Northern Lights fill sky over Myrland beach, Flakstadoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Autumn Nights 2013

Northern Lights fill sky over Myrland beach, Flakstadoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over Myrland beach, Flakstadoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

…This story picks up after I dropped my camera in a lake in Sweden.  My original plan was for about 10 days or so hiking around Sarek national park before returning to Lofoten for about a week to hopefully catch some Autumn color. Well, needless to say, my plans were altered a bit.

Leaving the hut at Saltoloukta, I was lucky enough to catch a ride with a fellow hiker for the 2 hour trip back to Gällivare, arriving sometime around noon.  And more importantly, early enough to catch the train to Narvik.

One can technically buy tickets while on the train in Sweden, but there is quite a markup compared when buying at a station in advance.  Gällivare is not exactly a bustling town and there is no ticket agent at the small, pre-fabricated building that is serving as a temporary train station while the main building is being serviced.  What exists in just a simple ticket machine.  Unfortunately, with America lagging behind the rest of the world in our credit card technology, the machine didn’t accept mine.  Hmmm…

I though about just paying on the train, then I noticed some teenage girl sitting in the corner listening to some headphones.  In my best attempt not to look like some creepy old guy who had just been in the mountains for some days, I asked her in my bad Swedish, well, I actually used Norwegian, mostly the same anyhow, if she spoke English.  Upon affirmation, I explained the situation, and if I could give her cash if she could buy me a ticket with her credit card.  Thankfully, the Swedes are trusting people, and she said yes, and got me a ticket.  Had the roles been reversed, I would have probably thought some sort of scam was underway.  In a gesture of a thanks, I gave her a bit of a tip for her effort, though I didn’t have any small bills to make the correct change anyhow.

It was mid afternoon as the train arrived in Abisko, the sun shining nicely overhead and groups of hikers milling about the place.  I quickly wondered if I shouldn’t get off the train and spend the night in the Hostel.  But this would have delayed me getting to Lofoten the following day, a Saturday, so I stayed on the train and continued on towards Narvik.  Up to this point in my life I have successfully avoided having to spend any nights in Narvik.  It’s a somewhat grim, industrial-ish place, and it seems to always be raining.

Sure enough, as the train neared the Norwegian border the clouds thickened and the sun disappeared.  Soon, the heavy clouds turned to rain as the train descended the edges of the Fjord.  Welcome to Norway.

The train pulled into Narvik in the early evening, heavy rain drops falling from the sky sending passengers running as they exited the train.  I immediately regretted not getting off in Abisko.  Too late now.

My first thought would have been to stay the night in the train station, but it was closing 30 minutes after the arrival of the train.  I knew there to be a hostel in Narvik, and sort of knew where it should be.  But after 30 minutes of walking around in the driving rain, I was merely wet, and still had no shelter for the night.  I simply couldn’t find the place.  It turns out that I could find it because it no longer exists.

Somewhat out of hope, and now wondering if I should start walking up the hill and look for a place to pitch my tent for the night I received some directions to another place that might be a hostel.  It was a bit hard to find, right down by the train tracks, but it was indeed a hostel, and even not overly expensive by Norwegian standards.  After a quick trip to the supermarket and a frozen pizza for dinner, I settled in early to bed for the night.  It happened to be a Friday night, and the reception to the hostel, a separate building, was actually a bar.  Norwegians party late into the night…

Saturday was spent on the bus, traveling from the mainland, through Vesterålen, before finally reaching Svolvær.  Being a Saturday, the Norwegians seem to slow down the public transport system in preparation for Sunday’s near total shutdown.  (Travel tip: always try and avoid traveling on Sundays, you’ll likely end up stuck in some random small town.)  This meant I had some weird 2 hour stop in Svolvær before the next bus to Leknes, where I had to wait again for an hour before the final bus to Stamsund.  I gave thoughts to hitchinking, but it the rain it would have been a futile effort.

I have complained about this before, but for such a bad weathered country, and Lofoten especially, the bus stops are shit!  The Norwegians seem to have no shortage of money to build endless tunnels and bridges, yet someone in the transportation department seems to have forgotten about us poor tourist that might have to wait and hour or two for a bus.  If your lucky, there will be a 3 sided plexiglass structure with an awkward, uncomfortable bench.  But good luck escaping the elements when the rain is blowing sideways.

After what felt like and endless wait I was on my way towards Leknes and another hour to wait for my last bus.  Around dinner time I finally wandered back down the driveway to Stamsund.  I caught Roar getting out of his van and he was surprised I was back so soon.  He informed me that my corner bunk was still free, so I headed back up to the loft and took my old bed, which I had left barely a week before.  Later that evening I told him of my happenings over in Sweden and we worked out the best way for me to get a camera sent over.  The waiting now began.

I could have gone anywhere while waiting for a replacement camera, but I knew Stamsund would be the best place.  It is a place I can go, and more likely than not, know someone who’s there, or someone who might show up in some days or weeks.  As luck would have it, a few friends from over the years were already there, and a day after my arrival, another friend made during the summer showed back up as well, back from her adventures to the north.  It seems to be a small group of us that revolve around the arctic, and Stamsund in particular, the special place that it is.

In my wait I learned something about international shipping.  While you might have something expedited out of the US, Norway only has one speed: slow.  From placing the order, it only took a couple days for my replacement camera to reach Oslo.  I had been going nearly crazy checking the tracking number every few hours to see if any progress was being made.  Once arriving in Olso however, the camera entered a black hole, and progress seemed to stop.  After several days, one of my (Norwegian speaking) friends put in a call to the UPS office in Oslo for me.  They didn’t have much more info than I did, only saying that the Norwegian post was now in control, and it should show up ‘in some days.’

