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.]

 

 

 

Inside the Snowhotel Kirkenes

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

After two great snowshoes tours I took it easy today. I went to the Snowhotel Kirkenes nearby, took some photos of the huskies, that didn’t have to work, visited an acquaintance who works in one of the restaurants and went inside the Snowhotel itself. I’ve been there before, but since the hotel is rebuild from scratch every year it looks always different.

Which photo of the lobby do you prefer? The first one, where the room is empty or the last one with the blurred people in it?

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:

Going by snowcat

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

It’s dark outside. I’m in the cozy house, where Chris and Ørjan live and reading. But what’s that blinking orange light outside? I peek through the door and what I see is a snowcat.

Ørjan is about to start a tour to prepare trails, both for his employer, the Snowhotel Kirkenes and for the local skiers. Preparing trails for the letter is a dugnad, that means voluntary work. Dugnad is very popular in Norway.

I ask Ørjan if I could join him on the tour and I am allowed to. Time to take some handheld pictures.

It’s fun to go by snowcat through the dark. I looks quite easy to operate and I would like to have my own snowcat. But neither do I need one nor could I pay it.

Takk for turen, Ørjan!

Travelling to Bjørnevatn

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

After visiting me home in Skelleftehamn Chris and I continued to Jokkmokk on Thursday. We visited the winter market and then drove to Solberget, where we stayed overnight.

The next day we started a long drive with her car. Chris lives in Bjørnevatn near Kirkenes and we planned to arrive there the very same day. At 7:10 we started our journey that would lead us through Sweden, Finland and Norway.

First the sky was cloudy but the visibility was good. Then it started to get a bit foggy.

Normally that’s no problem. This icy fog however started to cover the windscreen more and more and we had to stop often to scrape of the ice.

In Gällivare we stopped at the gas station and had some breakfast. We also bought a bottle with de-icer for the windscreen and continued our trip.

The de-icer didn’t help, we had to stop many times to scrape away the ice from the freezing fog. We were not the only ones. The headlights and the number plate were covered with several millimetres of ice, too. I never had experiences something like this before.

Only the bottom 15 cm of the windscreen were free of ice. While Chris crouched into the seat to be able to see I gave up taking pictures from the road and photographed sideways.

We approached the Swedish town Karesuando. This small town is located directly on the Muonio älv, which also forms a natural border with Finland. On the other side the town is named Karesuvanto where we took another break.

Strangely the ice problems stopped right after the Finnish border. We continued to Palojoensuu without any problems. There we turned left onto the road 93. An hour later we were at the Norwegian border.

After being stopped by the customs and assuring them that we have neither alcohol nor cigarettes with us, we continued driving through the snowy plains. Next stop: Kautokeino, where most inhabitants are Sámi. Here we ate a hamburger with chips, a typical meal if you travel through Northern Norway.

Until now, Chris had driven a car. Now it was my turn to drive to give her at least a short rest. The first time I drove a diesel.

Round two hours later we arrived in Karasjok. What I already had suspected, confirmed here: It was cold outside: -30 °C.  Time for another break.

Back in the car, Chris was driving again. It was dark, it was cold, we were tired and still more than four hours to go.

I started to get bored and played around with my camera.

A pale green stripe appeared above the street. A northern light. The next hour we got quite nice northern lights, mostly directly in front of us. Though being tired we got at least entertainment. The photos are awful, northern lights are not made for being photographed free-handed from a car on a bumpy road.

Finally we came to Tana, where we crossed the river of the same name. A quarter hour later we arrived in the small town Varangerbotn, were we took the last stop of our long trip.

Now we drove along the fjord Varangerfjorden. Anyway, beside of some street lights and the weakened aurora it was pitch black and I couldn’t see the fjord. Beside of that I just longed for a bed.

But finally we arrived at Chris’ home in Berg near Bjørnevatn. Arrival time 23:40, 16½ hours after we started in Solberget.

Here I’ll spend the next days.

Link to the route on Google Maps

 

Stopover in Bjuröklubb

Standing on the wooden platform by Bjuröklubb’s lighthouse you have a wide view over the Baltic Sea. And as the ice report says, the sea is covered with ice and snow as far as the eye can see.

Just three photos from today.