Archive for February, 2012

Weißensee

A little fog hanging over the skating track in the Morning.

At the beginning of February I spent four days at a glacial lake in Austria called the Weißensee. The Weißensee is Europe’s largest reliably frozen lake. But what makes it special is that every morning an “Eismeister” drives around the lake with a snow plough to clear the surface. There are plenty of frozen lakes in Northern Norway, but after the first snowfall skating is impossible. The Weißensee also has a nice sunny alpine climate and is quite a popular winter holiday destination. Although it is not very well known in England, people are well aware of The Weißensee in countries where skating is popular – such as the Netherlands. While eating breakfast at the Hotel Moser in Techendorf I counted the number of guests who were speaking Dutch: 18 out of 20!

Frost flowers on the track ;-) Almost too pretty to skate over. Close-up of the frost flowers Close to the shore it is possible to see the sandy bottom of the lake through the ice. Any fish there would have been clearly visible - I saw plenty of twigs and leaves through the ice. I guess it was about half a meter thick, bit it´s hard to be sure. Bubbles trapped in the ice - I guess from rotting material on the lake bed

Natural ice is not like the ice found on artificial ice rinks. My first day of skating on the Weißensee followed a night of freezing fog, and beautiful ice flowers had grown all over the surface. I didn’t feel them through my skates, but they were amazing to look at. In many places deep cracks ran through the ice in all directions. These cracks are a bit of a menace if you cross them at too shallow an angle. It’s easy for a skate to go down the crack, which will cause a naive skater to fall over. The Dutch spend their lives cycling along roads riddled with tram tracks and are probably used to this kind of hazard, but it caught me out a couple of times. In other places bubbles of gas were trapped in the ice, often in interesting patterns. I tried to take some photos, but the surface of the ice was quite scratched by the skating traffic so they are not that clear.

A hotel/restaurant at the Eastern end of the lake. It was a nice place to stop for a snack.

One the first day I skated 10 km from my Hotel in Techendorf down to the Eastern end of the lake. It was a windless day and it didn’t take a lot of effort – only about as much as cycling. But skating uses muscles that I don’t normally exercise, so when I arrived I was happy to take a rest at a lakeside hotel’s cafe.

I took these photos from the bridge which crosses the lake in Techendorf. There were some deep cracks around the bridge pillars - best crossed at 90 degrees... More skaters going under the bridge More skaters going under the bridge

All sorts of people go to skate on the Weißensee. Some were super-fit and clad in skin-tight metallic lycra, others were more relaxed and wore jeans and woolly coats. The dominant demographic was 35-45 and had come in a group wearing matching, club-issued fleeces. Overall things were pretty informal though. I wanted to make to most of my four days and was on the ice by 9 am most days. As long as I kept skating away from Techendorf I wouldn’t meet other people until about 10 am, when I started to meet people who had gone around the track in the opposite direction.

Frozen Paradise It´s not that easy to take a self-timer photo on skates... More frost flowers on the track

For three of the four days I spent at the Weißensee there was hardly a cloud in the sky and I skated around listening to music while enjoying the sun. With good music and nothing to worry about (except avoiding the cracks) skating was a hypnotic experience. By the end of day two I had clocked up more than 70 km according to my GPS, without really exerting any effort. Day three was overcast with snow showers and wind – and that changed everything. Skating into the wind is hard work and I’d become accustomed to looking at a sparkling frozen paradise. Grey snow didn’t provide the same feelgood effect and I was bored by lunchtime. I went back to my hotel to read a book. I’d become spoiled.

View of the Weißensee looking west. View of the Weißensee looking east

The sun was shining through the curtains of my hotel room again the next day though and I gulped down my breakfast in order get out on the ice early. It had snowed a couple of centimeters over night and I was out before the Eismeister had plowed the track. The thin snow didn’t affect my skates, but I was playing Russian roulette with the now invisible cracks. I took a break and snapped a few pictures while I waited for the track to be plowed.

Pretty rime on the trees in the morning More of those beautiful frozen trees... More of those beautiful frozen trees...

Although the sun had restored beauty to the Weißensee, my skating muscles were pretty sore after three days of skating. After lunch I decided to switch to a different type of exercise and went for a walk in the mountains around the lake. After a few minutes I was on a forest path covered with untouched snow. Clearly most people don’t venture far from the lake.

