Beyond the Arctic polar circle
Lofoten, the call of the great North has always been alive in me, especially in recent years, but now my exploratory moment has begun …
The desire for adventure after the trip I took last year to Iceland exploded with all its roar, and the only solution was to leave! The mythic gate of the Arctic Circle has now been crossed, and we are approaching with the ferry the Lofoten islands, our destination for these summer holidays, our route is awaiting us.
The route chosen is the great crossing of the Lofoten but in a south-north direction, which is quite unusual, all for a logistical opportunity related to our travel program: connecting the trekking to a kayak tour. We have some doubts about the south-north track, especially for the logistics which require compulsory transfers with public transport, but we have high and decisive confidence in resolving any constraint.
Arrival at the Lofoten islands
In the distance, the profile of the islands begins to make its way through the clouds, and the sun starts to dissolve in really incredible games of lights and colors …. clear and steep profiles, rich in green and rocks, as the multiple peaks are the main attraction for us. We think we already know what we can expect from our journey, but we will be soon and surprisingly overwhelmed by the unimaginable visions that will appear before us like a gallery of paintings, composed by bizarre and imaginative authors.
We touch the ground, and our dream is now a reality, we have landed in a confusion of euphoria and admiration, we can hardly orient ourselves and take the road into our first steps. We immediately understand that the ride will be hard and steep as the path we are going through.
The first meters of altitude, however, soon uncover a powerful environment full of lakes, meadows, vertical granite, in a fairytale landscape that accurately replicates the images that our mind had elaborated up to that moment. The child we have on our backs, our personal travel companion called a backpack – 20 kg of food and shelter – brings us violently back to the reality of the path that our boots are marking. Meter after meter we advance, defeating gravity and heading towards the goal of our first stop that, in reality, we do not know where it is, but we surely know that we will get somewhere to plant our tent.
The effort towards the end of the trek put us to the test, as – in spite of feeling tired especially because of the weight in our shoulders – we are forced to change the first location for the overnight in the island. We must return by ferry and sleep in the Moskenes campsite, that we reach thanks to the lift our Milanese friends give us, the same village where we landed at Lofoten.
First impressions are positive, our expectations seem to find satisfaction and a good beer rehydrates our efforts and rejuvenates our spirit. We must gain all that Lofoten offers. Our ambitious crossing on the Lofoten trails has begun, we are ready, trained and charged.
The Lofoten Islands is a mix of different terrains and environments that disclose upon our eyes, but what characterizes it is the omnipresent granite rock, the green of the meadows that tries to cover it – wherever gravity allows it to do so – and the water of the ocean that surrounds them.
You move from peaks with vertiginous walls overlooking the sea to white sandy Caribbean beaches, strips of fertile alluvial lands where isolated farms show up, rich wild forests with different species of trees typical of the great north, ponds, lakes and streams often covered with moss, swamps hidden under the high grass, the moor invaded by blueberries, lichens, mosses and heather, alpine meadows, moraines, screes and small snowfields … all concentrated in these islands off the Norwegian coast.
The variety of the landscape makes our trekking rich in wonders to our eyes, which encourage us to overcome the strain of steep and often muddy paths, always different and majestic environments fill our bodies with energy to the point that usually we extend the planned stop-overs until we find fantastic places for the bivouac. Not always the nature of the soil allows us to plant our tent in some dry and flat areas, but space is not a limitation and with a little patience we identify the right place to install ourselves.
The difficulty of walking without a trail
As already said, the requirement of this trekking is high, not much for the difference in altitude, but rather for the steep and slippery soil that we encounter, burdened by the weight of the backpack. Often the paths are not clearly marked, which makes it very easy to lose the proper track by following the one marked by the goats. Usually, the GPS track of the route downloaded on-line and a good sense of orientation are essential to extricate yourself from this messed up traces, especially in high altitude pastures.
It still takes a proper training for the continuous ups and downs of the trip (it doesn’t reach high altitudes, as the maximum was about 550m), an excellent personal equipment complete with tent, mat, sleeping bag, spare parts, waterproof jacket and pants, stove, pots for cooking, packed and not packed food, water is readily available as long as there are no goats grazing around, which requires to be boil or filter it.
