Break at work II – ice paddling

Today has been another clear and calm day. It was colder than the day before with temperatures round -19 °C. Today’s plan was paddling, at least round Lillskär, the small skerry nearby.

Step 1 – fetching the kayak

I knew exactly where our kayaks are. They lay in the garden – hidden under a layer of powder snow. So the first part of my paddle tour was digging out my kayak.

Step 2 – dressing and get equipment

Survival suit · thick mittens · ice claws · smartphone · camera · waterproof bag for the camera · paddle. Just the basics, I won’t go far.

Step 3 – crossing the ice

After some frosty days the ice on the shallow bay seemed to be thick enough to support my weight. I walked over the ice dragging the kayak behind. At the edge of the bay there was an ice range that I had to cross. I entered the kayak and mostly I used my ice claws to drag myself forward. Sometimes the ice supported the weight of me in the kayak, sometimes we broke through. Although the ice range to cross was only 100 metres wide I had to take several breaks. Some to take photos, some to catch my breath.

Step 3 – paddling

Then I reached open water. Almost. The water was covered with a thin layer of transparent ice needles that made the water look crystallised. It slowed down the waves and I could hear the high-pitched clinking while I was paddling through. Very fascinating!

In addition to that the sea was smoking. When it is as cold as today, the surface water evaporates and quickly resublimes to tiny ice grains that build this moving fog that colours the sea in a pale white.

Step 4 – visiting an ice exhibition

When I passed Lillskär I bent right to the mainland. There were some ice-coated rocks and thicker ice floes there – an extremely beautiful view in the low sunlight. I just went straight ahead. The first ice floes were split by my kayak, on the thicker once I had to use my ice claws again to move forward.

Step 5 – back to land

I realised, that my tour has taken much longer than planned, although the distance was tiny. I was clad in my survival suit, the kayak was on the ice and in 20 minutes my video meeting would begin. I had to hurry up!

The ice near the mainland was too thick to paddle through, but too thin to walk on. So, ice claws again. Not easy, when you lack trained arm and abdominal muscles. When I approached another shallow, I just left the kayak, splashed a bit trough soft ice and knee deep water until I reached the bay again.

From there I could walk on the ice and drag my kayak behind until I reached our property. I went to the house and transformed from paddle guy to IT guy as fast as possible. I informed my boss and colleagues that I would by 5 minutes late. That gave my the chance to take a hot shower, because I was freezing.

Did I miss anything of the meeting? No, the others had to fix audio and that took longer than my shower.

After the meeting, round 12:15 I walked out again to make a photo of the cloud bank and the sea smoke in the low winter sun.

Tomorrow shall be another cold and sunny day. Let’s see how I’ll spend my work break …

Break at work I – island hopping

The Baltic Sea at Obbola has hardly a tidal range. When we get high water or low water it’s mostly due to the wind. Today we had gusty wind from north that let the air temperature of -12 °C feel much colder and to a sea water level of 70 cm below normal, that’s really rare.

Today I took a break at work to enjoy my beloved winter weather. Today’s plan: island hopping to Lillskär, a skerry less than 250 metres away.

Along the small bay I walked to the sea. A lot of rocks that normally are underwater were visible now, some of them wore rings of ice.

The skerry was even nearer than usual when I took this photo because I already stood on the ice. You see parts of the skerry in the right.

I had a decision to make: Shall I try to cross the ice or just wade through the icy water? I decided to wade, because you can get bruises when you go through the ice, even in my thick neoprene survival overall.

So I waded through the water which was less than hip deep. On the islet I had to wade through some thigh deep snow drifts, then I arrived at the outer shore of the islet.

Oh, I love winter when it’s a bit rough and I enjoyed being out. But not for long. Soon I went more or less the same way back …

… and home. After I had changed clothes I had five more minutes until the 10 o’clock meeting. Good timing.

 

And suddenly it’s winter

Last Tuesday it got sunny and I paddled kayak.  On Wednesday it got cold and the small sound between island Lillskär and mainland was covered with ice.

