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 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 and not some  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

evening campfire at Utakleiv beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Time

evening campfire at Utakleiv beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram – DuncanImages
Twitter – DuncanImages

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

Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Backpacking Gear 2013

Tjäktjavagge on Kungsleden trail, Lappland, Sweden

Photo: Hiking the Kungsleden Trail, Sweden. September 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gear for 2013

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

Inov-8 Terrafly 313 Gtx 313g – 11oz

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

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

Trekking Poles
Black Diamond Ultra Distance 297g – 10.5oz

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

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

Europe Travel Plans

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

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

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

Norway – Lofoten Islands

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

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

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

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

Germany – Festival Mediaval

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

Sweden – Sarek National Park

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

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

Norway – Lofoten Islands Part 2

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

Ireland – Dublin

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

Ring of Brodgar standing stones, Orkney, Scotland

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

Scotland – Orkney

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

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


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


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

Rorbu sits on edge of fjord, Vestvalen, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Back to Lofoten

Rorbu sits on edge of fjord, Vestvalen, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rorbu and Kjerkfjord, near Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013

After a quick 6 week stopover here in California, I’m heading back to Lofoten today.  Although I think I figured out the longest way possible to get to the islands, so I wont arrive until Friday morning; over 36 hours of travel.  I’m sure sleep will be my first priority!

Usually I travel with a stopover somewhere else for a couple days before heading to the islands, so hopefully I don’t end up too jet lagged.  And the forecast for the weekend looks promising, temperatures around 0˚C and possibly some snow.  So hopefully I’ll have a few more chances at some snow covered beaches.

So while the air wont feel much different than when I was there in February, the days will now be incredibly long.  Sunrise is already 4:30 and sunset 21:40.  The night will quickly disappear during my two weeks on the islands, and by the time I leave the midnight sun will be just around the corner and another Summer on the islands will begin.

I wish I could stay longer in the north, but other commitments take me back to the continent.  First I’ll head to Germany to catch up with some old friends and hopefully get out to shoot some climbing in the Frankenjura region.  My timing is also good for the Bergkirchweih in Erlangen, and I haven’t been to a good German beer festival in a few years…

After Germany, I have to figure out the best way to get to south Poland, perhaps with a night or two in my favorite Czech city, Olomouc, to break up the journey.  Otherwise it will be quite a long day on the train. We’ll see…

But for now, my thoughts are focused on Lofoten.  I haven’t been to the islands at this time of year since 2007, so I’m excited to see what photos I come up with.

Skagsanden beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Skagsanden beach in Winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013

Lofoten Winter Journeys – Part 2

Lofoten Islands Northern Lights

Photo: Northern Lights over Olstind, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 18, 2013

[View part one of my February Lofoten travels HERE]

Last year, 2012, I spent over 2 months north of the Arctic Circle: about 6 weeks on Lofoten and 2 weeks in northern Sweden hiking the Kunglseden trail.  While the purpose of my travels wasn’t exclusively to see the Northern Lights, I wouldn’t have complained if I was able to photograph some good displays.  In my February 2 week trip, I simply had bad timing, with large Auroras both several days prior and after my time on the islands.  I saw only one small display over those two weeks.  In the latter half of the year, the skies were mostly quiet, even on numerous clear nights.  That was until the night of Oct 8, my departure from Lofoten.  As I was walking from the hostel to the Hurtigruten ferry at 9:00pm at night, I could feel it.  I knew something was going to happen.  And by the time the ferry was departing the dock at 10:00pm, the perfectly clear night sky was beginning to explode with color.  It even thought about getting off the ferry and maybe trying to catch an early flight in the morning, but eventually decided against it.  And had I been on one of the newer boats, I would have at least attempted to make a few photos.  But alas, I was on the second oldest boat of the Hurtigruten fleet, with only a small outside deck area which is not very conductive to night photography.  And so I watched, almost crying, for hours as the sky was filled with light from horizon to horizon.  Epic, amazing, beautiful, and a whole host of other words that I’d have to look up in the thesaurus to expand my vocabulary.  And why I love the North so much.  If only I had a little better timing sometimes…

February 2013 was that better timing.  On my second night on the islands, Valentines day, I was at Utakleiv to photograph a decent display.  If that was all I had seen, I would have been happy.  But then again, a few days later while down at Reine, the sky erupted for almost an hour, allowing me to get close to my long envisioned ‘Aurora over Olstind’ photo. And again, the following night once again, this time at Vik beach, a short but sweet display of the lights.  Three times in one week, any of which alone I would have been more than happy about.

