When A Camera Goes Swimming

Lake Sitojaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Photo: Evening twilight on lake Sitojaure, Kungsleden Trail, Lapland, Sweden.  September 2013

It was at 9:00 am on a crisp September morning that I learned a valuable, no, expensive, lesson: camera’s can’t swim.

The journey from Germany to the north of Sweden was a long one.  A flight from Berlin to Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.  An afternoon sitting around the airport.  A night train north of the arctic circle to Gällivare – top bunk in a 6 bed cabin, no open windows,  the Italian family I shared the cabin with was not too keen on fresh air.  I tossed, turned, and sweated through the night with dreams of cold mountain air and colder autumn nights.  Come morning it was a couple hours by bus followed by a short boat ride the the STF mountain hut Saltoluokta.  The beginning of my journey into the mountains.

Morning rain cleared and the birch forests shined in the brilliant colors of fall. The sky filled with blue and the arctic sun floated above the southern horizon.  All was perfect.  I could feel my excitement growing at the promise of the days ahead and the simple task of putting foot before foot, mile upon mile, day after day.  After waiting around for the shop to open so I could purchase fuel for my stove, I began my journey southward, the 24kg of my backpack my only burden.

Before me was 20 kilometers of trail to the shores of lake Sitojaure and the next hut.  After a short time wandering through the forest the trail soon ascended to a barren mountain plateau.  Warmed by the sun I was down to a t-shirt by this time and I witnessed a new phenomenon I’ve never seen in Sweden before, dust.  So dry the summer and autumn had been in the north.

Having slightly sprained my ankle while hiking in Lofoten at the end of September, I was slightly worried that this would perhaps cause me to have to cancel the trip.  I wasn’t sure if I would travel all the way to Sitojaure and left the option open of finding a nice campsite for the night if I so desired.  Luckily the hours passed by and as long as I was careful with my steps, all remained well as I headed deeper into the mountains.  The sun shining bright I soon realized that I had come all the way to Sweden to get a sunburn.  Perhaps I should not have left the sunblock at home after all.  Though I guess getting a sunburn in Sweden is not something to complain about, given the alternatives I’ve experienced in previous years. I had more sun this afternoon than in the entire 10 days of my hike in 2009.

Soon enough I found myself descending back into forest towards lake Sitojaure.

There were only four of us in the cabin that night.  Myself, and Austrian, and two Dutch.  At least I had a room to myself and wouldn’t have to worry about any snoring, though tiredness would likely keep me in an undisturbed sleep anyhow.

At some point I filled out my name in the guest book.  Some moments later one of the Dutch guys asked, ‘Have you filled out the book?  Is Cody here?’

Somewhat surprised, ‘Ya, that’s me. Why?’ I reply.

‘Oh, cool!  We have read your website.’

Sometimes, by the lack of comments I get on my posts I figure no one reads my words or sees my photos.  But for the second year in a row now, I’ve unexpectedly met people on the trail who have read my guides for the Kungsleden.  Feels good to know that I can be a bit of help or inspiration for people heading up to these beautiful, yet somewhat udocumented, parts of the world.

As twilight arrived I wandered down to the shores of the lake to make a few images.  Little did I know, these would be my camera’s final moments of life.  Perhaps I would have put in a little more effort otherwise.  When the sky was finally black I returned to the hut and curled up in my sleeping bag for the night.  Thoughts now turned to my boat journey in the morning and hoping the lake would not be too foggy for me to navigate the 4km I would have to row to the other side.

Now, normally during this season, there is a water taxi, for the steep fee of 200 SEK, that can take you across the lake; typically running twice a day.  In a change from my normal cheapness, I figured it would be nice to take it so as to save some effort.  And perhaps I could get some cool footage as well.  But upon my inquiring with the hut warden, I was informed that the boat driver man would be off early in the morning to help with the autumn reindeer herding, and thus there would be no boat.

The alternative to the water taxi are the row boats.  Each lake, which can’t be hiked around, along the Kungsleden trail has 3 row boats.  The system is that there must always be 1 boat on each side of the lake.  If you are lucky and there are 2 boats on your side of the lake, you will only have to make the journey once.  If you arrive and find only 1 boat, it means you will have to row to the other side, pickup the 2nd boat and tow it back to where you came from, leave it there, then row back again.  Crossing the lake 3 times in total.  Fortunately for me, I had the 2 row boats on my side of the lake, meaning I only had to make the journey once.  The thought of 12km of rowing on fresh arms was something I didn’t want to think about, and thankfully didn’t have to.

