Fog in Skelleftehamn

Yesterday fog patches pulled up from the sea. At the coast was quite dense and hid anything further than 20 meters away.

But fog does not only hide things farther away, it also reveals other things nearby. For example the many spider nets in a small bog nearby.

 

Four days in Österbotten

Last Monday Annika and I travelled to one of Umeå’s nearest neighbouring cities: Vasa. Vasa is located in Finland and the fastest and easiest way to get there from Umeå is by ferry. Taking the car round Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea – would be more than 800 km.

2. April – sunny Islands, cormorants and bad roads

The forecast promised sunny weather and I wanted to flee the town of Vasa (round 68000 inhabitants). Our plan was to explore some of the large islands of the Kvarken Archipelago which consists of several thousands of islands and islets.

We left Vasa municipality and entered Korsholm municipality. In Alskat we left the Finnish mainland, took a bridge to the island Fjärdskäret and then the large bridge Replot bron – more than a kilometre long – to the Björkö skärgård.

We made a short stop at the church in Björköby, the main village of Björkö. To our surprise the church wasn’t locked and we could enter. Probably it was only open for the handyman working there. I even went up to the organ but I didn’t dare to climb the clock tower without asking.

From Björköby it’s not far to Svedjehamn, a boat harbour. The coastal sea was still covered with ice and no boat could be seen. Probably many of the boats were in the red boathouses, that were everywhere.

We looked around, then we followed a path to the large observation tower, which is dark and almost 20 metres high. An eye-catching landmark. Beside of some ice fishers that parked their cars at the coast, we were completely alone. Only seabirds could be heard, mostly the typical honking call of the Whooper Swans.

From the tower we had a nice view both over land and sea. The land was framed with ice, but further out the sea was open. Birds flew around, mostly Whooper Swans and small flocks of ducks (being shooed away by other birds). Suddenly a group of dark birds passed our tower, it was a flock of cormorants.

After a while of amateur bird watching we descended the tower and went back to the parked car. We were hungry and took the way back to the Replot Bridge, where we got a delicious lunch at Berny’s Café and Restaurant.

After that we headed for another island in the north. This was quite challenging to drive because larger parts of the way were covered with ice with deep ruts. I had to drive quite slow to keep on the way. In Köklot I made the photo of the only boat in the fishing port, later I just had to photograph the small red hovercraft. I would love to have such a vehicle that can access the sea the whole year round.

I followed the bad road for a while but finally I had to turn because all turnouts were closed. It took a long time to drive back and when we arrived in Vasa we both were tired.

Later this day: A dinner with Asian food, a small coastal walk in Vasa and a bit of luxury: Our flat had a tiny sauna.

3. April – history lessons, old Vasa and Indian food

Already the day before we had decided that we wanted to stay two other nights in the region of Österbotten. We had given Couchsurfing another try. We contacted K.D. that lives in the Korsholm municipality but he didn’t have any place for us. He suggested however that we could meet in the city. So Annika and I went to the monument on the market square where we met K.D.

We got an extremely interesting history lesson about Finland in General und Vasa, while we slowly walked through the city. I didn’t make a single photo, I was too eager listening. After some hours K.D. had to leave but he invited us to the museum Stundars for the next day.

Later we took the car to Gamla Vasa, the old town that burned down in 1852. Some walls, among others of the old church from the 15th century are still there.

Later this day: Indian food and another sauna session.

4. April – a meteorite, two museums and welcoming hosts

Already before the journey we learned about Söderfjärden, a large plain which is an impact crater of a meteorite impact 520 million years ago. The plain lies south of Vasa and we took the car there.

The exhibition at the crate’s centre was closed but outside there’s a model of our solar system. I never walked from the sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – here it was possible.

We only had limited time, so we took the car to Uranus and Neptune – two small blue-green orbs. Then we changed our perspective back to here and now. We saw the first cranes of the year, more geese and more whooper swans.

From Söderfjärden we drove to the museum Stundars, which is quite nearby. We met K.D. again who had opened the “Smedens stuga” – the cabin of the smith – together with a colleague. We thanked for the day before and had an interesting talk about history and now.