So it became a routine for the better part of a week, checking the tracking first thing in the morning, and last thing before going to bed at night.  ‘In transit’ was the constant status, day after agonizing day.

The Autumn this year was another mild and calm weathered one, the same as last year.  Beautiful days and clear nights.  Northern lights filled the sky on more than one occasion.  I quietly wept.  Ever try taking a photo of the Northern Lights with an iPhone?  Good luck…

On the morning of Tuesday, September 24th, 12 days since my camera took the plunge in lake Sitojaure, and over a week since it had arrived in Norway, I was getting somewhat worried that my camera might have disappeared somewhere.  I put in another call to the UPS office and received the news; it had been delivered.  What? Where?  Not at the hostel, that was for sure.

I didn’t mention earlier, but part of my concern was that there are 3 streets in Stamsund named more or less the same.  In the back of my mind I had some vision that unfamiliar UPS driver might end up at the wrong place, my camera sitting in the rain on the porch of some strange house; lost again.  But upon a bit more clarification with the UPS person, it appeared that it arrived that morning at the Joker mini-market/post office just around the corner.  I put on a jacket and immediately ran up there.

Relieved that my camera had finally arrived, I now was gritting my teeth over my next concern about the whole situation.  How much import duty was I going to have to pay on a $3,000 camera?  I was planning for the worst, 25%.  I  had been taking cash out of the ATM whenever possible in preparation, somewhat held back with a $300/day limit, and the fact that the ATM in Stamsund was removed last summer, the nearest one now 15 km away in Leknes.  I also worried that my account was probably getting dangerously low.  So it was in Nervous anticipation that I walked up to the counter and asked for my package.  I was asked for ID and then told to sign that I had received it.  ‘That’s it?” I questioned, somewhat unsure.  ‘Yep, have a nice day…’ came the reply.  Phew!  Not sure how I escaped that one. Relieved of my worries and camera in hand, my face was now a smile from ear to ear as I jogged back to the hostel under the bright sun and clear blue sky.

I now had six days remaining on Lofoten.

View towards Grytdalstind mountain peak, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Grytdalstind rises at the head of the valley, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

The weather gods must have felt sympathy for me, for what followed was five days of absolutely perfect weather.  I hit the mountains in a mad dash, four peaks in four days before my knee started to complain a bit.  When weighed against the chances of having my camera back only to sit though a week of rain and gales, which was very much possible, if not the likely state of things at the end of September, I got lucky.

First up was Grytdalstind, a somewhat obscure peak that seems to have received little traffic over the years, probably because what as what starts as a trail turns into nothing more than meandering sheep paths about half way up.  Finally even losing the sheep trails, it was a steep climb over loose rocks and blueberry bushes to the knife-edge ridge which makes up the summit.  Surrounded by higher peaks, it is no wonder that few people head up there, but it still makes for a challenging afternoon with some nice views down to Unstad beach.

Northern Lights shine in sky over sea and mountains of Vestvagoy, from near Myrland, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

The evening arrived with clear skies, which to me meant the possibility of Northern Lights.  It had been a strange Autumn thus far.  With a high amount of clear nights, the Aurora often remained quiet.  Then, during the cloudy days, I would check the Aurora forecast and later learn that thy sky had been filled with them in clear areas.  Never the less, a clear night was not to be wasted.  So I hopped in my rental car and headed out to the coast for what would likely be a long wait.  Just after 22:00, I began to notice that faint hint of green appear on the northern horizon.  By 22:30, a large, bright green arc filled the sky from horizon to horizon, growing in intensity over the following 30 minutes until it began to fade again.  My first night back with a camera, and the best Aurora of the season thus far.  Lucky again.

Evening twilight over Reine from summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Evening view over Reine from the summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

Tent camping on narrow ridge of summit of Reinebringen mountain peak, Reine, Moskenesoy, lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Mountain camp on the summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

Wednesday arrived with clear blue skies and a good forecast for the next couple days.  I wanted to sleep up high, hoping to photograph the northern lights from the top of a mountain.  On these clear Autumn nights, the temperatures had begun to drop to a few degrees below freezing, but that was no worry of mine, I could suffer a cold night for epic photos.  I set my sights on Reinebringen.  I had spent the night up here once before, in the summer of 2010, and even if the Northern Lights never appeared, with such fine weather, I was still almost guaranteed some nice images.  So in early afternoon I started heading west towards Reine.

I arrived at the summit ridge in mid afternoon with nice puffy white clouds in the sky and began my wait till darkness.  The air was cold, but as long as the sun was above the horizon, I was warm enough.  Once the sun fell behind the mountains, the temperature quickly dropped and I was forced into my tent and sleeping bag to keep warm.  I had, unfortunately, set up my tent in a somewhat awkward position, with the entrance slightly lower than the back; this was the only way it would fit.  In order to keep an eye on the sky, I needed to have my head poking out the front of the tent.  And so there I laid, in the somewhat uncomfortable position of my head lower than my feet, staring up at the star filled sky.  My position also meant that I only really had a clear view towards the southern sky, so every 10 minutes or so, I would crawl out of my sleeping bag and look towards the north..

The hours passed and I could feel my head growing tired.  Finally, just before midnight, a small green glow appeared on the northern horizon.  I hopped out of the tent and sturdied myself against the cold.  The aurora remained faint and appearing so late in the night likely meant that I was not going to have a repeat of the previous night’s display.  Disheartened and cold, I returned to the warmth of my sleeping bag.  My thoughts now focused on what the dawn would bring.

