Closing the kayak season 2018

I was stuck. I couldn’t go straight ahead, I couldn’t go backwards, I couldn’t turn. And I definitely couldn’t go sidewards because I sat in a kayak on the Baltic Sea and was surrounded by ice.

Back to the beginning of the day: I took a day off today because of the nice weather and decided to make a kayak tour. My goal was to sea the sunrise from the open sea. When I came to the tiny beach were my kayak has been lying since June it was still dim. The sea between the island Storgrundet and the mainland was covered with a fresh layer of clear ice. Two days ago these parts had been free of ice.

I already changed into paddling clothes at home: Woollen underwear, a drysuit that would keep me dry when falling into the ice cold water, a waterproof face mask and neoprene boots. It just took some minutes to take of the warm anorak – it was about -7 °C – and put some stuff into the cargo hatches of the kayak. I put on my woollen mittens and the long, waterproof overmittens, then I was ready to start the tour.

The question was: How thick is the ice? Would the kayak slide onto it or break through?

I sat in the kayak and pushed myself backwards, first with the paddle, then with the hands. The ice didn’t break. Anyway I was still quite near the shore. I continued pushing myself backwards until I came to the area of new ice. The ice didn’t break.

It is both exhausting and very ineffective to sit in a kayak and push yourself over bare ice with waterproof mittens. You just don’t get a grip. I realised that I wouldn’t come long. I returned ashore, got out of the kayak, went to the car and drove home.

At home I got my isdubbar – my ice claws. They look like a jumping rope with nail attached to the handles and are used for self-rescue, if your break into the ice. I changed also into winter boot, because my feet were freezing. The neoprene boots are not the warmest. Ah, that feels better! I got into the car and drove back to my kayak. Second try!

It was still exhausting to move the kayak over the ice, but with an ice claw in each hand I could pull my kayak forward with a speed up to 5 – 6 km/h. The sun had not risen yet and the air was calm and chilly. The horizon started to turn pink.

I found a bit of open water at the narrow passage between island and mainland. Then I came to another sheltered bay that was frozen, too. First the ice was quite thick, then it started to become thinner.

Here my problems started. The kayak went through the ice and floated. The ice was too weak for using the ice claws, but too thick to use the paddle. After some metres I was stuck! Every time when I used the paddle to move forward another meter I was surrounded by ice and couldn’t use it anymore. During the seconds that it took for changing from paddle to ice claws the kayak drifted back and I was surrounded by open water again, making the ice claws completely useless. Finally I started some kind of dog paddling with hands and arms, still the ice claws at hand until I could reach ice again, pull me forward another meter and break through the ice again. The sun had already risen minutes ago. (Goal missed!)

These are the situations where I learn a lot about my lack of patience …

Anyhow the island Storgrundet was near and with some efforts I reached a spot where I could go ashore. I just wanted to check the water and ice conditions on the outer side of the island.

Beside of some pancake ice near the shore the Baltic Sea was completely clear of ice, exactly as excepted. I returned to my kayak and went along the stony shore pulling it nearer to the open water. The sea was still covered with ice but it was thinner and I could hack my paddle through it. Small patches of open water were enclosed in the icy surface and tiny waves vibrated in the rhythm of my paddling. Very funny to look at! And then, some curses later, I finally reached open water – almost two hours later than my first arrival at the beach this morning.

What a relief to put the paddle blades into normal water. Ice cold water, but just normal, liquid water. Delighting. Where should I go? To Finland …?

Soon I spotted a possible destination: Nordlundsstenarna a.k.a. Själagrundet, more a gravel bank than an island, 1.6 km from shore. When I arrived there I looked at the next island Medgrundet, which would be much more attractive for taking a break than this pile of stones. I continued paddling. The wind increased slightly and it got a bit chilly, but it’s only 1.1 km from Själagrundet to Medgrundet so I arrived there quite soon.

The first think I did when I was at land was to put on my winter anorak. Then I explored the island. Some photos:

Actually I could have spend the whole day on this island, but I made a huge mistake: I didn’t bring any food with me. (Don’t try that at home, kids!) So after a stroll over the island I returned to my kayak that was as ice covered as the rock nearby.

