The Sunmountain

I have stopped counting the times I was in Solberget, the beautiful wilderness retreat in Swedish Lapland. This time I was asked if I want to join a three day first aid course in Solberget. Since my last one was long ago I accepted gladly.

The course, arranged by the German Outdoorschule Süd, was both intense and fantastic and I’m glad that I was able to participate. I stayed another day after the course to make a ski tour. It has snowed quite a lot in Lapland in November and round about 60 cm of snow covered the forest soil. I started the tour at 8:30 – an hour before sun rise. The air was crisp and cold with temperatures round -15 °C. I borrowed a pair of wooden Tegsnäs skis. They are long and broad and fit to every boot which makes them ideal for the powdery snow in the Northern forests. I crossed the street and entered the narrow forest path that leads to the hill which bears the same name as the wilderness retreat: Solberget – the Sunmountain. I crossed the Solbergsvägen, which was covered with a half metre of snow and soon went slightly uphill through the old forest with its mighty spruce and pine trees.

Even though I didn’t take the smoothest way up it didn’t take long until I arrived at the top of the Solberget, which is 459 meters above sea level. I ignored the cozy mountain hut and went straight to the old fire lookout tower which provides a unique 360 degree view over the landscape.

As fastly as I arrived at the tower as slowly I climbed it, since the handrails and the steps of the three ladders were covered with a thick layer of hard and crusty snow. Finally I was on the top of the tower, just in time to see the sun rising above the hilly horizon.

I stayed on the tower for more than an hour, happy to see the snow covered trees in the warm and ever-changing light of the low hanging winter sun. First the sun got free of the clouds and started to illuminate more and more of the scenery. The colours changed from a pale pink to shades of orange and many other colours I don’t have any name for. After a while a cloud layer approached from the north changing the mood of the landscape again. At the end almost the whole landscape was shadowy beside of the fog that still hung above the swampy areas in the southwest.

Finally the sun vanished behind the cloud layer. I climbed down the three ladders of the tower and continued my ski tour. First I headed southeast, then I turned more and more to the right while I descended the hill. After a while (and a bit of squeezing through the pathless thickets) I reached the Solbergsvägen again, however more in the south. This part of the path was completely untouched beside of a track of a hare that you still could guess under the fresh snow of the last day.

After a while I came to the turn-off to the swamp Solmyran which I followed a bit. The sun was low again and illuminated the snow in bright orange colours, while the snow in the shadows looked more blueish. There are many colours in winter, you just have to go out to spot them.

The photographer and his studio:

Links

I can highly recommend both a stay at Solberget and the first aid courses of the Outdoorschule Süd. In February you can combine the two, if you can speak and understand German.

#snowember16 – retrospect

It was round two weeks ago, that Västerbotten, and especially Skelleftehamn got a lot of snow, more than 70 centimetres within four days. Such had happened before at least four times since I moved to this place but never so early.

Anyway, I love winter and was very happy to get it so soon. Sad to say, it was only an intermezzo. It became cold for two days the last weekend, when I tried canoeing but since then it has been quite warm and most of the precipitation came as rain that melted much of the beautiful snow away.

Two weeks ago the fence in the backyard was fully submerged in the snow, not it is completely visible again.

I definitely prefer the first. Since the peak of 76 cm in my backyard thirteen days ago the snow cover become less and less deep. Today I measured 23 cm, which is less than a third of the former depth.

It is still quite warm and the global weather constellation is quite special: At the North Pole it’s 20 °C warmer than usual (and there’s full polar night!), whereas Siberia and Mongolia have witnessed an early cold wave with temperatures below -30 °C, partly below -40 °C.

How will the swedish winter 2016/17 will be? Too warm or freezing cold? Sleet and rain or masses of snow? Well, we’ll see … . What do you think?

Winter by the sea in a nutshell

Ingredients:

  • Long underwear (with hood), socks, winter boots, gloves, ski pants, a warm down parka.
  • A good digital camera, a wide angle lens, a tripod
  • Some rocks, pancake ice and an ice covered rock with icicles. Spice it with a bit of weak ice to make it more interesting.
  • A moon (almost full), some purple clouds (altostratus is best) and a pinch of polar lights.

Recipe:

  • Put on the items of the first row.
  • Take the items of the second row with you.
  • Look for the items of the third row.
  • Wait for the items of the fourth row and cool the scenery down to -14 °C for 45 minutes.

Voilà, bon appétit!

(Finding the items of the third row was really easy. It’s almost the same I paddled along through the ice half a day ago.)

Kayak – is it a boat or a sledge?

Today I was out and did some canoeing. There was a special reason for that: Johan from Sweet Earth wanted to make a short film about kayaking in wintry conditions for Skellefteå kommun, the municipality of Skellefteå. He asked me whether I wanted to be the canoeist and I accepted gladly. Since the weather forecast looked good for today we planned to make the film today.

