Last weekend the annual packraft gathering took place in southern Finland. Now third year in running, it pulled together around 15 paddlers over the course of the weekend, a highest number so far, with several first timers and lots of new faces. As opposed to last year’s lake hopping in Helvetinjärvi National Park, this time the event was kicked off in Kytäjä-Usmi outdoor area in Hyvinkää, and took the colorful flock of paddlers down the river Vantaanjoki, all the way to Myllykoski, and a few, even beyond.
Unfortunately, for me, come the week of the event, I managed to pull something on my left shoulder, playing sporty games at my daughter’s school camp I was supervising, and had to make a tough call of bailing out from the longish paddled down the river, and simply join the kick-off at lake Piilolammi in Kytäjä-Usmi, to meet the fellow paddlers and to try catch some fish. Launch was preceded by a simple workshop we had put together with Marko, discussing the few intricacies of fishing from a packraft, and preparing simple line and a hook systems to use with earthworms or bait fish. Although lake offered no catch for the minimalist fishermen, a dark-hued pike was eventually caught in the group, and prepared by the fire.
Some of us, yours truly included, had relied on catching some protein from the lake, so the lone catch quickly disappeared from the pan, with some fried onion and chopped sheep polypore (‘lampaankääpä’), harvested from the surrounding forest, as a side dish. I had mistakenly assumed there would be a lean-to at the lake, so without any shelter with me, I laid my sleeping bag by the fire, bivvying under the cloudy skies, perfectly warm and cozy through the relatively warm autumn night.
Next morning I tried again to catch some perch for breakfast but the lake, rich in humus, still provided none, so porridge it was. The merry team of packrafters then packed up, few heads stronger, and hit the road, hiking to a nearby tributary, for an early launch towards Vantaanjoki. Left behind by my own choise, I had opted to explore the area on a bike, and packing up with day’s supplies and fishing gear, I hit the trails soon after, with a rough plan for a round trip through the forest roads and trails.
Day remained cloudy and comfortably cool, while I roamed in the park on my fatbike, visiting several lakes, including Mäkiperänlampi, Kiiskilampi, Iso Kypärä, Kaksoislammit and Usminjärvi. Of these, the middle three have a lean-to in them, and especially the ones in Kiiskilampi and Kaksoislammit are well positioned with great views. A smart approach in my opinion, the firewood supplies, which there are many, were always positioned some distance away from the lean-to’s and fireplaces, requiring a bit of effort to keep the fire going.
Not so smart choice were the oddly sized lean-tos, sized to accommodate only three people at a time, with anyone over 160 cm tall having to sleep in parallel to the doorway, effectively blocking the way for others sharing the shelter. A 195 cm tall myself, it was not a match made in heaven, as head or feet first is generally the best way to share a lean-to shelter.
I took my time to enjoy the views, to stop here and there, and of course to try catch some fish, as my lunch was mainly dependent on that. Lakes remained silent, which has to do with, if not only my luck, or skills, the specific time of the year and the northerly winds. Regardless, no protein from the lake, but I did have a few slices of buckwheat bread with garnish in my pack and shared a sausage by the fire at Iso Kypärä, offered by a friendly couple finishing up their lunch. If the nature does not provide, a kind passer-by just might! Though I did find some more mushrooms and of course plenty of harvest-ready lingonberries and some overdue bilberries.
The park had just recently received brand new sign-posts all around, which made it super easy to navigate through, with directions and distances carved in each colorful pole. These however were only along the gravel and forest roads, so once on the trails, a general sense of direction, and at times a map of the area, was needed for navigation.
I finished my tour nearby lake Piilolammi, where my car was parked, and guestimating the group just might be done soon with their roughly 20 kilometers of paddling down the river, I deciced to, instead of heading directly home, visit them at the next stop, at Nukarinkoski rapids. Turning up around six in the evening to the lean-to, the group had indeed shortly arrived. Similar to few others joining the event, I hadn’t had high expectations on the surroundings of Vantaanjoki, and having to skip the long paddle had not been a huge disappointment. However, as I got to hear around the camp fire, the river had an ace or two up in its sleeve, and the day had not only been a long strenuous paddle with a good mileage for slow packrafts, but spotted with interesting views and passing attractions.
While the easy rapids down the line had been rock-hopping gardens due to very low water levels, and the big ones at Nukarinkoski (largest of them all along Vantaanjoki), and next day at Myllykoski, unpaddleable again due to insufficient discharge, they had made the days more interesting and also revealed some good potential for a revisit in the future. I bid farewell again to the team at the night fall, heading home with few others, while the remaining packrafters were looking forward to the next day’s paddle.
The outdoorsmen and -women, packraft-nutties, pleased to meet you all! Looking forward to the next annual, or perhaps soon biannual, meeting. For more visuals from the actual event, browse through Caj’s photos. Since this summer, we also have a Facebook group to bring together all packrafters in Finland - feel free to join that, or one of the other local of international groups that already exist, to keep yourself informed on what’s what in packrafting.
❯❯ Flickr album (with more photos from Kytäjä-Usmi): Peeping at the Packraft Gathering