Although it’s mid-December and despite temperatures between -10 °C and -14 °C there were still whooper swans around. Don’t they migrate south? In the morning they managed to paddle through last night’s fresh and thin sea ice. In the afternoon the swans had left. Perhaps they finally decided to fly south.

On Thursday it snowed. In the afternoon 10 cm of fresh snow had fallen and everything was white and bright, even in the night.

On Friday Annika and I had a day off and visited friends in for a long weekend. They live in Kusfors in the inland, round 180 km north. On the way there and there we found more winter. It was not very cold but it snowed quite a lot. I took some images from the car while Annika was driving.

Yesterday on Sunday we came back to our house in Obbola round 20:00. Our property was covered with 45 of fresh snow. Since it had been sub-zero all the days the snow was pretty fluffy. We had to do quite a bit of snow shovelling – but after taking a photo.

Today it’s Monday and a new working week has begun. I had a lot of meetings today and therefore no time to paddle kayak. Oh yes, the kayaks … where are they? I know they lie beside the wooden terrace. Here they are, well hidden under a thick blanket of snow, right beside the window of the winter garden.

But there are other things to do as well. For example opening the afterwork ski season in Olles Spår near Umeå together with Annika. The snow is still soft and the cross-country skiing trail still slow but the first time of skiing is always special and we are happy and grateful that we live in a place where winter is around us.

Now it’s half past nine in the evening and I’m blogging. Snow is falling and the thermometer shows -9.5 °C, the same temperature as the last hours.

And you? What kind of winter do you like? Or do you prefer other seasons?

Finally it’s sunny again home in Sweden!

After a period of dull and cloudy weather that felt like ages the sun finally came out yesterday. Since I was flexible with working hours in the  morning I could make a small kayak tour.

The first part was easy. Since our house in Obbola is on the coast I only had to change my clothes and drag the kayak from the house to the bay. The bay was covered with ice. As usual I just sat in my kayak and started pushing myself ahead using ice claws. This works surprisingly well until you have a lot of water on the ice as I had yesterday. Although I wore neoprene gloves I got cold fingers. As usual this took some time but finally I reached open water.

It was then that I realised that I had forgot my paddle. Fortunately the bay is shallow and I could leave the kayak, step on the ice and carefully walk back to land to fetch the paddle. Some minutes later I sat in my kayak again ready to circle the island Bredskär. I watched the hooting whooper swans and even four flying goldeneyes, a species of ducks. At the northwestern tip of the island there was a small, slushy ice field, the rest was open water. The big freezing hadn’t started yet. When I reached the eastern side of the island I could watch the sunrise some minutes after 9 o’clock.

The last part of the otherwise calm tour was surprisingly wavy. When one breaking wave came out of nothing and of course directly from the side I was afraid that I could capsize but the wave just lifted me gently up half a metre and down again. I was lucky. Sometimes it’s nice to own a less agile but super stable boat.

Even it was only some degrees minus the kayak was covered with a layer of frost that glittered in the warm light of the sun. I just had to take another photo when I was back on land.

And then? After taking a hot shower I made it to the 10 o’clock meeting. In time!

From Tromsø to Obbola

Friday, 18 November – walking back from work

It’s weekend. Today I stopped working already at 14:15. Sunset was 40 minutes ago and the light is beautiful while I’m walking home.

In Tromsø there’s hardly any snow, but a lot of rime. In the evening there’s polar light, but I only take a smartphone snapshot – tomorrow is a long day.

Saturday, 19 November – taking the bus to Narvik

Today is travel day. Round 16–17 hours it will take me from home to home.

Yes, I have two homes. One “work home” in Tromsø where I work and one “Home home” in Obbola where my wife Annika and I have a house by the Baltic Sea.

The weather is gorgeous and I take many photos through the window of the bus. Therefore some of the motives are blurred. The last one – the large bridge Hålogalandsbron is jittery because it has become dusky.