I hope to avoid sounding like two old ladies in the supermarket, but its time to talk about the weather.  The weather more or less decides how photogenic any trip to Lofoten will be.  And unfortunately, there is absolutely zero predictability.  This doesn’t help much when having to plan months in advance and having to fly halfway around the world.  Actually, if I were to give a general comment on the weather, it would be that two consecutive seasons are rarely the same.  That is to say, if you hear that the islands had great weather all summer, such as the summer of 2009, do not plan a trip for the following summer, as it will likely be bad, such as the summer of 2010.  On the other hand, poor weather in one season can often result in better than average weather in one of the other seasons.

With the unpredictability of the weather, I believe it’s best to give yourself as much time as possible on the islands.  For me this usually results in about two weeks, after that I start to remember how expensive Norway is – there are only so many $100+ gas fill-ups I can take before my credit card starts to protest.  Two weeks are usually enough time for you to at least have a couple days of good conditions, even if the overall trend is poor.  And if the weather is good, then all the better!  For example, arriving on February 13th this year, my first week was better than average.  Had I stayed only one week, then I would have been completely happy with the images I produced.  After February 20th, conditions deteriorated, with consecutive days and days of rain and warm (for winter), snow melting temperatures.  Had I arrived on the 20th, then I would have been fairly disappointed by the conditions during the following week.  But when I booked my tickets in December, there was no way for me to know which week to choose. At the end of the day, Lofoten’s weather  is all just luck and a gamble, so try and hedge you bet by allowing as much time as you can afford.  And try not to be jealous of someone who only spent a few days on the islands and returned with a beautiful set of images, they have obviously figured out a way to bribe the weather gods.

By day 4 of rain and wind, I find myself struggling against boredom.  One of the benefits of sleeping in my rental car is that I can pretty much stay wherever I please.  The drawback comes at the hours, or days, when waiting out bad weather.  I find myself tempted by a bright spot in the distance, or maybe there might be better conditions in Reine.  But I know the islands and myself well enough by now, not too chase pots of gold.  It takes all my effort not to spend the day driving in circles chasing the ‘what ifs.’  It’s best if I just park myself at somewhere like Eggum or Unstad for the day, and night, and try to imagine better days ahead, hopefully having the time to do so.

For this trip, I more of less could have skipped the 2nd week and returned with a similar collection of images.  I carry 3 things with me than need batteries: camera, iPod, and laptop.  By the end of the second week, my laptop and iPod were both out of juice, while I hadn’t even used up a single battery in my camera.  But to repeat myself for the xx time, there is no way of knowing when you’ll have the good weather or suffer from the bad.  Time on the islands is your only insurance unfortunately.  As sitting around for a week with little to do while burning through money (rental car) is not the most desirable place for me.  Lofoten images can come at a high cost.

It is always easy to spot photographers newly arrived on the islands, as they haven’t yet learned that it’s pointless to fight the elements here.  They must think I’m a bit odd appearing as well, sitting in the back of my car half way covered by my sleeping bag for warmth and reading or typing away on my computer, if I’m lucky enough to still have a bit of power after several days without a charge.  I, in turn, think they are a bit crazy as well.  And when they return to their cars sodden wet 20-30 minutes later, I can’t imagine they flat gray light and tripod-knocking-over winds were worth it.  But maybe I’m just lazy…

It is stormy days like these that, despite the cold, I’m glad I’m on the islands in winter as night, and sleep is never far away.  By noon, I know it’s only a few more hours until darkness comes and I can curl up in my sleeping bag for 15+ hours of restless sleep, sometimes the best way to pass the time I’ve found.  Maybe I need to invest in a power inverter and put a few movies on my laptop so not to feel like such a lazy bastard.  Or, if I wasn’t so cheap, I would go look for a coffee shop, milk a latte for a few hours to get all my electronics up to full power, and then return to my quite parking stop at Eggum.  But I’d rather suffer from boredom than spend 40 crowns on a coffee that I probably wouldn’t even enjoy all that much.

And while I’m on the topic of quiet parking places at the end of long roads.  What is up with the car that drives by at midnight on a stormy night, does a circle, then leaves?  This seems to occur wherever I end up.  Are they just local teenagers looking for a place to, uh, have some privacy.  Random grumpy locals seeing who’s camping on their road?  Or just some tourist who got lost on the way to their Rorbu?  I don’t know, but I always get a bit paranoid when a pair of headlights wakes me sometime late in the night, more so because I’m often less than 100% legally camping.

For someone like myself who really likes wintry looking landscapes, but isn’t especially fond of the cold, the Lofoten Islands in winter are an ideal location.  Or, as I like to say, the islands are not as cold as they look.  Ideal conditions find the temperature hovering just a few degrees below freezing, with a layer of snow covering everything from the highest peaks to coastal rocks lapped by waves.  But this is a fragile balance, and throughout the winter periods of warmer weather and snow melting rain sweep across the islands, bringing a near overnight transformation for a snowy winter wonderland to a soggy brown landscape.

The one counter to the (relatively) mild winter temperatures is the wind.  I’ve never experienced a wind before that has such an ability to suck the heat out of you.

Lofoten Islands Northern Lights

Photo: Northern Lights over Olstind, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 18, 2013

Reine Winter Sunrise

Photo: Reine pink winter sunrise, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013

Haukland beach winter, Lofoten Islands

Photo: Haukland beach in winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013

Lofoten Winter Journeys – Part 1

Lofoten Islands Northern Lights February 2013

Photo: Northern Lights over snow covered mountains. Vik, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 19, 2013

After a 4 hour drive from Wales to a hotel near London’s Gatwick airport our stomachs were hungry for one last meal before flying to northern Norway the following morning.  Bringing our bags to the room I noticed something missing, my pack of clothes I was planning on wearing on the plane, having just worn some old clothes for the drive, and wanting to start off as fresh as possible for the shower-less week(s) that would follow.  Frantically searching the car, it was nowhere to be found.  The contents of the missing bag (later found to still be sitting on the bed): Shell jacket, fleece, winter soft-shell pants.  Key items to my warmth for the coming weeks.  I did my best to enjoy one last meal in the pub, but my mood was soured by my stupidity; I never forget things.

After pulling out of the hotel at 6am the following morning for the short drive to the airport parking lot I noticed the car feeling a bit funny.  Hmmm.  Getting out of the car at the drop off area, one of the workers came up and asked if I knew the rear tire was flat. Shit!  With a plane to catch, there was nothing that could be done now.  We were not even out of the UK and the trip was not exactly off to a good start so far.

An uneventful 12 hours of airports and airplanes put us north of the Arctic Circle in Bodø, and just a ferry ride away from Lofoten.  My mission now, with only 45 minutes until stores closed at 8pm, was to get into town and maybe, hopefully find an affordable jacket of some sort.  We hurried as fast as possible through the icy winter streets to Bodø’s center.  First however, I needed to stop off at an atm for a bit of cash to pay for the rental car on the following day.  In my haste I ended up at the ‘Valueta’ atm, right next to the normal one.  I noticed something was odd when it asked me for the amount to withdraw in US currency, but in my distracted and rushed state, I proceeded.  Moments later $300 US in crisp $20’s popped out of the atm. Shit!  Now I was worried that my bank wouldn’t let me pull out money the next day, thus I’d have nothing to pay for the car with.

Finally arriving at the Intersport sports shop with about 20 minutes to spare I actually had a bit of luck and found a nice jacket at 50% off, making me the proud new owner of a ‘Too Blue’ Norrøna Falketind jacket.  Although a good deal by Norwegian standards, it is still the most expensive jacket I’ve ever bought and I would have rather skipped the expense.  Though it is a pretty sexy jacket, so I’m sort of only half grumpy about it.  But, to continue the trend of the last 24 hours, I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the store without a bit more bad luck.  This time, and for whatever reason, I forgot the camping gas that I had also purchased.  I thought the clerk had put everything in the bag, but it must have stayed on the counter, only for me to discover it missing several hours later while sitting at the ferry waiting room.  I was now beginning to feel like a walking disaster.

Last year on my February Lofoten trip, I somewhat annoyingly found out that the ferry waiting room is now closed at night during the winter months, stupidly spending an evening outside in the cold huddled up in my sleeping bag when I should have called the number on the door, that said to call it, which would have let me in.  This time I called up the harbour office straight away and we were soon out of the cold.  Over the years of spending many a night in the waiting room on my way to and from the islands I’ve heard various stories about various miss happenings at the place, ranging from drinking and drugs to prostitution, though never witnessed anything sketchy myself.  First came the CCTV cameras a few years back, but it must not have been effective enough, so now they take to locking the doors during winter.

After dinner of bread and butter, we sat around counting down the hours until the 01:30am ferry that would take us to Lofoten.  Sometime after 10pm I heard some banging on the doors, followed by some drunken sounding yelling and cursing and then more pounding on the doors.  A man was there, sleeping bag in hand, yelling at the door and kicking it.  Uh oh.  We tried to ‘play asleep’ but it didn’t seem effective.  He moved around to the other door where he could get a better view of us just sitting there, not quite knowing what to do.  Soon the insults were directed to us, along with various threats about stabbing and shooting, and request to ‘Wake up!  Let me in!  What, are you scared of me?’

The shouting and banging continued for several more minutes as the man went from door to door.  Needles to say, I’m glad the doors were locked!  I sort of hid in a corner, out of site, and made a call to the harbor office.  They said they could see what was happing and that the police would be by soon.  And not to let him in!  A few minutes later, the harbor office called me back, letting me know the police were now outside.  One of the officers stayed outside talking to the man, while another came in and chatted with us.  We were informed that the man was ‘known to them.’  Something a local drifter that doesn’t take offers of help. I’m not sure if he was drunk or on something else, but my guess would be yes.

After about 15 minutes of the police talking to the man, he seemed to be off on his way back into town and the police drove off.  I’m not sure what ever happened, but at least we were left in peace the rest of the night.  And finally 01:30am arrived and we were on the ferry, bound for Moskenes and another couple of magical weeks of winter on the Lofoten Islands.

Normal people would fly, and we probably should have too.  But initially we weren’t sure if we would immediately rent a car, or maybe spend a few days hiking and camping around Reine. But as the day of our arrival on the islands came, and combined with the weight of our packs full of climbing gear, not to mention other crap that I needed to bring back to California at the end of the trip, picking up a car right away was deemed the best option.

Luckily I’m sometimes smart, or at least partially.  In my great wisdom, and cheapness, I purposely chose the Wednesday ferry, because instead of going directly to Moskenes, about 4 hours sailing, it first stops at Værøy, adding another 2 hours to the journey.  And that means 2 hours more sleep, almost 6 hours total, often times my only chance at rest for 48+ hours.  Though I usually tend to find someplace to crash out early on my first night.  Last year in August, after catching another ferry and hiking out to Horseid beach, I was out by 3:00pm as it was raining anyhow and unlikely I would miss anything interesting.

I’ve written and complained about this before.  That for such a (often) cold place, with marginal weather at best, there is shit-for-all places to wait if relying upon public transport.  In Moskenes at 06:00am, the best place happens to be in the small hallway outside the toilets, which luckily, are open 24 hours.  In February last year, I made the mistake of walking to Reine instead of waiting in Moskenes, where I sat 2+ hours in the open wind at -5˚C while waiting on the bus.  I learned my lesson, keep warm, and dry, in the toilets, ignoring the odd looks of any stray people who might stop by for some relief.

Originally planning on catching the 09:00am bus, we caught the one at 06:40 and rode to Leknes with all the half, or fully, asleep teenagers on their way to school.  I feel sorry for the poor kid living in Å, that’s a long ways to go each day!  I hadn’t scheduled the car pickup from Stamsund until noon, so we killed a few hours waiting in the mall, the only heated place in Leknes at that time of day where you don’t have to buy anything.  I also needed to wait until it was past midnight back in California, 09:00am in Norway, so I could try and take the correct currency out of the bank this time.  Fortunately I was successful.

And in a bit of extra luck, and the savings of a couple bus tickets, when I called the car rental guy, he happened to be in Leknes as well and could take us to Stamsund.  I guess that canceled out the cost of my lost stove fuel.  Now how to make up for the forgotten jackets?  Maybe I just need to take some decent photos that will sell…

I knew to request a large car this time, as it would be home for the two of us for the following week, and then just myself for another week after that.  And so I was cruising in style in a mid 90’s Toyota Carolla wagon.  Doesn’t get the best gas milage, but at least I can fully stretch out in the back.

Driving in Norway in winter is a unique, and sometimes frightening experience.  When temperatures are cold, they don’t fully plow or grit the roads, just make a compact layer of hard snow, and clear away any excess.  With the Norwegian studded winter tires, this is no problem to drive on, probably 75-80% traction compared to normal roads.  The scary part comes when the temperatures rise to a few degrees above freezing and it begins to rain.  Then you’re driving on a sheet of wet ice that is slipperier than anything known to man and even the Norwegian tires struggle at times.

And then comes parking, or attempting to park.  Most of the normal roadside pull outs are covered in snow, as they are left unplowed.  I have most pullover places, or at least the decent photo location ones, memorized, but then comes the risk of pulling out a bit too far into that side of the road extra hard and compacted snow and getting stuck.  If I’m successful at anything in life, it is this process.  Though luckily I’m also pretty successful at getting un-stuck.  But the lack of parking does leave a bit of a dilemma for winter photography.  Do I just pull over, still with enough room for passing, and figure I’m on some sort of important mission and not concern myself with blocking the road.  Or do you drive on by, and miss a potentially scenic scene?  I guess it depends, and I tend to do a bit of both.

[Part 2 HERE…]

Reine Lofoten Islands Norway

Photo: Rorbu in winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013

Vik beach winter Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter tide at Vik beach, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013

Lofoten Islands winter Landscape

Photo: Snow covered sea ice in inner Flakstadspollen, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 2013



Photo: Sleepless in Stockholm.  March 2013

Who knew you couldn’t buy bus tickets (for city busses) on the bus in Sweden?  I thought this was generally normal practice: get on the bus, tell the driver where you’re going, and pay the necessary fee.  Not in Sweden.  So there I was in Stockholm at 3:29am and getting on the bus to Arlanda airport.

‘Sorry.’ The driver says, ‘You can’t buy tickets on the bus.’
Looking around sheepishly, ‘Umm, where can I get a ticket?’ I ask.
‘You can’t. Just get on, its OK’

Phew! And so my journey home began. First though, was the mandatory conversation with the drunk guy on his way home from a night out. I think you can see a lot about a city by walking around (sober) in the late hours of the night. Not to mention it can also be somewhat amusing. Although there are a more that a few places I wouldn’t recommend walking around in, but Stockholm seems fairly safe.

Sometime after midnight Tuesday, after over 30 hours of travel from Stockholm, I made it home to Santa Barbara.  It shouldn’t have been such a long trip, but the normal delays at San Fransisco helped to add a few hours to my journey.  I had tried to change to an earlier flight, but it would have cost me $75 to change everything at the ticket counter.  A few hours aren’t worth that much money to me, so I decided to stay with my normal flight.  But I was told that when I got to the gate, I could go and check about an earlier flight and could maybe get on one.  So I go to the gate, but there I’m told that since I have a checked bag, I couldn’t change my flight.

So a few hours pass, and then I see that my scheduled flight has been canceled.  Great.  I’m put on a plane a couple hours later, which gets one of those continually increasing departure times as the delays increase and increase.  I really wish they would just say how late the plane is going to be so I could possibly plan something else, instead of just adding 5 minutes to the departure time every 5 minutes.

Shortly before midnight I finally arrive in Santa Barbara and head over to the baggage collection. My bag never shows up. Great. I figured there was a 50% chance of this happening, and I was right. So I head over to talk to someone. ‘Duncan? A big grey bag?’ they ask. Yep. ‘Oh, your bag has been here for a few hours already…’ Ha! Then I mumble something about too bad me not arriving a few hours earlier…


Gamla Stan - old town at night, Stockholm, Sweden

Photo: Evening in the Old Town – Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden.  Oct 2011

I’m in one of my favorite cities in Europe, Stockholm, for the weekend.  On Tuesday, I’ll be heading back to California.

I mentioned a week or so ago that I changed up my travel plans.  Originally I had planned on returning to Wales today and then flying back to California at the end of March.  At which point I would remain somewhat indefinitely depending on the condition of my bank account and if I could find some work.  But, I’ve had the opportunity to switch things up a bit which will put me back in Europe at the end of April to meet with some fellow photographers up on the Lofoten Islands.  Then in all likely hood, I’ll end up in Poland for a few weeks in May to meet some friends and maybe do some hiking in the Tatra mountains.  After that, I’ll be back home in California again in June.

It would have been easier if I flew out of Oslo, but I don’t really like the city too much and feel more comfortable in Stockholm for a few days.  Also, I had wanted to spend a few days here last Autumn but never managed to make it.  So, for now, I’ll enjoy a few days in Stockholm before 24 hours of airports and airplanes…

Cafe lined Stortorget at night, Gamla Stan - Old Town, Stockholm, Sweden

Photo: Evening at Stortorget, Gamla Stan – Old Town, Stockholm, Sweden.  Oct 2011