The ice road in Avan

Today I had a meeting in Norrbotten, Sweden’s northernmost län (county). It was the annual general meeting of Barents Press International, a joint network of journalists in the Barents Region. I joined this organisation a few weeks ago and took the meeting as an opportunity to meet members of Barents Press in real live.

The projects presented at the meeting were really impressing. In addition to that the people were both very friendly and extremely interesting.

The meeting was in Avan near Luleå, 150 km from here or as the Swedes say: 15 miles. The name Avan rang a bell, but it took a look on the map to remember that it’s the place where Annika and I had used the ferry to cross the river Luleälven in May 2015. And later that day we had been forced to wait before a bridge, where people tried to get out a ship with a crane. (It didn’t work.) After a long time of waiting we had been able to continue the tour.

But back to today. It’s 2 February, -18 °C and the Luleälven had been frozen for many weeks.

I had left the E4 and drove the road to Avan. It was picture-perfect weather. Everything was covered with soft snow. It was snowing gently and since it was quite early, the snow looked still a bit blueish.

Some hours later – we had finished the meeting and went upstairs to have fika. This Swedish coffee break took at least twice the time of the official meeting, but fika is anything between 15-30 minutes (most common) and open end …

While we were holding fika and it was still snowing the sun came out. The sunlight made the scenery look even more beautiful. What a gorgeous view the house owners have!

Half past twelve I thanked the hosts and left Avan. I had got an idea: I remembered that there was an ice road crossing the river in wintertime. I was not sure if it was open but it was not far away. I drove there and right, the ice road over the Luleälven was open.

It had stopped snowing and the sun was shining. I parked the car and took some pictures (and was annoyed with myself that I only took the small camera with me).

I saw other cars using the ice road, otherwise I wouldn’t have dared to cross the river, which still is a river with water under the ice. Flowing water. Ok, let’s go …

And so I have got my ice road premiere today. Check ✔︎. I took some photos on the other side and decided to drive back again because I prefer the southern road which I came from.

It was still sunny but clouds had started gathering in the south. While I drove back south it got more and more cloudy. When I made a stopover at my favourite Thai restaurant in Skellefteå it was quite windy and my mobile phone displayed a message:

Warning class 1 snowfall Västerbottens … Snowfall which from Sunday morning to night to Monday can give 20-30 cm. In coastal areas in combination with fresh northeast wind. Snowfall contin…

Later there were the first snow showers. Let’s see, what will happen tomorrow.

Rime at the Bergsbyn dam

After photoing the lunar eclipse this very early morning I went into bed again and took a long nap. After that I actually wanted to work but the weather was so fine that I took the car looking for photo motives. Temperatures below -20 °C, a clear blue sky and all birch trees covered with rime – that’s ingredients for a beautiful winter day. While I was looking at the white birch trees I got an idea. How would it look like at the dam in Bergsbyn where there’s always open water downstream.

I drove there and parked the car. Indeed the trees by the river were covered even more with hoarfrost and rime. I walked along the river through knee-deep snow. Beside of some animal tracks the snow was untouched. Strange, that I was the first one that went along the riverside since the last snow one week ago.

The open water was smoking with cold and frozen fog blowed along the river. It covered the opposite riverside and partly the sun as well. Small ice floes drifted by. The river is quite fast here. Hardly imaginable that the river upstream is completely frozen over.

I experimented with the fisheye lens. It will take some time until I get used to it, especially when the light situations are as difficult as they were today. I do not like these white spots where the sun is but today it was hardly avoidable.

New Year walk

A new year has started – this time with warm, grey and stormy weather. I didn’t take many pictures because of the dull light but this one I think is a bit funny. A fisherman completely dressed in red stands on the riverbank of the Skellefteälven, giving the scenery it’s only bright colour.

I wish you all a happy New Year 2019!

And the snow?

It has been cloudy with temperatures slightly below zero for some days. It even snowed, but only a bit. After lunch I walked along the river Skellefteälven. 15 cm of snow, mostly old and half frozen cover the ground.

I experienced years with much more snow in mid-December but also years where it rained at this time of the season. So I should not complain, but as you can guess I hope for more snow. A lot of more snow.

