Opening the kayak season 2019

Two days ago a personal weather record was beaten. It was almost 20 °C in Skelleftehamn. in April! In town 22.1 °C was measured, the warmest April day for at least 15 years. And that’s what my garden looks like: beside of a stubborn patch of snow in the shadow of my neighbour’s garage my garden is completely free of snow.

While the air was warm, the seawater was still very cold and I would not dare to paddle without a drysuit. I didn’t want to be boiled in the drysuit and so I postponed the kayak opening to today, when it was colder again.

When I leave the house at 8:45, it is 4 °C. My favourite starting point is still icebound, so I walk to the peninsula Näsgrundet with the kayak in tow. I use a belt and a rope to drag the kayak behind. When the kayak is balanced on the cart I have the hands free and can walk normally. 25 minutes later I reach the shore where I put on drysuit and life jacket. Soon I sit in the kayak and realise, that even though I miss winter there are fun things to do when it’s warm as well.

It’s colder on the sea and I put on my neoprene gloves and waterproof hood. As I expect some of the paddle routes are still blocked by ice. There is still ice between the island Bredskär and mainland so I cannot circle the island. I have to return. I pass a large ice floe – time to enter the floe for some minutes. It doesn’t move, probably it sits on a large rock.

I kayak along the islands Bredskär, Klubben and Flottgrundet, always along the open outsides. Then I head for the island Nygrundet, where I made a very special snowshow tour a month and a day ago. The ice heaps have vanished, only a long strip of ice follows the coastal line. Time to take a break and to have an early lunch. Crisp bread, cheese, fresh grapes and a bar of chocolate. I feel a bit cold and put on my lightweight down jacket, but I would have preferred my winter anorak. I even make a small fire on the ice but more for having it gemütlich than for additional warmth.

After the break I’m full and warm again. I pack my stuff and continue my kayak tour. I paddle along the outside of the islands Nygrundet and Gråsidan, where I make a short photo stop.

Then I continue to Bredskär, where some quite high ice walls are reminiscent of the winter.

I try to paddle between Flottgrundet and Bredskär but soon come to a large area of old and soft ice. I measure the thickness with the paddle – round 30 cm. I decide to walk over the ice and drag the kayak behind. First it works well …

… but then the ice gets softer and softer. Just some steps next to the island I break through. It is not a sudden movement, the ice just slowly gives way. Paired with the buoyancy of drysuit and life jacket that’s probably the reason why I only break in up to my chest. The hole is small and it’s a matter of seconds to get on the ice again. Carefully I take the last steps until I reach land.

Sea ice and lake ice have a strange way of melting in spring. The solid ice transforms to an array of long vertical ice needles. There is hardly any connection between one needle and the next and it’s not possible to lift larger pieces of ice from the water without breaking them. When you get out a smaller piece and drop it, it will splinter into many parts. The structure shown on the photos below is round 10 cm thick.

I continue walking, partly on ice, partly in shallow water. Then I can paddle again. But not for long. Soon I reach another ice field, this one looking very unstable. So I cross the ice by staying in my kayak and pushing myself forward with the hands. Ouch – the vertical ice needles hurt, even through the neoprene gloves. Alas it’s only 15 meters to cross, then I’m in open water again.

The rest of the tour? Slowly paddling back to the starting point – taking off the dry suit – putting on soft shell and down jacket because I feel cold – put the kayak onto the cart and attach it to the belt – walking home. The tour took 5 hours, 40 minutes. 5 km of walking, round 10 km of paddling. Here’s a sketch:

Legend:  on foot | kayak

A view from the rock dump

The peninsula Näsgrundet is one of my favourite places for photographing in Skelleftehamn. There are many motifs especially in wintertime. The snowy rocky coast, the ice covered Baltic Sea or the island Gåsören on the horizon. Probably you have seen some of the motifs here in my blog.

