Varning! Isvak!

The river Skellefteälven between Skellefteå and the coast of the Baltic Sea. That particular place is called Stackgrönnan. On warm summer weekends the café is quite crowded. In winter it’s closed.

This sunday however the small snow covered way is crowded, even though it’s mid-January. Many cars are parking, many people are standing around, warmly dressed for winter. Some of them have bags or rucksacks with them.

The Skellefteälven is completely frozen and covered with snow. Snowmobile tracks lead to the opposite riverside. On the river ice there are signs round a cordon.

They say “Varning! Isvak!” – “Warning! ice hole!”. And there is an ice hole indeed, four square meters big. Some people stand around with spearlike tools and remove the last thick ice blocks from the hole.

So that ice hole seems to have a purpose and it has: It’s an ice hole maintained by the association Mörkrets och Kylans Glada Vänner, or in english Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness.

I’ve been member of this association almost from the beginning and had the pleasure, honour (, and work) of being part of the organisation team for the very first Swedish Winter Swim Championship in Skellefteå in 2012. It was the coldest day of the winter with temperatures below -30 °C, but that’s another story …

Back to the plot: All people have come to take a winter bath or at least to cheer to those who do. Annika and I have winter-bathed before but not yet this winter. We aren’t the only one’s who want to take a bath, there are at least 30 others and the changing rooms are stuffed with people, some wearing winter parkas and warm boots, others just their swimwear and a cap. The same outside: Woollen mittens and down jackets on the one side, wet semi-nude bathers with towels on the other side.

And what is in the ice hole? One winter bather after the other. First looking tensed or even shocked, since the water temperature is round 0 °C (and yes, that’s cold!), then relaxed and happy because the body releases endorphins. But have a look by yourself:

After the last bather – most people and cars already have gone – wintry silence starts to set in again. The snow covered tables and benches are still untouched and the fairy lights round the big flag pole are on. Temperature is -11 °C. If you ask me, a perfect winter day.

Appendix one

On 17 February 2018, the Open Scandinavian Championship which is a part of the World Cup will be held in Skellefteå for the seventh time. And you can apply!

Appendix two

Evidence photos of me in the ice hole? Thanks to Annika, who took photos with her mobile they exist. Var så god:

 

Checking the winter …

This winter has been quite lagom yet. It hadn’t been too warm for a longer period, nor it was it really cold. We got snow several times, but we didn’t get any lake effect snow neither as e.g. five years ago where it snowed more than 80 cm within 24 hours.

Yesterday and today it snowed round 20 cm. Since we already had round half a meter of snow, the fence of my garden is about to disappear in the snow.

I took the photo above through the window of my living room. It shows my (and the neighbours) backyard. The fence is round 80 cm high.

Today I took the car to the Näsgrundet, one of my favourite places in Skelleftehamn. When I had been at the same place 12 days ago, the Baltic Sea was covered with ice as far as the eye could see. When I arrived today I was really surprised to see the Baltic Sea clear of ice again.

 

The photo above shows a small bay beside of Näsgrundet. The ice had been broken by wind and the floodwater two days ago. The wind was pushing the ice floes slowly offwards and some of them already had started to drift seawards.

That was the view to the northeast. The view to the southwest is completely different: there is the peninsula Rönnskär with the copper smelter of the same name. It snowed but the low sun managed to peek through the airy cloud layer. Temperature was -9 °C and the chimneys smoked.

In front of the industrial plant is the “cape” of Näsgrundet, which is a peninsula as well. I took a short discovery tour and found another motive. When I was standing up, Rönnskär and some trees were visible but when I knelt down I was able to hide the background and to make a completely different photo:

I intensified both contrast and colours to give this photo a more irreal appeal. The motive itself however is unchanged.

What type of winter comes next? I could take a look at the weather forecast of SMHI, but I have difficulties to take it seriously. Beside of the overall temperature and wind direction trends the web forecasts for Skelleftehamn are quite bad. The 20 cm of snow for example weren’t forecasted at all.

