Back home

After almost four weeks of travelling in southern Scandinavia I’m back home in Skelleftehamn again. Yesterday afternoon Annika and I arrived in Umeå, Annika’s residence. Before I drove back to Skelleftehamn today we hiked round the lake Grössjön which is just some kilometres southeast from Umeå. The circular track is very beautiful and leads through pine forests and bogs. A wonderful place, that gives me a stronger “Sweden-feeling” and makes me much more home than many places we travelled the last weeks.

Today the Swedish proverb “borta bra men hemma bäst” feels right. It’s literal translation is: “(being) away good, but (being) home best.”

It’s still summer but some things have changed since I drove away from Skelleftehamn four weeks ago. It gets dark again in the night. Now – at 23:15 – I can go out, look up into the sky and see the star Vega in the constellation of Lyra. And it gets cool again in the night. Just now it’s 5 °C. So that the house can cool down. Good for a person like me who prefers temperatures below -25 °C to those above +25 °C.

Day 15–18 – Meanwhile in Sparsör …

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

22–25 July – Sparsör, Öresjö and Borås

It’s already Friday, Annika and I have been in Sparsör near Borås since Sunday afternoon and I have been extraordinary lazy. Today it’s going to be the hottest day yet with temperatures round 30 °C or above, so my laziness will definitely continue and the most exhausting action will be going to the bath place nearby.

23 July – hiking round the Öresjö

The weather is still cloudy and not so warm. Perfect hiking weather. When we have to climb the hill Örekullen we sweet anyway. The way is steep. We meet sheep in a forest by the lake and a sow with her two piglets. When we are at the south tip, we have some lunch and take a bath in the bay of Almenäs.

Later this day we drive to the city Borås and eat extremely delicious tapas and dessert in the fantastic restaurant La Copita.

25 July – a very warm day

-40 ° C I seek, +40 °C i flee. Luckily it’s not as hot as in Germany¹, but even temperatures round 30 °C are too warm for me to feel comfortable. Fortunately there are many bathing places around, one of them in walking distance. I am bathing and snorkelling. I see schools of fish and hundreds of river mussels underwater, but also a half meter long pike. Anyway the pike is much too fast to be photographed.

Later the evening we drive to Borås another time. A vivid town, especially when there’s a live concert on the town square and a dance band (far away from playing live …) playing in the city park. The air is cooler, but still round 25 °C and even the statues seem to seek refreshment in the water of the river Viskan.

¹ 42.6 °C were measured in Lingen yesterday, the hottest temperature in Germany ever measured. Even though a single hot day is no proof for the ongoing climate shift it is one of the many, many signs.

Day 13 – sailing

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

20 July – Figeholm and Baltic Sea

Saturday, the last day in Figaholm. Hein and Astrid take Annika and me for sailing. First we motor out of the skerries then they the sails are raised and we sail – first between the larger wooded islands, then between the smaller islets and rocky skerries. We anchor in front of an island and have lunch – several kilos of shrimps. Then we continue our cruise, this time farther away from land where the wind is stronger and the waves higher. We can see the island Öland in the distance. After several turns we reach the skärgård (archipelago) again and Hein and Astrid manage to sail back the whole way, even though the wind is very calm and constantly changes direction.

Ten hours later we are back on land – me with cold, wet feet (I wore sandals) and sunburnt, but richer in experience. Thank you, Astrid and Hein for the sailing trip.

Day 3 – a day in Turku

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

10 July, Turku

Our second (and last) Finnish stay is Turku, about 300 km south of Majors, our last stay. Here we meet Karen and Family. Karen is an active blog author and it’s the first time that we meet her in real life.

Annika and I arrive in the afternoon and have a nice and relaxed evening. The only thing we have to do is to put up our tent in the garden. The garden is small but our tent fits.

Karen and the children have summer holidays, but the daughter is away. Her husband has to work, so it’s Karen and her two sons with whom we spend the next day.

After breakfast we take the vesibussi – the water bus, part of the public transport system. We take the normal bus into town and walk along the river Aura until we reach the pier for the small boat.

I love to explore a new town by boat or ship. The weather is warm and sunny and Turku looks beautiful which its combination of new houses and old castle – old sailing ship, restaurant raft and modern racing yachts.

We take the boat to the island Runsala were we take a long walk. We cannot access the whole island because of a music festival a week ago. The area is still fenced, but there are many other ways and paths leading back to the boat stop. I really admire the tall leaf trees with their huge barky trunks, especially the oak trees. We do not have such home in Västerbotten.

We take the boat back to town and the bus to the china restaurant Yangtze. Great, delicious food and some dishes I never tasted before. Recommendation!

Later that day we take the car to Vähä-Joumo, a nice bathing place with a sandy beach, a bathing raft and – most important of all – a Finnish sauna. Countless times we jump into the water, swim to the platform and back or warm up in the sauna.

It is quite late when we finally return to our host’s home, where we eat dinner – fresh bread with a huuuge bowl of salad – and talk until Annika and I crawl into the tent again were we quickly fall asleep.

