Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rocks, caves and heat!

As I said in my first holidaypost the Höga Kusten-area is rocky, hilly and right next to the sea. In order to give you a little impression I'd like to show you 2 trips we made during our stay there.
The first one is a "little" hike in an area called Smitingen. It is a natural park, containing some natural caves we wanted to go and have a look at. I wrote "little", because while the overall length is only 1,6km it took us 1,5 hours to get there and back! The terrain is quite challenging and the summerwarmth did the rest. You will notice the latter keeps coming back, since it was such a dominating factor.

First we walked toward a small inland lake. Being in the shade of the trees was a very welcome moment of respite. It was around 10:00AM, but the sun was already making its presence very much felt.

When we had passed this little lake we stepped away from the shade providing trees and onto the rocks, where the pines were getting more and more scarce as we approached the coast. The terrain was also becoming steeper and more barren.

One of the caves we were looking for was somewhere down there.

The waves had carved and polished the rocks smooth.

And there it was; the lökgrottan or onioncave. No idea where the name originates from....
And maybe I am twisted, but it reminded me of the mentioning of the Great Mother's birthcanal as in the Jean Auel's Earth's Children series....

After this little endevour we really had to cool down and what better way to do that than to take a dive into the sea right beside it. That was a very first for 4 out of 5 family members with only my wife having had a swim in the North Sea in Holland. To me however this did not look and feel as a sea at all. The water was very clear, there was no sign of any sort of shells, minimal life apart from some seaweed and small fish and a total lack of waves. More like a lake, but with a salty taste....

This daytrip reminded me that one needs to prepare before doing an activity like this. We did bring water, but it would've been better if we had brought more. Despite being out there for only an hour and a half or a bit longer, the 1 liter we brought was actually not enough to be comfortable. Luckily we had 3 more liters in the cooler in the car. We also seriously underestimated the terrain en the footwear most of us wore, was certainly not sufficient! Sandles and rockclimbing do not match!

Another trip was to the Skuleberget. This rockformation lies right beside the Skuleskogen national park and that was to be our destination after the Skuleberget.
took this one from wikipedia, because our picture sucked..
Once again we set out on the morning of a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in sight. The cartrip to our destination would take about an hour, so we did not waste much time. On our way north we passed the Högakustenbron, a large suspensionbridge, which despite its size does not really give the impression of being out of place in the landscape....
When we reached our destination we first checked with the mountain's and park's informationcentre, the Naturum, which you can see in the first picture. We noticed large groups of hikers gathering there. I also noticed my son starting to limp... That did not promiss a good start on a tough hike, so I asked him what was wrong. He said it felt like he had a small wound on one of his toes and I told him to take of his shoes and socks. Turned out he had clipped his toenails incorrect and the sharp edge of one of them was pressing into the skin of the toe next to it. A small reminding lesson in personal care there. Luckily it was easily remedied. We gathered some information on both sites, before setting out to the first one. It was our intention of taking one of the paths to the top, but again the weather made us decide otherwise. It would have been murderous to go up there on foot. However we did prepare ourselves a bit better this time with proper footwear, plenty of water for this short trip and some food. If we had to we could always resupply at the cabin at the top.
As I said we did not go to the top on foot. We took the cable chair and I am glad we did. Enjoying the nice view, while still having energy at your destination can be a good thing at times...


After we had reached the top we noticed larger groups of people had been gathering, some fully loaded with large backpacks. There were also folks busy erecting tents (??). Turned out we had landed in the middle of the finish of the Höga Kusten-hike, a populair 3-day hike through the Skuleskogen and ending here. My daughter and I already fantasized on participating and the rest of the family could see themselves plodding along too. Now that would be an awesome experience, if only from a logistical point of view, since you are meant to carry everything you need with you.... Just the thought of that made me sweat.... Did I mention the heat? Out here on the bare rock the temperatures were already quite high even an hour before midday.
So there we were, 300 meters above sea level, a slight breeze and no sense of releave or cooling down what's however!!
We also knew there had to be a cave on this mountain too and since we did not want to have come over here and do nothing we took the marked trail to the cave "only" 400 meters away. I have to say those are some of the toughest 400 meters I ever did! But we pulled through, even our youngest one at age 8. I wore my M59-pants, the backpack with food, water and some other things and my boots and I must say that I was pleased with the wearingcomfort of them. Not really hot and roomy enough to climb and circulate air.
Enough talk, I'll let some images speak for themselves....