We couldn’t stay for long because we had another appointment. When we had stood on the deck of the ferry three days ago we got in contact with S.. He gave us his phone number and this day we met him in Malax where he opened the Kvarkens Båtmuseum and gave us a private guided tour.

I was deeply impressed by the boat that was used for seal hunting. The hunters lived on the ice for several months with nothing but their boat to live in. We do not talk about the middle age, we talk about the 20th century. The last time this boat was used for seal hunting was in 1963, only five years before I was born!

Through Couchsurfing Annika got in contact with A. and M. who live in Västerhankmo, north from Vasa. We were welcome to live with them for two days, although they had other guests and one of the sons would return from Australia the very same day. We felt honoured that we could stay anyway. We drove to their house, where we were shown a huge couch to sleep over and got in contact with the residents – both human and feline.

Later this day: z-z-z-z

5. April – cloudy weather and a bilingual car trip

The weather was cloudy and we were quite lazy. We had seen a lot the last days and we learned a lot. We learned especially a lot about the Finland-Swedes, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Although their nationality is Finnish they have Swedish as a first language. Österbotten is one of the regions in Finland with a lot of Finland-Swedes. In Vasa 25% have Swedish as a first language, in the neighbour municipality Korsholm it is 72%. All people mentioned above are Finland-Swedes and have Swedish as a first language.

The children grow up with Swedish and go to Swedish schools, where they will learn Finnish as a secondary language.

Even the culture is different. When Annika asked for (Finnish) tango events she was told that this would be more a Finnish thing and therefore not easy to find in Österbotten.

It is said, that “the” Finns are much more direct then “the” Swedes who try to avoid any conflict, when possible. I experienced the Finland-Swedes as more to the point than the Swedes and I have to admit, that I enjoyed it because of my own quite direct personality.

Back to 5. April. We took the car and travelled around, first to some other islands.

In Isokyrö we stopped for the old stone church, built between 1513 and 1533.

Temperatures were above zero and everything looked grey and dull. The leftover snow was wet and the gravel roads were muddy. When we returned to our overnight place my car looked really dirty – but in their special way the dirt patterns were beautiful anyway.

Later this day: Having a good time with M., A., and family including a very tasty meat soup with homemade bread and petting the cute cat

6. April – with the Ferry to Umeå

6:40: the alarm rings – 7:05: we sneak out of the house (we said goodbye the evening before) – 7:45: we roll on board of the ferry – 9:00: the ferry starts its journey back to Sweden – 12:30 (Swedish time): we arrive in Holmsund, 20 km from Umeå.

Thank you, K.D, thank you S. “för trevlig sällskap” – for nice company!

Thank you, M., A. and family – for your hospitality and “för trevlig sällskap” as well!

Later this day: The first flowers of the year:

An almost secret world of ice

This was my most daring tour on the sea ice yet. This article may not be for the faint-hearted. Spoiler alert: I kept safe and dry!

After an extremely lazy day yesterday I felt today like I had to go out and get some fresh air. Cross country skiing? No, the tracks are probably extremely icy. Jogging? No, the water puddles from the melting snow are deep and I wanted to keep my feet dry.

What about trying to walk to the island Bredskär? There’s a large patch of old ice that should be easy to cross. But behind the islands there could be weak ice.  Didn’t I want to keep dry?

Yes, I definitely wanted to keep dry. So I used a funny combination of equipment today. On the one hand snowshoes for winter walks, on the other hand a drysuit in case of breaking through the ice.

I took the car to the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan, changed into the rubber boots and started my tour from there. The ice was easy to cross even though there were some wet patches. That doesn’t automatically mean that the ice is weak. Mostly it’s freshwater from melted snow or seawater that found a way up through the cracks in the ice. Soon I arrived at the island Bredskär – it’s only 750 m to go. Unfortunately clouds had been approaching covering the sun.

I turned right and walked along the eastern shore. Wind, waves and winter’s coldness had built a ice wall along the shore.

When I reached the eastern tip I had a decision to make. Should I walk around the island and already go back? Or should I dare to cross the sea ice to the next islands Gråsidan and Nygrundet. I chose the latter. I opened the belt of the backpack, checked my ice claws and started carefully crossing the sea ice. Step by step. Step by step. The first half was no problem but then the ice started to look grey. That could be a sign for weak, thin or watery ice. I could see air bubbles moving under the ice with every step. I expected to break through the ice with every step. Perhaps the ice was not weak at all and only covered with water but I was not eager to find out and slowly continued. Step by step.

