Photo: Hiking into the sun on the summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 2013
I fist visited Kvalvika beach in the summer of 2006, where I spent two days hiding in my tent for the rain to end. It never did. Since then I’ve learned the advantages of checking the weather forecasts and now have had a few wonderful nights camping at the beach. It remains one of my favorite places in Lofoten; relatively easy to get to and amazingly scenic. But the best views are not from the beach itself, rather from the nearby peak of Ryten, which if you have been to Kvalvika, is the 500 meter vertical cliff on the right side of the beach.
Friday morning I cruised my mid 90’s Subaru rental car away from Stamsund and headed west towards Kvalvika along roads that are now more familiar than those of my own hometown. I think I know every curve of the E10 by heart and can find all the pullouts even under 2 feet of snow – except when there’s too much snow, and I end up just getting stuck. Nearing the parking to the trailhead I saw a large bus parked. Uh oh! I hope there’s not going to be a school group camped at the beach!
By late morning, the backpack was on and we were making our way towards the beach. Since my last visit in April, a kind person has placed some stones and boards across the more boggy sections in the start of the trail. Thank you! I often wonder why the Norwegians don’t use more of the ‘mountain sidewalk,’ as I like to call it, planks of board run across particularly boggy sections of land, which is rather prevalent in next door in Sweden. The opinion of the Norwegians seems to be that you either wear giant boots or suffer with wet feet. Though often unsightly, the ‘mountain sidewalk’ actually does help in keeping the trail from spreading multiple meters wide as people attempt to circumvent the bog. But so it goes. There are not many people in Norway anyhow…
Within 30 minutes or so of hiking, Kvalvika beach finally comes into view and I can always feel my pace quicken at this point. Though this is where the trail becomes a bit steeper and rougher as it descends towards the beach, so a bit more caution is needed. Still worried about the school group camping on the beach, I looked down and scanned for an encampment of tents that would probably resemble an invading Roman army. Nothing came into sight. A bit further down the hill I observed a bit of movement and then my eyes focused on what looked like the a large animal migration from some nature documentary. It was the school group leaving the beach and hiking up towards me. I will say, that I really appreciate the Norwegian/Scandinavian ethic of getting kids out into the wilderness at a young age, you can really tell this enjoyment of nature carries on throughout their adult lives, and much more so than in my fellow countrymen. But it is something as an American I’ve never really experienced out in the wilds. I know enough not to expect mountains to be empty in Europe and popular places like Lofoten. I just wish the groups could sometimes be a little smaller. And hopefully not end up camping at the same place as myself. Luckily, we gave our greetings as we passed and we arrived to the beach almost empty.
From up high, there seems to be an unlimited assortment of camping areas. Upon closer inspection the grassy bluffs at the back of the beach are thoroughly covered in sheep shit, how do you think the grass stays so short all summer long, and sometimes a bit of careful cleaning up might be required. But overall, there is a wonderful assortment of places for a tent and you should generally have no problem finding a place, even on a crowded summer evening. I have a favorite spot out past the ‘not-to-be-named-hut-at-the-secret-beach-in-an-award-winning-film-by-some-Norwegian-surfer-dudes,’ and luckily no one had set up there for the night. After pitching the tent it was off to search for firewood on the well combed beach of late summer and there is generally a bit to find if you search hard enough.
I always feel a haste to head right up Ryten. But when I look at my watch and realize there’s 6 hours until sunset, it’s best not to rush things too much. It can be a long, cold, wait at the top. On this afternoon though, there was a layer of cloud hanging above the horizon, so I decided to head up around 6:00 pm, with a sunset around 8:45 pm, so as to hopefully get some nice light across the beach
Ryten is one of those mountains that looks higher than it really is and the 500 meters can actually go by pretty quickly. Just start walking, maybe with some good music coming out of your Ipod, and you’ll soon find yourself nearing the top. The view from Ryten towards Kvalvika is best as an afternoon/evening photo, when the sun will be in the northwestern sky and shine directly into the beach, which is shaded by high mountains from every other direction. And actually, the end of August is already a bit to late in the season for the beach to be fully illuminated, the sun now setting too far to the south to fully shine across the beach without being blocked by the surrounding peaks.
