Hunting the cold – day #1

Two days ago it looked like that it could by quite cold in Northern Sweden yesterday and today. I checked several places and their weather forecasts and Pajala with a forecasted temperature of -40.4 °C won. That’s good news, since Pajala is only 350 km away. Nikkaluokta for example is one of the coldest places in Sweden, is 537 km away and it will take more than 6 hours to travel to (when conditions are good).

Yesterday – 6 Jan, 2016 – I packed kamera, very warm clothes and all you need for ski tours into my Saab and started the trip. In Skelleftehamn it was -17 °C, but already 20 km away the temperature dropped to -20 °C.

I made a stop in Jävre. I’ve passed this place several times and every time I planned a future stop. Well, future was yesterday. Jävre -23.3 °C.

I continued the trip and the temperature continued dropping. Round half past ten I could see the sun – it was bright red (the camera couldn’t catch this) and because of the higher latitude it was even lower above the horizon. -27 °C.

Now I continued driving to avoid arriving too late. Right after Svartbyn (E10) the thermometer dropped below -30 °C the first time. Round 40 km later I turned right. Here temperatures dropped below -33 °C. Near Pentäsjärvi – 25 km before Pajala – it got even colder: -36.9 °C. I probably experienced colder temperatures, but never saw such low numbers on a thermometer.

I found a quite low-priced room in the Hotell Smedjan but I continued driving around looking for nice (and cold!) places.

One of the most fascinating things in my opinion is the light in wintertime. Twilight may last hours or even the whole short morning, day, and evening and there are always soft pink colours in the sky. Just beautiful, but cold to take pictures of if you don’t have warm clothes. But when I have one thing, it’s cold weather equipment.

I looked for the airport, which is a bit out of town and quite tiny. It was closed. It’s the first airport I saw with an own parking place for reindeers. Good to know!

On my way back to Pajala I found a side road that headed to a small national park. I parked the car and walked the 700 meters to the cabin and the grill place in darkness. Of course it wasn’t pitch black, the snow and some thin clouds reflected the light of the city, giving enough light to see and walk. (The selfie is made with the iPhone which can take two photos until it will shut down because of the cold.

On the way back it was even colder: -38.8 °C. Now I got really hungry, drove back to the hotel and walked to the pizza restaurant. (Pizza and burger bars rule the Scandinavian north). Pajala by night:

Then I went home. I was glad that I have all I need for such a trip: A camera, food and a warm winter parka.

After a while I considered if I could catch the -40 °C now. It was warmer than expected, but let’s give it a try.

This time I took the road to Käymäjärvi (the name proofs, that Finland is not far away). Yes, here it was quite cold – below -39 °C. Between a swamp and the lake I stopped, since these low lands can be cold traps. I didn’t get lower temperatures but a view on the village and northern light (quite strong until I was ready to take pictures …)

On the way back to the main road I got my new personal cold record: -39.6 °C (sorry, no -40 °C)! When it’s really cold in Northern Sweden people take pictures of thermometers and show them in the internet. I will join this tradition. Voilà:

>>> read about day 2 of the journey >>>

Hunting the cold – day #2

Yesterday I travelled to Pajala to search the cold. With a minimum of -39.6 °C i missed the -40 °C.

Day #2 I stood up quite early, took a short breakfast and drove again to Käymäjärvi, where I measured the coldest temperature yesterday. It seemed to be colder than last night and directly after I turned left into the small road to Käymäjärvi, the thermometer showed -40.3 °C. First time below -40 °C – yay! At 08:37, nine minutes later it showed -40.7 °C , which turned out to be the coldest temperature I measured this day.

I continued the road to the end. Here a couple of lonely wooden building stand beside the road, obviously uninhabited, at least in the winter.

But now it was time to pack the pulka – a transportation sledge – and mount the skis. I wanted to make a ski tour, at least a short one. I parked the car at the place where I saw the aurora the day before.

I filled the pulka with warm clothes, hot tea, a bit of food, the camera equipment and such. Then I dressed for skiing. Here it was -37 °C and I dressed carefully to stay warm and avoid frostbite.

One of the telescope tracking poles was not possible to fix. I tried a workaround with the result, that it broke after 5 meters. I’ll have to buy new ones.

First skiing was easy, even with only one ski pole. The snow on the frozen swamp was hard and it was easy to pull the pulka behind.

But then I entered the forest. Of course pulkas are not made for woodland and this forest was like a thicket of birches which sometimes bend down and build low hanging arcs.

I tried to turn left to find more open land (I was quite unprepared and hadn’t any map with me) and had to cross several small brooks. One of them was a bit larger, a bit deeper and I could here water floating under the ice. I had to unmount me skis and was quite nervous crossing the brook that I probably would jump over easily in summer but all went well.

I continued and wanted to make another photo, but not the camera. It didn’t work any longer. The D-800 just showed an ERR on the display, that was all. Now I was a bit of fed up: Only one ski pole in the midst of a thicket of birch trees and the camera not working. I turned and went back. This probably was one of the shortest ski tours ever.