I had set my alarm to wake me before sunrise, but as it sounded in the early hours of the morning I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed.  I was tired and it was cold, not a productive combination of elements.  I let the hours pass until my tent was finally in sunlight and I willed the energy to stir from my sleep.  I want to think that I didn’t miss anything interesting, but I probably did.  Maybe next time.  By 10:00 I was back at the car and driving east towards Stamsund, blue skies overhead.

View over Reine and Fjord landscape from summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Autumn view over Reine from Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

Back in Stamsund later that day I wanted to be lazy, I truly did.  But I couldn’t.  With a few hours left until sunset I took the car to Holandsmelen, a small hill to the north of Leknes.  I didn’t quite know what to expect, only that it should be a somewhat easy hike, but a hike none the less, so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about laziness.  Beginning in forest, the trail soon left the tree line, wandered across some bogs, before the final ascent towards the gentle round summit.  I arrived with near perfect timing, having about 20 minutes on top before the sun disappeared behind a layer of clouds hanging low on the horizon.  It was nearly dark before I arrived back at the car.

View of Vik and Haukland beaches from summit of Holandsmelen mountain peak, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Vik and Haukland beaches from the summit of Holandsmelen, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013


View from rocky summit of Holandsmelen mountain peak, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Afternoon light over Lofoten from the summit of Holandsmelen, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

Friday arrived with more blue skies and I knew I wanted something a bit bigger.  There are several mountains on my ‘to do’ list, but looking at maps, I decided on something new, Kroktind.  Not in much of a rush I headed out in mid morning for the 45 minute drive to the trailhead.  The route begins by following a cross country ski track, before climbing steeply up a low pass.  From there the trail circumvented a small peak before entering a beautiful alpine cirque with a small pond, just beginning to freeze over in the cold night, and then finally climbing to a wide ridge which leads to the small, exposed summit.  Another perfect day, and in a t-shirt on a mountain top at the end of September, amazing!  Sea eagles circled high overhead while the wilds of Ausvågøy stretched into the distance.  The clear silhouette of Vesterålen stood further away still.  This was as good as it gets on Lofoten, and in September no less!  I put a mental note to come back and camp down by the lake sometime in the future, and thought it could be a nice ski tour in winter.

Kroktind (707m) mountain peak reflects in small lake, Austvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Kroktind reflects in small mountain pond, Austvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013


Rugged mountain landscape viewed from summit of Kroktind (707m), Austvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rugged mountain peaks of Austvagoy from the summit of Kroktind, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

Saturday brought more sun, but by now the winds were beginning to pick up and I could tell the weather was going to shift.  I had given the thought of one final mountain, Himmeltindan, the highest mountain on Vestvågøy, but my laziness won and I was content to stay at sea level and eat popcorn.

The weather finally turned to rain and wind for my final two days on the islands, but this was okay now.  Despite all the setbacks, I had accomplished more than I imagined I would have and so I settled into my next worry; would the Hurtigruten ferry make it to port at Stamsund?  Roar always likes to tease me that I’m going to miss the boat.  And indeed, I think he must have a weather machine in his garage at the hostel, as I often seem to leave on days of gale force winds, unsure until the last moment if the boat will arrive.  On a couple occasions, this has even led me to buying last minute plane tickets for the final flight of the day off the islands and back to Bodø.  But at last, the ferry pulled up to port in the choppy waters of the harbor.  I said my goodbyes to the Islands and stretched out on a seat to get my 4 hours of sleep for the night.  After four visits to the islands in 2013, I did not know when I would see them again…

Illuminated tent with Northern Lights in sky at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Islands Summer 2013 – Part 4 – Falling Down

Female hiker hiking in Evening summer sun on summit of Ryten, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Hiking into the sun on the summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

[ This is part 4 of my Summer 2013 travels on Norway’s Lofoten Islands: PART 1PART 2PART 3 ]

I fist visited Kvalvika beach in the summer of 2006, where I spent two days hiding in my tent for the rain to end.  It never did.  Since then I’ve learned the advantages of checking the weather forecasts and now have had a few wonderful nights camping at the beach.  It remains one of my favorite places in Lofoten; relatively easy to get to and amazingly scenic.  But the best views are not from the beach itself, rather from the nearby peak of Ryten, which if you have been to Kvalvika, is the 500 meter vertical cliff on the right side of the beach.

Friday morning I cruised my mid 90’s Subaru rental car away from Stamsund and headed west towards Kvalvika along roads that are now more familiar than those of my own hometown. I think I know every curve of the E10 by heart and can find all the pullouts even under 2 feet of snow – except when there’s too much snow, and I end up just getting stuck.  Nearing the parking to the trailhead I saw a large bus parked.  Uh oh!  I hope there’s not going to be a school group camped at the beach!

By late morning, the backpack was on and we were making our way towards the beach.  Since my last visit in April, a kind person has placed some stones and boards across the more boggy sections in the start of the trail.  Thank you!  I often wonder why the Norwegians don’t use more of the ‘mountain sidewalk,’ as I like to call it, planks of board run across particularly boggy sections of land, which is rather prevalent in next door in Sweden.  The opinion of the Norwegians seems to be that you either wear giant boots or suffer with wet feet.  Though often unsightly, the ‘mountain sidewalk’ actually does help in keeping the trail from spreading multiple meters wide as people attempt to circumvent the bog.  But so it goes.  There are not many people in Norway anyhow…

Within 30 minutes or so of hiking, Kvalvika beach finally comes into view and I can always feel my pace quicken at this point.  Though this is where the trail becomes a bit steeper and rougher as it descends towards the beach, so a bit more caution is needed.  Still worried about the school group camping on the beach, I looked down and scanned for an encampment of tents that would probably resemble an invading Roman army.  Nothing came into sight.  A bit further down the hill I observed a bit of movement and then my eyes focused on what looked like the a large animal migration from some nature documentary.  It was the school group leaving the beach and hiking up towards me.  I will say, that I really appreciate the Norwegian/Scandinavian ethic of getting kids out into the wilderness at a young age, you can really tell this enjoyment of nature carries on throughout their adult lives, and much more so than in my fellow countrymen.  But it is something as an American I’ve never really experienced out in the wilds.  I know enough not to expect mountains to be empty in Europe and popular places like Lofoten.  I just wish the groups could sometimes be a little smaller.  And hopefully not end up camping at the same place as myself.  Luckily, we gave our greetings as we passed and we arrived to the beach almost empty.

