Colours above the Luleälven

Yesterday evening. We are at Storbacken near Vuollerim in Norrbotten, where we visit friends. They live in a house by the large river Luleälven. It’s a bit chilly outside but we still sit there, enjoy the fresh air and try to ignore the first mosquitoes.

I haven’t planned to take pictures but the warm evening light on the forest on the other side of the river becomes more and more intense. Two whooper swans paddle along the river. And finally, half an hour later there appears a rainbow and hovers above the Luleälven like a huge airy bridge. Beautiful!

This morning. I sit in the living room while the fire in the fireplace warms up the room. Outside it’s 3.5 °C and it has been raining the whole night and the whole morning. That’s two of the many sides of Sápmi, the region of the Sámi people.

#escapism – an overnight stay on an icebound raft

Thanks to Facebook I saw yesterday afternoon, that my mate Hans planned to have a sauna in the evening. I took the opportunity to invite myself. Hans answered I should take a sleeping bag with me when I wanted to stay over.

Half an hour I had packed sleeping bag, warm clothes, camera and food and took the car to Bureå. Here in the bay of the marina Hans has parked his rafts. Two rafts are equipped with a cosy cabin with two beds each, the third raft has a toilet and the sauna. In summer the rafts are floating freely and you need a boat to get there. Now it’s possible to cross the ice. When I arrived Hans already had fired the sauna. But first we took an ice bath.

We warmed bread and grilled sausages directly on the sauna oven, the only source of heat. After our third ice bath we warmed up in the sauna and then went in the left cabin. Soon we wrapped up ourselves in our sleeping bags because it was quite chilly. Outside -5 °C, inside only slightly warmer.

I slept well although I woke up several times because the ice cracked loudly. Either it was the frost expanding the ice or the rising water level. Already at 5 o’clock it was so light that I went out to take some photos. Brrr, -10 °C! I could hear the ice crack and the hooting of the whooper swans. Far away some of them swam in the water of one of the few ice-free places.

When I came back it was still early morning and Hans was sleeping. I thought that looked like a good idea, went into my sleeping bag and slept another hour.

When we stood up I was curious about my food for breakfast. The water in my large plastic bottle was partly frozen but still drinkable. To my surprise my yoghurt hadn’t turned into ice over night. Cheese and bread neither. Since it was almost warmer outside than inside we had an outdoor breakfast under the blue morning sky.

After breakfast we called it a day, crossed the ice to our parked cars, said hejdå and left this nice place. Tack så mycket, Hans – thank you, Hans for a relaxed evening and a wonderful spontaneous experience.

Four days in Österbotten

Last Monday Annika and I travelled to one of Umeå’s nearest neighbouring cities: Vasa. Vasa is located in Finland and the fastest and easiest way to get there from Umeå is by ferry. Taking the car round Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea – would be more than 800 km.

2. April – sunny Islands, cormorants and bad roads

The forecast promised sunny weather and I wanted to flee the town of Vasa (round 68000 inhabitants). Our plan was to explore some of the large islands of the Kvarken Archipelago which consists of several thousands of islands and islets.

We left Vasa municipality and entered Korsholm municipality. In Alskat we left the Finnish mainland, took a bridge to the island Fjärdskäret and then the large bridge Replot bron – more than a kilometre long – to the Björkö skärgård.

We made a short stop at the church in Björköby, the main village of Björkö. To our surprise the church wasn’t locked and we could enter. Probably it was only open for the handyman working there. I even went up to the organ but I didn’t dare to climb the clock tower without asking.

From Björköby it’s not far to Svedjehamn, a boat harbour. The coastal sea was still covered with ice and no boat could be seen. Probably many of the boats were in the red boathouses, that were everywhere.

We looked around, then we followed a path to the large observation tower, which is dark and almost 20 metres high. An eye-catching landmark. Beside of some ice fishers that parked their cars at the coast, we were completely alone. Only seabirds could be heard, mostly the typical honking call of the Whooper Swans.

From the tower we had a nice view both over land and sea. The land was framed with ice, but further out the sea was open. Birds flew around, mostly Whooper Swans and small flocks of ducks (being shooed away by other birds). Suddenly a group of dark birds passed our tower, it was a flock of cormorants.

After a while of amateur bird watching we descended the tower and went back to the parked car. We were hungry and took the way back to the Replot Bridge, where we got a delicious lunch at Berny’s Café and Restaurant.

