Kayaking to the Obbolstenarna

It’s the last weeks in Obbola in Västerbotten/Sweden before I start working in Tromsø. Annika has started working again on Monday while I’m idle.

2020, what a year! Two ski tours just before Corona – cancelled projects because of Corona – Annika and I buy our beautiful house in Obbola – I get the job at the Norsk Polarinstitutt in Tromsø – I start selling my house in Skelleftehamn – I “park” my Swedish company – Annika and I get engaged – I find a room in a shared flat in Tromsø, hardly 500 m away from the beach – Annika and I marry in our own garden on 21 August ⚭ (yes – we’ve been married for three weeks now!) – we drive to Tromsø to move some of my stuff to the flat.

It was a lot of things to organise the whole year through. Now most organisation is either done or out of my control and I have to lean back and relax a bit. Sometimes so much, that I spend half the day watching more or less silly YouTube videos. A state quite untypical for me.

Today after lunch I was in the danger of becoming a couch potato again, but I managed to stand up, put my drysuit on, stuff the camera into a waterproof bag and go paddling. Destination Obbolstenarna, a group of islands nearby. Obbolstenarna is hardly more than a kilometre away but a headwind of round 10 m/s and rolling waves from the front slowed me down. Normally I love taking photos from the kayak, today I dared it only when I started to get into the lee of the islands where at least the waves were less high.

To my delight the center island has a small and sheltered bay, where it was very easy to moor the kayak.

I left the kayak and started looking around. Small birds fluttered around, summer and autumn flowers were blooming and some of the leaves of the rowans had turned orange and red.

I could constantly hear the waves breaking at the rocks of the southern shore. I went there and was impressed by the force of wind and waves. I looked where the rocks were still dry to safely make some photos of the breaking waves without getting wet. It all went quite well until a huge wave came … *KERSPLASH*!

I managed to turn away to protect the camera at least a bit but I myself would have been completely soaked without my drysuit. This wave came at least five metres further than all others before.

Since the camera lens got wet anyway I looked for saver motives. Rocks, for example or the large anchor partly rusted to pieces.

Then I climbed on some of the small rocky tops to get some wider views. I could see the open Baltic Sea in the south and the Wasaline ferry to Finland docking in Holmsund in the northeast.

After strolling around a bit more I got into my kayak again and paddled home. I didn’t measure time or speed but I guess it took less than half of the time paddling back with the wind behind me and the waves pushing me forward.

The whole tour took less than two hours including the preparations. And – as always – I deeply enjoyed it. Learning today (again): Olaf, be more outdoors!

And you? Where have you been outdoors the last time? What did you do? What did you enjoy the most?

A skitour from cabin to cabin – part 3

This article is part of the series “2020-03: Ski tour Jämtland II”.

8 March – Vålåstugan

The weather forecast was right. After a calm and sunny day yesterday it looks very different outside. It is grey and the wind has become stormy and gusty.

All people consider their plans. Among others a group of four decides to remain. They wanted to continue to Helags, round 22 km in the southwest. They would have got the stormy wind straight from the front.

Other skiers plan to return to Vålådalen. It’s Sunday, their last holiday. They ask each other to team up and they exchange phone numbers with Olle, one of the wardens. I do not envy them being out in rough weather with increasing wind speeds with squalls up to 27 m/s in the afternoon. While they equip themselves with balaclavas and ski goggles Annika and I keep inside, peeking through the window that starts to be covered with wet snow.

After all skiers have left Vålåstugan it’s very quiet inside with 10 people remaining. Most of them are on their rooms, only one man seems to love cooking. Until noon he has baked fresh bread, made popcorn and fried pancakes. We are invited to popcorn and get part of the pancake powder so that we can make our own ones. If I’m inside the whole day my interest in eating dramatically increases.

While we spend most of our time reading and being lazy the benches on the sun terrace start to snow in. That’s however nothing compared to the other side of the cabin. A metre high snowdrift has started covering the marked way to the outdoor toilet until Olle relocates the waymarks to a less snowed area. At the same time it has became quite warm, slightly above zero.

