Sea kayaking in the dark

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

It’s 2 °C air temperature, a cloudless sky and sunset at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A good day to end working at 14:30 and do some kayaking.

The reason for that I kayaked today is that I want to join a kayak course the weekend after next but I do not have all the required skills. So Tim, the course leader I’ve been in contact with gave me private lessons today.

I came to the meeting place right before sunset, where I met Tim. We changed clothes in the club house of the “Trulle” sea kayaking association, put on our dry suits, sprayskirts and life jackets and finally chose two kayaks from a large selection.

Then I stopped making photos. First of all I had to focus on everything that Tim showed and taught me. I learned a lot because Tim is an excellent teacher. The first half was mostly about paddle techniques, the second half more about rescue manoeuvres, which literally means capsizing by purpose. Into quite cold water in the dark.

Was it dark? Not really. Although the moon was too low to illuminate the sea there were street lights nearby, some light of the near airport, the lights attached to the stern of the kayaks and our head lights. What a wonderful atmosphere! And as the icing on the cake we got a stunning aurora, that covered half the sky – swirling and moving in green, red, and violet colours.

Tim managed to take pictures from the scenery. So I’m not the photographer of the next photo, I’m the motive.

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

I have to admit that I was quite nervous before the private lessons today but now I’m really looking forward to the technique seakayaking course.

Thank you Tim for giving me private lessons today. I can warmly recommend his company True North Adventures.

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.

A small after-work promenade

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

Today I had my first work day at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø. Since I am in quarantine I had to work from home. Not easy when you don’t know what to do yet.

Right after work I took a walk to fight my fatigue. First up the streets, then along some tiny paths through the forest-like park Folkeparken. One of the paths led down to the western shore of Tromsøya, the island which Tromsø is on. Here I started to take pictures.

You see the coloured spots at the right side of the last photo? It’s people taking a picnic. There are not extremely many people around, but more than I expected. They jog, they cycle, they sit round a campfire. They take photos, they act as photo motives. They take care of their children, they walk, they talk. They take a winter bath from the wooden pier, they paddle kayak, they sail. All these people present Tromsø as an awesome place to be. The gorgeous autumn weather is just the icing on the cake.

Oh yes, I miss Annika! Anyhow I think, I’ll like it here.

Different ways of kayaking

Since Annika doesn’t have a kayak yet I use to paddle alone. Mostly it’s short tours as for example the day before yesterday. I paddled to the beach Bredviks havsbad to join the yoga group at 8:30. To my surprise it’s shorter to paddle than to take the bicycle or car and so I was 20 minutes early.

After yoga I took a small tour – first north and then along the coast of Obbola.

Then I took an early lunch at the boat harbour since I didn’t had any breakfast. The kiosk there has not only hamburgers but tasty dishes as hummus or ćevapčići and Annika and I eat there quite often. After lunch I slowly paddled home. Slowly, because (a) being stuffed with food, (b) being lazy and (c) the increasing wind from the front.

Yesterday afternoon Annika and I got guests. Corry and Mark from Germany have written on Facebook about the difficulty of finding good tenting places at Västerbottens coast. They have been on a long kayak tour that they started in Haparanda four weeks ago. A common friend commented on the post asking us whether we wouldn’t have a nice meadow for tenting in our garden. Well, we have, and we even have our own little guest house, that Mark and Corry gladly accepted after they had arrived here yesterday afternoon. Last weekend Svitlanda and Ebbe (almost) came by sailing yacht, now we got our first guests that landed by sea directly at our house. It’s fun to live by the sea!

We had a nice evening together with outdoor cooking over open fire and inspiring conversations yesterday. This morning Corry and Mark continued their sea kayak tour. I had the honour to join them a bit.

At 8:15 we started by setting in the kayaks and paddling south. Since they have inflatable kayaks they have to be more careful of rocks and shallows. So we paddled further away from the coast than I use to do. I got some technique tipps about paddling more effortlessly and I really enjoyed the company.

Anyhow I decided to say farewell after an hour. Mark and Corry started crossing more open water and I wouldn’t dare to return the same route alone. Thanks a lot, Corry and Mark for nice company!

While the adventurers headed for the horizon I circled the island Tarv and slowly headed back. To my amazement the whole tour took only 2½ hours; I’ve miscalculated.

Now I know, that there are many destinations to be discovered by kayak and that they are not far away. It’s fun to live by the sea!

Splendid Sunday sailing

It was last winter that Annika and I met Svitlana and Ebbe first. They were the wardens of the Gåsen mountain cabin in the mountains of Jämtland where we went on a ski tour. When they heard that Annika lived in Umeå they told us of their sailing trips and that they know the boat harbour in Obbola near Umeå.

