Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Kirkenes – Øksfjord

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Friday, 15 February

While I moved into my cabin the Hurtigruten ship MS Lofoten still anchored in the port of Kirkenes. I had a windowless 2-bed-cabin for myself and was able to spread out my belongings. But before that I took a photo with my fisheye lens. With the fisheye-like distortion the cabin look huge!

I used the Hurtigruten twice before, in 2017 from Vardø to Stokmarknes and last year from Båtsfjord to Ørnes. So the section KirkenesVardø was new to me. And it’s the first time without my car on board.

We were in the harbour till half past twelve.

Then we left Kirkenes and my 3rd and longest Hurtigruten journey had started. I stood at the stern of the ship and looked back.

Soon I changed place from stern to bow – at the MS Lofoten you can stand next to the bridge – and looked ahead. Far away, a bit to the port side I could spot a white plain – part of the Varanger peninsula.

[Live interruption: We have reached the open Lopphavet between Øksfjord and Skervøy. The ship has started to rock again. I am interrupted by the sound of a plate falling down from the table. Thanks to the soft carpet it survived]

Annika and I travelled a lot on the Varanger peninsula last winter. I stood on the port side of the ship and tried to spot all places we have been: There’s Vadsø, the largest town – there, far away is Ekkerøy with it’s beautiful beaches. And there is Kiberg, where we had a good time with Trond, our host of Cape East Arctic Adventure. And there’s his house! I found it! Let’s see, what about Kibergsneset, the easternmost point of mainland Norway where Annika and I had been last year? It was farther away from the village than I remembered, but finally I found it, too. Both photos are taken with 600 mm from a rocking ship with a vibrating motor, so the quality is bad, but it was nice to take these pictures.

Half an hour we arrived in Vardø, stop #1. (Vadsø is left out on the southbound direction.) We arrived late and I decided to stay aboard. I’ve been in Vardø before.

When we left Vardø behind, it was too dark to see the scenery. I have breakfast included but not the other meals, because I think they are quite expensive. I have my own food with me. This day however I didn’t have a proper breakfast so I bought a large bread with salmon and scrambled eggs.

The MS Lofoten went along the northern coast of Varanger. It was windy and the sea was a bit rough. The MS Lofoten was exposed to the elements. It is not only the smallest operating Hurtigruten ship but also the only one without stabilisers. It was rocking in every direction and the swell got stronger and stronger. Sometimes the bow of the ship was hovering in midair and then scended into the next trough. I’ve never been seasick before but I started to sweat and to feel quite uncomfortable. I tried to ignore it for a while, then I interrupted my photo edit session, went down to my cabin and went straight into bed. Whether it was my lying position or the fact, that the cabin was nearer to the center of the ship’s mass I don’t know, but I felt much better and fell soon asleep.

I woke up shortly before Båtsfjord, stop #2. Near the harbour the strong swell had subsided. Soon the ship lay calmly at the jetty. It had started snowing intensely. We were in Båtsfjord quite a long time due to a lot of freight being unloaded and loaded.

I went into my cabin and continued sleeping. I overslept Berlevåg, Mehamn and Kjøllefjord but was awake in …

Saturday, 16 February

Honningsvåg, stop #6. I was so sure that I would oversleep this stop as well, but we were an hour late. I was still dark, but I could take some photos with my tripod.

[Live interruption: We have left the Lopphavet, the sea was much calmer than expected]

We left Honningsvåg with an hour delay. I tried to make pictures but the sight was poor, mostly because of the snow showers and the low hanging clouds. At least I could take a picture of the MS Nordnorge.

An announcement came through the speakers: Due to the delay we would skip Havøysund, usually stop #7. This would spare us half an hour.

It got warmer. Temperatures were hardly below zero, much too warm for the season. It snowed more and more and all you could see was the ship and a circular patch of waves and snow.

Anyway the snow showers didn’t last for hours and after another snow shower Melkøya came into view.

Melkøya is just a few kilometres away from Hammerfest, second largest town of the Finnmark. It’s the endpoint of an undersea pipeline for natural gas. Here it is converted to liquefied natural gas that is exported to the world.

Right after Melkøya Hammerfest, stop #7 on this journey came into view.

Here we had a longer stopover. A young woman took ropes, rolled them up and threw them up onto the much higher foredeck of the MS Lofoten. She succeeded every time. Later I asked here if I might use the photo (I may) and she told me that she wasn’t sure if she would make it today because of the strong winds.

