Hurtigruten in Berlevåg

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 38 of my winter journey 2018

Annika and I travelled a lot over the Varanger Peninsula the last ten days and we only saw one Hurtigruten ship far away. Tonight we stay in Kjølnes, just six kilometres outside from Berlevåg. So we took the opportunity and looked at the incoming Hurtigruten ships at the port. The north going and south going ships meet outside of Berlevåg, today the Polarlys and the Vesterålen. Unfortunately the ships arrive at 21:45 and 22:00, so it was dark, when we stood at the edge of the breakwater to welcome (and photograph) the Hurtigruten ships.

In three days we’ll be in Berlevåg again, this time on the Hurtigruten ship MS Nordnorge, but that’s another story …

 

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 1

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 7 of the winter journey 2018

I’m really glad, that my friend Jonas and I managed to realise a ski tour this year. It’s our 3rd ski tour together, but the last one was five years ago. A long time. Actually we had planned for eleven days, but due to severe snow falls between Gävle and Sundsvall two weeks ago the whole train traffic was cancelled and Jonas arrived more than two days later than planned.

On Wednesday, 7 February we left Solberget and took my car to Jokkmokk, where we bought food for nine days. Anything from muesli (with powdered milk), tea and chocolate to pasta with pesto, salami, potato mash and much more. Have a look:

After taking a lunch we continued to Kvikkjokk. The weather was sunny and the temperatures sank below -20 °C. In Kvikkjokk we packed our pulkas, transport sledges you carry behind, locked the car, put on the skies and started our tour. First along a road, then on a snow mobile track. We didn’t come long when we met a local with a snow shovel who asked for our plans. He looked at our heavy loaded pulkas and mentioned that we would have a hard time in pathless terrain. He said, that it was 100 cm of snow in Kvikkjokk and 150 in the mountains.

I reparked my car – another tip of the local – and we started our tour again. With his permission we used his private snowmobile track that led us to the river where it joined a larger snowmobile track. It already had been starting to get dark and our plan was to find a place for our tent quite soon. We weren’t alone on the river – two moose (mother and calf) stood on the river some hundred metres away. We waited until they left and continued. The river slopes were quite steep and after we had decided to leave the river we had to put off our skis and drag the heavy pulkas up through hip deep snow. Exhausting! At least we found a nice little clearing in the forest for our first night in the tent.

As usual we started to tramp down the snow with our skis to make it stable enough to bear the weight of tent and ourselves after some time. This snow however was so loose that it seemed impossible to us to erect the tent on top of it. Therefore we digged down half a meter (making round 6 cubic meters of snow to dig) and erected the tent in the hole. The temperature had continued to fall, now down to -25 °C. Finally the tent was “ready for occupation” and we were eager to eat something warm.

After Chinese noodles with some asian ready-made sauce we left the tent and watched the amazing clear starry night. The milky way gleamed over half the sky and Sirius had just started to rise on the eastern horizon. What a wonderful first night!

… and a cold one. When we started to sleep the temperature had fallen to -30 °C. Jonas and I have huge down sleeping bags and we had it warm and cozy anyway. I just had problems to sleep because I don’t like sleeping on my back and always have trouble to fall into sleep the first two, three nights when tenting.

Next morning: Clear blue sky, some feathery clouds that just started to colour purple. Jonas’ thermometer at the pulka showed -34 °C. It was completely calm and we decided to cook outside. Cooking in the morning mainly means boiling water for tea and for making milk for the muesli. I was glad about my warm mukluk boots, down pants and my puffy down parka. And finally the sun rose over horizon and trees.

Today we would continue westward to the mountain lodge Njunjes and probably sleep there.

Photo #1 and #6 in this blog article are made by Jonas Balbasus.

A starry night at Solberget

Day 1 of the winter journey 2018

After a first day on the winter market in Jokkmokk Annika and I enjoyed the cozy sauna at Solberget, my very favourite of all saunas I know. I was really tired after the sauna but just had to make some photos of the beautiful surroundings in the moonlight.

And while I made photos of the window of the sauna hut even the polar light increased a bit.

Today Annika and I will head to the Jokkmokksmarknad again. Yesterday we got a lift, today we’ll take my car.

Lagom winter

It’s probably not the first time, that I use the word lagom in this blog. You could translate it with “just right”. Not too hot, not too cold – not too much, not too little. That’s lagom.

Just now the winter behaves lagom, too. Om Friday evening 5 cm of snow covered my garden, tonight it’s round 20 cm. Not 76 cm as last year, not 2 mm as the year before, just 20 cm. That’s lagom! Even the temperatures are quite moderate, lying round -5 °C.

