A short trip to Umeå

I have to admit, that it felt a bit strange to travel to Umeå. For one thing it’s a big town and for another thing it’s south from Skellefteå and that’s not my usual travel direction.

You may laugh at me calling Umeå a big town. Umeå has 80000 inhabitants and that may not sound very much, but the whole city with its many big buildings and streets feels much bigger, especially if you compare it to Skellefteå – the next town nearby – which is less than half as big and appears only a tenth as busy as Umeå.

I stayed over night in a hotel in the 12th floor with a nice view over the town and the river Umeälven. What a pity that it rained almost the whole time.

Today it still rained a lot and I didn’t have any interest in city sightseeing. So I fled the town and took a long walk in nature. That’s much more my cup of tea.

South from Umeå I – Norrmjöle

Normally I head north, but not today. Annika and I were at the beach near Norrmjöle – 30 km south from Umeå, 150 km south from Skelleftehamn. The sea is still open beside of some pancake ice near the sandy beach.

Pancake ice occurs when a layer of solid ice is broken by wind and waves. The ice floes rotate and the edges are crushed by the other floes. That’s why this ice floes are always round and circular. Parts of the pancake ice on the photo was washed ashore (or left there by the flood).

Many rocks and stones near the shore were covered with a layer of ice – the nearer to the sea the thicker the ice. Sometimes the whole rocky beach was coated with ice and we had to go around to avoid slipping.

When I took the car back to Skelleftehamn it started to snow. First it was hard to drive since the snowless streets are so dark and the falling snow itself so bright. It’s like travelling faster than light through a cloud of stars. Fortunately the streets were covered with a thin fresh layer of snow after a time. That made the driving much easier.

Today we got 5 cm new snow in Skelleftehamn and it became colder. Looks like winter is coming next week with snow and temperatures down to -20 °C. I hope that it’s not too windy, that I can make a last trip by kayak before the sea freezes over.

 

Icicle tree – a short trip to Holmsund

When I took the car to Umeå three days before, temperatures where between -20 °C and -31 °C. Today it was much warmer in Umeå, just round -4 °C.

Annika and I took the car to Holmsund, a place 20 km south from Umeå. This coastal locality has round about 5500 inhabitants and is special, because here starts the only ferry connection from Sweden to Finland beside those from Stockholm. When we arrived, the ferry from Vaasa in Finland just had anchored.

Neither of us has been in Vaasa before, so we thought about making a trip to Finland, perhaps already in two weeks, if the weather isn’t too bad.

Right beneath the ferry dock there’s a pair of piers reaching 700 meters into the sea. If you look east, you see that the Baltic Sea is ice covered beside of the waterway. But in contrast to the Baltic Sea outside of Skelleftehamn, which is thick, solid ice, you can see the big ice floes lift and lower with the underlying waves. If you look west, you see the mouth of the river Umeälven, where the water is mostly open and small ice floes float and drift southwards.

I don’t know, when it has been so windy, that the waves rolled over these piers, but you could still see the result: Many of the dried up flower stalks and the lower branches of bushes and trees were covered with a thick layer of ice. It must be both impressive and frightened to witness such a stormy weather in winter.

Already spring or still winter?

Yesterday I found the first blooming flower in Umeå – a tussilago, one of the heralds of spring in Sweden. On the other side I did something, that is quite typical for the winter season: I took a winter bath (and swam twenty meters).

Is it spring or winter? The Swedes have an own word for it: vårvinter – “spring-winter”. It’s the season round March and April, when snow still covers the ground – at least in Northern Sweden, but it’s less cold as in January or February.

 

Farewell, winter

Yesterday it started to rain.

Today it rained, rained and it rained. It poured down the whole time and didn’t stop for a single second.

Probably it’s time to say farewell to winter.

I’m looking forward to spring, but I’ve started to miss winter already.

Ice floes at Strömbäck-Kont

Most of the Baltic Sea at Umeå’s latitudes is free of ice, only some shallow parts and sheltered bays are still covered with an old yet thick layer of ice.

At Strömbäck-Kont – a nature reserve 20 km south from Umeå – the Baltic Sea was open, too, but ice floes still floated near the shore at Flakaskär and the small boat harbour Simphamn.

