Photo: Looking out from my old orange MSR hubba tent sheltering me from the rain during my first ever night camping at Kvalvika beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway. July 23, 2006. 15:21
I had to dig deep into the my photo archives for this week’s photo: An image from my first ever night camping at Kvalvika beach way back in the summer of 2006 during my 2nd trip to Lofoten. This was in the old days when I was mostly just backpacking around and staying at the hostel in Stamsund. Every once in a while a group of us would pool together our money and rent one of the old used cars for 300 NOK for the day and tour around the islands. This was on the end of one of those days where instead of heading back to the hostel, and despite the weather forecast, I used the opportunity to get dropped off in Torsfjord for the beginning of the hike to Kvalvika beach.
I had never been there before and am not even sure if I had seen any photos at that point. I had just heard by word of mouth that it is a beautiful place. And so I found myself camping alone on the beach for two (mostly rainy) nights before hiking out and hitch hiking back to the hostel in Stamsund.
In the years since my first night at Kvalvika in 2006, the beach (and Ryten) have grown somewhat in popularity. In the summer of 2022 alone, Kvalvika and Ryten received 50,000 visitors. And with the people has come a concerning amount of human poop. Enough so that in a survey carried out by the national park, E. Coli bacteria (amongst other things) was found in numerous locations throughout the area. It used to be that I always believed the water on Lofoten safe for drinking, but in high use areas like Kvalvika, I always carry a water filter now after having gotten sick from likely bad water near Munkebu hut a few years ago. Drinking bad water will quickly put an end to your holiday hiking and camping plans!
Starting today, July 7, 2023, Kvalvika will become the first location on Lofoten (and I think all of Norway) to test out the use of Wag bags – poop bags for campers and hikers to help reduce the impact of human pollution on the landscape. [ NRK article here ]
Beginning my hiking career in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, wag bags are already a familiar item to me, as they have long been required for high use, sensitive alpine environments like around Mt. Whitney – California’s highest mountain. So whenever picking up your hiuking/camping permit for that region, the ranger would also give you a wag bag and a brief overview.
Will this work for Lofoten? I hope so!
But I am also somewhat skeptical, as there are already too many signs of poor hygienic behavior across Lofoten – i.e. open poop and toilet paper should never be left out anyhow, that some people might feel pooping in a bag and carrying it back out to the parking lot is too much effort. Perhaps its just the easy access to Norwegian nature, or that in my early years I would mostly spend time in high alpine environments which require thought and effort to reach, but it seems LNT (leave no trace) culture is not as prevalent among hikers and campers in Norway. And with little to no regulation, education, or instruction on LNT principles, the idea that you can’t just poop next to a rock and leave it seems not be understood by enough users on Norway’s nature that it is causing issues.
On the other hand, if it reduces waste even by 20-30%, that is probably still a step in the right direction. I guess only time will tell.
The new wag bags will be available for free during the summer of 2023 and can be picked up from national park visitor center in Reine, and also available at the trailhead to Kvalvika beach – along with the large contain to return your used bag to after your night of camping.
Head over to my Instagram account for (almost) daily postings of the local conditions here on Lofoten: @distant.north
Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye