April weather – kayaking through the snow

Yesterday the whole day was sunny. The sun was warm enough that we could take breakfast on the terrace. At lunch time we took a bath at Vitskärtsudden. Of course the water temperature is hardly above zero, but it felt springlike to go barefoot over the sand of the beach. Yes – sand, no more ice or snow!

Today however:

In the morning it has started snowing and since then it has been constantly snowing at temperatures round 0.3 °C. A good opportunity for …

… kayaking! Although wind had become stronger the Baltic Sea still was calm. Maybe it was the snow, that created a wet blanket of slush and made parts of the surface slow and doughy, but that I don’t know.

I just took a tour round Lillskär, but took some photos with my Nikon. That took time, because each time I took photos the wind blew me back 50 to 100 metres again. But as I said, the water was calm and it didn’t took long to round the island, cross a field of floating slush, disturb some geese and return home.

Short experiences can be great and memorable experiences!

A photo from the afternoon – still snowing. The original photo looked almost black-and-white and so I made this composition completely black-and-white with a slide blueish tone.

The background: a line of trees, dimmed by the intense snow fall. The middle layer: A line of rocks in the sea, covered with snow. The foreground: The sea, covered with a layer of slush.

Kayak – crisp morning – roe deer – crushed ice

The week in five chapters – including photographers comments

Tuesday, 16. March, 7:45 – a short kayak tour

The blue sky invited to interrupt work and take a short kayak tour. It hardly needs preparation: Putting on the waterproof coverall, put the iPhone in a waterproof bag and drag the kayak over the ice to the islet Lillskär. Then it gets a bit harder to find a good place to set the kayak into the water. I found a place and some minutes later I paddled to the island Bredskär. The tour however turned out to be shorter than planned because between the islands Bredskär and Bredskärsten the Baltic Sea had frozen over in the night. I wasn’t eager to hack myself through the ice, so I turned and realised, that – as so often – the wind came from land and was fresher than expected. At time I do not have a real drysuit for paddling and moving in the thick neoprene survival suit is exhausting. But it’s great to be outdoors, even when the tour is only a tiny one.

Photographers comment:

It’s always like spinning a wheel of fortune, when you try to photo with an iPhone in a waterproof bag and your fingers are in rubber gloves. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes you have waterdrops on the bag, sometimes the camera triggers too late and sometimes you’re taking pictures of your own gloves as in image #3.

Photoing like this is about visual storytelling, not about high quality photos you want to put on the wall of your living room. But on the other side, why actually not?

Yesterday, 6:30 –a crisp morning

-10 °C, could be the last cold morning before the warm air will arrive. I walked to the coast quite early and took some photos. One from the packed ice, that has frozen together, one of a funny ice sculpture that I discovered a bit further out.

Photographers comment:

Alas – a DSLR camera. Not waterproof and much heavier but much more fun to handle. The quality of the photos is of course superior but something is missing a bit: The beautiful warm light of the sunrise. The sun rises however already at 5:43, so I was almost an hour too late.

You have to decide: Do you want to sleep or to take better photos? It’s up to you.

Today, 8:30 – cautious visitors

When I went to the living room this morning I saw a movement outside. Right under the kitchen window two roe deer were eating leftovers of the bird food that was lying in the snow. Annika and I hold distance to the window and even though they were extremely cautious they didn’t seem to be able to see us through the glass. They continued eating for a short while and then went on. I slowly opened the kitchen window to give them carrots, but as expected they didn’t dare to come back. Now the carrots stuck in the snow and we’re curious if they’ll find them there the next days.

Photographers comment:

Luckily the roe deer stood on a metre of solid snow, so they could peek in and we could peek out and see them. The first photo gives a good impression of how near they were, even though it is taken with a focal length of 200mm.

Today, 12:00 – no winter bath

The whole day it has been above zero and at 11 o’clock it started to rain. In the need of fresh air Annika and I walked to Vitskärsudden. We weren’t prepared for a winter bath and it would have been quite useless since the whole bay was filled with ice floes and crushed ice and slush that lazily followed the slow waves of the sea.