From up high, there seems to be an unlimited assortment of camping areas.  Upon closer inspection the grassy bluffs at the back of the beach are thoroughly covered in sheep shit, how do you think the grass stays so short all summer long, and sometimes a bit of careful cleaning up might be required.  But overall, there is a wonderful assortment of places for a tent and you should generally have no problem finding a place, even on a crowded summer evening.  I have a favorite spot out past the ‘not-to-be-named-hut-at-the-secret-beach-in-an-award-winning-film-by-some-Norwegian-surfer-dudes,’ and luckily no one had set up there for the night.  After pitching the tent it was off to search for firewood on the well combed beach of late summer and there is generally a bit to find if you search hard enough.

I always feel a haste to head right up Ryten.  But when I look at my watch and realize there’s 6 hours until sunset, it’s best not to rush things too much.  It can be a long, cold, wait at the top.  On this afternoon though, there was a layer of cloud hanging above the horizon, so I decided to head up around 6:00 pm, with a sunset around 8:45 pm, so as to hopefully get some nice light across the beach

Ryten is one of those mountains that looks higher than it really is and the 500 meters can actually go by pretty quickly.  Just start walking, maybe with some good music coming out of your Ipod, and you’ll soon find yourself nearing the top.  The view from Ryten towards Kvalvika is best as an afternoon/evening photo, when the sun will be in the northwestern sky and shine directly into the beach, which is shaded by high mountains from every other direction.  And actually, the end of August is already a bit to late in the season for the beach to be fully illuminated, the sun now setting too far to the south to fully shine across the beach without being blocked by the surrounding peaks.

Female hiker overlooking Kvalvika beach from nearby mountain, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Halfway up Ryten, the views are getting good! Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013


Female hiker enjoying view of Kvalvika beach from near summit of Ryten, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Overlooking Kvalvika beach, 500 meters below, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

While the winds had been calm when leaving the beach, upon reaching the final summit ridge to Ryten it was evident that conditions had changed and a  cold east wind was blowing across the summits.  It was quickly evident that it would be somewhat pointless waiting around until sunset, such as I did on an even colder and windier day in May, as I would struggle to keep my tripod from falling over, much less get anything resembling a sharp photo in the fading twilight.  So with the sun just about to sink below the sea we were heading back down the mountain.

The sky was turning a nice color as I was nearing the beach.  Somewhat distracted with the scenery, I took a careless ‘hop’ off a grassy step and then landed on a surface that was far slipperier than I was expecting.  My foot immediately slipped, then turned sideways as my leg folded and I found myself heading face first into the small creek just above the beach; my leg now bent in an unhealthy position beneath me.  Fuck!  I was 20 feet from the sand, yet I slipped and fell.  As I righted myself I could feel that something was wrong in my foot.  Not wanting to waste time with checking things out incase I would be completely unable to walk in a few minutes, I put as much weight on my trekking poles as possible and hobbled across the beach and back to the tent.  By the time I arrived my ankle had already become quite swollen and too painful to put any weight on.

I was pretty sure nothing was broken, but hell, it hurt!  What I was hoping would have been a nice evening shooting photos late into the night turned into something of a suffer fest.  I did my best to enjoy the campfire we built, but it was a struggle, sitting awkwardly on the plank of wood turned bench upon which I could never get comfortable.  After an hour or so like this, Northern Lights appeared in the sky.

Normally Northern Lights would be a joy to me, especially so early in the year.  But now all I thought about was pain.  Unwilling to let the opportunity go to waste, I crawled on my hands and knees, careful to avoid the numerous piles of sheep shit, to someplace that seemed like a decent composition.  Luckily things worked out that it was the best framing for me to lay on the ground.  So that I did for the next 20 minutes until the lights faded and I once again crawled back to the tent.  After that exertion I decided it was time for bed.

Illuminated tent with Northern Lights in sky at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over my tent at Kvalvika beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

I didn’t take any pain medication, wanting to know how bad my ankle really was, and if I’d be able to hike out in the morning.  My foot throbbed into the night.  I didn’t sleep.

The moment of truth came with the morning as I crawled out of the tent and made my first attempt to stand.  It was painful, but not overwhelmingly so. Now I loaded myself on Ibuprofen and for the first time in 12 years of carrying it through the wilds, had to use by ace wrap to tie up my ankle so it would remain as inflexible as possible.  The hike normally takes me about 45 minutes, now I was imagining something more along the lines of 2 hours.  Slow and steady my motto would be.  And so the journey back to the car slowly began, step after painful step.  It took a while, but eventually we made it back to the car.  No need for any sort of rescue operation.  But as Roar later informed me once back in Stamsund, I wasn’t in too much danger anyhow, ‘The farmers would be collecting their sheep in a few weeks, and could have taken you back with them…’

Random brand mixed vegetables, usually some mix carrots and peas, are the cheapest cold item to buy in the supermarkets of Norway.  And so this is what iced my ankle over the following days.  There was some nice light and I would have been tempted to the mountains, but I now had something bigger on my mind.  Would I be able to hike 7 days on the Kunsleden trail in Sweden, which would begin in less than two weeks!