The ice seemed to get weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner, wetter and wetter. Perhaps it was real, maybe it was only my imagination that gave me this impression. After some more careful steps I finally reached the island Gråsidan. Hooray! Nevertheless only a temporary success because I knew that I would have to go back later on.

I arrived at the northern tip of Gråsidan, turned right and walked along the eastern shore heading south. It was there, where I found the almost secret world of ice. Of course it was not secret by purpose but I guess I was the only one that had managed to approach this special location.

East from the island there was a layer of sea ice and on that there was a huge variety of ice. Large ice floes, heaps of smaller ice discs, round-shaped ice objects and much more was there to see.

It was like an open air art exhibition. An art exhibition of one of my favourite artists: nature. And I had it all for myself. It was not easy to go. Sometimes I had to cross chaotic looking ice fields, sometimes my foot landed in a deep puddle of meltwater. Look at the next photo: This puddle had not only drowned half of my rubber boot but a snowshoe, too.

I was however wrong in one thing. Others visited this world of ice as well: moose. Countless moose tracks covered the sea ice heading seaward. What does a moose want there? There’s only ice and then – already visible in the distance – the open Baltic Sea. The next island in the southeast is more than 11 km away.

Either moose have a very poor sense of orientation or they like ice art just as me. I imagined several moose visiting the various objects and discuss shape, colour and the meaning of the artworks. These visitors however had left, only the tracks were left.

While strolling through the exhibition I already passed another island: Nygrundet, the outermost island of the archipelago. Nygrundet was near the open water. Very near. I approached a huge block of ice and there it was: My personal “Ultima Thule” for today.

After I was sure, that this ice block was connected to the island and no iceberg sailing to Finland I decided to climb the block and make myself comfortable. Although temperatures were slightly above zero it was quite cold due to the strong gale with wind gusts round 22 m/s. That’s round 80 km/h. Brrr! I was glad about my warm anorak that I took with me.

After eating and drinking a bit I decided to go back. I crossed a small patch of sea ice and then went along the island which is connected with Gråsidan by a stripe of land. Unnoticed by me the clouds had moved away and the sun came out. Ice gets a completely new look when sunlit. So I decided to go to the art exhibition once more and turned again.

And turned again to finally return home. On my way back I saw a manmade art object at the shore, but I could not understand its purpose. I preferred the tiny pine trees sticking out of the snow. Then I crossed the island Gråsidan from east to west (less than 200 meter).

The last photo clearly indicates that I hadn’t been in the Arctic. It’s still Skelleftehamn. On all of the mentioned islands there are summer cottages. The cottages on Nygrundet and Gråsidan were empty due to the difficulties to get there.

I started to look for a better place to cross the sea ice back to the island Bredskär. I had felt quite uneasy while crossing the ice to Gråsidan and I hoped for better ice. To make a long story short: I found a longer, but better and easier way.

I was relieved when I arrived Bredskär. Now the ice probably would be thicker and safer. I walked along the island somewhere between sea and land. There where a lot of very wet patches but on safe ice. Now I only had to cross the sea ice once more, then I would arrive on the mainland and at my car.

Here a lot of water, partly frozen, covered the ice. Snowmobiles and ATVs had left deep traces and wheel ruts. I started getting a bit impatient and instead of taking the same way home I turned left a bit earlier. First it went well then I had to plunge through surficially frozen water and slush. With the snowshoes that was quite exhausting but the shore came nearer and nearer.

I could spot my parked car and the snowy slope where I had to go up. 100 metres to go. 50 metres to go. 10 metr… – crash!

My right leg went through the ice to the upper leg. It was not weak ice, I just oversaw a large and broad crack. The rubber boot was soaking wet but not myself. The attached stockings of my drysuit had kept me dry. It’s funny anyway that this happened just seconds before finishing the tour.

Probably I will keep a bruise on my knee for some days as a nice memory of this very special inter-season snowshoe tour on the Baltic Sea. And a fabulous tour it was.

Equipment

Directly translated from my packing list with some comments.