Almost like winter …

Today we had a wonderful early winter day. The sky was clear this morning and the temperatures were around -10 °C. Some protected parts of the Baltic Sea had started to freeze over, the ground was snow covered and the river Skellefteälven was steaming in the cold.

However, one should not forget that it is still autumn. It is late October and some birch still partly leafy. Although I experienced the first ice day today (temperatures below zero all day) this weather will not last for long.

Just now the Swedish Meteorological Institute issued a snow warning (5 – 10 cm) for tomorrow afternoon, but the next day warmer weather and a lot of rain is expected. I guess the frozen streets and roads will become extremely slippery when the rain starts to fall. Time to put the broddar – the traction devices – under the shoes.

Autumn, meet winter

When I woke up this morning it was still dark outside. It snowed. Big snow flakes fluttered downwards, where most of them melted instantly. They felt however comfortable on my car and started to cover it with a wet layer of snow – the first snow of the season.

It snowed in Skellefteå, too and I took a short stroll along the river before job. Temperatures were slightly above zero, so the falling snow was wet and didn’t last long. Anyhow it managed to cover the leaves, the grass and things made from wood.

I’ve been living in Sweden for more than eight years now. The earliest snowfall in Skellefteå/Skelleftehamn I experienced before was on a 14 October, but normally the first snow comes round the end of October or even later. So this year it’s quite early.

I do not long for the winter yet, because of all the coloured trees and bushes. They are so beautiful. But as soon they will become leafless I’ll be eager for the first cold days and snow that doesn’t melt away instantly.

Foggy Skellefteälven

When I saw the fog moving above the river Skellefteälven this morning I had to interrupt my drive to work to take some pictures. It was the coldest morning that I experienced here since last winter. Air temperatures were still above zero but the first ground frost was visible.

When it comes to seasons I like winter the most, but autumn is so beautiful, too.

Jökulsá á Fjöllum

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Tuesday, 4 September

Jökulsá á Fjöllum (glacial river in the mountains) is a river in the North of Iceland and offers some interesting places. We chose the road 862 on the western side with destination Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall.

After some kilometres the asphalt road suddenly changed into a single-track gravel road, which was in a quite bad shape.

Some kilometres further at the turnoff to the Hljóðaklettar the road to the Dettifoss became an “F” road, meaning that it was open only for off-road vehicles. At least we could turn left to Hljóðaklettar which is known for its basalt columns. Here we parked the car and took a circular walk.

After our walk we had to drive back the whole bumpy road, turn east, cross the river and use the road 864 on the eastern side. It was quite bad, too, but at least we were allowed (and able) to take the road and finally arrive at the Dettifoss. We were lucky, since the eastern shore is more crowded and farther away from the waterfall.

Here some snapshots:

From this place you also have a gorgeous panoramic view of the canyon that leads to the north. If you followed this canyon you would come back to Hljóðaklettar.

Landmannalaugar

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Sunday, 26 August – Monday, 27 August

There are only a few roads leading across the Highlands of Iceland. Most of them are only open for cars with four-wheel drive because it is necessary to ford rivers. Even though the road to the Landmannalaugar, our destination for Sunday, is not the toughest, we decided not to hire such a car. They are expensive, we don’t have any experience in fording and there are busses making such trips as well.

Sunday morning we entered the bus to the Landmannalaugar. The whole trip takes round about four hours and goes mostly on normal asphalt roads: through Reykjavík, along the Ring Road that runs around the island, then along a minor road. Finally we reached the junction where the gravel road starts and the bus ride became a bit jumpy. We met some other cars, some of them huge jeeps, some of them small SUVs. After a while we approached the first ford, where a small Dacia Duster crossed the water, followed by our bus.

The other two fords are within sight of the Landmannalaugar mountain hut. There were deeper and many of the drivers with smaller cars decided to use the parking place nearby instead of fording. The bus however splashed through the water and brought us to the mountain hut, where we had booked two places to sleep.

