A starry night at Solberget

Day 1 of the winter journey 2018

After a first day on the winter market in Jokkmokk Annika and I enjoyed the cozy sauna at Solberget, my very favourite of all saunas I know. I was really tired after the sauna but just had to make some photos of the beautiful surroundings in the moonlight.

And while I made photos of the window of the sauna hut even the polar light increased a bit.

Today Annika and I will head to the Jokkmokksmarknad again. Yesterday we got a lift, today we’ll take my car.

Autumn northern light above Skelleftehamn

I have stopped counting how many northern lights I have missed in Skelleftehamn the last four weeks. The sky was covered with a thick layer of clouds most of the days (and nights). I only could see some week greenish coloration lingering through a break in the clouds for some minutes two weeks ago. The rest of the day I watched all the fantastic aurora photos made in Norway and other places, while it stayed cloudy here.

This week the weather started to be much nicer. The air however was cold and moist in the night making the nights quite foggy. While the aurora was visible in town last night, it was foggy again here. But this night I was lucky. Even though it’s colder (+ 3 °C just now) outside, the sky remained clear. When I saw the first green shade I immediately took the car (it’s faster) and drove to the near lake Snesviken where I could watch the first polar lights in Skelleftehamn this season.

The red colour in the left is no northern light, it’s the lights of the town Skellefteå, probably caused by the still moist air.

27 August: Kungsleden day 8 – Nallo—Vistas (9 km)

This article is part of the series “2017-08: Kungsleden hike”.

Going to bed early, getting up early – the second morning in Nallo we beat a record. We woke up at six and started our tour already at half past seven. The snow has melted away the day before but the night had been cold and some smaller puddles were covered with ice needles.

This year it was easy to cross the watercourse behind the hut Nallostugan. Later on we would have to cross a bigger stream where Annika had to put on her sandals to cross that stream two years ago while I barely managed to cross it in rubber boots.

The first part of the way was still quite arctic and alpine with many rocks and frozen ponds …

… but with each meter in height we descended to Vistas, our next destination, the variety of plants grew. Soon Salix lapponum (downy willow), Empetrum nigrum (crowberry) and Betula nana (dwarf birch) were found again and finally birch trees as well, the first ones for days.

Downy willows like wet places. If you see a long line of them you can be sure that they grow along an alpine brook and if they cover a whole area it certainly will be very wet. Apropos wet – we all managed to cross the river by stepping from stone to stone. Wading was unnecessary. Even if many parts of the trail have been quite muddy this year the water level had been generally low.

This tour was the shortest and easiest of the whole Kungsleden and we used the sunny weather to make a longer rest with lots of chocolate. We would buy new chocolate in Vistas.

The first building we could see was the new Sauna, which is sponsored of a gentlemen’s club called “Fjällrävarna”. Shortly after that the other buildings of Vistasstugan came into sight. We already arrived at 12 o’clock and would have been there even earlier, if we hadn’t been hold up by blueberries …

When we arrived we were alone. D., the German stugvärd left a note that he was hiking and would come back round 4 o’clock. Guests should just choose a bed. So did we. Then we took some items from the self-service shop, put ourselves on the outside stairs of the hut and enjoyed sun. After that we made pancakes with bluebe …

Oh well, the blueberries! I almost forgot them. We hadn’t found many eatable blueberries yet. Many of them were still small and green, probably due to the cold winter, and most blue ones we found turned out to be tasteless or sour. Until today, when we found another field of blueberries on our way to Vistas. This time they were ripe and aromatic. First we ate one or two, then some more. Then we dropped our backpacks and ate some more. Then we dropped ourselves on the ground to collect these tasty berries (and eat some more). It didn’t take long to fill a whole box and some hours later we got a delicious dinner:

Pancakes with fresh blueberries, sugar and cinnamon. They tasted extremely well and it was hardly imaginable, that the pancake dough had been just a powder in Annika’s backpack. Did I mention, that the blueberry garnished pancakes were delicious? I did? Well, you think a lot about food when hiking …

Our dinner was less special: Swedish meatballs in cream with mashed potatoes. It was tasty anyway but not very photogenic. I prefer to show the cans instead of the meal:

Stugvärd D. asked us if he should wake us for polar lights and we accepted gladly. He woke us round 22:30, when it was still dusky. Indeed there were polar lights on the sky, but they were quite weak and hardly spottable. I stayed up another two hours, glad to have a down vest with me, since the temperature already had reached freezing point. The aurora however continued to be weak most of the time. Anyway it was a pleasure to watch. And the stars, the many stars! It was months ago, that it was dark enough to experience such a starry night. At one o’clock I fell into my bed. Another great tour day and the sunniest one yet.

The last polar lights 2016

Just a photo from the last aurora 2016, two hours before midnight of New Year’s Eve.

The aurora was quite strong, colourful and vivid for some minutes. I was really glad to watch it together with some German friends that are visiting me the week round the turn of the year. Anyway I had to take a photo – the Northern Lights already were quite weak again – for the “blog records”.

The next blog post will be published next year.

Happy new year!

 

Winter by the sea in a nutshell

Ingredients:

  • Long underwear (with hood), socks, winter boots, gloves, ski pants, a warm down parka.
  • A good digital camera, a wide angle lens, a tripod
  • Some rocks, pancake ice and an ice covered rock with icicles. Spice it with a bit of weak ice to make it more interesting.
  • A moon (almost full), some purple clouds (altostratus is best) and a pinch of polar lights.

Recipe:

  • Put on the items of the first row.
  • Take the items of the second row with you.
  • Look for the items of the third row.
  • Wait for the items of the fourth row and cool the scenery down to -14 °C for 45 minutes.

Voilà, bon appétit!

(Finding the items of the third row was really easy. It’s almost the same I paddled along through the ice half a day ago.)

Kp 6-7

People, who love watching auroras need, the higher the Kp, the better. The Kp index measures the disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field and therefore is a good indicator for the possibility of auroras a.k.a. polar lights. The Kp index ranges from 0 to 9.

When I moved to Skelleftehamn in 2010, I was on the look-out for auroras when the Kp was 3 or higher (and the first winter was extremely dull, when it came to Northern lights). Nowadays I consider looking out when the Kp is 4 or (better) above – or randomly if it’s dark and starry.

Today the Kp was (and still is) really high; between 6 and 7 with a forecast of 7⅔, which is really extraordinary!

When I looked out right after 6 o’clock, I already could see a bright band of Northern light above me. Keep in mind, that this was just 40 minutes after sunset, still in the time of civil twilight and the sky itself was still bright, too.

Ten minutes later I stood at the stony shore of Näsgrundet and took the first photo:

This is probably my favourite shot of today, since the polar lights look so delicate and fragile. I’ve seen such only once before, when the Kp index was as high as today.

Five minutes later: The moon illuminates the Baltic Sea, the island Gåsören is clearly visible at the horizon. The aurora weakened a bit and is not visible in this direction.

16 minutes later, now being 18:40: It became darker and there were enough stars shining to see the constellations. The aurora, that had weakened for some minutes, started to get stronger again.

And I mean stronger! Six other minutes later half of the sky was filled with a huge vortex of polar lights. My wide angle lens (14-24mm) could only catch a part of it.

I switched my place, from the rocky northern shore to the pier for the pilot vessels. Now it’s quite dark and the twilight colours almost had vanished. But now the aurora has weakened to a “nice” one, nothing impressive anymore.

I waited a bit, but nothing extraordinary happens any longer. I head home. Perhaps I’ll be out once more again later …

Photographer’s issues:

My nice Gitzo tripod broke some weeks ago. So I’ve been using another one which slows me down. When you take photos of moving motives – yes, polar lights do move – it can be important to know your equipment to be fast. Some shots weren’t made today just because of the unusual (and inferior) tripod.

