Aurora hunting – failing and cheating

It’s always the same: when you wake up in the night and see the polar lights illuminating the sky it doesn’t mean, that you can take good pictures of them. In the time you need to dress, take camera and tripod and walk outside to a nice place it’s likely that they disappear again. Polar lights are shy fellows.

Last night it was the same: I saw a nice aurora from my sleeping room. But when I arrived at the bay Telegrafbukta no distinct aurora was visible anymore.

Anyhow the sky looked a bit pale. Clouds or polar lights? Let’s take a handheld photo with a long exposure. Cl… …ick.

Yes. The sky is definitely green. I set up the tripod, configure the camera and wait.

Nothing happens.

So I start taking a long expose shot of the sea, the mountains and the lights of Kvaløysletta.

And you can see the polar lights, at least a bit. No surprise because I exposed the photo for 30 seconds with ISO 560 and an exposure of ƒ/3.2. That puts enough light onto the sensor to catch even faint polar lights that are hardly visible to the naked eye. So this is not really an aurora photo, it’s more cheating.

Before I went back to my bed I wanted to take at least one photo with some kind of a motive. It became a shed nearby, illuminated by the moon and again with a faint polar light in the background.

Today I have to go to bed early, I have to catch up on sleep.

The first polar light of the season

This article is part of the series “2021-07: Back in Tromsø”.

Is the polar light shy? It was quite bright, when I peeked out of the window of my tiny room in Tromsø. It got pale when I took pictures at the bay Telegrafbukta. And it got really bright after that while I was returning home because clouds had been gathering.

Anyhow, it’s the first polar light of the season 2021/22 and therefore worth photographing.

There was another light at least as fascinating as the polar light. Plankton that was washed ashore. This plankton was bioluminescent and glowed blu- turquoise. I have a real ugly photo for the records. When this a common phenomenon I’ll try to take better photos some other time.

Look for the rainbow!

If you live in Northern Sweden and love snow, and it rains in the end of February …

… look for the rainbow!

Photographers note: click on the image to get a better version. This photo is not made for jpeg compression.

I’ll be home for Christmas ♫

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Like last Saturday I had a handover meeting at the Norwegian Polar Institute yesterday. And like last Saturday I walked there, taking a longer detour. In contrary to last time 15–20 cm of fresh, fluffy snow had fallen making the landscape look quite different than one week ago. Some photos:

This meeting was a bit special. We should actually have been working from home the last two weeks due to the new corona regulations. I however have just a tiny room with shaky internet in Tromsø and therefore was allowed to work in the office. The handover meeting was in the office, too. And that by the way was the last time for me being there this year.

No, I didn’t quit my job. I will just work from “home home” and that’s Obbola/Umeå. With the approval of my manager I’ll work from Obbola for the rest of the year.

Today is travel day. Since there are no trains from Narvik in Norway to Umeå (guess, why) I was forced to take the airplane. Right now I’m already at Oslo Airport, the first stopover.

Flight 1: Tromsø airport, Langnes – Oslo Airport, Gardermoen

At half past eight I stood at the bus station Sydspissen (southern tip) waiting for the bus. I felt quite warm, because I wore a huge down parka for my six-week stay home. Today I definitely won’t need it – it’s 0 °C in Tromsø – but you never know how winter is like at home.

I don’t write anything about airports. Most of them are equally boring and it’s a lot about waiting, buying high-priced snacks and such. You know that. The only airport photo I show is of the departure schedule in Tromsø. Two flights to Oslo, one to Bodø (via Andenes) and the next to Longyearbyen, the largest settlement of Svalbard. Oh, I have to fly there one time! And from Tromsø it’s nearer to Longyearbyen (960 km) than to Oslo Gardermoen (1110 km).

We got into the air late, because we had to wait for the de-icing of our plane. I sat in row 30 in the back. It was quite cold and I was freezing. That reminded me on my down parka, that I definitely wouldn’t need today. Well …

But soon we were in the air and there was an incredible view about the blue fjords and snow covers mountains surrounding Tromsø. When we were above the clouds I took a nap. The parka made a good sleeping bag, too. Shortly before Oslo the landscape was still white and most of the minor lakes were frozen. Some of the lower lands however were brown and free of snow.

This part I wrote in Gardermoen, where I’ve had a four hour stopover.

