A kayak course by the Umeå Kanotklubb

It’s the second week of Annika’s (and my) holiday and we are registered for a three-day paddle course which is carried out by the local association Umeå Kanotklubb. Two days we’ll be on the lake Nydalasjön in Umeå to learn the basic technique, the last day we’ll do a tour on the Baltic Sea starting in Holmsund. I’ve been paddling for almost ten years now but never learned any technique, so I was eager to join the course. Annika has paddled only a few times before and was interested in testing paddling before buying a kayak herself.

The first day. While the others sit in very short and agile whitewater kayaks, Annika and I have chosen sea kayaks, which are longer but much less agile. The others have it easier to make turns and bents, we have it easier to paddle straight ahead and are faster, too. In the beginning we learn the basic paddle strokes forward and backward. Part two is to capsize intentionally just to learn the feeling. Do we get wet? No – we are already completely soaked by the heavy rain, that is chattering down from black clouds above us.

The second day – same location as the first one. It’s not about learning something new but more about repeating and deepening the first day’s learnings. We do a short tour to the bridge Kinabron – hardly more than 700 metres away and then we train capsizing again.

Annika and I try kamraträddning – a rescue technique. We test on our own because the instructors are more into whitewater kayaking where you use completely different rescue techniques. While Annika succeeds in rescuing me I do a mistake and her kayak is flooded almost up to the rim within seconds. We do not have a pump with us but luckily we are only ten metres away from shore and can walk the kayak ashore.

Day three – for us the highlight because we want to make kayak tours on the sea and that’s what we do today. Using sea kayaks is quite different from using whitewater kayaks and so we have an additional instructor that tells us everything we need to join today’s tour. After the instruction we carry the boats into the water and start a tour to the island Lill-Haddingen which is 3–4 km away. There we make of course a fika – a break for eating, drinking, resting. The conditions are good. Hardly any waves, hardly any wind. It would have been a really easy tour for Annika and me if we hadn’t chosen a tandem kayak. It is quite challenging to steer together and to always paddle synchronously to avoid our paddle blades colliding. It is fun to test the tandem kayak but we prefer the single ones. After paddling back almost the whole way we are shown kamraträddning – the rescue technique Annika and I tried the day before but we do not train it by ourselves. It has become later than expected when we finish our tour but especially the third day was a fantastic experience. Thank you, Umeå Kanotklubb for the course! We come again when you offer a rescue course.

 

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 2

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

6 March – GåsenVålåstugan

What a beautiful morning: blue sky, -8 °C, hardly any wind. I take my tripod and make some photos of the mountains around us.

After two cozy days at Gåsen Annika and I are eager to continue our ski tour and already at 8:15 we say farewell. Next stop: Vålåstugan, 16 km away.

The first kilometre the way leads up. The snow is grippy and soon we are on the top of the saddle. Cirrus cloud have risen and there’s a halo with sun dogs around the sun. We look back and spot Gåsen in the distance. Just some dark spots in an apparently endless expanse of snow, but there you get all you need, from shelter to food.

One and a half hour later we see the emergency hut Härjångsdalen. At the same time a helicopter is coming from north. It lowers fast, turns a lap and then lands directly by the hut. Shortly after we arrive, too. Two people climb out of the helicopter. They inspect the emergency phone in the hut. I would love to have a job that includes flying helicopters to see the mountains from above.

We continue our trip through the kalfjäll – the bare mountains above the timberline.

Slowly we descend and the first birch trees come into view. We take a break on a small hill where the wind has blown away the snow. Normally this could be a rather bad place to rest, because it is exposed to the wind from all directions but today it’s calm and sunny. Soon after the break I take off the jacket and ski without. The woollen shirt is warm enough in the sun.

At 13:50 we arrive at Vålådalen. We are the first guests today. A lot of people are expected today, among others a group of fourteen, guided by the Swedish Tourist Association STF. We have the choice, where to stay and choose room 1 in the new cabin, where we’ll share the 4-bed-room with the two STF tour guides.

Gradually other skiers come, from single skiers to larger groups. Some have pulkas, most only backpacks. Some stay in the old cabin, most in the larger new one. Here the kitchen is quite large and all people find place.

