Almost like a ski tour

When I look at these photos it looks like I’ve been on a multi-day ski tour. Deep snow, packed pulka, white mountains, snowy forests, a snowed in cabin, a cosy fire in the oven. And more snow.

But these photos do not come from a long ski tour but from five different locations nearby. Some are on Tromsøya, some on Kvaløya and the photos were taken within the last two weeks.

1. A short ski tour near Håkøybotn, Kvaløya.

I was tired, I was lazy, I was in a couch potato mood. Anyhow I managed to take the car to the Håkøybotn graveyard to do a little ski promenade up the hills. The snow was fluffy and when I was almost back at the car I realised, that it was quite deep too in some places, when I put off my skis …

2. Sunrise

Last Saturday I could see how the sun slowly started to illuminate the snowy mountains on the island Kvaløya in the morning. What’s special about this is that I took these photos from the balcony of my new flat. Yes, it’s a 600mm telephoto shot and the photos are slightly blurry but that doesn’t reduce the experience standing there and watching the daylight appear.

3. Pulka test tour

The last ski tour I did was with Annika in 2020. In 2021 Covid prevented a tour. In 2022 I was on my first arctic cruise instead. In 2023 I worked on Svalbard for a week and we had vacation there.

But our next ski tour is just a week away. So the question was – does my pulka sledge still work? So I tested it last Sunday and everything seems to be ok. Nice!

4. A cozy fire in the oven

Back home I changed clothes and fired the oven in my cozy new flat. I don’t use it for heating, but for hygge.

5. Today’s ski tour

It has snowed quite a lot and last night the official snow depth exceeded 100 cm for the first time this winter. I put on my skis already on my parking place and skied up to the forest, where I first followed the tracks and then went “off-piste” though the forest. The snow was so fluffy that I couldn’t see my skis anymore. There were somewhere under 30 cm of snow.

Now the days are getting longer and longer and when I’m back from our ski tour I guess I can just do such shorter ski trips right after work.

Bonus

There are three holes in the photo grid shown at the beginning of the article. Time for three more photos. Why I didn’t put them into the grid? Because they do not look like ski tour photos. I made them on different shore locations on the island Kvaløya on my way back from the ski tour two weeks ago. Here they come:

Cottage holiday

Last Saturday Annika came from Sweden. On Sunday we took the car to the cottage that the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Institute for Marine Research share. We got it from Sunday till today afternoon (which is Thursday).

Monday

The sun won’t rise again before January and daylight is limited, especially when it is snowing. We took the car to the peninsula Sommarøya, bought some groceries in the local store and took some snowy photos in the small harbour.

The rest of the day – taking a nap, firing the oven and preparing dinner.

Tuesday

The sky was clear and the temperature had dropped. Perfect conditions for taking a ski tour along the lake Kattfjordvatnet. The light was beautiful and we were lucky to find some kind of track that we could follow. But who made this track? It was too narrow for a snow mobile and too wide for a pulka sledge. Later we realised that this was a track for a dog sledding. Several times we let the dog sleds pass before we continued to follow the track by ourselves. I was glad about my warm, woollen mittens with temperatures between -10 and -15 °C.

Later at home I let my drone fly to make some photos of the cabin. Look! It is in the middle of nowhere!

Well – not really. The cottage is quite near the road although the way up through the snow is pretty steep.

The time of the polar night is a lot about colours. First the incredible orange and pink colours of sky and mountains and then the polar lights if you are lucky. We were!

Wednesday

We took a small tour to Brensholmen and Hillesøy, places that are quite near by car. It was chilly and windy. A small boat approached, heading to the small harbour of Brensholmen. From here goes the ferry to the island Senja and from here you can see the bridge to Sommarøya with the island Tussøya in the background.

We continued the road, saw some reindeers and the sky that became more and more orange. No drone photos, it was too windy.

