Whale watching in Andenes

Day eight

To cut a long story short: It’s been a great day!

After watching the beautiful polar light last night I got less sleep than preferred because I drove to Andenes to participate a whale safari. First I had to drive round two hours. After that I had to wait, time I used to put my cameras in waterproof bags. Finally we where equipped with overalls and live vests and entered the big rubber boat. We left the harbour and headed an area where whales have been seen some hours before. This part was a bit tough since we drove against the wind and some waves where quite huge letting the boat rise and fall some meters into the wave troughs again.

But finally we reached the area and directly saw the first whale fins and the first steam blown out through the whales blowholes.

The next two hours we saw a lot of whales, sometimes we where almost surrounded by them. Mostly we saw orcas (that are called killer whales, too) and humpbacks, but some fin whales as well. The orcas are following the herring and I probably came just to the right time to see so many of them. We even saw orca calves that are yellow or even orange instead of white as long as they are breast-fed.

(Oops, the room where I get internet is closing soon, I have to rush a bit …)

For me the most amazing view were the huge humpbacks diving down showing only there big tail fin. And the orca child swimming near its mother. And now to the photos:

As I said – it’s been a great day!

Links:

Sea Safari – Whale & Bird watching Andenes (under construction)

Photoing whales

It’s hard to take pictures of the whales. Sometimes there where quite near, less than 10 meters, but mostly there are farer away and you need a good system camera, a good tele lens and much practise in focussing. The most of my photos were out of focus, but alas not all.

Some of the photographers that joined the trip had real huge tele lenses and I guess the value of the total camera equipment onboard was the same as my house in Skelleftehamn.

Whale names

Latin English German Swedish
Orcinus orca Orca / Killer whale Orca / Schwertwal Späckhuggare
Megaptera novaeangliae Humpback whale Buckelwal Knölvalen
Balaenoptera physalus Fin whale Finnwal Sillval

Nice evening in Kurravaara

Day 20 – a nice stay over night

Finally my car was up and running again and my mood improved almost instantly. From Kiruna it is only a short trip to Kurravaara where a friend works on a campsite. It was so nice to see him and meet some of his workmates. We finished the evening with a short and hot sauna. So relaxing after the stressful day.

On the photos: First the bastu – the sauna, then my home for a night.

It’s great here but I want to visit the market in Jokkmokk and have to carry on tomorrow. But I’ll be in Kiruna again at the end of February and this could be an opportunity to make another visit.

We’ll see …

Jokkmokks marknad

Day 22 – the winter market in Jokkmokk

The first weekend in February is the traditional date for the winter market in Jokkmokk – the Jokkmokks marknad – that took place the 410th time this year. Quite a long history – the first market, long before Jokkmokk exists, was 1605.

I’ve been in Jokkmokk on Thursday, which is the quietest day. From Murjek, where I’m just now, it’s round an hour car drive to Jokkmokk. I arrived 9:00, quite early. Most marketers just started to unfold their market stalls or to unpack their goods. I went down to the lake where the dog sledging was prepared. Most of the dogs were still in their stables in the car trailer, but they longed to come out and to run. But it was only a matter of time until ten dogs where attached to the sledge and the first tourists could take a small tour over the lake.

Tore Sankari, FinlandI went back to the market and met Tore Sankari, one of the marketers that I already met in Byske some months ago. He has been trading fur and many other goods for more than 45 years. But he told me, that the market is smaller than usual this year. Some of the long-established marketers didn’t come. And I could see as well, that some of the streets, packed with stalls some years ago where empty this year.

I talked to some marketers. Many of them are old men, travelling around, buying and selling goods as fur products, knives, warm clothes and things for everyday life. I guess some of them had stopped their businesses, some other will do it in the next years. Will there be a younger generation to follow or will this half-nomadic lifestyle extinct? I don’t have an answer.

What is traded on the Jokkmokks market? I would divide it in three parts:

  • Traditional goods, Swedish and Samian. Shoes made of reindeer skin, woolen Lovikka mittens, fur products, knifes.
  • Modern everyday goods. Sweets, toys, fishing equipment, tractors.
  • Art handicrafts. Samian fashion, jewellery, paintings, thinks made of birch root and bark.

But have a look by yourself. Just some examples:

At two o’clock i went to the reindeer race. It’s always fun to see the reindeers galloping drawing a sledge with a man or woman cheering their draught animal.

Seven hours after arrival I left the winter market and drove back. Actually I thought about visiting the market twice but I left it with the impression, that I have seen all. Next day I wanted to be out in the nature again. And that’s what I did.

Loma Vietonen – a special place

Day 27-28 (and day -4372 to -4357): To the origin of my love for being way up north.

Yesterday morning I was in Pajala, which is quite near to Finland and since I had some days left before I would spend a week on Solberget, it felt quite logical to cross the border to Finland. And I already had a destination in mind, just 150 km away.

But before I continue let’s enter a time machine and go 13 years and 17 days back in time.

That’s when I flew from Düsseldorf, Germany to Rovaniemi, Finland where I got a lift to a place called Loma Vietonen. It was the first time that I was way up north (The north peak of Denmark was the northernmost place before) and it was the first time that I experienced a real winter. The first meter-deep powder snow, the first temperatures round -35 °C, the first skiing on snowmobile tracks, the first time standing on the big lake Iso Vietonen and watching my first northern lights. I saw my first reindeers, ate my first cloudberries and took my first tours with snow shoes. I tried ice fishing the first time and made a dogsled tour the first time. And I was so touched by these experiences, that I probably would have moved to Finland if not the Finnish language would have been so hard to learn. That’s when my way-up-north story really began.

Back to yesterday: I was cheerful and in high spirits when I entered Finland, turned right and headed to Iso Vietonen. I just wanted to see this place again. When I parked the car it was a bit like coming to an old aunts house – so long ago but still familiar. I entered the main building and asked for a room. And I was lucky, they had exactly one room left for me including breakfast. Great!

I sniffed around, went down to the lake, took a picture of the house I was accommodated at 13 years ago and finally took my skis and just went on a snowmobile track. It was fun just gliding smoothly without thinking. What a difference to my 100 meters some days before! A Finnish folk song came into my mind.

And in the evening I even met Aira and Mikko, who ran Loma Vietonen when I was here the first time. The same Aira who sang that Finnish folk song and I played the piano.

Today weather was warm with temperatures round zero but it was sunny and quite calm. I did a ski tour, both following the trails, loosing them accidentally or on purpose, climbed the hill Sompanen, went down again and had fun.

But it’s funny because so many things became normal since I moved to Skelleftehamn in Sweden almost five years ago. Yes, we have snow, too, and snowmobiles and Northern Lights. The next ice fishers use to sit less than 200 meters away from my house, I use my skis in the forests we have. I eat cloudberries and even try to collect them. Last winter we got 83 cm of snow in 24 hours. Some things I still love, others became part of my everyday life.

But it’s great to be able to visit this special place, where it all started. Probably the origin of my life in Northern Sweden A good reason to feel a bit nostalgic today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arctic SnowHotel

I’ve seen the famous Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, the SnowCastle in Kemi, Finland, but I didn’t know the Arctic SnowHotel near Rovaniemi, Finland. Today morning I saw tourists at Loma Vietonen showing photos and since it wasn’t so far away I made a detour today and visited the Arctic SnowHotel. It’s much smaller than the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi and perhaps less impressive, but I liked it anyway. The ice bar is a beautiful room and much cosier than the bigger pendant in Jukkasjärvi. Behind the main building you can find something really unique: An ice sauna. Beside of the stove and wooden benches this steam sauna is completely build of ice. Each usage will melt away 3mm of ice, therefore each sauna can be used only 50 – 70 times until the walls get holes or just too thin. But there’re spare saunas waiting to be used.

Some images:

The tame reindeer by the way was extremely curious. It came directly, sniffed with its soft nose at my hand in hope for some goodies. It poses there some hours a day for tourists and lives the rest of the day with other reindeers nearby. I came in time, it will loose its antlers within the next two weeks.

A week on Solberget in Swedish Lapland

Day 31 …

Just a short note: Yesterday I arrived at Solberget in Swedish Lapland, a place where I’ve been many times before. Since internet is slow and Solberget is not connected to the power grid I’ll take a break and
probably won’t blog, as long as I’ll stay here.

Yesterday we had an incredible starry sky so clear like I’ve hardly seen it before. Temperatures dropped down to -24 °C (still not really cold for Lapland in February but this winter is quite mild). A very faint polar light was visible above the northern horizon but vanished soon again.

Now, the next morning, the sky became cloudy and temperatures rose to -14 °C. Why I’m here for a week and what I’ll do, I’ll write later in another blog article.

Riksgränsen – not my cup of tea

Day 41

Today Annika and I drove to Riksgränsen, a place near the Norwegian border. I was curious because this is a place with a lot of snow, 151 cm were measured yesterday. Riksgränsen is 36 km away from Abisko, so we took the car. Our plan was to take a shorter ski tour but to check first if we could get a lunch afterwards. We turned right and were on a minor road with a parking place to the right and a grocery store ahead. Behind the store a sign: No trespassing. First I thought that I missed the way to the village, but no, that’s the only road.

I entered the store to ask for the way to the hostel. I should ignore the sign and continue the road. I see. We found the hostel behind a bend, but all entrances were blocked with locked metal doors. No doorbell, no way to come in. Luckily an employee left the hostel and told us that the reception is in the hotel nearby where we would get a door code. I see. We could take a brief look in the hostel that looked more like a prison with its dark corridor and the many doors. We left the hostel, continued by car and mostly I saw snow, some buildings and prohibition signs.

The hotel looked nice inside but didn’t had any lunch. Lunch was served on two places, one nearby and another only reachable by skis because that’s what Riksgränsen is made for: Taking the chairlift uphill and ski downhill.

To be honest, I never ever saw a place in Sweden that I disliked so much and that was so uninviting as Riksgränsen. It’s not about the people, there are nice as in most places all over the world. It’s about missing way signs, locked doors, key codes, outdated information and a general ugliness. What a contrast to the yesterdays ski tour through the fantastic Swedish landscape.