7 March – Vålåstugan

Another beautiful morning. -10 °C.

As we did in Gåsen we do not continue to the next cabin but stay here for a day. Today we are lucky, because the weather is so beautiful. We do a small ski tour to the other side of the valley. It’s always fun to ski without a heavy backpack or pulka. And on the slope leading up to the mountain Gruvsmällen we even have mobile internet. I use the opportunity to check the weather for tomorrow. Oops, that doesn’t look promising.

On the way back we pass the water source. It is protected by a wooden hut which lies deeply under the snow. A stair leading down to the hut is cut into the snow. I wonder how the stugvärdarna – the wardens – knew where to start digging, then I spot an orange plastic bar. Maybe that bar marks the entrance to the hut. Inside you can see, that the hut is built directly over a small stream. Here you can refill the water buckets from the kitchens.

And water we need. Already before our ski tour Annika has started to water the dried food: potatoes, onions, vegetables, feta cheese. In the evening we wait until the larger groups have completed cooking. Then Annika starts to make another frittata. Ingredients: the dried food mentioned above, butter, egg powder, milk powder, salt, herbs and spices. And again it tastes great.

Olle, one of the wardens comes with a weather update. That’s important for the guest of Gåsen because here is no mobile reception. He confirms what I already know: Tomorrow it will snow and be very windy with average wind round 19 m/s.

People start discussing: shall they continue to the next destination tomorrow or stay at the cabin? We decide to stay another day and get a thumbs up from Olle. Others plan to ski back to Vålådalen tomorrow. Tomorrow it’s Sunday and many have to work again on Monday.

Continue with part 3 >

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 1

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

I already have made ski tours in Scandinavia. The first one was 2005 and others in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. What I never did before was doing two ski tours in a row. This year is a premiere. Four days after the last tour day with Arne and Jonas I had the pleasure to do another tour with Annika.

As the tour before we planned to start in Vålådalen and even parts of the tour were equal, only we skied the other way around. If you ask me, travelling the same area twice doesn’t matter, because the weather you cope, the people you meet, the experiences you have, they are all different.

2 March – Vålådalen – Stensdalen Fjällstuga

Annika and I start our ski tour at 9:30. 5 cm of fresh snow cover all snowmobile tracks. Only some fresh ski tracks show us that we are not the first ones.

We ski through the forest. The weather is grey, it snows a bit, -9 °C. I think the forest looks boring in this dull light. Today I hardly take the cameras out of my backpack. Only a small pine tree gets my attention.

Will I take any photos on this second ski tour? Well – I don’t have to. We’ll see …

We arrive in Stensdalen Fjällstuga, the first cabin at 15:00. We can choose: the old or the new cabin? We are curious about the new cabin and get a six bed room. We are four people in the room which is equipped with three bunk beds. I sleep in the upper bed and can look through the tiny square window. Annika’s window is snowed in.

People who know me know that I prefer the mountains to the forest. Does the mountains like me, too? It seems so. On the plywood wall of one of the earth closets it is written: “Fjället älskar dig.” – “The mountains love you.”

The rest of the day? Sauna — dinner — early bedtime. Tomorrow we want to get up at 6:30. It’s only 14 km to Gåsen but it is 350 metres higher than Stensdalen and we are not sure how long it will take.

3 March – Stensdalen FjällstugaGåsen

6:00. The alarm clock hasn’t rung yet but we are already awake. We leave our sleeping room and enter the huge common room with kitchen, where I light the huge wood stove. Annika is boiling water for tea. We have a full breakfast with bread, cheese, and eggs – all leftovers from our breakfast at the hostel the day before.

We like the style of the new cabin. It may be less cozy than the old ones but the separation of the sleeping room is nice and there’s a lot of space so that even with a lot of people it is hardly crowded.

8:20. We just walked across the wooden bridge by the sauna and strap on our skis. 8 cm fresh snow have fallen. We ski through birch forests. Our skis sink 10-15 cm into the snow.

Suddenly Annika makes a sign to stop and to be quiet. It’s a bird – a woodpecker chopping on an old tree trunk. Carefully I get out my camera with the telephoto lens and slowly I ski towards the bird. It seems to ignore me. When I’m hardly three metres away I start to crouch. Frrrr … the woodpecker flies away. For the bird lovers (and Google): It’s a three toed woodpecker.