After we unpacked our sleeping bags and put them on two of the narrow mattresses we put on our jackets and boots and started a hike through the amazing landscape. Annika has been in Iceland before several times and told me about the almost unbelievable colours and shades of the mountains and she was true. Some of the mountains were orange, some brown or yellow, some green and one of them red. The lava rocks were black, partly covered with white-green moss and the higher mountains had white snow fields on their colourful slopes. Take a look by yourself:

Iceland has a lot of tourists, last year more than 2 millions. To protect the sensitive environment and avoid destroying the flora you mustn’t leave the trail. There’s another reason for sticking to the trails: Iceland has many geothermal areas where you could break through the thin crust into bubbling mud or boiling sulphuric acid. Some of these spots are visible, they smoke and you smell the sulphur compounds.

After some hours hiking (including an ascent of a mountain) we returned to Landmannalaugar. There’s not only the mountain hut providing 75 beds and a camp ground with place for at least hundred tents, there’s also the Mountain Mall, an old bus where you can buy food.

We enjoyed a rest with two cokes before we headed to the next attraction: A warm bath in the river. Because of the geothermal activity the ground is partly hot and heats up the water to temperatures between round 30 °C and 42 °C. We were not the only ones bathing, but there was enough place for all. You could even decide how warm you wanted your bath by just moving another metre. Great!

After a saturating dinner with spaghetti and pasta I took another walk and some more photos. Then I went to our room and got to bed.

Amazing! Although more than 15 people had slept in the room and the mattresses were so narrow that we could hardly turn around Annika and I slept very well. It was very quiet, hardly any snoring, no talking, no rustling with plastic bags. I experienced much worse when I had spent nights  in alpine mountain huts in Germany or Austria.

After breakfast we took another bath and then another hiking tour. I hardly made any photos due to the drizzle and the strong winds. At least I could take some pictures of the sheep grassing on the plain.

Drizzle became stronger and turned into rain. We went to the ford and looked at the cars crossing. This time I had my waterproof camera with me. Look at the snorkel of the white jeep, I guess this car could almost dive!

The rain got stronger and stronger and when we entered the bus our rain clothes were soaking wet. I looked through the rain-wept window for a while, tried to make same photos, but the autofocus couldn’t handle the situation. After a while I fell asleep.

Conclusion: A great experience! Yes, Landmannalaugar is touristic and crowed, but for good reasons. It’s absolutely worth a visit. Here you can even start a four-day hiking trip but you have to reserve the mountain huts years before. I’m quite eager to do this trail, perhaps in 2020 …?

Mårdseleforsen

Two days ago Annika and I made a trip to Mårdseleforsen (Mårdsele rapids). It’s a two hour trip by car from Skelleftehamn and it’s absolutely worth it.

At Mårdsele the river Vindelälven branches into several parts. Several chain bridges allow to cross them.

Behind the second chain bridge there is a planked footpath that leads to a third bridge, this time a wooden one. Here starts a short circular track through the Nature Reserve of Mårdseleforsen round many inviting looking freshwater pools. Many other families were there too,  taking a walk, bathing or sunbathing on the flat rocks. Unfortunately we had left our bathing things in the car.

After the short walkabout we returned to the parking place. Actually, we wanted to eat something but the restaurant Wild River was fully booked. Fortunately we could buy some burgers that we consumed sitting outside in the sun.

After the lunch we were so eager for a bath, that we got the bathing things out of the car and returned to the freshwater pools. Chain bridge one – across the island again – chain bridge two – to the left – along the planked footpath – to the right – over the long wooden bridge and again we reached the river islands. There were some people left when we arrived but after a while we were completely alone. The weather was perfect: Some sun, some clouds, warm but not too hot.

Soon we found a nice place to stay and took the first swimming tour. Right into a rocky pool, swimming into the current of a small stream that transported us under the bridge where the current broadened and the current weakened. Almost like using a water slide! It was not easy to come ashore again because the algae made the flat rocks very slippery. But with mutual help we finally managed it.

You realise that strange mask I was wearing? It’s a snorkel-google combination, perhaps more a toy than professional diving equipment but it works extremely well and is much more comfortable to wear than the usual snorkel. In addition to that it works quite well with my underwater camera. I snorkelled several times and observed the underwater life: Water insects, freshwater snails, small fishes and river mussels lived in them.

The “making of” (Photos: Annika Kramer):

Even after more than eight years living here I’m still amazed that there are so many incredibly beautiful and interesting places to discover and explore that I’ve never been to before. Mårdseleforsen is one of them.