First we thought about driving back to Abisko directly, but then we took the readymade 3.4 km cross-country ski trail. I don’t know if it was the weather, my dislike for the place or the fact that I prefer following my own route, but I was quite bored by just following the loipe through the Swedish fjäll. I was glad to leave the place and return to Abisko were we took a lunch in the Abisko Mountain Lodge.

If you love downhill skiing, Riksgränsen could be an option for you, otherwise I would recommend to avoid this place in winter time.

 

Lapporten – Fire and ice

Today Annika and I are in Björkliden, a real nice place in our opinion. But I fell into some kind of tourist mode and was much too lazy to take many pictures today. Just two pictures of the famous Lapporten from the inside of the Hotell Fjället:

OK, one more picture, the upper storey of the hostel:

That’s all for today, a lazy day. Tomorrow we’ll be driven up to the Låktatjåkko Mountain Lodge, 1228 meters above sea level, for a overnight stay.

Låktatjåkko – between ski tour and luxury

Day 43 and 44

Yesterday it promised to be a fine day with great weather. The mountain valley Lapporten was gleaming and glowing in the early sun.

Annika und I planned to go to Låktatjåkko, the highest Swedish mountain lodge, where we planned to stay overnight and even to eat a three course dinner. It’s not far away from Björkliden where we started, but parts are quite steep. Therefore we decided to take the snow cat, that drives to Låktatjåkko every day. And I could sit in the front to take pictures.

After the first steep passage we left the snow cat, took our skis and backpacks and continued the way on our own. The view over the snowy mountains and the lake Torneträsk was just amazing.

But some steep passages waited for us and after the first longer part we made a longer rest enjoying the sun, food and our warm down jackets.

After a while we continued our tour, short in kilometres but still quite steep, at least without skins. But finally the Låktatjåkko Mountain Lodge came into view.

We were greeted by the two women running the Lodge. We asked how many people would stay over night. “Just you two”. And how many people will eat the three course dinner? “Just you two”. Now the pure luxury part began. We had a sauna, we sat in the fireplace room the fire already lit and at 7 p.m. we got a fantastic dinner, just the two of us! And we just did nothing for it. Almost a bit crazy!

After a snowy and quite windy night I went outside to take some pictures. The light was so diffuse, that it was hard to see where terrain went up or down. Therefore we took a quite relaxed morning waiting for the snow cat to come and bring us down into civilisation again.

Thank you, Ulrika and Yanina for the great service and the fantastic food. This is a place where we would love to be snowed in for a while.

 

Finally: The North Cape

Day 50

To be honest: I never planned to visit the Nordkapp (The North Cape), but when I was in Alta I continued to Hammerfest and after that I travelled to Honningsvåg and from that place it’s only 29 kilometres. So I visited the North Cape yesterday.

The first part is a normal road showing some beautiful views. I also completed 5000 km on this road.

If you go to the North Cape in winter by bus or your own car, you have to drive the last part in convoy. Convoys are starting at 11 and 12 o’clock.

When I came to the convoy place I was an hour too early. Time to try to make a rest on a wooden bench (it was degrees above zero again), but the wood was too wet to stay.

11 o’clock we started. The snow plough came first, then two minibusses, then me and two other cars. The street seemed to be alike as the first part: Snow and mud, partly frozen and some steep passages. The weather changed every single minute and I looked into a rainbow while following the other cars.

When we arrived I parked my car, almost jumped into the building to get an entrance ticket and ran to the famous landmark to make a photo with the rainbow without any other tourists. Even although the rainbow started to vanish I was lucky and I got my pictures. Only my own shadow was unavoidable.

But more than of the landmark I was fascinated by the weather. You could see single rain showers wandering over the sea like extraterrestrial animals and I never saw the weather change so fast and so often than yesterday at the North Cape.

I wandered round and made some photos, both inside and outside. I saw fog and approaching and I saw the many tourists, that came in big busses with the second convoy. I had a look into the tiny chapel in the basement and I ate a waffle with Norwegian cheese, jam and whipped cream.

And of course I made a selfie.

I took the convoy back at 1 o’clock (the earlier one) and I was alone. But so I had time to take the car on another road and drive to Gjesvær, a little fishing village in the northwest part of the island Magerøya. I had to stop again, the light on the far mountains was just breathtaking and the photo is just a poor copy of reality.

There’s apparently no tourism in Gjesvær under the winter but I could see several fishing boats going out and coming in.

After a short strolling I returned back over the fjell until I was at my hostel in Honningsvåg again.

The North Cape – is it worth a visit?

Even if I’m usually not attract by touristic attractions I do like the place somehow.

Yes, it’s neither the northernmost point of mainland Europe (that’s Cape Nordkinn near Mehamn), nor even the northernmost point of the island Magerøya (that’s Knivskjellodden), but it’s a symbol! A symbol for being at the north peak of Europe and as long as you travel by car it is the northermost place you will reach.

I wouldn’t travel far just to reach the North Cape but when you are nearby I think it is worth both the travel and the entrance fee of NOK 255. If you have your own car, take the first convoy and you will get a chance of taking pictures without a zillion other tourists, at least as long it’s not too foggy.

