Skiing from Syter Fjällstuga to Umasjö

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Ski tour Vindelfjällen”.

Wednesday, 6 March

Today we will have the longest distance of our ski tour: round 22 km from the Syter Mountain Cabin to Umasjö. We get up at 5:45 and start our tour at 7:30 to have enough time before sunset.

G., the stugvärd recommended to go on the small river Voehpejoeke or Svärfarbäcken, it would be easier to ski. We however do not dare and follow the marked winter trail. That turns out to be a quite bad idea. The trail seems to connect all existing hilltops around. The hilltops are exposed to the wind so that they are free of snow. There is vegetation, rocks and a lot of bare ice where neither the skis nor the poles get any hold. We barely make any progress and our frustration grows. After a while we decide to follow G.’s advice and ski down to the winding river.

You have to know, that there is ice and water under your feet for all we can see is snow, a bit of vegetation and some rocks. We feel safe and we are at least three times faster than before. After some time we come to a wide plain where I make the first tour photo of the day.

The morning had been cold again with temperatures below -20 °C, but it quickly became warmer and clouds have approached, covering the mountain peaks. Despite to the forecasts it is windy and the drifting snow makes the view hazy.

After 5 km we pass a Sámi dwelling, marked in the map as a black triangle.

Then we approach a narrow passage and the frontal wind increases. First I think it is snowing but it’s just the snow driven by the wind. We avoid making smaller breaks because there is no shelter in the valley and we would have to put on down jackets to avoid hypothermia.

The way is long but navigation is easy. We just have to follow the red crosses. Visibility is not the best but still we can see at least the next three or four crosses. After the valley we have to ascent a pass but the ascent is so slow that we hardly realise, that it’s already the pass. I check our position with the GPS but take the wrong number. I know that it has to be wrong but we continue anyway. What shall happen: we are on the trail and it feels like we are in time. It was only the first stage that slowed us down.

Even though the way is long it is a great tour. Snowmobiles are prohibited and we ski through the untouched snow landscape, completely alone. I do not take many pictures because I don’t want to loose too much time.

It’s still windy. When Annika goes ahead parts of her ski tracks are snow covered after already half a minute. At least it’s not cold, probably between -5 °C and -10 °C.

I check the GPS again, this time more properly. We have come further than expected and are faster than thought. Sometimes we stop to drink a bit and eat chocolate (mostly me) but we try to minimise the breaks.

We are on a plateau now, where the wind is calmer and it’s easy to ski. But we know that we have to descend 300 – 400 metres. And soon we have to ski downhills which is not our most outstanding skill. At least the slopes are wide and there are no trees around.

The trees appear a bit later but still it’s easy to ski. And then we finally meet the first snowmobile trail. It is descending through the forest but it’s so wide that it’s easy to ski down, either directly on the tracks or on the sides through untouched snow. Then we come to the “snowmobile main road”. The signpost says, that 17 km lie behind us and 5 other km to go.

This part is both boring and tiring. The track goes up and down which doesn’t matter for snowmobile drivers but for us. We curse every hill we have to ski up.

But finally we reach our final destination of today’s ski tour. The road E12 in Umasjö.

Our four-day ski tour is over but neither the journey nor the day.

Annika’s colleague F. is staying on her mountain cottage in Umasjö. It is her who comes shortly after our arrival and gives us a lift to Hemavan, where I parked my car three days ago. We buy some food and drink (rich in calories!) and drive back to Umasjö where we meet F. again in her cottage together with her family. We sit in the living room and report from our ski tour. After that we continue our journey to Norway, where we visit friends of Annika in Mo I Rana. The road conditions are not the best and I’m tired but luckily it’s only a one-hour drive from Umasjö.

That has been a long day and an exhausting one as well, but – more important – a great one. Now I’m looking forward to the next ski tour together with Annika.

Skiing from Viterskalet Fjällstuga to Syter Fjällstuga

Monday, 4 March

I wake up early in our four-bed room. Annika and I are in the Viterskalet Mountain Cabin in the Vindelfjällen, part of the Swedish mountains. I get up, take tripod and camera and go out. The temperature in the kitchen has dropped to 7 °C, but that’s almost 30 °C warmer than outside, where it’s -22 °C according to the outdoor thermometers at the windows.

I love it when the rising sun colours the snowy mountains in purple, pink, orange and yellow until it stands so high, that the snow looks white.

At ten o’click we start our tour: 12 or 13 km to Syter Fjällstuga, the next mountain cabin. We follow the winter trail that slowly bends eastwards into the valley Syterskalet.

