for that: Tete and Kirka, so in the evening I took care of six dogs and myself - Honestly, it is important also the musher keeps him/herself warm, drinks enough water and eats healthy meals during the day, not just the dogs!

My six dog team ready for the trip on Sunday 

In the morning I took every dog for a walk checked each. To my surprise they were all OK. Piitu seemed completely cured, but to be on the safe side I wanted to leave her in the car. She went crazy. I saw she would hurt herself more trying to break the door, so I put harness on her and walked her to the lines.

So my six dog team for the trip was Miilu and Tete, Piitu and Nebula, Kirka and Diesel. The same dogs who did 2×9 km yesterday would run something like 30 km today.There were nine teams barking and  waiting for the start at a wilderness hostel called Isokenkäisten Klubi. We drove together near the Russian border to Pukari. From there we all made our own speed back. It's a pity it wasn't a race cause I would have won :) Seriously, not really - I just had no-one to wait for.

Turning point, Lake in Pukari 

I learned a lot this year.  As expected, the trip was much nicer than the sprint. I found my sport, where I can use my skills in handling and turning and traveling in the wilderness with my dogteam.

Next winter I would like to do one or two races like this (30-40 km). I have always known mid distance would be better for me and my dogs, but it is a bigger investment.

Husband and sons repairing the trailer a day before the race

I can do a sprint race alone in one day, but going to a MD race often means two or more days, accommodation and a surely a handler.

A handler would be good to have also in sprint races. It would be more easy to make right decisions with an other opinion. To minimize the risk of dog injury, next year I have to be more careful to walk and stretch the dogs before the race. I think I did that better in my first years!
My kind of sport

Next winter my target will be to attend Sport Class in Gold Rush Run and maybe an other similar race, if there is one. Hopefully in Kuusamo?