Photographers comment:

Well, while the motive is quite ok, the grey overcast weather made the light so dull and poor in contrast, that the photo looks pale and boring. Should you photograph under such conditions? Well, of course! But don’t expect the best results.

Today, 15:45 – crushed ice

Where I started my Tuesday morning paddle tour now a large area of the sea was covered with the very same mixture of ice floes, smaller pieces of ice and slush. I went to Lillskär again – equally prepared as for paddling – and watched the ice floes. It’s mostly the trees of the neighbouring islands that prevent the scenery looking completely arctic, but it’s still impressive.

Finally I took my ice bath but since I didn’t get wet in my coverall it probably doesn’t count.

Photographers comment:

The conditions: bad. Again iPhone in a bag and rubber gloves plus the grey sky. Taking the selfie however was fun.

That makes me realise that I’m quite result-orientated when I make photos. Sometimes I just forget, that the process of photographing itself can be fun, last not least because it gives you reasons to do silly thinks like standing outside the whole night, wade through a mud bog or like today – just jump into the ice pool.

What was your last “crazy” photo action?

The last cold morning?

A clear blue sky, -20 °C – this may be the last cold morning here in Obbola. I was up early and went to the coast to catch the sunrise. The sea, where I paddled yesterday afternoon was completely frozen over again. Patches of ice fog drifted by – a clear sign that other parts of the sea are open (and that it’s cold). The fog partly hid the island Bredskärssten.

When did you watch your last sunrise? Do it again! It’s always fascinating to see the sky and the clouds change colours– from soft pink to deep purple, from crimson red to bright orange. The sunrise position has moved more and more westwards. Now it’s behind the larger island Bredskär. The sun illuminated the drifting fog in spots of orange.

Now in mid-March the sun rises much faster than in midwinter and soon the colours went pale. Time to go back and to warm up. The parka and mittens kept me warm, but the ski pants were a bit too thin when sitting on the ice.

Outdoor exhibition

A Covid-19 compatible art exhibition visit.

What’s that? That’s the Baltic Sea off Obbola. When you stand on the ice, you see the frozen surface reaching to the horizon.

Today I take the skis to explore our coast the first time from the frozen sea. I head south and ski along the coast until I reach our beach Vitskärsudden.

From there I can see an apparently higher wall of ice at the southern tip of the island Tarv, 1.3 km away in the southwest. I do not know this part of the Baltic Sea in wintertime. Is it safe? Can I dare to cross the ice? Well, let’s check for tracks or prints.

OK. There is roe deer prints, footprints, ski tracks, ice skating cuts and a snowmobile trail. And I can see skiers on the ice. Doesn’t look too dangerous. Of course I have my ice picks round my neck as a rescue tool in case of breaking into the ice. Spoiler: the ice sings but nothing happens.

I ski across the ski and there it is. This year’s ice art exhibition:

How large are the exhibits? Here, where I took the photos mostly between 150 and 200 cm.

Most impressive is the ice wall along the coast. But some of the ice formations on the solitaire rocks look interesting, too. If you lay down they look like mountains.

I follow the coastal line of Tarv and finally find a place where the ice wall is so low, that I can enter the island. On the sea there was hardly half a cm of snow, here it’s more half a metre. And a lot of forest.

Parts of the forest are quite dense but after a while of squeezing between the trees I find a snowmobile trail that leads back to the coast. Although it is one and a half hours before sunset the light starts to become a bit orange.

Now I ski back quite the same way.

When our House comes into view I see that the front chimney is smoking. Has Annika warmed up the uninsulated winter garden? Yes, she has! A fire is burning in the stove and I even get a hot chocolate. A warm welcome! And a cool tour!

From dawn till dusk

After some cloudy days the sky cleared yesterday afternoon so that Annika and I could do cross-country skiing under the full moon. Beautiful!

This morning was crisp (-17 °C) and sunny. I took a short break from work and skied a bit along the icy coast, just in time to see the sun rise behind the layer of clouds at the horizon.