What I did bring with me were my sunglasses. I was really glad having them because the trip back was straight against the sun. Ok, time for some selfies …

The way back was nice and beautiful and not very spectacular. I enjoyed the sun and the colours of the sea – it could be covered with ice and snow quite soon.

Since I hardly could recognise anything on land I went a bit wrong but the detour was small. After a while I reached Storgrundet and then the ice covered parts again. This time it was much easier because I could follow the ice-free channel that I had cut into the ice on the way there. But when I had to use the ice claws on the more solid ice again to pull myself forward I realised something: There are many things I lack, one of them is strong chest muscles. They will ache for certain tomorrow.

 

 

Hveravellir

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

Wednesday, 29 August – Thursday, 30 August

After our long bus tour we arrived in Hveravellir in the Highlands of Iceland. Hveravellir lies 650 metres above sea-level and here you can find geothermal areas, where fumaroles emit hot gas, mostly water, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The latter one is responsible for the smell of rotten eggs.

We went along the wooden path (don’t leave it, the crust is thin and boiling hot!) and looked at the fumaroles. Then we continued a path westwards.

The landscape scenery changed. The path led mostly through lava rock, only sparsely covered with soil, moss, grass and some flowers.

Some sheep were grassing here and there. They preferred the grassy parts of the desertlike surrounding.

The willows however had to cope with the soil that they had got and even more with the weather. There were flat and crouching on the ground to avoid exposure to the wind.

The way we chose is no circular track so after a time we had to return to Hveravellir, where we had booked an overnight stay. We used to wooden bridge to cross a small stream. You have to be careful, the water is hot!

“Home” again we cooked tortellini for dinner and bathed in the hot tub that was located right beside of our mountain hut. While Annika stayed in the hut after that I took another walk and enjoyed the evening light. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. (And I thought, it would only rain on Iceland!) The motives? Smoking fumaroles against the light · glaciers and snow covered mountains far away · sheep nearby.

I slept very well but woke up quite early. Time for another walk, this time enjoying the sunrise.

The night has been cold and ice crystals covered flowers and leaves. The wet parts of the ground were covered with hoarfrost that looked hairlike.

The fumaroles enveloped the geothermal areas in steam. I can do without the sulphuric smell, but the look is very impressing, especially with the warm sunrise colours.

After my early morning walk Annika and I had breakfast and then packed our stuff. The bus back to Reykjavík wouldn’t leave before 12, so we had time for a two-hour walk together, this time heading south. One of the things that make Iceland unique for me is the colours, not only the colourful mountains in Landmannalaugar, but even the moss and the grass looks special. And the volcanic lava rock is so sharp that the photos look oversharpened.

Round 11 o’clock we had returned to the parking place waiting for the bus. But we spontaneously changed plans when we met Matti whom we got to know in Reykjavík some days ago. He was here by car and invited us to join him and his friend. They wanted to drive to another place, hike around then return to Reykjavík. We happily agreed and had a great time, but that’s another story …

 

 

Another bath in Storgrundet

Bathing in the Baltic Sea is still fun but it starts getting chilly. Today water temperature was round 13 °C, that’s 5 °C less than two days ago. Maybe the strong gusty wind has been mixing the warmer surface water with colder water from the depth.

If the water temperature drops below 10 °C you can call it winter bath. I guess, that will not be long.

 

From the #archives: winter season

The weather of the last weeks has been hot, mostly too hot for me. Even today’s thunderstorm and heavy rain showers didn’t manage to cool down the temperatures below 20 °C. I’m really longing for cooler weather. Since I cannot change the weather itself I can only provide some winter photos from the archives. Voilà:

#escapism – kayaking to Gåsören

This article is part of the series #escapism. It’s about being outdoors and leaving civilisation behind in excursions that take less than 24 hours. Everyone should have time for such!

Yesterday I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and decided to make a kayak trip to the island Gåsören. I planned for an overnight stay and that means packing a lot of things:

Anything on the photo beside of the empty plastic box came with me. From left to right: Dry suit, life jacket, food and stove, camping map, spare clothes, tent, camera equipment, water bottle, book, sleeping bag, neoprene boots, 5 litre water canister. It’s almost miracle that everything fits into the kayak. Since it was quite warm I only wore pants and a t-shirt and of course the life jacket, that’s a matter of security and therefore principle.

