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.

Some thoughts about e-bikes

This article is part of the series “2018-05: Gotland”.

It was interesting to try out e-bikes for two days. Even though they have advantages I have to admit that I didn’t become a fan of riding e-bike, at least not on the model we used.

The e-bikes we rented have three gears and a motor, that supports cycling in three levels. The motor has a range of 50 km and the supported speed is limited to 24 km/h. The motor switches off as soon one stops pedalling. An e-bike is not a moped that moves by its own.

Pros and cons of our e-bikes:

Pros:

  • the feeling of freedom. We chose many side paths just to have a look. If we would be tired we could use the motor.
  • you get good support when you cycle against the wind
  • you get very good support when the road goes up
  • you can accelerate faster in many cases
  • the range is larger than 50 km since you don’t use the motor the whole time

Cons:

  • Our bikes only had three gears. Too little for the terrain on Gotland when cycling without motor
  • The bikes are heavy and hard to carry over obstacles. One is bound to good ways
  • Each “motor gear” is made for a certain speed. It’s hard to vary that speed
  • For this reason it’s hard to drive next to each other
  • It’s hard to find a rhythm. The harder you pedal the less support you get
  • It feels strange however to pedal without using any strength
  • When you’re speed is round 24 km/h, the motor will switch on and off due to the speed limit
  • And last not least: the training effect of course is almost zero

I played a lot with the different combinations of gear and motor support and sometimes my lazy self was glad about the motor. My bicycle self however was glad when I switched off the motor and used the e-bike just as an ordinary bicycle, even though three gears were too few.

Next week I want to start cycling to work. That’s 2×19 kilometres a day. I guess I will curse when cycling against the wind. But hey, that’s part of the story when you use a bicycle.

Breaking the spring ice

This morning I saw not only the ice fishermen, but also the icebreaker Baus clearing the ice in the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn. In the afternoon I remembered, that I had come into contact with K., one of the crew members on Facebook some weeks ago. I had asked if it was possible to go with the Baus to take photos sometime. K. had answered that I should just go there and ask the people. And so I did today.

I met a guy who works on the icebreaker and learned that it’s hard to make some kind of appointment. In winter no one knows exactly, when ships will arrive or depart due to the weather and the ice conditions and therefore neither when the Baus would start. But they would actually leave in twenty minutes to clear the ice for the ship Ice Star and I was allowed to join …

Sixteen minutes later I was at the dock again, this time with better clothes and my camera equipment that I got from home. How good that I live so close.

I was allowed to enter the Baus and say hello to the captain on the bridge.

He welcomed me, showed me some of the controls to steer the boat and allowed me just to go round everywhere to take photos. I didn’t want to disturb him, because he had to focus on his work and my plan was to make photos, not to interview the crew. At first I went up onto the top deck.

The water was completely covered with crushed ice. Some of the ice floes were at least half a metre thick. Slowly the Baus departed from the dock and I went down to the bottom deck to be closer to the icy sea.

While the Baus was slowly moving back and forth I went on every possible deck. I really enjoyed that freedom that you never can have on bigger ships as e.g. the Hurtigruten ships.

After some time of waiting and some time of moving around the way was clear for the Ice Star. Slowly it departed and followed the cleared channels between the solid ice where it with increasing speed left “Skellefteå Hamn”, the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn.

While my eyes followed the Ice Star I spotted something blue at the horizon. Water! Somewhere behind the island Gåsören the ice had started to break and now open water covered the Baltic Sea behind Gåsören. Maybe the next paddle tour is closer than I think.

The Baus already had started to turn around (the previous photo shows the funnel at the rear) and return to the dock. I enjoyed watching the different types of ice.

Until now, the trip was extremely calm, now it started to get more rumbling, because Baus now went through packed ice – crushed ice that had frozen together and now was split into large irregular chunks. Great channel-like cracks developed in the ice, which soon closed again.

After some more minutes the Baus arrived and after thanking the captain for the opportunity to follow I left the icebreaker. The whole trip took less than 90 minutes, but felt much longer. I’ve been living in Skelleftehamn for almost eight years and it was a great experience to see my place of residence from a completely new perspective.

Thanks a lot, crew of icebreaker Baus!

