The Laponian Area World Heritage Site is Europe’s largest wilderness area — 9400 square kilometers without roads and open shelters. Apart from a few mountain tops, there is no mobile connection in the heart of the protected area. When you make your way deep into this countryside, you need to be in good shape and prepared for all incidentals that may happen high in the mountains. If you do not have the right equipment with you in a storm, cross a turbulent glacier melt-water river in the wrong place or make one false move and injury yourself, consequences can be fatal. Being aware of this, makes you focused and if you have the necessary knowledge you do most things right without thinking. For me, it is a very good way to calm my mind — it brings me to a kind of meditative state that is difficult to achieve at home during busy working days.
Erlend discovered the Sarek National Park (part of Laponia) as an excellent place for wildlife photography already in the in the middle of the 90's. Although the Samis have been using this land herding reindeer for centuries, this is one of the last areas in Scandinavia where you can experience mountain wildlife without a strong human influence. The moose population, especially the large males that spend the summer season deep in the Rapadalen valley, were already well-known 20 years ago when Erlend first traveled to this national park. He returned for many years to photograph the king of the boreal forests.
Later he found a friendly pair of willow grouse, 40-50 kilometers from the nearest road in the wilderness, in a valley with a dense population of grouse, and a little higher up on the mountain slope, ptarmigans. He could reach “his grouse” on skis in spring and spent altogether five months with them — one month in the first year and two-two months in the next three years. He was very lucky that this pair kept their mating territory for all these years!
I fell in love with the area soon after meeting Erlend. The first large photo project we did together was a book about Lapland, including Laponia of course. A few years later National Geographic Magazine accepted our story proposal about the World Heritage Site which gave us the extra motivation to do a more comprehensive projection about the area.
A lot of people hike in the area, one or two weeks at the time, but they seldom carry professional photo equipment and do not always climb the summits, while Laponia is best viewed from the peaks or from the air. The weather is challenging too — there is a form of precipitation every two days out of three, so you often have to wait a lot before you can climb a top with a good chance for photography. Therefore, we decided to hike through the heart of Laponia, the Sarek National Park in 35 days. We walked approx. 250 kilometers, climbed close to 2000m tops, crossed (and fell into) glacier melt-water rivers and returned with a lot of great memories.
Besides the long trip detailed above, we did shorter hikes in Sarek for another 40 days, visited different parts of Laponia on skis for 49 days and were paddling on lake Satihaure and other small lakes in the Sjaunja Nature Reserve for 16 days.
Laponia is wild, that is why it is legendary among hikers, but it has very few spectacular landmarks, like the Laitaure-delta. Most of the area is characterized by rolling hills, mountainous landscape with scattered snow patches and endless mires. We had to use our time to discover the area for ourselves so that we could capture the big moments and the hidden secrets of this vast landscape, with it’s colors, unique patterns and the rare wildlife inhabiting it.
(Project description by Orsolya Haarberg)