Five months later. Annika and I have been living together in our freshly bought house in Obbola for three months. We already knew, that Svitlana and Ebbe have been sailing north for some weeks and last Saturday they arrived in the boat harbour Bredvik, just 3½ km away. We could even see their sailing yacht passing by from our house.

We hadn’t any time on Saturday but on Sunday we invited them for breakfast. At the same time, they invited us on a sailing tour which we eagerly accepted. The weather forecast was so-so but in the beginning the sun was shining. As soon Svitlana had motored the yacht out of the harbour Ebbe set the sails and gently we sailed southwards and soon passed our house. I had seen the house from sea before while paddling but it was the first time Annika could see if from this perspective. (And again we agreed in living in an extraordinary beautiful place.)

Then we turned left and sailed a large triangle on the open sea. As a matter of fact it was Svitlana and Ebbe who sailed. We did nothing beside of enjoying.

Already two and a half hours later we arrived at the harbour again but sailing with Svitlana and Ebbe was so fun that it felt like a complete holiday.

Already the day before we had learned a new Swedish verb: att bryggsegla. Literally translated to “to jetty-sail” it means to enjoy being on the moored yacht in the harbour. And we did enjoy both food and company.

Большое спасибо Svitlana, tack så mycket Ebbe for a wonderful day! We’ll meet again!

Photos in the rain

This morning it drizzled and rained and the summer colours seem to have vanished. So I took it a step further and started to take black and white photos today. I was not the only one outside in this weather. Two professional fishermen cruised in the mouth of the river Umeälven in their open boat followed by a flock of seagulls.

This is the beginning of a “rainy weather” black and white series. Let’s see how often I’ll go out and take photos in rain or storm.

And you? Do you like to take photos in bad weather or do you prefer the sun?

 

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.

 

Two short kayak tours

Two short kayak tours from the new home by the sea.

The first one morning last week. Just round the island Bredskär. The water surface smooth as silk and in beautiful pastel colours. Everything was quiet beside of the complaining sea birds.

The second one the day before yesterday in the afternoon. Just to the beach at Vitskärsudden. Through tiny waves and a lot of rocks. At the sandy beach I met Annika for a bath. She came by bike. The Baltic Sea not as cold as last time. Summer is coming.

Both tours were equally fun and both of them made me very grateful that I may live here at this fantastic place.

Farewell Skelleftehamn

Sweden. Somewhere in the north. A little town called Skelleftehamn. A small street called Tallvägen. Street number 35. My house, that I named flygelvillan. The large living room. The left half with the grand piano and the computer. That has been a central place to me for many years.

At this place I wrote most of the blog articles of way-up-north.com. I worked. I planned my travels. I communicated. I looked out of the window when it snowed. I played on my grand piano. I rehearsed with a jazz trio and an opera singer. I composed and arranged for big band and chamber choir.

A central place.

Two days ago, on 15 May 2020 I left my house for good. It’s still mine but I’ll sell it this year.

Two days ago at 8 o’clock the large moving lorry arrived and five people started to carry all my belongings into the large car. First some furniture, then more than 150 boxes, pulka, kayak, skis and large bags with sleeping bags and down jackets. And finally my Yamaha grand piano.

The whole move took less than eight hours. Then my grand piano stood erected in the living room of Annika’s and my new house by the sea.

Shall I be sad because I left Skelleftehamn? Perhaps I should, but I’m not. The positive feelings about living together with Annika and having found such an extraordinary place to live dominate. I really have been looking forward to this new life and now it has become reality.

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 3

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

8 March – Vålåstugan

The weather forecast was right. After a calm and sunny day yesterday it looks very different outside. It is grey and the wind has become stormy and gusty.

All people consider their plans. Among others a group of four decides to remain. They wanted to continue to Helags, round 22 km in the southwest. They would have got the stormy wind straight from the front.

Other skiers plan to return to Vålådalen. It’s Sunday, their last holiday. They ask each other to team up and they exchange phone numbers with Olle, one of the wardens. I do not envy them being out in rough weather with increasing wind speeds with squalls up to 27 m/s in the afternoon. While they equip themselves with balaclavas and ski goggles Annika and I keep inside, peeking through the window that starts to be covered with wet snow.

After all skiers have left Vålåstugan it’s very quiet inside with 10 people remaining. Most of them are on their rooms, only one man seems to love cooking. Until noon he has baked fresh bread, made popcorn and fried pancakes. We are invited to popcorn and get part of the pancake powder so that we can make our own ones. If I’m inside the whole day my interest in eating dramatically increases.

