Kungsleden: Day 1 & 2

Three weeks ago I set out on a 10 day adventure to tackle a section of the Kungsleden trail in Swedish Lapland. In its entirety the Kungsleden is roughly 440 kilometres with two thirds of that above the arctic circle. I was hiking the northern most 100 kilometres of the trail from Abisko to Nikkaluokta. This section is arguably the most popular part of the trail, the landscape is rugged and barren, and has the highest mountain pass of the entire 440km. 

This trip would be my first solo trip abroad, as well as my first multi day hike, with that came a great deal of nervous energy. Within the first 20 minutes of the hike all that anxiety had melted away, and I was able to enjoy the beauty and silence of the trail.

I spent that first night in the Abisko Turiststation, which is part of a network of huts and mountain stations run by the Swedish Tourism Association, STF.  The Huts are built at reasonable intervals all along the trail, the longest distance being just over 20km and most huts spaced about 15km apart. I stayed in them every night while hiking, doing away with the need for a tent, sleeping bag, and everything else that goes along with camping which allowed me to keep my bag a lot lighter, and made more room for camera gear. 

I shot out of bed at 6 am full of energy, any jet lag I may have had would have to wait. I made a quick cup of crappy coffee skipped breakfast and head for the trail(this would become my routine for the next 6 days)

All the nervous energy I had melted away wishing the first 20 minutes on the trail as I picked my way through the birch forest, the leaves were starting to change and the sun was warm and low in the sky. I love nordic light, theres an amazing quality to it that I have never found anywhere else in the world, Im drawn to the golden warm light that lasts for hours in the mornings, the blue light of the evening that never really stops in the summer, and even when it is mid day the sun is never beating down on you in the same harsh way. Couple that with the regularity of stormy dramatic skies and I have found my paradise.

I came into the first real clearing I’m sure I had a big grin on my face, I had come all this way to see mountains and this was my first real taste. Although I was a bit surprised by the landscape, I was expecting something much more barren like I experienced in Iceland, but this was different, there were so many trees, mosses and wild flowers. The vegetation would thin out of then next day or so as I made my way higher into the mountains and passed the treeline.

The day progressed the wind picked up a little and clouds started rolling in, those clouds would more or less be following me on and off until the 5th day of my journey. 

I made an effort to not use my headphones while I was hiking, I didn’t want to get lost in someone else’s thoughts and miss out on something beautiful because I was paying attention to a podcast or audiobook. As a consequence I spent most of the day singing to myself, muttering, and taking time to stop and hear the ringing in my ears from the absolute silence. 

Finished the hike in just over 4 hours. I was the first to arrive at the hut, so I poured a whiskey and played cards, hit the sauna and rested up for the longest and hardest day I would have on the trail. 

Angels Gate Winery

When I first moved to Ontario I assume (quite incorrectly) that all wine produced in this province was pretty bad. Luckily Angels Gate and their sister operation Kew Vineyards, were there to set me straight. Since discovering these two amazing vineyards I make a monthly pilgrimage out to Jordan, Ontario to stock up. Last year I was honoured to do some commissioned work for Angels Gate, building a new image library to fill their slick new website.

In addition to making some pretty stellar wines, Angels Gate has a beautiful terrace complete with a wood fired pizza oven. On a clear day you can enjoy a glass of wine and look out across the lake all the way back to Toronto. You can even make out if the Skydome is open.

We were lucky enough to be shooting right before harvest so the vines were laden with grapes (we may have snuck a taste or two). 

The last light of late August blanketed the whole estate in gold, it would be impossible to not feel inspired standing in this beautiful vineyard. 

Faroe Islands

This summer I had the opportunity to second shoot on a job in the Faroe Islands. It was an intense two weeks, with multiple shoots every day and retouching late into every night. 

Still, Faroe has become one of my favourite places I have ever visited. The people were some of the most warm and welcoming you could ever hope to find, and the wild nature of their landscapes is truly jaw dropping. 