After that we headed for another island in the north. This was quite challenging to drive because larger parts of the way were covered with ice with deep ruts. I had to drive quite slow to keep on the way. In Köklot I made the photo of the only boat in the fishing port, later I just had to photograph the small red hovercraft. I would love to have such a vehicle that can access the sea the whole year round.

I followed the bad road for a while but finally I had to turn because all turnouts were closed. It took a long time to drive back and when we arrived in Vasa we both were tired.

Later this day: A dinner with Asian food, a small coastal walk in Vasa and a bit of luxury: Our flat had a tiny sauna.

3. April – history lessons, old Vasa and Indian food

Already the day before we had decided that we wanted to stay two other nights in the region of Österbotten. We had given Couchsurfing another try. We contacted K.D. that lives in the Korsholm municipality but he didn’t have any place for us. He suggested however that we could meet in the city. So Annika and I went to the monument on the market square where we met K.D.

We got an extremely interesting history lesson about Finland in General und Vasa, while we slowly walked through the city. I didn’t make a single photo, I was too eager listening. After some hours K.D. had to leave but he invited us to the museum Stundars for the next day.

Later we took the car to Gamla Vasa, the old town that burned down in 1852. Some walls, among others of the old church from the 15th century are still there.

Later this day: Indian food and another sauna session.

4. April – a meteorite, two museums and welcoming hosts

Already before the journey we learned about Söderfjärden, a large plain which is an impact crater of a meteorite impact 520 million years ago. The plain lies south of Vasa and we took the car there.

The exhibition at the crate’s centre was closed but outside there’s a model of our solar system. I never walked from the sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – here it was possible.

We only had limited time, so we took the car to Uranus and Neptune – two small blue-green orbs. Then we changed our perspective back to here and now. We saw the first cranes of the year, more geese and more whooper swans.

From Söderfjärden we drove to the museum Stundars, which is quite nearby. We met K.D. again who had opened the “Smedens stuga” – the cabin of the smith – together with a colleague. We thanked for the day before and had an interesting talk about history and now.

We couldn’t stay for long because we had another appointment. When we had stood on the deck of the ferry three days ago we got in contact with S.. He gave us his phone number and this day we met him in Malax where he opened the Kvarkens Båtmuseum and gave us a private guided tour.

I was deeply impressed by the boat that was used for seal hunting. The hunters lived on the ice for several months with nothing but their boat to live in. We do not talk about the middle age, we talk about the 20th century. The last time this boat was used for seal hunting was in 1963, only five years before I was born!

Through Couchsurfing Annika got in contact with A. and M. who live in Västerhankmo, north from Vasa. We were welcome to live with them for two days, although they had other guests and one of the sons would return from Australia the very same day. We felt honoured that we could stay anyway. We drove to their house, where we were shown a huge couch to sleep over and got in contact with the residents – both human and feline.

Later this day: z-z-z-z

5. April – cloudy weather and a bilingual car trip

The weather was cloudy and we were quite lazy. We had seen a lot the last days and we learned a lot. We learned especially a lot about the Finland-Swedes, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Although their nationality is Finnish they have Swedish as a first language. Österbotten is one of the regions in Finland with a lot of Finland-Swedes. In Vasa 25% have Swedish as a first language, in the neighbour municipality Korsholm it is 72%. All people mentioned above are Finland-Swedes and have Swedish as a first language.

The children grow up with Swedish and go to Swedish schools, where they will learn Finnish as a secondary language.

Even the culture is different. When Annika asked for (Finnish) tango events she was told that this would be more a Finnish thing and therefore not easy to find in Österbotten.

It is said, that “the” Finns are much more direct then “the” Swedes who try to avoid any conflict, when possible. I experienced the Finland-Swedes as more to the point than the Swedes and I have to admit, that I enjoyed it because of my own quite direct personality.

Back to 5. April. We took the car and travelled around, first to some other islands.

In Isokyrö we stopped for the old stone church, built between 1513 and 1533.

Temperatures were above zero and everything looked grey and dull. The leftover snow was wet and the gravel roads were muddy. When we returned to our overnight place my car looked really dirty – but in their special way the dirt patterns were beautiful anyway.

Later this day: Having a good time with M., A., and family including a very tasty meat soup with homemade bread and petting the cute cat

6. April – with the Ferry to Umeå

6:40: the alarm rings – 7:05: we sneak out of the house (we said goodbye the evening before) – 7:45: we roll on board of the ferry – 9:00: the ferry starts its journey back to Sweden – 12:30 (Swedish time): we arrive in Holmsund, 20 km from Umeå.