Flight 2: Oslo Airport, Gardermoen – Stockholm Arlanda Airport

When I went to the gate I spotted it: a grand piano. May I play it? I first saw the tape that taped the piano shut, then the paper: “Do not play the piano!”. Of course – corona. But I have to keep it in mind that if I’ll be really bored in Gardermoen in the future I maybe can play piano. Would be nice.

I went to the international departure. Here all restaurants and a lot of stores were closed as well as the waiting room for our gate.

But finally I sat in the airplane that connected Norway and Sweden. The crew talked Swedish, the pilot one of the zillion Norwegian dialects. The airplane was almost empty with round about 20–25 passengers.

Annika messaged me: “… kp 5”, which means a faint chance of polar lights even in Oslo or Stockholm. I saw the lights of the airport, when we started. I saw the colours of the sundown. I saw the illuminated towns, villages and streets below and some stars above. Finally even the half moon. But I didn’t see any polar lights.

But maybe my iPhone camera did. You see this cloud-like thing above the horizon on the last photo? It is slightly greenish. Of course it could be a reflection or a malfunction of the iPhone that is not made for available light photography. But maybe it was really a northern light. Well. I hope for more in the next weeks.

This part in I wrote in Arlanda where I’ve had another three and a half hour stopover. Two more hours to wait, one hour to fly, then I’m finally home.

Flight 3: Stockholm Arlanda Airport – UmeåAirport

Now it’s Monday and I sit home in my computer room. Two laptops are placed on the table and it smells burned dust, because I switched on the radiator. I have a look at the bay – sea level is 50 cm above normal and it’s 30 minutes before sunrise (which is two hours earlier than in Tromsø).

The last flight to Umeå was as eventless as the other flights. Anything went well and according to plan.

The only thing to mention: this time we definitely had polar lights. I could see them from my window. I tried to take pictures with my camera which was a bit tricky because I had to use anything I had to cover the rest of the window to avoid reflections. Here is the result where it worked best:

It’s an awful photo, but part of my journey. Now I’m home. Over and out.

Sea kayaking in the dark

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

It’s 2 °C air temperature, a cloudless sky and sunset at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A good day to end working at 14:30 and do some kayaking.

The reason for that I kayaked today is that I want to join a kayak course the weekend after next but I do not have all the required skills. So Tim, the course leader I’ve been in contact with gave me private lessons today.

I came to the meeting place right before sunset, where I met Tim. We changed clothes in the club house of the “Trulle” sea kayaking association, put on our dry suits, sprayskirts and life jackets and finally chose two kayaks from a large selection.

Then I stopped making photos. First of all I had to focus on everything that Tim showed and taught me. I learned a lot because Tim is an excellent teacher. The first half was mostly about paddle techniques, the second half more about rescue manoeuvres, which literally means capsizing by purpose. Into quite cold water in the dark.

Was it dark? Not really. Although the moon was too low to illuminate the sea there were street lights nearby, some light of the near airport, the lights attached to the stern of the kayaks and our head lights. What a wonderful atmosphere! And as the icing on the cake we got a stunning aurora, that covered half the sky – swirling and moving in green, red, and violet colours.

Tim managed to take pictures from the scenery. So I’m not the photographer of the next photo, I’m the motive.

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

I have to admit that I was quite nervous before the private lessons today but now I’m really looking forward to the technique seakayaking course.

Thank you Tim for giving me private lessons today. I can warmly recommend his company True North Adventures.

Luxury laziness

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

It’s only a small room in a shared flat I have here in Tromsø, with just a fraction of the space home in Obbola. But there are advantages of tiny rooms, especially when they are under the roof. And in Tromsø.

You can take lazy photos:

For example of the sunset over some mountain range far away:

17:50, kitchen window | 280mm · ƒ/8.0 · 1/40 sec – I laid the camera just onto the horizontally opened window.

Or some hours, when my roommate knocked at the door: Aurora!

21:50, my room’s window | 24mm · ƒ/8.0 · 10 sec – Again I put the camera on top of the window.

Of course the photos are no good, but I consider it as a luxury laziness to take such pictures without leaving the flat or even my room. Anyhow I promise, the next aurora photos will be taken outside.

Solstice paddling

A kajak tour through the darkest hour of the shortest night

This night is summer solstice. So it is the shortest night of the year. That means that tonight is one of those nights where there is a sunset and a sunrise but it doesn’t get dark.