It was quite a tough and demanding decent. Some of the steeper parts had stairs or ladders, but a good deal of actual climbing was needed too. The sun's rays and warmth radiated from the surfaces and these were often to warm to touch for long... And then finally we reached the cave! Heaving and sweating we sought the cooling shelter of the cave. And right in front of it stood a fully grown maple... It gave the whole scene a bit of a surreal atmosphere.

The cave, seen from the inside out
After this we had to go back to the top again. On our way down we had met a number of people going up, complete with their large hikingpacks and those encounters were brief, since we gave way to them and their struggle. Now that we were going up too and had to pause regularly, we had the opportunity to chat with a few of them and they as experienced hikers were having trouble themselves. Exhaustion quickly set it with everyone and frequent breathers and drinking stops were needed. I was amazed at the resilience of my little gang of kids. They kept going and hardly complained. The compliments they received from the others made me even more proud of them! It was the Mrs. who suffered the most, but we were unanimous in our opinion that it had been worth it.

After we had reached the top again we had a longer break, had lunch, refilled our waterbottles, had a last look over the land and took the cable seat back down. The initial plan of doing a small hike in the national park was abandoned. We would have been pushing ourselves to and possibly over the limits under the given conditions and we wanted it to remain fun and healthy. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A one-week-reboot!

For the first time in nine (9!) years my family and I went on a vacation. A real one. No family, no familiar area. Our youngest daughter (8) had never experienced something like that and we had no idea what to expect going away with upgrowing kids. One week away from home. One week to reboot our systems. One week to release the accumulated stresses and to come back more or less relaxed to face new challenges with renewed energy.... And I think we succeeded! It has been a week with anticipations, with (minor) disappointments, with surprises, with near misses and successes... And of course some outdoorsy stuff and gear!
I could try and squeeze all the goodies into one post, but that would result in a mile long post and an overload of pictures, melting modems and destroying bandwidth the world over. So I'll split things up, showing you some of the highlights of this far too short vacation.
Our goal was the Swedish area of Höga Kusten or High Coast, an unbelievable beautiful and versatile piece of land, a coastal strip on the shores of the Baltic Sea, roughly situated between Härnösand in the south, where we would be staying and Örnsköldsvik in the north and it is a on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage list. We got there, because we were invited by a couple, called Anja and Peter, who, by accident, landed on a facebook-site where people share and donate stuff to benefit the, mostly material, less fortunate. So they ended up on the giving and we on the receiving end. We never met before, were complete strangers, but we were given permission to use a house, which they own, for free and she even managed to get 2 grocery stores to sponsor us and supply us with food for the first days. We were totally amazed, but not as much as we were as we got to know them and their boys better. What an absolutely wonderful family! Even after a week we said goodbye with a lump in our throats; all of us! That, to me, was the biggest surprise and the biggest gift we received that week.
On the downside I left home with an serious inflammation in my right arm/shoulder joint resulting in a visit to a doctor, a cortisone-injection, a very good handful of meds. and the prediction of an unpleasant and inevitable surgical procedure, sometime in the future. This would hamper my mobility and dampen my overall joy somewhat this vacation.
However I packed one of my backpacks, the old Haglöfs, loaded it up pretty good with the idea of giving it a run for its money. I added some items I wanted to try out along with it; a "new" bag for the Swedish messkit and a "new" shoulderbag for the smaller items. Another item I wanted to try out was a Swedish army M59 pair of pants. Because the weatherforecast was good with lots of sun I added 2 ponchos to the load, so I could create a shelter, either for the sun or for unexpected summer downpours. We were heading for rocky and hilly terrain.... Turns out that the most important items we brought were 2 1 liter waterbottles my wife got at work one day...
I will not bother or bore you with a holidaydiary, but stick to the essentials for this blog........... Outdoor, old fashioned or low impact lifestyle and of course gear and tools. The most predominant item throughout it all will be the amazing nature you can find there. There you can find a sea shoreline, high cliffs and rolling hills, deep forests, inland lakes and a great variety of wildlife, including quite a few very rare species.
During our stay we were treated with the highest temperatures for over 2 or 3 decades, according to some locals! Not a day went by without temperatures going over 30°C and next to no cloud in sight!
If there is one complaint I would have then it would be that the weather was too good! How is that for a luxury problem? Having a vacation with too good weather???
So...... what to begin with..... I guess at the beginning.... with the stuff I packed but hardly used or not even at all.
A rundown of the things I packed; the backpack; 2 ponchos with bungees for the fast and easy erection of a sun- or rainshelter, an extensive firstaidkit, a Swedish messkit in a new cover, knives, folding mugs and sporks to all of us and my summeranorak on top.
The shoulderbag; an ex-army ammobag with the small essentials such as compas, sharpeningstone, gamebag, gloves, bugrepellent, foldingknife and other bobs and bits. I figured these things would suite us as a daytripping family best. I did not intend to go out on my own.
To be honest I thought the backpack weighed a tonne, even without water or food!
I did try both of them on several daytrips and I am not too impressed of the backpack. It feels like my back is too small for it, especially around the shoulders.
On the other hand I was quite pleased with the shoulderbag. Small and handy, yet big enough to hold all that small gear, but small enough to reduce or even eliminate the tendency to overload such a bag. I will do a more in depth review of both later on.
Then there was the scenery. It is as I described. One of the most interesting and changing I ever saw and we all thoroughly enjoyed it, even with the sun beating down on us and as a final ingredient there was the history of the land, both domestic and military, ranging from an ethnological museum to an old cold war fortification. I'll start with the last one, since that was actually the first thing we went to see.
It is the old fortification on the island of Hemsö, part of Härnösand; the Hemsö fästning. An old fortification from the early cold war era, built into the solid bedrock of the island, designed to guard the natural deep harbour of Härnösand in case of a Russian invasion. The Swedes appearantly deemed that very likely for it would be a logical way for Ivan to try and take northern Norway, a NATO-partner and gate to the Atlantic.
It is a very impressive fortification, even though its concept was already quite outdated by the outbreak of WW2, which the Maginotline, for example, made painfully clear. We took a guided tour over and in the fort, allowing us to get deep into the fort and rocks and we could gape at the awe inspiring scale of it all! It was still all there; the command-, communications- and firecontrolcentres, the kitchens, the hospitalwing with surgeryrooms, the soldiersquarters and the supplystockpiles, including stocks for up to 600 more troops during mobilisation.
Literally stuff all over the place. Almost as if the troops just went on a break.....

