Look for the rainbow!

If you live in Northern Sweden and love snow, and it rains in the end of February …

… look for the rainbow!

Photographers note: click on the image to get a better version. This photo is not made for jpeg compression.

Drip, drip, drip …

… it sounds, when I go outside. After a longer period with frosty winter weather a period of warm period has started today. The forecast predicts plus temperatures for the next ten days, at least in the daytime.

Yesterday was quite windy, -4 °C and it had been snowing a while. Despite the frost temperatures the snow was mixing with tiny rain drops that froze on the outer window pane of my home office room. I took the opportunity for a last “sub zero” tour with skies.

First I had to climb a snow drift beside the house. There I had a look on our barbecue place. Do you see the two benches in the photo below ;-)? Then I entered the sea ice and followed the coastal line until I reached the spot where I saw the open water last weekend. Now the ice floes first had frozen together and then were covered with snow. Now it’s not possible any longer for me to distinguish between stable and weak ice. So, the sea ice skiing season may be over now. The rest of the tour I skied on land until I was home again.

Appendix: That’s the table on our terrace. We had waited for the snow to cover it completely but this place heads to the sea and is exposed to the wind, so the snow drifts were lower than on the other side of the house.

 

The forest is covered in snow

Snow fell in the last two weeks. Not in the South of Sweden, much less in the North of Lapland, but a lot in the province Västerbotten where Annika and I live, amongst others a bit west and north of Umeå.

Today we wanted to go up the hill Hemberget in Tavelsjö (or at least try). We parked our car at the church, crossed the road and skied up to the cemetery. There we followed the advice of a sign to cross the cemetery. Leaving the wrought iron gate behind we were lucky to find a snowmobile trail to follow through the forest. The forest was deeply covered in snow.

The trail crossed a cross-country ski run twice and vanished into thin air. We followed the way marks on the ski run and then left it to continue on untouched snow. At least we tried. While I managed to ski ten metres, Annika who has much shorter skis was bogged down in the deep powder. It was no surprise, I already guessed that we wouldn’t reach the top due to the snow conditions. So we changed plans and skied on the Tavelsjö skidspår, the cross-country ski run. A short, but extremely beautiful circular trail. It was so fun to slide on the perfectly prepared run that I forgot to take any photos.

The snow in the forest was round 130 cm deep. How I measured it? With my ski pole, which is 150 cm long. I sticked it into the snow at many places and looked about how much was left in average. But there’s also another method of measurement:

The photo was taken three steps beside the ski run. Here the snow was so loose, that even with skis I stood knee deep in snow, sinking deeper with every motion. I unmounted the skis and hopped. With a PLOP! –  I landed in chest deep powder snow and took a selfie for my blog. Then I wanted to continue to catch up with Annika. I wasn’t stuck but I didn’t I manage to get my feet onto the skis that now lay one metre above my feet in the powder. I had to crawl back to the ski run where it was easy again to mount. I guess we never would have reached the summit of Hemberget today, at least not with these skis.

So I plan to look for Tegsnäs skis for Annika. It’s time. These wooden skis are a much better choice for such snow. There are 225 – 240 cm long and also broader than normal tour skis. Disadvantage: I’m not sure if we manage to put them into Annika’s Volkswagen Golf. Well, we’ll see …

Another snow warning level 2

Just nine days after the last snow warning that brought up to a metre snow in Västernorrland another snow warning was issued for today. And it has been snowing (and still is) and blowing since early morning. Time for a ski tour through the forest between two meetings …

Why I have time for a ski tour when working? Because as an employee of the Norwegian Polar Institute you have the right to two paid hours of training/sport/outdoor activities each week. One of the advantages of being employed there!

I went Spåret – “the track”, a circular route just 500 metres from here. It’s 3½ km long and leads through forests, over rock and along some swamps. Now with half a metre of snow you only see the the forest. Anything else is covered by white snow. And so is the small boggy pond: You should know where the planks cross it because under the snow there is still liquid mud.

This time the plank bridge was easy to find, because I could see the ski tracks that Annika and I left last weekend, when we skied Spåret the first time. I continued through the forest. I have jogged and promenaded this track many times, otherwise I hardly would have found the way.

Skiing was quite exhausting because my skis sank down at least 20 cm with each step, sometimes even knee deep.  Will I come back in time to participate the next meeting? I guess I have to ski faster and take less photos. The last one I took was when I crossed Södra Obbolavägen, our only road to “civilisation”.

To make it short: I arrived in time.

Some hours later I had a special after work activity: clearing a roof of snow. Most roofs had been blown free but there was one large snowdrift on the roof of our main house that I shovelled away while standing on the old metal ladder.

The ladder stands still there. Probably I’ll have to do some more shovelling tomorrow again. While I write this blog entry a huge snowdrifts starts to cover the bottom part of my home office window. What a pity, that it probably will rain on Saturday. One of the few disadvantages when living directly by the coast where it uses to be warmer than in the inland.

Ice fog and hard rime

When it’s cold – -17 °C yesterday morning – and large parts of the Baltic Sea is still open ice fog forms over the sea. When this fog turns to the land hard rime will cover the bare trees making them look like fragile snow sculptures. A wonderful view.

Fresh snow fell home over night

After yesterday’s snow, that mostly hissed by horizontally due to wind speeds up to 24 m/s the wind was calming down over night. To my surprise 20 additional cm of snow fell on the ground last night without having being blown away.

What a wonderful winter morning. Hardly any wind, still snowing, -7 °C and our house dressed in white velvet.

Lunch break

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Days grow shorter and shorter in Tromsø so I took a small outside promenade in my lunch break to catch a bit of daylight. Tromsø is so beautiful with 10 cm of fresh snow that had fallen since yesterday.

I’m not sure if the snow will stay for longer or melt away soon but it doesn’t matter for me. That’s because on Sunday I’ll take the airplane home to Obbola in Sweden and will stay there the rest of the year.

But that’s another story that will be told on Sunday when I’ll spend many hours in Oslo Gardermoen and Stockholm Arlanda waiting for the connection flights.

Technique sea kayaking course

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

I was really in doubt about writing this blog article and showing photos of the last weekend, where I participated the course Teknikkurs Hav (Technique sea kayaking).

Why? Because my photos lie. They show sea kayaks lying on nice beaches and us paddling in calm waters. All these photos are true but they tell only a fraction of the experiences I made when I kayaked in Northern Norway in the beginning of November.

Saturday – day 1

The paddling course was supposed to take place on Sommarøya. A beautiful place, but quite exposed to wind and weather. Due to the wind forecast (average wind 15 m/s) the instructors chose a more sheltered place for the first course day: Eidjordneset, just 12 km away from the boat house of the sea kayak club Trulle.

We gathered round 7 o’clock in the morning: We are the instructors Tim and Pål and four participants. Kind of luxury! We put the kayaks on the trailer and started driving: Past the airport, over the bridge crossing the Sandnessundet strait, to the left and then taking the turn to the island Håkøya where we parked and changed clothes for the tour. In my case: woollen underwear, two pairs of socks, a thick woollen sweater, drysuit, neoprene boots, gloves and hood. In addition to that the sprayskirt, life vest, towline system and helmet. We do not only dress for the chilly air but for being in the water as well. Tim wrote in the email: “We will be doing a lot of swimming”

We started to dress in darkness but when we were ready it had got light.

We put the kayaks into the sea and started paddling east along the Håkøya. After getting our paddle strokes improved we started to practise partner rescue. One kayaker capsizes, opens the sprayskirt and swims. Then there are different techniques of emptying the capsized kayak and support the swimmer to enter the kayak again. While we were training this several time. As Tim said: a lot of swimming. While practising the wind blew us more and more to the east. Time to turn back.

Now we had to paddle against the wind. First it went quite well but we already could see the huge shower cell coming towards us. Round 2–3 °C in the air. Would it be rain, sleet or snow? No – it was a grown up hail storm approaching. Within minutes we had wind speeds of round 20 m/s howling around us, blowing spray from each wave and throwing hail right into our faces (ouch, my lips!). The instructors decided to guide us to land where we waited for the hail to stop.

Soon the weather was calmer but still very windy. It took a while until we reached the bridge, where we started the tour. On the way back I had one of the rare opportunities to take some photos with my iPhone while paddling. Mostly I was too occupied with practising or catching up.

When we arrived at the bridge we crossed under it, because on the other side the sea was a bit more sheltered. Here we practised a lot of different paddle strokes as edging or low and high brace. This was quite intense – only interrupted by a short and frugal lunch break – and I’ll have to train a lot until my body has understood the movements. We ended with a rescue case: One of the participants had to pretend having an injured shoulder and we had to both give support balancing her kayak and tow her on land. Well, there was a lot of discussion but finally we managed it. Ok, it was only 20 metres or such to tow.

To make it short: changing into warm clothes · putting the kayaks onto the trailer · heading back to the boat house · I got a lift home · hot shower · great!

Sunday – day 2

Two of us met Tim at the boathouse, where we got a lift to a petrol station, our meeting point. As you can see it had been snowing and it was quite slippery.

Now on day two we would drive to Sommarøya and take the second course day there. Great, because the area round Sommarøya is wonderfully beautiful. Sommarøya is more than 50 km from Tromsø and the shorter way is leading through the mountains, so due to the weather conditions it took a longer time to travel there. And that’s how it looked like from the bay Steinsvika on Store Sommarøya.

We paddled to a flat rock covered by breaking waves and tried out some paddle strokes from the day before. That gave us opportunities for more buddy rescues, because of three capsizings. We made a short break on one of shallow beaches.

After that we started to round the island Storholmen where the Sommarøy lighthouse is located. First we tried to stick near the rocks to play with the waves. The further we came to the open sea, the higher the waves became and we increased distance.

Especially at the northwest tip we had waves up to 150 cm coming from several directions so that it took all my concentration just to paddle on while feeling quite stressed and a bit helpless. A bit further the waves coming from the open sea behind us built up to huge rollers and breakers on the shallow bay. I was too scared to join the others that played in these waves (with several capsizings and rescue manoeuvres). Therefore I paddled a bit further to reach a more sheltered part of the bay and wait there not to split the group. One other paddler joined my shortly after. Then all of a sudden a really huge wave came, broke just where we were and knocked us both over. There was nothing I could do. I immediately lost my kayak in the wave and it took a bit of time and help from the others to fetch my kayak and get us in again. I know that I have to learn to paddle under such rough conditions as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever enjoy it.

I really was glad about the lunch break. Here Tim and Pål told us about the star rating system for waves. It goes from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), and mostly we had 3-star conditions out there, with one two-metre-wave probably being a 4 star.

Even after lunch I was mentally quite exhausted. But at least we had started heading back and were soon in calm waters again. The others learned some more rescue manoeuvres and such but I kept aside for a while because I couldn’t focus any more.

Finally we made another towing manoeuvre, where two of us towed another kayak while the fourth paddler supported balance. While I was mentally tired I still had physical energy so I tried to drag a bit harder the last part to come up onto the sandy beach as long as possible. And that’s where Tim took this photo of us. I’m in the front – watch the nice violet helmet!

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

Conclusion: This course was too difficult for me. I was too scared and overchallenged. But I had skilled instructors, great fellow paddlers and learned a lot – though the hard way. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to join this course and already decided to take the same course again as a fresh-up next spring.