Spring sprint

The warm weather of the last ten days has made the snow melt quickly. Many birds have arrived, among others swans, geese, cranes and northern lapwings. The first spring flowers are blooming and butterflies flutter around.

Some days before I still had up to 40 cm of snow in my backyard, now there are only some snowy patches left that probably will thaw away soon.

Even at Storgrundet – my favourite beach and one of the places where the sea ice uses to remain longest – the first large patches of open water can be seen.

Since most of the sea ice has been vanished I want to open the kayak season this week. I need however another starting point than Storgrundet. Even though the ice has holes, most of it is still thick enough to walk onto. I met a couple that crossed the ice to visit their cabin. The man told me, that he crossed the ice a week ago, too – by car!

 

Sea ice in April

It’s hardly three days ago, that the water level of the Baltic Sea was extremely low. Now the level is -20 cm, a normal situation.

But there are always changes at the coast. Two cold nights with temperatures below -5 °C were enough to cover some open bays with new fresh ice. The first two photos show the same bay as three days ago, the other two photos show a place near Näsgrundet, 2½ km away.

An almost secret world of ice

This was my most daring tour on the sea ice yet. This article may not be for the faint-hearted. Spoiler alert: I kept safe and dry!

After an extremely lazy day yesterday I felt today like I had to go out and get some fresh air. Cross country skiing? No, the tracks are probably extremely icy. Jogging? No, the water puddles from the melting snow are deep and I wanted to keep my feet dry.

What about trying to walk to the island Bredskär? There’s a large patch of old ice that should be easy to cross. But behind the islands there could be weak ice.  Didn’t I want to keep dry?

Yes, I definitely wanted to keep dry. So I used a funny combination of equipment today. On the one hand snowshoes for winter walks, on the other hand a drysuit in case of breaking through the ice.

I took the car to the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan, changed into the rubber boots and started my tour from there. The ice was easy to cross even though there were some wet patches. That doesn’t automatically mean that the ice is weak. Mostly it’s freshwater from melted snow or seawater that found a way up through the cracks in the ice. Soon I arrived at the island Bredskär – it’s only 750 m to go. Unfortunately clouds had been approaching covering the sun.

I turned right and walked along the eastern shore. Wind, waves and winter’s coldness had built a ice wall along the shore.

When I reached the eastern tip I had a decision to make. Should I walk around the island and already go back? Or should I dare to cross the sea ice to the next islands Gråsidan and Nygrundet. I chose the latter. I opened the belt of the backpack, checked my ice claws and started carefully crossing the sea ice. Step by step. Step by step. The first half was no problem but then the ice started to look grey. That could be a sign for weak, thin or watery ice. I could see air bubbles moving under the ice with every step. I expected to break through the ice with every step. Perhaps the ice was not weak at all and only covered with water but I was not eager to find out and slowly continued. Step by step.

The ice seemed to get weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner, wetter and wetter. Perhaps it was real, maybe it was only my imagination that gave me this impression. After some more careful steps I finally reached the island Gråsidan. Hooray! Nevertheless only a temporary success because I knew that I would have to go back later on.

I arrived at the northern tip of Gråsidan, turned right and walked along the eastern shore heading south. It was there, where I found the almost secret world of ice. Of course it was not secret by purpose but I guess I was the only one that had managed to approach this special location.

East from the island there was a layer of sea ice and on that there was a huge variety of ice. Large ice floes, heaps of smaller ice discs, round-shaped ice objects and much more was there to see.

It was like an open air art exhibition. An art exhibition of one of my favourite artists: nature. And I had it all for myself. It was not easy to go. Sometimes I had to cross chaotic looking ice fields, sometimes my foot landed in a deep puddle of meltwater. Look at the next photo: This puddle had not only drowned half of my rubber boot but a snowshoe, too.

I was however wrong in one thing. Others visited this world of ice as well: moose. Countless moose tracks covered the sea ice heading seaward. What does a moose want there? There’s only ice and then – already visible in the distance – the open Baltic Sea. The next island in the southeast is more than 11 km away.

Either moose have a very poor sense of orientation or they like ice art just as me. I imagined several moose visiting the various objects and discuss shape, colour and the meaning of the artworks. These visitors however had left, only the tracks were left.

While strolling through the exhibition I already passed another island: Nygrundet, the outermost island of the archipelago. Nygrundet was near the open water. Very near. I approached a huge block of ice and there it was: My personal “Ultima Thule” for today.

After I was sure, that this ice block was connected to the island and no iceberg sailing to Finland I decided to climb the block and make myself comfortable. Although temperatures were slightly above zero it was quite cold due to the strong gale with wind gusts round 22 m/s. That’s round 80 km/h. Brrr! I was glad about my warm anorak that I took with me.

After eating and drinking a bit I decided to go back. I crossed a small patch of sea ice and then went along the island which is connected with Gråsidan by a stripe of land. Unnoticed by me the clouds had moved away and the sun came out. Ice gets a completely new look when sunlit. So I decided to go to the art exhibition once more and turned again.

And turned again to finally return home. On my way back I saw a manmade art object at the shore, but I could not understand its purpose. I preferred the tiny pine trees sticking out of the snow. Then I crossed the island Gråsidan from east to west (less than 200 meter).

The last photo clearly indicates that I hadn’t been in the Arctic. It’s still Skelleftehamn. On all of the mentioned islands there are summer cottages. The cottages on Nygrundet and Gråsidan were empty due to the difficulties to get there.

I started to look for a better place to cross the sea ice back to the island Bredskär. I had felt quite uneasy while crossing the ice to Gråsidan and I hoped for better ice. To make a long story short: I found a longer, but better and easier way.

I was relieved when I arrived Bredskär. Now the ice probably would be thicker and safer. I walked along the island somewhere between sea and land. There where a lot of very wet patches but on safe ice. Now I only had to cross the sea ice once more, then I would arrive on the mainland and at my car.

Here a lot of water, partly frozen, covered the ice. Snowmobiles and ATVs had left deep traces and wheel ruts. I started getting a bit impatient and instead of taking the same way home I turned left a bit earlier. First it went well then I had to plunge through surficially frozen water and slush. With the snowshoes that was quite exhausting but the shore came nearer and nearer.

I could spot my parked car and the snowy slope where I had to go up. 100 metres to go. 50 metres to go. 10 metr… – crash!

My right leg went through the ice to the upper leg. It was not weak ice, I just oversaw a large and broad crack. The rubber boot was soaking wet but not myself. The attached stockings of my drysuit had kept me dry. It’s funny anyway that this happened just seconds before finishing the tour.

Probably I will keep a bruise on my knee for some days as a nice memory of this very special inter-season snowshoe tour on the Baltic Sea. And a fabulous tour it was.

Equipment

Directly translated from my packing list with some comments.

  • smartphone + powerbank + charge cable + waterproof bag (the powerbank to be able to load the smartphone in emergency situations)
  • camera + memory card + cleaning tissue + reserve battery (all packed in a waterproof Ortlieb bag that I wore in front of my breast)
  • drysuit (to keep me dry in water. Only head and hands would get wet)
  • rubber boots (I chose my huuuge Russian rubber boots with thermal inner boots
  • snowshoes (flexible enough to work with the rubber boots)
  • 2× balaclava (for the head – one comfortable made of fleece, one tight and waterproof)
  • 2× gloves (one pair made of Powerstretch fleece, on pair of waterproof neoprene)
  • isdubbar – ice claws. (The most important thing! Two handles with spikes that you can use to pull yourself on safe ice after having broken through)
  • provisions (A cinnamon bun, chocolate and a coke(!) )
  • Cabela’s anorak (the insulated anorak with the fur trimmed hood you can see on my selfie)
  • waterproof bags (I stored everything in waterproof bags – from the other pair of gloves to the car keys)
  • sunglasses (today even used as wind protection)

 

March snow at the coast

Today I finally had to work with my it job again.

But before that I just had to take my camera and drive to different places by the sea. I was curious how it would look like after the snowfalls of the last days. This morning between 75 cm and 80 cm of snow in my backyard and we are talking about the average, not the snow drifts.

1. Peninsula Näsgrundet

Normally the coastal line is quite visible here. Either you see stones sticking out of the rocky coast or you can spot the raised ice edge. Today you mainly saw a white plain. Only some of the largest rock and some brown tufts of grass were sticking out of the snow. I really had to look for motives to avoid images with a plain-white bottom half.

I would not dare to enter the ice because you cannot see its thickness. Probably there are weak spots that wouldn’t bear my weight.

2. Boat harbour Kurjoviken

On the roofs protecting the two wooden boats there was hardly any snow. Probably it had been too windy. Parts of the outside furniture of the restaurant Sjökrog were buried deepely in the snow. There was also a completely buried table, but that would have given a very boring photo.

3. Nameless boat bridge, Rönnskär

The boat bridge normally shows nice contrasts between the wooden construction and the water, whether covered with ice or not. Even here the snow made it all the same today: snow everywhere reduced the contrasts radically.

Now I was satisfied enough to start working, but first I had to shovel snow. I had already cleared the garage driveway last Sunday, not I had to dig a bay into the snow so that the postman could approach the mailbox by car. Phew, that was work, round about 1.5 m³ of frozen snow had to be moved and thrown in my front yard.