The snow is soft and we are slow. How long will it take us to Gåsen? I hope that the snow is less deep in the kalfjäll – the parts above the timberline. After 4, 5 km the forest opens and a large ascending mountain slope comes into view. We meet two skiers that come from Gåsen (they have been really fast). We thank each other for making a trace. A trace that we hardly need for now the snow is much harder. So it’s less exhausting to ski although we have to ski up. Less than two hours later we have approached Stähtja, an emergency hut that we use for a break.

When we continue the sun has started to peek through holes in the clouds. The lighting moods are great and sometimes hardly believable. Snow is purple in the shadow and yellow in the sun, sometime the scenery looks like big studio lights have been set up for filming. I think it’s nearly impossible to catch these sophisticated moods but of course I try anyway.

We ski about a large snowy saddle that looks infinite. A sign says “Gåsen 3km”. First we are completely alone but then another skier approaches. It’s stugvärd Ebbe, one of the cabin wardens whom I already met on the other ski tour. He welcomes us and continues skiing. We continue, too. On the highest point of the saddle Gåsen comes into view.

Just before we arrive Ebbe returns from his ski trip and welcomes us again, this time with hot berry juice – the traditional welcome on the STF mountain cabins. We are the only guests and in the same room as Arne, Jonas and me nine days before. The proof? The garlic that we had forgot is still there.

Later four French people arrive. They hardly speak to us. I guess they only feel comfortable speaking French, a language we cannot speak.

The wind increases. We do not care. We want to stay here at least one more night.

4–5 March – two days at Gåsen

It’s windy in the morning. Outside its -8 °C, inside our cabin temperature has dropped to 7 °C. I fire the “Upland” wood stove. It is very slow and it will take half the day until the cabin is warm again. The French group leaves. I do not envy them because the wind is increasing and it is snowing.

At 10:00 we leave our cabin and go to the stugvärdarnas cabin. Ebbe has invited us to fika – coffee – and Svitlana has baked a delicious chocolate cake. We sit there and talk for almost two hours until we hear the sound of an approaching snowmobile. It transports food and goods, both for Svitlana and Ebbe as well as for the Fältjägaren Fjällstuga, 30 km in the south.

We invite Svitlana and Ebbe for dinner. Annika had dried potatoes, onions and vegetables at home to spare weight. Now she is watering the dried food.

Later that day I have another appointment. Ebbe and I fetch water from the waterhole. Ebbe wanted to do that in the afternoon when the wind has calmed down, since it’s a bit to go to. You see the tiny square right from Ebbe’s head on the first photo? That’s the waterhole. It’s four metres deep, so you take a bucket to pull up the water, fill it into the plastic containers and then use the sledge to pull it back. One container for the warden’s, one for our cabin.

And the used water? There are own buckets for it and an own place where to pour out them. They are marked with the word slusk.

At 18:00 Svitlana and Ebbe arrive. Annika has used milk powder, egg powder and the watered potatoes and vegetables to make frittata. It’s enough to invite Magnus from Göteborg as well. He slept in the tent the nights before and now stays in the same cabin as us. Svitlana brings fresh bread and Annika’s frittatas taste great. We even have some Florentine biscuit as dessert. A luxury multi-course  dinner at Gåsen with great company. What a fantastic evening!

Annika and I decide to stay another day. Magnus is not sure yet.

We take it easy this morning. Magnus has decided to stay, too. So Magnus and I can help Ebbe with the gas cylinders. Full gas cylinders have to be connected to the warden’s cabin. The gas connection is at the back of the cabin and was completely snowed in, since here the snow reaches over the roof. Ebbe has already dug down to the door and Magnus and I use a rope to slowly lower the heavy gas cylinders down to Ebbe. These are jobs, where a stugvärd needs support of the guests and we are glad to help.

Not only the back of the stugvärd cabin is snowed in. The old cabin is also surrounded of snow and with a single step you could climb on the roof. Ebbe told us, that a snow groomer would come in two weeks to dig out the cabin.

This day more people arrive. First to constantly talking women, than a party of six. Magnus already fled the crowd by moving to the other room, Annika and I follow soon. There it is cold, but quite.

