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.

No, it’s not winter yet, but …

No, it’s not winter yet. It’s autumn. Look at the coloured trees that I photographed in Skelleftehamn yesterday morning.

No, it’s not winter yet. Well, it snowed in Lövånger – 40 km south – some days before. Yes, in the shadow of the forests there are still patches of snow. Ok, the shallow parts of the lake Gårdefjärden had started to freeze over, but it’s not winter yet.

No, it’s not winter yet. But it’s dark. And when it’s dark, there could be polar lights. Annika rang me at 19:40 and told me that strong polar lights covered the sky. And so it was. I took my camera, hopped into the car and drove to the beach Storgrundet. First mistake: no memory card in the camera – good to have a spare one. Second mistake: en empty battery – good to have a spare one. When I was ready to take pictures, the most impressive polar lights already had gone but I made some pictures anyway.

No, it’s not winter yet. But the winter will come with frost and snow – sooner or later. And hopefully with a lot of sunny days. And more polar lights.

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 …

 

The shortest night of the year

Sunset on the 21st of July: 23:27 – sunset on the 22nd of July: 01:47. It’s the shortest night of the year and the night is bright.

Although we were quite tired, Annika and I took the car to Långhällan last night because I wanted to make some “night images”. When we arrived the sun had set just 10 minutes ago. The sky was quite clear and the sky above the northwestern horizon glowed in an intense orange.

The sky above the eastern horizon had a completely different colouring. It was of a pale purple hue and the colours were reflected by the surfaces of the many small ponds.

I went down to the rocky shore and looked at the Baltic Sea. Both rocks and the sea were bathed in purple. The darkest minute of the brightest night had arrived.

When I looked back to the north the horizon was still coloured orange. The darkest moment had passed and the sun would already rise again an hour later.

Tired we returned home. When we arrived in Skelleftehamn sunset was just minutes away. We decided anyhow that it would be totally ok to miss the sunset and went to sleep.

There’s a reason why I hardly make any photos in June. The most beautiful light is simultaneously with my deepest sleep. From now on the days will become shorter, but it will take weeks until the first stars are visible again in Skelleftehamn.

 

Breaking the spring ice

This morning I saw not only the ice fishermen, but also the icebreaker Baus clearing the ice in the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn. In the afternoon I remembered, that I had come into contact with K., one of the crew members on Facebook some weeks ago. I had asked if it was possible to go with the Baus to take photos sometime. K. had answered that I should just go there and ask the people. And so I did today.

I met a guy who works on the icebreaker and learned that it’s hard to make some kind of appointment. In winter no one knows exactly, when ships will arrive or depart due to the weather and the ice conditions and therefore neither when the Baus would start. But they would actually leave in twenty minutes to clear the ice for the ship Ice Star and I was allowed to join …

Sixteen minutes later I was at the dock again, this time with better clothes and my camera equipment that I got from home. How good that I live so close.

I was allowed to enter the Baus and say hello to the captain on the bridge.

He welcomed me, showed me some of the controls to steer the boat and allowed me just to go round everywhere to take photos. I didn’t want to disturb him, because he had to focus on his work and my plan was to make photos, not to interview the crew. At first I went up onto the top deck.

The water was completely covered with crushed ice. Some of the ice floes were at least half a metre thick. Slowly the Baus departed from the dock and I went down to the bottom deck to be closer to the icy sea.

While the Baus was slowly moving back and forth I went on every possible deck. I really enjoyed that freedom that you never can have on bigger ships as e.g. the Hurtigruten ships.

After some time of waiting and some time of moving around the way was clear for the Ice Star. Slowly it departed and followed the cleared channels between the solid ice where it with increasing speed left “Skellefteå Hamn”, the port of Skellefteå in Skelleftehamn.

While my eyes followed the Ice Star I spotted something blue at the horizon. Water! Somewhere behind the island Gåsören the ice had started to break and now open water covered the Baltic Sea behind Gåsören. Maybe the next paddle tour is closer than I think.

The Baus already had started to turn around (the previous photo shows the funnel at the rear) and return to the dock. I enjoyed watching the different types of ice.

Until now, the trip was extremely calm, now it started to get more rumbling, because Baus now went through packed ice – crushed ice that had frozen together and now was split into large irregular chunks. Great channel-like cracks developed in the ice, which soon closed again.

After some more minutes the Baus arrived and after thanking the captain for the opportunity to follow I left the icebreaker. The whole trip took less than 90 minutes, but felt much longer. I’ve been living in Skelleftehamn for almost eight years and it was a great experience to see my place of residence from a completely new perspective.

Thanks a lot, crew of icebreaker Baus!

Seeing the blue open water was a welcome spring sign. I saw two others today:

The first butterfly of the season, a small tortoiseshell that fluttered around the top deck of the Baus and (perhaps less romantic) the first teenager in shorts in front of ICA, the grocery store. I’m still waiting however for the first wild spring flower in Skelleftehamn.

Period of fine weather

I guess, this week has been the ice fisher’s delight. Nightly temperatures between round -8 °C (good for the ice), afternoon temperatures round +8 °C, hardly any wind and no clouds hiding the sun (good for oneself).