In the afternoon the other skiers start to ring. At the end of the day it is clear: All of them reached Vålådalen without any harm. We are quite relieved because we read and heard stories about serious (and even deadly) incidents in the mountains in winter time.

We are equipped with a metal shovel, with warm down bags and bivy bags, but even good equipment is only of limited help when the weather is too severe or there is no snow to dig in.

Tomorrow we want to ski to the mountain cabin Lunndörren. According to the forecast it will be slightly colder, sunny and less windy. Good to know, then we dare to continue our tour.

9 March – Vålåstugan – Lunndörren

The next day the skis in front of the house are wrapped in wet snow, now frozen again. I’m glad that my skis are inside. Yesterday evening I glued the long climbing skins under them because we may have to climb many snow drifts today. The weather is fine and it promises to be a sunny day.

At 8 o’clock we say hejdå to the stugvärdarna – the wardens – Olle and Amie. We shall greet the stugvärdarna at Lunndörren. We put on our backpacks, mount the skis, I put on the belt that is connected with the pulka and then we depart.

The first part is easy to ski and extremely beautiful. At every branch tip of the birch trees small pieces of ice are hanging and sparkling in the sun.

We spot a reindeer. When you see one, there are probably others around, too. And so it is. Five reindeers that carefully look at us. They gather in a small group until we come nearer and they walk away.

The first 4 km the snow is perfect. There’s grip for the skis and even with the climbing skins we can glide effortlessly other the snow.

Then it gets more difficult. The plains are so exposed to the wind that they are almost snow-free. Sometimes there’s a visible path, sometimes we have to ski around.

Then the snow gets so hard and slippery that everything starts to slide and it’s near impossible to break. Yesterday’s warm weather and today’s frost have created an icy crust on top of the snow. Sometimes the pulka runs more beside than behind me. When it goes downhills I take large detours to flatten the slope avoiding becoming too fast. Beside of my problems skiing this snow can look very beautiful, especially against the sun.

Later the snow at the surface is as icy as before but the underlying snow doesn’t bare the weight any longer so that we break through. Several times I am run over by my pulka while my skis are stuck. My left wrist still hurts a bit from one fall, one of the less nice memories of this fantastic ski tour.

At last it was snowmobiles that have improved the situation for us. The tracks they have left have broken the icy crust and here we can ski quite well even though I have to unmount the skis for some of the steeper parts. We want to arrive anyway. It’s Annika, who spots the flag of the STF, the Swedish Tourist Association. And there it is: The mountain cabin Lunndörren!

Here Jonas, Arne and I seeked shelter from the storm 17 days ago.  Now we are first welcomed by the friendly cabins in the sunshine and then the friendly wardens.

Lunndörren has a highlight we have been looking to for days: A sauna! Already at 17:00 Annika and will sit there enjoying the heat. But before taking a sauna we take another opportunity. Former guests asked for permission to cut a hole into the ice of the small lake by the sauna some days before. Therefore Lunndörren has an ice hole this season. Of course we have to take an ice bath before the sauna. (Taking it after sauna is considered cheating by winter bathers.)

If you ever want to take pictures of a person making faces: Throw her or him into icy water. Four examples (Photos: Annika Kramer):

After 95 °C in the sauna we took a shower. No, not a normal shower with shower head and and chrome valve, just a bucket full of hot water. But it’s enough to wash your hair and yourself. We feel so fresh again afterwards!

Later that evening I stroll around in the full moon. This will be the last night of the ski tour. Tomorrow we will ski back to Vålådalen, where I parked my car only seven days ago.

