Der Landschaftsfotografie Podcast Interview

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to chat with my German photography friend Alex Otto on his Landschaftsfotografie podcast for episode 51.

You can find the podcast here: Der Landschaftsfotografie Podcast Episode 51: Cody Duncan

Otherwise it’s also available on Apple Podcasts and more.

As usual, mostly talked about living on Lofoten and working as a photographer and guide here, as well as some history of my previous travels and the changes I’ve seen in landscape photography over the years – it’s almost 15 years ago now that I was about to board a one way flight to New Zealand and spend the next months living in a van, long before the social media #vanlife trend of attractive often semi-naked couples always posed in exotic locations with all the necessary props carefully placed. Back then it was just the beginning of my photography career and almost a decade of traveling – quite a difference to the hermit I’ve become in the last couple years where I now almost never leave Lofoten – though that is not always by choice…

Anyhow, head on over and give it a listen.

Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 7 – Horseid Beach

Female hiker jumps in air on sand dune at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Jumping to the sky, Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

For a reason unknown to me, but likely having some purpose, the Monday morning ferry to Vindstad and Kjerkfjord leaves Reine at 07:00 am.  In early March this means it’s still quite dark out.  As the crew showed up and we boarded the boat I was still not sure where we would be going, but as the assistant came around to collect our payments I said Kjerkfjord.  We were committed now.

We were the only two passengers onboard as MS Fjordkyss idled out of the harbour and into the fjord.  The forecast was for dry weather, but I know better than to believe this, especially when Horseid is concerned, as the steep mountains gather all the nearby clouds and let them sit over the beach, dropping any rain they may have, before moving out to sea.  So as I saw the heavy layer of cloud hanging over the pass, I wondered if it would not have been better to go to Bunes, which was cloud free as far as I could tell.

As the boat headed deeper into Kjerkfjord the first few drops of rain began to fall from the heavy clouds.  Not again. I Thought.  I was hoping to hike this route at least once without rain.  My two previous visits having been rather soggy.

Soon the ferry pulled up to the small pier and dropped us off.  We were now alone and the end of the world.  Save for a few seagulls and the splashing of waves, the world was silent.

It must have been a bit colder here than in the fjord, as the rain began to turn into a warm snow, tentatively balanced on the border of freezing.  But it was just cold enough to save me from putting my rain shell on, where I would likely overheat on the hike up the pass.

An added benefit of the cold temperatures is that much of the normally boggy and wet trail was frozen.  Where feet would normally slip and sink into mud, the shoes gripped the solid ground and moved forward with ease.  That is until the ice was reached.

Though the trail was more or less entirely snow free, other than the light amount falling as we hiked, it was quite icy, especially on the beach side where the numerous small creeks oozed out over the trail in frozen sheets of ice.  The going down was slow, careful work to avoid slipping and several minor detours where required to circumvent some particularly icy sections of trail.  Eventually flat ground was reached and we could hike with a bit more ease.

In summer, the worst section of the trail is the section around the lake and to the back of the beach.  Despite my best efforts keeping my feet dry to that point, they never remain so, as hundreds of meters of bog and wet grass need to be crossed.  Again, the cold came to our rescue and the frozen grass crunched underfoot.  A few particularly muddy sections remained unfrozen, but these were easily avoided.

Upon reaching the sand, it is a deceptively long walk to my preferred camping area on the small grassy hill at the front of the beach, overlooking the the waves as they wash against the jagged cliffs.  Here, there is one last obstacle to negotiate, in the form of a small creek.  Often it can be a small hop across and on to some rocks, but as we neared, it was obviously going to take a bit more effort.  Finding what I thought was a suitable place to cross, I put my trekking poles into the water and proceeded to jump.  The poles instantly sunk beneath the sand and I lost momentum, sending one of my feet deep into the water.  I mumbled a few low curses and I hiked up through the grass towards the top of the hill.  I guess I wouldn’t avoid wet feet after all.

As we began to setup camp I noticed the weather beginning to clear a bit.  I wasn’t sure if the March sun would rise high enough over the mountains for the beach to get any direct sunlight, as had been the case at Bunes beach a couple weeks before, but soon enough, the sun broke free of the clouds and cast a brilliant light over our camp and the beach.  We had been halfway through with cooking lunch, but gave this up to go enjoy what little sunlight we might receive.  A little before 13:00 shadow crept back across the sand as the sun returned behind the mountains for the remainder of the day.

With the beach now cast in shadow and the little warmth the sun provided gone, we headed back to camp to finally continue with lunch.  The fuel canister for my stove wasn’t enjoying to cold temperatures as I attempted to boil water for soup.  The best solution seemed for me to wrap my bare hands around it, my face a little closer to the flame than I would like, which provided enough warmth to get the stove moving at a slightly better pace.

The sky was nearly cloudless as evening arrived and I first headed back to the beach before then going out to the cliffs beyond camp, with some hope that maybe the sun might crest around the distant mountain which guarded the bay.  It didn’t, but there was still some nice light to be seen.

Normally while camping, I would spend some hours sitting around a campfire.  But in dry winter conditions, it was obvious that any attempt at a fire would likely light the surrounding grass and possibly start a wildfire.  Not something I was looking to do.  So it was back to the tent to warm up in the sleeping bags and stare at the stars.

The sky remained clear as the night progressed, and I proceeded with my usual system of having my alarm go off every 30 minutes in order to check for northern lights.  But as much as I would have loved a shot of Auroras filling the sky over my tent, they remained quiet.