I didn’t have much time to enjoy this winter, because I’ve worked quite much the last time. Today evening however I managed at least an evening promenade through the near forest, first along some ways and paths, then across country. It was snowing a bit and everything was quite. I could hear neither bird nor car, only the scrunching of the snow under my feet. Today I went afoot but I got my back-country skis from the garage hoping for more snow to come.

Winter by the sea in a nutshell

Ingredients:

  • Long underwear (with hood), socks, winter boots, gloves, ski pants, a warm down parka.
  • A good digital camera, a wide angle lens, a tripod
  • Some rocks, pancake ice and an ice covered rock with icicles. Spice it with a bit of weak ice to make it more interesting.
  • A moon (almost full), some purple clouds (altostratus is best) and a pinch of polar lights.

Recipe:

  • Put on the items of the first row.
  • Take the items of the second row with you.
  • Look for the items of the third row.
  • Wait for the items of the fourth row and cool the scenery down to -14 °C for 45 minutes.

Voilà, bon appétit!

(Finding the items of the third row was really easy. It’s almost the same I paddled along through the ice half a day ago.)

Kungsleden ski tour: Tjäktja

This article is part of the series “2016-02: Ski tour on the Kungsleden”.

From the Sälkastugorna to Tjäktjastugan

25 February · 12 km · Link to map

This day could be a more demanding day. It’s only 12 km to Tjäktja, but first of all i goes up 300 meters and then there’s Tjäktjapasset – the mountain pass, which I remember as being quite steep. In 2005 I skied down the slope, now I have to go up, dragging the pulka behind.

That’s why I started quite early this day. In my pulka: a parcel with food from the shop that stugvärd Z. gave me for stugvärd P. – one kilo more or less doesn’t count so much if you doesn’t have to carry it on your back.

When I started the tour the sky was still cloudy, but soon the clouds disappeared, sun was shining and the sky was blue. I was happy, since according to the weather forecast I expected the whole week being grey and cloudy. Far away in the early sun I could see a chain of mountain – there’s the Tjäktjapass, still far away, and it looked high and steep.

This was the first time that I had skins under my skis that help going up, especially if you carry a pulka that always wants to slide down. The trail led through a hilly landscape and I had to climb many small hills just to go down on the other side of the hill. I asked myself how I should gain altitude going just up and down. Anyway, the landscape was gorgeous, just as the weather, and when I looked back after some time I could see, that I gained more height than I thought. First I could see small brown boxes laying behind – the Sälkastugorna – but after some time they disappeared behind the hilly landscape.

I continued my tour and saw a black bird ahead. It cawed and landed on a dark spot beside another bird. Crows. I remembered, that one of the skiers that I met in Sälka, told me, that he saw a dead reindeer on his way from Tjäktja. This reindeer was killed by a wolverine, one of the biggest carnivores in Scandinavia. I approached the dark spot, the craws cawed again and flew away. There was a heap of something and beside of some patches of reindeer skin it was hardly recognisable. The sight of a frozen hump of meat is neither nice nor beautiful, but it is part of a country, where predators as wolves, bears, lynxes or wolverines still exist.

After taking some photos for this blog I continued my tour. Two other skiers approached from the other side – they just slided down in long, relaxed steps. I however had to climb up. Now, where the pass was near, it was visible that it was neither as steep nor as high as expected. After a bit of effort (I’m not well trained …) I stood on a plateau just below the highest point of the pass. And the view back into the huge valley Tjäktjajåkka (sami: Čeakčajohka) was incredible. The sun shone from a bright blue sky, a rainbow coloured sundog nearby. Ice dust fell from the blue sky that glittered and sparkled against the sun. The broad valley seemed to be endless, the further away mountains looked hazy and I had the impression, that you could walk through this valley forever.

It’s not the first time, that I stood here and gazed in amazement. I’ve been here on my first ski tour in april 2005, too, when I went from Abisko to Kvikkjokk. And now I was just as amazed as at the first time.

I could have stayed for ages, but after I while I broke away from this special place and ascended the last meters of the pass until the small hut Tjäktjatjattja came into sight. I took a break, but instead of seeking shelter in the hut I sat outside in the sun with chocolate and hot tea. It started to snow a bit – always a bit strange if you cannot see a single cloud.

After this sunny break I continued the trail to Tjäktja. The skiers I met left a nice track and the only think I had to do was sliding downwards effortlessly until I arrived in Tjäktja, the smallest mountain hut on my journey. Stugvärd P. got my parcel with food and goodies and I got a room in the stuga.