I was forced to remain seaside for my last few days on Lofoten.  Not the way I would liked to have finished the trip, but at least the sprained ankle came at the end, not the beginning!  And luckily my ankle was not as bad as it could have been and there was no need for a (expensive) doctors visit. After a few days, despite some ugly looking bruising, I was about 40% mobile on horizontal ground.

Finally, it was Wednesday, September 4th, and time to depart the islands for Germany.  Normally I would enjoy the 1km walk to the Hurtigruten ferry terminal as a bit of time to clear my mind for departure, but thankfully a friend offered us a ride this time.  I was raining anyhow…

And so another Summer on Lofoten ended.  I knew I would be back in a few weeks, so it was not really a proper goodbye.  Little did I know at the time though, that I would be back in little more than a week, after my camera decided to take a Swim in Sweden

Scenic Myrland beach, Flakstadoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Sunset at Myrland beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013


Scenic Myrland beach, Flakstadoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Evening Twilight at Myrland beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

mountain bivy on rocky summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Islands Summer 2013 – Part 3 – Hermannsdalstinden

Evening light over mountain landscape from rocky summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Endless mountains as seen from the summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

[This is part 3 of my summer travels: go here for PART 1PART 2 ]

The Hostel at Stamsund, Justad Rorbu og Vanderhjem, the formal name, but everyone just calls it Stamsund, is a magical place and one of the reasons I fell so much in love with Lofoten during my first stay there in the summer of 2001.  The hostel is simple and charming, set in an older fishermen’s building now around a hundred years old, with the tide lapping against the rocks underneath the kitchen – dining room floor.  Over the years it has become a home away from home for me, and hundreds of others who return year after year.

My arrival on this stormy morning was completely unannounced, with few people even knowing I was on the islands.  Yet as I walked in the door of the kitchen to the large group of people sitting around the table I was immediately greeted, ‘Cody, hello!  When did you get here?’

‘Oh hello Cody, I have just made some tea, would you like some?’

‘There’s still some food left on the table, help yourself if you’d like something to eat…’

And so before I could even change out of my smelly clothes or take a shower, I found myself sitting around the table, recounting stories of my last days and hearing about the travels of others whom I might not have seen for a year or two, and trying to put to memory the names of a few new faces whom I’m sure I’ll see around again in the coming years.  Only in Stamsund.

It was now Monday, August 19th.  As afternoon carried on, the rain fell heavier and heavier.  Tuesday it also rained, Wednesday as well as Thursday it continued.  But the forecast for Friday afternoon and the weekend looked promising.  And so I formed plans for the morning, Hermannsdalstinden.

Friday morning I said my goodbyes and caught the bus out of Stamsund to make my way to Reine and again take the ferry.  This time however, I wasn’t going to Bunes or Horseid beaches. I was heading towards Hermannsdalstinden, which, at 1029 meters above the sea, is the highest mountain on Moskenesøy, and the western half of Lofoten as a whole.  It is a rugged and impressive peak that has been on my Lofoten ‘to-do’ list for quite some time, but for some reason has never worked out.  This time I would be in luck.

Twilight light over mountain landscape from rocky summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo:  Twilight arrives on Lofoten, Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

There are two approaches to Hermannsdalstinden.  The main route begins in Sørvågen and heads inland, passing the Munkebu hut, before continuing on towards the mountain.  The second option is to take the ferry from Reine to Forsfjord.  This has the benefit of saving you a few kilometers of hiking, for the cost of 120 NOK ferry ride(!). The savings in horizontal distance earns you a steep, slippery ascent until the two trails meet.  Once you leave the boat in Forsfjord, there is no going back.

CLICK HERE for hiking route info on Hermannsdalstinden.

As the afternoon ferry departed Reine the sky was still partially filled with low, peak concealing clouds of mist rising in the strong sunlight.  The water of the Reinefjord was like glass, and the boat sped across the surface into the perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains.  After a couple stops to drop off some mail and pickup passengers returning from the beaches the boat entered the deep shadows of Forsfjord and it was now my turn to leave.  Despite a rather full boat, I was the only one to exit in Forsfjord.  I was now alone, only 5 kilometers and 1029 meters ahead of me.  It was 3:45 PM.   I watched for a moment as the boat disappeared in the distance and then began my journey.

The benefit of the Forsfjord route is that you save over half of the (horizontal) distance to the mountain.  The tradeoff is that you convert distance into a steep, slipper slope, at times having to pull on the bracken and trees to keep from slipping backwards as your feet struggle to take purchase on the muddy slopes.  It is somewhat of a relief that after reaching the half way point of the first climb the trail begins to follow a series of rock bands and steps, making for sometimes more exposed, but altogether easier travel.  After 200 meters of ascent the shores of the first lake are reached.  Only 800+ meters to go!

I was initially unsure of where I would camp for the night as I knew the summit to be rocky and not overly conductive to camping.  I had received a bit of beta from some others that there was something of a grassy ledge below the summit that would work for a tent.  Knowing it was unlikely to rain I wasn’t overly worried about shelter. At worst, I would find as flat of a rock as possible to lean against during the short night of late August.  If the weather did turn bad, I could just sit around in my rain gear, or begin hiking back down the mountain.

A little after 7:30 PM I scrambled around the last few boulders and found myself just below the summit.  The sun was getting low on the horizon so I tossed my backpack against some rocks and got to work taking photos.