And the weather was good – it was fantastic! When I woke up at 6 o’clock, the sky was still dark but starry and completely free of clouds. The thermometer showed -13.8 °C – the coldest temperature in Skelleftehamn this season. I was curious about Storgrundet, where it happened to be open water the day before. How would it look like today?

Some minutes later I stood on Storgrundet’s boat bridge and lit my strong flashlight. As almost excepted the water has completely frozen over last night and the rim of the new ice was about 3 cm thick. Too thick to break through with my kayak. Anyway, it could be less thick a bit farther away, I considered.

At 7 o’clock Johan arrived and we discussed the possibilities:

  • Plan A: starting at the Lotsstation farther away, where there’s open water and probably no ice at all, but perhaps less motives.
  • Plan B: trying to start at Storgrundet, where it might be impossible to kayak, but it would look nicer. And there would even be a Plan B2.

We decided for Plan A. I fetched the kayak from the garage and pulled it through the deep snow to the street where I put it onto the trolley. I pulled the kayak to the beach while Johan followed by car filming. Soon I arrived at Storgrundet’s parking place, but not Johan. Some minutes later my phone rang: Johan’s car got bogged down in the snow and he had to shovel it free. I returned to give him a push. Luckily his car was free soon again and we arrived at Storgrundet for sunrise.

I took off my winter anorak and slipped into my waterproof immersion suit – ugly but vital. I removed the kayak from the trolley and pulled it to the end of the boat bridge. Near the shore and round that boat bridge the ice was white, it was older and thicker. Some metres away it was transparent and you could see the sea bottom. That ice was less than 12 hours old. I positioned the kayak at the rim of the white ice that bore my weight and entered slowly the fresh ice. It took just some steps and – Splat! – the ice broke and I stood in chest deep water. Well, that came not unexpected. That’s why I had the waterproof suit on and my isdubbar round my neck.

“Isdubbar” or ice claws are sharp spikes with handles. These are attached to a cord to be worn round your neck. If you fall through the ice you can use the spikes of the ice claws to pull yourself out of the ice hole back to safety. A must have when going onto the ice in early winter or unknown terrain!

I managed to crawl onto the ice even without the ice claws, because the immersion suit has so much buoyancy. I put the kayak onto the little ice hole and climbed in. Unfortunately the kayak wasn’t heavy enough to break the ice. I tried and pushed, wiggled and jiggled until I managed to forge ahead perhaps ten meters. Anyway I only succeeded into bending down the fresh and soft ice, instead of breaking it. Since the paddle had zero grip on the wet ice I couldn’t steer at all and turning was completely impossible. Finally I gave up and pushed myself backwards with the glove protected hands.

When I came to the older and slightly higher ice I was kind of trapped. I couldn’t push myself backwards hard and fast enough to come up onto the safe ice surface. I tried several times and at last I just left the kayak – Splat! – went through the ice again, crawled onto the safe ice and dragged the kayak back to the boat bridge.

The result: Paddling on ice: round 25 m. Paddling in water: 0 m. Baths taken: 2. Photos taken: zero. I hope, that Johan filmed my abortive efforts. It will make me laugh watching it.

But as I said, there was Plan B2:

500 meters to the northwest the Baltic Sea is not in the lee of the island Storgrundet anymore. Here at the bay Flunderviken it usually takes much longer for the water to freeze over. While Johan had to take the save way on land I could go straight ahead by crossing the ice with my kayak in tow. First I had to plunge through soft ice and water again but then the ice was of the older and stronger kind and it was easy to get ahead. I knew, that Johan would be slower and I would had time to make some pictures.

Anyway even Plan B2 was in danger: Flunderviken was iced, too. At least I could see open water 100 or 150 meters ahead. Perhaps the ice would be weaker and I could go through the ice howsoever and reach open water. But first I had to wait for Johan who had to stomp through more than knee-deep snow to arrive. Time for another photo, time for going through the ice again, this time only knee-deep. Even here the ice was 3 cm thick – too thick to paddle.

Soon Johan arrived and I made my reservations. I didn’t believe in “ice-paddling” that far. Johan got an idea: Wouldn’t it possible to use the ice claws to push oneself forward? Well, I could try. The idea appeared to be brilliant. It was quite easy to push oneself forward, even it was hard work for my non-existing arm muscles. It went great until the ice got weaker and the kayak started to break it. Here it was hard to reach ice solid enough to pull oneself forward with the spikes. It took a long time and I had to take breath several times until I reached the last meters of the ice cover where ice was so thin that I could use the paddle again and finally I was free. Hip, hip, hooray!