The only return ferry on Tuesday was the 15:00 afternoon one.  This gave us a plenty of time to lounge around camp before packing up and heading back over the mountain to civilisation.  It was another brilliantly sunny day.  One of those perfect moments where you’re glad to be out in the wild.  We gave ourselves longer than needed to make the return hike.  This turned out to be way more time than necessary as ascending the icy trail was much quicker than our previous day’s descent.  As we neared to top, we were cast back into the sun’s bright light, which remained over us for the remainder of the walk back to Kjerkfjord.

There is not much of anything in Kjerkfjord, but thankfully there is a small waiting room near the end of the pier; otherwise it would be a cold wait for the boat to come.  Though I still remember a bad storm in summer of 2010 while heading out to Bunes beach, and picking up passengers from Kjerkfjord, half the passengers getting on seemed near hypothermic and soaked to the core.  Perhaps it wasn’t the best day for a hike.  It turned out not to be the best night for camping either, as I had to take shelter behind the old lady’s house at Bunes to keep my tent from breaking.  The next two days were brilliant however…

Back at the car in Reine, we headed back to the hostel in Stamsund, which had now officially opened for the season, and I claimed my usual corner bunk.  The weather began to turn and gale force winds swept over the islands.  Indoor weather.

The storm caused havoc with the transportation and ferries were canceled or rerouted.  As the final days arrived, I was anxiously checking conditions in order to figure out a way off the islands.  In such condition, I would have likely taken the last flight of the day from Lenkes to Bodoø.  But as we were leaving Bodø on a Sunday morning, the airport in Leknes closes around 14:00 on Saturdays, not really ideal.  So with an OK looking forecast, I decided to gamble on the Hurtigruten being able to make it to port in Stamsund.

I kept checking the Hurtigruten website, which was reporting weather delays, but no cancelations for Lofoten.  And watching the marine traffic website, I could see the boat on course to Stamsund, though this didn’t necessarily mean it could make it to harbour.  Just before ten we said our goodbyes and left the hostel.  Soon enough we were greeted with the loud horn of the Hurtigruten arriving at the harbour.  The nervousness that I had been feeling all day calmed a bit.  Though in one last act to keep me a bit on edge, They seemed to have trouble lowering the passenger foot ramp, which lowered up and down for 20 minutes or so as us passengers looked on nervously.  Finally, they seemed to give up and we were herded onto the car elevator and taken below deck, where we then had to follow a maze of hallways and stairs to find the reception, my skis banging into just about everything they could.

It was a rough crossing, but not the worst I’ve encountered, as the ship made it’s way across the stormy waters of the Vestfjord and onward to Bodø.  Arriving in the early hours of the morning, we had a bit of time to spend in the ferry terminal waiting room before continuing on to the airport.  In my last couple winter encounters, the door has been locked, requiring a phone call to gain entrance.  But as I approached the doors open, where I was immediately hit with the stench of stale alcohol and some rather homeless looking guys sitting on the benches – the reason they began locking the door in the first place.  I made a bed out of chairs and did my best to sleep, but I was too nervous about the drunks to get much.  Unsure if the airport opened at 4 or 5 in the morning, we decided to split the difference and leave a little after 04:00am for the 30 minute walk.

Norway wouldn’t give us up so easily and we were given one last rainy walk through the dark streets of Bodø.  It turns out the airport opens at 05:00am, so we had to sit outside awhile before someone finally came along and opened the door.  Soon enough we were in the sky, and I was heading south after 5 weeks in the Scandinavian arctic.

Female hiker hiking trail towards Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Hiking towards Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

hiker hiking across sand at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Walking across the vast sands of Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Female hiker sets up tent on wild camping trip to Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Setting up camp at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Female backpacker takes in view from tent while camping at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Wild camping at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Female hiker leaves footprints in sand on scenic Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: The low winter sun shines brightly over Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Tent with scenic mountain backdrop while wild camping at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Tent and mountains, Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Mountains rise above the scenic Horseid beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Mountain reflection on Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Tent illuminated at night while wild camping at scenic Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Night at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Warming hands with stove on cold morning wild camping at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Warming hands after a cold winter night at Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Panoramic mountain view towards Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Panoramic view over Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Female hiker descending trail to catch ferry at village of Kjerkfjord, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Returning to Kjerkfjord from Horseid beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

View from jetty of small village of Kjerkfjord - Kierkefjord, only reached by boat, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Waiting for the ferry in Kjerkfjord, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 6 – A Night At Kvalvika Beach

Person leaves footpints in sand at scenic Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Footprints in the sand at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

It is a scenic bus journey from Narvik to Lofoten.  I keep telling myself that I need to spend more time exploring Vesterålen and Ofoten, yet when the opportunity seems to present itself, I remain in the west of Lofoten.  Maybe next time I say to myself.  Maybe if I’m ever allowed to move to Norway, then I would have more time to travel further afield and begin new projects.  But for now, Lofoten remains my focus.

Though somewhat deflated from my failed winter attempt at the Kungsleden trail in Sweden, I now had more time on Lofoten than I was expecting.  Or I should say, despite the fact that I’m born in February, I seem to consistently forget the fact that the month only has 28 days!  Before departing for Sweden, I had made a reservation for my car rental on March 1st, which once I actually looked at a calendar, would have cut my time on the Kungsleden trail a day or two shorter than I was wanting.  But as it turned out, I didn’t need those extra days anyhow and was returning to the islands a few days ahead of schedule.

