In the summer of 2012 I planned a photography trip to Lofoten with my girlfriend Emma. The purpose of the trip was twofold, firstly to visit and area of the world that I have always wanted to see and secondly to give Emma a surprise 21st birthday present (she was very excited!).
The Lofoten is an archipelago of islands in Northern Norway, just inside the arctic circle. The landscape there is known for impossibly steep mountains bursting straight out of the Norwegian sea. There are also a number of beautiful Fjords in the area. Due to its steep nature you can’t exactly go where you please on Lofoten and to a certain extent you are limited to stalkers paths and mountainsides that are shallow enough to walk up. Many of the peaks are protected by ramparts which make them unattainable without climbing gear but there are still many mountains that can be climbed and you can expect spectacular views from all of them!
Day 0 to Lofoten
The travel involved in getting to Lofoten isn’t especially exciting so I will just say that we flew from Gatwick to Oslo to Bodo (Bo-da) without any problems. From Boda we took a short taxi journey to the Ferry point and just managed to get on before it left for Moskenes (Moss-ken-ess). The journey was cloudy throughout with fairly calm seas although Emma struggled a little with sea sickness! We arrived at the Moskenes campsite around 11pm (it’s directly opposite where the ferry drops you off), set up the tent, had a bite to eat and went to sleep.
Day 1 to Hermannsdalstinden
We awoke to see the cloud just beginning to break off and set off for Sorvagen, starting our hike around 11am. The plan was to get up to Hermandalstinden that day and camp somewhere beneath it. An hour into the hike the weather was already glorious. Clear blue skies and cool temperatures with no wind (which made the uphill parts pretty hot work!). The hiking was easy enough, the trail to Munkebu cabin was decent (though not constructed or maintained) with the occasional rope or chain to assist on steeper parts.
We both felt the weight of our backpacks. What with food for 6 days, camping gear and camera gear my pack tipped the scale at 19kg with Emma’s at 16kg. That said it was noticeably lighter than my backpack for Iceland so I was happy! Just in case any of you are wondering why I didn’t carry more weight to cut Emma some slack…I offered but she was having none of it!
There were numerous viewpoints along the route to Munkebu, many of which would have made for excellent locations in the right light. If you do decide to make this hike yourself and decide that Hermandalstinden is too much for one day then don’t worry there is LOADS to shoot!
After Munkebu the number of hikers dropped off (although there were hardly any before) and we only saw one other group for the rest of the day. Heading down a rather precarious route from the cabin we watched one hiker lose control of her backpack which subsequently fell 10m and tumbled 20m down the mountain, a stern reminder to be careful of our footing.
We continued up short muddle scramble to Krokvatnet and on a little further in search of a place to camp. Its not easy finding a camping spot but there are areas of flat dry ground to be found. We set up tent not far from a small pool shown on the map. By this point both of us were famished and incredibly tired. The distances we hiked in Lofoten were never that great (I think its about 7 miles to this point) nor were the climbs massive (we had probably gone up 700m and down 100m) but the hiking was considerably more strenuous in Iceland. I put most of that down to the uneven ground and difference in trail quality. When walking the Laugavegur in Iceland you hardly have to watch where you put your feet whereas in Lofoten you are constantly looking at the ground! After wolfing down some noodles and packing my camera gear, snacks and water back into my bag we were both ready for the summit hike of Hermandalstinden. Time was against us, it was already 7PM and I estimated that the hike would probably take the rest of the daylight hours.
Much of the trail to the summit was exposed with a drop off to the side, something that Emma didn’t enjoy at all! It was certainly an epic walk, but not for the feint of heart (a phrase that can regularly describe Lofoten). One section was incredibly steep and required a rope to assist you strafing the hillside. After that there is a short section of granite where you must lean back on the rope to pull yourself up, needing a moderate amount of strength. This proved to be too much for Emma who just couldn’t bring herself to lean back on the rope. After some discussion and failed words of encouragement she decided to turn back and told me to push on. It was an agonising decision given that in normal circumstances it is not a trail I would want anyone to do alone, but being 200m below one of the best views in the world with sunset approaching I had to go for it. In all I think the hike took 2 1/2 hours but there was a half hour stop there to encourage Emma.
I reached the summit just 15 minutes before sunset but only 2 or 3 minutes before the light intensity completely dropped off. The view from the summit was just incredible, spectacular in every direction, one of the great world views, of that I have no doubt. The north coast was completely enshrouded in mist which was drifting between the fjords. I took plenty of different compositions as the light changed focussing on the mountain views and the lakes below. The summit itself is just broken stone, not great to make a composition from, but challenging to completely avoid inclusion.
After watching the sun go down beneath a bank of sea mist I made a rapid retreat back to the tent as darkness slowly crept up. I made the return journey in an hour, largely because I didn’t want Emma to worry about me, as she has in the past when I’m climbing over mountains (and justifiably so, you don’t want to fall and break a leg on Hermandalstinden!).
Day 2 to Bunes
I made the decision the night before to photograph the pool next to our tent at sunrise for two reasons; firstly I wanted some variety in my shots and secondly I was tired! I got up more or less as the sun rose and found the pool in a glassy mirror like state.
I tried every composition there was in the space of about 20 minutes (composing images of reflections with simple foregrounds is easy!) and then I headed back to bed. I was up again around 9 for more photography and then it was time for a swim in the pool to enjoy the surroundings and have a wash. The water was refreshingly cool.
By 11am we were more or less packed up and started our hike down to Bunes, the fork in the path was conveniently near our tent so we didn’t have to retrace our steps. The descent to the fjord was good fun, more great weather and spectacular views (if a little muddy underfoot).
Later we were to learn that the weather in Lofoten had been awful up until our arrival so it was unsurprising that we encountered more than our fair share of mud. From above we could see schools of fish circling like a whirlpool in the azure fjord below.
Once down at the pump station at the end of Forsfjord we tried to make our way around to Bunes. We had been warned against this by an old Norwegian man as we descended but we ignored his advice since we had no alternative plan. The going was incredibly difficult, finding our way through birch woodland and massive boulders covered in thick moss. This kind of terrain poses a particular injury risk if you don’t place your feet carefully. It took us an hour and a half to go around 200m, incredibly slow. We also had some major midge encounters, they drove us both absolutely crazy and we were scratching the bites for the next week. The difficulty of the route and the problems with insects were more than made up for by the stunning mountain views as we walked alongside turquoise waters.
Eventually we reached the small settlement of Vindstad, only accessible by boat, and walked down to the Ferry Pier to try to find the ferry times for the following day. There was no timetable to be found and our conversations with the locals were no help. If you want to take the Reine ferry from or to any point in the Fjord then try to find the timetable first (there is one in Reine) be warned that the operators are cowboys when it comes to leaving. They will often arrive or leave 20 minutes before or after the scheduled time even leaving passengers who have still turned up early on the pier!
The hike to Bunes from Vindstad is very easy indeed (and very popular) and was a welcome break from the up and down of the earlier part of our walk. There are plenty of camping spots at the back of the beach but we chose a quieter location on the ridge, only to have another tent set up right next to us an hour later.
We walked to the other side of the ridge for sunset but the conditions were bland and the towering cliffs with a massive swathe of blue sky between made for an empty composition that just didn’t work. Instead I focused on the light reflecting off the granite face we were sat on. To be honest it was just nice to sit there watching the sun go down with Emma.
We had a wander down to the beach after sunset and I made some more half-hearted attempts to capture a successful image but it just didn’t work for me. We headed back to the tent for a well deserved rest.