Early winter Holmön IV

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

It is Monday. It has rained the whole night and it still rains. Most of the snow is history and everything is wet. After breakfast we decide to give the road to the southern tip of Ängesön another try. Indeed, it is almost free of snow and soon we are at the southern tip of the island where we walk along the coast. The clouds are grey and so is the sea. Some water areas are still covered with wet, brownish ice but the sea itself is open.

There are some marked hiking paths on Ängesön that we want to give a try. The guide book recommended “tåliga skor” – that means tough, durable shoes – due to the wet ground. The first path to the east has many deep water puddles and flooded parts. Partly the path is supported by wooden planks, but mostly not. The path leads through a quite old forest as we can see by the many lichens that cover the pine, spruce and birch trees. Snowless and wet as it is, it looks more like mid-October than December.

We try the other trail that leads to a shelter at the western coast of Ängesön. This trail is less wet and easier to follow than the other one. It is however not too easy to reach the rocky coast because of the marshland between forest and coast. It still drizzles and rains and everything is damp.

The hiking paths are nice but I would strongly recommend high rubber boots if you want to keep your feet dry.

After our “three course hiking” we return to our accommodation at Berguddens fyr. We’re still the only people, the place – as beautiful it is – seems less popular in winter time as the guest book tells us. While Annika prepares a warm lunch it starts to get dark outside. Grey clouds still cover the sky and it continues drizzling. The lighthouse starts sending its light beams over the Västra Kvarken, part of the Baltic Sea between Holmön and mainland.

Today day we leave Berguddens fyr. We were lucky to be change the booking for the ferry from 19 o’clock to 9 o’clock to avoid another rainy day – partly in darkness. At 8:20 we sit in the small waiting room, because it’s very windy outside. Waves break at the quay wall and after some the small ferry arrives and wobbles into the small harbour.

I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when I learned I have to back the car onto the ferry. The man however that pilots me onto the ship is fantastic and guides me much better than every rear camera. I am relieved, but get nervous again when I watch the man securing the car with belts. Is it so stormy? Will the belts hold?

First the boat trip is quite but soon the ferry starts to roll and pitch more and more. I stay in the inside of the boat where I feel safer. While Annika and I are hoping the best for the car, the other two passengers do not pay any attention to the rough weather. Probably they live on the island Holmön and they are used to something like that.

45 Minutes later we arrive in Norrfjärden. My car has survived this unsteady trip without any problems.The ferry needs several attempts to dock, but finally I can leave the ferry with the car. Annika, who already went ashore gets into the car and we drive to her home in Umeå. This drive takes only 30 minutes – less than the ferry passage.

It’s fantastic to have such an interesting and special place nearby. We’ll come again, hopefully with better weather.

 

Closing the kayak season 2018

I was stuck. I couldn’t go straight ahead, I couldn’t go backwards, I couldn’t turn. And I definitely couldn’t go sidewards because I sat in a kayak on the Baltic Sea and was surrounded by ice.

Back to the beginning of the day: I took a day off today because of the nice weather and decided to make a kayak tour. My goal was to sea the sunrise from the open sea. When I came to the tiny beach were my kayak has been lying since June it was still dim. The sea between the island Storgrundet and the mainland was covered with a fresh layer of clear ice. Two days ago these parts had been free of ice.

I already changed into paddling clothes at home: Woollen underwear, a drysuit that would keep me dry when falling into the ice cold water, a waterproof face mask and neoprene boots. It just took some minutes to take of the warm anorak – it was about -7 °C – and put some stuff into the cargo hatches of the kayak. I put on my woollen mittens and the long, waterproof overmittens, then I was ready to start the tour.

The question was: How thick is the ice? Would the kayak slide onto it or break through?

I sat in the kayak and pushed myself backwards, first with the paddle, then with the hands. The ice didn’t break. Anyway I was still quite near the shore. I continued pushing myself backwards until I came to the area of new ice. The ice didn’t break.

It is both exhausting and very ineffective to sit in a kayak and push yourself over bare ice with waterproof mittens. You just don’t get a grip. I realised that I wouldn’t come long. I returned ashore, got out of the kayak, went to the car and drove home.

At home I got my isdubbar – my ice claws. They look like a jumping rope with nail attached to the handles and are used for self-rescue, if your break into the ice. I changed also into winter boot, because my feet were freezing. The neoprene boots are not the warmest. Ah, that feels better! I got into the car and drove back to my kayak. Second try!

It was still exhausting to move the kayak over the ice, but with an ice claw in each hand I could pull my kayak forward with a speed up to 5 – 6 km/h. The sun had not risen yet and the air was calm and chilly. The horizon started to turn pink.

