A day trip to the island Vannøya

It is 10 o’clock on Sunday, 28 April. Marika, whom I know from work and I are in Hansnes on the island Ringvassøya waiting for the ferry. It will take us to the island Vannøya where we want to stay for the day.

I want to take photos, so I am opening the boot of my car and realise that I have forgotten my camera backpack at home. Sh*t! Fortunately I have my Sony camera with me, which does a pretty good job on landscape photography But no time to be grumpy, here comes the ferry.

After a ferry ride of forty minutes we arrive at the island and take the western way to the fishing village Torsvåg. We pass the Polargirl, a passenger ship that uses to make touristic excursions in Svalbard in the summer season.

After seven kilometres we come to our first stop: A small beach. The view is incredible. Snow covered mountains in the back, a cloudless sky above, some islets with white sandy beaches and shallow waters of a turquoise colour so intense that you can see it on satellite images.

We start cleaning the beach, mostly of plastic. A huge amount is plastic nets and ropes from the fishing industry. The plastic is harmful to the environment and is especially dangerous to sea birds. Beach cleaning has become quite popular and it is a good feeling to remove the garbage from nature even when it is only a drop in the ocean. The next photo showing me is taken by Marika.

We stay there for a while, not only because the scenery is to beautiful and the sun shines warmly, but because there are seals out there. Some of them were sitting on rocks until the tide came in, others are swimming in the turquoise water. They are too far away to take good pictures, but I can observe them through my binoculars.

We continue our road trip, occasionally stopping when there is any wildlife. And there is quite a lot. Here at partially frozen puddles we do not only see crows but also a Eurasian curlew.

Minutes later we arrive at Sandsletta, a larger beach. The small sandy dunes are reminiscent of the German North Sea, the mountains aren’t.

There are some more photo stops, either for scenery or for animals. This time a reindeer (we saw some of them) grazing by the road.

Then we arrive at the fishing village Torsvåg. Parts of it are located on Vannøya, others on the small island Kåja. To get there by car you have to cross a dam with a single file concrete road. In the harbour area there is a huge rack full with fish hanging to dry. The dried fish is called stockfish. And there is the Torsvåg lighthouse. If you look north from there, you can see some stony islets and rocks and then there is the open Norwegian sea. Next stop Svalbard.

Is this the end of the island? Well, at least it is the end of this road. But there is more to explore. We turn, drive back 8 km and turn left onto the road to Burøysund in the east. Marika spots an eagle with prey, probably a mountain hare. I do not stop timely and the disturbed eagle flies away to land on a stone nearby. I make a photo through the windscreen, but it is blurred. Anyhow it shows, how big eagles are. You see the crow for size comparison?

Ten minutes later I have stopped the car again, this time for two ptarmigans that first strolled on a meadow by the road and then decided to ignore us and cross the road. Another object with flying abilities was easier to photograph, but what does a propeller plane do on a parking place by the road? Does it use the road for taking off and landing?

We arrive in Burøysund. The whole of Vannøya is a bit “Norway in a nutshell” with its snowy mountains, the blue sea, the rocky shore, the coastal villages. Here anyhow the rocks are special. They are sharp-edged with their “teeth” up into the air and look wild and rough.

Now it is time to head back. On a place we spotted already on our way there we take a late lunch break with the view to the sea (and some ptarmigans and seals in the distance) and the wetlands in our back.

Even if we take the second last ferry we have plenty of time. And we need it, because while driving further I spot something in the water which does not look like seabirds. It is an otter. No, it’s two, wait – three. They meet in the sea and then swim side by side.

Then they go ashore quite near us. One is swimming away soon while the other two stay on land for ten minutes. What an experience so see them so near! I’m sure they have seen us as well but since we are quiet they ignore us. What a pity, that I forgot my Nikon to use the large telephoto lens. The Sony did not manage to take good pictures, also because of the light situation. Anyhow – for the archives – two pictures of the otters:

This day really delivered! Incredible weather and a lot of wildlife. Reindeer, curlews, ptarmigans, geese, eagles, a lot of other birds I do not know, a white mountain hare, the first butterfly of the season (a small tortoiseshell), several seals and now the three otters. Time to catch the ferry with a hasty detour to the south east of the island from which you can see the Nordfugløya (Northern bird island).

