“A FAIRY TALE FROM LOFOTEN” by Arnaud Lefrancois

North of 68°N, Lofted Norway is a pearl in the Arctic.  The tourist reputation of the archipelago is well established.  But away from the fjord cruises and whale safaris, there is a another side of Lofoten.  

My excitement had been growing for more than a week & on Thursday 27th February 2018, I headed to Kabelvåg, Lofoten.

The dynamics of Lofoten is centred on fishing, outdoor activities and environmental protection.

My breakfasts have been ever so familiar to me, consisting of toast, butter, jam & the liquid brew of fresh coffee.  I am ready for a change from my daily routine to a sense of adventure. Mountaineering skis, shovel, probe, avalanche beacons, winter jacket and wool was the essentials I needed for this trek.  My backpack was busting at the seams. The Nikon FM2, FM and the Hasselblad will have to take a journey away from home!

I am overloaded, the capacity in my back pack full, I kind of felt the weight of the adventure taking public transport, a ski bag and travelling along stretches of black ice. 

From the skies (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

Five hours later I land in Bodø.  The will to take a tour in the city was strong but so is the pressure of my backpack and decided to make it to the harbour.  A friend Boris Vian keeps me awake during the three hours waiting for the express boat to Svolvær.

The timeline goes something like this….

  • 5:30pm, I jump in the boat.
  • 6:30pm, we are in the open sea.  The open seas quickly become heavy seas. I hold on tightly to the armrests but nothing holds my stomach.
  • 9:00pm, somehow I survive, bags and camera intact, and I see the welcoming face of Emilie on the other side of the gangway.

Vera will join us later in Kabelvåg. I make straight for Emilie’s flat and head to bed feeling exhausted.  Enough adventures for a single day.

First awakening in Lofoten, the endless stretch  of clouds is now covering the archipelago. Nevertheless, the conditions are good enough to put the skis on.  Jesper, Emilie’s friend, gently takes us for my first mountaineering ski-trip. No one tells me to lose the shoes. The hill is free but the boots are tight.  It takes five hundred meters of uphill pain to realize my mistake.  I was here to take pictures, ski mountaineering was a mean teacher, lesson learned.

View on Kabelvåg (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

I combine my visit with the Lofoten International Fotofestival in Kabelvåg.  Friday evening will be dedicated to a photo exhibition, a talk and a party.  On Saturday we will rest. Emilie inaugurates BUA, an organization renting out outdoor equipment to the citizens of Kabelvåg.  Time to meet up with Rhod who has the weekend off with a smooth and relaxing Saturday planned.  Time to say hi to Stian the baker from Kablevåg for them famous sweet and warm cinnamon buns.  Time to embrace the Kabelvåg way of life!

Kabelvåg (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Kabelvåg (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Kabelvåg (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

Sunday morning, as in the song, the sun is shining. I find Rhod in the living room checking the Surf forecast for the day.  “The waves here are not too big, they will be good for you”, he tells me.  It didn’t take much convincing really and off we went.  Two eggs and a coffee later, we are in the Peugeot (no limits for French cars exports). Emilie and Vera are already on the spot waiting for us.

We reach our uncanny surf spot, the sun shines and we can see the waves hitting the coast, however the wind starts beating us as we get naked to jump into our wetsuits.  Time is at a premium when it is 4th of March and you find yourself above the Arctic circle in your birthday suit.  This was an interesting experience I must admit.

Rhod runs to the surf (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

It was one of the first days of the year the sun had been seen in Lofoten in months. No jokes, during the three months of winter the sun barely makes it over the horizon. Fortunately today, the sun managed to peak over mountain, so we could enjoy the spot in sunlight and what ever warmth we could get from mother nature for most of the day.

Indeed, it was this day I learned my second hard lesson from my Arctic teacher. I removed my gloves on the beach, while I still had hundred meters to walk from the surf to the car.  The two minutes it took me to reach the car were too much and I lost feelings in my fingers.  I could not use them anymore yet my wetsuit was still tight on me. I needed Rhod’s help to get me out of this mess and recovered my fingers after a coffee and a cinnamon bun (did I mention it was the Kabelvåg tradition the warm cinnamon bun?)

Emilie, Rhod and Vera as ready as they can (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Surf is done (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Last shot before the cinnamon bun (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

Monday was another relaxing day, visiting friends and just embracing and adopting their rhythm of life and just absorb how life goes up North.  The day was dedicated to more coffee and ice sliding.  Pontus, Inga and Mali joined us shortly after.  

Inga and Mali with the toasts, the coffee and the fishing rod, Pontus with chocolates.  The hot chocolate and toasts definitely made the stay more comfortable. Pontus, Inga and Mali definitely made it more fun!

