An almost normal sunrise

It was fresh in Obbola this morning. Blue sky and -6 °C. Time to take a break from my work and make some photos.

I went to a place with a better view on the sunrise at 8:41. I had however to wait a while because there was a layer of grey clouds above the horizon. Some locals in Skelleftehamn use to call this cloud layer vinterväggen – the winter wall – since it is quite dense like a wall and typical for the beginning of winter. But that’s not a common term.

So I had some spare time for crouching and taking this photo of the ice covered plant standing in the water – a reminiscence to the high water level the last days.

And then the sun finally rose above the vinterväggen and everything was illuminated in warm shades.

In the lunch break I took the car to “Obbola town” to have a pizza for lunch. Parts of the mouth of the river Umeälven were already covered with ice.

Sunset today was 14:11 but I was in online meetings from 13 to 15, so no sunset photos for today.

Why I write about this? Because without the Corona restrictions I would have worked in Tromsø today.  And in Tromsø  I wouldn’t have seen a sunrise. And neither for the rest of the year. That’s what the Norwegian weather service yr shows for Tromsø today:

Sun and moon, 27. Nov 2020 | Sun: ut is polar night, the sun does not rise.

So today is the first day of the period of polar night that will last until 14. January. Maybe I’ll be able to work in the office in Tromsø right after New Year. Then I’ll experience the polar night there. For the first time in my life.

I’ll be home for Christmas ♫

Like last Saturday I had a handover meeting at the Norwegian Polar Institute yesterday. And like last Saturday I walked there, taking a longer detour. In contrary to last time 15–20 cm of fresh, fluffy snow had fallen making the landscape look quite different than one week ago. Some photos:

This meeting was a bit special. We should actually have been working from home the last two weeks due to the new corona regulations. I however have just a tiny room with shaky internet in Tromsø and therefore was allowed to work in the office. The handover meeting was in the office, too. And that by the way was the last time for me being there this year.

No, I didn’t quit my job. I will just work from “home home” and that’s Obbola/Umeå. With the approval of my manager I’ll work from Obbola for the rest of the year.

Today is travel day. Since there are no trains from Narvik in Norway to Umeå (guess, why) I was forced to take the airplane. Right now I’m already at Oslo Airport, the first stopover.

Flight 1: Tromsø airport, Langnes – Oslo Airport, Gardermoen

At half past eight I stood at the bus station Sydspissen (southern tip) waiting for the bus. I felt quite warm, because I wore a huge down parka for my six-week stay home. Today I definitely won’t need it – it’s 0 °C in Tromsø – but you never know how winter is like at home.

I don’t write anything about airports. Most of them are equally boring and it’s a lot about waiting, buying high-priced snacks and such. You know that. The only airport photo I show is of the departure schedule in Tromsø. Two flights to Oslo, one to Bodø (via Andenes) and the next to Longyearbyen, the largest settlement of Svalbard. Oh, I have to fly there one time! And from Tromsø it’s nearer to Longyearbyen (960 km) than to Oslo Gardermoen (1110 km).

We got into the air late, because we had to wait for the de-icing of our plane. I sat in row 30 in the back. It was quite cold and I was freezing. That reminded me on my down parka, that I definitely wouldn’t need today. Well …

But soon we were in the air and there was an incredible view about the blue fjords and snow covers mountains surrounding Tromsø. When we were above the clouds I took a nap. The parka made a good sleeping bag, too. Shortly before Oslo the landscape was still white and most of the minor lakes were frozen. Some of the lower lands however were brown and free of snow.

This part I wrote in Gardermoen, where I’ve had a four hour stopover.

Flight 2: Oslo Airport, Gardermoen – Stockholm Arlanda Airport

When I went to the gate I spotted it: a grand piano. May I play it? I first saw the tape that taped the piano shut, then the paper: “Do not play the piano!”. Of course – corona. But I have to keep it in mind that if I’ll be really bored in Gardermoen in the future I maybe can play piano. Would be nice.

I went to the international departure. Here all restaurants and a lot of stores were closed as well as the waiting room for our gate.

But finally I sat in the airplane that connected Norway and Sweden. The crew talked Swedish, the pilot one of the zillion Norwegian dialects. The airplane was almost empty with round about 20–25 passengers.

