Almost like summer.

The weather forecast was right: today it was warm and sunny. Really warm considering that it is mid-October and that it snowed last week. 20 °C we had in Skelleftehamn today! Probably the last opportunity to bicycle in a T-shirt this year.

I followed a way through the forest that I already knew but hardly recognised: The illuminated ski track between Skelleftehamn and Ursviken. (That’s what it looks like in winter.)

After a while I left this path and walked the bike along a trail marked with red crosses. Red crosses mean, that it’s a winter way and following such in summer may send you into swamps, bogs or even lakes. Although the ground was wet I was lucky. Some makeshift bridges, probably made by snowmobile drivers helped me over some boggy passages and soon I was on the other side of the lake with the creative name “Sjön” (The lake).

I continued to the right, already heading home but with some detours.

Detour 1: A short walk up the mountain Örberget. Despite of its incredible height of more than 40 meters – that’s almost 10 meters higher than the gravel road – you have a view of the Baltic Sea. The rocks were quite wet, probably because they were much colder than the air so that the moisture condensed on the surface.

Detour 2: Down to the cabins by the bay Djupviken. The photo may be silly, but it’s a reminiscence of the kayak tour last week where I carried the kayak cross the road at the very same place.

Soon I was home again where the thermometer showed temperatures betwwen 19 °C and 20 °C. Two hours later I was at the local beach, ready for a bath. After the air felt like summer and the beach looked like autumn I expected the water to feel like winter. It was cold but warmer than expected: 9 °C. Refreshing!

Autumnal high water

It had been more than three month, since I used my kayak the last time. It’s a shame, especially since the kayak has been lying at a small beach right at the Baltic Sea and it would have been so easy to make a short trip in the evening.

Yesterday however I finally found time to make a small tour again. The small beach had almost disappeared because the water level was 60 cm above normal. That’s quite a lot for the Bay of Bothnia. The kayak was partly filled with rainwater and I was glad about my little hand pump with which I could quickly remove the water. Soon I was on the sea again.

My first idea was heading south-east but the wind came from the north-west and I prefer paddling against the wind when I start. I kayaked along the shore to an island I thought was Björkskär. While I tried to paddle around this island I realised, that it was not an island. Accidentally I had entered the bay Djupviken (“the deep bay”) which is anything but deep.

Because of the high water level I could go on paddling much longer than usual. I decided not to return but to carry the boat across small gravel road. Normally it’s more than 100 metres to walk, this time it was only round 20.

 

I definitely prefer paddling before carrying a 27 kilo boat over land. A gust of wind almost brought me down. A five meter long kayak has quite a large sail area, when you carry it. So I was glad to sit in the boat again this time heading for Björkskär and the bay Harrbäckssand.

Here I turned. This time I paddled along the outer coast of the island and then back across the open sea. It was too windy and wavy to stop paddling and make any photos. Within seconds the wind would have turned the kayak across the wind, making it quite unstable.

When I approached the island Storgrundet (which is almost home again) I decided to continue my tour. It was fun to sit in my kayak again, i wanted to head the small island with the coloured trees and furthermore I wanted to take the opportunity to cross the island by boat.

Crossing an island by boat? Well, many parts of the islands that lie off the coast of Skelleftehamn are quite flat. Storgrundet has such a part, too. It’s just a passage of rocks that connect the main part of the island with an extra part. Normally you can go there (at least with rubber boots), yesterday it was possible to cross this part by kayak.

From this point it was near to the islet Brottören where I could catch the last sun before clouds approached.

The rest of the kayak tour is quickly told: I went around the island Storgrundet, met a man in a small motorboat (until then I had been completely alone), paddled along the tiny beach where I use to bath (it was mostly flooded) and finally arrived at the starting point again.

Hveravellir

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Wednesday, 29 August – Thursday, 30 August

After our long bus tour we arrived in Hveravellir in the Highlands of Iceland. Hveravellir lies 650 metres above sea-level and here you can find geothermal areas, where fumaroles emit hot gas, mostly water, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. The latter one is responsible for the smell of rotten eggs.

We went along the wooden path (don’t leave it, the crust is thin and boiling hot!) and looked at the fumaroles. Then we continued a path westwards.

The landscape scenery changed. The path led mostly through lava rock, only sparsely covered with soil, moss, grass and some flowers.

Some sheep were grassing here and there. They preferred the grassy parts of the desertlike surrounding.

The willows however had to cope with the soil that they had got and even more with the weather. There were flat and crouching on the ground to avoid exposure to the wind.

The way we chose is no circular track so after a time we had to return to Hveravellir, where we had booked an overnight stay. We used to wooden bridge to cross a small stream. You have to be careful, the water is hot!

