The first days of new year

The weather on 30 December was just awful: +8 °C and rain! That’s not at all the weather that you want to present when you expect friends from Germany who want to stay here for a week full of Scandinavian winter experiences! Even New Year’s Eve it was warm, the snow on the streets turned into wet ice that was so slippery, that it was hardly possible to move without spikes under the boots. But finally the sky cleared up, we could see bright and beautiful Northern Lights and it started to get colder.

Yesterday we went to the coast and crossed the ice to the island Storgrundet. At the outside of the island the Baltic Sea was still open with one a bit of icy slush drifting on the surface.

I’ve been at the coast quite often, it’s not very special for me even if weather and ice varies. Yesterday afternoon however we made something I never did before since I’ve lived in Skelleftehamn: We grilled sausages and stick bread over open fire. It had started snowing a bit but it wasn’t too cold with temperatures round -7 °C.

5 cm of snow fell over night. Medi, Annika and I drove to Vitberget to enjoy the first cross country skiing in 2017 today. It was colder than the day before, between -10 °C and -15 °C. After we finished our tour it started to snow.

It’s great to be outdoors, it’s great to meet good friends, but the combination of that is just marvellous!

More winter

Round 20 cm of new snow, still snowing / temperatures round -17 °C, still dropping – that’s a good start for a nordic winter in my opinion.

Two photos from today:

The Baltic Sea freezes over

Yesterday the Baltic Sea was open and a lonely goosander paddled through the cold, gusty wind. Meanwhile the air got colder and colder.

This morning the temperature has dropped to -25 °C and I wondered whether the Baltic Sea froze over last night. And so it did.

Since it was not only cold, but also windy I was glad about my warm parka. The highest temperature I measured here in Skelleftehamn today was -22.5 °C, but in Örviken, hardly 7 km away the car thermometer showed -30 °C.

In Kautokeino (Norway) it was much colder: -42.4 °C was measured already yesterday evening. The coldest day of this winter season in Northern Scandinavia.

If the Swedish weather forecast is right, we’ll expect -23 °C this night and -3 °C the following night. That’s 20 °C warmer within 24 hours; almost springlike. Good news for the goosander. I hope, he’s well.

A wet business

It’s not often, that Västerbottens coast – where I live – is involved in three different weather warnings, two of them of class 2:

  • Land: Warning class 2 snowfall that can lead to strong snowdrifts – snowfall up to 15-30 cm
  • Sea: Warning class 2 very high water level – ca 110 above average
  • Sea: Warning class 1 gale (strong wind) – southeast ca 15 m/s average wind speed

I was out this morning to make some pictures of the high water mark. A wet business …

1. Storgrundet – not so wet

First I took the car and drove to Storgrundet. Big parts of the beach were under water – or rather slush. Some boats hibernating on the sandy beach were so surrounded by the sea again, but since they were safely tied they didn’t swim away.

2. Skellefteälven – wet

I continued to a parking place by the riverside of the river Skellefteälven. Here I had to change to chest waders since there was 50 cm of water and wet slush on the way – to much for my rubber boots. You should know where to go since the river bank is quite steep.

Since the parking place is lower than the street and covered with at least 15 cm fresh snow it took me five minutes to drive up the snowy slope. Again and again I sticked fast and had to roll backwards to give it another try. My next car definitely will have an AWD.

3. Näsgrundet – very wet

Näsgrundet is a small peninsula in the Baltic Sea and quite exposed to the elements. I stood in a mixture of ice slush and water and tried to keep the lens dry since the wet snow came just from ahead with great speed. At least the waves were not too high (I only had rubber boots on). This is probably my favourite motive from today.

4. Näsgrundet again – extremely wet

I love the motive on the photo above but wasn’t completely content with the image composition. So I went to the same place again, this time equipped more waterproof: Chest waders again and a rain coat over the fur trimmed winter anorak. While I shot the photo above with a 35mm lens I now used a 14-24mm wide angle lens and tried to get nearer to the motive.

Snow fall had increased and so did the wave height. It was impossible to keep the lens dry for half a second and after some minutes of trying anything was wet from a mixture of wet snow and sea spray. The ice-covered tripod started to freeze and I was afraid for my camera that looked quite soaked, so I abandoned this “photo session” and returned home.

