Polarsyssel in Tromsø (and ice cream)

While I was sitting at my computer in my apartment in Tromsø I looked out of the window. A blue ship was sailing on the Sandnessundet, the strait between Tromsøya and Kvaløya. It looked somehow familiar. I checked, first with my spotting scope, then with an app. It was the Polarsyssel, the ship of the Governor of Svalbard. I managed to take a photo between the trees.

Last time when I saw this ship it was on 16 March 2023, the week I was working in Longyearbyen/Svalbard.

What does the ship do here so far south as in Tromsø? Chasing polar bears? I checked the news but couldn’t find anything. While I was watching the ship  my thoughts wandered north. In August I’ll be in the Arctic once more. Will I stand on the sea ice again? Will I see polar bears again?

Then I heard a melody outside:

This is a famous melody in Norway! It is called “Norge rundt” and is the signal of the Isbilen ice-cream vans. Today I was one of the customers. So I got my ice. And the brand of the ice cream? Isbjørn is – Polar bear ice.

 

The first Thursday paddling 2024

Yesterday on 18 April  was the first organised Thursday paddling of the Tromsø Sea Kayakers Club this year. I was eager to join. I took a photo when I arrived at the boat houses:

What is special about this photo? I can show you. In comparison – these are photos I took on other first Thursday paddlings. One on 4 May 2023, one on 28 April 2022.

So this was my first time opening the kayak season in Tromsø where it didn’t snow! Instead the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the temperature round 1 °C. But it was so windy!

Me prepared our kayaks and made ourselves ready and then had a talk about where to go. The tour leaders make proposals and have the last word.

This timewe would go south – against the wind – and see if we make it to Telegrafbukta. OK, let’s go!

I didn’t take a lot of pictures because the wind punished each photo instantly by blowing me back. We took a rest seeking shelter in the lee of a breakwater where one of my fellow kayakers provided us with goodies.

Shall we continue? Yes, ok for all of us. So we left our shelter and continued further south.

The more south we came the stronger the wind got and the higher the waves. We weren’t alone. On the other side of the sound a commercial boat headed south. Nearer a sailing boat, driven my a part of its fore sail. I however had to fight to keep up with the others and I was glad, that Telegrafbukta is not far away.

There we took a break. A short one though because of the chilly wind.

On the way back it felt like a complete different tour. Now we could take it easy. Both wind and waves just pushed us ahead and we hadn’t to do much to keep momentum. Soon the colourful boat houses of the club were in view and a short time later we arrived. A pity, that I didn’t track this tour. I would have liked to know the difference of the speeds there and back.

Most of us kept ourselves near to the shore but some of us like wind and waves and were a bit further out. Here a b/w snapshot of B. in his self-built Greenland kayak. It’s too far away to reveal its beauty.

 

Spring winter in Obbola

I’m sitting in the train travelling from Obbola, my “home home” to Tromsø, my “work home”. Normally the journey would have taken 18 to 19 hours but this train is four hours late. That will probably extend my journey to 37 hours including an overnight stay in Narvik.

The last days we had full vårvinter (literally “spring winter”) which is the transition period between winter and spring. Not only in my opinion this is an own season. And so it can look like:

Tuesday, 9 April

The weather is fine and calm. The drift ice that I paddled through the day before is mostly gone. I take another kayak tour to the islands Obbolstenarna and now also the sea is calm enough to circumnavigate the islands and the ice cap on the rocky shallow.

After the tour I continue my work in home office.

Wednesday, 10 April

It is raining at lunch time and the fog hides the horizon of the Baltic Sea.

Thursday, 11 April

The drift ice has come back over night. The day is sunny.

Friday, 12 April

In the village at lunchtime I spot the first Tussilago which always has been the first flower to bloom in vårvinter. And in front of a house I see some crocuses. It is +7.5 °C.

Some hours later I take a short and icy “farewell kayak tour”. It gets harder to find a good place to set in the kayak. And on the way back I was right when I doubted that the small ice floe would carry my weight. It didn’t. The ice has started to rot and then it’s not stable anymore even when 10 cm thick. So – be prepared.

We still have 50 cm of snow in the garden but round our rowan tree the snow has melted. The birds love to be there picking for food.

Saturday, 13 April

That’s today. I’m sitting in the heavily delayed train heading north. The forest ground and the bogs are covered with snow but the first patches of blueberry twigs are visible, too. It’s nice to see the landscape, but I’ll have a long journey ahead and I’m going to take a nap now.

Spring winter kayaking through the ice.

After yesterday’s ugly and windy conditions the weather today looked quite promising. A good ooportunity to take another kayak tour. At eight o’clock I put on dry suit and life vest and dragged my kayak to the open water by the islet Lillskär.