Photo: Halfway up Ryten, the views are getting good! Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 2013
Photo: Overlooking Kvalvika beach, 500 meters below, Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 2013
While the winds had been calm when leaving the beach, upon reaching the final summit ridge to Ryten it was evident that conditions had changed and a cold east wind was blowing across the summits. It was quickly evident that it would be somewhat pointless waiting around until sunset, such as I did on an even colder and windier day in May, as I would struggle to keep my tripod from falling over, much less get anything resembling a sharp photo in the fading twilight. So with the sun just about to sink below the sea we were heading back down the mountain.
The sky was turning a nice color as I was nearing the beach. Somewhat distracted with the scenery, I took a careless ‘hop’ off a grassy step and then landed on a surface that was far slipperier than I was expecting. My foot immediately slipped, then turned sideways as my leg folded and I found myself heading face first into the small creek just above the beach; my leg now bent in an unhealthy position beneath me. Fuck! I was 20 feet from the sand, yet I slipped and fell. As I righted myself I could feel that something was wrong in my foot. Not wanting to waste time with checking things out incase I would be completely unable to walk in a few minutes, I put as much weight on my trekking poles as possible and hobbled across the beach and back to the tent. By the time I arrived my ankle had already become quite swollen and too painful to put any weight on.
I was pretty sure nothing was broken, but hell, it hurt! What I was hoping would have been a nice evening shooting photos late into the night turned into something of a suffer fest. I did my best to enjoy the campfire we built, but it was a struggle, sitting awkwardly on the plank of wood turned bench upon which I could never get comfortable. After an hour or so like this, Northern Lights appeared in the sky.
Normally Northern Lights would be a joy to me, especially so early in the year. But now all I thought about was pain. Unwilling to let the opportunity go to waste, I crawled on my hands and knees, careful to avoid the numerous piles of sheep shit, to someplace that seemed like a decent composition. Luckily things worked out that it was the best framing for me to lay on the ground. So that I did for the next 20 minutes until the lights faded and I once again crawled back to the tent. After that exertion I decided it was time for bed.
Photo: Northern Lights over my tent at Kvalvika beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway. August 2013
I didn’t take any pain medication, wanting to know how bad my ankle really was, and if I’d be able to hike out in the morning. My foot throbbed into the night. I didn’t sleep.
The moment of truth came with the morning as I crawled out of the tent and made my first attempt to stand. It was painful, but not overwhelmingly so. Now I loaded myself on Ibuprofen and for the first time in 12 years of carrying it through the wilds, had to use by ace wrap to tie up my ankle so it would remain as inflexible as possible. The hike normally takes me about 45 minutes, now I was imagining something more along the lines of 2 hours. Slow and steady my motto would be. And so the journey back to the car slowly began, step after painful step. It took a while, but eventually we made it back to the car. No need for any sort of rescue operation. But as Roar later informed me once back in Stamsund, I wasn’t in too much danger anyhow, ‘The farmers would be collecting their sheep in a few weeks, and could have taken you back with them…’
Random brand mixed vegetables, usually some mix carrots and peas, are the cheapest cold item to buy in the supermarkets of Norway. And so this is what iced my ankle over the following days. There was some nice light and I would have been tempted to the mountains, but I now had something bigger on my mind. Would I be able to hike 7 days on the Kunsleden trail in Sweden, which would begin in less than two weeks!
I was forced to remain seaside for my last few days on Lofoten. Not the way I would liked to have finished the trip, but at least the sprained ankle came at the end, not the beginning! And luckily my ankle was not as bad as it could have been and there was no need for a (expensive) doctors visit. After a few days, despite some ugly looking bruising, I was about 40% mobile on horizontal ground.
Finally, it was Wednesday, September 4th, and time to depart the islands for Germany. Normally I would enjoy the 1km walk to the Hurtigruten ferry terminal as a bit of time to clear my mind for departure, but thankfully a friend offered us a ride this time. I was raining anyhow…
And so another Summer on Lofoten ended. I knew I would be back in a few weeks, so it was not really a proper goodbye. Little did I know at the time though, that I would be back in little more than a week, after my camera decided to take a Swim in Sweden…
Photo: Sunset at Myrland beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway. September 2013
Photo: Evening Twilight at Myrland beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway. September 2013