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Northern Dreams

#Lofoten #adventure #northern lights #Senja #winter #hiking #night #camping #magic #aurora #snow #panoramic

Story by David Varga June 5th, 2016
After visting Iceland and northern Norway for more than 5 times in last 3 years already none of these parts of the world stopped being attractive for me and I still want to come back over and over, to hike, to photograph and to enjoy the natural wonders.

Yet I’ve seen both of these countries only during summer or autumn and it was very intriguing for me to come and discover them also in winter, when everything is covered in white and when the dark nights make the best evnironment for northern lights to show off.
So I finally managed to arrange the dates for the „winter“ trip to both Iceland and Norway this March.
I first gathered a group of 8 random people, as usually, through Facebook and through my website for an Icelandic winter road-trip and from there I continued straight to Tromso to meet up with Rznik, Monika and Matus for, let’s say, a more adventurous journey in northern Norway. Here we planned to do some winter hiking, mountain climbing and snow-camping in the remote areas of Senja island and in the famous Lofoten archipelago.


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I have visited these places few times before so I always had in my mind which mountains would be nice and not so difficult to climb in winter and where it would be convenient and comfortable to build up a winter camp. Now the only question was wether to start in Lofoten or to go to Senja first.
After landing in Tromso, picking up a rental car (our very intelligent Volvo ☺) I had some time till the others arrived so I checked up on the weather and avalanche risk forecasts and decided to go to Senja first. Unfortunately the weather conditions were far from ideal in both of the regions, as it was too warm during the recent days and the snow was melting slowly day after day. It was even raining the first evening and night after our arrival so we did not give ourselves many promises on good hiking or taking good pictures in next days.


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Conquering Segla

Yet we needed to give it a try and the first peak to reach I chose was Segla – my favourite one of all the Senja island.

In summer it is an easy but very steep hike. In good physical condition you could „run up“ to the summit just in 1 hour. However at this time it was a true challenge for us. We did not have the snowshoes, only crampons, and the melted and deep snow in the first part of the hike was a real nightmare. The first day we only managed to prepare and dig the trail through the deep snow right to the saddle between Segla and Barden, which is approximately half of the whole hike. It took us 4 hours of hard work though.

Returning from this not successful mission we had to find a place to build up a camp and set our base for next few days. One amazing spot nearby the cute village of Fjordgard was my immediate choice. There is a beatuful small shelter where one can set up a fire or just use it as a protection from weather and cold when cooking and eating and/or drinking ☺ and there was also enough space for 3 tents of ours.

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"Green shit"

What we did not count with this night, especially after the cloudy sunset, were the northern lights to show up. Yet we were truly lucky, and right after we put the salmon fillets into the pan for a delicious dinner the sky cleared up and something green started to glow above us. It was here! Salmon in the pan or not, we grabbed our photo gear and the photographic madness started over.
For Matus it was the first time to see the northern lights (or “that green shit” as Rznik called it ☺) so he was really excited. Even for the rest of us it was a great experience as well to see them in winter, when the surrounding landscape is covered with snow. Hope pictures speak for themselves.

3 hours later the show was over and we were finally able to finish our salmon. ☺


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Segla - 2nd Attempt

The next morning it was raining a bit, so we just did a little road-trip to the nearest supermarket and also went to see the picturesque island town of Husoy. In the afternoon it got better and we decided to finish our job from yesterday.
It was a good thing we already had our footsteps in the deep snow and so the first part took us much less time now. From the pass, the second half of the ascent to Segla is pretty steep and we were glad to have the crampons with us. In maybe 1 hour of steep rock climb / snow hike we stood up at the summit, observing a snowstrom coming straight towards us from southwest.
Good chance to make some drammatic pictures and even better for timelapse. The snowstorm didn’t seem to be any big so we waited for couple of minutes to pass it through us and just enjoyed the natural theatre again. Segla is an amazing peak, actually the one that brought me to an idea of discovering hiking opportunities in Senja more. It looks spectacular from the bottom, the hike up is pretty steep but fairly easy. Without snow you could be up in less than an hour from the car park, if you do a little trail running along and then you could just enjoy the stunning panoramic views in each directions. Especially the view from the cliff straight down to the ocean is breathtaking, more than 600m of vertical emptiness. Hard to describe that feeling when you sit right at the edge, you have to try it on your own. :-)
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Husfjellet. or not?

Our third day in Senja turned out to be rainy again. So we did not hurry with getting up and just took the trip to the beautiful viewpoints of Bergsbotn and Tungeneset. Since we were tired of the rainy weather and needed to cheer up we spent this night at Mefjordbrygge. An amazing place in the end of one of Senja’s peninsulas, which is a hotel and a restaurant. They also offer whole cabins or cabin apartments to sleep in and it is great to catch some energy and relax a bit there. And most importantly they have sauna!

After sleeping in real beds we felt strong again and ready to do some new adventure. There is a pretty accessible peak of Husfjellet not far from here and we decided to try it out.

