evening campfire at Utakleiv beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Time

evening campfire at Utakleiv beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Driftwood campfire on a Summer evening, Utakleiv, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Aug 2012

When I got back to California at the end of June I wondered when I’d be able to get back to Lofoten, thinking February 2014 would probably be the earliest when I meet Australian photographer Rod Thomas to co-lead a photo tour with him.  But as the weeks passed I didn’t manage to find as much work as I was hoping to.  And so instead of watching my bank account slowly shrink as the year carried on, I figured I might as well blow it all and head back to the north.  One of the benefits of being more-or-less homeless is that I can make irrational decisions such as this.

As usual, it is a long journey to Lofoten from California: Santa Barbara – San Francisco – Frankfurt – Oslo – Bodø – ferry to Moskenes.  Leaving Tuesday morning, I don’t reach the islands until the early hours of Thursday morning.  I sometimes don’t mind a bit of gloomy weather upon my arrival, as it lets me not feel guilty about falling asleep at noon on the first day or two.

I haven’t quite decided what my first order of business will be, but will most likely depend on the forecast for the next few days.  If there’s any halfway decent weather Bunes or Horseid beaches will probably be my first stop.  Unfortunately the ferry doesn’t leave Reine until 10:00, so it will be a long 6 hours of waiting.

Alternatively, if conditions are poor for the next few days, I’ll catch the early bus to the Stamsund hostel, say hi to Roar, and then fall asleep.

I know I keep writing about some sort of ebook or guide or some such thing.  The problem is, is that I wont write about anything that I haven’t hiked myself.  But when I hike, wan’t to wait for the best conditions possible, I am a photographer after all, but this often means that I only have 1-2 productive days per week, sometimes less – I am followed by bad weather.

With these next 3 weeks on the islands, i should be able to hike the last few sections of trail and get to the tops of a few more mountains which will hopefully let me put something pretty cool together – a sort of ‘7 day best of’ tour of western Lofoten without the need for a rental car and only a couple bus trips.  Walking wise, based on my rough calculations, the total distance will be around 80km.  Then of course it will probably take me 3 years to write the thing…

I probably wont be posting too much here during my travels, but if you want to keep up to date with where I happen to be at and see more behinds the scenes snapshots while I’m on the islands, I suggest you follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Instagram – DuncanImages
Twitter – DuncanImages

And of course, if any of you happen to be around the islands, look for me in my bright blue jacket and come say hello.  And I will probably also be one of the only Americans around, so if you talk to one, it might be me…

Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Backpacking Gear 2013

Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Hiking the Kungsleden Trail, Sweden. September 2012

Backpacking and hiking gear list for my Autumn 2013 Travels: Aug/Sept – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Sept – Sarek national park, Sweden. Sept – Lofoten Islands, Norway. Plus a weekend at a music festival in Germany.

Backpack: You’ll notice a few difference from my 2012 gear list. Most importantly is a new backpack, the Osprey Xenith 88. My old Golite Odyssey started to blow a few seams, so I decided it needed replacement. It was a long and hard search for a new bag with a good combination of both volume and weight. I originally tried to go with an Osprey Aether 85, but the volume was not enough for my need of carrying camera gear, so I went with the Xenith 88. While the pack is definitely heavier than I would like, it carries amazingly well, much better than my Golite Odyssey. So despite the extra weight, I am more comfortable on long days (and weeks)

Camera Bag: Again, I’m looking for a good combination of volume and weight. I seem to change this back almost years, as I’ve never been completely happy. While I like the Mountain Hardwear Summit Rocket on paper, in practice, it leaves a few things to be desired. It is probably the base upon which I would design a better bag at only a a slight addition in weight. First, I wish it hat outside stretchy pockets for my tripod legs to go into and a water bottle on the other side. The webbing used for the shoulder straps is too thin/slick, so the straps constantly lenghten themselves over time and need readjustment. I like the top loading zipper design, I just wish there was a little more structure to the sides of the back so it doesn’t always collapse on itself when I have a lot of weight in the top pocket, makes reaching inside and pulling out a lens a little difficult sometimes.

You might wonder why I don’t carry a dedicated camera bag like the F-Stop or something else. The short answer is, I don’t need all the padding, and therefore, extra weight. I need the bag to be flexible enough to fit inside my main backpack while hiking. So far, none of the camera bags, even the ‘adventure’ style ones, fit my needs. I’m actually half tempted to try and build something myself, or possibly modify another bag.

Footwear: I’m still staying with a lightweight Goretex lines trail runner. This time it will be the Inov-8 Terrafly 313 Gtx. There seems to be something of a negative opinion on Goretex trail runners these days, the opinion being that nothing is really waterproof, so without Goretex, your feet will be able to dry faster once wet. While this may be true overall. I still prefer to have a bit of protection if I’m just walking through a bit of wet grass or a step or two through some bog. I don’t want to get wet feet every time I encounter a bit of moisture. If my feet get too wet, I’ll build a fire and dry them out.

last year while hiking 10 days on the northern section of the Kungsleden trail, and despite some evil sections of bog, the only time my feet became properly wet was from a 24 hour period of rain where I had overnighted in a tent. From the trail itself, I managed to keep my feet dry for the most part, with maybe a bit of moisture creeping in by the end of the day.

Heading into Sarek this year, I expect conditions to be worse, but with a hut every day or two, I’ll have a chance to dry my shoes out.

Shell Layers: To make a long story short, the only reason I have replaced my jacket is because I accidentally forgot my Mountain Hardwear jacket on the bed at home as I traveled to Lofoten in February. Thus I had to purchase a new jacket immediately upon my arrival in Bodø. I could have bought something cheap that I would never use again, but ‘cheap’ by Norwegian standards is actually quite expensive, so I figured I might as well buy something I would use again. Luckily enough, I found a Norrøna Falketind Dri3 jacket on sale (1500 NOK) in my size. It is a beautiful jacket and perhaps my new favorite, and I own a lot of jackets. And because I liked it so much, I went on to purchase a pair of the Falketind Dri3 pants before I returned to Lofoten in April this year. While the pants are a bit heavier than what I carried last year, they have a 3/4 lenth leg zipper, making them super flexible to wear every day; and they look quite stylish too. Normally wearing shell pants, I over heat way too much. So last year on the Kunsleden I found myself having to change pants on the side of the trail on several occasions when a big storm approached. With the Norrøna pants, I can pretty much wear them every day and just zip down the legs when the weather is fine to keep cool enough, then zip them back up when the rain arrives.

Tent: While I love the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum thanks to its light weight, it is definitely a bit of a compromise. For much of this trip I will be solo, so this is a perfect tent for me and my gear: super lightweight and enough room to fit all my stuff inside. But for 2 people, it’s a snuggle. I would more likely call it a 1.5 person tent. 2 people cannot change clothes or prepare for bed inside, so one person will have to stand outside, in the rain, while the other moves about to get in their sleeping bag. Cooking while its raining is pretty much impossible, and don’t even think about keeping 2 backpacks inside. But it is light and so I will carry it.

Gear for 2013

Osprey – Xenith 88 2380g – 48oz
Mountain Hardwear – Summit Rocket 30 (camera bag/daypack) 440 g – 15.5oz
Rain Cover

Inov-8 Terrafly 313 Gtx 313g – 11oz

Shell Jacket – Norrøna Falketind Dri3 393g – 13.8oz
Shell Pant – Norrøna Falketind Dri3 408g – 14.3oz
Insulation Jacket – Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Hoody 28 g – 10oz
Insulation Fleece – Patagonia R2 fleece 371g – 13.1oz
Pants – Mountain Hardwear Nima pant 607g – 21.4oz
T-shirt – 2 cotton, 1 synth
Socks – 3 pair
Underwear – 3 pair
Sandals (for hostel showers)

Tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum 992g – 35oz
Sleeping Bag – REI Sub Kilo -7˚C/20˚F 820g – 29oz
Pad – Thermarest NeoAir 397g – 14oz (old version)

Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Ultra Distance 297g – 10.5oz

Hygiene -Safety
First aid kit
Camp soap (multi-use)
Camp towel
Hand cleaner
Deodorant (for if I haven’t bathed in a few days and need to sit on a bus/train/airplane)

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Finding Winter in Spring

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Spring 2013 conditions on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaten national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

It has been a running joke among a few friends of mine for the last several years that I have an uncanny ability to attract abnormally bad weather.  I actually used to boast that the California sun followed me wherever I headed, but for the last 5+ years I’ve seemed to have lost that power.  Now I travel in my own personal rain, or snow, cloud wherever I seem to end up.