On a misty Wednesday afternoon we hopped off the bus in Stamsund and headed to the Hostel and back through the door that I had departed only 10 days before.  I called the Car rental guys to see if I could get a car a few days earlier, needing something big to sleep in from time to time.  Luckily they said they’d have something available for me the following morning.  Perfect.  I was back on Lofoten and back in the continued pursuit of Photos.

The snow was just as absent as when I had left, though Roar informed me that one storm had passed, but was quickly melted away.  In fact, he was happy of the fact that in the winter so far, he had yet to need the tractor to clear the driveway of snow.  For locals, dry years make life easier.  For the photographer in search of winter on the islands, you need to plan to return again in the next year.

The following couple days were grey and uneventful.  However, checking the forecast Friday evening, it looked like the weekend would clear up a bit.  Not having had my fill of camping, we decided to head to Kvalvika beach on Saturday.

My previous visit to Kvalvika was a painful one, as I sprained my ankle hiking down from a sunset trip of Ryten and then had to hobble my way back out the following morning and spent the rest of my days sitting in the hostel.  So this time, I hit the trail with extra caution as it may have been snow free, but there were still significant portions of ice to negotiate.  Luckily the worst of the ice was on the fjord side of the trail, versus the steeper and slippery beach side of the mountain pass and was actually much easier hiking than I was expecting.  We arrived to an empty beach and picked out a nice place to put the tent for the night before beginning the process of scouring the beach to collect enough driftwood for a couple hours of campfire; much needed warmth on the first of March.

The weather didn’t clear as much as I was hoping, with a layer of cloud hanging over most the sky and casting a flat light over the beach.  I spent most my time wandering around the rocks and doing my best to avoid getting my feet too wet.  Sometime in the afternoon we were joined by another couple, Marcin Dobas, a talented photographer and adventurer from Poland, and his girlfriend.  I had been in some contact with them in the previous days and invited them out to the beach if they were in the area.  So evening came with the four of us sitting around in the light and warmth of the campfire until the winter’s cold made a warm sleeping bag seem like a wiser option.

I peaked my head out of the tent in the morning, light!  Well not much, but something to break up the otherwise still mostly grey and cloudy sky.  Soon it was gone, and Kvalvika was back to a cold, bleak grey.  We packed camp, said or goodbyes and then headed back over the hill.

Sunday was cold and dark.  I took a few photos here and there, but nothing of much interest.  We thought about heading out to Bunes beach on the afternoon ferry from Reine, but unfortunately it happened to be the ‘every other’ Sunday when there is no boat.  That plan not longer possible, we slept in the car near Reine and set our alarms for 6:00am, to catch the 7:00am Monday morning boat.  I faded of to sleep wondering where to go.  Bunes beach, the easier and safer option.  Or Horseid beach, the more difficult and wilder option, but also the more scenic and spectacular option.  The weather forecast was okay, but not brilliant.  And the last time I chanced Horseid I was tent bound for nearly 24 hours of endless rain.  I had the night to sleep on it…

Mountain peaks rise over empty sands at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Empty sands of Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Mountain peaks rise over empty sands at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Mountain rise over Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Wild tent camping at scenic Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Camping at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Mountain peaks rise over empty sands at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter light at Kvalvika beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  March 2014

Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 5 – Departure

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in sky over Olstind mountain peak and fjord near Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern lights fill the sky over Olstind, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

The sky was once again filled with clouds as evening came to Hamnøy.  We were mostly off to an early bed, Michael the only one remain up.  Sometime after I had drifted into to sleep I heard a knock at the door and Michael saying, ‘LIGHTS!’  Quicker than a fireman, I was back into my clothes and out the door.  Luckily, one of the benefits of staying at Eliassen Rorbuer is that you can more or less walk out the door and have a fantastic view across the fjord to Olstind.  It turns out we were somewhat late to the party though, as about 15-20 photographers and tripods were already lined up on the rocks.  During a lull in the aurora, Rod, Andrew and I (Michael was shooting a time-lapse), set off around the fjord to find some new compositions.  There is an abandoned Rorbu a little ways away that I have had my eye on for a northern lights image, so we went there and had aurora filling the sky for the next hour or so before once again returning into the night.

With a good weather forecast for Wednesday, Andrew and I made the decision to go camp out at Bunes beach for the night while the other two stayed behind.  I thought we would be alone, but somewhat unfortunately, a group of exchange students also joined us on the ferry, then proceeded to walk the length of the beach along the high tide line, leaving the otherwise unspoiled scene full of a thousand footprints before leaving to catch the afternoon ferry back to Reine.  So much for that.

The temperature was brisk, and a strong, blustery wind hampered any attempts of enjoying our evening campfire.  But with no snow, I could hardly call it winter camping.  Though in mid February, the beach is yet to receive any direct sunlight, so you’re left staring at the surrounding granite peaks and dreaming of the sun’s warmth.  Under clear skies we did our best to stay up into the night.  But in the cold and the wind and the darkness there is only so much willpower one has before the calling of a warm sleeping bag becomes overpowering.  So before 6:00pm my eyes were closing.  The trick though, is to set your alarm for every 30 minutes or so to keep an eye on the sky. After a couple hours Andrew woke me from outside my tent.  A green glow had appeared on the horizon.