Again, conditions were far from ideal, wet and very deep snow, sometimes rain and above the tree level strong wind that was getting stronger every minute. Thus what would normally take us 30 minutes was now 3 times more, struggling in the deep snow. Anyway we got to the saddle and despite the fog and that strong wind we climbed higher and higher. Only after we reached the top of the mountain, that was completely covered in fog, I realized we were not on Husfjellet but on the peak nexto to it. :-)

Well, even that counts and we headed back to the car park in Skaland and celebrate our hard efforts by having a nice hamburger in local, empty, restaurant / hotel. Funny thing was they did not have any menu and the waitress told us we could order anything we liked and they would try to prepare it for us.. That’s an attitude. ☺

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Kremmervika

After the great dinner we dediced to leave Senja for good and move to Lofoten over the night. We reached Leknes sometimes around 2am and camped at the first resting place we found after.

In the morning rain and wind waited for us again. No point to hike or do anything outdoors so I googled out where stay in for the night and the best looking option was the hostel / cabins in Kremmervika in Ballstad. This turned out to be a great choice and the staff there was truly nice. Plus the cabin we got was even nicer and we managed to get some wood for the fireplace and the local fish to cook for the dinner. Perfect evening. Not mentioning that before the dinner the weather got slightly better and we were able to get some fresh air and climbed the random mountain above the Ballstad town.

The cabin we stayed in is one of the oldest in Kremmervika with the original fishermen beds. 3 men used to sleep in each bed, 12 in total. If you look closely on the floor, you will find the hole where they put the fishwaist from working with linglines.

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Epic Day, epic sunset

The next day, already the 7th of the whole trip, finally brought some sun back into out lives and things were promising. This day we visited Haukland and Utakleiv beaches, climbed the Manen peak as a warm-up hike and slowly started to look forward to the hike to Offersoykamen for the sunset. This again turned out as the great decision because the sunset from this easy-to-be-reached (and yet not very well known) peak was truly spectacular…

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not the end of the day...

And this was still not all for us this day. Even the night seemed promising, with good aurora activity and some windows of clear skies according to the forecast. We did not hesitate for a second and moved to the Skagsanden beach.
Unfortunately there was like 12 other photographers who obviously had the similar plan and lined at the main beach waiting for the northern lights. At least we were the only ones who brought and pitched the tents here at the side beach and finally, when the show started, we could make our photos more interesting with them. In the meanwhile other 20 or 30 photographers joined the party at the main beach, which kind of ruined the experience for good, but still, it was a wonderful end of an amazing day.
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Romantic night at Kvalvika

After pretty demanding day we took our time with packing the camp up in the morning and decided to have only one goal for this day – the famous Kvalvika beach. On the way there we stopped in Ramberg supermarket to buy some food, candles, firestarter and even the actual wood, which I then carried all the way to the beach, so that we could make a nice romantic night again.

And it was totally worthy! The night in the cabin which the guys from Nord for sola project had built by their own hands and only by using the garbage washed away from the ocean to the beach was a great experience (for more info check: North of the Sun movie). I spent the night here 3 years ago in the autumn but ever since the place got much more popular and in summer the beach is usually full of people throughout the day and night, so being here again totally alone just with my friends was perfect.

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What followed was the beautiful morning, good breakfast and another climb ahead of us. Ryten, the steep mountain hanging above Kvalvika provides stunning views from the top. Unfortunately we were too tired to climb it last evening for the sunrise but even now, during the day, it was nice. We’ve met few other hikers along the way and finally at least didn’t feel so crazy as the only hikers in the whole area for past days.
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Fairy Tale in Reine

The weather started to get worse at this point and from Ryten we got back to the car, (cooked some delicous salmon inside the car :-D) and headed further south to Moskenesoya island, to the picturesque village of Reine. Good thing about the weather was that the temperature declined finally and instead of rain we got some heavy snow now. 20-30 cm of fresh snow waited for us in Reine and that was perfect for the evening walk around the village. In such conditions, Reine was the prototype of the fairy tale winter village. Beautiful red wooden houses, with roofs fully covered by snow, and surrounded by steep mountains and cliffs.

It didn’t stop snowing during night at all so in the morning we woke up to the snowy landscape again, and with the thick layer of snow on our tents. That was the perfect opportunity to build up a huge snowman after the breakfast. :-)

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Reinebringen..?

Reine was our final destination and this was our last full day on Lofoten. I was pretty sad we had not managed to climb the Reinebringen cliff yet, which was my main objective here in Lofoten, but the weather was against us all the time.

I had this crazy dream to climb it up and shoot the beautiful winter sunset from there. And then even wait for the night and the darkness to fall down and watch the northern lights dancing above Reine, which honestly seemed like impossible in these days due to the current weather conditions.

