The ice did not last long

The morning of 10 January is my the coldest this winter: -20.5 °C. A longer period of frost has frozen over the Baltic Sea earlier than usual. I stand at the shore by our house. Ice as long as I can see.

I follow the coastal line to take photos. Ice fog draws in.

When I return from my pre-work photo trip the temperature has risen to -15 °C and it gets warmer hour by hour. In the evening it’s only -3 °C and it has become stormy.

Two days later I’m out again. It thaws. The effects of the storm are visible: The wind pushed the ice shield ashore where the ice broke into countless pieces.

Movements at the horizon. Large waves roll along the sea and build an ice wall by the rocks south from the island Bredskärssten, 1300 metres from our house. I would love to take photos there but there’s no way for me to get there. It’s too windy for a hovercraft and I don’t own one. So I take mobile phone photos through my spotting scope.

The next day. Similar situation but now with the sun illuminating the splash that the waves throw at the ice walls. The thaw has melted the snow on the ice and made it wet. It twinkles and glistens in the sun. Beautiful to watch.

In the night it is stormy und gusty again.

14 January – the next day. As every day it is too dark in the morning to spot the sea. A small line of red at the horizon signalises the approaching sun. And there it is: 09:03 – sunrise.

Now I can see that beside of some leftovers by the shore all the sea ice has gone. Crushed by the waves and the storm and floated away. Now there’s open water from shore to horizon. Probably it will take some time until the Baltic Sea freezes over again.

And what can you do in open water? Correct – you can kayak!

It was just a very small tour round Lillskär. First it was just a lunch break again and then it was still very windy. Wind came from west and I didn’t want to drift to Finland ;-)

Kayaking however wasn’t dangerous. It’s easy to paddle against the wind – easier than side winds – if the distance is not too big. Probably more dangerous is the large, wet patch of blank ice in front of our house. Slippery as hell! Hopefully it gets colder and snowier soon.

Link to a Swedish article of the SMHI: Bottenviken snabbt avtäckt igen.

Four winter days in and round Obbola

OK guys, it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m too lazy to write long texts. I just show some photos of the last days where our German friend Medi joined Annika and me on various excursions with some notes.

Thursday, 6 January – skiing in Västermarks naturreservat

+++ Västermarks naturreservat, 50 km north from Umeå +++ a non-commercial forest made us climb over and under fallen trees that lay across the marked loop trail +++ by the trail a wooden cabin +++ time was too short to fire the oven but lighting candles is cozy, too +++

Friday, 7. January – lunch break skiing

+++ right next to our postbox (500 metres from our house) starts Spåret, a 3600 metre long forest trail +++ we use back-country skis to ski Spåret in my prolonged lunch break +++ we, that’s Dirk – guest for two nights – Medi and I +++ -12 °C, but my Anorak is too warm +++ I tie it round my hip +++ on the photo it looks like a skirt +++

Photo: Dirk Thomas

Me sking “Spåret” – Photo: Dirk Thomas

Saturday, 8 January — cross-country skiing on Olle’s Spår

+++ grey weather, -14 °C +++ the trees are covered with snow +++ black-and-white imagery +++ after some days of back-country skiing it’s nice to use cross-country skis on a real trail +++

Sunday, 9 January – Northern lights and sunrise

+++ 1 o’clock in the night +++ I check for Northern lights +++ we are lucky +++ Medi and Annika watch the aurora beside of the garage +++ I take some photos from our garden +++
+++ 8:20 in the morning +++ the Baltic Sea freezes over more and more +++ sunrise colours by the sea  +++ and then in our garden +++ watching sunrise while taking breakfast +++

Still Sunday, 9 January – Strömbäck-Kont

+++ just a short walk at one of Annika’s and my favourite places: Strömbäck-Kont +++ looking at the ice ridge by the sea +++

Still Sunday, 9 January – halo effects

+++ after lunch we are taking Medi to the airport +++ strong and colourful parhelion or sun dogs halos +++ the photo is taken at the airport +++ I am questioned by the security and show the taken photos to prove I’m not a spy +++

Kayak and ice on the Baltic Sea

Does it work? Can I paddle kayak on the Baltic Sea when it is covered with up to 20 cm thick ice floes?

Well, let’s try …

Looks like it worked, doesn’t it?

Well, to be honest, no it didn’t.

I did not use the paddle at all but just pushed myself forward with my arms and so pushed the kayak over the ice floes. Since this was slow and exhausting and I only had my lunch break I did not come far and did not reach the open sea that always was in view.

And the way back? The same but backwards. I don’t think it would have been possible to turn around the kayak in the ice. while sitting in it. But it was fun anyhow.

Sun salutation

While the polar night in Tromsø started in the end of November and continues for two more weeks there is no polar light home in Obbola which is 6 degrees south of Tromsø. So if there is clear sky, then there is sun.