10 March – Lunndörren – Vålådalen

It’s always a bit strange, the last tour day. Car keys get more important than the pocket knife and mobile internet becomes normal again. Fortunately it’s much easier to ski today than the day before and comfortably we follow the red crosses marking the winter path. After a while we see the first cross country ski-runs and more people around. At the end we have to navigate, because there are so many possible ways. I decide to take the bridge over the river Vålån, the very same bridge I used on the other ski tour three and a half weeks ago. And almost suddenly we are standing on the parking place next to my car. We unmount the skis, load the skis and pulka into the roof box and fill the car with leftover food, sleeping bags, snow shovel and other equipment. And since we were quite fast today we even make it to lunch.

Tack för turen, Annika. Thanks for the tour. Where do we ski next winter?

 

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 3

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Saturday, 22 February – skiing to Gåsen

Day 8 of our ski tour. After we have found shelter from the storm in the emergency hut Hulke we where eager to continue out tour. Next stop Gåsen fjällstugan and finally a resting day is awaiting us.

As usual I am awake before 7 o’clock. Time to visit the utedass – the outdoor toilet – and take a snapshot in the blue hour with my iPhone SE. Technically the image is crappy but I love the almost pointillistic appearance of the photo. Since it looks rough it reflects reality much better than the technically superior photo, that I took with my Nikon D750 45 minutes later.

The first 4 km lead us 150 meters up. Easy, but a bit boring since the weather is grey and dull. When it’s cloudy like that, the contrasts are so poor, that you cannot see any structures in the snow.

That’s not a big deal as long we climb the mountain. Soon we can see the buildings of the Gåsenstugan although they are still nearly 5 km away. But between them and us there is the valley Holkendurrie. We have to ski down 150 meters again. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big deal for me although I’m a real lousy downhill skier but just in this valley it starts to snow and it gets quite windy. Now there’s even less contrast and the snow looks like a white, untouched paper.

It takes some time for me to ski down. I know, that there are icy patches and snow drifts but I cannot distinguish between them. It’s all plain white. I fall the first time, when my right ski gets stuck in a small snow drift, while the pulka – still on fast, crusted snow – just pushes me down. Ouch, my left wrist didn’t like that. I fall once more, but after a while I managed to reach the valley, where Arne and Jonas have waited for me. Now it’s time to ascent again, this time round 200 metres. At 13:30 we arrive at the cabins.

Anders, another skier that we met at Helags recommended the old cabin which he considered very cozy. This cabin however is almost completely snowed in and it’s quite clear that it is not habitable right now.

Anyhow it’s the stugvärd we have to ask where to sleep. For today is the first day, where the mountain cabins are officially open. That means, that one or two stugvärdar are around. These voluntary working people tell guests like us where to sleep, accept payments, show where to fetch water or firewood, explain the kitchen (if necessary) and sell food and some other items in a small shop.

So we walk to the cabin with the sign “Stugvärd”. We have to climb down some large stairs cut into a huge snowdrift, then we enter a small anteroom and finally the shop where we are welcomed by the stugvärd. We are the first guests today. We directly pay for two days because we all want to have a day off – both for resting and avoiding new storm squalls that are forecasted for tomorrow. We are in the left part of the (only) other habitable cabin, another Abrahamssonstugan. I use the shop to buy ecologically chips and cola – pure luxury!

Jonas fetches firewood, Arne water from the well (and by chance catches a river trout with the bucket). We hang up our jackets, sleeping bags and other clothes to dry. The rest of the day we throw firewood into the wood stove, since this part of the cabin hasn’t been used since last year’s September and everything is cold, especially the walls and mattresses. It takes hours for the room to get a little warm. No other guests come this day, we stay alone, enjoying the cabin that provides everything you need.

Sunday, 23 February – a stormy resting day

Again I am the first to wake up. Again the night was stormy and it still is. Round 9 o’clock, Ebbe, the stugvärd drops in. He invites us to fika – the Swedish coffee break – for 15:00. If we shovel free his door.

First I take some photos through the window, then I go out into the storm. According to the forecast we have storm squalls up to 27 m/s this morning. Snow is blowing everywhere and my wide angle lens will have problems with moisture for days.

