Early winter Holmön IV

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

It is Monday. It has rained the whole night and it still rains. Most of the snow is history and everything is wet. After breakfast we decide to give the road to the southern tip of Ängesön another try. Indeed, it is almost free of snow and soon we are at the southern tip of the island where we walk along the coast. The clouds are grey and so is the sea. Some water areas are still covered with wet, brownish ice but the sea itself is open.

There are some marked hiking paths on Ängesön that we want to give a try. The guide book recommended “tåliga skor” – that means tough, durable shoes – due to the wet ground. The first path to the east has many deep water puddles and flooded parts. Partly the path is supported by wooden planks, but mostly not. The path leads through a quite old forest as we can see by the many lichens that cover the pine, spruce and birch trees. Snowless and wet as it is, it looks more like mid-October than December.

We try the other trail that leads to a shelter at the western coast of Ängesön. This trail is less wet and easier to follow than the other one. It is however not too easy to reach the rocky coast because of the marshland between forest and coast. It still drizzles and rains and everything is damp.

The hiking paths are nice but I would strongly recommend high rubber boots if you want to keep your feet dry.

After our “three course hiking” we return to our accommodation at Berguddens fyr. We’re still the only people, the place – as beautiful it is – seems less popular in winter time as the guest book tells us. While Annika prepares a warm lunch it starts to get dark outside. Grey clouds still cover the sky and it continues drizzling. The lighthouse starts sending its light beams over the Västra Kvarken, part of the Baltic Sea between Holmön and mainland.

Today day we leave Berguddens fyr. We were lucky to be change the booking for the ferry from 19 o’clock to 9 o’clock to avoid another rainy day – partly in darkness. At 8:20 we sit in the small waiting room, because it’s very windy outside. Waves break at the quay wall and after some the small ferry arrives and wobbles into the small harbour.

I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when I learned I have to back the car onto the ferry. The man however that pilots me onto the ship is fantastic and guides me much better than every rear camera. I am relieved, but get nervous again when I watch the man securing the car with belts. Is it so stormy? Will the belts hold?

First the boat trip is quite but soon the ferry starts to roll and pitch more and more. I stay in the inside of the boat where I feel safer. While Annika and I are hoping the best for the car, the other two passengers do not pay any attention to the rough weather. Probably they live on the island Holmön and they are used to something like that.

45 Minutes later we arrive in Norrfjärden. My car has survived this unsteady trip without any problems.The ferry needs several attempts to dock, but finally I can leave the ferry with the car. Annika, who already went ashore gets into the car and we drive to her home in Umeå. This drive takes only 30 minutes – less than the ferry passage.

It’s fantastic to have such an interesting and special place nearby. We’ll come again, hopefully with better weather.

 

Early winter Holmön II

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

Saturday, 8 December – 0 °C – it’s snowing and two centimetres of new, wet snow cover the ground. Annika and I made a hiking trip to Vedaögern in the south.

Now it’s pitch black outside and still snowing. Nevertheless we will leave our comfortable accommodation soon for good reasons: we attend the julbord – the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner – today.

Closing the kayak season 2018

I was stuck. I couldn’t go straight ahead, I couldn’t go backwards, I couldn’t turn. And I definitely couldn’t go sidewards because I sat in a kayak on the Baltic Sea and was surrounded by ice.

Back to the beginning of the day: I took a day off today because of the nice weather and decided to make a kayak tour. My goal was to sea the sunrise from the open sea. When I came to the tiny beach were my kayak has been lying since June it was still dim. The sea between the island Storgrundet and the mainland was covered with a fresh layer of clear ice. Two days ago these parts had been free of ice.

I already changed into paddling clothes at home: Woollen underwear, a drysuit that would keep me dry when falling into the ice cold water, a waterproof face mask and neoprene boots. It just took some minutes to take of the warm anorak – it was about -7 °C – and put some stuff into the cargo hatches of the kayak. I put on my woollen mittens and the long, waterproof overmittens, then I was ready to start the tour.

The question was: How thick is the ice? Would the kayak slide onto it or break through?