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The weather forecast was somehow uncertain for the last evening and the night, it was supposed to be sunny and clear the whole day but even at 2pm it was still foggy and cloudy a lot. The avalanche risk level was at 1-2, so not totally perfect either and we were discussing our options.
You only live once (YOLO) after all, as they say, and so I decided to try our luck and find a way up to this wonderful viewpoint, maybe the finest in whole Norway.
There was pretty much no route as everything was covered in snow, so I had to dig the trail in the deep snow and choose the direction just by the inner feeling and by the bare memories I had from my previous (summer or autumn) ascents. But with the snow everything is slower and in the steep terrain it was much more dangerous. Even with crapmons and ice axes.
And then at one point we reached the place from which the way up started to be really steep and where there were no trees or bushes we could use as a guidance or as the support on the climb up. Plus it was already getting dark a bit. Therefore we had to decide whether to take a chance and continue up or to stay responsible, give it up and get back down. Not an easy decision I must tell you.
My motivation was very strong and even though I was honestly scared a bit I decided to give it a try. However I advised all the rest of the group to not to follow me and rather go down.
And so I headed up, the slope was getting even steeper and steeper and in few sections I was honestly afraid of my own life. If there were any slabs or icy parts with the fresh powder snow they could have been easily loosened by my steps and that would be a short end for me. Luckily the fresh snow from the last night got frozen to the base icy layer and climbing in it was relatively easy and safe.
On the other hand as I sad, I was literraly scared to death two or three times and only now, when nothing bad happened, I can speak like a hero with no fear.
Be that as it may, I managed to get to the top, overcame the euphorical state of being alive, unhurt and on the place I so many times had dreamed of and I started to prepare the photo gear to capture all that beauty.
I didn’t even put the camera on the tripod yet and I heard some noises. Looked back and saw Matus trying his best to follow and climb in my footsteps. First I was mad at him because he took the same risk as I did and I would never forgive myself if anything happened to him but later I was glad I could share all the emotions and joy with somebody.
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And so we stood there on the edge of the cliff, enjoyed the spectacular scenery, took more and more photos like crazy and were happy to be alive and to be able to experience this beauty.

Unfortunately the whole ascent was much more demanding than I expected and we therefore closely missed the sunset and the best light for pictures and I was a bit disappointed for this. Without good light we were at least trying to get some interesting compositions including me or Matus as the climbers on the pics. Taking picture after picture I realized we were here on the top for more than an hour already. It was getting dark and really cold quickly, so I waited for the first street lights to be turned on down in Reine, took few pictures and started to pack for the descent.

Matus then asked me to take the last picture of me and him with the enlightened village below and when I looked closer to the captured photo I noticed a big surprise. There was something resembling very weak northern lights above the horizon. Was that for real…?

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Of course I had to take another photo and to our surprise my assumption was correct. There was some aurora activity happening indeed. I mmediately unpacked the gear and the crazy photo shooting started over.
I called Rznik and Monika, who were already in Reine, to watch out for the sky and to wait for aurora as something amazing was coming.
In the meanwhile it got even darker and the northern lights started to play their show in full power.

Moments of speechless wondering were changed by euphoric shouting or by multiple camera shutters clicking and beeping.
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To be able to watch and shoot the northern lights dancing over the snow covered Reinefjord and surrounding mountains was one of my wildest dreams. Overall I found only one other photographer all around the internet who managed to capture and witness this unforgettable experience. Me and Matus were maybe the second and the third…

So imagine what if Matus didn’t ask me for that last picture back then and what if we missed all this top class show by struggling on the steep snowy slope on our descent down from Reinebringen.


Sometimes the most important and exciting moments of your life truly depend only on tiny coincidences…


It is hard to describe how blessed we felt and how amazing this was. Everything fit together perfectly.

No wind, clear skies even despite the previous cloudy days, the full moon that enlightened the mountain peaks with fresh snow, picturesque Reine below and the aurora dancing above us.

I couldn’t imagine any better conditions to get and this was maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity and experience. Even today when I recall the moments up there in Reinebringen I am speechless.

And so no matter the cold temperature, freezing hands and legs, we spent another hour and half here easily.

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Everything has to come to its end though and it was the case here as well. After one hour of crazy aurora activity it was time for us to finally pack everything, take the last selfie with aurora and begin to descend. We were still not safely back at the car and the descent may have been actually even more dangerous than the ascent. Especially for Matus who did not have the proper crampons. That is why we went very slowly trying to avoid any slide or fall, which would be deadly.

Less than 2 hours later we happily reached the main road and called Rznik and Monika to pick us up.

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We went to sleep late, still excited by what we had encountered.

Despite that I managed to wake up earlier the last morning in Lofoten, and went to shoot some of the classical views to Reine and Hamnoy villages, which we didn’t have time or good weather for before.

Then breakfast, packing the whole camp up, fitting everything into the car and we began our ride back North. We were driving pretty much the whole day with a short stopover in Henningsvaer and we reached Tromso around 9pm. Somewhere not far from the airport we found an abandoned parking lot where we decided to say goodbye to winter Norway properly and bivouaced out in the fresh chilly air (it was -11 °C that night) for few hours before we moved to the airport.

There we had to say good bye also to each other as each one of us was flying to different location.

We were however leaving Norway happy, full of unforgettable memories and exciting experiences and we look forward to other successful adventures spent together.

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Footnote: dav.varga@gmail.com, www.dvarga.net
Lofoty, Norsko