  • smartphone + powerbank + charge cable + waterproof bag (the powerbank to be able to load the smartphone in emergency situations)
  • camera + memory card + cleaning tissue + reserve battery (all packed in a waterproof Ortlieb bag that I wore in front of my breast)
  • drysuit (to keep me dry in water. Only head and hands would get wet)
  • rubber boots (I chose my huuuge Russian rubber boots with thermal inner boots
  • snowshoes (flexible enough to work with the rubber boots)
  • 2× balaclava (for the head – one comfortable made of fleece, one tight and waterproof)
  • 2× gloves (one pair made of Powerstretch fleece, on pair of waterproof neoprene)
  • isdubbar – ice claws. (The most important thing! Two handles with spikes that you can use to pull yourself on safe ice after having broken through)
  • provisions (A cinnamon bun, chocolate and a coke(!) )
  • Cabela’s anorak (the insulated anorak with the fur trimmed hood you can see on my selfie)
  • waterproof bags (I stored everything in waterproof bags – from the other pair of gloves to the car keys)
  • sunglasses (today even used as wind protection)

 

Skiing from Syter Fjällstuga to Umasjö

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

Wednesday, 6 March

Today we will have the longest distance of our ski tour: round 22 km from the Syter Mountain Cabin to Umasjö. We get up at 5:45 and start our tour at 7:30 to have enough time before sunset.

G., the stugvärd recommended to go on the small river Voehpejoeke or Svärfarbäcken, it would be easier to ski. We however do not dare and follow the marked winter trail. That turns out to be a quite bad idea. The trail seems to connect all existing hilltops around. The hilltops are exposed to the wind so that they are free of snow. There is vegetation, rocks and a lot of bare ice where neither the skis nor the poles get any hold. We barely make any progress and our frustration grows. After a while we decide to follow G.’s advice and ski down to the winding river.

You have to know, that there is ice and water under your feet for all we can see is snow, a bit of vegetation and some rocks. We feel safe and we are at least three times faster than before. After some time we come to a wide plain where I make the first tour photo of the day.

The morning had been cold again with temperatures below -20 °C, but it quickly became warmer and clouds have approached, covering the mountain peaks. Despite to the forecasts it is windy and the drifting snow makes the view hazy.

After 5 km we pass a Sámi dwelling, marked in the map as a black triangle.

Then we approach a narrow passage and the frontal wind increases. First I think it is snowing but it’s just the snow driven by the wind. We avoid making smaller breaks because there is no shelter in the valley and we would have to put on down jackets to avoid hypothermia.

The way is long but navigation is easy. We just have to follow the red crosses. Visibility is not the best but still we can see at least the next three or four crosses. After the valley we have to ascent a pass but the ascent is so slow that we hardly realise, that it’s already the pass. I check our position with the GPS but take the wrong number. I know that it has to be wrong but we continue anyway. What shall happen: we are on the trail and it feels like we are in time. It was only the first stage that slowed us down.

Even though the way is long it is a great tour. Snowmobiles are prohibited and we ski through the untouched snow landscape, completely alone. I do not take many pictures because I don’t want to loose too much time.

It’s still windy. When Annika goes ahead parts of her ski tracks are snow covered after already half a minute. At least it’s not cold, probably between -5 °C and -10 °C.

I check the GPS again, this time more properly. We have come further than expected and are faster than thought. Sometimes we stop to drink a bit and eat chocolate (mostly me) but we try to minimise the breaks.

We are on a plateau now, where the wind is calmer and it’s easy to ski. But we know that we have to descend 300 – 400 metres. And soon we have to ski downhills which is not our most outstanding skill. At least the slopes are wide and there are no trees around.

The trees appear a bit later but still it’s easy to ski. And then we finally meet the first snowmobile trail. It is descending through the forest but it’s so wide that it’s easy to ski down, either directly on the tracks or on the sides through untouched snow. Then we come to the “snowmobile main road”. The signpost says, that 17 km lie behind us and 5 other km to go.

This part is both boring and tiring. The track goes up and down which doesn’t matter for snowmobile drivers but for us. We curse every hill we have to ski up.

But finally we reach our final destination of today’s ski tour. The road E12 in Umasjö.

Our four-day ski tour is over but neither the journey nor the day.