It is a painful process to leave a warm sleeping bag, put on freezing clothes, and enter into the freezing night.  We walked to the beach, the sand frozen solid, making progress easier.  With the crashing waves at out feet we watched the sky, but it had now grown silent.  The wind was stronger now, and colder.  After sometime standing around, the sky remaining quite, a warm sleeping bag seemed like a nice alternative.  By the light of our headlamps and the glow of the moon we returned to our silent camp.

Returning back to Hamnøy the following morning, I spent the day lounging around and enjoying the warmth or the Rorbu while the others braved the bad weather in search of photos.

A couple more stormy days followed before it was soon time for the Australians to head home and for me to head east.  It was a cold Sunday morning that I was dropped off at the bus stop (that is being generous) in Leknes, destination Sweden, and snow.

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in sky over abandoned Rorbu cabin, Valen, near Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern lights over abandoned rorbu, near Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Tent pitched below Helvetestind mountain peak at Bunes beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Camping below Helvetestind at Bunes beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Mountains rise in distace over Bunes beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter suset at Bunes beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Boat sheds and mountains reflection on Selfjord in winter, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Mountain reflection on Selfjord, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Waves crash against rocky coastline at Skagsanden beach, Flakstad, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Skagsanden beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Silhouette shapes of empty cod drying racks at sunrise, Toppøy, near Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter sunrise behind stockfish racks, Tøppøy, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014


Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 4 – Arrival Of The Aussies

Frozen sea ice along winter coastline, near Nedredal, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Frozen sea ice on the coast of Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

After the previous night’s sunset at Å, I was hoping for one last view of Reine in the morning, but alas, I rose to a heavy mist falling from the sky.  It was now Friday, February 7th, I had been on the island for a week.  A bit ahead of schedule, perhaps because I could feel the pull of a warm shower, I began my journey back to Stamsund to meet with the Australians.  We didn’t have any firm plans of meeting, just ‘sometime after lunch,’ as abstract of a term as that can be.  But with the day starting as it was, I figured they wouldn’t be getting out of the car much either.

No one was around when I arrived, and I’m not even sure if Roar was expecting me or not, but I called and announced my arrival and was given directions to our accommodations for the next days.  Opening the door to the cabin, I was greeted by a rush of warm air, something I hadn’t felt for days – I’m not sure my fleece or long underwear came off at all during the previous week.  A bit gross, I know, but that’s the way it is; you don’t have to worry about how bad you smell when you’re alone.

Soon however, a car, packed to the brim with three Australians – Rod, Michael, and Andrew – and accompanying luggage and camera gear pulled up outside.  You might remember that I traveled on Lofoten with Rod Thomas last year in the spring.  Now he and a couple friends were back for the winter experience, although the winter thus far was proving to have less snow than last year’s spring.  So it goes on Lofoten.  Michael Fletcher is a film maker and was there for a bit of behind the scenes documenting the trip, while Andrew Cooney, at just 18 years old, is a fellow landscape photographer looking for a bit of adventure in the north.

Not sitting around to waste any time in the short arctic days of winter, and with the weather seeming to improve a bit, the car was unpacked of unnecessary luggage and re-packed with people and cameras to hit the road.

Other than the popular beaches of Utakleiv, Haukland, Unstad, and Eggum, much of the central Lofoten island of Vestvågøy is often ‘drive through’ country for most photographers, as they move between bases at Svolvær in the east and Reine in the west.  I’m not sure why this is, probably because there are fewer roadside attractions than the other islands, especially Moskenesøy, where you barely need to walk more than a few meters from the car for something scenic. Vestvågøy requires more use of your legs to fully explore it’s character, but this doesn’t mean there are not some seldom photographed scenes that do make an appearance from time to time, and it’s actually my favourite island for Autumn.  In winter however, there is the difficulty of the sun.  Or more exactly, where the sun is.

The light of the winter months on Lofoten is very southernly directed, rising a bit to the southeast and setting a bit to the southwest.  And south means the open waters of the Vestfjord and, to put it bluntly, often not as scenic of a coastline as the northern side of the islands.  Of course there is Reine and Olstind, but to attempt to pull out a variety of images for multiple locations can be difficult at times with the sun low on the horizon and many areas receiving no direct sunlight.  This, combined with the often heavy cloud, means there are a limited number of locations where one can attempt, with an interesting composition, to photograph direct light.

We headed east from Stamsund, along the coastal route to Valberg and beyond.  In normal winters, where the islands are covered in snow from sea to summit, almost everything can be scenic here.  This year however, with the lower elevations mostly consisting of the drab, soggy brown grasses and heather of winter, it took a bit more effort to find something interesting.  So with little snow, ice is the next best thing.

I took us to the area around Dal, where there can be some interesting bog and moorland that sometimes freezes nicely.  But upon arrival, the ponds weren’t so interesting, but the ice covered coastal shallows, with some scenic views towards Vågakallen in the distance, were.  The sky didn’t do too much, but I found the ice textures to be fascinating.  Soon we were back at the hostel and I was enjoying my first proper dinner in days.

What had been a non-eventful, and cloudy, sunset turned into clear skies as the evening progressed.  We headed out into the darkness and began the wait for Auroras.  A little after 9:00pm, they began to appear, though mostly quite faint.   We first headed to Myrland beach, as it gives a nice overview of the northern sky, with some scenery for the foreground.  But the lights quickly faded after our arrival so we headed back to Storsandnes beach to see if things would be better.

