First ice on the Baltic Sea

This morning: -6 °C · clear sky · 40 minutes before sunrise. The first thin ice has settled on the sea.

I know, it hadn’t been there the day before, when I had taken a short bath in the sea before work.

White nights

Since the summer solstice on 21 June the nights are slowly getting longer again. Last night sunset was 23:21 and today’s sunrise 01:56. At this time I usually sleep.

I was extremely lazy photographing the last weeks, so I decided to ignore my tiredness and drive to the coast. This time I chose a new place I’ve never been before. I left my car at the side of the small gravel road that I had followed for some kilometres. I took my camera bag with the tripod and crossed the hilly forest until I reached the coast.

While photographing I decided to publish at least two photos in this blog, whether I like them or not. I have to admit that I’m not so content with the result, but anyway, here are two shots of last night. Both pictures are taken in the last minutes before sunset, the first 22:59, the second 23:12.

 

A view from the rock dump

The peninsula Näsgrundet is one of my favourite places for photographing in Skelleftehamn. There are many motifs especially in wintertime. The snowy rocky coast, the ice covered Baltic Sea or the island Gåsören on the horizon. Probably you have seen some of the motifs here in my blog.

Mostly I take the car. I drive along the street Näsuddsvägen. To the left there are the huge cisterns for storing oil and other chemicals, part of Oljehamn, the oil port of Skellefteå. To the right, on the other side of the bay Kallholmsfjärden there’s the peninsula Rönnskär, home to several industrial facilities. Most prominent is Boliden Rönnskär, one of the world most efficient copper smelters.

There are several rock dumps beside the street. Since last year there’s a huge one between street and bay. Today I went up the slope and watched the sunset. These are perhaps not the photos I normally made home in Skelleftehamn, but the industry is part of this coastal region, too.

Have a look at the last photo: It looks like the peninsula Näsgrundet with its red houses and the tug boat to the left would almost touch the island Gåsören with its lighthouse. The distance between them however is more than 1.5 km. It’s the telephoto lens that makes the distance shrink, at least visually.

By the way: if you live here and wonder why my car is so dirty – one of the reasons is this huge water puddle that I have to “ford” when going to eller coming from Näsgrundet.

 

Skiing from Viterskalet Fjällstuga to Syter Fjällstuga

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

Monday, 4 March

I wake up early in our four-bed room. Annika and I are in the Viterskalet Mountain Cabin in the Vindelfjällen, part of the Swedish mountains. I get up, take tripod and camera and go out. The temperature in the kitchen has dropped to 7 °C, but that’s almost 30 °C warmer than outside, where it’s -22 °C according to the outdoor thermometers at the windows.

I love it when the rising sun colours the snowy mountains in purple, pink, orange and yellow until it stands so high, that the snow looks white.

At ten o’click we start our tour: 12 or 13 km to Syter Fjällstuga, the next mountain cabin. We follow the winter trail that slowly bends eastwards into the valley Syterskalet.

Here we walk in the shadow of the mountains. First it’s a nameless top (1603 m), then the Södra Sytertoppen (1685 m) that blocks the sun. Round a kilometre before the emergency cots– also named Syterskalet – we leave the shadow and walk into bright sunlight. We take a break at Syterskalet, both for eating and drinking and for attaching the climbing skins to our skis.

After the rest we have to climb a bit, round 100 metres in altitude. That’s why we mounted the climbing skins. With them the ascend is easier than expected.

When we reach the peak I remove the skins. Although I’m a lousy downhill skier I want to try anyway. The terrain is difficult for me, because parts of it are icy and others are hardly covered with snow. With large bends and a bit of luck I manage to ski downhill the slope. Annika skis downhill with climbing skins that slow down her skis. Because of that she can use the snowmobile tracks that are to steep for me. We meet at the chain bridge over the stream or Svärfarbäcken. The Syter Mountain Cabin is on the other side. We don’t have to use the bridge to cross the stream, it is completely frozen. There’s only a marked hole in the ice for fetching drinking water.

We arrive at the cabin and the stugvärd – the host – welcomes us with hot juice; a nice tradition on the mountain cabins. We realise that we met before in Nallo, a small cozy cabin in August 2017, when we took a day off.