For me this is kind of a peak of my journey Nordkalotten 2015 and now I’ll travel southward again. Probably Karasjok today and Kirkenes tomorrow. What I will do after this depends on the weather. If winter still is much too warm as most of the time I might return to my house in Skelleftehamn and take it easy for two weeks before I drive to Finnland again the last free week. But we’ll see. No plans yet …

A first day in Kirkenes

What a beautiful morning! -6 °C and blue sky. I was accommodated near the Kirkenes Snow Hotel where my friend I’m staying with works. I had a look into the Snow Hotel first, It has an impressive lobby with tables and a bar and round about 20 rooms where tourists can stay over night.

After looking around I drove into the centre of Kirkenes and had a walk at the port. First I discovered the commercial fishing part: Big piles of traps for the big King crabs and fisher boats lettered with latin and cyrillic letters. But not far away you could see the touristic part: The Hurtigruten ship Kong Harald that landed nearby.

I walked at the shore a bit and tried to make photos of the big ice floes that lay ashore but clouds had approached and the light was a bit dull. So I took the car and took the road E105 to Му́рманск (Murmansk). No, I didn’t plan to travel to Russia but I wanted at least to see the Russian border. It’s not far away and soon I parked my car just in front of the border.

I’m child of the cold war. It was great to see, that there is a normal border now (even if you need a visa for travelling to Russia) and that you are allowed to take pictures. On the other side this border seemed to be more the “end of the world” to me than the North Cape. On the right-hand side there is the lake that is marked with orange warning signs. This is part of the Norwegian–Russian border that crosses this lake. You shouldn’t set foot on the lake, but at least I went to the shore to take a picture of the Russian custom.

Maybe I will cross this border one day and take the car or the bus to Murmansk, who knows …

It already started snowing on the way to the Russian border but on the way back the snow fall intensified. It was still easy to follow the road but hills that very a bit farer away where hardly visible.

Back at the snow hotel it was still snowing a lot and quite windy but warm as well: +1 to +2 degrees. Some of the 140 huskies were still out on tour while the rest of the dogs could take it easy.

The forecast for the next day promised sunny weather. We’ll see …

 

King crab fishing

Yesterday I was on one of the tours, that the Kirkenes Snow Hotel has in its program: King crab fishing. These huge crabs are caught in big crab traps.

First we were provided with scooter overalls, big leather mittens and helmets, because we were driven to the place by snow mobile. The crab trap of the snow hotel is located at the end of the Langfjorden. Normally it would be necessary to free the hole from new ice but yesterday it was too warm and the trap, that looks like a big cage, could be pulled up directly. And yes – we were lucky – a lot of king crabs were in the trap. Bry, the guide, took four of them and showed them to us. There are fascinating animals and looking at them closer they look like aliens.

Gry killed them with a knife and they’re dead in a split of a second. Then she took the legs, that’s the eatable parts and threw back the rests that instantly were eaten by cods swimming around. We took the snow mobile to the restaurant, Gry driving, me sitting behind her and the other seven tourists in the trailer. There’s an outside kitchen where the crab lags are steamed for 16 minutes. They look red after steaming. They’re eaten with white bread, butter, lemon and mayonnaise and they taste extremely delicious. I ate lobster twice in my life and many other types of crabs and crayfish but I liked king crabs best. And there’s a lot of meat in the legs. Three legs were more than sufficient to be full, I ate four and really was stuffed. Delicious!

 

Kirkenes: A night in the snow hotel

This is perhaps the most special place of the whole Nordkalotten 2015 journey to write my blog: On the bed in the room of the snow hotel. Behind me a warm sleeping bag, beside me a snow relief of husky dogs running.

But its a perfect match to my afternoon, where my friend had a half day of and I got a wonderful private dog sledding tour. Parts of the trail where prepared perfectly, because they were part of the Finnmarksløpet – a 1000 km dog race from Alta to Kirkenes and back again that happens right now. First I sat and enjoyed gliding through the landscape effortlessly, but on the flat sea ice of the Langfjorden I could stand on the sledges blades and steer the dogs by myself – a really easy terrain for beginners like me – and I have to admit that this is much more fun than just sitting.

A great two hour tour, thank you, C.! The only disadvantage as a photographer, most of the time you see bums and tails, but if you ignore this, it’s great fun!

Later on we got a three course dinner which was very good. To be honest, that was almost the main reason, why I booked the snow hotel night. I’ve slept in igloos before, but of course not in such a huge one with a three course dinner before.

This night is a good end of my journey. Tomorrow I’ll head home. I’m stuffed with sensations and impressions and I’m longing home. But before I went into my room, I even got some polar light again after a quite long time of abstinence.

Now I have to close, the laptop runs out of battery and I start getting cold.

Good night!

 

Cross-country skiing in Äkäslompolo – part one

Since Saturday I’ve been in Äkäslompolo with Annika and Medi, a friend of hers. Äkäslompolo is famous for cross-country skiing and has a total of  330 km of cross-country ski tracks. And that’s what we are here for: Cross-country skiing. My first almost real sport holiday for a zillion years.

On Saturday we used the skis only for a shopping trip to the other side of the lake. I gave my old cross-country skis a quite suspicious look, they are so much thinner than my tour skis (not to mention the broad wooden Tegsnäs skis). Will I be able to ski on these sticks or will I fell right onto my nose after five steps? But the shopping trip (no ascents or descents at all) went well. And in the evening even the grey sky cleared up, patches of fog appeared over the snowy terrain and temperature dropped to -10 °C. We took an evening walk and watched the starry night in hope for Northern Lights, but unfortunately they didn’t come out.