I almost fainted, but certainly drooled over all those military goodies that are so hard sought after by the
traditional outdoorenthusiasts; woolen uniforms, canvas backpacks and bags, leather boots and dozens and dozens of those high priced Swedish military blankets.

<---  A storageroom filled to the brim with a the described goodies...
Giving a size of the scale of this storageroom.                          ----->

Follow the link above for more indepth information on it, since I do not except everyone to be interested in military history.

What was at least equally impressive, was the surrounding area in which this fortification was placed! High, solid rocks cliffs rising from the sea, covered with moss and widely spaced trees.

And even here nature eventually takes over.....

Sunday, July 20, 2014

All quiet on the northern front....

But it actually was anything but....
We, my family and I, are hopefully nearing the end of a very tumultuous and mentally demanding period. The emotional turmoil caused by daily stresses have been accumulating over these last couple of years and have reached an unpleasant climax these last few weeks. I'll spare you the details, let me just say that it has put some severe strain on interhuman relationships, both within and outside our family. So far the most pressing of issues are being dealt with, but it has left me with very little desire or energy to hit the woods and undertake some hikes. Luckily we do have a garden that does fill in that gap a little and I have found quite a few moments of respite there. My mind has been too preoccupied and at times really is my own worst enemy.
Sometimes one has to invert into oneself and re-examine and re-evaluate ones current status...... and allow ones physical being to take a breath and recover.
But the signs of recovery are already there; some budgetredecorating in the house is in progress (meaning reshuffling furniture, adding a splash of colour to the interior by dyeing sofacovers etc.). I am always amazed what you can do, when using your imagination.

Of course that does NOT mean all outdoorrelated subjects went overboard. That would simply be impossible. I have been trying to rekindle and old interest, if not passion of mine; history. Combined with the interests in old knowledge and the outdoors, that lead me to start studying the ways of the Vikings and the Sami. I have only begun to scratch the surface, but I am already amazed by what I found and did not know!
Luckily out local library is well stocked on these subjects and I spend many moments reading and learning.
A writer I have really come to like is Yngve Ryd, who unfortunately is no longer with us in this world. I loaned one book, Snö (snow) and bought another; Eld (Fire). He combined extensive knowledge on these subjects with Samiknowledge, folklore and history in a way that prevents it from becoming a dry, academic lecture. Real people are also being interviewed and quoted, adding more life to the subject. I do not think these books are available in English, which I think is a real shame!