Snow makes everything beautiful, it’s only a matter of the amount.

 

March snow in Skelleftehamn

For yesterday, the day we drove back from Murmansk, the weather service issued a snow warning. I had parked my car in Bjässviken at the house of B., another participant and it was covered with 10-15 cm of snow. B. fetched a broom helped me to free my car.

When I came home, even the minor streets had been cleared of snow. On the one hand this is great for driving, on the other hand it meant I couldn’t park my car on my property. I first had to remove the plogkanten, the wall of snow that the snow plough had pushed aside in front of all the garage driveways. I was tired after almost 15 hours of travelling, but clearing the plogkanten didn’t take much time and after that I could park my car beside the house.

When I woke up, it had stopped snowing, but another 10 cm of snow had fallen over night. Again the street had been cleared already. So another plogkanten blocked the way for the car. With temperatures slightly above zero this snow was wet and heavy and it was much more exhausting to move away this snow, especially because my “private snow dump” in my front yard is getting larger and larger.

Taking a break I stomped through the deep wet snow taking some pictures. I measured 77 cm of snow in my backyard – that’s something for the midst of March.

Perhaps I should buy a new car. Yesterday I saw a nice one at the petrol station in Алакуртти/Alakurtti. The advantage: I probably never have to clear snow again. The disadvantage: beside of being slow the topic of petrol consumption should be avoided …

By the way: While I wrote this article it had started snowing again.

Midsummer on Saltkråkan

Vi kan spela fio-lio-lio-lej
vi kan spela basfiol och flöjt.
Och vi kan dansa andra hållet, andra hållet, andra hållet,
och vi kan dansa andra hållet, andra hållet med!

It’s midsummer. Midsummer on the island Saltkråkan. People are singing and dancing round the midsummer pole accompanied by an accordion.

When I look outside of my window the new snow has started to bury the fence to my neighbours and it’s still snowing. That’s because midsummer on Saltkråkan is a scene in an old TV series that Annika and I looked yesterday. The snow is reality.

While Annika and I travelled back from Mo I Rana three days ago it snowed 20–25 cm home in Skelleftehamn. It also snowed the whole weekend, probably another 20–25 cm. What a relief for a winter fan like me after the rainy warm period in February.

In my backyard lie two layers of snow. An old, crusted layer of 35–40 cm that is so hard that I broke the wooden folding ruler while measuring. On top there’s a layer of fresh, fluffy snow 30–35 cm from the last days.

The Baltic Sea is covered with ice and snow and looks wintry again. I wouldn’t dare to enter the ice because you cannot distinguish between old thick and new thin ice because of the snow. It may take weeks until it’s safe again and maybe it won’t happen anymore this winter.

I’m curious if more snow will come. While the weather forecasts are quite ok when it comes to temperatures they are completely useless when it comes to the amount of snow.

Skiing from Syter Fjällstuga to Umasjö

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

Wednesday, 6 March

Today we will have the longest distance of our ski tour: round 22 km from the Syter Mountain Cabin to Umasjö. We get up at 5:45 and start our tour at 7:30 to have enough time before sunset.

G., the stugvärd recommended to go on the small river Voehpejoeke or Svärfarbäcken, it would be easier to ski. We however do not dare and follow the marked winter trail. That turns out to be a quite bad idea. The trail seems to connect all existing hilltops around. The hilltops are exposed to the wind so that they are free of snow. There is vegetation, rocks and a lot of bare ice where neither the skis nor the poles get any hold. We barely make any progress and our frustration grows. After a while we decide to follow G.’s advice and ski down to the winding river.

You have to know, that there is ice and water under your feet for all we can see is snow, a bit of vegetation and some rocks. We feel safe and we are at least three times faster than before. After some time we come to a wide plain where I make the first tour photo of the day.

The morning had been cold again with temperatures below -20 °C, but it quickly became warmer and clouds have approached, covering the mountain peaks. Despite to the forecasts it is windy and the drifting snow makes the view hazy.

After 5 km we pass a Sámi dwelling, marked in the map as a black triangle.

Then we approach a narrow passage and the frontal wind increases. First I think it is snowing but it’s just the snow driven by the wind. We avoid making smaller breaks because there is no shelter in the valley and we would have to put on down jackets to avoid hypothermia.

The way is long but navigation is easy. We just have to follow the red crosses. Visibility is not the best but still we can see at least the next three or four crosses. After the valley we have to ascent a pass but the ascent is so slow that we hardly realise, that it’s already the pass. I check our position with the GPS but take the wrong number. I know that it has to be wrong but we continue anyway. What shall happen: we are on the trail and it feels like we are in time. It was only the first stage that slowed us down.

Even though the way is long it is a great tour. Snowmobiles are prohibited and we ski through the untouched snow landscape, completely alone. I do not take many pictures because I don’t want to loose too much time.

It’s still windy. When Annika goes ahead parts of her ski tracks are snow covered after already half a minute. At least it’s not cold, probably between -5 °C and -10 °C.

I check the GPS again, this time more properly. We have come further than expected and are faster than thought. Sometimes we stop to drink a bit and eat chocolate (mostly me) but we try to minimise the breaks.

We are on a plateau now, where the wind is calmer and it’s easy to ski. But we know that we have to descend 300 – 400 metres. And soon we have to ski downhills which is not our most outstanding skill. At least the slopes are wide and there are no trees around.

The trees appear a bit later but still it’s easy to ski. And then we finally meet the first snowmobile trail. It is descending through the forest but it’s so wide that it’s easy to ski down, either directly on the tracks or on the sides through untouched snow. Then we come to the “snowmobile main road”. The signpost says, that 17 km lie behind us and 5 other km to go.

This part is both boring and tiring. The track goes up and down which doesn’t matter for snowmobile drivers but for us. We curse every hill we have to ski up.

But finally we reach our final destination of today’s ski tour. The road E12 in Umasjö.

Our four-day ski tour is over but neither the journey nor the day.

Annika’s colleague F. is staying on her mountain cottage in Umasjö. It is her who comes shortly after our arrival and gives us a lift to Hemavan, where I parked my car three days ago. We buy some food and drink (rich in calories!) and drive back to Umasjö where we meet F. again in her cottage together with her family. We sit in the living room and report from our ski tour. After that we continue our journey to Norway, where we visit friends of Annika in Mo I Rana. The road conditions are not the best and I’m tired but luckily it’s only a one-hour drive from Umasjö.

That has been a long day and an exhausting one as well, but – more important – a great one. Now I’m looking forward to the next ski tour together with Annika.

Back home

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

Back home from Mo i Rana. I drove the first half from Mo i Rana to Storuman, Annika the second half to Skelleftehamn including the power-parking into 20-25 cm deep fresh snow that had fallen since last night.

First we will buy some food for tomorrow’s breakfast, then it’s pizza time!

More about the ski tour in the Vindelfjäll will come. Stay tuned …

Last day of February – farewell sea ice

Yesterday I stood on the ice edge of Kågnäshällan. It was warm and felt like the end of April. And so it looked like, too, because large parts of the Bothnian Bay were free of ice. Only protected bays and shallow waters round the islands were still frozen.

It became colder and stormy in the night. It even snowed a millimetre.

When I got up this morning it was -4 °C and still quite gusty and stormy. At 8 o’clock I took the car to have a look at the ice conditions.

I passed the nearest bay Kallholmsfjärden, just 400 metres from my house. Some ice fishers were sitting on the ice, but only some hundred meters from open water. I however wanted to drive to Näsgrundet, one of my favourite places. Yesterday afternoon the sea east of this peninsula had been completely covered with a new ice shield that had been created one week ago. Today it was … well, different …

Gale-force wind gusts tugged at my hood. Waves splashed sea spray and tossed pieces of ice onto the ice walls in front of the coast. Ice floes floated to and fro, cracking, shaking, turning, breaking. Sometimes I could feel the vibration of another wave hitting the ice wall I was standing on. Some of the ice already had been squelched to slush. I cannot remember such an impressive view of the forces of the Baltic Sea in winter time. Farther away a ship was leaving the port, accompanied by a tug boat and the small icebreaker Baus.

I tried to make pictures of the say spray of the waves. Not easy …

Behind the curtains of spray waves came rolling and small and large ice floes pivoted and danced while going up and down.

After 45 minutes the Baus came back heading for the port.

Partly I was taking pictures, partly I was just enjoying the energy of the elements and listened to the different sounds. I tried to make some videos, but all you can hear is the swooshing wind at full volume.

After one and a half hours of photographing I left this scene and drove to the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan nearby. Here the ice uses to be safe to cross to the islands Norrskär and Bredskär until the end of March or even mid-April.

Well, not this year. Even here the ice layer was being destroyed by the waves. The northern wind blew the ice floes away, so they will not freeze together again, or perhaps in Finland.

When I returned home I passed the Kallholmsfjärden a second time. The ice fishers were gone – there was just no ice left to sit on and fish from.

So, the sea-ice-season is over, four to six weeks earlier than usual.

Late April weather

It has been warm for days, it rained for hours and some puddles in Skelleftehamn look bigger than an average flat in Munich. This is probably the most awful weather I experienced in Sweden in February since I came here in 2010.

It’s however not the first year, where the February is much too warm for a longer period. It had happened several times before. The future will show if it is just normal weather variations or part of the ongoing climate shift.