After Christmas in Norway Annika and I arrived in Obbola some days ago. First the weather was cloudy and stormy but today  sky was quite clear. Therefore I could witness the sun today for the first time in more than a month. I only had to go 200 metres to the edge of our little bay Grundviken where I waited for the sunrise.

I love sunrises and sometimes I can stand up quite early to witness it. But today it was really special to watch the sun rise higher and higher up the sky while in Tromsø polar night still continues.

After breakfast we took the car to Byviken in Obbola to join the winter bath. Round 40 cars were parked there and a queue of winter bathers waited at the ice hole. Winter bathing has really become a popular sport within the last years. We decided to avoid the queue and continued to our favourite beach at Vitskärsudden where we had to climb over a wall of ice but then we were the only winter bathers. Air: -10 °C, no wind – perfect conditions. Great!

(Photos: Annika Kramer)

We may take another outdoor bath today, but then in the hot water of our friend’s hot tub. I guess this bath could take slightly longer than the previous one.

Thaw and cloudbursts

Why, oh why was the forecast of Yr right? Already a week ago it forecasted a period of thaw and heavy rainfall. And Wednesday it started to rain. Just now I’m listening to another cloudburst bucketing down on the roof.

The snow is gone and the ways and small streets are very icy. When it continues raining like this even the ice may have thawed and washed away soon.

It looks almost like autumn but with a huge difference: It’s dark. The photos above I made at lunch break on my last working day this year.

It’s a pity! Just today my wife Annika will arrive so that we can spend Christmas time together. It would have been lovely with a lot of snow but even though it shall be colder again soon it does not look like we get some.

Tromsøya crossing in winter

An almost true story to be read out loud with a deep and rough voice.

I survived one of mankind’s largest expeditions of our times – the crossing of the arctic island Tromsøya from south to north! Probably I’m the first one, who dared to face this extraordinary challenge.

The arctic ice breaker could not approach the harsh coastal line of Tromsøya’s southern tip. Too mighty the storm, too sharp the rocky cliffs, too high the enormous waves! I was forced to row the last mile in a wooden dinghy. When I approached land I realised that despite of months of planning I was without food! Would I survive? Well, the tour must start, with or without provisions. One has to go one in live.

The land was wild and it was hard to find the entry point of my expedition. Where is Sydspissen, the Southern tipp? With my extraordinary orientation skills I finally managed to find this unexplored promontory which would be the starting point for my crossing.

I followed the coastal line through a field of invincible rocks. The storm howled and the surge of waves covered everything in spray. I decided to leave the exposed coast and seek shelter in the inland. To my surprise I found some ancient dwellings.

It seemed that this hostile island had been inhabited earlier. What a discovery! I continued my way and realised that I was not alone. People still seemed to live here. While most of the indigenes hid inside some dared to be outside, guarded by their dogs. The houses were shocking. While the people seemed to have some basic skills in woodcraft, they still lacked the knowledge of constructing right angles.

I continued my way through the forbidding terrain. After a while it opened and gave view to an extent of ice. Could it be a lake? Probably it had been frozen for centuries. Here I spotted more locals. As the others before they ignored me. Didn’t they dare to seek contact? I do not know. First I though they would hunt seal or walrus but they just seemed to wander around without any goal.

Soon I was alone again in the rough mountain scape of this arctic island. Orientation was extremely difficult. Without my compass and sextant I probably would have been lost forever in this pathless country. I was completely on my own.

The terrain descended and gave view to a strange installation. Scaffoldings pointing up to the sky were erected randomly on that slope. Was is temples or other places of worship? Who build them? When? And why? Probably one never will find out.

Since I lost my food I was forced to continue my expedition. Time was precious. The land was bleak and barren. No trees, no bushes, nothing. Maybe some moss seeking shelter between the stone could survive under the eternal snow. For other plants this place is too hostile. 

The mountains became even higher and I got view on a small coastal village, probably abandoned ages ago. One wooden house lay nearby but it lacked a door and most of the walls.

I looked for walkable paths that would lead me further north. The more north I came the more glaciers covered the land.

It started to get dark but without food I did not dare to seek shelter. I was forced to go on and go on without any rest. Amidst the mountains I spotted two indigenes. They sat on some kind of toboggan well clad in furs to keep them warm in the harsh sub-zero climate. I did not dare to disturb them and only managed to get a blurred photo as a proof of my observations.

According to my positional measurements the northern tipp of Tromsøya could not be far. I had survived until now. Would I make it to Nordspissen, the northern tip?