“Home” again we cooked tortellini for dinner and bathed in the hot tub that was located right beside of our mountain hut. While Annika stayed in the hut after that I took another walk and enjoyed the evening light. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. (And I thought, it would only rain on Iceland!) The motives? Smoking fumaroles against the light · glaciers and snow covered mountains far away · sheep nearby.

I slept very well but woke up quite early. Time for another walk, this time enjoying the sunrise.

The night has been cold and ice crystals covered flowers and leaves. The wet parts of the ground were covered with hoarfrost that looked hairlike.

The fumaroles enveloped the geothermal areas in steam. I can do without the sulphuric smell, but the look is very impressing, especially with the warm sunrise colours.

After my early morning walk Annika and I had breakfast and then packed our stuff. The bus back to Reykjavík wouldn’t leave before 12, so we had time for a two-hour walk together, this time heading south. One of the things that make Iceland unique for me is the colours, not only the colourful mountains in Landmannalaugar, but even the moss and the grass looks special. And the volcanic lava rock is so sharp that the photos look oversharpened.

Round 11 o’clock we had returned to the parking place waiting for the bus. But we spontaneously changed plans when we met Matti whom we got to know in Reykjavík some days ago. He was here by car and invited us to join him and his friend. They wanted to drive to another place, hike around then return to Reykjavík. We happily agreed and had a great time, but that’s another story …

 

 

Landmannalaugar

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Sunday, 26 August – Monday, 27 August

There are only a few roads leading across the Highlands of Iceland. Most of them are only open for cars with four-wheel drive because it is necessary to ford rivers. Even though the road to the Landmannalaugar, our destination for Sunday, is not the toughest, we decided not to hire such a car. They are expensive, we don’t have any experience in fording and there are busses making such trips as well.

Sunday morning we entered the bus to the Landmannalaugar. The whole trip takes round about four hours and goes mostly on normal asphalt roads: through Reykjavík, along the Ring Road that runs around the island, then along a minor road. Finally we reached the junction where the gravel road starts and the bus ride became a bit jumpy. We met some other cars, some of them huge jeeps, some of them small SUVs. After a while we approached the first ford, where a small Dacia Duster crossed the water, followed by our bus.

The other two fords are within sight of the Landmannalaugar mountain hut. There were deeper and many of the drivers with smaller cars decided to use the parking place nearby instead of fording. The bus however splashed through the water and brought us to the mountain hut, where we had booked two places to sleep.

After we unpacked our sleeping bags and put them on two of the narrow mattresses we put on our jackets and boots and started a hike through the amazing landscape. Annika has been in Iceland before several times and told me about the almost unbelievable colours and shades of the mountains and she was true. Some of the mountains were orange, some brown or yellow, some green and one of them red. The lava rocks were black, partly covered with white-green moss and the higher mountains had white snow fields on their colourful slopes. Take a look by yourself:

Iceland has a lot of tourists, last year more than 2 millions. To protect the sensitive environment and avoid destroying the flora you mustn’t leave the trail. There’s another reason for sticking to the trails: Iceland has many geothermal areas where you could break through the thin crust into bubbling mud or boiling sulphuric acid. Some of these spots are visible, they smoke and you smell the sulphur compounds.

After some hours hiking (including an ascent of a mountain) we returned to Landmannalaugar. There’s not only the mountain hut providing 75 beds and a camp ground with place for at least hundred tents, there’s also the Mountain Mall, an old bus where you can buy food.

We enjoyed a rest with two cokes before we headed to the next attraction: A warm bath in the river. Because of the geothermal activity the ground is partly hot and heats up the water to temperatures between round 30 °C and 42 °C. We were not the only ones bathing, but there was enough place for all. You could even decide how warm you wanted your bath by just moving another metre. Great!

After a saturating dinner with spaghetti and pasta I took another walk and some more photos. Then I went to our room and got to bed.

Amazing! Although more than 15 people had slept in the room and the mattresses were so narrow that we could hardly turn around Annika and I slept very well. It was very quiet, hardly any snoring, no talking, no rustling with plastic bags. I experienced much worse when I had spent nights  in alpine mountain huts in Germany or Austria.

After breakfast we took another bath and then another hiking tour. I hardly made any photos due to the drizzle and the strong winds. At least I could take some pictures of the sheep grassing on the plain.

Drizzle became stronger and turned into rain. We went to the ford and looked at the cars crossing. This time I had my waterproof camera with me. Look at the snorkel of the white jeep, I guess this car could almost dive!

The rain got stronger and stronger and when we entered the bus our rain clothes were soaking wet. I looked through the rain-wept window for a while, tried to make same photos, but the autofocus couldn’t handle the situation. After a while I fell asleep.

Conclusion: A great experience! Yes, Landmannalaugar is touristic and crowed, but for good reasons. It’s absolutely worth a visit. Here you can even start a four-day hiking trip but you have to reserve the mountain huts years before. I’m quite eager to do this trail, perhaps in 2020 …?

