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)

 

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 she 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.

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.

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.

 

Where is the snow? – part II

While parts of Bavaria and Austria have been buried in snow masses – partly there’s more than 250 cm of snow in the valleys and 350 cm in the mountains – we got plus degrees and storm squalls yesterday evening.

Yesterday the bay Kallholmsfjärden was still covered with a solid layer of ice. Today the wind and high water broke this sheet of ice and blew it away. At lunchtime the bay was covered with drifting ice floes. Some hours later the ice was gone, probably drifting to Finland …

I want this (left image) but I got that (right image):

I have to admit that I’m frustrated. I moved to Northern Sweden for real winter experiences, not for this kind of roller coaster weather, that makes the snow dirty and the streets slippery. The photo motives are ugly, I cannot ski, I cannot even walk onto the ice anymore. I just want to snip my fingers and be in Filzmoos or Reit im Winkl or somewhere else where it’s really snowy.

There’s only one realistic way to solve this: I need a teleporter. Or a time machine. For this I need a crazy scientist, that will build one for me. To pay him/her and all that crazy scientist equipment I need money.  There is a way to get a lot of money without work: a Trisslott, the most famous scratchcard in Sweden. The same amount three times and you win it. OK, let’s see …

Well, that didn’t work. Four amounts only twice. As usual. I guess, I have to deal without a teleport.

Waves on the lake Falkträsket

Falkträsket is a lake a kilometre south from Skellefteå. Annika and I have been there yesterday and took a bath. The bath was refreshing and the lake was as calm as usual.

Today I had a litte time between work and the practise with the chamber choir. So I drove to the lake for another bath. It was almost as warm as yesterday and the sky was blue but today it was so windy that my towel was blown away. After I found a sheltered place for my clothes I took a bath in the wave-covered lake. That was fun although the waves were not very big.

Still no rain in sight. This is probably the warmest and driest May since I moved here.

Why travelling in Northern Norway can take time

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 40 of my winter journey 2018

At 11 o’clock we left Kjølnes Fyr and started our car trip to Båtsfjord. First we had to take the road 890 to Kongsfjord and over the Kongsfjordfjellet, then we had to continue on road 891 over the Båtsfjordfjellet to Båtsfjord.

I wasn’t sure if we would manage it due to the severe stormy and snowy weather. Another guest staying at Kjølnes Fyr had a hard time driving the 5 km from Berlevåg with very bad visibility. The roads however were still open though marked with a warning “difficult driving conditions because of snowstorm”.

And yes, it was stormy and it snowed a lot. The sight on the road however was still quite good. While I focussed on the road Annika took some photos of the coast beside of the road:

Some parts however were very hard to drive, since the visibility was extremely bad. It was hard to see whether there were snowdrifts on the road and how deep they were and several times I had to stop completely to find out, where the road continued.

I started to doubt if it was possible to cross the mountain passages but we would make it at least to Kongsfjord where we could stay overnight if continuing became impossible. Annika tried to check the traffic information of Vegvesen – the Norwegian Public Roads Administration – but there was no mobile internet available.

I continued driving along the E 890 and the only other vehicle we met was a snow plough. The street behind it however seemed as snowy as before.

Shortly before Kongsfjord Annika’s smartphone was online again and she informed me about the updated traffic information: The mountain sections of both the 890 and the 891 where restricted to kolonnekjøring which means that you cannot drive alone but have to follow a convoy guided by a snowplough. The kolonnekjøring was scheduled to 14:30. The good thing: Driving in a convoy would be much easier than driving alone.

When we arrived in Kongsfjord it was 12:10, so the 28 km drive from Kjølnes Fyr had taken more than an hour. We were lucky that there is a landhandel – a grocery – in Kungsfjord that is open all year. We entered the landhandel, told about the kolonnekjøring and were invited to coffee and cookies straightaway. A big thank you to the owner for the warm welcome!

While we sipped our coffee and waited we constantly checked the traffic informations. After a short while we learned that the start of the kolonnekjøring was postponed to 17:00. That meant more waiting, but we were not the only ones. Other men in work clothes – mostly fishermen – waited as well. They told stories, laughed out loudly while drinking coffee or eating fast food. Anyway we all were still lucky. While we only had to wait some more hours many other roads were completely closed due to the weather, among others the way to Mehamn, the passage between Kiberg and Vardø and the only way to the North Cape.

Hours later: We said goodbye, cleared the car of snow and drove the short way to the boom gate. Here some other vehicles, mostly trucks waited for the convoy to start. One of the truck drivers attached snow chains to his truck.

Dusk had already been falling when our convoy started some minutes after 5 o’clock. My job for the next time was following the rear lights of the car in front.