The sky was clear the whole day and it started to become a bit colder. -15 °C, when I arrived, -19 °C short time later. Time to fire the oven and to eat something warm. But later I went outside again to look at the starlit sky that arched above the Lappish mountainscape.

A day in Tjäktja

The next morning the weather was perfect for skiing: -22 °C, hardly any wind and again an almost cloudless, blue sky.

I stayed a day in Tjäktja and went up the mountain Tjäktjatjåkka, but only half the way. First of all I’m not the most experience skier, and then I was afraid of avalanches. But even going up halfway in this outstanding weather was great.

Going downhill was much faster than uphills. When I arrived in Tjäktja, the thermometer show -18.5 °C, exactly the same temperature as when I started my short day trip and the sun shone from a cloudless sky over the ravine of the stream Čeavččanjira. The next day I will continue to the next mountain hut: Alesjaure.

The next article: returning to civilisation >>

Translation:

EnglishGermanSwedish
wolverineVielfraßjärv

Kungsleden ski tour: Sälka

This article is part of the series “2016-02: Ski tour on the Kungsleden”.

From the Singistugorna to the Sälkastugorna

23 February · 12 km · Link to map

After I stayed in Singi for two days, I continued to Sälkastugorna (or short Sälka), the next mountain hut. The sky was overcast but the sight was good.

The first part took a bit of time, since there were some quite steep snowdrifts to cross, which is not so easy with the pulka always dragging down. After a while the clouds declined, it started to snow and the sight worsened a bit.

Soon the tiny hut Kuoperjåkka came into sight. You can rest in this hut and it even has a little oven, but only for emergency situations. I shovelled away the snow in front of the door, entered the hut and took a small break. Not that I already was tired after five kilometres, but it’s nice to sit there sheltered from snow and wind and look through the window – even if you hardly can see something. (Taking away the door of the toilet would take longer time as you can see on the second photo.)

After the break I continued the tour. Wind increased and I put on the fur rimmed hood. There was not much to see. When I looked down I could see the blue tips of my skis, when I looked up I could see some waymarks, perhaps some rocks or a tuft of grass. Looking down – looking up – the movements are repetitive, even meditative. Looking down – looking up – what’s that? Sälka is already in view. It’s not a long way from Singi to Sälka, just twelve kilometres.

Arriving in Sälka was like a culture shock. In Singi I was the only guest, here I could see a bunch of pulkas standing outside and when I entered the kitchen of the open hut, it was stuffed with people! 18 people fit in this hut (plus two extra in a tiny locked room) and 18 people we were. 18 people firing the oven and drying their shoes … . Jungle climate! But I got my bed and a place to cook, that’s all you really need.

… and a sauna. It’s not essential to have a sauna, but it’s great, especially, when you can pour a bucket full with hot water over yourself feeling refreshed and clean again.

After the sauna I sat inside, prepared and ate my pasta and chatted with the other people, that came from Belgium, Germany and the US. The weather once again became bad. Wind became stormy and it started to snow more heavily. When people went to the utedass – the earth toilet, 200 meters away, they were clad like for an arctic expeditions: face masks, ski goggles, heavy mittens, headlamps – all for a walk to the toilet.

But as fast weather can worsen, it can improve as well. One hour later the snowfall stopped, the wind fell asleep, sky cleared up and the moon lightened the valley and the nearby mountains. It’s these contrasts I love!

A short day trip into the Stuor Reaiddavággi

24 February

The next day I made a short trip up into the Stuor Reaiddavággi. “vággi” is the sami name for valley and this valley leads to Nallo, another mountain hut that was still closed. You can sleep in closed huts, too, they always have an open emergency room, but you’re completely on your own. I didn’t plan to go to Nallo, even if it’s only 9 km.

(Today I think, I should have done it, since Nallo is one of the huts with the most beautiful location I know.)

Anyway, I just went up – first to a ravine, then I climbed up the slope following the Stuor Reaiddavággi. The sky cleared up more and more and all mountain tops came into view. Sälka was miles away and I was alone by myself amid of this great mountainscape.

After a while and a short break with tea and raisins I returned “home” to the Sälkastugorna. The plan for the next day: Continuing my ski tour to Tjäktja.

The next article: Tjäktja >>

Kungsleden ski tour: Singi – from blizzard to clear sky

This article is part of the series “2016-02: Ski tour on the Kungsleden”.

