Svolvær

Sitting on hanging rock

The last few days I’ve been in the town of Svolvær, the largest town on the Lofoten Islands. Yesterday I did a hike up Floya, a 590m peak that juts out above the town, and watched the sunset from up top. On the way up I couldn’t resist taking this cheesy shot of myself sitting on this hanging rock!

Though I could spend an entire year or two exploring the Lofoten Islands, I’ve got the itch to keep moving on, so today I’m going to continue my journey. I’m headed to Tromsø, but there’s a few peaks I want to photograph on the way, so it may take a few days to get there.

Lofoten Islands

Camping in Lofoten

For the last week or so I’ve been doing my thing here on Moskenesøya, one of the Lofoten Islands, with some of the most unique and incredible landscapes on Earth! The mountains soar up right out of the ocean, with sheer granite faces leading to symmetrical pointy summits. The mountains are covered in lush green tundra, and there are also lots of fjords, lakes, and even some beaches!

There are also lots of tourists, at least compared to the other places I’ve been in Norway so far. All the little fishing village cabins are occupied (not that I could afford those anyways), so I’ve mostly just been camping out. Usually I just find a spot off the road and pitch my tent, and every third or fourth day I stay in a real campground so that I can restock my supplies and take a shower. I’ve realized though that the key to camping here is to be willing to walk and camp just a short distance from the car. The roads here pass by so many awesome cirques, many of them with lakes, and by walking just a little ways, like maybe just a few hundred meters, you can camp in places that would be worthy destinations in the most remote mountains of the world.

A few nights ago I spent a couple nights camped on a little peninsula that jutted out into an emerald lake surrounded by a towering cirque that looked like something you’d find in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. I was so absorbed in the scenery I felt like I was deep in alpine wilderness; a seagull passing by snapped me back to the reality of the location, then I looked back to see my car about 150 meters away! Unreal.

Hermannsdalstinden summit

I also made an expedition to watch the sunset from Hermannsdalstinden, the tallest peak on this island at 1027m. The hike was pretty tough, with lots of ups and down, ending in a really steep and exposed scramble up the summit ridges and boulders. The view from the top, though, was perhaps the most wildly rugged mountain vista I’ve ever laid eyes on, all rising right up out of the sea. I hiked down in the bright twilight after the sunset, and the sun started rising just as I got back to camp. I’m loving these long arctic days.

Finally, I backpacked to Bunes beach and camped there for the night. It’s a large sandy beach surrounded on both sides by towering granite peaks… really a unique place.

Now I’m slowly making my way north through the Lofoten Islands; my plan is to eventually end up at Tromsø and check out the wild mountains around there.

Bodø

Bodø Sunset

After leaving Ålesund, I ended up driving 13 hours straight, trying to cover some ground during the rain. The drive through this middle part of Norway was relatively boring – mostly rolling hills, forests, and farms. The next day I kept heading north, for several more hours until I crossed the Arctic Circle and finally make it to Bodø. I think I made a good choice to hightail it north; I escaped the rain!

The mountains around Bodø are awesome – sheer granite peaks rising up right out of the ocean. They aren’t as huge as the fjord mountains further south, but they are more abrupt and perhaps even more dramatic. I spent most of the day driving around the coast in the mountains north of the city, and in the evening I hiked up a small peak for sunset. Though the weather was overcast all day, there was a gap of clear sky on the horizon over the ocean, so I had hopes for a great sunset. Just as the sun was starting to dip below the clouds at about 11:30pm, misty clouds started forming in the valley below me and blowing over the ridge I was on. I was worried that the sunset would be obscured by the clouds, but as they blew by the sun illuminated the whole vista with a radiant orange glow! This lasted for quite a while, since the sunset lasts so long up here, and needless to say I burned through many sheets of film. I haven’t had such a fun photo shoot in a long time! It felt great to have some fun actually shooting photos instead of driving for a change.

Up here so far north, the sun moves so slowly in the sky that I actually have time to take numerous different compositions during the sweet light, something that’s usually nearly impossible to do with the 4×5 large format camera since it takes so long to set up and focus. It’s so fun. Then at midnight after the sunset, the bright orange dusk light lasts until morning – it never gets dark. I think after a week or so my schedule will involve sleeping during the day, and staying up all “night” hiking around and taking photos.

As I write this my car is waiting in line for the 4 hour ferry ride to the Lofoten Islands, the main destination for my trip!

Ålesund

Aquarium in Ålesund

After hiking down from Skala the other day, I drove northwest towards the city of Ålesund. The drive was stunning, at one point passing over a mountain pass in the Sunnmøre Alps with huge pointy mountains and vertical glacier-carved walls on both sides. It was difficult to stay on the road while simultaneously craning my neck to try to see the peaks way up high.

One thing I’m realizing is that it’s difficult for a landscape photographer to drive through Norway without feeling regret for passing by all the amazing sights. Every turn reveals another gigantic jagged peak, another massive waterfall, or another emerald fjord or lake. But, if I stopped for each vista I would be practically immobilized. If I waited at each place for the best light, it would take a lifetime to travel through the country. So I just have to keep the images in my memory and keep moving along!