Faroe has some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. There’s no messing around. Dizzying cliffs shoot straight out of the ocean to meet vast stormy skies. It was an absolute treat to shoot there. The above the images are what you might call the Faroe Islands greatest hits. The Waterfall at Gásadalur, the Summer home at Saksun, and the Lake Sorvagsvatn, which gave me the craziest vertigo I have ever experienced. 

But there is so much more to the islands than just those three stops. We were incredibly lucky to be able to experience so much of what the country had to offer and to meet the people who actually live there. 

I would highly recommend heading to my friend Gabriel Nivera’s blog, he was kind enough to bring me along on this trip and has been posting portraits and stories of the wonderful people we met who make the Faroe Islands such an incredible place to visit.

Kew Vineyards

I first visited Kew in 2014 on a cycling trip to Niagara from Toronto with a couple of buddies. Despite being hot, sweaty, and clad in lycra, Liisa Young (the hospitality manager)  opened the front door to greet us, showed us inside and brought us some water.  We spent an hour out on their patio, tasting through a few of their wines. More than anything that’s what I love about visiting Kew Vineyards, it’s not because their wines are amazing (they are) it’s because from that first visit, it felt more like dropping in on a friend for a glass of wine than a stiff tasting experience. 

Since 2014 we’ve made the trip out to kew almost monthly, and there’s usually something new to try. I get excited every time I see them release a new bubbly; it’s my favourite place to go for any celebration or farewell party; and when tasked with picking the wine for my sister-in-law’s wedding, there was no question where I would be getting it. 

The design of Kew is a huge part of its draw, the space is a 160 year old house originally owned by the Kew Family, and renovated in 2013 by the Young family when they opened their doors. The whole space feels very different from any other winery I have ever been to. Its clean, bright, and fresh. They have done away with the idea of a cattle call tasting bar, instead opting for a casual tasting room that spills out onto a elegantly appointed patio. Everything about Kew invites you to stay and taste through a whole range of expertly crafted wines, while relaxing in the sun.

The South

The Southern region of Iceland left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand I hiked most of the places I had seen photos of and read so much about, some of which were quite spectacular. However, on the other hand the South was so crowded, there was less in the way of authentic outdoor experiences. The influx of tourists over the last couple of years has taken its toll on the landscape, and although the Icelandic tourism board has made efforts to slow the effects (such as barriers and board walks on main attraction hikes and waterfalls), the ecological damage is obvious. 

Not only has the sheer amount of people presented a huge problem in terms of quality of experience, but a major theme arose from our Southern leg. People are not treating the landscape or the heritage sites with the same respect one would assume they would treat their own country’s natural beauty. 

This was apparent at Seljavallalaug, one of Iceland’s oldest public swimming pools and a beautiful spot for a swim. Despite numerous ‘No Camping’ signs, our pre-dawn swim and photo adventure was spoiled by a big blue tent and garbage all over the site.

3 am wake up calls, just me and the reindeer

It’s the little things like that that really got my goat traveling around the South. I personally do my best to abide by a ‘leave no trace’ mandate. I think it paramount to not damage amazing places for the sake of a photo. Despite the incredible beauty around me, I found myself frustrated by irresponsibility of these visitors. 

making friends with the locals

Iceland bucket list.

This is not to say that the South didn’t present opportunities for amazing photos and unique experiences, it was just a huge adjustment from being in the North and the Solitude I was able to find. 

10 days in Iceland barely scratched the surface what this gorgeous country had to offer. I am beyond grateful that I was able to see and do so much (I know I sound like a broken record here). So I’ll be going back in August to explore and photograph more.

I became a huge fan of geothermal pools

In the short time I was there I became an expert at making car sandwiches; woke up way too early way too many days in a row just to chase perfect golden light that lasted for hours; tried to have a soak in every hot pool I came across; powered through a couple of books; and despite seeing a waterfall every 10 minutes, I never got sick of the view. 

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