I never saw anything looking like a good spot for a tent, but I did find several good options to bivy for the night.  I finally decided on a nice flat rock that, although quite close to the edge, was protected by a few rocks that would most likely keep me from rolling off and falling 30-40 meters.   I settled myself in for the night as the last bit of twilight was fading from the sky and the full moon rising higher above the Vestfjord.  At some point in the night the winds picked up in strength and brought a bit of a chill.  I cinched up my bag so that only my nose was visible.  The moon was bright overhead.

mountain bivy on rocky summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: My bivy spot on the summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013


Lofoten Islands Sunrise from Hermannsdalstinden, Norway

Photo: Warm greetings of the morning’s sun, Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013


Hermannsdalstinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Dark clouds fill the sky as I descend from the mountain, Hermannsdalstinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

I was up before 05:00, waiting for what the day would bring.  An uneventful sunrise as it turned out.  But I was thankful for the warmth as the first rays of light pierced the cold morning air.  The steam of my tea drifted into the breeze as I held it tightly to heat my hands.  And so there I sat, alone, watching sunrise on the top of Lofoten and wondering what another day in the north would be bringing me.  It was one of those moments that’s probably nicer to share with others, but if you cannot, it’s still better to be there than not.

After an hour of so I noticed some eerie looking clouds beginning to form over the mountains to the west, and combined the the ever increasing wind, I figured I should probably start heading down.  For the second time on this trip, I found myself descending a mountain in the early morning.  Seems a bit odd, with the full day ahead, but so it goes…

Half way down I sat and watched clouds swirling over the peak which was now full concealed with any remaining blue sky being consumed by a wall of gray from the west.  By 10:00 the sky was completely filled dark and forlorn looking clouds.  I passed some others making their way up the mountain and wished them luck, I would not have liked to be heading in their direction.  The difference 15 hours can make.

Soon enough I found myself arriving at Munkebu hut.  Somewhat tired and with nowhere in particular to go I set up camp.  I gave though to heading up Munkan, and had the weather been better, I would of.  But the summit was in the clouds so I laid in my tent and slept the afternoon away.  Lazy life, that of a mountain photographer.

The following morning brought an uneventful hike down to Sørvågen and then what I can only describe as pathetic attempts to hitchhike back to Stamsund.  I managed get a little past Hamnøy, before going nowhere for an hour + of standing on the side of the road until the only bus of the day came and took me to Leknes.  It was a Sunday after all, not good for hitching I guess..  With no busses to Stamsund, I ended up walking about halfway and catching a couple rides.  My feet were now thoroughly sore by this point.  Reaching the hostel, I setup a mattress in the sun outside and once again took a nap.  Exhausted.

Monday brought rain once more.  As did Tuesday.  Blustery weather came on Wednesday before then things began to calm a bit on Thursday.  And finally, in what seemed to be a developing pattern on this trip, the weekend’s forecast was once again good looking.  A plan was made – Camp and Kvalvika beach and hike up Ryten for sunset.  This would be my third time doing this combination of beach and mountain, and it what is now one of my favorite overnight tours on Lofoten.

…Continued PART 4

Storsandnessanden beach looking towards mountains of Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Summer rain passes over Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013


Waves break across rocky coastline at Unstad beach, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Passing storm at Utakleiv beach, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Horseid beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Islands Summer 2013 – Part 2 – Escape

Horseid beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Heavy clouds hang over Horseid beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

[Lofoten Islands Summer 2013 Part 2.  Part 1 -HERE- ]

As I reached the summit of the pass between Kjerkfjord and Horseid beach, proper rain turned into heavy rain.  I was also hiking fast and getting hot.  I should have changed into a synthetic shirt, but believing that the rain would only last a few more hours I foolishly stayed in a cotton shirt, which proceeded to get wetter and wetter from my sweating under the burden of my heavy backpack.  By the time I reached the beach, heavy rain had turned into torrential rain, with drops so big they hurt.  I was becoming increasingly soaked by the combination of sweat, rain, and sideways blowing wind.

Reaching the small grassy bluff at the far end of the beach, it was a mad dash to set up my tent beneath the falling sky.  I am quick with tents.  But by the time I through my backpack inside, jumped in and closed the rain fly, everything was wet and I was completely soaked through and through.  Pools of water formed under my dripping wet rain gear as I placed it in a corner of my tent in a haphazard attempt to keep the rest of the tent from getting wet.  My only hope at this point was to strip down to my underwear, crawl into my sleeping bag and hope my body heat would dry me off while I waited for the rain to end.

Hour after hour passed and the rain still fell.  Evening came, then night and the rain continued, unbroken.  I didn’t bother with cooking dinner.  Finally sometime around 03:00 the clouds broke and the winds came.  In the predawn light, I used my tripod, along the the guy-lines from my tent to setup a poor-mans clothes line by which I would attempt to dry my clothes.  The winds blew stronger and stronger, with my tent flattening out once again.  By 06:00 I was fully packed, dressed in semi-moist clothing, with the wettest stuff tied to the back of my backpack.  Despite the early hour, I was ready to get out of there as it looked like a full on storm was about to arrive.  Sand stung me as I crossed the beach and progress was slow as I walked into the winds.

Horseid beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: The rain has stopped, Horseid beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Instead of returning back to Kjerkfjord and the ferry to Reine, and shelter, I took the steep muddy trail that would lead me beneath the steep spire of Kråkhammatind before descending into the lush valley of Fagerådal and eventually finishing at the DNT mountain hut at Selfjord.  On the map, the trail looks relatively straight forward, but in reality, it is often steep, muddy and rocky, with very few moments where one can simply walk.

While I heated myself up to a sweat on the steep ascent, once gaining the pass I exposed to the full front of near gale force winds, and quickly took a break to put on all my jackets.  I would have liked to camp up here, but there was no way my tent would survive in such conditions, so I continued on.

