Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Øksfjord – Stamsund

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Disclaimer: Many, many photos, some of them pretty mediocre but all part of the journey.

Still Saturday, 16 February

After we left Øksfjord we continued our journey through the darkness. The people on board were idle, they chatted, read a book, look through the window and of course most of them used their computers, tablets or smartphones.

Three hours later we were in Skervøy, stop #9 of my Hurtigruten journey.

After a short stay we continued to Tromsø, Norway’s largest town north of Trondheim. I took a night image of the passing Hurtigruten ship MS Trollfjord then I went to sleep.

Our stays in Tromsø and Finnsnes I overslept completely.

Sunday, 17 February

At 7 o’clock I woke up, half an hour later I stood outside and took the first pictures in the blue hour. The weather was much better than the other days and the temperatures had dropped below zero in the night. We were on our way to Harstad, with 25000 inhabitants the third largest town in Northern Norway. Stop #12.

While we were stopped in Harstad the sun was rising and was bathing the landscape in purplish light. Harstad started to glitter. It was the many windows reflecting the warm sunlight.

The sun rose higher and after a while the sky was blue. I stood outside with my large telephoto lens and tried to catch the impressive snowy mountain ranges by the fjords and sea.

Risøyrennan, a deepened part of Risøysundet came into view.

After a short stay in Risøyhamn, part of the Vesterålen and stop #13 of my journey we continued south. The sheltered  was covered with a closed layer of thin pancake ice. You could hear it crack when it met the bow wave of the ship.

Some more images taken between Risøyhamn and Sortland:

I left the MS Lofoten in Sortland, stop #14, but only for a short time. In Norway all shops are closed on Sundays and then the towns may be a bit boring. Partly the ways still covered with a bit of frozen snow, but mostly it was slippery ice and some deep water puddles. Home in Skelleftehamn it had been very warm the last days and I expect the same road conditions when I’ll come home in a couple of days.

After 30 minutes the MS Lofoten continued its tour. At the horizon the steep mountains of the Lofoten islands came into view.

The backlit Lofoten mountain ranges looked amazing as if they were from another world. I’ll show you two photos but I’m not at all happy with them. In reality the landscape looked more aerial or as if made of light.

These mountains were in the far. The nearer mountains to the left or right looked more normal when it comes to light but still unreal because they were so steep and snowy.

The large island Hinnøya on the port side, the island Langøya on starboard side of the ship I stood at the starboard and peeked through my telephoto lens. I have friends near Stokmarknes on the Vesterålen and was I looking for their house. I found it ;-). Unfortunately R. was ill but J. visited be on the ship with the children. They went on board while the ship lay at the port of Stokmarknes, stop #15. Shortly before departure my friends left the ship. Thank you very much for your visit!

Oh, I forgot the photo of the islet (or holm) Gjæva. I already knew it from earlier stays with my friends.

Now we headed for the impressive sound Raftsundet where we would even take a small detour to the entrance of the Trollfjorden. Due to the narrowness of the fjord and the risk of avalanches it’s not possible to drive into it in wintertime.

We left the blue sky behind us, the weather worsened.

First the weather still was quite fair but then it started to snow. The snowfall was so strong and the cloud layer was so thick and low that it was decided not to visit the Trollfjorden. You hardly would have seen anything.

The camera was wet, I was wet, too and it was so dark that it was near to impossible to take any pictures. It was twenty to five and I went into my cabin and took a nap.

Just some photos “for the archives” of the next stays: Svolvær and Stamsund, stops #16 and #17, both on the Lofoten.

Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Kirkenes – Øksfjord

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Friday, 15 February

While I moved into my cabin the Hurtigruten ship MS Lofoten still anchored in the port of Kirkenes. I had a windowless 2-bed-cabin for myself and was able to spread out my belongings. But before that I took a photo with my fisheye lens. With the fisheye-like distortion the cabin look huge!

I used the Hurtigruten twice before, in 2017 from Vardø to Stokmarknes and last year from Båtsfjord to Ørnes. So the section KirkenesVardø was new to me. And it’s the first time without my car on board.

We were in the harbour till half past twelve.

Then we left Kirkenes and my 3rd and longest Hurtigruten journey had started. I stood at the stern of the ship and looked back.

Soon I changed place from stern to bow – at the MS Lofoten you can stand next to the bridge – and looked ahead. Far away, a bit to the port side I could spot a white plain – part of the Varanger peninsula.

