The 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

The main reason for us to visit Murmansk just this week was the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship and the 1st Ice Swimming Arctic Cup 2019. There were 7 individual distances/styles and 2 relay distances/styles, all from 50 m butterfly to 1000 m (!) freestyle. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate.

Friday, 15 March

After breakfast we meet Dmitry, a local journalist at the hotel lobby and then take the trolley bus to the ice swimming pool, which is located in the freshwater lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye, 5 km from the centre. We arrive there to see the opening ceremony at 11:30 but due to the many starts the competitions already have begun in the morning. As usual we have to show our press badge to be able to enter the arena.

I’ve been on several winter swimming championships before: in Joensuu and Rovaniemi in Finland and of course several times in Skellefteå.

The first thing I notice are the many people wearing robust drysuits. There were two for each lane, all secured with ropes, plus additional divers. They belong to EMERCOM,  the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

The next thing are the restrictions for the press. We have got a plan with the marked areas where we are allowed to stand, but even there we sometimes are shooed away because we block the audience’s view. We are not allowed to go too near to the ice. Security first! The area behind the pool was open for a short time and then closed for the rest of the competitions.

When we arrive the 500 m freestyle competition is in full swing. A total of 47 swimmers compete in this distance. Some people are so exhausted after the swimming that they have to be helped out of the water. Some of them are even lad to the hot tub where they are able to warm up, but most people can walk by theirselves.

The opening ceremony starts with a flag parade in groups of three, one for each country: a boy presenting a sign with the name of the country, a cadet holding the country’s flag and a swimmer of that country. Here we meet again Mongolian swimmer Davaadorj Shagdarsuren.

Then a line of women walk along the green walkway. They are clad in white and blue dresses and hold traditional Russian welcome gifts in their hands: bread and salt. They walk around the pool and present these gifts to the guests from all countries that stand there in one line.

Finally the championship is opened by the outstanding Russian ice swimmer Alexandr Brylin who swims 25 meter holding two flags in his hands.

The next hours I take various pictures: Of the two mascots dancing around, of the swimming itself, or of the Chinese people having fun with the Russian women.

I have a lot to watch and I reflect on similarities and differences of this ice swimming event compared to others. While Skellefteå is partly a fun event with short distances and a funny cap competition, this competition is a 100% serious sport competition. On the other side the opening and closing ceremonies (we got a sneak preview two days before) in Murmansk are colossally enormous. Nevertheless the championships in Skellefteå have a larger public, partly because it’s in the middle of the city, partly because in Skellefteå you can compete in 25 m, too and many locals do this.

The scenery has its contrasts, too: snow – cold ice – open water – people with warm clothes – women wearing fur – swimmers in bathing suits – colourful flags everywhere – grey concrete buildings in the distance.

I take the freedom to loosely quote Tim, who helped organising Redex 2019: Russia will always surprise you!

Saturday, 16 March

Today it’s the day of the 1000 m freestyle competitions. To be allowed to participate you have to proof that you are able to cope being in the ice water for at least 25 minutes. Nothing for the average leisure swimmer. We arrive to heat number 2, where among others Ren Feng Wang from China participates. Just before swimming all participants get a medical exam and another after the swim.

The start commando: all others swim crawling while Ren Feng Wang breaststrokes. At the end of the competition he will be slowest of all with a time of 24:05:04. For me this would be worth an extra medal for being able to cope the icy water such a long time.

Winner of heat 4, men is the German Martin Kuchenmeister, a professional ice swimmer with a time of 16:56:94.

In the same heat a swimmer has to give up. He is helped out at the other side of the pool by the people of EMERCOM.

Some more photos:

Again, it’s the contrasts that fascinate me. The competition, the concrete buildings and the white Russian orthodox church Savior on Waters.

When you watch the championship you hardly realise that there is a lot of life on the Lake Semyonovskoye outside of the fenced area. People are walking, skiing or ice fishing and some of them stand outside the fence and watch the championship as well. After a while I leave the temporary arena and walk across the lake to make some non-swimming photos.

At the end of the day there are two winners of the 1000 m run:

For the men: Petar Stoychev from Bulgaria with 12:10:81. For the women: Alisa Fatum from Germany with 13:02:39. Chapeau!

Links

3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk – preparations

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

Thursday, 14 March

Tomorrow, 15 Mars 2019 the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship will start. 400 swimmers from 33 countries will participate in this competition and will swim distances up to 1000 metres. The event is organised by the IISA and the town of Murmansk.