The weather has got better and tomorrow both Magnus and us want to start early. He will return to Storulvån, we want to continue to Vålåstugan.

Continue with part 2 >

Meanwhile in Skelleftehamn

It has been already a week, since I returned from my winter journey. I already blogged about my first ski tour with two German friends, soon I’ll blog about my ski tour with Annika, too.

Today the weather was sunny and quite warm. Due to the corona virus I try to avoid crowded places. Fortunately such places are nearby. One of them is the island Storgrundet, less than 2km from home. The ice between island and coast is thick, but on the other side there’s open water because most of the sea ice has vanished.

This is a nice place to enjoy the sun, ice and water.

And since I had my drysuit with me I could take that photo of a small ice cave standing in the sea.

Total time: 90 minutes. Recreational value: high.

Do you have such lonely places nearby? When did you visit them the last time? I’m looking forward to your comments.

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 4

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Tuesday, 25 February – calming down

Midnight has passed. Arne, Jonas and I are sleeping in the tent, somewhere between the mountain cabins Gåsenstugan and Vålåstugan in the mountains of Jämtland. After ten tour days and nights with very stormy weather it finally seems to have calmed down.

Half past one – BANG! BANG!! Three people wake up, red lights from three headlamps appear. What was that? The tent was just hit by two storm squalls. A new storm again? An unpredicted one? We leave the tent and Arne and Jonas tighten the tent lines. Back in our sleeping bags we carefully listen a while, but it has calmed down again.

Interruption from the blog author: I apologise. Until now I used the word “storm” 38 times in this tour report. You may call it bad style but we had a lot of weather with high Beaufort levels. Until now. Spoiler: the rest of the tour was calm and I won’t mentioned the s-word in this article again. And now back to the 25 February!

When I wake up at 7 o’clock the sky is blue and the air is crisp and clear. -10 °C. Soon the sun rises and illuminates the snow covered mountain tops.

We have a lot of time. We have three more days to ski and it’s only 25 km to my car. So we take a detour. Although it’s -10 °C the sun is so warm that we take of our jackets.

We approach Vålåstugan where we have been a week ago. Now the main building is shovelled free and we can take a sun bath on the terrace.

After our break we continue north until the way forks. We decide to take the detour over Stensdalen but to continue tenting. And another tent night it is, between some trees and with the view over the beautiful fjäll. The sun goes down, followed by the new moon. And there are more lights to see: stars, planes, the planet Venus, satellites and in the distance the lights of Vålådalen – the gate to civilisation. -15 °C.

Wednesday, 26 February – into the forest

Another beautiful morning. Sun and blue sky. -16 °C. So calm that we can eat outside of the tent. And brush our teeth as well.

We take a break at the Stendalsstugan. We are welcomed with hot berry juice, the traditional welcome on the STF cabins. The old building burned down in 2010, so a new one was built and inaugurated 2014. It’s huge and very modern. It looks very practical but less cozy and we are not sure whether we like it or not.

We continue the way down to Vålådalen. Single birches become birch forests, spruce trees become spruce forests. Moorland appears and huge pine trees. With the snowy mountains in the back this land looks Canadian to me. (I’m an expert, I’ve never been to Canada.)

We find a nice place to camp with the hope for sun in the morning. The temperature has dropped to -21 °C, the coldest temperature yet. This will be our last tent night. Tomorrow it’s only 10 km to go the parking and then we have booked rooms in the near hostel Vålågården. I’m always sad to bid the fjäll farewell but I’m looking forward to a hot shower and fresh clothes. I guess I smell like a wet fox.

Two course dinner: the main dish is couscous and for dessert chocolate creme.

Thursday, 27 February – back to civilisation

Blue sky again. Our sleeping hang or lie outside for drying. Yes, it is possible to dry a sleeping bag in -16 °C. The ice round the opening sublimes.

The last day is a day of last time activities. Melting snow the last time. Dissolve milk powder the last time. Dismantling the tent the last time. Packing the pulkas a last time. And starting a day on skis the last time.

Relaxed we ski back. Today we meet more skiers than the 12 days before. Some start a longer tour, many are doing day trips. A fallen tree invites both for a rest and a tour photo of all us three (there aren’t so many).