Singi day #1 – 21. February

That’s me on the picture above. It’s 3:45 in the night. I can hear the storm shaking the cabin and howling in all chimneys. When I look out through another window (this one is completely covered with a layer of snow), I can see that it’s still snowing a lot. But it doesn’t help, I have to go to the loo. And since the toilet is a utedass – an earth closet round 50 meters away, I have to dress for it: The headlamp to find my way through the blizzard, the parka to stay warm and the ski goggles for more comfort when I go back against the snow storm.

Some hours later: The blizzard lasts the whole day. Sometimes you cannot see the other cabins standing 50 meters away – just whiteout. Most of the day I stay inside, either in “my” cabin, which I have completely for myself or I visit J., the stugvärd, in his cabin. But I got out to make some pictures (all made with a 35mm lens):

Singi day #2 – 22. February

Still the wind howled, still snowfall from the sky the next day, but I could see some stars shimmering through the clouds above. And after a short while the snowfall stopped and the overcast sky started to clear up. It’s really nice if you’re able to see something again:

I left the cabins for a short ski tour to the near sami village Goržževuoli. Still some snow crystals fell from the clouds above, still snow was drifting over the white ground, but when I looked back, I could see the sun illuminating this landscape with golden and almost magical colours.

After a while sky cleared up and the weather went “normal”. I took some pictures in the village, which is abandoned, at least in winter time. The buildings are a mixture of wooden houses and traditional sami buildings called kåta.

After I while I headed back over white and untouched snow. I love making the first tracks on fresh snow!

When I came back to Singi, wind increased again. The stugvärd told me, that Singi is quite exposed to wind. I crouched behind a two meter high snow drift to make a photo of the drifting snow. After that I had to dry my lens since the snow dust was everywhere.

The blizzard of the last day created snowdrifts up to three meter high and up to 60 meters long behind the lee side of the cabins.

If you are in a mountain hut, you’ll experience big contrasts: Storm or bright sky – inside or outside – day or night. The following two pictures show the same day:

I was quite busy with keeping the hut warm. It has wooden stoves, one for the kitchen, one for each sleeping room. It takes a lot of wood to keep such a cabin warm, especially when strong winds cool it down (and even accelerate the burning). In the morning I had temperatures round 0 °C and was glad about my warm down filled sleeping bag. The wood on the King’s trail comes in long logs. The stugvärd will cut it up to one meter long logs, the rest is up the the guests. The guests? That’s me! I guess I sawed and hacked wood four or five times to keep the fire running and – even more important – to leave enough wood for those that will come after me.

Later in the evening the full moon rose behind the snow covered mountain chain, surrounded by a halo. I just love standing out in the wintry mountains when the moon lights the scenery. Just beautiful.

The next article: Sälka >>

Kungsleden ski tour: From Nikkaluokta to Singi

This article is part of the series “2016-02: Ski tour on the Kungsleden”.

It was 2005 when I was asked by C. from Switzerland, if I wanted to join him on a ski tour on the Kungsleden – the King’s trail. That’s how I came to my first ski tour in the mountains of Swedish Lapland. More tours followed, but sometimes it was hard to find a tour mate. Same thing this year; that’s why I decided to do my first ski tour on my own.

Kungsleden would be ideal for that, since there’s infrastructure as mountain huts and I won’t be alone. Good to know, since even twisting an ankle could be a serious problem in winter if no one’s around. I wanted to start 19 February, the day, when the huts open.

After a long trip I reached Nikkaluokta (many thanks to A. for the lift from Kiruna!) on the evening of the 17th I had one spare day in one of the cosy cabins of family Sarri. This place can be very cold and I had a look at the digital thermometer in the cabin: -44.8 °C minimum since the last reset – brr, that had been a cold day!

I climbed the small church hill and looked west. That’s were I’ll go the next day.

From Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Fjällstation

19 February · 19 km · Link to map

Time: 7:40, temperature -17 °C, weather: cloudy. Time to start the tour. I mount my skis, put the belt of the pulka (a sled for transportation) round my hips and after some gliding steps I see the first mark of the winter way to Kebnekaise.

It’s the only mark for a long time, the winter way to the Kebnekaise Fjällstation is not marked, neither on the map nor in real. But it’s easy to find the way, since many snowmobiles take this way and you only have to follow their tracks. Soon I’m at the place where the trail crosses the stream Čievrragorsa. In summer I used the chain bridge, In winter the snowmobile goes right over the frozen and snow covered stream. I can hear the sound of water running underneath the ice – a strange feeling.

