Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home. Unknown sea ice can be dangerous just as very cold temperatures.
Today I had the plan to cross the ice and go to the island Gåsören which is one of my favourite places nearby. The challenge: Parts of the Baltic Sea were open five days ago due to the low water. How thick would the ice be and would I be able to go to the island?
I started at the little boat harbour Tjuvkistan and planned to go to the island Bredskär where I’ve been with Annika two days ago. This time I chose snow shoes and pulka to transport all clothes and equipment. I changed plans and didn’t head to Bredskär, but followed the ski tracks to the island Klubben instead – a better direction. In the dim light of the daybreak I could see Gåsören ahead.
It was quite cold, round -27 °C and I was glad about my fur rimmed hood, that protects the face against wind and cold air.
I continued to the next island Flottgrundet, which is hardly 300 meters away. A tiny ice rim encircled the island and I took a small break. Normally I take breaks mainly for taking pictures, but this time I had another reason, too:
Beside of the tracks of a lonely hare I couldn’t see any track or trail to Gåsören. Is the ice safe and will it bear me? Since I already expected such, I brought along my survival suit, which is completely waterproof and has attached socks, gloves and hood, so that only the face would be exposed to the ice cold water in case of breaking through the ice. All other equipment such as camera, extra clothes and food was in waterproof bags.
I looked like a Teletubbie, (and probably moved like one too) but I felt safe. Round my head I had my camera bag and so-called isdubbar, that’s ice picks, that would help me to pull myself on land, if I had broken though. I put the snow shoes into the pulka and started crossing the ice.
Round 700 meters later I reached Gåsören. I went ashore and was quite glad that the ice bore me without any problem. I unmounted the pulka but continued wearing the survival suit. I wanted to discover the ice rim on the eastern side of Gåsören and didn’t dare to do that without it. First of all I climbed onto the two meter high ice to get an overview. The risen sun started to light parts of the landscape in warm colours, while the snow in the shadows still looked cold and bluish.
The next two hours I strolled around east from the island to take pictures from the amazing ice formations round the island. Some of them were up to three meters high. It’s interesting to see, how many different colours ice can have, both the ice itself and the sun light as the day progresses. While I walked round I could see the light houses of Gåsören, the new one (the red tower to the left) and the new one (the house to the right).
Meanwhile I protected even my nose that started to get cold. The danger is that you won’t realise, when the nose gets too cold and you really have to be careful to avoid frostbite. The neoprene survival suit is surprisingly warm, but not comfortable at all. Since it’s not breathable I started to sweat and become wet. I longed for warm tea and other clothes. I went back to the pulka, undressed the suit and slipped into the cold boots. Then I took tea, crackers, camera and a huge bin bag that wrapped my down coverall. I went to the other side of the island, this time on land and put on the coverall over the other jacket. Now I really looked like a polar explorer, but was just 5 kilometres away from home. It took a while, until I got warm again and another while to realise, that this suit is almost to warm for temperatures between -26 and -28 °C. But at least I got my hot tea, some cookies and I didn’t freeze at all.
Of course I continued making photos on land. I went round, took images of the big welcome-sign, the red-white light tower and even more ice. But after a while clouds came in and started to cover the sun.
So I undressed my down coverall, went back to the pulka, packed all stuff into it and started my walk back to main land. I chose almost the same way to be sure, that the ice is stable. The sun vanished behind a layer of clouds, only a bright orange light pillar was left.
When I looked left I got reminded, that this fantastic tour was not in the arctic wilderness, but near home. The smelting works on the peninsula Rönnskär was within sight. The chimneys gave off clouds of smoke that racked southwards below the inversion boundary, but northwards above. When I was almost back on the main land I could see the red solar disk setting behind Rönnskär.
When I entered the car, it was still -26 °C below – one of the coldest days that I experienced in Skelleftehamn until now.
Conclusion: a great tour with a touch of expedition due to the coldness and the unsafe ice. Should be repeated when ice is safer and weather is warmer.
This tour was more dangerous than I suspected. Not because of the weak ice but because the rubber gloves of the survival suit didn’t isolate good enough. Today – two days after – I got small blisters on all fingers but the thumbs, a clear sign for a second degree frostbite. My nose is a bit reddish and itches, probably a first degree frostbite.
I have full tactile sense in all parts of the fingers and the nose, but it probably will take some time until the skin heals completely.
The danger was, that I didn’t feel any pain in the fingers while being out. I just felt the cold when I removed the wool mittens. I never will make such an extended photo tour in the survival suit when it’s so cold.
Take care, photographers. Don’t risk your health for just some nice photos. It’s not worth it.