Saturday, 19 November – taking the train to Umeå

It’s a long ride from Narvik to Umeå. Departure 15:10, arrival 1:40 in the night. But it is a though train. I don’t have anything more to do but being awake on the arrival in Umeå. While I eat my take-away sushi outside of the train station it gets dark and so there is not much to see from the landscape in the train unless it stops.

In the frosty inland where it is quite cold I witness a special phenomenon. The whole forest we are passing is lit in green light. Another aurora? No, it’s cloudy. There are passages where the power lines for the train are coated with rime ice. The layer is so thick, that the current collector of the train looses contact and the electricity jumps over emitting bright green light that illuminates the dark forest.

The train arrives in Umeå in time and Annika already waits at the station. Another half an hour and I’m home home. Bed is waiting!

Sunday, 20 November – winter feelings

Oh, what a blessing it is to be home home. Normally we are supposed to work at the offices of the Norwegian Polar Institute but my boss knows about our long-distance relationship (or is it called long-distance marriage?) and allowed me to do home office until Christmas. Tusen takk! And it is even wintry and a bit sunny and a bit snowy.

From now on I can enjoy the view from my home office.

Monday, 21 November – the first home office day

Enjoying the view from my home office is a pleasure but when all of the sudden the morning sun peeks through the clouds I just have to go outside and make some photos!

And what do I do at lunchtime? This:

 

Jämtland tour 22 – the landscapes

This article is part of the series “2022-08: Jämtland and Trøndelag”.

I’m sitting in the train to Umeå. We have a longer stop in Kiruna where the train changes direction. The other trains standing here are cargo trains that transport iron ore from the mines around. Temperature is -10 °C or lower and there are some centimetres of snow covering the ground. Winter finally has arrived in the Swedish fjäll.

I’m so glad to arrive home in Obbola tonight. I haven’t been there since July. Now I’ll stay until Christmas working from home for the Norwegian Polar Institute.

I’ve been however in Sweden in August, too. Not home but for a hiking tour with my sister and family together with my wife Annika.

This reminds me that I almost forgot to publish the last blog article about our hiking trip in the Jämtland. It will take more than seven more hours until I arrive in Umeå, so there’s plenty of time to start blogging now, as long as the mobile net allows. Earlier I’ve written about the cabins, some day trips, the trail and way marks. Today I want to show some photos of the landscape. Let’s go back three months in time. It is late summer in Sweden.

What I love about the Swedish mountains – the fjäll – is its variety. Not only in weather but also in landscapes. In the lowlands there are forests – mostly birch forests – but all Swedish cabins we visited lie above the tree line and here you have a wide view of the mountains, small and large lakes, rivers and streams, bogs and stone deserts. Let’s have a look.

15 August, our first day. The landscape is rising and we have left the forest behind. The trail between Storlien and Blåhammaren leads over many swamps and bogs and is wet and muddy.

16 August. We leave Jämtland and cross the border to Norway. The cabin Storerikvollen lies quite low and we descend through forests of crooked birches.

18 August. Still in Norway we take a resting day at Nedalshytta. I talk a walk along the lake Nesjøen. The water level is extremely low and so I can cross some mud fields that normally are under water. This landscape looks a bit hostile and is not typical for this region.

19 August. Again the terrain is wet and has many small lakes and water puddles. The mountains are hidden behind low hanging clouds.

We start hiking up the Ekorrpasset. Looking back we witness one of the most unphotographable landscapes I know. In reality it is an impressive view of a hilly terrain with uncountable lakes, ponds, streams and puddles. The photos however always look pale, blurred and boring.

Let’s not look back but ahead. The peak of the pass is more than 1300 metres high. That may not be much in the alps, but in these latitudes only few plant can survive these altitudes and so we walk through a desert of stones and rocks. Hidden in between some moss and the flower Ranunculus glacialis.

And let’s look aside. We pass the mighty Sylarna massif (1574 m) with its glaciers and rugged rocks. Impressive.

The Sylarna cabins lie lower. Grass and heather cover the ground presenting the landscape much more mellow, especially in the soft colours of dusk.