The first contact to this event we got yesterday, 13 March in the swimming bath. We met Davaadorj Shagdarsuren, a professional swimmer from Mongolia and only participator of his country. His traditional clothes were really eye-catching and according to himself much too warm for Murmansk. He’s more used to winter temperatures between -35 °C and -50 °C.

Later we had an appointment with Irina Andreeva, leader of the municipal Sport Committee and member of the organising committee. She gave us interesting details about the ice swimming championship and the organisation.

When we went back we passed the Five Corners Square we heard loud music. There a rehearsal for the closing ceremony was in full swing. Heroic music sounded from the PA system and young people were marching to it with huge flags. Half of them in some kind of winter uniforms and flags with the logos of the IISA, the city of Murmansk and Аспол, the association of polar explorers. The others with the national flags of all participants. A nice gesture to all countries. I have however to admit that such kind of parade looks quite odd from my German-Swedish perspective. I’m not used to marching and parading.

Today at 1 o’clock was the press conference for the championship. It hold place in the hotel Azimut. 13 officials talked a bit about the event and invited the journalists to ask questions. Since there came hardly any question they started to ask each other instead. Quite funny situation.

After that we got our press accreditations. Now I have a press badge and I’m quite curious how freely I’m allowed to move the next two days to take pictures of this event.

Links

Last preparations

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Ski tour Vindelfjällen”.

Yesterday SkellefteåUmeå by car (130 km).
Today UmeåHemavan with Annika by car (400 km).
Tomorrow HemavanViterskalet with Annika (12 km). Not by car but by ski, start of our short ski tour on the Vindelfjäll.

Last preparations in Hemavan: repairing Annika’s backpack · packing backpack and pulka · Annika preparing the fur trim for her new Anorak · putting climbing skins under the skis for tomorrow we’ll have to ascend the Stoere Vaerie or Norra Storfjället.

I’ll be offline for some days. Travelogue will follow next week.

What a difference four days make …

That’s how my house had looked like on Wednesday, just before I took the car to the airport.

That’s how my house looked like tonight – just four and a half days later – just after I had arrived from the airport.

When I left Skelleftehamn the temperatures were round 0 °C. When I arrived at Skellefteå airport this evening, the temperatures had dropped to -12 °C and my car was covered with 8 cm of snow. The snow was partly frozen and it took me half an hour before I could drive home. Home in Skelleftehamn it was slightly warmer (-8 °C) yet 10 cm of snow covered my backyard, too.

What a nice welcome home after I have been in a town, both beautiful and stressful (at least for my feelings) for some days: Paris!

Side note: Never ever did I see so many warm jackets as on the huge flea markets in the north. Mostly counterfeit products of The North Face, Canada Goose and others. Since I neither believe in a French ice age coming soon nor in million of French people wanting to visit “La Laponie” (French for Lapland) I guess that the Parisians just have another sense for temperature (and fashion, too).

Missing Iceland article I – Reykjavík

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

While I showed a lot of photos of the varied Icelandic landscapes the last two weeks I didn’t write anything about the main town Reykjavík yet. More than a third of the Islanders lives there and almost two-thirds of the Icelanders in the Greater Reykjavík region.

I’ve never been in Iceland before and was curious about Reykjavík, too. Anyway I have to admit, that I prefer the smaller towns, the rural areas and the uninhabited landscapes, but I want to show at least some photos I took.

 

Period of fine weather

I guess, this week has been the ice fisher’s delight. Nightly temperatures between round -8 °C (good for the ice), afternoon temperatures round +8 °C, hardly any wind and no clouds hiding the sun (good for oneself).

It’s really hard for me to focus on my work when weather is as nice as it has been the last weeks. I would prefer having holidays in the mountains enjoying the fabulous late winter weather. I guess however that there are times when I have to earn money, too …

Already at 8 o’clock I saw five ice fishers standing, sitting or lying on the ice with their tiny plastic fishing rods. Although it was -6 °C it was warm in the sun. In the background the icebreaker Baus circuited around to break the ice for the next ship to come.

I knelt on the ice to make the photos above and heard it cracking. Was it thin ice? Not at all, it is still thick and safe. I guess it was the waves caused by the Baus that made the ice swing and crack. A strange experience. Good to now however that the water is quite shallow where I went.