I stopped working already at 14:30 and directly put on the skis again. I managed to follow more or less the icy edge to the bay Vitskärsudden, our favourite bathing place. The sun was going down already and lit the ice in warm sunset colours. The scenery looked really arctic. And it felt arctic, too. I felt quite cold and was glad, that I had a down jacket with me to put over the touring jacket.

It was mostly the forests that revealed the fact, that it’s not the Arctic Ocean but the Baltic Sea that I ski along. And of course the houses, hardly 200 meter away from the icy shore.

When I arrived at Vitskärsudden I realised that – unless another storm would break all the ice – bathing season is finally over. I posted a picture on Facebook in the Umeå winter bathing group and then returned home, still on skis but mostly following the roads.

Even with taking the photos the tour took less than two hours. But it felt like having holiday. It’s really a privilege to be able to live here!

 

The forest is covered in snow

Snow fell in the last two weeks. Not in the South of Sweden, much less in the North of Lapland, but a lot in the province Västerbotten where Annika and I live, amongst others a bit west and north of Umeå.

Today we wanted to go up the hill Hemberget in Tavelsjö (or at least try). We parked our car at the church, crossed the road and skied up to the cemetery. There we followed the advice of a sign to cross the cemetery. Leaving the wrought iron gate behind we were lucky to find a snowmobile trail to follow through the forest. The forest was deeply covered in snow.

The trail crossed a cross-country ski run twice and vanished into thin air. We followed the way marks on the ski run and then left it to continue on untouched snow. At least we tried. While I managed to ski ten metres, Annika who has much shorter skis was bogged down in the deep powder. It was no surprise, I already guessed that we wouldn’t reach the top due to the snow conditions. So we changed plans and skied on the Tavelsjö skidspår, the cross-country ski run. A short, but extremely beautiful circular trail. It was so fun to slide on the perfectly prepared run that I forgot to take any photos.

The snow in the forest was round 130 cm deep. How I measured it? With my ski pole, which is 150 cm long. I sticked it into the snow at many places and looked about how much was left in average. But there’s also another method of measurement:

The photo was taken three steps beside the ski run. Here the snow was so loose, that even with skis I stood knee deep in snow, sinking deeper with every motion. I unmounted the skis and hopped. With a PLOP! –  I landed in chest deep powder snow and took a selfie for my blog. Then I wanted to continue to catch up with Annika. I wasn’t stuck but I didn’t I manage to get my feet onto the skis that now lay one metre above my feet in the powder. I had to crawl back to the ski run where it was easy again to mount. I guess we never would have reached the summit of Hemberget today, at least not with these skis.

So I plan to look for Tegsnäs skis for Annika. It’s time. These wooden skis are a much better choice for such snow. There are 225 – 240 cm long and also broader than normal tour skis. Disadvantage: I’m not sure if we manage to put them into Annika’s Volkswagen Golf. Well, we’ll see …

Embracing the winter

Today? Thursday. A normal working day at my home office in Obbola, Sweden. Well – almost.

(1) There’s this incredible view from my home office.

(2) … and the possibility to take a small break and plunge through deep snow. First to our “own” bay Grundviken, then to the coast. The ice fog above the open sea glows in the rising sun.

(3) … and the after-work cross-country skiing on “Olles Spår” together with Annika. It’s -19 °C but as long as you are moving, you stay warm.

After that: Thai food. Then home. Hot shower. Outside temperature: -20.4 °C, this winter’s coldest day yet.

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.

Skiing from Viterskalet Fjällstuga to Syter Fjällstuga

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

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).

A lake named after Anders

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Ascending and descending hills and mountains and three selfies at three different places

The forecast was right, today it was sunny. Morning temperatures were round -9 °C – good conditions for another snowshoe tour.

Chris gave me some tour tips and I decided to go south to a nameless hilltop. I crossed the road and followed the snowmobile trail that cross the river Katojoki. To be honest, without having looked on the map before I hadn’t realised that it was a river. Now I put on my snowshoes and left the trail.