Seeing the blue open water was a welcome spring sign. I saw two others today:

The first butterfly of the season, a small tortoiseshell that fluttered around the top deck of the Baus and (perhaps less romantic) the first teenager in shorts in front of ICA, the grocery store. I’m still waiting however for the first wild spring flower in Skelleftehamn.

The climate shift is there!

Now it happened!

According to the Emmerich Institute of Exoclimatical Research a new ice age is near. Already this year the snow in Northern Scandinavia will not melt anymore and glaciers will arise along the coast of the Baltic Sea. Authorities recommend to build a snow wall as a defence work round all buildings to protect them against the approaching glaciers. Today I started with the snow wall round my house in Skelleftehamn and I’m hoping for the best.

Wish me luck!

Why travelling in Northern Norway can take time

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

Day 40 of my winter journey 2018

At 11 o’clock we left Kjølnes Fyr and started our car trip to Båtsfjord. First we had to take the road 890 to Kongsfjord and over the Kongsfjordfjellet, then we had to continue on road 891 over the Båtsfjordfjellet to Båtsfjord.

I wasn’t sure if we would manage it due to the severe stormy and snowy weather. Another guest staying at Kjølnes Fyr had a hard time driving the 5 km from Berlevåg with very bad visibility. The roads however were still open though marked with a warning “difficult driving conditions because of snowstorm”.

And yes, it was stormy and it snowed a lot. The sight on the road however was still quite good. While I focussed on the road Annika took some photos of the coast beside of the road:

Some parts however were very hard to drive, since the visibility was extremely bad. It was hard to see whether there were snowdrifts on the road and how deep they were and several times I had to stop completely to find out, where the road continued.

I started to doubt if it was possible to cross the mountain passages but we would make it at least to Kongsfjord where we could stay overnight if continuing became impossible. Annika tried to check the traffic information of Vegvesen – the Norwegian Public Roads Administration – but there was no mobile internet available.

I continued driving along the E 890 and the only other vehicle we met was a snow plough. The street behind it however seemed as snowy as before.

Shortly before Kongsfjord Annika’s smartphone was online again and she informed me about the updated traffic information: The mountain sections of both the 890 and the 891 where restricted to kolonnekjøring which means that you cannot drive alone but have to follow a convoy guided by a snowplough. The kolonnekjøring was scheduled to 14:30. The good thing: Driving in a convoy would be much easier than driving alone.

When we arrived in Kongsfjord it was 12:10, so the 28 km drive from Kjølnes Fyr had taken more than an hour. We were lucky that there is a landhandel – a grocery – in Kungsfjord that is open all year. We entered the landhandel, told about the kolonnekjøring and were invited to coffee and cookies straightaway. A big thank you to the owner for the warm welcome!

While we sipped our coffee and waited we constantly checked the traffic informations. After a short while we learned that the start of the kolonnekjøring was postponed to 17:00. That meant more waiting, but we were not the only ones. Other men in work clothes – mostly fishermen – waited as well. They told stories, laughed out loudly while drinking coffee or eating fast food. Anyway we all were still lucky. While we only had to wait some more hours many other roads were completely closed due to the weather, among others the way to Mehamn, the passage between Kiberg and Vardø and the only way to the North Cape.

Hours later: We said goodbye, cleared the car of snow and drove the short way to the boom gate. Here some other vehicles, mostly trucks waited for the convoy to start. One of the truck drivers attached snow chains to his truck.

Dusk had already been falling when our convoy started some minutes after 5 o’clock. My job for the next time was following the rear lights of the car in front.

Some passages were quite easy to drive, some passages were hard to follow due to the blowing and driving snow. (Sorry, no photos.) After 35 minutes we arrived at the T-junction, where the 890 from Kongsfjord, the 890 from Tana Bru in the south and the 891 from Båtsfjord meet. A long queue of cars coming from Tana Bru already waited. Some minutes later the convoy from Båtsfjord arrived as well. The snowplough leading the convoy to Kongsfjord passed and seconds later our queue of cars started to approach the intersection were we turned left to follow the convoy to Båtsfjord.