The Germans had a long, dark winter this year.  And that is nothing due to me.  But as I landed in Munich in mid May after a previous two weeks on the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, the temperatures felt absolutely tropical.  Walking the streets of Munich to my hostel as the midnight hour neared, I was in a full on sweat under the heavy load of my backpack, without wearing a jacket.  And so it was with a fairly optimistic outlook that my friend Till and I set our sights on some easy hiking in the Alps.

As we passed Chiemsee on our way to Berchtesgaden on a Monday afternoon, passing rain showers clogging up the normally fast moving autobahn, it was apparent that maybe our glasses were at bit too rosy.  Or plans had been for Watzmann, the second highest peak in Germany, but as we neared Königssee, it became apparent that this would be an unlikely objective.  Not to mention that I only had some light hiking boots, as I hadn’t left California planning on full on Winter mountaineering.

With clouds concealing all the high peaks, we caught the one of the last cars on the Jennerbahn up the mountain, entering into snow and blasting winds as we left the station at 1,800 meters.  If it was truly bad, I knew we could stay at Carl. V. Stahl Haus at Sneibstein pass on the German/Austrian border.  But it was only pretty bad, so we reached the hut, we decided to continue on up into the mountains in the direction of Schneibstein, 2276 Meters.  I was here last October, in a brilliant t-shirt weather week of indian summer so I more of less knew where I was going.  But as we ascended a bit further, into the whiteout of the clouds, the trail became near impossible to follow.  Finding a fairly decent flat area in the snow, we decided to set up camp for the night and see what morning would bring.

The night was cold and windy, not to mention that I only had a 0˚C sleeping bag with me.  Perhaps not the most comfortable night of my life, but still a ways off from the worst.

Morning arrived with passing moments of sunlight and raised clouds, at least high enough for me to see Schneibstein’s summit at set my bearings.  We continued up the mountain, probably the only ones having made this journey since the storm arrived several days previously with a fresh dumping of snow.  At times we struggled through drifts up to waist deep, as we watched the cloud layer begin to lower.

I knew more or less the correct way to go, or we would not have continued once we entered the whiteout, with visibility to each other limited to about 10 meters or so.  And with a 500 meter cliff near vertical cliff near the summit, it wasn’t exactly a mountain to get lost on.

I could feel the way as we got higher.  If the weather got too shit, we still had enough time to follow our footprints back down the mountain.  Had I been alone, perhaps I would have turned around, but the hubris or companionship kept us going.  As the mountain began to flatten, I kew we must be close.  But it wasn’t until I was only 4-5 meters away from the summit cross that I could actually see it in the cloud, so covered in hoar frost it was, it was rendered near invisible.

Quickly chilled by the wind, we didn’t sit long on the summit before making our way back down the mountain.  The descent proved to be much quicker, me bum-sliding most the way down the snowy slopes.  Camp was quickly taken town and then we set of for the leisurely walk back down to the valley floor.

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Deep snow while heading into the clouds, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013


Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Ascending into the clouds, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

Spring Hiking on Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Nearing the summit in full whiteout, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

Whiteout on Schneibstein Summit, Berchtesgaten national park, Germany

Photo: Schneibstein summit, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013

Schneibstein Summit, May 2013, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany

Photo: Mandatory summit selfies, Schneibstein, Berchtesgaden national park, Germany – Austria.  May 2013


Person stands under rainbow near summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Europe Travel Plans

Person stands under rainbow near summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rainbow watching on Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2012

Only 1 week left for me in California.  Still a few tickets to buy and details to workout, but here’s the rough schedule of my travels for the next few months.  As much as was interested in going to some new/warmer places, it looks like I’ll be sticking with my favorite areas.  I can’t avoid being pulled north.

Norway – Lofoten Islands

Next week I’m making the long journey back to Lofoten.  I leave California on Tuesday morning and reach the islands Thursday morning.  Hopefully I find some time for a bit of sleep, but like normal, that will probably have to wait for the 3 hour ferry crossing at 01:00 am Thursday.