It was quite exhausting to walk through the snow because even with snowshoes I sank 20 – 40 cm into the snow with each step. Snow was falling on top of the snowshoes giving them additional weight. The terrain was rising and I had to make several short breaks to catch my breath. When I came near the hill, it got steeper but since the hill is only 151 meters above see level I was soon on the summit, a snowy platform with a 360 degree view. Here I took a break.

To the north I could see the small town Bjørnevatn and snowy mountains at the horizon. To the east I could see the Fjord Uhcavuotna or Langfjorden. On the snow covered frozen fjord I watched the snowmobile groups and the dogsleds. It’s high season for tourists. Looking to the south I saw the fjord disappearing in the fog. In the colours of the still low sun the scenery looked quite unreal.

It was half past ten. Definitely too early to return. In the southwest I spotted a higher mountain range, which I already knew from the map. Between the mountain range and my resting place on the hilltop there was a valley. I wasn’t sure if I would manage to climb the mountain range but I could try. I zigzagged down the hill to avoid the steeper parts, crossed the valley – phew, deep snow again – and went up a small snowy hill.

You see the picture above? There are two possible ways up the mountains. A steeper and higher one to the right and a shorter and less steep one to the left. The right one could be too steep for me and my snowshoes and I was afraid of avalanches. Therefore I chose the left one. It worked! After ascending the snowy slope I stood on a small plateau.

I had to climb another slope, shorter but steeper, then I reached the sunny vidda. Vidde is Norwegian for expanse and for plateau or tableland. You may know the word from Hardangarvidda, a large plateau between Bergen and Oslo.

That’s the landscapes I love – less is more!

After walking around and going up another small top I reached a flat snowy plane. If it’s completely flat it’s probably not a bog but a lake and so it was. It was the lake Andersvatnet (136 m above sea level).

On the other side another hilltop, according to the digital map 183 m above sea level. Strange that all these summits and tops do not have any names, at least not in the official maps. I decided to climb this top, too. The borrowed snowshoes are not very good for steeper passages so I had to look for a good way up and more than once I slid back or had to use my hands to pull me up. But finally I “conquered this hostile mountain”!

The first photo above shows Andersvatnet. If you look at the enlarged picture you can see my snowshoe tracks.

I didn’t make a long break because I wasn’t sure about the continuation of my tour. I would love to stay up for a while and then descend at another place, but according to the map it could be quite steep. I went northwest and went along the edge of the mountain range.

I looked for a possibility to descend the plateau but finally I had to realise that all slopes were much too steep to descend. Therefore I continued by circular route until I could see the same power pole again that I passed on my way up. I ascended another small top, again with a gorgeous view. Time for another break.

I felt cold. Probably it was because I was exhausted and a bit sweaty. While I didn’t close the down parka at all at my first break I closed it completely this time and even put on the woollen mittens. Wrapped up like this I could enjoy the sun and the views in all directions. But then it was time to continue the tour and to leave the bare mountains. I found my old snowshoe tracks, followed them and went down, mostly in my own tracks.

After I left these mountains behind I went back straight ahead. Again deep snow, but less exhausting than climbing all hilltops. I was back to civilisation. I could hear the roaring of the snowmobiles and the barking of the huskies. Later I saw them both. A group of white dressed snowmobilers – probably hunters – and the huskies pulling the dogsleds. Still I was 100 meters above sea level – high enough to have wide views. Do you see the dogsled on the next photo?

I reached a large trail prepared for the dogs. It was solid enough that I could go there without snowshoes. What a blessing! Snowshoes are great for mountain tours like today but I always feel clumsy wearing them. I passed some dog teams – guides sorting the dogs and tourists wrapped in winter coveralls sitting in the sleds or taking pictures.

The inner of my nose started to tickle, normally a sign that it’s -15 °C or below because then the nose hairs start freezing. Even my eyelids started to freeze together. When I arrived home the thermometer showed -16 °C. So it has become colder over the day.

Now it’s 22:15 and outdoor temperature has dropped to -22 °C. Probably the last cold night for a long time, since much warmer weather is on its way.