Mostly I take the car. I drive along the street Näsuddsvägen. To the left there are the huge cisterns for storing oil and other chemicals, part of Oljehamn, the oil port of Skellefteå. To the right, on the other side of the bay Kallholmsfjärden there’s the peninsula Rönnskär, home to several industrial facilities. Most prominent is Boliden Rönnskär, one of the world most efficient copper smelters.

There are several rock dumps beside the street. Since last year there’s a huge one between street and bay. Today I went up the slope and watched the sunset. These are perhaps not the photos I normally made home in Skelleftehamn, but the industry is part of this coastal region, too.

Have a look at the last photo: It looks like the peninsula Näsgrundet with its red houses and the tug boat to the left would almost touch the island Gåsören with its lighthouse. The distance between them however is more than 1.5 km. It’s the telephoto lens that makes the distance shrink, at least visually.

By the way: if you live here and wonder why my car is so dirty – one of the reasons is this huge water puddle that I have to “ford” when going to eller coming from Näsgrundet.

 

Last day of February – polar light

Just one hour ago: finally a polar light above Skelleftehamn that was more than a pale green arc. It was just a short intermezzo and when I had found a good place for photographing it already weakened. That’s normal. Many of the beautiful auroras do not last long. I got some shots anyway.

You see the open water on the last image? Well, that’s another story to tell.

Kågnäshällan – between land, ice and sea

Kågnäshällan is a small island in the Baltic Sea with a lighthouse. The linear distance is only 7 km, but it’s 18 km by car. Since I cannot fly (and neither skies or kayak would do neither) I took the car this morning to Kågnäsudden, the cape nearby to take some photos on Kågnäshällan.

The sea is almost free of ice, only at the coast and between the islands there’s a thick layer of ice left. That makes the area quite amphibian. I took snowshoes and pulka for walking along the coast and for crossing the wet but safe ice between mainland and Kågnäshällan. Then I wanted to get near the ice edge and chose waterproof equipment. The waterproof Nikon AW-1 for taking photos and my red immersion suit to keep my warm and dry in the ice cold water. I felt like a bright red seal hunting for photos, not for fish.

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.

A lake named after Anders

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

Ascending and descending hills and mountains and three selfies at three different places

The forecast was right, today it was sunny. Morning temperatures were round -9 °C – good conditions for another snowshoe tour.

Chris gave me some tour tips and I decided to go south to a nameless hilltop. I crossed the road and followed the snowmobile trail that cross the river Katojoki. To be honest, without having looked on the map before I hadn’t realised that it was a river. Now I put on my snowshoes and left the trail.

It was quite exhausting to walk through the snow because even with snowshoes I sank 20 – 40 cm into the snow with each step. Snow was falling on top of the snowshoes giving them additional weight. The terrain was rising and I had to make several short breaks to catch my breath. When I came near the hill, it got steeper but since the hill is only 151 meters above see level I was soon on the summit, a snowy platform with a 360 degree view. Here I took a break.

To the north I could see the small town Bjørnevatn and snowy mountains at the horizon. To the east I could see the Fjord Uhcavuotna or Langfjorden. On the snow covered frozen fjord I watched the snowmobile groups and the dogsleds. It’s high season for tourists. Looking to the south I saw the fjord disappearing in the fog. In the colours of the still low sun the scenery looked quite unreal.

It was half past ten. Definitely too early to return. In the southwest I spotted a higher mountain range, which I already knew from the map. Between the mountain range and my resting place on the hilltop there was a valley. I wasn’t sure if I would manage to climb the mountain range but I could try. I zigzagged down the hill to avoid the steeper parts, crossed the valley – phew, deep snow again – and went up a small snowy hill.

You see the picture above? There are two possible ways up the mountains. A steeper and higher one to the right and a shorter and less steep one to the left. The right one could be too steep for me and my snowshoes and I was afraid of avalanches. Therefore I chose the left one. It worked! After ascending the snowy slope I stood on a small plateau.

I had to climb another slope, shorter but steeper, then I reached the sunny vidda. Vidde is Norwegian for expanse and for plateau or tableland. You may know the word from Hardangarvidda, a large plateau between Bergen and Oslo.