Have a look at the last photo. Do you see the rainbow coloured arcs on the left side? Nice for you, because I didn’t. At least not directly after taking that photo. Otherwise I would have taken another photo covering the light source on the right side with my hand (making the hand part of the photo). Then I could have merged these two photos into one and got rid of these lens reflections. Well, perhaps next time …

Boat bridge by day and night (featuring Aurora)

Two photos of the small wooden, floating boat bridge at Storgrundet, the nearest beach from my house in Skelleftehamn. Both are made today.

One is a snapshot, made 10:30 in broad daylight. The sky is bright blue, the birch leaves are still yellow, slowly turning brown. A boat has just put out to the near island. The sun still warms, but it is windy and the air is fresh. Tiny waves make the boat bridge wobble and you can hear the waves gurgle.

Almost twelve hours later, att 22:08 I make the second image, this time with a tripod and 10 sec exposure time. The sun went done at 6 o’clock and the temperature has dropped to 4 °C. A cloudless and starry sky arches above the near island and the rests of a polar lights are flickering above the horizon. Just as this morning the boat bridge is wobbling in the tiny gurgling waves – that’s way this photo is jittered.

I like either views, both the autumn leaves in the sun and the polar light in the night. However while I enjoy the autumn days just as they are, the polar light increases the anticipation of the coming winter – still months away, but coming for sure.

The first polar light of the season

When Annika woke me up, a strong and colourful polar light covered the northern sky. In the short time it took to go in for getting my camera and tripod it already got much weaker, but it was still strong enough to take a picture with a quite short exposure time.

The first polar light of the season is always something special, especially when it’s still August. Almost unbelievable, that only one month ago the nightly sky was so bright, that you hardly could see a single star.

To see the Northern lights from your own garden is still pure luxury. Now I’m looking forward to the next time …

(ISO 800 · 14mm · f/2.8 · 5.0 sec)

Kungsleden ski tour: From Nikkaluokta to Singi

This article is part of the series “2016-02: Ski tour on the Kungsleden”.

It was 2005 when I was asked by C. from Switzerland, if I wanted to join him on a ski tour on the Kungsleden – the King’s trail. That’s how I came to my first ski tour in the mountains of Swedish Lapland. More tours followed, but sometimes it was hard to find a tour mate. Same thing this year; that’s why I decided to do my first ski tour on my own.

Kungsleden would be ideal for that, since there’s infrastructure as mountain huts and I won’t be alone. Good to know, since even twisting an ankle could be a serious problem in winter if no one’s around. I wanted to start 19 February, the day, when the huts open.

After a long trip I reached Nikkaluokta (many thanks to A. for the lift from Kiruna!) on the evening of the 17th I had one spare day in one of the cosy cabins of family Sarri. This place can be very cold and I had a look at the digital thermometer in the cabin: -44.8 °C minimum since the last reset – brr, that had been a cold day!

I climbed the small church hill and looked west. That’s were I’ll go the next day.

From Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Fjällstation

19 February · 19 km · Link to map

Time: 7:40, temperature -17 °C, weather: cloudy. Time to start the tour. I mount my skis, put the belt of the pulka (a sled for transportation) round my hips and after some gliding steps I see the first mark of the winter way to Kebnekaise.

It’s the only mark for a long time, the winter way to the Kebnekaise Fjällstation is not marked, neither on the map nor in real. But it’s easy to find the way, since many snowmobiles take this way and you only have to follow their tracks. Soon I’m at the place where the trail crosses the stream Čievrragorsa. In summer I used the chain bridge, In winter the snowmobile goes right over the frozen and snow covered stream. I can hear the sound of water running underneath the ice – a strange feeling.

After some kilometers I come to the lake Láddjujávri. Here you can eat waffles with cloudberries or burgers at “Lap Dånalds” and even take the boat over the lake to shorten your trip a bit. Well – in summer …

Hardly imaginable that I took a bath here six month ago on a hot summer day, when I was here with Annika. Not it’s winter, all is closed down, the boats lie on land and are covered with snow and I’m completely alone. Anyway it’s not too cold and I take a first rest on my tour. Without waffles, without a refreshing bath, but with the same beautiful view as in summer, since the sky starts to clear up and one mountain top after the other starts to get free from clouds, fogs and haze.

