Friday, March 26, 2010

Norway calling...

In a week I will be leaving Finland behind, literally and metaphorically. I'll be off for a week's holiday in Northern Norway - ski mountaineering and ice climbing hopefully - that's the literal half. I'm also making the final changes (hopefully) to my PhD thesis on Finnish security policy, and before I go on holiday I plan to hand that in. Hence I'll also be leaving Finland behind metaphorically - as a subject of study, at least for some time. But anyway, you'll have to excuse the minimalist blogging for another few weeks.

I got big parcel through the post today - RAB have sent me a bunch of interesting items to review for UKClimbing whilst I'm in Norway. The kit include one of the new Podsacs and the Alpine Pull On - something halfway between a windproof and a softshell - both of which are new products so I'll be really interested to see how they work. Opening the box with childish glee just made me even more excited to be heading off to the big hills in seven days time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bon Voyage, WI3+

I forgot to add this video to last night's post - but just for the full multi-media experience, here is Dave climbing Bon Voyage.

The grade is a bit of a guess because I don't think the WI system was ever really designed for little routes like we get in Finland, but it gives some idea.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"This is my church": two Sundays in the forest

Two Sundays, two great days of climbing. Some pictures from this and last weekend. Last week on the Saturday evening, Dave and I went up to Valkeala, and camped over night. It was a beautiful starry night but cold - at least -15 oC. Drinking beer before camping when it's that cold is never a great idea as you always end up having to get up to go out a pee. I really must remember that, but then beer under a canopy of stars is great too.

Dave tarping. He claims he was snuggly and slept great.

My little Hubba. It seems to shed snow with ease.

Dave climbing at Lintojanvuori.

Dave seconding.

The end of a good day.

A frozen lake. Finland has a lot of those.

Today we went over to Kisko and despite temperatures hovering around freezing, had a good session with the ice feeling plastic and comforting in comparison to the scary brittleness that has typified the ice of this very cold winter. I even stopped in at Kauhala on the way home and soloed another 4 lines in about twenty minutes, jogging back down to the bottom of the cliff between routes. The hero-ice was just that good.

Dave climbing 'Bon Voyage', WI3+ at Kisko.

Me looking vaguely terrified whilst leading 'Tappisolu', WI3+, Kisko.

Dave thinking light thoughts whilst styling up the very skinny and steep dagger of 'Nilkkapilarit', WI4+.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stuff that works: La Sportiva Nepal Extremes

I wore my Nepal Extremes for the first time in some time this weekend. If anything made for mountaineers in the last decade deserves the over used tag - "a modern classic", it's the Nepals. Mine aren't very yellow any more - plenty of Nikwax ended that - but in the space of a couple of winters around the turn of the millennium it seemed that the majority of climbers in Scotland were walking around with these yellow beauties on their feet. When I started climbing in the early 1990s and working in climbing shop in Glasgow during those years, everyone bought plastic boots for climbing. Now plastics must make up maybe 5% or less of the market. Other insulated leather boots have been made since, and the Nepal Extremes were themselves a development on their non-insulated, path-breaking brothers the Nepal Tops, but that layer of Thinsulate allied to that lovely, cheery yellow leather, changed mountaineering footwear for good. Mine are ten years old, and the front lip is a bit worn from so much front pointing, but otherwise they're still going strong after a decade of climbing in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Scottish, Welsh and Lake District mountains, Arctic Norway and lots and lots of Finnish icefalls.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I've seen the signs...

Signs should take you by the hand and guide you to where you want to go

This weeks Slate Culture Gabfest has a really interesting discussion on signage. No really. At least I hope it’s not only me who finds signage interesting. Julia Turner, one of the discussants, notes that her series on signs for Slate was spurred by a colleague who had phoned her whilst visiting London to say that he had just seen a road sign in front of a closed road saying why the road was closed, when it would be re-opened and what alternative route to take until it is. This was obviously something he had never seen before in the US and hence worthy of phoning a friend to report it although is pretty un-noteworthy in the UK.

I’ve been comparing Finnish and British roads signs for some time and deciding that British signs are actually much easier to navigate by. Finnish road signs seem to presume large amounts of local knowledge which rather negates their purpose. I had thought that this just handicapped non-Finns such as myself but now having discussed it with Finnish friends who have moved to Helsinki from else where in the country, it is reassuring to hear they had just as much trouble navigating by Helsinki’s ring road signs as I did to begin with. More interesting is how Helsinki isn’t sign posted until you are virtually there if coming from the north: so if you are leaving Oulu you better know the road number or the towns along the way, as the nation’s capital won’t get a sign until 500-odd kms later as you get to Lahti, the last town of any size before Helsinki. In the UK you get signs to London at great distances away. It’s the same problem leaving Helsinki as nothing further than Tampere or Lahti seems to get a look in on the signs, except interestingly, St Petersburg if you are going east (on a road sign not far from my house that I find absurdly romantic). Finland is a rather “insiders” country in many ways – probably the result of its enforced geopolitical isolation though the Cold War – and many things it is just presumed Finns will know. Road signs reflect this.

The comparison with Sweden is interesting. Pull out of the ferry terminal in central Stockholm and you immediately see signs for Haparanda (over a thousand kilometres away, on the border with Finland) and for Malmö in the far SW corner of the country – and that’s as good as saying: “the bridge to Denmark, Europe and the rest of the world”.

What floats? The True Finns are all at sea.

Timo Soini, leader of the populist-nationalist True Finns party just can't catch a lucky break. Soini himself has developed a good reputation for being honest, witty, and willing to at least talk with all. Yet he is struggling to show the True Finns to be moderate populists and nationalists, not nasty racists like the British National Party and other European far-right parties. Soini was just last week bemoaning to Helsingin Sanomat that 'he was thoroughly fed up with having to answer for the doings of Internet troublemakers and a former “not-quite councillor”' who had been making death threats towards a Finnish government minister. Soini's problem is though that his supporters and party activists keep showing themselves to be idiots. Now we have the comically absurd story of a True Finns seminar-cruise on the ferry to Sweden which happened to coincide with large numbers of Iraqis resident in Finland taking the same ferry to Stockholm where they could vote in the Iraqi general election. Alongside reports of racist abuse to other passengers from seminar attendees, one True Finn MP even felt the need to perform on the ship's night club stage where he ended up getting his microphone cut off for singing racists songs. Ho hum. Soini's recent suggestion that candidates standing for his party will need to go through background checks seems sensible, but perhaps they should do a basic IQ test whilst they are at it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wild Wales (2)

I recently wrote a review of the Marmot Genesis Jacket I got sent to test for UKC. In the review I noted that the wildest weather I had tried it in was in Wales at Christmas time, when Mat and I climbed the Cneifion Arete above Ogwen - this is despite having used it lots in the brutally cold January we had here in Finland, in temps as low as -26. I just happened to stumble over a little video on the Backpacker magazine website of a bunch of their American staff backpacking in the same area. They obviously enjoyed themselves a lot but talk about the worst weather in the world! Little mountains, wild weather, but a pub and good beer at the end of the day. They obviously totally got it. It's easy to become blasé about our 'little' British mountains, so it great to see foreigners really enjoying them.