Alas – after more efforts and privations I managed to reach Nordspissen. I was grateful that fate allowed me to be the first human who reached this remote spot on foot. To my big surprise the legend was true: There is a mystic monument at Tromsøya’s northern tip and I can prove it:

But my efforts were in vain. I was too late! The last ship of the season just had passed by. Now I was forced to live here on this remote and solitary polar island for another year. But that’s daily routine for tough explorers like me.

 

Not reaching the top of the Nordtinden

Today I hiked the last daylight tour this season. Next Saturday sunrise is 11:25 and sunset is 11:38. The following day a seven week period of polar night will begin.

I wanted to hike onto the top of the Nordtinden (640 m), which I assumed to have a lot of snow after last Sunday’s experience. But it turned out different than planned.

Let’s start with a funny selfie:

What’s that? Winter jacket and no snow? Aren’t you overdressed, Olaf? Well, first I was glad about the fur-rimmed hood, because it was quite stormy already in the lowlands and then I wanted to gain 600 metres in altitude. It would be colder and windier on the top of the mountain.

Part 1 – hiking the icy gravel road

At 9 o’clock – round one hour before sunrise – I parked my car in Skulsfjord on the island Kvaløya. There was enough light to start the tour. First I followed a gravel road for 2.4 km. Easy peasy when not the whole road had been covered with ice. I had snow shoes with me for later use, but no spikes for the shoes. Mistake.

Part 2 – following the trail up

After 2.4 km I turned left to follow the hiking trail up to the mountain Nordtinden. Well, mostly I avoided following it because it was very icy and slippery. I considered cancelling the tour but often I could walk on the bouncy patches of heather beside the trail and so continue the tour.

Part 3 – gaining height

A steep passage made me doubt again. Shall I return? Continue? Well, let’s go a tiny bit further, just ten other metres up. I was lucky. Now the terrain was less steep. First only a bit of snow covered the stones and the heather but soon more and more snow covered the ground.

Part 4 – coming to a dead end

I knew that I lost the regular way. The way itself was not visible anymore, but I could see on my interactive map that I was a bit lower than the trail. Maybe I could go up somewhere else.

It was stormy and gusty and the wind tried to blow me down several times. The snow was not fluffy but wind pressed and hard and therefore slippery. When I had to traverse a slope I mounted my snowshoes. It took a while because I had some issues with the bindings. Now it dared to traverse the snow field, but since I didn’t take my walking sticks with me (mistake) it was a bit hard to walk up in the wind and gain balance.

And then I came to a dead end. A quite beautiful dead end, but still a dead end. I had to return.

Part 5 – returning, retrying and finally returning

So I walked back until I finally met the trail again, at least according my iPhone map. The way itself was hidden under the snow. Beside of that Norwegian hiking trails can be marked quite poorly, you have to navigate by yourself.

OK, I can navigate. I even had paper map and compass with me. But where the trail supposed to be there were only snow and rocks. And it was quite steep. And the snowshoes were a bit bitchy. And sun would set at 13 o’clock. Therefore I made the decision to not to try to reach the summit but abandon the tour and return. And so I did.

First I walked on snow but then I had to put off my snowshoes. In the lower part I ignored the icy trail and walked down on the heather. Much easier! Three and a half hours later I arrived at my parked car.

Résumé

It was a pity that I didn’t reach the top, but it was a fine though rough tour anyhow. From next week I have to find alternatives that are doable in twilight and darkness using a head torch.

For the records: 9.6 km, ca. 600 metres in altitude.

From autumn to winter – a tour to the Litjeblåmannen

This article is part of the series “2021-07: Back in Tromsø”.

My first concert with the chamber choir Ultima Thule was supposed to be today but due to the increasing COVID-19 cases in Tromsø the board decided to cancel the concert. That’s a pity but gave me a free day and the opportunity to continue with my #onceaweek project. I decided for a tour to the Litjeblåmannen (860 metres above sea level).

At 8:40 I have parked my car and start the tour. Temperature is -5 °C. Brr! I regret that I left my long johns home. That changes quickly when I take the first steep climb up the forest path and start to sweat. All trees have shed their leaves and are bare.

At 8:40 is sunrise. Half an hour later I can see the sun rise above the mountains. Ten minutes later I have left the birches behind and the landscape opens. I am gaining altitude and soon the path starts to cross the first snow fields.

Ten other minutes later snow and rocks start to dominate the landscape. It looks like winter. The autumn is left behind in the valley. I see a radio mast, part of the radio station on the Rundfjellet (472 m). Well, that was easy.

I decide to continue the tour. But where? The tour description mentions that I have to go down 50 metres. I hardly see any waymarks or a track but soon some foot steps that I follow. According to map and compass it’s the right direction. The terrain gets rockier, steeper and is partly icy but at least I spot some waymarks again. I stop to strap my spikes under the boots. Safety first! Less than an hour later I pass another radio station. I do not look closer because the terrain behind the building is very steep.

