Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 17 and 18: An incredibly beautiful day on the ice

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise Kronprins Haakon”.

Day 17 and a bit of 18 · 7 and 8 March 2022

7 March

We have arrived at a place somewhere between Svalbard’s second largest island Nordaustlandet (14.443 km²) and the easternmost island Kvitøya (682 km²). No one lives permanently on these islands.

The ice experts have found an ice flow and examined it. The ice near the ship has some holes so the dress code is survival suits for the first time. In opposite to the formerly used Regatta suits they have attached boots and neoprene arm and neck cuffs. They shall keep you warm and dry in case you fall into cold water – or in our case break through the ice.

I am very interested to join and observe ice coring, a missing link on this expedition. I wasamhowever quite doubtful whether I will be allowed to enter the unreliable ice on this station. But I am lucky again, I may follow M. and L. onto the ice.

Earlier I was told that I may join the scientists taking ice cores but won’t get the opportunity to take ice cores by myself. That’s understandable. To my huge surprise – and delight! – plans were changed: L. shows me how to do it once and then it’s up to me to take five more ice cores. Give me snow or ice and something to play with and I’m happy ;-).

No, I’m no experiences ice corer after five cores. But at least I get an idea and a bit of a routine. In measuring snow depths, ice depths, the freeboard and writing down the values with a pencil. In mounting the large ice core attachment onto the electric drill and removing it after coring. In putting the ice core onto the gutter-shaped cutting board without flooding the electric drill or touching the snow (happened once – sorry!). While M. is cutting the core into slices and putting them into wide-necked plastic bottles I continue with my work. And I have to continue, because I’m still slow and M. shall not wait too long. I think, I could do that for weeks. Standing on the ice and drill cores out of the sea ice.

I have asked Pernille to take some photos from me while coring. These are probably the only photos that prove that I actually did something on the expedition beside of taking photos.

Photo credit: Pernille Amdahl, Nansen Legacy –tusen takk!

And the afternoon? I am allowed just to go onto the ice once more as long as I find some team lead to join. I find one and so get my 7th opportunity on this cruise. Two and a half more hours on the ice. I overhear a radio message. No polar bear warning but the information that our ice flow drifts with more than 2 km/h and the water depth is decreasing. This could damage instruments when they are too deep in the water.

Just some more photos:

And later, when we are on the ship again another polar bear approaches. This time it is a curious one that is very interested in the scientist’s equipment. And since it could harm the bear when it eats cables or plastic it is shooed away with a flare gun. **BANG**. It gallops some metres and then walks away. No polar bears were harmed and as far as I know no cables.

By the way – it was a good decision to use the survival suits. One of the scientists went through the ice today. All of a sudden and quite near the ship. It did not take long to pull the scientist out of the water but without the survival suit this would have been a very wet, cold and unpleasant experience.

8 March

The next day some additional measurements are done on the ice and then we leave last ice station of Arven etter Nansen JC3.

Ha det bra, Arctic sea ice. Farewell! It was a great pleasure to meet you and I definitely will miss you!

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 12: ice station on the Arctic Ocean

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise Kronprins Haakon”.

Day 12 · 2 March 2022

Yesterday we arrived at P7, the northernmost transect station on this cruise. Here, a bit north of the 82th degree of latitude and round about 3400 metres above the seabed of the Arctic Ocean we will start our second ice station today.

The morning I start with two polar bear watches. It snows and the visibility is not the best but still good enough to watch out for polar bears.

This is my workplace for 2×1 hour this morning:

And this is the workspace for some of the scientists:

After lunch I get another opportunity to join researchers on the sea ice.

I join Z. again and help her erecting the tent over the already existing ice hole. Then A. uses the hole – now in the tent – to test his ROV (short for remotely operated underwater vehicle). After that Z. continues with MMS measurements. I want to help her but J. who joined our team as well will do that. Z. says that I shall take photos, she never has time for that. Well, when I get a carte blanche to take pictures I use it!

Taking photos in the tent however is not easy. It is quite dark and there is a lot of moisture that my Nikon does not like at all. But here it’s not the technical quality but the motives that matter. (Says Olaf, the perfectionist who is still angry with himself that he did not made bigger efforts to get better photos.)

