The illusion of winter

No, no, it’s not winter yet, it’s October. Yes, it snowed a bit in Skellefteå last weekend. Yes, some frozen snow is left. Yes, the maximum temperature in Skelleftehamn was only + 0.2 °C yesterday. Yes, we even have snow storm this night (snow warning: 5 – 15 cm until tomorrow morning).

But after the snow storm it will get warm. And rainy! 4 °C at lunchtime and 6 °C in the evening. With wind gusts up to 60 km/h. Probably the streets will be full of wet slush tomorrow and I won’t leave the house without rubber boots. But, as I mentioned above, it’s not winter, it’s just plain old October.

Anyway, the snow covering the houses, the gardens and the streets and lighting up the whole nocturnal scenery gives a perfect illusion of winter, even if it’s only for a night and half a day.

Some photos made in the forest two hours before the snow arrived:

And some photos I made in Skelleftehamn just now, between ten and eleven o’clock:

 

Just testing the new Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D

Yesterday my new Nikon lens arrived: A Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D, which I got secondhand on Tradera (the Swedish Ebay) for less than 200 Euros. So I was out yesterday evening and today morning to make some more or less silly test shots. Today I had a workshop in Malå, which is 126 km in the inland. We arrived half an hour too early and drove onto the Tjamstanberget, where we had a view over Malå and the hilly landscape behind. “Click”, another test shot.

Tonight I left the house to make photos of the starry night, but it was a bit hazy and making pictures didn’t work well. So I made a photo of the copper smelter Boliden Rönnskär instead, which shows quite big but nice stars on the lighting. I’m quite happy with the new lens.

Then I headed back to the car looking at that stronge cloud, which was quite greenish … And if clouds get greenish you either smoked the mushrooms instead of photoing them or it’s no clouds but Northern Lights. And thus it was! I just managed to make some shots of the pilot boat with the aurora above before it got weaker again and faded to some kind of greenish glow, hardly visible. Not the best photo, but I like the motive.

Now I’m hoping for many starry nights and polar light, I need more practise.

Day and night boat

Today we had the first day with 24 hours frost and a maximum temperature of -2.8 °C. When I was out this morning both the sea and most parts of the lake Snesviken where free of ice. When I was out tonight, temperature dropped to – 9 °C, big parts of both sea and lake where covered with ice, the sea with very soft ice, the lake with a surprisingly thick layer where you could even stand on – at least near the shore and if you where really careful.

The first image got blurred because I pressed I stood on the thin ice, as well as the tripod, and pressed it down some centimetres with my weight. Then I continued to make photos of the same motif as in the morning: A frozen boat. I prefer the night shot with the full moon illuminating boat and ice, even if I dislike the blurred stars.

The night showed both an almost full moon and polar light, quite weak again. I made two shots neither focussing on moon light or polar light, but showing them anyway. The pictures are more experiments than good shots. But showing those is part of the blog, too.

Northern lights and truthfulness

What a nice surprise: After 10 days of dull, cloudy and overcast weather sky cleared up this afternoon. You don’t have to go outside, just have a look at the thermometer: A temperature drop almost guarantees a cloudless sky. But you have to go outside if you want to check for the faint Northern Lights. And this evening I was lucky: a large pale bow of  the aurora borealis was visible in the sky.

Some minutes later I stood beside the small haven tjuvkistan and made the first photo. Click: 15,0 sec at f/2.5, ISO 800 35mm.

Whoa! The whole sky is green, it’s like diving into Fluorescein! Just too much green color! A great deal too much!

I made another photo, knowing beforehand it wouldn’t work. Click: 1,0 sec at ƒ/2.8, ISO 400 35mm, which means only 2.7 % of the light compared to the first photo.

Yes … um … interesting … . Is it art or may I trash it? Too dark! A great deal too dark! This image is just a dumb proof to the platitude I already knew: Cameras need enough light to make good pictures, even a Nikon D800.

Let’s take the 1st photo: I’ll show it again. And again – and again! I cropped it to the same 5:3-format, but processed it in three different kinds.

Version 1: The kitsch-version: I kept the extreme colours and increased contrast, especially in the center. Bang – that’s the photos you show on Facebook!

Version 2: The almost-real-version: I tried to adjust the photo to my memories of the real moment, which means for example that I reduces exposure more than 3 stops and removed saturation of the polar lights by 50%. Well, that’s the photos you won’t show anybody. They are more realistic but a bit prosaic.

Version 3: The in-between-version: I tried to find a version between kitsch and almost real. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad compromise between the other versions.