Anyhow, along the way to Ålesund I attempted to hike a big peak called Slogen, but turned back 1000m up because the weather was looking grim, and my knees were feeling a bit grim too after the hike down Skala earlier in the morning. I definitely want to return though, later on in the trip when the weather is hopefully better. So instead I hauled ass to Ålesund, a little city situated on a cluster of islands along the west coast. The islands are stacked with “art noveau” style buildings, and on the horizon to west are the rugged peaks and fjords.

I was hoping to wait out the rain here for just a few days, but unfortunately now the weather forecast looks like solid rain for at least two more days, maybe the whole week. So instead of just sitting around here, I’m going to keep driving north, perhaps all the way north, then work my way south again later instead.

The photo above is from the Atlanterhavsparken Aquarium here in Ålesund.

Jostedalsbreen

As I drove north from Bergen, the already-grand scenery became noticeably more dramatic once I got to the area near the town of Stryn, with steep mountains soaring out of the fjords, topped with glaciers. I pulled the car over, took a look at my maps and saw that this was the Jostedalsbreen range, a group of tall mountains capped with a flat glacier plateau. I decided that this would be a good place to spend a few days, and my guidebook recommended a good campground in one of the valleys, so I took the detour.

Tent at campground

The campground turned out to be an amazing place, situated at the head of a rugged valley, surrounded by two glacier tongues and a huge waterfall. It felt great to finally be in the mountains, and such spectacular ones to start with too! This is why I came to Norway!

After staying a couple nights at the campground, I then went on a hike up Skala, a mountain that holds the designation as the tallest peak in Europe that rises straight from sea level. The summit is over 1800m (about 5500 feet) above the fjord far below. The hike was fairly grueling to say the least, but the reward was an alpine hut at the top where I was able to spend the night!

Skala Hut

I stayed up there with about 15 or so other hikers that night, and witnessed an awesome sunset from up top. Speaking of which, the sun set at about 10:30pm and rose at about 4am, but the orange glow of dusk stayed all night long. The sunset itself lasted so long, even the time it took from when the sun hit the horizon to when it disappeared seemed to be about 10 minutes. Needless to say this kind of slow motion light is fantastic for the photography!

Driving Through Norway

Tunnel mania

I’ve been in Norway for one week so far, and just now have a chance to try to catch up on the blog. I flew into Oslo, a beautiful city with immaculate old buildings and lots of little parks everywhere. I spent a day there walking around the city and relaxing after my 20+ hours of flying. The highlight was the Vigeland sculpture park, a large park full of lifesize stone and metal sculptures of people in all different kinds of interactions. I made sure to go there since my iron-sculpting buddy Jeff back home enthusiastically recommended it.

Vigeland Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway

The next day I took a train to Gotenburg, Sweden to pick up my rental car, which I’ll have for the whole six weeks here. The reason I went to Sweden for this is because rental cars are a third of the price there; had I known this from the start I would have just flown straight to Gotenburg… oh well. Anyhow, I picked up the car and ended up driving pretty much all day, back into Norway into the mountains northwest of Oslo. I got my first taste of Norway’s grand scenery here at the Vøringfossen waterfalls, which drop 180m into a seemingly bottomless abyss.

Vøringfossen waterfall Norway

After spending a night in my tent by the side of the road, I continued on to the city of Bergen, on the west coast.

By the time I got to Bergen, I was so itching to get to the mountains that I couldn’t tolerate the traffic and parking hassles of the city, so I only stayed for a few hours then I got back in the car and took off north. While I was in Bergen though I went down to the fish market (as every tourist does) and ate a delicious crab and shrimp salad.

Bergen Fish Market

Norway has more tunnels than probably any country on the planet, and in the first two days alone I probably drove more miles through tunnels than the previous 30 years of my life combined. On the way from Oslo to Bergen, I even drove through a tunnel that spiraled downhill through the mountain! The engineering is impressive to say the least. The roads in Norway are also entirely curvy, with hardly any straight sections. This makes for some fun driving in my speedy little stick-shift Volkswagen Golf!

To Norway!

Tomorrow morning I take off to Norway for six weeks! I have no itinerary but my rough plan is to head north from Oslo, traveling mostly up the coastline checking out the mountains, fjords, and towns along the way. My main destination is the Lofoten Islands, a series of rugged islands with little fishing villages surrounded by towering peaks that soar straight up out of the ocean like symmetrical granite pyramids.

I am renting a car for the entire six weeks. This is kind of an idiotic thing to do in a country that has one of the most advanced public train networks in the world; however, having a car will enable me to haul around all my large format camera gear and all my camping gear.

While I’m there I plan on updating this blog with my latest adventures and stories, so be sure to check back often to see what I’m up to! In the meantime, check out all this great Norwegian (and Swedish) music, below the fold:

Continue reading “To Norway!”