Finally we have to hurry a bit but we reach the 19:15-ferry in time. Another forty minutes ferry ride in beautiful light …

… and we are back in Hansnes on the island Ringvassøya which is connected to the island Kvaløya with a tunnel which is connected to the island Tromsøya with a bridge, and that’s where I live. There are worse places!

Takk for turen, Marika!

Ski tour in Sweden – side trip to Nallo

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 10 – 7 March – Vistas—Nallo

After our break day in Vistas we have planned to go for a side trip to Nallo, a small STF cabin embedded in high mountains just nine or ten kilometres away. We will stay there overnight. The weather forecast looks great for today (sunny and calm) and ok for tomorrow (overcast but also calm). In the morning it was -13 °C but temperatures are rising quickly.

After breakfast we pack our things, but leave some items behind. We’ll be back tomorrow. Our friend Dirk who is stugvärd here accompanies us a bit then we start our ski tour. Then we continue alone up the valley Stuor Reaiddávággi.

We arrive at lunch time and make something warm to eat. This time no packet soup as usual, but trekking food (mostly powder). Quite ok, if you ask me. I manage to take a photo of the cabin in the sun, that shines here for less than an hour this season because of the high mountains in the south.

The cabin is an Abrahamssonsstuga (or Fjällstuga 65). This type of cabin has 21 places and was built a lot in the mountains between 1965 and 1973. It can happen that you hike the whole day to arrive at a cabin that looks exactly alike the one you left in the morning. However, I like them if there are not too crowded and this night we will be only six people (plus the stugvärd) sleeping there.

At dinner we eat trekking food again, this time another brand. That pulp was the most disgusting stuff I have eaten for ages and neither of us manages to finish the meal. Good, that we have chocolate left to cover the bad taste. After dinner another polar light is building up. First just a thin stripe like a spotlight, then it broadens. At the same time the first clouds have started gathering but are held back by the mountains.

Day 11 – 8 March – Nallo—Vistas

Oh, the weather forecast was correct. It is cloudy today. However we have an easy job today: Just skiing back the 9 (or is it 10?) km and loose 220 metres of altitude. Breakfast, packing, doing our cabin duties and off we go.

While Nallo was above the tree line Vistas isn’t. First there are single birth trees than birch forests. Back with the trees comes the animal life, mostly the ptarmigans that sometimes sit on a branch of a birch looking like big, fluffy snowballs. Not the best camouflage … . What we however do not see are the four moose. We will see them later from the cabin using a binocular.

And then we are at Vistas and the Sauna is almost ready.

After sauna Annika is preparing the farewell dinner. Dirk already had watered the dried potatoes, feta cheese and vegetable in the morning, now she is making frittata with porcini mushrooms. Delicious! Dirk contributes the dessert and we have a “gemütlich” evening together. It’s Annika’s and my last day in the mountains. Today we will reach civilisation again.

 

 

 

Ski tour in Sweden – Tjäktja—Alesjaure—Vistas

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 7 – 4 March – Tjäktja—Alesjaure

I may repeat myself but again we have sunny weather and blue sky at -6 °C. The only difference, it is windy today. It started last night when we were out to watch the Northern Lights and now the wind is blowing snow over the mountains and through the valley. While we are starting our tour we are having an impressive parhelion and a piece of halo right of the sun. I’m pretty sure that it isn’t created by stratospheric clouds but by the blowing snow.

We descend into the valley Alisvággi and leave the blowing wind behind us. Now sun feels warm but on the ice of the river system Aliseatnu the cold air still wins.