Skating tracks on the Weißensee seen from above Me :-) A mountain hut at Techend Alm above the Weißensee The Austrian mountain huts seem to be at least as luxurious as the Norwegian ones.

The snow in the forest was very thin so I could easily walk without skis. After a few hundred meters of climbing I had a good view over the Weißensee. A little further on I came across a hut at Techendorf Alm. It seems to belong to some kind of Austian hiking / mountaineering organization. I began to think I should have become a member and stayed there instead of in a hotel. It is quite a long way from the lake though.

Maybe I should have stayed here instead of in a hotel. Bit of a walk to the shop though...

Not a bad view. This would definitely be a nice place to stay. It even has running water and a solar panel to provide some electricity. I had a great time in the Weißensee and really enjoyed the Hotel Moser, but I left with a bit of a been-there-done-that feeling, so I don’t think I’ll be back next year. I enjoyed the concept of a skating holiday though and I’m keeping half an eye open for other nice places to go skating.

Snowdrift

We recently found out about a hut near the top of Fløya that we had never seen – even though we’ve been in the area many times. The hut is called Steinbøhytte, and is open year round as an emergency shelter. We decided to visit the hut on Saturday, and took the cable car up. In a straight line, it’s only one kilometre from the cable car station.

We were about to find out all about snowdrift, in all its aspects! First of all, there was barely enough snow for skiing, as it had all blown away by strong winds in the past couple of days. Most people walked to the top of Fløya! We tried on ski’s, but we had to take them off several times to walk over patches of bare rock. Finally we reached the little hut, and there we discovered the other face of snowdrift… all the blowing snow had collected in front of the hut!! The snow reached up to the roof… We didn’t bring spades and couldn’t find any near the hut, but Paul decided to try using a ski and his bare hands. After half an hour, he had dug out the upper part of the front door, and a little window above it. We decided it would take way too much time to dig out the entire front door, and when I took a little peek through the window, it became obvious that there wasn’t much point either: there was almost a much snow inside as outside!

Paul in front of the hut, after he decided to stop digging. You can see the upper part of the door behind him. This is what the cabin looked like inside, note the spade in the foreground... it should have been outside! I hope the strange form in the middle is not the last visitor ;)

Instead we built ourselves a shelter from the wind that was still blowing the snow around, and enjoyed a warm drink and some cake. Paul climbed on the roof (not much climbing involved) to play with our new fisheye lens.

Trying to find shelter from the drifting snow Paul climbed on the roof for some pictures

Another benefit of the fisheye lens: all of Tromsø island fits in one photo!

With this lens, no panorama stitching is needed to get all of Tromsø island in the photo :)

Unfortunately the cafe at the cable car station was closed – due to a wedding! It was impressive to see the bride come up in her huge white dress and on elegant high heels. A strange contrast with the rest of the gore-tex clad people waiting for the cable car down 😀

It was a fun day, but not a very successful skitrip – hopefully we’ll have some more snow soon 🙂

Sunset Auroras

Yesterday I was pleased to see it was still light when I left work at 16:15 – the days are getting long 🙂 I went to buy food, and arrived home at about 17:00. Getting out of the car, I looked up at the sky and to my surprise, the aurora was out even though the sky was still very light! I quickly grabbed my camera and our brand new fisheye lens (Samyang 8mm f/3.5). It’s a tricky lens: manual focus and manual aperture setting. I drove to Telegrafbukta where I found a gale blowing the snow around. I didn’t dress very well so I was soon freezing, and the wind was so strong it made my (very sturdy) tripod move. Not the best conditions to try out this new lens, but I had no choice as Paul took my other wide-angle lens to Austria :D.

Anyway, despite all this, I am quite happy with the results. It’s fun to be able to capture the aurora right overhead. The fisheye lens gives extremely distorted images, I might try to play with some software that can correct this, but I haven’t had time yet.

Double (almost triple) arch of aurora stretching over the sky at sunset At some point the arch started rippling, very impressive!

Here you can clearly see how light the sky on the horizon still was Not even my fisheye lens was wide enough to capture the whole arch!

It was so impressive to see the aurora dancing overhead while it was still light. I didn’t last very long, after 30 minutes I was fed up with the wind and the cold, and I went home. Not long after, clouds rolled in and ended the show.