The first winter promenade

Down there, that’s the southern part of Tromsø. That’s where I live when working for the Norwegian Polar Institute.

There are reasons why I see Tromsø from above today instead of working in the office. First of all my wife Annika is here this week. Then it is wonderful weather today. I was able to take a day off today and so Annika and I could fetch the first cable car up to Stor­stei­nen, 421 m above sea level. From there you have a fantastic view on the islands Tromsøya and Kvaløya, the strait Tromsøysundet and many, many mountains.

While Tromsøya itself is free of snow all mountains look wintry on this sunny day. Our hiking tour starts in the shadow and it takes some time until we reach the pre-summit of Fløya where the sun shines on our faces the first time.

From there it is not far to the summit of Fløya (671 m).

It has become windy and grains of snow are drifting over the snow. In the low sun they look like grains of gold.

Although it is chilly we stay on the top for a while, because the wintry landscape is so beautiful. The season’s first snow hike is always something special and I’m glad that I can share it with Annika this year.

Slowly we walk back. On the top it was easy to go, later the path gets steeper and the snow makes the path slippery. The sun stands lower now and the drifting snow is even more colourful.

We find a sunny though windy spot to drink warm juice and eat some cookies, then we head back to the mountain station of the cable car. While sunset is near, the almost full moon that has accompanied us the whole day starts rising again above the wintry mountain chains.

Summer paddling to lunch

Since last Friday we have summer home in Obbola, Sweden. Temperatures are round 25 °C (and higher in town) and the sky is mostly blue.

Today it was sunny again. Although working I finally managed to paddle to the beach Bredviks havsbad and eat lunch there. Tour–retour it is about 7 km and since the weather was very calm it was easy to paddle there.  I paddled in shorts and t-shirt but it was still almost too warm. At the beach I took a bath to cool down while waiting for Nouri’s tasty Pinchos.

 

January sun in Tromsø

After ten days with snow and wind, rain and storm and many, many clouds – there it is – the sun. The first time i see the sun in Tromsø since some day in November.

Photo taken with my iPhone through the window pane of the canteen at lunch break.

 

Sun salutation

While the polar night in Tromsø started in the end of November and continues for two more weeks there is no polar light home in Obbola which is 6 degrees south of Tromsø. So if there is clear sky, then there is sun.

After Christmas in Norway Annika and I arrived in Obbola some days ago. First the weather was cloudy and stormy but today  sky was quite clear. Therefore I could witness the sun today for the first time in more than a month. I only had to go 200 metres to the edge of our little bay Grundviken where I waited for the sunrise.

I love sunrises and sometimes I can stand up quite early to witness it. But today it was really special to watch the sun rise higher and higher up the sky while in Tromsø polar night still continues.

After breakfast we took the car to Byviken in Obbola to join the winter bath. Round 40 cars were parked there and a queue of winter bathers waited at the ice hole. Winter bathing has really become a popular sport within the last years. We decided to avoid the queue and continued to our favourite beach at Vitskärsudden where we had to climb over a wall of ice but then we were the only winter bathers. Air: -10 °C, no wind – perfect conditions. Great!

(Photos: Annika Kramer)

We may take another outdoor bath today, but then in the hot water of our friend’s hot tub. I guess this bath could take slightly longer than the previous one.

#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.

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  …

Beginning of spring 2018

According to the meteorologists spring already had started on 1 March. They love to calculate in whole months. Astronomically the beginning of spring is just today.

Well, kind of …

Today I didn’t work but enjoyed the marvellous weather. Bright blue sky and sun, a good day to go to the beach.

Well kind of …

The temperatures were between -10 °C and -5 °C and the Baltic Sea is still covered with a thick layer of ice up to the horizon. Sometimes it’s solid ice, sometimes it’s packed ice. No open water is in sight and therefore no sea birds neither. Just snow and ice and the blue sky.

I left the mainland at the boat harbour Tjuvkistan and crossed the ice to the islands Norrskär and Bredskär. Now I walk along the eastern shore of Bredskär and then to the island Gråsidan.

At the eastern shore there’s a long wall of ice, up to two meters high.

I walk along the shore and look at the fantastical landscape of ice and snow. Sometimes I feel like being in an open air museum. I call the exhibitions “below zero, above sea”. Here’s one of my favourite exhibits:

I go round half the island and then cross it. Although the snow feels solid – like that green floral foam used for flower arranging – I mostly sink knee deep into it. I walk back along the western shore and then cross the ice to the southern edge of Bredskär. The island has a ice wall at the eastern shore as well, partly up to four meters high. Where shall I go? Right beside of the ice wall there are snow drifts, knee deep or even deeper. A bit farther there’s water between the solid ice and the covering layer of snow. Good to have rubber boots.

I cannot decide for the best way to go. So I’m walking king of zig-zag, constantly watching the ice edge. Sometimes there’s a long line of icicles …

… and once there’s even a quite large ice cave. A pity that it will melt within the next weeks (or months?).

I continue my walk, sometimes plunging through deep snow, sometimes just walking on solid ice, sometimes breaking through the snow into water and slush (don’t worry, there’s always a thick layer of ice beneath). I cross the natural gravel bank between the islands Bredskär and Norrskär and talk the same way back to Tjuvkistan.

Today I walked only round seven kilometres, but it was good to be outside, breathing air, letting my eyes wander, catching some sun and the colours of the sky. At 12:30 I reach the car. It’s very warm in the sun and I’m dressed too warm, but the air temperature is still -5 °C. It’s a season between winter and spring which is called vårvinter – spring-winter. A suitable name.

And here comes my favourite picture of today’s exhibition-expedition. I call it “layers of ice”.

Side note: did you notice the huge rubber boots I’m wearing on the first photo? I bought them in Murmansk a month ago. They are made for ice fishing and they are lightweight, comfortable, very warm and of course waterproof. And they were quite cheap. The only drawback: They have spikes that do the opposite of what they are made for. Instead of improving the grip the spikes just slide on the ice making the boots incredibly slippery on ice. I have to check if I can remove the spikes.

 

 

Back home again

Day 44 of my winter journey 2018

Ok folks, I’m tired, let’s keep it short and simple:

 ►►► I hereby declare the winter trip 2018 over.

After a long car ride starting in Ørnes Annika and I arrived in Skelleftehamn at 5 pm and I’m home again.

The part through Norway took a long time as usual because of the road bending and twisting left and right, up and down. The part through Sweden was much faster, but a bit of a bore, since there is not so much to see beside of snowy forests (ok, there is more to see, but not if you just want to come home).

We had blue sky the whole journey and temperatures between -5 °C and -20 °C.

In Skelleftehamn there’s still a lot of snow and the fence in the backyard is snowed under. Just now (19:57) the sky is clear in Skelleftehamn and the temperature is -13.6 °C. No polar lights (yet).

Some random useless facts about the journey:

  • 3798 kilometres by car
  • 59 hours by Hurtigruten
  • 4 different countries
  • -34 °C coldest temperature (and -25.8 °C home in Skelleftehamn)
  • only 1 day with rain and degrees above zero
  • overnight stays at 18 different places (if I counted right)

Some missing blog articles that I’ll write the next days:

That’s all for today,
/Olaf