When we were home again we spend a part of the evening (and some part of the night) in front of the house, because the polar lights were amazing. They covered more or less the whole sky and were constantly moving in ribbons, garlands and swirls. I took some photos, but mostly Annika and I just watched this celestial spectacle.

So you see that in Northern Norway the time of the polar night (the mørketid) is not as dark as many believe and quite colourful. The days are just pretty short, but this time of the year is so beautiful!

 

 

From the shadow into the sun

It has snowed quite a bit in Tromsø the last days and the snow depth measured this morning was 50 cm. The weather was fair and so there was no reason for me not to start the back country skiing season today.

I take the car to the parking at the Finnvikdalen on the island Kvaløya, where I started some other day trip ski tours the last years. I arrive at nine o’clock and am first. I change boots and jackets, put on gloves, mount the skis and off I go. The snow is fresh and fluffy and I guess that I won’t see my skis today a lot when I don’t follow another track.

First my skis sink 10–20 cm into the snow, later it will be more like 20–40. When I approach an old ski track covered in snow I decide to follow it. Where it will bring me? I’ll see.

At the beginning the track winds through the sparse birch forests. Everything looks quite grey and dull in the dim twilight.

When I however look back I see the first colour in the sky: A thin red cloud.

Twenty minutes later the southeastern sky is filled with the colours of sunrise. Which is no surprise, because it is actually sunrise. Somewhere far away behind the mountains of the mainland.

I continue following the old track. Looks like someone dragged a pulka behind. On one of the hills I spot a cabin. It is Stillvannsbua, a hut open for everyone and a popular tour destination.

The track passes the cabin and so do I.  Shortly after I meet a guy with a pulka. Probably he tented somewhere around. Was it him making this track? Probably, because soon it ends and I continue on areas of loose, untouched snow. Exhausting but beautiful.

On a lot of places the snow under my skis reacts with a loud, muffled noise and the snow sinks down a centimetre or two. The noise spreads in all directions for one or two seconds, a clear sign that the snow is quite unstable. But I’m in the midst of a valley– no avalanche risk here. When I reach the end of a valley I do not dare to proceed to steeper terrain but turn back. I am exhausted anyhow.

On my way back I still cannot see the sun. It is too low to be visible from here. The sky however is even more colourful and then it even starts to snow a bit. Snow and sun – one of my favourite weathers.

Some higher mountains are already sunlit …

And then there it is – the sun! It just appeared from behind a mountain.

All of a sudden the snow is not a featureless white but you can see every feature of the surface. The snowy land has got its colours back.

Everything that is lit by the low sun now shines in the most beautiful warm colours and I enjoy every moment of it. It is only nine other days, then the sun won’t rise again in Tromsø before 16 January. Polar night.

Now I’m not alone any more. A lot of skiers come towards me, many of them with a dog that pulls the skier. Three hours after I have started the tour I arrive at the parking again. The tour was short – just 7½ km – but the main thing was achieved: having been out in the wonderful nature that surrounds Tromsø.

The first winter day

This week it has become gradually colder. You could see it on the mountains, where the snow line dropped lower and lower. More and more the rain became slush and wet snow and yesterday evening it had become so cold, that the snow didn’t melt away immediately. This morning I had to remove some snow from my car before I could make a car trip.

I took the car to the island Kvaløya where it often is a bit colder than directly in Tromsø. The conditions were quite wintry although not all trees seemed ready for that.

Soon I arrived at the lake Finnvikvatnet where I parked the car. No ice on the lake yet so both the huge mountains and the tiny islets were reflected from the calm water surface.

This lakes lies on 230 metres and here the snow was much deeper, perhaps between 10 and 20 cm. Temperature was -2°C. Some flowers peeked out, while others probably were buried completely in the snow.

I was unsure how far I would come but packed my backpack with camera, water, chocolate and a warm jacket and started walking through the snow. I was the first one today and the snow was untouched beside of some animal tracks.

