A cold bath in Tromsø

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Two days after Annika and I bathed at “our” beach Vitskärsudden in Obbola I bathed again today. Alone at the Telegrafbukta in Tromsø – more than 650 km north from home. It’s a beautiful bay hardly 500 meters from my room.

The differences:

  • While Annika joined me many times bathing at Vitskärsudden I probably have to bath alone in Tromsø
  • Home: the way is more beautiful. Tromsø: the way is shorter
  • Tromsø: the water tastes salty. The salinity is at least 10 times higher as home
  • Tromsø: there is seaweed in the water and sea urchins and probably a lot of other species starting with “sea”. I use bathing shoes
  • Home: the water level doesn’t change quite often. Tromsø: there are tides here with a tidal range of up to 3 metres.
  • Tromsø: Probably the water won’t freeze over the whole winter.

Today the water was 8.5 °C, two degrees less than the last time. My plan is to bath there the whole year round. Let’s see if I manage to do it.

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 3

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

8 March – Vålåstugan

The weather forecast was right. After a calm and sunny day yesterday it looks very different outside. It is grey and the wind has become stormy and gusty.

All people consider their plans. Among others a group of four decides to remain. They wanted to continue to Helags, round 22 km in the southwest. They would have got the stormy wind straight from the front.

Other skiers plan to return to Vålådalen. It’s Sunday, their last holiday. They ask each other to team up and they exchange phone numbers with Olle, one of the wardens. I do not envy them being out in rough weather with increasing wind speeds with squalls up to 27 m/s in the afternoon. While they equip themselves with balaclavas and ski goggles Annika and I keep inside, peeking through the window that starts to be covered with wet snow.

After all skiers have left Vålåstugan it’s very quiet inside with 10 people remaining. Most of them are on their rooms, only one man seems to love cooking. Until noon he has baked fresh bread, made popcorn and fried pancakes. We are invited to popcorn and get part of the pancake powder so that we can make our own ones. If I’m inside the whole day my interest in eating dramatically increases.

While we spend most of our time reading and being lazy the benches on the sun terrace start to snow in. That’s however nothing compared to the other side of the cabin. A metre high snowdrift has started covering the marked way to the outdoor toilet until Olle relocates the waymarks to a less snowed area. At the same time it has became quite warm, slightly above zero.

In the afternoon the other skiers start to ring. At the end of the day it is clear: All of them reached Vålådalen without any harm. We are quite relieved because we read and heard stories about serious (and even deadly) incidents in the mountains in winter time.

We are equipped with a metal shovel, with warm down bags and bivy bags, but even good equipment is only of limited help when the weather is too severe or there is no snow to dig in.

Tomorrow we want to ski to the mountain cabin Lunndörren. According to the forecast it will be slightly colder, sunny and less windy. Good to know, then we dare to continue our tour.

9 March – Vålåstugan – Lunndörren

The next day the skis in front of the house are wrapped in wet snow, now frozen again. I’m glad that my skis are inside. Yesterday evening I glued the long climbing skins under them because we may have to climb many snow drifts today. The weather is fine and it promises to be a sunny day.

At 8 o’clock we say hejdå to the stugvärdarna – the wardens – Olle and Amie. We shall greet the stugvärdarna at Lunndörren. We put on our backpacks, mount the skis, I put on the belt that is connected with the pulka and then we depart.

The first part is easy to ski and extremely beautiful. At every branch tip of the birch trees small pieces of ice are hanging and sparkling in the sun.

We spot a reindeer. When you see one, there are probably others around, too. And so it is. Five reindeers that carefully look at us. They gather in a small group until we come nearer and they walk away.

The first 4 km the snow is perfect. There’s grip for the skis and even with the climbing skins we can glide effortlessly other the snow.

Then it gets more difficult. The plains are so exposed to the wind that they are almost snow-free. Sometimes there’s a visible path, sometimes we have to ski around.

Then the snow gets so hard and slippery that everything starts to slide and it’s near impossible to break. Yesterday’s warm weather and today’s frost have created an icy crust on top of the snow. Sometimes the pulka runs more beside than behind me. When it goes downhills I take large detours to flatten the slope avoiding becoming too fast. Beside of my problems skiing this snow can look very beautiful, especially against the sun.