Here we walk in the shadow of the mountains. First it’s a nameless top (1603 m), then the Södra Sytertoppen (1685 m) that blocks the sun. Round a kilometre before the emergency cots– also named Syterskalet – we leave the shadow and walk into bright sunlight. We take a break at Syterskalet, both for eating and drinking and for attaching the climbing skins to our skis.

After the rest we have to climb a bit, round 100 metres in altitude. That’s why we mounted the climbing skins. With them the ascend is easier than expected.

When we reach the peak I remove the skins. Although I’m a lousy downhill skier I want to try anyway. The terrain is difficult for me, because parts of it are icy and others are hardly covered with snow. With large bends and a bit of luck I manage to ski downhill the slope. Annika skis downhill with climbing skins that slow down her skis. Because of that she can use the snowmobile tracks that are to steep for me. We meet at the chain bridge over the stream or Svärfarbäcken. The Syter Mountain Cabin is on the other side. We don’t have to use the bridge to cross the stream, it is completely frozen. There’s only a marked hole in the ice for fetching drinking water.

We arrive at the cabin and the stugvärd – the host – welcomes us with hot juice; a nice tradition on the mountain cabins. We realise that we met before in Nallo, a small cozy cabin in August 2017, when we took a day off.

We get a cozy room with a bunk bed and take it easy the rest of the day.

Of course I have to go to the toilet again in the night and the sky is as starry as the night before. I made some photos and due to the long exposure you even can see polar lights on the photos. These polar lights however were hardly visible to the naked eye.

Tuesday, 5 March

Today we are going to take a day off and stay at the Syter Fjällstuga. I’m an early bird and get up before sunrise. Again it’s -22 °C and the temperature will not rise above -15 °C for the whole day.

After a breakfast (we have crisp bread, butter and cheese plus hot cocoa) we start a small day trip on skis. We want to go up the slopes north from Syter. It is fun to go without pulka. Flocks of ptarmigans (snow grouses) are overall. First you hear them, then you can see them as white spots. If you come closer they fly away and you realise that you hardly spotted half of them.

Today we do not follow any marks, we make our own tracks. The tour is shorter than expected. Annika still has climbing skins under the skis and does not have any problem with the many icy patches on the slope, but I have. Instead of descending any further we turn right and make our way to the Kungsleden that continues to the northeast. Here we ski back to the cabin.

The rest of the day we stay in and round the cabin. It’s awesome to ski through the incredible beautiful winter landscapes but it’s just as great to meet interesting people.

  • Stugvärd G. with whom we talk a lot. She travelled a lot in the whole world.
  • Myra de Rooy, who is going to go the 440 km to Abisko, the first week with a friend. She writes books, mostly about her adventures in Tibet and Nepal.
  • the man who temporary helps with the cabin. He seems to know every path and every rock of the Vindelfjällen, where we are.

Annika realised that today is fettisdagen, the day in the year where the Swedes eat en semla, a barm filled with marzipan and cream. And right – the man mentioned above prepares semlor for him and his family. We are invited to take one and gladly accept. The rest of the day is a lot of talking, resting, eating and Annika making pancakes. But we even start to pack our things. Tomorrow we are going to Umasjö and that’s 22 km to go. We want to get up at 6 o’clock to start the tour as early as possible.

The last photo shows a typical situation in the Swedish mountains in wintertime: Sitting on the loo. It is dark, so you need a headlight to go there. It is cold (-23 °C), so you need a warm jacket, too. You think, that’s uncomfortable? Then you never tented in wintertime where you long for such a utedass (the Swedish word for this type of outdoor toilet).

Skiing from Hemavan to the Viterskalet Fjällstuga

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Ski tour Vindelfjällen”.

Sunday, 3 March

A perfect day for a ski tour awaits us when Annika and I wake up in Hemavan, where we arrived the evening before. The ski is blue, the air is calm and the outside thermometer at Hemavans Fjällcenter shows -23 °C.

Today Annika and I will start our first ski tour together. We are going to be in the Vindelfjällen mountains for four days and stay overnight in two mountain cabins of the Swedish tourist association: Viterskalet and Syter. Annika is going to use a backpack and I a pulka sledge. Hopefully Annika’s backpack will hold, she already had to fix a friable strap the day before. After a breakfast we take my car and drive up the slope to park it near the Kungsleden sign.

Here the Northern Kungsleden starts, Sweden’s most popular hiking trail which is 450 km in total. We will follow the Kungsleden for two days and then turn west to Umasjö or south to Solberg back to civilisation.