Annika’s colleague F. is staying on her mountain cottage in Umasjö. It is she who comes shortly after our arrival and gives us a lift to Hemavan, where I parked my car three days ago. We buy some food and drink (rich in calories!) and drive back to Umasjö where we meet F. again in her cottage together with her family. We sit in the living room and report from our ski tour. After that we continue our journey to Norway, where we visit friends of Annika in Mo I Rana. The road conditions are not the best and I’m tired but luckily it’s only a one-hour drive from Umasjö.

That has been a long day and an exhausting one as well, but – more important – a great one. Now I’m looking forward to the next ski tour together with Annika.

Stopover in Bjuröklubb

Standing on the wooden platform by Bjuröklubb’s lighthouse you have a wide view over the Baltic Sea. And as the ice report says, the sea is covered with ice and snow as far as the eye can see.

Just three photos from today.

The ice road in Avan

Today I had a meeting in Norrbotten, Sweden’s northernmost län (county). It was the annual general meeting of Barents Press International, a joint network of journalists in the Barents Region. I joined this organisation a few weeks ago and took the meeting as an opportunity to meet members of Barents Press in real live.

The projects presented at the meeting were really impressing. In addition to that the people were both very friendly and extremely interesting.

The meeting was in Avan near Luleå, 150 km from here or as the Swedes say: 15 miles. The name Avan rang a bell, but it took a look on the map to remember that it’s the place where Annika and I had used the ferry to cross the river Luleälven in May 2015. And later that day we had been forced to wait before a bridge, where people tried to get out a ship with a crane. (It didn’t work.) After a long time of waiting we had been able to continue the tour.

But back to today. It’s 2 February, -18 °C and the Luleälven had been frozen for many weeks.

I had left the E4 and drove the road to Avan. It was picture-perfect weather. Everything was covered with soft snow. It was snowing gently and since it was quite early, the snow looked still a bit blueish.

Some hours later – we had finished the meeting and went upstairs to have fika. This Swedish coffee break took at least twice the time of the official meeting, but fika is anything between 15-30 minutes (most common) and open end …

While we were holding fika and it was still snowing the sun came out. The sunlight made the scenery look even more beautiful. What a gorgeous view the house owners have!

Half past twelve I thanked the hosts and left Avan. I had got an idea: I remembered that there was an ice road crossing the river in wintertime. I was not sure if it was open but it was not far away. I drove there and right, the ice road over the Luleälven was open.

It had stopped snowing and the sun was shining. I parked the car and took some pictures (and was annoyed with myself that I only took the small camera with me).

I saw other cars using the ice road, otherwise I wouldn’t have dared to cross the river, which still is a river with water under the ice. Flowing water. Ok, let’s go …

And so I have got my ice road premiere today. Check ✔︎. I took some photos on the other side and decided to drive back again because I prefer the southern road which I came from.

It was still sunny but clouds had started gathering in the south. While I drove back south it got more and more cloudy. When I made a stopover at my favourite Thai restaurant in Skellefteå it was quite windy and my mobile phone displayed a message:

Warning class 1 snowfall Västerbottens … Snowfall which from Sunday morning to night to Monday can give 20-30 cm. In coastal areas in combination with fresh northeast wind. Snowfall contin…

Later there were the first snow showers. Let’s see, what will happen tomorrow.

#escapism – skiing through the landscapes

When I walked home from an early meeting today it snowed at -12 °C. I trudged through the fresh snow like a small child.

Actually, I wanted to work with my online shop for my photo website. Outside it continued snowing. It took less than a minute to change plans. I took my skis, the backpack with the camera equipment, ski pants and my old Norrøna-jacket and went outside. I went down the snowy stairs, put on my skis and started a local ski tour. I skied 300 meter and was in the …

Forest

First I followed a snowy snowmobile track (with a detour to a small wetland) and then paw prints of a hare.

Following the paw prints led me to a …

Swamp

In winter however these swampy areas are frozen – no problem with skis.

The snow was round 30 cm deep and quite fluffy so that I sank down even with the skis. Perhaps my 240 cm long wooden Tegsnäs skis would have been the better choice. I crossed a small pond and a small ridge – probably formed in the last ice age – and then I came to a larger …

Lake

The lake Snesviken had been frozen already in November. Now it was just a snowy plain with a small island in the middle.