I paddled slowly to give two pairs of swans time to retreat and then kayaked round the islet. Here a large field of ice floes awaited me.

There were open patches of water, but mostly I paddled through dense ice fields that were moved by long and smooth waves. The large floes were 30 cm thick, some of them even thicker.

How does paddling through the ice work? Most ice floes are small enough to be pushed aside. I tried to paddle around the larger ice floes. Sometimes I bumped into them. and sometimes I just paddled over them by purpose – “brute force”.

After a kilometre I reached open water and then another ice field with thinner and smaller ice floes. Here I could just paddle through and the transparent ice glittered in the sun.

I wanted to reach the “ice berg” south of the islands Obbolstenarna. Out there is a large shallow with some rocks. There the waves build a temporary island of ice and snow. This year it was two to three metres high. I didn’t dare to circumnavigate this icy island because in the shallows around the waves were high and breaking. I considered this being too risky to kayak there since I was alone.

I didn’t kayak around Obbolstenarna neither for the same reasons so I returned. I could see the Finnland ferry in the harbour some kilometres away. Soon I entered the ice field again.

As on the way there I paddled through the floes without any problems. I only landed in a dead end once and that was on purpose for the photo.

Since the weather was great it was so exceptionally beautiful out there I parked my kayak on a larger ice floe and took a short break.

Then it was time to return to the ice edge, walk back to our house and enter my office because this was my first day of a week of home office. Farewell ice floes. Thanks for good company.

The right timing for a small winter kayak tour

Friday afternoon

Yesterday Annika and I took a winter bath in the ice free bay Vitskärsudden, now it is snowing and the wind has blown back a lot of ice floes. Too unstable too walk on, too thick to paddle through. How shall we paddle kayak tomorrow under these conditions?

Saturday

In the morning the sun is shining and the ice floes are gone. I walk to the ice edge that is round about 200 metres from shore. The ice is stable. After breakfast Annika and I dress properly (warm clothes, dry suit, life jacket) and drag our kayaks to the ice edge.

We get into our kayaks on the ice and then hop into the water. Then we turn right and are calmly paddling following the coastal line to the bay Vitskärsudden. First we navigate through some larger ice floes and the usual rocks (our “underwater archipelago”). When we enter the bay a layer of fresh ice is in front of us. It is so thin, that we can paddle through it effortlessly. The sounds of the braking ice are fascinating.

We are not alone. Three other kayakers are further out while other people are taking a walk ashore. One of them took a photo that we found on Facebook:

After we paddle back we build up momentum and paddle right onto the shallow ice shield. We already can see our house – shortly later we are there, longing for a shower.

In the evening the wind has turned and ice floes are drifting back ashore.

Sunday (today)

Did we have calm weather yesterday? Well, not today. The wind is pretty strong and wet snow and sleet is falling from a white-grey sky. The horizon is hidden in the fog.

I take a promenade to Vitskärsudden again. The wind has filled the whole bay with small and large ice floes that wobble in the waves.

I am walking along the ice covered coastal line until I come to the open sea. Here the waves are throwing water, slush and ice ashore so that the shore is covered by metre high ice walls. This view is impressive, pretty arctic and also a bit frightening.

The waves are high and break early. It’s hardly imaginable that Annika and I had a fine and calm kayak tour yesterday. Good timing!

I have five other days in Obbola before I’ll head back to Tromsø. I’m quite curious whether I’m able to take another kayak tour. But today the weather looks quite promising.

First kayaking 2024

Today I took my first kayak tour in 2024. It was much too windy to do a longer tour (and proper photos) and my walking distance was larger then my paddling efforts but hey, at least I was outside. Now I’m eager to kayak more.

Welcome, open sea

When the plane flew above the Baltic Sea shortly before I landed in Umeå nine days ago I realised that it might take time, until I can paddle kayak. The whole sea by the coast was covered with ice.

Even yesterday the open sea was round about a kilometre away from shore. Then it got windy.

When I woke up this morning a lot of the sea ice had gone and I spotted the open water right behind the little islet Lillskär. I put on my waterproof survival suit and went there. The ice between the shore and the island was still solid.

Behind the island was a strip of ice with long cracks. I went to the edge to take some photos.

When I turned around I realised that one of the cracks – seen on the second photo above –has become broader, close to a metre. I preferred swimming the metre to jumping because the ice was slippery. Minutes later the ice floes were drifting away from land and then south. Good bye!

As soon as the wind dies down I want to take the first kayak tour of the year. The weather forecast here is not the best so I’ll have to wait and look.

Ski tour in Sweden – from Vistas to Lisas Stuga to Civilisation

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 12 – 9 March – Vistas—Lisas Stuga

Today is the last day of Annika’s and my ski tour. From Vistas we will follow the valley Visttasvággi to Nikkaluokta, where I have parked my car eleven days ago. We will however only ski part of it because the distance is round about 35 km. Too long for us on a single day.