I rose with arrival of the sun to a frozen autumn day, but also a cloudless blue sky and hardly a hint of wind.  The lake was like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the surrounding landscape.  I took my time with breakfast, giving the land a bit of time to thaw out before I would begin my journey.  And so finally, shortly before 9:00am I said my goodbyes and made my way to the boats.  I would be the only one heading south this day.

Now in my brilliance, and in an effort to document my journey along the trail, I figured I would shoot a time-lapse sequence of me rowing across the lake.  So I setup my camera and tripod towards the back of the boat and began shooting the sequence.  Only the boat was still somewhat pulled up on the shore, so as I returned to the front of the boat, I had to lean out the side a bit to push myself off and out into the water.

As the boat inched it’s way into the water, it suddenly slipped from a rock that was underneath and lurched towards the right as it became fully afloat.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught my tripod (and camera) lean towards the right, balance against the edge of the boat for a split second, and then topple over, upside down into the water.  The water was shallow and my reaction was fast as I grabbed hold of one of the tripod legs, which was left sticking up out of the water, and pulled my camera out.  I quickly grabbed my fleece and tried to dry it off, but I could tell I was likely too late as water distorted the view finder and fogged the lens.

For several moment, I sat there in silence, contemplating what I had done.  I could have cried, where I not so angry with myself.

I went back to the hut and started the fire in the kitchen and did my best to take the camera apart with what screws could be loosened with the my pocket knife – pretty much only the viewfinder cover, if you’re wondering.  I alternated between the fire and some time outside in the sun for the next hour, but I could tell it wasn’t likely to come back to life, especially not out there.

And so I made the decision to call off the hike.  What would I do out there if I couldn’t take photos?  Not to mention the now dead weight of all my camera gear.

I left behind a bit of food, which I now no longer needed, so as to at least lighten my backpack by a few kilos and began retracing my all too fresh steps back north again.  My frustration and the desire to hopefully catch the afternoon ferry from Saltoluokta fueled a frantic pace.  In just over 3 hours I was descending into the forest and towards the shores of the lake.  Though I was not fast enough and missed the ferry by 20 minutes.  One more night in the mountains for me.

That night bright auroras filled the sky for hours.  I couldn’t watch.  I should have been in my tent, camped above Rapadalen.  Yet there I was, a camera-less photographer.  Helpless.

It took me two full days of travel, including a rainy night in Narvik, for me to get back to Stamsund on the Lofoten Islands, where I knew I would have a comfortable place and good company to wait out the days until I received a new camera.  All and all it took two weeks before I had a camera in my hands again.  Thankfully, the weather gods must have felt some sympathy for me.  Once reunited with a camera the weather remained calm and clear.  I headed into the mountains day after day in a furious pace to make up for lost time, now with only six days left in the north.  And I did my best to make the most of them…

 

Lake Sitojaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

Photo: Lone tree in autumn, lake Sitojaure, Kungsleden Trail, Lapland, Sweden.  September 2013

Kungsleden Row boat

Photo: Image #19,521, the last my Nikon D800 would ever take. Lake Sitojaure, Sweden.  September 2013

4 replies
  1. Julien says:

    Take this as a(n expensive lesson). If that can comfort you I know of a (well known) photographer who drowned a whole jeep in the sea. A 15,000$ lesson. Tough, but you’re still here and now have a new camera, so just go on and make great pictures 😉

  2. Cody says:

    Hey Julien,

    Even though it was an expensive mistake and will take me a while to pay for, I was more troubled by the time I wasn’t able to take photos and the scenes I was missing, some of which I might never see again. But yes, today is here and there are new images to make and trips to plan…

  3. Miika Järvinen says:

    I know exactly the feeling of emptiness, pure shock and silence, just before your thoughts start to race. I dipped my Canon 1Ds Mark II into a lake years ago when it was still considered the top dog body. I managed to get it saved by professional repair service. Still, that feeling is not something I’d like to experience again.

    I’m currently in Jotunheimen, Norway. I’m planning on going to Lofoten later. Your writings and photos have been a great help and inspiration. Thank you!

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