A wet walk west from Ersmark

At this time of the year it can be quite interesting to go for a walk through the woods. A lot of snow melted in the warmth of the last week and every river, stream or brook is in flood. The heavy rain some days before provided an additional amount of water.

Annika and I started our walk west from Ersmark, seven kilometres north from Umeå. The whole area is a shooting range for the military, but a sign clearly shows, when shooting exercises take place and when it’s safe to hike. Today we were lucky – no military exercises this weekend.

We went along the gravel road. The road was clear of snow, but due to the night frost all mud puddles were covered with a thin layer of ice. We went ahead until we came to a minor path. This path was completely covered with snow. We continued this snowy path until we approached the brook Tavelån. This part of the path was covered with a splintered crust of ice that clearly showed, that this part of the path was flooded a short time ago. More and more water flooded our path and we had to wade to reach the wooden bridge, that crosses the water. The brook was so flooded that the water partly flowed over the planks of the bridge.

After the bridge there was much more water on the way. Parts of the flooded brook flowed over our hiking path, too. I tested the depth, but soon had to give up. The water was too deep for us to continue, although we both wore high rubber boots.

We turned and took the same way back, until we reached the car. Annika, who took care of navigation today, realised, that we could take the car to another starting point to experience the other side of the brook.

A short time later I parked the car on a muddy ground near a small nature reserve with the witty name “Natur 2000” – still the same military shooting range. Larger parts of our new hiking path were covered with ice, but at least the way wasn’t muddy. After a while we headed north trying to cross the Tavelån again, this time at another place. When we came to that place were we expected the bridge, all I could see was some kind of old concrete base – the bridge was gone. I laughed out aloud – another blind end again!?

But we were lucky: Ten metres away some railway sleepers lay across the Tavelån. After some wading again we could safely cross the flooded brook. Anyway, the continuation of the path was a bit challenging again. The snowy path was partly flooded and we had to wade several times, carefully balancing on the wet ground ice. But we succeeded: None of us slipped and we continued our tour – dry and warm, since the spring sun had a lot of power and warmed us gently.

The path ascended and soon we walked on a dry gravel way. The rest of our hiking tour was a bit boring: Broad and straight gravel roads through forest and heather. After a while we reached the car.

We tried to take the minor gravel roads to head back to Umeå but when we almost reached the big road, the last part of our way was prohibited for cars and we had to return.

When we arrived home at Annika’s flat, the thermometer of the car showed +10 °C. Another day in spring with remains of winter.

Sunset over the bog

When Annika and I drove from Bygdeträsk to Umeå yesterday evening the sky was dull and grey and it rained at temperatures round 4 °C, but some minutes after sunset the cloud layer in the northwest was lit from below and glowed in strong sunset colours. Minutes later the colourful spot has disappeared and sky was dull and grey again, just a bit darker.

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

Taking advantage of the sun

Yesterday I took the car and drove to Umeå. The sky was blue and the sun was shining. Sounds nice, right? Well, it was nice but hard to drive. The sun melted the frost on the asphalt and the wet street reflected the low hanging sunlight. Sometimes it was really hard to see anything other than just a glaring white nothing.

Today the sky was blue and the sun was shining again. Sounds nice, right? Today it was nice since Annika and I took a longer stroll through the forests near Strömback south from Umeå.

The temperatures were above zero, but parts of the ground were still frost covered. We followed a path between Tjuvvarpet – a lake – and Matsund – part of the Baltic Sea. Anyway you could see neither lake or sea from the path since the forest was too dense and hid the waters which were just 100 meters away.

On the way back we made a short rest at a place on the lake near the hill Tjuvvarpberget. Most of the lake was still free of ice but near the rocky shore you could see the first covering of ice. It almost looked a bit wintry.

Apropos winter: If the weather forecast is right we will get at least 30 cm of snow in Skelleftehamn within the next eight days. Nevertheless I’m quite sceptical. Just two centigrade warmer and it will all pour down as rain.

 

Christmas promenade

A single photo from Annika’s and my Christmas promenade today. In Umeå we got more rain than snow yesterday and the trail Tavelsjöleden which we walked some kilometres today was completely covered with ice. However we both had spikes under our boots and so it was easy to walk. When we left the town behind the ground started to be covered with snow – just as much for a touch of winter.

Anyway it’s definitely much too warm for winter and we need colder weather and snow. Much snow! Loads of snow!!!

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.