What do you think? Which photo do you prefer? I’m looking forward to your comments.

Longest night in Skelleftehamn

After the shortest day followed the longest night this winter, because this night is the winter solstice. And when I went out an hour ago a long band of faint polar lights covered parts of the starry sky. -12 °C, snow under my boots and polar light – that’s my first real Swedish winter night this season.

But while I was out and made some photos I could see a wall of clouds nearing from the East.

I hope they’ll bring snow.

Winter intensifies

Did I write about the “just normal” winter two days before? Well that changed a bit. Right after I wrote the last article the snowfall intensified and brought 10 cm new snow within 16 hours. It got both windier and colder and still snowed a lot.

Today¹ I took a walk round the small lake Rudtjärnen. Snow fell in thick, heavy flakes and made it impossible to look farther than 100 meters. The squalls whirled up the snow morphing the view into a grey-white nothing. And it was even windier on the slope by the lake. The trees on the 2nd photo were hardly 50 metres away!

That was a nice and not so long walk (which was intended since I don’t want to overstrain myself right after the infection), but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to go out again. And so I did. This time with food and drink, (of course) my camera, my new flashlight and my new down clothes for some testing. I already guessed that I couldn’t drive to the small boat harbour because the way wasn’t ploughed and snow was too deep for my car. So I decided to continue to the peninsula Näsgrundet. What a piece of luck!

I dressed up for cold weather, lit my new strong flashlight and went to the rocky beach. Normally the shore descends to the open sea but not tonight where – I couldn’t believe my eyes – the shore was an ice shelf rising up at least one meter before dropping into a black nothing. I could hear the sea behind but I couldn’t see it. Where am I? What happened? Then I heard a rolling wave and – SPLAT! – I could see water and foam rising high up behind the brink and clashing onto the ice shelf! It took a moment or two until I realised what happened: The brisk northern wind presses the waves ashore where they rocket up into the air several meters. I guess that the water and foam first landed on the rocks where it probably froze almost instantly – remember, it’s -15 °C  out there. The rocks became more and more ice covered until they vanished under a growing layer of ice. When I came to this place this evening some parts of the ice were already two meters above sea level! And still some of the waves managed to toss a lot of water onto the ice where it froze and enlarged the ice shelf. What a fantastic experience!

I was both happy to be out there and a bit disappointed that I couldn’t share this moment. If I at least could take a photo, but how to take pictures of waves when it’s so dark. Wait a moment – dark? – My new flashlight was described as extremely bright – Let’s test. I switched the flashlight to the brightest mode, laid it onto my backpack and adjusted the beam to the waves. Then I took tripod and camera and started to experiment. And that’s the result:

I’m impressed. The new Flashlight is really bright. So bright that I can take such pictures at night time. (For the photo freaks: 1/20 sec at f / 4.5, ISO 1600. 35mm)

OK. The flashlight succeeded the test. But what’s with the rest? I was curious how warm the new bought down parka and down pant would be. I just wore a single layer of woollen underwear and my thin but windproof Norrøna-jacket, mostly to test the fur under the down clothes, that was all. (Not mentioning boots and gloves, of course). I’ve been out more than an hour, first taking pictures, then measuring wind and temperature, than taking my frugal evening meal. And yes – the Marmot down combination is as warm, snugly and cozy as it looks like. Almost too warm when sitting although we had an average wind speed of 10 m/s resulting in a wind chill of  -27 C. That’s good to know.

Now I’m longing to sunrise. I want to visit the spot again and take some daylight pictures. That’s perhaps evan a reason to postpone my journey another day. I’m not in a hurry. But tomorrow, when I’ll visit the place again I’ll wear something less water-sensitive than down, because tonight I always expected a huge monster wave would flood half the shelf and soak me completely.

Finally just two selfies from today, one when I walked round the lake, the other when I sat outside after the evening meal.

Foot note:

¹ As a matter of fact: Yesterday. It will already be Monday when I publish this article.

Some vocabularies for my German readers:

squall – Windböe
down – (hier) Daune
foam – (hier) Gischt
flashlight – Taschenlampe
fur – Pelz

For equipment nerds:

Flashlight: Nitecore EA41 Pioneer
Down clothes: Marmot 8000M Parka, Marmot 8000M Pant. Older (or simpler) models.