Annika messaged me: “… kp 5”, which means a faint chance of polar lights even in Oslo or Stockholm. I saw the lights of the airport, when we started. I saw the colours of the sundown. I saw the illuminated towns, villages and streets below and some stars above. Finally even the half moon. But I didn’t see any polar lights.

But maybe my iPhone camera did. You see this cloud-like thing above the horizon on the last photo? It is slightly greenish. Of course it could be a reflection or a malfunction of the iPhone that is not made for available light photography. But maybe it was really a northern light. Well. I hope for more in the next weeks.

This part in I wrote in Arlanda where I’ve had another three and a half hour stopover. Two more hours to wait, one hour to fly, then I’m finally home.

Flight 3: Stockholm Arlanda Airport – UmeåAirport

Now it’s Monday and I sit home in my computer room. Two laptops are placed on the table and it smells burned dust, because I switched on the radiator. I have a look at the bay – sea level is 50 cm above normal and it’s 30 minutes before sunrise (which is two hours earlier than in Tromsø).

The last flight to Umeå was as eventless as the other flights. Anything went well and according to plan.

The only thing to mention: this time we definitely had polar lights. I could see them from my window. I tried to take pictures with my camera which was a bit tricky because I had to use anything I had to cover the rest of the window to avoid reflections. Here is the result where it worked best:

It’s an awful photo, but part of my journey. Now I’m home. Over and out.

Just a detour to work

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Though Saturday I went to the Norwegian Polar Institute yesterday to get a handover from a former colleague. I went however not the direct way (20 minutes) but a long detour (90 minutes) to catch some air and some light before being in the office until dark.

Just some photos taken with my mobile.

It’s nice to go lightweight and taking pictures with the iPhone. While the photos are impressive considering the size of the lens and sensor, the quality is of course long from that of my Nikon. So next time I’ll carry more weight but probably I’ll be more content with the image quality afterwards.

 

Technique sea kayaking course

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

I was really in doubt about writing this blog article and showing photos of the last weekend, where I participated the course Teknikkurs Hav (Technique sea kayaking).

Why? Because my photos lie. They show sea kayaks lying on nice beaches and us paddling in calm waters. All these photos are true but they tell only a fraction of the experiences I made when I kayaked in Northern Norway in the beginning of November.

Saturday – day 1

The paddling course was supposed to take place on Sommarøya. A beautiful place, but quite exposed to wind and weather. Due to the wind forecast (average wind 15 m/s) the instructors chose a more sheltered place for the first course day: Eidjordneset, just 12 km away from the boat house of the sea kayak club Trulle.

We gathered round 7 o’clock in the morning: We are the instructors Tim and Pål and four participants. Kind of luxury! We put the kayaks on the trailer and started driving: Past the airport, over the bridge crossing the Sandnessundet strait, to the left and then taking the turn to the island Håkøya where we parked and changed clothes for the tour. In my case: woollen underwear, two pairs of socks, a thick woollen sweater, drysuit, neoprene boots, gloves and hood. In addition to that the sprayskirt, life vest, towline system and helmet. We do not only dress for the chilly air but for being in the water as well. Tim wrote in the email: “We will be doing a lot of swimming”

We started to dress in darkness but when we were ready it had got light.

We put the kayaks into the sea and started paddling east along the Håkøya. After getting our paddle strokes improved we started to practise partner rescue. One kayaker capsizes, opens the sprayskirt and swims. Then there are different techniques of emptying the capsized kayak and support the swimmer to enter the kayak again. While we were training this several time. As Tim said: a lot of swimming. While practising the wind blew us more and more to the east. Time to turn back.

Now we had to paddle against the wind. First it went quite well but we already could see the huge shower cell coming towards us. Round 2–3 °C in the air. Would it be rain, sleet or snow? No – it was a grown up hail storm approaching. Within minutes we had wind speeds of round 20 m/s howling around us, blowing spray from each wave and throwing hail right into our faces (ouch, my lips!). The instructors decided to guide us to land where we waited for the hail to stop.

Soon the weather was calmer but still very windy. It took a while until we reached the bridge, where we started the tour. On the way back I had one of the rare opportunities to take some photos with my iPhone while paddling. Mostly I was too occupied with practising or catching up.