It’s really hard for me to focus on my work when weather is as nice as it has been the last weeks. I would prefer having holidays in the mountains enjoying the fabulous late winter weather. I guess however that there are times when I have to earn money, too …

Already at 8 o’clock I saw five ice fishers standing, sitting or lying on the ice with their tiny plastic fishing rods. Although it was -6 °C it was warm in the sun. In the background the icebreaker Baus circuited around to break the ice for the next ship to come.

I knelt on the ice to make the photos above and heard it cracking. Was it thin ice? Not at all, it is still thick and safe. I guess it was the waves caused by the Baus that made the ice swing and crack. A strange experience. Good to now however that the water is quite shallow where I went.

But now I have to continue my work …

Addendum

I didn’t work much more today, sometimes there are spontaneous opportunities to seize  …

#escapism – an icy camp site

Yesterday

Yesterday at 17:40 my tent was set up on a snowy plane near the sea ice where I planned to stay for the night.

The dinner was part luxury (a really cold coke), part pragmatism (some instant curry chicken of dubious consistency) and part necessity (chocolate!). After the dinner I walked along the shore, which was completely covered with ice and snow. First I walked on land, then on the sea ice. You may think, that a landscape that solely consists of snow and ice must be quite colourless, but no, when there’s light there are colours!

When I came back to my tent, it already had become dark and the almost full moon hovered over the tent. And that was my view from the tent, too: The moon, some stars, snow, ice and the icebound sea.

You might wonder, where I am. Good point, I’ll explain. Let’s go back half a day.

Yesterday I worked only half a day and was home early. I had a plan in my mind: as long as the sea ice is as thick as just now, why shouldn’t I ski over the Baltic Sea to the island Gåsören and spend the night there. I’ve done that in summer twice by kayak but never in wintertime. So I picked myself up, packed skis and pulka and took the car to the small harbour Tjuvkistan.

While the Baltic Sea was open one year ago it is still covered with thick ice this year. Instead of open water one can spot only a snow covered plane and some tracks – made by hare, a moose, another skier, but mostly by snowmobiles, the favourite winter vehicle of many locals. I however do not own such a snöskoter but prefer skiing anyway.

The linear distance between Tjuvkistan and  Gåsören is only 2,3 km and so I arrived at the island soon. In summer it’s hard to find a tenting place (I know only one), since almost the whole island is covered with stones and rocks. This winter however Gåsören is covered with at least 50 cm of snow and so it was easy to find a good place to tent. Scroll up to the first photo and you see it.

OK, back to the story …

At nine a clock it was quite dark and a layer of clouds approached. Good arguments for cuddling up in my warm down sleeping bag and go to sleep. Good night, world.

Today

At five a clock I woke up and felt fairly well rested. I got up for taking some photos. Although it’s already the end of March the nights can be quite chilly and I guess that we had temperatures round -10 °C. I put on more or less all clothes that I had with me and made some photos. The moon had wandered on its orbit to the west and hovered above Gåsören’s old lighthouse.

That photo looks like being shot at the dead of night, doesn’t it? So let’s turn around and look to the east:

It’s less than 8 minutes between the previous two images and it’s more the cardinal direction than the time difference that is responsible for the different light and colours. I walked around for two hours and was just happy to be there at that fantastic place that fantastic morning and to experience all these different kinds of ice and light.

I became hungry so I returned to the tent. or tried … . Just a photo of the lighthouses behind the ice. And another one of my camp site.

But now: finally breakfast. Water, crisp bread and cheese. That may not be the most exciting food, but I didn’t care, I enjoyed the  incredible view over the icebound Baltic Sea in winter.

After breakfast I walked around another time and took some more photos.

Another break. This time just pure luxury. Since I wasn’t in a hurry the tent was still set up. So I could cuddle up in my cozy sleeping bag again and took a long daytime nap. The temperature was still below zero but the sun was high up in the sky and warmed the tent. And there was even chocolate left. Just “gemütlich”!

When I woke up an hour later a layer of stratus clouds had approached and the light had become dull. A good time to pack anything back into the pulka, to put on my skis again and to start the “long” way home. Good bye, Gåsören. Next time when I visit you it will probably be with the kayak. I love winter, but paddling in summertime is great, too.

When I had arrived at the car after Jonas’ and my previous ski tour, it was in Kvikkjokk, 400 km from home. This time the car was parked less than 3 km from my house. I’ve been living in Skelleftehamn for many years now but still I’m happy about the beautifulness of it.

This article is the first one of the new 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!

My packing list (excerpt)

tent with snow pegs · inflatable camping mat · down sleeping back (a warm one!) · clothes for skiing · spare clothes · winter anorak · thermal pants · warm boots · woollen cap · 2 pairs of gloves · down west · skis with poles and boots · pulka with hip belt · water (both cool and hot) · food (a lot!) · knife · camping stove · matches · kitchen stuff · mobile phone · power bank · headlamp · sunglasses · thermometer (it broke) · compass · isdubbar (essential emergency equipment in case of breaking into the ice) · toilet paper · snow shovel · camera equipment · tripod · grand piano (just kidding)