This part of the trip was extremely exhausting. It was dark, the convoy was slow and mostly the visibility was really bad. I just tried to follow the red lights in front and it felt like hours and hours until the snowplough turned right and we suddenly arrived in Båtsfjord. Here it seemed to snow as much as in the mountains and I was very relieved when I finally parked the car at our overnight stay. Phew – that was no easy ride and I’m really grateful that convoys led us over the mountains under the snowstorm conditions.

The rest of the day? Buying foodstuff at REMA 1000, eating fast food, falling asleep quite fast while the snow squalls over Båtsfjord continued. According to our host 30 cm of snow already had fallen that day and more was expected.

At least we arrived in Båtsfjord, probably our last overnight stay on land. The next evening we would take the Hurtigruten to Ørnes, were we would drive home to Skelleftehamn and Umeå.

(The first five photos were shot by Annika. I did the editing.)

Eight times Ytre Kiberg and around

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

Day 31 and 32 of my winter journey 2018

1. Yesterday, Ytre Kiberg – the morning

Two days ago two other guests arrived at Cape East Arctic Adventure, our cozy stay in Ytre Kiberg. They came from Utrecht in the Netherlands and were on a three week car trip from Utrecht to the North Cape and back – 8500 kilometres in total!

Trond, our fantastic host made a special breakfast for them: King crabs, locally caught in the Barents Sea. Annika and I got our share, too. King crabs are probably my favourite seafood but it was the first time I got such for breakfast.

After breakfast Trond had some work to do: clearing the snow with his rotary snow plough. Last days had been very windy with some short but intense snow showers. The snowploughs had to work a lot to keep the roads clear of snow and Trond had to clear the snow on his property several times a day. This morning the snow drifts were especially high and Trond had to work hard to get through with his snowblower.

2. Yesterday, Vardø – a private guide tour by Trond

After the driveway was cleared, Trond invited the Dutch guests and us to a short private guided tour in Vardø. We entered his all-wheel drive car and he drove us the short way to Vardø – a town with 2100 inhabitants located on an island – where he showed us some of his favourite places. There is a lot of street art in Vardø and next time I have to take a closer look to all the graffiti and more conceptual artworks. But you cannot do all in a single journey.

There’s a mountain pass between Vardø and Ytre Kiberg called Domen. It’s quite exposed to the elements and when we crossed it waves of driving slow covered the road.

3. Yesterday, Skallelv – a short visit

Soon after we arrived in Kiberg, the Dutch guests left and Annika and I made a car ride to Skallelv, 30 km south of Ytre Kiberg. The weather was really nice: sunny and hardly any wind. We went round a bit and I made some photos. I had however problems with some lenses, they got moisture inside that tends to freeze when being outside. Hopefully they will dry within the next days.

4. Yesterday, Vardø – the Vardøhus Fortress

After a rest we took a tour to Vardø again, this time we wanted to focus on two local attractions: The fortress and the witch memorial.

The Vardøhus Fortress (Vardøhus festning) was built round 1300 and is the northernmost fortress of the world. Beside of being a museum it is used today as a school for the Norwegian marine. Shortly after we arrived there, the Trollfjord, a Hurtigruten ship landed in Vardø and shortly after many tourist rushed through the fortress. In contrary to us they only had litte time.

5. Yesterday, Vardø – Steilneset Memorial

After visiting the fortress we went on to visit the witch memorial. It’s not easy to reach. First of all you have to know that it is called Steilneset Memorial (or find it visually), then you have to plunge through deep snow, because there are no cleared ways to the memorial.

In 1621 91 people, mostly women and Sami people had been executed for witchcraft. This memorial, created in 2011, shows the history of all 91 people and lists the confessions made. It is a shocking and touching place about the cruelty of mankind and worth to visit, if you are in Vardø and have the time.

After this long and eventful day we were quite exhausted and decided to take it a bit more easy the next day.

6. Today, Ytre Kiberg – a promenade in Ytre Kiberg

Today morning it was quite warm (-4 °C) and almost windless. 10 cm of new snow had been fallen over night. After breakfast we took a medium short promenade along the beach and into the village and back. The weather was changeable as it uses to be here. It could change from sun to snow within less than a minute.

Snow fall intensified and it became a bit windier, too.