I spotted a pile of stones on a small mountain summit nearby. Maybe I could hike there? Well, let’s try – and make some photos on my way.

It was an interesting hike, because nothing is frozen yet. I was glad to have chosen rubber boots, otherwise I would have got very wet feet. Since I could not find the way under the snow I decided to choose a quite direct way up. That took a while, because it was steeper than expected and sometimes it was more like crawling through knee deep snow than hiking. But I arrived at the summit where I had a view on the higher mountains around and the sea in the west.

Now the terrain was flatter. Time to take some more photos.

A ruin caught my eye. I went there and tried to make photos but could not find a perspective I liked. But I had another option: I had my drone with me. So I could not only take a photo from a higher perspective but also one looking straight down and even one from within without touching the snow drift inside. A practical tool that I still have to become more familiar with.

Time to descend. This time I checked the map in my mobile phone and found the hiking trail. Much easier! In summer this is an easy hike for families.

The lower parts in the west are wooded and many trees still have colourful leaves. But above them the mountains are snowy although you can see, that the snow cover is not very deep yet.

That tour was not very long but I got my very first winter day and the first snow since 27 May. Yay!

Some photos from my short car trip back:

I want to thank my colleague D from work. It was him who offered himself on changing my tyres. Therefore I have studded winter tyres on my car since yesterday afternoon. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do this tour. Thank you, D. !

Taking orthophotos on Kvaløya

That’s me, nine days ago, near a parking place by the lake Finnvikvatnet on the island Kvaløya.

I just got a drone from the Norwegian Polar Institute, a DJI Mavic Pro 2. Since it is forbidden to fly a drone in Tromsø (too near to the airport) I chose a place on Kvaløya to check out the drone and practise a bit.

What you may expect from drone flying is photos like this:

What I actually did that day was taking a bunch of photos like these:

Back at home let the computer do some heavy work. That’s the result:

What I wanted to achieve is creating a so-called orthophoto. That is a stitched image that also contains geographical information. You need quite a lot of photos to get good results. In the map above it is only 9 photos and 11 photos in two distinct groups.

I used two softwares: First OpenDroneMap to create the orthophoto and then QGIS, an open source Geographic Information System, to present the orthophoto in a geographical context.

This afternoon I took a trip to Kvaløya again, this time to the way to Sommarøya and stopped by the lake Kattfjordvatnet. Here I pulled up the drone to an altitude of 80 metres and tried to navigate a rectangular zig-zag pattern with a lot of overlapping between the images. Beside of the fact, that the images are underexposed (and I was too lazy to correct them) I’m quite content with the result. The first image is an oblique shot, the second image is an orthophoto calculated from about 80 images and then placed into QGIS.

Plan for the next two weeks: getting more practise!

Winterly Kvaløya

What a misjudgement! Since it was warm the last weeks I didn’t expect so much winter in Tromsø and around. It was a mistake not to take skis or/and snowshoes with me, when I visited the neighboring island Kvaløya today. And here everything was still snowy. Very snowy. So for example the tombstones on the graveyard in Henrikvik. Or a fence nearby, where only the edge looked out of the snow.

How many tombstone there are around? Hard to say. Some of the larger ones were quite visible while other parts of the graveyard were just a white sheet of snow. I’ll have to check in summer.

Although the temperatures were sub-zero the road by the coast was wet and free of snow. This changed when I turned into the road to Sommerøya, the summer island. Although the road is just 150 meters above sea level it was snow covered. During the snow showers it was hard to see the roadside and I slowed down a lot for every car that came my way.

Some other cars parked at the different parking places. Two skiers just started a tour. But I could hardly spot any fresh ski tracks and even some of the avalanche transceiver test station were quite snowed in. No wonder because parts of the lake Kattfjordvatnet are already open and the ice is not safe anymore.

On the other side of the water: a group of trees in the fresh, white snow. Not a single ski track could be seen. At least here ski season seems to be over.