Now I was able to paddle freely as on a warm summer day. Beside of the floating ice needles. Beside of wearing my heavy immersion suit. Beside of the snow that covered all shores. Beside of the ice crust on my kayak …

And beside of my exhaustion because of the struggles traversing the ice. Anyway I wasn’t here for a long tour but for being filmed. I didn’t want to get too far away from Johan who was landbound. Therefore I took just a short round and made some more photos before I started back.

I followed my old route where the ice already was cut and it was much easier to get ahead. Soon I reached the thicker ice – first still cracking under the weight of me and my kayak, then thick enough to bear us without any complaints – and then the shore where I had to plunge in into knee-deep water for the last time before I went ashore.

Conclusion

It was great fun testing out the limits of winter paddling in Skelleftehamn today. It won’t be the last time that I do such. However this is only possible with proper equipment. Without immersion suit or dry suit, isdubbar and such this tour wouldn’t have been possible at all.

So, folks: Be crazy and be safe!

I’ll post the film when it’s ready in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

A bit of cold

Tomorrow I want to canoe. So I checked the potential starting points today. Where could I set in my kayak?

Näsgrundet

That’s where Skelleftehamn’s pilot station is. As expected the Baltic Sea is completely open. Here it would be possible to start the tour, but I had to go 2.5 km.

Killingörviken

The nearest place, only 600 metres away, but this small bay has been already ice-covered for some days.

Storgrundet

We’ll, this should rather be frozen over, too, but to my surprise there was a broad band of open water left. I guess that the water level, that changed several times the last days prevented parts of the water surface to freeze over. The distance to Storgrundet is 1.6 km and I think I’ll try out this place tomorrow.

Anyway I’m not completely sure, if there will be open water tomorrow in the morning, too. Today has been the first day, where the temperature dropped below -10 °C and maybe there will be ice on today’s open water tomorrow. Either a bit that cracks when you traverse it by kayak or a bit more making it impossible to squeeze through.

Seasons are a bit in between. The open sea is completely free of ice beside of some sheltered bays having a thin, but solid ice cover. When such an ice cover breaks in the waves, pancake ice is formed. Pancake ice are ice floes that move, twist and turn, scrubbing each other until they are round, like pancakes. I found some of them when I drove to the peninsula Rönnskär to have a look at the sundown. They floated in the sheltered boat harbour near the shore.

#snowember16 – part VI

1. A tiny ski tour

As yesterday I took the car to the hill Bureberget, this time with skis and snowshoes. I had thought that the biggest challenge would be to park the car – not easy if there are only snow walls on the left and the right off the road, but I was lucky, a side road was cleared and I could park the car there in front of an old, wooden house buried in the snow.

I decided for the skis, changed shoes, put on gaiters, strapped the backpack on and put on my skis. After following the main road to Burvik a bit I bent left into the road to the top of Bureberget. The snow has settled a bit and was less high than yesterday. Soon I found a nice way downhills – my first “ski-run” this season, perhaps 20 seconds long. Of course I had to climb up again. That was partly not so easy between trees, rocks and quite soft snow where I sank down to my knees quite often even with the skis on. I found a steep but nice passage up that led me to some kind of bridge or ladder crossing a small ravine. This part I took without my skis …

After I had succeeded the “winter climbing challenge” I stood on a huge rock, almost up on the level of the top again. I took a detour to the forest and was soon back again.

This ski tour was quite short. One of the reasons was, that I didn’t find nice motive for photos today. It was very windy and all treetops were bare of snow. Many pine needles and pieces of bark lay on the snow which made the snow looking old and dirty, even if it was just one day old.

But anyway, it’s always great to be out and so it was today! And even better, when the sun comes out.

2. The coast of Storgrundet

When I was back in Skelleftehamn I didn’t drive home directly but to the coast of Storgrundet. I was curious how much ice would cover the part of the Baltic Sea between island and mainland. There’re still patches of open water, but most of the water is covered with ice. I guess that I have to look for other starting points, when I want to paddle kayak in the weekend.

It was only some degrees below zero but the strong winds made me shiver and I was very glad to had a warm down jacket with me and put the hood on tight. Brrr, autumn is definitely over.

 

#snowember16 – part V

Last night it snowed another 15 cm, increasing the snow depth in my backyard to 76 cm and finally the fence in my backgard was gone, hidden by the snow.

You see, that the picture looks a bit hazy? That’s because it snowed still a lot, when I made this picture this morning at 6 o’clock. You see that blending light to the right of the house? It’s a tractor that already had started to plough away the snow.

Some hours later Annika and I took the car to Bureå – another “snow pocket” nearby. As a matter of fact I was curious, if there was even more snow as here in Skelleftehamn.

Finally I could take a picture of the beautiful pavilion Åbacka paviljong which lies near Bureå on the other side of the E4. A huge pile of snow left by a tractor came in handy to get a higher perspective.