It takes some time until we can spot some of the cabins of Alesjaure. I can see them behind the rocky hill. No, they are on the rocky hill. I remember having tried to climb this turtle shell-like hill with skis and pulka years ago. I have learned my lesson, we walk up. And then we are welcomed by the warden with a hot and very sweet juice. We chat for a while (we have met once years before) and then Annika and I sit on the reindeer skin lying on the bench by the table and take an outdoor picnic. We may choose a room because we are first. We enjoy the weather, inside and outside. Later, after dinner we will head for the sauna.

I thought it would be extremely crowded here but we arrived on the right day. Yesterday: 40 guests. Tomorrow: 50 pre-booked guests. Today: 11 :-)

Day 8 – 5 March – Alesjaure—Vistas

Today is a special day. We do not take a break day, we continue to Vistas where our friend Dirk is currently warden. With 18 kilometres it is the longest distance on our ski tour this year and I was a bit afraid that it could get tough. Is there a track? How is the snow? Therefore I have urged Annika into raising up ridiculously early. We have the large kitchen for us while ptarmigans are hopping and clucking outside of the windows.

The sun starts to illuminate the highest mountain peaks, soon we will have sun as well. 7:05 (sic!) we start our tour.

… and get a little lost. We navigate by eye and sync the stones marked in red with the summer trail on our map. Anyhow it doesn’t fit. The GPS helps and now we know where we are. While finding a good route to get more north were we assume the correct route to be we realise that the summer markers are all over the place. Not helpful! Our assumption was correct, there is the unmarked winter trail. It is obvious, because now we see snow mobile tracks, ski tracks, pulka tracks, boot tracks, snowshoe tracks. I guess we won’t have any navigation challenges anymore today.

We cross the first lake Bajip Čazajávri and the second lake Vuolip Čazajávri, then we stand at the “abyss”. The steepest part of this declining slope falls 50 metres on 200 metres and we both decide to unmount the skis. Beside of a patch of soft snow the snow is good to walk on.

Now we are in the beginning of the valley Visttasvággi which will gently descend for the rest of today’s tour. And since it descend we leave the barren kalfjäll and meet the first birch trees, the first ones since a week.

The next hours we will ski in the sun. The hot sun. First I take off my jacket, then cap and gloves, then I roll up my sleeves. Finally I put on the shirt’s hood again, not for cold but for sun protection. Some photos from the tour:

Moose droppings are not the only animal tracks we see. There are the typical deep moose tracks, the smaller reindeer tracks, countless ptarmigan tracks (both feet and feathers) and a special track – like a fox on snow shoes. This was the description of the Sami on Sälka when he described wolverine tracks. The wolverine track follows the trail for a long time and watching it is pretty exciting.

The wolverine tracks are special, since these animals are rare. Only round about a thousand wolverines live in Scandinavia. But I love the ptarmigan prints as well. They often seem to tell stories.

My titles: 1. Zen garden / 2. Hieroglyphs / 3. Salsa party

After some hours of sun we finally come into the shadow. Almost a relief. Now it is not far anymore to the Vistas cabin, which is not part of the famous Kungsleden trail since it lies in a side valley. Skiing there was much easier then I expected and we had a faster pace then on the preceding shorter distances.

Dirk has seen us already and welcomes us outside with two cups of hot juice. Later we get an incredible five star afternoon snack. It consists of two surprises. First surprise: We found cookies in the leftover food in the kitchen cupboard! Two sorts, one of them with chocolate. That has never ever happened to me before and I hardly can imagine why people should leave cookies behind. I won’t! Anyhow I’m grateful. Second surprise: Dirk does not only invites us to coffee but also to Christmas stollen, a traditional German Christmas cake. It is never too late to eat stollen. Thanks, Dirk, for sharing it with us!

After dinner – Dirk invited us again – I just walk around to take photos. A faint polar light can be seen but it is nothing compared with the last days, especially the night in Tjäktja.

Day 9 – 6 March – Vistas

Today is the fourth and last break day we take on this tour. Are we lazy? Yes and no. Annika is sawing logs, I am chopping the wood (not my best day though). I fetch water from the river by lowering a bucket from the bridge into a patch of open water. The ice on the river is not save. But we also sit outside reading and I am using the short period where the sun shines on the cabins (yes, another fine day) to take some photos.