We get a cozy room with a bunk bed and take it easy the rest of the day.

Of course I have to go to the toilet again in the night and the sky is as starry as the night before. I made some photos and due to the long exposure you even can see polar lights on the photos. These polar lights however were hardly visible to the naked eye.

Tuesday, 5 March

Today we are going to take a day off and stay at the Syter Fjällstuga. I’m an early bird and get up before sunrise. Again it’s -22 °C and the temperature will not rise above -15 °C for the whole day.

After a breakfast (we have crisp bread, butter and cheese plus hot cocoa) we start a small day trip on skis. We want to go up the slopes north from Syter. It is fun to go without pulka. Flocks of ptarmigans (snow grouses) are overall. First you hear them, then you can see them as white spots. If you come closer they fly away and you realise that you hardly spotted half of them.

Today we do not follow any marks, we make our own tracks. The tour is shorter than expected. Annika still has climbing skins under the skis and does not have any problem with the many icy patches on the slope, but I have. Instead of descending any further we turn right and make our way to the Kungsleden that continues to the northeast. Here we ski back to the cabin.

The rest of the day we stay in and round the cabin. It’s awesome to ski through the incredible beautiful winter landscapes but it’s just as great to meet interesting people.

  • Stugvärd G. with whom we talk a lot. She travelled a lot in the whole world.
  • Myra de Rooy, who is going to go the 440 km to Abisko, the first week with a friend. She writes books, mostly about her adventures in Tibet and Nepal.
  • the man who temporary helps with the cabin. He seems to know every path and every rock of the Vindelfjällen, where we are.

Annika realised that today is fettisdagen, the day in the year where the Swedes eat en semla, a barm filled with marzipan and cream. And right – the man mentioned above prepares semlor for him and his family. We are invited to take one and gladly accept. The rest of the day is a lot of talking, resting, eating and Annika making pancakes. But we even start to pack our things. Tomorrow we are going to Umasjö and that’s 22 km to go. We want to get up at 6 o’clock to start the tour as early as possible.

The last photo shows a typical situation in the Swedish mountains in wintertime: Sitting on the loo. It is dark, so you need a headlight to go there. It is cold (-23 °C), so you need a warm jacket, too. You think, that’s uncomfortable? Then you never tented in wintertime where you long for such a utedass (the Swedish word for this type of outdoor toilet).

Skiing from Hemavan to the Viterskalet Fjällstuga

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

Sunday, 3 March

A perfect day for a ski tour awaits us when Annika and I wake up in Hemavan, where we arrived the evening before. The ski is blue, the air is calm and the outside thermometer at Hemavans Fjällcenter shows -23 °C.

Today Annika and I will start our first ski tour together. We are going to be in the Vindelfjällen mountains for four days and stay overnight in two mountain cabins of the Swedish tourist association: Viterskalet and Syter. Annika is going to use a backpack and I a pulka sledge. Hopefully Annika’s backpack will hold, she already had to fix a friable strap the day before. After a breakfast we take my car and drive up the slope to park it near the Kungsleden sign.

Here the Northern Kungsleden starts, Sweden’s most popular hiking trail which is 450 km in total. We will follow the Kungsleden for two days and then turn west to Umasjö or south to Solberg back to civilisation.

At half past nine we are ready to start the tour. An employee of the ski area takes some pictures of us, wishes us a good tour, sits down on his snowmobile and drives away.

Now we have to climb up the ski slope, luckily not directly. Anyway we have climbing skins under our skis that prevent slipping back when ascending slopes. It’s no fun at all to use a pulka without them. We ski on broad prepared ski trails. It doesn’t take long and the fixed strap of Annika’s backpack breaks again. At the small hut of a ski lift she replaces it provisionally by another strap. Luckily this makeshift solution will work for the rest of the tour.

Although the sport holidays started the day before the ski resort is anything but crowded. When we however leave the ski resort behind us we are really alone for a while. Only another pair of skiers faster than us overtakes us at the steepest slope of the day. We are above the tree line. Only some solitary birch trees interrupt the snowy kalfjäll.

