Monday, February 18, 2013

Monochrome winter: "ski-touring" in Nummi

This is (Southern) Finland. Leaden skies, soggy snow, no one about.
January in the Helsinki region saw some cold days and blue skies - the best sort of winter days. Trees caked in fluffy snow, and the sharp sunlight colouring all. Shadows on the snow in the middle of the day, the sparkling of ice crystals on all the bushes and grasses, to the orange and yellow snow flanked by the deep blue sky as the sun sets. Even at night the moon casts bright shadows over the snow that glimmers gently, a reflection of a reflection of the hidden sun.

The only other human tracks I saw, one snowshoer's trail.
My trail on the summit ridge after thankfully getting into more open woodland
But the pressure dropped and the world changes. February has seen the skies sink toward us, thick with grey cloud - a sodden layer of insulation. As temperatures rise to back around freezing, the air becomes thick with moisture. The snow grows sodden on the trees and tumbles down with it new found weight.

What goes up...
The 'summit' of Lintukiimanvuori.
The snow on the ground goes from light and fluffy, to thick and gloopy. We've had three weeks of this now, never colder than a few degrees below freezing, never warmer than one or two above. Well traveled roads just become wet and dirty, windscreens need constant washing as a fine layer of mud and water is sprayed up by all other vehicles. Less traveled roads become rutted with sludge. Some fresh snow has fallen, ensuring huge piles of grubby ploughed snow all about, but often the precipitation has come down as freezing rain. February hasn't been Helsinki at it's best.

Hellish birch scrub. Tried following a moose's trail through it but I don't think he had any more idea where to go than me.
The "Fun Bit". Making tracks off  Lintukiimanvuori
Sunday dawned misty, damp and cold but I need to get out and do something. I drove to Nummi-Puusula, a rural municipality not far to Helsinki's west. It claims, perhaps slightly imaginatively to be "Southern Finland's Lapland" and it does have some hills - abrupt little half eggs, covered in thick forest, erupting from the flatter, now predominantly agricultural, land. I wanted to check some cliffs marked on the maps for ice and find some steep hillsides to throw myself down on my new ski-snowshoe thingies (which I will return to in a later post). Despite the map looking promising, the only icefall I found would be of interest as a quick solo for a local only. There must be a Finnish ice climber's version of the Drake Equation, where promising looking cliffs on Kartta Paikka at the 1:16000 scale are equivalent to planets in the Milky Way, and where sparkling icefalls equal advanced alien civilisation. Maths suggests the latter are out there, but we search for them more with a religious-like faith than with the empiricists certainty.

Nearly back to the car. Note: looking at the creeping snowpack on the roof, standing under eaves in winter is not a great idea!
Nevertheless struggling through thick brush and up steep snow-smothered rocky flanks of the hills was good exercise. On reaching the top at the giddy altitude of 150 metres, I didn't feel much less out of breath or sweaty than I would on a Norwegian peak ten times that height. In fact, from ski touring in the Norwegian arctic I know that up to about the same height there you are often fighting through terrible birch scrub and soggy, bottomless snow. It's just here in Finland that that is it - no pulling out above the tree line to magnificent views across the fjord and hard crisp snow taking you onwards and upwards. The mist had lifted somewhat by the time I made it to the highest point and a clearing meant I could look out across the monochromatic landscape of winter in Southern Finland, a type of view you don't get so much in these forested and often flat parts. It's not everything but it's a lot better than nothing.

Partners in crimes against skiing.
 Then there was just the fun bit left; a descent straight down the side of the hill dodging trees and jumping off rocks to arrive panting, just a couple of minutes later, back at the bottom.