I left the MS Lofoten for looking around, taking pictures and buying a coke in the local supermarket. Some photos:

After an hour I went aboard again, placed myself into the salon and started editing images. The weather was too dull to take great pictures, a good reason to be lazy.

I even took a short nap in my cabin. Anyhow I was up again when we arrived in Øksfjord, stop #8. With a fisheye photo of the port Loppa Havn I will finish this blog article.

[Back to now: Soon we’ll arrive in Skjervøy, stop #9. If we make it we’ll even reach Tromsø today but perhaps I’ll sleep. I’ve been in Tromsø several times before and even twice last year.]

 

 

 

Snowy night, snowy day

When I returned from Avan two days ago the Swedish weather institute SMHI had issued a snow warning: 20-30 cm snowfall and at the coast fresh winds from northeast. Yesterday the wind increased and in the afternoon it started to snow. Soon the snowfall increased, too and the wind made the snow whirl round the houses and through the streets. More and more snow came falling down and soon the street was snowed over completely.

“Beep! Beeep! Krrrr. BEEEP! KRRRRR!” – these sounds woke me up this morning at 5 o’clock. The sound of snowploughs and shovel loaders clearing the roads. They beep when they go backwards and the shovels make loud scraping noises.

While the shovel loaders take the snow and move it to other places the snowploughs just push the deep snow aside. Both are important but the latter create work for the locals. They create a so-called plogkant – compact walls of snow – along the street and so right in front of your driveway.

This plogkanten was 60 cm high and the loose snow behind was of almost the same height. Before I could use the car I had to shovel snow. A lot of snow, at least 2½ m³. Fortunately the temperatures where round -10 °C and the snow was loose and fluffy. A good workout anyway. Finally I could get camera and tripod and took the car to two places by the sea.

The garage at the pilot station was surrounded by meter-high snowdrifts. The snowdrifts in the lee of the house were even higher. The gaps in the fence created a nice stripe pattern on the snowdrift outside. It was still quite dark and there was not much to see otherwise.

At the “beach” of Storgrundet the stormy gusts of wind blew the snow horizontally from left and right and in the dawn the scenery looked very harsh.

Great weather for a ski tour on the sea ice, isn’t it?

Two and a half hours later: Chris – a friend of mine from Kirkenes who arrived yesterday – and I had just come to the very same place to start a ski tour. We mounted the skies, put our hoods on and slipped into the gloves. It still was snowing and quite windy.

And when it’s windy at the mainland you can bet that it’s much more windy on the sea ice which is completely exposed to the elements. And so it was. The island Storgrundet was in the back and we could see the pale schemes of some other islands in the northwest. The northeast however looked like the Arctic Zone.

Chris was following my ski tracks. She looked like an arctic explorer with the white void in the background.

Here’s one of of the rare photos of me, that is no selfie. If you look closer you see that my ski tracks go zig-zag. That’s because even on the sea ice of the Baltic Sea there were many snowdrifts with sharp edges and I could hardly see whether it went up or down. Skiing was not exhausting but we were slow due to the wind and the bad sight. (… and taking pictures.)

We skied to a headland which had been in sight for a while.

As soon as we reached the lee of the headland it was almost windless. What a huge difference to the exposed parts of the sea where weather was quite rough. In the shelter of the headland we took a break. (We forget the tea in my kitchen but at least we had a bit of chocolate.) On the headland were summer cottages, now snowbound in meter-high snowdrifts.

The way back was easier. The gusty wind had started calm down a bit and the snowfall lessened. The view to the west however was still extremely arctic.

We were however no arctic explorers but had the luxury of a parked car and a heated house just some minutes away. The ski tour was short in distance but rich in experience and that’s what counts!

Takk for turen, Chris!

It continued snowing until dark. The fence in my backyard had been buried in snow almost completely. The fence is 85 cm high.

Later in the afternoon I continued clearing snow. Not with a front loader but with a wide snow shovel. Chris has parked her car on the street and both the snowfall and the snowplough had buried it up to the top of the wheels. I pushed all snow into the front yard where the snow pile got higher and higher.

I’m a quite curious person when it comes to snow depths. I made a step on the top of the snow pile and as I guessed the snow was quite loose:

If the forecast is right we get calm, sunny and colder winter weather tomorrow. We consider to start the very same ski tour again just to see the difference.

 

Snow in Skelleftehamn

After a snowy car ride from Umeå I arrived in Skelleftehamn. Partly the E4, the main road was completely white and the visibility was quite poor, especially when a huge truck passed by. In this case a lot of snörök – snow smoke – whirled to the air and reduced the sight almost to zero for some seconds. Driving through snow and darkness is exhausting and I’m glad I’m home.