I paddled between the islands Storgrundet and Brambärsgrundet, passed Vorrgrundet and then headed to Klubben and Flottgrundet. Here I left the islands behind and continued to Gåsören. The weather was nice and the sea was calm. Already 50 minutes later I arrived. I dragged the kayak ashore, took all baggage and went to my favourite campground (and one of the few placed not completely covered with pebbles and rocks) where I put up the tent.

After “cooking” and eating I visited two friends that own one of the two summer cottages on Gåsören. It’s really a beautiful place they have. We talked about paddling, hiking, skiing and much more. It was late when I want back to my tent and the sun started to set.

I didn’t go to sleep directly but watched the sun going down and the many fluffy but extremely clumsy seagull chicks walking around. They cannot fly yet and use to stumble over every other stone. What a contrast to the elegant flight of the grown ups.

It was much brighter than it looks like on these backlit photographs. It doesn’t get dark in the night  and I found it hard to sleep, not only due to the bright night but also to the increasing wind and the constantly screeching seagulls. I put on a woollen cap. It was not cold at all but it helped to block the direct light (though not the shrieks of the gulls).

At half past five I gave up and started to finish a book I’d been reading for a while. That took some hours. At half past eight I took a frugal breakfast: Toast with cheese.

Then I packed everything together. Clouds had started approaching and I wanted to have everything stowed in the kayak before the rain. The sky above was still blue but the sea started to get choppy.

I stopped by my friends again to say farewell. They have their cottage on the lee side of the island and we enjoyed the last hour of sun before the clouds started to cover it.

I dragged the kayak into the shallow water. It was hard to start against the wind, because the kayak was constantly turned parallel to the approaching waves. Wrong direction and quite unstable. But after some tries I managed to leave the island behind. It was exhausting but easy to paddle against the wind. Anyway I wouldn’t have dared to cross the open sea in these conditions without wearing a dry suit even if it’s only 600 metres. The water is still very cold and in case of the kayak capsizing I wanted to be completely sure to be able to reach the shore without hypothermia.

It took twice the time than the day before. The sky was grey and cloudy and it had started to rain. It may not sound like that, but it was real fun paddling through wind and waves. The hardest part was going round Vorrgrundet where I had to go parallel to the short waves. Here I had to be fully focussed to keep my balance. As soon as I reached Storgrundet I was in the lee of that island again and the water was much calmer. Soon I arrived at yesterday’s starting point.

The whole trip took less than 20 hours and is therefore a candidate for the series #escapism.

Finally, two selfies, one sunny from yesterday and one rainy from today (made in the lee of a small island).

 

Purple clouds

When it comes to Northern Scandinavia and watching the sky, most people will directly think of polar lights. It will take at least a month until it’s dark enough to spot them again in Skelleftehamn. There is however a great replacement: Clouds in the night. Since the sun sinks hardly below the horizon, sunset and sunrise melt together in the middle of the night. The sky is blue and the clouds are illuminated in warm purple and pink colours hard to describe (and to photograph).

I made this photo at 1:02, one hour before sunrise.

It’s only a weak copy of reality since I don’t manage to show the gentleness of the soft yet intense pastel shades of the clouds.

But to close the circle: That’s hard to show with polar lights, too. If you do not carefully edit the photos they may look like green porridge …

 

The shortest night of the year

Sunset on the 21st of July: 23:27 – sunset on the 22nd of July: 01:47. It’s the shortest night of the year and the night is bright.

Although we were quite tired, Annika and I took the car to Långhällan last night because I wanted to make some “night images”. When we arrived the sun had set just 10 minutes ago. The sky was quite clear and the sky above the northwestern horizon glowed in an intense orange.

The sky above the eastern horizon had a completely different colouring. It was of a pale purple hue and the colours were reflected by the surfaces of the many small ponds.

I went down to the rocky shore and looked at the Baltic Sea. Both rocks and the sea were bathed in purple. The darkest minute of the brightest night had arrived.

When I looked back to the north the horizon was still coloured orange. The darkest moment had passed and the sun would already rise again an hour later.