But now I have to continue my work …

Addendum

I didn’t work much more today, sometimes there are spontaneous opportunities to seize  …

Travel remainders

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Some unpublished photos from my winter journey. I want to show them as long it is still wintry here.

2 February – Jokkmokk

While the grown-up huskies are doing their job the puppies have to wait in the trailer. I guess it is very boring for them. There are curious and seek contact.

21 February – Kirkenes

While Chris, Annika, Ørjan and I are enjoying the gorgeous breakfast in the hotel Thon an asian tourist is waiting outside. She seems to be well protected against the elements but why has the fur to be pink …?

1 Mars – Ekkerøy

On the way to Kiberg Annika and I make a stopover in Ekkerøy where we enjoy a beach walk. Here we meet H. who invites us to visit her. We will make that true some days later. I take a photo of Annika’s and H.’s footwear. Tradition, meet modern world.

1 Mars – Ytre Kiberg

Cape East Arctic Adventure, our stay lies directly at the beach. I could spend weeks with only watching the tides and the changing weather.

4 Mars – Ytre Kiberg

There’s hardly any commercial fishing left in the small former fisher villages and the large drying racks for drying cod remain empty. Some people however still dry cod for personal usage.

5 Mars – Ytre Kiberg

A view through the window of Cape East Arctic Adventure. Today we will continue our journey.

10 Mars – Berlevåg

We hardly have the time to explore Berlevåg, we only buy food. Two images of Berlevåg anyway. Just for the records …

11 Mars – Kjølnes Fyr

This snowstorm shaken rocky shore appears more arctic than many other places of this journey.

14 Mars – Hurtigruten, near Øksfjord

A woman has found a wind protected place and watches the Norwegian winter landscape.

16 Mars – Saltstraumen

On our long car trip back from Ørnes to Skelleftehamn we pass Saltstraumen, a small strait with one of the strongest tidal currents in the world. We are too early to see the strongest maelstroms and I’m too eager to continue home. It’s still 500 km to drive.

Now I finally can erase my “later” folder on the computer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning of spring 2018

According to the meteorologists spring already had started on 1 March. They love to calculate in whole months. Astronomically the beginning of spring is just today.

Well, kind of …

Today I didn’t work but enjoyed the marvellous weather. Bright blue sky and sun, a good day to go to the beach.

Well kind of …

The temperatures were between -10 °C and -5 °C and the Baltic Sea is still covered with a thick layer of ice up to the horizon. Sometimes it’s solid ice, sometimes it’s packed ice. No open water is in sight and therefore no sea birds neither. Just snow and ice and the blue sky.

I left the mainland at the boat harbour Tjuvkistan and crossed the ice to the islands Norrskär and Bredskär. Now I walk along the eastern shore of Bredskär and then to the island Gråsidan.

At the eastern shore there’s a long wall of ice, up to two meters high.

I walk along the shore and look at the fantastical landscape of ice and snow. Sometimes I feel like being in an open air museum. I call the exhibitions “below zero, above sea”. Here’s one of my favourite exhibits:

I go round half the island and then cross it. Although the snow feels solid – like that green floral foam used for flower arranging – I mostly sink knee deep into it. I walk back along the western shore and then cross the ice to the southern edge of Bredskär. The island has a ice wall at the eastern shore as well, partly up to four meters high. Where shall I go? Right beside of the ice wall there are snow drifts, knee deep or even deeper. A bit farther there’s water between the solid ice and the covering layer of snow. Good to have rubber boots.

I cannot decide for the best way to go. So I’m walking king of zig-zag, constantly watching the ice edge. Sometimes there’s a long line of icicles …

… and once there’s even a quite large ice cave. A pity that it will melt within the next weeks (or months?).

I continue my walk, sometimes plunging through deep snow, sometimes just walking on solid ice, sometimes breaking through the snow into water and slush (don’t worry, there’s always a thick layer of ice beneath). I cross the natural gravel bank between the islands Bredskär and Norrskär and talk the same way back to Tjuvkistan.

Today I walked only round seven kilometres, but it was good to be outside, breathing air, letting my eyes wander, catching some sun and the colours of the sky. At 12:30 I reach the car. It’s very warm in the sun and I’m dressed too warm, but the air temperature is still -5 °C. It’s a season between winter and spring which is called vårvinter – spring-winter. A suitable name.