This was the near the location of the ice rivers which I had photographed a few days earlier, and wondered if it would make a good compositions for northern lights, should I get the chance.  So with the Aurora there, but not overly active, I headed up the hill with Andrew to see what I could come up with.  Nothing spectacular as it turns out, mostly because the sky began to cloud over again.  But I saw potential for the future with better conditions.  It was nearly 2:00am when we pulled back into Stamsund.  Luckily I had enough sleep reserves from the previous week already built up!

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in sky over frozen ice river and mountain landscape, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern lights over frozen river, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014


Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in sky over frozen ice river and mountain landscape, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over mountains of Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Saturday was grey and mostly uneventful.

Walking out the door early Sunday morning just as the horizon was beginning to glow, I noticed and unexpected dusting of snow had fallen overnight, cool!  We first headed out to the coast at Dal again to see if any color would appear.  But what looked to have strong potential soon faded to a deep bluegray.  With the rare snow on the ground, I thought it best to get to one of the beaches as soon as possible, before the snow was washed away by the incoming tide or filled with footprints by other photographers or locals on their Sunday walks.

We headed towards Utakleiv, as that would provide up with the most options.  Passing Vik beach, it was full of seaweed and the tide was already receding from the snow line.  Haukland was full of people and dogs.  This left Utakleiv.  Exiting the tunnel, I could see there were no cars in the parking area, and pulling up, the beach, and faint layer of snow, where largely untouched.  Perfect!

It was well into the afternoon that some color began to appear in the western sky.  So we did the obvious thing, headed west.  This turned into one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen on Lofoten.  Though unfortunately I don’t think I took us to the correct place to fully enjoy it.  We first attempted a location near Fredvang, but the tide was wrong, and it was a bit windy so we headed back to Skagsanden beach, with the sky and mountains fully aglow with bright pink and orange.  I was content with the day, but I felt the other guys were a bit disappointed that I hadn’t taken them to a more spectacular location.  Soon the light was gone and it was back to Stamsund.

The islands were dry, no rain and barely any snow, yet a layer of cloud was still nearly always present.  Monday was spent at Unstad beach before our final night in Stamsund.

Tuesday brought some interesting light at Henningsvær, but this soon turned back to the usual grey.  We didn’t have much time to waste anyways, as it was time to change locations and head to our new accommodation on Hamnøy for the next few nights.

Reflection of Vågakallen mountain peak over coastline, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Vågakallen reflects in the winter coastline, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Dusting of snow covers sand at Uttakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: A dusting on snow coveres Utakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Waves wash over coastal rocks at Uttakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Waves wash among the rocks at Utakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Colorful sunset over mountains of Moskenesøy, near Fredvang, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter sunset over the mountains of Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway. February 2014

Hustind mountain peak glows pink over Skagsanden beach, Flakstad, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Pink winter sunset at Skagsanden beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Waves flow among boulders at scenic Unstad beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Utakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Mountain reflection in Harbour at scenic fishing village of Henningsvær, Austvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter dawn at Henningsvær, Austvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014


Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 3 – Time Passes Slowly

Unstad beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Heavy skies over Unstad beach at dawn, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

[Part 3 of my February/March 2014 Lofoten Islands travels]

Morning was slow to come.  After midnight had gone, time seemed to come to a standstill.  And though it seemed like hours had passed between looking at my watch, it was only minutes.  02:00 am, 03:00 am, 04:00 am; still 4 hours until dawn appeared.  The storm was calming now, but I knew I wouldn’t have much of interest to look forward to come first light, only a reason not to be laying down in my sleeping bag.

A few more hours passed until I could finally see a heavy, misty grey dawn appearing over the beach.  I dressed and wandered down to the empty sands of Unstad beach.  The fury of yesterdays storm had passed and barely a hint of breeze blew against my face.

Sometime later I returned to my car for breakfast: an orange, some rice cakes, and chocolate, for the cold.  I sat for a while, waiting to see if any colour would appear.  But after sunrise had passed, I was gone.

I could tell it was going to be one of those days of soft, flat light.  I visited a few beaches and wandered around some hills, following an ice river up into the mountains.  And so the hours passed as I made my way west to Flakstadøy, where I noticed a bit of color beginning to appear.  Not much, but something other than grey.

Looking for a place to camp, I headed down a small dirt road on the outskirts of Ramberg which took me out to the coast.  I noticed a good supply of wood which I thought could be turned into a decent campfire for the night and so I messaged my Italian friends to see if they wanted to join me.  A little while later they showed up and we set to making a fire.  Though it turns out I was slightly optimistic in my estimates of the wood, which was either too small and burned quickly, or too old and rotten, barely burning at all.  But at least it was a mild night, for February, so it wash’t too bad to sit around and have some light in the darkness, even if the heat was lacking.  Not to mention, it was a good excuse not to go to sleep in mid afternoon.

I was wanting to shoot something around Flakstad for sunrise, but pulling my car out onto the E10 and a quick survey of Skagsanden beach, it was evident that another grey day was in store for the islands.  So I headed further west, and back towards Reine, where I would have a direct view of the sun rising on the horizon.

I got stopped by the road works that have been going on for what seems like forever on the eastern part of Moskenesøy.  Originally what started out as just a new tunnel had turned more or less into a whole new road, tediously blasted, dug, and scraped into the rock. So there I sat, watching dawn approach over the Vestfjord and not knowing how long I would be stuck.  I even gave though to hopping out of the car and just shooting on the side of the road, but figured it might not be the best idea.  Time to sit and eat breakfast I guess, rice cakes and chocolate, for the cold.