[Live interruption: We have reached the open Lopphavet between Øksfjord and Skervøy. The ship has started to rock again. I am interrupted by the sound of a plate falling down from the table. Thanks to the soft carpet it survived]

Annika and I travelled a lot on the Varanger peninsula last winter. I stood on the port side of the ship and tried to spot all places we have been: There’s Vadsø, the largest town – there, far away is Ekkerøy with it’s beautiful beaches. And there is Kiberg, where we had a good time with Trond, our host of Cape East Arctic Adventure. And there’s his house! I found it! Let’s see, what about Kibergsneset, the easternmost point of mainland Norway where Annika and I had been last year? It was farther away from the village than I remembered, but finally I found it, too. Both photos are taken with 600 mm from a rocking ship with a vibrating motor, so the quality is bad, but it was nice to take these pictures.

Half an hour we arrived in Vardø, stop #1. (Vadsø is left out on the southbound direction.) We arrived late and I decided to stay aboard. I’ve been in Vardø before.

When we left Vardø behind, it was too dark to see the scenery. I have breakfast included but not the other meals, because I think they are quite expensive. I have my own food with me. This day however I didn’t have a proper breakfast so I bought a large bread with salmon and scrambled eggs.

The MS Lofoten went along the northern coast of Varanger. It was windy and the sea was a bit rough. The MS Lofoten was exposed to the elements. It is not only the smallest operating Hurtigruten ship but also the only one without stabilisers. It was rocking in every direction and the swell got stronger and stronger. Sometimes the bow of the ship was hovering in midair and then scended into the next trough. I’ve never been seasick before but I started to sweat and to feel quite uncomfortable. I tried to ignore it for a while, then I interrupted my photo edit session, went down to my cabin and went straight into bed. Whether it was my lying position or the fact, that the cabin was nearer to the center of the ship’s mass I don’t know, but I felt much better and fell soon asleep.

I woke up shortly before Båtsfjord, stop #2. Near the harbour the strong swell had subsided. Soon the ship lay calmly at the jetty. It had started snowing intensely. We were in Båtsfjord quite a long time due to a lot of freight being unloaded and loaded.

I went into my cabin and continued sleeping. I overslept Berlevåg, Mehamn and Kjøllefjord but was awake in …

Saturday, 16 February

Honningsvåg, stop #6. I was so sure that I would oversleep this stop as well, but we were an hour late. I was still dark, but I could take some photos with my tripod.

[Live interruption: We have left the Lopphavet, the sea was much calmer than expected]

We left Honningsvåg with an hour delay. I tried to make pictures but the sight was poor, mostly because of the snow showers and the low hanging clouds. At least I could take a picture of the MS Nordnorge.

An announcement came through the speakers: Due to the delay we would skip Havøysund, usually stop #7. This would spare us half an hour.

It got warmer. Temperatures were hardly below zero, much too warm for the season. It snowed more and more and all you could see was the ship and a circular patch of waves and snow.

Anyway the snow showers didn’t last for hours and after another snow shower Melkøya came into view.

Melkøya is just a few kilometres away from Hammerfest, second largest town of the Finnmark. It’s the endpoint of an undersea pipeline for natural gas. Here it is converted to liquefied natural gas that is exported to the world.

Right after Melkøya Hammerfest, stop #7 on this journey came into view.

Here we had a longer stopover. A young woman took ropes, rolled them up and threw them up onto the much higher foredeck of the MS Lofoten. She succeeded every time. Later I asked here if I might use the photo (I may) and she told me that she wasn’t sure if she would make it today because of the strong winds.

I left the MS Lofoten for looking around, taking pictures and buying a coke in the local supermarket. Some photos:

After an hour I went aboard again, placed myself into the salon and started editing images. The weather was too dull to take great pictures, a good reason to be lazy.

I even took a short nap in my cabin. Anyhow I was up again when we arrived in Øksfjord, stop #8. With a fisheye photo of the port Loppa Havn I will finish this blog article.

[Back to now: Soon we’ll arrive in Skjervøy, stop #9. If we make it we’ll even reach Tromsø today but perhaps I’ll sleep. I’ve been in Tromsø several times before and even twice last year.]

 

 

 

A sunny ski tour on the Baltic Sea

What a beautiful day! It’s calm and sunny with temperatures round -20 °C. After breakfast Chris and I start another ski tour at the very same place as the day before. Between these photos lies a day:

As the day before we ski to the near island Storgrundet and cross it, but then we turn right. The Baltic Sea is covered with ice half to Finland but you hardly see the ice anymore. It is covered with snow.

