Eternal winter in Skellefteå

The July in Sweden was the hottest since 1756, when temperature measurements began. In Skellefteå it was extremely warm as well in July: 29 days had a maximum temperature above 20 °C, 19 days of them above 25 °C.

There is however a place of eternal winter in Skellefteå, just 3 km away from the centre.

Is it a glacier? Is the ice age coming back? No, of course not, this area is just Skellefteå’s snow dump. The last winter was long and snowy and more than 13000 trucks transported snow to this place until the end of April. This resulted in a snow pile of 25 meters in height – another record.

No wonder, that there is still a lot of snow left despite the warm summer. At the edge Tussilago was flowering as if it were spring. The snow was surprisingly clean, only grit and a bit of rubbish showed that I was near civilisation.

Call me stupid, but I had to touch the ground to feel the icy snow – yes, it was cold. It may be tempting to visit this place on a hot summer day, but that’s maybe not the best idea. For one the place is anything but beautiful and for another not without risk, because there could be invisible holes under the icy snow. I was extremely cautious while taking these pictures.

If you would ask me about the strangest place in Skellefteå in summer, the Skellefteå snow dump was definitely a candidate.

Links

A two-day journey to Stora Fjäderägg

There are so many wonderful and special locations to stay overnight in Northern Scandinavia. Many of them are quite far away as e.g. Låktatjåkko (590 km) or Kjølnes Fyr (970 km). Others are quite near.

Two days ago Annika and I started a two-day journey to such a place, unknown to both of us. Already the journey was interesting, since you cannot reach the destination by land. We started in Umeå and drove to Norrfjärden, where we parked the car and waited for the 8 o’clock ferry to the island Holmön. This ferry is operated by the Trafikverket (Swedish Transport Administration) and free of charge.

We had four hours to explore this island, part of the island group Holmöarna, that have 75 year-round inhabitants. The small village Byviken, where we arrived has a boat museum and a small shop, that is open all year. We went for a walk and discovered a nice place: Bergudden. There’s a lighthouse and you can rent rooms, on request even in wintertime.

We arrived back in time to wait for the departure of our next vehicle: Holmöslupen.

Holmöslupen is a chalupa, an old cutter-like sail boat which is a reconstruction of an old boat type as commonly used 100 years ago. It takes up to 12 passengers and you are allowed (and asked) to help with e.g. hoisting the sails. Life vests available, sailing experience not needed. This boat would bring us to our final destination.

The wind was so weak, that we sailed only a part and mostly used the motor. Otherwise the trip (planned to take 40 to 60 minutes) would have taken several hours. We passed the islands Trappskär and Lill-Fjäderägg before we arrived at our travel destination Stora Fjäderägg, an island of 1.8 km × 1.3 km.  Here’s a hostel driven by the STF (Swedish Tourist Association). The story of this hostel is worth to tell:

After people of the boat museum were done with the building the Holmöslupen they asked themselves what to do with such a fine and seaworthy ship. It was them who had the idea to install a hostel on the uninhabited island Stora Fjäderägg just to give the chalupa a purpose. That’s why there is a hostel on a desert island in the Northern Baltic Sea and a wooden boat that transport the guests.

Some images of the island:

There is electricity on the island, there is mobile internet and there is drinking water. The latter comes from a well and especially this year you have to be economical with it due to the long period of dryness. Luckily it rained some days ago and the rain barrels were filled to the brim. The rain water is used for washing oneself and for the dishes. The hostel has a fully equipped kitchen, but you have to bring all food with you.

Annika and I had decided for one of the all-time travel dinners: spaghetti with pesto and parmesan cheese. It was very warm but not too hot to sit outside. We enjoyed our meal and watched the barn swallow feeding its six children that begged for food with open beaks. They seemed to be almost grown-up and hardly fitted into the small nest any more.

We were told, that there are many seals round Stora Fjäderägg and where to find them. Together with Annika I doubtfully followed the tiny path through the heath – I’ve never seen a single seal in the Swedish Baltic Sea since I moved here eight years ago. The ground became rocky and we had a view of the sea. First I saw a black spot on top of a grey spot. A seal on a rock? Then we saw round black spots floating back and forth – definitely seals, I never heard of swimming rocks … . I used a small tree for cover and creeped nearer. The back spot was a seal too and other seals were lying along a headland a bit farther away.