Tomorrow the water level will be half a meter less, so these images cannot be retaken. I have to learn more about photography in really bad and wet weather.

The day after high water level

Snow and wind decreased and the water level dropped 60 cm since yesterday (remember, the Baltic Sea doesn’t have tides). So the motive, an ice covered bird house looked quite different today.

To be honest, I prefer the yesterday version of the motive.

1000-tals lyktor

Thousands of lights of all colours illuminated the park Vänortsparken in Umeå today. Each light consisted of a tea candle in a glass jar decorated by a child. All these self-made lanterns had been arranged in concentric circles and lit this evening. (How did they manage to do that? I guess it was at least 2000 lanterns.)

Each lantern was unique and flickered in its own rhythm – just as all the children that created the lanterns are unique, yet connected to each other in an infinite number of ways. It was an incredible beautiful view, that really touched me.

Information from the Umeå’s page:

Under one evening the park Vänortsparken becomes a place for magic and fantasy where the rays of the children’s lanterns catch up with all stars of the sky. This manifestation exposes the children and gives them a voice in the public domain!

Sport

I do ski tours with pulka in Lapland, I paddle in the wintertime, people following my blog must think, that I’m quite sporting and athletic.

Hahaha! Hahahahaha! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

I’m not kidding. My weight is way more than average, my condition is poor and some of my muscles show less activity than a sloth hanging in a tree.

The good thing: It’s possible to change substandard fitness and that’s one of my big issues for 2017. I started to exercise daily – not much yet, it’s more to get used to it than to optimise training – and I started to do cross-country skiing. Kind of real cross-country skiing.

Normally when I ski I take my fjällskidor – my nordic touring skis – and go my own way through nature. This is great for outdoor experiences but it’s more like going for a walk than like something you could seriously call “sport”. On the other side I have to admit that I found skiing in a readymade cross-country ski trail always quite boring.

Well, it’s not boring any longer when you try to be faster. Beside of my poor condition I realised  that my ski technique is quite basic, too. That’s why I started cross-country ski school in Skellefteå this week. Hopefully they will help me improving my technique. Of course we have to train by ourselves between the lessons.

There are worse things than practising skiing when the weather is as fine as it was this weekend: Blue sky, hardly a breeze and temperatures round -15 °C. Perfect conditions! So Annika and I tried some ski trails in and round Umeå. I really liked Olles spår, which is round 10 km and extremely easy terrain. When we arrived yesterday morning we looked at the parking place. It was stuffed with cars and skiers seemed to be anywhere – waxing the skis, warming up, preparing. We learned that there was a competition on Olles spår but that we could use it anyway. And so we did.

I tried to use better technique and to be faster as usual, which was both exhausting and refreshing. For the first time in my life I had the feeling I would do some cross-country skiing instead of taking a promenade just with skis attached to my feet. Anyway, most of the people were twice as fast with half the effort.

Much room for improvement …

Today we looked for ski trails round Strömbäck-Kont which I like for the beautiful scenery. Anyway we didn’t find a good one. The first place didn’t have a ski trail at all, the second place had one, but it was quite poor, since there was much less snow than in the town of Umeå. So we continued to the forest Stadsliden, and checked one of the trails there. Really nice, too, especially since it is in the city zone of Umeå. There were many skiers too but it never felt crowded.

And now to something completely different: The Baltic Sea starts to freeze over again. I had been ice covered before this winter but strong winds broke the ice cover apart.

I had a look in Skelleftehamn this evening and could see the moon was reflected on a thin layer of blank ice covering the Baltic Sea. The same view in Strömbäck-Kont some hours earlier: Ice covered rock coast and a thin layer of fresh sea ice – less than two days old – stretching from shore to the horizon.

So: no paddling tomorrow, it’s winter.

Maybe a seal?

There are seals in the Baltic Sea, even in Skelleftehamn. I’ve been living here for six and a half years but never ever saw a single seal, neither from the coast nor from the kayak. Today this may have changed.