At half past nine we are ready to start the tour. An employee of the ski area takes some pictures of us, wishes us a good tour, sits down on his snowmobile and drives away.

Now we have to climb up the ski slope, luckily not directly. Anyway we have climbing skins under our skis that prevent slipping back when ascending slopes. It’s no fun at all to use a pulka without them. We ski on broad prepared ski trails. It doesn’t take long and the fixed strap of Annika’s backpack breaks again. At the small hut of a ski lift she replaces it provisionally by another strap. Luckily this makeshift solution will work for the rest of the tour.

Although the sport holidays started the day before the ski resort is anything but crowded. When we however leave the ski resort behind us we are really alone for a while. Only another pair of skiers faster than us overtakes us at the steepest slope of the day. We are above the tree line. Only some solitary birch trees interrupt the snowy kalfjäll.

After a while we meet the snowmobile track. This track is quite popular because the Viterskalet cabin serves waffles – a welcome destination for snowmobile enthusiasts. For us as skiers it is a bit boring to walk on a five to ten meter broad “snowmobile Autobahn” and the exhaust fumes of the less modern snöskoter stink terribly.

We pass the summer bridge over the Västra Syterbäcken. Here’s even a toilet in the middle of the snow covered mountains. Only four other kilometres to go.

The whole winter trail is marked with red wooden crosses and there are many of them. In nice weather this seems a bit overdone but all people who followed such a winter trail in snow storm know that it can be very hard to find the next mark even when it is near.

Another hour of skiing and we arrive at the Viterskalet cabin. The stugvärd who is responsible for the mountain cabin greets us. There are two larger buildings: The cabin of the stugvärd with shop and even a small café and the guest cottage. The shop is tiny but has everything you need. Therefore we can buy most food in the shops and do not need to bear everything for four days.

We allow ourselves the luxury of a cold coke and a waffle. Then we move into the guest cottage. It is huge and hasn’t been heated for a while. Our sleeping room is heated by gas and temperature is at least over 10 °C but the huge kitchen has only 1 °C and it will take hours to warm it up some centigrades. The other guests have left. We will be the only ones to stay overnight.

I stroll around and take photos while the sun is slowly going down.

Annika and I still have garlic bread bought in Hamavan and eat it with a goulash soup bought in the shop. It doesn’t take long and we cuddle ourselves in our sleeping bags. Soon we fall asleep. Mountain air makes you tired!

I however have to pee in the night. For that I have to go outside. That means putting on boots, mittens and a down parka, because it’s -20 °C. This seems to be very uncomfortable but it has its advantages. I can watch an incredible starry night in the Swedish mountains. It is so bright and clear that it only takes seconds to spot the milky way. I just have to go in to fetch my camera and tripod. The green lights over the horizon is a Northern light, but a very weak one.

Last preparations

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Ski tour Vindelfjällen”.

Yesterday SkellefteåUmeå by car (130 km).
Today UmeåHemavan with Annika by car (400 km).
Tomorrow HemavanViterskalet with Annika (12 km). Not by car but by ski, start of our short ski tour on the Vindelfjäll.

Last preparations in Hemavan: repairing Annika’s backpack · packing backpack and pulka · Annika preparing the fur trim for her new Anorak · putting climbing skins under the skis for tomorrow we’ll have to ascend the Stoere Vaerie or Norra Storfjället.

I’ll be offline for some days. Travelogue will follow next week.

A sunny ski tour on the Baltic Sea

What a beautiful day! It’s calm and sunny with temperatures round -20 °C. After breakfast Chris and I start another ski tour at the very same place as the day before. Between these photos lies a day:

As the day before we ski to the near island Storgrundet and cross it, but then we turn right. The Baltic Sea is covered with ice half to Finland but you hardly see the ice anymore. It is covered with snow.

The last two days have brought round 30 cm of fresh snow, but the Baltic Sea is not evenly covered. There are snowdrifts and patches with bare ice and the wind has created sharp snow patterns. They are called sastrugi. Sastrugis can make skiing very demanding when they are hard, but these were still soft and easy to ski on.

It is colder than the day before but it feels much more comfortable and warm because the absence of any wind. We ski along the islands, first Storgrundet, then Norrskär. Here we turn left because another island catches my eye. Northeast from Norrskär there’s a smaller island called Norrskärsgrundet. Here a lot of snow has accumulated.

Chris and I ski to the island and take a break. We both have about the same tempo and like to photograph – always a good reason to slow down.