K., our polar bear guide looks quite impressive standing upright on the nearby ice ridge in front of a purple sky. And the sky is purple. In the Arctic winter it is the sun that colorises the landscape and blends purple and orange of clouds and sky with blue and turquoise of the ice to always new colour palettes.

K. gives my clearance to walk around a bit. To the ice ridge and 30 metres on the snowmobile track to the ship. I enjoy my gained freedom and take some photos of the ship, the sun, the ice, of K. driving snowmobile. And it is such a beautiful day!

More than two hours I am on the ice before we return to the ship. But before that I have to bore you with another selfie ;-)

This selfie is for you, my friend Chris. It was Chris that surprised Annika and me with a generous gift a few years ago: A balaclava for each of us knitted by her. One of these balaclavas now has been in the high Arctic. It is one of the garments I definitely will pick again when I should have another opportunity to travel way up north! Thank you, Chris!

Will I be on the sea ice the next day again? Yes, but first there’s another story to tell. Bear that in mind ;-)

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 10: twice on the ice and a sudden end

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise Kronprins Haakon”.

Day 10 · 28 February 2022

Today we continue with ice station at P5 – short for “Process study station” at approx. 80.5° N 34° E.

To my delight I can join the scientists A. and B. on the ice this morning. Great! First they will do a transect measuring ice and snow depths along a path, then A. will examine snow. I will join them but without a specific task.

Right after breakfast the preparations start. We all have to dress up and equipment as well as snowmobiles have to be lifted from deck onto the ice. And then I stand on the Arctic sea ice a second time.

It’s -12½ °C, wind 8 m/s– good conditions for taking a walk. But before we start instruments have to be set up and activated.

While B. sets up the GEM-2 device, a multi-frequency broadband electromagnetic sensor to measure ice thickness, something happens. Our polar bear guard J. breaks through the ice. First up to the thighs, a second later to the hips. Exactly on the very snow mobile track that all use to walk to the different places. It could have happened to any of us. J. is lucky, he pushes himself out of the hole way within seconds. After this incident the ice hole is examined and the weak parts are removed. Now it is 2 m long but hardly 50 cm wide. Later it will be marked with flags to prevent others falling in.

J. stays almost completely dry and does not need to change clothes. So our small transect caravan is ready to depart.

  • A. comes first. With each steps he pushes the long staff of the Magnaprobe into the snow to measure and track the snow depths.
  • B. comes second. She pulls the pulka with the GEM-2 that continuously measures ice thickness as well as position and time.
  • J. comes third. As our bear guard he has a rifle on his pulka and safety equipment. He has to keep two metres distance to B’s pulka, the GEM-2 is sensitive.
  • I come fourth. I just follow in the same slow pace – slow enough to take some photos. I do not dare to leave the track after J’s involuntary “bath”.

Our destination is that black flag tied to the bamboo pole over there. How far it is? On the sea ice I do not have any clue. It could be 100 metres, it could be a kilometre. Distances are hard to guess.

Our walk takes only 45 minutes but is extremely impressive. We leave the ship behind, therefore I only see the others, the sea ice, clouds and the low hanging sun that illuminated this Arctic scenery in the warmest colours. The next image is one of my favourites, but it cannot reproduce the „North Pole“ feeling I experienced on our triangle formed walk.

When I wrote „North Pole“ I started to smile. Yes, I would love to visit the North Pole someday. I doubt however that it looks different there than here. Being part of this quite inaccessible Arctic landscape  touches me deeply and I’ll never forget this impression. I envy A. and B. who will walk a lot on this expedition, mostly by foot, sometimes by skis. I cannot imagine a better job than doing this.

Are we on the ice the whole day? No. There’s breakfast 7:30–8:00, lunch 11:30–12:30 and dinner 17:30–18:30. At meal times there is no polar bear watches and so no people on the ice neither.

After lunch I am allowed to be on the ice a 3rd time, helping. I am in doubt if we are actually able to step on it because it became windier and the visibility was mediocre. And visibility is needed by the polar bear watches.

Visibility doesn’t seem an issue and soon I stand on the sea ice again. I am sent to another scientist that may need my help. Well, not yet– so let’s take a few short snapshots.

While I try to figure out how I can help someone is coming to us and says: „Grab your stuff and leave the ice immediately!“. I want to fetch my backpack but cannot find it. Probably someone else already took it. So I head back to the icebreaker – it’s near – where equipment is already loaded back to the ship. And there’s the backpack.