Tomorrow we will ski to Nallo and stay there over night, then we will come back to Vistas.

The sun returns in Tromsø

While I got a lot of sun in Obbola (320 km south of the polar circle) between the years, Tromsø (340 km north of the polar circle) had to wait to see the sun again.

Last Sunday was the last day of the mørketid – the polar night. Monday at lunchtime the sun was above the horizon but not above the mountains. Anyhow everything has become much brighter compared to mid-December.

Yesterday I took a promenade from my new apartment. While Tromsø lay in the shadow – at least were I walked – I saw the snowy mountains of Kvaløya having pink tops. There the sun was already visible.

Today I was at Telegrafbukta round noon. I was not alone – round 200 other people waited for the sun, were barbecuing, taking selfies or a winter bath. On the sea a flock of eider ducks occasionally wa diving for food. And then it appeared from behind a mountain – the sun!

Welcome sun! The polar night is over, the winter will continue for at least three months. But every day the sun will rise a bit higher.

Mammals by the sea, snow on the peaks

A colleague, a friend of hers and I went on a car trip to the island Ringvissøya today. My colleague knows a place where you can spot otters and we wanted to give it a try. On the way there it was raining. While I drove the car the others watched the coastal line. Our first stop however was not for an otter but a huge flock of common eiders.

Sometimes the whole flock dove down for food and then – Plop! Plop! Plop! – they appeared again. Click! I got some photos, but only with my large telephoto lens, because the ducks where quite far away.

We continued a bit and then the first otter was spotted. It was swimming in the fjord occasionally diving to hunt for fish. All the next photos are 100% crop of shots made with 600 mm so the photo quality is inferior, but that was the best I got today. Did the otter get fish? Yes, at least twice we could see it eating. Then, at a shallow bay it went on land and went up through the grass where we lost it from view.

The otters were not the only mammals around. We spotted some porpoises, though only for seconds and a seal, that occasionally swam quite near the shore.

Meanwhile the weather has become quite nice.

Since the otters were not to be seen any longer we decided to continue the road and go for a hike. At a parking place between Kårvik and Skarsfjord we took our backpacks and started hiking up the hills. There was hardly any snow at the beginning of our tour. That changed when we gained altitude. Although there was more snow the ground was not frozen yet and partially wet. Sometimes it felt like walking on a sponge.

We came to a frozen lake, that looked pretty wintry but probably the ice was quite thin, at least in the middle. In the background of the first of the next photos you can see the mountain peak of the Gråtinden (586 m).

The snow had hardened and sometimes bore our weight but mostly we broke through the thin ice layer. But still it was possible to go up, the snow was less deep than I had expected.

And then – after round about 4 km we reached the summit of the Gråtinden.

Here you have an awesome view of the sea, the lowlands and snowy mountain chains in all directions.

We took a rest by the cairn marking the peak, then we started going back. I was quite glad to move again, because I wasn’t really prepared for the hike and had started freezing. While we made our way back and down the sun started to set and the mountains become more orange.

At 16:30 we were back at the car, same time as sunset. And since it even started drizzling again I think we had an excellent timing today.

Thanks for the tour, colleague and friend!

P.S.: Here’s a panorama that I took with my iPhone on the way up today:

Autumn tour to the glacier Steindalsbreen

After being abroad in Germany, “home home” in Sweden and on vacation in the Netherlands for almost a month I have returned to Tromsø, my “work home” one week ago. Time to work again for the Norwegian Polar Institute but not only that …

Some days ago my colleague Marika asked me if we should go out for a hike to the glacier Steindalsbreen in the weekend. I knew the place from hearsay but never have been there. I gladly accepted – I like hiking with good company. Yesterday on Sunday we met at 7 o’clock and off we went. First by car.

Car trip

Steindalen is on the Lyngen peninsula and round about 100 km away. According to Google it takes 100 minutes but we stopped several times, either to take pictures of the reflections in the fjord or the curious fox beside the road.