Annika, I and two German guests were in Bjuröklubb today and had a look at the wintery sea. The coast of the peninsula Fäbodarna on the other side of the bay Bjuröfjärden was hardly visible in the chilly, foggy air. The sea was partly open, partly covered with a thin layer of grey ice and some ice floes. On one of the ice floes there was something dark.

A rock? Probably not, since the depth of sea is at least 25 meter at this place.

A tree trunk? Maybe, but why should it lie on the ice floe?

Could it be a seal? I took my tele lens and made a photo. Here it is (which strongly increased contrast):

It really could be a seal, but I’m not sure at all. While I considered if it was one or not the fog came closer. And closer. And even closer. I took this photo before the fog curtained even these ice floes:

Home again I posted the first photo on Facebook to get help in the seal-question. These are the answers so far:

  • A UFO landed on the ice?
  • Nessie?
  • Toyota Camry?
  • Russian submarine?
  • Elvis Presley bathing?
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?

Well, the answers were probably more entertaining than helpful so I’m still unsure.

Any thoughts?

Longing for snow and wintriness

The winter has been quite inconstant and too warm. When snow had fallen it melted away soon. Every other day in January the temperature has been above zero. According to the forecast it will stay like this the next ten days: A bit above zero, a bit below zero, a bit of snow, a bit of rain.

That’s not what I expect when living in Norra Norrland – the “northern northland” of Sweden. I’m longing for constant coldness, at least enough to prevent snow melting away. I’m longing for more snow than just some old hard patches remained from early November snow.

I guess, these ice fellows are longing for snow and wintriness, too. They look a bit sad:

The winter seems to be everywhere:

And here? New snow? No, нет, لا! That’s hard to bear when you’re a photographer that tries to specialise in winter.

Winter Paddling

Yesterday I haven’t had the time, but today I finally opened the paddling season 2017. Normally I would expect the Baltic Sea to be completely ice covered at this time of the year, but warm and windy weather has prevented that until now.

First I was unsure whether I should paddle today because of a wind warning (more than 14 m/s), but when I looked at the Baltic Sea this morning the wind already had calmed down. Some hours later my kayak lay on some old ice floes ready to depart.

I put on my waterproof neoprene suit, entered the kayak and started to paddle along the icy coast. It felt a bit like late April – open water, hardly any snow left on land, just -2 °C and only the coast was covered by a thick layer of old ice. That impression changed when I came to the Bredskärsviken between the mainland and the islands Klubben, Bredskär and Norrskär. Here the water surface was covered with ice. Not with large ice floes as in springtime, but with crushed ice of all thicknesses between 1 mm and 15 cm. I entered the zone of crushed ice which made my kayak bumping against some thick underwater ice floes I didn’t see in time but soon I was amidst the drifting crushed ice.

It took me some minutes to leave that ice zone, even if it was only some meters to the open sea. I continued paddling southeastward along the rim of the drifting ice. I could see two people crossing the solid ice between the island Bredskär and the mainland. The ice on that part of the Bredskärsviken had been solid for weeks since it is sheltered by the wind.

… in contrast to myself. I felt the wind freshen more and more and the waves got more and more vivid when I paddled along Klubben heading for the island Flottgrundet. Here I decided to cancel the tour and to turn back. Probably a good idea, because now I really had to work against the high wind. You could see the wind blowing tiny ripples onto the already wavy water and more than once I got my face sprayed by water and wind. I couldn’t rest longer than for four seconds without floating back and the thick neoprene of my drysuit may be great for staying safe but not for a workout like this. Soon I was quite exhausted.

Finally when I was almost back ashore I “parked” my kayak in the drifting ice to make some more photos. The ice stopped me from drifting back. Next time when I’m in the need of a rest period I shall remember that.

In this segment the crushed ice was some centimetres thick. Because of the waves had been constantly pushing and pressing the ice together parts of it stood upright. An odd view.

The last stage of my short kayak trip was less exhausting since so near ashore the wind was less strong and soon I was on land again. A nice first kayak trip 2017.

What happened next?