I took the camera, ducked and tried to creep nearer to a large boulder to hide behind. The seal however saw me and *splash* jumped into the water and dived away. I waited behind the rock and I was lucky. After some minutes a seal approached the same rock and crawled onto it. I was so near that I could hear the flippers splashing.

After having taken these photos I returned to Annika and the seal – seeing me – dived again. This rock kept empty for the next time but along the headland more and more seals appeared and seemed to cover the rocks completely. Next time I’ll definitely will take my huge tele photo lens with me.

We both sat there for a while – on a big rock, both listening and watching. The sun had already set, zillions of small insects hummed and buzzed around and we watched the many grey seals, at least 40 of them. Finally we decided to walk back as long it was light. Some of the small paths are not easy to walk on. On our way back I stopped because I saw something moving. It was a young hare. No, it was two of them. No, even more.

Three young hares were hopping around, eating a bit of grass and completely ignoring us. I was able to get close to three meters and still they didn’t seem to be frightened at all. I increased the ISO of my camera to 3200 and took some photos of these cute furry animals. (Don’t ask me what they do in photo 3 and 4, I’m not a hare expert.)

When we arrived at the hostel nightfall had intensified. Frog hopped around everywhere and the blue hour invited for taking more pictures. I however was tired and only took a photo of the old lighthouse before going to bed.

The next day: After a nice outside breakfast Annika and I took another walk over the island. Stora Fjäderägg has a lot of historical places, anything between the not-so-old lighthouse and ancient heaps of stones only readable for archeologists. Here are some of them:

Again it was warm or even hot at midday. Passing the lighthouse we returned to the hostel longing for water to drink.

Apropos lighthouse: We were ten people on the island that had stayed overnight: The host family (3), Annika and I (2), a family from Örnsköldsvik (4) and a man that had bought that old lighthouse. He showed Annika and me around and told us about his plans to renovate the lighthouse and to build a flat into it. A great project that probably will take some years, because it’s just a summer project.

We already had packed our backpacks and cleaned our rooms, now we were ready to go back to the small harbour waiting for the Holmöslupen. This time we were lucky, we could use both mainsail and foresail to sail back to Holmön.

Step by step we came back to civilisation: Holmön – the grocery shop (ice cream!) – the ferry to the mainland – the parked car – driving the E4 to Umeå – a Thai restaurant – home at Annika.

Conclusion: Absolutely worth it! I’m sure it wasn’t the last time, that Annika and I travelled to this very special place.

More info:

 

Mårdseleforsen

Two days ago Annika and I made a trip to Mårdseleforsen (Mårdsele rapids). It’s a two hour trip by car from Skelleftehamn and it’s absolutely worth it.

At Mårdsele the river Vindelälven branches into several parts. Several chain bridges allow to cross them.

Behind the second chain bridge there is a planked footpath that leads to a third bridge, this time a wooden one. Here starts a short circular track through the Nature Reserve of Mårdseleforsen round many inviting looking freshwater pools. Many other families were there too,  taking a walk, bathing or sunbathing on the flat rocks. Unfortunately we had left our bathing things in the car.

After the short walkabout we returned to the parking place. Actually, we wanted to eat something but the restaurant Wild River was fully booked. Fortunately we could buy some burgers that we consumed sitting outside in the sun.

After the lunch we were so eager for a bath, that we got the bathing things out of the car and returned to the freshwater pools. Chain bridge one – across the island again – chain bridge two – to the left – along the planked footpath – to the right – over the long wooden bridge and again we reached the river islands. There were some people left when we arrived but after a while we were completely alone. The weather was perfect: Some sun, some clouds, warm but not too hot.

Soon we found a nice place to stay and took the first swimming tour. Right into a rocky pool, swimming into the current of a small stream that transported us under the bridge where the current broadened and the current weakened. Almost like using a water slide! It was not easy to come ashore again because the algae made the flat rocks very slippery. But with mutual help we finally managed it.