Through the forest

After the car was parked we started our tourat 9:25. The birch and alder trees were clad in autumnal colours. The path led westwards through the forest along a small mountain river.

To the cabin

After the path going up and down it led nearer to the river. We passed some moraines – witnessed from the ice age – and spotted a waterfall falling vertically down from a mountain. Then the cabin Steindalshytte came into view. There is a wooden bridge to cross one of the rivers.

Through the U-shaped valley

We followed an inflow of the stream and soon the valley opened more and more. And there it was – still in the distance – the glacier!

It gets rocky

The path went further up and the ground started go get rockier and we left the delta like wetlands behind. But still there were many crouching plants present, many of them in the brightest autumnal colours.

Approaching the glacier

A hill and the glacier Steindalsbreen came in full view, another hill also the glacial lake in the front. Quite depressing were the signs that marked the retreat of the glacier. Oh – so many hundred metres in so few years ;-(

Nearer and nearer …

The first photos Marika and I took from the edge of the glacial lake. Then we followed a path to the right that brought us nearer to the ice. Here we walked on gravel covered ice. I found a hole, perhaps 80 cm in diameter and 150 cm deep.

On the mud flats

As usual I hiked with rubber boots and so I could walk on the sandy mudflats right in front of the glacier. Oh, so beautiful the turquoise blocks of ice!

Mud, ice, and water

I also took some photos of the ground. Was it sand? Hard mud? Ice? Sometimes probably all the three.

Then I looked back to the lake. Hard to imagine that we hiked through autumnal forests some hours ago. This landscape looks eternal somehow although it is the opposite: very fragile and threatened by the global warming.

Heading back

After a meal break by a large rock it was time to head back. The times of midnight sun and bright nights are over and at 7 o’clock in the evening it would be dark. Just some more photos from our way back.

After round eight hours we were back at my car. What I great tour!

Takk for turen, Marika!

Thursday paddling around Grindøya

Two weeks ago we were only five paddlers at the traditional Thursday paddling. Today we were almost thirty. While most followed the coast to the bay Telegrafbukta I joined a group of seven that paddled to Grindøya. The conditions were gorgeous. No wind, hardly any waves and beautiful light. We took a break on the island with a special bonus: Two eagles sitting on a dead tree. There were too far away for taking good pictures but beautiful to observe anyhow. On one of the photos you can spot them as tiny specks.

Takk for turen – thanks for a great tour, my fellow kayakers. Now I’ll leave Tromsø for a while until I’ll be back for more tours to come.

 

Cruise leftovers: a seagull, a map and a tiny planet

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

One week ago I left the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon in Longyearbyen, Svalbard after a three week cruise. On the same day I took the plane back to Tromsø together with a lot of scientists from the same cruise.

The cruise went a little differently than planned. As you can see on the map below we seemed to cruise in a quite chaotic way.

But every loop was there for a reason. The left loop leading north was the attempt to cruise to station 05 at 83°58′ N. You see the line of planned stations in the upper right. But our attempt was in vain, the ice was too thick to get there.

So we decided to do research in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. Since this was never the plan we didn’t have a permit to do research in Greenlandic waters. Therefore we headed south and east to do a first ice station in Norwegian waters and then another one at 80 °N. That’s the right loop.

We were lucky: already after a couple of days we got the permit for Greenland. So we headed south and then west again into Greenlandic waters. Here we still had to zigzag a bit through the ice but there was another effect that made the track a bit special: The ice stations.

The ice floes drifted south with a speed of round about 0.7 knots (as far as I remember). When the ice station lasted 36 hours, that’s a drift of more than 45 kilometres. That’s the small loops to the south at 6.5 °W, 4° W and 2° W.

And since we had some travel time, I could take some photos. For example from the incredibly elegant ivory gull.

And even when I was on the sea ice to make aerial photos with my drone I often had some extra minutes to play around with the panorama function, resulting in so-called “tiny planet” photos.

Oh – I’m longing back to the Arctic. Home in Obbola in Sweden it is really warm and 24 °C inside of our house. A bit too warm for my taste. And rain would be very welcome, our garden is very dry.

