Closing the kayak season 2018

I was stuck. I couldn’t go straight ahead, I couldn’t go backwards, I couldn’t turn. And I definitely couldn’t go sidewards because I sat in a kayak on the Baltic Sea and was surrounded by ice.

Back to the beginning of the day: I took a day off today because of the nice weather and decided to make a kayak tour. My goal was to sea the sunrise from the open sea. When I came to the tiny beach were my kayak has been lying since June it was still dim. The sea between the island Storgrundet and the mainland was covered with a fresh layer of clear ice. Two days ago these parts had been free of ice.

I already changed into paddling clothes at home: Woollen underwear, a drysuit that would keep me dry when falling into the ice cold water, a waterproof face mask and neoprene boots. It just took some minutes to take of the warm anorak – it was about -7 °C – and put some stuff into the cargo hatches of the kayak. I put on my woollen mittens and the long, waterproof overmittens, then I was ready to start the tour.

The question was: How thick is the ice? Would the kayak slide onto it or break through?

I sat in the kayak and pushed myself backwards, first with the paddle, then with the hands. The ice didn’t break. Anyway I was still quite near the shore. I continued pushing myself backwards until I came to the area of new ice. The ice didn’t break.

It is both exhausting and very ineffective to sit in a kayak and push yourself over bare ice with waterproof mittens. You just don’t get a grip. I realised that I wouldn’t come long. I returned ashore, got out of the kayak, went to the car and drove home.

At home I got my isdubbar – my ice claws. They look like a jumping rope with nail attached to the handles and are used for self-rescue, if your break into the ice. I changed also into winter boot, because my feet were freezing. The neoprene boots are not the warmest. Ah, that feels better! I got into the car and drove back to my kayak. Second try!

It was still exhausting to move the kayak over the ice, but with an ice claw in each hand I could pull my kayak forward with a speed up to 5 – 6 km/h. The sun had not risen yet and the air was calm and chilly. The horizon started to turn pink.

I found a bit of open water at the narrow passage between island and mainland. Then I came to another sheltered bay that was frozen, too. First the ice was quite thick, then it started to become thinner.

Here my problems started. The kayak went through the ice and floated. The ice was too weak for using the ice claws, but too thick to use the paddle. After some metres I was stuck! Every time when I used the paddle to move forward another meter I was surrounded by ice and couldn’t use it anymore. During the seconds that it took for changing from paddle to ice claws the kayak drifted back and I was surrounded by open water again, making the ice claws completely useless. Finally I started some kind of dog paddling with hands and arms, still the ice claws at hand until I could reach ice again, pull me forward another meter and break through the ice again. The sun had already risen minutes ago. (Goal missed!)

These are the situations where I learn a lot about my lack of patience …

Anyhow the island Storgrundet was near and with some efforts I reached a spot where I could go ashore. I just wanted to check the water and ice conditions on the outer side of the island.

Beside of some pancake ice near the shore the Baltic Sea was completely clear of ice, exactly as excepted. I returned to my kayak and went along the stony shore pulling it nearer to the open water. The sea was still covered with ice but it was thinner and I could hack my paddle through it. Small patches of open water were enclosed in the icy surface and tiny waves vibrated in the rhythm of my paddling. Very funny to look at! And then, some curses later, I finally reached open water – almost two hours later than my first arrival at the beach this morning.

What a relief to put the paddle blades into normal water. Ice cold water, but just normal, liquid water. Delighting. Where should I go? To Finland …?

Soon I spotted a possible destination: Nordlundsstenarna a.k.a. Själagrundet, more a gravel bank than an island, 1.6 km from shore. When I arrived there I looked at the next island Medgrundet, which would be much more attractive for taking a break than this pile of stones. I continued paddling. The wind increased slightly and it got a bit chilly, but it’s only 1.1 km from Själagrundet to Medgrundet so I arrived there quite soon.

The first think I did when I was at land was to put on my winter anorak. Then I explored the island. Some photos:

Actually I could have spend the whole day on this island, but I made a huge mistake: I didn’t bring any food with me. (Don’t try that at home, kids!) So after a stroll over the island I returned to my kayak that was as ice covered as the rock nearby.

What I did bring with me were my sunglasses. I was really glad having them because the trip back was straight against the sun. Ok, time for some selfies …

The way back was nice and beautiful and not very spectacular. I enjoyed the sun and the colours of the sea – it could be covered with ice and snow quite soon.

Since I hardly could recognise anything on land I went a bit wrong but the detour was small. After a while I reached Storgrundet and then the ice covered parts again. This time it was much easier because I could follow the ice-free channel that I had cut into the ice on the way there. But when I had to use the ice claws on the more solid ice again to pull myself forward I realised something: There are many things I lack, one of them is strong chest muscles. They will ache for certain tomorrow.

 

 

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A snowshoe promenade

Day 27 of my winter journey 2018

Today our current host Chris took half a day off and we (Chris, Annika, I and two dogs) made a trip into the valley Pasvikdalen. There’s a small place called Strand where we parked our cars at the former boarding school, nowadays a museum. Here we started a small small snowshoe tour up the Brattberget.