And that’s the last of more than 120 tour photos I published in this four-part tour report.

Dear readers, thanks for reading. You are very welcome to comment the articles. (Or pay me a winter holiday in Canada)

Dear Arne and Jonas – tack för turen! Thanks for the tour. I’m looking forward to the next one!

P.S.: Here’s a link to a map with our overnight stays and some of the breaks: Google Maps – Skitour Jämtland 2020.

 

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 3

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Saturday, 22 February – skiing to Gåsen

Day 8 of our ski tour. After we have found shelter from the storm in the emergency hut Hulke we where eager to continue out tour. Next stop Gåsen fjällstugan and finally a resting day is awaiting us.

As usual I am awake before 7 o’clock. Time to visit the utedass – the outdoor toilet – and take a snapshot in the blue hour with my iPhone SE. Technically the image is crappy but I love the almost pointillistic appearance of the photo. Since it looks rough it reflects reality much better than the technically superior photo, that I took with my Nikon D750 45 minutes later.

The first 4 km lead us 150 meters up. Easy, but a bit boring since the weather is grey and dull. When it’s cloudy like that, the contrasts are so poor, that you cannot see any structures in the snow.

That’s not a big deal as long we climb the mountain. Soon we can see the buildings of the Gåsenstugan although they are still nearly 5 km away. But between them and us there is the valley Holkendurrie. We have to ski down 150 meters again. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big deal for me although I’m a real lousy downhill skier but just in this valley it starts to snow and it gets quite windy. Now there’s even less contrast and the snow looks like a white, untouched paper.

It takes some time for me to ski down. I know, that there are icy patches and snow drifts but I cannot distinguish between them. It’s all plain white. I fall the first time, when my right ski gets stuck in a small snow drift, while the pulka – still on fast, crusted snow – just pushes me down. Ouch, my left wrist didn’t like that. I fall once more, but after a while I managed to reach the valley, where Arne and Jonas have waited for me. Now it’s time to ascent again, this time round 200 metres. At 13:30 we arrive at the cabins.

Anders, another skier that we met at Helags recommended the old cabin which he considered very cozy. This cabin however is almost completely snowed in and it’s quite clear that it is not habitable right now.

Anyhow it’s the stugvärd we have to ask where to sleep. For today is the first day, where the mountain cabins are officially open. That means, that one or two stugvärdar are around. These voluntary working people tell guests like us where to sleep, accept payments, show where to fetch water or firewood, explain the kitchen (if necessary) and sell food and some other items in a small shop.

So we walk to the cabin with the sign “Stugvärd”. We have to climb down some large stairs cut into a huge snowdrift, then we enter a small anteroom and finally the shop where we are welcomed by the stugvärd. We are the first guests today. We directly pay for two days because we all want to have a day off – both for resting and avoiding new storm squalls that are forecasted for tomorrow. We are in the left part of the (only) other habitable cabin, another Abrahamssonstugan. I use the shop to buy ecologically chips and cola – pure luxury!

Jonas fetches firewood, Arne water from the well (and by chance catches a river trout with the bucket). We hang up our jackets, sleeping bags and other clothes to dry. The rest of the day we throw firewood into the wood stove, since this part of the cabin hasn’t been used since last year’s September and everything is cold, especially the walls and mattresses. It takes hours for the room to get a little warm. No other guests come this day, we stay alone, enjoying the cabin that provides everything you need.

Sunday, 23 February – a stormy resting day

Again I am the first to wake up. Again the night was stormy and it still is. Round 9 o’clock, Ebbe, the stugvärd drops in. He invites us to fika – the Swedish coffee break – for 15:00. If we shovel free his door.

First I take some photos through the window, then I go out into the storm. According to the forecast we have storm squalls up to 27 m/s this morning. Snow is blowing everywhere and my wide angle lens will have problems with moisture for days.

Then I go the the cabin of the stugvärdarna. The entrance door is snowed in over the door handle. How did Ebbe get out of the house? I shovel away the snow and then enter the cabin. Ebbe tells me, that he had to climb out of the window since he couldn’t open the door. It was the second time since they arrived five days ago. I’m glad to help.