After some kilometers I come to the lake Láddjujávri. Here you can eat waffles with cloudberries or burgers at “Lap Dånalds” and even take the boat over the lake to shorten your trip a bit. Well – in summer …

Hardly imaginable that I took a bath here six month ago on a hot summer day, when I was here with Annika. Not it’s winter, all is closed down, the boats lie on land and are covered with snow and I’m completely alone. Anyway it’s not too cold and I take a first rest on my tour. Without waffles, without a refreshing bath, but with the same beautiful view as in summer, since the sky starts to clear up and one mountain top after the other starts to get free from clouds, fogs and haze.

When I continue my tour over the ice of the frozen lake I soon can see the same mountain range as I did in summer. And it’s as beautiful as in summer, too.

After some kilometres the trail leaves the lake and continues through scattered birch forests and over frozen swamps, some of them covered with ice. The weather is fine and sky is of a clear blue with some clouds.

Another rest, this time on top of a rock, with hot tea, chocolate, and a bit of salami. What a beautiful day! I could sit here for hours, but I shouldn’t. I have to reach the huts of the Kebnekaise Fjällstation. I do reach them, but before that I have to work. The trail ascends and I have to make wide V-steps with my skis to be able to pull the pulka uphills. Finally I arrive. This mountain resort is quite huge, since Kebnekaise is the highest mountain in Sweden and very popular among hikers, skiers, and climbers. Anyway it is not opened yet beside of the cabin Jägarn (“the hunter”). Here I’ll stay overnight before I’ll continue to the Singistugorna the next day. Twice I climb on the small hill with the radio mast, first after sundown, then at half past six – where I see the first polar light of the tour.

From Kebnekaise Fjällstation to the Singistugorna

20 February · 14 km · Link to map

When I wake up sky is blue again and -17 °C. I take a short breakfast with muesli and prepare for leaving. That means: packing all things – doing the dishes – cleaning the kitchen and my bed room – checking that I have everything with me – putting on skis and pulka belt. Meanwhile the sky is overcast and it has started snowing. Weather can change quickly in the mountains.

After I have walked some kilometres it clears up a bit, just so much, that you can see some mountain tops shining through the hazy fog.

When I enter the narrow passage of the valley the mountain tops hide again, which is a pity. The mountains here are so beautiful.

There is not much snow in the mountains this winter. Parts of the marked winter way lead over stony passages with no snow at all. I have to go round these passages to avoid ruining my skis and pulka. Mostly I follow the snowmobile tracks, hoping that the locals know the best way.

This way leads over the frozen river, but sometimes it’s hard to see, since the snow under the overcast whitish-grey sky don’t show any contours. Wind increases, snow falls as well and the snow starts to drift in the increasing wind. In the narrow valley between the mountains Siŋŋičohhka and Liddubákti more snow lies on the ground which makes it easier to ski but worse to see.

That’s when you are really glad about the winter way marks: Red crosses set on long poles. Sadly plastic crosses are used nowadays. They are ugly, in my opinion harder to see and many of them are broken. But I’m glad to have them anyway. They do not only show you the way, they help you even in guessing whether it’s going up or down, which you cannot see, if visibility and sight are poor.

I always have compass and a good map with me on such tours. Anyway, if you cannot see any landmark these tools are of limited help if you do not count steps or know how fast you are on your skis. That’s when a GPS can be very handy. When I make another rest, longing for the mountain huts Singistugorna, the GPS revealed, that it’s only 970 meter to go. Easy!

Well, not really. The valley opens, wind increases and there are many rocks and snow-free parts on my way. I decide to circumnavigate a steeper passage and ski a bit to the right. To my big amazement I don’t go down but keep on level. Suddenly I feel part of the ground collapsing a bit and realise that I stand on the rim of a soft snow drift, about two meter high. It was absolutely impossible to see it. I’m lucky, that I didn’t fell down! I go back and circumnavigate my circumnavigation until I’m on the marked trail again. There I can see the cabins shining through the drifting and blowing snow. It takes some time to find a good way down to Singi but finally I arrive. Here the wind seems to be even stronger and the snow falls even more intense.

Stugvärd J. shows me my room, light fires in the ovens of the kitchen and my bed room and allows me to take my pulka inside since I’m the only guest. After doing some work he leaves and heads to his own cabin against hard wind and snow.

According to the forecast wind will increase even more and snow fall round 20 cm are expected. I’m glad, that I have time and plan to stay at least one other day in the Singistugorna, perhaps two.

The next article: Singi – from blizzard to clear sky >>

Another polar light

Just three-quarters of an hour ago on the near lake Snesviken.

Some notes: -12 °C outside of the house, probably colder on the lake. The jacket was not too warm. First time this winter, that I made some steps onto the ice of the lake. I just dared because of the many other footprints and the knowledge, that water is less than a meter deep at this place.