At home there are no huge amounts of fresh snow, “only” 15 – 20 cm. This is however the largest amount of fresh snow I experienced this winter. Nice and a good start! And since I was to lazy to shovel snow at 21:00 I just drove my car onto the driveway. I guess, tomorrow I’ll get some outdoor exercising.

10 cm of wet snow

Yesterday and today morning it snowed in Skelleftehamn. 10 cm of snow cover my backyard. The snow is wet and heavy but it brightens up the scenery in the dark hours of the day. And there are many dark hours: Sunrise 9:11 , sunset 13:40. Today I worked from home and took a break to take some pictures:

The Baltic Sea is still open. There was an ice cover between the island Storgrundet and mainland some days before, but now there is partly open water, too.

The lake Snesviken however is completely frozen and covered with a fresh, white layer of snow. The trees on the island are mostly free of snow, probably because of the quite warm temperatures.

When I drove to the peninsula Näsgrundet and went to the shore I could spot a dark, blurred object through the falling snow.It was the MTM Gibraltar, a tanker, that was towed into the port – a tow boat ahead, the ice breaker Baus behind. It looked enormous through the falling snow flakes, although it is only 140 m long.

 

“Vargavinter”

Vargavinter – “wolf winter” – that’s an especially cold and harsh winter. And that’s what the newspaper Expressen warned about yesterday:

“Long time forecast · prepare for the wolf winter · cold for several months · snow from arctic.”

As a winter maniac I would love to believe Expressen, but I have my doubts. Let’s the when Expressen warned about vargavinter the last years …

As you can see, especially extreme winters seem to be quite common in Sweden, at least in the headlines of the tabloid press.

 

What a difference four days make …

That’s how my house had looked like on Wednesday, just before I took the car to the airport.

That’s how my house looked like tonight – just four and a half days later – just after I had arrived from the airport.

When I left Skelleftehamn the temperatures were round 0 °C. When I arrived at Skellefteå airport this evening, the temperatures had dropped to -12 °C and my car was covered with 8 cm of snow. The snow was partly frozen and it took me half an hour before I could drive home. Home in Skelleftehamn it was slightly warmer (-8 °C) yet 10 cm of snow covered my backyard, too.

What a nice welcome home after I have been in a town, both beautiful and stressful (at least for my feelings) for some days: Paris!

Side note: Never ever did I see so many warm jackets as on the huge flea markets in the north. Mostly counterfeit products of The North Face, Canada Goose and others. Since I neither believe in a French ice age coming soon nor in million of French people wanting to visit “La Laponie” (French for Lapland) I guess that the Parisians just have another sense for temperature (and fashion, too).

Autumn, meet winter

When I woke up this morning it was still dark outside. It snowed. Big snow flakes fluttered downwards, where most of them melted instantly. They felt however comfortable on my car and started to cover it with a wet layer of snow – the first snow of the season.

It snowed in Skellefteå, too and I took a short stroll along the river before job. Temperatures were slightly above zero, so the falling snow was wet and didn’t last long. Anyhow it managed to cover the leaves, the grass and things made from wood.

I’ve been living in Sweden for more than eight years now. The earliest snowfall in Skellefteå/Skelleftehamn I experienced before was on a 14 October, but normally the first snow comes round the end of October or even later. So this year it’s quite early.

I do not long for the winter yet, because of all the coloured trees and bushes. They are so beautiful. But as soon they will become leafless I’ll be eager for the first cold days and snow that doesn’t melt away instantly.

Ongoing winter

It has been a long winter and it’s continuing. The fence behind my backyard is still mostly snowed under and this night it has started snowing again.

The temperatures however have been gradually rising. While the minimum temperatures have been mostly between -5 °C and -15 °C the last weeks the minimum of the last night was a mere -1.2 °C. And the permanent frost stopped. Day temperatures have been above zero the last ten days and despite the mean temperatures still being below zero the snow has started to melt, especially on and beside the streets.

And if the Swedish weather forecast is right we’re expecting a sunny week with temperatures up to 7 °C. This will cause more snow to melt making the streets especially in town extremely ugly and rubber boots the preferred footwear, but that’s a necessity for the spring to come.

The other years?

April 2017 – the Baltic Sea is mostly open, some snow showers. The first tussilago flowers on 8 April.
April 2016 – open Baltic Sea, some rain and small streams cause local flooding.
April 2015 – kayak tour on the Baltic Sea, whooper swans and again the first tussilago.