  • I undressed the neoprene suit, put on pants, boots and a softshell jacket
  • I put on the belt with an attached rope and carabiner
  • I pulled the kayak over the ice and up the embankment to the street where I put it on the cart
  • I fixed the carabiner to the kayak and went home pulling the cart with the hip like a five meter long red dog
  • Home again I hung up the neoprene suit for drying, changed clothes and had a meal

Four images from the coast of Kågnäsudden

When I arrived at the former fishermen’s village at Kågnäsudden I realised that I almost came too late for the beautiful pre-sunrise colours. The sun had already risen above the horizon, only covered by some clouds lingering at the horizon far away. I just managed to take a picture of the big lumps of ice before it rose above the clouds.

The sun illuminated the Baltic Sea which was covered with rough drifting ice floes to a great extend.

While I continued my photographical promenade the sun rose higher – what a difference to six weeks ago, where it more rolled along the horizon and hardly rose at all.

Round some of the small rocky cliffs the sea was still partly open but the first heralds of frost were visible. Finally we got a bit colder weather and the temperatures next night expect to be round -15 °C. This could be enough to make the surface to freeze over.

Perhaps I’ll check the same location again tomorrow, but then I’ll have to leave earlier because sunrise is already before 8 o’clock.

Light snow fall in the sun

This morning the temperatures were round -12 °C, it was cloudy and snow fell. The snow looked like crystalline down feathers and was so light and fluffy that you could easily blow it away. Around noon the sun came out, but it didn’t snow snowing. This is probably one of my favourite winter weather sensations and I love the look of the sunlit glittering and glistening snow flakes slowly sinking down, covering the ground with a gentle layer of white, fresh snow.

Slippery When Wet

We got roller coaster weather again. Yesterday morning we had -15 °C and in the evening about +3 °C.

Today Annika, two friends and I made an excursion to Kågnäsudden onto the ice. It was even warmer than yesterday (+7°C) and quite windy. The surface of the thick ice was very wet with many puddles of clear ice water and the structure looked like the rippled sand of the tidal flats in Northern Germany. The wind gusts blew tiny ripples over the large meltwater pools and it looked like the ice shield would reach as far as Finland.

But no – it didn’t. The wind and the waves had started to break the ice. We crossed the ice and went to the near island Kågnäshällan. We all were equipped with either spikes or snowshoes to be able to go on the slippery, wet ice.

Right behind the seaside shore of Kågnäshällan we could see the waves lifting and lowering the ice and finally breaking it apart. The rocks round the light tower were bare of ice – too warm was this season’s winter weather.

Along the rocky shore lay large blocks of ice. They glittered in the sun because they were wet and free of snow.

These ice floes were found everywhere. Along the coast but even between the small alder trees further on land. I guess that one of the high water levels this winter had flushed these ice floes ashore where they razored the bark from the thin tree trunks.

And the winter on land? Less and less snow – much too warm – I’m longing for colder weather and snow. Probably it will come in the beginning of May …

Crossing and not crossing borders

Hardly believable that Annika and I started our holiday trip just three days ago when we looked at the arctic landscape today.

On Tuesday we started in Skelleftehamn, Sweden and crossed the first border to Köngäs, Finland. 481 km.

On Friday we continued in Köngäs, Finland and crossed the second border to Kirkenes, Norge, where we’re visiting Christine and Ørjan. Another 387 km.

Yesterday on Saturday we took it easy and relaxed after the two day road trip.

Last night I got sick. (That’s another story but the reason, why we cancelled our ski tour today.) Instead of that we took a short road trip to the Russian border, a border that we cannot cross without a valid visa.

The only border checkpoint between Norway and Russia is at the E105, the road to Murmansk. This checkpoint is only 10 km away from Kirkenes. I’ve been there two years ago.

In Elvenes there’s another small road to Skafferhullet. This place lies at the Russian border, too. There’s no checkpoint, the small road just ends and a fence with some signs marks the border to Russia and warns of crossing it. Here I really had the impression, that the world – as known to me – had come to its end and another kind of secret part of our planet begins right after that wire mesh fence.

Only wild animals can cross borders without any harm. They don’t share my memories of the inner German border, they don’t know anything about the cold war, they don’t have to care borders at all. Lucky them!