I sat in the kayak and pushed myself backwards, first with the paddle, then with the hands. The ice didn’t break. Anyway I was still quite near the shore. I continued pushing myself backwards until I came to the area of new ice. The ice didn’t break.

It is both exhausting and very ineffective to sit in a kayak and push yourself over bare ice with waterproof mittens. You just don’t get a grip. I realised that I wouldn’t come long. I returned ashore, got out of the kayak, went to the car and drove home.

At home I got my isdubbar – my ice claws. They look like a jumping rope with nail attached to the handles and are used for self-rescue, if your break into the ice. I changed also into winter boot, because my feet were freezing. The neoprene boots are not the warmest. Ah, that feels better! I got into the car and drove back to my kayak. Second try!

It was still exhausting to move the kayak over the ice, but with an ice claw in each hand I could pull my kayak forward with a speed up to 5 – 6 km/h. The sun had not risen yet and the air was calm and chilly. The horizon started to turn pink.

I found a bit of open water at the narrow passage between island and mainland. Then I came to another sheltered bay that was frozen, too. First the ice was quite thick, then it started to become thinner.

Here my problems started. The kayak went through the ice and floated. The ice was too weak for using the ice claws, but too thick to use the paddle. After some metres I was stuck! Every time when I used the paddle to move forward another meter I was surrounded by ice and couldn’t use it anymore. During the seconds that it took for changing from paddle to ice claws the kayak drifted back and I was surrounded by open water again, making the ice claws completely useless. Finally I started some kind of dog paddling with hands and arms, still the ice claws at hand until I could reach ice again, pull me forward another meter and break through the ice again. The sun had already risen minutes ago. (Goal missed!)

These are the situations where I learn a lot about my lack of patience …

Anyhow the island Storgrundet was near and with some efforts I reached a spot where I could go ashore. I just wanted to check the water and ice conditions on the outer side of the island.

Beside of some pancake ice near the shore the Baltic Sea was completely clear of ice, exactly as excepted. I returned to my kayak and went along the stony shore pulling it nearer to the open water. The sea was still covered with ice but it was thinner and I could hack my paddle through it. Small patches of open water were enclosed in the icy surface and tiny waves vibrated in the rhythm of my paddling. Very funny to look at! And then, some curses later, I finally reached open water – almost two hours later than my first arrival at the beach this morning.

What a relief to put the paddle blades into normal water. Ice cold water, but just normal, liquid water. Delighting. Where should I go? To Finland …?

Soon I spotted a possible destination: Nordlundsstenarna a.k.a. Själagrundet, more a gravel bank than an island, 1.6 km from shore. When I arrived there I looked at the next island Medgrundet, which would be much more attractive for taking a break than this pile of stones. I continued paddling. The wind increased slightly and it got a bit chilly, but it’s only 1.1 km from Själagrundet to Medgrundet so I arrived there quite soon.

The first think I did when I was at land was to put on my winter anorak. Then I explored the island. Some photos:

Actually I could have spend the whole day on this island, but I made a huge mistake: I didn’t bring any food with me. (Don’t try that at home, kids!) So after a stroll over the island I returned to my kayak that was as ice covered as the rock nearby.

What I did bring with me were my sunglasses. I was really glad having them because the trip back was straight against the sun. Ok, time for some selfies …

The way back was nice and beautiful and not very spectacular. I enjoyed the sun and the colours of the sea – it could be covered with ice and snow quite soon.

Since I hardly could recognise anything on land I went a bit wrong but the detour was small. After a while I reached Storgrundet and then the ice covered parts again. This time it was much easier because I could follow the ice-free channel that I had cut into the ice on the way there. But when I had to use the ice claws on the more solid ice again to pull myself forward I realised something: There are many things I lack, one of them is strong chest muscles. They will ache for certain tomorrow.

 

 

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.

Almost like summer

The weather forecast was right: today it was warm and sunny. Really warm considering that it is mid-October and that it snowed last week. 20 °C we had in Skelleftehamn today! Probably the last opportunity to bicycle in a T-shirt this year.