Tired we returned home. When we arrived in Skelleftehamn sunset was just minutes away. We decided anyhow that it would be totally ok to miss the sunset and went to sleep.

There’s a reason why I hardly make any photos in June. The most beautiful light is simultaneously with my deepest sleep. From now on the days will become shorter, but it will take weeks until the first stars are visible again in Skelleftehamn.

 

#escapism – an icy camp site

Yesterday

Yesterday at 17:40 my tent was set up on a snowy plane near the sea ice where I planned to stay for the night.

The dinner was part luxury (a really cold coke), part pragmatism (some instant curry chicken of dubious consistency) and part necessity (chocolate!). After the dinner I walked along the shore, which was completely covered with ice and snow. First I walked on land, then on the sea ice. You may think, that a landscape that solely consists of snow and ice must be quite colourless, but no, when there’s light there are colours!

When I came back to my tent, it already had become dark and the almost full moon hovered over the tent. And that was my view from the tent, too: The moon, some stars, snow, ice and the icebound sea.

You might wonder, where I am. Good point, I’ll explain. Let’s go back half a day.

Yesterday I worked only half a day and was home early. I had a plan in my mind: as long as the sea ice is as thick as just now, why shouldn’t I ski over the Baltic Sea to the island Gåsören and spend the night there. I’ve done that in summer twice by kayak but never in wintertime. So I picked myself up, packed skis and pulka and took the car to the small harbour Tjuvkistan.

While the Baltic Sea was open one year ago it is still covered with thick ice this year. Instead of open water one can spot only a snow covered plane and some tracks – made by hare, a moose, another skier, but mostly by snowmobiles, the favourite winter vehicle of many locals. I however do not own such a snöskoter but prefer skiing anyway.

The linear distance between Tjuvkistan and  Gåsören is only 2,3 km and so I arrived at the island soon. In summer it’s hard to find a tenting place (I know only one), since almost the whole island is covered with stones and rocks. This winter however Gåsören is covered with at least 50 cm of snow and so it was easy to find a good place to tent. Scroll up to the first photo and you see it.

OK, back to the story …

At nine a clock it was quite dark and a layer of clouds approached. Good arguments for cuddling up in my warm down sleeping bag and go to sleep. Good night, world.

Today

At five a clock I woke up and felt fairly well rested. I got up for taking some photos. Although it’s already the end of March the nights can be quite chilly and I guess that we had temperatures round -10 °C. I put on more or less all clothes that I had with me and made some photos. The moon had wandered on its orbit to the west and hovered above Gåsören’s old lighthouse.

That photo looks like being shot at the dead of night, doesn’t it? So let’s turn around and look to the east:

It’s less than 8 minutes between the previous two images and it’s more the cardinal direction than the time difference that is responsible for the different light and colours. I walked around for two hours and was just happy to be there at that fantastic place that fantastic morning and to experience all these different kinds of ice and light.

I became hungry so I returned to the tent. or tried … . Just a photo of the lighthouses behind the ice. And another one of my camp site.

But now: finally breakfast. Water, crisp bread and cheese. That may not be the most exciting food, but I didn’t care, I enjoyed the  incredible view over the icebound Baltic Sea in winter.

After breakfast I walked around another time and took some more photos.

Another break. This time just pure luxury. Since I wasn’t in a hurry the tent was still set up. So I could cuddle up in my cozy sleeping bag again and took a long daytime nap. The temperature was still below zero but the sun was high up in the sky and warmed the tent. And there was even chocolate left. Just “gemütlich”!

When I woke up an hour later a layer of stratus clouds had approached and the light had become dull. A good time to pack anything back into the pulka, to put on my skis again and to start the “long” way home. Good bye, Gåsören. Next time when I visit you it will probably be with the kayak. I love winter, but paddling in summertime is great, too.

When I had arrived at the car after Jonas’ and my previous ski tour, it was in Kvikkjokk, 400 km from home. This time the car was parked less than 3 km from my house. I’ve been living in Skelleftehamn for many years now but still I’m happy about the beautifulness of it.

This article is the first one of the new series #escapism. It’s about being outdoors and leaving civilisation behind in excursions that take less than 24 hours. Everyone should have time for such!