Sunday. Our first ski tour to the cabin Kotamaja. It gave me a quite sportive feeling when I mounted the skis right before our lodge, crossed the road and entered the ski trail. The sportive feeling disappeared quite soon, because almost all other skiers were extremely skilled, extremely athletic and extremely fast, even the much older ones. I had the feeling of accidentally having got into an olympic training race, but it was fun anyway. Earlier than expected we reached Kotamaja and took a break. And we were not alone …

We continued and headed for Hangaskuru where we planned to take our lunch. And we were well equipped: We didn’t only have sandwiches, but sausages and extendable barbecue forks as well. Yummy!

When we headed home more and more skiers were on the ski tracks, it was really crowded and it got worse and worse. “That’s no fun anymore”, I thought but rather like driving on a German autobahn. Hopefully it would be less crowded under the week.

Monday. We took the airport bus that left us at Ylläs-Lainion. The track was in inferior condition, since it had started snowed a bit, but we were almost alone and that’s more the way I like being outdoors. With relaxed but steady movements we slid through the wintry Finnish landscape. However we did not hesitate to take short or longer breaks in the cozy little huts. After round about 20 km we were home again.

Tuesday. It hadn’t stop snowing the whole night and it should continue snowing the whole day. That was the view through our window this morning:

We decided not to make a longer tour, because cross-country skiing on tracks is less fun when the tracks are covered with snow.

I took a walk to the supermarket – partly with Annika, partly alone and tried to continue a snowshoe trail, but the trail was only prepared partly and the snow mobile track, that I followed instead a while, headed to the wrong direction. So I had to return the same way. Äkäslompolo is made for cross-country skiers.

In the afternoon I took a short circular ski tour. Since yesterday fell 10-12 cm new snow accumulating to at least 100 cm snow on the ground.

On the short tour I’ve been in Karilan Navettagalleria,  a nice café, that Medi discovered in the morning, but I took only two pictures and continued my tour. We already have planned another tour for tomorrow and included the café in our plans.

Now I’m sitting in a cozy couch in a typical Finnish bar. And what’s typical Finnish? Right – Karaoke! The Finns love it and I love listing to all these melancholy melodies. Next time I have to learn some melodies and join the singers, too. They probably will laugh their heads off when I try to sing in Finnish.

 

Two months ago – first aid course in Solberget

Day 31 – 38

Today when I look outside the window, I realised that winter finally has left Skelleftehamn. The patch of snow that I stood upon ten days ago to view the Northern Lights has melted away and some trees start to show their first little leaf buds.

Well – it looked different when I was in Solberget in Swedish Lapland two months ago, where a first aid course of the “Outdoorschule Süd” took place. The week was filled with many actions – both course units indoors and outdoors and leisure, too. If you are one of the course participant you will realise, that I left out quite much.  That’s because I tried to keep the text very short – it’s more keyword style – and focus more on the photos.

Saturday

Arrival day: an incredible starry night with even a bit of faint Northern Lights

Sunday

Course unit outdoors, training recovery position (“Stabile Seitenlage”) – course unit indoors, training cardiopulmonary resuscitation (“Herz-Lungen-Wiederbelebung”) – and a beautiful coloured evening sky.

Monday

How to move injured people: a lot of teamwork is needed – frost patterns again – Lars, the Sámi, tells us about the reindeer herding

Tuesday

How to evacuate injured people from an observation tower – reindeer sledge ride. (No people were harmed)

Wednesday

Ski tour to Polcirceln, where we’ll stay to nights. I slept in my tent since the two cabins are really small.

Thursday

A misty morning – another “real life case”: hypothermia – a beautiful dusk. (No people were harmed)

Friday

Ski tour back to Solberget – another fantastic dinner, this time: salmon.

Saturday (again)

The last day – many serious studies as: How many people fit into the igloo (Answer: all!) or who wins the snowball fight

Thank you, Angela and Stefan from the “Outdoorschule Süd” for a great week!

 

A hike and three tests

Do you remember Nokia? Cell phones and rubber boots? Today I tested a quite similar combination: Rubber boots and a Nikon lens. Plus a hiking trail.

A few weeks ago I discovered a big information board at a forest edge in Skelleftehamn. It describes the “kraftleden”The force trail or The energy trail. Perhaps the trail is named after Skellefteå Kraft, one of the sponsors I thought when I read the information.

Today I decided to try to hike the 18km long trail. I had two new things with me: My new rubber boots Tretorn Sarek which are made for hiking and my new lens Nikon 100mm f/2.8 (Series E), that I bought secondhand some days ago.

After a one kilometer walk I was at the starting point.

At the first junction I was lost, since I couldn’t see a sign. But after checking my photos of the information board I learned that the way marks where orange coloured blazes round the trees. That’s easy. The trail itself however wasn’t easy at all. It looked more like an area where you cut down trees and bushes. Like a stork I stalked through the cut down branches and twigs that lay criss-cross on this so-called trail hoping for a better path.

And the trail got better. But I still was slow. This time not because of the trail but of my new lens. It’s my first lens ever without an autofocus. This means that I have to focus manually at the lens itself. It took some time until I got used to it, but I still had to control every single shot on the display and I had to make some photos five times until I was satisfied.

I continued the trail – now a nice stony path until I came to the Örberget – altitude 40 meters, 30 meters higher than the starting point. It doesn’t take much to be called a mountain here. I made a photo of a “gravröse”, a tomb from the Bronze Age. Probably it was build at the shore some thousand years ago but the land has been rising round a centimeter a year since then.

I continued the walk. The ground became wet and muddy and after a while I stood in front of a bog. In the middle of the bog I saw a wooden post with an orange blaze. OK, let’s go …

… now I knew, that the new rubber boots were not only comfortable but really waterproof. I didn’t get soaked, but it was quite close.

I always had to look down carefully to avoid the deep water and mud puddles, and I had to look forward to find my way. When I looked up I started to suspect why the trail was called kraftleden. Almost the whole trail followed the transmission lines and the Swedish word for transmission lines is kraftledning. That’s a really pragmatic approach to make a trail since some kind of path was made already to mount the power poles. But it’s not very inspiring just following the lines and not beautiful neither.

After round 11 kilometers I made a rest on a high seat normally used for hunting moose.

I continued the tour but I started to lose interest a bit. Parts of the way were hard to walk, harder than many mountain trails but without the reward of a beautiful landscape or great views. In addition of that I started the tour round half past two and I didn’t want to come to town too late. So I left the kraftleden and walked southwards through the forest. At the beginning I found some nice flowers and I changed the lens to a macro. First two additional test images of the new 100mm lens, then two flowers – a dactylorhiza maculata and a linnaea borealis:

OK, I have to admit: I tested four different things, not only three. Number four was a mosquito protection jacket, that came in quiet handy when I shot the macros of the flowers. Flocks of mosquitos darted for my blood, but they didn’t had a chance beside of biting into my unprotected hands.

After taking the flower images I had to walk some other kilometers until I came to the main road and another one to come to the bus station where I had to wait half an hour for the next bus. Happily I slipped of my rubber boots to try my socks, sat down and waited. Finally the bus came and half an hour later I was home. The GPS displayed:

19.0 kilometers · average when moving: 4.3 km/h · total average: 3.3 km/h

And here come todays test candidates:

Rubber boots Tretorn Sarek: Really nice and comfortable boots, perhaps a nuance too tight for me. They are made of natural rubber and it’s easy to turn the upper upside down. They could be a bit higher.

For me: 8 points out of 10.

Nikon 100mm f/2.8 (Series E): A small, lightweight lens with manual focus. I have to practise focussing. I prefer my huge Nikon 70-200mm VR II, but there’s a reason why I bought the former one: At the end of August I’ll start a two week hiking tour in the Scandinavian mountains and I want to save weight. The 70-200 weights more than 1500 gram, the new 100mm only 215 gram. Got the point? And it was cheap, too – only 53 Euros.

For me: 7 points out of 10.

The trail kraftleden: The only advantage of the trail is that you avoid navigation. Beside of that it’s an awkward combination of a trail a bit too hard to be nice and a bit too boring to be beautiful. I wouldn’t recommend it. If you want to give it a try, take high rubber boots and plenty of time with you. Take care and follow the way marks if you don’t want to end in almost knee deep mud as it happened to me today.

For me: 3 points out of 10.

The nameless mosquito jacket: Perhaps it’s not fun to walk within some kind of mosquito net but it was great, when I took the macro photos of the flowers. The hood is too big. Since it’s very light – only 214 gram – I will take it with me on all summer photo tours and perhaps even on the planned mountain hike. And with costing only 18 Euros it was a bargain, too.

For me: 6 points out of 10.

Translations:

EnglishGermanSwedish
Dactylorhiza maculata / heath spotted-orchid / moorland spotted orchidGeflecktes KnabenkrautFläcknycklar
linnaea borealisMoosglöckchenLinnea
upperSchaft (am Schuh)skaft

From Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Fjällstation

August 23: Day one of the summer hike through the mountains of Swedish Lapland

It’s hardly imaginable that it was only two weeks ago, that Annika and me started our tour through the mountains of Swedish Lapland.

On Saturday, August 22 I shouldered my packed backpack and travelled from Skelleftehamn to Nikkaluokta, this time not by car but by bus and train: The bus to Skellefteå, the bus to Luleå, the train to Kiruna, the bus to Nikkaluokta. The journey took the whole day – hardly surprising, it’s more than 550 kilometres and travelling in Northern Sweden takes time.

The most popular way through the Swedish mountains is the kungsleden, the “King’s trail”. It’s not only possible to sleep in cabins, you even can buy food in some of them to keep your package small. We however preferred another route on the Norwegian side. There’re cabins, too, but you cannot buy food. That’s why we started with quite heavy backpacks that included food for more than a week. (It included my camera, three lenses and a tripod as well, but that’s another story …)

Sunday morning was a sunny morning and already very warm. Our destination today: The Kebnekaise Fjällstation, 19 km away. We started our trip right behind the cabins of Nikkaluokta and soon we left “civilisation” and were out in the beautiful Lappish nature.