I followed a way through the forest that I already knew but hardly recognised: The illuminated ski track between Skelleftehamn and Ursviken. (That’s what it looks like in winter.)

After a while I left this path and walked the bike along a trail marked with red crosses. Red crosses mean, that it’s a winter way and following such in summer may send you into swamps, bogs or even lakes. Although the ground was wet I was lucky. Some makeshift bridges, probably made by snowmobile drivers helped me over some boggy passages and soon I was on the other side of the lake with the creative name “Sjön” (The lake).

I continued to the right, already heading home but with some detours.

Detour 1: A short walk up the mountain Örberget. Despite of its incredible height of more than 40 meters – that’s almost 10 meters higher than the gravel road – you have a view of the Baltic Sea. The rocks were quite wet, probably because they were much colder than the air so that the moisture condensed on the surface.

Detour 2: Down to the cabins by the bay Djupviken. The photo may be silly, but it’s a reminiscence of the kayak tour last week where I carried the kayak cross the road at the very same place.

Soon I was home again where the thermometer showed temperatures betwwen 19 °C and 20 °C. Two hours later I was at the local beach, ready for a bath. After the air felt like summer and the beach looked like autumn I expected the water to feel like winter. It was cold but warmer than expected: 9 °C. Refreshing!

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.

Black beaches and glaciers

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

Saturday, 1 September

Yesterday we hired our car, today we had the first full travel round Iceland. We didn’t make many kilometres, since there are so many beautiful places along the Ring Road in the South of Iceland. There are quite famous, too, so we had to share them with a lot of other tourists.

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is a 120 metre high peninsula which is known for a large hole in the rock that gave the place its name: “door hole island”. Huge waves rolled ashore and broke at the rocks. No place for bathing.

In the east we already could see the Reynisdrangar, pillar-like rock formations in the sea. The sea was covered with spray and looked almost white, just like the sky.

Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach is the most famous of the black beaches near to the town Vik. Unlike most other beaches the sand consists of eroded volcanic rocks. The waves were as high as those visible from Dyrhólaey and many signs warn against the danger of being swept away. The beach at the parking place is quite is flat and white and the waves flood great areas of the black sand.

While I was taking these photos a huge wave came and pushed a lot of water to the beach. I got wet feet even with my rubber boots on.

From here you can also see the Reynisdrangar standing stoically in the sea. Only seabirds inhabit these inaccessible rock pillars.

One of the main attractions of Reynisfjara Beach are the basalt columns. Well, I tried to take photos, but this was impossible due to the many, many tourists standing there. At least the basalt cave was free of people for a minute.

Svinafelljökull

We found a nice overnight stay in Svinafell. As all accommodations it was expensive and you would get a hotel room with breakfast for less money in most other countries. Iceland however is an expensive country and you should know that before travelling there.

Quite near Svinafell there are two glacier tongues, Skaftafellsjökull and Svinafelljökull. Both of them are part of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier and you can see them from the Ring Road.

After checking in we returned to the Ring Road and turned into a gravel road leading to the Svinafelljökull. This was the worst road I ever drove. It was just 2.5 km long, but only made of deep potholes and rocks. It took me 15 minutes for one way. There’s a reason why so many people use jeeps or pickups in Iceland. Anyway it was worth the efforts, despite the grey weather.

Some photos:

Next day we would continue east and perhaps reach the East Fjords.

A special place in the Highlands of Iceland

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

Thursday, 30 August

When Annika and I were in Hveravellir waiting for the bus back to Reykjavík, we met Matti whom we got to know some days ago. We gladly accepted his invitation not to take the bus but to follow him and his friend by car.

First Matti followed the very same way that the bus would have taken, but soon he turned in another gravel road that led us up a slope. The path got worse and worse and I was glad that Matti has an old Nissan Patrol and knows how to handle it when crossing a ford or driving through deep clay mud. The gravel track ended in a parking place with a tiny toilet. From this point we had to walk.

I stood at the rim of the parking place and was stunned by the iconic view.