It storms all day. When we go to the utedass (hardly 50 m away) we look like polar explorers. In the night we will be glad about the reflecting waymarks to find the way.

At 15:00 we leave our cabin and visit the stugvärdarna Ebbe and his wife Svitlana. It’s not only coffee we get, Svitlana has baken delicious brownies. Tasty! I feel honoured being invited by them and we have a great time together talking about hiking tours, places like the Sarek and safety in the mountains. After an hour or so we use the shop to buy additional food for the evening, then we leave.

Two other skiers have arrived. It’s hardly visible from the stugvärdarnas kitchen because the snow in front of the window is piled up so high. They join us in our room. It’s warm inside and the candles provide a cozy light. Outside it’s still storming. As the evening before I wear balaclava, ski goggles and headlamp when I go to the utedass.

It was a good day for resting! Thank you Svitlana and Ebbe for your hospitality. Hopefully we’ll meet again!

Monday, 24 February – finally tenting again

Again a stormy night, nothing to mention anymore after so much wind and storm. I remove about 80 cm fresh snow in front of the entrance door of the stugvärd cabin and trudge back through knee deep snow drifts. My pulka is visible from the side, the others almost completely buried in the snow.

If the weather forecast is right, wind shall finally decrease for some days. Hopefully that’s true so that we can sleep in the tent again. We leave Gåsen at 10 o’clock. First we have to ski through deep snow but then the snow is more compact and effortlessly we ski down to the emergency hut Härjångsdalen. After a short break we continue equally fast.

If we continue like this we’ll soon reach the cabin Vålåstugan. Since the wind really calmed down we slow down, too and start looking for a good place to camp. After several days in the kalfjäll above the timberline we spot the first birch trees. We stroll around a bit because it is still early. At 14:00 we have found a nice camp ground amidst some birches. As usual Arne and Jonas erect the tent while I take photos.

Later even the sun comes out. The first time while tenting.

Now it’s time to melt snow, to cook and to eat. Today’s dinner is spaghetti with pesto and chocolate as a dessert. Already at 19:00 we lie in our warm sleeping bags. The outside temperature -14 °C. I close my eyes and minutes later I fall asleep.

Continue with part 4 >

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 2

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Wednesday, 19 February – tenting in the kalfjäll

The night in the mountain cabin Vålåstugan was stormy, but in the morning the wind has calmed down. We leave Vålåstugan behind and head southeast.

Our way leads to Helags, the highest mountain in Jämtland. The Helags Mountain Station is about 23 km away, but we don’t have to go the whole way today since want to camp. The way leads up and there are less and less birch trees. Soon we are above the timberline in the kalfjäll – the bare mountains.

We take a break at Ljungan, one of Jämtlands emergency huts. For once it is not windy but it’s cozy to sit inside anyway.

Now we are already halfway to Helags. We decide to continue since the weather is supposed to get worse tomorrow. It would be nice to have just a short distance to the mountain station tomorrow. Ljungan lies in the valley of the river of the same name. Now we have to ski up again. We continue skiing the whole afternoon. On the one side I consider it quite exhausting, on the other side it’s so beautiful watching the light changing in the setting sun. White – yellow – orange – “peach” – purple and finally white again, but a cold one.

It’s already dark when we have found our campground for tonight. It is hardly protected again wind and storm but according to the weather forecast this night is supposed to be relatively calm.

If people ask me why I love winter tenting although it can be uncomfortable and sometimes even troublesome, have a look at the next photo. Can you imagine standing there? With an itching nose in the cold but the down parka keeps you warm? Looking at the milky way and zillions of stars? Hearing nothing than the crunch of snow underfoot and your own breath? Feeling how you calm down and find a deep satisfaction inside? That’s why I love winter tenting!

Thursday, 20 February – visiting Helags Fjällstation

Two o’clock. Suddenly we are all awake. It has got stormy again and tent was shaken by some stormy gusts. Is another storm approaching? No, soon it calms down again.

The next morning it is cloudy but calm. Through some gaps we can see the colours of the sunrise.

Some of the daily morning routines: melting snow – dissolving milk powder for the muesli – having breakfast – packing our things – dismantling the tent – putting on skis and the harnesses for the pulkas. It always takes a while, but we are not in a hurry, Helags is less than 7 km away. We leave at 9:40, ski to the winter trail that we left yesterday evening and follow the waymarks.