But we were not alone. Some other hikers were on their way but most of all there were a lot of helicopters flying there and back. Soon we gave up counting them, they were too many. We were glad that the aerial traffic calmed down after a while.

Our first stop was the beginning of the lake Láddjujávri, quite popular for two reasons: Here you can take a boat over the lake to shorten your trip to the Kebnekaise Fjällstation and you can eat a reindeer burger at “Lap Dånalds”. We neither took the boat (too lazy) or a burger (too early), but we ate waffles with cloudberry jam. Tasty!

The day was really warm: 24 °C. You even may call it hot when you carry 20 kilos on your back. Beads of sweat ran down and before we ordered our waffles, I took a bath in the fresh and cool water of the lake.

After a quite long and relaxed rest we continued our tour. The path is extremely well marked and changes between rocky and wet parts. Almost all wet and muddy passages are bridged with spångar – wooden walkways – but there are exceptions …

After 6 km walk we came to the other pier. Time for a rest, some water and food and another bath. This part of the lake was much colder and the bath was merely a dip into the icy water.

What a nice resting place: Warm, quite and not too many mosquitoes. It was hard to get up and to continue, both because of the great weather and our heavy backpacks that felt quite uncomfortable on the very first day of our hiking trip. But finally we managed to pick ourselves up and continued.

After a while the first chain bridge came into view: The bridge over the Darfáljohka. That meant, it was less than two kilometres to the Kebnekaise Fjällstation where we would stay over night. But before that I saw the first patch of snow. As a snow lover I just had to take a picture of it even though I knew it wouldn’t be the last snow on our journey.

Finally we arrived at the mountain lodge which is quite huge. The Kebnekaise is the highest Swedish mountain and so the lodge is used by many people: Hikers, climbers, mountaineers, and fly-in tourists – remember the helicopters?

Annika invited me to dinner – thank you, Annika! – but sadly it was a bit disappointing. The restaurant changed the menu without letting us know in advance and the cod was so soaked in butter that it hardly had any own taste left. Anyway the starters were great!

But anyway – a really nice first day of our tour.

Winter Swimming World Cup and Scandinavian Championship 2016

Last Saturday the 5th winter swimming competition in Skellefteå took place, this time not only as a Scandinavian Championship but even part of the world cup. The Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness (or in Swedish: Mörkrets och kylans glada vänner, which I’m a member of, was the organiser of this event.

I wasn’t part of the organisation team this year, but I was on the ice round the swimming pool and took many photos, both for me and the media.

The first winter swimming in 2012 was the coldest with temperatures round -32 °C. This year it was much warmer with only -1 °C, but the wind and the snow showers made the event to a chilly experience, too.

Here are some impressions:

Links to blog articles about the other winter swim championships in Skellefteå:

 

Norrbyskär – Sweden in a nutshell

Prologue

It’s a bit funny. Although the internet weather forecast rarely correspondents with reality, I check it anyway. Then I at least try to ignore it.

Last sunday, when Annika and I considered what to do, the forecast promised sun for two or three hours, but rain showers for the rest of the day. We decided to take the car to Norrbyn 40 km south from Umeå and the 11:30-ferry to the island Norrbyskär. If it really rained, I could at least try out my brand new rain jacket.

Sweden in a nutshell

11:20 we were on board of the ferry Norrbyskär and soon the little ship put out to sea. The trip didn’t take long, it’s only 2 km to the island. I just love boat trips, it always feels like holidays when you stand on the ship’s bow, feel the airflow and look at the blue sea.

Norrbyskär consists of several islands connected with dams and as we experienced later even another possibility to cross the water. We went ashore with the other guests and headed left on the island Stuguskär. The way is framed by quite large brick houses. Most houses in Northern Sweden are made of wood and for us the brick houses looked more like a small coastal town in Germany, not a North Swedish island. The broad way ended soon, but a path continued through the forest and led us to a tiny bay. The single summer house standing on stilts brought us back to Sweden: it was wooden and painted red.

We continued to a place called Calmarn, another part of the island. The soil along the bay was brown and very bouncy. I had to look twice until I realised that the soil was neither sand nor mud. As many other places Norrbyskär had a huge sawmill in former times and this bay was completely covered with a thick layer of sawdust that gave you the feeling of crossing a huge trampoline when you walked on it.

We continued the path and entered the forest again. Soon we stood on the rocky north point of Calmarn, where we took the first rest. We sat down on a big rock, looked at the sea and enjoyed the blue sky and the warm sun. No rain in sight yet.

Now we went back the whole way until we almost were at the shipping pier again but continued the main road that connects the islands Stuguskär and Långgrundet. The street ends at a place surrounded by two white wooden houses and a bell tower. The entrance of the main building was labelled sommarkyrka – “summer church”. The ferries that connect the island with the mainland are going only between late april and early october – hardly more than 5 months, so probably this church is only active these months.

We went around the church where we found the Tannskärsstigen, a forest road on the peninsulas Tannskär and Truthållan. Sometimes the path was near the shore and you could see water lingering through the trees. Sometimes the path looked like leading through a huge and dense forest, even if Tannskär is hardly 500 meters in diameter.