Later the snow at the surface is as icy as before but the underlying snow doesn’t bare the weight any longer so that we break through. Several times I am run over by my pulka while my skis are stuck. My left wrist still hurts a bit from one fall, one of the less nice memories of this fantastic ski tour.

At last it was snowmobiles that have improved the situation for us. The tracks they have left have broken the icy crust and here we can ski quite well even though I have to unmount the skis for some of the steeper parts. We want to arrive anyway. It’s Annika, who spots the flag of the STF, the Swedish Tourist Association. And there it is: The mountain cabin Lunndörren!

Here Jonas, Arne and I seeked shelter from the storm 17 days ago.  Now we are first welcomed by the friendly cabins in the sunshine and then the friendly wardens.

Lunndörren has a highlight we have been looking to for days: A sauna! Already at 17:00 Annika and will sit there enjoying the heat. But before taking a sauna we take another opportunity. Former guests asked for permission to cut a hole into the ice of the small lake by the sauna some days before. Therefore Lunndörren has an ice hole this season. Of course we have to take an ice bath before the sauna. (Taking it after sauna is considered cheating by winter bathers.)

If you ever want to take pictures of a person making faces: Throw her or him into icy water. Four examples (Photos: Annika Kramer):

After 95 °C in the sauna we took a shower. No, not a normal shower with shower head and and chrome valve, just a bucket full of hot water. But it’s enough to wash your hair and yourself. We feel so fresh again afterwards!

Later that evening I stroll around in the full moon. This will be the last night of the ski tour. Tomorrow we will ski back to Vålådalen, where I parked my car only seven days ago.

10 March – Lunndörren – Vålådalen

It’s always a bit strange, the last tour day. Car keys get more important than the pocket knife and mobile internet becomes normal again. Fortunately it’s much easier to ski today than the day before and comfortably we follow the red crosses marking the winter path. After a while we see the first cross country ski-runs and more people around. At the end we have to navigate, because there are so many possible ways. I decide to take the bridge over the river Vålån, the very same bridge I used on the other ski tour three and a half weeks ago. And almost suddenly we are standing on the parking place next to my car. We unmount the skis, load the skis and pulka into the roof box and fill the car with leftover food, sleeping bags, snow shovel and other equipment. And since we were quite fast today we even make it to lunch.

Tack för turen, Annika. Thanks for the tour. Where do we ski next winter?

 

ICROSS

I walk along a forest path. The snow has become too deep for the car. In the right hand I carry a large waterproof bag, in the left hand my bright red neoprene drysuit. On the back I have an ICROSS.

A what?

Let’s quote the ICROSS websiteWhat is ICROSS? – ICROSS® is a new type of watercraft. It resembles a float tube, but has many characteristics of a kayak.

My friend Hans Brettschneider bought two ICROSS for his camping ground In Bureå and invited my to test them today. We want to paddle over the Baltic Sea to the near island Björkön. According to Hans the Baltic Sea is still open.

When I arrive in Bureå Hans already had started inflating the ICROSS with a motor-driven air pump. We put the rafts into his car and drive to a place near the beach where we manually inflate them until they are filled to the brim.

(You see the rectangular patch free of snow on the ICROSS? That’s where Hans’ iPad was before I took it away for the photo. Hans uses it as a camera and takes it into the snow, the hot sauna, just everywhere)

On the back of the ICROSS there are D-rings where you can attach belts to carry the ICROSS as a backpack. That’s what I do in the first photo. We start carrying the ICROSS until one of the plastic hooks of the belt breaks. We then realise that it is much easier to drag the raft behind like a sledge. It’s winter!

After 800 metres walk through the forest I arrive at the coast. I must laugh. The Baltic Sea is far beyond from being open. It is covered with ice and snow to the horizon! Is it just slush or solid ice? I put on my drysuit and life jacket and enter the sea ice. I splash through sludge but underneath there is ice thick enough to carry my weight.

Time to change plans.

