Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Midsummer. Tampere. Getting desperate with no snow around. I am at the ice hockey capital of Finland, but even the ice skating rinks have closed for the summer, and it seems impossible to find even that small pile of snow that the rinks produce as a side effect of maintaining their ice.

But no matter. I will instead turn to doing something I have wanted to do for a while: testing skiing on dry ice. There's a claim in the Internet that dry ice isn't slippery. I want to know if that is true. So in Mythbusters style I have built a small test slope. I plan to put some dry ice on it and see if it I can ski it.

I acquired 15 kilos of dry ice pellets from our local supplier. Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide, at the temperature of -79 Celsius. In other words, hellishly cold stuff. If you play with it, be very careful. It can cause burns, similar to hot objects.

I now ready for the test. Indeed, people on the Internet were wrong! Dry ice does slide! Not as well as regular ice, but it definitely slides. Not that this is particularly surprising. You can ski on rocks, sand, and grass if the slope is steep enough, so why not on dry ice? But dry ice is slippery enough under plastic skis that even a very mild steepness works, as we had on our test slope. By adding water, dry ice becomes more slippery.


If you do happen to find snow in Tampere, you should know that the local hot dog stands may want to sell you some black sausage or "musta makkara". Avoid this at all costs.

Video and photo credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Snow on the Equator

Headache. Nausea. I have them, but high winds and icy rain are the main culprits for the failure to reach the glacier. No one in the refuge dares to venture higher. The estimated 80 km/h winds would be dangerous on that initial steep rock climb. Particularly with skis on the backpack acting as sails.

So we all stay put. This is my second visit to the 4,600 meter refuge. The first visit was a 300-meter hike, but I returned in the evening to lower altitudes for acclimatisation purposes. The second visit was to last two days and one night, and include one practice climb to the glacier's limit and one night climb to reach as high as possible. Not sure how high I would have gotten, probably at least to 5,000 meters, maybe a bit higher.

The mountain itself poses almost no altitude limits - Cayambe, a volcano in Ecuador reaches to 5,790 meters. The interesting aspect of Cayambe is not that it is high. It is not even as high as some of its neighbours in Ecuador. But Cayambe is the only place on the equator that has snow. I'm here to ski on the equator.

But the storm does not relent. Two days pass, and I feel even more sick. I'm tired of trying to sleep in the sleeping bag. The weekend is soon over and I have to get back to work. We have to go back down.

But first things first: skiing. There are spots of snow near the refuge. I decide to hike up a steep gully, sheltered from the wind. The skiing will be tricky, however. The snow covers barely a ski's length. The gully would continue higher up, but I start skiing down from 4650 meters. The descent is mostly side stepping, but once I reach the sandy slope, there is enough snow for proper skiing. I take my skis off for a moment and fight my way back through the wind to the other side of the ridge. I find more snow, skiing almost all the way to the car.

I have skied perhaps 100 meters of vertical. Country #38 is in the bag. Time to pack up and ride the car down.

Is this a success or failure? A weekend that involves skis, crampons, ice axes, and sleeping bags cannot be all bad. And I got to ski! And while I didn't get that high, maybe it is a good sign that I didn't try foolishly to go against the conditions. As my guide Marco said, "You have to respect the mountain, the conditions, and yourself." You can go only as far as those three elements allow you.

The Refuge

The three-storey hut sits at 4600 meters, on a ridge next to a steep step towards the glacier. The hut can house dozens of climbers and hosts a kitchen, simple bathroom, and two fireplaces. The mere 100 meters that we had to climb from the car on the second attempt had caused all of our clothes to be soaking wet (Gore-Tex or not), so the westerners huddled around the fireplace. It took all day to get ourselves dry.

The hut's rangers do not live on the hut; they travel to it on weekends if there are climbers. This time they joined us in our vehicle, along with their small kids who undoubtedly liked to join their fathers on the hut weekend expedition.

The warmest place in the hut was in the fireplace:

The Road

A road takes prospective climbers from the town of Cayambe all the way to the refuge at 4,600 meters. At first, the road is a stone-paved, narrow road, but turns into a difficult dirt road at around 4,000 meters. On our two attempts to climb on Cayambe, we got to 4,300 meters and 4,500 meters, as snow and road conditions prevented further ascent. While I have been on many high roads, this one holds my altitude record.

The Glacier

The glacier starts at 4,900 meters. The initial parts are less steep than on the more famous Cotopaxi, and hence less crevassed.

Practical Details

Cayambe is a 2-3 hour drive from Quito. The nearest town is also called Cayambe. It is a medium-sized, nice town with plenty of shops and markets. I was particularly interested in buying local costumes, which were in good supply. The prices were surprisingly high, however.

Ecuador uses US dollars as a currency.

I used Andean Face as my guide agency, and was generally pleased with their inventiveness to come up with solutions on my odd request to ski in Ecuador. At first, I was going to try climbing Cotopaxi, but its steeper, highly crevassed glaciers convinced me to take the guide's advice to try Cayambe instead.

The one "low altitude" night that I spent in Ecuador was at Hacienda Guachala, a historic farm from the 14th century. There was no warm water in the shower, but the place is full of history. It sits at 2,800 meters.

First snow:

Cayambe in the distance:

Tomato tree juice, very good:

Town of Cayambe:

Photos and videos (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi on myös saatavissa suomeksi.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June Snow Report

June 2nd. Sunny, temperature 25 degrees Celsius. I should be able to find some skiing, right? But the Grani slope seems all too green. Perhaps I should try skiing in Sahara? But I find only sand. But then my luck turned...

The winter season was the longest in living memory. So I was hoping that there might be some snow left even in June. But no. The Grani slope is all grass, not even the tiniest spot of snow left. Oh well. It doesn't stop me from skiing it. Although I should have come earlier, the long, fresh grass is not slippery enough to be skied. Dead, dry grass from last year would be better.

Nevertheless, my son tells me that he's seen snow in Sahara a couple of weeks ago. I head there. Not the one in Africa, he is referring to the Sahara football field in Kauniainen. Turns out that the big mounds of snow built during the heavy winter have all melted. So no luck there either.

But the snow dumping ground in Kauniainen is a bit more promising. I find snow, albeit dirty and covered by sand and garbage. I don't feel like trying that today, so I continue my search.

My last hope is the skating rink. Finally, I have found snow! The pile is not large, but it is continuously replenished as the indoor rink ice gets maintained. I manage maybe half a turn. Yet another weekend, yet another new ski experience.

Photos and videos (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko