EBOOK - Kungsleden South

New Ebook – Kungsleden South

EBOOK - Kungsleden South

I’m happy to announce that my 5th ebook is now available: Kungsleden South – Hiking From Ammarnäs to Hemavan

Now available for $7, this guide covers the southernmost section of Sweden’s Kungsleden trail.

CLICK HERE for more info.

 

Hiking Kungsleden trail in Autumn, Sweden

Kungsleden Trail 2015

Six years since I first started walking south from Abisko through the autumn forests and arctic tundra of Sweden’s Kungsleden trail, I will be making the journey again. This time I will be part of a team of four, and our goal, Hemavan, 440 kilometres to the south.

The team will consist of me, Cody – the photographer, my partner Justyna – the blogger, and the traveling couple of Theo – the filmmaker, and Bee – the writer, the duo behind vdubvanlife.com. I met and briefly traveled with them on Lofoten last year and they were also the first visitors at my new flat in Germany in May, as they were making their way home from a year on the road in Europe in their, can you guess, VW van.

Theo and Bee have also recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help them get some necessary gear for the trip. Often with a week+ between power, the trip is going to require a lot of batteries and memory cards. They are also giving away some prizes, so go check them out.

Unlike the last few times in which I have visited the Kungsleden, during which I also combined with visits to other areas of Scandinavia/Europe, this trip will be dedicated to the trail alone. This is one of the reasons I moved to Germany in the spring, so I could focus better on the individual projects I have planned, as I have gotten a bit weary of the 3-6 month backpacking trips as my 30th birthday drifts further into the past.  This also gives me the benefit of being able to pack lighter, as I don’t have to worry about splitting my time on the trail and in cities/hostels.

September 2nd will be the day we head south, into the wilds of the Swedish arctic, hopefully with the sun bright overhead. Well, hopefully anything but rain really; I’m from California, I don’t like rain. I have hiked this northern section of the trail twice, but it is a landscape that I don’t think I will ever tire of, especially in autumn when the trees are golden yellow and the tundra foliage a mix of oranges and reds. If all goes well, we will find ourselves reaching Hemavan around four weeks later.

Many of you reading this are probably familiar with my 68north.com website, focusing on Norway’s Lofoten Islands. I was a bit hasty when starting the site in 2010 and was a bit small in my focus. Even though Lofoten was, and still is, one of my biggest interests, I have long had plans for something more. A bigger photography and hiking site dedicated to all areas north.

Like Lofoten, the more time I spend in other parts of the northern Scandinavian landscapes, the more I know I will return again and again. There is simply so much out there to see and walk. If I’m lucky in life, when I’m 60 years old, I’ll be like one of the old German guys I often meet wandering alone on the trail. With stories about the autumn of 1980-something that was so warm they spent 2 weeks in a t-shirt, or the cool summer when they were still in knee-deep snow in July.

And so choosing the Kungsleden this year will be the start of another project set to keep me occupied in my spare time over the following years, in which I’ll hopefully be able to add another Scandinavia region to each year. Keep an eye out in the autumn for a new website…

As my gear lists always seem popular, HERE is what I will be carrying on the trail this year.

X Journey Magazine 2015

Kungsleden Article In X Journey Magazine

X Journey Magazine 2015

In the 2015 issue of X Journey magazine is a 13 page article (+ photos) written by me about hiking on Sweden’s Kungsleden trail.  You can find more info about the article on their blog HERE.

You can also find an online supplement to the article and many images on HERE on ISSUU

This is the 2nd edition of X Journey, a beautifully printed and wonderfully thick yearly magazine focusing on hiking and travel. Published in Germany, all articles are bilingual in German and English.

You can find out more about the X Journey HERE or follow them on FACEBOOK.

X Journey Magazine 2015

Photo: Cover of X Journey magazine 2015

Silhouette of person watching Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis over coastline, Austvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Interview on Routes North Website

Hiking Kungsleden trail in Autumn, Sweden

Photo: Rainy days on Sweden’s Kungsleden Trail

There’s an interview with me now appearing over on the Routes North website.

Check it out HERE

It’s mostly about travel and photography in Scandinavia and how someone from California has ended up spending so much time in the north.

Routes North is a travel website focusing mostly on Sweden and Scandinavia.

Aurlandsfjord, Norway

Favorite Images of 2014

I welcomed in 2015 camping in the freezing cold temperatures outside Ouray, Colorado.  Though I was in bed by 6:30pm, because it was simply too cold to do anything but sleep, it seemed a fitting end to the year and beginning of the next.

Here are some of my favorite images from 2014.  Though I have gone to some effort to exclude most of my Lofoten Images, which I’ll post as a set of their own in a few more days over at 68north.  Otherwise, it would be too easy for this list to be entirely made up of images from the Islands.  But I also ended up a couple other places as well, so I thought I would separate the two collections.

2014 was fairly similar to the previous year.  Once again, a majority of my focus was on the Lofoten Islands, staying for just over 2 months in total this year, split between winter and autumn.

In February, between visits to Lofoten, I attempted to make a ski tour on the Kungsleden trail in Sweden.  It didn’t go too well and I never made it very far from Kebnekaise Fjällstation.  But I still had some fun and look forward to making another attempt one of these years.

The spring saw me return to the Silesian countryside of south Poland and a brief visit to the Tatra mountains.  The rest of the time I was in Wales.

In late August, I made my first visit to Tromsø, where I boarded a sailboat for a 2 week trip to Lofoten.  It was absolutely fantastic, and I hope I find the time to make a proper writeup one of these days.  After the sailing trip I remained on Lofoten for most of September.  It was perhaps the best month of northern lights I’ve ever had on the islands, with night after night of aurora filled skies until the early morning hours.

One of the highlights of the year was a 10 day road trip though Norway in October, From Lofoten to Stavanger.  I’ve never properly explored central Norway, only ever hitch-hiking or busses previously.  So it was happy to finally begin to explore some places that I’ve wanted to visit for years.  And the autumn color was some of the best I’ve ever seen, making up for the rather dull color on Lofoten this year.

I’ve missed out on celebrating the New Year on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides for the last 2 years now, which I slightly miss.  So in an attempt to make up for it, I headed to Scotland in October, only to be blasted by wind and rain for nearly 2 weeks straight until I finally lost all motivation and headed south to Wales before returning to California.

2015 will be off to a quick start.  Next week, I’ll already be on my way back to Lofoten to co-guide a photo tour for Muench Workshops.  After that, I’ll stay on the Islands until the end of February to work on my own photography and hopefully climb a few mountains.

 

Winter night at Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden

Photo: Evening comes to Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden.  February 2014

Old barn in farm field, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Old barn in field, Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Spring thunderstom over fields, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Approaching storm over field, Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Town hall and Rynek market square, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Opole City Hall, Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Female hill walker on Carmarthen Fans - Bannau Sir Gaer with Picws Du in distance, Black Mountain, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Hiker on Bannau Sir Gaer, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  April 2014

Wild Welsh Mountain Pony at sunset on Mynydd Llangorse, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales

Photo: Welsh mountain pony at sunset, Brecon Beacons national park, Wales.  April 2014

Silhouette of person watching Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis  over coastline, Austvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern lights over coast, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2014

Norddalsfjord autumn, Norway

Photo: Alpine farm above Norddalsfjord, Møre go Romsdal, Norway.  October 2014

Nigardsbreen glacier, Norway

Photo: Nigardsbreen glacier, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway.  October 2014

Aurlandsfjord, Norway

Photo: Clearing storm over Aurlandsfjord, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway.  October 2014

Winter mountain landscape of Ladtjovagge valley viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden

Swedish Interlude Part 2 – Kebnekaise Fjallstation

Winter mountain landscape of Ladtjovagge valley viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden

Photo: Winter mountain landscape of Swedish Lapland, Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Sweden.  February 2014

…Continuing from PART 1

A steady snow was falling by the time the bus pulled into Kiruna late in the morning, the steep slag piles of the iron mine covered in hoarfrost and clouded in mist, resembling the White Wall out of Game of Thrones.  I made my way from the bus station to the hostel, only getting slightly lost and was informed check-in was not for a few hours, at least I could drop off my heavy bags.  I had a bit of scouting to do, namely to make sure if the sport shop had some Nordic touring skis available, as my girlfriend has actually never owned a pair of skis, much less touring ones.  After her arrival, and a hefty bill at the sports shop later, we were full prepared to head into the mountains.

I somewhat optimistically chose the Kungsleden trail as my first attempt for ski touring because, as I sold the idea to my girlfriend, ‘It’s mostly flat, without any big hills to ski up or down.’

More so, both of us had hiked the Route from Nikkaluokta to Abisko in September 2012, and I had hiked it previously in September 2009.  So, other than being mostly flat, it was also a route that I am familiar and comfortable with.  The only real challenge I perceived was weather and distance.  I optimistically put our chance of finishing at 50%.

The night at the hostel in Kiruna passed quickly and we were soon boarding the first bus of the 2014 winter season, heading to the trailhead at Nikkaluokta.  Arriving in Nikkaluokta a few hours later, the bus driver didn’t seem too concerned with collecting payment.  I asked in my bad Swedish if we needed to pay, but was informed that he had forgotten the change purse, the trip was free.  There were a couple other girls getting of the bus who were also traveling to Kebnekaise Fjällstation, the first STF run mountain hut along the trail, however, they didn’t look much prepared to ski the 19 km to get there.  After a bit of conversation, we learned that there is transport by snowmobile for the price of 300 SEK.  With only a few hours until darkness, doubtful enough time to get there, and having gotten the bus trip for free, we decided to spoil ourselves and be lazy.  The real journey could start tomorrow, and I knew this to be one of the more boring parts of the trail, just a long journey through the forest.

Snow mobile transport from Nikkaluokta to Kebnekaise Fjallstation

Photo: Snowmobile and Swedish winter mountain taxi, Nikkaluokta, Sweden.  February 2014

We geared up in thick winter overalls for the trip and were given a blanket to cover ourselves as we hopped onto a trailer pulled by the snowmobile. Then we were off, speeding down a path through the snow covered forest.  There apparently where a few thin spots in the ice, noted by sticks marking where not to go, as we crossed blank lakes and snaked up rivers.  About 45 minutes later we were pulling up to the Kebnekaise Fjällstation.  Snow was gently falling.

If I were 20 years old again, and Swedish, I think driving a snowmobile at one of the Swedish mountain huts would be the job for me!

We checked in as the first guests of the season and had the whole upper dorm to ourselves (no snoring). Kebnekaise Fjällstation is a full service mountain hut, but budgets forced us to decline the dinner and utilise what we were carrying.  Though most of the food is a bit fancy for my simple tastes anyhow, and I’m not sure I’d eat half of it if it were free, much less several hundred Swedish Kroner.  But a beer, warm fire, and, as we thought, one last wifi connection for the week, were thoroughly appreciated.  Snow was still falling as I headed up the stairs for bed.

The forecast had called for a couple days of calm before something of a storm would arrive.  As the world lightened with the arrival of day, I could still see a light snow still falling, nothing to worry about though.  But exiting the main lodge to head to the kitchen for breakfast, it was obvious the snow was deep.  Not ideal for for our first attempts at ski touring. And being the first ones of the season, this left me with the task of breaking 14km of trail through the knee/thigh deep powder.  Still, I remained optimistic as we set off.

Progress for me was slow, but steady, having proper ‘fat’ mountain touring skis and skins to keep me from sinking too much and make cutting turns, under the load of a backpack, on the downhills a bit easier.  For my girlfriend, with less than 1km ever skied on her skinny Nordic skis, the pace was tediously slow, even following in my tracks (which was more like slightly compressed snow than a proper touring track).  The downhills were even slower than the uphill sections for her, and touring was near impossible.  After more than an hour of travel, and barely more than 1km from the hut, it was decided to turn back.

Just at this time, a snowmobile passed by, cutting a nice trail.  But it turned to another part of the mountains and didn’t continue in the direction we needed.  We returned to the hut, disappointed.

We sat for a while, trying to decide what to do.  Having already bought 2000 SEK in hut vouchers (the mountain huts don’t accept credit cards anymore), I figured it would be best just to stay at Kebnekaise Fjällstation for a few more nights and at least get a little enjoyment out of the mountains before continuing on to Lofoten Islands again.

With the brilliant snow conditions, I wasted no time in skinning up a few hills and getting some turns in on the way back down.  If I wasn’t going to complete the tour, I still planned on enjoying myself.  This lasted for two days.  A storm arrived.

I’ve probably mentioned a dozen times in my last few posts that this was an unusually dry and warm winter for much of Scandinavia.  The storm arrived from the south.  Kebnekaise Fjällstation is somewhat sheltered from this direction, but I heard reports of broken windows and severe conditions in the other huts as they are situated in a series of north/south running valleys.  But with the wind came warm air and positive temperatures; in February!  There went my nice powder.

Tuesday morning it was time to leave the mountains.  We booked a return journey on the snowmobile back to Nikkaluokta and then planned on catching the bus back to Kiruna and continue by train to Narvik for the night.  Back in Nikkaluokta we had a couple hours to wait for the bus, but somewhere in the back of my mind, something was nagging me.  This led me to a little double checking of the schedule, where upon I was able to decipher that there is actually no bus on Tuesday.  This was confirmed by the shopkeeper.  Shit!  I could only sit there and laugh at my stupidity, as I contemplated having to return back to Kebnekaise Fjällstation again.

Luck was on our side though, as there randomly happen to be a Dutch couple and tour guide sitting in the cafe.  I wandered over to their table and explained the situation, and if we could maybe get a ride back to Kiruna.  I try to avoid putting people in such situations, where they might not want to say yes, but will look selfish if they say no and then have to finish their coffee with you staring at them.  But happily for us, they were quite nice and quickly offered to let us come along.  Skis were loaded into the van and off we went back towards civilisation.

We had a few hours to kill in Kiruna, so spent most of waiting in the warmth of the Folkets Hus – a much nicer place to wait than the bus station.  I actually thought there would be a bus to Narvik, but apparently it didn’t run on Tuesdays either, so we caught the free transfer shuttle to the new train station.  And there the wait began.

As much as I admire and will compliment the Scandinavians on nearly every aspect modern life, trains, at least in the north, are not their strong point.  Hour after hour passed, as the LED timetable board scheduled a new arrival time every 30 minutes or so.  Perhaps I should have picked up something for dinner in Kiruna?  Eventually, about 3 hours late, the train arrived and carried us west, back towards the Norway where I left little more than a week previously.  After the mandatory night in Narvik, although we arrived quite late, so I don’t begrudge the lack of onward transport options, we were on the morning bus back to the Lofoten Islands.  I wondered what new adventures would await.  (Mostly bad weather as it turned out…)

ski touring in deep snow near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden

Photo: Struggling to ski through deep snow, Kungsleden trail, Sweden.  February 2014

Skis and snow in the Swedish Mountains

Photo: My ski getting ready for a run on some trackless powder, Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Sweden.  February 2014

Winter mountain landscape of Ladtjovagge valley viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lapland, Sweden

Photo: Scenic winter mountain landscape from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Sweden.  February 2014

Winter panoramic view of Ladtjovagge valley viewed from near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Winter in the Swedish mountains near Kebnekaise Fjällstation, Sweden.  February 2014

Ice rift on frozen lake Torneträsk in winter, Abisko national park, Lapland, Sweden

Swedish Interlude Part 1 – Abisko

Ice rift on frozen lake Torneträsk in winter, Abisko national park, Lapland, Sweden

Photo: Winter on a frozen lake Torneträsk, Abisko national park, Sweden.  February 2014

Despite their close proximity, they touch each other, there is often some difficulty traveling between Sweden and Norway.  This experience becomes more pronounced the further north one travels.  So traveling from the Lofoten Islands, Norway, to Kiruna, Sweden becomes, unfortunately, a multi day affair when depending on public transport.  And these multiple days of travel often require a night in Narvik, Norway.

Sunday morning, the 16th of February, was the date of departure for my Australian companions of the last 10 days.  I needed to be in Kiruna, Sweden not too late in the afternoon of February 20th.  So I was left with a choice.  To go immediately to Sweden or not.

In my original planning, I had counted on staying on Lofoten until the morning of the 19, before then traveling on to Kiruna (via a night in Narvik).  But with my hopes of getting in a bit of time on my skis, and pretty much no snow on Lofoten at the time, I decided to head east a bit early and break up the journey for a few days in Abisko national park.  So early on Sunday morning I was dropped off at the bus station in Leknes and began my journey to Sweden.

By mid afternoon I was in Narvik.  Frustratingly close to Abisko, yet the last trains and busses of the day had already departed.  If Narvik has any redeeming charms, I have yet to discover them.  But perhaps this is only because I attempt to spend as little time as possible in the city.  I thought about camping the the forest, but soon decided a night in the hostel would be a better idea, the nights are long and cold in February, better to have some warmth.

The morning arrived soon enough and saw me on the train to Abisko, Sweden.  The fickle grip of this year’s winter finally began to strengthen as the train headed east along the fjords finally climbing into the mountains of the Norwegian/Swedish border.  The last villages in Norway are empty, lonely places in winter.  Katterat, Haugfjel, and Bjørnfjell, the last stops before reaching the Swedish winter resort town of Riksgränsen.  Though as the winter had been dry on Lofoten, it had also been warm here in the Swedish border mountains and the resorts were just beginning to open up for an unusually late start to the season.

It was under a gently falling snow that the train finally reached my destination, Abisko Turiststation, the STF run hostel/hotel is the center of tourism for Abisko national park.  Arriving on a Monday, and in the middle of February, I hadn’t thought about any needs of making a reservation.  So it was with great surprise, that upon heading to the reservation to get a dorm bed for the next three nights, I was informed I had gotten the last one!  I guess I could have always gone and set up my tent in the forest if needed.

Abisko has become something of a northern lights watching hotspot in the last couple years.  Having only previously been in the area in the, now to my understanding, relatively quiet period of autumn, I was unaware of how popular of an activity this was, with people from far and wide around the globe braving the cold in hopes of seeing those elusive green lights.  More importantly for me though, there was snow.  And as I turned out the light after a warm meal of spaghetti and (Swedish) meatballs, there was still a light snow falling from the sky.   Moments into my sleep, the phone beeped with the arrival of a text message from Lofoten: ‘Go outside!’

I looked out the window just in case, but I already knew the result.  While I was stuck under snowy skies in Sweden, the sky over Lofoten was filled with Auroras, where I should have been had I not chosen to leave a few days early.

Now if you’re not in Abisko specifically to see northern lights, it can still be a rather sleepless experience.  Despite the bad weather on most nights, the other 4 people I shared the room with were in and out all night long and random intervals; banging doors, leaving lights on, etc. I had been spoiled with some good northern lights on Lofoten in the previous weeks, so it would take something special for me to go stand around in the cold for hours to wait for something to appear, which they did briefly on my 3rd night, but not enough to see me outside.

I passed my days walking around the frozen lake Torneträsk, and though I knew the ice was thick, strong enough to hold a train, I was told, the constant creeks and moaning of the ice left me with an uncomfortable nagging in the back of my mind as I looked to the shoreline over 1 kilometre away.  A few other times I headed out into the forest on skis.  But for anyone having been to Abisko before, and knowing what beautiful landscapes hide behind those mountains to the south, the immediate Abisko area is a bit anticlimactic.  Soon it was time for the next part of my Journey.

Thursday morning, February 20th, I was standing on the road outside the hostel to catch the bus into Kiruna.  There, I would meet my girlfriend as she arrived from the UK later in the afternoon, before heading into the mountains at Nikkaluokta to begin the journey back to Abisko on skis along the Kungsleden Trail.  Or so was the plan.

Ice rift on frozen lake Torneträsk in winter, Abisko national park, Lapland, Sweden

Photo: Ice rift on lake Torneträsk in winter, Abisko national park, Sweden.  February 2014

Lofoten Islands Winter Travel Plans

Reflection of Olstind mountain peak in harbour at Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter twilight over Olstind, Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2012

My days here in California are quickly coming to an end.  I had been planning this upcoming trip for a while, but it only seemed like it materialized itself at the last minute; mainly because I had been struggling to accommodate several varied destinations and weather conditions.  One part of this trip will be a bit more adventurous than anything I have attempted in recent years, but logistically, it is proving to be somewhat frustrating, and with only a few days until I leave, I still haven’t figured everything out yet.

Lofoten

For my third February in a row now, I’m heading back north to the Lofoten islands for several weeks of hiding from storms and hunting for Northern Lights.  My journey begins here in California on Thursday, but I won’t reach the islands until Saturday.  Luckily, an old friend is providing a night’s accommodation for me in Bodø, thus allowing me an escape of the ferry waiting room floor, before I make the somewhat unusual choice for me to fly to Leknes instead of taking the ferry.  This is mainly because the ferry schedule didn’t work out very well with my arriving in Bodø on Friday evening.

I will be alone my first week on the islands, though have some rough plans to meet up with a few readers of this site, and I will be sleeping in my rental car.

Next, I will be meeting up with Australian photographer Rod Thomas (+ a couple other Aussies), with whom I traveled with on the islands in April/May for a week of photography and northern lights chasing – weather permitting.  I’ve promised to give the boys a good workout and drag them up some mountains…

After they depart, I have a few more days on my own before I need to head east to Sweden for the next part of my journey.

Kungsleden

Part 2 of my winter in the north will be a ski tour of the northern section of Sweden’s Kungsleden trail – from Nikkaluokta to Abisko.  I should note that I can barely ski downhill, and have never done any ski touring proper.  Combined with a probably over-heavy backpack of camera gear, this is definitely going to be an adventure for me.

I’m not exactly sure how it will go, but I’m excited!

Lofoten

Assuming I survive the Kungsleden trail in one piece, I’m heading back to Lofoten for another week or so, once again living out of a car.  My second visit on the islands will keep me there until March 9, and be 5 weeks total north of the Arctic Circle for me.  Wow!

Wales

Leaving Lofoten in early March, I’ll be heading back to Wales (assuming the British let me in) for a couple months.  Just my normal routine of weekly hikes and wandering around Hay-on-Wye.

Poland

In mid May, I’ll be making a short trip to Poland.  The main purpose of the visit is to attend a wedding, but I’m going to try and combine this with some hiking in the High Tatry mountains and perhaps a bit of city living in Opole and Wrocław.  I really liked Opole on my brief visit last spring, and Wrocław is a city I’ve heard lots of good things about, so hopefully everything works out.

Wales

After Poland, I’m back to Wales for a couple week before flying home to California in early June.

I’m kind of disappointed to miss Midsummer in Europe, Germany in particular, as this is one of my favorite times of year and I love the bonfire celebrations.  But unfortunately, I’m not able to stay that long.  Maybe next year with luck.

Part of this is due to the fact that I’m giving some serious thought to hiking the complete Kungsleden trail, probably starting in early August.  I’m sort of looking for a new destination to focus on, after Lofoten, and start a new website like 68north.com.  So I’m thinking northern Sweden might be that place.  I’ll see how things go…

 

Lake Sitojaure, Kungsleden trail, Sweden

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

Hermannsdalstinden Lofoten Islands Norway

Travel Updates

Hermannsdalstinden Lofoten Islands Norway

 

Photo: Moonlight bivy on the summit of Hermannsdalstinden, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

 

Well, it’s been a while since my last post.  Mostly this is due to my working in the chronological order of my travels during the last few months, and as my trip began with two+ weeks on Lofoten, I’ve mainly been adding content over at 68North.com as I get through the images and write a few mountain hiking guides.

There were also some major setbacks to my travel plans in which I’ve been waiting to write about.  The most affected was my planned hike along the Kungsleden trail and into Sarek national park, Sweden.  I only managed one day – 20 km of hiking before disaster stuck, and I was forced/reluctantly chose, to cancel that part of the trip and return to Lofoten.  And it was such fantastic weather! There was more sun in those two days than my previous two trips combined.  I’ll write more on this later.

Anyhow, here is a short overview of the last few months.  More extensive write-ups will come soon as I get ready to head home to California next week where I’ll hopefully be a bit more productive.

Lofoten – Part 1:  I sometimes wonder why I don’t run into many fellow Americans on Lofoten.  That is until I walkout the door in California and don’t see a stop in motion for the next 40, where I can finally setup my tent and close my eyes in someplace more comfortable than an airport, airplane, ferry station, or bus stop.

With an overall trend of rain lasting from Monday to Friday, I did manage to photograph what will probably be my best single set of images from Lofoten to date.  And then, after two weeks on the islands, with one more still to go, I decided to sprain my ankle while coming down from Ryten in the evening while camping at Kvalvika, which effectively took me out of business for the next days.

Germany – Festival Mediaval in Selb: Like last year, I headed down to Germany for a weekend of music and food.  And fortunately, I managed to keep onto my wallet, unlike last year.  And even more fortunately, I got to see one of my favourite bands, Garmarna, play live, which they haven’t done in around a decade or so.  A night in Berlin and then I was on my back back north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

Sweden – Kungsleden:  After sitting around all afternoon in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, I caught the night train north to Gällivare where I then caught a bus to the beginning of my hike at the Saltoluokta hut.  Arriving in the late morning as the rain cleared to a brilliant blue sky I bought a few supplies and then was on my way for the 20km hike south to the next hut on the shores of Lake Sitojaure.

I was a bit worried about my ankle, but was happy see that it managed the trail with only a little pain towards the end, though still quite sensitive of any ‘wrong’ steps.  I inquired about taking the water taxi across the lake in the morning, but learned the boat driver would be away reindeer hunting for the day so I would have to row across the lake myself.  No problem I though as I headed to bed, at least two boats are on my side, so I won’t have to row the lake three times!

Getting into the boat the following morning, my camera decided to go for a swim.  It died.

I sat around for another hour of so, doing my best to dry it out and see if I could salvage anything, but it was gone for good.  And so, I emptied out a bit of the heavier food and the hut and made my way the 20km back north from where I had come the day before.

Lofoten – Part 2:  It took me two days of travel before I was back in Stamsund, where I quickly put a new camera on order and began the wait.  Days of brilliant weather and nights of Northern Lights passed, yet I remained camera-less.  Finally, after 12 days, I got the news that it had been delivered around the corner and was waiting for me at the post office inside the Joker market.

with six full days now left on the islands combined with the thankful cooperation of the weather I hit the hills with a furious pace.  Day after day I found myself high in the mountains under a bright shining sun until finally the rain returned on the 5th day.

Dublin – TBEX conference: Leaving Norway on the 1st of October I next traveled to Dublin (my first visit to Ireland!) where I would attend the TBEX – Travel Blogger Exchange conference over the following days.  I had a really good time, learned so useful info and met some nice people.  I will definitely do my best to attend the next one as well.  Although I did feel out of place at times and sometimes received something of a blank look when I said I was a photographer and that my website is codyduncan.com and not some fancy-sounding-world-traveler-wandering-adventure-blog.com.  Something to work on for next time I guess.  And it was nice to learn that I looked as if I had ‘just come from the mountains,’ being slightly under dressed to the more upscale looking and successful attendees of the conference.  Though in my defence, I had just come from the mountains…

Scotland – Orkney:  I made the somewhat unwise decision of leaving Dublin at 6:00am on a Saturday.  But I had places to go, namely, Scotland!  Even as we were heading north from Manchester airport, the exact destination for the next week was still unknown.  Scotland, yes, but where in Scotland had yet to be decided.  The weather forecast was somewhat bleak, so instead of heading somewhere to the mountains, it was decided Orkney would be the destination; it was the top of the list anyhow, so not a hard choice.

As I won’t be around for the New Year this year, I was provided with my mandatory dose of gale force winds to hold me over for the next few months.  Nearly lost a second camera over the cliffs at the Old Man of Hoy as a sudden, severe gust of wind nearly took my whole backpack over the edge!  But over all, I was glad to be back in Orkney again after 4 years and the week passed all too quickly.

Wales: I’m now counting down my last days here in Wales.  The weather has been somewhat dismal and I haven’t even made it out to the hills at all, but that’s how it goes.

Inspired by TBEX in Dublin, I’m heading to London on Wednesday for the World Travel Market.  Followed by a concert up north on Saturday for my final weekend here before flying home next week.

Until next time…

 

Ryten Hiking Lofoten Islands Norway

Photo: Enjoying the view of Kvalvika beach from Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

 

Northern Lights Kvalvika beach Lofoten Islands

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