Then I go the the cabin of the stugvärdarna. The entrance door is snowed in over the door handle. How did Ebbe get out of the house? I shovel away the snow and then enter the cabin. Ebbe tells me, that he had to climb out of the window since he couldn’t open the door. It was the second time since they arrived five days ago. I’m glad to help.

It storms all day. When we go to the utedass (hardly 50 m away) we look like polar explorers. In the night we will be glad about the reflecting waymarks to find the way.

At 15:00 we leave our cabin and visit the stugvärdarna Ebbe and his wife Svitlana. It’s not only coffee we get, Svitlana has baken delicious brownies. Tasty! I feel honoured being invited by them and we have a great time together talking about hiking tours, places like the Sarek and safety in the mountains. After an hour or so we use the shop to buy additional food for the evening, then we leave.

Two other skiers have arrived. It’s hardly visible from the stugvärdarnas kitchen because the snow in front of the window is piled up so high. They join us in our room. It’s warm inside and the candles provide a cozy light. Outside it’s still storming. As the evening before I wear balaclava, ski goggles and headlamp when I go to the utedass.

It was a good day for resting! Thank you Svitlana and Ebbe for your hospitality. Hopefully we’ll meet again!

Monday, 24 February – finally tenting again

Again a stormy night, nothing to mention anymore after so much wind and storm. I remove about 80 cm fresh snow in front of the entrance door of the stugvärd cabin and trudge back through knee deep snow drifts. My pulka is visible from the side, the others almost completely buried in the snow.

If the weather forecast is right, wind shall finally decrease for some days. Hopefully that’s true so that we can sleep in the tent again. We leave Gåsen at 10 o’clock. First we have to ski through deep snow but then the snow is more compact and effortlessly we ski down to the emergency hut Härjångsdalen. After a short break we continue equally fast.

If we continue like this we’ll soon reach the cabin Vålåstugan. Since the wind really calmed down we slow down, too and start looking for a good place to camp. After several days in the kalfjäll above the timberline we spot the first birch trees. We stroll around a bit because it is still early. At 14:00 we have found a nice camp ground amidst some birches. As usual Arne and Jonas erect the tent while I take photos.

Later even the sun comes out. The first time while tenting.

Now it’s time to melt snow, to cook and to eat. Today’s dinner is spaghetti with pesto and chocolate as a dessert. Already at 19:00 we lie in our warm sleeping bags. The outside temperature -14 °C. I close my eyes and minutes later I fall asleep.

Continue with part 4 >

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 2

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

Wednesday, 19 February – tenting in the kalfjäll

The night in the mountain cabin Vålåstugan was stormy, but in the morning the wind has calmed down. We leave Vålåstugan behind and head southeast.

Our way leads to Helags, the highest mountain in Jämtland. The Helags Mountain Station is about 23 km away, but we don’t have to go the whole way today since want to camp. The way leads up and there are less and less birch trees. Soon we are above the timberline in the kalfjäll – the bare mountains.

We take a break at Ljungan, one of Jämtlands emergency huts. For once it is not windy but it’s cozy to sit inside anyway.

Now we are already halfway to Helags. We decide to continue since the weather is supposed to get worse tomorrow. It would be nice to have just a short distance to the mountain station tomorrow. Ljungan lies in the valley of the river of the same name. Now we have to ski up again. We continue skiing the whole afternoon. On the one side I consider it quite exhausting, on the other side it’s so beautiful watching the light changing in the setting sun. White – yellow – orange – “peach” – purple and finally white again, but a cold one.

It’s already dark when we have found our campground for tonight. It is hardly protected again wind and storm but according to the weather forecast this night is supposed to be relatively calm.

If people ask me why I love winter tenting although it can be uncomfortable and sometimes even troublesome, have a look at the next photo. Can you imagine standing there? With an itching nose in the cold but the down parka keeps you warm? Looking at the milky way and zillions of stars? Hearing nothing than the crunch of snow underfoot and your own breath? Feeling how you calm down and find a deep satisfaction inside? That’s why I love winter tenting!