The terrain continues being steep and rocky but after a while I reach a plateau. Now it’s winter. Beside of some tufts of grass covered with frost there’s only snow and rocks.

From now on it’s much simpler to walk on this snow covered plateau and soon I reach the mountain summit Botnfjellet (844 m).

That’s however not my destination. Well, the summit of Litjeblåmannen looks far away but it takes only 20 more minutes to go there.

Break! Summit selfie!

The fur hood is not only for looking wintry on the selfie. It was colder than expected and after the selfies I put on my down pullover. Checking the temperature at Tromsø airport and subtracting 0.6 °C per 100 metres altitude I guess that the temperature is round -7 °C. The wind makes my mind change about wearing long johns a second time.

I eat a bit of chocolate and drink some Sprite before the frost transformed it into slush. I’m completely alone and I haven’t met anyone yet. It’s just beautiful up here with views on snowy mountain chains everywhere but on the snowless lowlands and the fjords as well.

After 20 minutes break I start my way down. First I follow my own tracks until I met the first mountain hiker today. Now I follow her steps. Does she know a better way?

Some impressions from the way down:

While I descend more and more the sun starts to set. I hike cross-country. Less and less snow covers the ground until I reach a terrain consisting of terraces of wetlands and dense birch thickets. The wetlands are easy to cross, since the ground is mostly frozen and I have rubber boots. The birch thickets however take some time to squeeze through. Looking back I can see purple clouds indicating that the sun already has set.

At 14:40 I arrive at the car. -4 °C. According to my app I walked 15 km and 1120 metres in altitude. I started before sunrise and arrived after sunset. This gives me the right to be very lazy the rest of the day. The blog article I want to write anyhow.

I met three persons in total:

  • A woman in my age in clothes that probably have been used on countless tours for many years,
  • A young woman in a grey woollen sweater hiking up quite fast while talking loudly on her cell phone.
  • A packed sleeping bag on a stone in the wetlands. A sleeping bag with a book. Wait! No, it’s a hood with a book. Wait! No, it’s a person leaning against a large rock reading. In the middle of some wet slope on the island Kvaløya. People here really like being outdoors.

So much for today. And now I have to stretch!

Appendix:

I just went to the kitchen and felt, that the outside light had changed. It had! It had snowed some centimetres and is still snowing. Everything is white. Beautiful!

Saskarö in the fog

From Monday and Thursday Annika and I made a trip that I had in mind for a longer while. Travelling round the Bothnian Bay which is the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea. The first days we travelled by car along the sea. The last hours we travelled by ship from Vaasa in Finland to Holmsund in Sweden. From there it’s only a 12½ additional km to our house in Obbola where we live.

On our way to Haparanda we made a detour to Seskarö, an island that is connected to the mainland by several bridges. As the whole day (and half our journey) it was quite foggy.

Especially by the shores there was not much to see. A near island, a bit of ice, some rocks and and a white sea merging seamlessly into the white sky.

Norwegian summer journey I

This article is part of the series “2021-08: Northern Norway”.

Annika and I have two weeks holiday and are travelling through Northern Norway. Our southernmost point: Lofoten, right now we are in Hammerfest.

Ten images looking back:

10 – We are on the high plateau Sennalandet. There are hardly any trees and the road E6 crosses the plateau in a straight line. I can imagine how rough and lonely this place may be in winter.

9 + 8 – The Øksfjordjøkelen is definitely worth the 16 km detour. The parking place and the small path leading through the sparse birch forest grant impressive views on this glacier. When the weather is clear.

7 – It’s grey on our passage from Andenes, Vesterålen to Gryllefjord, Senja. I stand on the top deck of the ferry and wonder how many tourists may have rung this bell and what had happened then.

6 – We just left Andenes by ferry. The razor sharp mountain line of Bleik will soon transform into a whitish grey scheme slowly vanishing in the drizzle.

5 + 4 – It is grey on our short ferry passage from Fiskebøl, Lofoten to Melbu, Vesterålen, too.

3 – One of the typical features of the Norwegian landscapes is the presence of high summits and fjords. Sometimes the mountains are reflected in the water surface of the sea.

2 – Hauklandstranda is one of these incredible beaches on the Lofoten islands with white sand and turquoise water. The sun is shining – time for a bath. Air temperature 11 °C, water 12 °C. Not as cold as expected.

1 – We pass Sildpollnes kapell on the Lofoten twice. Once on our way south and once when heading back again. There’s a parking place by the road where stairs and ways lead up to some hills that present a view over the landscapes around.

0 – On Saturday I leave Tromsø to fetch Annika from Riksgränsen train station in Sweden. It’s still not possible to travel further to Narvik by train. Our destination today: a room in Tjeldsundbrua.