Soon I am on board again and learn what happened. It was not a polar bear as I suspected but a crack in the ice. It came from the distance and started to split our ice floe fast. The crack was not threatening us directly but a clear signal, that the ice is not safe anymore. Here a photo from one of the upper decks:

Later this day a small team in survival suits takes down the tents and fetches the rest of the equipment.

For me that feels like an extraordinary incident but the affected scientists take it easy. Seems to happen frequently. Some admit that they were surprised that this ice floe held so long. I do not say it loud but think for myself that I would have preferred wearing a survival suit to the Regatta suit to keep dry in the case of breaking through, but that’s not up to me to decide. And still – I do not have any experience on Arctic sea ice.

What shall I say. Two days ago I was afraid that I was not let on the sea ice and now I already have been there three times. I am very grateful to the cruise leader that gave me these opportunities while handling a zillion other things – many of them really important – at the same time! Thank you, G.!

Gratulerer med dagen from abroad

Today is syttende mai (17th of May), the Norwegian national day. On 17 May 1814 the The Constitution of Norway that declared Norway to be an independent kingdom was signed. That’s why Norway turns 207 years today. Gratulerer med dagen – Happy birthday!

The first time that I was in Norway was the turn of the year 2003/04 together with a friend. Although the weather was really miserable – storm and rain – I was so fascinated by that country, that I travelled there one month later again to find a job as a developer.

Well, I didn’t find a job. I couldn’t speak Norwegian, didn’t have much programming experience and the dot-com bubble was still present.

2005, one and a half year later I visited Tromsø for the first time of my life after a week of hiking on the Hardangervidda. I had less than two days to discover this town but since then it has been my favourite town in Scandinavia.

Anyhow I didn’t think about moving there. The same year I had been in Northern Sweden twice and preferred the colder winters there. In addition to that I was a bit scared of mørketiden – the seven weeks in winter, where the sun stays below the horizon. Five years later I moved to Sweden.

This year however I was sure that I will be in Norway for syttende mai, since I’ve been working in Tromsø since last October.

Well, at least on the papers. Due to Covid 19 we were strongly advised to work from home, which I can better in our house in Obbola/Sweden than in my tiny room in Tromsø. On 22 November 2020 I took the plane to Oslo, another one to Stockholm and a third to Umeå. Since then I’ve been working and living home in Obbola. In five days I’ll have been here for half a year.

It feels a bit like a dream. Did I really work in the office of the Norsk Polarinstitutt in Tromsø? Together with others? Walked the 1.7 km from my shared flat? Enjoyed the first snow in the mountains? Took a kayak course?

Only when I miss my down sleeping bag (in Tromsø), my macro lens (in Tromsø), my rain parka (in Tromsø) I realise that I still have my flat there. And of course when I have to pay the monthly rent. And that’s a lot because it is ridiculously expensive to live there.

At time I’m forbidden to travel to Norway even though I have a job and a shared flat there. It’s unclear when I’ll be allowed there again. Until then I have the blog articles as memory of my two months in Tromsø to remember, the knowledge that I’ll be there again but most of all a wonderful time home.

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 >

 

 

 

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 1

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

This year I’m lucky. I did two ski tours in a row, that’s spending more than three weeks in the beautiful mountains of Jämtland. Let’s start with the ski tour number one.

We are three people: Jonas, with whom I already did three ski tours before, Arne, who is doing his first ski tour and me.

Saturday, 15 February – shelter from the storm

Jonas and Arne live in Northern Germany. They arrive in Östersund by train at 6:37 in the morning. 23 minutes later we enter the large shop ICA Maxi to buy food for eleven days. It takes an hour to decide what to choose and find these items in the large shop. After we have managed to stuff the shopping bags into the packed car we drive to Vålådalen. There’s a parking place that we use as the starting point for our tour in the fjäll. It takes some time until we have packed our pulka sleds with all our stuff and they are quite heavy loaded.

At 13:15 we leave the parking behind and start our ski tour. It starts with a challenge. Although we have a tent we need to reach Lunndörren, the first mountain cabin tonight. Just now the weather is calm but according to the Swedish weather service a storm will approach tonight with gusts of wind up to 30 m/s. That’s more than 100 km/h or wind force 11 (violent storm)! Definitely not the night to spend in a tent, if you have the choice. Although it’s only 14 km to the cabin, it takes us more than 5 hours. There’s the heavy pulka sleds, some short but steep slopes to climb, pinching boots and much more that slows us down. Exhausting or not – it’s great to be outside in the winter again.