And we saw buried cars. And half buried tractors, and really buried cars, and a quite snowed in bicycle.

I heard from some people living in Bureå, that at least one meter of snow has fallen, but I couldn’t find such places in town.  I seemed to be as much snow as home, perhaps a bit more.

When we took a detour, left Bureå and headed to Burvik over the hill Bureberget (altitude: 99 meters!) the snow walls at the sides of the road increased. I stopped the car on the side of the street and just took some steps into the forest. Here the snow was really much deeper, I should say round 110 cm! Here seems to be Bureå’s “snow center”.

I left Annika at the bus station and took the E4 to Skellefteå where I had a meeting at one o’clock. Well, I tried to take the E4, but from the next exit on it was closed due to an accident. I left the E4 and took a secondary route. There were many trucks and other cars taking the same detour and since the road was quite snowy and it still snowed the drive was at quite a low pace. Following a truck is no fun since you hardly see anything beside of the white snow whirling through the air. That is called snörök – “snow smoke”. Sometimes it was not easy to follow the street because all meadows and fields are just as white as the road and the red sticks marking the road hardly help in the snörök.

I took it easy, stopped the car in one of the rare snow-free parking bays and made a photo from the collapsed barn buried in the deep snow.

When I came home the snow fall had stopped and the streets where ploughed. On each corner you could see piles of snow up to four meters high. And finally even my elder bush seemed to realise that summer is over and has started to cast of its leaves.

Tomorrow I’ll take a day off and enjoy the early winter. Skis or snowshoes? I haven’t decided yet.

Some other snow depth:

  • The neighbour at the other side of the street: 86 cm.
  • Some people in Bureå: 100 cm, already four days ago.
  • Someone in Lycksele in the inland: 2 cm!

#snowember16 – part IV

Yesterday evening it stopped snowing and the snow in the backyard started to sink down. Still I had almost 60 cm of snow lying in my backyard. Together with temperatures round -6 °C it looked like a good opportunity for a first ski tour – the earliest I ever made in my life in terms of the day of the year.

I already have moved the skis from the garage to the winter garden already days ago. Annika and I didn’t have to dig out the garage door but could directly start after breakfast and put on the ski clothes for the first time of the season.

It started snowing again when we turned right into the Berzeliusgatan which becomes the gravel path to the beach Storgrundet. That little street probably has been cleared of snow the day before, since only 20 cm of snow covered it and even one or two cars passed by leaving some tracks that soon got snowed over again. (One car had to be shovelled free however.)

The more we approached the coast, the stronger the wind became. Perhaps even the snow fall increased. It’s hard to say because if it’s quite windy and snowy you always think that the snowfall is intense and severe.

Shortly before reaching the coast we took a little side trip to the lake Snesviken, the beautiful lake which it’s tiny island 150 meter from shore. You can hardly see the island on the photo, but it’s at least visible. On the next photo I made the island was completely hidden by the strong snowfalls.

We went back to the main road. The snow was at least 60 cm deep, but now returning on our self-made trail it was much easier to ski. On the main road again we had visibilities below 100 meters. You could see a bit of the road, some trees to the left and right and ahead just some kind of white hole. And you could hear the wind, feel the wind, see the snow and feel the snow’s cold. It was not too cold, but it felt like a really winter day – on the sixth of November!

I didn’t make any photos at Storgrundet. For one thing I made some photos there yesterday, for another thing it’s not very easy and comfortable making pictures in conditions that I would call “blizzard light”.

On the way back we took another detour along another way. This was unploughed as well and really nice to ski.

On the end of the way there’s a property on the right. If you cross it past the summer cottage you will stand at the stony shore of the Baltic Sea. You can hear the cold waves splashing ashore and the wind shaking the trees. Quite rough and impressive. And you can see, that the Baltic Sea is still open. That’s why we get so much snow in a short time: lake-effect snow manufactured by the moistness of the sea and the frost of the air, locally pouring down on places near the coast just like Skelleftehamn.

When we left this rough place round the wind-exposed summer cottage and returned to the forest we had the impression of entering a nice and cozy living room. It was almost silent, the noise of the sea seemed to be far away. Almost no wind was felt between the snow covered birch and spruce trees which made the air feel much warmer. And the snow flakes fell gently from above, not lashing from one side to the other. So nice, after the rough impression some minutes ago.

And – even after more than 6 years of living here – it’s still so great to come home from such a ski tour, unstrap the skis at the small stairs that lead to the front door of your house. Twenty minutes from “blizzard light” to home.

What’s a blizzard?

According to Wikipedia a blizzard is defined by three conditions:

  • high wind speeds above 56 km/h
  • huge amounts of snow with visibilities less than 400 meters
  • a duration from over 3 hours

While we got the latter two today it was less windy than 56 km/h. That’s why I call it “blizzard light” today.