The first days of long hiking/camping trips like this one are always tough. It is a hard change going from the comforts of civilization with beds, kitchens, and so forth to sleeping in a tent, eating dry food, and - especially - carrying all your living on your back while hiking for hours through rough terrain. And adding my photo equipment to that package really doesn't make it easier. Whenever I start such a trip, I begin asking myself why I am doing this. Time and again I think that my memories of past trips must be far from how it really was, I should do something different, more pleasant for holidays. And every time I tell myself that it is just absolutely stupid to carry that much camera equipment on a hiking trip. And probably it is true to some extent. But on the other side, time and again, I get over it and once I am used to it, these tours become the most amazing experiences, and every time I look back, I am happy about every piece of photo equipment and the photos it got me.
This trip, however, really had an absolutely terrible start and that was mostly because of the weather. Now, going to the Arctic even in summer you obviously don't expect constant sunshine at 30 °C. But this year, the weather up in northern Scandinavia was just totally messed up. First, the winter was far too warm with the lake in Abisko National park (where I was in February) not being completely frozen for the first time in over 100 years and then it just wouldn't end. I arrived to temperatures around 3 °C with constant light rain for the first week. And by constant, I mean that there was no five minutes without rain for two days in a row followed by a short break just to start again. Now, I don´t mind a bit of rain or even a lot of it. But when it doesn't stop for so long, you just can´t keep anything dry, everything gets moist, and there isn't much you can do. Hiking isn't fun in the rain, and when everything is wet and grey, there are not a lot of photos to take. So, I spent most of my time during the first week reading inside of my tent... not exactly the vision of a nice vacation in the outdoors. I was truly frustrated about the situation. But I knew that it could not stay that bad forever, and I got to see at least a few nice birds regardless of the weather - like the breeding pair of Arctic Skuas at Vestre Jakobselv and the Red-necked Pharalopes on Vadsøya. The first really nice day happened when I came to the peninsula of Ekkerøy. Ekkerøy is a small former island (now peninsula) with a bird cliff full of breeding kittiwakes. For me it was one the most beautiful moments to be there with my tent when the sun came out for the first time and I could take the panorama I now used as the title picture of this article.
Of course, the weather did not immediately turn from terrible to wonderful. The next days there was still a lot of rain, but there were always interruptions of sunshine and that made for an overall much better experience. The next stop was the village Komagvær, from which I hiked towards the inside of Varanger peninsula, entering the National park at Komagdalen. Although I could not get very close for good pictures, I got to witness the spectacle of the male ruffs fighting over the females. These are truly special birds with their impressive plumage, but, unfortunately, they have become a quite rare sight in central Europe due to habitat destruction. We have very few breeding pairs in Germany and mostly only get to see them during migration, so seeing their courtship display was really special for me.
Vardø, Svartnes & Hamningberg - Around the Eastern Tip of Varanger