Finally, after 20 plus minutes I was let free and on my way west again.  Dawn was near as pink began to fill the sky in the small gap along the horizon and into the ceiling of low clouds overhead.  Nearing Hamnøy I figured the sun would rise any minute and so I got out of the car and looked around.

I was hoping for a nice pink glow on Olstind, rising across the still waters of the fjord, but the horizon seemed to be a bit cloudy, and only a faint light reached the mountain.  Looking back over the Vestfjord as the sun cracked the horizon was about the only thing of interest, though not especially so from my vantage point.

Soon the sun was back in the clouds and I was counting the hours until darkness, where I could attempt to sleep again, to pass the time quicker.  I parked my car in the turnout by Djupfjord and began the wait.

Morning arrived with more low, misty clouds, but I could tell a bit of a change from the last few days would happen.  I mostly stuck around Reine and Å, waiting for the hours to pass.  I could see winter storms passing over the mainland in the distance, but for some reason none arrived on Lofoten.  In late afternoon I headed out to Å and by chance ran into some German acquaintances.  Lofoten can be a small place sometimes.

A final kiss of pink in the sky over Værøy and the day was soon gone.  My first week on the islands was now over.  In the morning, I would head back to Stamsund, where I would meet up with the Australians and be their unofficial Lofoten tour guide for the next 10 days.

A small river runs through the sand at Storsandnes beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Storsandnes beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Mountains of Moskenesøy rise above sea at sunset, near Fredvang, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter light over mountains of Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Coastal landscape at Trollskjeran, near Ramberg, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Last light near Ramberg, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Winter sunrise over Vestfjord from Toppøya, near Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter sunrise over Vestfjord, Toppøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Rocky coastline of Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rocky coast of Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Approaching winter storm conceals Norwegian mainland across Vestfjord, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Winter storm passes over Vestfjord, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Pink clouds at sunset over Værøy islands from near Å I Lofoten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Pink sunset over Værøy, Å I Lofoten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 2 – Lessons In Sleep

Waves wash over snow covered rock in winter at Myrland beach, Flakstadøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Myrland beach at dawn, Flakstadoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

[Part 2 of my February/March 2014 Lofoten Islands travels]

February mornings are slow to arrive on Lofoten, so even if you’ve been up late chasing northern lights the night before, there is still plenty of time for a bit of sleep.  In fact, there is often too much time for sleep, as darkness is still the dominant element of the season.

Stirring uncomfortably for hours due to the combined effects of cold and the lack of a sleeping pad to soften the otherwise hard trunk of my rental car, I dreamed of dawn as the batteries faded in my iPod as I repeated the same podcast to pass away the time.  Looking at my watch, I decided it was time to rise, 07:00.

I exited the back of the car into a world of night, snow swirling brightly in my headlamp as I quickly hurried to the softness of the drivers seat and started the car.  I was expecting to see the beginnings of day appear on the horizon but the only thing to escape the blackness was the snow lit by the car’s headlights.

Doing my best to judge the wind direction, I left Utakleiv and headed towards somewhere which might be a bit more sheltered.  It’s always windy in Utakleiv anyways, even on calm days.  The squeak of the wiper blades were the only break in the silence as I traveled the dark, snowy roads to Myrland, on the eastern edge of Flakstadøy.  With a couple of seldom visited beaches, compared to the more famous neighbours visible across the Nappstraumen, Myrland has been a productive location for me in the last couple years, almost too visited.

I parked my car overlooking the sea, only barely visible through the snow and grey light which signalled the arrival of morning.  It was Sunday morning, and I had nowhere to go, only to wait in darkness and see what would happen.

Now, this is normally the time when having a book would be useful to pass the time.  But as I had been somewhat busy back in California prior to my departure to Lofoten, I didn’t have the time to procure any.  Or to say more accurately, it didn’t seem like much of a priority.  Maybe I was making a statement to the universe that the light would be so good that I wouldn’t have anytime for reading, or perhaps I simply forgot what being alone and bored was like.  Anyhow, I would soon regret this decision, though not so much as to buy an over-priced book in Norway; not much of an English reading selection on Lofoten anyways that could entice $30 from my wallet for an day’s entertainment.  To add even more to my first world problems, I hadn’t even brought my laptop with me to at least get some writing done as my ambitious plans for Sweden didn’t allow for the extra weight.

If you’ve previously read about any of my Lofoten travels it might seem like I’m poor at planning and haphazardly stumble around the islands.  But this is actually a well thought out plan to keep me productive as possible.  You see, my greatest enemy is laziness.  And comfort brings laziness.  If you have a warm fire, hot food, and a soft bed, the weather is almost always ‘too bad to go outside,’ or ‘it will be better later.’  But it turns out that ‘later’ never comes.

Stuck in a car for 24 hours, outside becomes an escape from boredom.  And outside is where the photos are.  So even with poor light and casting winds, boredom leads my mind to thoughts like, ‘Hmm, I wonder what might be up that hill,’ or ‘those rocks look sort of interesting, I wonder if I can come up with something.’  So really, every shot I take might not be jaw dropping colorful (over processed) sunsets, and I probably even take a fair amount of bad photos, but the short days of winter tend to be the most productive for me, since i have no comfort to escape to.  Though I often do allow myself a berlinerbolle for breakfast every day or two to have a little bit of comfort.  Ample supplies of chocolate help as well.