The last two days have brought round 30 cm of fresh snow, but the Baltic Sea is not evenly covered. There are snowdrifts and patches with bare ice and the wind has created sharp snow patterns. They are called sastrugi. Sastrugis can make skiing very demanding when they are hard, but these were still soft and easy to ski on.

It is colder than the day before but it feels much more comfortable and warm because the absence of any wind. We ski along the islands, first Storgrundet, then Norrskär. Here we turn left because another island catches my eye. Northeast from Norrskär there’s a smaller island called Norrskärsgrundet. Here a lot of snow has accumulated.

Chris and I ski to the island and take a break. We both have about the same tempo and like to photograph – always a good reason to slow down.

We walk round and take pictures, then we mount our skis again and “climb” the island’s top. Some fresh animal tracks are visible. A fox, a hare, and a place where the snow tells a story. Here a fox apparently caught a bird. We see a deep track of the foxes jump in the snow and feathers everywhere.

We turn right and reach the esker that connects the islands Norrskär and Bredskär. It’s time for skiing back and also time for a break with hot cocoa and chocolate that we take on the ice by a tiny nameless island. We are glad about our puffy down jackets because we instantly feel the cold when we stop moving. After the break we continue our way back to the parked car. The sun is low and our shadows have grown long.

Soon the snowy surface we ski on lies in the shadow of the island Brambärsgrundet. Only the cottages on Storgrundet have still sun. We reach the car round sunset – good timing.

I love snow storms as well as sun and blue ski and I love especially the contrasts. Therefore this ski tour is strongly connected to the one we made the day before, the day that brought the snow we ski on.

 

Snowy night, snowy day

When I returned from Avan two days ago the Swedish weather institute SMHI had issued a snow warning: 20-30 cm snowfall and at the coast fresh winds from northeast. Yesterday the wind increased and in the afternoon it started to snow. Soon the snowfall increased, too and the wind made the snow whirl round the houses and through the streets. More and more snow came falling down and soon the street was snowed over completely.

“Beep! Beeep! Krrrr. BEEEP! KRRRRR!” – these sounds woke me up this morning at 5 o’clock. The sound of snowploughs and shovel loaders clearing the roads. They beep when they go backwards and the shovels make loud scraping noises.

While the shovel loaders take the snow and move it to other places the snowploughs just push the deep snow aside. Both are important but the latter create work for the locals. They create a so-called plogkant – compact walls of snow – along the street and so right in front of your driveway.

This plogkanten was 60 cm high and the loose snow behind was of almost the same height. Before I could use the car I had to shovel snow. A lot of snow, at least 2½ m³. Fortunately the temperatures where round -10 °C and the snow was loose and fluffy. A good workout anyway. Finally I could get camera and tripod and took the car to two places by the sea.

The garage at the pilot station was surrounded by meter-high snowdrifts. The snowdrifts in the lee of the house were even higher. The gaps in the fence created a nice stripe pattern on the snowdrift outside. It was still quite dark and there was not much to see otherwise.

At the “beach” of Storgrundet the stormy gusts of wind blew the snow horizontally from left and right and in the dawn the scenery looked very harsh.

Great weather for a ski tour on the sea ice, isn’t it?

Two and a half hours later: Chris – a friend of mine from Kirkenes who arrived yesterday – and I had just come to the very same place to start a ski tour. We mounted the skies, put our hoods on and slipped into the gloves. It still was snowing and quite windy.

And when it’s windy at the mainland you can bet that it’s much more windy on the sea ice which is completely exposed to the elements. And so it was. The island Storgrundet was in the back and we could see the pale schemes of some other islands in the northwest. The northeast however looked like the Arctic Zone.

Chris was following my ski tracks. She looked like an arctic explorer with the white void in the background.

Here’s one of of the rare photos of me, that is no selfie. If you look closer you see that my ski tracks go zig-zag. That’s because even on the sea ice of the Baltic Sea there were many snowdrifts with sharp edges and I could hardly see whether it went up or down. Skiing was not exhausting but we were slow due to the wind and the bad sight. (… and taking pictures.)

We skied to a headland which had been in sight for a while.

As soon as we reached the lee of the headland it was almost windless. What a huge difference to the exposed parts of the sea where weather was quite rough. In the shelter of the headland we took a break. (We forget the tea in my kitchen but at least we had a bit of chocolate.) On the headland were summer cottages, now snowbound in meter-high snowdrifts.

The way back was easier. The gusty wind had started calm down a bit and the snowfall lessened. The view to the west however was still extremely arctic.