Just for the archives:

Friday 2015-01-09 21:45 ca. 30 cm -4.6 °C
Saturday 2015-01-10 13:40 ca. 40 cm -7.1 °C
Sunday 2015-01-09 09:15 ca. 45 cm -8.6 °C
Sunday 2015-01-09 16:55 ca. 52 cm (47 cm backyard, 57 cm front yard) -15.0 °C

The first polar light

If you like your beauty sleep and travel way up north, do not look out of the window too late! I did it and lost 50 minutes sleep standing outside and another 30 minutes writing this blog article.

And that’s why I stood outside: A really bright, moving and colourful polar light covered half of the sky.

It’s still out there but I’m tired and I have plans for tomorrow. Hopefully it’s not the last one on my journey.

 

Abisko: Where are the mountains?

Day 19

Where are the mountains? I guess they’re still there, they are hard to move. But I couldn’t see them the whole day. When I stood at the edge of the lake I could see the island Ábeskosuolu, 700 metres away, but the rest of the terrain was hidden in a greyish white. I guess it was less the falling snow but the blowing snow that hid the surroundings, because the wind was quite fresh and gusty. SMHI, the Swedish weather office published a level 1 warning for today: hård vind med snödrev/nederbörd (high wind with ground blizzard/precipitation).

Two other images of today, the first showing one of huge snowbanks that were built up on the houses lee side. The other shows the restaurant and bar from the outside with blowing snow.

Photographers note: I like the last photo of the restaurant’s outside. And I took it without a tripod: ISO 3200 35mm f/2.0 1/320 sec

 

Leaving the comfort zone

Night 27

Last night I decided to tent and just before the village Mäntykero I hit a place. I started to pack my pulka with the most important stuff: Tent, stove, food, camping mat, warm sleeping bag, camera, head lamp and some more. My plan was to go into the snowy landscape some hundred metres to get some distance to the road.

But the way was hard! The snow hardly bore me and every time when I pulled the pulka I went down knee deep into the snow. With skis on! Then I had to climb up just to stand knee deep in powder again two meters later. I guess, it took me almost ten minutes to go 100 meters.

Earlier than planned I stopped and decided to erect the tent. I started to “bulldoze” an area 3 x 4 metres with my skis on to harden the snow and make place for the tent. Normally this snow should stabilise quite soon, but not this sort. It stayed loose for many, many hours. When I tried to put a tent peg (the huge ones for snow) into the ground I could easily push it down to the frozen swampy ground without meeting any resistance. Like pulling a tent peg into a basin of styrofoam pellets! I had to put on much more snow and tramp down again and again to harden the snow. I was so glad that it was only 80cm of snow at this place, not 150cm or even more. And I was glad that we didn’t had any wind at all.

Finally the tent stood – more or less erect. Two skies and poles in four corners and only some pegs – no wind to come. The next thing to do: Cooking, because it can take a long, long time in winter time.

The short version (some outdoor topics following later): It took much time to cook but finally I got my instant noodles with pesto. But I disliked them, they were overcooked and not far away from disgusting. Remember: When you eat warm food outside you will burn your tongue in the first half and eat cold or even half-frozen food in the second half. One of the lesser comfortable things of winter tenting.

Finally I wasn’t hungry and thirsty anymore. It was round half past six and beside of some lights from passing cars on the street it was pitch black.

Um …

Well …

Boring!

I had no book to read (could by a cold pleasure, too), I had no friend to talk with, it was quite dull and just boring. So I decided to sleep half past seven. It went just so-so. I woke up quite often and couldn’t sleep. The iPhone is useless in the cold so I used it diving deep down into my warm sleeping back but only for a minute or two.

I had to go out several times and that was the fun part of the tenting. I could see how it started snowing (only two cm), I could see the moon illuming the snowy flats, I could see the temperature drop down to -22 °C (almost record on this quite warm winter journey!) and finally after many one- or two-hour naps I could see the lilac clouds heralding the sun rise.

Again it took time to cook my “muesli” and some water for tea but because we hadn’t any wind at all I could cook outside – luxury! Eating was fast as usual before food starts to get cold or even freeze.

Then I packed my stuff, unpacked the tent, put it all into or onto the pulka and went back to the car. As I hoped, I could go in my old tracks without sinking to deep. Therefore I was back in the car quite soon. I tried to brush away all snow before loading my equipment into the car. Three hours later after standing up I started the motor and continued my journey to Pajala.

Conclusion:

I love winter tenting when I’m on a tour over several days, but I consider it time consuming and uncomfortable when I’m travelling by car and only use it as a cheap sleeping opportunity. But most of all do I prefer to do it with a friend, because that’s much more fun and even the time for erecting the tent, cooking and so one reduces dramatically.