Thank you Karen, Vidal and children for a nice stay! It was great meeting you and you’re warmly welcome in Västerbotten on the other side of the Baltic Sea.

Karen’s blog: Suomalainen Päiväkirja | Live aus Turku (German)

A kayak trip shorter than expected

About neoprene suits, the post-glacial rebound and changed lunch plans.

Today I wanted to paddle to Själagrundet, an island 1.6 km from mainland. The air may be warm but the water is still cold and that’s the element you should be prepared for in case of capsizing. Today I decided against the bulky drysuit and chose a thin neoprene suit for the first time.

The suit is very tight (especially if you each too much chocolate …) and hard to put on. After I managed to squeeze myself into the suit and to close the back zipper it felt quite comfortable. Until I started paddling. It was much harder to move the paddle than usual because of the tight neoprene sleeves. Every paddle stroke felt like training with a rubber band. I got used to it after a while, but neoprene will probably not become my favourite choice of kayak clothing.

I passed the island Storgrundet and headed northeast. The waves came exactly from the side which is the worst direction regarding stability. So I zigzagged a bit to avoid the waves rocking the kayak too much. Nevertheless the island came closer and closer and soon I got out of the kayak and dragged it ashore. The seagulls didn’t like my arrival. Screeching loudly they rose in the air, sailed in the wind and didn’t dare to land as long as I occupied their private property.

There are many islands whose name ends with -grundet. From Skelleftehamn for example you can paddle to Storgrundet, Norrskärsgrundet or Nygrundet. The Swedish word grund means (among others) shallow, so the translations of the islands mentioned above are: the Large-Shallow, the North-Skerry-Shallow, the New-Shallow.

Who is to blame? The post-glacial rebound! After the last glacial period the glaciers started to melt. Slowly the land, that had been compressed by the huge weight of the ice sheet started to expand. It is still expanding and rising – round 8–9 mm a year. Therefore some islands are quite new. Själagrundet for example is hardly older than 100 years. They got their names from the old times when they weren’t islands yet but shallow underwater-banks that the fishermen had to take care of.

Today Själagrundet still is mainly a large gravel bank. Only on the higher eastern side plants had started to grow. Mostly it’s flowers, but two small bushes and a small willow tree have settled there as well.

I walked around and had a look at the 260 meter long island until I got hungry and wanted to eat my lunch – salad and a chocolate bar. When I looked at the dark grey clouds that seemed to approach the island I changed my plans. Did I hear the rumble of thunder? When I would be hit by a thunderstorm on this flat island without any shelter I could get into serious trouble. I checked the speed of the clouds and decided that the best option was to paddle back to mainland, now and quickly.

I had a fast start and paddled quicker than usual until half of the distance lay behind me. It was quite exhausting –remember the neoprene suit? When I realised that there was no immediate danger of thunderstorm and lightning I slowed down. I took my dinner on the island Storgrundet. A save place with summer houses and hardly 100 metres from mainland. Then I paddled back to the small beach at the mainland, took off the neoprene suit and had a refreshing bath in the Baltic Sea in the sun.

 

Two ways of paddling

Between these two photos lie 4 weeks and 620 km. I made the first one on a kayak tour in Skelleftehamn late April. The second one I took in Stockholm last week. (And no, I didn’t paddle the whole way.)

It’s no coincidence that I have called my blog way-up-north. I’m more often in Kirkenes than in Stockholm. There was however an important reason for travelling south to the capital of Sweden. I need a new passport and the only possibility to apply for it is in the Embassy of Germany in Stockholm. I was a bit nervous that I would have forgotten one of the needed documents as e.g. my birth certificate, but the documents were complete and anything went well. In a few weeks I will receive a letter with my new passport.

After the passport application I had some spare hours before taking the train back to Umeå and then the car to Skelleftehamn. It was warm and sunny and I decided to hire a kayak. A booked it for just an hour but it was fun to be on the water and see Stockholm from this perspective. On the tour before I used a dry suit for protection, this time I paddled barefoot and in a t-shirt. Nice!

I like Stockholm – it is a beautiful town – but I don’t want to live there. Beside of the ridiculously high prices for housing it’s too big for me. And of course way too south!

Opening the kayak season 2019

Two days ago a personal weather record was beaten. It was almost 20 °C in Skelleftehamn. in April! In town 22.1 °C was measured, the warmest April day for at least 15 years. And that’s what my garden looks like: beside of a stubborn patch of snow in the shadow of my neighbour’s garage my garden is completely free of snow.

While the air was warm, the seawater was still very cold and I would not dare to paddle without a drysuit. I didn’t want to be boiled in the drysuit and so I postponed the kayak opening to today, when it was colder again.

When I leave the house at 8:45, it is 4 °C. My favourite starting point is still icebound, so I walk to the peninsula Näsgrundet with the kayak in tow. I use a belt and a rope to drag the kayak behind. When the kayak is balanced on the cart I have the hands free and can walk normally. 25 minutes later I reach the shore where I put on drysuit and life jacket. Soon I sit in the kayak and realise, that even though I miss winter there are fun things to do when it’s warm as well.