My packing list (excerpt)

tent with snow pegs · inflatable camping mat · down sleeping back (a warm one!) · clothes for skiing · spare clothes · winter anorak · thermal pants · warm boots · woollen cap · 2 pairs of gloves · down west · skis with poles and boots · pulka with hip belt · water (both cool and hot) · food (a lot!) · knife · camping stove · matches · kitchen stuff · mobile phone · power bank · headlamp · sunglasses · thermometer (it broke) · compass · isdubbar (essential emergency equipment in case of breaking into the ice) · toilet paper · snow shovel · camera equipment · tripod · grand piano (just kidding)

 

A tour to the easternmost point of mainland Norway

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

Day 29 and 30 of my winter journey 2018

Yesterday we continued our journey to Ytre Kiberg which is 13 south of Vardø, one of the Hurtigruten stops. We started in Vadsø – another Hurtigruten stop – after a breakfast with our host Nils, bought a basis of food for the next days and took the E75 northwards. We made a stopover in Ekkerøy, a village on a peninsula near Vadsø. We like this place and will try to stay there for some nights next week.

At lunchtime we reached Cape East Arctic Adventure, our stay for four nights. We were welcomed by Trond, the owner and operator of Cape East Arctic Adventure and were shown our cozy bedroom, the kitchen and the homely living room. After making ourselves at home we went along the beach to the village and the harbour.

In the evening we were invited to a three course dinner based on freshly caught cod: Fish soup – cod with potatoes and carrots and finally cod roe. Everything was extremely tasty and it was Annika’s and my first time where we tasted cod roe. Yummy!

In Kiberg you are as east as you can be in the Central European Timezone, therefore sun is rising already at 6:24. I was awake very early and took a morning walk round 6 o’clock. Some snow drifts had been created by snow and wind over night but now the weather was less windy and quite sunny. At least for a short time. While I went the way to Indre Kiberg clouds approached, wind increased and it started to snow. It was hardly imaginable that it was sunny just a short time before. Weather changes here quite often as Annika and I should find out later.

After breakfast Annika and I took the car to the other side of the village, put on our snow shoes and started a hike to Kibergsneset, easternmost point of mainland Norway. This place is more east than e.g. St. Petersburg, Kairo or Istanbul! It was windy but quite sunny, when we started our tour but weather changes fast on the Varanger Peninsula:

Actually this hike is just a promenade but the weather may transform it into a small expedition. We were exposed to wind and snow and grateful, that we didn’t experienced a full storm. The weather was rough anyway and I was glad about my windproof jacket and two pairs of mittens.

We continued on a small hiking trail, first with, then without snowshoes because the thin snow layer was hardened by the wind and easy to walk onto. There’s a coastal fortress build by Germans in WW2 on Kibergsneset but we couldn’t see it in the snow weather. Instead of looking for it we continued to the small lighthouse at Kibergsneset that marks the easternmost point of mainland Norway (and most of Europe). Shortly before we reached it the sun came out and we continued the last metres in full sun. While I made some photos a small snow shower approached with the sun still shining.

From the lighthouse there was an amazing view over the arctic coast of the Barents Sea, but only for some moments. Soon the next snow shower came by and hid most of the view onto both the coast and the sea.

The way back was much shorter because we knew the way and went downwards. Even though the view was limited by the snow showers Ytre Kiberg came into view again soon and surprisingly the weather was nice and sunny again.

After this very windy promenade we were glad to find shelter in my car. We took the car to Vardø to eat something and after that we tried the road to Hamningberg. We knew that the road was closed in winter but we curious how long we would come.

Well, not very long. We managed to get to Smelror, some kilometres north from Vardø.

The main road however was definitely closed as you can see. There are no people living in Hamningberg permanently and the only motorised way to reach it in wintertime is by snowmobile. For car it is open less than half the year.

We took the car back to Kiberg, enjoyed the incredible and unbelievable colours of the sky and were surprised by a strange weather phenomenon: -6 °C and rain (including a faint rainbow!)

The rest of the day? -10 °C and wind outside, no more photos, no more excursions.

Fun fact: We took the E75 northwards. If you would take it southwards you could travel more than 4000 km and finally would arrive on Crete, Greece.