Some passages were quite easy to drive, some passages were hard to follow due to the blowing and driving snow. (Sorry, no photos.) After 35 minutes we arrived at the T-junction, where the 890 from Kongsfjord, the 890 from Tana Bru in the south and the 891 from Båtsfjord meet. A long queue of cars coming from Tana Bru already waited. Some minutes later the convoy from Båtsfjord arrived as well. The snowplough leading the convoy to Kongsfjord passed and seconds later our queue of cars started to approach the intersection were we turned left to follow the convoy to Båtsfjord.

This part of the trip was extremely exhausting. It was dark, the convoy was slow and mostly the visibility was really bad. I just tried to follow the red lights in front and it felt like hours and hours until the snowplough turned right and we suddenly arrived in Båtsfjord. Here it seemed to snow as much as in the mountains and I was very relieved when I finally parked the car at our overnight stay. Phew – that was no easy ride and I’m really grateful that convoys led us over the mountains under the snowstorm conditions.

The rest of the day? Buying foodstuff at REMA 1000, eating fast food, falling asleep quite fast while the snow squalls over Båtsfjord continued. According to our host 30 cm of snow already had fallen that day and more was expected.

At least we arrived in Båtsfjord, probably our last overnight stay on land. The next evening we would take the Hurtigruten to Ørnes, were we would drive home to Skelleftehamn and Umeå.

(The first five photos were shot by Annika. I did the editing.)

Kjølnes Fyr

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Days 38 to 40 of my winter journey 2018

Saturday

After our stopover in Kongsfjord we continued the road 890 in direction Berlevåg. The road follows the coastal line of first the fjord Kongsfjorden and then the open Barents Sea. Our destination for today is Kjølnes Fyr where we planned to stay over for one or two nights.

Kjølnes Fyr is located on a small headland called Kjølneset 5 km east from Berlevåg. We had booked a two-bed room at this place because it looked more interesting than the “large” city Berlevåg with its round thousand inhabitants. At half past one we arrived.

I directly fell in love with this place. The lighthouse – some other houses around – a rugged rocky coast, partly covered with snow, partly with seaweed – to the west bare mountains and to all other sides the open Barents Sea.

If you started a boat trip from Kjølnes Fyr heading north, the next land you would approach would be Kongsøya, part of Svalbard.

Viggo who operates the lodging gave us the key to the lighthouse and we took a closer look. The original lighthouse from 1916 was destroyed in World War II, the new lighthouse was built in 1949 and has a very functional and sober appearance. We went up and looked over the Barents Sea watching the high waves breaking at the rocky shore.

Viggo and his wife moved to Kjølnes Fyr in last autumn. He has rented the houses, that are protected as a historic monument. He told us from a winter storm that he experienced in January. Wind speed was up to 70 m/s (~250 km/h) and the upper floor of their house was shaken so violently, that the vibrations moved around the furnitures inside. Compared to that experience we had it quite calm.

The only thing we made over daytime was driving to Berlevåg to buy food. In Norway almost all shops are closed on Sundays and there were things we needed (spaghetti …) and things we wanted (chocolate …).

Later that evening we drove to Berlevåg again to see the Hurtigruten ships coming in.

Sunday

Under the night the wind got a bit stronger and the waves approaching from the north had become higher. Annika and I took a really lazy day. I was outside several times, but only for taking photos of waves. They never broke at the same place twice and gave me a hard time making pictures.

Weather became worse the whole day: The wind increased more and more and it started to snow, which means that snow was thrown into my face vertically when I dared to look into the wind. When it started to get dark, the ice and snow covered rocks in the cold light of the blue hour made the landscape look as what is actually is: arctic.

Already in the afternoon the Norwegian Meteorologisk institute had issued a class one wind warning for the whole area. I started to get a bit nervous. The next day we wanted to continue to Båtsfjord, our last stay on our Varanger trip but I was not sure whether the weather would allow it. Anyway, all roads were still open.

Monday

It had snowed a lot in the night and still was snowing heavily. Due to the stormy wind parts of the ground were completely bare of snow while other parts were covered with knee deep snow. At the same time it was quite warm, hardly below zero. The weather warning was extended to the afternoon but wind should decrease a bit over the day, so we planned to start round 12 o’clock. I was out and took some more photos, but it was really rough weather, especially for the camera.

Right after breakfast Viggo got a call of another guest approaching from Berlevåg by car. She couldn’t find the departure to Kjølnes Fyr due to severe weather conditions and asked for help. He took the car and drove to the main road just to mark the departure visually. When she came in she looked quite exhausted from the short car trip. She advised us not to continue the trip that day and told us, that visibility was partly only 10 meters which would make it impossible to see the next way mark.

We waited some time but despite of the stormy wind the visibility looked really good. Therefore we decided to give it a try and drive at least to Kongsfjord, that we passed two days ago. Here we could either continue our trip or take a room and stay in Kongsfjord overnight.

So we packed the car, said goodbye, removed the snow from the car and started our car trip to Båtsfjord at 11 o’clock.