After breakfast and cleaning we say farewell to our friend Dirk who is warden at Vistas for a month and follow the snowmobile track that turns left right after we have crossed the river. I’m glad that we can follow it since it crosses the river Visttasjohka many times and I feel saver to follow the track than to find our own way.

At one place there are two tracks in parallel. One track leads into an open patch of water, we wisely choose the other one.

We head to a small, old hut called Lisas Stuga. We were told that it lies by the scooter track and so we do not really have so seek it but just continue following the snowmobile track. After 11.7 km of skiing we arrive there at 12:30. We are half an hour early and so is the snowmobile driver that is here to fetch us.

We have never been here before and we take a look into Lisas Stuga which is tiny. The beds are definitely not my size at all.

Then we pack pulka, skis and Annika’s backpack on the back and hop ourselves into the front of the snowmobile trailer. Off we go. Although it is quite warm – perhaps round zero – it is nice to have the down parka to warm us, because the trip takes a while.

It is more than 20 kilometres and even if we had the fitness to ski this on a single day we think it would be pretty boring. The mountains get rounder, the valley broader and then there is a large lake to cross. And another one. And another one. Annika recognises a cabin by one of lakes and she is right. It is the last lake and we are there. Nikkaluokta.

While Annika pays for the snowmobile transport I check that my car is still there (it is). And then we enjoy the features of civilisation. And it’s not only about ordering lunch in a restaurant. It is also about washing your hands under running water. Hot running water. With soap! And dry them with paper towels.

Thank you Annika for a wonderful ski tour – our longest so far. I enjoyed every single hour.

Some days later …

I am back in Tromsø for work. It is the Friday after our ski tour. In the night it started snowing and round about five cm of new powder snow cover the street, where I live. That’s round about twice as much snow fall as we had on our whole ski tour ;-)

Now it is the week before Easter holidays. What will it bring? Rain and the first flowers? Or more snow?

Ski tour in Sweden – side trip to Nallo

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 10 – 7 March – Vistas—Nallo

After our break day in Vistas we have planned to go for a side trip to Nallo, a small STF cabin embedded in high mountains just nine or ten kilometres away. We will stay there overnight. The weather forecast looks great for today (sunny and calm) and ok for tomorrow (overcast but also calm). In the morning it was -13 °C but temperatures are rising quickly.

After breakfast we pack our things, but leave some items behind. We’ll be back tomorrow. Our friend Dirk who is stugvärd here accompanies us a bit then we start our ski tour. Then we continue alone up the valley Stuor Reaiddávággi.

We arrive at lunch time and make something warm to eat. This time no packet soup as usual, but trekking food (mostly powder). Quite ok, if you ask me. I manage to take a photo of the cabin in the sun, that shines here for less than an hour this season because of the high mountains in the south.

The cabin is an Abrahamssonsstuga (or Fjällstuga 65). This type of cabin has 21 places and was built a lot in the mountains between 1965 and 1973. It can happen that you hike the whole day to arrive at a cabin that looks exactly alike the one you left in the morning. However, I like them if there are not too crowded and this night we will be only six people (plus the stugvärd) sleeping there.

At dinner we eat trekking food again, this time another brand. That pulp was the most disgusting stuff I have eaten for ages and neither of us manages to finish the meal. Good, that we have chocolate left to cover the bad taste. After dinner another polar light is building up. First just a thin stripe like a spotlight, then it broadens. At the same time the first clouds have started gathering but are held back by the mountains.

Day 11 – 8 March – Nallo—Vistas

Oh, the weather forecast was correct. It is cloudy today. However we have an easy job today: Just skiing back the 9 (or is it 10?) km and loose 220 metres of altitude. Breakfast, packing, doing our cabin duties and off we go.

While Nallo was above the tree line Vistas isn’t. First there are single birth trees than birch forests. Back with the trees comes the animal life, mostly the ptarmigans that sometimes sit on a branch of a birch looking like big, fluffy snowballs. Not the best camouflage … . What we however do not see are the four moose. We will see them later from the cabin using a binocular.

And then we are at Vistas and the Sauna is almost ready.

After sauna Annika is preparing the farewell dinner. Dirk already had watered the dried potatoes, feta cheese and vegetable in the morning, now she is making frittata with porcini mushrooms. Delicious! Dirk contributes the dessert and we have a “gemütlich” evening together. It’s Annika’s and my last day in the mountains. Today we will reach civilisation again.

 

 

 

Ski tour in Sweden – Tjäktja—Alesjaure—Vistas

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 7 – 4 March – Tjäktja—Alesjaure

I may repeat myself but again we have sunny weather and blue sky at -6 °C. The only difference, it is windy today. It started last night when we were out to watch the Northern Lights and now the wind is blowing snow over the mountains and through the valley. While we are starting our tour we are having an impressive parhelion and a piece of halo right of the sun. I’m pretty sure that it isn’t created by stratospheric clouds but by the blowing snow.