Thank you, K.D, thank you S. “för trevlig sällskap” – for nice company!

Thank you, M., A. and family – for your hospitality and “för trevlig sällskap” as well!

Later this day: The first flowers of the year:

Skiing from Hemavan to the Viterskalet Fjällstuga

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

Sunday, 3 March

A perfect day for a ski tour awaits us when Annika and I wake up in Hemavan, where we arrived the evening before. The ski is blue, the air is calm and the outside thermometer at Hemavans Fjällcenter shows -23 °C.

Today Annika and I will start our first ski tour together. We are going to be in the Vindelfjällen mountains for four days and stay overnight in two mountain cabins of the Swedish tourist association: Viterskalet and Syter. Annika is going to use a backpack and I a pulka sledge. Hopefully Annika’s backpack will hold, she already had to fix a friable strap the day before. After a breakfast we take my car and drive up the slope to park it near the Kungsleden sign.

Here the Northern Kungsleden starts, Sweden’s most popular hiking trail which is 450 km in total. We will follow the Kungsleden for two days and then turn west to Umasjö or south to Solberg back to civilisation.

At half past nine we are ready to start the tour. An employee of the ski area takes some pictures of us, wishes us a good tour, sits down on his snowmobile and drives away.

Now we have to climb up the ski slope, luckily not directly. Anyway we have climbing skins under our skis that prevent slipping back when ascending slopes. It’s no fun at all to use a pulka without them. We ski on broad prepared ski trails. It doesn’t take long and the fixed strap of Annika’s backpack breaks again. At the small hut of a ski lift she replaces it provisionally by another strap. Luckily this makeshift solution will work for the rest of the tour.

Although the sport holidays started the day before the ski resort is anything but crowded. When we however leave the ski resort behind us we are really alone for a while. Only another pair of skiers faster than us overtakes us at the steepest slope of the day. We are above the tree line. Only some solitary birch trees interrupt the snowy kalfjäll.

After a while we meet the snowmobile track. This track is quite popular because the Viterskalet cabin serves waffles – a welcome destination for snowmobile enthusiasts. For us as skiers it is a bit boring to walk on a five to ten meter broad “snowmobile Autobahn” and the exhaust fumes of the less modern snöskoter stink terribly.

We pass the summer bridge over the Västra Syterbäcken. Here’s even a toilet in the middle of the snow covered mountains. Only four other kilometres to go.

The whole winter trail is marked with red wooden crosses and there are many of them. In nice weather this seems a bit overdone but all people who followed such a winter trail in snow storm know that it can be very hard to find the next mark even when it is near.

Another hour of skiing and we arrive at the Viterskalet cabin. The stugvärd who is responsible for the mountain cabin greets us. There are two larger buildings: The cabin of the stugvärd with shop and even a small café and the guest cottage. The shop is tiny but has everything you need. Therefore we can buy most food in the shops and do not need to bear everything for four days.

We allow ourselves the luxury of a cold coke and a waffle. Then we move into the guest cottage. It is huge and hasn’t been heated for a while. Our sleeping room is heated by gas and temperature is at least over 10 °C but the huge kitchen has only 1 °C and it will take hours to warm it up some centigrades. The other guests have left. We will be the only ones to stay overnight.

I stroll around and take photos while the sun is slowly going down.

Annika and I still have garlic bread bought in Hamavan and eat it with a goulash soup bought in the shop. It doesn’t take long and we cuddle ourselves in our sleeping bags. Soon we fall asleep. Mountain air makes you tired!

I however have to pee in the night. For that I have to go outside. That means putting on boots, mittens and a down parka, because it’s -20 °C. This seems to be very uncomfortable but it has its advantages. I can watch an incredible starry night in the Swedish mountains. It is so bright and clear that it only takes seconds to spot the milky way. I just have to go in to fetch my camera and tripod. The green lights over the horizon is a Northern light, but a very weak one.

Last day of February – polar light

Just one hour ago: finally a polar light above Skelleftehamn that was more than a pale green arc. It was just a short intermezzo and when I had found a good place for photographing it already weakened. That’s normal. Many of the beautiful auroras do not last long. I got some shots anyway.

You see the open water on the last image? Well, that’s another story to tell.

Travelling to Bjørnevatn

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

After visiting me home in Skelleftehamn Chris and I continued to Jokkmokk on Thursday. We visited the winter market and then drove to Solberget, where we stayed overnight.

