I suffer from a growing evil, which could be named ‘the call of the North’. One could describe it as an obsession, a magnetic call guiding each of my trips towards the same direction. The North. The discovery of the Lofoten islands on skis only worsened my condition.
Are you familiar with this feeling of being torn apart between the desire to discover new horizons and the strong will to come back to a place which marked your life? Then, you also suffer from the same evil as me…
Coffee boils while mountains slowly emerge from the clouds. At any season of the year, waking up from Henningsvaer’s harbour is equally stunning. As usual, we set up our plan for the day after the second cup of coffee. An old Viking ritual. The reference to Vikings is appropriate as a large part of my second trip to these mesmerizing islands will be devoted to sailing. Summer almost comes to an end but green valleys and endless days still prevail in the Lofoten archipelago. Skis will remain in the closet, we are here to prepare the winter season.
The job is tricky today: we have to set up buoys for winter moorings. As the boat is only available to the agency during the winter season, Jim will be our guide and taxi for the manoeuvre of the day. We are scheduled to meet at Svolvaer’s harbour, not very far from the lodge.
As it will be a sailing day, we choose to leave the car in the garage and borrow the little fishing boat from our neighbour to get to the meeting point. Hailing from Mediterranean regions, we are not worried about the forecasted heavy swell… Just as if it was some bad crusted snow…
Thor is not especially smooth with us, overconfident people from the South. The choppy sea in the harbour quickly becomes waves up to two meters as we sail away from the shores. After a few nervous chuckles, we grab our lifejackets and prudently follow the coastline until the entrance of Svolvaer harbour.
Across the pontoon, loaded with a dozen anchors, plastic buoys and nylon ropes, Jim is waiting for us on his boat. We leave the small aluminium boat stinking codfish and hop on board of a comforting cabin. The sea seems to calm down. We identify the GPS spots on the monitor of our navigation system and sail towards the first spot.
Before getting more into details, it seems necessary to provide a little geographic update: the Lofoten archipelago is made up of a multitude of islands. Very diverse and more or less spaced away, they are high, steep, inhabited, skiable… and above all more or less well-connected by a road system. Plenty of summits, couloirs, faces, ski touring or climbing itineraries immersed in a huge bathtub. You will easily understand why a large part of this fabulous playground is only accessible by boat.
After several winter seasons spent scouting virgin faces without being able to reach them, the boat quickly became the obvious means of transportation. The key opening the doors to the Lofoten islands. Which brings us back to our mission of the day. Reaching those pristine and untouched spots not only requires a boat access but also a well-oiled logistics so as not to waste too much time during berthing manoeuvres.
Indeed, while most spots can be reached via an easily accessible landing or pontoon, some wilder ones require slightly more cunning to tame them. The ancient Viking techniques taught by our dear Viking guide now become very useful.
I will not give you a lecture about cold water sailing, but to put it in simple terms, the technique consists in throwing an anchor a few dozen meters away from the landing to connect the coastline with a rope, thus creating a back and forth system. Simple in principle, but draught, dominant winds and mooring angles make the task way more complicated than it seems to be in the first place.
I spend the first twenty minutes of sailing stuck to the window: discovering the Lofoten islands from the sea is a bewitching experience. As I raise my eyes, the Geitgallien mountain range proudly stands in front of us. I slowly identify the faces we skied the previous year, spotting the couloirs and ridges we rode.The landscape is stunning but unrecognizable. The wide open snowy faces are now covered with a dense vegetation, thick forests inhabited by wild animals. The sight of this summer show is also a discovery for Lionel. We all share the same reaction: snowfalls must be quite enormous to completely cover so much green.
Jim takes us away from our daydreams of fanatic skiers. As a drakkar captain, he directs us in a bossy English as how to proceed. We act without blinking. Luckily, we are pretty skilled with rope manipulations and draught.
Two or three times, we narrowly escape taking a deep plunge into the cold water, as we inadvertantly let our feet dangle in the ropes. The brave Viking is taken aback by our regular chuckles but we quickly understand what to do and buoys are rapidly set up.
Laupstad, Digermullen, West couloir of Geitgallien…we are ready for them. We only have to wait until snow fills up the valleys again.
A beer in hand, we take advantage of the last hours of daylight to scout the coastline and new untouched spots. In the distance, unknown by our GPS, a pontoon and a few red houses slowly emerge. A surreal landscape of an almost secret little archipelago where local fishermen have settled. Houses are clustered along this maritime alley sheltered from the wind. We cross the place at reduced speed, sailing through translucent waters. Not a single noise, only the last rays of the sun rocking the mountains in the background… The magic of the Lofoten islands.
It is very unlikely that this trip will cure my ‘North disease’. As soon as I step on the plane, the mountains of the Lofoten islands come to haunt me again. I am looking forward to winter and skiing, our buoys are waiting for us…0