Browsed by
Author: Paul



Today I tried my new randonnée skis outside of a ski area for the first time. I wanted to start with something easy, so I picked a small (500 m) mountain about 15 minutes drive from my flat in Tromsø called Rødtinden. Navigationaly it was a very simple trip; I could see the cairn on the top from behind my steering wheel in the car park at the bottom and headed straight for it – absolutely no faffing with the map required!

I was completely blown away by how well the full-sized climbing skins on my new skis worked compared with the small ones on my old skis. I could just march straight up the 30 degree slope, instead of tediously having to traverse (tack) up it as I would have had to with my old fjellskis. I made a bee line for the summit and was there in under an hour, so quick that I went a bit further to another nearby peak a few tens of meters higher. I took these panoramas while lying behind a rock to get out of the wind (it was blowing a hoolie up there even though it was calm at the bottom). On the way up I was thinking that with my new skis I could have carried a light paraglider up without much difficulty, but today it was far too windy to have been able to take off safely. One step at a time…

The descent was great to start off with, there was about an inch of powder on top of some smooth, hard-packed snow. It was as if an easy blue run had been smeared out over the whole mountainside. But, within 15 minutes I was down to the tree line and had to start slaloming around the spindly birches that cover everything below about 300 m around here. This was pretty tedious, so I think next time I’ll try to find a less tree infested route. 

Randonnée skis

Randonnée skis

After two days of looking around ski shops I finally bought a new pair of skis on Friday afternoon. Shortly after we arrived in Norway, we bought fjellskis, which are good for skiing up gentle slopes but are less good for going up steeper or icy slopes. The skis I bought on Friday are more suitable for that kind of thing, and behave like downhill (“real”) skis on the way down. It was hard to choose between heavy skis (good for going down) and light skis (easy to go up), but I finally decided on a pair of Völkl Snow Eagle skis with really light Dynafit bindings. Today I went to a small local ski slope (Tromsø Alpinsenter) to get used to them before trying them in the wilds 😉 I was a bit worried that the fat skis (good for powder) would be difficult to use on piste, but actually they were just as easy to use as downhill skis. Hanneke came as well and rented some skis from the centre. 

The centre is quite small, just three anchor lifts, the highest of which goes up to 600m. However, you can ski right back down to sea level, the views are fantastic and there are no queues! The last time either of us did any downhill skiing was more than two years ago, and in the mean time we did a lot of cross-country skiing, so it took a while to readjust to alpine skiing. The first run was much more scary than it ought to have been! We went straight to the top of quite a steep run, as we used to be able to ski down a slope like that quite happily, but it took a while to regain faith in the control you have over downhill skis compared to our cross-country skis. Hanneke was nearly ready to give up downhill skiing forever after the first slope! 

Below is a panorama from the top of the 600m lift. This picture is all Hanneke has seen of this view, as she spent all day on the kiddie slope trying to get comfortable again. 


I really enjoyed skiing on groomed pistes again and think I will be back here more often! Tomorrow though I plan to try my new skis in their proper environment so will try to climb some nearby mountain without any lifts 😉 

Lance a lot

Lance a lot

Avast, me hearties! I’m finally back in Tromsø after spending three fair weeks aboard the fine ship Lance, magically including talk like a pirate day! The Lance is a considerably more piratey sort of vessel than those that I’ve been working on recently. It smells of oil and drunken sailors as opposed to over zealously applied cleaning products and it has a gutsy old engine that hurts your ear drums and makes the whole ship vibrate when its going full blast. It even has a crows nest at the top of a mast on the bow which is reached by a perilous climb up an ice-encrusted rope ladder which was great fun (see pics below). Lance is a good old ship with a great crew, and I think I prefer working on old ships like this one than bigger or more modern research vessels.