The next day we started a long drive with her car. Chris lives in Bjørnevatn near Kirkenes and we planned to arrive there the very same day. At 7:10 we started our journey that would lead us through Sweden, Finland and Norway.

First the sky was cloudy but the visibility was good. Then it started to get a bit foggy.

Normally that’s no problem. This icy fog however started to cover the windscreen more and more and we had to stop often to scrape of the ice.

In Gällivare we stopped at the gas station and had some breakfast. We also bought a bottle with de-icer for the windscreen and continued our trip.

The de-icer didn’t help, we had to stop many times to scrape away the ice from the freezing fog. We were not the only ones. The headlights and the number plate were covered with several millimetres of ice, too. I never had experiences something like this before.

Only the bottom 15 cm of the windscreen were free of ice. While Chris crouched into the seat to be able to see I gave up taking pictures from the road and photographed sideways.

We approached the Swedish town Karesuando. This small town is located directly on the Muonio älv, which also forms a natural border with Finland. On the other side the town is named Karesuvanto where we took another break.

Strangely the ice problems stopped right after the Finnish border. We continued to Palojoensuu without any problems. There we turned left onto the road 93. An hour later we were at the Norwegian border.

After being stopped by the customs and assuring them that we have neither alcohol nor cigarettes with us, we continued driving through the snowy plains. Next stop: Kautokeino, where most inhabitants are Sámi. Here we ate a hamburger with chips, a typical meal if you travel through Northern Norway.

Until now, Chris had driven a car. Now it was my turn to drive to give her at least a short rest. The first time I drove a diesel.

Round two hours later we arrived in Karasjok. What I already had suspected, confirmed here: It was cold outside: -30 °C.  Time for another break.

Back in the car, Chris was driving again. It was dark, it was cold, we were tired and still more than four hours to go.

I started to get bored and played around with my camera.

A pale green stripe appeared above the street. A northern light. The next hour we got quite nice northern lights, mostly directly in front of us. Though being tired we got at least entertainment. The photos are awful, northern lights are not made for being photographed free-handed from a car on a bumpy road.

Finally we came to Tana, where we crossed the river of the same name. A quarter hour later we arrived in the small town Varangerbotn, were we took the last stop of our long trip.

Now we drove along the fjord Varangerfjorden. Anyway, beside of some street lights and the weakened aurora it was pitch black and I couldn’t see the fjord. Beside of that I just longed for a bed.

But finally we arrived at Chris’ home in Berg near Bjørnevatn. Arrival time 23:40, 16½ hours after we started in Solberget.

Here I’ll spend the next days.

Link to the route on Google Maps

 

Light pillars and northern lights in Bjørnevatn

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

I have seen light pillars in my life and I have seen the aurora many times. Today I got the perfect combination of these two light effects. And never ever saw I light pillars as clear as today.

To see light pillars you need cold weather. When I was out, it was between -22 °C and -24 °C, probably colder on the frozen fjord. Light pillars are caused by hexagonal ice plates that tend to hover horizontally and therefore reflecting the light vertically. The light source can by natural, as e.g. sun and moon or artificial.

I was very lucky that it was cold and clear today so that I could observe them and make some pictures.

 

Lunar Eclipse

Just for the records. Today’s lunar eclipse at 6 o’clock in the morning.

The photos themselves are a bit boring. They could have been taken everywhere. The experience itself however was great: Crossing the sea ice to the near island Storgrundet in the darkness – following older footprints through the island’s forest with a flashlight – sitting on the ice wall at the island’s northern tip and watching the moon turning red – thinking of warmer boots even though it was just -20 °C.

The next lunar eclipse that is visible in Northern Sweden will be in 2025 if I looked right.

Mirages, vintervägg and sea smoke

After the warm but chilly weather on Holmön it’s nice to have colder weather at home. The sky has been clear all night and day and the morning temperatur was -14 °C.

The whole open sea was smoking. A common view when the sea is free of ice but the air is cold.

At the horizon I could see the vintervägg, a local meteorological phenomenon that is typical for this season. Vintervägg means “vinter wall” and names a cloud layer on sea. Sometimes it’s quite near, sometimes it’s far away. Today it was far away and a third meteorological effect came into view: A mirage, also called Fata Morgana. It has the same origin as the sea smoke: abrupt temperature differences. This is why these mirages mostly are found in deserts and polar regions.

Skelleftehamn is not really part of the polar region but shares at least some of the meteorological phenomenons.