Plan for winter 2015/2016: As many ski tours with old and new friends as possible!

Outdoor details:

Some stories, thoughts and tipps.

I asked myself, how should I tent, when there is much more snow, lets say two metres. Digging down? Fixing the tent to some trees. And what do you do, if you have deep and loose snow and storm. I don’t know.

I’m using a multifuel stove and use petrol as fuel. I have to admit, that I dislike my stove, it acts like a diva and it’s not so easy to find the right combination of pressure, opening and closing valves and preheating. And it always smells a bit petrol. Yesterday Lars from Vildmarksmekka gave me the tipp to use a common Trangria in combination with “Tenol”, a mixture of methyl alcohol and ethanol. He has used it without any problems with temperatures down to -37 °C. I have to check out this.

Lars tipped me off that I could use much longer skis to avoid sinking into the snow. Much longer means at least three meters! I think that’s great for open terrain, but I don’t want to get stuck in a birch thicket with them.

Note to myself: Buy better food! Food preparation takes a long time outdoors and it’s disappointing, if it doesn’t taste well. Avoid “Snabb makkaroni”.

I have a extremely warm sleeping bag and an Exped Down Mat as a camping mat. The sleeping bag was always too warm for -15 °C, but fine and cozy when temperatures dropped below -20 °C. First I thought, that the down mat was broken because It lost all air after some minutes. Fortunately it was only a valve, that I didn’t close properly.

Next time I would avoid making photos in the tent. Too much moisture so that the lens got fogged and the moisture froze on the lens.

I didn’t want to leave my laptop in the cold car and put it down in the sleeping back while sleeping. Not so comfortable, but it worked. Anyway should MacBook-Pro-computers cope coldness down to -25 °C without any problems, at least as long they’re off.

Clothes can get wet and all things that got wet will freeze. I had a hard time to use my gaiters the next morning. Putting on the ski trousers was like putting on cold planks and the gloves were frozen as well. I have to check for solutions …

I had the luxury that I used the tent only for one night. I could dry both tent and sleeping bag the day after. Otherwise I would use a vapour barrier liner, a plastic bag you wear inside of the sleeping bag to prevent moisture going into the down filling and freeze. Anyway you will have ice round the hood where you will breeze into in the night.

Plans: Learn to erect a tent in deep snow. Learn to erect a tent in storm. Check the Trangia stove with tenol. Check how I can prevent clothes from freezing or how I can minimise the effect.

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.

On my way to Northern Norway

Day 46

Today I said farewell to Annika, who flew back to Germany today. It felt a bit strange to sit in my car alone again after leaving her at the Kiruna Airport. The weather was as dull as many days this winter: Again it was quite windy, a grey layer of clouds covered the whole sky and with ± 0 degrees it was warm again. What a lousy winter we have this year!

After leaving Kiruna Airport I headed to Karesuando, where I planned to spend the night. I tried to get a room in the hostel, but I was told, that it’s closed and there was not a single accommodation on the Swedish side (Karesuando). I was also told that there’s a hotel on the Finish side (Kaaresuvanto). 10 minutes later I asked for a room in this hotel, but since the only available room should costed 250 Euros (!) for a single night, I preferred to continue my journey. Visiting Karesuando seems to be a bad idea in winter time. I followed the river Muonioälven, turned left in Palojoensuu and left again in Enontekiö. In Palojärvi, just 10 km before the Finnish-Norwegian border I saw a sign showing a shop, a restaurant and rooms for rent. First I was not too hopeful, because many rooms, camping places and cabins are closed over the winter, but I was lucky. I did not only get a real fine hamburger, but a whole cabin for 36 Euros, just a seventh of the hotel room.

And the cabin is nice, cozy and warm, only WiFi is lacking. I’m sitting at my computer, writing this blog article while many storm gusts howl round my little wooden house.

Tomorrow I want to continue to Norway: First Kautokeino, then Alta. The first fjord since some a whole month.

Perfect laziness

About some winter remnants: A patch of snow, ground frost and most of all: Northern Lights. But spring is near.

Sometimes I wake up in the deep of the night. Sometimes I look through the window. Sometimes there’s polar light. For example one hour ago at 2:30. The Northern Lights have been around the whole evening but they were so faint, that there were hardly visible. Now they where much clearer and intensity was increasing.

I wanted to take pictures, but I was lazy. Should I really dress, get my camera equipment and take the car to a nice place? No, I was too lazy! I just put on my down overall over the pyjamas, went into the neoprene boots that I use for paddling, took tripod and camera and went out.