We walk round and take pictures, then we mount our skis again and “climb” the island’s top. Some fresh animal tracks are visible. A fox, a hare, and a place where the snow tells a story. Here a fox apparently caught a bird. We see a deep track of the foxes jump in the snow and feathers everywhere.

We turn right and reach the esker that connects the islands Norrskär and Bredskär. It’s time for skiing back and also time for a break with hot cocoa and chocolate that we take on the ice by a tiny nameless island. We are glad about our puffy down jackets because we instantly feel the cold when we stop moving. After the break we continue our way back to the parked car. The sun is low and our shadows have grown long.

Soon the snowy surface we ski on lies in the shadow of the island Brambärsgrundet. Only the cottages on Storgrundet have still sun. We reach the car round sunset – good timing.

I love snow storms as well as sun and blue ski and I love especially the contrasts. Therefore this ski tour is strongly connected to the one we made the day before, the day that brought the snow we ski on.

 

Snowy night, snowy day

When I returned from Avan two days ago the Swedish weather institute SMHI had issued a snow warning: 20-30 cm snowfall and at the coast fresh winds from northeast. Yesterday the wind increased and in the afternoon it started to snow. Soon the snowfall increased, too and the wind made the snow whirl round the houses and through the streets. More and more snow came falling down and soon the street was snowed over completely.

“Beep! Beeep! Krrrr. BEEEP! KRRRRR!” – these sounds woke me up this morning at 5 o’clock. The sound of snowploughs and shovel loaders clearing the roads. They beep when they go backwards and the shovels make loud scraping noises.

While the shovel loaders take the snow and move it to other places the snowploughs just push the deep snow aside. Both are important but the latter create work for the locals. They create a so-called plogkant – compact walls of snow – along the street and so right in front of your driveway.

This plogkanten was 60 cm high and the loose snow behind was of almost the same height. Before I could use the car I had to shovel snow. A lot of snow, at least 2½ m³. Fortunately the temperatures where round -10 °C and the snow was loose and fluffy. A good workout anyway. Finally I could get camera and tripod and took the car to two places by the sea.

The garage at the pilot station was surrounded by meter-high snowdrifts. The snowdrifts in the lee of the house were even higher. The gaps in the fence created a nice stripe pattern on the snowdrift outside. It was still quite dark and there was not much to see otherwise.

At the “beach” of Storgrundet the stormy gusts of wind blew the snow horizontally from left and right and in the dawn the scenery looked very harsh.

Great weather for a ski tour on the sea ice, isn’t it?

Two and a half hours later: Chris – a friend of mine from Kirkenes who arrived yesterday – and I had just come to the very same place to start a ski tour. We mounted the skies, put our hoods on and slipped into the gloves. It still was snowing and quite windy.

And when it’s windy at the mainland you can bet that it’s much more windy on the sea ice which is completely exposed to the elements. And so it was. The island Storgrundet was in the back and we could see the pale schemes of some other islands in the northwest. The northeast however looked like the Arctic Zone.

Chris was following my ski tracks. She looked like an arctic explorer with the white void in the background.

Here’s one of of the rare photos of me, that is no selfie. If you look closer you see that my ski tracks go zig-zag. That’s because even on the sea ice of the Baltic Sea there were many snowdrifts with sharp edges and I could hardly see whether it went up or down. Skiing was not exhausting but we were slow due to the wind and the bad sight. (… and taking pictures.)

We skied to a headland which had been in sight for a while.

As soon as we reached the lee of the headland it was almost windless. What a huge difference to the exposed parts of the sea where weather was quite rough. In the shelter of the headland we took a break. (We forget the tea in my kitchen but at least we had a bit of chocolate.) On the headland were summer cottages, now snowbound in meter-high snowdrifts.

The way back was easier. The gusty wind had started calm down a bit and the snowfall lessened. The view to the west however was still extremely arctic.

We were however no arctic explorers but had the luxury of a parked car and a heated house just some minutes away. The ski tour was short in distance but rich in experience and that’s what counts!

Takk for turen, Chris!

It continued snowing until dark. The fence in my backyard had been buried in snow almost completely. The fence is 85 cm high.

Later in the afternoon I continued clearing snow. Not with a front loader but with a wide snow shovel. Chris has parked her car on the street and both the snowfall and the snowplough had buried it up to the top of the wheels. I pushed all snow into the front yard where the snow pile got higher and higher.

I’m a quite curious person when it comes to snow depths. I made a step on the top of the snow pile and as I guessed the snow was quite loose:

If the forecast is right we get calm, sunny and colder winter weather tomorrow. We consider to start the very same ski tour again just to see the difference.