We were however no arctic explorers but had the luxury of a parked car and a heated house just some minutes away. The ski tour was short in distance but rich in experience and that’s what counts!

Takk for turen, Chris!

It continued snowing until dark. The fence in my backyard had been buried in snow almost completely. The fence is 85 cm high.

Later in the afternoon I continued clearing snow. Not with a front loader but with a wide snow shovel. Chris has parked her car on the street and both the snowfall and the snowplough had buried it up to the top of the wheels. I pushed all snow into the front yard where the snow pile got higher and higher.

I’m a quite curious person when it comes to snow depths. I made a step on the top of the snow pile and as I guessed the snow was quite loose:

If the forecast is right we get calm, sunny and colder winter weather tomorrow. We consider to start the very same ski tour again just to see the difference.

 

#escapism – skiing through the landscapes

When I walked home from an early meeting today it snowed at -12 °C. I trudged through the fresh snow like a small child.

Actually, I wanted to work with my online shop for my photo website. Outside it continued snowing. It took less than a minute to change plans. I took my skis, the backpack with the camera equipment, ski pants and my old Norrøna-jacket and went outside. I went down the snowy stairs, put on my skis and started a local ski tour. I skied 300 meter and was in the …

Forest

First I followed a snowy snowmobile track (with a detour to a small wetland) and then paw prints of a hare.

Following the paw prints led me to a …

Swamp

In winter however these swampy areas are frozen – no problem with skis.

The snow was round 30 cm deep and quite fluffy so that I sank down even with the skis. Perhaps my 240 cm long wooden Tegsnäs skis would have been the better choice. I crossed a small pond and a small ridge – probably formed in the last ice age – and then I came to a larger …

Lake

The lake Snesviken had been frozen already in November. Now it was just a snowy plain with a small island in the middle.

I took a selfie …

…crossed the lake and came to a …

Dense forest

I knew that this forest was dense with a lot of underwood and many rocks, but I forgot how hard it is to find a way through it on skis. Now I was quite glad that I didn’t take the Tegsnäs skis.

I fought my way through birch thickets and rocky passages. It took a long time until I left the forest and reached a snowy road, part of a …

Cottage area

I followed the road to its end. Skiing was easy and effortless after the dense forest.

As in the whole of Sweden there are many summer cottages in Skelleftehamn, too. This cottage – as most of them – was by the …

Sea

I crossed the small thicket at the rocky shore …

… then I stood on the frozen Baltic Sea. I started skiing leaving the mainland behind. It was much windier and I was glad about my fur-trimmed hood. The field of view however is limited. Looking down I saw the fur, the skis and a white featureless surface. Almost whiteout conditions. Parts of the landscape were featureless as well.

It may look like I was in the middle of the Arctic, but no, right behind me there was an …

Island

The Island Storgrundet is the nearest island from the mainland. Here I had looked at the sea ice 10 days ago, here I watched the lunar eclipse last week.

I followed the coastal line, crossed a frozen bay and arrived at the old boat shed that probably had been there for ages.

Then I crossed the island through the forest.

The island is not very wide. After 200 meter I could see the mainland’s …

Coast

This part of the coast is one of my favourite places in Skelleftehamn. In summer it has a nice sandy beach, in winter it’s the first part of the sea that freezes. In summer I use to paddle kayak, but most locals prefer small motorboats. Now all boats lie upside down on the shore.

Where there are boats are also houses. Where there are houses there’s also a …

Road

And this road is special, because it leads …

Home

Here I arrived three hours later. I put off the skis, shock of the snow and went in.

Oh, I love winter!

Backsjön

A short tour with “turskidor” (touring skis) on the lake Bäcksjön near Umeå. After some days with slightly warmer temperatures and fluffy snowfall we got another sunny day with no wind and temperatures round -20 °C today.

Now I’m home again in Skelleftehamn. This night could be the coldest yet. Already now at 22:30 it’s -25 °C, that’s quite cold for the coast. From tomorrow on it shall become warmer with temperatures mainly round -10 °C.

 

Welcome to my icy world

This morning I walked to the same spot on the island Storgrundet as four days ago. This time I arrived there already at 8 o’clock, one hour before sunrise. It was the coldest winter day yet with temperatures round -22 °C. This means two pairs of gloves: full-fingered stretch fleece gloves for handling the camera and warm woollen mittens for keeping the hands warm.

Four days ago the pancake ice had been still floating on the water. The ice floes had been bobbing up and down in the approaching tiny waves that had come from the open sea nearby.