After some time the storm begins to pass and the sky continues to lighten.  I look down to the sea and see what I’m looking for in the soft light as the small waves meet the snow covered beach.  I pull out my gear and get to work for the next hour until a flat grey light has enveloped the islands.  With northern lights the previous night, and now scenic snow covered beaches, I thought I was off to a pretty good start for winter on Lofoten.

Before I left California a few people had gotten in contact with me who would also be traveling on Lofoten around the same time as myself.  As morning passed, I got in contact with a nice italian couple, who like myself, were also doing the car-camping thing and made plans to maybe try and meet up somewhere down by Reine or Å.  So off I headed, west along the E10 towards Moskenesøy.

Passing Reine, the light wasn’t so nice so I continued on towards the town with a name that everyone always seems to have trouble pronouncing, Å.  Perhaps also one of the shortest town names existing anywhere.

Å I Lofoten, the formal name to distinguish it from any other Ås which might exist, can often be a good place for winter sunset, as the afternoon sun passes low over the distant island of Værøy rising across the sea before meeting with the final mountains of Lofoten itself.  January to early February is one of the best times for this location, before the sun begins to set too high in the west as the vernal equinox begins to near and the days grow long.

Well, it turns out, the light down there wasn’t so good either and there wasn’t much snow out on the rocks which is really needed for the scene.  On the other hand, was a frozen lake Ågvatnet, with cool patters of light snow drifting across the surface, blown across the ice since the passing of the morning’s storm.  The more interesting patterns and shapes were deep in the center of the lake and I was somewhat hesitant to venture alone that far onto the ice.  But upon seeing a few locals walking and ice skating around, I figured a frozen death wouldn’t likely come on this day and proceeded out onto the lake, soft rays of sunlight hitting the surrounding mountain peaks.

A little while later I headed into Reine where I met up with my new Italian friends, before deciding to head back to Å again.  Once more, it didn’t look like the light would do much for sunset, so we headed out onto the lake again until night arrived.

Patterns of snow cover black ice of Lake Ågvatnet in winter, Å I Lofoten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Snow covers lake Ågvatnet in winter, Moskensøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014


Patterns of snow cover black ice of Lake Ågvatnet in winter, Å I Lofoten, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Snow covers lake Ågvatnet in winter, Moskensøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014
The one benefit of the dry and snow free conditions this year was that all the parking areas where clear and open.  Often it can be a bit of a challenge to find a snow free area to sleep in the car overnight, particularly in the western part of the islands and often I’m left parking under the bright lights of the parking lot in Å, which you’re technically not supposed to camp in, but that’s more so it doesn’t fill up with motorhomes all summer long, or so I tell myself.  This time though, the nice turnout near the Djupfjord bridge was open, and despite being right next to the road, is about the best place to sleep between Å and Reine.

Morning brought with it a cold wind and a promise of rain.  It was now Monday, and my second full day on the islands.  Again, despite laying flat in the back of the car for 12+ hours, a combination of discomfort and jet lag served me with a restless sleep and I was once again glad to be back in the driver’s seat awaiting the arrival of another day.

I headed to a location near Reine and watched as the approaching rain and rising sun raced to see who would greet me first.  It was a tie.  Heavy drops of rain began to hit me just as the sun peaked over the jagged, teeth-like mountains of the Norwegian mainland and shone across the waters of the Vestfjord.  A flash of pink lit the sky for a couple brief minutes as I retreated to shelter, only to be drawn back into to rain moments later and as a rainbow briefly encircled Olstind.  Back at my car, I said goodbye to the italians and headed back east to Leknes.

The rain was still falling as I pulled up to Leknes.  My main objective was to find a sleeping mat for the back of the car, unsure how many more nights on the hard, cold floorboards I could take.  Sometimes the large Coop supermarket in the mall has something cheap on offer, and last year I even pickup a proper blow up mattress that one would use as a guess bed at home for only 99 NOK.  It looked a bit funny in the back of the car, but it slept like a dream.  This time, no luck (though I did see one later at the end of February, when I no longer needed to sleep in a car).  The closest things was some exercise type yoga mat for 120 NOK.  I guess that would have to do.

The rain was still falling as morning passed to afternoon and I made my way out to Unstad.  Arriving at the beach, the wind was blowing fiercely and huge clouds of mist were blowing off the sea.  I made my way down to the waters edge but at times it was nearly impossible to stand as gusts of wind blew loose my footing on the slippery rocks.  I haphazardly cut and taped a plastic bag around my camera to protect it from the driving rain and hale.  My hands near frozen, I lost grip on one of my lens caps and it went flying off somewhere far beyond my reach.  After a few moment, I figured I’d had enough and retreated to the car.

I wanted to park my car on the left side of the beach, but in the blowing winds it was rocking like a boat at sea and I wasn’t too sure it would remain in the same place all night long so I opted for the more sheltered parking area at the right side of the beach.  After making myself a sandwich for lunch, I curled up in my sleeping bag to keep warm.  It was just after 14:00.

I next opened my eyes to find night had arrived.  Looking at my watch, it was 20:00.  The rain was still falling at the wind ever blow, but now with a slightly calmer temperament.  I turns out I had parked my car in the light of a newly installed street light, so I moved to car into the shadow cast by the old building, then was back into my sleeping bag.  Twelve more hours until daybreak and I’d already had the better part of a night’s sleep.  I thought of what the distant morning might bring.