And here comes my favourite picture of today’s exhibition-expedition. I call it “layers of ice”.

Side note: did you notice the huge rubber boots I’m wearing on the first photo? I bought them in Murmansk a month ago. They are made for ice fishing and they are lightweight, comfortable, very warm and of course waterproof. And they were quite cheap. The only drawback: They have spikes that do the opposite of what they are made for. Instead of improving the grip the spikes just slide on the ice making the boots incredibly slippery on ice. I have to check if I can remove the spikes.

 

 

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 7 to 9

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 13 to 15 of my winter journey 2018

(finally the last part about Jonas’ and my ski tour five weeks ago)

Tuesday, 13 February

I woke up in the cabin Tarrekaisestuga at 7:20. Some more centimetres of fluffy snow had fallen over night and it was still snowing slightly.

While Jonas and I had breakfast the snowfall intensified so that the mountains and the opposite shore of the lake Darrávrre were hidden by the falling snowflakes. Even the deep tracks of our pulkas from the day before had been snowed over and we couldn’t spot them anymore. We planned to gradually walk back on the other side of the lake and find a tenting place there. After breakfast we packed our equipment into the pulkas, cleaned up the cabin and started our tour by crossing the lake. It was still snowing quite heavily and on the lake it was quite windy, too.

It was not easy to find a path on the other side of the lake. The snow was soft and deep, some parts were forested quite densely and some passages were quite steep. At least for me, who lacked both power and general fitness for dragging a heavy pulka uphill through this sort of powdery snow where you sink in 20 to 40 cm with every step – with skis on!

Slowly and with many small detours we managed to ascent the southern hills until we reached the treeline where the terrain is more open and less hilly. We found a boulder where we found shelter against the wind. Here we took a snack: Chocolate, trail mix and hot tea.

We continue skiing slowly going uphill heading east. It stopped snowing and the wind dropped but the weather was still grey and dull. At least we could see the mountains again.

Suddenly we came to an abrupt stop. We stood at the edge of a deep, steep ravine impossible to cross. Such can happen if you do not make a detailed tour planning but just have a general idea of where to go.

After a while we started to look for a place to tent. First we followed the ravine that the river Áhkalmgårttje had cut into the landscape then we descended a bit to find a sheltered place between some birch trees. The snow was really deep and without skiers I sank up to my stomach into the fluffy snow.

Fortunately the snow was stable enough to build up the tent after we had trampling down it thoroughly with our skis.

Later in the evening: I wonder, why it is never completely dark. Is it still lights of civilisation reflected by the clouds? Suddenly something was flickering between the clouds. Is it a strong aurora? No, it’s just too vivid. But what is it? It was two snow mobiles that illuminated half the mountain landscape with their strong full beams. Slowly they passed on the lake below us.

Temperatures were round -10 °C, quite warm for a February night in the Kvikkjokk mountains. Soon I fell asleep.

Wednesday, 14 February

As usual I was awake quite early and I had a challenge: going on the loo. I just slipped into my warm mukluk boots, put on the down jacket and took toilet paper plus snow shovel with me. I went back on our track from our day before thinking it would bear my weight. It went well a few steps then I just fell through the snow and stood there, again up to my stomach in powder snow. This plan didn’t went so well. I climbed out of the hole, brushed off the snow of my long johns and looked for a better place. (I found it.)

This morning was even warmer with only -8 °C and quite foggy. Both wide angle lenses were completely fogged and it would take most of the day until I could make clear photos again. That’s what the morning  looked like:

As usual we took it easy and started only at 11 o’clock. We descended through the hilly open woodland until we met the winter trail. Snowmobiles had used this trail not long ago and now it was quite easy – even if a bit boring – to get ahead. And after some time even the sun tried to twinkle between the clouds. The first time after many cloudy days we casted shadows again. And it was snowing at the same time.

I skied fast on the snowmobile trail where I could use cross country skiing techniques. Too fast for Jonas and too fast for myself, too. I couldn’t hold the tempo and after some time I was really exhausted – not for the first time on this tour. On the other side it was already afternoon and we were already quite near Kvikkjokk, where I had parked the car. Jonas found a nice clearing in the forest were we tented the last time on this tour. And even the sky cleared up a bit.