I took a selfie …

…crossed the lake and came to a …

Dense forest

I knew that this forest was dense with a lot of underwood and many rocks, but I forgot how hard it is to find a way through it on skis. Now I was quite glad that I didn’t take the Tegsnäs skis.

I fought my way through birch thickets and rocky passages. It took a long time until I left the forest and reached a snowy road, part of a …

Cottage area

I followed the road to its end. Skiing was easy and effortless after the dense forest.

As in the whole of Sweden there are many summer cottages in Skelleftehamn, too. This cottage – as most of them – was by the …

Sea

I crossed the small thicket at the rocky shore …

… then I stood on the frozen Baltic Sea. I started skiing leaving the mainland behind. It was much windier and I was glad about my fur-trimmed hood. The field of view however is limited. Looking down I saw the fur, the skis and a white featureless surface. Almost whiteout conditions. Parts of the landscape were featureless as well.

It may look like I was in the middle of the Arctic, but no, right behind me there was an …

Island

The Island Storgrundet is the nearest island from the mainland. Here I had looked at the sea ice 10 days ago, here I watched the lunar eclipse last week.

I followed the coastal line, crossed a frozen bay and arrived at the old boat shed that probably had been there for ages.

Then I crossed the island through the forest.

The island is not very wide. After 200 meter I could see the mainland’s …

Coast

This part of the coast is one of my favourite places in Skelleftehamn. In summer it has a nice sandy beach, in winter it’s the first part of the sea that freezes. In summer I use to paddle kayak, but most locals prefer small motorboats. Now all boats lie upside down on the shore.

Where there are boats are also houses. Where there are houses there’s also a …

Road

And this road is special, because it leads …

Home

Here I arrived three hours later. I put off the skis, shock of the snow and went in.

Oh, I love winter!

Rime at the Bergsbyn dam

After photoing the lunar eclipse this very early morning I went into bed again and took a long nap. After that I actually wanted to work but the weather was so fine that I took the car looking for photo motives. Temperatures below -20 °C, a clear blue sky and all birch trees covered with rime – that’s ingredients for a beautiful winter day. While I was looking at the white birch trees I got an idea. How would it look like at the dam in Bergsbyn where there’s always open water downstream.

I drove there and parked the car. Indeed the trees by the river were covered even more with hoarfrost and rime. I walked along the river through knee-deep snow. Beside of some animal tracks the snow was untouched. Strange, that I was the first one that went along the riverside since the last snow one week ago.

The open water was smoking with cold and frozen fog blowed along the river. It covered the opposite riverside and partly the sun as well. Small ice floes drifted by. The river is quite fast here. Hardly imaginable that the river upstream is completely frozen over.

I experimented with the fisheye lens. It will take some time until I get used to it, especially when the light situations are as difficult as they were today. I do not like these white spots where the sun is but today it was hardly avoidable.

Two winter activities

The morning

Finally there’s enough snow in Skelleftehamn for cross-country skiing. The great people from Frilufts­främjandet Skelleftehamn had prepared the ski track last night and I was one the first people that skied there this morning. The weather was sunny with temperatures round -16 °C. The sun however was still low and had hardly a chance to illuminate the forests round the ski track. There were some sunny spots where I made the photos below.

After 7 km I was covered with frost but I wasn’t cold at all.

The early afternoon

After lunch I decided to check out the shore at Kågnäsudden. I parked my car and trudged through the snow until I arrived at the coast. The Baltic Sea was mostly open but partly covered with pancake ice. I walked on the banks by the sea and enjoyed the bright sunlight and the crisp air.And I made some photos, too.

When I drove back the car thermometer showed temperatures between -19 °C and -23 °C. The next seven days temperatures between -10 °C and -20 °C are forecasted. I guess it will not take long until the shore areas of the Baltic Sea will finally freeze over.

Cross-country skiing – part II

5 cm of new snow, -5 °C air temperature and Olles Spår – a ski track on the edge of Umeå – freshly prepared. Good conditions for cross-country skiing.

Annika and I skied only 5 kilometres. Not because of the number 5, but because it was still snowing and this snow made the track very, very slow.

Even though the distance was short, it was delightful to slide through the winter forest and the gently falling snow.