Some More Tour Skating In Sweden

 

We’ve spent Xmas and New Year with LB’s folks in Sweden and have been very lucky with the weather. It hasn’t quite managed to get above freezing for the whole two weeks. It’s generally not been above -3 or -4 C and even touched -13 C overnight (and looks set to beat that tonight in fact!). And with little snow, we’ve therefore had some excellent tour skating conditions. So we’ve picked up from where we left off last year.

Ice is not always skatable apparently. If there’s a layer of snow or if the ice was roughened by being formed during heavy snow fall you can hardly move. Gliding strides simply grind to a halt.

But for us the ice was nearly perfect. With occasional sections of glass-like smoothness allowing us to glide and glide.

I’ve even managed to go out four times and only fall over once and that was only a sort of sliding, resigned laying down.

And I’ve now bought my very own tour skates. Unlike the ones I used last year, these have only got snow-board style bindings at the toes meaning that they fitted my Montrail Cirrus GTX even more easily (I miss my inov8 terrocs very much already this winter but they’d be little use for this).

The huge advantage with having my own skates is that I can set them up so that they are balanced specifically for me. The skate must be right in the centre of the heel and right in between the first and second toes.

Each day I’ve come back and spent some time in the garage tweaking the adjustment and it’s helped massively. I imagine that for a better skater it would be less critical but for me it’s made all the difference.

Until today when I spent twenty minutes wondering what I could have adjusted so badly… at which point I noticed I’d put them on the wrong feet! Well it is New Year’s Day. I’ve had a late night.

The other thing that has made a huge difference is wearing protective pads on knees and elbows along with wrist-protectors. Add in an old riding helmet (a childhood skating rink accident when I landed on my head still haunts me!) and my confidence, and therefore posture, improved enormously. Though I’m not sure it would have avoided over-stretching my shoulder somewhat last year when I tried to punch a hole in the ice with one elbow!

I also learnt a few more tidbits of tour skating lore. Like it’s best for the skate to be adjusted to protrude behind your heel for half an inch (1.5cm) or so, or else the skates want to shoot out forwards if you lean too far backwards. And that the skate blade itself is not straight but is in fact a section from a notional circle of around forty metres in diameter.

A smaller diameter circle obviously gives a more pronounced curve (if you can call it pronounced when you need a steel-rule before you can see it’s not straight). A more pronounced curve is apparently better for turning quickly whereas a straighter edge is more stable in a straight line.

A tiny extra bit of kit is the clips that can be used to hold the skates together to make them easier to carry and prevent the blades being blunted accidentally (my simple blue ones are visible in the picture along with the more elaborate red ones with velcro straps to ensure the skates stay together).

Skating clubs (who may do several tens of kilometres in a day) will have a leader who typically skates twenty metres ahead of a second leader with the rest of the group another twenty meters behind them. So if the leader misjudges the ice and “plurrar” (“takes a bath”) then the group has plenty of time to stop.

The specialist rucksacks that tour skaters use have a crotch strap so that the bag doesn’t rise up if you have a bath and thereby acts as a float with all your spare clothes in a waterproof bag. They also have a throw-line to be thrown to the swimmer (rather like in kayaking).
As you skate, you must be wary of weaker patches seen as odd patterns. They become safer as the ice thickens. But at the marginal end, when the ice is only just skatable at around six centimeters, then they must be avoided.
Finally, once off the ice, a nip of something very alcoholic from a hip flask that’s been chilling in the day-pack along with some Prinskorv heated over a fire is hard to beat.
Though some mince pies warmed over the embers made a thoroughly British addition to a very non-British pastime.

 

Iceland: Fuel and Stoves

White gas (Coleman Fuel) is hard to get in Iceland. Although we did find it, it tends to only come in 5 litre containers. Since we’d run into that exact problem in northern Sweden a couple of years ago, and ended up leaving the hut-shop staff with lots of free fuel for their own trips, we decided that it wasn’t worth using the MSR.

One of the Iceland crew did bring an MSR and we had some fun trying to work out how to get a pump to dispense a very small amount of unleaded fuel into it.

Another factor in my not bringing it was that I had one empty, dry MSR pump pinched by the nice people at Copenhagen airport on the way home once (must remember to wash it with detergent and put it in an OP Sack next time!). So I am rather wary of that happening at the start of a trip. Also, overall MSRs work out heavier than canister stoves.

My one objection to canister stoves was that I used to end up carrying more than one canister because I couldn’t tell when one was close to being exhausted. But with the arrival of kitchen scales it’s easy.

Weigh the canister when new, and write the weight on the bottom. Weigh it when back from a trip and write the weight on the bottom again. The net weight of the actual gas is given on the side so you can tell how much you’ve used for a given trip. From that, you can tell how long the remaining gas will last you.

Having read the excellent Carbon Monoxide related articles on BPL, the bushwalking.org Stove FAQ and the BPL Canister Stove FAQ I decided that since it was very nearly the lightest stove and it had extremely low CO emissions I’d go for the Snow Peak Tifrom a US based ebay shop: Camp Buddy. Though the current weakness of the pound probably means it’s as cheap to buy in the UK now.

All gas canister stoves warn of dire consequences if you use a wind-shield. Cooking without any kind of wind-shield seemed crazy to me but I thought I’d try it. We burned through 54 grams of fuel per 900ml of water (our standard drinks+food requirement).

So I made up a heat reflector and wind shield that fits around the burner. It’s made from the aluminium foil from the best Swedish Ostkaka available in the shops (just about my favourite dessert).I’ve also used a strip of stiff foil as a wind shield around part of the gap between the casing and the pan (not shown in the photo).
It’s more like an MSR set-up than a “normal” wind-shield since it doesn’t reflect heat back on to the gas canister.This is specifically what the manufacturers are warning against since heating a gas canister hotter than you can hold, means it might actually explode (that is the golden rule – if it’s more than “Ouch” hot then you’re in danger).

Ryan Jordan also came up with something similar.

With that in place we consistently only got through 18 grams of fuel per 900ml over the whole summer and in all kinds of conditions. It works as much as a heat reflector as it does as a wind-shield and is worth having regardless of how windy it is.

I found I had to make sure it had plenty of air coming in. Sealing it by running the strip of foil completely around the base of the pan (as Ryan Jordan’s version showed) would almost extinguish the flame. In fact any change in the flame from blue to orange should very likely be avoided. As Chris (one of the Iceland crew) observed, blue is an efficient burn and orange isn’t. Inefficient burning produces CO. CO can produce death!

For sparking up the flame I used my trusty old Spyderco Ladybug (the old model) and the excellent Mini-FireSteel that Ryan Jordan commissioned for the Arctic 1000 walk but that’s now in normal production from Light My Fire.

As for the gas, you can’t take it on a plane so it has to be found in Iceland.

We shared a cab (for six it worked out almost the same as a bus) from the BSI bus station (where you arrive from Keflavik airport) to the Kringlan shopping centre to visit a supermarket for food.

Whilst there we went to a rather large (but rather “high street”) gear shop for the canisters. We’d contacted the shop in advance and had them reserve some for us since we were unsure of whether the demands for gas canisters from six people might exhaust their supply. They certainly wouldn’t have done on that day.

Since we stayed in a hut one more night than planned and we double-dayed the last day we had gas left over. So we just left them with Thor at the Three Sisters Guesthouse as he said people were always happy for some free, half-used canisters. Easy.