Today the Baltic Sea was completely frozen as far as I could look. No movement, no sound, just a solid layer of ice to the horizon. The shore was coated with a thick layer of ice, too. The ice looked blueish because of the ambient light. No wonder that this time of the day is called “blue hour”.

I went along the shore. There were mainly two types of ice covering the Baltic Sea:

First there was pancake ice frozen together. The floes built a solid layer of ice but you could still see the patterns of the raised edges.

Then there was fresh ice. The ice itself was flat, clear and featureless, but it was completely covered with featherlike ice and therefore as white as the pancake ice.

While I was walking along the shore the colours had started to change. Opposite the sun the sky became lilac, purple, violet, pink.

Finally the sun rose and started to illuminate the ice.

The ice in the sun looked orange – the complementary colour of blue. The „golden hour“ had started.

Did you notice the round horizon of the last photo? Today’s the first time I tried out my new fish eye lens. Fish eyes make very special pictures due to their extreme distortion. The last photo shows the effect even more clearly. I call it „My icy world“.

Kayak season is over

Two days ago I considered to go kayaking a last time before the sea freezes over. Large parts of the inshore Baltic Sea were still open but it was hard to reach the open water without bearing the heavy kayak over the icy, rocky shore or walking on unstable ice. So I decided against paddling.

When I arrived at the seashore this morning it was clear that the kayak season would be over for a while.

Temperatures between -15°C and -20 °C have made the Baltic Sea freeze. It almost looks like one could walk to the island Gåsören, but that wouldn’t work. That, what looks like a solid surface of ice is actually a pattern of floating ice floes. It’s not visible to the naked eye, but comparing photos shows, that there are still tiny waves under the ice floes that make them go up and down.

Where is the pack ice?

Today I wanted to take more photos of the pack ice covering the Baltic Sea, this time in sunlight. Unfortunately the weather didn’t follow the forecast. (Yes, this happens!) Instead of the predicted sun and clear sky it was cloudy.

When I was brushing by teeth I noticed a light in the west. A huge honey yellow full moon hung in the western sky and shone into my bathroom. Apparently western winds had started to blow the cloud layer eastward.

I took my camera equipment and my winter parka and drove to the beach to take pictures from the full moon. Here’s one of those pictures:

To be honest, I think this is a boring picture. It says more about the pros and cons of my telephoto lens than showing an interesting scenery. The photo could have been taken anywhere. Everywhere where there are power lines and a bit of sky.

I took the car and headed for another place. Hopefully I would find a better motive. To make a long story short: I didn’t. Even the photo with the three islands (two of them are seen above the horizon) looks pale and featureless.

Suddenly I heard birdcalls. Three white whooper swans flew along the coast, heading south. Looks like a good idea, because when the Baltic Sea is frozen they will have hard times finding food. I was lucky: camera at hand, telephoto lens mounted, time to increase ISO and activate the VR. Click!

I continued to Näsgrundet, the place where I photoed the pack ice two nights ago. The ice however was gone! Probably the very same wind that pushed the clouds to the east blew also the ice floes into the open sea. Beside of some grounded ice floes the sea was open again. I decided to continue using my telephoto lens, both for motives farther away and quite near.

I got attracted by a rock covered with a humpback ice pattern. Looking at the results I’m quite content with the lens for this type of motive. I cannot decide which of the two photos I prefer, the first one showing the whole rock or the second one that focuses more on the icy details. What do you think?

When I was home, the temperature had dropped from -9.5 °C to -14 °C.

Some hours later: The sun is setting. The air is chilly but the colours are warm. The Baltic Sea is steaming with cold. One wide-angle photo, taken at 13:07 at the same place.

Home again the sun has set but it’s still light. I decide to go for a jog. It’s fun to hear the snow crunching under the studded soles of my new running shoes. And I do not need my headlights because the sunset is so slow. The air is cold, round -15 °C. My fitness it not the best and I have to breath a lot to keep my pace. Good to have a buff for warming up the cold air a bit.

Two photos from today: (1) me photographing, (2) me jogging. Keep in mind, that it was warmer on the first photo.

P.S.: When I look at the whole blog article I’m more content with the photo of the full moon. The isolated photo may be pointless but in the article it has its place.

Ice between mainland and the island Norrskär

The first colder days with temperatures between -15 °C and -20 °C. Colder in the inland with temperatures around -30 °C. Tomorrow clouds will approach and it will get 10 °C warmer. Unfortunately still no large amounts of snow in sight.