When we arrived at the bridge we crossed under it, because on the other side the sea was a bit more sheltered. Here we practised a lot of different paddle strokes as edging or low and high brace. This was quite intense – only interrupted by a short and frugal lunch break – and I’ll have to train a lot until my body has understood the movements. We ended with a rescue case: One of the participants had to pretend having an injured shoulder and we had to both give support balancing her kayak and tow her on land. Well, there was a lot of discussion but finally we managed it. Ok, it was only 20 metres or such to tow.

To make it short: changing into warm clothes · putting the kayaks onto the trailer · heading back to the boat house · I got a lift home · hot shower · great!

Sunday – day 2

Two of us met Tim at the boathouse, where we got a lift to a petrol station, our meeting point. As you can see it had been snowing and it was quite slippery.

Now on day two we would drive to Sommarøya and take the second course day there. Great, because the area round Sommarøya is wonderfully beautiful. Sommarøya is more than 50 km from Tromsø and the shorter way is leading through the mountains, so due to the weather conditions it took a longer time to travel there. And that’s how it looked like from the bay Steinsvika on Store Sommarøya.

We paddled to a flat rock covered by breaking waves and tried out some paddle strokes from the day before. That gave us opportunities for more buddy rescues, because of three capsizings. We made a short break on one of shallow beaches.

After that we started to round the island Storholmen where the Sommarøy lighthouse is located. First we tried to stick near the rocks to play with the waves. The further we came to the open sea, the higher the waves became and we increased distance.

Especially at the northwest tip we had waves up to 150 cm coming from several directions so that it took all my concentration just to paddle on while feeling quite stressed and a bit helpless. A bit further the waves coming from the open sea behind us built up to huge rollers and breakers on the shallow bay. I was too scared to join the others that played in these waves (with several capsizings and rescue manoeuvres). Therefore I paddled a bit further to reach a more sheltered part of the bay and wait there not to split the group. One other paddler joined my shortly after. Then all of a sudden a really huge wave came, broke just where we were and knocked us both over. There was nothing I could do. I immediately lost my kayak in the wave and it took a bit of time and help from the others to fetch my kayak and get us in again. I know that I have to learn to paddle under such rough conditions as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever enjoy it.

I really was glad about the lunch break. Here Tim and Pål told us about the star rating system for waves. It goes from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), and mostly we had 3-star conditions out there, with one two-metre-wave probably being a 4 star.

Even after lunch I was mentally quite exhausted. But at least we had started heading back and were soon in calm waters again. The others learned some more rescue manoeuvres and such but I kept aside for a while because I couldn’t focus any more.

Finally we made another towing manoeuvre, where two of us towed another kayak while the fourth paddler supported balance. While I was mentally tired I still had physical energy so I tried to drag a bit harder the last part to come up onto the sandy beach as long as possible. And that’s where Tim took this photo of us. I’m in the front – watch the nice violet helmet!

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

Conclusion: This course was too difficult for me. I was too scared and overchallenged. But I had skilled instructors, great fellow paddlers and learned a lot – though the hard way. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to join this course and already decided to take the same course again as a fresh-up next spring.

Dark, windy and wet

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Perhaps you saw the photos that I took on my way to work five weeks ago. The sky was blue, it was quite warm and the sun was shining.

Today it was completely different. For the first it was dark. Dark on my way to work and dark again on my way back. Sunrise was at 8:33 and sunset already at 14:21.

Then it was quite windy and very rainy the whole day. Sometimes it just rained a bit, sometime it was bucketing down huge amounts.

Here are some photos from my way to work. Taken with my iPhone and black-and-white again.

The way back was more exciting. When I went round the Framsenteret – the marina to my left – I first thought I was totally lost in the dark. I didn’t know that there was a huge artificial lake to the right. I never saw it before. Carefully I tested with my rubber boot, it was 25 cm deep. Then I realised that this was no lake but the parking place. It was completely flooded. Did it really rain so much? Apparently.

I continued stomping through huge water puddles. My outfit: rubber boots – rain pants — waterproof parka – reflective vest to be seen by others – headlamp (in one of the parka pockets)

Then I realised that even the sea water level was exceptionally high. Would I be able to go back the very same gravel path you can see on the second photo? That path lies quite low and in the morning I could see a chain of seaweed lying on the side facing land. When I arrived, the way was completely gone. I could only see the water of the sea up to the site fence.