That’s the landscapes I love – less is more!

After walking around and going up another small top I reached a flat snowy plane. If it’s completely flat it’s probably not a bog but a lake and so it was. It was the lake Andersvatnet (136 m above sea level).

On the other side another hilltop, according to the digital map 183 m above sea level. Strange that all these summits and tops do not have any names, at least not in the official maps. I decided to climb this top, too. The borrowed snowshoes are not very good for steeper passages so I had to look for a good way up and more than once I slid back or had to use my hands to pull me up. But finally I “conquered this hostile mountain”!

The first photo above shows Andersvatnet. If you look at the enlarged picture you can see my snowshoe tracks.

I didn’t make a long break because I wasn’t sure about the continuation of my tour. I would love to stay up for a while and then descend at another place, but according to the map it could be quite steep. I went northwest and went along the edge of the mountain range.

I looked for a possibility to descend the plateau but finally I had to realise that all slopes were much too steep to descend. Therefore I continued by circular route until I could see the same power pole again that I passed on my way up. I ascended another small top, again with a gorgeous view. Time for another break.

I felt cold. Probably it was because I was exhausted and a bit sweaty. While I didn’t close the down parka at all at my first break I closed it completely this time and even put on the woollen mittens. Wrapped up like this I could enjoy the sun and the views in all directions. But then it was time to continue the tour and to leave the bare mountains. I found my old snowshoe tracks, followed them and went down, mostly in my own tracks.

After I left these mountains behind I went back straight ahead. Again deep snow, but less exhausting than climbing all hilltops. I was back to civilisation. I could hear the roaring of the snowmobiles and the barking of the huskies. Later I saw them both. A group of white dressed snowmobilers – probably hunters – and the huskies pulling the dogsleds. Still I was 100 meters above sea level – high enough to have wide views. Do you see the dogsled on the next photo?

I reached a large trail prepared for the dogs. It was solid enough that I could go there without snowshoes. What a blessing! Snowshoes are great for mountain tours like today but I always feel clumsy wearing them. I passed some dog teams – guides sorting the dogs and tourists wrapped in winter coveralls sitting in the sleds or taking pictures.

The inner of my nose started to tickle, normally a sign that it’s -15 °C or below because then the nose hairs start freezing. Even my eyelids started to freeze together. When I arrived home the thermometer showed -16 °C. So it has become colder over the day.

Now it’s 22:15 and outdoor temperature has dropped to -22 °C. Probably the last cold night for a long time, since much warmer weather is on its way.

 

A snowshoe tour over the snaufjell

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

After some very lazy days I decided to make a snowshoe tour today. I just had to move! I’m here without my own car and therefore with quite limited baggage, but I was lucky to be able to get snowshoes from the Snowhotel Kirkenes.

First I followed a marked snowshoe route. It was -8 °C and in contradiction to the forecast the sun was shining. After some time I left the trampled path and made my own tracks. That’s what snowshoes are made for.

I went around and up some of the higher hills. First I love the view and then I love the snaufjell, the part of the mountains above the treeline. In Swedish it is called kalfjäll, but both words mean the same: bare fell. And soon I got my views.

One thing is special: There are boulders everywhere. I guess it’s leftovers from the last ice age but I don’t know why you hardly find those round-shaped boulders at other places on the bare fell.

The sun had vanished behind a layer of clouds and it started to snow. Sometimes the snow underneath my feet was of such a perfect white that I could not see whether it was going up or down. At least the sight was good and the terrain is easily accessible.

I navigated only by sight, therefore I cannot give you the name of the mountain top that was marked with a pile of stones and a wooden stick.

After some time I started my way back and descended from the snaufjell until trees got more common again.

I walked down through the fresh white snow – sometimes knee deep even with snowshoes – until I came to the trampled path again. Here the snow was so firm that I unmounted the snowshoes and went the rest of the tour without. Three hours later I was back in my host’s house.

It doesn’t happen often that I have a clear photo favourite of a certain day. Today I have:

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.

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.