It’s positive the fact that at least every two days you go down to a village or town where you can make provisions, stop in the campsites and – with a little ‘luck – to dry some clothes. Yeah, you have to take into account that rainy days are typical of this area we are traveling. The humidity, in the long run, will take over the tent and clothes. Some well-studied variation, lengthening or shortening the path allows to easily re-join civilization. Generally, the telephone network has coverage everywhere and following the weather broadcast is not difficult, so the planning can be quickly done. The bus that runs through the E10 can help a lot. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to walk on paths, it can happen that you have to travel long distances on roads and dirt paths to connect the various stages .. the hitchhiking can be an alternative, but nobody was actually paying attention to us.
The wild nature
The nature in these islands is the master, it takes just few steps to immerse yourself completely behind roads, charming villages, farms. The environment, outside the typical and beaten paths, is solitary, few are those who embark on days of walking into the wild in complete autonomy, and you pleasantly risk to meet nobody throughout the day, as it happened to us.
But all this is really worth it to be able to admire the Lofoten for what they are, inside their heart, lost in its paths, seen from the top of its passes, its sharp and overhanging peaks, to embrace a unique flight … The effort made is largely repaid by these islands that majestically come out of the sea welcoming us in their splendor.
Sea, just the sea, after the days on the mountains where we saw the heart of the Lofoten, will be the main subject to discover the soul of this archipelago of the great north.
Sea with Kayak, the ancient means of transportation that ancient people used to move, to fish and to live.
Our kayaks are ready and our tour in an area of the archipelago with its fjords, as well. We lived the Lofoten inside and now, we sail to see them from the outside.
After the first inputs that the guide shares on the conduction of the vehicle, we climb on our kayaks, and the journey begins … indeed it would be more correct to say navigation.
The kayak adventure
Personally, another dream comes true, the great combination of the north and the kayak now merged together, giving a deep meaning to this journey of mine.
Five kayaks and six people are now sailing in the sea north-east of the island of Austvågøy. The formula is simple: we are accompanied by a professional guide who teaches us the technique of kayaking, shows us the best landscapes, even under a geological and historical perspective, he talks of ancient populations, especially of their link to land/sea territory. You paddle freely enough in complete safety, you camp on the seashore in beautiful sandy bays … in short, life as nomads.
What does this paddling mean?
It means living the sea, kayaking, islands with the rhythm of our paddles, with the speed of our forces – that is that of nature.
All this slowness allows us first of all to get to know each other, to get drunk with details that the environment offers us, to get lost in the depths of the sea that the clearness of the water allows us to see, to find our balance between man and nature to which we are not accustomed . Paddling means experiencing the adventure from an unusual point of view, which is not the classic tourist on a small boat “hit and run” photographing that the tour impose you, but totally immersed in what you live, leaving aside the rush to see things, where things here become waves, dolphins, jellyfish, rocks, lichens, landscapes, clouds, sun, become true! We are the masters of our time, and we can lose a little time even merely observing a small crab moving on the rocks in its marine environment.
It sounds easy, but it’s just not so easy as it sound. Kayaking is a very technical affair that requires, especially for beginners, a significant physical and mental commitment right from the first paddling.
The balance, measuring your forces, making the damned kayak go straight and the sit that in the long run becomes very annoying, so much that reaching the ground and preparing the place for the night looks like kind of a prize … but if the guide asks us to go back out to the sea to fish with the line, we do not hesitate a second and kayak at sea. Well that night, we caught a fish, and the soup tasted really delicious, especially fresh.
In our journey beyond the Arctic polar circle (the parallel beyond which, towards the pole, the sun persists for at least 24 continuous hours) what resulted strange to us, is the lack of complete darkness. In the period we visited, the sun would set for at least 5 hours, but complete darkness does not exist, a slightly dim light always persists. But this gives you a sense of vitality and to never stop and fully live the day.
We managed to live the Lofoten from inside and outside in 15 days, we are proud of what we did, we consider ourselves lucky because we have seen almost 100% of Lofoten in their beautiful summer appearance.
Lofoten Islands? Yes, thank you, but only into the wild.