Sun down is round 17:00. For the last part we use our head lamps. In darkness we arrive at Lunndörren at 18:30. As usual, one cabin is opened for out-of-season hikers as us. Here you have all you need. There’s a table and stools, bunk beds and most important: a wood stove. Firewood is found in the vedbod, the woodshed. The water? Probably there’s a place to get water from the lake. We however go outside with a bucket and fetch snow to melt on the wood stove.

The sky is still clear and the night is starry but it already has started to blow more and more.

Sunday, 16 February – camping by the river

It’s 5:30 in the morning. Storm gusts howl around the house. Violently they blow snow from here to there and I have to pee. Not my favourite combination. I manage to open the door but have to crawl over the icy patch to prevent being blown away. Every mountain hut has it’s outhouse but I prefer the nearest tree. That spares me 20 meters to brace myself against the storm. I have to hold tight on the tree to avoid being blown over. Back in the cabin I can hear the storm but a mountain cabin is a great shelter and soon I fall asleep again.

Fortunately the storm has weakened, when we get up.

Today we don’t want to go far and look for a nice place to tent. So we take it really easy in the morning and it’s already 11:45 when we start our second tour day. Slowly we gain height and there are less and less trees.

Hardly three hours later we have found a nice tenting place. It’s in the forest to be protected against storm and wind and by the small river Lunndörrsån. Jonas tests crossing the river to fetch water – it works. Fresh water is a luxury in winter. It takes less energy to warm up than snow and it tastes much better!

You see the orange shovel? We have two snow shovels with us and we use them both to dig a large hole for a camp fire. The dead wood that we find is soaking wet and it takes Arne some time until it burns.

Where there is a fire there is no boredom.

Later Jonas, how is the tour cook is preparing food. Today it’s köttbullar with mashed potatoes and chanterelle sauce. Tasty! Already a quarter to eight we lie in our warm sleeping bags and soon we fall asleep.

Monday, 17 February – warm weather in the forest

Of course I did not sleep well. I always need two or three days until I got used to sleeping in a sleeping bag in winter time. One of the reasons is the reduced freedom of movement, one other the VBL.

A vapour barrier liner (VBL) is used to prevent moisture getting into the down filling of the sleeping bag. There the moisture would freeze and so reduce the isolating effect of the down feathers. So far so good. In practise it has the same comfort as sleeping in a huge plastic trash bag and although there are good reasons to use a VBL I dislike them.

But I shouldn’t complain. I had it warm and I got enough sleep. Some storm gusts have shaken the tent but all in all it was a quite night. And so is the morning by the river. Even the sun tries to peek through the clouds.

At 10:40 we move on. First we have to cross a small plateau called Finnångelflätet. It is quite exposed to the wind and hardly covered by snow.

One hour later the view is completely different. The ground is white again. The wind has intensified and gets stormy. At the same time it’s warm – slightly above zero – which makes the snow very sticky. Sometimes it feels like half the hill sticks under my skis.

The good thing with tenting is that you are flexible. We do not have to get to a cabin or hut, we just need a sufficient campsite. Right after crossing the river Tronnan (we ignore the bridge and cross the ice) Arne and Jonas start looking for a good place to camp. And find it. The snow is loose and we trample on the snow to harden it. At some places we sink knee deep in the snow. It has started snowing and when we look out of the tent we see the snow covering the skis used as huge tent pegs and the pulkas.

Tuesday, 18 February – arrival at the Vålåstugan

Phew – my sleeping has been much too warm. It is made for -25 °C, not for 0 °C. My wool underwear is wet but still does it’s job anyway: keeping me warm.

As the day before we move on at 10:40. The tent has become quite heavy due to the wet snow and the warm temperatures. Now it’s both wet and frozen. We have decided to reach the mountain cabin Vålåstugan today. I find it exhausting to ski. I have to take tiny breaks to catch my breath on every slope. Perhaps it’s because it’s the third tour day but I may be wrong.

Luckily Vålåstugan is not far away and we arrive already at 13:30. There are several buildings. The main cabin, surrounded by huge snow drifts won’t be opened before 21 February but the other cabin is open. Again we are alone, we haven’t seen a single person the last days.

