I originally intended to write a shorter summary of my trip to the Lofoten Islands, but perhaps took too good of notes in my travel journal, so instead had trouble leaving out details as I relived them while writing this post. Disclaimer: please be sure to insert a sarcastic tone when unsure, and like a good
ego-blogger Millennial, I will assume you’ll only want to know more, so will post additional pictures in followup posts.
Following the end of my first year at UID, I flew to Fontainebleau to spend ten days with Ben before returning to Scandinavia to spend the last ten days of June exploring the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway with my brother and our
German Berlin family friend Martin who we routinely explain, to pretty much everyone, we met in the Columbian jungle a little over a year ago. As this vague and omniscient explanation tends to elicit understandably odd responses, I refer you to the Helms sibling’s escapade with dengue fever, which might not clarify, but at least provide context.
Bob and Martin met in Stockholm a day prior to my arrival, upon which I caught a train from Stockholm to rendezvous with them in Östersund before we headed to northern Norway. Slightly similar to last August’s road trip through Lapland, we once again rented a car, this time upgrading to an SUV despite Ben’s absence. Also like last year, both Bob and Martin restocked and packed full fishing gear, only for Martin to lose his new rod the day before my arrival. Although I was not present to witness, I like to think of this event as getting the bad luck out of the way and making room for some fabulous times ahead.
Our first day together also happened to be both Swedish Midsummers and Martin’s birthday. I had grand ideas of finding a campsite complete with festivities, but we had more difficulty than expected finding an adequate camping ground in Östersund. After buying loads of groceries, anticipating the price jump once crossing into Norway, we decided to head to and through the border until we found a suitable spot to celebrate the birthday boy. At this time began our ceaselessly amusing trip motto, a reply to ANY question concerning time:
Q: “When should we stop driving?”
A: “Before dark.”
Q: “When will you be back from the hike?”
A: “Before dark.”
Q: “When should we eat dinner?”
A: “Before dark.”
Because during the summer in northern Scandinavia, it doesn’t get dark. More specifically, the sun does not dip below the horizon from May 26th until July 18th in the Lofoten Islands.
As we continued our drive to Bodø, where we would catch the ferry to the Lofoten Islands, two characteristics of Norway appeared quite clear. The first, quite obvious yet I was formerly in denial, Norway is in fact VERY expensive. VERY. The second, Norwegians seemed more out going than the shy yet sincerely sweet Swedes. As we stopped at a gas station, the girl behind the counter didn’t hesitate to ask Bob where he was from. After replying “Tennessee,” her face excited, she asked him to speak with an accent. Bob happily obliged, laying the southern drawl on thick. And Martin said, “I’m from Berlin.”
We eventually found a campsite half a day’s drive south of Bodø that satisfied our night’s requirements, in debatable order: fishing and fire. Though I have written in my notebook that the campsite was called Følletstau, I can’t find any record of the place online. Due to the rain, after setting up our tents, we occupied the Norwegian fire hut like a band of gypsies and immediately begin preparing a birthday dinner. After not long, Bob and I were distracted – he eyeing the lake and myself setting up for time-lapse photography – upon which, Martin made quite the keen observation. Each of us Helms’ children has a singular obsession – Kelly and games, Bob with fishing, and myself, as Martin said while I was fidgeting with my GoPro, DSLR, and Galaxy S3 video, “With Karey, you never know when you are being recorded.” Insert political joke here.
We woke up the next morning to the sound of a lawn mower just barely clipping the poles of our tents, taking this as a sign to pack up and move on. As we were still a decent ways away from Bodø, we decided to drive about an hour out of town and wild camp for the night before the following day’s morning ferry to Moskenesøya, an island at the southern end of the Lofoten archipelago. The weather was unfortunately quite miserable with clouds and light rain all day, not only distracting us from what we assume were some awesome scenic views, but also limiting our off road camping search and landing us stuck in mud for 30 minutes. Soon after, we settled for a great spot near the river.
The next morning we accidentally arrived over 5 hours early for the ferry through Torghatten Nord from Bodø to Moskenses, so took a brief walk around Bodø and to the tourist station before returning to the car. Like typical Southerns, we turned the car line into a tailgate, making friends with our gin and tonics. We soon befriended three Germans with the car ahead in line, who we hung out with on the Ferry and followed to the campsite they recommended in Moskenses.