Cruise day – bird watching

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

After we left yesterday’s ice station we have been cruising. When I woke up today morning I looked out of the window. Open sea, no ice in sight. Flocks of sea birds. And then a puffin flew past the porthole. Give me a moment – a puffin!? I must have been dreaming. Anyhow I got dressed and went to the helicopter deck to take bird photos.

Just a note: I do not know all these sea birds, but on a scientific cruise there are always people you can ask.

Large flocks of little black-white bird swooshed round the ship. They flew so fast, that the photos mostly only showed blurred shadows. It was flocks of …

Alle alle · Little auk · Alkekonge · Krabbentaucher

I moved to deck 3 to take pictures from a lower angle and played with the focus configuration of my Nikon. That helped a bit. I managed to take some photos from sea birds as …

Uria lomvia · Polarlomvi · Brünnich’s guillemot · Dickschnabellumme

… with the typical white strap behind the beak

Or the …

Fulmarus glacialis · Havhest · Northern fulmar · Eissturmvogel

… that loves to glide just above the sea surface.

Or the …

Cepphus grylle · Teist · Black guillemot · Gryllteiste

… with its red legs.

More or more ice floes covered the sea, we were heading to the ice edge to find a good place for a second ice station.

Still there were a lot of little auks around …

… but more and more the

Rissa tridactyla · Krykkje · Black-legged kittiwake · Dreizehenmöwe

… took over.

After some time at least a hundred circled the Kronprins Haakon hunting for small fish.

There is one photo however that makes me happy. The quality is bad, but I managed to take a photo of a …

Fratercula arctica · Lunde / Lundefugl · Atlantic puffin · Papageientaucher

So, I wasn’t dreaming this morning.

I always wanted to sea these birds, that I have loved since childhood. And today I saw two of them flying around.

12 more photos of Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

3 March

It is the first evening of Annika’s and my stay in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. We already strolled through the settlement after arrival. Now it is dark but the full moon illuminates the end of the road of Nybyen, one of Longyearbyen’s districts. What a special feeling to be in one of the world northernmost settlements on Earth. And a slightly tense one. It’s the edge of town, are there any polar bears around?

8 March

When you are in Svalbard you have to keep distance to animals to protect them. The animals do not follow this rule. This is a Svalbard reindeer, an own species of reindeer living here. It is looking for food in the middle of the city.

9 March

I didn’t expect to see ptarmigans on Svalbard but on our guided minibus tour we get to see a whole flock, again in Longyearbyen. Magnus is so kind to stop so that I could take a photo from the road.

10 March

This day is quite warm for Longyearbyen: Only -8 °C. When I took this photo however it was windy. Average wind wind 16 m/s, gusts 21 m/s and snow is blowing in the streets.

12 March

Annika is on her way home, I’ll stay for another week and today I enjoy the beautiful weather by the coast. The mountains on the other side of the fjord Isfjorden look quite near today – especially through the big telephoto lens.

15 March

I take an after work stroll along the coast and through town. It is cold and even with the modest wind of 6 m/s windchill is below -30 °C. It looks arctic, it smells arctic (the nose hairs freeze together immediately) and it feels arctic. No wonder – I am in the Arctic. Even the petrol prices show, that you are not in mainland Norway any longer. Petrol is cheap because Svalbard has reduced taxes.

18 March

Another walk in town. Up the hill to Taubanesentrale (the central of coal mining cableway), down to the center and up again to the elevated way in the east, part of the avalanche protection.

19 March

Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Tromsø, today I’m quite lazy but finally I walk to the coast again because of the wonderful weather. Even with my hood on I can hear something above me. I look up and see the first two seagulls since I have arrived here. It is two glaucous gulls that draw large circles above the coastal line.

I try even to take pictures of the incredibly coloured mountains on the other side of the Isfjorden but the turbulences in the air make clear pictures impossible. I’ll keep it in my memory as I’ll do with my whole stay in Longyearbyen.