I was lucky, the aurora was a nice one tonight and high up in the sky. It’s these moments, where I’m still filled with joy, that I may live here, even if I’ve been living in Skellefteå and Skelleftehamn for almost five years now.

You see, that there is still snow in my front yard. My back yard is even still covered with a layer of 20 cm of hard-packed snow. Standing outside on the snow in a warm overall and looking at the polar light felt almost a bit like winter. The temperature however was hardly below zero and the expedition down overall was much too warm, of course. In the northeast you could see the sky already getting light a bit, even if it was no more than 3 o’clock. Sunrise will already be at 5:15, a sign that spring is near.

Asia Zircon I

Skelleftehamn tonight: The “Asia Zircon I” landed in Skelleftehamn. That’s one of the bigger ships – 190 meters long. The ship came directly from Taicang, China with 4599 tons of wind turbine parts.

Taicang – China, that’s a long trip. My travel bug awakes. Perhaps I should join the crew and travel back to China. I’ve never been there. But the ship continues to Fredericia in Danmark, so I guess, I’ll stay home.

Scandinavian luxury – I

What is Scandinavian luxury?

When you drive home from a good rehearsal with the chamber choir and see a faint polar light through the front side window of your car.

When you arrive home and ignore the aurora, because you saw it already at least five times since August.

When you, just before going to bed, open the door and look outside.

When you sit on the wooden panel just in front of your front door and look at the intensifying Northern Lights, already wearing your pyjamas.

And make some photos – just half a meter from your front door. They won’t be the best, but you don’t care.

When you just slip into your boots and take another shot from the garden.

When you can experience this without being in a holiday – like it happened to me one and a half hours ago: That’s Scandinavian luxury!

Strange skies

Three days ago Aurora Alerts by Soft Serve News showed a forecast for very strong polar lights, first for last night, than for tonight.

That’s why I took camera and tripod with me when I drove to the rehearsal with the Chamber Choir. When we had finished and I left the building it was cloudy – as expected – but you could see the green light of a quite strong aurora shining through the spots were clouds were less dense.

I hoped for the sky to clear up and drove to Långhällan – a favourite place at the seaside. Unfortunately however the sky hardly cleared up and finally the clouds became even denser. Suddenly I could spot a bright red light at the horizon. Is it a strong spotlight of a ship? But why is it so red? It took a minute until I realised that it’s really the moon rising above the horizon. I cannot remember seeing the moon in such an extreme red colour – even redder than at the total lunar eclipse five weeks ago.

The next photo is a bit special. It is much more edited than I use to edit photos to show the colder green colours of the Northern lights behind the clouds and the warm, now bright orange colour of the moon. I lit the foreground with a flashlight to make it visible. Not very easy to light it evenly without overexposing it. Even here I had to edit some spots that were too bright or too dark.

There may be less clouds at 4 or 5 o’clock. Ant perhaps still polar lights. But I guess I’ll be sound asleep … .

Spying the land

Tomorrow I thought about paddling through the freshly snowy winter landscape. Is it realistic? Let’s check:

A: the snow warning

smhi (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute) released a class 1 warning for tonight: 10 – 15 cm snow should fall at the coastal areas of Västerbotten. But actually it’s too warm, most of the precipitation has come as sleet and rain. Probably we will have a centimeter of wet snow tomorrow, not much more.

B: the sea ice cover

smhi has another warning, this time for the sea: “higher than 80 cm above mean sea level.” – I took the car to Storgrundet and smhi was right: Parts of the beach are submarine now. But unfortunately the high water didn’t break the sea ice. The ice near the shore is quite soft, I could paddle through. But the rest? Will I manage to break through or do I have to give up?

C: the forecast

At 7:00 it will be clear sky and -6 °C. Nice weather, but at this time it’ll be pitch dark; sun rise is round 9:15. According to the forecast it will be cloudy at 9:00 and start to rain at 13:00. Not enough with that, smhi had another warning for tomorrow: wind will be round 30 knots, that’s round 60 km/h – too much for my kayaking abilities.

Let’s summarise: Hardly any snow, the ice maybe to thick to break, windy + cloudy + some rain later on. I guess, my kayak will stay in the garage tomorrow.

Another polar light

Just three-quarters of an hour ago on the near lake Snesviken.

Some notes: -12 °C outside of the house, probably colder on the lake. The jacket was not too warm. First time this winter, that I made some steps onto the ice of the lake. I just dared because of the many other footprints and the knowledge, that water is less than a meter deep at this place.