When I continue my tour over the ice of the frozen lake I soon can see the same mountain range as I did in summer. And it’s as beautiful as in summer, too.

After some kilometres the trail leaves the lake and continues through scattered birch forests and over frozen swamps, some of them covered with ice. The weather is fine and sky is of a clear blue with some clouds.

Another rest, this time on top of a rock, with hot tea, chocolate, and a bit of salami. What a beautiful day! I could sit here for hours, but I shouldn’t. I have to reach the huts of the Kebnekaise Fjällstation. I do reach them, but before that I have to work. The trail ascends and I have to make wide V-steps with my skis to be able to pull the pulka uphills. Finally I arrive. This mountain resort is quite huge, since Kebnekaise is the highest mountain in Sweden and very popular among hikers, skiers, and climbers. Anyway it is not opened yet beside of the cabin Jägarn (“the hunter”). Here I’ll stay overnight before I’ll continue to the Singistugorna the next day. Twice I climb on the small hill with the radio mast, first after sundown, then at half past six – where I see the first polar light of the tour.

From Kebnekaise Fjällstation to the Singistugorna

20 February · 14 km · Link to map

When I wake up sky is blue again and -17 °C. I take a short breakfast with muesli and prepare for leaving. That means: packing all things – doing the dishes – cleaning the kitchen and my bed room – checking that I have everything with me – putting on skis and pulka belt. Meanwhile the sky is overcast and it has started snowing. Weather can change quickly in the mountains.

After I have walked some kilometres it clears up a bit, just so much, that you can see some mountain tops shining through the hazy fog.

When I enter the narrow passage of the valley the mountain tops hide again, which is a pity. The mountains here are so beautiful.

There is not much snow in the mountains this winter. Parts of the marked winter way lead over stony passages with no snow at all. I have to go round these passages to avoid ruining my skis and pulka. Mostly I follow the snowmobile tracks, hoping that the locals know the best way.

This way leads over the frozen river, but sometimes it’s hard to see, since the snow under the overcast whitish-grey sky don’t show any contours. Wind increases, snow falls as well and the snow starts to drift in the increasing wind. In the narrow valley between the mountains Siŋŋičohhka and Liddubákti more snow lies on the ground which makes it easier to ski but worse to see.

That’s when you are really glad about the winter way marks: Red crosses set on long poles. Sadly plastic crosses are used nowadays. They are ugly, in my opinion harder to see and many of them are broken. But I’m glad to have them anyway. They do not only show you the way, they help you even in guessing whether it’s going up or down, which you cannot see, if visibility and sight are poor.

I always have compass and a good map with me on such tours. Anyway, if you cannot see any landmark these tools are of limited help if you do not count steps or know how fast you are on your skis. That’s when a GPS can be very handy. When I make another rest, longing for the mountain huts Singistugorna, the GPS revealed, that it’s only 970 meter to go. Easy!

Well, not really. The valley opens, wind increases and there are many rocks and snow-free parts on my way. I decide to circumnavigate a steeper passage and ski a bit to the right. To my big amazement I don’t go down but keep on level. Suddenly I feel part of the ground collapsing a bit and realise that I stand on the rim of a soft snow drift, about two meter high. It was absolutely impossible to see it. I’m lucky, that I didn’t fell down! I go back and circumnavigate my circumnavigation until I’m on the marked trail again. There I can see the cabins shining through the drifting and blowing snow. It takes some time to find a good way down to Singi but finally I arrive. Here the wind seems to be even stronger and the snow falls even more intense.

Stugvärd J. shows me my room, light fires in the ovens of the kitchen and my bed room and allows me to take my pulka inside since I’m the only guest. After doing some work he leaves and heads to his own cabin against hard wind and snow.

According to the forecast wind will increase even more and snow fall round 20 cm are expected. I’m glad, that I have time and plan to stay at least one other day in the Singistugorna, perhaps two.

The next article: Singi – from blizzard to clear sky >>