The wooden red crosses are our friends! Sometimes it seems quite boring following these waymarks, especially if you can see dozens of them standing in a straight line. But there’s a reason, that the distance between the red crosses is quite small. The weather can by very rough in the mountains and the visibility very poor. And the weather in the mountains can change very fast.

And so it happens to us. Within short the wind increases more and more. First it’s easy to continue but soon we are skiing in full storm. You hardly see more than the next red cross while the storm tries to knock you over. I manage to take some last snapshots with my smartphone.

Then I have to stop taking pictures because it would be too dangerous. We could loose each other or I could loose a mitten and get frostbite. There is hardly anything to see anyway because the visibility is extremely poor. I can spot a Arne, who is in the lead, my skis and sometimes the next red cross, that’s all. It’s very demanding to ski in storm, both physically and mentally and I’m really glad when we finally arrive at Helags. How long it took? I don’t know. I loose any sense of time in this kind of weather.

There are people at the Helags Fjällstation. Some craftsmen fixing things and two women working for the STF preparing Helags for the opening in eight days. After a bit of confusion we are shown the way to the emergency shelter, where we push the pulkas and ourselves inside. Arrived and protected from the storm.

We are safe and sound but disappointed. The cabin has eight beds and even electricity but no possibility to cook. I talk to one of the STF people who reacts with a mixture of confusion and ignorance. The only answer I get: it’s pre season and everything is closed. I tell them, that the mountain cabins as Lunndörren and Vålåstugan do provide everything even off-season but I get the same answer again. Quite disappointing.

Two other skiers have arrived. They manage to persuade one of the women to open another cabin with a kitchen until tomorrow. But the chaos continues. First Arne is locked in while using the indoor toilet in the main building and all STF people have left by snowmobile. Then they arrive again and want to lock the cabin with the kitchen already now, while we’re using it.

I never felt more unwelcome in Sweden since I moved here ten years ago. Actually we wanted to take a day off at Helags but it’s clear that this is not the place to be. We will leave tomorrow morning.

Friday, 21 February – finding shelter in Hulke

The next morning the storm has calmed down a bit and it promises to be a sunny day.

The kitchen is still open. Jonas fetches snow to melt on the electric(!) stove.

The utedass, the outdoor toilet is more than 100 m away from our cabin and lacks waymarks. I wouldn’t have dared to use it in full storm. But now I do. Things to bring: A warm jacket and a head lamp.

Although the storm subsided, it is still windy and the blown snow glistens in the sun.

Our departure is delayed a bit: A mitten I accidentally have dropped is blown away 20 metres. Jonas can fetch it before it is blown away even further. I pull on the glove and we can start.

The Helags massif is incredible beautiful and only reluctantly I break up. I would have loved a resting day but as I mentioned above not here.

Easily we continue. We have the wind behind us. First we slide down, then we have to cross the saddle between the mountains Miesehketjahke and Soenehketjärra.

From there we can spot the emergency hut Hulke. We only have to slide down the mountain saddle and we are there. Quickly we decide to stay here for the night because again hard winds are excepted for the night.

Most emergency huts have signs that restrict overnight stays to emergency situations. Not Hulke, so we feel safe to use it. Of course the firewood stays untouched. It is provided to save lives, not to increase comfort. We use our camping stove to cook and our warm clothes and sleeping bags to stay warm.

It doesn’t take long and it’s stormy again. I have to go to the utedass. After I have finished I open the door of the utedass from the inside. It is blown open so violently that the handle pulls me out of the building before I realise what happened. Jonas happens the same with the hut. From now on we open the doors only a bit and squeeze ourselves through the gap. And I wear ski goggles outside. My Nikon cameras dislike this weather and I only make some snapshots with my smartphone.

We sit on our inflated camping mats on top of the wooden benches. Mukluk boots warm our feet, warm jackets our body. After dinner we lie down. Jonas and I on a bench, Arne on the floor between us. Storm squalls howl in the stovepipe and make the hut vibrate. Will the stormy weather stop one day or will it continue forever?

Continue with part 3 >

 

 

 

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.