Lapland - Summer Hike 2012 - On the Rocks

19.07.2012 Day 3 - Afternoon. With the fog well established and only an occasional hint of clearing Stuart and I decided to let Sakari sleep as long as possible to shake off his cough. I ventured out for a while to check down the valley where the best place to cross the river would be between these two larger lakes. Visibility was still pretty bad, but I made my way as close to the shore as possible walking much of the time on not terribly thick compacted snow which occasionally gave way between the rocks underfoot and sent me plunging down into the wet.

Ah - looks a bit like Stuart out for a stroll.
With a clear river and lakes to follow it seemed to me that the fog need not hold us up for a full day, and we could at least make an effort to get to a lower altitude where the visibility might improve. A three to four kilometer hike should take us down to a broad valley and although we didn't really know whether the river was fordable or not, by crossing this far upstream we stood a better chance of being on the right side of the valley if we decided in the next day or so to head home.

Sakari and Stuart preparing food
After a good hot lunch with coffee and a swig of Rum - essential survival kit on any expedition - I packed our tent, stuffed everything into my Osprey, and we headed off down the valley. I packed the camera away anticipating what lay ahead; kept my eyes focused on the rocks which by now had a greasy slippery surface ready to send you flying into the abyss with that extra 20k of propulsion afforded by a top heavy back pack.

Stuart writing... poetry or a pragmatic plan of action?
Its great to travel with a team of three. To begin with you have a simple democratic decision making number from which to determine your fate. Secondly, when one of the team has reservations about a planned route, the other two can provide convincing reasons why it might be the best option. Stuart hadn't flinched from the beginning of the car journey right through to this point, and in fact had provided the means to fix the radiator and get us into a position to start our hike in the first place. He always seemed to have clear thoughts, good sound reasons to support the route, and from the beginning I felt he was better qualified than I was.

Coffee break in the clear
As we crossed the river and began walking south, the rush of white water sank steeply away to the valley below and we were faced with either scrambling along an impassable cliff in the fog on our side of the valley or fording a frantic torrent bellow to get to a snow covered field of rocks - all of which could prove to be our undoing and for a brief moment it looked like we might be faced with retracing our steps back to where we started. Sakari had the idea to head up into the fog over the hill and see if we couldn't get an easier passage down into the valley.

Looking down into the pounding action below it all looked a very dramatic and exciting landscape to enter until I imagined myself as another one of those rocks with the water rushing over me and so that option quickly evaporated. Looking over at the cliff on this side of the valley gave me a similar rush of adrenalin and I got that special little cold shiver that I last experienced at Tête Rousse staring up at the Grand Couloir on Mont Blanc a few years ago.

Stuart has some experience flying, has found himself in situations where fog is the most terrifying natural weather system you can encounter, and resisted Sakari's suggestion of going over the hill in the thickening fog until Sakari commented on the ' somehow across the river' option and in very easy to understand English said simply - 'It can't be done.' 

So we started out over the hill, a fairly steep climb that took us scrambling up and into the fog away from the cliff edge by a comfortable margin and in less than half an hour as Stuart and I climbed over the hill we could see Sakari a comfortable distance ahead descending into the broad valley below towards the place where we would spend our next night.

Open valley and campsite for the night
Beneath my feet the rocks had changed. They seemed to take on more geometric shapes - thrown into random patterns or split and slightly rearranged and covered in colourful lichen. I stopped and took off my pack as the others walked on toward the campsite. Out came the 5D mkII and I began to look through the camera - framing the shapes into their own complete compositions - totally absorbed by the moment for almost an hour.

Rock and lichen I
On each hike I have made to Lapland, there has always been a moment like this. It is somehow intimate - away from the people I'm traveling with, when I am no longer thinking of the heavy weight on my back, or the weather, or the distance to walk. I am no longer tired, no longer hungry or thirsty, and with my camera I find myself absorbed and unable to move, except through the lens.

Rock and lichen II
The moment comes without expectations, and in that moment all the automatic responses of composition, exposure and depth of field are so second nature that I find my equilibrium. It is as if I am noticing something that only I can see.

Rock and lichen III
Rock and lichen IV
Rock and lichen V
Rock and lichen VI
We settled here for the rest of the day, ate well, slept a little and talked. The broad open valley was a complete contrast to the camp of the night before. At this point our hiking options were once again open and at out present rate of walking we had about 16 hours to get back to the car. But that decision would wait until tomorrow.