Instead of paddling (or walking) to Björkön we take fika here at the coast. There’s even a table with benches. Hans has coffee and sandwiches while I have tea and a pretzel. It snows.

Hans however has a plan B in mind. Right beside his fantastic camping ground, just behind the sauna there’s the river Bureälven. And this stream is still open. After fika we walk to the car and take it to his camping ground. There we trudge through the snow to the sauna by the river.

Again we put on waterproof clothes and put the ICROSSes into water. We have to rearrange the belts that hold the seat to improve the balance, then it’s fun to paddle to and fro. While my touring kayak is long and keeps direction, the ICROSS is easy to turn and very agile. Anyway I wouldn’t use it for longer paddle trips. Too exhausting.

(Do you see what Hans has in his hands on the last photo? I told you that he takes his iPad everywhere.)

After a while of testing and taking pictures we go ashore. Did I mention the sauna? Hans had fired it before our winter paddling experiment. It is not hot, only 30 °C, but it’s nice to sit there and relax a bit. I go into the river again, this time for winter bathing. Then a bit of sauna again until we call it a day.

Tack for turen, Hans – thank you for the tour. And thanks for your photos, which I cropped and edited for this blog article.

Closing the bathing season in Skelleftehamn?

7 o’clock. The sun was still below the horizon but already colourised sky and sea at Storgrundet.

Some minutes later – looking into the opposite direction revealed another colour impression.

There was thin ice on this bay. It was partially broken. You may already guess, why. I’ll tell you.

I love bathing in the sea and this bay is my favourite beach and bathing place. In mid-August the water temperature had been 18 °C, in September it had fallen below 10 °C and this morning it was only around 0.7 °C.

Anyhow, time for another bath.

I undressed and started wading through the ice. First I stalked like a stork, than the water got deeper and thinner and I just walked normally, breaking the ice with my thighs.

Soon I reached both open water and swimming depth. I love bathing in cold water and think it’s invigorating and refreshing. Bathing before sunrise with these beautiful morning colours is an extra bonus.

Ouchie ;-)After a bit of bathing and some swimming strokes I waded back to the beach. I already had expected cutting my legs at the sharp thin ice and so I did.

As long as the skin is cold, you hardly feel such scratches.

Being still wet I started freezing because the air was not warm neither. -9 °C the car thermometer had shown. Then the great moment came where I realised, that I had forgot to take a towel with me!

I dried myself a bit with my hands and slipped – wet as I was – into my clothes. And warm clothes it was!

This worked much better than expected and I decided to drive to the office directly. Arriving there only the tips of the socks felt a bit damp, the rest (outdoor pants and woollen sweater) felt warm and dry again.

Since the ice will get thicker and thicker every day I guess that this was the end of my bathing season 2019. At least at Storgrundet.

Some random comments

  • It has been quite cold for late October the last days. In some parts of Finnish lapland temperatures had dropped below -25 °C.
  • Later this morning I realised that I had got many more cuts and scratches from the ice than excepted.
  • The definition of a winter bath is a bath in water colder than 10 °C. According this definition I took my first winter bath this season on 9 September. But it was today that I took my first ice bath of the season.
  • While I am writing this blog article I realise that I had a roll of kitchen paper in my car. So I could have dried myself this morning.

The first frost

Finally – the first frost in the morning. The dew is frozen and frost covers the car windows. I took a short bath in the Baltic Sea before work and for the first time the water temperature was below 10 °C. Now it’s winter bathing. A bit chilly but refreshing and a good start in the new week. To be repeated soon.

#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.

The lake Semyonovskoye in Murmansk

This article is part of the series “2019-03: Redex Murmansk”.

I was in Murmansk with Barents Press with a project called Redex 2019. The project goal is to establish contacts between sports journalists and exchange experiences.

Saturday, 16 March

While swimmers still compete in 1000 m of ice swimming as part of the 3rd Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk I leave the spot and start to go back to our Hotel Park Inn. That’s round 5 km to go.