Thursday, 20 February – visiting Helags Fjällstation

Two o’clock. Suddenly we are all awake. It has got stormy again and tent was shaken by some stormy gusts. Is another storm approaching? No, soon it calms down again.

The next morning it is cloudy but calm. Through some gaps we can see the colours of the sunrise.

Some of the daily morning routines: melting snow – dissolving milk powder for the muesli – having breakfast – packing our things – dismantling the tent – putting on skis and the harnesses for the pulkas. It always takes a while, but we are not in a hurry, Helags is less than 7 km away. We leave at 9:40, ski to the winter trail that we left yesterday evening and follow the waymarks.

The wooden red crosses are our friends! Sometimes it seems quite boring following these waymarks, especially if you can see dozens of them standing in a straight line. But there’s a reason, that the distance between the red crosses is quite small. The weather can by very rough in the mountains and the visibility very poor. And the weather in the mountains can change very fast.

And so it happens to us. Within short the wind increases more and more. First it’s easy to continue but soon we are skiing in full storm. You hardly see more than the next red cross while the storm tries to knock you over. I manage to take some last snapshots with my smartphone.

Then I have to stop taking pictures because it would be too dangerous. We could loose each other or I could loose a mitten and get frostbite. There is hardly anything to see anyway because the visibility is extremely poor. I can spot a Arne, who is in the lead, my skis and sometimes the next red cross, that’s all. It’s very demanding to ski in storm, both physically and mentally and I’m really glad when we finally arrive at Helags. How long it took? I don’t know. I loose any sense of time in this kind of weather.

There are people at the Helags Fjällstation. Some craftsmen fixing things and two women working for the STF preparing Helags for the opening in eight days. After a bit of confusion we are shown the way to the emergency shelter, where we push the pulkas and ourselves inside. Arrived and protected from the storm.

We are safe and sound but disappointed. The cabin has eight beds and even electricity but no possibility to cook. I talk to one of the STF people who reacts with a mixture of confusion and ignorance. The only answer I get: it’s pre season and everything is closed. I tell them, that the mountain cabins as Lunndörren and Vålåstugan do provide everything even off-season but I get the same answer again. Quite disappointing.

Two other skiers have arrived. They manage to persuade one of the women to open another cabin with a kitchen until tomorrow. But the chaos continues. First Arne is locked in while using the indoor toilet in the main building and all STF people have left by snowmobile. Then they arrive again and want to lock the cabin with the kitchen already now, while we’re using it.

I never felt more unwelcome in Sweden since I moved here ten years ago. Actually we wanted to take a day off at Helags but it’s clear that this is not the place to be. We will leave tomorrow morning.

Friday, 21 February – finding shelter in Hulke

The next morning the storm has calmed down a bit and it promises to be a sunny day.

The kitchen is still open. Jonas fetches snow to melt on the electric(!) stove.

The utedass, the outdoor toilet is more than 100 m away from our cabin and lacks waymarks. I wouldn’t have dared to use it in full storm. But now I do. Things to bring: A warm jacket and a head lamp.

Although the storm subsided, it is still windy and the blown snow glistens in the sun.

Our departure is delayed a bit: A mitten I accidentally have dropped is blown away 20 metres. Jonas can fetch it before it is blown away even further. I pull on the glove and we can start.

The Helags massif is incredible beautiful and only reluctantly I break up. I would have loved a resting day but as I mentioned above not here.

Easily we continue. We have the wind behind us. First we slide down, then we have to cross the saddle between the mountains Miesehketjahke and Soenehketjärra.

From there we can spot the emergency hut Hulke. We only have to slide down the mountain saddle and we are there. Quickly we decide to stay here for the night because again hard winds are excepted for the night.