Another bath in Storgrundet

Bathing in the Baltic Sea is still fun but it starts getting chilly. Today water temperature was round 13 °C, that’s 5 °C less than two days ago. Maybe the strong gusty wind has been mixing the warmer surface water with colder water from the depth.

If the water temperature drops below 10 °C you can call it winter bath. I guess, that will not be long.

 

Mårdseleforsen

Two days ago Annika and I made a trip to Mårdseleforsen (Mårdsele rapids). It’s a two hour trip by car from Skelleftehamn and it’s absolutely worth it.

At Mårdsele the river Vindelälven branches into several parts. Several chain bridges allow to cross them.

Behind the second chain bridge there is a planked footpath that leads to a third bridge, this time a wooden one. Here starts a short circular track through the Nature Reserve of Mårdseleforsen round many inviting looking freshwater pools. Many other families were there too,  taking a walk, bathing or sunbathing on the flat rocks. Unfortunately we had left our bathing things in the car.

After the short walkabout we returned to the parking place. Actually, we wanted to eat something but the restaurant Wild River was fully booked. Fortunately we could buy some burgers that we consumed sitting outside in the sun.

After the lunch we were so eager for a bath, that we got the bathing things out of the car and returned to the freshwater pools. Chain bridge one – across the island again – chain bridge two – to the left – along the planked footpath – to the right – over the long wooden bridge and again we reached the river islands. There were some people left when we arrived but after a while we were completely alone. The weather was perfect: Some sun, some clouds, warm but not too hot.

Soon we found a nice place to stay and took the first swimming tour. Right into a rocky pool, swimming into the current of a small stream that transported us under the bridge where the current broadened and the current weakened. Almost like using a water slide! It was not easy to come ashore again because the algae made the flat rocks very slippery. But with mutual help we finally managed it.

You realise that strange mask I was wearing? It’s a snorkel-google combination, perhaps more a toy than professional diving equipment but it works extremely well and is much more comfortable to wear than the usual snorkel. In addition to that it works quite well with my underwater camera. I snorkelled several times and observed the underwater life: Water insects, freshwater snails, small fishes and river mussels lived in them.

The “making of” (Photos: Annika Kramer):

Even after more than eight years living here I’m still amazed that there are so many incredibly beautiful and interesting places to discover and explore that I’ve never been to before. Mårdseleforsen is one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

#escapism – kayaking to Gåsören

This article is part of the series #escapism. It’s about being outdoors and leaving civilisation behind in excursions that take less than 24 hours. Everyone should have time for such!

Yesterday I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and decided to make a kayak trip to the island Gåsören. I planned for an overnight stay and that means packing a lot of things:

Anything on the photo beside of the empty plastic box came with me. From left to right: Dry suit, life jacket, food and stove, camping map, spare clothes, tent, camera equipment, water bottle, book, sleeping bag, neoprene boots, 5 litre water canister. It’s almost miracle that everything fits into the kayak. Since it was quite warm I only wore pants and a t-shirt and of course the life jacket, that’s a matter of security and therefore principle.

I paddled between the islands Storgrundet and Brambärsgrundet, passed Vorrgrundet and then headed to Klubben and Flottgrundet. Here I left the islands behind and continued to Gåsören. The weather was nice and the sea was calm. Already 50 minutes later I arrived. I dragged the kayak ashore, took all baggage and went to my favourite campground (and one of the few placed not completely covered with pebbles and rocks) where I put up the tent.

After “cooking” and eating I visited two friends that own one of the two summer cottages on Gåsören. It’s really a beautiful place they have. We talked about paddling, hiking, skiing and much more. It was late when I want back to my tent and the sun started to set.

I didn’t go to sleep directly but watched the sun going down and the many fluffy but extremely clumsy seagull chicks walking around. They cannot fly yet and use to stumble over every other stone. What a contrast to the elegant flight of the grown ups.

It was much brighter than it looks like on these backlit photographs. It doesn’t get dark in the night  and I found it hard to sleep, not only due to the bright night but also to the increasing wind and the constantly screeching seagulls. I put on a woollen cap. It was not cold at all but it helped to block the direct light (though not the shrieks of the gulls).

At half past five I gave up and started to finish a book I’d been reading for a while. That took some hours. At half past eight I took a frugal breakfast: Toast with cheese.

Then I packed everything together. Clouds had started approaching and I wanted to have everything stowed in the kayak before the rain. The sky above was still blue but the sea started to get choppy.

I stopped by my friends again to say farewell. They have their cottage on the lee side of the island and we enjoyed the last hour of sun before the clouds started to cover it.