The campsite in Moskenses upon first glance appeared both agreeable and functional. While located both by the water and close to town, the quantity of campervans (which we later became accustomed to in Norway) and proximity of tents to one another, initially raised our noses. Not to mention, despite the same qualifications, we also paid slightly more than our German friends, what they deemed the “American tax,’ because unfortunately no one loves an American as much as we love ourselves. Though once we established our position on top of an adjacent hill, over looking the campsite, mountains and ocean; enjoyed the rare full range of available camping comforts; and observed the lovely idiosyncrasies of the campsite owner (Beyoncé playing in the bathroom and pranks on customers), we genuinely appreciated the spot and stayed an additional night than planned.
Our first full day in the Lofoten Islands, after visiting local Stockfish docks in the morning, we went on a nearby day hike recommended by the campsite owner. I’m estimating the hike, which I think was called the Munkan, was around 18 kilometers (or 11 miles) based on an improvised and extended version of this hiker’s route on Wikiloc. About a third of the way through, after we stopped for lunch at a second lake dotted with a few cabins, Martin and I proceeded on without Bob as he wanted to fish. Blessed with mostly good weather, despite a 20 minute downpour that left as quickly as it arrived, the hike was an amazing introduction into the Lofoten islands. Throughout the trail there are countless vistas, and as you ascend further up and into the mountains there are endless lakes of various altitudes connected by waterfalls and streams. We reunited with Bob back at the campsite later that evening, and partied with the German trio before heading to Nusfjord the following morning.
Nusfjord, a famous fishing village, was quaint yet disappointing. When we arrived the following evening, tour buses of pensioners lined the streets and the main area of town charges a fee to explore as its considered a museum. Though, after talking with the tourist office who informed Bob of good fishing in the area, we went scouting for a ‘wild’ camping spot close to one of the nearby lakes. Two small lakes away, immediate inland from the town, we found a spectacular site on the water with nice benches around an existing fire pit. Almost too good to be true.
Our first evening in Nusfjord, as I napped and Bob and Martin fished, Bob caught a single brown trout that we cooked and ate for dinner. The following day, Bob continued to fish as Martin and I went on a coastal day hike to the town of Nesland. Trailing behind Martin during the hike, as he sporadically would lose the trail and routinely slip without actually falling, I had the realization that he hikes like he drives – a bit like an injured deer, speedy yet swerving side to side, with hints of former grace and focus. We took a break for coffee and waffles at an art gallery we were gratefully surprised to find in the ten house town of Nesland, chatting with the artist and owner, who was going through a ‘green period’ which ever so slightly creeped us out. On the return we somehow managed to take a different route back to Nusfjord, though enjoyed the slight change of scenery. We stopped in town for fika before returning to the campsite to find a very proud Bob with not one, but four lovely fish for dinner.
At around 11PM on our last night in Nusfjord, we spontaneously decided to drive northwest further up the Lofoten Islands to Vestvågøy, hoping to find a good spot to watch the midnight sun. We most definitely found the sun, and a beautiful official campsite run by to two eccentric and unforgettable owners.
Since we arrived late at night, I didn’t meet Norwegian Jon and Swedish-American Henna until I went to the main house in the morning to pay. I was immediately impressed by their friendliness and generosity as Jon gave me hiking advice and lent me his map while Henna excitedly marveled at the coincidence that she was from Umeå, where I go to school, yet had lived in the States for a large portion of her life. I marveled at the sheer luck that we were able to stumble upon such a beautiful campsite with gracious owners that was also extremely cheap. Stranden Camp, as it was called, might have us stranded.
The hike that Jon recommended, was Haveren, the 800 meter mountain immediately across the fjord – a combination of bush trekking off the beaten track up to the summit, followed by a marked trail on the other side for the route down. Bob needed to visit a larger city for day errands, so dropped Martin and I off at the other side of the fjord as we didn’t think twice about having to make our own trail for the first half of the hike. It was a local’s recommendation. And Jon did say his sister had done it before… he hadn’t though yet told us that his sister had had ropes, nor the supposed sheep trails we could follow were a dime a dozen, or even that it was just plan dangerous. I promise I’m not usually a whiner and like to consider myself above average adventurous, but this was a scary hike.
The first hour Martin and I spent literally climbing through bush up the side of the mountain to the 500 meter plateau, I might venture to call fun. We would occasionally get the ‘are we crazy’ giggles, wondering why we took this Norwegian’s advice. But as we climbed higher, the mountain got steeper, and Martin kept telling me to make sure a tree was below to prevent falling all the way down, my enjoyment began to decrease. Though at one point, as my full body was pressed against the side of the mountain and I debated where to reach next, yet luckily looked first before planting my hand in a fresh mound of sheep shit, I became annoyed.