After a while we meet the snowmobile track. This track is quite popular because the Viterskalet cabin serves waffles – a welcome destination for snowmobile enthusiasts. For us as skiers it is a bit boring to walk on a five to ten meter broad “snowmobile Autobahn” and the exhaust fumes of the less modern snöskoter stink terribly.

We pass the summer bridge over the Västra Syterbäcken. Here’s even a toilet in the middle of the snow covered mountains. Only four other kilometres to go.

The whole winter trail is marked with red wooden crosses and there are many of them. In nice weather this seems a bit overdone but all people who followed such a winter trail in snow storm know that it can be very hard to find the next mark even when it is near.

Another hour of skiing and we arrive at the Viterskalet cabin. The stugvärd who is responsible for the mountain cabin greets us. There are two larger buildings: The cabin of the stugvärd with shop and even a small café and the guest cottage. The shop is tiny but has everything you need. Therefore we can buy most food in the shops and do not need to bear everything for four days.

We allow ourselves the luxury of a cold coke and a waffle. Then we move into the guest cottage. It is huge and hasn’t been heated for a while. Our sleeping room is heated by gas and temperature is at least over 10 °C but the huge kitchen has only 1 °C and it will take hours to warm it up some centigrades. The other guests have left. We will be the only ones to stay overnight.

I stroll around and take photos while the sun is slowly going down.

Annika and I still have garlic bread bought in Hamavan and eat it with a goulash soup bought in the shop. It doesn’t take long and we cuddle ourselves in our sleeping bags. Soon we fall asleep. Mountain air makes you tired!

I however have to pee in the night. For that I have to go outside. That means putting on boots, mittens and a down parka, because it’s -20 °C. This seems to be very uncomfortable but it has its advantages. I can watch an incredible starry night in the Swedish mountains. It is so bright and clear that it only takes seconds to spot the milky way. I just have to go in to fetch my camera and tripod. The green lights over the horizon is a Northern light, but a very weak one.

Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Øksfjord – Stamsund

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

Disclaimer: Many, many photos, some of them pretty mediocre but all part of the journey.

Still Saturday, 16 February

After we left Øksfjord we continued our journey through the darkness. The people on board were idle, they chatted, read a book, look through the window and of course most of them used their computers, tablets or smartphones.

Three hours later we were in Skervøy, stop #9 of my Hurtigruten journey.

After a short stay we continued to Tromsø, Norway’s largest town north of Trondheim. I took a night image of the passing Hurtigruten ship MS Trollfjord then I went to sleep.

Our stays in Tromsø and Finnsnes I overslept completely.

Sunday, 17 February

At 7 o’clock I woke up, half an hour later I stood outside and took the first pictures in the blue hour. The weather was much better than the other days and the temperatures had dropped below zero in the night. We were on our way to Harstad, with 25000 inhabitants the third largest town in Northern Norway. Stop #12.

While we were stopped in Harstad the sun was rising and was bathing the landscape in purplish light. Harstad started to glitter. It was the many windows reflecting the warm sunlight.

The sun rose higher and after a while the sky was blue. I stood outside with my large telephoto lens and tried to catch the impressive snowy mountain ranges by the fjords and sea.

Risøyrennan, a deepened part of Risøysundet came into view.

After a short stay in Risøyhamn, part of the Vesterålen and stop #13 of my journey we continued south. The sheltered  was covered with a closed layer of thin pancake ice. You could hear it crack when it met the bow wave of the ship.

Some more images taken between Risøyhamn and Sortland:

I left the MS Lofoten in Sortland, stop #14, but only for a short time. In Norway all shops are closed on Sundays and then the towns may be a bit boring. Partly the ways still covered with a bit of frozen snow, but mostly it was slippery ice and some deep water puddles. Home in Skelleftehamn it had been very warm the last days and I expect the same road conditions when I’ll come home in a couple of days.

After 30 minutes the MS Lofoten continued its tour. At the horizon the steep mountains of the Lofoten islands came into view.