I am also busy rekindling another old pasttime of mine; scalemodelling.
In those days I did not just build plastic kits, I also assembled and painted figures and, whilst browsing through my old stash of scalemodelling magazines, I came across a suitable scene with figures; a set of whitemetal Northern American moosehunters, complete with birchbark canoe. So you probably will see that one popping up again some time during autumn/winter.
The scale is roughly 1/20, figures being 90mm and the canoe is almost 25cm long.

We were also treated by some rare and special displays of animallife around us. Apart from the large amount of birds whizzing by and singing their little hearts out, we were treated to some more indepth experiences with them. We heard their young in several of the nestingboxes, we saw them leave them and looking for food and learning to fly, while their parents were nearby. We also got several displays of terns fiercely defending "their" airspaces by actively bullying and attaching passing buzzards! 
But the icing on the cake were the foxes.... One day I was standing behind the livingroom window, when I spotted a redhaired animal approaching through the horsefield in front of our house. At first I thought it was our red cat, bur it moved oddly. It didn't move as it should; it trotted, head held high. Then I noticed the large pointy ears and I realised that it was a fox! As it came nearer, in a straight path towards the house, I saw it carried a prey. It still came nearer and I saw that prey was a clump of black feathers. Then it did something totally unexpected. It came up the stairs, showing no signs of anticipation or hesitation at all! Head held high, thick bushy tail, reddish grey fur... and small. It then rounded the house, under the kitchenwindow and proceded to our front yard. There it stopped; froze for a while, standing straight, showing all its magnificence! What a beautiful animal this was! And as an encore it moved a few feet, dropped its prey in the grass and took a breather, relaxing a bit, sitting there looking around.... before it grabbed its dinner again and trotted off into the high grass.... Such a display up close for a handfull of minutes..... We were amazed to such a degree that we did forget to get the camera. Not that we would have dared to move anyway...
And 2 days later we were treated to yet another sighting. This time we we able to watch 2 cubs, playing on a knoll, between the shrubs right across the street. The rays of the sun made their fur sparkle with copper!

Another exciting episode was the arrival of a beeswarm!
We got a notification a few weeks ago that a swarm had landed in a pine in a small village some 4km away. It had been there for nearly a day. We rushed to get my stuff together, but by the time we were to hop in the car we got a message saying they had gone.... damn... But then, about 2 weeks ago E. called me and said to bring the beekeepersoutfit to the greenhouse. A swarm had nested into one of the old hives!
They have been taken care of and are happily buzzing away, gathering nectar and pollen and, hopefully, are busy breeding!
It is such a energizing experience standing next to such a busily buzzing hive! I am so hooked!

No idea why a small group gathered at the roof on the border between sun and shade..


Unfortunaely today, july 20th, was the last of the beekeepingcourse days. It really has been one of the most interesting classes I ever attended.

Other than this I have been tiptoeing into the world of "moving the lawn-grandpa-style". This included the first carefull swings with a scythe and recentering the old grindingstone I got last autumn. Now I need to grind it down, so it becomes round again, with a flat surface. Then I can get an edge on those blades! There's plenty of high grass to be cut!
Some purchases were made too.... Sometimes I just can not help myself. Apart from the a fore mentioned book Eld, I bought 2 more on another subject that I care about and want to learn more about; the moose. Luckily there is an extensive secondhandmarket for books here in Sweden. A bookworm's heaven!! These books will be saved for darker times to come; winter.

Speaking of acquisitions; we finally had the auctioning of the inventory of the house we emptied last autumn and of course I had to have some small pickings of my own. Since I was on the staffside of the event I was there all day and had did some bidding myself. Some of the things I'd like to buy went out of my league quickly, but some became mine at ridiculous prices. These include an old kitchenmachine, specially for saucagemaking, a large sheepskincover- or plaid, measuring 150x150cm and a handfull or old garden- or forestworkingtools, including some oversized clippers, a sledge, 2 hedgescissors and a large saw!
The sheepskinplaid will be divided along its seems, which make it a perfect fit for our livingroomchairs. A comfy winter seems to be waiting!

And some random animalpictures this summer yielded so far....
This one landed on the rug I was about to beat.... 
And this one came happily hopping along whilst I sat on the stairs of the frontdoor...

And sometimes one really lives at the end of the rainbow.....
Literally this day!