Perhaps I’ll witness the day, when the border to Russia is as open as many inner European borders today. Who knows …?

Just before the border checkpoint on the E105 there’s the road 886 to Grense Jakobselv – another place located at the Russian border. Most of the road is closed in winter time, but the first part is open. And this way is quite beautiful. We followed it until the barrier, where only snowmobiles are able to continue. There we took the minor road to Lanabukt located at the Jarfjorden.

Some photos:

What a great day with fantastic winter weather and temperatures round -17 °C. On the way back we stopped at the petrol station to buy me salted sticks and a Coke because unlike in Sweden super markets are closed in Norway on Sundays.

Definitely a seal

Four weeks ago I saw a something on the ice at Bjuröklubb. I still don’t know, if it was a seal, a stone or a UFO.

Yesterday Annika and I saw a seal at the bay Lilla Karpbukt but I had the wrong lens on my camera and couldn’t take a picture.

Today I saw another seal right in Kirkenes at the port. It was quite far away, too, but at least I could take a souvenir photo with my telelens.

  • Taking a seal picture: check
  • Taking a seal picture near home: maybe
  • Taking a seal picture in Skelleftehamn from my kayak: not yet

4×4 winter impressions of Kirkenes

Kirkenes – the harbour

While Annika and our friends in Kirkenes enjoyed their breakfast in the Hotel Thon I took a short promenade along the Johan Knudtzens gata to take some pictures. Already the view from the hotel terrace over the fjord is quite impressive and shows the beauties of the arctic nature while the harbour shows the more practical sides of living here: fishing, both commercially and just for fun.

A hike onto the top of the Lyngberget

After the breakfast we took the car to Jakobsnes and a bit further to take a promenade up the mountain Lyngberget, which lies on the other side of the Bøkfjorden. Here you can have a wide view over the whole town of Kirkenes – at least as long it doesn’t snow, as it did on our way back. I just love these wintry landscapes where you have views over fjell and fjord, but the wind was quite chilly and soon we looked like the participants of an arctic expedition.

The Huskies of the Kirkenes Snowhotel

Today we played tourists and visited the Kirkenes Snowhotel, which is just some hundred metres away. The Snowhotel has 180 Huskies including the seniors plus 30 puppies. The huskies are like we humans – some are working, some are resting, some are curious and some are shy. But they are all very kind and friendly.

Inside the Kirkenes Snowhotel

I slept in tents, in igloos and outside in wintertime. I even slept in the Kirkenes Snowhotel two years ago. This time Annika and I enjoy sleeping in the inside of our friends house (Thank you for your great hospitality, Christine and Ørjan) but gave the Snowhotel a visit. And it was worth it – especially the lounge with it carved ice blocks is very impressive.

Tomorrow we’ll leave this fine place, take the car to Vardø in the North (yes, that’s still possible!) and take the Hurtigruten from there to our next destination.

Sjøsamisk Museum

Today Annika and I left Kirkenes and headed north to the Varanger Peninsula and the towns Vadsø and Vardø. Well, heading north it would be without the fjords. We took the E6 and followed it in almost all directions to drive round Neidenfjorden, Munkefjorden, Bugøyfjorden and the large Varangerfjorden.

Ørjan had advised us to visit the Sjøsamisk Museum – the museum of the sea sami. It is located in Byluft 30 km before Varangerbotn when you come from Kirkenes. We rang at the door bell of the private looking house and Helmer Losoa, the creator and owner opened the museum for us. We entered the large wooden building and looked stunned. We didn’t expect such a huge collection related to the history of the sea sami and the region. Almost uncountable items hung on the walls, the ceiling, stood on large tables or in cupboards. From old sami costumes to wooden fishing boats, buoys made of glass and ancient radios – I guess there’s hardly a thing you cannot find in this collection. And Helmer, who has both built the museum and has been collecting all these items for 27 years, know them all and can tell stories about them.

So that’s my tipp for today: If you ever should be near Kirkenes or Vadsø – visit this collection. If you come in wintertime, keep in mind that the rooms are not heated. Inside temperature = outside temperature minus the stormy wind.