Most emergency huts have signs that restrict overnight stays to emergency situations. Not Hulke, so we feel safe to use it. Of course the firewood stays untouched. It is provided to save lives, not to increase comfort. We use our camping stove to cook and our warm clothes and sleeping bags to stay warm.

It doesn’t take long and it’s stormy again. I have to go to the utedass. After I have finished I open the door of the utedass from the inside. It is blown open so violently that the handle pulls me out of the building before I realise what happened. Jonas happens the same with the hut. From now on we open the doors only a bit and squeeze ourselves through the gap. And I wear ski goggles outside. My Nikon cameras dislike this weather and I only make some snapshots with my smartphone.

We sit on our inflated camping mats on top of the wooden benches. Mukluk boots warm our feet, warm jackets our body. After dinner we lie down. Jonas and I on a bench, Arne on the floor between us. Storm squalls howl in the stovepipe and make the hut vibrate. Will the stormy weather stop one day or will it continue forever?

Continue with part 3 >

 

 

 

Skiing and tenting in Jämtland – part 1

This article is part of the series “2020-02: Ski tour Jämtland I”.

This year I’m lucky. I did two ski tours in a row, that’s spending more than three weeks in the beautiful mountains of Jämtland. Let’s start with the ski tour number one.

We are three people: Jonas, with whom I already did three ski tours before, Arne, who is doing his first ski tour and me.

Saturday, 15 February – shelter from the storm

Jonas and Arne live in Northern Germany. They arrive in Östersund by train at 6:37 in the morning. 23 minutes later we enter the large shop ICA Maxi to buy food for eleven days. It takes an hour to decide what to choose and find these items in the large shop. After we have managed to stuff the shopping bags into the packed car we drive to Vålådalen. There’s a parking place that we use as the starting point for our tour in the fjäll. It takes some time until we have packed our pulka sleds with all our stuff and they are quite heavy loaded.

At 13:15 we leave the parking behind and start our ski tour. It starts with a challenge. Although we have a tent we need to reach Lunndörren, the first mountain cabin tonight. Just now the weather is calm but according to the Swedish weather service a storm will approach tonight with gusts of wind up to 30 m/s. That’s more than 100 km/h or wind force 11 (violent storm)! Definitely not the night to spend in a tent, if you have the choice. Although it’s only 14 km to the cabin, it takes us more than 5 hours. There’s the heavy pulka sleds, some short but steep slopes to climb, pinching boots and much more that slows us down. Exhausting or not – it’s great to be outside in the winter again.

Sun down is round 17:00. For the last part we use our head lamps. In darkness we arrive at Lunndörren at 18:30. As usual, one cabin is opened for out-of-season hikers as us. Here you have all you need. There’s a table and stools, bunk beds and most important: a wood stove. Firewood is found in the vedbod, the woodshed. The water? Probably there’s a place to get water from the lake. We however go outside with a bucket and fetch snow to melt on the wood stove.

The sky is still clear and the night is starry but it already has started to blow more and more.

Sunday, 16 February – camping by the river

It’s 5:30 in the morning. Storm gusts howl around the house. Violently they blow snow from here to there and I have to pee. Not my favourite combination. I manage to open the door but have to crawl over the icy patch to prevent being blown away. Every mountain hut has it’s outhouse but I prefer the nearest tree. That spares me 20 meters to brace myself against the storm. I have to hold tight on the tree to avoid being blown over. Back in the cabin I can hear the storm but a mountain cabin is a great shelter and soon I fall asleep again.

Fortunately the storm has weakened, when we get up.

Today we don’t want to go far and look for a nice place to tent. So we take it really easy in the morning and it’s already 11:45 when we start our second tour day. Slowly we gain height and there are less and less trees.

Hardly three hours later we have found a nice tenting place. It’s in the forest to be protected against storm and wind and by the small river Lunndörrsån. Jonas tests crossing the river to fetch water – it works. Fresh water is a luxury in winter. It takes less energy to warm up than snow and it tastes much better!