For the majority of the trip we had unbroken grey skies and fog. A huge contrast to the weather I experienced when I was in the same area (Fram Strait) earlier this year. Then we had blue skies almost every day! Much of the difference is due to seasonal variations in ice cover: In March the sea over the Northern part of East Greenland Shelf is completely covered, so the relatively warm water underneath can’t easily evaporate into the atmosphere. In fact where there are small openings the sea steams like a bath! In September the sea ice melts back to its minimum and a lot more of the relatively warm surface water can evaporate to form fog and spoil the visibility! I won’t complain though – it’s very atmospheric to stand on the bow of a ship slipping quietly through the ice in fog, which deadens the sound of the water and distant engine. Towards the end of the trip the fog occasionally lifted and there were often ‘fog bows’ when this happened. Fog bows are colourless rainbows which occur when water droplets in the air are too small to cause much refraction.

There were only about 10 scientists on the ship this time – half of us were oceanographers studying the East Greenland Current and any ice that melts into it and half of us were sea ice scientists studying the ice. Sea ice scientists get to spend a lot of time walking about on the ice they study (they go drilling holes in it, measuring how much snow is on top, collecting samples etc.) ,while us poor oceanographers have to work hard to find excuses to get off the ship. In the winter when there is a lot of ice and many of the floes are large and thick the ship can simply come alongside a flow and lower a gangplank to allow people off. When the floes are smaller and melting though it’s safer to go in a rubber dinghy, so that if anything happens people can be quickly and easily collected up. It’s good fun to go buzzing around in an inflatable too!

Here’s a couple of photos I took in the evenings on days when the fog lifted a bit. Even though there were quite large areas of open water between the ice there were only ever small ripples on the surface.

While the ship stays in one place and the sea ice scientists go out on to the ice the oceanographers get a bit of break. Generally we spend time looking at our data and checking instruments (these trips are typically quite hard work), but on this occasion things were going well and I decided to spend a bit of time messing about. So…. I cut a hole in the side of a plastic fish crate and glued the front of a clear plastic CD box over it with some silicon sealant. Then I went out on to the ice, put my camera in the fish crate and put it over the side of the ice flow. My camera got a frog’s eye view of the Lance! I got the idea from Practical Photography magazine who had an article where a guy used a small fish tank to take pictures of swans in a pond.

Later in the cruise Lance headed into the middle of the East Greenland Current to deploy a mooring to measure the currents. The ice in the center of the East Greenland Current can be very thick and closely packed as it is comes straight out of the Arctic Ocean, and to cut a long story short we got stuck! In the end we were only stuck for about 14 hours, but we didn’t know how long we would be there at the time! We tried all kind of things to get loose, from thrashing around with the engines, to trying to dynamite the ice around the bow and finally swinging some train wheels around with the crane to try and rock the ship. None of these schemes were very successful and we simply had to wait until the ice loosened up a bit and allowed us to sneak out in the early morning darkness. In the pictures below you can see: An area of water where the ship was that froze over again; drilling a hole to put dynamite in the ice near the bow and then poking the dynamite down the hole with a long bit of bamboo; and finally heading out into open water.

Close to Greenland later in the trip we found another hole in the fog! Here you can see some of the weird shapes the ice ends up in as it
melts below the water line and a whole lot of melt ponds which form on top of melting ice. I have a suspicion that the hole in the first photo may have initially been a melt pond – but I don’t know.

We also saw a few icebergs close to Greenland. These are chunks of the Greenland Ice Sheet or Greenlandic glaciers that break off and drift out to sea. The water is only about 50 m deep in this photo and the iceberg has probably run around. Grounded icebergs are interesting to oceanographers because they tend to pin the sea ice around them in place and protect it from breaking up and drifting away and melting – but not in this one!

After leaving Greenland we headed back out towards Svalbard, and then south back to Tromso. I don’t have any pictures of this as we had to work quite hard and were then faced with a bit of a storm. I was hiding in my cabin being sea-sick an getting some rest! The last pictures are from the very end of the trip as the ship was passing through the beautiful archipelago that blissfully protects the coast of Northern Norway from the evil of big waves.

Those of you in the UK may soon get a chance to see Lance on the TV. The BBC used Lance to make a program in a series called BBC Oceans, and from their website it looks like the ship might feature quite prominently.