The backlit Lofoten mountain ranges looked amazing as if they were from another world. I’ll show you two photos but I’m not at all happy with them. In reality the landscape looked more aerial or as if made of light.

These mountains were in the far. The nearer mountains to the left or right looked more normal when it comes to light but still unreal because they were so steep and snowy.

The large island Hinnøya on the port side, the island Langøya on starboard side of the ship I stood at the starboard and peeked through my telephoto lens. I have friends near Stokmarknes on the Vesterålen and was I looking for their house. I found it ;-). Unfortunately R. was ill but J. visited be on the ship with the children. They went on board while the ship lay at the port of Stokmarknes, stop #15. Shortly before departure my friends left the ship. Thank you very much for your visit!

Oh, I forgot the photo of the islet (or holm) Gjæva. I already knew it from earlier stays with my friends.

Now we headed for the impressive sound Raftsundet where we would even take a small detour to the entrance of the Trollfjorden. Due to the narrowness of the fjord and the risk of avalanches it’s not possible to drive into it in wintertime.

We left the blue sky behind us, the weather worsened.

First the weather still was quite fair but then it started to snow. The snowfall was so strong and the cloud layer was so thick and low that it was decided not to visit the Trollfjorden. You hardly would have seen anything.

The camera was wet, I was wet, too and it was so dark that it was near to impossible to take any pictures. It was twenty to five and I went into my cabin and took a nap.

Just some photos “for the archives” of the next stays: Svolvær and Stamsund, stops #16 and #17, both on the Lofoten.

Welcome to my icy world

This morning I walked to the same spot on the island Storgrundet as four days ago. This time I arrived there already at 8 o’clock, one hour before sunrise. It was the coldest winter day yet with temperatures round -22 °C. This means two pairs of gloves: full-fingered stretch fleece gloves for handling the camera and warm woollen mittens for keeping the hands warm.

Four days ago the pancake ice had been still floating on the water. The ice floes had been bobbing up and down in the approaching tiny waves that had come from the open sea nearby.

Today the Baltic Sea was completely frozen as far as I could look. No movement, no sound, just a solid layer of ice to the horizon. The shore was coated with a thick layer of ice, too. The ice looked blueish because of the ambient light. No wonder that this time of the day is called “blue hour”.

I went along the shore. There were mainly two types of ice covering the Baltic Sea:

First there was pancake ice frozen together. The floes built a solid layer of ice but you could still see the patterns of the raised edges.

Then there was fresh ice. The ice itself was flat, clear and featureless, but it was completely covered with featherlike ice and therefore as white as the pancake ice.

While I was walking along the shore the colours had started to change. Opposite the sun the sky became lilac, purple, violet, pink.

Finally the sun rose and started to illuminate the ice.

The ice in the sun looked orange – the complementary colour of blue. The „golden hour“ had started.

Did you notice the round horizon of the last photo? Today’s the first time I tried out my new fish eye lens. Fish eyes make very special pictures due to their extreme distortion. The last photo shows the effect even more clearly. I call it „My icy world“.

Snowshoe tour on the Vyöhtjage

The situation is like three years ago: it’s the days after Christmas and there is not much snow in Skelleftehamn. As in 2015 Annika and I decide to make a tour to Arvidsjaur.

Arvidsjaur lies northwest of Skelleftehamn, two hours drive away in the inland. It is located in Norrbotten, Sweden most northern county, is part of the historical province Lappland and part of Sapmí, the region of the Sámi people. Arvidsjaur is well known by German Sweden fans since there are direct flights in wintertime from several German cities.

Arvidsjaur has a nice mountain called Vyöhtjage (Sámi) or Vittjåkk (Swedish). The Vyöhtjage is too steep for us to use skis so we used snow shoes to go up to the mountain top (650 m).

Here some photos of yesterdays tour:

It’s funny that we did almost the same tour (with another route) to the Vyöhtjage as exactly three years ago with the same weather (sunny and not too cold) and snow conditions (half a meter of snow). This nice place however is worth to be visited several times, especially because it is quite near to Skelleftehamn.

We had an overnight stay in Arvidsjaur. Today we will drive back but take a stopover in the village Kusfors to visit friends.

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.