Sunlight pierces through clouds on Solbjørnvatnet, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Stormy sky over lake Solbjørnvatnet, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Clouds conceal dramatic mountain peak of Kråkhammartind, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Clouds conceal the summit of Kråkhammartind, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Scenic mountain valley around lake Fageråvatnet, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: View towards lake Fageråvatnet, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Green summer birch trees below dramatic mountain peaks, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Green Birches of Summer, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

The descent to shores of lake Fageråvatnet was particularly treacherous under the weight of my heavy backpack, with steep sections of loose moss covering otherwise bare, wet rock at 45 degree angles or more.  Loss of footing would have lead to a bad fall or twisted ankles.  Once reaching the lower ground, the trail twisted through trees, over rocks, under rocks, until finally reaching the inner waters of the fjord where it turned into Lofoten super bog.  To this point I had kept my feet more or less dry.  On the last 1 km of trail, this was a hopeless effort and I gave up trying to hop between the ever shrinking, and sinking, dry clumps of grass.  Luckily by now the sun had come out and it was actually beginning to look like a nice day.

The standard Norwegian DNT hut key works for opening the door at the Selfjordhytte, a group of two cabins an a couple out buildings at the end of the fjord.  Upon my arrival I was greeted by a nice French woman who informed me of the news that the water pumps were not working.  The nearest source of water?  Back across the 1 km of bog to a small stream.  I knew I should have filled up my water bottles as I passed!  So before settling down for the afternoon, it was time for more wet feet.

Another text message weather forecast told me that a big storm would be arriving in the morning.  But now into early afternoon the day was actually hot and the winds seemingly gone.  Though a German couple arriving later that afternoon also from Horseid beach informed me that it remained quite stormy and cloudy there.  Such is the changeability of Lofoten. I was in bed before dark, a real bed this time, alarm set for 05:00.

Rain fell in waves throughout the night, but seemed to have backed off as I walked out the door of the hut at 06:00, the sky dark an ominous looking.  I had 12 km walking along the road ahead of me, with no chance of shelter and little chance of catching a ride as there are only a few scattered houses along the way.  Once I left, there would be no return and I would be at the mercy of whatever the sky decided to throw at me.  Despite the chill in the air, the wind, and the off and on sprinkles of rain, I hiked in a t-shirt, so fast I was trying to walk.  In just over an hour I passed the trailhead to Kvalvika beach and knew I was just over half way to the E10 and a good place to hitch a ride.  Or if that failed, the bus would come by at 10:00.

Reaching the outskirts of Fredvang, the rain grew heavier than I would have liked and I was back in my waterproofs for the remainder of the walk.  In a little over 2 hours I reached the E10.  Not bad for 12 km or road on an empty stomach!  A few cars passed, but I must have been a bit rough looking, and none stopped for what seemed like an eternity.  Until finally, a young German family pulled over and could take me all the way into Leknes.  With a light rain still falling, I walked a few blocks to the main road to Stamsund and as luck would have it, a car driven by a Polish electrician quickly pulled over and took me to the corner of the hostel.

I put on backpack for one last time and walked down the familiar road towards the yellow buildings on the edge of the sea.

…Continued PART 3

Rainbow at Sunrise over mountains from Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Islands Summer 2013 – Part 1 – Arrival

Bunes beach as viewed from Helvetestinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Bunes beach as seen from the summit of Helvetestinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

[This is part 1 of a multi-part series on my summer 2013 travels to Norway’s Lofoten Islands]

Perhaps sometime in the future the trip from California to Lofoten will be shortened, but for now it remains a nearly two day journey.  I can’t help but feel that  there’s something slightly masochistic about walking out the door on a Tuesday morning and not finally laying flat and properly closing your eyes until Thursday afternoon.  But until I can move somewhere more convenient, this is my fate.  Or maybe I just need to earn enough to fly business class, that would reduce the burden somewhat.  But like any place that draws you, the journey is worth it…

The main delay in my travels is often the ferry connection from Bodø to Moskenes.  For some reason I always arrive in Bodø in early evening, usually just missing a ferry and having to wait until the next.  Though this time, knowing there is nothing in Moskenes at 04:00, I actually skipped the midnight sailing out of Bodø, choosing to wait until the 04:30 boat, which arrives at a more civilized 08:00.  Really, unless you actually have a place to be at 04:30 or are with a car, it is more comfortable to wait in Bodø than in Moskenes.  A lesson I have learned, more than once, the hard way.

In my normal fashion of travel to Lofoten, my plan was to ‘get there and see.’  I had several options in my head, all of which where dependent on the weather.  The lazy person, and tired traveler in me, sometimes wishes for rain so I can conveniently hide away on a soft bed in Stamsund for a couple days to catch up on sleep.  The photographer in me wants some dramatic light, while the hiker in me wants sunny blue skies.  Blue skies with nice puffy white clouds I got.

Departing the ferry in Moskenes in perfect weather I now was down to two options from my to-do list: Hermannsdalstinden or Helvetestinden and Bunes and Horseid beaches.  With my backpack feeling a bit on the heavy side, along with my head, I contented myself with the easier option of Helvetestinden.  I managed to unusually quickly hitch a ride with a group of Polish and was soon in Reine.  Now all I had to do was sit around for a couple hours for the next ferry boat Vindstad, my attention fixated on my watch and how many hours it had been since I actually got any sleep; somewhere around 38 hours by this point in the morning.

Summer crowds of tourists filled the boat on the wonderful day.  Departing the boat in Vindstad, I was the first one making my way through the small village before finally leaving them further behind as I veered from the main trail and began the steep hike towards Helvetestind.

You can find the hiking route info for Helvetestinden – HERE

View towards Kjerkfjorden and mountains of Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Kjerfjord seen from the hike up Helvetestinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Sweating under the strain of my 25kg backpack in the hot sun, not something I get to complain about very often in Lofoten, I did my best to conserve the little water I carried, knowing I would have no chance to refill on the summit.  To my surprise, there were a couple other groups of hikers heading up the mountain this day, including two british and even a fellow American, often a rare sight on Lofoten for some reason.

Not exactly sure of where to camp, I carried my backpack nearly to the summit before dropping it off as I reached a few steep rock steps that I wasn’t too sure I’d like to go back down with a heavy bag.  I spent some time on the top and thought about camping up there, but the more sheltered spot lower down on the saddle of the ridge I had seen earlier seemed a safer option.  And only a 15-20 minute hike back up, it wouldn’t be too bad the following morning for sunrise.  Leaving with the others after 30-40 minutes at the top, I set up camp and pretty much fell asleep by two o’clock in the afternoon.  Exhausted.

Bunes beach as viewed from Helvetestinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Evening twilight over Bunes beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

I headed back up the mountain in the evening, but the puffy white clouds of the afternoon had disappeared and a layer of sun-eating haze hung low on the northwestern horizon.  And so it was back to my tent for some more sleep until my wakeup alarm at 04:00.

Morning brought blue skies once again.  Sunrise wasn’t too spectacular from my camping spot as the surrounding mountains blocked the first hour’s worth of sunlight, with the mostly east – west running fjord remaining deep in shadow until the sun rose higher in the sky, by which point all color was gone.

Morning light on Merrastitinden from near summit of Helvetestinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: First rays of morning light from Helvetestinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Sunrise behind Rostadtindan from near Helvetestinden, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rays of light shine over Kjerkfjord, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Even though I took my time packing up camp, I found myself heading down the mountain before 07:00.  I was, however, in the complete opposite of a rush, my destination being Bunes beach, at a whole 45 minute – 1 hour hike away.  Call me lazy!  Though by this time I was more or less completely out of water, only having carried 2.5 liters up the mountain with me and some 24 hours since my last refill.

The morning also brought wind.  Upon reaching the beach I first proceeded on with the nearly 20 minute walk to the far left side of the beach to look for a place to camp out on the point beyond the lone cabin.  But seeing several campers struggling in the blowing wind to take down their tents, and unable to find a suitably sheltered stop, I returned to the grassy dunes at the back of the beach.  Even here though, it was windier than I would have liked, and my poor, lightweight Big Agnes Fly Creek Platinum tent was doing it’s best to remain upright.  Thankfully, though the tent nearly completely flattened out at times, the poles held.

Still short on sleep, I slept away the morning and afternoon amid the flapping of my tent.  Finally rising in early evening I noticed a layer of grey cloud had filled the sky.  I made two rewarding trips out to the water’s edge: once for sunset and a few hours later at twilight.  A little after midnight I was once again cozied up in my sleeping bag.

Sunset at Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Summer twilight at Bunes beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

The morning came all to early.  At the sounding of my first alarm, I peaked my head out the tent to see what looked like a dull gray sky in the dim twilight.  Closing my eyes for a few more minutes, I tried to pretend I was somewhere else so I could at least enjoy a few more hours sleep.  But somewhere in the back of my mind found the energy to fight off my laziness and got myself dressed. I was here to take photos after all, not sleep!

As I reached the water, the sky was glowing bright pink from behind the mountain.  It was some of the best light I’ve seen in Lofoten for a while.  I would have been content with what I photographed there with the waves breaking across my feet.  Wet shoes again!  An odd sense of intuition filled my mind and I left the beautiful scene to continue on around the point to see what was on the other side.  Normally, this is where I end up missing the light all together, having gambled on something better than light I should already have been content with.  But when the rainbow and glowing orange clouds came into sight, I nearly panicked in a rush to find a good position and not miss what I was seeing.  I wanted to shoot stills, I wanted to shoot video, I wanted to shoot a time-lapse sequence or two.  I needed another one of me, each with 4 arms to help do everything at once!

I was saved by the north.  With the low angle of the moving sun against the horizon when compared to lower latitudes, light ‘lasts longer’ on Lofoten.  That is to say, sunrise will last 2-3 times longer than you are used to back home.  And thus I had nearly 20 minutes of light as the rainbow emerged from behind the mountain until it finally faded away in the growing daylight.  So glad I got out of bed!

As I walked back to my tent I contemplated that I had not even been on the islands two full days and I’d already had better light than I’ve often waited weeks for.  I thought about catching a few more hours sleep, but the now darkening sky of cloud foretold of rain – as did my text forecast that I try and receive on a daily basis.  I packed up camp and began walking back towards to ferry pier in Vindstad.  A light mist began to fall.

Normally, the 24 hour weather forecasts are pretty accurate for Lofoten.  But there are however often some micro-climates in particular fjords or valleys that buck the trend.  With the forecast saying that rain should only last until 1-2pm, I made the decision to continue on with the ferry to Kjerkfjord and hike to  Horsied beach for the night.  But in the back of my mind, knowing that it was a southwest wind, I thought I was perhaps being a bit overly optimistic.  And I was.

Departing the ferry in Kjerkfjord, the sky was a solid gray, clouds hanging low over the pass with a proper rain beginning to fall.  Proper in that I put on my waterproof pants.  This was my second time hiking to Horseid beach, and my second time hiking to Horseid beach in the rain.  Such is how it goes on Lofoten.

…Continued – PART 2

Colorful sunrise over mountains at Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Pink sunrise over Bunes beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Rainbow at Sunrise over mountains from Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rainbow sunrise at Bunes beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013