20 August. We leave Sylarna and continue to Gåsen. For that we have to hike through the valley of the river Handölan. Here we meet birch forests again. And some quite impressive rapids.

22 August. After a resting day in Gåsen we continue to Helags. The landscape is wide and broad. And where it is not too wet there are surely some reindeer around.

24 August. We are on our way to Fältjägaren, the last cabin of our tour. The weather is sunny and we are accompanied by the mountain Predikstolen (the pulpit) which shows itself from some of its many beautiful sides.

In the evening we stand outside watching the sunset and the incoming night. Soon the lakes are the only part of the landscapes visible. The rest is almost black.

25 August. Our last hiking day. On the other side of the valley we can see the gaps in the forests covering the mountain slopes. These are the ski slopes of Ramundberget where we’ll take the bus to Östersund. Back to civilisation.

And back to the present. I’m still sitting in the train. Where am I? Ah – half an hour left to Gällivare. Now I’m longing for a cold and snowy winter. But then I want to change ski boots with rubber boots and go for a hike again.

The first winter promenade

Down there, that’s the southern part of Tromsø. That’s where I live when working for the Norwegian Polar Institute.

There are reasons why I see Tromsø from above today instead of working in the office. First of all my wife Annika is here this week. Then it is wonderful weather today. I was able to take a day off today and so Annika and I could fetch the first cable car up to Stor­stei­nen, 421 m above sea level. From there you have a fantastic view on the islands Tromsøya and Kvaløya, the strait Tromsøysundet and many, many mountains.

While Tromsøya itself is free of snow all mountains look wintry on this sunny day. Our hiking tour starts in the shadow and it takes some time until we reach the pre-summit of Fløya where the sun shines on our faces the first time.

From there it is not far to the summit of Fløya (671 m).

It has become windy and grains of snow are drifting over the snow. In the low sun they look like grains of gold.

Although it is chilly we stay on the top for a while, because the wintry landscape is so beautiful. The season’s first snow hike is always something special and I’m glad that I can share it with Annika this year.

Slowly we walk back. On the top it was easy to go, later the path gets steeper and the snow makes the path slippery. The sun stands lower now and the drifting snow is even more colourful.

We find a sunny though windy spot to drink warm juice and eat some cookies, then we head back to the mountain station of the cable car. While sunset is near, the almost full moon that has accompanied us the whole day starts rising again above the wintry mountain chains.

Scotland: wetness

This article is part of the series “2022-10: Autumn in Scotland”.

You cannot deny, that Scotland can be a pretty wet land. There are however different kinds of wetnesses.

Bathing in the sea

This kind of wetness I love: bathing in the sea. Finally Annika and I managed to find a sandy beach that looked very promising for taking a bath. And it was perfect. No stones, no currents, no sharp-edged shells, no waves as high as a house. The water was warmer than expected and it hardly rained.

Rain and muddy trails

We continued our road trip through the region of Assynt and parked our car by the Stoer Lighthouse. From there we took a circular hike to the Old Man of Stoer, a 60 metre high sea stack. It rained and the trail was soaking wet and partially quite muddy. I managed to keep my rubber boots dry but Annika’s hiking boots were soaking wet after our hike. Her dancing experience helped her to change to dry shoes.

Adventurous roads

As the days before it was Annika that drove the rental cars. You don’t want to fall asleep while driving in Scotland. Beside the single file tracks with its many meeting points sometimes the roads are blocked by sheep. The road sign warning of a 25% steep hill however looked much more dramatic than the road was.

Ardvreck Castle

We have passed Ardvreck Castle several times the last days. Now it was time to stop and have a look.

The lake Loch Assynt was flooded and so was the path to the castle. I like hiking in rubber boots which is a bit overdressed sometimes. In Scotland however I think it’s perfect footwear. Here they helped me to wade to the castle to take some more photos, while Annika waited ashore.

Sea monsters

I almost forgot to tell: At the beach of Clashnessie I observed sea monsters! Carefully I sneaked up to one of them and I managed to take a photo as a proof. There are sea monsters in Scotland!