It’s colder on the sea and I put on my neoprene gloves and waterproof hood. As I expect some of the paddle routes are still blocked by ice. There is still ice between the island Bredskär and mainland so I cannot circle the island. I have to return. I pass a large ice floe – time to enter the floe for some minutes. It doesn’t move, probably it sits on a large rock.

I kayak along the islands Bredskär, Klubben and Flottgrundet, always along the open outsides. Then I head for the island Nygrundet, where I made a very special snowshow tour a month and a day ago. The ice heaps have vanished, only a long strip of ice follows the coastal line. Time to take a break and to have an early lunch. Crisp bread, cheese, fresh grapes and a bar of chocolate. I feel a bit cold and put on my lightweight down jacket, but I would have preferred my winter anorak. I even make a small fire on the ice but more for having it gemütlich than for additional warmth.

After the break I’m full and warm again. I pack my stuff and continue my kayak tour. I paddle along the outside of the islands Nygrundet and Gråsidan, where I make a short photo stop.

Then I continue to Bredskär, where some quite high ice walls are reminiscent of the winter.

I try to paddle between Flottgrundet and Bredskär but soon come to a large area of old and soft ice. I measure the thickness with the paddle – round 30 cm. I decide to walk over the ice and drag the kayak behind. First it works well …

… but then the ice gets softer and softer. Just some steps next to the island I break through. It is not a sudden movement, the ice just slowly gives way. Paired with the buoyancy of drysuit and life jacket that’s probably the reason why I only break in up to my chest. The hole is small and it’s a matter of seconds to get on the ice again. Carefully I take the last steps until I reach land.

Sea ice and lake ice have a strange way of melting in spring. The solid ice transforms to an array of long vertical ice needles. There is hardly any connection between one needle and the next and it’s not possible to lift larger pieces of ice from the water without breaking them. When you get out a smaller piece and drop it, it will splinter into many parts. The structure shown on the photos below is round 10 cm thick.

I continue walking, partly on ice, partly in shallow water. Then I can paddle again. But not for long. Soon I reach another ice field, this one looking very unstable. So I cross the ice by staying in my kayak and pushing myself forward with the hands. Ouch – the vertical ice needles hurt, even through the neoprene gloves. Alas it’s only 15 meters to cross, then I’m in open water again.

The rest of the tour? Slowly paddling back to the starting point – taking off the dry suit – putting on soft shell and down jacket because I feel cold – put the kayak onto the cart and attach it to the belt – walking home. The tour took 5 hours, 40 minutes. 5 km of walking, round 10 km of paddling. Here’s a sketch:

Legend:  on foot | kayak

#escapism – an overnight stay on an icebound raft

Thanks to Facebook I saw yesterday afternoon, that my mate Hans planned to have a sauna in the evening. I took the opportunity to invite myself. Hans answered I should take a sleeping bag with me when I wanted to stay over.

Half an hour I had packed sleeping bag, warm clothes, camera and food and took the car to Bureå. Here in the bay of the marina Hans has parked his rafts. Two rafts are equipped with a cosy cabin with two beds each, the third raft has a toilet and the sauna. In summer the rafts are floating freely and you need a boat to get there. Now it’s possible to cross the ice. When I arrived Hans already had fired the sauna. But first we took an ice bath.

We warmed bread and grilled sausages directly on the sauna oven, the only source of heat. After our third ice bath we warmed up in the sauna and then went in the left cabin. Soon we wrapped up ourselves in our sleeping bags because it was quite chilly. Outside -5 °C, inside only slightly warmer.

I slept well although I woke up several times because the ice cracked loudly. Either it was the frost expanding the ice or the rising water level. Already at 5 o’clock it was so light that I went out to take some photos. Brrr, -10 °C! I could hear the ice crack and the hooting of the whooper swans. Far away some of them swam in the water of one of the few ice-free places.

When I came back it was still early morning and Hans was sleeping. I thought that looked like a good idea, went into my sleeping bag and slept another hour.

When we stood up I was curious about my food for breakfast. The water in my large plastic bottle was partly frozen but still drinkable. To my surprise my yoghurt hadn’t turned into ice over night. Cheese and bread neither. Since it was almost warmer outside than inside we had an outdoor breakfast under the blue morning sky.

After breakfast we called it a day, crossed the ice to our parked cars, said hejdå and left this nice place. Tack så mycket, Hans – thank you, Hans for a relaxed evening and a wonderful spontaneous experience.

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)

 

Just a short walk to the seaside of Storgrundet

I had been inside most of the day. Finally I just had to go out to enjoy the nice blue sky, at least for a short time. I parked my car at Storgrundet, crossed the ice to the island of the same name and went to the seaside of the island. There I spotted moose tracks on the sea ice that went criss-cross and led to another island.

I was walking without snowshoes and it had been exhausting to cross the narrow island. The snow had been more than knee deep, easy to sink in, still pretty firm and hard to get out. It was much easier to go on the snow covered ice on the Baltic Sea although the snow was very wet sometimes. Rubber boots are a good choice in this season.

The Baltic Sea behind the island however looked like winter would be eternal. Just a snowy layer as far as the eye could see.