You realise that strange mask I was wearing? It’s a snorkel-google combination, perhaps more a toy than professional diving equipment but it works extremely well and is much more comfortable to wear than the usual snorkel. In addition to that it works quite well with my underwater camera. I snorkelled several times and observed the underwater life: Water insects, freshwater snails, small fishes and river mussels lived in them.

The “making of” (Photos: Annika Kramer):

Even after more than eight years living here I’m still amazed that there are so many incredibly beautiful and interesting places to discover and explore that I’ve never been to before. Mårdseleforsen is one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

The wrong lens

This evening a hedgehog sniffed around in my garden. It ignored the water bowl, probably looking for food. I put on my big telephoto lens to take a portrait but the hedgehog had other plans. It approached so fast, that it soon was too near for taking pictures. And it came nearer and nearer until it almost bumped into my leg. It sniffed a bit, considered me as completely uninteresting and continued its way through the grass of my backyard.

Thanks, Astrid for the Photo.

Heat wave

Today it wasn’t warm, it was hot! While the daily maximum temperatures were between 23 °C and 28 °C the last seven days, the temperature was up to 30 °C today.

It has been hot in my house, too. Round 28 °C today. Since the daily minima have been as high as 18 to 22 °C and the sun rises already round half past two in the night it’s almost impossible to cool down the house.

There is however a place where you can cool down, at least for a while: the Baltic Sea. Today Annika and I took the car to Sillskatan where you can find a sandy beach and – much more important – refreshing cool water. A delight!

There is however something special with the photos above: They show clouds. Today the sky was quite cloudy for the first time in a long time. When we took the car back home it even started to rain but unfortunately only for half a minute.

I’m longing for rain, not only for myself but for Swedish nature and people. Forests have started burning due to the drought and the shortage of hay in Southern Sweden is so severe that farmers were forced to start slaughtering their cattle. The forecast for the next week however doesn’t look too promising. It continues to be hot and dry.

#escapism – kayaking to Gåsören

This article is part of the series #escapism. It’s about being outdoors and leaving civilisation behind in excursions that take less than 24 hours. Everyone should have time for such!

Yesterday I wanted to take advantage of the good weather and decided to make a kayak trip to the island Gåsören. I planned for an overnight stay and that means packing a lot of things:

Anything on the photo beside of the empty plastic box came with me. From left to right: Dry suit, life jacket, food and stove, camping map, spare clothes, tent, camera equipment, water bottle, book, sleeping bag, neoprene boots, 5 litre water canister. It’s almost miracle that everything fits into the kayak. Since it was quite warm I only wore pants and a t-shirt and of course the life jacket, that’s a matter of security and therefore principle.

I paddled between the islands Storgrundet and Brambärsgrundet, passed Vorrgrundet and then headed to Klubben and Flottgrundet. Here I left the islands behind and continued to Gåsören. The weather was nice and the sea was calm. Already 50 minutes later I arrived. I dragged the kayak ashore, took all baggage and went to my favourite campground (and one of the few placed not completely covered with pebbles and rocks) where I put up the tent.

After “cooking” and eating I visited two friends that own one of the two summer cottages on Gåsören. It’s really a beautiful place they have. We talked about paddling, hiking, skiing and much more. It was late when I want back to my tent and the sun started to set.

I didn’t go to sleep directly but watched the sun going down and the many fluffy but extremely clumsy seagull chicks walking around. They cannot fly yet and use to stumble over every other stone. What a contrast to the elegant flight of the grown ups.

It was much brighter than it looks like on these backlit photographs. It doesn’t get dark in the night  and I found it hard to sleep, not only due to the bright night but also to the increasing wind and the constantly screeching seagulls. I put on a woollen cap. It was not cold at all but it helped to block the direct light (though not the shrieks of the gulls).

At half past five I gave up and started to finish a book I’d been reading for a while. That took some hours. At half past eight I took a frugal breakfast: Toast with cheese.

Then I packed everything together. Clouds had started approaching and I wanted to have everything stowed in the kayak before the rain. The sky above was still blue but the sea started to get choppy.

I stopped by my friends again to say farewell. They have their cottage on the lee side of the island and we enjoyed the last hour of sun before the clouds started to cover it.