I dragged the kayak into the shallow water. It was hard to start against the wind, because the kayak was constantly turned parallel to the approaching waves. Wrong direction and quite unstable. But after some tries I managed to leave the island behind. It was exhausting but easy to paddle against the wind. Anyway I wouldn’t have dared to cross the open sea in these conditions without wearing a dry suit even if it’s only 600 metres. The water is still very cold and in case of the kayak capsizing I wanted to be completely sure to be able to reach the shore without hypothermia.

It took twice the time than the day before. The sky was grey and cloudy and it had started to rain. It may not sound like that, but it was real fun paddling through wind and waves. The hardest part was going round Vorrgrundet where I had to go parallel to the short waves. Here I had to be fully focussed to keep my balance. As soon as I reached Storgrundet I was in the lee of that island again and the water was much calmer. Soon I arrived at yesterday’s starting point.

The whole trip took less than 20 hours and is therefore a candidate for the series #escapism.

Finally, two selfies, one sunny from yesterday and one rainy from today (made in the lee of a small island).

 

A mountain tour in Arvidsjaur

Yesterday I used my new car to drive to Vittjåkk, a small skiing area near Arvidsjaur, two hours away from home. Annika and I were there in wintertime and made a showshoe tour up the hills. I lived in Munich for six years and do not call these hills real mountains, but at least they reach above the treeline.

I parked again at the same parking lot and ascended the first hill that seems to be nameless. The sky was free of clouds, it was quite warm and I was completely alone.

Soon I was on top of the first hill. I wasn’t alone anymore. Some horseflies tried to make friends with me or at least with my blood. I descended the first hill and went up the Vittjåkk.

From the top I had a wide view over large forests, lakes and a higher mountain range.

Beside of taking pictures I didn’t rest because the horseflies really loved me. So I continued downhill again and was a bit flabbergasted that the whole hike took hardly more than 90 minutes. The hut village was completely abandoned, only a snowmobile showed that this place is only used in wintertime. And other signs showed that too …

Four typical observations in Northern Sweden’s inland in summer, when you go by car

One: construction sites. Almost all major roads are under constant repair each summer. It takes a lot of time to travel. Sometimes you have to wait for a traffic light becoming green or a follow-me car. Sometimes you follow an expencive camper whose driver doesn’t dare to drive more than 20 km/h on the gravelly sections. And this may go on for miles. Swedish miles! (A Swedish mile is 10 km.)

Two: lupins. Many roadsides are overgrown with lupins. They are beautiful, but they are invasive and threaten biodiversity. The Swedish Transport Agency has started to fight theses flowers.

Three: reindeers. Most reindeers are in the mountains but there are always reindeers left in the inland. Keep attention when driving! When you see one reindeer you can be quite sure that others are around, too.

Four: bilingual town signs. On many place in Northern Sweden you are in two countries at the same time. Sweden, the official nation and Sápmi, the region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people. Therefore many places have (at least) two names, a Swedish and a Sami one.

I drove a lot yesterday: 535 km in total. But as a result I know the new Subaru Outback much better and got used both to the automatic gearbox as the electronic systems. I’m very satisfied with the car that is much more comfortable than the old one. The only drawback, it might be the white colour: The horseflies just love the car. When I return to the car it is mostly surrounded by some dozens of this pests and they will even try to follow when I set off. (They manage round 25 km/h.)

 

The first paddling 2018

At last – the first paddling of the season! The sea ice came early this winter and remained until late April. In early May Annika and I visited Gotland for a week and when we came back spring had arrived in Västerbotten. Since then I was either working or it was too windy or I was too lazy.

Despite to problems with my elbow I decided to kayak today. It was mostly sunny and hardly any wind – good conditions for a start. As many times I started at the beach of Storgrundet which is 1.6 km to go. I used the waistbelt of my pulka and a cord for dragging the kayak behind on its cart without using my hands. Quite comfortable!

At the beach I put the cart aside, put on my life jacket and started the tour, that took me first round Storgrundet and then along the outside of the islands Storgrundet,  Norrskär and Bredskär.

I took it quite easy to avoid overstressing my elbow. The first kilometre the elbow still hurted but became gradually better. I watched the blue sky, the approaching cirrus clouds, the ripples on the water and was glad to be on the Baltic Sea again.  Last time I was walking …

When you paddle along the outside of Bredskär you only see forest and a stony beach. The summer cottages are on the other side. One of the cottages belongs L. and S., my neighbours. I went ashore and was welcomed by S., who invited me to fried herring, caught by net just the day before. Delicious! We sat outside and talked about everything while I deepened the friendship with dog Dolly.

Finally I left the island and continued my tour, slowly heading home. Thank you S. for the herring and nice company!

I arrived at Storgrundet round two o’clock but it took an hour until I was home. First I just had to take a refreshing bath. Yes, it’s definitely refreshing with a water temperature round 15 °C. My tight back however loves the cold water. Then I met another acquaintance and we had a longer talk. Finally I walked my kayak home where I arrived six hours after departure.