We descend into the valley Alisvággi and leave the blowing wind behind us. Now sun feels warm but on the ice of the river system Aliseatnu the cold air still wins.

It takes some time until we can spot some of the cabins of Alesjaure. I can see them behind the rocky hill. No, they are on the rocky hill. I remember having tried to climb this turtle shell-like hill with skis and pulka years ago. I have learned my lesson, we walk up. And then we are welcomed by the warden with a hot and very sweet juice. We chat for a while (we have met once years before) and then Annika and I sit on the reindeer skin lying on the bench by the table and take an outdoor picnic. We may choose a room because we are first. We enjoy the weather, inside and outside. Later, after dinner we will head for the sauna.

I thought it would be extremely crowded here but we arrived on the right day. Yesterday: 40 guests. Tomorrow: 50 pre-booked guests. Today: 11 :-)

Day 8 – 5 March – Alesjaure—Vistas

Today is a special day. We do not take a break day, we continue to Vistas where our friend Dirk is currently warden. With 18 kilometres it is the longest distance on our ski tour this year and I was a bit afraid that it could get tough. Is there a track? How is the snow? Therefore I have urged Annika into raising up ridiculously early. We have the large kitchen for us while ptarmigans are hopping and clucking outside of the windows.

The sun starts to illuminate the highest mountain peaks, soon we will have sun as well. 7:05 (sic!) we start our tour.

… and get a little lost. We navigate by eye and sync the stones marked in red with the summer trail on our map. Anyhow it doesn’t fit. The GPS helps and now we know where we are. While finding a good route to get more north were we assume the correct route to be we realise that the summer markers are all over the place. Not helpful! Our assumption was correct, there is the unmarked winter trail. It is obvious, because now we see snow mobile tracks, ski tracks, pulka tracks, boot tracks, snowshoe tracks. I guess we won’t have any navigation challenges anymore today.

We cross the first lake Bajip Čazajávri and the second lake Vuolip Čazajávri, then we stand at the “abyss”. The steepest part of this declining slope falls 50 metres on 200 metres and we both decide to unmount the skis. Beside of a patch of soft snow the snow is good to walk on.

Now we are in the beginning of the valley Visttasvággi which will gently descend for the rest of today’s tour. And since it descend we leave the barren kalfjäll and meet the first birch trees, the first ones since a week.

The next hours we will ski in the sun. The hot sun. First I take off my jacket, then cap and gloves, then I roll up my sleeves. Finally I put on the shirt’s hood again, not for cold but for sun protection. Some photos from the tour:

Moose droppings are not the only animal tracks we see. There are the typical deep moose tracks, the smaller reindeer tracks, countless ptarmigan tracks (both feet and feathers) and a special track – like a fox on snow shoes. This was the description of the Sami on Sälka when he described wolverine tracks. The wolverine track follows the trail for a long time and watching it is pretty exciting.

The wolverine tracks are special, since these animals are rare. Only round about a thousand wolverines live in Scandinavia. But I love the ptarmigan prints as well. They often seem to tell stories.

My titles: 1. Zen garden / 2. Hieroglyphs / 3. Salsa party

After some hours of sun we finally come into the shadow. Almost a relief. Now it is not far anymore to the Vistas cabin, which is not part of the famous Kungsleden trail since it lies in a side valley. Skiing there was much easier then I expected and we had a faster pace then on the preceding shorter distances.

Dirk has seen us already and welcomes us outside with two cups of hot juice. Later we get an incredible five star afternoon snack. It consists of two surprises. First surprise: We found cookies in the leftover food in the kitchen cupboard! Two sorts, one of them with chocolate. That has never ever happened to me before and I hardly can imagine why people should leave cookies behind. I won’t! Anyhow I’m grateful. Second surprise: Dirk does not only invites us to coffee but also to Christmas stollen, a traditional German Christmas cake. It is never too late to eat stollen. Thanks, Dirk, for sharing it with us!

After dinner – Dirk invited us again – I just walk around to take photos. A faint polar light can be seen but it is nothing compared with the last days, especially the night in Tjäktja.

Day 9 – 6 March – Vistas

Today is the fourth and last break day we take on this tour. Are we lazy? Yes and no. Annika is sawing logs, I am chopping the wood (not my best day though). I fetch water from the river by lowering a bucket from the bridge into a patch of open water. The ice on the river is not save. But we also sit outside reading and I am using the short period where the sun shines on the cabins (yes, another fine day) to take some photos.

Tomorrow we will ski to Nallo and stay there over night, then we will come back to Vistas.