 

#escapism – skiing through the landscapes

When I walked home from an early meeting today it snowed at -12 °C. I trudged through the fresh snow like a small child.

Actually, I wanted to work with my online shop for my photo website. Outside it continued snowing. It took less than a minute to change plans. I took my skis, the backpack with the camera equipment, ski pants and my old Norrøna-jacket and went outside. I went down the snowy stairs, put on my skis and started a local ski tour. I skied 300 meter and was in the …

Forest

First I followed a snowy snowmobile track (with a detour to a small wetland) and then paw prints of a hare.

Following the paw prints led me to a …

Swamp

In winter however these swampy areas are frozen – no problem with skis.

The snow was round 30 cm deep and quite fluffy so that I sank down even with the skis. Perhaps my 240 cm long wooden Tegsnäs skis would have been the better choice. I crossed a small pond and a small ridge – probably formed in the last ice age – and then I came to a larger …

Lake

The lake Snesviken had been frozen already in November. Now it was just a snowy plain with a small island in the middle.

I took a selfie …

…crossed the lake and came to a …

Dense forest

I knew that this forest was dense with a lot of underwood and many rocks, but I forgot how hard it is to find a way through it on skis. Now I was quite glad that I didn’t take the Tegsnäs skis.

I fought my way through birch thickets and rocky passages. It took a long time until I left the forest and reached a snowy road, part of a …

Cottage area

I followed the road to its end. Skiing was easy and effortless after the dense forest.

As in the whole of Sweden there are many summer cottages in Skelleftehamn, too. This cottage – as most of them – was by the …

Sea

I crossed the small thicket at the rocky shore …

… then I stood on the frozen Baltic Sea. I started skiing leaving the mainland behind. It was much windier and I was glad about my fur-trimmed hood. The field of view however is limited. Looking down I saw the fur, the skis and a white featureless surface. Almost whiteout conditions. Parts of the landscape were featureless as well.

It may look like I was in the middle of the Arctic, but no, right behind me there was an …

Island

The Island Storgrundet is the nearest island from the mainland. Here I had looked at the sea ice 10 days ago, here I watched the lunar eclipse last week.

I followed the coastal line, crossed a frozen bay and arrived at the old boat shed that probably had been there for ages.

Then I crossed the island through the forest.

The island is not very wide. After 200 meter I could see the mainland’s …

Coast

This part of the coast is one of my favourite places in Skelleftehamn. In summer it has a nice sandy beach, in winter it’s the first part of the sea that freezes. In summer I use to paddle kayak, but most locals prefer small motorboats. Now all boats lie upside down on the shore.

Where there are boats are also houses. Where there are houses there’s also a …

Road

And this road is special, because it leads …

Home

Here I arrived three hours later. I put off the skis, shock of the snow and went in.

Oh, I love winter!

Backsjön

A short tour with “turskidor” (touring skis) on the lake Bäcksjön near Umeå. After some days with slightly warmer temperatures and fluffy snowfall we got another sunny day with no wind and temperatures round -20 °C today.

Now I’m home again in Skelleftehamn. This night could be the coldest yet. Already now at 22:30 it’s -25 °C, that’s quite cold for the coast. From tomorrow on it shall become warmer with temperatures mainly round -10 °C.

 

Two winter activities

The morning

Finally there’s enough snow in Skelleftehamn for cross-country skiing. The great people from Frilufts­främjandet Skelleftehamn had prepared the ski track last night and I was one the first people that skied there this morning. The weather was sunny with temperatures round -16 °C. The sun however was still low and had hardly a chance to illuminate the forests round the ski track. There were some sunny spots where I made the photos below.

After 7 km I was covered with frost but I wasn’t cold at all.

The early afternoon

After lunch I decided to check out the shore at Kågnäsudden. I parked my car and trudged through the snow until I arrived at the coast. The Baltic Sea was mostly open but partly covered with pancake ice. I walked on the banks by the sea and enjoyed the bright sunlight and the crisp air.And I made some photos, too.

When I drove back the car thermometer showed temperatures between -19 °C and -23 °C. The next seven days temperatures between -10 °C and -20 °C are forecasted. I guess it will not take long until the shore areas of the Baltic Sea will finally freeze over.

Cross-country skiing – part II

5 cm of new snow, -5 °C air temperature and Olles Spår – a ski track on the edge of Umeå – freshly prepared. Good conditions for cross-country skiing.

Annika and I skied only 5 kilometres. Not because of the number 5, but because it was still snowing and this snow made the track very, very slow.

Even though the distance was short, it was delightful to slide through the winter forest and the gently falling snow.