7. Today, Ytre Kiberg – a private tour though the partisan museum

At 15:30 we had an appointment: we were invited to visit the Partisanmuseet – the partisan museum in Ytre Kiberg. We would get a personal guided tour from Steinar Borch Jensen – expert for the history of Kiberg and around – who would open the museum for us.

Trond took a huge spade, we entered the car, drove the short way to the museum, plunged through the snow to the entrance, where Steinar already had started to clear the outer stairs. Trond joined him shovelling.

The museum is not the biggest and the showpieces maybe not the most special, it’s the stories behind the showpieces that matter. Steinar had a lot to tell about the partisans in Northern Norway that fought on the Soviets side against the National Socialists in World War II. Beside of Steinar’s huge knowledge about that time there was another facet, that made our visit in the museum very special. Both Trond and Steinar have personal relations to the partisans. They know their relatives and they know the places where they lived. For many Norwegians the history of WWII is not just an academic interest but personal history. Soon the last witnesses of the past will be gone.

I felt very touched by the visit and was glad that we got the opportunity to get involved into the local history, but it made me thoughtful, too and reinforced my personal pacifistic worldview.

8 .Today, Ytre Kiberg – the first Varanger polar lights

Actually I planned only seven stories in this long blog article, but well …

I was out after a great two course dinner: reindeer (provided by Trond), pancakes (provided by Annika) and me doing the dishes. I wanted to make a photo of Cape East Arctic Adventure, Trond’s house, where Annika and I had such a good time. Then I spotted faint polar lights. I wore only a t-shirt and got in to fetch my Canada Goose parka. I was outside quite a while since the polar lights gradually became stronger. They constantly changed place making it hard to take any good pictures. It was -10 °C, quite windy and more and more I closed the zipper of the parka to prevent freezing. After a while the aurora weakened and I went in to look at the photos. I’m not content with the image above, but it’s a nice remembrance of our fantastic stay at Cape East Arctic Adventure in Ytre Kiberg.

Tomorrow we will leave and stay in Ekkerøy for some days.

Tusen takk, Trond, for your kindness and your great hospitality!

Balloon hunting

Actually I was prepared for a relaxed evening home and I was already in my pyjamas, when I saw a friend’s post on Facebook: A photo of a balloon hanging over the city of Skellefteå right now.

Some people know, that I’ve been fond of balloons since I was a child. I loved to spot them and when I was older, I was a well-known guest at the gas balloon starting place in Marl-Sinsen. Here I made my first balloon flight with the gas balloon D-KABEL in 1994. Some other balloon flights, mostly with hot-air balloons followed. Since I’ve been living in Northern Sweden this passion fell asleep – there are hardly any balloons flying here.

But back to today. I guess, it took me only three minutes to dress, to check wind direction and speed, to take my binoculars and camera equipment and to get in my car to try to track that balloon. Will I manage to see it?

I was lucky – already in Ursviken I could perceive the hot-air balloon above the trees. At the roundabout I turned right and then, after a while, left again onto the E4 to drive up vitberget – the white mountain for getting a better view. The view was fine, but the balloon not within sight, it was behind that hill. So I turned, got onto the E4 again and headed north. When I approached Boviken I could see the balloon again, it hovered on the left side. I took the next departure in Kåge and tried to come closer. Not easy, when you don’t know all those small ways and gravel paths. But I was extremely lucky, came quite near and could take a photo before the balloon landed.

I continued the gravel path and soon was side by side with the low flying balloon.

I could see the chase vehicle ahead. It continued the path and I followed. The chase vehicle succeeded to find a cross road without any power lines in the balloon’s flying direction. That’s perfect, since the pilot will get the opportunity to land quite near the road, that simplifies the packing of the balloon. I parked my car and waited for the balloon to land.

Wow – I’ve seen some balloon landings, but this was the most incredible one I’ve ever seen! The trailer of the chase vehicle was exactly in the heading of the balloon, which approached the trailer more and more. The surface wind was so weak, that the balloon almost could hover above the trailer, where one of the ground crew and I could clutch the basket and with the pilot’s help drag it down onto the trailer! The pilot has been ballooning for forty years, but never managed such before. Chapeau, P.!

Normally helping hands are very welcome after a balloon has landed, but this was a larger balloon carrying nine passengers, so I could stroll around and for example have a look into the inside of the balloon cover (of course with the Pilot’s permission).