Emilie, Vera, Inga, Mali and Pontus playing penguins (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

On Tuesday we had to say goodbye to Vera who was heading up to the mainland. I spent the day at the café waiting for someone to break the slow groove I started yesterday.  Wednesday, hostilities began when Emilie decided to take me on a cross country ski trip to hone her skills carrying a sledge before a five-day expedition in Tromsø.

Back cross country skiing between Svolvær and Kabelvåg (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

The weather was good and we started going up at 1:00pm.  Emilie did not realize the challenge of a five hundred meters’ elevation with a loaded pulk.  But the pulk was essential to the trip as it contained wood to heat the cabin, the sleeping bags for the night and naturally my tripod.

Emilie, in her daily training (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

It was difficult but Emilie managed it.  We stopped at a first cabin but we realised it would be a challenge to capture what I came up here to do.   We could not see the ocean and the sunset would be blocked by the mountains around.  So we decided to continue a few kilometres further.  A little longer struggle for Emilie but the light was incredible and made it much more enjoyable.  The air was so pure and cold, the sky takes all the shades of blues in existence offering a beautiful purple sky.

Sunset over the sea (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
A view from the ski’s (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Serenity (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
 Peaks a plenty (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

At this point, you might wonder whether or not I have seen what makes the arctic so special. Skiing and surfing are not what have moved so many people to the arctic these last years. The phenomena we are talking about is so special it is one of the most photographed physical events. The northern lights occur during the cold arctic night. Your chance of capturing them increases with smaller moons and darker skies. So here is my little contribution to the northern lights photography scene.

We caught an Aurora (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

We barely had time to return to the shore from this magical time in the mountains before I was back on the skis to go on a tour to the summit in the late afternoon.  We catch up with Elisabeth and Pontus.  The sun has not left us for the last four days. On the way, we run into Brage and Malin, more friends = more fun.

Emilie, Elisabeth and Pontus choosing different routes (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Brage and Vaibmo (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Elisabeth when she is not doing Hula hoop! (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Malin (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

The time is running out before the sunset however we were determined to make it to the top.  On the way, I dreamt of the view from the top, just pondering about the image that awaits, the sun going down and the mountains wrapped in the warm oranges tones.  I arrived first on the top, moved by the view I encountered.  Last kick turn and finally the view, something special was waiting for me.  I can appreciate it a few minutes before my sweat makes me cold from the chill factor across my face.  There is only one way to go along with the cold, change your sweaty top.  Shirtless on the top was as painful as wearing my birthday suit at the shore.

Sunset over Lofoten (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Pontus and Vaibmo (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Being on the edge (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

Going down that mountain I knew it was the last time in the trip I would see Lofoten from the top. Back at the shore, we enjoyed a nice evening at Arbeidern. Sharing a couple of beers, a game of pool and making plans for the next day.

Saturday’s sea was flat.  Plans our imagination made up last night were dropped when Rhod loaded the surf forecast webpage.  Fortunately, Lofotens’ have more to offer than surf and ski.

The landscaper’s paradise (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Play was frequent (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Rhod, Ingrid and Emilie (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
 Viewing point (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
 Amazing peaks (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Sun setting (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

The best way to embrace the warmth of Lofoten was to share the experiences of the day with friends which created opportunities for experiences of tomorrow.

Sunday morning same protocol.  Breakfast and then the surf report.  The report is good. We hurried and finished our breakfast in the car.  I finish my toast while driving towards the surf spot.  As we are getting closer to the spot, my excitement rises.  The last time I was more anxious to dip in this arctic water but today I know the feeling and was ready.

 The uncanny arctic surfer (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)
Not your average surfing scene (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

The conditions were gorgeous the sun on the black wetsuit kept me warm for more than two hours in the water.  We were not the only ones to enjoy a sunny bliss at the Arctic beach.

Arctic Waves (image by Arnaud Lefrancois)

This was my last trip.  When I left on Monday morning it was a snow storm, reminding me that Lofoten is not always so kind.

Acknowledgement : Emilie and Rhod for letting me use their couch, spare bed, kitchen. For their friendship and the nice time we have spent together, we spent together and we will spend together! Ingrid, Elisabeth, Malin, Brage, Pontus and Vaimo for the good company at the table, on the skis and on the surf! Vera for the continuous memories we are building up from year to year. Mali for sharing your good work and thoughts! Guillaume and Fede, Thanks for the skis and the avalanche beacon 😉 Paul, thanks for the reading and the corrections!

Some friendly links :

Hoop’n’hike in Lofoten with Elisabeth

The bakery in Kabelvåg

People’s action against oil drilling in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja

Where everything started : NMBU Fotoklubb

About Arnaud Lefrancois


I am a french photographer living in Norway.  I was initiated to photography at my youngest age when my dad put a K2 in my hands.  I left photography aside for 20 years until I got hooked again by a paper printing course in the photo club of Ås university. 

Since then, I try to catch pieces of my environment, obsessed by the idea of keeping memories of my friends, my family and the moments spent together. The film gives me the warranty to be here for decades. 

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