I dragged the kayak into the shallow water. It was hard to start against the wind, because the kayak was constantly turned parallel to the approaching waves. Wrong direction and quite unstable. But after some tries I managed to leave the island behind. It was exhausting but easy to paddle against the wind. Anyway I wouldn’t have dared to cross the open sea in these conditions without wearing a dry suit even if it’s only 600 metres. The water is still very cold and in case of the kayak capsizing I wanted to be completely sure to be able to reach the shore without hypothermia.

It took twice the time than the day before. The sky was grey and cloudy and it had started to rain. It may not sound like that, but it was real fun paddling through wind and waves. The hardest part was going round Vorrgrundet where I had to go parallel to the short waves. Here I had to be fully focussed to keep my balance. As soon as I reached Storgrundet I was in the lee of that island again and the water was much calmer. Soon I arrived at yesterday’s starting point.

The whole trip took less than 20 hours and is therefore a candidate for the series #escapism.

Finally, two selfies, one sunny from yesterday and one rainy from today (made in the lee of a small island).

 

A mountain tour in Arvidsjaur

Yesterday I used my new car to drive to Vittjåkk, a small skiing area near Arvidsjaur, two hours away from home. Annika and I were there in wintertime and made a showshoe tour up the hills. I lived in Munich for six years and do not call these hills real mountains, but at least they reach above the treeline.

I parked again at the same parking lot and ascended the first hill that seems to be nameless. The sky was free of clouds, it was quite warm and I was completely alone.

Soon I was on top of the first hill. I wasn’t alone anymore. Some horseflies tried to make friends with me or at least with my blood. I descended the first hill and went up the Vittjåkk.

From the top I had a wide view over large forests, lakes and a higher mountain range.

Beside of taking pictures I didn’t rest because the horseflies really loved me. So I continued downhill again and was a bit flabbergasted that the whole hike took hardly more than 90 minutes. The hut village was completely abandoned, only a snowmobile showed that this place is only used in wintertime. And other signs showed that too …

Four typical observations in Northern Sweden’s inland in summer, when you go by car

One: construction sites. Almost all major roads are under constant repair each summer. It takes a lot of time to travel. Sometimes you have to wait for a traffic light becoming green or a follow-me car. Sometimes you follow an expencive camper whose driver doesn’t dare to drive more than 20 km/h on the gravelly sections. And this may go on for miles. Swedish miles! (A Swedish mile is 10 km.)

Two: lupins. Many roadsides are overgrown with lupins. They are beautiful, but they are invasive and threaten biodiversity. The Swedish Transport Agency has started to fight theses flowers.

Three: reindeers. Most reindeers are in the mountains but there are always reindeers left in the inland. Keep attention when driving! When you see one reindeer you can be quite sure that others are around, too.

Four: bilingual town signs. On many place in Northern Sweden you are in two countries at the same time. Sweden, the official nation and Sápmi, the region traditionally inhabited by the Sami people. Therefore many places have (at least) two names, a Swedish and a Sami one.

I drove a lot yesterday: 535 km in total. But as a result I know the new Subaru Outback much better and got used both to the automatic gearbox as the electronic systems. I’m very satisfied with the car that is much more comfortable than the old one. The only drawback, it might be the white colour: The horseflies just love the car. When I return to the car it is mostly surrounded by some dozens of this pests and they will even try to follow when I set off. (They manage round 25 km/h.)

 

Purple clouds

When it comes to Northern Scandinavia and watching the sky, most people will directly think of polar lights. It will take at least a month until it’s dark enough to spot them again in Skelleftehamn. There is however a great replacement: Clouds in the night. Since the sun sinks hardly below the horizon, sunset and sunrise melt together in the middle of the night. The sky is blue and the clouds are illuminated in warm purple and pink colours hard to describe (and to photograph).

I made this photo at 1:02, one hour before sunrise.

It’s only a weak copy of reality since I don’t manage to show the gentleness of the soft yet intense pastel shades of the clouds.

But to close the circle: That’s hard to show with polar lights, too. If you do not carefully edit the photos they may look like green porridge …