It was great to see a balloon again and to talk to the pilot. Now I’m quite interested in taking a ballon flight here, too. I realised that I already met the Pilot on the Arctic Ballon Adventure in Gällivare in 2012. Today he told me, that this event will take place again in March and now I’ll try to get at least one balloon flight next winter. Keep your fingers crossed for my first arctic winter balloon flight.

Meanwhile the moon rose over the green pastures of Ersmarkbodarna, where the balloon has landed. Another sphere in the sky.

Thank you, Nazia, for your Facebook post! You brought me a fantastic evening!

Now it’s already “tomorrow” – almost one o’clock in the night. Something happened, that I’ve been waiting for for many weeks: It’s dark enough to see the first star! It took some efforts (hint: look up and shake your head to see the tiny changes of lightness), but I could see it: Vega in the constellation Lyra.

Magnitude 4.3

Things you can experience in Skelleftehamn:

Ice fishing · heavy snowfall · northern lights · moose · frozen Baltic Sea · earthquakes · cold …

“Wait a moment, did you say “earthquakes”?”

“Yes.”

“In Skelleftehamn?!”

“Yup.”

Yesterday evening, when I stood in the bathroom, I heard a noise and felt a shaking like the biggest truck ever would speed through the streets. But it was a short event, I forgot it quite soon and lay down to sleep.

Today, when I browsed through my Facebook timeline, I realised that so many people from different places wondered, if this could have been an earthquake, that it really had to be one. And it was!:

GEOFON Program

According to GEOFON, Potsdam, the earthquake had the magnitude 4.3 and the epicentre was in the Baltic Sea, 19 km deep, round 60 kilometres from where I live.

Fortunately 4.3 is a quite weak earthquake and I don’t believe, that it had any impact at all.

By the way, this was not the first earthquake I experienced in Skelleftehamn, there was another one in June 2010, two months after I arrived here.

About a tough women

Last year our association Mörkrets och Kylans Glada Vänner (Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness) got a special request. Josefine Steenari from Lindome nearby Göteborg had the wish to take a winter bath.

For most people it sounds really crazy to enter a pool with ice cold water with temperatures between +0.1 °C and +0.4 °C. But some people just want to try it anyway, and so did Josefine. While most people just could go or drive to the next ice hole, undress, take a deep breath and go into the icy water, Josefine needs some help, since she is almost totally paralysed. She communicate with her eyes but she has no control about her extremities and is sitting in a wheel chair.

Mörkrets och Kylans Glada Vänner was glad to help. Our first plan was to let her ice bath be part of the Winter Swimming Championship on last Saturday, but unfortunately the gangway down to the ice covered river Skellefteälven was too steep and we couldn’t guarantee Josefine’s safety.

Fortunately we found another possibility. The association has an ice hole for winter bathing in Kåge, not far away from Skellefteå. Here we met Josefine and her team on Sunday evening and after a bit of thinking and planning we all were ready for her first ice bath. Josefine sat in a special sling (I’m not sure if it’s the right word), that was attached to a log and Hans and Jarkko lowered her slowly, while I was behind her in my waterproof immersion suit to turn her a bit. Tiina counted the seconds and after round 12 seconds she was lifted up again.

I heard, that Josefine loved the experience and that the ice water didn’t felt as cold as expected. I was glad and even a bit proud to be part of the team, that could help her to fulfil her wish. One more crazy ice bather in Sweden!

1st photo: Annika Kramer, 2nd photo: Norran, Karin Israelsson

Links:

Scandinavian luxury – I

What is Scandinavian luxury?

When you drive home from a good rehearsal with the chamber choir and see a faint polar light through the front side window of your car.

When you arrive home and ignore the aurora, because you saw it already at least five times since August.

When you, just before going to bed, open the door and look outside.

When you sit on the wooden panel just in front of your front door and look at the intensifying Northern Lights, already wearing your pyjamas.

And make some photos – just half a meter from your front door. They won’t be the best, but you don’t care.

When you just slip into your boots and take another shot from the garden.

When you can experience this without being in a holiday – like it happened to me one and a half hours ago: That’s Scandinavian luxury!