To make a long story short: I continued the path. Mostly it was 30 cm of sea water covering the gravel. That still worked with my rubber boots, but it shouldn’t have been more. I was really glad to have a bright LED lamp. Probably I wouldn’t have dared without it. And not it beacme clear that there will come a day where this part of my favourite way to work will be impassable without offshore survival equipment.

Appendix one: and the sun?

Tromsø is located at the latitude of 69° 39′ N, almost 350 km north from the polar circle. That means, that the days not only get shorter and shorter but that there’ll be a time where the sun doesn’t rise and set at all. This time is quite near: In three weeks it will be the last time you’ll be able to see the sun and then again in January.

To illustrate this I made some charts. The y axis of each chart shows the dates from 1 January (top) to 31 December (bottom). Each row shows the solar altitude for that day by color.

From left to right: München, Germany – Obbola, Sweden (my home) – Tromsø, Norway (my current workplace)

Sun | Sun (golden hour) | civil twilight | nautical twilight | astronomical twilight | deep night

These are the main differences:

München has sun each day, but a real dark night, too.

In Obbola in Northern Sweden there’s always at least 4 hours of sun (if the clouds allow it) but it hardly gets dark in summer.

Tromsø has the most extreme changes of sun altitude during the year: Round seven weeks of polar night in winter and almost ten weeks of polar days with midnight sun between May and July.

So there’s much to experience here. The next experience will be the technique sea kayak course this weekend. Probably with a lot of rain at 3 °C and on Saturday even gusty winds round 14 m/s.

 

A Weekend in black and white

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Ok everyone, let’s talk about making photos. I say “making” instead of “taking” on purpose. Photos are not lying around just waiting for you to pick up some of them. It’s you yourself that has to create a photo – or as I use to write to “make” it. It’s about two things: Your camera and your choices.

The better your camera equipment the more choices you have. Each piece gives you additional possibilities whether it is a telephoto lens, a flashlight or a sturdy tripod. Sometimes the choices can be overwhelming. Which photos do I want to make today? Landscape? Architecture? Sea birds? Night shots? People waiting at bus stops? Some of them? All of them? Phew!

I want to become a better photographer. To get better you have to practise. For me practising mostly means focussing on a certain aspect of the whole. This weekend I drastically reduced my possibilities. Instead of using my Nikon DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) I used my new iPhone. Instead of the normal camera app I used an app called Lenka which only takes black and white photos with a fixed focal length (which means you cannot zoom). The only freedom I took was to post-process the photos by changing the contrast and the aspect ratio (and a bit more).

Here are the results. I’ll show the photos without any detailed comments.

Saturday – Sydspissen, the southern tip of the island Tromsøya – clouds and some rain

Sunday – Kvaløya, 430 metres above sea level – winter impressions

Sunday – Kvaløya, a short stroll at the coast – mostly sunny

I’m not content with the last photo. Maybe it’s because the house lacks three-dimensionality but I’m not sure. Beside from that it was real fun to use my self-set restrictions to get another kind of view on the motives around.

But no practising without a goal! My goal is to use the black-and-white photo app to train finding good motives and even when using my DSLR making full-color photos to be able to imagine how it will look black and white.

And you? What do you think about these photos? Criticism is welcome.

Winter sneak preview – the first snow hike

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

This weekend I planned to take the Fjellheisen. Fjell is Norwegian for mountain(s) and heis for lift or elevator. Fjellheisen however is not a vertical lift but a cable car up to the mountain Storsteinen (421 m above sea level) where you can have an incredible view on Tromsø, visit the café and most of all can start countless hiking tours.

Today morning I took the bus and changed to another bus near the polar museum. The second bus crossed the large bridge Tromsøbrua over the strait Tromsøysundet and ascended to the bus stop Fjellheisen. I planned to buy a multiple ticket (much cheaper) but the payment failed three times. To my delight I got a free return ticket. Soon the cable car arrived, two other guests and I entered it and Fjellheisen started its way up while I was looking down to the autumnal town Tromsø.

I got of the cable car, walked up some stairs, went through the door and then there it was: Winter ❄︎!