But in the back of my mind I know that lake effect snow could be possible again as long as the Baltic Sea is open and wind comes from eastern directions …

 

Hampstärnsstugan

There’s a hiking trail from Umeå to the lake Tavelsjö, the so-called Tavelsjöleden. The first stop after 5 km is the mountain hut Hampstärnsstugan. Today it opened for the first time this season and served waffles and some other snacks.

While Annika and I had used our new cross-country skis the last days (lightweight, slim and fast) we decided to use our sturdy back-country skis today since we didn’t know anything about the trail conditions.

The trail however was almost perfect, we just had to follow the railway-like ski tracks. We would have been much faster with the other skis, but we just enjoyed being outside and of course the warm chocolate and waffles in the stuga.

While we skied round 10 km, most of the families probably came by car. It was fun to watch the small children on their sledges and toboggans dashing down the slopes, even though we had to jump away several times to avoid collision.

I love being outdoors far, far away from civilisation, but it’s great as well to be able to make such short holiday trips just out of town.

Sunnanvik at dawn

Last night when I returned home from town I saw the small ice breaker Baus at the pier of the cement factory. When I went out this morning – it was -17 °C outside – Baus already had left. Instead the Cement Carrier Sunnanvik had come and was anchored at the pier, its strong spotlight illuminating parts of the ice covered bay.

In the background you see the copper smelter Boliden Rönnskär. So Skelleftehamn is not only nature as my blog sometimes seem to indicate, but industry, too. Sometimes you can get afraid when you see big cargo boats coming in filled with many thousand tons of sulfuric acid. On the other side this industry creates jobs for a lot of people and last not leasts heats my house with district heating. Two sides of a coin …

Blue hour – golden hour

Some winter days are grey and colourless. The photos taken on such dull days appear almost look black and white as long you don’t have a colourful motive.

Some other winter days are clear and colourful. There are two colours, that are especially prominent: orange and blue.

Orange is not only the colour of candlelight and cozy fires, but of the golden hour, too. The golden hour is defined by the time, when the sun’s altitude is between -4° (thus below the horizon) and 6°.

Blue is the complementary colour of orange. If you look at snow in the shadow you may realise, that it’s not of perfect white but looks a bit blueish. And the whole landscape gets a blue tinge when the sun’s altitude is between -6° and -4°. This period has a name, too, it’s called the blue hour.

Both images are made today. The first one at 09:32 (sun ±0°), the second one at 08:30 (sun -4.5°). If you have a closer look to the 2nd photo you can see the first sunrise colours on the left part of the sky. I should have make it a bit earlier.

It’s a good thing for such to live way up north. In Skelleftehamn the sun won’t rise more than 6 °C for two months, that’s golden hour even at lunchtime! And since the path of the sun is quite flat, these time periods are quite long. Today I didn’t need to rise up very early since the days are still short, but this will change soon:

Sunrise was 09:35 on 1 January and will be 08:20 on 1 February and 06:44 on 1 March. Then it’s time to get out of bed really early! Or to travel even more north, but that’s another story …

Links

The Baltic Sea freezes over

I guess, another kayak season has come to an end when I have a look at the photo I made two days ago.

The night before last was cold in Skelleftehamn with a minimum of -17.4 °C, since then it got warmer and it snowed 5 – 10 cm. Tomorrow I’ll have another look at the same place and take some other photos.

Even though temperatures have been mostly subzero for a while it will take some more weeks until it’s save to enter the ice and walk or ski to the island Gåsören, which you can see in the background.

 

Winter solstice 2017

It’s winter solstice today which means that it’s the shortest day of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere. Here in Skelleftehamn it was only 3 hours 44 minutes between sunrise and sunrise today and the sun rose hardly above the horizon. From now on the days will grow longer which feels a bit like winter’s ending. But far from it – it’s fortunately the astronomical beginning of winter today, not the end!

Hopefully the rain that we occasionally got the last weeks (e.g. yesterday) will come to an end and more snow will fall. Much more snow! I also hope that it will get colder to make the Baltic Sea freezing over so that I’m able to walk or ski to the islands. But this will probably take some more weeks.

This photo by the way is taken at 10:35, 58 minutes before the sun reached its highest point.