Brattberget means the “steep mountain” but first of all the mountain is more like a hill and then the way up is not steep as all. First we went through denser forest, then then forest and the view opened a bit. Soon we were up on the top of the hill.

There’s a toilet and two benches on the Brattberget. While the benches were covered with snow, the toilet was still visible.

The weather was nice and we had a great view. To the north and west of the lake LangfjordvatnetUhcavuonjávri, to the south, remote in the distance of Russia.

After a short rest in the sun and some photos we descended the same way we went up and soon were at our parked cars again. A short and nice snowshoe tour through the hilly and wintry Pasvikdalen.

#snowember16 – part IV

This article is part of the series “2016-11: #snowember16”.

Yesterday evening it stopped snowing and the snow in the backyard started to sink down. Still I had almost 60 cm of snow lying in my backyard. Together with temperatures round -6 °C it looked like a good opportunity for a first ski tour – the earliest I ever made in my life in terms of the day of the year.

I already have moved the skis from the garage to the winter garden already days ago. Annika and I didn’t have to dig out the garage door but could directly start after breakfast and put on the ski clothes for the first time of the season.

It started snowing again when we turned right into the Berzeliusgatan which becomes the gravel path to the beach Storgrundet. That little street probably has been cleared of snow the day before, since only 20 cm of snow covered it and even one or two cars passed by leaving some tracks that soon got snowed over again. (One car had to be shovelled free however.)

The more we approached the coast, the stronger the wind became. Perhaps even the snow fall increased. It’s hard to say because if it’s quite windy and snowy you always think that the snowfall is intense and severe.

Shortly before reaching the coast we took a little side trip to the lake Snesviken, the beautiful lake which it’s tiny island 150 meter from shore. You can hardly see the island on the photo, but it’s at least visible. On the next photo I made the island was completely hidden by the strong snowfalls.

We went back to the main road. The snow was at least 60 cm deep, but now returning on our self-made trail it was much easier to ski. On the main road again we had visibilities below 100 meters. You could see a bit of the road, some trees to the left and right and ahead just some kind of white hole. And you could hear the wind, feel the wind, see the snow and feel the snow’s cold. It was not too cold, but it felt like a really winter day – on the sixth of November!

I didn’t make any photos at Storgrundet. For one thing I made some photos there yesterday, for another thing it’s not very easy and comfortable making pictures in conditions that I would call “blizzard light”.

On the way back we took another detour along another way. This was unploughed as well and really nice to ski.

On the end of the way there’s a property on the right. If you cross it past the summer cottage you will stand at the stony shore of the Baltic Sea. You can hear the cold waves splashing ashore and the wind shaking the trees. Quite rough and impressive. And you can see, that the Baltic Sea is still open. That’s why we get so much snow in a short time: lake-effect snow manufactured by the moistness of the sea and the frost of the air, locally pouring down on places near the coast just like Skelleftehamn.

When we left this rough place round the wind-exposed summer cottage and returned to the forest we had the impression of entering a nice and cozy living room. It was almost silent, the noise of the sea seemed to be far away. Almost no wind was felt between the snow covered birch and spruce trees which made the air feel much warmer. And the snow flakes fell gently from above, not lashing from one side to the other. So nice, after the rough impression some minutes ago.

And – even after more than 6 years of living here – it’s still so great to come home from such a ski tour, unstrap the skis at the small stairs that lead to the front door of your house. Twenty minutes from “blizzard light” to home.

What’s a blizzard?

According to Wikipedia a blizzard is defined by three conditions:

  • high wind speeds above 56 km/h
  • huge amounts of snow with visibilities less than 400 meters
  • a duration from over 3 hours

While we got the latter two today it was less windy than 56 km/h. That’s why I call it “blizzard light” today.

 

A weekend in Söråsele – rich in variety

Both Annika and I had some days off round last weekend and so we could visit friends of her, who live in Söråsele. That’s in Åsele municipality, 260 kilometres west-southwest from Skelleftehamn. We started our three-day trip on Friday. While all lakes in Skelleftehamn are completely free of ice, many of the lakes in the inland are still covered with soft ice, as for example the southern part of the lake Bjurselet between Bastuträsk and Norsjö. You can still see the numerous snowmobile tracks.

The ground, where I parked my car was quite soft. I left up to 10 cm deep tracks in the muddy ground. But luckily we didn’t get stuck and could continue out tour to Lycksele, where we had a dagens lunch – the lunch of the day. With some other detours and rests – here we met the first mosquitoes of the year, but they didn’t bite us – we proceeded and headed to Åsele. From this town it’s just five other minutes to Söråsele, where M. and F. – Annika’s friends – live.