I could see coloured mountains everywhere as in the Landmannalaugar, many of them covered with old snow fields or small glaciers. The scenery was partly covered with steam that emerged from fumaroles as in Hveravellir, but here were hundreds of them.

We followed the path and descended the clayey slope on some ridiculously steep looking steps. This geothermic area is very active and constantly changing. Sometimes a fumarole is less than a footstep away. We crossed a bridge, partly hidden in the steam emitted by boiling water pools, were Matti cooked some eggs.

We continued our hike and ascended another clay hill. From here we could see many other hills and stairs leading up and down.

We came nearer and nearer to an old snow field. Here the normal path came to it’s end.

One path led up the slope over the snow. We continued another path that led to the top of a slope. From here we could see huge snow blocks that had slid down the clayey slope. Matti, his friend and I went down that slope. The ground was extremely slippery and when I arrived down in the valley my rain pants were completely covered with wet clay. The weather worsened: First it drizzled, then it even snowed a bit and in addition of that the steam of the fumaroles was everywhere. The following photos of the snowy ice blocks were the last ones before I gave up making pictures, because camera and lenses became too wet and muddy.

It took I while until I managed to crawl up the slippery clay slope again. We started heading back. The wind had increased and on the last crest-like hilltops it was really stormy. Luckily the storm was not strong enough to blow us over. Anyway I was glad to be in the shelter of the car again.

This place is really special. Not too easy to hike when it’s wet, but both interesting, varying and extremely beautiful. Of course other people know this place as well but at least there are no commercially guided tours yet. To keep it that way, I promised not to reveal the location of that place although Iceland experts probably have recognised it already.

Thank you, Matti for this experience, the long drive back to Reykjavík and the lift to our guesthouse!

Hveravellir

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

Wednesday, 29 August – Thursday, 30 August

After our long bus tour we arrived in Hveravellir in the Highlands of Iceland. Hveravellir lies 650 metres above sea-level and here you can find geothermal areas, where fumaroles emit hot gas, mostly water, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The latter one is responsible for the smell of rotten eggs.

We went along the wooden path (don’t leave it, the crust is thin and boiling hot!) and looked at the fumaroles. Then we continued a path westwards.

The landscape scenery changed. The path led mostly through lava rock, only sparsely covered with soil, moss, grass and some flowers.

Some sheep were grassing here and there. They preferred the grassy parts of the desertlike surrounding.

The willows however had to cope with the soil that they had got and even more with the weather. There were flat and crouching on the ground to avoid exposure to the wind.

The way we chose is no circular track so after a time we had to return to Hveravellir, where we had booked an overnight stay. We used to wooden bridge to cross a small stream. You have to be careful, the water is hot!

“Home” again we cooked tortellini for dinner and bathed in the hot tub that was located right beside of our mountain hut. While Annika stayed in the hut after that I took another walk and enjoyed the evening light. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. (And I thought, it would only rain on Iceland!) The motives? Smoking fumaroles against the light · glaciers and snow covered mountains far away · sheep nearby.

I slept very well but woke up quite early. Time for another walk, this time enjoying the sunrise.

The night has been cold and ice crystals covered flowers and leaves. The wet parts of the ground were covered with hoarfrost that looked hairlike.

The fumaroles enveloped the geothermal areas in steam. I can do without the sulphuric smell, but the look is very impressing, especially with the warm sunrise colours.

After my early morning walk Annika and I had breakfast and then packed our stuff. The bus back to Reykjavík wouldn’t leave before 12, so we had time for a two-hour walk together, this time heading south. One of the things that make Iceland unique for me is the colours, not only the colourful mountains in Landmannalaugar, but even the moss and the grass looks special. And the volcanic lava rock is so sharp that the photos look oversharpened.

Round 11 o’clock we had returned to the parking place waiting for the bus. But we spontaneously changed plans when we met Matti whom we got to know in Reykjavík some days ago. He was here by car and invited us to join him and his friend. They wanted to drive to another place, hike around then return to Reykjavík. We happily agreed and had a great time, but that’s another story …