That’s what I looked like. The first photo is taken 10 minutes after beginning, the second right after the end of the tour. That was not easy: The Nikon D-800 was out of order, the iPhone is not made for cold temperatures and the batteries of my auxiliary camera were left in the car and didn’t work neither. But at last I found a battery that worked for the moment.

You see the fur cap? Some equipment that I have is really expensive, for example by Canada Goose down parka (not on the photos above). The fur cap however is from H&M and costed only 10 Euros. You can hardly call this professional equipment but it worked extremely well.

When you exhale in this cold the air flickers as it does over open fire. No surprise, the temperature difference is round 75 °C. When you inhale you should wear a buff or a scarf to protect your lungs. Remember the temperature difference?

I was so glad that the car copes with the cold. It was -36.9 °C outside and -35.1 °C inside when I started the car after the tour. It took only two seconds and the motor was running. Only changing gears is heavy as long the system is so cold.

On the way back temperatures dropped again below -40 °C. Time to many another selfie – a ridiculous one: The camera inside, holden by a long arm, me outside in front of the car. To my big relief the Nikon camera worked again. The motive: The temperature at the left, me outside with my parka at the right. It didn’t work as excepted. Where’s my face?!

Back in Pajala I admired the fragile birch trees covered with frost beside of the river Torneälven. In the background the clear sky with colours from pink to azure. It seemed to be even colder on the bridge that led over the river back into the city. I could feel the wind through my gloves and mittens and even the nose started to freeze together with the camera when taking photos! I closed my hood completely which looks a bit ridiculous, but I stayed warm.

I took my anemometer (A birthday present to myself) and measured the wind: 20 km/h. The temperature: -36 °C. That makes a wind chill of -51 °C! That’s what I call coldness!

I took a lunch and headed home since weather in this region should worsen, while the forecast for Skelleftehamn looked quite good. It was hardly warmer than -25 °C on the whole journey back home.

At 7 o’clock I arrived home. -28 °C outside – time for a hot bath!

Hunting the cold – appendices

Some tables for lovers of cold temperatures and numbers.

The journey

These are the coldest temperatures I found on my journey, starting with -17 °C in Skelleftehamn. From -35 °C on I use decimals.

Temperature Time Place
-17 °C Skelleftehamn
-18 °C 6 Jan, 08:09 km 2.4
-19 °C 6 Jan, 08:19 km 14.3
-20 °C 6 Jan, 08:25 km 20.0
-21 °C 6 Jan, 08:50 km 57.8
-23 °C 6 Jan, 09:24 km 72.0 (Jävre)
-24 °C 6 Jan, 09:52 km 115.3
-25 °C 6 Jan, 10:14 km 153.5
-26 °C 6 Jan, 10:22 km 168.4
-27 °C 6 Jan, 10:51 km 202.7
-28 °C 6 Jan, 10:55 km 209.1
-29 °C 6 Jan, 11:10 km 230.0
-30 °C 6 Jan, 11:12 km 232.3
-31 °C 6 Jan, 11:50 km 277.7
-32 °C 6 Jan, 11:51 km 279.9
-33 °C 6 Jan, 11:52 km 280.3
-34 °C 6 Jan, 12:09 km 304.0
-35.1 °C 6 Jan, 12:34 km 334.2
-36.9 °C 6 Jan, 12:39 km 334.5 (Pentäsjärvi junction)
-37.4 °C 6 Jan, 14:09
-37.5 °C 6 Jan, 14:17
-37.7 °C 6 Jan, 16:27
-38.9 °C 6 Jan, 16:30
-39.1 °C 6 Jan, 21:23 near Mukkakangas
-39.4 °C 6 Jan, 21:31 Käymäjärvi junction
-39.6 °C 6 Jan, 22:41 near Käymäjärvi
-40.3 °C 7 Jan, 08:28 road to Käymäjärvi
-40.4 °C 7 Jan, 08:33 road to Käymäjärvi
-40.7 °C 7 Jan, 08:37 road to Käymäjärvi

Some cold temperatures in my life

These are some days that were especially cold including some old records

Temperature Time Place Comment
-25 °C 2005-12-30 DE-Zugspitze Germanys highest peak
-32.0 °C 2012-02-04 SE-Skelleftehamn Coldest since I live here
-34.9 °C 2003-01-31 FIN-Meltosjärvi Coldest temperature display before this journey.
cold! 2009-02-19 SE Lapland ski tour with tent, approximately between -38 °C and -40 °C
-40.7 °C 2016-01-07 SE-Pajala New personal record

The coldest places that night

This table contains all temperature minimums lower than -40 °C and what was forecasted the day before. The -42.9 °C in Naimakka was the coldest temperature since 2001. (All data comes from smhi, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute)

Place Forecasted minimum Measured minimum
Pajala -40.4 °C warmer
Esrange ? -40.3 °C
Vittangi ? -41.5 °C
Karesuando -34.7 °C -41.6 °C
Nattavaara -35.5 °C -42.3 °C
Nikkaluokta -32.3 °C -42.4 °C
Naimakka -32.8 °C -42.9 °C