I found a bit of open water at the narrow passage between island and mainland. Then I came to another sheltered bay that was frozen, too. First the ice was quite thick, then it started to become thinner.

Here my problems started. The kayak went through the ice and floated. The ice was too weak for using the ice claws, but too thick to use the paddle. After some metres I was stuck! Every time when I used the paddle to move forward another meter I was surrounded by ice and couldn’t use it anymore. During the seconds that it took for changing from paddle to ice claws the kayak drifted back and I was surrounded by open water again, making the ice claws completely useless. Finally I started some kind of dog paddling with hands and arms, still the ice claws at hand until I could reach ice again, pull me forward another meter and break through the ice again. The sun had already risen minutes ago. (Goal missed!)

These are the situations where I learn a lot about my lack of patience …

Anyhow the island Storgrundet was near and with some efforts I reached a spot where I could go ashore. I just wanted to check the water and ice conditions on the outer side of the island.

Beside of some pancake ice near the shore the Baltic Sea was completely clear of ice, exactly as excepted. I returned to my kayak and went along the stony shore pulling it nearer to the open water. The sea was still covered with ice but it was thinner and I could hack my paddle through it. Small patches of open water were enclosed in the icy surface and tiny waves vibrated in the rhythm of my paddling. Very funny to look at! And then, some curses later, I finally reached open water – almost two hours later than my first arrival at the beach this morning.

What a relief to put the paddle blades into normal water. Ice cold water, but just normal, liquid water. Delighting. Where should I go? To Finland …?

Soon I spotted a possible destination: Nordlundsstenarna a.k.a. Själagrundet, more a gravel bank than an island, 1.6 km from shore. When I arrived there I looked at the next island Medgrundet, which would be much more attractive for taking a break than this pile of stones. I continued paddling. The wind increased slightly and it got a bit chilly, but it’s only 1.1 km from Själagrundet to Medgrundet so I arrived there quite soon.

The first think I did when I was at land was to put on my winter anorak. Then I explored the island. Some photos:

Actually I could have spend the whole day on this island, but I made a huge mistake: I didn’t bring any food with me. (Don’t try that at home, kids!) So after a stroll over the island I returned to my kayak that was as ice covered as the rock nearby.

What I did bring with me were my sunglasses. I was really glad having them because the trip back was straight against the sun. Ok, time for some selfies …

The way back was nice and beautiful and not very spectacular. I enjoyed the sun and the colours of the sea – it could be covered with ice and snow quite soon.

Since I hardly could recognise anything on land I went a bit wrong but the detour was small. After a while I reached Storgrundet and then the ice covered parts again. This time it was much easier because I could follow the ice-free channel that I had cut into the ice on the way there. But when I had to use the ice claws on the more solid ice again to pull myself forward I realised something: There are many things I lack, one of them is strong chest muscles. They will ache for certain tomorrow.

 

 

A short kayak tour

The rain of the last days has washed winter away and all snow that had covered my backyard has melted already. When I parked my car in town two days ago the whole parking place was covered with wet ice. I was very glad about my shoe spikes that prevented me from slipping.

Today it cleared up during the morning. I took advantage of the nice weather and made a kayak tour. The tiny bay where I started was still covered with 2 cm of ice but it was so soft that I could paddle through. The rest of the Baltic Sea was open. It was quite windy and so the kayak tour was quite short, but fun anyway.

I measured the water temperature at the beach: +2.8 °C. I considered taking a bath but decided against it. It was less the water temperatures but the vivid wind that discouraged me. Perhaps tomorrow …

Jogging through Skelleftehamn

During the ski tour last winter I realised that I have neither strength nor condition. The ski tour was quite exhausting. During the summer I did nothing to change this fact.

Two weeks ago however I started something new: I went jogging. Me! Voluntary! The first 500 meters I felt like an elephant on a unicycle but then I started to enjoy the jogging. Not because I love training but because I love being outdoors.

My chosen trail is a nice circular route through the forest. Ten days ago (my 2nd jogging) however I had to change the route for good reasons:

I definitely do not want to jog through the forest during an ongoing moose hunt. So I returned and jogged the same distance twice.

Today (my 3rd jogging) I could go round again. Weather and terrain conditions however were a bit different:

I made a small detour to the lake Snesviken. It surprised me to see it completely covered with ice. (Sorry for the mediocre photo, just an iPhone snapshot.)

I think it’s funny to jog through the snow. It’s even snowing right now. Unfortunately it will get warmer tonight and tomorrow. The snow will turn into rain and melt the snow. I guess it will be slippery as hell the next days. Time to buy some jogging shoes with spikes.

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.