After saying hello to M. and F. and their dog we said hello to the sheep: six cute adults and three even cuter lambs. I never experienced sheep, that were so cuddly as those little flock – they all came to us, not for begging for food but for being petted and tickled. One of the males bumped the head against my leg every time, when I dared to stop stroking and cuddling him.

Finally I could break free from the sheep to get the camera. I was lucky, none of the sheep licked my wide angle lens, although I came quite near  as you can guess from the pictures:

The next day we moved the fence and the wooden shelter for the sheep. We – that’s four people, a smaller farm tractor and a trailer. Moving the shelter took some hours of thinking and doing, but we succeeded. Anyway, that’s another story …

After a fika – the swedish coffee break, we took the car and drove to Sörnoret to go up the the mountain Bergvattenberget (“the mountain water mountain”). At the northeastern side there’s a 120 meter high steep cliff called Offerhällan where according to old legends Sámi people where pushed down when they were too old to follow the reindeers. Hopefully just a myth.

When you want to hike in May, it’s always a good idea to wear rubber boots, since the ground is still very wet after the snow melt.

The evening we ate home made Lasagne. A lot of home made Lasagne! Especially I was quite stuffed and so we took a small evening promenade along the coast of the lake Söråselesjön which lays right behind M.’s and F.’s beautiful house. The air still was quite warm and the sunset coloured the feathery clouds.

The next day we made another trip, this time to different places. First stop: Torvsjökvarnar, a group of old water mills that form an open-air museum today.

Annika and I already saw some frogs or toads crossing the streets the day before, but here I saw the first frogs from close up. Another spring sign.

Other stops followed but – sorry folks – no photos.

At half past five Annika and I said goodbye and started the way back. We decided to choose another route and took the 92 to Fredrika. A good choice. Here’s one of the artworks of the Konstvägen Sju Älvar (“Art way seven rivers”). It’s called Poem för en imaginär älv  (“poem for an imaginary river”) and is erected on a big rock in the midst of an archaic landscape build of rocks, mud flats and tiny lakes. beside of the road the area looks like ice age would have ended just some hundred years ago.

Just some kilometres later there’s a thing you wouldn’t expect in Northern Sweden: A Thai Buddhist temple called Buddharama Temple. The giant statues of the sitting and standing Buddha and the live size elephants made of stone really look a bit strange in the middle of the Lappish woods. In Thailand 95% of the people are buddhists, but in Norra Norrland …?

(Sorry for the bad photos – the sun was definitely at the wrong place when we visited this temple.)

After that we continued our trip back to Skelleftehamn. I drove the car and Annika guided me along the small roads: BaksjölidenVargträskÖrträskOttonträskVindelnBubergetBotsmarkÅkullsjönBygdsiljumFlarkenÅnäset and than the E4 northwards until the turnout to Skelleftehamn, where we arrived at 22:54.

Thank you, M. and F. for your kind hospitality. We’ll looking forward to come back some other time. Perhaps there are other things left to be moved ;-)

Appendix

i. Animals on the journey:

Among others: Reindeers, four moose, a fox, cute sheep, cranes, Canada geese, swans, some western curlews and a short-eared owl.

ii. Northern lights:

Yesterday the aurora was really strong with a Kp index between 5 and 6, which says it is visible even in Denmark and Scotland. Now it’s a disadvantage to live as up north as I do. The sky is just too bright even in the dead of night to watch the Northern Lights. I guess, we’ll have to wait until August.

 

A day trip in direction Lapporten

Start at 10:00 – up through birch forests – against the sun – looking through sun glasses at the multicoloured clouds – gaining height – over the treeline – less and less snow and more and more stones and rocks – fantastic views over the lake Torneträsk and the Swedish and Norwegian mountains – too rocky (and too late) to continue – skiing down – birch trees again, first some solitary, then denser and denser woods – back at 17:15 – too lazy to write more …

Icicle tree – a short trip to Holmsund

When I took the car to Umeå three days before, temperatures where between -20 °C and -31 °C. Today it was much warmer in Umeå, just round -4 °C.

Annika and I took the car to Holmsund, a place 20 km south from Umeå. This coastal locality has round about 5500 inhabitants and is special, because here starts the only ferry connection from Sweden to Finland beside those from Stockholm. When we arrived, the ferry from Vaasa in Finland just had anchored.

Neither of us has been in Vaasa before, so we thought about making a trip to Finland, perhaps already in two weeks, if the weather isn’t too bad.

Right beneath the ferry dock there’s a pair of piers reaching 700 meters into the sea. If you look east, you see that the Baltic Sea is ice covered beside of the waterway. But in contrast to the Baltic Sea outside of Skelleftehamn, which is thick, solid ice, you can see the big ice floes lift and lower with the underlying waves. If you look west, you see the mouth of the river Umeälven, where the water is mostly open and small ice floes float and drift southwards.

I don’t know, when it has been so windy, that the waves rolled over these piers, but you could still see the result: Many of the dried up flower stalks and the lower branches of bushes and trees were covered with a thick layer of ice. It must be both impressive and frightened to witness such a stormy weather in winter.