Before I start, I must thank both Rolf Steinmann and Florian Leo from Gulo Films who accompanied me during this ambitious mission. Without their hard work, commitment and good company, my time in northern Sweden would have been less fulfilling. Another thank you should go to the skilled helicopter pilots at Lapplandsflyg, without whom, I’d still be there!
Sarek National Park in the heart of the Laponia World Heritage Site is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited - anywhere. Its pristine forest, wetlands and mountains are for my money, one of the real wild wonders of Europe. Its appeal is of course in its remote location and lack of human influence save for the small-scale herding of reindeer by the local Sami. There are no roads, no accommodation, no phone signal…in fact, no nothing apart from some sort of path that appears then disappears and then appears again. For a photographer - especially one with a film crew in tow - Sarek is hard work!
Our adventure started from the remote village of Kvikkjokk where we were fortunate to have access to a helicopter for aerial shooting. Although the complete removal of the helicopter door was necessary, it was also a little unnerving and not satisfied with just a seat belt, both myself and Flo, the cameraman, tied ourselves with a rope to the inside of the helicopter - it was a long way down I can tell you! Rolf (second cameraman) meanwhile sat in the front from where his head for heights wasn’t quite as he thought and came very close to parting with the contents of his stomach!
On the ground - our natural habitat - Rolf’s health improved and our camp was set up right in the heart of moose country - our principal target. Despite a strenuous move of camp after one night, moose were very difficult to find - much more so than any of us had anticipated. In fact, despite Sarek’s reputation for large approachable bulls, we saw only one during a ten-day stay and that one had no intention of sticking around to be photographed. We met occasional hikers from further up the Rapa valley and no bulls were seen there either. Whether it was a ‘bad’ year or we were just unlucky, I came away with precisely zero moose shots - a huge disappointment.
On the positive side, Rolf’s makeshift cooking was pretty damn good and the landscape a constant source of inspiration. Between lengthy periods of filming the ‘behind the scenes’ sequences, I managed to grab what I could of Sarek in camera. To be honest, it was one of those places that to the eye, looked fantastic but that never quite translated into images. I do hope that my pictures do at least partial justice to Sarek as it is indeed one hell of a spectacular place - with or without moose.
Our last few days were spent camping on top of Nammajs Mountain a huge rocky outcrop sitting high above the Laitaure Delta - an intricate network of meandering river tributaries and isolated lakes. From this heavenly viewpoint, we could see the full extent of this ‘European Alaska’, it’s wildness enhanced by the presence of lynx, bear and wolverine. It wasn’t until the final dawn however, that conditions came to our favour. To be fair, we were very lucky only having a couple of days of rain but as photographers will know, clear blue skies make effective image-making pretty tricky, however pleasant such conditions might be from a comfort point of view. And so it was that on the final morning, a veil of mist carpeted the forest below us. The three of us were scampering around like kids in a sweetshop trying to ensure we made the best of it. As ever, I wasn’t quite convinced that I did.
Sarek was nothing short of an adventure: a roller coaster of fortunes and emotions and an experience that I’ll never forget. In many ways, trying to convey the majesty of such a place in photographs is fruitless and an insult to Sarek’s ecological complexity. This particular National Park is very remote and a visit there is not for the faint-hearted but other parks and reserves in Laponia are well served with a more developed infrastructure - and relatively little visited. For anyone easily seduced by glowing autumnal forest, snow-dusted mountains and clear, cascading rivers, Laponia has much to offer. So next time, before jumping on a plane to head off across the Atlantic, think again - there are truly wild wonders right on your European doorstep.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.