2012-02-17 69 18
On the island of Kvaløya just to the east of Tromsø.
The hashpoint lies right in the middle of the coast road, so probably counts for the Easy Geohash achievement (accounting for the fact that we are in the area anyway). if we pick time and cloud cover correctly, there is a good chance of some faint-but-beautiful auroras - current (extremely sketchy) forecast has activity at a 3 on Fairbanks' scale.
- Arborine probably claims the Drag-along achievement for introducing John, Lesley, Alison and Eilidh to the game
Set off after nightfall (depending on clouds could be anything from four to six in the evening) and keep an eye out for auroras whilst traveling around the island's coast. Whether it's a case of internal combustion vehicle, skis or snowshoes will very much depend on the weather. The road makes car travel the easiest and simplest option.
After some surprisingly straightforward negotiation and planning over a large breakfast, we decided on a modified and finalised version of the original plan, based mstly on what the sky was doing: we would take the car over to Kvaløya and meander across the island, trekking out to see anything interesting along the way n snowshoes, the idea being to combine the adventure we had promised with the fact that the girls wouldn't be entirely enthused by the concept of taking a 17 kilometer straight snowshoe trek across the mountains (which would be heaven for me, though getting back in good time would have been a problem).
We changed into medium-light outdoor gear and tromped into town to hire some snowshoes and poles for the day. The storeowner turns out also to be a very talented landscape and aurora photographer, who has done work for most of the astronomy programs we've heard of in recent years and quite a few we hadn't.
Freshly snowshod, we came back through the island via the city's extensive, labyrinthine tunnel infrastructure (Tromsø has a very enthusiastic resident TBM firm, and when they haven't got enough work to do the city council seems to commission them to put in another road, subterranean car park or a snowplow depot. In a few decades we reckon the city's traditional buildings, residences, and scenery will form a thin rocky crust over a vast foam of caverns containing all industry) And over the bridge to Kvaløya.
After crossing on to the island and before stopping to go cross-country, we saw from the road a beautiful view over Kaldfjorden. Stunning contrasts of white snow, blue sky, and the first shreds of the flock of snow clouds rolling over the peaks of the mountains, which we watched and repatedly photographed for a good while before moving on.
Finding a good empty stretch of road, we parked up and spent a long time faffing about putting on our snowshoes, then set off straight over the snow and into the mountains. The terrain is sparse taiga and krummholtz, presently covered by a meter or more of snow and only allowing a few twisted, lichen-covered birch trees and equally lichenous boulders to show through. The mountains are beautiful in the snow, all sanded-away igneous rock faces where the glaciers have plowed down to create the fjords. Every lump of rock in this region is visibly dense with history, and I've already received at least one puzzled look from locals whilst examining a drystone wall with a hand lens.
The sky remained magnificent, and I spent a lot of time lagging behind taking photographs of beautiful clouds - snowy nimbostratus and high, crystalline cirrus like flaws in a block of quartz, catching the light in excellent ways. Stopping, stabbing my poles into th snow to stand and whipping out my camera from my coat pocket very quickly became a practiced movement, repeated countless times whenever something new struck me as beautiful.
Halfway across a startlingly clear area of ground, we realized that what we were walking across a frozen lake - a river basin in the summer which has flooded and then iced over. After negotiating a patch of ice which, whilst (probably) perfectly safe, was making creaking and cracking noises and leaking water around our poles, Eilidh declared that we really should get the Walking on Water achievement even though the hash wasn't anywhere near the lake. Heck, weren't we walking on water anyway by snowshoeing across deep snow? We eventually remembered that the specification was for a body of water, and talked about some of the fun of the game in general as we walked. An uphill slog took us to more taiga and a boulderfield which went on to overlook Erzfjorden and it's utterly beautiful row of mountain peaks on the far side, currently threaded through with clouds.
These clouds turned out to be a thick, snowy body of nimbostratus blowing in towards us at speed. The others decided to turn around and loop back round the valley to close off our detour, whilst I plodded north for another half a mile to get a good look (and photographic line of sight) over the fjord. This is beautiful country: spending days walking around exploring and photographing just this fjord would be just perfect, though Life tends, wonderfully and frustratingly, to really get in the way of that sort of thing.
Hiking back double-time to rejoin the family before the snow set in, again stopping to take photos every one or two minutes. At the edge of the lake a huge-looking cormorant bird with fan-like wings flew directly overhead towards the fjord, clearly pushing a lot of air behind it with each wingstroke. It moved up the slope of the nearest mountain and disappeared into the valley before I could acquire good photo.
An excellent moment of the trip came when I was still catching up and crossing over a mound of snow with the clouds, mountains and sun beyond. Very much right there and right then, thinking only about the things that could be seen around, but getting flashbacks to things like Tintin in Tibet or some of the best bits from Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books - the last being particularly appropriate, since we're surrounded by arctic Saxifrage!
We slowly reunited just as we arrived back at the road. People were rejuvenated to adventuring spirit by crackers and a tube of jalepeno spread, and we pressed on. Moving up along the coast of the island presented many beautiful views of freshly snow-covered mountains across the channel and crinkled coastline all around. We turned on the gps keyring and the laptop now that we were getting into the area where we needed an accurate fix on our position on the road.
Passed seemingly endless ribbon development along the coast, and some wonderful rocks out in the sea capped with snow and with their black sides left bare. The entire scene seems to be drawn up in clear, crisp lines of black and white. One cluster of houses is host to the only fish rack we've seen in the area with actual fish hanging from it - thousands of cod.
A few kilometers further on we came across a Sami settlement and reindeer kraal by the side of the road, stopping to get some discrete photos without disturbing the deer or anyone inside the tents. Further on still, we reached the hashpoint! (and incidentally earned the Speed Racer Achievement whilst overshooting it a bit) compared to some of the places we had been on the long road arriving there, it was a comparatively unremarkable stretch of road, but a few photographs were taken for posterity as well as a fuzzy one of the laptop with display. By this point everyone was tired and hungry with aurora prospects not looking good thanks to the clouds, and we began slowly to head back to Tromsø.
(due to serious problems with uploading photos though the web of the place I am staying, photos may well have to wait until I return home on Monday)
- Land geohash