Spring winter kayaking through the ice.

After yesterday’s ugly and windy conditions the weather today looked quite promising. A good ooportunity to take another kayak tour. At eight o’clock I put on dry suit and life vest and dragged my kayak to the open water by the islet Lillskär.

I paddled slowly to give two pairs of swans time to retreat and then kayaked round the islet. Here a large field of ice floes awaited me.

There were open patches of water, but mostly I paddled through dense ice fields that were moved by long and smooth waves. The large floes were 30 cm thick, some of them even thicker.

How does paddling through the ice work? Most ice floes are small enough to be pushed aside. I tried to paddle around the larger ice floes. Sometimes I bumped into them. and sometimes I just paddled over them by purpose – “brute force”.

After a kilometre I reached open water and then another ice field with thinner and smaller ice floes. Here I could just paddle through and the transparent ice glittered in the sun.

I wanted to reach the “ice berg” south of the islands Obbolstenarna. Out there is a large shallow with some rocks. There the waves build a temporary island of ice and snow. This year it was two to three metres high. I didn’t dare to circumnavigate this icy island because in the shallows around the waves were high and breaking. I considered this being too risky to kayak there since I was alone.

I didn’t kayak around Obbolstenarna neither for the same reasons so I returned. I could see the Finnland ferry in the harbour some kilometres away. Soon I entered the ice field again.

As on the way there I paddled through the floes without any problems. I only landed in a dead end once and that was on purpose for the photo.

Since the weather was great it was so exceptionally beautiful out there I parked my kayak on a larger ice floe and took a short break.

Then it was time to return to the ice edge, walk back to our house and enter my office because this was my first day of a week of home office. Farewell ice floes. Thanks for good company.

First kayaking 2024

Today I took my first kayak tour in 2024. It was much too windy to do a longer tour (and proper photos) and my walking distance was larger then my paddling efforts but hey, at least I was outside. Now I’m eager to kayak more.

Ski tour in Sweden – Tjäktja—Alesjaure—Vistas

This article is part of the series “2024-02: Ski tour Sweden”.

Day 7 – 4 March – Tjäktja—Alesjaure

I may repeat myself but again we have sunny weather and blue sky at -6 °C. The only difference, it is windy today. It started last night when we were out to watch the Northern Lights and now the wind is blowing snow over the mountains and through the valley. While we are starting our tour we are having an impressive parhelion and a piece of halo right of the sun. I’m pretty sure that it isn’t created by stratospheric clouds but by the blowing snow.

We descend into the valley Alisvággi and leave the blowing wind behind us. Now sun feels warm but on the ice of the river system Aliseatnu the cold air still wins.

It takes some time until we can spot some of the cabins of Alesjaure. I can see them behind the rocky hill. No, they are on the rocky hill. I remember having tried to climb this turtle shell-like hill with skis and pulka years ago. I have learned my lesson, we walk up. And then we are welcomed by the warden with a hot and very sweet juice. We chat for a while (we have met once years before) and then Annika and I sit on the reindeer skin lying on the bench by the table and take an outdoor picnic. We may choose a room because we are first. We enjoy the weather, inside and outside. Later, after dinner we will head for the sauna.

I thought it would be extremely crowded here but we arrived on the right day. Yesterday: 40 guests. Tomorrow: 50 pre-booked guests. Today: 11 :-)

Day 8 – 5 March – Alesjaure—Vistas

Today is a special day. We do not take a break day, we continue to Vistas where our friend Dirk is currently warden. With 18 kilometres it is the longest distance on our ski tour this year and I was a bit afraid that it could get tough. Is there a track? How is the snow? Therefore I have urged Annika into raising up ridiculously early. We have the large kitchen for us while ptarmigans are hopping and clucking outside of the windows.

The sun starts to illuminate the highest mountain peaks, soon we will have sun as well. 7:05 (sic!) we start our tour.

… and get a little lost. We navigate by eye and sync the stones marked in red with the summer trail on our map. Anyhow it doesn’t fit. The GPS helps and now we know where we are. While finding a good route to get more north were we assume the correct route to be we realise that the summer markers are all over the place. Not helpful! Our assumption was correct, there is the unmarked winter trail. It is obvious, because now we see snow mobile tracks, ski tracks, pulka tracks, boot tracks, snowshoe tracks. I guess we won’t have any navigation challenges anymore today.

We cross the first lake Bajip Čazajávri and the second lake Vuolip Čazajávri, then we stand at the “abyss”. The steepest part of this declining slope falls 50 metres on 200 metres and we both decide to unmount the skis. Beside of a patch of soft snow the snow is good to walk on.

Now we are in the beginning of the valley Visttasvággi which will gently descend for the rest of today’s tour. And since it descend we leave the barren kalfjäll and meet the first birch trees, the first ones since a week.

The next hours we will ski in the sun. The hot sun. First I take off my jacket, then cap and gloves, then I roll up my sleeves. Finally I put on the shirt’s hood again, not for cold but for sun protection. Some photos from the tour:

Moose droppings are not the only animal tracks we see. There are the typical deep moose tracks, the smaller reindeer tracks, countless ptarmigan tracks (both feet and feathers) and a special track – like a fox on snow shoes. This was the description of the Sami on Sälka when he described wolverine tracks. The wolverine track follows the trail for a long time and watching it is pretty exciting.

The wolverine tracks are special, since these animals are rare. Only round about a thousand wolverines live in Scandinavia. But I love the ptarmigan prints as well. They often seem to tell stories.

My titles: 1. Zen garden / 2. Hieroglyphs / 3. Salsa party

After some hours of sun we finally come into the shadow. Almost a relief. Now it is not far anymore to the Vistas cabin, which is not part of the famous Kungsleden trail since it lies in a side valley. Skiing there was much easier then I expected and we had a faster pace then on the preceding shorter distances.

Dirk has seen us already and welcomes us outside with two cups of hot juice. Later we get an incredible five star afternoon snack. It consists of two surprises. First surprise: We found cookies in the leftover food in the kitchen cupboard! Two sorts, one of them with chocolate. That has never ever happened to me before and I hardly can imagine why people should leave cookies behind. I won’t! Anyhow I’m grateful. Second surprise: Dirk does not only invites us to coffee but also to Christmas stollen, a traditional German Christmas cake. It is never too late to eat stollen. Thanks, Dirk, for sharing it with us!

After dinner – Dirk invited us again – I just walk around to take photos. A faint polar light can be seen but it is nothing compared with the last days, especially the night in Tjäktja.

Day 9 – 6 March – Vistas

Today is the fourth and last break day we take on this tour. Are we lazy? Yes and no. Annika is sawing logs, I am chopping the wood (not my best day though). I fetch water from the river by lowering a bucket from the bridge into a patch of open water. The ice on the river is not save. But we also sit outside reading and I am using the short period where the sun shines on the cabins (yes, another fine day) to take some photos.

Tomorrow we will ski to Nallo and stay there over night, then we will come back to Vistas.

From the shadow into the sun

It has snowed quite a bit in Tromsø the last days and the snow depth measured this morning was 50 cm. The weather was fair and so there was no reason for me not to start the back country skiing season today.

I take the car to the parking at the Finnvikdalen on the island Kvaløya, where I started some other day trip ski tours the last years. I arrive at nine o’clock and am first. I change boots and jackets, put on gloves, mount the skis and off I go. The snow is fresh and fluffy and I guess that I won’t see my skis today a lot when I don’t follow another track.

First my skis sink 10–20 cm into the snow, later it will be more like 20–40. When I approach an old ski track covered in snow I decide to follow it. Where it will bring me? I’ll see.

At the beginning the track winds through the sparse birch forests. Everything looks quite grey and dull in the dim twilight.

When I however look back I see the first colour in the sky: A thin red cloud.

Twenty minutes later the southeastern sky is filled with the colours of sunrise. Which is no surprise, because it is actually sunrise. Somewhere far away behind the mountains of the mainland.

I continue following the old track. Looks like someone dragged a pulka behind. On one of the hills I spot a cabin. It is Stillvannsbua, a hut open for everyone and a popular tour destination.

The track passes the cabin and so do I.  Shortly after I meet a guy with a pulka. Probably he tented somewhere around. Was it him making this track? Probably, because soon it ends and I continue on areas of loose, untouched snow. Exhausting but beautiful.

On a lot of places the snow under my skis reacts with a loud, muffled noise and the snow sinks down a centimetre or two. The noise spreads in all directions for one or two seconds, a clear sign that the snow is quite unstable. But I’m in the midst of a valley– no avalanche risk here. When I reach the end of a valley I do not dare to proceed to steeper terrain but turn back. I am exhausted anyhow.

On my way back I still cannot see the sun. It is too low to be visible from here. The sky however is even more colourful and then it even starts to snow a bit. Snow and sun – one of my favourite weathers.

Some higher mountains are already sunlit …

And then there it is – the sun! It just appeared from behind a mountain.

All of a sudden the snow is not a featureless white but you can see every feature of the surface. The snowy land has got its colours back.

Everything that is lit by the low sun now shines in the most beautiful warm colours and I enjoy every moment of it. It is only nine other days, then the sun won’t rise again in Tromsø before 16 January. Polar night.

Now I’m not alone any more. A lot of skiers come towards me, many of them with a dog that pulls the skier. Three hours after I have started the tour I arrive at the parking again. The tour was short – just 7½ km – but the main thing was achieved: having been out in the wonderful nature that surrounds Tromsø.

Taking drone photos from the sea ice

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

Yesterday night we started our first ice station on our research expedition. Today I was on the sea ice twice. Once just before lunch to calibrate the compass of the drone and then in the afternoon to really fly it.

After informing the bridge to deactivate the radar to avoid interferences I took 149 pictures in 80 metres height with the camera showing straight down. I had to switch batteries in the middle. The computer will need hours to stitch together the images. Only then I do know if I covered the whole ice station area or if there are “holes” – areas that I forgot. It’s not so easy when you fly a drone manually and do not have a lot of practise. In addition to that the ice is drifting and so the GPS positions constantly change.

I took some “normal” drone shots as well. The photo I just want to show here I took in the beginning to check if the manual exposure was correct. This photo is slightly edited but I hope that I do not have to edit all 149 photos for the stitched “orthophoto”. I’ll know later, either in the evening or tomorrow morning. Then I’ll write a bit more.

The next images show first some of the researchers and me – with the red helmet – in the foreground. The other image is a map that shows where we are right now.

More about the ice station in general and the drone flying in special you can find in the next article “AO2023 – the first ice station”.

Back in Obbola – 20 hours

Sunday 10:30

After a breakfast in the sun heated winter garden Annika and I dress for a kayak tour. Special challenge today is not the frozen bay but the deep snow in our garden. I plunge through the snow, Annika is taking snowshoes while dragging the kayak behind. We are walking over the ice to the small skerry island Lillskär and then turn left until we approach open water. There we start the tour. I give Annika a push, then be both are sitting in our kayaks hopping forward until we reach open water.

We paddle to the islands Obbolstenarna. The way there is fast, a clear sign that we have tailwind. And true, the way back takes much longer. Yes, we are cold, but the winter garden is very warm and soon are we.

Sunday 17:00

A friend from Stockholm is visiting us today. Time to dig out our barbecue place. The two benches are covered with 20-30 of snow and it takes a bit of digging, until they are usable again. On the photo you still can see last day’s ski track crossing the bench.

Sunday 19:00

It gets cold and we have moved to the winter garden again. Blue sky, blue sea, blue snow, blue hour.

Sunday 20:23

A bright greenish light crosses the night, much faster than a plane. What was that? Many other sightings in Sweden confirm my thoughts: it was a bolide, an extremely bright meteor. I never saw anything like this. Since it was a matter of seconds, I couldn’t even think of taking a photo.

Monday 5:45

I wake up. Unnecessarily early for having vacation. Anyhow I peek out of the window. A beautiful morning, and with -13 °C a cold one for beginning of April. I pull ski pants and a down jacket over my pyjamas, slip into my boots and go out to take photos and wait for the sun. The icy edge at the horizon is already sunlit and I can see a weak light pillar above the island Bredskär. Fifteen minutes later the sun rises over the forestal island and I enjoy the sun for a short while.

Monday 6:30

When I’m back in the house it is still early. Time to take off the warm overclothes and continue sleeping …

 

Skitour on the Austeråsfjellet

Slowly I’m gaining height with my fjellski. It is sunny and almost windless. Round -6 °C. I seem to be alone. I start traversing a slope while continuing gaining height. I’m nervous. I’m not a downhill skier and every metre I ski up I have to ski down again somewhere.

Mission accomplished: I’m above the tree line. Above me the blue ski, below the white snow. And, while I go further I get another blue: The sea.

When I look back I can see the whole island Tromsøya. Somewhere over there in the south, hidden by the wooded hills is my small rented apartment.

I didn’t plan a route for today. I just wanted to be out enjoying the winter. But when a heap of stones marks a top and it’s easy to reach I have to ski there. Mountain summit 1: Kraknesaksla (ca.335 m). With a nice view into the sound Grøtsundet.

According to the map there are some lakes a bit down. The lakes are invisible. There is only snow. What I can see are the buildings. One small cabin and a wee, tiny shed with a wind turbine. The cabin is closed and I cannot see any sign. Probably it’s private.

I continue my ski trip. I have reached a vidda – a plateau.

Now I start to see other people. A single skier, a group of three going uphills, a skier with a dog in the distance. Most locals love to be outdoors but perhaps not as early as I.

I decide to ski to a mountain top I found on my map app Norgeskart. It’s called Jerremaš (467 m) and is a kilometre away. On the way there I see that the group of three heads into the same direction while two others are already returning. Seems to be a popular place.

And it is. I’m not alone. Several other skiers are sitting there, enjoying the sun, talking Norwegian. Almost all of them are 65+.

I look at the 360 degree panorama. There are snowy mountain chains everywhere, the sound Kvalsundet, the island Ringvassøya and somewhere in the northwest the Norwegian Sea.

How shall I continue the tour? Skiing downhills and letting the others watch how I fall face first into the snow? As I mentioned before, I’m not a downhill skier. The others are probably all former Olympic athletes. I decide to take a small detour …

I start to ski down. To my surprise the hills are gentle and the snow is soft and uniform. I manage to ski downhill the broad, snowy slopes and I’m enjoying it. Sometimes I even think, it is too slow.

Much faster than expected I leave the vidda behind. I pass the first trees and see more and more tracks – and skiers. Many of them are skiing on the prepared ski trail that cuts through the valley like a German Autobahn. Others just sit on a mat in the snow taking a break.

A hole in the snow triggers my curiosity. I ski there and look down. A shallow mountain stream flows down there. Open water. It’s comforting that the snow layer is more than a metre thick.

Now it’s only some more kilometres to ski back to the parking lot where I started my ski tour this morning. Although I’m avoiding the prepared ski trail it is obvious, that more and more skiers have been here the weekend. Ski tracks everywhere.

After round about 17 kilometres I’m back at the car. Pretty exhausted and thirsty but very satisfied.

Here’s a map from today’s ski tour. I went counterclockwise. Red is faster than green but still not fast. I’m not a downhill skier.

 

Colder days in Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

Two days ago on 14 March 2023 it started getting colder in Longyearbyen. Yesterday temperatures were around -19 °C, today around -21 °C.

Yesterday I took a walk after work and took some photos with my tiny Sony camera that worked surprisingly good in the cold when being kept warm.

While light was beautiful yesterday, today it was magic. After work I went to my apartment. Round about 15 minutes later I left it with all my camera gear and went to the shore. Due to the interface between the open water and the cold air ice fog covered large parts of the Adventfjorden. While I looked for good places to take photos the setting sun and the altering fog changed the mood every minute. Extraordinary beautiful!

Like the days before the sunset colours on the snow covered mountains became warmer and warmer until they reached a delicate but intense purple shade while the sunlit parts rose higher and higher until only the tops stayed in the sun.

Remember, these photos were not taken in the wilderness, I’m in the settlement Longyearbyen and my apartment lies just 500 metre from the nearest photo spot.

As already mentioned today’s temperatures were round -21 °C. With a moderate breeze of 6 m/s that felt like -32 °C. Pretty cold and the ice fog didn’t make it warmer.

 

Break at work IV – skiing through the forest

It’s Friday, the last day before weekend and the last opportunity this week to take a break at work.

In the morning I participated a workshop via video conference from my home office in Obbola. I just love the view through the window, where I can see the sun rising over the Baltic Sea and the snow covered backyard.

The workshop ended at 12:20. Right after that I took my old backcountry skis and dressed for a ski tour through the forests. Sunny, calm, -12°C. I wanted to go “Spåret”, a local forest trail. I followed the gravel road, crossed a ditch and followed the trail. Some hundred metres I was lost. When the snow is fresh everything looks quite alike. So I just made my own path. The fluffy snow was as deep as on the trail.

Later I found Spåret again and followed it. I walked through the shadows because the sun didn’t rise more than 3.3° above the horizon today. But at the part north of the treeless swamp the sun had a chance to peek into the forest edge.

At the road I decided to walk straight ahead instead of turning right to avoid the asphaltwith my skis. This was when I lost Spåret for good. Mostly I followed animal tracks because optical orientation is hard when it looks like this:

But it was fun because there was always something to see, even in a forest covered with 40 cm of snow. A frozen puddle at the rim of a swamp – a small pine covered with rime – thick animal tracks – the temporary (and abandoned) snow cave of a black grouse.

Sometimes I could see a roof of the house or hear a car. It’s Obbola, no wilderness. And so I came to the road that we use to take to town. I didn’t follow it but took a side road today. Less asphalt, more snow!

I arrived home at 13:55, some minutes after sunset. Again the horizon was coloured orange – and again I had a video meeting.

Just a hike up the Rødtinden

Today I joined a group of (much) younger people on a mountain hike up the Rødtinden (470 m). It was special in two ways: First of all it was nice to talk to a bunch of people from the USA, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland and Spain. An then – the weather! It was a real summer day with a cloudless sky and a lot of gorgeous views.

I didn’t take many pictures but some from a small pre-summit that we hiked to after reaching the main summit.