Cod Stockfish hang to dry in cold winter air, Toppøya, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Stockfish hang to dry in the cool winter air, Toppøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Cod Stockfish hang to dry in cold winter air, Toppøya, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Sun and rain meet at dawn, Toppøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Rainbow forms over Olstind mountain peak and Fjord, Reine, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rainbow over Olstind, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Offshore wind blows waves at Unstad beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Wind blown waves at Unstad beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 2014

Lofoten Islands Winter 2014 Part 1 – Northern Lights Greetings

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in Sky over Uttakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights fill the sky over Utakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 1, 2014

[This is the first post of a six part series about my travels to Lofoten during February and March 2014.  More will come each week.]

The journeys from California to Lofoten are always long, and I always arrive thinking of the soonest possibility I can lie down flat on a bed, or in this case, the back of my rental car.  I also made the mistake of arriving on the islands on a Saturday, which is never a good idea, as it meant a long wait in Leknes for my bus to Stamsund, where I would pick up my car.  Normally I would hitchhike, but this time I was burdened with ski gear which would no doubt ruin any chance I had of catching a lift.

It was finally the early afternoon when I pulled up to the parking area at Utakleiv beach, folded down the backs seats to the car and crawled into my sleeping bag.  Early afternoon on February 1st while north of the arctic circle means it’s just about dark.  I was soon asleep.

Some hours later the slamming of a car door followed by some somewhat loud voices woke me from my slumber.  It was dark.  I wiped a clear spot from the fogged up windows to see if the stars were out, in which case I would try and stay up a bit longer and wait for Northern Lights.  But upon peaking out the window was a gift even better, Auroras!  A faint green arch hanging over the beach and mountains.  I quickly dressed, prepared myself for the cold, then hopped out of the car and went down to the beach, the lights now getting brighter.

I shot for a while at the beach, but I noticed the stronger parts seemed to be coming from behind the mountains to the left, so I quickly headed back to the car and drove a few km to the beach at Vik, more of less just around the corner from Utakleiv, and giving a much more open view to the western part of the sky.

Barely having reached the beach and put my camera back on the tripod the sky lit up, from the horizon, fully overhead, and then behind me.  Not a bad welcome to Lofoten!


Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in Sky over Uttakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights fill the sky over Utakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 1, 2014


Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in Sky, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights fill the sky over Utakleiv beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 1, 2014


Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in Sky over Vik Beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights rise into the sky over Vik beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 1, 2014


Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in Sky over Vik Beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights rise into the sky over Vik beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 1, 2014


Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis shine in Sky over Vik Beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights fill the sky over Vik beach, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  February 1, 2014

Lofoten Winter Journeys

— Here is a bit of a summary of my February Lofoten trip.  I posted it on my photography blog a few days ago, but figure I might as well put it here too.  And if you’re interested in keeping updated on things, be sure to checkout my Facebook page, I tend to start adding a few photos there as I’m in the process of editing and before anything is organized enough to add here.  Anyhow, here’s 3,500 words.  Happy reading… —

Olstind mountain peak glows pink in winter sunrise, Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Pink winter sunrise on Olstind, Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 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.  Stopped at a light, I even quickly opened the door to try and get a look at the tires. But as it was only 1 mile from the hotel to the parking lot, I continued on.  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, 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. Ahhhh Hel!  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 strange myself.  First they added 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 too 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 at 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.  I was also hoping that no one else showed up, as I wouldn’t have been sure to let them in or not.  Finally, 01:30am arrived and we were bound for Moskenes on the almost completely empty ferry 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 so.  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.  Stopping at Værøy adds another 2 hours to the journey.  And that means 2 hours more sleep, almost 6 hours in total, often times my only chance at rest for 48+ hours of travel to the islands.  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 sleeping 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.  And ignore 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 way 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 a turn in my 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 shortly before noon 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.

Aurora Borealis - Northern Lights fill sky over Olstind mountain peak and reflect in fjord, Toppøya, Lofoten Islands, NorwayPhoto: Northern Lights fill the sky over Osltind, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Feb 18, 2013

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.  I 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 means about two weeks.  Longer than that and 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’ve obviously figured out a way to bribe the weather gods.

By day 4 of sitting in a car while watching the rain and wind outside, 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 of light in the distance, or maybe there might be better conditions over in Reine.  But I know the islands and myself well enough by now, and 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.  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 its 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 that the 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 40nkr of 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.


Photo: Ferry to Lofoten. July 2006

I’ve had a few people tell me that even looking at this photo makes them feel a bit nauseous.  I set my tripod up to be level with the deck of the ferry of what I can only describe as a ‘rough’ crossing.  The smaller ferry had been canceled the night before and so most of the waiting passengers took this boat in the morning. Little did we know what we were in for.

I’ve never been sea-sick in my life, but if there was a time to be, it would have been on this trip.  Had the boat taken another hour, I probably would have joined the rest of the passengers in finding some place to hurl over the edges of the boat.

I had initially tried to sit inside during the journey, but after a while the smell got a little bad, if you know what I mean.  I went outside for a little fresh air but it was a bit cool so after a while I headed back to my seat inside.  That idea lasted all of about two minutes when the lady directly across from me pulled her barf bag up to her face and proceeded to fill it.  Hmm maybe I should get out of here!

I’d guess that 80% of the boat was sick and in various states of despair, from merely being green in the face to groups of people curled up on the floor outside the toilets. And because the seas were so rough, the journey took almost two hours longer than usual, not helping the situation much.

And so began my second journey to Lofoten…