On the other side walking through the snow is not the best idea neither, especially when there are deep, snow-covered ditches …

Skitour on the Austeråsfjellet

Slowly I’m gaining height with my fjellski. It is sunny and almost windless. Round -6 °C. I seem to be alone. I start traversing a slope while continuing gaining height. I’m nervous. I’m not a downhill skier and every metre I ski up I have to ski down again somewhere.

Mission accomplished: I’m above the tree line. Above me the blue ski, below the white snow. And, while I go further I get another blue: The sea.

When I look back I can see the whole island Tromsøya. Somewhere over there in the south, hidden by the wooded hills is my small rented apartment.

I didn’t plan a route for today. I just wanted to be out enjoying the winter. But when a heap of stones marks a top and it’s easy to reach I have to ski there. Mountain summit 1: Kraknesaksla (ca.335 m). With a nice view into the sound Grøtsundet.

According to the map there are some lakes a bit down. The lakes are invisible. There is only snow. What I can see are the buildings. One small cabin and a wee, tiny shed with a wind turbine. The cabin is closed and I cannot see any sign. Probably it’s private.

I continue my ski trip. I have reached a vidda – a plateau.

Now I start to see other people. A single skier, a group of three going uphills, a skier with a dog in the distance. Most locals love to be outdoors but perhaps not as early as I.

I decide to ski to a mountain top I found on my map app Norgeskart. It’s called Jerremaš (467 m) and is a kilometre away. On the way there I see that the group of three heads into the same direction while two others are already returning. Seems to be a popular place.

And it is. I’m not alone. Several other skiers are sitting there, enjoying the sun, talking Norwegian. Almost all of them are 65+.

I look at the 360 degree panorama. There are snowy mountain chains everywhere, the sound Kvalsundet, the island Ringvassøya and somewhere in the northwest the Norwegian Sea.

How shall I continue the tour? Skiing downhills and letting the others watch how I fall face first into the snow? As I mentioned before, I’m not a downhill skier. The others are probably all former Olympic athletes. I decide to take a small detour …

I start to ski down. To my surprise the hills are gentle and the snow is soft and uniform. I manage to ski downhill the broad, snowy slopes and I’m enjoying it. Sometimes I even think, it is too slow.

Much faster than expected I leave the vidda behind. I pass the first trees and see more and more tracks – and skiers. Many of them are skiing on the prepared ski trail that cuts through the valley like a German Autobahn. Others just sit on a mat in the snow taking a break.

A hole in the snow triggers my curiosity. I ski there and look down. A shallow mountain stream flows down there. Open water. It’s comforting that the snow layer is more than a metre thick.

Now it’s only some more kilometres to ski back to the parking lot where I started my ski tour this morning. Although I’m avoiding the prepared ski trail it is obvious, that more and more skiers have been here the weekend. Ski tracks everywhere.

After round about 17 kilometres I’m back at the car. Pretty exhausted and thirsty but very satisfied.

Here’s a map from today’s ski tour. I went counterclockwise. Red is faster than green but still not fast. I’m not a downhill skier.

 

White beaked dolphins

This morning I got a facebook message. A colleague of mine had spotted marine mammals on Kvaløya.

I packed the camera and the big telephoto lens and took the car there. I drove around and also took the tunnel to the neighbouring island Ringvassøya but I couldn’t spot any. On the way back I turned into the side road to Kvaløyvågen where I saw a parked car with hazard lights and two people standing, one with binoculars. I asked them if there were any whales around and they affirmed.

And then I saw them too – a pod of at least ten animals. They swam against the current of the sound Kvalsundet and I could spot them for a while. I took some photos and cropped the images, because they were round 300 metres away.

I do not know anything about dolphins. According to my colleague it’s White beaked dolphins.

Thanks a lot for the tipp, M. . It was a special experience to spot so many dolphins from land. Without your message I would have missed them.