It got warmer and warmer and we longed for a bath. The first beach was not actually crowded, but the nice places were occupied and so we continued our walk. The second bathing place wasn’t completely deserted neither, but big enough for us to find a place. A pair sitting on a wooden bench, some boats, some people on the pier, some kids in huge orange life jackets. We drank some water, ate some sweets and decided to take a bath.

Brr – the water was still really cold but so refreshing. So delightful! After the bath we laid down on the wooden pier and the sun dried us in a short time.

We continued the circular track and soon approached the summer church again. We went a bit back and crossed another dam to reach the island Stengrundet. Here’s a huge campground of the YMCA (in Swedish: KFUM). We had a look at the climbing crag where people with climbing harnesses and helmets climbed ladders and balanced on ropes, but soon we went to another shore were we had a look at the blue sea with its small and tiny islands.

We went back to the campsite, found another path through the forest and followed it, this time in direction north. The north peak of this island is extended by a quite long breakwater made of big rocks. Again a nice place to rest. In the east we could see the tiny island Burgrundet. It looked spooky. Some leafless dead trees and black birds. Crows? Dead man’s island? No, it weren’t crows, but cormorants sitting on the bare branches of the dead trees.

In the south we could see some wooden wrecks in the shallow water between Stengrundet and Långgrundet. On the satellite photos it looked like shipwrecks – almost like a ship graveyard. We went back – first along the shore then through the forest. It took a while but finally we found the path to the shore where we could see the wrecks of some twenty meter long wooden shipwrecks – an amazing view!

I already started to check the time because we wanted to reach the 18:15-ferry. The museum, which is not far away from ferry dock, was already in view and hardly hundred meters away, but on the other island. To reach the museum by foot we would have to go two kilometers to use the dam between the islands. But there happened to be an alternative:

When we looked at the shipwrecks we found a big wooden raft, tied to some cords that were fixed to the shore of both islands. Apparently it was possible to enter the raft and just pull oneself cross the water. After some considerations whether it would be (a) possible and (b) permitted we entered the raft, took the soaking wet cords and pulled ourselves over the water. It didn’t take long and we were able to hop on shore. We went into the museum, bought lemonade, strolled back to the ferry dock, sat in the warm sun (still no rain cloud in view) and waited for the ferry. A short boat trip to the mainland ended a wonderful day on the island(s) Norrbyskär.

Conclusion

This felt like an ideal day trip and – even though Annika and I both live in Sweden – a bit like Sweden in a nutshell: ferry trips and tiny islands, sailing boats and motor boats, a museum, a restaurant and a kiosk, stony and sandy beaches, huge rocks and forest paths, not to mention many flowers, ice cream and the first blueberries (still very sour!).

Conclusion: fully recommendable!

Official Site: visitnorrbyskar.se

A cruise from Skelleftehamn to Bjuröklubb

It doesn’t happen often, that you can make boat trips from Skelleftehamn, were I use to live. Only one week once a year the Laponia Rederi from Luleå comes down to Skelleftehamn for some cruises. Last Saturday Annika and I took the opportunity to attend a five hour cruise to Bjuröklubb, where I’ve been quite a lot, but never by ship. When we arrived in good time before 11 o’clock people already started entering the small ship.

We boarded, too and thereby lowered the average age some years. I sniffed around the boat and got the permission to enter the bridge for some photos.

Five minutes before schedule the ship put out to sea, cruising along the industrial peninsula Rönnskär.

While Annika and I were standing on the top deck looking at the sea, the islands, the sky and the waves, all other people stayed inside and started focussing on the main topic: the lunch buffet. Anyway I have to admit, that especially the salmon was extremely delicious, and the bread as well.

I once thought about making a kayak trip to Bjuröklubb, an exposed peninsula and the easternmost point of the county Västerbotten. It would take me some days, since for one thing I’m slow and for another thing I would follow the coastline and never dare to take the much shorter direct route long away from the mainland. The ship, however was fast and took the “directissima”. Therefore it took only 90 minutes to cruise there.

At the small harbour we all went ashore and the ship continued to a larger harbour nearby where it waited for us. We got a guided tour and went up to the lighthouse where we left the croud for a good reason: Just that day was the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend, the only day where the lighthouse – which is still in use – is open for visitors. I went up, waiting for the other visitors – max 4 at the same time – to leave and made some photos. Not only the cut glass mirror construction was incredible but the colourful reflections of the sunlight, too.

Since we already left the group we took a hike to the other harbour, where we entered the ship again. Why it took us more than half an hour to walk for just some hundred meters? Well, there were blueberries, there were raspberries … and we picked and ate a lot of them.

The crew untied all the ropes connecting the ship to the land. I’m sure they are nautical terms for those ropes, you are free to post their proper names in the comments. Then the ship started, fetched the other passengers at the other small harbour and headed back to Skelleftehamn. Annika and I sat on the upper deck and enjoyed sun, clouds, wind, and waves as well as the view on the islands Skötgrönnan and Gåsören.

Ninety minutes later we arrived again in Skelleftehamn, where we came off the ship, while one of the crew played farewell music on the accordion.

Conclusion: A relaxed cruise and the opportunity to play tourist in my adopted homeland for one day.