While we spend most of our time reading and being lazy the benches on the sun terrace start to snow in. That’s however nothing compared to the other side of the cabin. A metre high snowdrift has started covering the marked way to the outdoor toilet until Olle relocates the waymarks to a less snowed area. At the same time it has became quite warm, slightly above zero.

In the afternoon the other skiers start to ring. At the end of the day it is clear: All of them reached Vålådalen without any harm. We are quite relieved because we read and heard stories about serious (and even deadly) incidents in the mountains in winter time.

We are equipped with a metal shovel, with warm down bags and bivy bags, but even good equipment is only of limited help when the weather is too severe or there is no snow to dig in.

Tomorrow we want to ski to the mountain cabin Lunndörren. According to the forecast it will be slightly colder, sunny and less windy. Good to know, then we dare to continue our tour.

9 March – Vålåstugan – Lunndörren

The next day the skis in front of the house are wrapped in wet snow, now frozen again. I’m glad that my skis are inside. Yesterday evening I glued the long climbing skins under them because we may have to climb many snow drifts today. The weather is fine and it promises to be a sunny day.

At 8 o’clock we say hejdå to the stugvärdarna – the wardens – Olle and Amie. We shall greet the stugvärdarna at Lunndörren. We put on our backpacks, mount the skis, I put on the belt that is connected with the pulka and then we depart.

The first part is easy to ski and extremely beautiful. At every branch tip of the birch trees small pieces of ice are hanging and sparkling in the sun.

We spot a reindeer. When you see one, there are probably others around, too. And so it is. Five reindeers that carefully look at us. They gather in a small group until we come nearer and they walk away.

The first 4 km the snow is perfect. There’s grip for the skis and even with the climbing skins we can glide effortlessly other the snow.

Then it gets more difficult. The plains are so exposed to the wind that they are almost snow-free. Sometimes there’s a visible path, sometimes we have to ski around.

Then the snow gets so hard and slippery that everything starts to slide and it’s near impossible to break. Yesterday’s warm weather and today’s frost have created an icy crust on top of the snow. Sometimes the pulka runs more beside than behind me. When it goes downhills I take large detours to flatten the slope avoiding becoming too fast. Beside of my problems skiing this snow can look very beautiful, especially against the sun.

Later the snow at the surface is as icy as before but the underlying snow doesn’t bare the weight any longer so that we break through. Several times I am run over by my pulka while my skis are stuck. My left wrist still hurts a bit from one fall, one of the less nice memories of this fantastic ski tour.

At last it was snowmobiles that have improved the situation for us. The tracks they have left have broken the icy crust and here we can ski quite well even though I have to unmount the skis for some of the steeper parts. We want to arrive anyway. It’s Annika, who spots the flag of the STF, the Swedish Tourist Association. And there it is: The mountain cabin Lunndörren!

Here Jonas, Arne and I seeked shelter from the storm 17 days ago.  Now we are first welcomed by the friendly cabins in the sunshine and then the friendly wardens.

Lunndörren has a highlight we have been looking to for days: A sauna! Already at 17:00 Annika and will sit there enjoying the heat. But before taking a sauna we take another opportunity. Former guests asked for permission to cut a hole into the ice of the small lake by the sauna some days before. Therefore Lunndörren has an ice hole this season. Of course we have to take an ice bath before the sauna. (Taking it after sauna is considered cheating by winter bathers.)

If you ever want to take pictures of a person making faces: Throw her or him into icy water. Four examples (Photos: Annika Kramer):

After 95 °C in the sauna we took a shower. No, not a normal shower with shower head and and chrome valve, just a bucket full of hot water. But it’s enough to wash your hair and yourself. We feel so fresh again afterwards!

Later that evening I stroll around in the full moon. This will be the last night of the ski tour. Tomorrow we will ski back to Vålådalen, where I parked my car only seven days ago.

10 March – Lunndörren – Vålådalen

It’s always a bit strange, the last tour day. Car keys get more important than the pocket knife and mobile internet becomes normal again. Fortunately it’s much easier to ski today than the day before and comfortably we follow the red crosses marking the winter path. After a while we see the first cross country ski-runs and more people around. At the end we have to navigate, because there are so many possible ways. I decide to take the bridge over the river Vålån, the very same bridge I used on the other ski tour three and a half weeks ago. And almost suddenly we are standing on the parking place next to my car. We unmount the skis, load the skis and pulka into the roof box and fill the car with leftover food, sleeping bags, snow shovel and other equipment. And since we were quite fast today we even make it to lunch.

Tack för turen, Annika. Thanks for the tour. Where do we ski next winter?