You see the orange shovel? We have two snow shovels with us and we use them both to dig a large hole for a camp fire. The dead wood that we find is soaking wet and it takes Arne some time until it burns.

Where there is a fire there is no boredom.

Later Jonas, how is the tour cook is preparing food. Today it’s köttbullar with mashed potatoes and chanterelle sauce. Tasty! Already a quarter to eight we lie in our warm sleeping bags and soon we fall asleep.

Monday, 17 February – warm weather in the forest

Of course I did not sleep well. I always need two or three days until I got used to sleeping in a sleeping bag in winter time. One of the reasons is the reduced freedom of movement, one other the VBL.

A vapour barrier liner (VBL) is used to prevent moisture getting into the down filling of the sleeping bag. There the moisture would freeze and so reduce the isolating effect of the down feathers. So far so good. In practise it has the same comfort as sleeping in a huge plastic trash bag and although there are good reasons to use a VBL I dislike them.

But I shouldn’t complain. I had it warm and I got enough sleep. Some storm gusts have shaken the tent but all in all it was a quite night. And so is the morning by the river. Even the sun tries to peek through the clouds.

At 10:40 we move on. First we have to cross a small plateau called Finnångelflätet. It is quite exposed to the wind and hardly covered by snow.

One hour later the view is completely different. The ground is white again. The wind has intensified and gets stormy. At the same time it’s warm – slightly above zero – which makes the snow very sticky. Sometimes it feels like half the hill sticks under my skis.

The good thing with tenting is that you are flexible. We do not have to get to a cabin or hut, we just need a sufficient campsite. Right after crossing the river Tronnan (we ignore the bridge and cross the ice) Arne and Jonas start looking for a good place to camp. And find it. The snow is loose and we trample on the snow to harden it. At some places we sink knee deep in the snow. It has started snowing and when we look out of the tent we see the snow covering the skis used as huge tent pegs and the pulkas.

Tuesday, 18 February – arrival at the Vålåstugan

Phew – my sleeping has been much too warm. It is made for -25 °C, not for 0 °C. My wool underwear is wet but still does it’s job anyway: keeping me warm.

As the day before we move on at 10:40. The tent has become quite heavy due to the wet snow and the warm temperatures. Now it’s both wet and frozen. We have decided to reach the mountain cabin Vålåstugan today. I find it exhausting to ski. I have to take tiny breaks to catch my breath on every slope. Perhaps it’s because it’s the third tour day but I may be wrong.

Luckily Vålåstugan is not far away and we arrive already at 13:30. There are several buildings. The main cabin, surrounded by huge snow drifts won’t be opened before 21 February but the other cabin is open. Again we are alone, we haven’t seen a single person the last days.

This cabin is of a well known type. It’s a Fjällstuga 65, also known as Abrahamssonstugan. A corridor, one room to the left, one to the right with ten beds each. It works quite well with up to eight people, then it starts to get a bit crowed. We use the whole space to dry our sleeping bags, jackets, boots, gloves and other clothes. As I mentioned we are alone.

Wrrrr—wroooom—wrooooom! Not anymore. Snowmobiles are approaching with people dressed in bright colours. They park in front of our house. Who are they? It’s an official party of the mountain rescue (probably training), the police (checking the emergency phones), way markers and later two snowmobiles with people from the Swedish Tourist Association STF. They pull trailers in which people sit. It turns out that they are the wardens of Vålåstugan and Gåsen Fjällstuga, that will open these cabins in three days. The wardens of Vålåstugan directly start to dig out the main house (that will take some time), the others leave a bit later.

I haven’t had internet access for two days. So I’m glad to ask the police for a weather update: wind this night, sunny round -10 °C the next day, then wind in the night again. Looks like this tour is a stormy one.

It’s cloudy but the sun manages to peek though from time to time. The birch branches are bent by the wind.

And later that evening we even get a bit of polar lights. The only ones I’ll see the next weeks.

Continue with part 2 >

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.