10 cm high sea monsters.

10 cm high sea monsters buried in the sand.

10 cm high sea monsters buried in the sand looking suspiciously like seaweed.

Sandnessundbrua

Last night I dreamed I would go on an arctic expedition today. The ship would depart at 16:00. I was surprised in my dream that I almost forgot and started packing. Three pairs of socks … then I woke up.

Today I went paddling with some members from the Tromsø Sea Kayakers Club. We were six people from five countries. It was cloudy, a bit rainy and +2 °C. It was calm, hardly any wind or waves. According to the forecast wind would increase and come from north, so we headed north to get tailwinds on our way back.

I never paddled north from the club. As soon as we started to round the airport the huge bridge Sandnessundbrua came into view. It connects the islands Tromsøya and Kvaløya, is more than a kilometre lang and has a maximum clearance to the sea of 41 metres.

I use the bridge quite often when I go hiking on Kvaløya but on sea I drove through it only once. That was 19 February with Kronprins Haakon on our way to the Arctic. Some memories popped up while I was approaching the bridge by kayak but soon I was back in the present and took some photos before catching up with the others.

We continued north passing the airport till we reached the bay Sandneshamna. After a very short break – wind has arrived and it felt cold just standing around – we went the same way back. This time we paddled against the current but with wind in our backs.

After 12 kilometres and 2½ hours we were back at the boat houses. Thanks for the tour! Hope to see you again on the water.

Still in my drysuit I took the car to a supermarket and bought some food for lunch. When I left the shop it had started snowing.

Scotland: Stac Pollaidh

This article is part of the series “2022-10: Autumn in Scotland”.

It’s 12 October, day 6 of Annika’s and my Scotland holiday this autumn. Today we want to hike round the Stac Pollaidh – or “Stac Polly” – a mountain in the Assynt region of the Northwest highlands. Its twin summit is quite prominent. We start our tour after lunch, where weather was supposed to get better. (And it was.)

Slowly we start hiking up following the excellent cobblestone path.

Technically our tour follows a circular path round the summits, but it climbs up almost on level of the east summit. The west summit is round 80 metres higher and needs a certain amount of scrambling and mountaineering experience that we lack.

It is still cloudy, but the sun starts to peek more and more through breaks in the clouds. Quite soon the views are impressive, from hazy tones of dark grey against the light to circular views that seem to cover the whole Assynt region. Harsh mountain tops – nunataks in the ice age – hilly landscapes – countless lakes, and to the west: the sea.

The ascent gets a bit steeper, the cobblestone path zigzags up the mountain. The passing clouds constantly change the landscape’s appearance. Again and again I have to look back for the views.

Finally we arrive at the junction to the east summit. It is not far to climb it and it rewards with a scenic 360° view, only interrupted by the higher west summit. Stunning! Me meet a local that shows and names all mountain massifs and tops around. Wind increases and we are pretty glad about our windproof clothes.

It’s hard to leave this beautiful place but finally we leave the summit and walk back to our circular route. The first part is near perfection, then it gets quite muddy and slippery. But the views are still awesome.

The more we loose elevation the more we approach our starting point. We can see the harsh rocks of the west summit and partially hidden behind the east summit that we just had visited. The sky is bluer than and Stac Pollaidh looks friendly. Other mountains in directing sun however look sombre and almost hostile.

We reach a last sheep gate and shortly after arrive at the parking place.

Two photos in portrait format – they never blend in with my other landscape format photos. The first is from the ascent, the second from the descent.

Shortly after we have arrived at the car it is starting to rain. Wow, that’s perfect timing! And beyond that it rewards us with one of the most durable double rainbows I ever saw. Intensely it is shining for more than 40 minutes while we are driving to our hostel in Inchnadamph. Even when it gets dark the sun still is illuminating a cloud blanketing a mountain.

Along with our day on Isle of Lewis’ west coast this day is definitely one of my personal highlights of our holiday. Thank you Annika for planning the tour and sharing the experience!