Once we reached the 500 meter plateau, my worries temporarily disappeared as I was astonished with the panoramic view. Perhaps the hike was worth it. Then I remembered we still needed to go up to AND over the summit to reach the trail down. My mood died and we ate peanut butter crackers while surveying the scene. After crossing a narrow path leading to a narrower plateau at the base of the summit, Martin suggested I wait while he scouted out the safety above. I immediately accepted and anxiously waited, not noticing until he returned 20 minutes later that I was standing in sheep poop the entire time. While Martin was away and my nerves growing, I almost texted Ben “I’m scared and I love you,” but I abstained as my superstitions got the best of me. I didn’t want to jinx anything. Nor freak Ben out in the middle of finals. Martin returned and reported he thought it was too dangerous to try, and I honestly was kind of relieved. I had also been eyeing the back side of the plateau we came up from, what appeared to be a potential safer route down.
The way down was definitely easier in the sense that I wasn’t scared of falling off the mountain, but I think Martin and I both are lucky we didn’t break a leg. As we made our way down through thick brush and low trees, majority of the time we could not see where we were stepping and hoped for semi-even terrain for our foot to land on, and not a rock or hole. Once down, we had a long walk on the highway around the mountain and back to camp, during which we laughed at the day’s misfortune and Martin wondered out loud if he should have abducted a sheep for dinner, expressed that traveling with the Helms is like being on a diet due to all the activity, and told me about his previous trip to Lapland when he was younger and like Bob, “when having the best is good enough.”
Back at camp, while eating sausages and sauerkraut, we informed Bob of the difficult hike and fabulous view, unintentionaly presenting him with tomorrow’s challenge. Following dinner, we also described the difficult day to Jon, who both further inspired Bob with the urge to tackle the mountain and also asked the guys if they could help him move a fridge in the morning. As I also wanted to technically tackle the mountain, my plan was to go up and down the official trail on the other side, and hoped to persuade Bob the following day.
Following the relocation of a heavy fridge and a resulting promise of evening whale meat, despite my disapproval (perhaps I am a worrier) Bob expressed his intention to climb Haveren from the mountain face we tried the day before. I still intended to hike the main trail, and Martin, who initially wanted to join me – after proclaiming “these Helms, they are making me crazy” – instead insisted on accompanying Bob as a precaution. As much as I knew a little part of him died inside, I was very happy they would be going together. I won’t go into much detail regarding the day’s hike as Bob and Martin can express their experience in the comments, but the main trail was hard to find at first but overall excellent with an extremely rewarding view. I arrived on top about an hour before Bob and Martin, and technically didn’t climb the last meters to the summit as my climbing motivation was at an all low, but waited with a Norwegian woman and her dog Bobby I befriend, anxiously eyeing the summit until Martin’s head peaked over the top. The only causality of the day turned out to be Martin’s iPhone 5, lost on Haveren through a hole in his pocket.
Back at camp we excitedly awaited an evening of whale meat, relaxation, and basking in the day’s accomplishments while mourning the loss of Martin’s phone. We gathered in the fire hut with Henna and Jon, happily surprised by the delicious spread of fresh salad and potato cakes, both with ingredients from their garden, and whale meat on the fire. After devouring the chewy meat, that I would recommend trying but probably not seek out myself, the evening took an interesting turn as we began listening to the details of recent family drama from Jon’s side. This resulted in literately hours of detailed venting and reminded me of an episode of This American Life titled “Leave the Mask On.” Later our hosts moved on to less personal subjects, instead hearing Jon’s theories on chaos, grey aliens, his pitbull’s recent attacks, and oil as the veins of the earth; while Henna discussed her opinions on North Dakota meat prices, drones, and especially the giving nature of their previous camping tenants. Wait, was that a hint? We finished our alcohol stock days ago and didn’t intend to purchase more in possibly the most expensive country in the world. In retrospect, I now personally subscribe to Martin’s theory that the fridge is a permanent prop, repeatedly moved back and forth between the houses, as quite a clever opener with travelers. Though, all said and done, I’m still honestly grateful of the unique experience despite the devilish mixture of genuine hospitality and not well disguised hints of expected retribution. Even if I’m still digesting the conversations, and possibly the whale meat too.
We left Stranden Camp the next morning enroute to Laukvik further northwest to spend our last night on the Lofoten Islands with a beach view of the midnight sun before heading to Abisko, Sweden. After diligent exploring, we found an ideal little beach by a charming farm, and upon permission from the owners made camp for the night. Exhausted from the week’s prior hiking, we went on a casual yet deceitfully difficult walk to town along the rocky shore, passing time until the midnight sun. Using Bob’s GPS and some googling, we calculated the approximate position and time of the midnight sun along the horizon. We honestly could not have position ourselves better nor been blessed with more perfect weather. A combination of low clouds and clear sky make the slow dip of the sun just barely above the water before rising again, a perfect last night in Norway.