The weather was calm and warm, a good opportunity for a short midnight kayak tour. When the clock showed 23:30 I felt actually too tired to paddle, but I was able to pull myself together. And I am glad, that I did. It’s always pleasant to be outdoors and the colours of the first half of the tour were incredible.

When I started to circle the island Bredskär the light of sky and clouds became magic. Yes, I do like polar lights but the beauty of the translucent clouds lit by the invisible sun was at least of the same value.

I moored my kayak at a tiny beach on Bredskär and took a photo in the darkest minutes of the night.

Then I continued to circle the island. Now I had to concentrate on the waves and didn’t take any photos until I reached the sound between island and mainland where the sea was calm again. I moored my kayak another time – same island, but the other side. A nice place, but the magic of the light has vanished.

After some photos I entered the kayak and continued my short trip. The small promontory that is visible from our house was already in view and soon I arrived in the tiny, shallow nameless bay.

Home again!

 

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 2

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

6 March – GåsenVålåstugan

What a beautiful morning: blue sky, -8 °C, hardly any wind. I take my tripod and make some photos of the mountains around us.

After two cozy days at Gåsen Annika and I are eager to continue our ski tour and already at 8:15 we say farewell. Next stop: Vålåstugan, 16 km away.

The first kilometre the way leads up. The snow is grippy and soon we are on the top of the saddle. Cirrus cloud have risen and there’s a halo with sun dogs around the sun. We look back and spot Gåsen in the distance. Just some dark spots in an apparently endless expanse of snow, but there you get all you need, from shelter to food.

One and a half hour later we see the emergency hut Härjångsdalen. At the same time a helicopter is coming from north. It lowers fast, turns a lap and then lands directly by the hut. Shortly after we arrive, too. Two people climb out of the helicopter. They inspect the emergency phone in the hut. I would love to have a job that includes flying helicopters to see the mountains from above.

We continue our trip through the kalfjäll – the bare mountains above the timberline.

Slowly we descend and the first birch trees come into view. We take a break on a small hill where the wind has blown away the snow. Normally this could be a rather bad place to rest, because it is exposed to the wind from all directions but today it’s calm and sunny. Soon after the break I take off the jacket and ski without. The woollen shirt is warm enough in the sun.

At 13:50 we arrive at Vålådalen. We are the first guests today. A lot of people are expected today, among others a group of fourteen, guided by the Swedish Tourist Association STF. We have the choice, where to stay and choose room 1 in the new cabin, where we’ll share the 4-bed-room with the two STF tour guides.

Gradually other skiers come, from single skiers to larger groups. Some have pulkas, most only backpacks. Some stay in the old cabin, most in the larger new one. Here the kitchen is quite large and all people find place.

7 March – Vålåstugan

Another beautiful morning. -10 °C.

As we did in Gåsen we do not continue to the next cabin but stay here for a day. Today we are lucky, because the weather is so beautiful. We do a small ski tour to the other side of the valley. It’s always fun to ski without a heavy backpack or pulka. And on the slope leading up to the mountain Gruvsmällen we even have mobile internet. I use the opportunity to check the weather for tomorrow. Oops, that doesn’t look promising.

On the way back we pass the water source. It is protected by a wooden hut which lies deeply under the snow. A stair leading down to the hut is cut into the snow. I wonder how the stugvärdarna – the wardens – knew where to start digging, then I spot an orange plastic bar. Maybe that bar marks the entrance to the hut. Inside you can see, that the hut is built directly over a small stream. Here you can refill the water buckets from the kitchens.

And water we need. Already before our ski tour Annika has started to water the dried food: potatoes, onions, vegetables, feta cheese. In the evening we wait until the larger groups have completed cooking. Then Annika starts to make another frittata. Ingredients: the dried food mentioned above, butter, egg powder, milk powder, salt, herbs and spices. And again it tastes great.

Olle, one of the wardens comes with a weather update. That’s important for the guest of Gåsen because here is no mobile reception. He confirms what I already know: Tomorrow it will snow and be very windy with average wind round 19 m/s.

People start discussing: shall they continue to the next destination tomorrow or stay at the cabin? We decide to stay another day and get a thumbs up from Olle. Others plan to ski back to Vålådalen tomorrow. Tomorrow it’s Sunday and many have to work again on Monday.

Continue with part 3 >