Thursday, 15 February

We do not know if we missed northern lights while we slept. The morning however the sky was grey and overcast again and half a centimetre of dust-like snow covered the tent. (And my green anorak that I had forgot to put into the pulka.) Today we would have it easy. Just some kilometres skiing on the winter trail that means, following the snowmobile tracks, mostly on the river.

We passed the place where we had left the very same river the very first afternoon to find our tenting place. Here, in the “valley” much less snow had fallen and our deep tracks climbing up the steep riverside were still visible. Now it wasn’t long to the private shortcut that we had used on our tour start. When we came to this place, a snowmobile approached from that very shortcut, a man waved at us and made a turn to talk to us. It was Björn, the very same local that we met when we started our tour! He was quite eager to hear about our experiences even though he was a bit in a hurry. He also told us about two other Germans that he just had met at the very same parking place where I had parked my car.

The last kilometres, crossing a small frozen river …

… following the shortcut (which is quite long for being a shortcut) and finally we arrived at the parking place. We hadn’t much luck with the weather, we didn’t ski long distances, but it was an awesome tour anyway. Thank you, Jonas!

Plans for the next ski tour:

  • be better trained and exercised (!!!)
  • have less equipment (!!)
  • have (partly) better equipment (!)

Photo #6 and #9 in this blog article are made by Jonas Balbasus.

At the parking place we met Dan and Helen, also from Germany, who just were on the point of starting a much longer tour within less than two weeks: Following the Padjelanta, crossing the Sarek, returning on the Kungsleden. A very ambitious tour in my opinion. But they made it as you can read in Helen’s blog:
Winter ski tour through Sarek National Park – Sápmi / Swedish Lapland

 

 

 

 

Båtsfjord – Ørnes by Hurtigruten

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Days 41 to 44 of my winter journey 2018

13 March at 19:45 the Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge docked in Båtsfjord. Annika went on board with all our luggage that we would need the next days, while I drove the car into the elevator. The next 59 hours we would travel many miles but stay in the same cabin. Cabin number 305. Kind of luxury. We would even get breakfast because of a campaign. On 16 March round 7:00 we would leave the ship in Ørnes and drive home.

I will not write much about this part of the winter journey but showing photos from the Hurtigruten trip with some comments.

13 March 20:30 – finally on the Hurtigruten. Shop, reception, restaurant and people cruising.

13 March 22:00 Berlevåg – the westernmost of the four Hurtigruten stops Vadsø, Vardø, Båtsfjord and Berlevåg. Some days ago we stood on the breakwater to see the ships coming in, now I stand outside on the bow of the ship to see the very same breakwater passing as we approached the peer.

14 March 05:25 – very early and quite cold in the wind. I’m the only one outside beside of people working.

14 March 05:40 – approaching Honningsvåg on the island Magerøya. Main attraction of that island: the North Cape.

14 March 06:35 – I stay outside and look at the constantly changing weather.

14 March 08:25 – two ships pass. First a smaller boat, twenty minutes later the Hurtigruten ship Kong Harald. It’s snowing.

14 March 11:15 – we approach Hammerfest. Normally the ship will lie there for two hours, but today the ship is late.

14 March 15:45 – I’m outside for some hours and enjoy the view at the landscape. Everything is constantly changing: The mountains, the perspective, the light.

14 March 20:15 – strong polar lights cover the sky. Many people are outside and so are we. I already showed some photos in the article Aurora on the Hurtigruten.

14 March 23:45 – we approach Tromsø. Annika and I are already in our cabin and ready for sleep, but I can see the Tromsø Cathedral through our porthole. (We booked a cabin with limited view to save money and our porthole is more like a tube.)

15 March 07:30 – it’s not cold but very windy on the bow of the ship. My advise for such a winter journey: take the warmest jacket you have.

15 March 07:35 – we approach Harstad.

15 March 10:20 – we reach Risøyrenna – the Risøy Channel, build between 1911 and 1922 to enable bigger ships pass between the islands Andøya and Hinnøya. Only seven meters deep.

15 March 17:00 – we approach the quite famous Trollfjord. In winter however the Hurtigruten ships do not enter it.

15 March 18:30 – we arrive in Svolvær, largest town on the Lofoten. It’s a longer stop and Annika and I leave the boat for looking around.

16 March 06:00 – the alarm clock rings. At 7 o’clock we will arrive in Ørnes, leave the ferry and drive to Skelleftehamn. 583 km by car then I’ll be home again after more than six weeks of travelling.