Like normal, if the weather is good I’ll most likely head out to Bunes beach.  If the weather is crap, I’ll probably head to Stamsund and wait things out for a few days.  I have somewhat ambitious plans for this trip, so wish me luck that the weather cooperates!

Originally I planned to be on the islands about two weeks, and then head down to Jotunheimen national park for a few days before continuing on to Germany.  But this proved to eat up too much time just getting between locations, so I’ve decided to stay the whole time on Lofeten.  So I’ll be on the islands until September 4th.

If any of you are around the islands, look for someone in an bright blue jacket and probably a tripod.  Come say hello!

Germany – Festival Mediaval

Like last year, I’m heading down to Selb, Germany for the Festival Mediaval.  Hopefully I don’t get my wallet stolen this time!  I’m bringing a small padlock for my tent.  One of my favorite bands of the last 10+ years, the Swedish group Garmarna, is playing their first show in years, so I’m super excited to see them finally.  And then of course there’s the food and beer to enjoy after a puritan three weeks in Norway.

Sweden – Sarek National Park

I really had it in mind to maybe head down to the Alps for a week or so and then maybe to Croatia, where I’ve been wanting to go.  But logistically, Packing for both Norway and Croatia would have been a bit difficult.  So I’ve decided to stick with the cold conditions and head back north to Sweden, the area around Sarek national park to be exact.

I don’t have exact plans at the moment, but it will be a long journey from Berlin any way I go about it and most likely involve a night train and a bus or two.  It looks like it will be best to enter from the north at Saltoluokta and hike south over the next week, ending in Kvikkjokk.  I’ll probably spend a few days in the area of the beautiful Rapadalen, and with luck, have some decent light and good timing with the Autumn color.  And I wouldn’t complain about a light dusting of snow on the surrounding mountain peaks.  But it is the Arctic in September, so anything can happen, err, anything having to do with cold and bad weather can happen.

Norway – Lofoten Islands Part 2

Following Sarek, I’ll be heading back to Lofoten for another week to 10 days.  If the weather stays like last year, this should mean I’ll be finding myself up a few more mountains.  But I’m sure I’ll spend most my time sitting around the warm fire in Stamsund watching the rain fall against the windows.

Ireland – Dublin

In a change from my normal hermitude (I don’t thinks that’s a word, but it is now), I’m going to try and change things up a bit and attend the TBEX travel blogger conference on October 3-4.  I’ve never really thought of myself as a travel blogger, but seeing as I’ve now had this blog going since 2005, maybe it’s time for a little change in mindset and perhaps I can open a few new doors.  I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of all these 22 year old blond chicks that seem to get all these free ‘press’ trips all over the place 6 months after getting the first stamp in their passport.  Maybe there’s one more spot for an unshaven, probably slightly smelly, with sink washed clothes, dude with too much camera gear.

Ring of Brodgar standing stones, Orkney, Scotland

Photo: Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones, Orkney, Scotland.  December 2009

Scotland – Orkney

I have this weird relationship with Scotland in that I think every visit will be my last.  Yet alas, another year comes around and I seem to find myself doing my best to avoid hitting sheep standing in the middle of some small winding road in the middle of nowhere.  And after my last two New Years on the Outer Hebrides, which were pretty grim weather wise, to put it nicely, I think I’m finally due for something a little better.

It’s too far off to make plans at this point, but as I pretty much have near every road in the Highlands memorized, there doesn’t need to be one.  My inclination is to go to Orkney, but that will be a little expensive with the car, and that is if I even have any money left after more than a month in Norway and Sweden, so it might be to the familiar glens and Bens of the Isle of Skye for a week cruising around the Cuillins.


For the remainder of my time in the UK, it’s back in Wales until I fly home to California in mid November, for my first holiday season in the US since 2007.  I’ll admit that I purposely try and be away during the holidays for the sole reason of avoiding Christmas shopping.


I have yet to start packing, but within the next week I’ll be posting up my gear list for both my hiking and camera equipment.  But for the most part, as these travels are pretty similar to last year, my gear list should be looking pretty similar to 2012.