This cabin is of a well known type. It’s a Fjällstuga 65, also known as Abrahamssonstugan. A corridor, one room to the left, one to the right with ten beds each. It works quite well with up to eight people, then it starts to get a bit crowed. We use the whole space to dry our sleeping bags, jackets, boots, gloves and other clothes. As I mentioned we are alone.

Wrrrr—wroooom—wrooooom! Not anymore. Snowmobiles are approaching with people dressed in bright colours. They park in front of our house. Who are they? It’s an official party of the mountain rescue (probably training), the police (checking the emergency phones), way markers and later two snowmobiles with people from the Swedish Tourist Association STF. They pull trailers in which people sit. It turns out that they are the wardens of Vålåstugan and Gåsen Fjällstuga, that will open these cabins in three days. The wardens of Vålåstugan directly start to dig out the main house (that will take some time), the others leave a bit later.

I haven’t had internet access for two days. So I’m glad to ask the police for a weather update: wind this night, sunny round -10 °C the next day, then wind in the night again. Looks like this tour is a stormy one.

It’s cloudy but the sun manages to peek though from time to time. The birch branches are bent by the wind.

And later that evening we even get a bit of polar lights. The only ones I’ll see the next weeks.

Continue with part 2 >

And suddenly I am in Lapland

Just 300 km from home – bright sky and temperatures round -25 °C – finally a winter as it should be in Northern Sweden.

I shot theses photos in Solberget tonight. Here I will stay some days and visit the winter market in Jokkmokk.

Day 4 – a day on the ferry

This article is part of the series “2019-07: Southern Sweden”.

11 July, Turku—Stockholm—Jogersö

After our side trip to Finland we are sitting in the car and waiting to be allowed to drive on the car ferry Amorella, that connects Turku with Stockholm. Soon we enter the car deck.

We go up the stairs until we reach the upper deck. The journey takes eleven hours. While we wait for the departure another large ferry leaves Turku.

At 8:43 the ferry leaves. We drive through the Turku Archipelago that consists of more than 20000 islands and skerries. The large islands are wooded. Impressive wooden villas are hiding between the trees and small huts that look like carved are by the sea.

After a while we reach more open water. The islands nearby are smaller skerries, some wooded, some rocky.

While the islands pass by there’s a lot of entertainment inside. Bingo – minigolf – dance band – face painting for kids and much more.

At lunch time we enjoy the extensive buffet on board. Here is an expert of the menu. Although it’s Finnish some of the words like paprikaa or palsternakkaa are understandable.

The ferry makes a stopover in Mariehamn, capital of Åland. Here several ferries meet. They connect Åland with Sweden, Finland and Estonia.

Åland is an autonomous territory. Although it lies under Finnish sovereignty it is Swedish-speaking. At the terminal nine flags are fluttering in the wind. From left to right it’s:

Sweden, Norway, Greenland, EU, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Denmark, Finland and Åland.

After the stopover we continue our journey to Sweden. Sometimes it’s cloudy, sometimes it’s sunny and we can sit or lie on the top deck. There’s a small wooden platform right in front of the huge chimney that is perfect for sunbathing. We say goodbye to the islands of Åland and an open water passage lies before us.

After a while we see the first rocky skerry, the first trees, the first houses. We have reached the Stockholm Archipelago, that consists of ca. 24000 islands. We are back in Sweden and slowly we are approaching Stockholm.

Before we dock in Södermalm, we have to leave the top deck to enter our car. It’s Annika who is going to drive. I’m too scared to drive in Stockholm.

Our plan is to leave the greater Stockholm area as fast as possible and look for a campsite. Annika masters the chaos on the road behind the ferry terminal, where’s a big pushing and shoving. Priority rules? Who cares …! She masters the huge four-lane motorway, too.

South of Södertälje the traffic decreases. Now it’s only one hour left to Oxelösund where we want to look for a place to stay. We drive to the island Jogersö and arrive six minutes after the reception of the campsite has closed. Luckily the receptionist is still there and we are allowed to come in. All small cabins are occupied but there’s always place for a tent. So we put up our tent, eat bread and cheese and finally I have to take a bath in the sea before going to sleep.

When we lie in our sleeping bags ready to fall asleep it starts to rain. Just gemütlich!