In Summer I would have to go round the lake Семёновское озеро/Lake Semyonovskoye. Now it’s winter and I can simply go across. The ice is at least 50–60 cm thick as the huge ice cuboids along the way show. In the heap of these ice blocks kids were playing. One of them probably will become next generation’s polar explorer.

On the other side of the lake I can spot grey concrete buildings – as cuboid as the ice blocks – and the Russian orthodox church Спас на водах/Saviour on Waters. They have been the background scenery of the championship, too.

And I see people everywhere. The lake is not crowded, but used of many people for different activities. Some of them are sitting on folding stools and doing ice fishing. Others are going for a walk or doing cross country skiing. The nice thing: some of the skiers are quite athletic and fast, others are do not have any technique and are quite slow. But they ski anyway. And all of them seem to enjoy being outside.

These funny “motor-bananas” probably only exist during the ice swimming: The vehicles consist of three parts. In the middle there’s the “chauffeur” standing in a sledge-like plastic tub. At the rear a banana-shaped inflatable rubber thingy is attached on which people can ride. The whole thing is driven by a small caterpillar attached to the front of the plastic tub and operated by the man in the middle.

I start to cross the lake. I pass a snowman and admire his artful face. He looks however too serious to be my namesake Olaf from the film Frozen.

The lake is not so big and soon I reach the other side. Here’s the winter bathing place I already heard of before. I’m angry with myself that I didn’t take swimming trunks and towel with me because the cold water looks inviting. But no swimwear, no bath.

Here I have to leave the Lake Semyonovskoye and I start following the main road Улица Челюскинцев/Ulitsa Chelyuskintsev back to the hotel. Temperature is above zero and the snow is soft, brown and greasy, but it’s easier to walk on that than on blank ice. At the branch Улица Туристов (“Tourists Street”) a woman comes my way. She bears skis with an old-fashioned binding system. I’m sure she wants to go to the place I just left: the Lake Semyonovskoye.

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.

 

Varning! Isvak!

The river Skellefteälven between Skellefteå and the coast of the Baltic Sea. That particular place is called Stackgrönnan. On warm summer weekends the café is quite crowded. In winter it’s closed.

This sunday however the small snow covered way is crowded, even though it’s mid-January. Many cars are parking, many people are standing around, warmly dressed for winter. Some of them have bags or rucksacks with them.

The Skellefteälven is completely frozen and covered with snow. Snowmobile tracks lead to the opposite riverside. On the river ice there are signs round a cordon.

They say “Varning! Isvak!” – “Warning! ice hole!”. And there is an ice hole indeed, four square meters big. Some people stand around with spearlike tools and remove the last thick ice blocks from the hole.

So that ice hole seems to have a purpose and it has: It’s an ice hole maintained by the association Mörkrets och Kylans Glada Vänner, or in english Happy Friends of Cold and Darkness.

I’ve been member of this association almost from the beginning and had the pleasure, honour (, and work) of being part of the organisation team for the very first Swedish Winter Swim Championship in Skellefteå in 2012. It was the coldest day of the winter with temperatures below -30 °C, but that’s another story …

Back to the plot: All people have come to take a winter bath or at least to cheer to those who do. Annika and I have winter-bathed before but not yet this winter. We aren’t the only one’s who want to take a bath, there are at least 30 others and the changing rooms are stuffed with people, some wearing winter parkas and warm boots, others just their swimwear and a cap. The same outside: Woollen mittens and down jackets on the one side, wet semi-nude bathers with towels on the other side.

And what is in the ice hole? One winter bather after the other. First looking tensed or even shocked, since the water temperature is round 0 °C (and yes, that’s cold!), then relaxed and happy because the body releases endorphins. But have a look by yourself:

After the last bather – most people and cars already have gone – wintry silence starts to set in again. The snow covered tables and benches are still untouched and the fairy lights round the big flag pole are on. Temperature is -11 °C. If you ask me, a perfect winter day.

Appendix one

On 17 February 2018, the Open Scandinavian Championship which is a part of the World Cup will be held in Skellefteå for the seventh time. And you can apply!

Appendix two

Evidence photos of me in the ice hole? Thanks to Annika, who took photos with her mobile they exist. Var så god: