The first frost

The first frost this autumn · temperature minimum last night: -3.9 °C · air temperature this morning: -2.5 °C

 

Crossing three borders

Day 19 of my winter journey 2018

Whilst I still haven’t finished the blog articles about my ski tour with Jonas, life (and holidays) went on. Jonas and I had arrived at Solberget on Thursday evening and Jonas went home yesterday (on Sunday). This morning I packed the last things, stuffed them into the car and went to Nattavaara Station, where Annika arrived with the 7:38 train. With this reunion another stage of my six and a half week winter journey had begun. Destination: Kirkenes and Varanger, the easternmost parts of Norway.

Today we started with a travel day by car. We travelled 600 kilometres and crossed three borders.

Stage one: (Solberget) – NattavaaraGällivareSvappavaaraVittangiÖvre SopperoKaresuando.
And the first border: Sweden – Finland.

Stage two: Karesvanto (Finland) – Palojoensuu (Finland) – road 93 …
Second border: Finland – Norway.

Stage 3: … road 93 – Kautokeino (Norway) – Karasjok (Norway) – Karigasniemi (Finland).
The third border Norway – Finland. And since it was dark and I was tired we directly continued to our destination for an overnight stay: Giellajohka (Finland).

The temperatures had been between -20 °C and -28 °C for the last hours and the weather was bright and clear. The new fingernail moon shone above the eastern horizon and the first stars came out. Good conditions for polar lights. And we had polar lights actually here in Giellajohka but unfortunately a thin layer of clouds approached and therefore the aurora was less impressive. A photo anyway:

Tomorrow we will continue to Kirkenes to visit friends. It’s a smaller distance to travel than today, just 209 kilometres.

A ski tour in the Kvikkjokk mountains – day 1

This article is part of the series “2018-02: Ski tour near Kvikkjokk”.

Day 7 of the winter journey 2018

I’m really glad, that my friend Jonas and I managed to realise a ski tour this year. It’s our 3rd ski tour together, but the last one was five years ago. A long time. Actually we had planned for eleven days, but due to severe snow falls between Gävle and Sundsvall two weeks ago the whole train traffic was cancelled and Jonas arrived more than two days later than planned.

On Wednesday, 7 February we left Solberget and took my car to Jokkmokk, where we bought food for nine days. Anything from muesli (with powdered milk), tea and chocolate to pasta with pesto, salami, potato mash and much more. Have a look:

After taking a lunch we continued to Kvikkjokk. The weather was sunny and the temperatures sank below -20 °C. In Kvikkjokk we packed our pulkas, transport sledges you carry behind, locked the car, put on the skies and started our tour. First along a road, then on a snow mobile track. We didn’t come long when we met a local with a snow shovel who asked for our plans. He looked at our heavy loaded pulkas and mentioned that we would have a hard time in pathless terrain. He said, that it was 100 cm of snow in Kvikkjokk and 150 in the mountains.

I reparked my car – another tip of the local – and we started our tour again. With his permission we used his private snowmobile track that led us to the river where it joined a larger snowmobile track. It already had been starting to get dark and our plan was to find a place for our tent quite soon. We weren’t alone on the river – two moose (mother and calf) stood on the river some hundred metres away. We waited until they left and continued. The river slopes were quite steep and after we had decided to leave the river we had to put off our skis and drag the heavy pulkas up through hip deep snow. Exhausting! At least we found a nice little clearing in the forest for our first night in the tent.

As usual we started to tramp down the snow with our skis to make it stable enough to bear the weight of tent and ourselves after some time. This snow however was so loose that it seemed impossible to us to erect the tent on top of it. Therefore we digged down half a meter (making round 6 cubic meters of snow to dig) and erected the tent in the hole. The temperature had continued to fall, now down to -25 °C. Finally the tent was “ready for occupation” and we were eager to eat something warm.

After Chinese noodles with some asian ready-made sauce we left the tent and watched the amazing clear starry night. The milky way gleamed over half the sky and Sirius had just started to rise on the eastern horizon. What a wonderful first night!

… and a cold one. When we started to sleep the temperature had fallen to -30 °C. Jonas and I have huge down sleeping bags and we had it warm and cozy anyway. I just had problems to sleep because I don’t like sleeping on my back and always have trouble to fall into sleep the first two, three nights when tenting.

Next morning: Clear blue sky, some feathery clouds that just started to colour purple. Jonas’ thermometer at the pulka showed -34 °C. It was completely calm and we decided to cook outside. Cooking in the morning mainly means boiling water for tea and for making milk for the muesli. I was glad about my warm mukluk boots, down pants and my puffy down parka. And finally the sun rose over horizon and trees.

Today we would continue westward to the mountain lodge Njunjes and probably sleep there.

Photo #1 and #6 in this blog article are made by Jonas Balbasus.

3× winter coast

Yesterday, 13:30

After having lunch, Annika and I drove to Näsgrundet, where the Baltic Sea had been mostly clear of ice three days before. Still most of the sea was ice-free, only at the coast some meters of new thin ice had formed.

It had started clearing up and the temperatures dropped to -15 °C already in daytime. The cold air over the open water created sea smoke, that gleamed in the colours of the low sun.

Yesterday, 23:00

It continued getting colder and soon the temperature dropped below -20 °C. Before sleeping I was out again, this time to check for an optical effect, that can appear when it’s as cold as then: light pillars. Even though it was round -23 °C I wasn’t lucky, but I took some photos of the Rönnskär industry anyhow.

Today, 8:00 – 9:00

This morning was the coldest yet this winter with temperatures round -24 °C. That’s when I start wearing two pairs of gloves for taking pictures. The inner fleece glove for handling the camera and a thick woollen mitten for staying warm when I just wait or look for motives.

The first motive may look quite boring but I love motives like these: just different cloud layers and ice up to the horizon plus the first gentle sunrise colours.

Remember, this part of the Baltic Sea had been clear of ice the day before. Due to the cold weather it has frozen within a range of several kilometres within less than twenty hours. It still amazes me how fast this process can be.

After I had made the former photo I detected that purple-red spot beside of the island Gåsören. The sun started to rise. I changed the lens and made a telephoto shot. (It’s quite blurred due to the atmospheric conditions)

Then I waited for the sun to rise. And really – after some minutes the sun succeeded to rise above the lower cloud layer. But only seconds later the upper cloud layer, that approached from the southwest covered the red orb again and the sun disappeared for the rest of the day.

Though it was still below -20 °C it started to snow.

The first cold and sunny days

It became colder the last days. Yesterday temperatures were between -10 °C and -6 °C. Today it was warmer but still below zero the whole day. Especially the night before last was cold: coldest in Nattavaara with -23.8 °C but even in Åliden, just 33 km west, temperatures lay round -17 °C the whole night.

This morning I took the car to the bridge Sundgrundsbron that leads over the river Skellefteälven and pleasured in the wonderful sunrise colours. The sky in the east was coloured of warm shades of bright orange, while the sky in the west was more blue and purple, looking much colder.

Due to the stream parts of the Skellefteälven were still open but many parts were already covered with ice. Noises of cracking and clicking echoed through the air, clearly indicating that the ice was still fresh and quite thin.

A family of mute swans paddled over the river. Did they decide to stay or will they fly south? I hope they’ll cope the cold weather in case of staying.

If you look closer at the first photo you see a layer of clouds hovering above the horizon. The locals call this phenomenon “vinterväggen”, meaning “the winter wall”. It’s quite typical for this season and sometimes the whole eastern horizon is covered by a thick layer of clouds. According to a neighbour it’s this type kind of clouds that brings snow.

But according to the weather forecast tomorrow’s precipitation will come more as rain than snow.

26 August: Kungsleden day 7 – a resting day in Nallo

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

The whole night the gusty wind howled in the chimney and heavy blows seemed to shake the whole hut again and again. Already in the evening before the temperature had dropped to 1 °C and when we woke up it looked like that:

To continue our hike under these conditions would be difficult and troublesome. What a lucky coincidence that we planned a day off in Nallo. But what should we do, if the wintry weather would continue or even intensify and we would get snowed in?

A notice pinned to the wall informed about helicopter prices. A flight to Nikkaluokta for up to four people costs 4600 SEK (approx. 480 Euros). That’s quite affordable and could be a possibility to reach civilisation if we were forced to abandon our Kungsleden tour because of the weather. Anyway, the day just had begone – just wait and see … .

G., the stugvärd asked Andi and me if we could fix the door of her stugvärd toilet. She had used the toilet in the night and a wind gust had snatched the door out of her fingers so violently, that one of the metal hinges had been torn off. Luckily the door jammed and was save for the moment. Andi and I could help her and fixed the door. (As a matter of fact it was mostly Andi who fixed it as the photo below reveals.)

Katrin and Annika were also not idle. Katrin sawed logs of wood into 30 cm long pieces, so that they would fit into the oven. Annika chopped them into pieces. All the more we valued the oven that held our rooms warm and cozy.

Annika surprised us with pancakes for lunch, she had pulverised pancake dough with her. She used half of her supply and we got 2½ pancakes each – delicious!

Meanwhile the weather changed for the better. It got a bit warmer and the snow in the valley Stuor Reaiddávággi started to melt. The wind fell off and breaks in the clouds appeared. Good news for us who wanted to continue our tour on the next day, even if we all enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere at Nallo and the beauty of the landscape around.

We took a midday nap, solved a puzzle, played Yahtzee and finally we prepared dinner, this time tortellini with dried feta cheese and chanterelle mushrooms. We were eating inside while the reindeers, who had been around the hut all the time were grazing outside.

Again it was worth to have a day off in Nallo.

Recommendation for nice people:

Nallo is worth a visit! The hut is cosy and the landscape is of a special beauty. You can enjoy the much more familiar atmosphere compared to the larger huts on the Kungsleden and the arctic scenery around.

Recommendation for not so nice people:

Nallo sucks! The hut is small and has neither sauna or shop. All ways from and to Nallo are difficult to go and as you can see, the weather is always awful. Stay away!

A short look at Storgrundet

I woke up at 5:45. That’s quite early even for me. On the other side it would be much too late for photographers who love sunrise, because the sun had been risen already at 3:36.

I took the car to Storgrundet to check the ice. I guess, half of the ice is gone, the other half is grey and instable. I guess, the remaining ice is soon gone. Then I can start paddling without being surrounded by ice.

Anyway temperatures were down to -3 °C and it was quite windy at the coast. This still felt more wintry than springlike.

The Baltic Sea freezes over

Yesterday the Baltic Sea was open and a lonely goosander paddled through the cold, gusty wind. Meanwhile the air got colder and colder.

This morning the temperature has dropped to -25 °C and I wondered whether the Baltic Sea froze over last night. And so it did.

Since it was not only cold, but also windy I was glad about my warm parka. The highest temperature I measured here in Skelleftehamn today was -22.5 °C, but in Örviken, hardly 7 km away the car thermometer showed -30 °C.

In Kautokeino (Norway) it was much colder: -42.4 °C was measured already yesterday evening. The coldest day of this winter season in Northern Scandinavia.

If the Swedish weather forecast is right, we’ll expect -23 °C this night and -3 °C the following night. That’s 20 °C warmer within 24 hours; almost springlike. Good news for the goosander. I hope, he’s well.

Kayak – is it a boat or a sledge?

Today I was out and did some canoeing. There was a special reason for that: Johan from Sweet Earth wanted to make a short film about kayaking in wintry conditions for Skellefteå kommun, the municipality of Skellefteå. He asked me whether I wanted to be the canoeist and I accepted gladly. Since the weather forecast looked good for today we planned to make the film today.

And the weather was good – it was fantastic! When I woke up at 6 o’clock, the sky was still dark but starry and completely free of clouds. The thermometer showed -13.8 °C – the coldest temperature in Skelleftehamn this season. I was curious about Storgrundet, where it happened to be open water the day before. How would it look like today?

Some minutes later I stood on Storgrundet’s boat bridge and lit my strong flashlight. As almost excepted the water has completely frozen over last night and the rim of the new ice was about 3 cm thick. Too thick to break through with my kayak. Anyway, it could be less thick a bit farther away, I considered.

At 7 o’clock Johan arrived and we discussed the possibilities:

  • Plan A: starting at the Lotsstation farther away, where there’s open water and probably no ice at all, but perhaps less motives.
  • Plan B: trying to start at Storgrundet, where it might be impossible to kayak, but it would look nicer. And there would even be a Plan B2.

We decided for Plan A. I fetched the kayak from the garage and pulled it through the deep snow to the street where I put it onto the trolley. I pulled the kayak to the beach while Johan followed by car filming. Soon I arrived at Storgrundet’s parking place, but not Johan. Some minutes later my phone rang: Johan’s car got bogged down in the snow and he had to shovel it free. I returned to give him a push. Luckily his car was free soon again and we arrived at Storgrundet for sunrise.

I took off my winter anorak and slipped into my waterproof immersion suit – ugly but vital. I removed the kayak from the trolley and pulled it to the end of the boat bridge. Near the shore and round that boat bridge the ice was white, it was older and thicker. Some metres away it was transparent and you could see the sea bottom. That ice was less than 12 hours old. I positioned the kayak at the rim of the white ice that bore my weight and entered slowly the fresh ice. It took just some steps and – Splat! – the ice broke and I stood in chest deep water. Well, that came not unexpected. That’s why I had the waterproof suit on and my isdubbar round my neck.

“Isdubbar” or ice claws are sharp spikes with handles. These are attached to a cord to be worn round your neck. If you fall through the ice you can use the spikes of the ice claws to pull yourself out of the ice hole back to safety. A must have when going onto the ice in early winter or unknown terrain!

I managed to crawl onto the ice even without the ice claws, because the immersion suit has so much buoyancy. I put the kayak onto the little ice hole and climbed in. Unfortunately the kayak wasn’t heavy enough to break the ice. I tried and pushed, wiggled and jiggled until I managed to forge ahead perhaps ten meters. Anyway I only succeeded into bending down the fresh and soft ice, instead of breaking it. Since the paddle had zero grip on the wet ice I couldn’t steer at all and turning was completely impossible. Finally I gave up and pushed myself backwards with the glove protected hands.

When I came to the older and slightly higher ice I was kind of trapped. I couldn’t push myself backwards hard and fast enough to come up onto the safe ice surface. I tried several times and at last I just left the kayak – Splat! – went through the ice again, crawled onto the safe ice and dragged the kayak back to the boat bridge.

The result: Paddling on ice: round 25 m. Paddling in water: 0 m. Baths taken: 2. Photos taken: zero. I hope, that Johan filmed my abortive efforts. It will make me laugh watching it.

But as I said, there was Plan B2:

500 meters to the northwest the Baltic Sea is not in the lee of the island Storgrundet anymore. Here at the bay Flunderviken it usually takes much longer for the water to freeze over. While Johan had to take the save way on land I could go straight ahead by crossing the ice with my kayak in tow. First I had to plunge through soft ice and water again but then the ice was of the older and stronger kind and it was easy to get ahead. I knew, that Johan would be slower and I would had time to make some pictures.

Anyway even Plan B2 was in danger: Flunderviken was iced, too. At least I could see open water 100 or 150 meters ahead. Perhaps the ice would be weaker and I could go through the ice howsoever and reach open water. But first I had to wait for Johan who had to stomp through more than knee-deep snow to arrive. Time for another photo, time for going through the ice again, this time only knee-deep. Even here the ice was 3 cm thick – too thick to paddle.

Soon Johan arrived and I made my reservations. I didn’t believe in “ice-paddling” that far. Johan got an idea: Wouldn’t it possible to use the ice claws to push oneself forward? Well, I could try. The idea appeared to be brilliant. It was quite easy to push oneself forward, even it was hard work for my non-existing arm muscles. It went great until the ice got weaker and the kayak started to break it. Here it was hard to reach ice solid enough to pull oneself forward with the spikes. It took a long time and I had to take breath several times until I reached the last meters of the ice cover where ice was so thin that I could use the paddle again and finally I was free. Hip, hip, hooray!

Now I was able to paddle freely as on a warm summer day. Beside of the floating ice needles. Beside of wearing my heavy immersion suit. Beside of the snow that covered all shores. Beside of the ice crust on my kayak …

And beside of my exhaustion because of the struggles traversing the ice. Anyway I wasn’t here for a long tour but for being filmed. I didn’t want to get too far away from Johan who was landbound. Therefore I took just a short round and made some more photos before I started back.

I followed my old route where the ice already was cut and it was much easier to get ahead. Soon I reached the thicker ice – first still cracking under the weight of me and my kayak, then thick enough to bear us without any complaints – and then the shore where I had to plunge in into knee-deep water for the last time before I went ashore.

Conclusion

It was great fun testing out the limits of winter paddling in Skelleftehamn today. It won’t be the last time that I do such. However this is only possible with proper equipment. Without immersion suit or dry suit, isdubbar and such this tour wouldn’t have been possible at all.

So, folks: Be crazy and be safe!

I’ll post the film when it’s ready in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.