First I just strolled around. The snow was 10–20 cm deep and it was quite easy to walk. Few others people were around although the weather was quite fine – even though not as sunny as I expected. I decided to start my hiking tour by hiking up the nearest summit Fløya (671 m). Sometimes I had to cross knee deep snow, but mostly it was less. I followed some footprints – I wasn’t first this day – and soon arrived at the landmark – whatever it is – on a small pre-summit of Fløya and then on the near summit.

That didn’t take much time. So I continued in direction of the summit Romssavákkivárri (Sami) or Bønntuva (Norwegian) (776 m). Parts of the slopes looked steep but still it was relatively easy to ascend beside of the fact that the snow was deeper here. In the lee it was mostly knee deep and wind-pressed. This type of snow it quite easy to sink in and then you have to take the leg up the very same way it went down, since the snow is way too hard to plunge through. Sometimes I felt like a stork with balance problems.

On the way there were many heaps of stones which are used as waymarks. But you should be very cautious to follow these waymarks strictly in this part of the mountains because there are many tourists how just love to build heaps of stones everywhere. Anyhow, they are nice photo motives.

And so are the mountain ranges in the southeast. It could be the famous Lyngen Alps, but I’m not sure.

On the summit of the Romssavákkivárri I took a selfie. It was sub-zero (my Cola froze) and windy and I was glad about my winter anorak. Next time I’ll take warmer pants with me as well as woollen mittens.

What you may forget when you see these photos is the surroundings. All the snowy mountains are surrounded by straits and fjords of the Norwegian Sea. Here’s a panorama photo taken from the summit.

If you take the telephoto lens (most photos were made with it) you also see the snow line, which is quite low but not low enough to cover the lowlands with snow, too. That have to wait probably some more weeks.

After a while of photographing, eating cookies, drinking, watching, resting and enjoying I started my way back. Some other hikers had passed by and left tracks in the snow that made it easier to walk most of the time. I looked down at Tromsø and watched the weather worsen. From the north clouds with dense snow showers approached.

Several times I stopped. Once to talk to a skier – the only one I met today. He was British, lived in the Netherlands and was in Scandinavia quite often. Later I would meet him again at the cable car and he would give me a lift back to Tromsø. Thanks a lot!

Mostly however I stopped to take more photos.

Up here it was quite sunny and when finally the first snow flakes fell down I already was near the summit station of the Fjellheisen, where I had vegetarian lasagne for a late lunch in the café. It was a quite small portion and of course expensive as almost everything in Norway, but it was tasty. After that I went out again. The sun has started to set and the western sky was orange.

When I looked east I looked into a void. A huge shower cloud had approached and it started to snow. Seven minutes the same motive looked like this:

At 17:00 I took the cable car down, got the mentioned lift of the British man and was back in central Tromsø where I hardly could believe, that I just made my first winter hiking tour. Down in the city everything was just wet and just a bit slippery.

Conclusion: That was a great day with hiking through a winter’s sneak preview. I’m lucky since the snow will probably last for half a year, at least in the mountains.

As usual I made most of the photos with my Nikon D750 DLSR and different lenses. Today however I had another “camera” with me, my new iPhone 11 that I got from my employer, the Norwegian Polar Institute. It’s a huge improvement to my old iPhone SE. First of all the camera is much better and it has a real wide angle lens. Then the phone works in the cold! My iPhone SE would hardly have survived this day while the iPhone 11 was still ⅔ loaded when I ended my tour. Having these advantages I can live with the fact, that the iPhone 11 is bigger and feels twice as heavy than the SE. No ad, just my two cents.

iPhone photos today (all edited with Adobe Lightroom): The 1st one, the panorama and the last one.

Winter is coming … in Tromsø …

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

This week the temperatures have started to fall.

On Wednesday I could spot the first fresh snow on the tops of the higher mountains and on Thursday evening the top of the near mountain Fløya has got a white cover, too.

Last night even in Tromsø snow started to mix in the rain and this morning all mountains beside of the lowest hill were covered with fresh snow.

The sun sets earlier and earlier each day. Today sunset was 16:52. I took the following photo at the nearby bay Telegrafbukta at 17:27, 35 minutes after sunset.

In three weeks sunset will be at 14:11 and after three more weeks the sun won’t rise for seven weeks. Then there is polar night in Tromsø.